A visit today to one of the most threatened of all species – something in fact not so far encountered on my travels – a genuine suburban bookshop. Those of us who are themselves suburban will no doubt remember how many there used to be. To Twickenham – familiar enough terrain for me, my school was within walking distance of the famous rugby stadium. One of the school’s most charming customs (now I bring it to mind, probably its only one) was that the older boys were allowed the afternoon off each year to go to the ‘Varsity Match.
Nothing greatly changed in this historic part of that all but lost county of Middlesex – buses still heading for Hampton, Hammersmith, Hounslow and other haunts of my youth. The most desecrated of counties of course, almost entirely erased beneath airports, motorways, trunk roads, reservoirs, railways and gasworks erected for the convenience of others (not much sympathy for nimbyism in these parts) – all but wholly urban now, but still with the resilience (for those who know where to look) to offer frequent glimpses of its once arcadian rurality.
Hard by Twickenham Green (yes, there are still village greens hereabouts), the cricket square looking inviting in the afternoon sunshine, is the shop of Anthony C. Hall.
A shop he acquired over forty years ago (Anthony is certainly due a fifty-year badge) after training with his brother-in-law, Ronald Gray, of the once well-known Hammersmith Bookshop. First taught Russian in National Service days in the RAF (going on to take a degree in it), behind the façade of a general suburban second-hand bookshop, Anthony is an out-and-out specialist in Russian & Eastern European studies. The Cold War days of western institutional buying of large collections in this field have given place to a genuine and previously wholly inaccessible market within Russia itself – pre-revolutionary books and early émigré publications much in demand.
Anthony and his wife have very kindly offered to put up our first Russian intern under the ILAB scheme for visits from graduates of the Moscow State University of Printing Arts – and I can’t think of anywhere she might be offered a warmer or a better welcome.
I buy a book or two and we chat away about how much the rare book world has changed in our time. He shows me a photograph – all hair and flares – of himself standing outside the shop back when we were young. Usual themes when older booksellers get together – but we look to the future of the ABA as well – and I spy his packing table piled enviably high with the day’s outgoing parcels. He, for one, seems to have adapted well and safely enough. Bless you, sir, for an uncommonly interesting afternoon.