Tuesday 13 March 2007

"The sap's got hot pants for that judy."

Talking of reading the other day reminded me of one of my favourite all-time authors, a man long out of print and probably unknown to all my readers here. I picked him up in the first place when I was writing Doing the Islands with Bacchus, and the work is so saturated with his influence that I can't reread my own book now with exprienceing a warm recall of the time spent reading Walter James (biog details hard to come by. guessing ca 1907-ca 1980). He was an Australian wine maker who wrote several volumes of diaristic thoughts on just about everything, but mostly about winemaking and his enthusiasm for reading. They were published between 1949 (Barrel and Book,) and 1957 (Antipasto) and amounted to six volumes, of which I've managed to find four. The first passage here refers to what I was writing about on march 10; there isn't enough time to read all I want to read.

“HOW SHAMEFULLY DULLWITTED other men’s memoirs make me feel. Quiller-Couch says in Memories and Opinions that at seven or eight years he was reading Greek, but in old age he regrets that “real scholarship” he “had never reached, but chased after with envy.” And here I am over forty and my sons both over “seven or eight” and none of us has a word of Greek beyond, in my own case, the names of one or two resin-flavoured liqueurs. I know most of the Greek authors in translation and I know the best of the translations, and that is as far as it is likely to go with me. However, learning is mostly a matter of relativity: few of the folk hereabouts have even heard of the translations. This reflection gives me a pleasant feeling of warmth in the pit of the stomach. I experience that voluptuous complacency which tickles us with the idea that we know something.”

Oh to have written a sentence like that last one. Some time later we find him sitting up reading a cheap crime thriller. This is apposite bacause I have just heard that the first printed copies of my new book, The Black Diamond Detective Agency have arrived at the publisher's office, and I will want to talk about crime fiction before it gets out into the stores in a couple of months from now.

“SOME TALK IN PARLIAMENT of banning the film version of “No Orchids for Miss Blandish” so I made a call on the circulating library; threatened books are usually worth reading and this one certainly is. It kept me awake till two o’clock this morning and that is more than the English poets could do. It is the usual stuff about the kidnapping of the meat king’s lovely daughter by rude gangsters one of whom falls for her. Everyone is rodded-up (armed with revolvers) and there is a lot of slaughter. The gunmen are rubbed out by the feds and the lovely daughter takes a rocker from a hotel window because she feels too soiled to go home. It is all very moral.
The joy of the book is its English. The sap’s got hot pants for that judy (the ingenuous gentleman is in love with that young lady;) I gave the Tribune the bum’s rush (I gave up my employment with the Tribune); you’re strung for a sucker (you are a simpleton); the guy’s taken a run-out powder on ya girlie (the gentleman has transferred his affections); I’m getting ya outta a jam (assisting you from a contretemps); Aw nerts! (You are talking nonsense); we’ll be fried (electrocuted) for this; ya gotta snap outta it girlie (you must cease idling, young woman). The people who used these phrases before the feds rodded them were not altogether scamps; they had some nice ways. For instance, whenever the arch-villain wanted a smoke “He gave himself a cigarette.”

One last then I must get back to the drawing board:

"A pretty woman who came to dinner last night gave me two packets of seeds—one of angelica and one of lovage. 'I don’t expect they’ll grow,' she remarked; 'I bought them purely for the sake of their names.' How pleasant it is to meet people as feckless as oneself!”

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Blogger Dave Shelton said...

That's a fabulous, fabulous cover on Antipasto. Love that era of black and a couple of colours design.

13 March 2007 at 02:48:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Which James volumes are you missing? I frequent school and library fétes, as well as garage sales and the like - can keep an eye out for them if you like.

13 March 2007 at 03:01:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Hayley Campbell said...

Why didn't you make me read Walter James?

'I bought them purely for the sake of their names.'

Do you remember when I bought that packet of Soor Plooms from the sweets shop in town? 'SOOR PLOOMS!' I said, grinning, and offered you one of the green things in the packet, expecting you to comment on the hilarious labeling of the Scottish import Sour Plums. But you didn't. You just asked if they were any good and said something about them being bad for my teeth. Sometimes in the dark wee hours of the morning I still seethe about it.

13 March 2007 at 04:34:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

yes, it's that period when a knowingness about modern art (cubism) flooded into ordinary illustration, and animation too. great period.

actually, going and checking the list the missing two are more or less a straight coverage of the Australian wine scene at the time, what to buy, where it comes from etc. i now remember having those at some point but not regarding them as 'for keeping', so thanks for thinking about me, but upon relfection i have what i need. (on the other hand, i just felt a door closing,,,knowing that there isn't another one out there for me to stumble upon one rainy afternoon in a faraway town where we have stopped for the night...)

this isn't one of those 'my father never hugged me' things is it?

13 March 2007 at 05:03:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Hayley Campbell said...

I'm blowing raspberries at you over the internet.

13 March 2007 at 05:33:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

if it's no plooms it's razberries

13 March 2007 at 05:38:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: yesterday's books-with-interesting-typography, I haven't read this but saw a proof, and it looks interesting:



Who knows?


13 March 2007 at 05:58:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That Antipasto cover reminds me of my mother's art school sketchbooks. She was there during the 50s when that look was at its height.

I usually think of it at the Gerald McBoing Boing style (good thing I don't write design books) since those UPA cartoons used a light version of it.

13 March 2007 at 07:27:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Richard said...

Dear Mr Campbell, please stop talking about fascinating old books that I now want to read. I've still barely scratched the surface of the pile of John Ruskin that someone like you got me to acquire. Thank you.

P.S.- What's the title of the fourth James book that is diaristic? I see Barrel and Book, Antipasto and The Gadding Vine in your entry. Is the fourth one "Nuts On Wine", or is that one of the guide books you mentioned above?

13 March 2007 at 10:43:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

yes, the Raw Shark Texts. I'm getting an alarming feeling that it all may have become a bunch of cliches as soon as i've finished talking about it. but let's have a look and see.

yes, that's the animation i'm thinking of

you've named all four there. barrel and Nuts were coupled in a reprint in 1974 which is not too difficult to find in Australian second hand bookshops. title was The Bedside Book of Australian Wine. Apart from the copy i own I have found and given away two others. I scanned and showed the two I have in old '50s covers, for obvious reasosn as you can see from the appreciation above. The ones you don't need are Wine in Australia and What's What about Wine. Now hold on, now that i've slowed down (some noise woke me at half three a.m. and I got up) I've just noticed some info in the inside back cover of the '74. Born 1905. well, i was close. 'Writer of several books on wine and not always constructive reflections upon life and letters. the latest of these, Ants in the Honey, was published by Hawthorn press, melbourne in 1972.
Well hot damn. there is more for me to find.
let me know how you go.

13 March 2007 at 12:20:00 GMT-5  
Blogger James Robert Smith said...

There are some great folk worth reading whose names have faded with the years.

I'd always figured you were writing the Bacchus material with the wine/gods knowledge already packed securely into your noggin. Had no idea you were researching extra material as you moved the story along.

I seem to recall someone asking Neil Gaiman some years back if he was researching the mythology from which he was borrowing, or if he was in fact recalling it all from a vast store of knowledge. I think Gaiman said something funny like, "Yes, it's from my vast store of knowledge".

And I figured you were doing the Bacchus material as such.

13 March 2007 at 18:01:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From conversations with Neil I can testify that his store of knowledge is indeed vast.

It occurs to me that this post connects to the previous one concerning Umberto Eco's comments about there being too many books. Yes, there are (although I bet Eco receives many academic texts which, by their nature, tend to be ephemeral), but there's a kind of Darwinian winnowing that tends to narrow the field over time. The good books last, they find new readers via second hand copies, get reprinted and passed on to subsequent generations. The bad or mediocre books don't, no matter how popular they may seem at the time (I'm looking at you, Dan Brown).

Years of haunting second hand bookshops acquaints one with celebrated authors who don't command anything like the attention they did when they were alive, writers such as Nevil Shute and John Braine. Meanwhile, previously marginalised (not to say, vilified) writers such as HP Lovecraft have continued to grow in stature until they reach the status (as Lovecraft has) of modern classics. There's a moral there somewhere.

13 March 2007 at 19:18:00 GMT-5  

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