Tag Archives: Norwich

Heffers & E.M. Forster, libraries, books & a Del Boy moment

Heffers & E.M. Forster, libraries, books & a Del Boy moment

As I eagerly anticipate a period of desk research at the Cambridgeshire Collection in the Central Library next week, I recall the times I’ve used libraries in various locations over the years, for a myriad of reasons.

My current project is a social history of the long established Cambridge Heffers Booksellers, Stationers and Printers, to be published this autumn. I’m particularly excited about this due to the family association with the firm, which began with my great-grandfather’s employment as a boy at the end of the nineteenth century.

‘One lad was anything but a bright specimen – practically uneducated and from a miserable home.’ William Heffer helped the lad, ‘by insisting that he should write in a copy book and work out simple sums each night, bringing the results to his employer the next morning. The boy profited by this strange tuition, so much so that he eventually became head assistant in the science department at Petty Cury – no mean achievement.’ (a 1952 biography of William Heffer 1843-1928, by Sidney Heffer, presented to Heffer’s staff, ‘With the Author’s Compliments’)

The ‘boy’ was my great-grandfather, seen here sitting at his desk.

Frederick Anstee sitting at his desk, Heffers
Frederick Anstee sitting at his desk, Heffers

I’m also thoroughly enjoying the research conversations with former employees, customers, authors and academics about their own memories of the firm. I must admit it’s a labour of love.

Do you have a Heffers story you’d be willing to share? If so, please do drop me a line via julie@gottahavebooks.co.uk or see the project background on the website –

http://gottahavebooks.co.uk/heffers/

One service Heffers provided was the valuation of libraries for probate. Heffers also bought libraries to sell through their second-hand and antiquarian department. A family friend, Eve Stafford, who worked for Heffers, recalled the time when the firm valued E.M. Forster’s library after his death in 1970. Not long after, Eve left Heffers to work for King’s, Forster’s college and home for many years.

EM Forster in his College sitting room (taken by Edward Leigh, 1968)
EM Forster in his College sitting room (taken by Edward Leigh, 1968)

In my 2014 blog post, ‘Choosing books, living life’, I wrote about the Saturday morning library routine and how I treasured the time with my children at the library.

http://jebounford.net/choosing-books-living-life/

Of course, libraries are not just about choosing books, as that post suggests. There are times when the nearest library is THE place to go for other reasons. Nowhere else will do.

Where did I find refuge during a harrowing six months, when separated from John (my first husband) but still having to live under the same roof?

The library.

Where did I find shelter from the charade of the campus corporate ritual when working as a middle manager in higher education?

The library.

Where did I go when on sick leave, to get out of the house and to aid my recovery from a minor operation,  a recovery that took much longer than I had anticipated?

The library.

Where did I seek curiosities and writings juxtaposed on shelves in ways that I would never have found through searching the electronic bibliographic databases?

The library.

(In my blog on ’15 lessons from doing doctoral research’ I emphasise the benefits of walking around the university library –

http://jebounford.net/15-lessons-from-doing-doctoral-research/)

Where did I hide from those higher education Alan Sugar wannabes, the chequered suited troopers of Enterprise who loudly proclaimed that profit is king?

The library.

Where did I find solace for a day as I regained my composure after an absurd contretemps with Trevor?

The library.

Neil Gaiman said libraries are about freedom, ‘Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.’

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/15/neil-gaiman-future-libraries-reading-daydreaming

The quiet reading room, my favourite room at UEA's Library, has no books.
A reflective image of the quiet reading room in the library at UEA. My favourite room, which incidentally displays no books.

For me, the appeal of the library most definitely has an affective dimension; an emotional attachment that doesn’t exist for some of the other places I may have retreated to in troubled times such as cafés, hotel lobbies, sports centres, galleries and museums. I guess museums come the closest. Museum artefacts, like books, bring different worlds and perspectives to bear on the problem I’m grappling with. Like the books, I don’t have to examine them intently to seek the answers. I just know they’re there, giving the long view informed by lives that have been lived over tens, hundreds, thousands of years. They remind me that I’m not the first to face this problem (whatever it is), nor will I be the last.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve been an inveterate reader and keeper of biographies and memoires. I feel the presence of the lives I’ve observed through other people’s interpretations; people such as Iris Murdoch, D.H. Lawrence, Frida Kahlo, Tony Judt, Jennie Lee, Ada Lovelace, Lorna Sage, Zelda Fitzgerald, John Lennon, Augustus John, Vincent Van Gogh, Bernard Shaw, The Brontes, Elizabeth I, Thomas Hardy, Karl Marx, Elizabeth of York, Ottoline Morrell and Virginia Woolf. I sometimes look at the volumes and reflect on the years lived though it’s not always a conscious thing.  Similarly, living in our five hundred year old home, I feel reassured that many others have lived here, and have faced and overcome their own challenges, whatever they may have been.

In ‘The Comfort of Things’, Daniel Miller says relationships ‘flow constantly’ between persons and things. His extraordinarily moving portrait of thirty households in a street in modern London, focusing on our relationship with material things, reveals the centrality of stuff in our lives and what it means for our relationships with people (Miller, 2008). Like my Great Aunt Winifred Anstee (another family member who worked at Heffers) I’m very attached to my books. Hunter Davies said we are a people divided between those who accumulate and those who chuck out. Like Aunty Win, I’m in the former camp. As a child I loved to browse through her overflowing bookcase. I later learned that she had purchased the bookcase for 5 shillings from Heffers when they made the move from Petty Cury to Trinity Street in 1970, and I’m pleased to say that it is still in the family.

I did have a spell working in a library, though it wasn’t in the role I had dreamed of as a teenager. A history fanatic at fourteen, besides wanting to meet Mary Queen of Scots, I wanted to be an archivist. Instead, I worked as the Senior Housing Adviser at Norwich Advice Services in the ‘90s when it was located in the old Norwich subscription library on Guildhall Hill. I recall two memorable days; first, when I heard the news that Margaret Thatcher had resigned in November 1990, and second, when I became trapped in an interview room by a highly disturbed client for two uncomfortable and alarming hours. The building is now a restaurant.

The most significant event in the history of libraries in Norwich (and perhaps in the UK) was when the central library burned down on 1st August 1994. My (first marriage) wedding anniversary, as it happens. I recall watching the news with horror and fully understanding Councillor Brenda Ferris’ distress as she stood in front of the smouldering pile of bricks and pages – a very real Farenheit 451.

Farenheit 451
An installation in the library at the University of Staffordshire, 2015

I recently visited a friend who gave her address as, ‘The Old Library’. I was delighted to find a stunning and stylish home, still full of books and a most fitting abode for an inspirational, intelligent and incredibly well read woman, writing up her National Trust funded PhD on the history of adult education at Attingham Hall in Shropshire. My own library at home (not the genuine article like Sharon’s), expanded significantly in 2012 when Trevor and I joyfully conjoined our lives, along with our not insignificant book collections. Is there such a thing as a marriage of libraries? Our small publishing venture, Gottahavebooks is certainly an expression of our shared love of books and of social history. And now my pile of postdoc reading material is getting out of hand as I buy and borrow publications that I had wanted to read for years but dared not for fear of neglecting the doctoral thesis.

We can’t all afford to buy the books we read, and we may not want to anyway. Joining a library gives us access to books and so much more. Being a member of a library also entails certain responsibilities. If you don’t follow the rules there are sanctions. Trevor says it’s about having a sense of order and discipline. He says whilst you don’t have to be a member to use the facilities, one should, for example, be quiet. I do get that. However, my children enjoyed the ‘Dick and Dom in ad Bungalow show’ in the mid-2000s, which featured a game called ‘Bogies’. Celebrities took part and I recall Carol Vorderman shouting out ‘bogies!’ possibly in Cambridge University Library (though I may be wrong). It broke the rules and it was funny.

I’ve had my own entertaining library moments.  More embarrassing than funny at the time, my backpack was once so overloaded with library books that I fell backwards whilst making polite conversation with one of my college lecturers outside the library at Norwich City College. I went down gracefully, landing on my back, feeling grateful that the books cushioned my fall. The incident, which now makes me smile, reminds me of Del Boy’s famous fall.

Do you have any embarrassing library moments?

 

 

 

Bright Club Norwich

Bright Club Norwich

As Project Director for the Beacon for Public Engagement based at UEA, I volunteered to do a comedy stand-up routine for Norwich Bright Club in 2011, along with Professor Tim Jickells, Dr Richard Grey and postgraduate researchers Alessia Freddo and Chris Roberts.

Staff and students were joined in the audience by Norwich and Norfolk civic members.  I especially recall the late Cllr Jenny Lay, Norwich Lord Mayor who, despite being hit on the head by the bouquet of flowers I threw into the audience, expressed her congratulations on my performance, saying, ‘I didn’t know you had it in you, Julie’.  I always admired Jenny’s warmth and compassion and was sad to hear of her passing last year.

Whilst the Bright Club experience proved to be more nerve-wracking than any job-interview or presentation, I was on a high for days afterwards. It was an amazing experience which I highly recommend.  View the routine on YouTube or read the script below.  My act starts 10 minutes in.  I hope it raises a smile.

The Big Idea

Is work making you miserable? Do you want to be happy?

Are you becoming restless, depressed, apathetic or cynical?

You academics out there…are you resenting your students, your colleagues, your institution even? The other day I found a great service called, ‘Escape the ivory tower’. You can use it to ‘examine your own unhappiness’. Coaching is offered that will let you ‘go deep’ and really explore whatever you’re struggling with.

Well, my research does pretty much the same thing. I’m going deep…real deep. I’m going down on 12 very lucky academics. You see, they need to be appreciated. They need to be loved, to feel valued. Yet, in these times when making money rules supreme, we seem to have lost our appreciation of the things that really matter. Such as happiness and pursuing the truth; the truth about things that mean absolutely nothing to the public at large…well, someone’s got to do it.

David Watson, the David Attenborough of higher education, has written a book on Managing Happiness and Unhappiness in University Life.   He talked to academics who said,

We don’t have enough money to do our jobs properly but we’re really good at them.

Can’t think what they mean, can you?

We clearly need to boost their morale. We need to make them happy. We need to help them feel connected, somehow engaged. Hmmm engaged…engaged…what makes people happy? Being engaged?

You know, lots of students get engaged at University so we could spread a little happiness and cash in on that. You know, I got engaged when I was at Bangor University? To a young man called Wilf. Didn’t marry him…he met a nice young lady called Alison whilst doing his PGCE. Am I bitter, 30 years on? Maybe…just a little bit…

Didn’t Kate and Wills meet at University?

Did you actually watch the Royal Wedding? What an adoring couple. How nice it is to see two gorgeous young people so much in love. Wasn’t the dress simply wonderful and oh what a stunner. I thought Kate looked fantastic too. Bit caked up maybe. Got to cover up those acne pock marks somehow I suppose.

It’s just been announced that the Palace of Westminster will be available for wedding receptions. Well, I’m not talking alternative wedding venue. I’m talking wedding concept, the total wedding package.

Never mind the big fat royal wedding. I have the big fat university wedding!

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the UEA Wedding Experience – a complete cradle to grave service. World class, carbon neutral, award winning.

For a fairytale experience, UEA’s your concrete castle full of Eastern promise. Explore our labyrinths and exotic subterranean streets.

Now I grant you, the venue may not be instantly appealing – more Gretna grey that Gretna Green. So, if you want a quickie, it’s Gretna Gray, destination UEA. A bit of bunting here and there, maybe draped around the scaffolding. Instead of cleaning the concrete, spay it with glitter!

But it’s not the venue that makes a classic wedding. It’s all the extras – and don’t we have extras at UEA!

Just think of the facilities. Shotgun weddings not a problem. We have a School of Nursing and Midwifery. All services are at hand.

I mean, all services…for you shy young virgins who lack confidence in the bedroom department we can set up special observation points around the campus so you can watch the rabbits. You’ll soon learn.

Our nursery can provide as many cute bridesmaids and page boys as you like, for an extra one-off payment to the parents. Rates negotiable.

For those vital pre-nuptial agreements, our School of Law can offer New Union Practical Treatments Including All Liaison Services – that is, NUPTIALS for short.

Speeches. A wedding is not a wedding without speeches. The School of Literature and Creative Writing! There’s a bunch of scribblers who could do with a bit of extra income. Say, 10p a word, 15p if it rhymes – 75p if it’s funny?

For speech writing, we can set up the Educational Institute for Engagement in Oratory – EIEIO.

Pointless having speeches without a receptive audience. So don’t worry if you’re a little short of guests. UEA can provide a guest list to die for. Any kind you like. Want a refined party with idle chit chat, sipping sherry and nodding sagely – we have pro-vice chancellors, deans, directors and so on. A more cultured lot you could not hope to meet. You want a merry throng, chattering and cheery – we have lecturers and researchers – always game for a laugh. You want a raucous bunch of rebel rousers with a couple of arguments and maybe a fistfight – we have pro-vice chancellors, deans, directors! Wait a minute, they’re in twice. Well, security and maintenance will have to do the sherry and chat.

All those wedding guests you have to invite but don’t actually want? We understand that sometimes it’s necessary to invite those relatives that you really have no desire to see. This is not a problem. We have the solution. We will give them a campus map, some emergency rations and tell them to find room 003.01.03. We guarantee that you’ll never see them…ever again.

It is not even a problem if have no family or friends. You can tack your wedding service onto one of our Congregation ceremonies, coming up soon with a special Star Trek theme this year. Dust off your Klingon outfit. You won’t look out of place. At UEA we really know how to dress up and you’ll be thrilled with the results. Have your photograph taken with our Vice Chancellor, he won’t mind, I’m sure.

Now, I did say ‘low carbon. I don’t mean horse and cart down the Mall – l mean proper low-carbon, environmentally sound weddings. Take the catering. You can have the icing but no cake – there’s a load more food miles in a fruit cake, you know. Think how virtuous you will feel knowing that you’re doing your bit to save the planet. Talking of saving the planet, our School of Environmental Sciences have stacks of shredded emails that would make fantastic confetti.

This could be a true Norwich Research Park Enterprise collaboration. The John Innes Centre can grow you GM flowers that will double up as the salad for the wedding breakfast. And if we’re really pushed, we could buy in some half decent catering from City College Norwich.

Forgotten to buy something for the lucky couple? Stumped for ideas?   The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts! They’ve got some very pleasant tat that they can’t possibly want to keep. Anything from cute little Japanese ornaments to those all essential recycled shopping baskets. They could flog a few bits off and make a bit of cash.

So, don’t just think of that job satisfaction, all those boosted academic morals. Think also of the cash that we’ll raise. No longer will engagement be accused of not generating cash.

Prices range from £9,000 to £9,000. Because we’re worth it.

Who will be my first customer, then?

June 2011 - Julie does Bright Club