Sunday, November 02, 2008

[Insert Nobbs Gag Here]

I am a big fan of the books of David Nobbs. He is most famous for Reggie Perrin, but also wrote A Bit of a Do, the Henry Pratt books and the wonderful Going Gently amongst others. If you liked the Reggie Perrin sitcom then I promise you that the books are even better. If I had one book on a desert island it would be a close tie between one of David Nobbs' and Getting Off Desert Islands for Dummies (Back to Civilisation Where You Can Read Any David Nobbs Book You Like). I urge you to read him.

But his first three novels have been out of print for years. I've looked on eBay and on the Amazon marketplace, but without success. Till I decided to try my local library where I could order two of them online and a couple of weeks later, after they had borrowed them from another library, collect them. It was like someone who had spent their lifetime studying a particular painter suddenly finding an unknown painting of theirs. It was fascinating to see how themes, settings and styles in his later books were first developed.

But my favourite part of the whole experience was when I opened A Piece of the Sky Is Missing (first published in 1969) and saw that the first date stamp was 1977. It had clearly gone into reserve stock at that point, coming out about once a year after 2002 which was presumably when this LASER system was introduced. (Perhaps a librarian can shed some more light on this - I have a feeling that there must be at least one amongst you.)

1977! I had a full-blown Proust meets Life On Mars experience as this prosaic method for documenting a book's lending and return, unchanged for decades, linked me directly to a time over 30 years earlier. The Silver Jubilee! Punk Rock! Going up to the juniors! Homemade ice lollies that were in fact just frozen orange squash!

I also loved the little cardboard wallet and typed index card, and vividly remember when my local library in the Midlands switched to these new-fangled "bar codes" to record a book's status (though admittedly the sort that you had to roll the pen-like reader across rather than just point it in the general direction of the book). It was perhaps the most exciting thing to happen there in the 1980s.

I particularly like the bit about infectious illness. What were they worried about in this blissful pre-Aids existence? Some kind of infection from falling off a spacehopper? A gastric bug from eating a bad Arctic Roll? (This was all anyone did in the 1970s. I have seen I Love the 1970s so I know this for a fact.) (Not that you can catch Aids off a book. Well, not unless you are particularly imaginative.)

Alas, it looks like this link to a foreign country (Strikes! Flares! Ford Cortinas! Anoraks with fur around the hoods!) will soon be gone as my date stamps are at the bottom of the last column. (Even though there are still some blank areas. They certainly aren't making as good use of this as I would. I could have kept it going till we were all swimming around and the only book anyone was interested in borrowing was Living in Searing Heat but Without Land for Dummies.)

So I wanted to preserve it here. If you are old enough, please put your 1977 Proustian rushes in the comments box.