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Smallville: In Search Of A Reader

Peter B Farrell embarrasses himself by reading the latest bleeping best-selling multi-bleeps novel while riding the bus home from the city.

Halfway down the page Henry Tremaigne wanted to bleep. He often bleeped and he bleeped freely as he did regularly while out walking; no none was looking and he derived great pleasure from the experience. I read manfully on.

As Henry reached home he thought about the time in the office when he wished he had bleeped when he had the chance. He enjoyed bleeping. Too late, he was now landed with a worthless bleep and the chances of him bleeping were non-existent.

I felt uncomfortable on the bus and quickly turned the page, hoping the person next to me wasn’t looking over my shoulder.

I was no prude and I recalled the time 50 years ago when I was being trained to face the communist hordes.

“I’ll bleeping-well rip your bleeping arms off if you don’t bleeping load the bleeping weapon without securing the bleeping safety-catch, you bleepers.” This vocal message from the instructor on the rifle range, emphasising safety when using live ammunition, was got across forcefully, but never made it into the instructional manuals.

Thus, I was used to the language of the barrack room, but that’s where it usually stayed and became taboo in mixed company and rarely, if ever made it into print.

However, seeing the raw expressions in this recent bestseller shocked me, mainly because it was supposedly about an educated, middle class couple. On page six Druscilla Tremaigne decided her spouse was no more than a worthless bleep.

“Why don’t you bleep bleep, you bleeping bleeper.”

“Just go and bleep, you’re nothing more than a bleeping...” This was a page too far and I shut the book. £8.99? I felt robbed; or rather my wife would be when I gave her the bill...

A few weeks before, after corresponding with family members in Sith Afreekah - or RSA, as it is now known - I was asked to help in researching the family history. My inexperience showed when acquiring early census and parish records of the county area where our ancestors lived, unfortunately the data was on microfiche.

“Sorry, not much call for one here.” My expectation that a microfiche reader could be accessed in the local library was dashed, but I was reliably informed that the county library some 20 miles away would be able to help.

“Next Tuesday? Ten o’clock in the morning would be ideal.” A telephone call was all it needed to reserve a reader, located in the special studies centre.

“While you’re in the city can you call in at Ottakers or or Waterstones and buy that book?” My wife, an avid reader of the works of both Agatha Christie and Virginia Woolf, had been invited to attend a social evening during which “that book”- a recent modern bestseller – would be discussed. This would be a new experience for her, perhaps broadening her horizons. I was pleased that her literary opinions were so valued.

On the following Tuesday, armed with my microfiche I set off in good time, just half an hour to the park-and-ride car park outside the city and hopefully a fifteen minute ride on the bus.

The new library complex was an imposing building and had replaced the original that, despite being right next to the Fire Station, had incongruously burnt down. Thousands of volumes, many old and valuable, had been lost or damaged.

The new structure, open plan, spacious and airy seemed to be all glass and unlike any library I had ever seen, more like a modern cathedral. With access to shops, a restaurant, shelves of DVDs, videos and magazines as well as books, it was well patronised.

Students abounded and I particularly noticed classes of schoolchildren lying on the clean floor busily carrying out some project – or as my wife would comment – being anywhere bar school.

“You need the second floor.” A member of staff was helpful and I made my way to the studies centre. Looking down from the top of the stairs on the vast open-plan area below induced a slight sensation of vertigo and I quickly turned away towards the nearest desk, where I was able to confirm my reservation.

“Sorry, no coats or bags allowed.” Adequate storage lockers were provided for this purpose. These orders were carried out and very soon I loaded the microfiche and got on with recording my data. Time flew by and I just managed to finish copying the information before lunchtime. After retrieving my belongings from the locker I made my way gingerly down the stairs to the concourse below.

The nearest bookshop was only a short distance away and I was soon confronted with books stacked high, presumably the latest bestsellers or, as the sign indicated, ‘Recommended on the Richard and Judy Show’, which gave a hint as to their literary merit. Not a Thurber or Runyon in sight, which gave me some perverse satisfaction and I left the dross department and ventured upstairs.

The pale, young assistant, dressed strikingly in black but with purple hair, soon confirmed that my wife’s selection was available, and in quantity.

“Downstairs sir, it’s on special offer.” This was a clue I should have picked up on, but I merely sought out another assistant who quickly produced a copy of the book in question. I purchased it without a second glance.

Within ten minutes I had taken my seat on the bus, to pass the time I sampled the first page.

Henry Tremaigne made his way...

Arriving home I explained the extent of my research to my wife.

“Yes, I got on very well, managed to get all the data. Would you believe it my great, great, grandmother was a car-seat maker in County Durham in 1871?”

This implausible information had seemingly been transcribed from the 1871 Census by a company in the Far East, outsourcing gone mad, possibly in the Malayan jungle. Not to be phased I entered “Probably Corset maker” on the family tree.

“Did you get my book?”

“Yes, and I had a quick glance on the bus. Not exactly Hercule Poirot or Mrs Dalloway, but I only got to page seven.”

There followed the embryonic but brief career of a literary critic.

Page 10, amazed.

“Perhaps when you get into it…”

Page 60, aghast.

“Maybe a vital clue to their relationship.”

Page 109, astounded.

“Just ignore the dialogue and concentrate on the plot.”

Page 130, agitated.

“You could always pretend to be sick.''

No need.


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