I have spent the past year or so watching more costume dramas than is probably healthy, and yet healthy is exactly how it has made me feel. All these depictions of 18th and 19th Century England have served to emphasise what an absolute pain in the backside it must have been living in an age when people died at the drop of a hat.
Today, if we go two or three weeks without hearing from a particular friend, the worst we are likely to assume is that they have lost their phone or are busy with work. 150 years ago there was a very real possibility that it would be because they were dead. People died all the time.
And of everything. They died of colds. They died of fright. They died of toothache. They died of headaches. They died of broken hearts. It must have made it hard to make plans, and I would imagine the phrase "if I’m still alive" was used a great deal more than it is nowadays.
I write this having just returned from the British Library’s Magnificent Maps exhibition, which was predictably ace. There were more women there than I had expected, as I’d always presumed maps to be a peculiarly male interest, in the same way that directions and preferable routes from A to B via C are a default conversation topic for all men struggling for common ground, so to speak. I went on my own because I had presumed nobody else in their right mind would have fancied it, but it now turns out that there would have been several candidates had I only had the strength of my convictions. Mind you, if I’d gone with someone else I wouldn’t have felt as comfortable spending half an hour playing with the big magnifying glasses they had for enlarging the computerised copies.
Yesterday was a victory for second-hand bookshops over common sense, as I bought the following:
A history of the American Civil War by Shelby Foote,
A Short History of Africa by Roland Oliver
Martin Amis’ the Moronic Inferno,
Simon Winchester’s A Crack in the Edge of the World about the SF earthquake of 1906,
I Shall Bear Wintness a jewish memoir of nazi Germany by Victor Klemperer
Sebag Montefiore’s gimungous biography of Stalin,
For Love and Courage, a collection of First World War correspondence from the front,
Collected stories by M.R. James,
and something called Within the Context of No Context by George Trow, which looked amusing.
And all that because we happened to “pop in on our way past” a small bookshop with 5 minutes to kill on our way to afternoon tea. I don’t know where we’ll shelve them, and I’ll be lucky if I’ve read that lot before Christmas. On the plus side, at least the 21st Century has given me a decent chance of living that long.