This morning, instead of turning on my laptop before I thought of brushing my teeth, I arose and read 100 pages by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, not (only) because I am a pretentious twit but because I am addicted to reading print.
It behoves me to do so because I am a perennial student and the day I stop learning is the day I rot, but I find it difficult to do anything without reading a book or newspaper. Pure panic attacks me when I enter the *gentlemen’s room* without something to read, it’s certainly not the soothing experience it usually is.
So when I continually hear about (or read about) the death of print something pierces me painfully in the heart and in the bowels. Can this be true? Will the very essence of my being be taken away to be replaced by the first, second, third or whatever screen? SAY IT AIN’T SO, JOE!
I thought it was all talk until recently, I assumed there would be a report that said looking at all these screens not only renders the viewer stupid but destroys eyesight and concentration. Independent bookshops would reopen and the intellectual world would be saved.
It appears not, newspapers are disappearing in traditional form and most of the ones that remain just look like hard copy websites. The Guardian is laying people off after (sadly) living above its means and it is only the weekend newspapers that contain any serious analysis.
Furthermore, the extraordinary collection of British newspapers at the British Library in the North London suburb of Colindale is to close. This collection contains every single newspaper published since the 18th Century; yep, every single one. It is THE resource of our nation.
The collection has now been digitised as the British Newspaper Archive and the newspapers are to put into storage in Yorkshire with the Colindale now a ‘residential opportunity’ for property developers… this is the news about print that has broken me.
Twenty years ago after a working life of managing betting shops in London’s White City estate or Kilburn High Road, and riding motorcycles extraordinarily dangerously as a wannabe Alpha Male of the capital’s despatch riders, my first smart job was a gig at the Colindale Library.
The job was temporary and lasted three weeks. Along with six denizens of Hackney’s squatland (I lived in a proper flat up the road in Stokey, over there I could almost see the class struggle etc) we drove across London to sit in front of reels of Microfiche researching US newspapers and noting down any health stories that were in them.
Our overseer was a small German man who worked for Big Pharma, neither I nor my squatter mates cared about that, it was cash in hand and it was great. I was lucky enough to have the San Francisco Chronicle of the late 1960s as my focus.
Amazing. The moon landings, the dudes in Haight-Ashbury, the terrible killing of Sharon Tate by Charles Manson’s acolytes, Dylan, The Stones, it was the history of my childhood when I had been too young to read or understand it.
When that experience at the Library was over, the German paid us so we took him to an abandoned church in Lower Hackney after the pubs were shut… to see a circus. Bonkers, industrial goths, pimped-up Minis, more anarchic than Archaos had ever been. Crazy stuff, but he loved it and we loved him for the great job he’d given us.
To think that all that history, culture and print beauty is going to be put into storage in Yorkshire renders my world in two and twists my blood around my heart. It’s like humankind eating a brother, eating a sister, setting fire to itself.
In the interim before our imminent doom, the entropic finality of our dying being is being enacted all around us, but we don’t care. We’ll carry on being trivial and eschew our canniablism while we contentedly moan about the quality of the salad.
I’m off to the pub…