Either late last year, or early this year (I can’t remember which, I know it was cold), I wasn’t feeling well. I left work early, but couldn’t quite face getting the tube, so wandered around in a bit of a daze (thinking about it now, it must have been early this year; if it had been late last year, there would have been Christmas decorations everywhere).
I found myself in the newly opened Book Exchange on Berwick Street. Being newly opened, they hadn’t finished putting all the stock out, and the shop was half empty (ever restless, as soon as the shop was fully stocked, they moved everything downstairs. They sell clothes upstairs now).
I bought this book for 50p:
Inside the book, someone (I assume Charles Unwin) has written this:
I’m not sure what the “902” refers to. The “40p Wk1” is in reference to the price which someone, probably the person who owned the book immediately before me, paid for it in an Imperial Cancer Research shop. I know it had previously been sold in an Imperial Cancer Research shop because I found this receipt in the book:
15-10-01. Good lord. Whoever had bought it previously had done so more than seven years earlier. Who was that person? Charles Unwin? I doubt it. The book must have passed through several hands since this edition was originally published in 1978.
The habit of writing your name and address in the inside cover of a book is one which has apparently died out (I base this on nothing more than anecdotal evidence; when I’ve noticed these inscriptions in other books, they always seem to be a bit older. Newer books remain anonymous). My guess is that Charles Unwin must have been the original owner of the book (would someone buy a cheap secondhand book and mark it in that way?). He probably bought it in 1978 or maybe 1979. I hope he liked the book. But who was he? Googling the phrase “Charles Unwin” (in quotes) brings up 15,000 results. Which one is he?
There’s an actor called Charles Unwin, but he was only born in 1973. It can’t be him. Could he be the Charles Unwin who the Queen was so graciously pleased to appoint as an Officer of Her Diplomatic Service on the 6th Febrary 1979? Is he the Charles Unwin who would later go on to write this? Maybe he is the Charles Unwin who is friends with a man who calls himself Papalaz. A “very clever guy and a great reader“, maybe Handke’s odd little book would have appealed to him. I suppose I’ll never know.
I wonder what 9a Regent’s Park Terrace is like. This is where it is:
It’s an architectural practice now. This is their website.
This is what 9a Regent’s Park Terrace looks like on Google Streetview. In this picture, it’s obstructed by a tree:
This is what 9a Regent’s Park Terrace looks like if you stand outside and take a photo:
I’m not entirely sure why I went there. I suspect it’s actually a slightly creepy thing to do. But once I had the idea of going, I knew I had no choice. I don’t know what I expected to find, and the whole thing was a bit of an anti-climax. It was cold and windy. I didn’t stay there very long. I felt awkward and went and had an overpriced pint of Red Stripe in the Spread Eagle around the corner.
Maybe part of the reason for my decision to make this pilgrimage was that, actually, it didn’t involve much effort on my part. I only had to get the tube to Camden. I didn’t have to fly anywhere. This was also inside the book:
This Wikipedia page suggests this card is also from 2001; the interim period during Greece’s move to “a closed ten-digit numbering scheme”. I’m a bit surprised that a company like Siroco’s (a holiday apartment complex) didn’t have a website even as recently as 2001. They have one now though. Parikia looks a lot nicer than Camden. Maybe I made the wrong choice.
Papalaz moved from London to Crete at some stage. Maybe I could take a tour of the Greek Islands and pop in to see him. He runs a farm. Maybe that’s what Charles Unwin did. Maybe he met up with his friend in the Greek islands. Maybe Papalaz realised he still had that book he’d borrowed from Charles a few years ago, and gave it back. But, then what? Reunited with the book, Unwin stayed a few nights at Siroco’s, read it one last time, and then donated it to his local charity shop? That doesn’t make sense. Of course it doesn’t make sense. I’m trying to squeeze the biographical details of two different Charles Unwins together for no real reason.
What happened to the book between the time Charles Unwin wrote his name in pencil inside the front cover in the late seventies and the time it was sold in an Imperial Cancer Research shop in 2001 remains a mystery. At some point around then, it might have made a trip to a Greek island, it might not have. Either way, a few years later, it was sold in the Book Exchange on Berwick Street for 50p to a man who was feeling unwell.
UPDATE: After writing this blog post, I received an email – see Part Two for more…