All wrapped up

TODAY, WE SENT some books from Kolkata to Bengaluru (Bangalore) to lighten our luggage because domestic flights in India restrict the amount of baggage one can carry. The process reminded me of sending books from other countries.

I used to visit Yugoslavia a lot when it still existed. One one occasion, I wanted to send some heavy books from Belgrade to London. I went to a large centrally located post office. Within the building there was a counter for wrapping parcels. For book post, the books had to be wrapped a certain way. They had to be packed so that a part of each book was left uncovered. This was so that the customs and postal people could see that it was books that were being dispatched.

In 1984, I visited Yugoslavia’s neighbour Albania, which was then under the strict Stalinist dictatorship headed by Enver Hoxha. We had to travel through Yugoslavia to reach and leave Albania. I had read that books from Albania would be confiscated by the Yugoslav customs, and that it was best to post any books bought in Albania back to the UK. In anticipation of this and following the advice that parcel wrapping materials were not available in Albania, I brought brown wrapping paper, adhesive tape, and string from home.

I bought several books in Albania and wrapped them up with the materials I had brought from England. Along with a fellow traveller, an Australian post office official, I took the parcels to a post office in central Tirana. The parcels were weighed by a person at a counter, and he handed me the right amount of stamps for each package. After affixing the stamps, I handed the parcels to the Albanian post office worker. He examined them, then tore off one of the stamps before rapidly reapplying it. I had inadvertently stuck on the stamp upside down. As he restuck the stamp, which bore an image of Albania’s fictator, he said “Enver Hoxha “. Apparently, sticking him upside down was considerable disrespectful. My Australian companion was horrified. He exclaimed:
“Removing postage stamps from mail is against international postal regulations. He shouldn’t have done that.”

Today, in Kolkata, we took our books to a post office in Park Street. Pn ots steps, there are several men who wrap and label parcels to be posted. One of them took our books, wrapped them in cloth bags, and then in a strong plastic sheet, which he carefully sewed up with a beedle and thick thread. This was then wrapped in another layer of plastic, sealed with tape. Upon this he wrote the address to which it was being sent, and our address in Kolkata. Then the whole thing was wrapped in tough transparent plastic to protect the parcel from adverse weather conditions. After this, he carried to parcel to the correct counter, where we paid the postage: about £2.75 for 8 kilograms. The wrapper’s charge was less than £1.

The books I sent from Yugoslavia and Albania arrived safely. So have other parcels I have sent by post from one Indian city to another. So, I am reasonably optimistic that our 8 Kg packet will arrive ‘in good nick’.

Our local library saved from closure

THE NOTTING HILL GATE public library is close to where we live. It consists of three main rooms. Two of them have beautiful painted stucco ceilings. The third, which might have once had such a ceiling, does not have one now. However, it retains some wood panelling with an upper carved wooden margin. Each of the rooms retains the remnants of fine stucco work on their walls. The library occupies much of the ground floor of a large house at the corner where Pembridge Square meets Pembridge Road.

I asked one of the librarians about the history of the building housing the library. She believed that it had once been a large private residence, which the last owner had given the local authority many years ago. She told me that in addition to the library, the house has fats on its upper floors. Sadly, the ceilings have to be restored often because there are often water leaks from the upper floors.

A few years ago, there was a real risk that this branch library would be closed by the local Council (The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea). Vigorous protests by the branch library’s many users and other locals saved the place from closure. To reduce running costs, the library is not always open, but access is possible at odd times almost every day of the week except Sunday.

Brief profile of an author: a bit of self publicity!

Adam Yamey is the author of several books, including: “Albania on my Mind”; “Scrabble with Slivovitz;” (Once upon a time in Yugoslavia); “From Albania to Sicily”; “Exodus to Africa”; “Rediscovering Albania”; “Aliwal”; “Bangalore Revealed”; “Indian Freedom Fighters in London (1905-1910)”; “Imprisoned in India”; “Beneath a Wide Sky: Hampstead and its Environs”; “Beyond Marylebone and Mayfair: Exploring West London”.

His latest book is:

“Golders Green & Hampstead Garden Suburb: Visions of Arcadia”

Buy a copy here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B0BHG873FB/

Born in 1952 in London, he attended Highgate School, and then University College London. After a doctorate in mammalian physiology, he became an undergraduate once more and qualified as a dental surgeon. After 35 years in general dental practice in Kent and London, he retired in September 2017.

Adam married a lady from India in 1994, and, since then, has been visiting her native land frequently. India has become his second home. He is a keen traveller. The periods between his journeys are usefully and enjoyably employed with: family, cooking, writing, photography, blogging, cinema, theatre, and exploring the many delights that London has to offer.

When the writing is over, the hard work begins

I HAVE BEEN working on the manuscript for a new book, which I plan to publish. I will not reveal what I am writing about … at least, not yet!

As I have been doing for the last few years, I write my text on Microsoft Word, and then re-read it several times, revising and correcting errors of fact, spelling, and grammar. At this stage, I am not too fussed about formatting because this has to be done using other software.

To upload a manuscript to publishers like lulu.com and Amazon KDP, it is best – if not essential – to prepare the final manuscript as a formatted .pdf file. The characteristics of the file need to match what will eventually appear on the printed page. Currently, I am using Serif’s Affinity Publisher software, which is a bit fiddly at first, but it does not take long to get used to it (there are many useful tutorial videos on-line) Using a preformatted template appropriate to the size of book to be produced, I flow my Word text into the Affinity software.

Screenshot from my Affinity Publisher

Once it is in the software, each page shows what will eventually appear on each page of the finished book. Using Affinity, I can add illustrations, add page numbers (which change if additional pages are added), an index, and more. I can also edit my text further and shift the formatting of the pages and the spaces between paragraphs to suit me. This stage of the book production is time-consuming but important.

When, eventually, I am happy with what I have produced, I can export the entire book as a .pdf file. This can then be uploaded to the printer’s website, be it lulu.com, Amazon, or another.

Although the writing can be difficult at times, the final formatting of the book to produce a suitable .pdf, which will ensure that everything is in the right place in the printed book is quite demanding but worthwhile at the ‘end of the day’.

Praise is always welcome

HERE IS SOME PRAISE FOR MY PUBLISHING ACTIVITIES in a book review by Stephen Turner (of the University of South Florida College of Arts and Sciences (USA)) in the Journal of Classical Sociology 2022, Vol. 22(2) 247–253:

Adam Yamey, a retired dentist and son of an LSE Professor, has published, through Lulu, a self-publishing company discussed in the book, several books about London, the history of places in Britain,the social movements of the Indian diaspora, travel in the Balkans, his great-grandfather, who was a Jewish South African politician, and other historical topics with a strong“social” content. His blog and webpage (https://adam-yamey-writes.com) are nicely professional and indistinguishable from the pages digitally competent academics produce.”

My LATEST book, which is about #Hampstead and its environs is available from Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92

Last secondhand book dealer in Hampstead

IN THE SIXTIES, there were at least six antiquarian/second-hand bookshops in Hampstead village. Two or three of them were in Flask Walk, a quaint passageway leading northeast from Hampstead High Street. Now, there is only one in Hampstead (apart from an Oxfam bookshop), and that is Keith Fawkes’s store on Flask Walk… currently, the last of the breed.

The amiable Mr Fawkes established his shop in 1964 when there were already a few dealers of second-hand books in the village. Over the years, he has branched out into antiques and bric-a-brac whilst retaining his well-stocked bookshop. It is a treasure house of interesting books, all packed into lines of shelving separated by corridors so narrow that it is difficult for one person to squeeze past another.

Very kindly, Keith Fawkes and his bookstore manager, Sam, have agreed to display and sell a few copies of my new book about Hampstead, “Beneath a Wide Sky: Hampstead and its Environs”, which is also available from Amazon (https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92). While researching my book, Keith provided me with some information about another former Hampstead antiquarian bookseller, the illustrious Francis Norman, about whom I will relate more in a future post. Keith is acknowledged in my book.

So, next time that you are in Hampstead, do take a stroll along Flask Walk and look in at Keith Fawkes before having a pint in the nearby Flask pub, also mentioned in my book.

Putting Hampstead on paper

I HAVE TOLD SEVERAL friends that I am busy writing a book about Hampstead in North London. Hearing this, each one of them has said something like “Aren’t there already so many books about the place?” Well, those words are hardly encouraging. Had I been writing a love story or a book about WW2, they would not have expressed any sentiments about the untold number of already published love stories and books about WW2.

I wondered how many books there are about Hampstead, non-fiction rather than fiction. I searched for “Hampstead” in the book section on Amazon’s UK website and found that there are not more than about 40 different non-fiction titles relating to Hampstead rather than only Hampstead Heath or Hampstead Garden Suburb. Of these titles, 11 were published since 2000, and most of these before 2015. The rest were published before 2000, and of these at least 16 were published before 1980. Since 2015, only 3 books, which deal mostly with Hampstead, have been published. Therefore, although there are many books about Hampstead, few of them have been published in the last six years. So, maybe it is time that another one should appear in print.

While researching the book I am writing, I have consulted many of the books still available on Amazon and many others which have chapters about Hampstead, as well as a wealth of information that can be found on the Internet. I am making much use of what I have discovered from these sources and from my own observations, and I believe that when it is completed my book will contain a distinctive combination of facts and observations, which differs from presentations in other books about the locality.  

The greater part of the book’s subject matter will be about Hampstead and its ‘satellites’, North End, Swiss Cottage, Belsize Park, and West Hampstead. I am also including shorter, detailed sections on Highgate and Golders Green. I am still at an early stage in the book’s production, but I do not feel deterred by observations that my friends have made that imply that I am simply ‘sending coals to Newcastle’, by writing yet another book about Hampstead. Time will tell.

Books in Buxton

ONE OF THE SEVEN WONDERS of the Derbyshire town of Buxton has to be Scrivener’s bookshop. Located on the town’s High Street, this shop displays books on five floors including the basement. Many, but by no means all, of the books are second-hand (pre-loved). At first sight, the books seem to be crowded together in no particular order, but the reverse is true: they are arranged systematically rather than chaotically.

The books are far from being at bargain prices, but they are priced fairly, not outrageously. Those of you, who know my addiction for acquiring books, will be relieved to know that I purchased only two volumes. There were plenty more that I might have been tempted to buy had I not already embarked on on a project of carefully reducing the number of books in my possession.

Changing frontiers

I HAVE ALWAYS ENJOYED browsing the shelves and piles of books in second-hand/antiquarian bookshops. During my adolescence in the 1960s, I bought many old travel guidebooks, such as were published before WW2 by the likes of Baedeker, Michelin, Murray, and similar. These items were not highly valued by collectors in the ’60s and were very reasonably priced. This was just as well because my spending power was not great at that time. My self-imposed rule was that I would not buy anything priced over £1 (Sterling). One of my prized purchases in that time was a pre-WW1 Baedeker’s guide to Egypt. I paid six shillings (30 pence) for this already rare edition in the second-hand department of Dillon’s university bookshop, which faces the Engineering Department of University College London. This shop is now a branch of the Waterstones chain of booksellers.

Most of the bookshops that I visited regularly were in or near Hampstead, which in the 1960s had at least eight second-hand booksellers. There was one shop that I visited occasionally on the corner of Fleet and Agincourt Roads. Once I entered it and found a copy of Murray’s Handbook to Northern Germany, which was published in the late 1880s. I was fascinated by this book which described Germany long before it was divided into East and West Germany, which is how it was in the 1960s. It also covered parts of the USSR (e.g. Kaliningrad, once ‘Königsberg’) and of Poland (e.g. Danzig, now ‘Gdansk’) that were formerly parts of the German Empire.  I looked inside its cover to discover its price. My heart sank. It was priced at one pound and ten shillings (£1.50). It was well beyond my budget. I could not decide whether I should break my £1 rule … only this once, but I did not. Reluctantly, I left the book behind in the shop. I had never seen a copy of this book before, and as I walked away, I wondered whether I would ever see another.

When on foreign travels with my parents, I went into second-hand bookshops and discovered some treasures, which I could afford. For example, in Madrid, I picked up several Michelin guides that had been published before WW1 when motoring was in its infancy. In Italy, which we visited annually during my childhood, I acquired several guides published before WW2 and during Mussolini’s era by the Touring Club Italia (‘TCI’). Some of these covered places that had been parts of Mussolini’s empire, such as Libya and Somalia. One TCI guide covered Friuli-Venezia Giulia, when large parts of what was to become western Slovenia were under Italian rule and the Adriatic coast as far as Rijeka was also part of Italy. This guide also included the Adriatic town of Zadar in Croatia, which was the Italian enclave, called ‘Zara’, before WW2. One treasure, which was subsidised by my parents, was the TCI guide to Greece, which was published just prior to the Italians’ abortive invasion of Greece. My copy includes notes added by its former owner, an Italian soldier. Interestingly, he had traced his route into northern Greece on the book’s map. From this, it was evident that he had travelled through central Albania before entering Greece.

In the 1980s, I was still avidly collecting old books including travel guidebooks. From 1982, when I had passed my driving test and began owning cars, I used to drive to see friends all over the UK and elsewhere. Often, I visited friends in Cornwall. My route, which tended to avoid motorways, took me through many small towns, all of which I explored with a view to discovering second-hand bookshops. Honiton in Devon used to contain several well-stocked antiquarian booksellers. On one trip I entered one of them at the bottom of a hill at the western end of the town and made an exciting discovery. Yes, you have probably guessed it already. In that shop, I found another copy of the old Murray’s guide to Northern Germany. Nervously, I looked for its price. By now, I had abandoned the idea of limiting my spend to £1, which in the 1980s would have been insufficient to buy any of the old guidebooks that attracted my interest. The volume I found was £7, which was remarkably good value in the 1980s. I snapped it up and paid for it with pleasure.

Nowadays, if I see an out-of-print book that interests me, I seize the opportunity to buy it, if, after checking the price on-line, it is not outrageously costly.

Finally, whilst talking about old guidebooks, I must mention an artwork created for me by the lady who would eventually marry me. Long before we were wed, she knew of my collection of guidebooks and was also a keen amateur potter. One day, she presented me with a wonderful gift. It was a box made of fired clay, which was shaped to look like a row of Baedeker guidebooks. This still occupies a prominent position on one of our many overcrowded bookshelves.