On the road again to hand out another of the ABA’s Fifty Years a Bookseller badges. This time a trip to Lincolnshire with Vice-President Brian Lake (Jarndyce) to seek out our old friend Michael Holman now in retirement in Lincolnshire. An early start as I rendezvous in North London with Brian, who has agreed to do the driving.
We reach Osbournby more or less without incident, barring a couple of minor mishaps with counter-intuitive and ill-signposted one-way systems in Stamford and Grantham (Jane, satnav queen, where were you?) Discuss on the way some new ideas to spread the burden of ABA subscriptions more equally between the members at the head of the trade and those (most of us) nearer the foot. Collect Michael and Dorothy H. – pausing to case the joint for any books which might have been overlooked and to admire his English watercolours. Both Michael and Dorothy looking rather well – although both would perhaps admit to having reached the with all faults stage by now. We meander through the distinctive Lincolnshire countryside to the rather splendid Bustard Inn at South Rauceby. Michael is greeted by a hug and a kiss from our hostess – the affection and popularity he has always inspired plainly undiminished with the passing years.
A fine lunch is produced and over it we talk through Michael’s fifty (rather more actually) years in the book trade – from selling new books in Sussex, moving to London, on the road for publishers, and in the sixties opening his first bookshop. Trading as Anglebooks in Berkhamstead, he was a member of the PBFA from the outset (its first treasurer – although we know Dorothy did all the work) and elected to the ABA in 1974. He later moved to Cecil Court in central London , where I first met him all those years ago. Amiable, friendly, knowledgeable, keenly interested in both books and people (not necessarily the most common combination) – a natural raconteur, with all the timing and prodigious memory entailed in making that look easy.
One of the many tales he told us – about the only one I’m ever going to repeat until the libel laws are repealed – was how he was elected to the ABA Committee in the early eighties on a ticket of healing the breach between the ABA and the PBFA (plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose). But even the most scurrilous tales (and there were one or two, maybe rather more) were told with affection and without a shred of malice. Brian and I urge him to get it all written down for posterity – for posthumous publication if need be. Michael recalls Adrian Harrington offering to bring a tape-recorder and just letting it run. Get going, Adrian. This is the real history of the rare book trade in the final third of the twentieth century.
Bless you, Michael – you have adorned the trade for many a year. Universal affection isn’t won that easily. Do get those memoirs written. As you (or was it Dorothy) said on parting, “Only the good die young – we should be good for a few more years yet”.
I view MH as a dear friend and as my bookselling mentor ( which will explain a few things to the observant ). I have offered, on several occasions, to transcribe/edit the Holman memoirs. Up to press he is far more interested in daytime TV and bookmakers. One does one’s best…