Thursday, 5 December 2013

Down and Out In The Soviet Gulag...

Nelson Mandela R.I.P.

I am writing this the morning after Nelson Mandela died, which makes the Hampstead Faces gathering at West End Lane Books last night seem like rather an insignificant event. 
   The truth be known, it felt somewhat insignificant even though the dozen or so who'd braved the cold were, apparently, oblivious to the passing of a Twentieth Century icon. I certainly was.
   Quite possibly the small attendance was down to Mr. Mandela leaving his 'earth suit' aged 95 that evening, the cold weather or a combination of the two. Historic occasions, expected or not, will keep people planted in front of the telly on cold nights. 
    But I reckon the relatively poor showing might also have been down to what is, with liitle doubt, the huge cultural divide between Hampstead and West Hampstead. That is, that very few West Hampsteadites give a shit about Hampstead. Indeed someone suggested that we were in 'enemy territory'. It was, at least, very much an away fixture. A bit like Burnley v Arsenal on a cold winter's night.
   After all, there must have been nearly two hundred people at Waterstones for the book's launch in Hampstead two months ago. Tonight there were only around twelve, one of whom was clearly a suffering alcoholic with horribly filthy finger-nails who came in off the street and kept spilling his beer all over the shop's Parquet floor. 
   After I'd read the passage about Bronco from the book, this fellow felt at liberty to share with us all, at length, a tearful sob story about one of his old West Hampstead drinking buddies. 
   Remarkably, we all stood there listening to him for a full five minutes as the tears welled up in his eyes. To be fair to him, although I loathe the sight of a drunk old git hi-jacking my book reading, at least he made some sort of effort and seemed to inspire a couple of others to share their Bronco stories.    
   Realising this was not to be a best-selling day for Hampstead Faces - as almost everyone who'd made the trip from Hampstonia already had at least one copy - I resorted to picking up my guitar and singing George Harrison's For You Blue. 
   Fortunately this went down rather well, although, after the first verse,  three interlopers - obviously grimy, professional book-launch red wine free-loaders - left without so much as a by-your-leave.       
   Almost immediately, a large, lonely looking woman in a big stripy jumper entered the shop, put down her bags and helped herself to a glass of wine: it was almost as though free-loaders in West Hampstead have some sort of shift-rota in operation. And there in lies the cultural divide between Hampstead and The Soviet Gulag. 

Hampstead doesn't sell around here. 

Not one copy of my book was sold... Not one! A woman did come up to me to announce, 'Great, I've done my entire Christmas shopping here tonight, isn't it marvellous -  I've bought five books'. Unfortunately, not one of them was a copy of Hampstead Faces. At least West End Lane Books made a few bob. The staff there are all so nice and deserved something out of the evening.
   I must admit to feeling somewhat down and out in the Soviet Gulag of Whampers, yet quite relieved not to have wasted too much money on mince pies. I'd considered getting them from Louis but had, instead, shrewdly opted for Sainsbury's Basics on the grounds that they weren't too crumbly. And at £2.50 for 18 mince pies I felt delightfully Scrooge-like. The Soviets weren't complaining.
   I doubt though, even if the mince pies had been from Louis, I'd have sold any books. So, with a West Hampstead estate agent supplying the wine - there was even champagne, the Village Voice only ended up about £15 poorer on the night. 
   A small price to pay compared to the 27 years spent in an apartheid prison, the ultimate sacrifice made by Mr. Nelson Mandela who, although he probably never had the pleasure of a Louis mince pie, fought valiantly against a most hideous of evils and won: a most worthwhile innings, sir. The world is indebted to you.
Toodle Pip!

Emmanuel Mustafa Goldstein
Editor in Exile.

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