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This report is taken from PN Review 260, Volume 47 Number 6, July - August 2021.

Chimes at Midnight Peter Scupham
For Ann and Anthony Thwaite

Mr Gudgeon, the elderly bookshop assistant in Brian Aldiss’s first novel, The Brightfount Diaries, is given to sardonic aphorisms: ‘A miscellaneous collection of objects is man’s only defence against time,’ is one I particularly like. Navigating the steps and curlicues of The Mill House at Low Tharston, the Thwaites’ home for some fifty years, moving into the long low living room lit with a chequered light from the riverside windows, is to move into a room which is a metaphor for lives lived as travellers in space and time. A Roman bust shares its gaze with the staring eyes and flowing beards of Bellarmines, those stoneware drinking jugs of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. (We only wish we could have introduced him to his admired Robin Hildyard, of the Victoria and Albert, whose Exhibition Catalogue of stoneware was delightfully called Browne Muggs. Robin had also mentioned Anthony in an academic article, which delighted him.) Books, of course, are everywhere, shelved and nid-nodding to each other, heaped in piles; drawers open to reveal fragments of pottery: ‘Sherds, Peter, sherds, not shards.’ This a world of suggestions, shadows of lost knowledge; it exemplifies Anthony’s favourite book of Geoffrey Grigson’s, Looking and Finding, ostensibly for young collectors. We came from a collecting generation of schoolboys: mine were seashells, military badges, wildflowers... Ever since, as a boy, Anthony was given a silver denarius, he had been a looker and finder, alert for the secret signs which lie buried all around us. Both of us shared the National Service ...


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