Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Birthday the second

Two years ago we opened the doors of mostly books - it was a scorcher, and I was in my shorts. Last year we celebrated our first birthday, and the weather couldn't have been different - it hoiked it down all day.

Today is was nice and sunny for our second birthday. Which was nice.

We had a very low-key day. Our first birthday was an important milestone (and fell on a Saturday) but we had a big celebration recently for the award, and besides, Nicki and I (and everyone else for that matter) have been involved in a lot of events, activities and planning recently - and we're a bit shattered. So as I say, low-key.

Lots of good stuff to tell you about though.

Yesterday I had the very good fortune to meet the wonderful David Fickling (he of David Fickling Books) at his offices in Oxford. The offices are just what you'd expect of one of the country's most dynamic and fun children's book publishers - bookcases everywhere crammed with books, posters everywhere, The whole place - and David himself - oozes a passion and love of reading for kids, I've never quite visited a place like it.

I can't say too much about the meeting at this stage, but I did have the opportunity to find out all about this:
The DFC is now in its fifth week - and as someone who was brought up on The Beano and 2000AD, the comic is a revelation and everything you'd expect from a project which involvs (amongst many others) Philip Pullman and Nick Sharratt. Imagine being a kid and getting this through your letterbox once a week. Fab. Having had to 'dispose' of various cheaply-printed, nasty-plastic-toy-mounted rubbish which has, from time-to-time, been bought for Alex from supermarkets, etc, having a comic printed on quality paper, with literate stories from exciting new artists - utterly brilliant. Its sales deserve to go ballistic...

Anyway, that was yesterday. For our birthday proper we welcomed Helen Rappaport to the shop for an utterly compelling evening event which (given the fine weather) we did in the garden.

For those who don't know, Helen Rappaport is an extremely talented historian, Russianist (and Russian speaker) and a very fine writer. Her previously book on women serving in the Crimea was critically acclaimed, but tonight she spoke about her latest book: Ekaterinburg - the last days of the Romanovs.

I'd finished this on the bus back from Oxford the day before - and (genuinely) missed my stop, so engrossed was I in the final part of the book. Even though you know what's going to happen, Helen does such a good job of making you intimate with the Romanov family, that you feel compelled to read about their brutal (and it is exceptionally, and unflinchingly, horrific) assassination.
The book focuses on the final 14 days of the Tsar and his family, a period which becomes increasingly desperate and claustrophobic as the Romanovs - incarcerated in a city under siege - increasingly become not just a political problem, but a threat to the whole Bolshevik revolution - a problem that eventually can have only one solution.


For me, there's lots of parts that I found fascinating - particularly the entreaties made to the then US president Woodrow Wilson to interceed on Russia's behalf. The feeling was that the arrival of US troops would mean a people rising spontaneously up and toppling the Bolshevik dictators. Mmm, sound familiar?

And what of the role of our own Royal Family (and George V) in refusing asylum to their cousin? Here, Helen explains the complicated situation that existed in this country at that time:



Helen (as befits an ex-actor) is a wonderful and passionate speaker, but this evening you got a sense of the emotional attachment she has to the Russian people and to how the almost-cult of the Romanovs is closely wrapped up in Russian identity and post-communist culture (the entire family are now saints and have been canonised in the Orthodox Church). It's a moot point about just how much of paradigm shift the assassination of The Romanovs represented in terms of the bloodshed of the 20th century, but with Russia a resurgent - and increasingly assertive - nation once again, it does us well to remind ourselves about this particular bloody episode in its history. Helen's book is an excellent place to start, and I really thank her for coming along and making it such a memorable evening

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