I love paper, and have for as long as I can remember. Firstly it was the promise of the recreation of art, and later the treasure of books.
As a child I would draw on any paper I could get, usually with the biros that were lying around at home, on sheets of scrapped diagrams that my father brought home from the factory for me. Eventually I got my parents to buy me packs of typing paper from the newsagents. Those packs of clean white A5 paper seemed so fat to me. They were wealth indeed, and I would draw and draw and draw. I’m still quite happy to draw and shade using biros, and they give a unique quality, like any medium does.
Books I discovered later, and I loved our local library, and trips to WH Smiths in Ken High Street, which in those days had an entire, long wall filled with books, mainly paperbacks. Paper books are the vinyl of reading, and I think you either get the experience or you don’t, and the different levels of engaging with a medium, which is far from just abstract and mental. But there is a whole other side to books which appears when they come adrift of the immediate intentions of publishers and high street shops, and enter the world of the second hand. That parallel world is an intellectual pirate universe, where the lost and the out of print become the bedrock and the sediment, the reefs where the past lives on, yellowing and with covers that were once unremarkable or just nice, but reveal themselves to be freakin’ awesome, precious archaeological objects.
The great thing that the internet has done for second hand books is that it has made them available, more comprehensively searchable, and way cheaper if you’re prepared to look. For years now I have depended upon sites like Abe Books to find books I want for just a few pounds. A lot of bookshops in London you can’t get into with a wheelchair, and I’m not going to leave Phil behind while I go trawling through bookshops, and new books are just too expensive for us to usually justify. I’m all for supporting your local book store if you can afford to (and if you’re lucky enough to have one), but we need our online second hand sellers, and I’m very grateful to them.
The fact that paper books are physical objects that can survive and go on their own, unregulated journey is wonderful, and it means that there are whole, tiny ecosystems of literature that keep on going, long after the surface commercial world has forgotten about them. Which brings me onto some memories, which make these dog eared treasures into emotional artefacts from a past which of course is always personal.
There was a small publisher called Rigel Press which was working from the late sixties through to the very beginning of the 1980s, coincidentally based out of Cloncurry Street in Fulham, which I passed every day on my way to and from school. They published a small range of books with largely esoteric subjects, amongst them the books of Richard Gardner. I’ve written about Richard elsewhere, he was an extraordinary man that I feel honoured to have known to the extent that I did. He was passionate, humble, knowledgeable, and devoted to his work of transforming human consciousness into all it could be. He was also kind and down to earth. In all my travels and moves, his books are some of the few that survived everything and that are still with me.
Also from Rigel Press was a booklet by Tammo de Jongh called “The Magic Circle of the Soul”, which was also concerned with the elements and their place in human consciousness (and I know that Richard and Tammo worked together, though he credits Tammo and his colleagues with the discoveries involved). Tammo’s art was featured on the cover of a King Crimson record, and nowadays you can find more on Tammo than you can on Richard on the internet (though it’s still pretty thin pickings), though I think it would be fair to say that if it hadn’t been for Richard, Tammo and his work would not have been able to become what it was, while Richard’s contribution remains largely unacknowledged and unquantified. I really would love to see Richard better remembered, because he was a true original, and as I said, a passionate and humble advocate for the miraculous flowering of human consciousness. But Richard really didn’t put himself in the picture, for to himself he didn’t seem to be important to it, as if he had forgotten himself in the wonder of what he had seen, and the application to a work which it implied. But he was important, and I would not have him be forgotten. He is now a golden memory.
Thanks to second hand books, you can still find him, and people like him. Below is my little collection of Rigel Press output.