Library Lockdown Log

Due to Coronavirus, the Library is closed until further notice

Due to furlough arrangements, members are currently not able to contact the librarian. If you have any queries please email

STOP PRESS: The Hay Festival is going online this year.
Hay Festival Digital #Imaginetheworld is free to view and runs 22-31 May

The library committee, with the help of the office,  has been running the log since Easter. Please send any reviews to

Opinions expressed in this log are those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect those of the Institution or the Editors.

The Editors reserve the right to amend contributions at their discretion.

29th May
The perils and pleasures of cookery editing
I became a cookery book editor more by accident than design.  I had just started working at the publishers Chatto & Windus, reading unsolicited manuscripts (affectionately known as ‘the slush pile’ from which, one lucky day, I extracted Hilary Mantel’s first novel).  Chatto published a small cookery list, edited (reluctantly) by Jeremy Lewis who claimed to know nothing about cooking.  One of his authors was Mollie Harris, best known as the archetypal mistress of gossip Martha Woodford in the shop-cum-post office in Ambridge.  Mollie lived most of her life in Eynsham and wrote books about Cotswold customs and crafts (one was devoted to Cotswold privies).  She was a great maker of country wines and homely food.  Unfortunately both she and Jeremy failed to spot that there was no flour among the ingredients listed in her Christmas cake recipe.  Every December for several years, the Chatto switchboard was flooded with calls from puzzled, often irate housewives whose cakes had failed.

For someone interested in food and cooking, working on cookery books is fun.  I was invited to some of London’s best restaurants, given a free pass to the annual Oxford Food Symposium, and would-be authors cooked delicious meals for me.  After photo shoots (if the food had not been sprayed to make it look good under the photographer’s lights), I got to take home carrier bags full of wonderful things.  But it is a demanding job too.

There is no room for error.  I was to discover that not all cookery writers rigorously test their recipes.  I could only cook a sample, so I had to learn to read them very carefully, imagining and enacting each step of the process.  Happily with most of my writers, with Frances Bissell, for example, or Claudia Roden, I could be completely confident that what they had given me would work.  I loved going to meetings with Claudia at home when I would be invited to share a dish she was testing.  And I learned a great deal from watching Frances demonstrating her recipes in Harrods or in Books for Cooks – how to make a perfect pumpkin risotto or her exotic lavender ice cream. 

But like Jeremy, I too made mistakes.  I greatly regret the tin of potatoes in one recipe that I let pass but which reviewers did not, and the books I might have bought and didn’t, Margaret Shaida’s Legendary Cuisine of Persia for one.  All of us – editors or cooks – can be caught unawares.  My most recent experience involved spinach, very large quantities of spinach, one of the ingredients in Angela Hartnett’s apricot, almond and spinach turkey stuffing.  The recipe called for 6kgs, an awful lot but, I reasoned, spinach shrinks dramatically when cooked. So I went ahead.  I was not alone.  So many readers wrote in to the Observer which had published the recipe that the Reader’s Editor, Stephen Pritchard felt he should try it himself.  The required twenty-four bags of spinach all but filled his shopping trolley and, once cooked, filled all his available dishes and had to be decanted into two plastic buckets.   Advised to cook the stuffing mix in foil, he ended up with six ‘swiss rolls’, each about a foot long, ‘enough to feed the Huddersfield Choral Society’.  We needed only 1kg of spinach, not 6kgs as stated in the recipe. Fortunately the stuffing was very delicious, so it was no great hardship to have enough in the freezer for several Christmases to come.
Hilary Laurie

22nd May
Putin’s People               Catherine Belton
Over the past few years, there has been no shortage of books about Russia under Putin.  As the former Moscow correspondent of the Financial Times though, Catherine Belton was ideally placed to produce a definitive study of the regime that has run Russia throughout the 21st century.  And what a story it is.

The author reveals how Putin used his KGB colleagues and underworld contacts to take control of St Petersburg with its oil terminal and shipyards. Once Yeltsin was persuaded that Putin would be a safe pair of hands to succeed him as president, he then moved to Moscow where he worked to displace the oligarchs who had prospered from the sell-offs of the Russian oil and gas industries.  To do so he established Kremlin control over both the media and the judicial system while, of course, loudly asserting the latter’s independence.  Once firmly ensconced in power, he was ready to take on the West.  What apparently motivates Putin is the desire to restore Russia as an empire and world power which the West has to take seriously.  The take-over of the Crimea and the undermining of Eastern Ukraine is all part of the overarching plan.  At the same time, Russian agents with bulging wallets are steadily corrupting democratic states in Moscow’s interests.

The final chapter is all about Donald Trump.  A worrying but fascinating read.
Jim Lloyd Davies

 13th May
The Lost Carving – A journey to the Heart of Meaning by David Esterly (Penguin, 2013)
An American post-grad student working on Plotinus has a moment of revelation that changes his life.  He goes into St James Church and sees the Grinling Gibbons carvings.  “Floating on the reredos, the wall behind the altar, was a shadowy tangle of vegetation, carved to airy thinness…My steps slowed, and stopped.  I stared…  It seemed one of the wonders of the world.  The traffic noise of Piccadilly went silent, and I was at the still centre of the universe.”   David Esterly gives up academia to become a wood carver and this book takes us on his journey of discovery.  Learning to become a craftsman he is inspired by Gibbons who could carve a flower so delicately that it trembles in a breath. He “did what masters do, even from the grave.  He made me put away childish things”.  Esterly writes superbly evoking the sensual delights of working with wood, as well as places and people. He restores the fire-damaged Gibbons carvings at Hampton Court, months of  “paralyzing romance” and frustration with its administrators. This is a book by a master triumphantly bringing together craft, art and philosophy.  A beautifully written escape for these locked down times.
Paul Kafno

5th May
Members may be interested in The Big Book Weekend 8-10 May 2020

This is a free, three-day, virtual festival that plans to bring together the best of the British book festivals cancelled due to coronavirus. There will be interviews, panel discussions and performance.

Find out more at


A member reviews the latest novel by Anne Enright.

I have always enjoyed the intelligent and perceptive novels by Anne Enright and her latest work, Actress, proved to be no exception.

Norah, in present day Ireland, looks back on the troubled life of her late mother, the legendary actress, Katherine O’Dell. As she examines their complex relationship, the story moves back and forth in time, taking us to pre- war rural Ireland, Hollywood, New York, London and Dublin. I particularly enjoyed the passages describing a somewhat ramshackle company of travelling players touring Ireland in the late 30s.

This is a fascinating and moving tale about the price of fame, a daughter’s search for the truth and above all, a tribute to the theatre and the power of stage performance.

30th April
The Library Lockdown Log is back after its Easter break.

Please join in by sending your suggestions for reading, reviews or other book-related notes to from now on.

We start with a member’s review of a book which has just been included in the short-list for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020.

I have just finished reading A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes. She is well known as a stand- up comedian, specialising in presenting classical characters as part of a comedy routine and thus bringing classics to a wider audience. She has written and presented four series of the BBC Radio 4 show Natalie Haynes Stands Up For the Classics.

This book is similar to The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, who also explores the experience of women during the Trojan War.

A Thousand Ships is her third novel and gives voices to the women, girls and goddesses involved in the Trojan War. I particularly enjoyed the scene where the three goddesses  phrodite, Hera and Athene are present at the wedding of Thetis and Peleus. They proceed to argue over who should have possession of the golden apple inscribed with the words “For The Most Beautiful”. Zeus is asked to decide and he ducks the question. This leads to the introduction of Paris and the subsequent consequences.

The book is thoroughly enjoyable and a list of characters at the beginning is helpful if one is not too knowledgeable about Greek myths and legends. I will certainly put her second novel The Children of Jocasta on my list of books to read.

9th April
A holiday quiz, in two parts

Family Quiz : How much do you know of children’s literature?

  1. In The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett where was Mary Lennox born?
  2. What is the name of the druid in the Asterix stories, who brews a power-giving potion?
  3. Where does the March family supposedly live in Little Women by Louisa M. Alcott. It is where she herself grew up. (Answer should give a place name and state).
  4. In The BFG by Roald Dahl what is the only kind of edible plant food that grows in Giant Country?
  5. Which two groups of animals from the Wild Wood occupy Toad Hall while Toad is in prison, having thrown out Mole and Badger?
  6. What or who did Dave lose and then find on a toy stall at the school Summer Fair?
  7. What is the only discernible difference between Thompson and Thomson in the Tintin books (apart from the spelling of their names)?
  8. Where does Mrs. Large try to find Five Minutes Peace? (Jill Murphy)
  9. What are Peter Pan’s directions for flying to Neverland? (James Barrie).
  10. In We’re going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, the family go through grass, a river, mud, a big, dark forest and finally what do they go through before they reach the cave?

Which novels begin with these lines?  All 19th and 20th century works.

  1. The schoolmaster was leaving the village, and everybody seemed sorry
  2. It was a bright May morning some twelve years ago, when a youth of still tender age, for he had certainly not entered his teens by more than two years, was ushered into the waiting-room of a house in the vicinity of St. James’s Square, which, though with the general appearance of a private residence, and that too of no very ambitious character, exhibited at this period symptoms of being occupied for some public purpose.
  3. There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.
  4. Les curieux événements qui font le sujet de cette chronique se sont produits en 194., à Oran.
  5. On the bump of green round which the green twists, at the top of the brae, and within cry of T’nowhead farm, still stands a one-storey house.
  6. Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.
  7. If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupies before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

Answers to Family Quiz

  1. India.
  2. Getafix (UK version).
  3. Concord, Massachusetts.
  4. Snozzcumbers.
  5. Weasels and Stoats (Wind in the willows by Kenneth Grahame)
  6. Dogger, his soft toy dog.
  7. The shape of their moustaches. One has slightly curled ends.
  8. In the bath.
  9. Second to the right, and straight on till morning. (Disney added the word star)
  10. A snowstorm.

Answers to first lines

  1. Thomas Hardy – Jude the Obscure
  2. Benjamin Disraeli – Coningsby
  3. Charlotte Brontë – Jane Eyre
  4. Albert Camus – La Peste
  5. J.M. Barrie – A window in Thrums
  6. George Eliot – Middlemarch
  7. J.D. Salinger – Catcher in the rye

The Lockdown Log is signing off for now.  Holiday and furlough intervene, but we continue to welcome suggestions from members for reading, reviews of books you’ve enjoyed or any library-related notes.  Please send them to

The Library has some 25,000 books, constantly updated and covering a wide range, from crime fiction to history. In general stock reflects members’ interests and, indeed, those of earlier librarians: for example, at various times the Bloomsbury Group, gardening, embroidery, Imperial Russia and women travellers of the 19th century have clearly been much in demand. The original collection, as the first catalogue of 1839 shows, matched the lecture subjects chosen by the early members. It was much stronger in the burgeoning fields of science and engineering. Now fiction, biography and history predominate.

Our children’s corner holds many classics, often enjoyed by parents and grandparents, as well as new titles for the very young, for new and for confident readers, and for young adults.

Many of our books are not available in other libraries, and the collection has often proved to be a useful resource for researchers and writers.

Members may borrow up to eight books at a time, and can request book renewals or reserve books in person, by telephone or by e-mailing the librarian at

The Coleridge Room holds our special collections on London, Highgate, Coleridge and Betjeman.  This room may be used by members for study and research: please telephone us if you would like to check when it is available.

The London Collection covers all aspects of the capital: history, waterways, architecture, transport, guilds, its people and more.

Highgate itself is more comprehensively represented, and together with our Archives this collection offers an extremely useful resource for anyone interested in exploring the history of our area.

Both Coleridge and Betjeman lived locally, Betjeman in childhood and Coleridge in the last years of his life. These collections include works by and about both these poets.