Strolling with Salman Rushdie to a tube station now looks as if a distant age | Rachel Cooke

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Lots of journalists have Salman Rushdie tales. He likes to speak and he’s beneficiant together with his time. After I interviewed him just a few years in the past, we had lunch collectively – considerably mockingly, it appears to me now – on the restaurant at Tate Britain, a venue lengthy since closed on account of the Rex Whistler mural on its partitions (in 2020, the gallery’s ethics committee referred to as it “unequivocally offensive”). What I keep in mind most, although, isn’t what occurred there, however the truth that once we had been completed, Rushdie insisted he would relatively stroll with me to Pimlico underground than pile right into a taxi.

I feel I used to be stunned. One among my very first jobs as a younger journalist concerned attending an occasion the place Rushdie, then nonetheless in hiding, was rumoured to be going to look (reminiscence tells me that he did, rising from behind a curtain like a stage magician). However I used to be additionally amused. He didn’t – it was apparent – fairly know the easiest way to the station and in his outsize puffer jacket he relatively meekly adopted me, trying about fortunately as he strolled. I’ve considered these few stuccoed streets, and of him padding alongside them within the sunshine, seemingly and not using a care, day-after-day since he was attacked. How the world turns. All of the issues, fantastic and unusual, that we take as a right.

Gardener’s world

An illustration for The Secret Backyard by Inga Moore, on show on the Backyard Museum. {Photograph}: Walker Books Ltd

Not all infantile passions endure into maturity. However my affection for The Secret Backyard, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved novel of 1911, will certainly by no means die. Even now, each time I stroll or drive throughout moorland, I inevitably hear the voice of its orphaned heroine, Mary Lennox, newly arrived in Yorkshire from India, asking of the mile upon mile of purple-brown she will be able to see from the window of her carriage: “It’s not the ocean, is it?” (No, it’s not the ocean, however it’s, to the human eye, each bit as huge and wild and exquisite.)

The quilt of my outdated Puffin version doesn’t function in an exhibition celebrating the novel on the Backyard Museum in Lambeth, south London. However by no means thoughts. Illustrations by Charles Robinson (1911), EH Shepard (1956) and Inga Moore (2007) are all on show, in addition to a number of first editions of the ebook.

And to whom might these beautiful volumes probably belong? You may properly ask. On the day I visited, there have been audible gasps within the gallery as two extraordinarily hip-looking younger girls close by learn the title of the lender. “Alan Titchmarsh!” one mentioned to the opposite, in a voice which may – I’m solely guessing – have been a contact sarcastic in another circumstance.

Painfully properly learn

‘I read as I water the garden, and wait for the kettle to boil.’
‘I learn as I water the backyard, and anticipate the kettle to boil.’ {Photograph}: Photographer, Basak Gurbuz Derman/Getty Pictures

Studying is my oldest behavior, which is simply as properly on condition that I’m one of many judges of this 12 months’s Baillie Gifford prize for nonfiction. If ingesting so many books so rapidly is exhilarating, it’s additionally, at moments, arduous; hopefully, my years of coaching are about to repay.

I learn as I water the backyard and anticipate the kettle to boil. I learn on the bus and the tube and at each pedestrian crossing.

What ideas happen as I choose up, and put down, every title? All I can let you know is that the distinction between an excellent ebook and an ideal one is each inexplicably small and ineffably huge – and {that a} cartoon I noticed the opposite day by which a person headed to his ebook group in full armour and carrying a sword made me shudder greater than it made me smile.

Rachel Cooke is an Observer columnist


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