The Book of Wag

By Paul Sidey

A remarkable posthumous South London novel from a legendary editor

Sunday, 10 May 2015

A letter from Paul to John Mortimer

For the Friends of Paul, from Marianne: another letter I found in a box - a letter Paul wrote to John Mortimer many years after he had left Penguin and ceased to be Mortimer's editor - but as so many of you know, Paul valued his friendships with his authors, and always made an effort to keep in touch.

5 April 2002

Dear John

Have just got back from Cairo - the dirtiest, ugliest and most chaotic place I've ever visited.  But it does, of course, have the odd attraction, and our hotel had a balcony view not only of the swimming pool but the pyramids.

When the gates opened and the security guards stubbed out their cigarettes, I went each day for a long walk around this last surviving example of the Seven Wonders of the World. The charabanc tours arrive later, so I would have the place more or less to myself for a magical hour or so.  Being a lone wanderer inevitably made me a conspicuous target for the odd souvenir seller and whiskery Bedou offering a camel ride. One of these chaps, discovering that I was English, said in a perfect, posh accent, 'Tally ho!' Perhaps he had met Tony Blair on his last freebie trip...

It's possible you may have heard from Ruth that I had a heart attack at Christmas, and this holiday with the family + my 89-year-old mum was planned to mix some restorative sunshine with a little cultural entertainment. Successful on both counts.

While not engaged in any physical activities, I'm glad to say I read The Summer of A Dormouse. While I can put on my own socks, it wasn't so long ago that I too needed help in dressing and took about a day and a half to climb upstairs to bed. My mother is still able to get around (in fact last year I took her on a forced march for about four hours around Pompeii!). Anyway, we're both Mortimer fans, and I couldn't help reading her out bits about having breakfast every five minutes and the prospect of hurtling downstairs.  With my recent brush, that vast necropolis nearby, and your book, the subject of mortality was never far away.  But when I reached the last chapter, I startled my daughter with helpless and sustained laughter at the thought of that innocent snorkeller and his bizarre fate. 

Your book was a tonic - wise, witty and warm.  I've passed it on to my mum now, and can report that she is thoroughly enjoying it too.

Warmest regards


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