“The sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” —Carl Jung
My race of man is employed by society to carry the blame for what goes wrong. As a very great deal does go wrong in my country there is a lot of blame. In return for taking the blame for what is not our fault, we have learned how not to take the blame for what is our fault.’
It doesn’t stock electrical appliances, but the shop is not a tomb. Everything on sale has purpose to it: plumbing, carpentry, wiring, lighting, cooking, washing or shooting. You feel a little incompetent when you see what you might do. Over two floors the shop seems to have everything: saucepans, brooms, towels, frying pans, soaps, pots, knives, saws, wood shavers, light brackets, brushes, hot-water bottles, shoe horns, steel toe-caps, eau de cologne, dusters, wooden spoons, and many objects whose purpose I wouldn’t be able to guess. The shop has 150,000 different items for sale; the inventory isn’t computerised and there’s no heating and no air-conditioning. No one room is the same as any other, each is packed with customers, the staff wear blue jackets – bleus de travail – receipts are handwritten, whatever you buy will be wrapped in brown paper.
I wasn’t allowed to forget that I wasn’t hardy enough for the pool at Parliament Hill. On days when I was at the British Library, a white-haired man occasionally tapped me on the shoulder in one of the reading rooms. He only ever had one word to say, and the word was always a number. Seven, five, five, seven, six, eight. He was telling me the temperature of the water at Parliament Hill. The water at London Fields is a Mediterranean summer 25°C year-round. Nine, ten, eight, eight, nine, the white-haired man said, as the water temperature rose with the end of winter. Only once was he more expansive: ‘Eight,’ he said. ‘A very cold eight.’ A non-swimmer might not know that eight isn’t always eight.
investigation into the Exchequer and Chancery records the real extent of the French-English wine trade: in the early 14th century England was bringing in nearly twenty million litres of wine a year from France, mostly from its possessions in Gascony; the wine trade accounted for a third of all annual imports.