‘There is a way to die and a way not to die. That is very important. Hence my admiration for George the Fifth who - on his deathbed, in reply to his physician who told him that in a few weeks he would be recuperating at Bognor Regis - said: Bugger Bognor, and died... Bugger Bognor. Ah, would that I might die with a phrase half so sublime on my lips! There you have a man who at the moment of death manages to put life into perspective.’ He paused. ‘Well, I might as well hear your journal anyway.’
‘I - I set fire to my notebook, Lord Malquist.’
‘Out of pique?’
‘No... It got wet and I was drying it.’
‘Oh, dear me. Well don’t despair, dear fellow. Wasn’t it Mr Gibbon who sent his manuscript of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to the laundry?’
‘I don’t know, Lord Malquist.’
‘Not many people do. But my great-great-grandfather was present when his publisher received a parcel of dirty linen. Hansom cabs were summoned at once but it was too late, and Gibbon had to begin all over again, wearing a soiled collar, hence the uneasiness detectable in the first chapter. What’s the most implausible thing about that sentence?’
Dimly aware that Sir Tom Stoppard had once written a novel, and even more dimly never having researched its publishing status, I was fortunate to quite literally fall over a copy in The Last Bookshop in Bristol. (For anyone not in the know, please stay out of it because I want to buy all the books in there... No really. OK, it’s a haven entirely comprised of remainders with an excellent range and it’s almost criminally cheap.) This was yesterday. I have now read Lord Malquist & Mr Moon, marked most pages as ones that should be learnt off by heart and begun reading it to my partner so that I have someone with whom to share the joke.