James came to the Jubilee Library to work on his book. It was a collection of illustrated stories about people he had met, the lives they had led.
“They do need more tables here,” he told me. It’s a sunny Sunday in Brighton and there’s not a free seat in the house. I’d met Nikki Sheehan here who gave me a tour. Nikki told me it was very much ‘towels at dawn’ at the moment. There are a lot of revisers and many like to secure a place by spreading a desk space with papers and pencil cases (and perhaps a half-empty donut bag) and then disappearing for a while.
Nikki took me to the children’s library and showed me the ‘climbing wall.’
“Is it really one?” I asked Nikki, thinking there was nothing that the Jubilee did not have.
“No,” Nikki told me gently but kindly took a photo of me trying to prove otherwise.
But before then, I spoke at length with James who was eager to talk.
He came to the library at least twice a week to work on his book.
He told me about a man called David who he was writing a chapter about. He’d met him at the V&A in the sixties when he’d noticed him drawing some of the statues and then selling his pictures.
They’d got talking and James had learnt David’s life story. He’d been prisoner of war and then a hugely successful restaurant owner in London – owning three houses and two boats – but had lost it all after taking on a shadowy partner into the business.
I admired James’ work and he drew a P in calligraphy for me but told me that David’s work was much better than his.
“Have you any children?” He asked me.
I told him that I didn’t and when I asked him if he had any, he also shook his head but immediately started telling me about a little girl who he’d met in the library yesterday. She was wearing, James was keen to explain, a brilliantly impressive and bizarre put-together outfit that her mother had told him was all of her own choosing. He’d made a calligraphy of her name for her too.
James got the ideas of doing his drawings thanks to the David he was writing about, who he’d met so many years ago.
He had started making drawings at the V&A too after he had met David but in the end they had both been asked to leave the museum. James thought that was because of him.
“If he walked in here now, I would like to be apologise to him,” James said.
He looked towards the entrance of the Jubilee that was directly in view from his table.
People came and went.
James kept his eye on the door, searching for a face he might recognise.