I am in Amsterdam — trapped, like many thousands are, by the eruption of Eyjafjallajoekull. I’m lucky: I have a hotel room and there are definitely worse places to be forced to spend time than the Dutch capital.
I spent the morning shopping for extra supplies — partly caused by the hotel returning two pairs of knickers that weren’t mine. I don’t mind too much wearing someone else’s (clean) socks, but underwear… urrggh!
I’m now in the Koepelcafé, which is attached to my hotel. I’m reading Terry Pratchett’s Unseen Academicals. I’ve been a big fan of Pratchett for a long time; the Discworld series has been a repeated source of delight — let’s hope that TP can find the motivation and determination to produce more books before Parkinson’s Disease finally stops him.
The stories and plot lines are clever and inventive and filled with all kinds subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) references to add extra layers of enjoyment, but one of the great strengths of the books is the richness and diversity of the characters: Granny Weatherwax (one of my personal favourites), Rincewind, Mustrum Ridcully, Sam Vimes, Captain Carrot, Lord Vetinari, Lu-Tze, Susan Sto Helit… the list goes on and on. It is Terry’s attention to detail that brings characters to life. I was struck by this very small example in Unseen Academicals: Lord Vetinari is talking to Glenda Sugarbean (head of the Night Kitchen in UU). Vetinari has referred to Glenda’s taking left-over food, which she says is “a perk” and anyway it is (as Vetinari well knows) for the elderly and poor. LV responds:
“Oh, but of course. Every job has its little perks. Why, I don’t expect Drumknott here has bought a paperclip in his life, eh, Drumknott?”
This makes sense to the reader; it’s a kind of universal truth: the pilfering of office supplies. We smile gently and, perhaps, imagine the discomforture of Drumknott, Vetinari’s secretary. TP, however, is not content with this. Several pages later, we’ve forgotten the incident: Glenda has left and Drumknott dismissed from the office, but before going begs leave to “add something, sir”.
“The floor is yours, Drumknott.”
“I would not like it thought that I do not buy my own paperclips, sir. I enjoy owning my own paperclips. It means that they are mine. I thought it helpful I should tell you that in a measured and nonconfrontational way.”
I laughed out loud when I read this: somehow this very small scene encapsulates the magic of Terry Pratchett.