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Up Close and Personal with DHL

Updated: Dec 11, 2019

Visit to Nottingham University Manuscripts and Special Collections, King’s Meadow Campus, November 15th 2019

Ruth had given notice of this event some weeks earlier and I had happily logged it in my diary knowing I’d be able to join in the outing since the date was OK. I had not, however, given much thought to its nature other than thinking it would be good to meet up with Ruth again and others in the D.H.L. and Haggs Farm Societies. Nearer to the date Ruth kindly offered to rendez-vous with anyone wishing to set off from Eastwood outside the Library there so we could car-share rather than convoy. Four of us did: Ruth, Kate, Dora and myself and we happily set off in Ruth’s car, Kate beside Ruth as navigator. I’d been hoping to pay close attention to the route for future use but saw none of it as I became totally captivated by my fellow traveller Dora and her story. Kate and Ruth could have driven us to Knotty Ash as far as I was concerned since Dora’s narrative was so absorbing but it soon became apparent that Kate and Ruth had not only found the Campus in what seemed like record time but we were now in fact cruising the car park. And minutes later we were inside a very modern looking building with the other seven members of the outing and in the delightful care of the Archivist Amy who, after a brief outline of does and don’ts led us down a neat, uncluttered corridor which would not have looked out of place in “The Office”. If I had at any time given any amount of imaginative visualisation to this outing I had pictured Victorian Gothic, gowns and gargoyles. Amy led us into a pristine Board Room and sat us down around a long table. That’s when I was finally in the loop. I realised I was sitting in front of D.H.L.’s HANDWRITING. That stunned me into silence. To the side of me was a painting by Jessie, I could see postcards with stamps licked by D.H.L., sent from far distant places to his much loved nephew Jack but still signed “D.H.L.” in total awareness of his genius even on a postcard. The event now had my full attention. I just wanted to breath it all in.

Amy skilfully explained the work of the Department, the care of the Collection and its accessibility. She answered all the questions comprehensively, excellent at her job. She provided a wonderfully warm bridge between the high end of D.H.L. scholarship and the dissemination of his oeuvre. It was one of Amy’s great-great-great uncles who took the famous photograph of the Chambers family. Amy was the real deal. She also took us on a tour taking in the studio where the digitisation takes place and the massive store which houses the whole of the Archive, an area which was originally a T.V. Studio. In there we saw the manuscript of “The White Peacock” and one of D.H.L.’s paintings. I was stunned again into reverent silence. We returned to the room where Amy had set out the exhibits for us to have a closer look.

The time was now up. We left Amy to return all the treasures to the vaults. My wish was to get locked in there with them, me, a big magnifying glass and a page of D.H.L.’s handwriting so I could have traced his moving hand. Would D.H.L. have approved? Probably not. He taught against being weighed down by materials but I like to believe he might have always carried with him a wisp of his mother’s hair.

Thank you Ruth and Kate for organising the day. It was very special.

Georgina Barber

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How interesting. I hope you were given tea and cake as well?

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