New acquisition: Timmy the Tug

July 9, 2010

'He was hale as a whale and twice as strong'

While in London this week, Robyn procured a new acquisition in a second hand bookshop. Timmy the Tug (Thames & Hudson, 2009)  – ‘A story in colour, a story in rhyme’ – was originally written in the 1950s by Ted Hughes to accompany a story that was conceived and delightfully illustrated in watercolour by his friend Jim Downer. Their workings were lost to the mists of time and only recently rediscovered by Hughes’s widow, Carol. This edition is presented as a facsimile of the original manuscript, which accounts for the handwritten page numbers and the wonderful foxing on the pages:

slightly foxed...

There’s an illuminating afterword by Jim Downer which contextualises the book – and provides insight into their lives and friendship in the 1950s:

This book was devised, illustrated and written over fifty years ago, between 1953 and 1956. The idea for it came to me while I was living in the top-floor flat of a Georgian terraced house in Bloomsbury… In the spring of 1952 I moved into the top-floor flat at 18 Rugby Street, Bloomsbury… [Downer includes much detail about the rent (it cost his weekly wage) and the specifics of the flat, too]…

He met Ted Hughes by virtue of sharing the one cold water tap between their two landings, and reminisces: ‘Even the sharing of a basin can lead to a friendship, and so it was in this case.’ He remembers shared suppers, bottles of ‘Bulls Blood when [they] we flush’, clubbing together to buy batteries for a radio so they could listen to Richard Burton reading the first performance of Under Milk Wood. He mentions the changing group of mostly twenty-year-olds which comprised their social scene, including such luminaries as actors Peter O’Toole, Albert Finney and Siân Phillips, Jacques Tati ‘when he was in London’, painter Robert O’Brian and director Philip Wrestler.

Ted Hughes has written of the Rugby Street flat in Birthday Letters (Faber), his multi-award winning address to Plath (’18 Rugby Street’).

'But the seagulls shouted: "Hurry, hurry,/ A faster tug is coming."'

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