The Age of Uncertainty
August 13, 2010 8:33 PM   Subscribe

The Age of Uncertainty is my new favorite blog. It's by a gentleman bookseller who works in a warehouse in Sussex processing lorryfuls of used books. He shares the most interesting things he finds, commenting with wit and sensitivity. He also writes entertainingly about his everyday life. Let me point you towards his series of extracts from a diary that came to his warehouse, detailing the life of Derek, an employee of the government who converted to Mormonism. It was a fairly normal life, but the excerpts are fascinating. Here are the entries in order: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. He also posts beautiful images he finds, such as Victorian color plates: 1 and 2. Still, it is the remains of ordinary lives washing up on his shores that most enthralls me, such as this tear-inducing post about a family photo album which was sent to his used books warehouse.
posted by Kattullus (27 comments total) 95 users marked this as a favorite
Also, when I grow up I want to be the Lewes Dancing Man. And I forgot to mention that the link is via Sam Jordison at The Guardian Books Blog.
posted by Kattullus at 8:36 PM on August 13, 2010

That poor family. It can't have turned out much better for them after that, or else the photo album would still be in storage with their daughter or a grandchild, who couldn't quite bear to get rid of it. As it was, I'm afraid there was no love lost, and their possessions were pitchforked away.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:43 PM on August 13, 2010

This is utterly splendid. Truly the best of the web - both happy and sad, in this case. I must admit to a certain voyeuristic delight in reading Derek's diaries and looking at that photo album, but they're both completely fascinating.
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 9:06 PM on August 13, 2010

Awesome find, thanks Kattullus.
posted by contessa at 9:34 PM on August 13, 2010

Candy and Andy? The Investigator? I remember Gerry Anderson from his show UFO, but this was the first I had heard of these. Cool find Kattullus :)
posted by puny human at 10:22 PM on August 13, 2010

Umm, smells a little fishy to me. Funny though.
posted by johnny novak at 10:50 PM on August 13, 2010

Very interesting, thanks for sharing.
posted by latch24 at 11:01 PM on August 13, 2010

One of the curious things about Derek's diaries is how normal and mundane they can seem until suddenly, without any warning, he'll casually mention that he is stocking up on tinned food because he is expecting the End Times.

There's something very American about Derek.
posted by telstar at 12:17 AM on August 14, 2010

Lovely. Thank you!
posted by lapsangsouchong at 3:20 AM on August 14, 2010

What a sad photo album.
posted by dabitch at 5:22 AM on August 14, 2010

Fascinating and heart-felt. Can't say I appreciate the comment about Metafilter on the #6 link though.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:23 AM on August 14, 2010

From the comments:
matt said...
Interesting blog.
Expect more traffic now that some cunt has posted it a to metafilter.
Expect 'awesome' and 'this rocks' comments aplenty.
Oh dear. I shall try to restrain myself and not write "Woot!"

From the 4th entry on Derek:
"Last Saturday when I was in the garden, Richard decided that we ought to make a gift of some of our rhubarb to Mrs Reames. He pulled out a stick and proferred it to her. All though (sic) it had not been my intent to bless her, I did not want to seem mean so I gave her a dozen sticks. I then took the opportunity of discussing her youngest son with her. He has been coming out of her flat then leaping over our side wall to get out to the road via our gateway. I suggested to his mother in the kindest way that it was possible that my foot might come in violent collision with his crutch if he did not desist. He seems to be desisting."
His crutch? Or his crotch? Word choice gives the story a very different feel.

From the 5th Derek link:
It seems that the marriage of Mike Sheepwash and Hermione has run into major problems. Mike has been sacked from his casual job at Sainsbury's for daring to ask for some time off. I cleaned the bathroom before tea; during my eating, I watched a film on televsion: "The Battle of Midway" and became quite angered by the unnecessary blasphemy that it contains. But the battle scenes were good.
1. "Sheepwash" is a fantastic name.
2. The reason I don't keep a journal is because my life is so mundane. Little did I know that I could write about The Things I Shout at the Television.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:34 AM on August 14, 2010

There's something very American about Derek.

The thing you find American about Derek (stocking up food for the "End Times") is, in fact, American. Derek is a Mormon -- an American religion. I wonder how many British Mormons there are.
posted by The Bellman at 5:51 AM on August 14, 2010

I love this blog-- it's like following a professional treasure hunter. Maybe I am an idiot, but the blogspot navigation is driving me batty. Is there any trick to reading it or reformatting it, or do you really have to manually click on a month in the archive, read through the page, then scroll back up to click on the next month??
posted by Gable Oak at 6:41 AM on August 14, 2010

I wonder how many British Mormons there are.

186,082 (map)
posted by blue_beetle at 7:37 AM on August 14, 2010

I don't know what to do with Derek's diaries, however I can't bring myself to throw them away. But if not now, when?
Good question - deepens like a coastal shelf.
posted by hawthorne at 7:52 AM on August 14, 2010

I'm particularly struck by some of Steerforth's follow-up comments, where he writes in a more confessional vein, e.g. his worries about the future, his anxieties about his son, his unreasonable prejudice against estuary accents. Even when he's writing about some totally random discovery he's made inside a book, there always seems to be a personal element just below the surface. All serendipity is disguised autobiography.

And following the link-trail back to Sam Jordison's blog led me to another blog post about the novelist David Markson and the sale of his books at the Strand Book Store, which in turn led me to another blog post by someone who'd bought some of Markson's books, and then another ..
posted by verstegan at 9:16 AM on August 14, 2010

This is excellent. Just what a blog needs: regular features, hilarious and refreshing commentary. Good find.
posted by Fizz at 10:59 AM on August 14, 2010

I've been following this blog for a while, it is indeed a trove.
posted by unliteral at 11:02 AM on August 14, 2010

There;s an enormous Mormon temple in Chorley, so I'm surprised there are that few Mormons.
posted by mippy at 11:48 AM on August 14, 2010

Darn it, now I want that 18th century Trigonometry text. I doubt I can afford it.
posted by wittgenstein at 4:45 PM on August 14, 2010

I work in a public library, and people very often donate just about anything to us by dumping things in the dropboxes out front. We've had unopened frosting containers, Girl Scout cookies, and pretty much anything made of paper - stationery, envelopes, etc. The one donation that most sticks in my mind, however, was a plain black diary-style notebook, with no embellishments, just lined paper. Only the first page was written on. It was a signed suicide note, addressed to the man's family. I have no idea if they ever read it or knew it was there. I couldn't read the signature.
posted by Hargrimm at 8:18 PM on August 14, 2010

I commented on the latest blogpost and Steerforth answered. Here is what he said [note: Matt is the blog commenter quoted above]:
I've just looked at the MetaFilter site and was very impressed by the perceptive, thought-provoking comments (why does Matt hate it so much?)

To answer a few of the MetaFilter comments:

1. Yes, the blog navigation is terrible. Maybe I could do something with tags to make it easier for people to sort out the wheat from the chaff

2. Derek definitely meant crotch!

3. The confessional element is, initially, unintentional. It's only when I start writing about someone that I realise why their story has touched me

I'm glad that Derek's story has touched so many people. I had mixed feelings about publishing extracts from these diaries, but Derek had put so much hard work into them (literally thousands of typed A4 pages) I felt I had to. I'm sure that he would have been excited to have a worldwide readership!
And here are some entries that I read tonight from further back in the archives that I quite liked: Ten Tips for Young Ladies, photograph album featuring Victorian actors and their families, a thoughtful post about Steerforth's social movement from working to middle class, how the German analogue to Star Trek thought people would dance in the future and a review of the novel Metropole by Ferenc Karinthy. A short quote from the book review which made me laugh:
The lazy option would be to use the term "Kafkaesque". Metropole certainly has reasonances of Franz Kafka, but in Ferenc Karinthy's vision there is no malign state apparatus controlling events. Metrople is the ultimate existentialist nightmare in which the individual finds themsleves completely alone in a meaningless, uncaring universe. Having worked in Slough, I'm very familiar with that feeling.
Metropole is now firmly on my to-read list.
posted by Kattullus at 11:24 PM on August 14, 2010

> now I want that 18th century Trigonometry text. I doubt I can afford it

Such things are suprisingly affordable. I have a couple of similar works that still sell for less than $40 in the UK, though usually not in a fine condition. I recently bought an etiquette book (complete with a doodle of the pupil's teacher) from the Haunted Bookshop in Cambridge.

Now just around the corner from there is David's where there are rooms full of such books albeit for a little more. I'm still omewhat regretting not buying a page from a 1488 bible.
posted by mdoar at 11:51 AM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Gable Oak: do you really have to manually click on a month in the archive, read through the page, then scroll back up to click on the next month??

I looked into this a while ago. I did discover that appending "?orderby=date&order=ASC" to a WordPress-hosted blog will let you read it chronologically, but couldn't find something equivalent for Blogger.
posted by WCityMike at 2:48 PM on August 21, 2010

That entry on the victorian actors is really interesting.
posted by puny human at 9:10 PM on August 22, 2010

More Derek! Excerpt:
While preparing Richard's bath this morning, I was pondering on the division of the earth in the days of Shem and Peleg. It seemed to me that if one were to prepare a jigsaw of those parts of the earth that fitted together and stuck them so, the space must be left where the city of Enoch used to be. I ran downstairs to put this theory to Brenda. She assessed its faults as a workable model in about three minutes. She pointed out that some parts of the earth had glided over others; others had been thrust up as mountain chains; yet others were uplifted seabed. Ergo, fitting the parts would not be possible, only in a limited way because of techtonic plate movement. So, back to my ponderings I go. Facts are always getting in the way!
posted by Kattullus at 9:34 PM on August 22, 2010

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