World Book Night

It’s world book night the eve of an historic occasion where twenty thousand people give away twenty five books each – one million in all. Each ‘book giver’ has written to World Book Night to say why they would like to give their choice book to friends family or strangers. That kind of dedication by 20,000 individuals shows the true form of ‘the giver’. Many of them are here tonight inside Trafalgar Square where I am about to read.

In the darkness backstage I am sat with Mark Haddon, Monica Ali and Margaret Atwood. After each reading the group dwindles until it is just Margaret and I. She leant over “what will you be reading” she said “I’m reading an excerpt form Tennysons Ulysses”. Just as she was about to say something a man leans over “I’m afraid Mr Boris Johnson must go on next”

Lurking behind him was a pacing Boris Johnson. He holds out his hand to introduce himself and I then introduce him “Mr Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, Margaret Atwood” He shakes her hand and then chats about his choice of reading. I worked twice in Trafalgar Square since the days of the anti apartheid picket outside the south African Embassy. Once for an interview with Clive Anderson and the second time now. After Boris leaves the stage Graham Norton, the MC for the evening introduces me and I step out into the light, take a long long look at the audience and read

Ulysses by Tennyson

Come, my friends,

‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

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