As you’re going about your London business today (4th February), getting to grips with the start of the week and trying to remember what exactly it was you did with your weekend, you might notice a sheet of yellow A4 paper on the Underground, left on a seat, a cafe, or stuck on a wall. On that piece of paper will be written a quote, which unless you’re a fan of the late author Russell Hoban, probably won’t mean much to you or even register. In fact, you’ll probably not even think anything of it.
However, every 4th February since 2002, a growing number of people who are devoted followers of Hoban, (quite rightly regarded as a cult author in his own life time) mark the great man’s birthday by leaving aforementioned bits of yellow paper (a Hoban-esque motif) not just around London, but in cities around the world. It's known as the Slickman A4 Quotation Event.
Hoban died in December 2011, aged 86 and even if you think you haven't heard of him, it’s still very possible that you might have come across one of his many books. As a child you might have read (or been read to) ‘The Mouse And His Child’, which was just this Christmas staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, or the ‘Frances The Badger’ books or the succinctly named ‘How Tom Beat Captain Najork and his Hired Sportsmen’. Hoban also wrote a plethora of adult books, the most well known, probably being the Will Self endorsed novel, ‘Riddley Walker’ in which Hoban famously wrote the entire thing in a sort of pseudo English of his own creation; a brave move indeed, but one, which kind of works.
As a tour guide in London (and Hoban fan), and someone who loves wandering around the city, mooching around art galleries, popping in to museums, sitting in pubs, generally exploring and taking streets I’ve never taken before, it doesn’t surprise me that many of Hoban’s novels appeal so much. The reason being that, although born in the USA in 1925, Hoban moved to London in 1969 and never left. Many of his novels not only use London as a back drop, but as another character or characters, and the people he writes about tend to do what I do, and I imagine what Hoban did himself, and just wander around the city, soaking it in.
In fact, ‘The Bat Tattoo’ hinges around two people who encounter one another, due to a mild fixation with an Eighteenth Century bowl in the Victoria and Albert Museum which has a picture of bat on it. I distinctly remember taking the book to the V&A and using the description that Russell Hoban gives of the route the character takes to find the bowl … and found it myself. On another occasion I was sitting in a pub in Clerkenwell that features in one of Hoban’s books and felt compelled to ask the owner whether he was aware that his pub made an appearance in a novel. He wasn’t aware as it happens, but also didn’t share the same enthusiasm I did, which is fair enough.
So, if you find a piece of yellow A4 paper today with something written on it, and you use twitter, then take a photo and send it to @SA4QE or use the hash tag #Sa4qe. It’ll make a lot of Russell Hoban fans very happy, but if nothing else, maybe if you hadn’t heard of Russell Hoban before, you might now look him up or search out one of his books. Maybe.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.