Sunday, October 26, 2008

"Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser"

I have just read the obituary of Geoffrey Lewis. I am sorry he has gone, such men deserve to be immortal. Let me explain by starting somewhere else.
There is a publishing house called "English University Press" that published*** books in a series called "Teach Yourself....", and it covered a wide variety of topics: academic, arts and crafts, sociopolitical, and so on. The EUP Teach Yourself books had striking yellow dustjackets with text in blue, and just to peruse a shelf-ful of them in a bookshop was almost as exciting for me as getting a glimpse of Cynthia Brown's knickers when she played netball. And I fell in love, of course, well, ok, with Cynthia Brown, but also with the language books in the EUP series.
I started with Teach Yourself German, which I bought with the proceeds of a few nights' carol singing in the December of, I think, 1950. Then I bought Teach Yourself Spanish by Norman Scarlyn-Wilson for no particular reason that I can remember, but I just LOVED the conjugations of Spanish verbs. By this time, I had (almost) forgotten Cynthia Brown. Then, at University, spurred by envy that so many of my fellow undergraduates had done Russian during National Service, I bought Teach Yourself Russian, which was, in fact, a terrible book. Fortunately, I was recommended Anna Semeonova's Russian Grammar, an amazing book, and one of the few language books I know that can give an impressionable young man an erection.
The other was "Teach Yourself Turkish" by Geoffrey Lewis.
My wife bought Professor Lewis's book for me as a Christmas present in 1961, and I dabbled for a while, and then forgot about it till I started to make regular visits to Turkey in the 1990s. I bought the revised edition of the book, and also Lewis's amazing Turkish Grammar, which almost caused me the same excitements as Semeonova's Russian Grammar all those years ago.
And now, out of the blue, I find myself reading Geoffrey Lewis's obituary. I didn't know he was an undergraduate at St John's, Oxford. Just so you know St John's has produced some very special people, including Dean Acheson, Tony Blair, Sadik AlMahdi, Takeo Iguchi, Kingsley Amis, and me, though this last is best regarded as an aberration.

***EUP is still going strong, but the covers are much jazzier now, and much less erotic from my point of view.

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