07 November 2015


Locus Focus: Take One Hundred Twenty-Eight!

Welcome to Conspiratorial Corners!

Our latest Locus Focus challenge is places where people go to plan, plot, and pledge secret allegiances, all in a whisper. And if you're a G.K. Chesterton fan (Shudder!), now that I have mentioned his name, you've already thought of a perfect example of such a setting from one of his novels. And while I totally agree with you about it and am thrilled that we are both such initiates that we don't even need to speak the title aloud (!!!), what I've decided to feature today is quite different. And I hope you will forgive me when I say it was literally the first fictional place I had in mind when I decided, back in 2010, to host a meme for fictional places. I can't believe it took me this long, either.

Mr. Turnbull's Shop
The Napoleon of Notting Hill
by G.K. Chesterton

It was one of those queer little shops so constantly seen in the side streets of London, which must be called toy-shops only because toys upon the whole predominate; for the remainder of goods seem to consist of almost everything else in the world—tobacco, exercise-books, sweet-stuff, novelettes, halfpenny paper clips, halfpenny pencil sharpeners, bootlaces, and cheap fireworks. It also sold newspapers, and a row of dirty-looking posters hung along the front of it.

"I am afraid," said Wayne, as he entered, "that I am not getting on with these tradesmen as I should. Is it that I have neglected to rise to the full meaning of their work? Is there some secret buried in each of these shops which no mere poet can discover?"

He stepped to the counter with a depression which he rapidly conquered as he addressed the man on the other side of it,--a man of short stature, and hair prematurely white, and the look of a large baby.

Among all the shop owners of Notting Hill, it is probably the chemist/apothecary/pharmacist who has the most magical establishment. But like all the others, his great tragedy is that he does not see it. So when the suburb's great patriot, Adam Wayne, appeals to each of them in turn to join an army for the defence of their home, they mostly can't wait until their shop doors are in a position to smack him on the bottom. The one exception is the person Wayne himself least expects to be an ally. Would a man who sells mostly toys--and looks like a large baby, besides--really have the stomach for something as serious as war?

It is almost Wayne's great tragedy that he doesn't know he is a character in a G.K. Chesterton novel, one function of which is that those who are most childlike--or I should say, most boy-like--turn out to be the greatest martial heroes. So OF COURSE the harmless-looking man who sells toy soldiers by the set should turn out to be the finest military strategist the suburb will ever see. In the stock room behind the sales counter, lead soldiers and toy blocks are used to create scale models of great battles of history . . . soon to include the great battle of Notting Hill.

Have you ever wondered about the secret worlds behind shops? (Yes, 1980s "Mall Horror" totally counts.) Or ever asked what daemons drive their proprietors? (Horror has us covered here, too.) As nice as it is to mythologise work and to hunt down the semi-masonic secrets that Wayne was certain were buried in every business, reality is probably more prosaic than that. Or maybe I'm biased: it has been years since I gave up my great vocation to mould young minds through great literature (Hack, hack, cough, hack . . .) and started punching hours at a white-collar "dirty job" for bread and butter. But all I need to do is take a walk around the block where my office is to see . . .

The Call Centre Agent Monument

. . . that at least a couple of others in the world made some of their own bread and butter through romanticising what I do. In case you're wondering, the little birds represent the agents' voices, which fly all over the world, although our bodies remain here. And the bodies are faceless because . . . Well, when was the last time you saw what a customer service agent looked like?

Now I kind of wish my building had a coop full of wizard owls homing pigeons on our roof that I could put at the service of a local Adam Wayne's army. A fitting, if anachronistic, exchange for hearing him explain the "peculiar rationale" and "peculiar glory" that is my mundane twenty-first-century job.

Question of the Week: What is the coolest thing in your place of work that "unauthorised personnel" never get to see?

Image Sources: a) The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G.K. Chesterton, b) Eastwood City call centre agent monument


cyurkanin said...

Me. Unauthorized personnel don't get to see me ;) heh heh heh... Actually, there's an old mysterious "monument" here, a star chiseled into a rock atop a cliff with some old dates and an as of yet unidentified name surrounding it. A pretty neat little mystery.

Belfry Bat said...

... I ... I don't know. They never let me in there...

Enbrethiliel said...


Christopher -- I don't know which part of your comment is more fun . . .

Bat -- Hmmmm. Surely there's some "ante" zone where you can go but less authorized folk (such as myself, should I drop by unannounced one day) wouldn't allowed to?

Sheila said...

I can't think of anything particularly exciting about my own place of work, so I'll tell you about my husband's. Down in the basement is the rare book room, with old manuscripts and journals about foxhunting and other oddities. And my personal favorite, which gets shown to only the most special guests, is the book with the fore-edge painting. This is a book which looks plain, with plain or gilt edges, but when the book is opened, a painting shows up on the fanned edges of the pages. It was a popular art a century ago, and I just think it's incredibly cool.

(Here's an example of something similar: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/88/34/c3/8834c3468921aa04b96df394ebcbe377.jpg)

Enbrethiliel said...


That's so fascinating! Does the painting match the contents of the book and was it commissioned for it, or is it a beautiful work of art that just happens to have the fanned edges of a book as its medium?

PS -- I had a part-time job in my uni library when I was studying there, and there was certainly a mystique to the books in the basement, whether there were genuinely rare manuscripts or not.

Sheila said...

It depends. It might be done by a publisher, a bookseller, or the final owner of the book. Sometimes it's related and sometimes it's not. I think in this case it's just a country landscape, on a book about horses.

I would like to do this to all my books, just for fun. But I would hate to mess it up.

Enbrethiliel said...


I knew a girl who bought an old book that she didn't care about from a library sale so that she could carve a "box" into it. She had always wanted that sort of secret container on her shelves! In the case of painting, you wouldn't even be destroying a book, so perhaps you could get a dirt cheap one that you don't care about to practice on?