JIM HAYNES

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Giving a little help to his friends
by Jenny Brown,
The Scotsman, February 24, 1992
OFF THE SHELF
Giving a little help to his friends

Peoplejunkie Jim Haynes knows multitudes of people.
In his guide to Poland, he introduces us to the friends he has there, says Jenny Brown


The Scots aren't renowned for being the most outgoing race. Strangers are often regarded with suspicion rather than warmly welcomed. I think of a friend stopping in Lochaline, and saying a cheerful hello to one of the locals. Once he'd passed he heard the man mutter "Now, I wonder what he meant by that?"
In a general climate of fear rather than trust in fellow man, it may seem a strange time for Jim Haynes to launch a guide which encourages contact with strangers, or as he would prefer us to think, friends we haven't met.
People to People is a guide to Poland which would bewilder the average tourist. It doesn't tell you where to change rnoney or the museum opening times. What it does provide is a listing of a thousand people from villages and cities all over Poland. They are of all ages and walks of life - coalminers, orthodontists, university lecturers, film-makers, bricklayers, architects. They like jazz, literature, skiing, cinema, travelling and chocolate. They speak English, Italian, Russian, French. These people are united in that, for whatever reasons, they want to meet us and to make us welcome when we visit their country - they want contact in the West.
Their biographies sometimes read like short stories or poems. A construction worker from western central Poland writes "I have a large house. We are five people in my family. I am a poet. I am romantic and tolerant". A translator from the East says about himself: "When I was a child I was afraid of cars and of staying alone at home; now I think I'm not."
The guide is the brainchild of Jim Haynes, a self-confessed "people junkie" and is really an extension of what he's been doing aIl his life - bringing people together and making things happen. He has been travelling in Eastern Europe for more than ten years, and through approaching strangers on a street and asking them for a drink "it seems I know half Poland". Doesn't he ever get rejected? Don't people get upset by this direct approach? "I've got modest expectations," he answers.

The life story of Jim Haynes is the stuff of legend. An amiable giant of a man, he collects friends like schoolboys used to collect stamps. His album is his 1984 autobiography Thanks for Coming which he dedicates to hundreds of his chums: the list goes on for pages and includes just about everybody you've ever heard of from Mick Jagger to Frank Dunlop.
Born in Louisiana, he pitched into Edinburgh in the late 1950s and started up the Paperback, Britain's first paperback bookshop, distinguished by a rhinoceros head hanging outside. By his own account he founded the Traverse and London's experimental Arts Lab and then went into underground newspapers and helped initiate the first Wet Dream Festival in Amsterdam. Since 1969 he has held a full-time post at the University of Paris teaching media studies and sexual politics for half a day a week.
Haynes not only makes friends, he likes to keep them. And who can forget Jim when every so often a newsletter arrives which lists what he's been up to and who he's met? He's a creature of habit: March finds him among the film buffs at Cannes Film Festival, August in Edinburgh, in October he scurries round the Frankfurt Book Fair, then on to the Warsaw Jazz Jamboree.
This suggests he's a culture junkie too, but it's the people at these events who really attract him. I never saw him sit down at the Book Festival; he'd prefer to drift, bumping into old friends and making new ones. Back in Paris he hosts celebrated dinner parties on Sunday evenings where anyone is welcome and anything can happen - over the years dinner has resulted in contacts, affairs, marriages and babies.

I first met Haynes on John Calder's stand at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1984. He hung around, introduced people, talked and alarmed me by asking when I was going to bed with him. I didn't know then of his modest expectations.
The Poland guide is published along with a guide to Romania; Hungary and Czechoslovakia will follow in May. The editor is learning as he goes along: the first two books were printed in Poland, (my copy shed pages as soon as I opened it) and the Romania books were sent to the US rather than to Canongate's offices in Edinburgh.
Could the People to People guides spread to the West? Can we expect an edition on Scotland? Could Lochaline come round to the concept of a Global Village? Haynes is nothing if not game. "Sure, why not?".
So, if you're not planning a holiday abroad this year, drop Jim Haynes a line and, who knows, perhaps the world will come to you.

 
Jim Haynes, Atelier A2, 83 rue de la Tombe Issoire, 75014 Paris.
People to People Poland is published by Canongate
 
Jenny Brown©The Scotsman, 1992

 

 

1992, The Scotsman : Giving a little help to his friends

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