Attending Poppy

Christopher Tayler

  • Louse by David Grand
    Quartet, 255 pp, £10.00, April 1999, ISBN 0 7043 8115 X

In its fifties heyday 7000 Romaine was the operations centre of Howard Hughes’s organisation, and lent its name to an unusual document known as the ‘Romaine Street Procedures Manual’, an attempt to codify both Hughes’s memoranda and the instructions set down by his compliant lieutenants. Its guidelines for employees, generously quoted in Barlett and Steele’s 1979 biography of Hughes, are extremely precise. They range from general conduct (‘Do not fraternise with persons outside the office ... Tell your wife as little as possible’), to the most minute detail: when opening the cinema door for Hughes’s future wife ‘do so with the feet, not the hands’; ‘When crossing any bump, dip, swale, ditch, railroad track or any uneven part of any road’ in the course of chauffeuring one of his contract starlets ‘the speed should be reduced to such a minimum ... that no violent motion ... would tend to disturb the position of the party’ – Hughes feared that their breasts might be damaged by jolting. The main preoccupation, however, is hygiene. In January 1958, for example, Hughes dictated three pages of single-spaced instructions on how to open a can of fruit:

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