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A brief delve into the past
by M.G Smout


April 23rd sees the streets, plaças and ramblas of Barcelona chock-a-block with slow moving hordes of humanity clutching roses and books thanks to all variety of reasons. Firstly, it is Catalunya's patron saint’s day, San Jordi, who also, in translation, happens to be St George, the patron saint of the UK, as in Shakespeare’s "Cry God for Harry, England and St George". Talking of the bard – he died or was born, or both, on this day, as too, supposedly, Spain’s Miquel Cervantes, though the 22nd is often cited as his ‘deathday’; a big ‘ooops’ there then! Killing dragons for love somehow meant the Catalans saw the day as ‘romantic’, hence the giving of roses and, over time, books. All these literary coincidences led, in 1995, to UNESCO declaring the 23rd as ‘World Book Day’ and us, two years later, wondering what could possibly be a good date to begin a literary magazine in English, Spanish and Catalan…  

The first TBR was created on a computer with a 500MB hard drive and 4MB of RAM. No, not a toy, nor underpowered and cheap; it was an Apple Mac Performa and cost thousands. In a mere 25 years those specs now could not even drive the lowliest smartphone, let alone a toy. Of the software used only Photoshop remains, the Pagemills and GoLives have gone or metamorphosed into different names. The browser of choice, Netscape Navigator, is no more, replaced by ones that suck out and store all your information. The Internet was then a revolution, the dawn of something magical; now it is a cesspit of trolls, conspiracy and misinformation where your freedom of choice is controlled by the whims of the powers-that-be or hijacked by cute kittens or dozy, face-filtered influencers and TicTok twattery. It has actually become boring.

I was 100% a newbie to the world of HTML as well as cross platform and browser incompatibility and the first issues were dogged with random font problems, especially Spanish accents and upside-down question marks which had looked fine on the Mac but horrific online. George Cowdrey was the person I’d run to for all things, from hardware to software, advice and coffee. I can safely say that without George’s invaluable input TBR would never have gone beyond an idea; I was that naïve. To lessen the conflict problems affecting the majority of our readers I went PC and to the horrors of Windows and Microsoft’s arrogance in thinking that they, with Frontpage and Explorer, could dominate the Internet with their over-coded, unnecessary visual trickery. Luckily, the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) smacked their wrists and standards were applied across the board but I had to unlearn the garbage. PC meant poor George, bless, could finally relax and others were roped in. Kevin Hearth was a godsend and I possibly still owe him money, and Nick Reddel gave me confidence to build my own PC—took a month collecting the bits, one hour to assemble and four to install bloody Windows. He also told me, way back then, the future lay in databasing. Mr Lazy ignored him which explains the pitiful state of our back issues. Yes, you can search for names, but you can’t ask for a list of gay or crime stories. Sorry readers, sorry Nick, I should have listened.

Took to Photoshop like a wasp to rotten fruit but HTML was another beast. Used, and still do, Adobe Dreamweaver, which has actually got worse over the years. Because it is WYSIWYG I don’t need to get my hands too dirty but even so one does need to know a certain amount of coding to track down the gremlins that always rear up at the very end of a deadline. A big change happened when Cascading Style Sheets took over one lot of problems, and, for me, created new ones.

Smartphones and tablets led to other ‘under-the-hood’ changes, and it is their dominance now that is my concern. Browsers are still backward compatible and can read the old .htm files, but for how long? Even now evidence of age shows, so, please be aware that material in the archives can look different from what was originally uploaded 15 - 25 years ago. The text is usually fine, phew, but layout can be disjointed.

25 years ago the Internet was such a new kid on the block that we even considered doing TBR as print. In fact, I think I even did mock-ups. We really believed we could assemble a literary magazine in Spain and distribute it. We actually debated if doing an online version would attract people to the print version. We then looked at the cost of doing one or the other and had that ‘duh’ moment. Global reach for a fraction of the cost and not one tree hurt in the process. TBR, as we know it, was born.

Last, but by no means least:

We would like to shout out to the numerous people who gave us, if not their their blood, sweat and tears, at least their energy, ideas and feedback. Those early days of stress and discovery were shared by the Spanish editors who did so much and gave us so much of their valuable time, therefore a big, big thank you to Carol Isern, Cristina Hernández, Susana Andres, Dolors Udina (Catalan), and Daniel Najmías, among others; and later: kudos to the wonderful long editorships of Ernesto Escobar, David Paradela López, and Andreu Navarra, and, most recently, Pepa Devesa Seva.  Another person who has been contributing to the Spanish TBR for many years is M Cinta Montagut, poetry editor.

Then there is Graham Thompson whose input was far more than an interview and a quiz, and many issues would not be up to scratch if it were not for the pedantic (thank the gods) proof reading of the late Peter Noel. And finally, Amanda Schoenberg, who has possibly never recovered from trying to get to the bottom of contemporary Catalan poetry.

© MGS/TBR 2022  

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