Tuesday, 9 January 2018

"To be left someone's books is a wonderful thing." A Statement by Julia Jones

Mum's Arden Shakespeare,
coveted since I was a child.
Out of their box and onto my shelf
To be left someone’s books is a wonderful thing.
It's possible that as we emerge from Christmas holiday excesses and make earnest NY resolutions about de-toxing, de-cluttering, de-fragmenting (or waddever) some readers may already be clutching their frontal lobes and wailing  "No Space…!"  "No Time…!" I don't care. This is a statement. Not a assertion or a thesis. The only qualification I'll allow is that the books may need to have belonged to someone you love...

Our house is Cluttersville Central. My daughter found me sitting on the back kitchen floor a year or two ago, weeping helplessly “Why, oh why do we have 38 pairs of Wellington boots?” Her immediate solution was to order a skip. Yet we still possess 13* guitars, 92 tea towels and a quantity of yellowing sheet music which stretches back to the collection that had been abandoned in the stool of the piano my mother brought when I was six years old (that’s 1960, if you need to do the maths). I set myself to rationalise our music shelves in a pre-Christmas burst this year and found myself unable even to throw away five different sets of ABRSM Grade One Scales and Broken Chords (though I did successfully demote them to a storage box).

Compiled from forgotten diaries,
letters, photo, memorabilia
found in an unfrequented corner of our attic
“No thanks Mum, I don’t want my house to get like yours,” would be any of my older children’s response if I suggested they might like to re-possess some of their out-grown stuff (books included).  It’s a standing joke that my beloved Francis finds himself unable to forgive his mother (veteran of constant military house-moves) for disposing of his Hornby Dublo railway set when he was a metropolitan sophisticate of the 1980s. “Well, I’d offered it back to him and it had been years in the garage roof,” she said in her own defence – and I was awed by her intrepidity but knew I could never emulate such ruthlessness.

Francis phoned from Australia while I was writing this and gladly contributed his late father’s moment of glory when the spout of the current Teasmade (“once common in the United Kingdom and some of her former colonies” explains Wikipedia) broke and he was able to replace it from defunct version that his mother had been led to believe he’d thrown away some five years earlier. Although this hasn't made life easy for his executors I'm sure they feel fully repaid by their admiration for the sheer quantity of obsolete junk he so assiduously squirreled away. 

Unearthed while establishing
the Ingatestone Bookshop.
Pride of place in our entrance hall now.
I cherish the long established boatyards that have no need to search the internet for classic fittings of yesterday but merely dig down through archaeological layers until they emerge with the precise shackle (imperial gauge) that they reckoned they’d laid down some fifty year ago. I am forever grateful to the late Frank Knights of Woodbridge who salted away the last half dozen tins of "Peter Duck green" when he heard that the manufacturer was discontinuing it -- although the yacht herself was in Russia and not expected to return. The village bookshop I opened in 1979 was on the site of a diary supply and domestic hardware shop that had been managed on similar principles and, although I felt it was a little harsh of Francis to point out via Facebook last year that we still appeared to be using the same tin of wax polish that I'd gleaned then, I can't deny that there was considerable scope for salvage.

Nevertheless, such was the trauma Francis suffered when he lost 4000-5000 books and all the articles, clippings, memorabilia of a pre-dropbox writer’s life in a fire in annus horribilis 2012 that I can solemnly promise that I have NOT taken advantage of his Australian absence to dispose of as much as a jam-jar during these last weeks (well, almost …). What I have been doing is re-organising the music room, which is also my office (yes, absent Archie, we still have 13* guitars, only 4 which are playable + 2 broken but resplendent accordions belonging to my former husband who bade me farewell more than thirty years ago). I've had a blissful time getting years of inherited books out of boxes and knocking decades of dust off the rest.  The moth-eaten, cat-peed, flat-as-a-pancake Wilton carpet that has followed me around since my parents left Woodbridge in the 1960s has not gone, you understand, but has been demoted to underlay.

The true joy is not the new wool-acrylic beige mix that the fitter assures me should last "at least 15 years" (pshaw!) but the time that I’ve been spending with some of my inherited books. Nothing will ever surpass the moment last year when I discovered my father’s 1939 diary, a suitcase of RNVR papers and the typescript that became The Cruise of Naromis: August in the Baltic 1939 but here are some grace notes, unintended, corroborating evidence from my father's life, that have touched me once again.

First a copy of The Jongleur (spring 1939), the privately printed poetry magazine that gave Dad his first moment in print.
HMS Forth
Then a copy of The Bedside Book  (first cheap edition November 1939)
with the pencilled inscription HMS Forth.




And finally a copy of Walter de la Mare’s Collected Rhymes and Verses, annotated "Waldringfield 1948".  If he’d scribbled in red felt tip HUZZAH, I MADE IT! the message could not have been more welcome. The experience of war for this Suffolk farmer’s lad had enabled him to discover who he was and where he wanted to be. Naromis ends
So, last week, on January 5th 2018, when Dad would have been 100, if he'd lived, I left my polishing and my re-arranging and spent some time in the place that meant so much to him, always. 

Looking across the River Deben to Stonor Point and the Tips
5.1.2018

* Guitar figure revised after a recount which established that there were empty cases (empty apart from Archie's jury service papers that is.)  Two outgrown violins, a viola, a saxophone, two flutes and 10 recorders have asked that their existence be taken into consideration. Most are now re-stacked under the piano for the next umpteen years or so in the congenial company of three amplifiers (only one working) and a box of broken music stands which I keep in the hopes that I might put enough bits together to make one that is reliable.  Francis's father would understand.




8 comments:

Jan Needle said...

Hah - an amateur. I've got five (or six?) accordions, three concertinas, three banjos, four ukeleles (banjo and otherwise), twelve tin whistles, four flutes, three piccolos, three electronic keyboards, two pianners, eight harmonicas, and, and...well, that's just looking round my tiny study. How many of them do I play? How rude, Jul, how rude!

Keep writiing, lass. We need you...

Jan Needle said...

I forgot my mandolins! How could I?!

julia jones said...

and a partridge in pear tree? I started counting reorders but it got complicated when I began to ask myself awkward questions such as do 3 separate recorder thirds make one recorder? (answer: not often enough)

Jan Needle said...

But we suffer, don't we? We suffer...

Fran B said...

My 96-year-old stepmother is your kindred spirit. She has just recently, after years of resistance, agreed to go to a care home. Her stuffed-full house awaits clearance. A truly mammoth task. The good side of this is that, as she has the classic dementia symptom of remembering things in the long ago past but not what she had for breakfast, I can take and use some small ornament, trinket, painting, etc to trigger a conversation with her when I visit. We have sone surprising and fascinating conversations!

Sandra Horn said...

Three of us now live in a 4-bedroom house with a granny annexe. It is stuffed to the gills and the attics.
I love that beautiful poetic quote from Naromis.

misha said...

A great post. Made our house seem clutter free, the piles of books in the guest bedroom a mere trifle. Thank you.

julia jones said...

Thank you all -- and Fran I do so agree with you using things to trigger memories and conversations. Later though you'll probably find you need to tell the stories back to her as they'll be gone