Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Old Books

What do you do with old books?  I don’t mean the fly-by-night paperbacks I haul in periodically from Waterstone’s, read once and then recycle via the bookbank up at the tip.  (Or not, sometimes they get kept, reread and, rarely, find their way into the permanent library.)  No, I’m talking about really old books.

About sixty of them have been furnishing my dining room for twenty years or more, in a bookcase next to the fireplace.  They range from assorted Prayer books and semi-religious tracts (Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, anyone?), through an almost-complete set of Dickens reissues (Unwin editions, 1930s I’d guess), to worthy tomes like The Origin of Species, Macaulay’s Essays on English History, and The French Revolution by Thomas Carlyle.  Plus a fair smattering of Victorian verse anthologies, several Works of Shakespeare, and a possibly earlyish edition of Culpeper’s Complete Herbal.  They’re all fairly tatty, almost certainly financially worthless and, most importantly, with one or two exceptions have never been read by anyone still alive.

I’m getting rid of them because I don’t think books ought to furnish a room.  I’m going to go slightly metaphysical on you now.  Books have no intrinsic value.  Their only worth is in the thoughts they express.  In turn, this value is circumscribed by the quality of both the thoughts themselves and their expression in a particular book.  But above all, if I’m right here, that worth dissolves into nothingness unless the book gets read.  I’m not going to read any of these sixty or so books, and I can’t find a way of enabling or persuading anyone else to do so.  So in every sense, they’re worthless.  So they’re landfill.  Right?

And yet.  And yet, perhaps they do contain, at least some of them, an ineluctable value beyond the paper, the cardboard and the words within them, read or not.  I skim through the flyleafs (flyleaves?) and find inscriptions which seem to carry their own stories, ones that will never be told but just might still exist in a memory or an imagination.  Certainly in an imagination, in fact: I find myself creating their lives and relationships even as I transcribe them.

Poetical Works by Moore: “Caroline Matthias on her 13th birthday from her affectionate cousin J M Laws.  Jan 1861
The May-Flower by Harriet Beecher Stowe:  “R. A. Scammell.  A birthday gift from A.G.  Feb 10th 1882
The Poetical Works of William Collins  “Edward Geo. Browne  Presented to him on the 26th May 1834 by his friend and tutor J. Blern(?) Anstis(?) with the sincerest wishes for his welfare.  St Helier Jersey

And in one of the Shakespeares: “E L Rea ‘02”  That’s my grandfather.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Caravan revisited, at last

As I hadn’t been able to go and shut down the caravan in the autumn, I'd entrusted the task to Joseph.  So I phoned him last week and left a message to make sure the various bits of plumbing would be on site for me to reinstall when I visited for the grand re-opening ceremony.  I’d planned an overnighter last Monday to do this, but this didn’t happen, mainly because of westerly gales, so there was a smidgeon of anxiety when we set out on Easter Saturday.

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried.  Good old Joseph had not only delivered the plumbing, he’d installed it too, almost certainly better than I’d have managed.  This man is a hero, as long as you keep on the right side of him.  I think I’ve written before about this – the caravan site is run as a benign, hands-off despotism, in which the rules often have to be uncovered by intuition rather than read from a lawbook.  Common sense usually prevails – for example, don’t fly kites, there are overhead power lines – but doesn’t necessarily suffice – always park across the slope, wheels turned uphill, because a car ran away and crashed into a van, about twenty years ago.

Bee had read a little item in the Telegraph (purely by chance, not her usual paper of choice) about standing stones in Mynydd Preseli, which was a good enough excuse to set off on Sunday to explore this wild piece of inland Pembrokeshire.  A quick map-skim revealed that the area is riddled with ancient monuments, including the birthplace of the Stonehenge bluestones, and sure enough we soon found Gors Fawr:

Not a hugely informative notice*, you’ll agree – if anyone knows the answer to the question, please do share it – and the stones themselves aren’t that impressive, but the setting more than makes up for that:

Our next find, however, after a fabulous fish’n’chip lunch in the garden of the Golden Lion pub at Newport, was the truly spectacular Pentre Ifan**:

It’s what remains of a prehistoric burial chamber, the covering earth having obviously long eroded away; but I couldn’t help imagining the delight of that ancient architect in achieving that exquisite tripodal balancing act.

Add in a re-(for me)-visit to one of my spiritual homes, Strumble Head:

All in all, a thoroughly rewarding day out.

Should've taken my shorts, though.

*You can find some more information, albeit mostly speculative, here.

**And here.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Dw i heb dy weld ti ers talwn!

Off to open up the caravan tomorrow, which will doubtless inspire me to resume blogging – SAD always sets in in March, and I need kickstarting, which a visit to West Wales usually achieves, especially when the weather is as good as promised.  I quite liked the Plaid Cymru lady in the debate, didn’t you?  And of course Nicola is a star.  What a shame they don’t want to be British.  If they were, I’d vote for one or other of them.

Meanwhile, a few Cameronisms which almost make you warm to him:
  • In the brilliant documentary about Parliament the other week, he informed us that the place was “half church, half museum, and half public school.”
  • At PMQ last week, he said “A straight answer deserves a straight question.”
  • And in yesterday’s debate, he informed us that “There are three sides to this coin.”

Iechyd da!