In 1989 I sold my clothes to fund the shipping of my book collection back from Washington State where I had been studying. I had been on a scholarship from University of Wales Aberystwyth where I was an undergraduate in the Agricultural Economics department. Washington State was the lentil growing capital of the world in those days and the home to the large red skinned apples. Curious where we choose to start our careers particularly as at the tender age of 17 one makes a decision based on virtually no life experience; I sometimes think (with the benefit of hindsight) I should have chosen a different road to meander along!
Once my scholarship year was over I travelled round the US for six weeks by train seeing some amazing sites (the Grand Canyon) and putting myself in the kind of danger that only the naive young person can. What was wrong with accepting a lift from an older man I met on a train from Chicago to New Orleans? And when the traffic was heavy he decided to go to his apartment to check his answer phone before taking me to the Youth Hostel. Of course we never left the apartment. Nothing happened but it could have; why the request to give him a massage didn’t alarm me heaven only knows!
As I wandered across the States I phoned my parents periodically and my mother enquired about the parcels that kept arriving. What she asked did they contain? Why books of course; I had discovered second hand book shops in Pullman where the University was and Moscow in Idaho (just over the border or should I say the state line). My collection of the French writer Colette is still in my ownership; the legions of second hand text books are not. Last week I finally steeled myself to get rid of the now defunct text books as there is no market for such reading matter in the era where students are given text books. Plus the world of economics and business has moved on since 1987; a frightening two decades since I studied.
So in 2012 the same books I had shipped home in 1989 were dispatched on their final journey to the municipal tip. I furtively posted the items into the paper recycling based on advice from another recycler; the paper-cardboard combination concerned me, was I inadvertently (and entirely deliberately) screwing up the system? I had parked as close as possible to the paper ‘skip’ so as to avoid using my crutches – the need to ‘fling’ myself forward propelling my book laden body from the boot to the receptacle gave just the right momentum for the task! The key was to attempt to arrest the motion at the side with the slots for posting. Now those of you with a rudimentary understanding of the laws of physics will appreciate my dilemma; the weight of the book (and the density) meant that when my body halted the load tended to want to carry on in a forward direction. Which did rather mean maintaining my balance was, to say the least, a challenge! Fortunately no-one was there to observe the weeble wobble that was the result; thankfully I – like the weeble – wobbled but didn’t fall down!
The power of books is ever present at the moment with Michael Goad gifting a personally endorsed copy of the King James Bible to every school in England (one assumes the Welsh Government has not) and Jeremy Hunt giving school children/schools a copy of Dickens to mark the anniversary that no-one could have failed to hear about! A writer I like, Jenny Diski was interviewed about this celebration and commented that she was fed up with hearing about it by the 1st January – noting that the only thing that was worse was catching (the Radio 4 lunchtime programme) You and Yours! I love a woman with caustic wit; where is the contemporary Dorothy Parker I ask myself!
And finally I learnt something this week; yes I know this might be shocking as I do have a tendency to wheel out the comment from a client who thanked me for my wisdom! The Ray Bradbury novel Fahrenheit 451 is on Radio 4 this week; did you know that the title refers to the temperature it takes to burn book paper? Now there’s an interesting fact for which I shall seek an opportunity to drop into conversation simply for my own amusement!