Sunday August 15, 2004

“Oh, what are you looking for now?” asked Graham, as I peered and poked along the bookshelves, mumbling away to myself.

“I can’t find my copy of Homer.”

“I’ve never seen you with a copy of Homer. Are you sure you have one?”

“No. That’s the awful thing. I think it’s one of the books I used to have, before the fire.”

“You’ll have to buy a new copy, then, if you really want to read it.”

“Won’t be the same.”

And that’s the snag, I suppose. It’s nearly thirty years since I lost all my books and possessions in the Great Fire of Three Bridges and yet I still reach for things I used to have, the image and the feel of them fresh in my memory. I replaced most of the books in one big post insurance claim buying session but I didn’t have a catalogue to work from and, inevitably, there were many omissions. Over the years I’ve reached for a lot of books that aren’t there any more, sighed, and made a note to buy a new copy. The replacement is never the same, though. For one thing, all my marginal notes are missing. Those are irreplaceable. And I remember that my copy of the Odyssey had a stain on the cover where I’d put down a clumsy coffee mug sometime in the early 1960s.

Hey ho. Next time I’m in Lincoln or Boston I’ll pop into Waterstones or Ottakar’s and get me a new copy. Or, possibly, if I can make it up the hill, I’ll go into the big second-hand bookshop up near the Cathedral and buy a nice, dingy, battered old copy. If I can find one that’s dingy and battered in the right way.

Irritating. I wanted to check the reference Homer makes on the futility of seeking immortality at the expense of getting the most out of our single mortality. Amusing, too, in a back-handed way, since my lost book illustrates a singular mortality among the myriad of small mortalities that make up my life.

I could look it up on the Internet, of course. Not the same, though. Perhaps I’ll do it tomorrow, when I’m over the mumbles. Always make me mumbly, does losing a book.


An attack of the mumbles


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