You know when something comes into your mind and you think you haven’t seen it for ages then you spend far more time than you need to looking for it?
Well, that happened to me a few weeks ago and I spent hours over a period of days scouring my house in vain. I have absolute faith in my ability to find stuff in the haphazard jumble sale that we grandly call our “library” but in the end I lost hope in finding the book I was looking for.
It all started when somebody mentioned that this year will be the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. I was able to say that the anniversary will fall on June 18, I know this because this is also the date of my late granny’s birthday and because as a lad I was obsessed with the three main characters of that battle - Wellington, Napoleon Bonaparte and the old Prussian warrior, Blucher.
In 1971, a famous book was published about Wellington. It was called Years of the Sword by Elizabeth, the Dowager Countess of Longford. Lady Longford is the mother of that other famous aristocratic writer, Lady Antonia Fraser and was wife to the old eccentric Lord Longford, the prison reformer.
As it came towards Christmas that year, my aunty Alice said: “You’re 12 now Ian, you can decide what you would like for a Christmas present.” I asked her to get me the book about Wellington. On Christmas morning I opened my present to find that she had bought me a Corgi model of the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car. She could see the disappointment on my face and said: “I asked the woman in a book shop in Leeds about that book and she told me it was too old for you and you know you like that film.”
I pulled a pet lip and she said: “Here then, go and buy the thing yourself” and she pressed a pound note into my hand. I did go for that book and I did notice the look on the woman’s face at Smith’s in Ponte, a look that said what on earth is this scruffy little urchin doing buying books by a member of the aristocracy? But buy it I did and it became the first book I ever bought myself.
I treasured it, carried it home like a precious artefact, put it under my pillow and read and reread it half a dozen times. What I didn’t know about the capture of the farmhouse at La Haye-Sainte, the denial by Marshall Ney, that his old guard had cried “Sauve qui Peut” and the charge of the Scots Greys wasn’t worth knowing. Whenever I have moved house I always ensured that this book was packed safely and filed away neatly in my history section and over the years I have brought it out and thumbed through it to refresh my knowledge of the Napoleonic wars and to wallow in a bit of nostalgia for my childhood remembering when I was a right little Mafeking Street bookworm.
It’s some years now since I blew the dust off that volume, but as I say I wanted to find it again. I don’t usually ask Heather to help me look for things because she always scolds me: “If you don’t know where you have put stuff how the hell do you expect me to know where it is?”
In this way I have ended up wearing the same few shirts because I can never find others to wear and every now and again I find a jumper that I haven’t seen for ages and that no longer fits me, even though I have only worn it twice.
In the end I had to relent and then I got the bombshell. “I think it might have been amongst a load of books I took to the Prince of Wales Hospice shop about three or four years ago.” Then the pointless argument starts: “You’ve no business taking my books to charity shops!” Followed by: “I’m sick of stuff collecting dust and what do you want that for anyhow, you’ve read it enough!”
I have had a look on second hand book sites and I have discovered I can buy that book for one pence these days, I’m thinking about getting one to replace my old copy, it won’t be my one of course, the first proper book I ever bought, but at least I’ll have one and I’ll sneak it into the house and not tell Heather.
While I was browsing, I also had a look at Chitty Chitty Bang Bang model cars. There’s one on Ebay, in its original box and they are asking £74.99 for it. I guess I ought to have gone with my aunty Alice and hung on to that one eh?