I first wrote a version of this as a Twitter thread so some of you may have seen it before. Then I thought why not put it here too and try break though my blog-block (it’s definitely a thing) at the same time. There are still a lot of books hanging about in the car park – mostly the annuals that were dumped there, and a large collection of children’s reference books – but they’ve been rained on a great deal now, and are sadly probably beyond saving.
August 22nd, 2019, cycling back to the car from work…
Today I found a pile of books abandoned in the Park&Ride. They were near the big charity bins so I’m not sure if the bins were full, someone just couldn’t reach the handle, or possibly not be bothered to post them in, they could have just been fly-tipped of course.
There were some newish books, Guinness World of Records, children’s reference books, annuals…that kind of thing. Then I saw, in a Jaffa Orange box which looked quite vintage itself, some pretty old ones. Obviously the bookish cyclist can’t just ride on by. Not this one anyway… I stopped to have a browse, because if books like anything they like to be browsed (not as much as they like to be given a good home though).
Some of these are in English, some in French and German. School books, latin primers, poetry, novels and guidebooks. A bit damaged, a bit windblown, some watermarked and buckled. Had they been in a shed/attic for decades? They’re definitely foxed – a second-hand book term I love – and they have The Aroma. You know The Aroma don’t you? Comforting, musty old paper redolent of old bookshops, library stacks, the early volumes of antiquarian journals (is that a bit niche…? I had to read a lot of Mortimer Wheeler once).
Closer inspection showed many/all? of them had once belonged to Amelia Banks. I begin to wonder who Amelia is/was, how her old Thomas Hardy and etc. came to languish in a car park (Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Macmillan 1930). “Tess” is not my favourite Hardy (which is “Under the Greenwood Tree”, if you need to know). Did Amelia like it? Or did she, like me, want to give Angel Clare a good slap?
Amelia really begins to grow on me when I find “The Lake District” by M.J.B. Baddeley, B.A (19th Ed. Ward Lock WC2, can’t find a date on this book). She clearly introduced Ken and Cynthia to the lakes. They call her “Milly”, so must be close chums, I wonder who they were too…
I imagine them all up in the hills, tweedy and windblown, maybe there was a little disagreement about the route. Maybe they had a chat about the awfulness of Angel Clare! Whatever they talked about I bet they had a smashing day, they even climbed a little, hobnails scraping over rocks, the breeze bracing and whipping hair from pins and headscarves…hold on to your hat Ken! After they’d walked a while they went for tea in Windermere and back home to listen to the wireless.
Look at this lovely guidebook. Yes, the text is minute as it was in those pre-smartphone days when you actually had to take the book out with you; the fold out maps are gorgeous. I also delight in the tiny Foyles sticker on the inside cover.
There were many more books, but my eye was finally caught by Keats. “A. Banks, Christmas 1938” it says in pencil. Then later – I assume – in biro “from Margaret and Hans”. How old was Amelia in 1938…a grown up? She has beautiful handwriting, assuming it’s hers (which I am). Why were Margaret and Hans added later – I begin to have a whole WW2 refugee story building in my mind about these two. I begin to imagine they fled Europe as The Nazi’s came to power, and were taken in by Amelia’s family. I’m fairly convinced the Bank’s were Oxford types, academics, liberal and knew Margaret and Hans from before all the trouble started, they would have wanted to help (it’s a lot to read into someone being called Hans I know!). Or has Amelia added these names later in remembrance, they had not got out, after all…its my flight of fancy, but I am curious.
This slim book has a splendid 1930s dust jacket! “Selected Poems of John Keats” (Zodiac Books/Chatto and Windus 1937). It’s printed on thick paper and about the size of a Ladybird book. Was Amelia sitting reading Keats that Christmas with WW2 just around the corner (Kristallnacht had, after all, happened only a month before) escaping into a book – I find myself doing the same thing, these days.
I’m so glad I rescued these, and for the spark they gave my imagination to go off and tell stories of its own – it doesn’t take much really does it!. I’ll look after them for Amelia, wherever she is now, which I think is most likely the great big library in the sky, I’ll see her there one day.