Despite the fact that the temperature has fallen back several degrees again, and a sharp wind cuts across the front of the house, spring has finally arrived. I can say this with certainty, because I’m now finding it hard to ignore the dusty cobwebs in the corner of the window, and because my friends too, are suddenly busy taking down curtains or pressure washing their patios.
It’s the ‘spring-instinct’, driving me towards displacement activities. All winter I’ve been able to ignore the messy garden and the accumulating muddles around my desk, but a couple of hours of sunshine and they take on an insidious importance. Time for a list, I decide. I’m fond of making lists. Check out my coat pockets and you’re bound to find one or two.
A list is such an individual affair, from the paper it’s written on to the content. They seem so perishable, and yet they survive, often for years, in unexpected places. I tend to use mine as page-marks during research, then forget to take them out again. I’m not alone.
One of the reasons I like second-hand books is for their detritus. Usually, that means notes written in the margins, or between the lines. I like the idea that something incensed a reader to the point where they had to reply, or contradict; isn’t that a shadow of the oral tradition persisting?
Occasionally though, there is a receipt, or ticket which can be just as telling. What for instance, do I make of the yellowed shoe repair ticket in the middle of The Magus? Did the owner of the brown boots in need of re-soling get bored with the story and give up? Why? What didn’t they like? Or did something interrupt them?
And, did they forget the boots, or just that they’d left the ticket in this book? As for the foccacio, roses and anchovies they’d written on the back of it, I’ve so many possible answers to the Who, What, Why, When and How of that. I know nothing, and then everything about the previous reader of this novel.
I suppose, with all our worries about identity theft, and the rising use of electronic memory systems, fragments of shopping information will be obsolete soon; unless, of course, we can access the databases of supermarkets and on-line shops. With access to that, I could work out what the contents of ‘Brown Boots’ owner’s larder are, which would mean a much more educated guess at the meal being planned. I could probably go further, and by looking at their history of purchases, figure out the who, what, why and when questions of their life. If only I could hack.
Then again, how much more interesting it has been to sift through the possibilities, discarding and refining, building a picture from the brown boots, a novel and a ticket, making my own creation up. I think I’ll continue to risk losing scraps of list in library books, and if you should happen to find one, good luck with your imaginings too.