If you have never read Neville Shute’s post-apocalyptic novel, On the Beach then give it a try. It is probably more appropriate to read now – when nuclear threats are so real – than when it was first published in 1957. The novel came to mind while we were walking along an isolated beach in the Transkei, where we hardly saw another soul. I thought of the splendid isolation, the peace that comes with it, and marvelled at the ‘treasures’ not trampled or smashed by hundreds of human feet kicking up the sand. The contrast between our reality and that of the people in the novel awaiting the arrival of the deadly nuclear contamination from the northern hemisphere was a stark one. Here then is the first instalment of some of those ‘treasures’:
Two more images from my Grandmother’s album.
This is dated 2.6.1903.
Do you remember the Mother Goose rhyme, There was an Old Woman who lived in a Shoe?
Here are some more of the entries from my Granny’s album. Look at the intricacies of this beautiful illustration in pen-and-ink:
A beautifully painted bouquet of flowers:
Lastly, something close to my heart – birds:
It does not fail to amaze me how much care has been taken by friends and family in their contributions to her album.
My maternal grandmother, Edith Claire Myrtle Donald (née King), was fourteen years old when her older brother, Frank, gave her an album for her birthday on 8th May 1903. Most of the entries are dated between 1903 and 1905, although there is at least one dated 1919 and the most recent was one my mother added in 1934, when she was fifteen.
It is akin to some of the ‘autograph books’ that were popular during the 1950s and 1960s, in which people wrote verses or drew pictures. What is striking about this collection is the trouble my Granny’s friends and family went to when making their contributions. I will be sharing some of these from time to time as a reminder of the times of yore, when the pace may have been a little less frenetic.
Look at the intricate details of the cats, birds, dog, rabbit and spider on this page of ‘autographs’. Many are undated, while some are dated between 1906 and 1910.
The violets painted at the corners of this verse quoted from Keats are as fresh today as they were over a hundred years ago.
The ink has faded on this page, although the sentiments expressed have not. My Granny had a ‘contented mind’ and enjoyed a variety of friends who loved her dearly. Those ones still alive did ‘cleave to thee / whatever may betide’. As young children, we were in awe of the way the (to us) old people visiting my Granny and Grandpa at their retirement home in Southbroom on the south coast of what is now KwaZulu-Natal seemed to care for each other’s welfare.
I will leave you this time with a lovely painting of Coleskop – near Colesberg – along with a description of “The Myrtle”
I shudder sometimes when I come across articles relating to the decluttering of one’s home. I look at images of childrens’ bedrooms done up in bright colours and floating shelves artfully decorated with the odd car or doll – where are the books, I ask myself.
I know a child who loves to read.
I shudder sometimes when I hear people talking about ‘getting rid’ of their childrens’ clothes and toys and the books they have ‘grown out of’.
I know a child who loves to know who used to read the book she’s reading.
I shudder when I see books used as props in home décor magazines to hold a pot plant or piled on the floor tied with coloured string to serve as a doorstop. How can you treat books like this, I want to shout.
I know a child who loses herself in worlds away from where she lives.
I really shudder when I see books in good condition being cut up, or pasted over, or painted, or folded in the name of an art form that is likely to be tossed aside in years to come.
I know a child who longs for peace and solitude so that she can read undisturbed.
I know a child who harbours a desire to keep every book she has enjoyed.
I have kept the books my children read. They have been dusted off for the next generation to read.
I love reading the stories I read to my children to their children.
I love listening to my children reading the stories I read to them to their children.
Books are friends
Books need to be read
Books need to be cherished
Books need to be shared.
I have confessed before to being a hopeless bibliophile and that every nook and cranny in our home is crammed with books – some of them very old and others very new.
There is something sensuous about opening a book – fiction or non-fiction – and delving into its contents: getting lost in the turbulent history of the Eastern Cape; exploring the different shades of snow in Alaska; following the lives of young girls who went to war; laughing at the antics of a character in Cape Town; or finding out more about the habits of the Fiscal Shrike are some of the ‘journeys’ I have undertaken over the past few weeks.
Some of the books on our shelves have ‘hidden’ themselves. We know we have them; we know they should be ‘here’; yet, alas, they are not. I was searching high and low for a book on Merlyn the other day. I knew it had a bright orange spine – where could it be? When I located it at last I had to laugh, for the spine had bleached to white over many years of exposure even to indirect sunlight!
Books are precious. It is true that some books are more precious than others for even a bibliophile like me can find some books to donate to a worthy charitable cause or to pass on to people I think will enjoy them. There is a big difference, however, between giving someone a book to read without expecting it to be returned and lending someone a book that does not come back.
I wonder if the Nobel Laureate novelist, Anatole France (1844-1924), really meant:
Never lend books – nobody ever returns them; the only books I have in my library are those which people have lent me
Or if this quotation been widely re-used out of context.
Lending books can be a risky undertaking, that is not done lightly, for an element of trust is involved. There are some people to whom I will no longer lend a book, either because they have failed to return one that was precious to me or because I have had to nag them to do so. A friend once found some of her books for sale in a second-hand shop! I have discreetly ‘liberated’ some of mine from bookshelves in the homes of borrowers – years after having given them up as ‘lost’.
To never lend books is a harsh statement. I have been lent some marvellous books and continue to lend some of my favourites. So, I will expand on that by saying only lend books to people who will cherish them as much as you do – and who will return them!
How do you feel about lending books?