I might have mentioned in my last letter that our move to the UK has involved a certain amount of redecorating, of which I am only trusted with what might well be called "The Grunt Work". This activity is so called because of the noises made by the actor whilst, for example, straining to detach baseboards (or more properly 'skirting-boards' since they are English ones) from the bricks they are nailed to by enormous nails of the species called 'cut nails' which are probably so called in their turn because of their effect on the actor's fingers.
But, in the words of the old Fortunes song "You've got your troubles, I've got mine which are a damn sight more painful than yours, but never mind this song—I...I mean essay—isn't about them".
No. One of the few joys of of the whole process is the sheer archeological potential it holds. Why, only the other day as I wrestled with a particularly recalcitrant stretch of skirting, I discovered, hidden in a cave (admittedly a tiny, tiny cave, but a cave nonetheless) a wadded roll of ancient papyrus, or paper, which immediately set me in mind of my first sighting of those found by the Bedouin shepherds at Qumran.
The roll, or more properly 'The Scroll', had been hurriedly and forcefully thrust into its hiding place by some unknown person: perhaps to hide it or protect it in times of trouble long past or maybe just to fill a gap. At this late date who can say why they had failed to retrieve it (if that had been their purpose), what tragedy had driven them to abandon their treasure.
But now, in place of vain speculation, came the delicate task of unrolling the fragile remains. Luckily I have some expertise in this area, having studied Archive Repair at the London College of Printing under the auspices of the leader of the Public Record Office team that had worked on the Domesday Book.
As I painstakingly relaxed the outer layers with demineralised water and buffered them to a neutral pH, spreading the fragments on to a supporting plastic film I gradually became aware that I was not dealing with a manuscript, but an early printed work: perhaps some lost incunabulum or something even more exciting.
In this last I was indeed proven correct, as the words "DAILY HERALD" appeared, all in caps, and announcing my discovery as ... an ancient means of mass communication called, in those far off days, a 'newspaper', if this is an unfamiliar term to you, think of a news app that is always a day or more out of date and can't be read in the dark, but can be rolled up and used to swat flies. By some miracle the first fragment had a date: April the 13th 1950, a Thursday as it claimed.
What were the interests and beliefs of that primitive society way back in the 50's?
Much can be gleaned, even from this first glimpse: listen to these words of a long-dead writer, unseen since that fateful day in 1950.
"WHEN a man goes to a greyhound track, studies the form of the dogs,
and stakes a few shillings on his fancy with the tote or a bookie, can he be sure of getting a fair 'run for his money?
"I have been asking this question of all sorts of people who own or supervise tracks, work at them or frequent them. I have visited sample tracks to see the security p [ and then a lacuna or Gap] cautions that are taken. I have talked with peop [...] have be [...] in the p [...] many ye [...]" dissolving into a plethora of lacunae and we'll never know if that man at the track ever did get his fair run for the money.
And then, on the recto, or verso (I didn't see any indication of foliation), and under the rather distressing, if incomprehensible, headline of
"FOUR IN LOUNGE SUIT CUT BANQUET
FOUR chairs will be vacant at tomorrow night's banquet to celebrate the
75th - anniversary of the town's charter.
Eighty guests have been invited. But four Labour magistrates will not be there. The invitation card said " dinner dress."
One not going is 73-year-old former Mayor, Alderman Charles Gardner. He is a retired signalman who lives on his superannuation pay and old-age pension.
Says he:"I agree with Nye Bevan that dinner suits are the uniform of snobbery
During my year as Mayor I never wore a boiled shirt."
EXPLANATION tonight, by the Mayor, Councillor W. H. Walsgrove: "We stipulated 'dinner dress' as an indication of the type of function and as a guide to the ladies who want to know what kind of dress the other ladies will be wearing.
"There is no objection to any guest. attending in a 'suitable lounge suit."
After reading which, I got bored, chucked the rest away, and got back to work with my hand-saw, a device so called because of how it makes your hands feel (not to mention your arms),
and, of course,
Cheerio for now
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