Oh the joy of full bookshelves. I’ve been on the move and unsettled for near on fifteen months until now. This is what I’ve realised: out of all my possessions, which are many and numerous, the things I’ve missed the most have been my books. Now finally the bookshelves are built in my new flat and my books have come home to roost. It’s like seeing beloved friends again. Even their titles give me comfort and some are so deliciously old that it feels that just by holding them the past wraps itself around me.
I was extremely lucky to have been left in a will an amazing selection of old books, some that date back to the 17th century, with golden spines and deep red jackets. They were bought by my father’s great friend George Erdinger in the Second World War when Londoners were told to throw away anything that might be combustable – books, alas, came under that heading. So George went on a crusade across London to save as many as he could. Originating from Germany, he spoke German, English, French, Spanish and Italian fluently, so he could collect five times the volume of books of any mere one-languaged mortal.
When I was growing up we would go to visit George and many of these wonderful volumes were employed in propping up his kitchen table and other wobbly bits of broken furniture. I tried my best as a teenager to rescue those I thought were priceless and put them out of harms way. He always noticed – his beady eye would spot immediately that one of his ‘dear friends’ had been moved. It was partly due to George’s extraordinary library of ancient and magical books that I became so fascinated by history and the way our world is so different from the world that went before.
So here I am, home again and surrounded, as George would say, by dear irreplaceable friends.