Posted by September Blue Monday, 16 April 2007

One of my favourite things about working in a university library, apart from the still-not-quite-tarnished glow of 'they're paying me to be in a library!', is finding the variety of things people use as bookmarks. I have my doubts about the rasher of bacon story (apart from its friend-of-a-friend nature, it seems to defy the whole point of emergency bookmarks: if you really needed to mark your page, wouldn't you have a knife and fork to hand? A plate to hold the book open? Why scavenge through your breakfast?), but the stuff I have found makes up for it: train tickets, plane tickets, family photos, photocophying cards with credit still left. Actual bookmarks, far too nice to lose, including a very sensible leather bookmark left in a very sensible Economics textbook, which, when removed, had 'HELP ME - MY BRAIN IS MELTING - MY BRAIN' written on the back. Credit cards, twice, both long past their expiry dates.

Scribbled notes become tiny short stories in their own right: 'Sorry, forgot I said I'd go out. See you soon. Love you.' Or, on an empty envelope, 'Thought you mind need these for Finals. Good luck! - S.'

Sometimes they're torn-up scraps from somebody's own notes, now and forever obscure: '24. Philosophers useless. Socrates', or 'Elspeth's birthday present!! Sparkles.' I'm guessing that 'Deuteronomy xxii5 as God's veto upon an actor wearing female dress' was only intended to make sense to its author, although a 3x5 index card with 'Titus 3:15 - Grace be with you all' in large, careful calligraphic handwriting seems to have been aimed at a wider audience. And sometimes, they're torn mid-word or mid-sentence, leaving things like 'The student of arithmetic who has mastered the first four rules of his art, and successfully striven with money sums and fractions, finds himself confronted by an unbroken' - which breaks off, right there. Or, my favourite piece of accidental poetry: 'The end / besides deconstruction / ends up v. well.'

The letters are the best, though.

A scrawled letter to an unnamed scientist:

I would like to get in contact with people who have some expertise in work with this to exchange ideas ref. and experiences. At end of PhD I ultimately would like to look at the impact house cats are having on prey population. I am aware that this is one of the main things you investigate with spotted Hyenas in the Serengeti and I would be very grateful if you would
...where it trails off into nothingness, which might or might not be the endless silence of 'my research will never be as cool as yours.'

A get-well-soon card:
With loving thoughts for your speedy recovery & that God may richly bless you in your service for Him.

Mrs Lennox told me yesterday that you were ill. As you continue the good work your dear husband began, may you be given good health and see fruit for your labours.

A typewritten letter dated 1936, from the Hon. Secretary of a Methodist Peace Fellowship to the man named as its president, beginning enigmatically:
No thanks, we do not want another President. I quite understand that most of these things must be regarded as "extras"; nevertheless your assistance has proved, and doubtless will prove, invaluable.

And the saddest, two letters together:
Dear Michael,

I hope you remember me, I'm Vicki's mum who married Jason.

I have enclosed a letter from me to Jason & it is about Rebecca his little girl. She is always asking me have I found her 'daddy'. She & her brother Adam are in 'foster care' at the moment. I thought Jason should know about this & if he is interested would he contact me or Joanne on [numbers]... I am enclosing a letter for Jason and would you pass it on please.

Dear Jason,

I am sorry to contact you under the circumstances I outlined in my letter to Michael. I fully understand if you decide not to do anything about Rebecca. I have no idea what your situation is or where you are living & I won't do anything to upset you or your family.

As I stated in my letter to Michael, Rebecca & Adam are in foster care at the moment due to Vicki's behaviour. Rebecca is a marvellous little girl, very mature & loving. She looks just like you & is of the same dispostion as you. If you want to 'talk things over' with me or Joanne please don't hesitate to contact us...
One letter being folded inside the other one would suggest that Michael never passed Jason's along, if he even received it in the first place, but I hope that's not what happened.

This one, written in 1941 from a - grandmother? godmother? teacher? - chose a holiday destination for me and some friends sixty-five years later, having been found the same day we were wondering where to go:
Well my dear Patricia, I am looking forward to going my holidays. My husband and I go off on Saturday to Dunoon for a week. Your Mummy and Daddy know that place well. We really wanted to go to Oban, but we could not get fixed up in any of the hotels.

You know Patricia where I would really like to go for my holidays, can you guess - Morar. Perhaps after the war I shall be able to take my husband there, and show him all the walks and places you and I know so well. I wonder if you are going up to Morar this year?

How are Michael and Carolina? I have been wondering if Hannie is still with you, I have not heard from her in such a long time. I wondered if she might be doing war work.
(Morar is beautiful, by the way.)

And finally this, last night, in a library book I'm reading for my thesis:
It's rather depressing but everything I think has already been thought & written. My only consolation is that my deductions are made rather independently - sort of a logical corollary to what I know I have learned.
I went to bed after that. You'd have done the same.


  1. Amy Palko Says:
  2. Wow. Who knew people kept their place with so many different types of ephemera. I'm a bit suspicious of that whole slice of bacon story too, I have to say.
    Great blog, by the way. I've added you to my blogroll!

  3. Karen Says:
  4. That Deuteronomy verse is "A woman must not wear men's clothing, nor a man wear women's clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this."

    I'm going to be writing an essay on The Roaring Girl in my upcoming finals, and I'd like to thank the anonymous notester for that one! Also you for publishing it! :-)

  5. Laz Says:
  6. Well, I used to have a bookmark with Fido Dido on it. It said (but not out loud) "Normal Is Boring" - words I live by.

    Now I use a paperclip. No, not one of those little silver things you can never find when you need, not even one with purple plastic coating it. No, this is the granddaddy of all paperclips, this is massive. it's... It's got to be 5 or 6 inches long. Hmm, maybe not so massive. Except in paperclip terms. Though definitely not as big as the one that guy who kept trading things up and ended up with a house started out with. Unless you already know that story, that's not going to make a whole lot of sense.

    I also still have my red leather Sproutlore one, somewhere.