About twenty five years ago, I saw an old book on a shelf. On the first page of the book was a signature in a neat hand and under it the words, “St Catherine’s, Oxford, 1932″. In that little inscription was buried the first half of the story of a man whose tumultous journey of life took him from being the veritable baby-with-a-golden-spoon, to an orphan with no support, then to a bright young boy who walked over 5 miles and swam across a river everyday to tenaciously pursue the need to study, and onwards to a young man propelled by circumstances to reach what was then the world’s greatest centre of learning. It is the story of a person I loved very much.
Add up all those inscriptions made across the thousands of books that inhabited his library and overlay it with a bit of imagination – and you get one of the most interesting travelogues you can ever lay your hands on.
Over the last decade or so, I have done the same squiggles on every book I bought. There is the P G Wodehouse I bought from the airport on my way to see my first-born. Or the Peter Mayle that I got from the little village of Arbroath, while walking across Scotland. Who knows, maybe a few years later, there might be even be a few people who will find the cumulative story told by my squiggles to be interesting.