Tuesday, 11 January 2011
An unexpected treasure trove
I hunted on. I found an original Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management (first printed in 1861). This one belonged to my great grandmother. It too was stained and dog-eared and covered in hand written notes, with an overpowering aroma of old book. The spine had long since broken and and the pages were so fragile it was terrifying to touch them. But it was quite possibly the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.
As I searched on, I came across a number of equally lovely old cookery books, including recipe files of tips cut out of fifties-style magazines and yellowing newspapers, all punctuated with lots of personal notes about what was good or what needed adapting. Even menus from dinner parties gone by were tucked inside like little vignettes of past lives - devilled eggs and chicken chasseur anyone? It was a treasure trove from a different era.
Having gorged myself on cookery books, I found an small old hard-backed book which had my great grandfather's name printed on the first page. It was called '15 000 miles in a ketch' by Raymond du Baty. It charted the true story of an adventurous young Frenchman who set sail in search of the Desolation Islands. It was a delight, partly because some of his voyage was the same one I did in 2009 across the Atlantic - and it sounded virtually identical in so many ways - but mainly because it was such an honest, funny account. I could barely put it down.
Once I'd devoured that, I was on the hunt for a new read and to my delight found 'Pride and prejudice' by Jane Austen. I confess, I have never read any Jane Austen, but have watched the films. The book was brilliant - not only the story, but the actual book. Brown-aged pages snuggling into a small, hard-backed, blue cover, the perfect size to tuck into your pocket, ready to be snuck out whenever conversation might turn dull.
As if all of that wasn't enough, my father brought out all the old family albums to browse through. By old, I mean some pictures going back to my great, great, great grandparents. Not just pictures but poignant letters, like those written by my father's father, just months before he died aged only 48. They gave a snapshot of lives gone by. Fascinating lives interrupted by the Great Depression and World Wars.
Never before had I felt such a sense of connection to my past. To understand where I had come from and what had made the people in our family what they are today. It was such a grounding yet uplifting experience.
So while the normal holiday pursuits of lying in the sun and walking on the beach and going for a sail were lovely, what transformed this holiday into something truly special was the treasure trove I discovered tucked away on my father's shelves.