Calling Mag and Jock

The attraction of a second hand book resides not only in the price tag but also the clues to be found inside, about its life story and the lives of those through whose hands it has passed.

The shelves of the Regent Shopping Mall in Wantage have yielded many treasures.  My copy of the Ski Runs of Switzerland (1957) belonged to P.A. Adam.  Mary Wirth had my Arnold Lunn’s The Alps (1914) and for her it signified ‘Recollections of a holiday in Grindelwald September 13th – 21st 1930.’ She put up at the Hotel Terminus with three illegible companions of the same family, whose name began with G.

Could this be Mary Wirth (1877 – 1947), wife of Christopher and mother of Theophil Heidenreich?  Thanks to the internet, digging is easy.  Alas, the hotel Terminus no longer exists – at least, not under that name – so I will not be able to go and look up the visitors book to satisfy my curiosity about the other three.  

The inscription in my copy of Bernard Darwin’s autobiography The World That Fred Made is less mysterious to me.  “To GH Ruck from A D’A Ruck, Xmas 1955, West House.”  The book was a present from my father to his mother in the year she gave up the struggle of the little family house in Wales, where she had lived for more than forty years, mostly on her own, and came to live with us on the top floor of our house in Kent.

This must have been a terrible uprooting, and the fact that the book contains beautiful descriptions of the Welsh house and its lovely garden, which she cherished and embellished, must have made reading its pages especially poignant for her.  The inscription is in her handwriting, not his, in pencil.  I can see her perched straight-backed on an armless chair in our sitting room after Christmas lunch, opening the present, folding the paper for future re-use,  and hastily making a note of the time and place, in the same way that she would have recorded the details when she planted a new rhododendron.   She will certainly not have written it for my benefit, but I have picked it up, and it adds at least one extra layer to my enjoyment of the book.

About ten years later she gave me a prayer book for my confirmation, pink with a crinkly leather cover, and on its frontispiece she wrote in black ink from a fountain pen, words for me to read, mark and learn.

They are the words of the hymn that includes the line “Not for ever by still waters … ”.  I have lost the prayer book – I doubt it will have found its way to a second hand book shop – but the inscription has stayed with me and I often thank her for it.

My most recent acquisition from the Regent in Wantage, Darwin On The Green (1986), is one of many anthologies of my distinguished cousin’s golf journalism, this one published two decades after his death.  It has nothing written on it by any previous owner.  The price has been snipped off the inside flap of the jacket, so I guess it was a present, probably from a non-golfer to a golfing other half.  Further, I guess that the non-playing member of this partnership was called Mag, and the golfer was Jock, because while reading one of the essays I turned a page and a sheet of A4 paper folded into 4, with JOCK written on the blank side, fell on to my lap.

Unfolding the sheet, I found it was a letter – ‘Dear Jock’ – written ‘in the cold light of day (5.30am)’ after an argument, to explain – or try to, at least – and say sorry.  I won’t go into detail, of which there is plenty, because the letter was not meant for my eyes.  But Mag and Jock’s relationship was going through a rocky patch.  As she puts it, they had ‘different ways of tackling the barren areas.’

‘I still believe … we will look back and tease each other about 1988,’ Mag wrote.

‘Please let’s keep trying.’

Mag left the house before Jock woke up, but he found the letter on the kitchen table, and tucked it away in his golf book.

Did they keep trying, and reach a happier time when they were able to laugh about 1988?  I hope so.  Not for ever by still waters ….

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