I love finding things in books. I don’t mean curious facts, interesting anecdotes or even well-turned phrases (though I do like all of those of course). What I like are physical objects, press cuttings or pressed flowers, sometimes placed there as they have some sort of connection with the book, or used as bookmarks. They can tell you something about previous owners of the book, or at least enable me to imagine something about them.
Today, we visited Lytes Cary, a National Trust house not far away. Like many NT houses it has a room with second-hand books for sale, now I can never pass a group of old books for sale without looking. Here, on a shelf of poetry, I pulled out a slim volume to look at it, as the spine had more or less fallen away. It was by Louis Mac Neice, a poet I don’t really like, but looking in it automatically I found an ancient bus ticket. This intrigued me so I dropped 50p in the honesty box and took it away.
The volume was published in 1950, and I suspect the threepenny London bus ticket dated from around the same time. So how did it get there? Here is my idea;
One afternoon in 1950, an educated young woman, got onto the number 30 bus, she pulled her new book of poems from her bag, and was so engrossed that she nearly missed her stop at South Kensington Station. Slipping the ticket she was holding in her gloved hand, into the book to mark her place, she hurried to get her train.
By the time she arrived home the ticket had begun its new life as a bookmark, and remained in the volume as it was passed to a another literary friend, was given to an English student, and so on until it ended up in a group of second hand books in an English county house.
The book and ticket
And now in my library, between Betjeman, Eliot and Auden, the volume lies – complete with bus ticket.