Monday, June 08, 2015

un train peut en cacher un autre

A couple of loosely-coupled trains of thought: I caught a bit of the discussion on Radio 4's Start The Week this morning, another of the various Radio 4 programmes which start at 9am and which I therefore sometimes catch in the car if I'm not in the office by then (which I rarely am). Tom Sutcliffe was presenting this morning, which is good as I think he's a far more interesting and less irritating host than Andrew Marr, as well as being less prone to saying "cunt" unexpectedly.

Anyway, one of the early topics of discussion was Sir Thomas Browne, legendary polymath, author, science enthusiast and alleged coiner of lots of now-common words such as "ferocious", "electricity" and "suicide".

I remembered reading a quite lengthy bit about Browne in a novel I'd read a few years ago; I was distracted from trying to remember which one it was by one of the guests making a brief foray into the traditional pastime of Dawkins-bashing, the point allegedly being that Browne was all about the science and that, but was a bit nicer about it in the areas where it conflicted with religion. Which is a bit of an unfair comparison for both of them, since Browne lived in a time where explicit pointing out of the falsehood of religious claims could get you killed.

Anyway, I managed to remember where I'd read the Browne profile literally a couple of seconds before it was mentioned on the radio: The Rings Of Saturn by WG Sebald. As I recall it's near the beginning, but since Sebald's books contain almost no narrative as such it's hard to remember which order things happen in, inasmuch as anything happens at all.

All of which led me to recall that I'd owned two copies of The Rings Of Saturn, the second one (which I still have) being purchased shortly after I'd left the first on a bus somewhere in Bristol when I was about two-thirds of the way through reading it. Now I'm normally very careful (some might say slightly obsessive) about books, but I can recall a couple of similar incidents. Here's the full list as I recall it:
  • I left a copy of Agatha Christie's 4:50 From Paddington somewhere while I was about halfway through it at the age of about 15. It might even have been on a train, although, I should add, just to be clear, not in the course of murdering anyone. I never have read the rest of it, though judging by the plot synopsis I may as well have just made some random shit up anyway. 
  • I left a copy of Paul Theroux's The Family Arsenal on a Bristol bus - annoyingly, I'd picked up the original paperback for about a pound in a second-hand shop, but then had to purchase a spanking new one for about a fiver to replace it so I could finish reading it.
  • The aforementioned The Rings Of Saturn, left on a very similar bus at a later date. I have a feeling that this was just before a birthday or Christmas and that I managed to wangle getting a replacement as a present. I was OK with waiting as it's not as if Sebald wrote novels of breathless cliffhanging suspense where you simply have to know what happens next, nor indeed "novels" in the usually accepted sense at all.
Other things I have left on trains over the years include a couple of sweaters, a towel and a blue enamel casserole dish. Note that there was not a casserole inside it at the time.

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