Friday 30 September 2016

Strange things on the shelf including a stolen Van

When Liam Collins went to rearrange his bookshelf, he found an embarrasment of curiosities, and a pilfered Van

Published 13/06/2016 | 02:30

Liam Collins - feels a twinge of guilt every time he hears Madame George.
Liam Collins - feels a twinge of guilt every time he hears Madame George.

Recently, I was moving books around and, of course, spent more time looking at those I hadn't seen for years than rearranging them properly.

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That's when I became uneasy.

What exactly was I doing with a worn volume with the title Pope: Satires and Epistles, bearing the stamp "National Library of Ireland 30 Nov 76" - which I take to be 1876, because the purple stamp carries the crown of the British monarch.

I don't have any idea how or why I have this book. I certainly didn't borrow it, legally or otherwise, because I've never taken a book from the National Library. But there it is on the shelf.

Further along, I have a set of 13 handsomely bound volumes in French; 12 signed by Robert Erskine Childers (the author of The Riddle of the Sands, executed during the Civil War) and one signed Mary Alden Osgood, 1895.

However, the first page of each volume is stamped, in red lettering, "Alliance Francaise de Dublin".

I don't suspect Erskine and 'Molly', as his Boston-born wife was affectionately known, purloined them from the Alliance Francaise, but I do know that I didn't steal them, either.

I remember these books, because I bought them at a garage sale, which used to be held behind my house on a Saturday. I paid £3 for them, and I recall the woman who was in charge saying, "I'm glad you're buying them, because if somebody didn't I was going to take them home myself, but I have enough rubbish already".

Do the National Library or the Alliance Francaise want their books back?

They can have them if they want - apply within, as they say, and I will return said items with alacrity.

Everybody has borrowed things we really should have returned, but didn't. Books, records, tools and garden implements are the most common, but there are lots of other items around the house that we probably should have given back to their rightful owners. We start out with good intentions, but as time passes it becomes too embarrassing to return the borrowed item, and we begin to assume the rightful owner has hopefully forgotten whom they gave it to, or, better still, doesn't want their possessions back anyway.

But that slightly uneasy feeling never quite goes away. Every time I see the cover of Astral Weeks, it takes me back to a night I was babysitting for Michele Hand (my sisters were unavailable) and, after making buns, she thankfully went to bed. Her father, Mick, had a good collection of records, and that night I discovered Van Morrison. I borrowed the record, promising to return it. Now, sadly both Mick and the record are no longer with us, but I still get a twinge of guilt every time I hear Madame George on Late Date.

You often find that things you borrowed and didn't give back have absolutely no intrinsic value. They're usually things you once found interesting but that are now languishing at the bottom of a drawer, unseen and basically forgotten.

One such item I have, which I remember promising to return but never got around to, is the original contract for Planxty to play at the interval of the Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin. Dated March 22, 1981, it reveals that the folk band was paid the princely sum of £150 for the gig. Kevin Flynn, the band's manager, gave it to me for reasons I can no longer remember. Do I want it? I don't, but then again, I couldn't throw it out, either.

The one area I haven't covered is probably the most contentious of all - women and girls borrowing each other's clothes. With a wife and three daughters, I have seen the communal strife that this causes, but I suspect an army of trick cyclists couldn't unravel that particularly mystery. As Polonius said in Hamlet, "Neither a borrower nor a lender be".

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