... one blistering hot day, many moons ago, far, far away. As I passed through the shaded cloisters, the cool and faintly musty air rose up the stone steps to meet me. Down there, he waited patiently - though I had no idea of his existence at the time. Kneeling on my chair to open with both hands the huge and heavy wooden covers of the little-known collection of twelfth-century sermons, I caught the weary archivist's eye. I could tell he was thinking: "She'd better not send this one back after ten minutes and ask for another like she did this morning - my back is killing me."
But I didn't this time. For although it didn't contain what I was looking for, I found something else. Someone else. There was just a faint trace at first, like a whisper - an additional flourish here in the margin, a few hatched lines there. As the thick crackling parchment pages turned, he gradually revealed himself in the light brown ink: first an arched window, next a little mouse with a very long tail that dropped off the edge of the page, then a tonsured monk with a bulbous nose: himself? the Prior? There were a few faint words in Latin about bad meat, a scrap of parchment lying between two pages with what looked like a list of herbs - from the garden? the apothecary? I was enchanted. I imagined him in his rough, brown hopsack habit, standing or perched on a high stool, copying out these endlessly long Augustinian sermons; and how, for a little light relief every so often, he would doodle... Did he get into trouble, I wondered?
And then the hairs on my arms began to rise and I could feel the goose-bumps beneath them: he'd touched the same pages I was now touching. Somewhere on them still was his DNA - he and I were shaking hands down the centuries. And he'd left something of his personhood for others - me - to meet ...
Although it was another quarter of a century untl I discovered scrapbooking, I was reminded of him today. As I finish the Week in My Life project, I've been pondering whether, another year, it might take the shape of a professionally produced photo book: perfectly straight lines, clean and beautifully printed pages. Yet, apart from never having lost my love of pockets and pull-outs and interactive paper delights, what tugs at me is the sense of being in contact with a real person that a hand-made scrapbook provides. Knowing that someone, someone like me, has written that date, punched those holes, smoothed that piece of paper after glueing, has left something of themselves in it ... I'm not sure I'll be able to give that up.
What about you? I'd love to hear ... The on-line album (see right) contains the digital pages which I've printed out and are now in my spiral-bound This is 2011 album. I daresay there's a photo a little wonky, or a smear of glue somewhere I couldn't quite remove - but, remembering with a smile my old monastic friend, I don't think I care. :)