Address Books

Of all the items I lug around with me – and I am a real lugger, I can’t be without all kinds of things I almost never use, but you never know, there might just be a moment when they are life-saving – the most precious, and battered, is my address-book. It is customised. Fearful of losing it, I’ve covered it in children’s stars and stickers, so that it looks sufficiently absurd to catch the eye, if – as I am prone to do – I have taken it out and laid it in a foreign place (for the purposes of this article, ‘foreign’ means ‘anywhere but in my pocket). It’s like a little sacred object. I do lose it sometimes, and I am not organised enough to have prepared a back-up – besides which, what a slackening of attention that would involve. I would be thinking ‘I don’t have to worry about this, I have a back-up’, and that would be a cue for my inner demon to say ‘Go on, just leave it there, by that cup, by that magazine, on that counter, it doesn’t matter, I’ve got a back up.’ It wouldn’t stand a chance.

Address-books are sacred in lots of ways. They act as a kind of register, not just as a list of contacts. There is that fatal moment which occurs every so often when it is not the address which must be struck through, but the name, because its owner (isn’t that an odd phrase, ‘owning a name’?) is dead. I can’t always do it. There are loved ones in my address-book who haven’t been on the planet for a decade, but whose names I could not possibly cancel, any more than their non-existent telephone numbers (Tony Harrison’s best poem – and I like his short poems much more than his grand polemics – is about his parents, and about their death, and his knowledge of its finality – ‘I believe Death’s death, and that is all’ – ends with the pathos of the ‘disconnected number I still call’. Sometimes I feel like ringing 0191 536 7436, or Boldon 7436, as it was, my parents’ number from 1955 to 2007, and finally cutting it off in 2008 was almost the poignant act of all the many closing-downs that follow a death).

They are also mystery stories. There are names scrawled – sometimes not in my hand, but in that of the owner – in my address-book which I do not recognise at all. They are mementoes of casual moments, long since forgotten, in the heat of a brief exchange, when I’ve met someone whose contact details suddenly seemed crucial. But were not, it seems. Probably in their address book, in my crabbed hand, they have my name and address and contact number as well. And perhaps they too look at the unusual and invasive addition, and think, ‘Who the hell is that?’ Who is he (or she)?

Added to which, there are all the inserts – cards, photos, backs of envelopes, insecure additions which I could probably throw away. Could definitely. Taxi firms from I don’t know where (although sometimes there are addresses on the backs of the cards, too). That sort of thing. I always admire people who can keep a scrupulous address book, who can pare it to the essentials. But it is pointless admiring what other people do, when I can’t do it.

I realise that there is a poem in this. It’s the thing about blogging I like best: emptying my head, in the hope that there might be a flash of inspiration there somewhere. So: where’s that notebook? With my address-book. And where is that?

Help. Not sure. Must go and have a look.

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