Putting the finishing touches to the website for my new business venture, Off the Shelf Book Promotions, I realise that a very old friend will make the perfect mascot – the statuette of the reading man that I used to gaze at on my grandmother’s mantlepiece when I was a little girl.
From the age of 5, I used to visit my grandmother for lunch every school day. I’d quickly decided that school dinners were not for me. (It was the force-fed beetroot that pushed me over the edge.) We used to pack a lot in to that 40-minute visit. Grandma would have our dinner all ready for the minute I walked in the door, to maximise the time we’d have to play games afterwards. Scrabble, snap, patience, snakes and ladders, jigsaws – I learnt all kinds of games from Grandma and I delighted in the frequency with which I won. It was only recently that I twigged that my highly intelligent, articulate Grandma was guilty of match-fixing – in my favour.
There were many things in my grandmother’s house that fascinated me on those visits. They remain imprinted in my memory even now, nearly 40 years after her death. A small, ancient wicker children’s chair, possibly hers when she was a child at the turn of the century, was kept in her bedroom to spare it from damage through over-use. The slim wooden stand that had once held cutlery and crockery in a cafe – packs of playing cards were now slotted in where the the knives and forks would have been. A tiny metal camera on a tripod was actually a cigarette lighter. But what I was most in awe of was a small brown statuette of an old monk reading a book. It took pride of place in the middle of the tiled fireplace in the dining room. I think he was there to represent my grandmother’s love of books and learning – she had always wanted to be a teacher but had to go into service aged 14,both her parents having died. We never spoke about him but I loved him and what he stood for very much.
When Grandma died, the old man came down to me, along with her most special pieces of jewellery. None of her possessions were worth much, I knew, but this statue always struck me as so special that when the chance came to visit an Antiques Roadshow, I carefully bubblewrapped him and took him along. The antiques expert smiled kindly when I removed the plastic. He held him up and tapped the base.
“Ah,” he said knowingly. “A bookend. Probably one of a pair.”
He held him up and gently tapped the base.
“He’s only plaster – not really worth anything at all.”
Oh yes, he is. He’s priceless.