Figures of Speech; my burning building

I attended the ICA’s Figures of Speech fundraising Gala a few weeks ago and sat on SpinVox’s blogger table for the night. The evening consisted of a great deal of mobile geekery from our table (including my introduction to ‘Flight Control’, a scarily addictive iPhone game that pretty much does what it says on the tin), as well as a series of five minute talks from pundits and high profile celebs based around what they would save from a burning building.

Bob Geldof’s extremely honest turn, featuring a ukulele from his childhood (on which he gave us a sterling rendition of ‘My Generation’…left-handed) and a collection of stones, changed my entire opinion of him. Janet Street Porter’s rant about shower caps was – as always – fabulous, as was one of the final speeches of the night by poet Billy Childish. By the end of his recital, which described the birth of his son, you could hear a pin drop.

I’ve been thinking about the question for a while now, and keep referring back to answers I’ve given in previous conversations. I’ve often said my laptop, as it contains my two most precious commodities; my music and my photos. But since losing my entire collection of albums late last year in a freak deleting-everything-by-mistake accident, then subsequently managing to rebuild it, it doesn’t seem so vital. And since a substantial shift in my emotional well being six months ago, revisiting some of the old photos doesn’t seem quite as important either. It’s a cliche, but those memories are locked into my head, so just as long as I get out of the burning building in the first place, they’ll be safe.

So, what am I left with? I’m not really fussed with saving clothes and am not a ‘trinket’ kind of girl. I don’t own any jewellery that’s of that much physical importance and anything I’ve collected from travelling, I’ve since loved and lost. I couldn’t take my big ‘box of memories’ as it’s far too difficult to manoeuvre (which actually, makes me think that I should at least try to pick out key items and put them into something I can carry).

Anyway, then I land upon the most obvious of all things that I can barely believe I hadn’t considered; my books. My vinyl (passed to me by my Mother with massive sentimental value) is now safely stored at her house following a nasty incident involving a friend’s boyfriend, a lot of Heineken and some sticky fingers. Farewell original copy of The White Album. My shoes are all replaceable, and my matchboxes probably would have started the fire in the first place! However, nothing can replace the smell, touch and tangible link to my past as my books.

They were in fact, the first thing I started hoarding, back when I was in primary school and had bright blue giraffe bookends in my room. It all started with Road Dahl, but soon, as well as dog-eared editions of James and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr Fox and Boy, I soon grew to love my Shakespeare, Tony Parsons and Stoker as much as the rest.

Because of the sheer weight of my books, I wouldn’t be able to take them all, so I sat down and picked out 5 that I could grab and run with:

1. A Necklace of Rainbows and other stories – Joan Aitken

One of the first books I fell in love with visually before anything else. The illustrations by Jan Pienkowski, along with the visible line on its front where I’ve folded the cover for some reason are vibrant, inspired the East and are as much a joy to the eye as the book’s words are to the ear.

2. Random acts of Heroic Love – Danny Scheinmann

A book recently given to me by my Mum, at a time when I needed a little faith in a happy ending, or at least that the feelings that lead to one do exist. Even if they are part of a story, sometimes reading about them in other people remind you that they exist within you too. Hopelessly romantic, but a self-indulgent must have of mine.

3. Down and Out in Paris and London – George Orwell

Stolen from my grandparents during my years at college studying Fine Art, when I had dreams of a bohemian lifestyle in France. This copy again belonged to my Mum when she had been my age, and bears the marks of being extremely well read. It’s actually the 1933 edition, but has been loved, looked after and read time and again by almost every member of my family.

4. After You’d Gone – Maggie O’Farrell

Just because it’s a beautiful observation of family life, based around three sisters, I was always amazed how much I could relate to as an only child. The first book to make me openly laugh in a coffee shop on my own, and cry in the same sitting.

5. Ariel – Sylvia Plath

This is a crisp, brand new copy of Ariel, that I’ve never even broken the spine of. I bought this to replace the one I left in Hong Kong when I stayed there in between University and ‘the real world’. I’ve told myself many times that I’ll go back and read it again, but can’t seem to get past how clean and new it is. I like the idea of taking something so tidy away with me if everything around me was in tatters.

So there you go, my literary history summed up in five books, all with their own individual histories and place in my life. They’re all sitting, separated from my far too organised bookshelf, ready to go. Just in case.

One response to “Figures of Speech; my burning building”

  1. Kai Chan Vong

    I reckon if you were in a burning house the first thing you’d do it grab Whatley and leg it out of there.

    PS. Nice site design!

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