Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Lost without rational explanation

I always carry a notebook round with me, and a sketchbook, a clipboard, and a journal. Frequently I carry a camera, and a mobile phone. And a large manbag to carry these items plus books, pens, papers, a minature umbrella, a miniature copy of the Master and Margarita in Russian which I can't read, a phasin (stripy wrapround garment my brother-in-law brought me back from Thailand, usually for ladies), ipod, headphones, cables. In my pockets are various examples of plastic cutlery, either sugar or mustard, paracetemol or some other pills, earplugs (occasionally), frequently my passport. Receipts, postcards (one of Tommy Cooper, one of St George by the Cretan painter Emmanuel Tzanes), small maps of wherever I am. And my notebook.

Which is currently a small moleskine, though I resisted getting anything so brand-y for a long time. It was bought almost two years ago, and the spine started giving out a while back, so I repaired it, once unsuccessfully with some black tape that kept unsticking and sliding off; once, recently, at the kitchen table in Crete in fact, with a wide strip of ridgy black tape that seemed to sort it out. There are entries in it dating as far back as Jan 07, the beginning of a tumultuous period for me creatively, and continuing up till the night before last Saturday, September 6th. When I lost it.

How I lost it, logic tells us, must remain a mystery, though the specifics of this mystery are even more baffling than I usually find the universe. I was rushing to get ready for a trip to the Bristol Poetry Festival, but had everything together in just about enough time to get to the station. It was raining, heavily, and I had forgotten to get myself a raincoat, but it was just a matter of popping to the bathroom for it, unzipping its winter lining, and slipping it on. We jumped in the car and sped off to meet our first traffic jam. Was I going to make my train? Did I have the organisers' phone numbers? Where was my mobile? I felt for it in the phone pocket on my jacket -- and it was missing. Most unfortunate, but there was no time to turn back -- I'd have to take my wife's instead and she could use mine.

Now, there is a point where the memory resembles fiction, because, although you can remember something happening, you can't remember whether it really happened or you can simply imagine it plausibly happening. I 'remember' that, whilst checking for my phone in my other pockets, I noticed that I didn't have my notebook. I'm 'fairly sure' I thought something along the lines of 'I've forgotten both of them -- this is hardly auspicious.' I seem to have said something along these lines to my wife, because when she came home, she searched for both items, although the evidence is I only texted her from the station to say my train was delayed. That would seem to imply that I said something about the notebook as well as the phone, and that I did not have the notebook before I left the car at Newcastle Station.

Of course, I could have trapped the notebook between jacket and raincoat, only for it to fall out as I got out of the vehicle and hurried to my train. Would I have noticed? Possibly, as I had to get my bag out of the back of the car, so didn't just rush off. But the notebook could have fallen there and been swept away without being handed in to Lost Property (I've checked and rechecked, naturally).

Equally, it could have fallen somewhere between the house and the car, though the car was parked directly outside the house, and we did have a short conversation standing outside the house but within the garden about whether to take my keys or not. If it had fallen here, surely we would have noticed, or my wife would have on her return. That leaves the possibility it fell down just as I was getting into the car and that, in the time it took for her to complete her round trip, someone came along and pocketed or purposively threw away the item. Because it hasn't been handed in to the police (I've checked).

By the time I'd got on the train I'd gone through all my pockets and my bag again. I suppose I might have missed it, then it got lost whilst I removed my outer clothing in order to take off my jumper. I checked (and rechecked) that nothing had been handed in at Kings Cross. But of course, you would conclude, I would conclude, these are all less likely than the scenario in which it never left the house. Certainly, I assumed so and exhorted my wife repeatedly over the weekend to check in all the obvious places. Of course I'd been distracted by that business with the raincoat and its fascinating unzippable lining, and I'd simply left phone and notebook behind. Except she searched car, kitchen table, living room table, bedroom table, study table, and all points between, and couldn't find it.

Of course, on my return (the event went very well incidentally, despite all these harbingers of disaster to the primitive of mind), I would be able to see what she had not. I'm a good looker-for-things and she's not got the same investment in finding it. Except, after hours of searching meticulously in all the aforementioned places, going through all my papers, searching through drawers I might have stood near, looking under behind and within both sofa and bed, going though all the papers to be recycled, all the rubbish bins, several bags of papers that had nothing to do with the whole business but happened at least to be bags full of papers, and pacing slowly up and down the garden and indeed the street, peering under bushes and in gutters, I still couldn't find my notebook.

I searched in the dark, I searched in the daylight, I even searched in my dreams, finding it twice: once 'behind the seat, and to my left' (a fair description of the past), once in the fridge, where a helpful woman had placed it. I had actually looked in the fridge the previous evening, when things were getting bad. Eventually I had to conclude that, while the notebook presumably existed somewhere in the universe, and while all logical supposition would lead one to conclude the high likelihood that it was still in the house, no amount of looking could actually locate it. Moving rapidly from denial through depression to a sort of acceptance, I began to think about what I should do next.

There were a lot of units of writing of great personal value in the notebook, some of which were of professional importance to me (I'll go through the contents in another post), some of which, in a sense I couldn't do without. But here I was without them, so, still allowing logic its head, they would have to be replaced. That is the the purpose of this blog. I will try to remember, as far as is within my powers, the contents of the notebook. Many, perhaps the vast majority of entries are as lost as the physical object. But their categories survive, although I never thought of them particularly as categories. In some cases I can make a stab at reconstructing a fragment or a simulacrum of their contents. As I do so I will also go further into my motives for this exercise, and why I've decided to carry it out in a quasi-public forum.


Sally Evans said...

The trivia (three-lane-ends) is also where Oedipus killed his father.

I am enjoying this blog, it is as good as a novel.

recreative : could be a term for all those occasions when we start with history and fall back on imagination to supply the gaps, or perhaps the things we do not understand.

Bill Herbert said...

Posted by BH on behalf of Isobel Dixon:

Checking and rechecking (even in your dreams)

… for that lost notebook. Ah, I’ve been there. Forgive this intrusion in your daily life, and don’t feel that this email needs a response, but I’ve just hopped from Gairspace to Bill Herbert-in-space to the terrifying tragedy of the lost notebook. I’ve used your academic email as I haven’t yet succumbed to Facebook (I have long resisted, but am about to crumble, now all my family and friends are on, and every poetry event of note gets listed there, so that people no longer bother to send emails…. It’s like being the polar bear floating off on that chunk of ice broken off from the rest, being Faceless….)

Anyhow, as a poet and literary agent, I also carry a notebook all the time – the 24/7 day job from front to middle, and the poetry notes from the back to the middle, Hebrew fashion, though I don’t write right to left, yet. I can always tell how much or little time I’ve spent on poetry from where the two worlds’ notes meet…

I’m just back from reading at Bristol Poetry Festival, but my own lost notebook incident was a couple of years ago, on the train back from the Edinburgh Festival. It still hurts. It was a rich August, the time in Edinburgh following ten days in Germany, a ten-year reunion with friends from around the world who I’d studied with in Edinburgh. So not only work and poetry jottings, but the fruits of holiday reading in the Black Forest, annotations of odd and interesting conversations with my friends from Japan, Germany, the US, the West Bank, their transcriptions of family recipes, some realisations about how we change. Several incubating poems. And I must have left it on the train. Of course, I checked and rechecked, Lost Property, the Police, hoped someone would read the address details and phone number on the inside front cover and return it to me, but no. I suspect it slipped down the side of the seat and the cleaner swept it into one of those capacious plastic rubbish bags, and it’s long been landfill.

Unlike you, I made no attempt at recollection or recreation – the very thought of trying to delve back was so infuriating and frustrating that I simply tried to wipe out the memory of all the observations and drafts and potential poems there. And then you go reminding me…


As for my notebook: no Moleskines for me. Standard issue Viking (as in the office supplier, not as in 'The Song of the Longboat Boys') A5 hardback lined notebooks (must have lines), with some postcard (usually of some artwork or a photo, and must be portrait orientation, not landscape.... .not that I'm picky..... ) pasted to the front to distinguish them from one another.

But your plan of the bitesize Moleskine seems a wise one. Less life to lose in one go.


Charles Fernyhough said...

Did your notebook have an offer of reward written in the front? The large Moleskines have a space where you can enter (in dollars) an estimate of the thing's value to you. Mine are currently on the reward market for 100 bucks. But I'm wondering whether they are over-valued.

Bill Herbert said...

Maybe I should put a price on mine retrospectively? I suppose it's possible that someone out there is holding it and just hasn't got round to writing the ransom note. (No, it isn't.)