On Finding Things

…finding things is one of the purest of earthly joys.

E. V. Lucas from the essay On Finding Things

I found this gem on Saturday, in a very short essay. The essay is in a book, Modern Prose whose title has rather overtaken it since it was first published in 1922. My copy is the fourth edition from 1926 and it cost me a pound at a local second-hand bookshop. It’s small and rode snugly in my back-pocket when I took the kids and their friend S to the village playground on Saturday morning. It was a beautiful warm sunny morning – perfect for sitting in the park reading a book, or so I thought – but the kids wanted help with the zip wire, and then S’s Dad joined us and filled me in on the local geo-caching scene. So I had to come back to E. V. Lucas on Saturday night. I enjoyed reading the essay – even though, or perhaps because, I felt like taking issue with much of what it had to say. After a promising start it strikes a rather less positive note:

I have, in a lifetime that now and then appals me by its length, found almost nothing.

Lucas enumerates his lifetime’s finds: a couple of brooches, a carriage key, sixpence, some pennies, ‘a safety-pin, a pencil, some other trifle’. By coincidence, when we were out on the fell last weekend my friend GP found a tenner lying on the hill-side. Apparently, this was not the first such find he has made and there was some jealous comments about his good fortune. I couldn’t recall ever finding anything of pecuniary value whilst out walking although, on reflection, I did once find a perfectly good Silva compass sticking out of the peat on Black Hill in the Peak District. When I pulled it out of the bog, I half expected to find a sunken hand grasping it. I used it for years, but then lost it myself – perhaps somebody else found it and then used it in turn?

The disappointing ‘half-century’ of paltry finds which Lucas describes is surely a result of his narrow focus on what kinds of things he hopes to discover. Actually, there’s a hint in the essay that his attitude may have been quite different to what he implies, when he refers to a ‘a great moment, once, in the island of Coll, when after two hours of systematic searching I found the plover’s nest’. So – who was E. V. Lucas? A little bit of lazy internet research throws up thousands of links, all of which (well – the first couple anyway) lead to different pages containing the same article. Poor E. V.  suffers the indignity of having his writing described as ‘insipid’, but my sympathies are enlisted when I read that he wrote a column for the Sunday Times called ‘A Wanderer’s notebook’, and that one of his books was an anthology of poetry called ‘The Open Road’. Perhaps I’ll unearth one of his books some day when I’m browsing the dustier shelves of a second-hand bookshop somewhere.

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Our weekend had got off to a fantastic start when we ‘found’ a band which we had never seen before and which we very much enjoyed. We went to the Brewery Arts Centre at Kendal with our friends T&A to see the African Jazz All-stars. We didn’t really know what to expect – I wanted to go in case they turned out to be like the African Jazz Pioneers – whom I’ve loved for years after GP (yes him again) played one of their albums repeatedly on a long drive down to the Alps one summer. All we had to go on was this one clip I found on Youtube:

Happily, the gig was tremendous. TBH has been playing my meager collection of African jazz CDs around the house ever since (although I’m not sure that I’ve convinced her of the merits of Fela Kuti. Yet). The only disappointment was that the Malt Room at the Brewery had been set out with tables and chairs making it very hard to dance.

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On Sunday the pleasant sunshine had evaporated to be replaced with more familiar cold wet cloudy autumnal weather. Naturally I took the boys for a walk in the woods. We were joined by CW and a gaggle of kids – some of them hers, some borrowed. The kids mostly coped exceedingly well with the inclement weather. They expected to find a bear in the woods and when none appeared took it in turns to roar and play the part.

Of course kids love finding things – and when they’re little it can be almost anything – sticks, stones, leaves, fungi. At the Ring of Beeches they played hide and seek, finding each other, until they found this low branch which turned out to be perfect to sit on and bounce:

We’ve often noticed how much more our kids enjoy a walk when they have some friends for company, and this was no exception. Even soaking wet through on the exposed top of Castlebarrow most of them managed to raise a smile:

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On Finding Things

4 thoughts on “On Finding Things

  1. Geordiemunro says:

    Haven’t played any AJP for years. Must remember to dust off the CDs and remind myself why we enjoyed the music so much the first time round.

  2. Mark,

    Do you know the website http://www.bookfinder.com? For me it has been the most marvelous resource for the most obscure books. I just did a quick check on E. V. Lucas and there is a whole slew of books (he was extraordinarily prolific!), including “The Open Road.” With illustrations, as well.

    Just in case you don’t want to wait for happenstance in a bookstore!

    Best, as always,
    Cynthia

  3. beatingthebounds says:

    Cynthia,
    How lovely to hear from you!
    I hope that you and yours are well. Oddly enough I was checking up on Cynthesis only yesterday – just in case the electronic muse had struck.
    I didn’t know about Bookfinder – a qualified thanks for that – I could soon spend a lot of money this way!
    I have a great affection for English writers of that period – Chesterton, Woodhouse, Saki, Wells, Stevenson (I’m not really sure why), but pert of the attraction i think is in finding old hardbacks in dusty corners of bookshops.
    Amazon UK has quite a bit of E. V. Lucas – I think that reprints of obscure books must be more commercially viable now that so many books are bought over the internet. At the moment I’m really enjoying a book called ‘The Gentle Art of Tramping’ by Stephen Graham, published in about 1927 if my memory serves me right. I’ve been wanting to get hold of a copy for a while and then discovered that it was reprinted and bought it through Amazon. I checked today and notice that the ‘Customers usually buy this with…’ feature outs it with the very slim volume ‘Walking’ by Thoreau – the transcript of a talk he gave. I bought those two together and wonder whether they’re bracketed together because I’m the only person to have bought ‘The Gentle Art of Tramping’ from Amazon?

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