The other day I got The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen down from the shelf to check something. It must be years and years – maybe even decades – since I opened it and I got a surprise when I saw written inside the front cover the name of a boyfriend that I’d gone out with for a few months when I was eighteen. Above it was written ‘formerly’ and next to it my own mame in the turquiose ink that I used to favour in those days. I had completely forgotten that Chris had given it to me and I still can’t remember the occasion. The sight of his strong and rather elegant hand-writing brought back a flood of memories. We met at the folk club in Redcar – he was a talented amateur singer – just before I went to university. He was a bit older than me and working. He gave me Miss Dior perfume for my nineteenth birthday: so sophisicated! And we went together to Whitby Folk Festival and stayed in a house high up in the town full of light and the cries of seagulls. The relationship didn’t last much beyond the first term, but he was a lovely bloke and we stayed friends until he got a job that took him away from Redcar. A few years later I met his mother in the street and she told me was getting married.
I wonder if young people today give each other books to the extent that my friends and I used to. Somehow I doubt it. And convenient though ebooks are, they won’t be lying on bookshelves to be discovered years later, so that someone can smile and sigh and shake their heads as I have just done over The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen.