I am moving house and as I pack a frightening amount of books into boxes I have been reflecting on our enduring and intimate relationship with them. I shuffle through the pile I know I will probably not read again. I find an inscription from a long ago friend or a dead aunt and memories surface like bubbles. I am back in a childhood garden reading on the grass and enraptured by the author. Into the box it goes.

Inside a book called Color of the Sea by John Hamamura, I find an unsent bluey addressed to my son in Iraq in 2008. Beside it is a cutting from a newspaper about a young American Marine called Merlin German.

A bomb exploded on a dusty road in Iraq leaving him with burns over 97 percent of his body. He is flown home to Texas so his family can say farewell.

But he does not die as everyone expects, he fights and fights and fights. He endures over a 100 operations and inspires other burn patients to fight their pain too.

He even goes home for a while, then, just when everyone thinks he is over the worst, he goes in for a small routine operation and he quietly dies.

‘I think all of us believed in some way, shape or form he was invincible,’ says his surgeon and friend. ‘He had beaten so many other operations… It just reminds us, he, too, was human.’

On the top of the cutting my son has written ‘How cruel life can be.’

Indeed. In a Cornish house full of boxes I shiver. I am back to the times of blueys and sleeplessness and prayers in the night for a son in uniform who also walked a dusty road in Iraq.

Then there is the old Beverley Nichols book of my mother’s called ‘Down the Garden Path’

It begins…I bought my cottage by sending a wireless to Timbuctoo from the Mauritania, at midnight, with a fierce storm lashing the decks…

Wonderful! Into the box it goes.

My packing is agonizingly slow as I re-acquaint myself with books as precious as friends. Books that have sustained me in unlikely places, warmed me on cold nights, saved me in bad times and given me joy and the excitement of discovery. I am afraid I am taking far more books than I am leaving…img_2622img_2617

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