Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Friends from my Bookshelf ~ 1

Raymond O. Faulkner. (1962). A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian. Oxford: Griffith Institute, Oxford University Press.

Bought second hand at the Tin Drum (second-hand bookshop), Fakenham, Norfolk nearly 20 years ago.


  • Deep racing-green cloth binding (scuffed, genteelly loved & marked) with fiery lettering on spine.
  • Parchment thick pages that feel like the taste of caramel cream.
  • Smells of dust and thick ink (like gloss painted banister rails)
  • Promisingly heavy to lift
  • Opening it feels like opening an expensive box of chocolates.
  • Marginalia - previous owner's emendations made in small neat letters, in blue ink. S/he appears proficient in reading Egyptian hieroglyphs. Also a freehand grid drawn on rear endpiece in blue Biro annotated for months of the Egyptian calendar -surprisingly only one box (2,4) is completed.

Unfortunately the Tin Drum no longer exists. It was a rambling town house in the middle of Fakenham, Norfolk. Four storeys (and a basement) of meandering interlinked little rooms, cluttered with wobbling bookcases and towering pillars of books. The sun had to shoulder its way through windows encrusted with grime and soot. There were alcoves that never saw daylight. Bare bulbs hung from plaited flex smelling of burnt dust. It was a favourite haunt of ours. 

I found Faulkner's Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian in a teetering stack of books that climbed - caterpillar-like - up the stairs. I instantly fell in love. Each page was a choreography of handwritten glyphs and restrained cursive script. A promiscuous profusion of sigla and numerals follow each curt definition ("mine, quarry, Sinai 47.53; Urk IV,2,5,8; varr. JEA 4, pl.q,"). It was a book into which Raymond Faulkner (D.Lit) poured his heart.  

We would buy carrier bags of books, nursing, medical (D - my wife- had already taken the plunge and had started a nursing degree), philosophy, theology, sociology - until our car (a tired 2CV) would wheeze and creak. Most we bought for 50p; £1.50 was usually our cut off point. Faulkner's cost £7.50, but I had to have it (look closely at the first page and you can still see the faint pencilled price). Here was a world of which I knew nothing, but its pages sang with the suns of ancient deserts and my heart pulled me there. Money was short, so I put the other books that I had selected that morning back on their shelves. I came out of the shop bursting with excitement.

This was the time of my awakening - when my heart and mind began to catch up with each other. My heart, had (once more) begun to talk and my mind, confused and beaten, slowly began to listen. And with it I felt the thrill of learning, of discovering, of living in a glorious world of wonders. My old world was imploding into dust and the teachings of those that held guardianship over it clanged emptily in my ears. I was beginning to find that the world was filled with hidden glory. It was before I'd seriously thought I would even be accepted on a degree course, but my mind felt the fire of hunger and I needed to fill it. There is a voraciousness that consumes those who study, those who want to know more, those who find questions in the answers and I was beginning to feel that voracity gnawing at me.

Faulkner came with me on our visits to the British Museum. I'd spend hours trying to copy down each glyph and cartouche, noting the placement and direction of each line. D helping me by finding more and more inscriptions for me to copy. We were both intoxicated by allowing our brains to run free at long last. His book still remains largely undeciphered and although I can read a little Egyptian it is mostly a closed language to me, but, nevertheless, I love him still. I love how each time I see him there on my bookshelf, I can feel that exquisite chill of facing something knew; something unknown. I can feel myself standing on that creaking, wooden staircase with its waterfall of books and finding new worlds to explore. That excitement boils and bubbles still. Many times I have had to trade other things to find more £7.50s and I have never been disappointed. Most of all Dr Faulkner's Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian continues to teach me to never be afraid or intimidated by new worlds or new challenges.


  1. Oh R I am so thankful for this blog, how I have missed your writing.

  2. Thank you, Joy. It's a new world here. A little scary - like first day at school. Everyone seems to know everyone else and they all seem so clever and accomplished. But I have found some lovely treasures here and things to make the spirit stretch and sing.

  3. Thank you for taking me on a journey...

  4. Great post! I love how you describe your needing to purchase this book, I have felt that way about some in my life.

    I also love this-

    "This was the time of my awakening - when my heart and mind began to catch up with each other"

    I feel I am that point, finally, where evverything seems to be connecting!

    1. Thank you.
      Yes, I can tell from reading your words.
      It takes a while for your heart to trust your mind and your mind to trust your heart, doesn't it?


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