Stranger than fiction?

Picture the scene. My kitchen, here in leafy Warwickshire. Morning, between nine and ten o’clock. Sometime, mid to late nineteen eighties.

Forest and Cairn near Silverbridge!

I am following my usual morning routine. I’m clearing the remnants of various breakfast choices and washing up.  And……I’m listening to my radio. To be precise, I’m listening to The Gay Byrne Radio Show, reaching me over the air-ways from RTE in Dublin.

That hour each weekday was my ‘special’ time. Absolutely sacred! Family and friends knew better than to ‘phone during that time. They could visit…..quietly. The coffee could flow but not the ‘craic’. That was allowed only after Gaybo had cleared his desk, packed his brief-case and cycled off home to Howth to be with the lovely Kathleen.

So, having finished my immediate chores, I sit to enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee.

Those of you who ever listened to that radio show will know that Gay was fond of promoting and highlighting the more serious issues of the time. However, there was also a more light-hearted section when listeners’ correspondence was aired. Usually the letters consisted of requests.

Requests for particular subjects to be covered or requests for music to be played: songs to be sung or poetry to be read. Or, requests for information on how to obtain long out-of-date recordings of the same.  And also how to obtain out-of print books.

I was mulling over a recipe Gay had just read and thinking, ‘that’s not the way my Gran would have made it!’ when I realized with a start that already he was reading another letter.

This time it was books. A regular listener (there was another one?) was searching for three books. This person, a woman, had apparently, read these books during her youth and had so much enjoyed them that she now, in her middle years, longed to read them yet again.

So having searched high and low and in between, plus the usual outlets such as second-hand book shops etc, she is now seeking help from Gay and his band of helpers over there at Donnybrook. She wants to borrow or buy the longed for books and is more than willing to cover all expenses.

Gay is now announcing the titles of the books and my ears prick up.

The titles are so familiar to me and I know, without doubt, that I too had read these books many years ago. I am also positive that I still have my copies. But where? In the attic of course! Gathering dust along with other memory evoking items, long since seen but rarely forgotten.

Before contacting the radio station I need to check the condition of the dearly loved but decidedly elderly volumes and as the thought of climbing the steep ladder to the attic was less than appealing, I patiently await the return of  ‘the man of the house’ and hope that he will make that journey for me.

And as I wait, I reminisce and am once again in Newry. Sr. Aquinas of St. Clare’s Convent has given my mother a list of books she thinks I should read. And so, as I have my ninth birthday approaching I am given one of the books as a gift. It was purchased from Currys book shop. I remember because I was with my mother when she ordered copies of the remaining titles on the list. I also remember that the shop assistant thought that the books were ‘too old’ for me. She tactlessly voiced her doubt that I would be capable of reading such advanced material! My mother, to her credit, insisted that the books were being bought on the recommendation of Sr. Aquinas and that was fine with her!

The following Christmas, to my delight, I received two further volumes.

My husband uncovered several boxes of books in the attic and eventually I found the requested titles. The following morning I contacted the radio station and explained that I had copies of the books that had been requested the previous day. My details were taken and passed to the interested party.

A couple of weeks passed and then I received a letter from, of all places, Silverbridge! The writer of the letter was one Mrs. Hanratty and she was definitely interested in borrowing my books. I had stipulated, when speaking to Gaybo’s staff that I did not wish to sell but would be pleased to lend.

Mrs. Hanratty had included, with her home address, her telephone number and so I decided to call her. Any excuse to have a chat with someone from my part of the world! On and on we chatted…….well, you know how it is! During the course of the conversation I discovered that we were both of a similar age and had both attended the Sacred Heart School …… curiouser and curiouser!

On learning that her Christian name was Margaret, I was mystified as to why I simply could not recollect a pupil of that name in my year. Further enquiries revealed that her maiden name was Doran. The name Margaret Doran simply did not ring any bells for me. The name Doran, now, was very familiar to me as my Godfather was one Danny Doran from Kilkeel but we established that there wasn’t a connection between the two. Eventually with a bit more probing Margaret admitted to being known in school as Pearl Doran. 

And then the penny dropped, so to speak and the years melted away and the craic was mighty!

Not only did we know each other at school but we travelled together on the bus to Dundalk. We were both living there at the time. It gets even better! Read on…….

The longed for books that she had read so long ago when we were both twelve years old were now about to be dispatched to Silverbridge. She was to borrow them from me for a second time!

Yes! They were my books that Pearl had read first time round, during those bus journeys between Newry and Dundalk!

Stranger than fiction?

And as I securely parcelled the yellowed and delicate leaves of ..

“Three Daughters Of The United Kingdom

Garland of Everlasting Flowers” and

“Honour Without Renown” by Jessie Innes-Brown,

I wished them a safe journey to Silverbridge.

Pearl and I have corresponded ever since.

Lest auld acquaintance be forgot?  

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