It would be surprising if this experience has not happened – you have lent a book, a tool or other useful article to a friend or family and that was the last time you saw it!
An Omnibus edition of The Scarlet Pimpernel (popular at the time) was borrowed and never seen again. He moved away and we lost touch.
More recently, better luck; the novel by William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair had been lent. We kept in touch – a relative – but no book returned. However, one day visiting their home I spied it resting among a pile of books on a study shelf – returned at last with apologies!
So, curiosity came to the fore, why the title? Thackeray – the book was published in 1848 – said,
‘Vanity Fair is a world where everyone is striving for what is not worth having.’
That sounds familiar in our ritualistic consumer society. And recalled to mind the 1972 Carly Simon song (No 1 in the United States) ‘
You’re so vain
You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you.’
She never revealed the identity of the vain man or whether he was worth having! Yes it was a man. Sean Connery, Jeremy Irons and inevitably Mike Jagger were among the many guesses of men from this country.
So why ‘Vanity Fair? A widely read book at the time when Thackeray lived was John Bunyan’s allegory entitled Pilgrims Progress, a best seller around the world, not so widely read in this century. (There is a museum dedicated to him in his home town of Bedford – its most famous citizen!).
A section in Pilgrims Progress describes the journey of Christian and his fellow pilgrim Faithful. They have a flint like single mindedness and man up to the challenges that confront them. On their pilgrimage they reached this consumerist paradise -Vanity Fair – where everything is available, for a price! Here they are meeting their wants personal, material and emotional. In charge is Beelzebub.
Bunyan knew his Bible well and in this he found the writings of the Teacher. The Teacher – like all skilled writers, immediately captures the attention of the reader with the opening words,‘Vanity of Vanities all is Vanity.’ In the Hebrew language vanity is hevel, which means breath or vapour. So, these – not all – were the kind of ephemeral characters that Thackeray in his classic novel created.
Humour is found in every road, and byway of life. So the death of Barry Cryer was a loss to the comedy-writing world. His last reported joke from his hospital bed to the nurse(s).
A couple was walking together when on the other side of the road, the woman said to her husband
‘Isn’t that the Archbishop of Canterbury? Cross over and ask him.’
So, he crossed the road and asked him.
‘Clear off ‘ was the reply. He crossed back over to his wife.
‘Well, was it?’ She asked.
He told her that he said ‘Clear off‘!’
‘Oh dear,’ she said, ‘Now we will never know.’