Have you run your fingers over some hieroglyphs recently? Perhaps you browsed through the news in a vellum codex this morning? Read a scroll on your daily commute?
If you answered yes to any of the above, you’re likely an archaeologist and you are excused from reading further. For the rest of you, I have one simple question: why?
The answer is relatively simple: progress.
I’m sure there were people who resisted the change from the scroll to the codex, the Dark Age equivalent of the trolls who decry the ever-increasing switch away from paper towards electronic books. Just as the Luddites failed to halt the advances of the Industrial Revolution, so too will the tree-killing paper lovers fail to stop the sweep of the e-reader and the tablet.
Don’t get me wrong. I love books. Paper ones, that is. Had I the choice, I would happily while away my time in a personal library, surrounded by the sheer presence of books, my eyes attracted occasionally to the special motes of dust that one only finds near a collection of books. I would sit in that library, breathing in the dustily dry smell of the books, as I read on my Kindle.
You see, ebooks are just too convenient. I travel a lot, and appreciate being able to carry hundreds of books with me in one handy little package. I watch my parents increase the font size, making it easier for them to read the latest John Grisham. I get an email from Amazon minutes after my wife finishes a book, telling me that she has purchased another, after browsing the virtual bookshelves. In-built dictionary, note-taking facility, adjustable screen brightness – the list goes on.
My final epiphany came a few months ago. A good friend released her long-awaited book and kindly sent me a review copy. I was so excited when it arrived – the look, the smell, the feel of it – it was real! I’ll confess that the autographed compliments slip added a nice touch.
I started to read the book. The content was wonderful, dryly humourous, with enough vitriol to make me smile and even laugh out loud on occasion. My wife started to grumble that I still had my light on. Could I turn the pages more quietly? But the straw that broke the camel’s back came when my thumb started to grow tired holding the pages open! I persevered, but concluded that I’ll stick with my Kindle.
There’s also the minor fact that Amazon alone sold more than three billion ebooks last year. Now I just have to figure out how to get my 0.1% share…
It’s not quite raining as we troop off the bus. Anyone not from Ireland would say that it was, but like the Eskimos’ forty words for snow, today is simply soft; perfect weather for rugby. The leaves have blown up against the kerbstones like confetti from last night’s wedding, oaks mixing with chestnuts, all destined for the groundsman’s brush and a mulch pile.
Because there’s obviously a groundsman here. The mature trees, the razored grass edges, the pristine sports pitches all scream that there has been a groundsman here for generations. Look at all that space, boys! To have something like this in a country town is one thing, but here, in the heart of Belfast? This is the cradle of civilisation – it must have cost a fortune to build all this.
And what sort of boys go to such a wealthy school? In my mind’s eye, I see hordes of mature teenagers trot out with the discipline of an army, taller, stronger, better-looking that our rabble. The sort of boy that stands when your mother enters the room, meets your Dad’s eye over a firm handshake, and has to choose between offers from Oxford and Cambridge. How are we even going to compete, let alone win? Not for the first time that morning, I feel nervous.
Truth be told, I feel nervous every Saturday morning, every time we play. It’s worse at home, as my parents are there week in, week out – watching, supporting, advising. But even after an hour in a battered Ulsterbus, the butterflies are still having a party in my guts.
I try and think through my fears as I lumber churlishly towards the changing rooms, surrounded by my team. They’re half the problem. They’re not just my team-mates, they’re my class-mates and my friends. I really don’t want to let them down. Or myself, for that matter. I’m a good enough player, but I can have off days, like anyone else. Let today not be one of those days.
I stop just as we enter the games pavilion to don our rugby kit. I look back at the pitches, knowing that within the hour, thirty boys are going to throw themselves at each other in a life-and-death battle. I smell the light wind, a few desultory raindrops landing on my face as my friends bundle past me, teasing and complaining as I block the doorway. And I know that today will be a good day, regardless of the perceived stature of our opposition, regardless of my jitters, regardless of the outcome. Today will be a good day. I tell myself that.
What I don’t realise is that thirty years from now, I will be walking through the centre of a foreign capital that I call home. It will be not-quite-raining, although anyone not from Ireland might argue that point. The leaves of oak and chestnut will mingle with those of maple and linden, but they’ll still be lying in the gutter like drunks. And I will remember that day in Belfast, those emotions, those feelings.
And I will know that today will be a good day.