Jeremy Clarke burns some books then capsizes in the river Dartby Jeremy Clarke / December 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
I have left the old people’s home and taken a winter let in Dartmouth in order to finish a book. In order to write one, that is. This is my fifth week here.
The let is a converted boathouse with a garden at the bottom of a long and ancient flight of steps. The outside is thickly covered with sodden ivy; inside, the walls are leprous with dampness. But the fireplace is efficient and spacious enough to keep a bonfire going. In front of the house the river Dart widens prettily into a sheltered anchorage from where crusaders used to set sail.
During my first week here I kept a fire going by burning my books two or three at a time. After carrying numerous boxes of them down the steps, then arranging them somewhat ostentatiously along vacant shelves, it had occurred to me that they were becoming a bloody nuisance, an affectation even, and I fed them to the flames without regret. Soft and hard back editions of Waugh, Wodehouse and Woolf; Hazlitt, Hardy and Hemingway; all went up the chimney as black confetti and glutinous smoke, drifting across the mouth of the river and out to sea.
Any more than three books at once tended to clog the fire, which I revived by squirting liquid furniture polish on it. I also discovered that dried seaweed burns surprisingly cheerfully and used this as a fuel to supplement the books. In this way I burned my way through all my books except Shakespeare and the works of Ian Fleming. As I have now used up all my literature, I keep the fire going with driftwood gathered from the foreshore at low tide.
Driftwood is my latest passion. Poking around for pieces at low tide seems to me a refreshingly innocent and healthy pastime. Logs which have fallen into the sea and floated halfway around the world are remarkably beautiful things. Smooth and pale, contorted into wonderfully unnatural shapes, they seem to come from another world. Instead of burning the more striking pieces, I lean them against the living room wall where I can run my hands along them and watch their appearance change as they dry out.
For a while I coveted a huge, weirdly shaped log of driftwood lying just above the tide-line on the opposite bank of the river, about 200 yards away. Stark white, and resembling…