Gospel truth is: I was hoping for more revelation
IT arrives by courier – all 7kg of it, shrouded in bubble-wrap and encased in stout cardboard. The van driver must have risked a hernia; Jane almost got one when taking delivery.
It started with an unexpected call from cousin Greg, a man I normally meet only at family funerals at the crematorium (not in Suffolk or Essex) whose breeze-block interior and accompanying traffic drone hardly provide a fitting send-off for departing souls. “I’ve been going through the last of Mum’s things and thought you ought to have the family Bible,” he says. Another cousin, Richard, has rightful first claim by dint of seniority, but he doesn’t want it cluttering up the house. “So it’s yours if you’d like it.”
Of course I do – not for its religious significance but because I’m a sucker for family history. My musings frequently drive the kids to distraction. “If we could look back far enough, we might find we’re descended from Vikings, or Normans from France.” They sound exotic. But the likelihood is that we’re workaday native Brits from the flat Fens. “You should live in the present, not the past,” tuts Emma, and she’s probably right.
Still, we pluck and skin the plastic-wrapped parcel and – wow! This is like Merlin’s book of incantations, or a volume plucked from Dumbledore’s shelves: 12cm thick if a millimetre, with a heavily-embossed spine, thick cover, parchment-like paper, and golden edging to the pages. It must have cost the Victorian Darcys a pretty penny. Turning the pages releases the scent of a sober Sunday in the parlour – the patriarch reading the scriptures aloud.
The enthralled children spend an hour examining the 52 steel engravings: detailed scenes worthy of a Cecil B. DeMille epic, from a camel by Rachel’s tomb to Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. In comparison, the sparse added details about the family are a bit disappointing. I’d day-dreamed of family trees telling of marriages that forged alliances with rich dynasties; but there are few jottings beyond the births of my grandfather and his siblings. Still, perhaps it’s an original King James Bible, like the one found in Wiltshire; or maybe there’s a lost letter within the pages of Ezra, confirming a long-held family fancy that we were connected to an East Anglian duke. I lift the Bible high for a gentle shake. Hwufghwhg . . . Update: I’m writing this from A&E, where I’m reflecting that 7kg books can do a lot of damage to toes when they come down to you through the generations . . . literally