History in an Address Book

There’s a story in this book.  It might not be apparent to the casual reader, but to me it tells a vivid tale on each page.  I’ve been looking at it for the addresses to send out my Christmas cards, a not always annual process that makes me pause and think about the people listed in it.

I’ve had this book since 1977.  I remember this because I got it just before I went to University which marked the moment when I had to become responsible for keeping track of people on my own, rather than relying on the family archives. I bought it in the Oxfam shop – that’s the old logo for the charity, on the cover, I think.  Even then it was rather old fashioned.

It’s weathered well, still properly bound, but bulging with change of address notifications collected over the years and grubby at the cut away edges where my thumb selects the required letter when I’m looking for a particular name.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the D pages, and also the Ss, are full, with many entries written over and scored through.  X, Y and Z are blank, as are I and U. There are people in there I’ve not heard from in 25 years, and each time I look at the names I wonder where they are now, although only in a half hearted, fleeting way; not enough to do anything about it.

There are some friends who have moved so many times that their entries are now squeezed in tiny writing between the lines, and sideways up the edge of the page.  Those who have married and changed their names are crossed out with an arrow to the new name to make sure I don’t forget.  There are addresses in the UK, France, Holland, the US, South Africa, Australia, Greece, Russia, Latvia, Belgium, Hong Kong, Spain and Peru.  I’ve got a telephone number for a taxi in Limoges, where I spent the academic year 1979/80, which I’m occasionally tempted to call to see if it still works.

Of course I rarely write a telephone number down these days; instead I store them directly in my phone, so more recent friends and acquaintances rarely make it into the paper address book; unless I am to see them around Christmas, I have to ask for their home address, ‘home’ or ‘snailmail’ being a specification we would never have thought necessary in the pre internet days.

Even though I keep track of most people via the internet these days, it is still nice to send and receive at least some physical cards, to stand them on the book shelf beside the fairy lights until January, and reflect on the histories shared with the people who sent them.

Leave a comment


  1. Jill Goldberg

     /  December 22, 2011

    What a wonderful take. I keep old diaries and sometimes riffle through them looking for an old contact or phone number, and so am reminded of what was going on in my life at the time. Sadly, it’s often just the same old stuff – dental appointment, phone mother, return library books, etc, sometimes a little more serious – discuss divorce settlement with attorney, deflea cats, etc, and sometimes the scribbles are illegible. Maybe it’s those illegible bits that kept me going… 🙂
    PS. You have fairy lights????

    • Sometimes I have flights of fancy over what a biographer might make of all the little bits and pieces of stuff I still have – including, like you, old diaries of appointments and shopping lists.
      They might more angels than fairies, but more to come on that particularly festive topic nearer the time!

  2. Rowena,

    Now, I’d like to see a photo of that, a precious document indeed. I wish, somehow in my peripatetic life, I could have kept some of them address books. 1977, that is positively medieval:)


    • Now I’ve written the post it’s even more unlikely I’ll be able to throw it away or replace it ancient tho it is!


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