Hazel McHaffie

Long live the book!

Christian Aid week. I’ve worked for this worthy cause for more years than I care to remember but it’s only recently I’ve become aware of the letterbox-phenomenon. My stomping ground for house-to-house collections has remained the same for years but conditions have definitely changed as owners have come and gone, and new incumbents have sought to stamp the property with their individual mark.

And of course, the passing of the years has changed me too. Bending down to put envelopes into houses where the letterbox this year is a surprising inch or two from the ground, taxes the old back far more than it used to twenty years ago.

But since when did anyone ever rise up in indignation on behalf of postmen and women everywhere? They not only run the gamut of having their heels nipped by trained man-eating terriers, and their hands trapped by vice-like sprung flaps, and their hearts stopped by the feel of fur just inside the orifice, but they are in daily danger of dislocations and other unmentionable distortions of the joints and bony structures. Far more likely damage than the occasional hanging basket falling on the head of a sauntering tourist. Or a kiddie being knocked unconscious by a conker in the playground. Hats off to these uncomplaining post-people, I say!

Christian Aid week has also brought a surge of sympathy for another largely unsupported band of workers. Every year a church in Edinburgh’s George Street plays host to a massive BOOK SALE. Thousands of books, inside, outside, under tables, in hourly danger of cloudburst and gale. Mobbed for five days. Yes, you can be forgiven for assuming my sympathy is for the volunteers trying to tot up nine times fifty pence, eleven times fifty pence and do-you-need-a-bag in all the hurly-burly of a busy city street. But on this occasion my thoughts were more for the thousands of authors whose works were selling for a song. In our writing journals we’re often urged to protest, hold out for fair prices for honest labour. But watching that surging mass of bargain hunters I confess to a disloyal reaction. How fantastic that the written page is still so much in demand. While thousands continue to risk life and limb in sales like this, authors as well as those in dire need of our help abroad will continue to benefit in the longer term. Long live the book!

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