Many years ago, in a land far, far away, I was given a “school reader” for English by an author named Ray Bradbury. This book had a profound impact on my already nascent love of books. The story portrays a future where books are forbidden by society, and firemen have the job of lighting rather than extinguishing fires… made of piles of books. The book is entitled Fahrenheit 451. A film was also made of it in 1966. This is the temperature at which the paper in books is purported to ignite. Anyway, the gist of the story is that we should rever the written word – whether we agree with a particular story or thesis or not. Books are the storehouse of human experience.
Around that time I was an avid reader, and have largely remained one as I’ve got older. As a youngster, I came across more and more old books which I have had a particular love for. The fact they had made it through many hands and homes before I came to them always gave them a kind of aura.
We recently had a hardwood floor fitted, which caused us to have to empty and move our bookcases from the dining room. As they were being replaced, I had cause to reacquaint myself with some shelf residents I’d forgotten about. One such tome was “The Schoolboy’s Pocket Book” edited by Carlton Wallace, and published by Evans brothers Ltd., in London, UK. Copyrighted in 1951, this was a seventh reprint from 1957 and most likely came to me via my father, who’d have been 17 back then. I managed to find an image in eBay today of the exact same edition, where someone is asking the princely sum of ₤20.
There’s even some kind of reprint available on Amazon UK in paperback.
So what’s so special about this particular old book, you might ask. Well go on then – ask!
Well, the answer, fair reader, is that it is a goldmine of useless nuggets of information. Particularly those things peculiar to a post imperial Britain, struggling to find its new place in the world. It’s full of tables of self-congratulatory data, such as “Famous Ships of the Royal Navy”, and things young boys used to find interesting in the days before internet porn, like a list of Principle Broadcasting Transmitters, Mixing Colours and Notes on Metal-working. I used to find the conversion tables particularly interesting, not least because the things to convert between were largely defunct by the time I read it in around 1970.
For example, did you know there were 4 roods to the acre? Or that a rood was made of 40 perches? How about that a pole is made of 5½ yards? I loved this stuff. It nurtured the growing geek within.
But there was more. Did you know there were weights specifically for Apothecaries? 20 grains to the scruple (I’ve never had any, so I assume they’re easy to lose). 3 scruples making a drachm and 8 drachms make an apothecaries ounce. Troy weights were (and still are) used for precious metals with 24 grains to the pennyweight, whereas Avoirdupois is the “regular” weight the old folks used before the world went metric in the 1960s. (Except the US and Libya!)
When you buy gemstones, they’re measured in carats – a carat is 200 milligrams.
For liquids there’s 4 gills to the pint, 10 gallons to the anker, 42 gallons to the tierce. 24 sheets of paper is a quire, with 20 quires to the ream. Printers’ reams are 500 or 516 sheets though, just to be awkward!
Don’t the words just throb with age?!
And obviously the world map showing the places still calling Queen Elizabeth “Queen” shown in pinky red.
Hm… I think I’ll reacquiaint myself with the international code flags in case any boats come to White Rock pier flying a ‘Q’… the quarantine flag!