A line in a book I am reading made me think rather too deeply about something. And that surely is the power of the written word. Something banal and taken entirely for granted can spark a sudden feeling, an emotion, and all of a sudden it inspires a change of perspective.
The book is “The Splendid and the Vile” by Erik Larson. The book details the first few months of Churchill’s tempestuous months in power as the world stepped slowly but inexorably towards inevitable global conflict.
The line that sent me reeling describes the first days of the Blitz of London. That Hitler would bomb civilians in London was inevitable, he had done the same to Rotterdam in his recent conquest of the Netherlands.
Death and destruction was to be expected, and the residents of the great city were prepared, or at least as much as they could be, for the human cost of the 5,300 tons of high explosives the Luftwaffe would drop over the course of the first 24 nights.
What wasn’t expected is what Larson described in vivid detail. It was the thick red-brown fog of dust that was disturbed by the detonations of the bombs that rained down on the ancient capital. The explosions caused buildings to shake and caused the dust to billow out of ‘eaves and attics, roofs and chimneys, hearths and furnaces—dust from the age of Cromwell, Dickens and Victoria.’
But not only of the age of Cromwell and Dickens but actually of our ancestors who lived in that era. Dust in our homes can be constituted of up to 50% sloughed off human skin cells. The rest is a mixture of human hair, pet hair, clothing fibers, dead bacteria, dust mites, soil particles, pollen and the desiccated exoskeletons of insects. The dust dislodged by the German bombers, the dust that clogged the throats and coated the faces, clothes and belongings of those Londoners was in fact the skin cells and hair of those who had lived in those residences before them.
I mention this not to urge you to run to the cupboard under the stairs were you keep the vacuum cleaner but to marvel at how reading can invoke such sentiments.
‘Reading Is just looking at a dead piece of wood for hours and hallucinating,’ said somebody in a quote on the internet I couldn’t attribute correctly, and I think thats startlingly true.
I hope to achieve something similar, in some small way with the books I write.