Mac pulled the blanket off his lap and walked over to a dusty bookcase full of lever arch file folders. Every wall of his flat was lined with similar bookcases and Inteachán could never work out how Mac knew instinctively where anything he was looking for could ever be found. A glance on any shelf revealed the richness and obscurity of his collection.
There were the thirteen volumes of Sheen’s Pamphlet, an obscure tract published cheaply, regularly and anonymously between 1911 and 1961, with only the twelve editions from June to November 1946 missing. Next to this stood Lois Pengelly’s Wolseley Trilogy; Once a Valley (1932), Through the Trees (1942) and Forever Once More (1952). These were Sibeal’s favourite novels and Mac loved to watch her read them over and over again.
This very rare trilogy told the story of St. Matthew’s House, a beautiful Edwardian villa sat on the seafront in Bray that was home to several generations of the Wolseley family. Once a Valley told the story of the family coming to the area and having the house built. Through the Trees saw the family undergoing hard times with the Second World War as a backdrop. Sibeal’s favourite volume, Forever Once More, showed the Wolseley family in final dissolution as the eldest daughter, Cecily, refused to marry and thereby ended the family bloodline.
The Third Edition of Ogilvy’s Observations was Mac’s favourite and he loved nothing more than reading out loud from it as he and Sibeal lay in bed. The bedridden Oswald Ogilvy devoted his sickly adult life to completing a volume of ruminations and asides on topics of little or no connection to the world and in 1958 the Third Volume appeared. No one could ever explain what had happened to Volumes One and Two or if they even existed. Mac liked to speculate that Ogilvy was punishing the world for his ill health by making a publishing mountain out of a vanity molehill. Only twenty copies were ever printed before the plates were destroyed in a fire. Ogilvy himself had actually passed away two days before the fire and so died knowing nothing about the destruction of his life’s work. Ever the obscurist himself, Mac liked to quote from this flimsy volume whenever he could.
‘Ogilvy’s reminds us,’ said Mac, ‘that hope and despair are natural bedfellows. Indeed, he goes so far as to speculate whether or not they were originally the same impulse altogether that has simply been erroneously divided over time.’
A large pile of Pendeltons’ Periodicals lay gathering dust on the floor by his side of the bed. Edited between 1954 and 1958 by the noted mid-century chroniclist August Borne, Pendeltons’ was the model for occasional observationism, as it became known. Sadly, the public had very little taste for such an esoteric offering and so Pendeltons’ went the same way as any other small-run journal without an audience.
Gerard Denyer’s Model Villages: Their Occurrence and Occult Significance, published by Turner Press in 1924 was another influence on Mac’s own scholarship. Denyer travelled the length and breadth of Britain noting the similarities and differences between the model villages he came across. Maps and charts were drawn and laid side by side for comparison. This was fairly standard for the field but Denyer’s original contribution to the body of knowledge came through his use of the Begleys, a fictional family of aristocratic refugees whose struggles for social survival were used a device by Denyer to account for the seemingly small shifts he detected in societal responses to folk religions around the country.
Mac reserved a special scorn for the Reverend John Webster’s Trestles, Treads and Other Joins: My Life Among the Sawdust. Published privately in 1965 at great personal expense to the author, Turtles, Threads and Other Jokes, as Mac liked to call it, told the story of the Reverend Webster’s three years of missionary service in England. Written as a series of clumsy homilies and asinine anecdotes loosely connected to Christ’s alleged career as carpenter, Webster always managed to attribute every piece of good luck to God and misfortune to the Devil. Despite its appearance, this literary folly was actually one of the most acclaimed of the so-called casualist texts and was therefore extremely valuable to the right buyer. What made this even book even more valuable to Mac was the fact that he found it buried at the bottom of a cardboard box full of ripped road maps he spotted in a skip.
Mac ran his finger along the second shelf from the top until he found what he was looking for.