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22 January 2020
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The Eagle Bound

The books I buy have usually had the umbilical cord connecting them to their unique past severed. They are just books; on a shelf, in a box, or sprawled on the floor. All that is knowable about them lies within. An inscription perhaps, or marginalia, sometimes a bookmark, and rarely, money. But occasionally the past clasps objects so closely that you literally have to cut them from it.

I'm out on a call to a modern house built in our local variant of the 'Vernacular Tradition'. Concrete trying (not very hard) to impersonate Cotswold stone, lumpen details, everything either too big or too small to be truly pleasing. The interior all chintzed up and filled with reproduction oak furniture made dull by machine precision.

Instead of the woman I had spoken to when arranging the call, I'm ushered into the house by a middle-aged man. He explains that he is the husband to-be of the woman who called, and that the comics for sale belonged to her cancer-snatched partner.

On a side table in this drearily immaculate simulacrum sits a battered, cheap cardboard suitcase. Paradoxically, in a room which has had the merest whiff of the real past remorselessly hoovered out, lurks an object that positively reeks of it.

I wrestle open the reluctant suitcase catches to discover nestled at the centre of a confusion of paper, the Eagle. They're trussed, turkey-like; but this looks more like bondage than simple constraint. Lots and lots of string, far too much string to merely keep the bundle together. And pulled so, so tight, cutting into their edges and bruising the comic's surface. At each intersection of the binding (and there are many of them) a knot, and each knot sealed with wax.

All this is strange enough, but then there's the stabbing. Effectively immobilised, no prospect of any sliding off the pile and slipping to the floor, no way to avoid the penetrating point. Dan and Digby, PC 49, Harris Tweed and Storm Nelson - Riders of the Range no more.

The true ferocity of the attack only becomes apparent when I begin to free the Eagles from their bonds. A heavy, pointed instrument had been thrust into them with tremendous force. The entry wound is quite small, but the exit wound - as with all exit wounds - is a different story. Inches in, the force of the impact has caused the paper to balloon out; fracturing it like bullet-shattered glass.

I'm shaken. The emotional charge vested in this bundle is almost palpable. And yet, a few moments scissor work and it's gone - the link with their particular past broken. What remains is just a pile of paper, a heap of comics.

It's clear that the house owner wants shot of the suitcase and its contents at any price, and I pay him a nominal sum in the hope of rescuing something from the carnage.

What could it have meant? The consignment of childhood to Houdini-proof history perhaps, or something darker? That I can never know, but speculation is part of what makes this business so intoxicating.

Mike Goodenough

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