Being compar’d

I waded my way through our lounge bookshelves yesterday, wiping, hoovering, and blowing until I was engulfed in a cloud of spiders’ webs. ‘I love Kindle,’ I thought.

Then I came across my old Macbeth. I first read it at school, and I’d pulled it out of the archives last week, as my eldest was asking about Shakespeare. It has to be thirty years since I jotted down my notes, but I remember reading it in class, clear as day, as I wrestled with the beautiful old language. English Lit was my favourite subject (that and biology, how different my life might have been if the coin had landed…)

I showed my son; he was fascinated by my childish handwriting:


It was about to get better; an hour later, in a different part of our library, I found Martha’s Macbeth. Martha was my great grandmother, and a teacher (also the inspiration behind my old pen name). I have a selection of her books and several contain notes, but mostly (like mine) they are in childish scrawl. This was written in a more sophisticated hand:


I don’t know enough about Martha to pinpoint when she might have read Macbeth; she died when my grandmother was only six. All I know is that this was written between 1900 (publication date) and about 1920, when she died.

I’m holding the copy that she held, reading the words she wrote, and I know that sixty or seventy years after she absorbed Macbeth, I did the same, and we underlined the same words.


Sep 2016 update: my younger son has just been told he will be studying Macbeth after half-term! Yeyyy! Wish I could grab Martha for a cup of tea and say, ‘Look, Martha, our boy!’ 




    • t upchurch says:

      Hi Rachel, yes, it made the spider webs a lot easier to bear*! My Nan used to talk about Martha a lot, so links to her feel very precious.

      (*I can’t abide spiders but Sid, Bert and Alf are allowed to be library custodians).

    • t upchurch says:

      It is, I had some lovely moments. I’ll post another time about my Nan’s cookery book, and provide excerpts. Her handwritten notes are very special.

    • t upchurch says:

      It’s funny, old schoolbooks hold such strong memories. I can remember the rooms, the friends, the pens and desks, the smell of ink and books (and dust, and feet…).

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