I value my Saturday mornings.
All my life, since I was a teenager, I’ve treasured that hour or maybe two, in which I can read my newspaper from front to back including the letters page and the gushing reports of desirable residences in South Dublin. For years, I took the time to do the cryptic crossword (if I could manage it) and later the Sudoku.
I like the way a newspaper is folded and I like the way it unleaves itself as I open it. When I was a young student, on the early-morning bus to summer factory jobs, opening the newspaper was an essential part of my waking ritual, something without which the day was not complete, since a folded newspaper is a perfect thing, an object that will never return to its perfect state once touched by human hand.
Now and then, I wonder why people buy newspapers at all any more, since they can simply look them up on their phones or their tablets if they’re looking for nothing more than information, but I suspect it goes beyond that. It seems to me that part of the reason we buy a paper is so that we can handle a tangible, pristine artifact.
Most people, having bought a newspaper, don’t like anyone else handling it, smudging it, disordering its pages until they’ve had a chance to do so themselves and I can understand why. You don’t buy a paper for the information it contains, but for the opportunity to make it your own, to read in the order that suits you and to reassemble it according to your own whim. You want to descend into the world of your paper, retreat into that benign void and resurface in your own time, under your own air, without intrusion from other human hand.
Now, not everyone is like that. Not everyone, I know, is the slightest bit bothered if a page of a book becomes crinkled due to rough handling. Not everyone cringes when a friend crumples a photo offered to them for gentle and respectful handling.
But I do, and I can’t help it.
I won’t dog-ear a book. I won’t put an oily fingerprint on a beautiful photographic plate. I won’t finger a cleanly-printed page as if it were a discarded burger wrapper.
Today, I had the idea to withdraw and read the paper with a little extra treat. I promised myself to have a deliciously crunchy fish and chip as I worked my way through the newspaper from beginning to end, including the sections that tell me all the things we can do in Ireland, provided they happen to be in Dublin, and all the restaurants we can visit in Dublin and all the four-million-euro broom cupboards we can buy in the newly-revitalised Dublin property market.
That’s what I promised myself and part of it happened.
I got my deliciously crunchy fish and chips, which were undeniably delicious.
But I also got a man behind me who surreptitiously lifted my paper and had a good read of it while I waited to place my order.
I can’t blame him. He knows nothing of these little rituals that sustain some of us through the day, but I wanted to turn and tell him to unhand my paper, not because he was doing it any harm but because I wanted to be the first — the very first — to read this paper.
Mercifully, I did no such thing, but how Freudian is that?
I also got a proprietor whose idea of speaking to tourists involved raising his voice to ear-endangering levels, who passed on orders to the cooking staff while drumming loudly on the counter and who addressed me in a hair-dryer voice as I savoured my Saturday-morning newspaper ritual. My retreat from the madness of everyday life. My sanctuary.
Having a good read there, aren’t you?
You’re having a good read there.
Well, I’m reading the paper. Well spotted.
It’s nice to get away from things, isn’t it?
That’s right. It is.
Great to get away and have a good read.
A good read. Great to get away.
I gaze at him with a basilisk stare.
It is, I tell him. Great to get away from people bothering you and just read the paper. In peace. On your own. For a few minutes.
He grins. Great to get away on your own! That’s it exactly!
I fold up my paper and stuff it into my bag, never again to be read.
Thanks, I say. The fish was delicious.
Great! he says. Come back soon.
I probably will, since the food is so good, but I’ll make sure to read the paper first.