He had to repeat exams at the end of second year of the theological course at Trinity College. The resits were a direct consequence of a lack of application during the year, rather than a lack of intelligence or academic ability, both of which he possessed in abundance
I lent him notes and books for the re-sits. He was a chain smoker and walking into his room was like encountering autumn fog, and when the cardboard wallets of notes and the books were returned, the smell of cigarettes was unmistakeable. For years after, the scent of cigarettes that came in gold coloured packs attached itself to one of the text books. The aroma brought memories of the conversations and the laughter of three years of college life, memories of someone who had been a good friend.
The smell of stale smoke was acceptable, what I wouldn’t have liked would have been books returned with bent covers and dog-eared pages. A friend had lent an expensive text book to another classmate and it had been returned looking like something that had been floating in the River Liffey.
There would, of course, be some Freudian explanation for my constant desire to keep books in a pristine condition. “Anally retentive,” an exceedingly learned former colleague would have said.
It was not just books either that I like to remain in a pristine condition. In the days when 12″ vinyl records were the only format for buying a music album, I wanted the cardboard sleeves to remain in mint condition as well. I have Dire Straits’ first album from 1978, forty-three years ago, its cover remains without a crease or a mark.
Perhaps a concern with the covers suggested a preoccupation with the appearance rather than the substance.
A friend had album sleeves that would have contained the work of Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin. They would have shown signs of constant handling and they would have borne bore the ring marks of coffee cups and beer glasses. They were covers that had a reassuring quality, they were like a favourite armchair or pair of shoes, shaped by years of use. We would sit and listen and talk, and in a single evening could put the world to rights.
In forty years of retrospect: being at ease with the smell of smoke; with creased sleeves and dog eared pages; with coffee stains and with spilt beer; is the hallmark of some of the best people I have known.