Ever lost something really important? Don't want to be reminded?
Wednesday 02 July 1997
We all lose things from time to time - leaving brollies on the bus or train on the way into work, say, or throwing out work in progress with the office rubbish. But what about those who have felt the cold sweat that accompanies the realisation that weeks, months or even years of work have been lost, or even that national security has been threatened.
Take the poor writer, for instance, who finds himself suddenly parted from his painstakingly wrought prose. Take Thomas Carlyle who, on completing the first volume of The French Revolution - which represented three years of work - lent it to John Stuart Mill. His housemaid mistook it for waste paper and burnt it; Carlyle had to start again.
In more recent times, many works of literature have been lost on roads and railways. Hemingway's first novel disappeared on a train journey from Paris to Rome, while TE Lawrence left the original version of Seven Pillars of Wisdom in the refreshment room of Reading station. Keith Waterhouse lost 10,000 words of his modern classic Billy Liar in the back of a taxi; ever since he has had his work copied - he continues to write on a manual typewriter - before taking it on journeys. And in 1994, Peter Ackroyd lost his biography of William Blake when it was snatched from a motorcycle courier on its way to his publisher, though he had a spare copy.
Perhaps more worrying, from the point of view of the public, anyway, are misplacements of military documents. Wing Commander David Farquhar suffered the embarrassment of having classified papers relating to the Gulf War taken from his car when he stopped at a car showroom in west London in 1991. In 1993, the Daily Mirror reported that a secret list of top army personnel had been left in the glove compartment of a car sold at a Ministry of Defence auction, and last year the Sun claimed that explanations of the construction of IRA bombs had been left in an RAF filing cabinet, also auctioned off by the MoD.
"Death would have been a very good option for me then," Farquhar said of the moment he realised his car had been broken into. Maurice Mogg's secretary said that her lottery ticket mishap was "the worst thing that had ever happened to me in my life". But her tale has a happy ending: while Farquhar was found guilty by court martial of negligence for having left his car unattended, Maurice Mogg has reportedly promised his employee pounds 100,000 of his winnings - to reward her for her honestyn
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