I went to the bank the other morning only to learn that they don’t open till 10.30 on a Wednesday, God love them, so I walked around the corner to a café where I browsed the little bookshelf they have, pretending to wait for someone. I picked up Hard Times. I read it when I was eighteen, the summer I finished my school exams and went to France to pick fruit (melons and plums). I went with a pal and he had brought it with him. His economics teacher told the class they should read it, and his economics teacher was a decent man, so my friend had taken it along. I started reading it whenever he wasn’t and we both liked it a lot. So I opened up this Hard Times and saw it belonged to a schoolboy. On the inside cover he had written his name and the name of his school and the year, 1989. Opposite, there was a short biography of Dickens. “Charles Dickens was born, etc, etc” Above “Charles Dickens” the schoolboy had written “wanker”, and at the bottom of the page he wrote in pencil “9th June 1870 – a great day”. It took me a moment to realise what this meant – when I twigged it I scanned down to the end of the biography. 9 June 1870, the day Dickens died. I didn’t see any other comments as I flicked through the book, just occasional paragraphs dutifully underlined.