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Opinion

Sam Delaney: ‘I don’t like getting stuff in the post, it might harbour traces of ricin or anthrax’

When Sam Delaney received unsolicited mail, he panicked. But he was in for a different kind of surprise

I received an unsolicited package in the mail. It was a padded envelope, pretty crumpled, my name and address scrawled in Sharpie. Maybe I’ve watched too many police procedurals, but I immediately analysed the handwriting as being that of a psychopath.

I tentatively slipped my finger under the gummed lip of the envelope, mindful that it might harbour traces of ricin or anthrax. I never got over that period in the early to mid-2000s where everyone was on constant high alert for powdered toxins in the post. The breathless news coverage of the time even had my poor old mum opening the gas bill wearing Marigolds, for fear that those crafty bastards over at al-Qaeda HQ might be targeting her.

Anyway, this package. Inside was a slim book of less than 100 pages. There was no accompanying compliment slip, as I might expect from a publisher looking to elicit a review or favourable comment from an auspicious commentator such as myself. Nothing. Not even a handwritten dedication on the inside pages, which I leafed through angrily, searching for clues. 

Yes, I was angry. I don’t like getting stuff in the post, especially when I don’t know who it’s from. The last unexpected treat I received by mail was in 1983, for my eighth birthday, when my aunt Celia sent me a small plastic rendition of the speeder Luke Skywalker rides through the forest in Return of the Jedi. It’s all been downhill since then. Nothing but unwanted solicitations from credit firms or grumpy demands from the Inland Revenue. 

I threw the book on the dining table, where my wife was trying to work at her laptop. “What the fuck is this?” I demanded. “Some twat has sent me a book with no note. Is it supposed to be some sort of joke? Or a threat?”

“I’m sure there’s some sort of explanation,” she said, calmly examining the offending item.
I charged upstairs to take a (anxiety-triggered) leak, shouting: “I’m going to burn that book.”

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By the time I came back downstairs, she had completed her research and discovered that the book was authored by one ‘Samuel Delaney’.

“Oh, I see,” I said indignantly. “Some joker thinks I might find it entertaining that someone else has
the same name as me. How hilarious!”

She reminded me my grand-father’s name was Samuel Delaney. And that, if I’d bothered to read the foreword before losing my temper and resolving to set the modest tome aflame, I would have learned that the book was a short story penned by said Grandad several decades ago and discovered by one of my aunts after his death. My uncle Paul had decided to get the story printed and bound and sent a copy out to each member of the family. 

I haven’t read the story yet, but it’s set in my grandad’s hometown of Newry, County Down – back when he was a young man in the 1930s. After he moved to England and had an inordinate number of children, the original Samuel Delaney worked shifts in the Kodak factory. Writing this short story – which he never showed to anyone – must have offered his sharp and creative mind some form of therapeutic outlet amid all the exhausting toil and suffocating responsibility. 

It’s a shame he never had the confidence to bring it to some sort of audience. And it’s touching that my uncle made such an effort to bring it to the family’s attention all these years later. Ultimately, I’m happy I didn’t burn it. 

But for fuck’s sake, Uncle Paul, how long would it have taken you to stick an explanatory note in the envelope?

Read more from Sam Delaney here. Follow him on Twitter here.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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