Books

The fact that there were several children in the family and several aunts, meant that books sometimes arrived at Christmas in sets. Thus we had 'Wayside and Woodland Flowers', 'Wayside and Woodland Trees', 'Wayside and Woodland something else'. Each of us had been given one, but in fact they were common property. There were always plenty of these basic reference books in the house. With them came story books and annuals, all the sorts of books for Christmas and birthdays, but most of the books in the house had been bought by my father. There were classics, of course. Complete runs of Dickens, Kipling, and Wells, with some Hardy, but very little Scott, apart from Ivanhoe. He was slightly passé by that time. My father could never resist collected essays, mostly modern, like Chesterton, Robert Lynd, E.V. Lucas; what he called 'The On books', after that never ending series by Belloc. Published at three shillings and sixpence, they could be picked up in any second-hand shop for a shilling. They were small, hardbacked and comfortable to the hand; easily slipped in the pocket and ideal for reading on buses. There was always a large selection to choose from on the shelves.

The nearest public library was in Shepherd's Hill, Highgate. It was on the 43 bus route, but normally I walked there and back. Many of the books had been rebound in strong, 'library' covers, with the name of the library heavily embossed on the front cover, for books were designed to last in those days, not discarded when the covers become creased. There were no paperbacks,

With six in the family and each could withdraw two books each, I chose twelve books every fortnight, rain or shine, from before I was eleven. Because I was collecting books for my parents as well as myself, the librarians gave me access to the adult section very early and I picked book for the whole family. Boys' stories, girl's stories, novels by named authors for my parents. others recommended by the librarians, it was a fortnightly treat. I can still feel the warm parquet flooring on my bare knees as I searched the bottom shelves.

As I walked through Highgate Woods there and back, they revealed themselves in all their seasons. Muswell Hill Road was still gravelled, with open-topped buses and very few cars. The fences to the woods had three open bars, without vertical palings, so that they were hedgerows rather than fences, making it a walk through the country, enjoyable in all weathers.

Not all the books were a success. My father rejected some of the Librarian's suggestions. My first example of meeting literary criticism was when I brought back a Bindle book. Bindle was a removal man who enjoyed playing practical jokes on people. Written by Herbert Jenkins, who was an astute publisher, they were very popular and I read dozens of the stories. When I offered one to my father, he looked sideways and said very gently, "But they are so cruel. He thinks it's funny to hurt people." This came as a great shock. It had never occurred to me that books could have a moral content. Later he dismissed another series of books with, "The characters never change. They never learn anything. They are the same at the end as they were at the start. They are just bits of cardboard."

 

46

Page 45
Page 47