This week’s Top Ten Tuesday, brought to us by the Broke and the Bookish, requires us to list ten of our top bookish moments. So, in no particular order……….
1. Christmas with Orwell. I’ve posted about this before here, but one of my fondest childhood bookish moments was waking up in the early hours of Christmas morning to find that Santa Claus had left a stocking containing not only a copy of Animal Farm but also a torch. The combination of surreptitious reading under the covers and discovering Orwell for the first time is difficult to beat. Thanks, Santa.
2. A Day at the beach with Agatha. From the ages of about 10 to 13, I was hooked on Agatha Christie and I can remember one particular summer holiday, in Cornwall, during a particularly “English” summer. My parents bought me a copy of Poirot’s Early Cases (the one with the Affair of the Victory Ball) and I absolutely devoured it while huddling on a chilly beach or sitting in the car on interminable journeys around the South West. I have very fond memories of that holiday and a Christie book still transports me back to a lovely time in my childhood.
3. Other people read Tolkien too. Having loved The Hobbit as a child and then having discovered The Lord of the Rings by half-inching (stealing, for all you non-Brits) The Fellowship of the Rings from my parents’ book cabinet, I soon was completely obsessed with Middle Earth. And then, I went on a prep school trip to Switzerland for a two-week intensive French course. The group from one of the other participating prep schools included a few kids who were into Dungeons and Dragons, which I had never even heard of at the time, and I wound up in a massive argument with one of them about the physical appearance of orcs during the course of which I discovered that he and the others in the group had all read LotR too. I was amazed. Other people read Tolkien? It had never crossed my mind that he could be anything other than my own personal secret. I was half-delighted and half-appalled but the feeling of revelation has stuck in my mind. Rereading this, I must have been a complete nerd. Oh well.
4. Chewing the fat with Hunter. Up until 2006, Charing Cross Road was the home to one of London’s best bookshops. Actually, it was, and is still, home to several of London’s best bookshops but the one I’m thinking of was Sportspages, which did exactly what the tin said and specialised in books about sport and exercise. For me, one of its main attractions was its collection of books and magazines on US sports (of which I am a big fan - Celtics, Dolphins, Red Sox and Bruins if you’re interested). Anyway, one afternoon, I was in there and noticed that Hunter Davies was talking to one of the assistants whom I knew slightly. For those of you who haven’t heard of him, Hunter Davies is, in my opinion, one of the best British generalist journalists and authors of the late 20th Century. As well as writing the only authorised biography of the Beatles, he wrote one of the most acclaimed books about English football, The Glory Game, and for many years was a brilliant columnist for Punch (which is where I first came across him). I shamelessly inserted myself into the conversation and spent a splendid ten minutes chatting about the then soon-to-be-published autobiography of Paul Gascoigne, which he had ghost-written. Great writer, lovely man, nice memory.
5. Lying for Asterix. I love Asterix and Obelix. Always have done. In book form, album form and film form. Tintin comes a close second but Asterix is my favourite comic strip character. Unfortunately, my parents, being quiet strict on that kind of thing did not approve of comics. I was allowed an educational magazine called Look and Learn (which had one sneaky little comic strip in the middle) and football magazines but no comics. Not the Beano or Whizzer and Chips. Not Spiderman or Superman. Not even Commando or Dandy. But Asterix nevertheless gave me two great moments. The first was on a shopping trip when my Mum offered to buy me a book. The shop had some Asterix books. Not the usual large album format but in a paperback book format, compact and with the illustrations in black and white. I picked up Asterix at the Olympic Games and accompanied Mum to the till, taking care to keep hold of the book until it was time to hands it over to the assistant. And then, dear Reader, unlike George Washington I told a lie. On questioning from the female parent, I successfully claimed that it wasn’t a comic strip but a written Asterix story. Who says crime doesn’t pay?
6. Sneaking off with Arthur Dent. I went to a prep school in a small village with plenty of countryside around it. There was a local drag hunt (no foxes involved!) that sometimes used to ask the school for a couple of volunteers to follow the hunt to make sure that none of the hounds got separated from the pack and lost. One Sunday, a friend and I volunteered and duly set off. After an hour or so (it was a cold autumn day), we decided we’d had enough so we bunked off. Fortunately, my friend lived close by and so we went back to his farmhouse, where, after getting hold of tea and biscuits, he put on a tape recording of some the BBC radio adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It was a wonderful afternoon and my first introduction to Arthur, Zaphod and Marvin.
7. Getting wrecked with the Inklings. Well not the Inklings themselves, obviously, but with their shades at any rate. The Eagle and Child (or Baby and Bird as it was, ever so wittily, known to us students) on St Giles in Oxford was the pub where Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and friends would convene for beer and the reading of their manuscripts. I used to go there occasionally during my student days and, just occasionally, would get a little thrilled feeling at sitting in the same place where the great men had sat 40 years earlier.
8. Can I bend the rules a little for Lord Peter? I think I’m stretching the topic a little far with this one but here goes. During those same student days, I read all of Dorothy L Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey books. Gaudy Night was a particular favourite, set as it was in Oxford and Edward Petherbridge, a wonderful actor, had only recently played Wimsey in a TV adaptation of that novel. I had decided to attend a Hallowe’en party in the guise of Dracula and wanted to do it properly so I hired a heavy black cape from a local theatrical dress shop to go with the evening wear, make-up and fangs. On the evening, I was about to put it on when I caught a quick glimpse of the label inside. On it was written the word, “Petherbridge”. Not a common name, I suspect and so I think I was not acting unreasonably to believe it was the cloak worn in the programme. I have to confess, this really did chuff me and I’m still quite tickled by it now. Odd really.
9. A new family tradition. This is actually a few moments wrapped into one. Every Christmas Eve since she was born, I have sat mini-Falaise on my lap on the rocking chair in our living room and solemnly read her The Night Before Christmas. Although she enjoys it, I suspect I enjoy it more, just the feeling of my over-excited and still innocent daughter snuggled up with me on the eve of Christmas. Very special and I am not looking forward to the time when she decides she’s too old for it.
10. The dawn of a new age. Recently, I decided to see if mini-Falaise was at a stage where she was prepared to start having a longer book as her bedtime story, spread over a number of days. I chose Roald Dahl’s Matilda as my experimental book as she loves the story and is obsessed with the character. Well, it’s been working and I got all choked up the other day when I came home and she demanded “more pages of Matilda” with some force. We’ve nearly finished and she has already decided she wants Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, one of my childhood favourites, next.