Kith comes from the Old English “knowledge; known, familiar country; acquaintances, friends.”
I love reading.
Anyone in my family could tell you how much I love reading.
Hub, Uni Boy and Gap Boy have all been known to make less than kind comments about the number of books in our house – to be fair to them my books have taken over the house somewhat. There is no more room on the bookshelves and strategically placed book towers earned my humble home the title of Haemorrhoid House (full of piles – geddit?).
I have always loved reading and from an early age, could be seen with my nose stuck in a book, a magazine or newspaper, or even a cereal packet when all else failed.
The discovery at age eight years that I was very short-sighted meant that I could move further away from the printed page courtesy of my pale blue NHS spectacles and not spend so much time rubbing my weary eyes.
I read my way through the small local library; I moved from having two library tickets to four, and finally to eight – the maximum number allotted to junior readers. On wet and miserable days I would often be found choosing the second set of eight books mid afternoon.
My brother unwittingly introduced me to the delights of Willard Price and his seemingly endless ‘Adventure’ series. Very obviously aimed at boys, the exploits of Hal and Roger Hunt were sheer escapism for a girl from a council estate in the South of England, who had never ventured further than Bournemouth to the West or Hayling Island in the other direction.
Because Enid Blyton’s books were banned from the library, I had to use my pocket-money to buy paperback copies of ‘Malory Towers’ and ‘The Twins at St Clares’. Luckily, my best friend at primary school was also addicted to them. Her father was the principal at the local tech college, her pocket-money and her collection were both larger than mine, but as we were the only Blyton fans in our class, the financial disparity between us didn’t seem to matter.
I don’t mean to imply that my classmates were reading more highbrow literature than us, or that Lizzy and I were limited purely to the Blyton catalogue. We had already read our way through Austen and Bronte to Zola – well maybe we skipped a few booka here and there – whilst our schoolmates were content with the colourful pages of Bunty and The Beano.
Because my mother insisted on good manners and speaking politely, as did Lizzy’s parents, we were both considered ‘snobs’ by many of our peers. Sometimes I would lapse into colloquialisms for the sake of a peaceful school day but the strain of having to remember where I was would often lead to a slip of the tongue and my mother’s disapproving frown.
Mine and Lizzy’s prior knowledge of boarding schools was non-existent; we truly believed that we were deprived because we hadn’t been sent away to some marvellous educational establishment near the sea where midnight feasts were the norm and lithe young women played lacrosse and rode horses.
It was this fantasy that led me to nagging my parents into letting me enter the exam for a place at a private senior school. I dreamed that – although it wasn’t a boarding school – it might have the Blytonesque elements that appealed to me more than my current school. Perhaps my mother’s desire to move me away the glottal stops and dropped aitches of my peers played an important part in this too.
I passed the exam and was kitted out in a uniform which included a pale blue polo shirt and navy culottes for games. The whole uniform had to be ordered from a particular store and was very expensive but just like St Clares, we wore felt bowlers in the winter and straw boaters in the summer. I didn’t stop to think how my parents were going to afford all this additional expense or the fact that the school was two bus rides away from our home.
The school lunches were wonderful.
I liked the art teacher.
I got very sick on the bus journeys.
The snobbery I encountered from my new schoolmates confused and confounded me.
I cried a lot.
How could I have gone from being a ‘snob’ at one school because I read books and spoke politely, to being ‘common’ because I came from a council estate and my mother sewed blue braid onto a cheap black blazer instead of paying out for one that cost five times as much?
I missed Lizzy too.
After six weeks of endless crying and travel sickness, it was decided that I should leave.the school for the sake of my health, and go back into local authority education. I didn’t want to go back to my old school; Lizzy had left and so had my favourite teacher. I felt embarrassed and unable to admit that I had made the wrong choice. My mother got me into another school but my final year of primary education was not a happy one.
Like a small but very hungry bookworm, my thirst for knowledge and escapism knew no bounds – until I got into my teens and discovered other forms of entertainment. Even then I found time to read and the travel sickness disappeared almost magical once I went to senior school – which was just as well as my next school was on the other side of town too.
The long bus journeys provided the ideal environment for uninterrupted reading; my satchel usually contained more lightweight material than the books that the school syllabus recommended.
In my early teens, romantic and vaguely historical paperbacks were my daily diet. The prolific Barbara Cartland fuelled my adolescent dreams; I knew that they were trashy, formulaic and only a teeny step up from Mills and Boon, but I could lose myself in them in much the same way that the stories of Darrell and the Twins had done when I was younger.
Real romance pushed fiction into the background and my mother’s influence and encouragement caused the rebel in me to emerge like a stroppy butterfly from my awkward teenaged chrysalis.
I carried ‘The Little Red School Book’ in my satchel together with contraband copies of ‘Oz’ and ‘Fat Freddy’s Cat’. It was only my ability to hand homework in on time and the kindness of a teacher who understood that this was just my anarchistic phase, that kept me from expulsion.
She sent me off to drama classes at the local tech as an outlet for my histrionics, she encouraged me to work my way through Shakespeare, and thereby diverted me from being the naughtiest girl in the school. I fell in love with the poems of Robert Frost. Thank you Mrs Skett.
I even took my English Language ‘O’ level a year early – and passed well.
Lizzy’s father left the tech college the same year that I started there in order to take my ‘A’ levels. I hope it was a coincidence. New literary doors opened up for me; Thomas Hardy, James Joyce and Chaucer’s very naughty Wife of Bath. Ibsen, more Shakespeare and the discovery that I had a strange talent for writing rhyming couplets – not always printable!
I continued to read anything and everything I could lay my hands on and stuff into my bottomless student bag. I had left the satchel – stuffed with half-empty rough books covered in doodles – in the waste paper bin when I left school on 13th May 1975. I wish I’d kept it now – it was a good satchel and I could probably sold it for a small fortune on eBay.
There have been times in my life when reading has been the only available option; the late stages of pregnancy, illness, accidents, waiting rooms and green rooms, my bed, my sofa, someone else’s bed or sofa. I worked my way through crime novels when I was pregnant and had a Harry Potter reading competition with Uni Boy as each new book was released. My consumption of autobiographies reached epic proportions, crossed referenced with more salacious gossip from the glossy magazines, and latterly the Internet.
Although I can recall my childhood memories with great clarity ,together with audition pieces and poetry, social care legislation and adult protection policies, I also have the facility to forget the endings of my favourite books, so that I have shelves of novels that I can read and enjoy all over again.
That doesn’t stop me buying new books however.
My set of Terry Pratchett novels is much cherished, together with several books by Maureen Lipman.
Nor does it prevent me from browsing through musty second-hand bookshops for dog-eared tomes, their margins covered with some other student’s scrawl.
The men in my house have put their collective feet down regarding my library. Every now and then I am subjected to a book cull; a box is packed up and taken off to my favourite musty bookshop. I stay in the car for fear of going in and buying more books than I have contributed. If I dare to object, Hub very gently reminds me that there are three large boxes of books in the garage that have been sitting there since we moved into the house sixteen and a half years ago.
The men in my house thought that they had found a solution.
They bought me a Kindle.
More of that in part 2……..