Thursday, 18 October 2012

My Life in Books...

Most people remember their favourite kid's books pretty vividly.  I suppose it's the time in a person's life when they are most likely to read or get read to.  Hopefully.  The ages of 1-10 is definitely the time that most people use public libraries.  They kind of drop off after that.

So these are some of the ones that I remember the most from having stories read to me as a kid.  My mum used to make stories up herself, which was pretty cool.  Or at least we think they were made up.  They could've been partially remembered from somewhere else and embellished.  Some of them went on for weeks too.  My dad always did voices and stuff whenever he read to me & my sister, which was pretty often, considering he worked nights a lot at that time.

This one, The Happy Hedgehog Band, I must have had out of Sutton Library about 30 times.  It had loads of noises in it that you could make a right racket with.
The Happy Hedgehog Band
The hedgehogs start a band.  Apparently hedgehogs are lacking in meaningful activity.  Gradually as word gets around, all the other forest creatures want in, providing their own instrument and vocals/noises to contribute to the band.  This is way before the days of Britain's Got Talent too.  I think everyone gets into the massive ensemble.  I also remember a dog "who was lost in the woods" that just dances.  Like a furry Bez.  

My sister was only about two when we first heard this story, and she christened hedgehogs "Tat-tat-boom"s. We still call them that, despite being in our twenties :)

Blossom Loving Mole
This one I cannot for the life of me remember the name of.
It involved a mole, who was obsessed with blossom.  He finds a 5-pound-note down a drain when wandering around one day, but all the blossom is gone.  He rips it up into little pieces and shouts "Blossom!!" and that's how it ends.  

Nail Soup
I don't know if Nail Soup, is an actual fairytale, or a filler story that just sort of bumped up the page count a bit.  This was my absolute favourite as a kid.  Probably because it was a story almost entirely about food. 
Taken from this bumper book of stories.  I think this was
re-cycled after my aunty's sons got too old for it...
Basically, an old woman takes a tramp in for the night.  Your typical handkerchief-on-a-stick, top hat that's been opened with a can-opener type jolly hermit.  He suggests he makes his special soup as a thank-you for her kindness, using only a nail and hot water.

Intrigued, she agrees.  She tells him she's not very well off and there's no food in the house to eat as an alternative.  The tramp lobs his nail in the pot and waits a bit.  He starts off by saying little suggestions, like "Ooo, have you got some salt & pepper?".  Gradually that becomes "Y'know what would really make this nice?  A couple of onion..."  The woman keeps popping off to the pantry and bringing back increasingly numerous ingredients.  Eventually, you've got a full blown meat & vegetable stew going on, with warm bread and fresh butter and all of the best china and cutlery.  The tramp fishes the nail out and pockets it with a chuckle.

They sit down to eat their Nail Soup.  Naturally, the woman is stunned!  She can't believe that a soup made out of a single nail is so tasty and so filling.  She wants the recipe from the tramp, but he's not sharing.  This isn't  Come Dine With Me.  

Most fairytales have some sort of moral message.  I'm not sure what that is supposed to convey.  Elderly women lie about their financial situations?  The homeless are wiley conmen?  DIY supplies make excellent stocks and sauces?

Famous Five
I know they're not that popular anymore...I guess they're not that relevant.  Who'd let kids as young as 9 run around outsmarting smugglers?  Sleep outside in piles of heather?  Drink milk that has not been consistently refrigerated?  The thing is though, they were as irrelevant and ridiculous in 1995 as they are now, and that did not stop me from loving these stories.  Once I finished number 21, I'd start on number 1 again immediately after.  

For the uninitiated Julian, Dick and Ann, pictures of 1950s rural health and wholesomeness, are siblings.  One summer they go to stay with their Aunt Fanny and Uncle Quentin, and meet their cousin, Georgina, for the first time.  Georgina is George, she looks, acts and thinks like a boy and insists on being treated like one. She also has a pretty awesome dog called Timmy.  That's your Five right there.  They basically run around idyllic rural England toting picnics, wearing sandles and being quaint.  I'm not sure if the phase "lashings of ginger beer" ever actually appears in the books but as a phrase, it sets the tone.

These pesky kids though...they just fall into adventures wherever they go...Mysterious gypsies, smugging operations, ghostly steam-trains, ruined castles, dungeons, gold bullion, gun running,'s amazing they ever lived to see another term at boarding school.  It's basically Scooby-Doo but with bonbons and rowing boats.

As a kid, it does make you question the apparent dullness of your own school-holiday life...
Obviously anybody reading this now is too old to read them for the first time (or not, go mad, whatever) I just hope you won't rule them out for your own kids, or kids that you know.

Harry Potter, the reading epiphany
I know.  It's a depressingly obvious choice to have as a formative book.  But it is toooo important to me to not feature.  The Philosopher's Stone on my shelf is my third copy.  One fell apart, one got left on a plane...
Being the super-cool kid that I was, I was pretty determined at one point to never read HP.  When Azakban came out, I was all "pffft, what?  Another of those stupid Harry Potter books? GOD!"
But then I stopped being an idiot, read the first one in an afternoon and began a (henceforth) lifelong obsession.

Lovely, lovely Harry Potter...
I was pretty convinced for a while that Hermione was based entirely on me.  It didn't seem that crazy.  My actual Hogwarts letter might have got lost in the post, but this could be me...  Bushy brown hair?  Check.  Slightly protruding front teeth?  Check.  Marginally unhealthy attitude to academic competition and rule-following?  Check!!

I was just blown away by them.  The richness of the world, the complexities of the plot, the realistic ups-and-downs of school-mates' relationships (complete with fights, silliness and co-dependence), characters that at the time seemed to be peripheral, like Snape and Dumbledore being so 3-dimensional and so full of their own was revolutionary to a 12 year old.  It really felt that when you closed the book, Hogwarts and its inhabitants carried on with their lives and their adventures whether you were there to read about them or not.

When *THE THING* happens at the end of HBP, it's preposterous and impossible and beyond comprehension.  It.  Simply.  Cannot.  Be.  It's feels like somebody has stormed out of the page and into your life, destroyed everything that you've ever loved and left you a nasty present on your pillow.
*THE THING* was probably the thing that made me realise how powerful words on a page can be.  Despite being 17 at the time and doing A levels in Literature, I'd never been struck like that by words.  
It's happened very few times since.

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