(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson of Glasgow – May 2021)
Other than vinyl records and CDs, there is nothing in our house that number more than books. In my office – well, man-cave: books. In the spare room: books. In our bedroom: books. In the loft: boxes of books!
I can’t say our Diane’s happy about it. Because she’s certainly not, feeling she holds the moral high ground as one of those who goes in for all this e-Book, downloading malarkey.
Books are sacrosanct. Inviolable – especially dictionaries, from where I found that word.
I blame the schools, me. From the age of four or five, we’re taught that the ‘Three Rs’ are what’s required for our future. Reading, Riting and Rithmetic. Though not Spelling, apparently.
Reading in primary school was, as I remember it, pretty entertaining. The class library had lots of colourful books with pictures, like Herge’s, ‘Adventures of Tin Tin’ and others by Dr Seuss, featuring some Cat in a Hat.
I enjoyed reading those. I must have adapted reasonably well to the Riting and Rithmetic stuff too, as I won an end-of-year prize for something or other, in Primary Six or Seven. Chances are it probably wasn’t for memorising detail.
The prize, as were all such awards, was a book token, to be spent at a designated shop in town, who would send the chosen book direct to the school. The Headmaster and teacher would then sign a pre-printed sticky label, stating how wonderful I had been at whatever it was, and I’d be presented with my book in front of the whole school and proud parents, at the annual Prize-giving.
Actually, having been brought up on ‘yellow label’ food, even at that early age, I appreciated the ethos of value for money, and managed to stretch my prize allowance to two books. I can remember being ever so excited as I trailed my mother around the shop umpteen times before settling upon, ‘Treasure Island,’ and ‘Biggles of 266.’
That was me – hooked. I loved my comics, of course, but books, especially for reading in my room at bedtime and early morning became a passion. (God! I hate that expression … it’s not like I’m on some music or baking reality show, is it? I loved reading books. That’s it. I really did love reading.)
The family summer holiday was a great time for reading. For several years, we’d pack the rickety car to the gunnels and head off from Glasgow down to Sussex or Cornwall for a couple of weeks. Boredom on long, tedious car journeys such as those, was alleviated by reading the latest adventure of William, or Jennings and Darbishire, interspersed by the Beano and Dandy Summer Specials bought at Forton and Charnock Richard service stations on the M6 South.
Actually, in the interest of research, I recently bought copies of the ‘Just – William’ book by Richmal Compton and also ‘Jennings and Darbishire’ by Anthony Buckeridge. I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed reading them again, almost fifty years after the first time.
I think I may have related to the ‘Jennings’ series of books (I owned and read them all, as with the ‘William’ collection too) because neighbours went to a public school, though not boarding, and I could envisage them using language such as the exclamation ”Wacko!” or calling someone a little hard of understanding, a “clodpoll.”
The language was all so frightfully posh, which I still thinks adds to the humour.
I wasn’t aware at the time, but the ‘William’ series was written by a woman, Richmal Compton, who taught at an all-girls school, and published the initial ‘Just – William,’ book in 1922. Re-reading the book this year, I was amazed at some of the words and descriptions Ms Compton used, and even more so that I understood them:
‘”It’s eating it,” cried Douglas in shrill excitement. After thoroughly masticating it, however, the baby repented of its condescension and ejected the mouthful in several instalments.’
By the time the Seventies came around, the twelve year old me was likely polishing off those two book series. I would join the Boy Scouts in 1971, and by collecting ‘junk’ for our Jumble Sales, I’d be given first dibs on the second hand paperback books.
This was how I first discovered the intrigue and excitement of Alistair Maclean novels and I embarked upon reading most of those.
Our Scout troop was always a good source of reading material. Being away on camp several times in the year made it easy to smuggle what were then considered ‘books of bad influence’ into my rucksack and read without fear of confiscation and grounding. Gritty books like ‘Skinhead,’ ‘Suedehead’ and of that ilk were very popular at that time.
It was also while in the Scouts that the first novel by Sven Hassel, ‘Wheels of Terror’ found its way into my possession. The author was a Dane who fought in the Second World War for Germany, in the Panzer tank regiment. Now, where Alistair MacLean let scenes of battle play out in the readers’ minds, Hassel was much. much more graphic. He related the horrors of war in a manner I had never seen in any film or read in books. So much so, in fact, that many now consider his books to be ‘anti-war’ rather than of the ‘war’ genre.
By the mid-Seventies I needed some respite from all these tales of horror and killing. I had recently found a new favourite TV show, and so when heading off on holiday one year, I bought the first of my M.A.S.H. books. (Yeah, I know … it was kind of ironic, I suppose.)
A little ‘aside,’ here: being a fan of the television version of M.A.S.H. actually worked well when it subsequently came to reading the books. I already had a clear visualisation of the characters, their accents and their little foibles, so all that simply uploaded to my mind as I read. My imagination could put its feet up for a while.
This of course does not work the other way around, does it?
Over the past fifteen / twenty years, I have read over thirty of Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld ‘novels. Each and every character occupies a little bit real-estate in my head. They are like neighbours and we’ve always gotten on pretty well.
Then, in recent years, television hijacked the popularity of these tales and served up various watery versions of the books. The viewer is dictated to in so far as character portrayal is concerned. Rather than put its feet up a while, ‘imagination’ could head down the pub for a few beers.
It’s the start of the slippery slope, I tells ya!
To this day, I resolutely refuse to watch a television adaptation of a Terry Pratchett novel.
Sorry, I digress as some other wee short-arse used to say.
In 1975 / 1976, I was in my final year at school and studying for a Sixth Year Studies certificate in English. I was allowed pretty much a free rein in choosing what my dissertation was about. I entitled mine: ‘Life and Death as portrayed by Ernest Hemingway.’
Cheery little sod, wasn’t I?
The downside though, was that I also had to study various Jane Austen novels and plays by Bertolt Brecht. And that Shakespeare dude, too.
So, all in all, that was my reading pretty much tied up for the best part of a year.
Strangely, I have no recollection of what I read in the three and a half years left of the decade after leaving school. I went straight into work, and evening study for Banking exams. I assume, between that, my sporting commitments, nightclubbing, dating and drinking beer there was little time to read anything other than my weekly editions of Sounds magazine and Athletics Weekly.
As The Seventies wound down and the Eighties beckoned, it seemed the time was right to turn the page on a new chapter of my life.