It’s hard to say goodbye to old friends particularly those who provoke strong memories. I am of course, talking about books -the real, solid ones that sit on shelves not the virtual kind. This is not, I hasten to add, a meandering about the virtues and vices of real v e-book – that’s a debate long past its sell-by date.
I have books…lots of books and over the past couple of days I’ve been sorting them out, moving some on and packing up the rest in anticipation of The Move. It’s been a slow job – the snail sliming itself on the window scaled the dizzy heights there and back twice before I finished the task and I still have some leftovers to wrestle with.
There’s Nevil Shute’s “On the Beach”. I snaffled it off my parent’s bookshelf where its vivid green and black dust jacket beckoned me. I was eleven and my dad said it was too adult for me and hence all the more intriguing. Then, I remember the moment came when the house was quiet, both parents were wacking a golf ball round some course and I was in bed, bored and recovering from an appendicitis operation. I read it under the bedclothes and it gave me nightmares for weeks. I can still see the giant green radioactive bunnies I dreamed up yet it proved to be the foundation stone for my taste in sci-fi and apocalyptic-type novels.
Roll forward a few years and JB Priestley’s “Saturn over the Water” reminds me of Christmas when I was fifteen and the book was a present from my sister. I open it and there is an inscription written with a flourish in bright turquoise ink –” to Bella – Happy Christmas”. I won’t explain the Bella bit – too embarrassing. Yet the book evokes a wealth of childhood adventures as my sister and I came, saw and conquered a host of imaginary worlds. It reminds me too of the schism now between us. I believe that Christmas was the last time we shared any real affinity.
Phyllis Bentley’s “Inheritance” and Thomas Armstrong’s “The Crowthers of Bankdam” appealed to my West Riding textile heritage. I’m guessing neither author’s name will be that familiar however their work provided the impetus and inspiration to write my first book. At the time I was living the good life on a small-holding in the Yorkshire dales where in the intervals between rounding up a bunch of misbegotten sheep with wanderlust and persuading a novice bull to attend to its duties I cobbled together an appalling novel based on the story of the Luddites. After a well-deserved series of rejections I turned it into a play which achieved one radio broadcast. Fame!
Coming further towards present time, I have a whole series of Georgett Heyer novels, untouched for years until I was dumped by my partner when I sniffled and snuffled my way through them, non-stop just to lose myself and get away from the misery for a while. She’s another author, probably not read much these days yet whatever you think about the style and genre, she is peerless in her historical detail and accuracy.
As I pulled these little memory boxes off the shelves, blew the dust off them, fingered their slightly yellowing pages, grungy at the edges I wondered whether those books now residing in the ether and called up, like the genie in Aladdin’s Lamp, to appear on my Kindle will capture and hold the same memories. On the other hand perhaps I’m just becoming a sentimental old trout.