Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

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.

Time Slip

This week, as the weather holds, I’ve been watching the daily pilgrimage down to the beach. I see the parents, laden with chairs, cool boxes, wind shields, bucket bbqs. Their kids skip ahead already dressed for business in the sea – the lucky ones sporting wet suits against North Sea frostbite. At lunchtime I smell barbecues being fired up and the savoury aroma of bacon and sausage frying. Later, I see them all straggling back up the hill, tired and bedraggled.

As I watch,for a few precious seconds time slips and I’m five years old again and just starting out to explore life.

Filey was always our family’s holiday destination and Mrs Patten’s Boarding House where a yappy Scottie dog kept guard in a narrow hallway that always had a tinge of eau de cabbage about it. She wasn’t a battleaxe though and despite being a Scot she had bent to the ways of Yorkshire. She served dinner (always kicked off by Heinz tomato soup)at dinner time and by that I mean at noon sharp, because, as good Yorkshire stock, we had no truck with that fancy dinner in the evenings stuff. It was dinner at lunchtime and high tea at dinner time (or a bit earlier).

We hit the beach just as soon as we had whined long enough for mum and dad to yield; two deck chairs for them and a huge blown-up inner tube from a lorry tyre for we three kids to “share” aka fight over. The inner tube was really for mum who was scared of water and couldn’t swim but dad was convinced she would if she were supported by this huge rubber donut. We laughed at her and splashed her but she had her revenge. She bundled my sister and me into yellow and white stripey swimsuits knitted, yes knitted, by her own fair hand from hairy four-ply wool. They scratched and itched and attracted sand like iron filings to a magnet and when, blue and shivering we emerged from the sea, they bagged and sagged about our knees.

Returning to our rooms at Mrs Patten’s we would unload our rock pool finds onto a little table in the bay window, leave a slug trail of silvery sand from our shoes on the bare lino and whimper as mum rubbed Ponds cold cream onto our hot, sore sunburnt shoulders – no-one mentioned Factor 30 in those days.

High tea was nearly always a salad; cooked ham, boiled egg, tomato, lettuce with or without additional wildlife, spring onions, cucumber and radish (“not for me Kath”, Dad’s daily reminder to mum as though a twenty-four hour interval would wipe her memory clean of his not inconsiderable number of “won’t eats”) and salad cream – Heinz of course. All this was washed down with hot strong tea and followed up with jelly or anaemic blancmange.

Bed time was early and sleep was sweet and deep except the night I fell out of bed and for some reason couldn’t find my way back – so set up a huge howling until mum came to pick me up, give me a cuddle and tuck me in again – I was only five at the time.

As I recall them those holidays in Filey were always swathed in sunshine but I’m sure that’s a memory filter at work. Even when the era of package holidays arrived and, en famille (except for my brother who was far too old and superior for such things) we ventured to Ibiza arriving via mainland Spain in a tatty little plane held together with rubber bands we never completely abandoned Filey – it became our day trip and weekend destination of choice.