In 2004, I gave away my entire library to people
whom I was certain would appreciate the books,
and who, I knew, did not have the means
to acquire copies of their own.
A few remaining volumes that I kept
could be carried easily in both hands.
They would, I thought, be the last books that I would own.
I could never have imagined that – ten years later –
I would find a book that I would never have thought to see
during whatever was left of my lifetime.
Desperately missing the conscientious humanity
amidst whom I was raised,
I never thought that there could be anything
that would allow me to escape:
to so fully ‘return’ to those days
of the early 1960’s –
the gentility of ladies;
the manners of men;
the respect that we as children gave to adults
– but entering one antiquarian bookshop
allowed me to do just that — Escape.
I remember seeing the book as soon
as I turned the corner; a moment when
there seemed to be a delay:
My mind was racing. But time seemed to slow.
I just could not accept what I was seeing.
It was, I suppose, like travelling on the
other side of the world, and turning a corner
to ‘see’ someone that you know from home –
you Know that it can’t possibly be! … But it is !!!
And you need to search for an explanation.
( I remember, on my second day in British Columbia –
seeing a woman I knew from Scotland – standing in a
shopping mall, here on the other side of the world
… where I had only just arrived.
I actually started towards her with a beaming smile
on my face, until Reason tapped loudly
on the inside of my head. )
Then the old brain sets everything in order,
and you realise that it is someone who (incredibly!!! )
looks exactly like the person you know.
I saw the book.
I knew what it was – instantly.
But I just could not ‘take in’ that I was actually seeing
The Exact Same cover … the exact same edition,
after fifty years.
I would have been about five when my grandma
and grandpa would ask to hear me read to them
from the old Bible. I liked to read – but I liked it
a lot more whenever I could make other people
happy just by reading to them.
The first certain memories I have of reading books
are of the (then widely varied) “Ladybird’ books
that I used to receive as birthday presents:
a page of text on one side,
with a wonderful full page drawing on the other.
I had a fair sized library, grouped by subject – and all
lined precisely a ruler width from the edge of the shelf:
The Ladybird Book of … Horses, Stamp Collecting,
British Birds, and, What to Look for in Spring/Summer
/Autumn/Winter – accompanied several dozen other titles
including, of course, David Livingstone – who was a
not too distant relative.
Ned the Lonely Donkey made me cry:
not the book for a child with a tender heart.
But the book that is forever ingrained in my memory –
the one that I read three times in succession –
was Enid Blyton’s “Valley of Adventure”.
The first chapter was absolutely terrifying – and enthralling –
I could not put it down (until my mum appeared at the bedroom
door … “Put that book down and go out and play!”)
It was not merely a story … it WAS an Adventure!
Four children going for an aeroplane ride
with their mother’s friend, Bill …
… being directed to the ‘plane on the tarmac,
climbing on-board, and sitting quietly in the back –
even when Bill returned,
in heated discussion with another man;
only to realise after take-off
that these gruff men were strangers,
and that the children had boarded the wrong plane.
As always, when reading, I immediately put myself
in the character’s place.
I remember making certain that my bedroom door
was wide open … and finally falling asleep with the blankets
held tightly up to my ears.
It was, for me, high excitement.
Now, 50 years later, ALL those memories
came rushing back, and my hands shook a little,
as I looked at the book … stared at it
… and opened the cover:
It had belonged, once, to another little boy, or girl,
who lived a child’s lifetime before I was born;
and who was given this book,
in the very same year that it was released.
Looking down at the book in my hands,
I could suddenly ‘smell’ the heavy woollen blanket
on my bed;
see the sloping roof of my attic bedroom;
and hear the sheep from the field across the road.
In an instant, my life had vanished:
I was six years old once again –
thoroughly lost in this Valley of Adventure.
Finding this book has taken me back to a time
when the postman, the milkman, and the
‘lollipop man’ who saw us safely across the road,
always had a big smile and a friendly wave;
when you felt safe as long as there were people around;
And where one obnoxious little brat –
(once, as we were all walking home from school) –
told a little girl to “go to hell” …
only to have ‘old’ Mrs Johnson (she must have been 40!)
reach over her garden gate,
grab the top of his ear, and tell the malignant creature
to never use language like that again, anywhere near her house
– never releasing her grip on the wretch until he apologised –
to her, and to the little girl.
We learned common sense; self control; manners;
and knew right from wrong,
from the example of the adults around us.
And now, in an instant … this dear old children’s book
brought all those memories back to life –
after all these years.
Then again, I am not so sure that the joy
of those by-gone memories is entirely a good thing:
once the book is closed,
the grim reality of the 21st century still remains.
But for one blissful moment, I was back in my bedroom:
The feeling of excitement … turning the next page
with a euphoria of wonder:
‘What would happen next?’
Such is the power of a well-written book,
upon an industrious human mind.
Now, all these years later, one thing I do know
about this simple children’s book, is that
– every now and again … whenever I want,
I can again lie down on the soft, green moss
In the cave behind the waterfall …
… and peer out safely through the lush curtain
of fern fronds that screen the cave from view,
and hide me from the threat of evil men.
I have the chance to experience – with the same book
in my hand – the thrill, the fear, and the adventure
that I felt in that little attic bedroom,
a lifetime ago.
for me …
is truly wonderful.