I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t able to read. Like breathing, I’ve always been able to do it. Or so it seems to me.
I was thinking about that today after I spent the whole day reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (review coming soon on the Book Page!) starting at Page 1 and finishing on Page 357. I hardly came up for air.
I did manage, in between chapters, to go to church, eat some lunch and make one of my special Recycled Birthday Banners for young Morgan, the Littlest of the Little Welsh Boys, who
will be one year old in eight days time. (One year old! How did that happen? How did all those days and weeks and months slip by?) Because of the recycled nature of the banner, using letters previously used in other grandchildren’s birthday banners,
I only had to make one new letter (an “O”) which meant I did not have to take my nose out of my book for too long. In no time at all I was back, walking alongside Old Harold on his 627 mile journey from Kingsbridge in Devon to Berwick upon Tweed.
When I was a littl’un, on cold winter evenings, I used to curl up with my latest book behind the settee where I thought nobody could find me. In bed I would strain
my eyes reading in the dim light until the night and the darkness claimed victory over me. “Says she sometimes gets a stomach ache but it goes away when she reads a book,” says the note a doctor recorded in my health notes about my six year
old self. It tells you all you need to know about my relationship with books.
I still remember the book I was allowed to read when I was in the top year
of the Infants School. It was about a little girl who had broken her leg and was confined to bed – but was able to step into her picture books and enjoy the seasons, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter. I can’t remember what the book was called
but every time I sneak into a second hand book shop, I scour the shelves of children’s picture books in the vain hope that one day I shall find it.
second year of Junior School, my favourite teacher, Miss Boyle, gave me a blue bound copy of “The Children of the New Forest.” Inside the front cover she has written “To Jacqueline. For good work. 1955.” The typeface is incredibly
small, compared to that used in children’s books today but I devoured it in less than a week, marvelling over the beautiful pen and ink illustrations and wishing I was one of the Beverley children, forced to deny their privileged upbringing and live
in an isolated cottage deep in the forest. In my imagination, at least, I was Alice, pretending to be Jacob Armitage’s grandchild with brothers Edward and Humphrey and sister Edith. Though I’d have preferred to be Humphrey because, as only
to be expected in a book written in 1847, the boys had SO much more fun...
Fast forward to the summer when I finished my O Levels and I’d like to tell you
that I was faithfully employed doing something useful but I remember I spent every waking hour reading “Gone With The Wind.” I loved the wilfulness of Scarlett O’Hara – a very modern heroine, compared with Alice and Edith. I
desperately wanted things to end differently – though, as Scarlett so memorably remarked, “Tomorrow is another day.”
In my A Level years, I used
to baby-sit for my English teacher and his wife. They didn’t own a television so some would have found the evenings quiet, long and lonely but not me for the walls of every room were crammed with bookshelves, heaving with books. That’s how
I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy – in instalments, waiting desperately for the next request to baby-sit so that I could get back to Middle-earth.
was then and this is now. So many books and, in retirement, for once the luxury of time. There are three piles of books on the floor next to the television set and I can see the titles from where I sit. I read the titles carefully – decisions,
Now that I’ve finished with Harold Fry and his very long walk, where will my own personal Book Journey take me next?