Friday, 19 February 2010


Two women have propelled me to write this post; the lovely Emma, who I met at a girl's night out at the Old Manor Inn in Weston last night, and Nickie, my brilliant and talented twitter/blogger friend.  Emma paid me a much appreciated and wonderful compliment, saying that she'd been reading my blogs for a while now and really enjoyed them: every writer loves such a reaction - it's inspiring, so thanks endlessly to you, Emma.  And then that Nickie bird has tagged me again in her meme Childhood Memories that Make Me Smile - it's a brilliantly uplifting post that will have you pining for Play Away and Buck's Fizz. Please take a look!

I'm rubbish at honouring my memes but I won't let this one go, so here's my all-time favourite childhood memory:

I had a happy and fun childhood, spent in Central London until we moved to our home under the quarry in Weston in 1981.  I grew up on a Peabody Estate in Pimlico until the age of 12, so, besides my brother and 4 boy cousins, I had a ready made community of friends and, indeed, Buck's Fizz rates very highly on my list of special memories too. We used to make up dance routines to such songs as "Making your Mind Up" in the safe haven of our playground that was overlooked by the low rise London Red Brick flats, skirted by balconies.  Kim Wilde, "Rockafella, Cinderella" and "The Hucklebuck" were also on our list. The dance troupe usually consisted of my brother, John, and our mates Mandy and Frank: we were awesome!  We also had a first-rate youth club in the basement of Malcolmson House, open every evening for a 5p sub and run by the inspiring and tireless Pat.  We loved Colin Bizzell (a cousin in my Mum's huge family) and the tuck shop lady, the ancient (to us), Winnie.

I was a sociable girl but I liked nothing better than to read and I sat with books from the time I could hold them. They transported me to another place, as books should, and opened my mind. Mum took us to the bookshop in Victoria Street every single Friday after school and I think I devoured just about every Enid Blyton book that she every wrote.  I adored reading about boarding schools so much that I wanted to go to one (I never did, thankfully).  Mum says that, unlike my fiery, fiesty, sometimes uncontrolably physical Celeste, I was an insular child and only wanted to read, that she rarely heard a peep out of me, so busy was I sitting in my bedroom, reading all about Mallory Towers or Naughty Amelia Jane.  And then there was Harriet the Spy and Tove Jansen's perfect 'Moomins' series of books.  Sigh ...

Little did I know then that I was preparing myself for a lifetime of study, for years of consulting archives in different cities and towns, foreign countries, where I have poured over old letters, dusty newspapers, microfiches and government reports.  The experience of touching and smelling hand-written letters by Mr Tate of Tate and Lyle to the Cuban Government will stay with me forever - being a Pimlico Girl, Tate Britain is also one of my treasured childhood (and adult) memories.  I guess I'm just an Old Romantic and thank God for it because it compliments my very practical, scientific mind.

The one book that still sends ripples of excitment up and down my 40 year old spine is a belter by Catherine Storr, Marianne Dreams, and my Rosebud Moment must belong to this delciously dark book.

Marianne has a childhood illness and is bed-bound.  Her home tutor tells her all about a boy she also teaches called Mark, whom our herione has never met but whom she constantly thinks about.  She draws a house and then starts to dream about it. She draws a figure, staring out from the window and, at night-time, in her dream world, the figure becomes that little boy she doesn't know, who is trapped in the house, which in real life he is, unable to walk. On awakening she draws some stairs, thinking this might help him and, with every brush of her pencil, Marianne's dreams become more lucid and sinister.  These kids just have to get well but they also must help themselves, noone else can do it for them. 

I nearly wet myself a few years ago in Oxfam, Southend-on-Sea, when I came across My Book for a few pennies and read it again, understanding the deeper meanings of this masterpiece, as you do in adulthood (I think I must have been about 10 years old the first time around).  I passed it on to the daughter of a friend so I no longer own a copy. Today, I ordered it from Amazon along with a film based on the book, Paperhouse, which I didn't know existed. I am wishing the days away now, eager to open my little, pleasure-giving parcel that Ian, my postman, will bring.

I must now have a little cry so excuse me ...


  1. I've never heard of it before but really want to read it now. some of the most vivid memories of my childhood are about the books I read.

  2. What a lovely blog post. I'm really enjoying these "memory" ones.

    I used to love the Enid Blyton books (still do but I've read more about the author now!! - have you heard/read the Joyce Grenfell monologue about her?) and still have a couple of her books dotted around the house. I *was* Darryl Rivers in my own little fantasy world.

    I have two "books of childhood" - 'Maggie And The Roundabout' and 'Children Of The Dust'. I have the original Maggie book here on my shelf and I sought out a new copy of COTD from Amazon a few years back.

    Finally - your studying sounds wonderful - what was it for? Was it work or Phd related?

    PS. Don't forget to leave a link to this blog post on the Mcklinky at the end of my original one :)

  3. I can't find the link I used to have but I have the text saved...


    The scene takes place in the book department of a large store, where an author has been autographing copies; and now she is going to talk to her young readers)

    Hullo, boys and girls.
    I was so pleased when you asked me to come along and tell you how I write my books for children.
    Well, of course, the answer is - I don't. No, my books write themselves for me.
    I think we are all Little Ones at hears, aren't we, grown-us?
    Yes, even the Growly Bear Daddys at the back!
    And I don't believe I have ever grown up, and I think perhaps that's my secret. That, and the fact that kiddies come first with me.
    Well, as you know, children, I write lots and lots of books for you and this is how I set about it.
    First of all I go upstairs to my Hidey-Hole - well, this is really just a great big upstairs work-room but I like to call it my Hidey-Hole.
    I pin a notice on th edoor and it says "Gone To Make-Believe Land". This is just my way of saying, "Please don't come and bother me, because a book is writing itself for me and we mustn't disturb it, must we?"
    Then I put a clean white sheet of paper in my typewriter, and I sit down in front of it, and I close my eyes.
    And what do I see?
    I see a rambling old house in Cornwall.
    And I hear seaguls - and I see children - one - two - three children - scrambling up the cliffs, because they are very nearly late for tea.
    And their names are Jennifer-Ann, and Robin-John, and the little one is called Midge - because he is the littlest one.
    Oh yes, he has a proper name. It's Anthony Timothy Jeremy Michael, and he doesn't like porridge - but we won't tell anyone, will we?
    And I sit there, and I type and type, and as I do so I learn all about Jennifer-Ann's unruly mob of red curls, and her way with hedgehogs.
    And about Robin-John, who is more of a fish that he is of a boy - you should see him dive from the top diving-board.
    And all about their father - kindly, over-worked, sunburned, twinkling Dr Merryweather.
    Then all of a sudden it's dinner-time, and I rub my eyes and I find myself back in my Hidey-Hole - and look! - a great pile of typed pages on the table beside me.
    They must have written themselves while the story told itself to me.
    And so i go on till a book is made.
    And then I start another one.
    This time it's a rambling old houe in Yorkshire, and I hear sheep-bells, and I see children - three children - and their names are Sara-Mary, Jonathan-Christopher, and the little one is called Tiddler - because he is the littlest on.
    It's always the same with me.
    No, I never rewirte, and I never read what I hve written.
    But you children do, millions and millions of you children do, and that is my great joy.
    And it is my husband's great joy, too.
    He has given up his work to encourage me in mine.
    We have made Hidey-Holes for each of our five children so that they, too, may learn to let books write themsleves for them.
    And my husband has his own Hidey-Hole - where he adds up.
    Well, I think it is time I got back to my Hidey-Hole, don't you?

  4. Thanks for posting this link Nickie. She sounds as though she was away with the fairies and I like her even more for it (even if I am a touch envious of the ease with which she wrote books. And she never read them back?!!! Blimey).

  5. Sorry - probably didn't explain properly - that ^^ is Joyce Grenfell's take on Enid Blyton - but, by all accounts it's very close to the truth, as in Enid bragged that she never re-read her work - just typed it up and sent it to the publisher. Enid wanted a divorce from her husband but he had to agree to be the "one to blame" on the papers as she had a reputation to uphold. In fact, she was the one having the affair - with a man called Darryl Waters (sound familiar?).