Wednesday, 1 June 2011

To long lost friends - gone but not forgotten.

The happiest day of my life was when I was nine years old, 78 years ago.   This still remains the happiest  day  of my  life despite my many blessings since.   I was the fourth child of a family of five.  In those far-off days toys and children’s books were very thin on the ground, particularly in a family like ours,  and being the fourth child, when a book  finally reached me it was in a dog-eared state and much too old in every respect including the reading matter.   At school on Friday afternoons we were allowed to take a book of our own – quite impossible for me so I had to share with a more fortunate school friend.   This did not go unnoticed by a wonderful teacher who suggested  that  I join the Children’s section at the Central Library in Nottingham.  Without more ado, after school that day, I made my own way to the Library situated in a beautiful Gothic building, now a part of  Nottingham Trent University and mercifully still standing.       
My first library.
I was met and scrutinized by a forbidding lady in a dark green overall,  the Librarian’s uniform in those days.   I was eventually handed a card for completion by my Father who had to be a ratepayer.   No problem there as Dad signed it without question.   I existed in a fever of impatience until the Monday, when once again after school  I  took the completed card back to the Library.   I handed the card to another forbidding lady, who, after looking down her nose,  carefully read every word on the card which she must have known by sight anyway.   Eventually, I was told to come back in two weeks’ time.   I made fourteen marks in my school jotter and ticked them off one at a time each day.   When the magic day arrived I ran all the way from school only to be told that I had to have my hands examined for compulsory cleanliness.   I held them out in fear and trembling and after what seemed like an age, the lady smiled for the first time and said “you may choose a book”.   Words cannot possibly describe my wonder when I was led behind the counter into the wonderful world of books one of which I could borrow.   After much anguish I chose one of the Chalet School stories – they will be well remembered by the older ladies in our community.    I walked home with my head in the clouds and my nose buried in the book, stopping only to cross the roads leading to my house.  The world in which I found myself was as far removed from my own as was possible.   I was living as a rich schoolgirl in a boarding school in the Swiss mountains with midnight feasts etc. etc.   I read on average a book each day, not always to my Mother’s liking and when I failed to set the table or do some other household task to which I’d been allotted, the book would be confiscated temporarily.   I soon learnt!!

As I grew older I graduated of course to other authors with my enthusiasm and enjoyment growing with me.     Charles Dickens made a tremendous impression, followed by J.B.Priestley and Norman Collins with their wonderful characterisations.   I could, and still can, identify with each character.

Failing eyesight with old age was no real problem as I entered the world of talking books – another example of a blessing in disguise.   The Library supplies all of my needs in this direction.   I’m  also a member of the local branch of The Dickens Fellowship and  a member of an outstanding independent library in the centre of Nottingham – Bromley House.     I’ve been successful in obtaining an unabridged reading of Priestley’s “ Angel Pavement”.   There are 22 tapes in all, beautifully read by Anthony Homyer.      I can pick any one of those tapes and be immediately transported to a dingy office in Angel Pavement or accompanying any one of the staff to their respective homes.   Having worked in this environment myself,  I’m astonished at the accuracy of the background.   No computers of course in those days – just ledgers, day books, journals, cash books etc, all of which were Mr.Smeeth’s pride and joy. 

Would someone please
 make a "talking book" of
 this wonderful story.
A huge disappointment to me is the absence of any of Norman Collins’ works in audio.   “London Belongs to Me” would be a masterpiece.   I’ve read the printed word over and over again and never tire of it.   The characters are so fascinating and believable.   Mr.Josser is another Mr.Smeeth with whom I feel so much empathy, not forgetting the tenants of 10 Dulcimer Street,  Connie Coke, Mr.Squales  the Medium,, Percy and Mrs.Boon,  Mr.Puddy  and of course Mrs.Vizzard  the strict landlady and owner of the house.

This walk down Memory Lane has convinced me that Blessings in Disguise are much more fruitful and lasting than the quick-fixes  in demand today.   To have to wait for something, whatever it might be, is infinitely more rewarding when it arrives.  


  1. Betty,
    As we discussed this is real social history. Can you imagine children today having their hands checked for cleanliness before handling a library book! And, perhaps it says something too about the quick fix, instantly got and instantly forgotten world that we now inhabit. Keep blogging!

  2. Thank you Tony