My life between pages
There are several habits, rituals and substances we acquire throughout our lives, some of which are risky. Others are less risky; some take up square metres shelf space or need a few circuits around the block (and beg for treats every so often).
Back in the 1980s, the fellow who played George Mole in The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 and The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole (Stephen Moore), eulogised the joys of a fantastic double act in 1983. Not Little and Large, but The Pint and Castella (to be brutally honest, the pint any day – anything by Thornbridge Brewery is unimpeachable). Other than that, I prefer The Dog and Bibliophile. In other words, every now and again, a good book with a soppy Jack Russell Terrier or Labrador Retriever beside you. And a strong mug of Yorkshire Tea (heck, the amount of product placement so far!).
Luckily for me, from an early age, I was encouraged to read. Even though I was unable to understand most of the big words in adult books – at the age of three or thereabouts – I still got great enjoyment. At nursery school, I would read the newspaper used for painting on – purely for the TV listings and the horoscopes. From an early age, I had a head start on my peers in being able to understand bus and rail timetables.
Then I fell in love with the Helvetica, Motter Ombra and ITC Zipper typefaces used by Greater Manchester Transport. The buses and their colour scheme would follow suit, thanks to the 343 and 400 Trans-Lancs Express services in my formative years.
Even so, understanding the text rather than digesting the facts was still an issue with myself till the late-1980s (thanks to everyone at the late great Ewing School in West Didsbury). Processing visual information was easier – I often began the illustration in my exercise books before writing about the required subject. Today, as a poet, I seldom have enough room in my books to add a suitable illustration – unlike the Ewing era where even the most mundane of stories in the ‘News’ book would be supported by my (advanced for a seven year old) illustrative work.
Sometime before joining The Ewing School, there was one literary canon that had a profound affect on me. I was wooed by the illustrations, though before then, the dulcet tones of Ringo Starr helped a lot.
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Formative Years (1979 – 1986):
The Railway Series (Reverend Wilbert Awdry, 1948 – 1972):
The amount of television I watched in my formative years would shame many a child psychologist today. What might have impressed them was my early recognition of TV idents and a fondness for typefaces again (thanks go to Messrs John Tribe and Martin Lambie-Nairn, Letraset and the Quantel Paintbox this time). However, there was one programme on Children’s ITV which probably triggered my love of books back then. It was Britt Allcroft’s adaptation of Reverend Wilbert Awdry’s stories.
Stage left, platform 1 to York: the railway legend that is Thomas The Tank Engine, and the start of many a Day Out With Thomas events at preserved railway lines up and down the country.
I loved the adaptations – especially the Ringo Starr voiced episodes, and would lovingly watch them again (yes, I know I’m 34 years of age, but nothing beats the sight of any model railway in action – ask Jon Snow). Then I saw the dead tree version which inspired the TV series.
Loved every page. Every inch of William Middleton’s and C. Reginald Dalby’s illustrations. Plus I was able to relate to the references from the TV series and the transport theme. The timing of the TV adaptation couldn’t have been better as I was starting to gain what is now a lifelong interest in all things public transport related. If you want further proof, there’s the rest of this blog of course!
The Greater Manchester Transport Album (Michael Stokes, 1984):
Though I loved The Railway Series stories, there was only one book which had a greater influence on me than the Reverend Wilbert Awdry’s works. A chance encounter in Dukinfield Library was the result of this tome passing into my hands.
In March 1986, on my Dad’s library ticket, I spent the best part of four weeks indulging in Michael Stokes’ masterwork. For me, the multiplicity of non-standard buses inherited by SELNEC interested me greatly. Unfortunately for me at the time, I had more first hand experience with the GMT Standards that I adore today. I was more fascinated by the final chapter of the book which had the post-1974 buses, like the Volvo Ailsas, the Foden NC and the then new – at publication (1984) – Leyland Olympian.
Therefore, every odd bit of paper would be littered by M-blems and GMT vehicles. On assessment at Ewing School (which coincided with my Dad’s loan period of Michael Stokes’ book), they were amazed at my attempt to reproduce a former Stockport Corporation Leyland PD2. I would later borrow the book myself – as soon as I was considered old enough to leave the children’s library – in April 1989. I am now a proud owner of the above title.
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Childhood and Early Teens (1986 – 1995):
The Guinness Book of British Hit Singles (1978 edition, edited by Tim Rice and Paul Gambaccini):
My accumulation of useless information and interest in radio meant more than a passing interest in the singles chart. Back in 1987, my Dad’s rather battered edition was a source of great interest. Though I was interested in listening to Bruno Brookes doing the countdown on Radio 1, anything released before 1987 was of great interest to me.
At first, it was all to do with The Beatles’ chart positions, record labels and Number One singles. In later years, trying to track down obscurities. Nowadays, I still consult my dead tree edition of the British Hit Singles book (a now battered combined volume with Hit Albums from 2003), if I’m away from a PC or smartphone, or the excellent Discogs website. My first purchased copy, in 1994 with a pink cover, came from the long closed Spencers bookshop on Old Street, Ashton-under-Lyne.
The Complete Nonsense Verse of Edward Lear (Faber and Faber, 1952):
The excellent Jeni Mobbs (another Ewing School link!) introduced me to this work in late 1989. As part of being at The Ewing School, part of the week would be taken up by speech therapy sessions. One thing I enjoyed about her sessions was the more creative side, enjoying humorous poetry. A favourite of ours was ‘On the Ning Nang Nong’ by Spike Milligan, courtesy of a book she borrowed from Didsbury Library (a fantastic building near the tram station).
Another one, was The Complete Nonsense Verse of Edward Lear. Though The Owl and the Pussycat was his most revered work, I loved his more surreal prose and I still do today. It is his work which in later years would lead me to enjoying more surreal comedy. Not only the reruns of Rentaghost on The 8.15 From Manchester, but also the likes of Monty Python, The League of Gentlemen and a certain forgotten LWT comedy from the late 1970s mentioned elsewhere on this blog.
I would later borrow the Edward Lear book from Dukinfield Library, then purchase my own copy in later years.
Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell (1949):
In reality, 1984 would always be known for The Miners’ Strike, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and a totalitarian government orchestrating the break-up of communities and the Labour Movement in the former. Almost the situation Winston Smith was in? Not quite.
Once more, Dukinfield Library was where I first discovered George Orwell’s work in 1993. It set the tone for my more dystopian poems almost 20 years on. For me, it showed how far a globalised economy could go. Today’s Airstrip One could well be London Heathrow Airport.
The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell (1937):
The second George Orwell book I read came from the same source. I liked how he detailed his observations of the poor conditions affected by Northerners in the mid-1930s and was shocked in equal measure. From there, I had gained a rudimentary idea of the north-south divide, and soon realised how London’s economy gained its wealth at the expense of the rest of the United Kingdom.
At that time, I also changed my political viewpoint. For about two minutes in 1992, I was happy with the Conservative cause (right, that’s 84 ‘Hail Marys’ in full view of Father Strange). That was in spite of being upset at the Police’s action in the Miners’ Strike when I was five years old. Then came the spectre of the SATs, already adding to the bureaucracy of the National Curriculum and the split of GM Buses which saw yours truly become the slightly irritable left-winger he is today.
The Non League Club Directory (edited by Tony Williams, 1990 edition):
On the left hand side of The Wheatsheaf on Birch Lane, there used to be some spare ground, which held car boot sales. Before West Pennine Housing Association built houses on the site, I had purchased many a perceived treasure from The Besom’s car boot sales. One of which was Tony Williams’ Non League Club Directory which I purchased in 1994.
At the time, I started watching The Mighty Stalybridge Celtic and taking an interest in the local non-league scene. On returning home, I was amazed at the amount of football which took place outside the 92 League clubs. I knew about The Hyde and District Sunday League, but I was introduced to the joys of the Essex Senior League, County Cup competitions, and teams like Colne Dynamoes, Abergavenny Thursdays and Old Malvernians.
Not long after, the allure of Sky Sports started to wear thin in my eyes. I then wanted to see more obscure sides and visit little heard of football grounds, not only The Mighty Stalybridge Celtic’s fixtures.
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Late Teens and Adulthood (1995 – to date):
The Football League Grounds of Great Britain (Simon Inglis, 1995):
Though I was more wedded to the non-league cause, I was still intrigued by the history of the UK’s League sides’ football grounds. I asked for it as a Christmas present and ordered the book from Spencers (the principle of supporting the local shop over the then new John Menzies in The Arcades).
More to do with the publication date, my copy didn’t arrive till April 1996. Was it worth the wait? Wholeheartedly so, being as delays were prompted by the amount of new stadia that had had opened since the previous edition (1987). I would later purchase an ex-libris 1987 edition, as the chapter on different types of stands and sight lines were omitted from the 1996 edition. Even so, still one of my favourite sports books.
Greater Manchester Buses (Stewart J. Brown, 1995):
I had had ogled the above title since 1995, but never got around to purchasing it till 1999. At £19.99 (quite a chunk out of the New Deal allowance I was on from Groundwork Tameside at the time), I purchased the title from a long closed model shop opposite Ashton Central Library. Suffice to say, I considered that as the best £20 note spent (until I bought Donna Williams’ Everyday Heaven straight from her publisher in 2005).
My reason: it is considered by myself, and fellow SELNEC/GMT/GM Buses enthusiasts as ‘the bible’, owing to its accuracy and other nuances often missed in transport books. Without a doubt, also my all time favourite bus book. Bar none, though The Manchester Bus comes very close. Off the amount of times I’ve read that book, the dust jacket is starting to wear out a little.
Nobody Nowhere: The Autobiography of an Autistic Girl (Donna Williams, 1992 and 1998):
In the autumn of 2002, I had had previously read Tony Attwood’s treatise on Asperger Syndrome (Asperger Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Professionals, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 1998). After that, I had a greater idea as to – in the words of David Byrne – ‘how I got there’.
The one book which more or less confirmed this was Donna Williams’ best-selling autobiography. At first I requested a copy from Denton library via Ashton Central Library, but almost as soon as they tried to reserve it, I found the hardback version on a shelf nearest today’s Local Studies Library entrance. I read the book in a week and more or less identified myself with some aspects of her life.
In later years, I would have my own copies of the above title (yes, copies – one was intended to be a future Christmas present, the other from a secondhand bookshop in Stalybridge) and subsequent instalments of her autobiographical and technical works. By 2005, I would get to see Donna herself and carve a niche as a public speaker shortly afterwards.
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The Neverending Story…
As detailed above, my most influential favourite books came from public libraries. Thank the world for these fine institutions and long may they continue.
Today, it is possible to purchase the above titles in electronic form, using a digital tablet of some description. But, an electronic version of your favoured books doesn’t quite have the same sense of ownership as a ‘dead tree’ version. If the batteries run out, or you’ve decided to upgrade, how much time would you spend transferring your digital tomes across to your new device.
Proper ‘dead tree’ books have a major advantage: no batteries required. Another one is the tactile feel and the smell a real book has compared with a digital counterpart (the same also true in the vinyl vs. CD and MP3 or film vs. digital photography debates). If they get wet, buy a new copy. If your digital tablet gets wet… oops, you’ve probably lost the lot. Not only your favoured tomes, but also the latest casual gaming titles or links to countless cat pictures and the like.
Support digital titles by all means, but – personally – I prefer the joys of reading a proper book. Ideally from an independent bookshop. The Jack Russell Terrier and mug of Yorkshire Tea are desirable though not essential.
S.V., 06 March 2014.