The Three R’s from 1910 to 2011
My father was born in 1909 and privately educated until the school leaving age of fourteen. He had a natural grasp of mathematics and could solve very complicated sums without recourse to pen and paper. He enjoyed reading newspapers, was captivated by cinema, particularly cowboy films. And I remember him reading cowboy books and thrillers. However he was never a hands on Dad who read stories to me.
My maternal grandfather, who lived with us as well as my grandmother, who lived with us after their house was bombed during the Second World War, was the one who read most to me. I remember sitting on his lap enjoying my favourite children’s magazine, Enid Blyton’s Sunny Stories. As soon as I could read I delved into her many children’s books such as The Far Away Tree and The Wishing Chair, which my own children enjoy. Later I enjoyed her adventure series The Famous Five and her stories set in boarding schools. Now, I am able to search for them on Kindle and share them with my grandchildren
Many years ago, my mother, Lucy, and grandfather stood on Highgate Hill near the stone in memory of Dick Whittington, Lord Mayor of London. He held her hand and told her flying machines would never amount to anything. Towards the end of her life, Lucy, who was born in 1910 and left her body in 2010, commented on the amazing technology developed in her lifetime and wondered how it will advance in the future.
Recently, my grandson asked me what life was like when his great-grandmother was a little girl. ‘You have to be kidding me,’ he said after I told him her older brother listened to the wireless by manipulating a crystal and a length of cat gut. (Apologies to cat lovers but that is what he did.)
My grandson can no more imagine a world without television, dvds, sat navs, computers and internet than my grandfather could imagine international flights. My grandson studies computer technology at school, and has his own password. He also depends on google and composing his work on the computer for his homework. His great grandmother attended her local elementary school in Holloway, London, England.
A year before Lucy’s birth, her baby sister, Kitty rolled off the bed and broke her neck. It is understandable that after Lucy nearly died of pneumonia my grandmother molly-coddled her. The slightest illness meant Lucy missed school. As a result her spelling suffered and there were gaps in her general knowledge. However, she loved reading and always looked forward to the children’s annual in her stocking at Christmas.
The daughter of late Victorians with their fascination with death, Lucy’s favourite book, when she was a small girl, was Ferdie’s Little Brother. So far as I know Little Brother was an unbelievably angelic child. When he died after a long illness, Lucy enjoyed weeping buckets.
We all have our favourite childhood stories. My daughter never tired of Dr Seuss’s Are You My Mother and I agonised over the orphan Heidi, and the heroine of The Wide Wide World in which the child, whose mother is approaching death, is sent to live on a farm with a harsh aunt. Such stories taught me that life is not always a bowl of cherries but did me no harm. (In fact I am sure they did me less harm than a lot of the modern television cartoons do to modern day children.) And Ferdie’s Little Brother did not harm Lucy.
Lucy used to read either the Penny Plain or the Twopence Coloured children’s magazines and, as a teenager, enjoyed a magazine called Peg’s Paper. My grandfather, who enjoyed reading the classics, asked her what she got out of it. Years later, my mother asked me what I got out of women’s magazines and told me Grandfather would have disapproved. By then she preferred to read Dickens and in later life enjoyed biographies, thrillers and amongst many others Jeffrey Archer’s novels. Unlike me she had no interest in either fantasy or historical fiction, something I could not understand. We were as different as ‘chalk and cheese’ but dearly loved each other.
In spite of her poor school attendance little Lucy, who was always hungry and ate the carrot intended for a still life art class on the way to school, received a basic education before she left school when she was fourteen. However, throughout her life Lucy regretted the gaps in her education, blamed her mother for allowing her to miss so many days at school, and was determined that I should receive the best possible education.
I attended private primary schools and passed the scholarship examination to grammar school where I enjoyed English Language, English Literature, History, Geography and Religious Studies – subjects that have interested me all my life. However, I was hopeless at Mathematics, which annoyed my father, disliked Physics and Chemistry and was revolted by Biology when I was expected to dissect a frog.
My greatest love has always been reading, closely followed by organic gardening and knitting and sewing. At the age of ten or eleven I enjoyed children’s historical novels – Geoffrey Trease and Jeffrey Farnol were two of my favourite authors. At school I studied the classics with enthusiasm and branched out on my own. I remember an English Literature class when the teacher asked each of us what we had been reading. I said I was reading Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbevilles and was deeply insulted when the teacher accused me of lying, doubtless because she thought I was too young to read it. However, although I did not understand all the adult material in the novel, I enjoyed the prose and emotion and wept buckets over Tess’s tragic fate.
Since earliest childhood I have read widely and made up stories. I still enjoy reading for pleasure and for researching my historical novels. Computer technology changed my method of writing and Kindle, which I embraced with delight, will transform some of my reading. It is very convenient to carry a small device on which so much reading material is stored. No longer will I go on holiday with a dozen books and a small stack of magazines taking up my baggage allowance.
Not only does Kindle have many advantages, I am looking forward to my novels being published on it and know my lovely mother would have been delighted for me.
Tangled Love set in England during Queen Anne’s reign, (1702 -1714). 27.01.2012
Sunday’s Child set in England in the Regency period. 06.01.2012