A CHILDHOOD OF READING WITHOUT BOOKS
A fascination with books, firstly to read, then to collect, was not stimulated initially by school or parents but by almost limitless access to the Public Library in Watford. My parents’ collection of books was contained within the one shell-encrusted bookcase. Three of the four shelves stored about 15 Readers’ Digest unread condensed books, to which was added a Guide to European Wines, and a copy of the Kama Sutra. There was a Dictionary and a rather thin atlas. That was it. The Sex Classic was present so my Father could gurn and wink, but I suspect he never opened it.
My Father read the Daily and Sunday Express. My Mother read them when he was finished with them. Being scrupulous in demanding what was due to him, he had eight tickets for the Public Library, as did my Mother. On many Saturday mornings I could legitimately walk into Watford and return with up to twenty four library books, if I used my own Junior Library eight.
What did I read? The Watford Public Library had large collections of books on Flying Saucers and the further reaches of Egyptology. I read Fannie Craddock’s autobiography and the reminiscences of Stars of Stage and Screen, Bob Hope, Dan Duryea, Richard 'Mr. Pastry' Hearn, Peter the Great, Savonarola and the strong woman who tore up directories, Joan Rhodes.
Owning books was difficult when my small allocation of pocket money went on Woolworth’s cover versions of the Hit Parade. I tried to get a copy of Hugh Trevor Roper’s 'The Last Days of Hitler' for my tenth birthday, but great aunt Betty disapproved and I got a paperback copy of Roget’s Thesaurus instead. I warmed to the replacement present when I found out how the Thesaurus could help my attempts to impress others.
One book I kept with me from early Watford years until after University was a large paper copy of Sir Benjamin Stone’s book of pictures, bought at Carr’s second hand book shop in Queen’s Road.
He could keep this up for the natural length of a conversation with no difficulty and enthrall the customers. As Tod records at the end of his essay, the shop is now a Men’s Outfitters, so often the fate of the Last Bastion of Literacy.