Thursday, 1 March 2012

Me and the school library

At primary school I was known (probably also pitied) as the only child who had read every book in the school library (oh yes, my destiny was calling).  Actually it wasn't true, but the headmaster put it on my reference for secondary school and in my final report. I suspect he just wanted to prove that one of his pupils could read.  Education wasn't high on his list of priorities, but we did an awful lot of sport.  Mostly football or running up and down the playground - yelling loudly.  The latter came to an abrupt end when a boy ran so fast (the playground was on a wicked slope -- like Yeovil Town's old pitch)  that he punched his arm through the dining room window and a tourniquet had to be applied by one of the dinner ladies.

Anyway back to the library.  The library consisted of about 300 or 400 books and I vowed I would read everyone of them - goodness knows why - for attention I suspect. 
The books in the school library were largely ancient hardbacks that sat mouldering in a corner waiting for someone to love them.  Lovely 'Little Grey Men' by BB - all about gnomes and nature and, of course,  that seminal work 'The Secret Garden' with fierce Mary Lennox, feeble Colin and Dickon.
There were also lots of school stories, mainly set in girls' boarding schools,  where everyone was called by their surname.  One in particular sticks in my mine, about a family of very plain girls - their faces are described as being like dinner plates -  called Kibble.  At the beginning of the story the Kibbles are just known for being dull and virtuous, but by the end they have saved the school, the true worth of the plain woman is finally appreciated, the glamorous, but unworthy headgirl has been replaced and all is well with the world - 'Hurrah for the Kibbles!'. Sadly complete fantasy - let's face it we plain girls are just not going to get to rule the world.  These books made Mallory Towers (Darrell Rivers - how I loved you and wanted to be your 'bosom chum' - you were the k.d. lang of my pre-teen years) and St Clare's seem very contemporary.  They always wore gymslips which sounded very appealing - I imagine they were something like a floaty nightie  - perhaps made of pale pink or duck egg blue silk with a coffee-coloured trim?  It was a disappointemtn to find they were what we called school pinafores.

Other titles of note included 'The Swish of the Curtain' by Pamela Brown - about some teenagers who start a thetare company - this fueled an acting bug and a book about a girl called Mary who did something with a bible in Wales - can't remember what - but I so wanted to be her (may have been nothing more than a shallow desire to wear one of those red cloaks and a tall black hat).

I loved these books - their very physical nature: heavy and substantial,  thick cream paper  with brown freckles and  covers that would get all gummy when you read them in the bath.  They were good to sniff, musty and a little mouldy, like the smell of green canal water.

A somewhat melancholy link with the past weree the inscriptions inside the books  'To Sylvia, Happy Christmas 1932,  Love Mother and Father' or 'To Bobbity, for being such a good sort, from your pal Ruggles' .  The bookplates recording some child's proudest achievements: books for good conduct, for doing well in algebra, in parsing, in bible studies, for deportment.  Occasionaly you would find some long-forgotten bookmark and feel a fleeting connection with a human being you would never know. Books, lovely books.

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