Saturday, May 8, 2010


Sleeping in my old bedroom means not just sleeping on a very uncomfortable bed, but with my old books (and yes, I know, I could have played around with the perspective function in Photoshop, but I'm off to catch a bus to the Unwi-fied Oxford Apartment, and need to post...). A shelf of Puffins - that whimsical junior offshoot of Penguins, and altogether a rounder and more cuddly sort of bird - mostly bought with 2/6d - or even 5/- (yes, that's how one used to write five shillings, pre-decimal coinage) book tokens or postal orders given at birthdays, or maybe saved up for, in my money box (or rather, globe shaped tin, with the world printed on it - doubtless manufactured as an early incitement to global capitalism among the young). Since I read these over and over again, I still feel as though I know Ballet Shoes, or The Railway Children, or Fell Farm Campers off by heart, and opening them takes me straight back to being seven or eight. Then there's a row of books that I had when I was yet younger - Beatrix Potter, and Alison Uttley. Taking one of these out at random - Little Grey Rabbit and the Weasels (1947), I find a strange tale of sexism and patriotism: it's o.k. to offer up domestic labor voluntarily, to look after Squirrel and Hare at home - but when kidnapped by weasels (a thinly disguised threat of predatory gipsies) - this is (explicitly) slave labor as LGB washes, and irons, and sings. Sings - among other things, "Rule Britannia." As Wise Owl - who rescues her - reminds her, at the end, indeed, Britons never, never, never

And then there's the row of Arthur Ransome, from which I took all kinds of fesity role models (ignoring Susan and Titty, however. Were girl children in the 1930s, presumably christened Letitia, really called Titty? it seems like a liability...), and then another row of solid children's classics, in hardback - and therefore probably Christmas presents to me in their own right: the Borrowers books; Bedknob and Broomstick - good on witches - and Winnie the Pooh - my mother's copies, and then my own bright green The House at Pooh Corner, which I remember reading in the back of the car in North Wales, on vacation, when I was about three. So - reading on the bus today (Jean Hanff Korelitz's Admission, which is a peculiarly compelling novel set with a background of the Princeton admissions system - social realism with a scary vengeance) will mean that I've been reading while in motion for over fifty years. No wonder I don't get travel sick.

As for continuity and rupture over 50 years...a bright green parrokeet has just flown past the window - just like LA. Most surreal.

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