Lisa Reiter’s latest prompt is Holiday Reads. It’s a difficult prompt if only because of the number of holidays someone of my age has been fortunate enough to undertake and the amount of reading material that has accompanied me. For those not yet familiar with Lisa’s rules this problem can be ameliorated by use of ten ‘I remembers…’ rather than a 150 word memoire. But even with this flexibility so many books, magazines, comics, poems, books on tape and CDs bubble up to the surface.
It’s been a journey, that’s for sure. After all I learned to read on holiday. Not in the technical sense of understanding the way letters formed words on the page; I suspect Mum taught me well before I can recall the process. That is only a small part of learning to read, you see.
Real learning, like real education, is not about mechanics. This was brought to my mind by a post by Norah Colvin. Norah’s post is about preparing children through appropriate education (I hope I’ve done it justice). I was given the tools but that didn’t open my mind to the possibilities reading offered. Oddly, given the underlying enmity I had for the Archaeologist in my early years (as I sought to find a place where I could be better than him), it was his efforts that pushed the door ajar.
The Archaeologist and I were sent to our Gran’s for the Easter holidays during the back end of the 1960s. It gave our parents a break; we loved it too, because after breakfast we were sent out and given the run of Herne Bay, a seaside resort on the north Kent coast. We would have been 8 and 9 I’d guess. Mostly it was fun but one black spot was the daily trip to the library for the Archaeologist to find a new book or two. Jane Austen or Conan Doyle. I moaned, obviously to good effect because he worked hard to find something to shut me up. Finally it worked; nether of us can remember the title or the author after so many years but we do recall the Happenings that formed a central part to each story. From there, all I needed was a genre of my own…
I remember holidays with my parents always involved second hand book shops: history for Mum, natural history for Dad, anything weird or obscure for the Archaeologist and, finally, sport for me. I’d sit on a dusty floor, with the sun straining through the dirty windows, pulling Neville Cardus and Alan Ross off the shelves and, with them, I visited Barbados and Karachi, Colombo and Melbourne.
I remember saving up seven shillings and six pence from my weekly pocket money, forswearing sweets and comics, to buy Tintin and the Crab with the Golden Claws from a book shop in Canterbury. It made the annual visit to the Cathedral almost bearable for once.
I remember walking round Jersey with the Textiliste in 1980. We bought ‘Jersey under the Jackboot’, the story of Jersey during the German occupation in WW2. It was the first time I’d read about where I was holidaying while I was there and it was uniformly gloomy. I’ve not done that again (well apart for Bryson’s ‘Down Under’. Now if you don’t understand cricket or why I love it, especially when broadcast on the radio, try Bryson’s take. I couldn’t explain it better myself).
I remember driving around Wyoming and Montana with the family in the late 1990s. We left a week after the latest Harry Potter came out. While I read a chapter or two each evening (and a couple more each morning) we played the audiotape of the previous book on the car stereo (the new one took several weeks to be transcribed to tape). It was bliss, Stephen Fry voicing all the characters. Then in Jackson we found the latest HP on audiobook. We couldn’t believe it – how had this happened? We paid a ridiculous price to buy it; we could barely supress our excitement as we pressed it into the machine. Imagine our horror when we found the American version had been voiced by Jim Dale. It was like expecting Nat King Cole and getting Tiny Tim.
I remember a three week break in Southern Africa during which I read ten books, including Gone with the Wind. I felt so chuffed, but mostly it was about quantity. Apart from GWTW, well frankly I just couldn’t give a damn.
I remember sitting under an umbrella on a white sandy beach in Barbados and the Textiliste asking, rather pointedly, if I was planning on reading pulp the whole holiday. While I was a little miffed I did vow to include something a little more improving in my diet – and discovered that I really enjoyed Dickens and Trollope and Collins and the behemoths of the Victorian age in a way I hadn’t as a teen and twenty something. I still enjoy pulp, though.
I remember reading Bill Bryson’s ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ on yet another trip to the States (this is beginning to feel like a travelogue). Brilliant. For the first time in my life I understood quantum physics. Neutrons and neutrinos, quark and quirky dead and alive cats, they all made sense. I told the Textiliste. ‘Tell me,’ she said. I couldn’t. I’ve tried several times to bend my brain around the sub-microscopic world and failed every time. It goes in; I know I get it when I’m actually reading it but, unlike sand from beach, the grains never stick.
I remember leaving Patricia Cornwall on a plane, dropping Stieg Larsson in a pool (I should have left him there), using the denouement to a Peter Wimsey as an emergency toilet roll in South Africa, and failing to finish Northanger Abbey while trapped in a Cumbrian cottage one wet October half term before we had to leave without it. I still haven’t finished it (does it end well, anyone?)