I used to read in the cupboard under the stairs where my mother had a lot of True Romance magazines
I came to live in Wallsend in June 1951. In Christmas 1951 I received a book from an aunt, The Boys World, a collection of work by 30 writers. There were sections on sport, science, nature, travel and stamp collecting; all the things I was into. There was also a chapter on ‘your libraries’; one of my early influences. I still have the book and although it’s very dated, it’s one I wouldn’t want to part with.
About the same time, I bought the Pictorial Encyclopedia with the book token I won in the Wallsend News Painting Competition. Again it is very dated, but I read it avidly and learned a great deal. One of the sections that influenced me was on mathematics. One thing I learned, which I’ve never seen anywhere else, is how to work out square roots, without tables and without calculators.
Again in the early fifties, I got into the I Spy books. The I Spy club started off in the Daily Mail in the late 40s. It was taken over by the News Chronicle until 1960, when it went back to Daily Mail. There were books about butterflies and moths, farms and the seaside. These are all collectors’ items now and some sell for £5 or £6 each. They got me interested in all sorts of topics and I still know how to distinguish Grenadiers and Scots Guards by the arrangement of their buttons.
Every week in the News Chronicle there was a message, a code for things to look out for. I still have my original code book with the I Spy promise, my name and membership number 66154. I’ve also got my sister’s code book. There were competitions every week to get certificates and I have two certificates, certifying that I am a tribal sleuth and a code expert!
In the 1950s, there was a newsagent called Hampson down the High Street in Wallsend. I used to pass it every day on my way to school and one day I looked in the window and saw issues 3 and 4 of a magazine called School Cap. Of course I wanted issues 1 and 2, so the following Saturday my friend and I went round all the newsagents in Newcastle. We managed to get hold of number 2 quite easily and eventually, in the little kiosk opposite Central Station, we each got a copy of issue number 1. We were delighted, but after all that effort the publication ceased after number 10.
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In the 40s and early 50s, I remember the Arthur Mee Encyclopedia. It was a fantastic set of books for children that was designed for children, but didn’t talk down to children. My little brother was seven years younger than me and my other brother was two and a half years younger and we’d sit in the big bed at night during the war, reading. We had a book each and we’d set a competition to pick the best picture and that sort of thing. It’s amazing how children absorb visual information. I found the art section fascinating and it was amazing how much I remembered, right through school.
The Arthur Mee Encyclopedia was in a lot of households where there were children. My mother just bought the books, not the case, but I remember a woman down the street bought the case and the children weren’t allowed to touch it – poor souls.
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When I was four, my grandmother on my father’s side bought me two books. They were beautifully inscribed hardbacks, published by George Newans in the 1930s. They were both quite thick and I’ve still got them. One was called Everything Within, the other is The Golden Treasury. They cover everything from Greek Mythology, to household tips, to etiquette. It is amazing how over my life I’ve dipped into those books.
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I’m very fond of Peter Rabbit, Tom Kitten, Now We Are Six and When We Were Very Young, because for me they are my childhood and I read them to my children as well. I have totally lovely memories of sitting by the fire, warm and cosy, reading them over and over again. I was read these stories as a child but goodness knows what happened to the copies, as my mother was a great one for throwing things out. I bought my copies in 1975 and we treasure them still.
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We didn’t have many books as a child because we were a big family, so we were dependent on what other people gave us. We all read a lot, sometimes we had a magazine and we all read it. In the 1950s we’d read anything, anything that people had was passed around. We didn’t really have books as such, except at Christmas when you got your annuals. I remember books coming at the start of the 1960s, when the mobile library came and you could choose one book.
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I used to read in the cupboard under the stairs and my mother had a lot of True Romance magazines, which someone had sent her from America. I was about eight I suppose and I used to sit in the cupboard and read these True Romance magazines. I had no idea what half the words meant, like ‘jilted’ – I just thought it was wonderful. They were full of advertisements for things I didn’t know existed. Then my mother discovered I was reading them and they all disappeared.