Childhood memories: Passwords and passion

Here, Chris Mutton from SWit’CH (Swinton Writers in t’Critchley House) reflects back on her love for books, comics and reading throughout his childhood and beyond.  

I don’t agree with much that Morrissey says these days but I do agree with him when he states “There’s more to life than books, you know. But not much more”.

My love of books and reading comes from being raised in a home where they were an integral part of family life as they were valued and used. My parents were readers as are my brother and I.

My dad insisted that we read the classics and so I am familiar with such works as Treasure Island, Lorna Doone, Robinson Crusoe and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but by far my favourite author was Enid Blyton.

I remember Brer Rabbit being a favourite and I read all her fairy tales of magic shoes, cats, toys and, of course, fairies and elves – books which stretched my ever-active imagination. I also loved The Milly Molly Mandy series written by Joyce Lankester Brisley. And then I discovered The Famous Five, Secret Seven and Adventure Books.

I have lost count of the number of times I have read Five Run Away Together. As an adult, it’s easy to see the blatant racism and snobbery which is inherent throughout but I was blissfully unaware as a child that I was part of the working class problem where kidnapping and robbery were rife.

I only saw the brave children overcoming all odds whilst camping or bike riding and learned the need for a password for almost every occasion. I loved and envied the picnics – especially the ginger beer, I also wondered about dripping sandwiches which seemed to be the fare of the aforementioned working class.

Bless my mum, she bought me ginger beer – still one of my favourite drinks, made me a dripping butty and she and my father watched with great amusement as I took my first bite and heaved – and so I learned about the disappointments of life and that my beloved dad was not above saying ‘I told you so’.

One of my happiest childhood memories is of being taken to Queen’s Park, by my mum, and sitting under a huge tree to have a picnic. And, just like ginger beer I still love picnics,
I think my dad worried that my reading habits were quite constrained. I’m not sure how old I was when I was taken to join the library.

My dad was, I realise now, a great educator, I knew how important libraries were because they provided free reading materials for everyone. I also knew that the first free library had been started ‘just down the road’, I think the concept of Salford would have been outside my ken – the furthest I went was Walkden, a mile away from home.

I still love going to the library and I’m sure it’s because I was made to feel so important when I joined. I was told, by my dad, that he and mum had talked about it and decided that I was old enough to look after the books I could take out and that it was very important that I did because other people would want to read them after me.

I was duly taken to Little Hulton Library and introduced to the librarian, who was informed I was responsible enough to look after the books I would pick. I can also remember him taking the librarian to one side and asking if she could show me anything that was NOT Enid Blyton. And so Paddington Bear, by Michael Bond, entered my life.

Little Hulton Library © Ian Greig (cc-by-sa/2.0)

He brought the need to try a marmalade sandwich – which was on a par with the dripping, as far as I was concerned (I’ve never tried it since) and the obsessive need to read books in the order they are written began. I can remember the excitement of seeing all the books and being told I could choose more than one! I have never lost this feeling.

As I got older I read, from the library, the entire series of books entitled ‘The Young . . . ‘ which were children’s biographies of people such as Mozart, Charles Dickens, Shakespeare and Helen Keller, there were many more – all read but I fail to remember the names of the others.

The other series I remember were books on different careers, the one I remember was ‘Hilary wants to be a librarian’ but there were ones about the army, navy, teaching -whichever one I read was my career of choice for that week. I also remember dad taking me and helping me choose books that would help with homework, possibly the most useful one was a book of Shakespeare plays in prose.

Alongside books were my weekly comics. I started off with one chosen by my mum, Schoolgirl’s Friend but was allowed to have two when Bunty came out in 1958. These comics had tales of boarding school and ballet and magic toys and reinforced the awareness that passwords were needed!

Bunty also had cutting out dolls on the back page which became another favourite pastime. At some stage of my reading development, I became a fan of DC Comics, Superman and Batman being my favourites. These were bought from Hennan’s, a bookstall at the edge of Farnworth Market. There, new and second-hand copies of books and comics could be bought and exchanged, money being knocked off the price of the new purchase when the old one was returned.

This was on a par with choosing books at the library and trips to Farnworth were frequently requested. Luckily mum used to buy books from there so the request was usually granted. Inevitably, I suppose, I also discovered three new, to me, series of Enid Blyton: The Twins at Saint Clare’s; Mallory Towers and The Naughtiest Girl. (You just can’t keep a good author down!)

Every year we received a book from my mum’s brother and his wife in Australia, Uncle Len and Aunty Mary. To my disgust, I always got a Rupert Bear whilst my brother got exciting adventure stories. Worse still, I had to write a thank you letter saying how much I liked it.

One year though, I did receive a copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which I still have, which has the most grotesque illustrations I have seen and so for years, although I loved (and still do!) these stories I never liked that particular book – I don’t think I ever got a book I was excited to receive from them, how sad.

Grimm’s Fairy Tales, originally in German

When I was 15, my dad bought me a copy of Goldfinger by Ian Fleming, I remember my mum queried the content and was it alright for me to read. He also took me to see the film, just me and him, a rare treat. It’s still my favourite Bond film and book – and yes, I read them all, in order.

The next series I remember reading was the Denis Wheatley Roger Brook series followed by his novels of witchcraft and demonry. The first ‘saucy’ books I read were The Marianne Series by Juliette Benzoni, which had to stay hidden from my parents as they would not have approved! My mum eventually converted me to Catherine Cookson.

To my dad’s disgust, I discovered Barbara Cartland and Georgette Heyer – I think he despaired that his efforts to steer me in his right direction had failed.
He needn’t have worried; my taste in literature today is varied and eclectic.

I think my favourite novels prove this. They are: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte; Wuthering Heights by her sister Emily; Passage to India, E. M. Forster; Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood and The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing. I also love James Patterson, Harlan Coben and Maeve Binchey and many more. I have recently discovered Cecilia Ahern, Michelle Paver and James Smythe – all very different genres. (If you like an excellently written ghost story – give Michelle Paver a try).

I’m so glad I was given the gift of loving books and reading and the ensuing escapism they bring. I have two regrets – one is that I haven’t kept a book diary of every book I have read and the other is that it took me so many years to break my mum’s rule that I had to finish every book I started. So many books, so little time!

Check out more nostalgia by local people just like you here

Do you have memories that you’d like to share with our readers? Drop us an email at [email protected]

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