Tuesday, 20 January 2015

A Paean for Books by Sandra Horn


It was a good haul this Christmas! As I added another book to the tottering pile(s) by my bed –
Sandra Horn
(waiting to be read, read but not finished with, books I read and re-read and re-re-read) (and heaven forefend I ever get so ill I have to stay in bed and someone calls the doctor! They’d have to be moved! They’d get jumbled up! Aaargh!!)

Where was I? Oh yes, as I added another book etc. I thought of my dear Little Nan. She was Little Nan because there was a Great Nan for many years, and even when there wasn’t any more, we couldn’t get out of the habit. Little Nan was born in the workhouse at Madron in West Cornwall; the illegitimate child of a tin miner. She grew up in appalling poverty and, I believe, the  squalor that sometimes comes with it. She had lost all her teeth to gingivitis by the time she was fourteen. She was severely anaemic and was treated with raw liver. I don’t know how effective it was, if at all, but half a century later the mere thought of it made her gag. In a way, she was lucky in that she was taken up by a couple who made their money in property development. She worked for them one summer, and when they moved on, they took her with them.

I’m not sure how she ended up in Sussex and met my Grandad, but at some point she ‘worr a skivvy’ as attested by a photograph of her in her black-and-whites, looking as miserable as a wet fortnight. If skivvying didn’t suit her, it was a shame, because that’s essentially what most of the rest of her life was. She inherited, with Grandad, his parents and six brothers, until they married, and then had eight children of her own. She was up before dawn making breakfasts, putting up packed lunches, making beds, laying fires, black-leading the range and coaxing it to life and washing, washing, washing, before cooking great mounds of food for the evening meal for everybody. If ever there was a little spare minute, she fished in her pinny pocket for a BOOK! A BOOK! A little thin twopenny romance, most likely. A story to be lost in, to take her to another place, where there was glamour and sweetness and a rose-tinted life.

I’ve never lived in poverty or had to drudge. There are no such romances by my bed.  There’s The Bone People, Flight Behaviour, The Fish Can Sing. There are the re-re-reads: Rebecca West, Diana Paton Walsh, Elizabeth Jane Howard, Alice Oswald, Ahdaf Souief, Mrs Henry Dudeney (what is it about that impossible, irascible woman that keeps drawing me back to her diary? I have a sneaky feeling I’d be more like her if I had the guts or became sufficiently disinhibited).

New presents: Angela Carters’ Fairy Tales, How to Be A Victorian, My Brilliant Friend and A New Name, Blue Lightning  (detective novels? When did that start? I wouldn’t have even opened one a few years ago and now I’m hooked. Chris Longmuir is waiting on my Kindle). The Kindle is also home to books by a growing collection of other AE authors, waiting to be re-read because I’ve realized that on first reading, I don’t take things in properly! Is it just me?).  There’s also  Nail Your Novel because this is the year, Oh Yes! When I really seriously get down to it). That’s just a sample. So, there are straightforward narratives, twist-and-turn stories, fantasy, mysticism, factual, true-life, intrigue, love, death, funny, horrific…and the rest. Where, on this earth, could you find such riches, except in BOOKS?
So I’m preaching to the proverbial, but it’s a New Year and I’m fired up with enthusiasm and optimism and happy expectations, so here’s to books and all of us!

9 comments:

Jan Needle said...

Brilliant! Thanks.

Kathleen Jones said...

Thank you - from one book addict to another! I love your story of Little Gran - those women really had it hard - we don't know the half. It was slavery. Ever thought of writing about her?

Bill Kirton said...

The thing Kathleen just said was exactly my reaction when I read about your Little Gran. I wonder how typical she was/is of others born into that sort of poverty and drudgery. I know there were thousands but how many of them had those wee books tucked away?

Chris Longmuir said...

Ah, yes! The good old days! Shortages, scarcity and deprivation were a way of life, but maybe the bonus was - it made us dedicated readers. And thank goodness I'm not the only one who has tottering piles of books on the top of my bedhead. It's quite a long one and wide enough on the top to resemble a shelf, although I'm sure that wasn't the furniture maker's intention. So, if my books ever go on the slide that's me, entombed in my bed. I'll have to read my way out! Oh, and Nail Your Novel is excellent.

Sandra Horn said...

It's on the stocks, Kathleen...one of the This Year's Must-dos

Lydia Bennet said...

Lovely post Sandra, great to read about your gran - my own nana was the last person in my family to know hunger due to poverty, and I hope she'll remain the last! We are told often that the arts are luxuries but in fact people in poverty and deprivation and hideous circumstances show a need for stories, pictures, shared experience, escapist pleasure, which is universal and vital.

Dennis Hamley said...

A profound post, Sandra. I haven't got a teetering pile of books by the bed because I'd knock them all over in the middle of the night when I go to the loo. But they stand accusingly in untidy rows in front of me in the bookcase in the bedroom and in more bookshelves stretching all through the flag and I know that I shall never get round to at least a quarter of them even though I bought some of them years ago. But I'm somehow pleased that so many of us had grandparents mired in poverty. I shows what went into the making of so many of we literary herberts, as Tony Hancock called us and, though we grieve for hem, we can be glad for our more fortunate selves.

Dennis Hamley said...

Flat, not flag!

Lydia Bennet said...

yes Dennis, their endurance and courage enabled us to have our education and choices now. Sometimes all people can do is survive and pass on their qualities to the next generation in the hope of better times.