When our teacher breaks out a box of new books at the start of term there’s an almighty rush for Animal Farm – it’s the shortest book in the stack, after all. However, little swot that I am, of course I’ve dived on something hideously long and depressingly Russian instead.
It’s just that books and me are inseparable. I’ve read all my text books by the second week of term, even the truly awful “Modern Poetry for Schools” that is punctuated with blurry photographs of scowling men in duffle coats. I don’t care. I just love it.
The library in our town, is of course, completely useless. My aunty Bunty’s on the staff there and she scratches her head in wonderment at the book lists I bring her. “I’ve never even heard of half of these folk,” she says witheringly, “and I’m sure yon man Lawrence has had all his books banned anyway. Could you not just read a nice Georgette Heyer?”
Obviously, then, there’s nothing else for it but to buy books instead. Except that there isn’t really a proper Book shop – that’s with a capital B, by the way – anywhere in site. The university store is the best, of course, but if it’s not on the syllabus of this year’s English course you might as well forget it. And as for John Menzies, don’t make me laugh.
Undaunted, I try the town’s second hand book shop. It keeps mainly magazines but there’s also a huge stack of mouldering paperbacks at five and ten pence each. They’re mostly westerns and detective novels, of course, but I slowly unearth some old sixpenny Penguins and soon have a modest hoard in my clammy little fist when a drunk man lurches in.
“Have you ony books?” he slurs and the woman behind the counter looks about her cautiously.
“Whit aboot him?” she asks some unseen person, jerking her head in my direction.
“He’s OK,” says a voice, “just lock the door…”
They pull the shutter down and produce two brown-paper-packages. “Ten note each,” the woman says and the drunk man nods, palming a twenty.
“And what are you having?” the lady says to me as I hand over my fifty pence coin and scamper off with my stash.
It’s not until later that summer that I learn that you can just order anything you want from the proper book shop…