Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Things my parents have argued about ...

OK this could be a really long post. My parents, who separated more than 20 years ago, really don't like each other very much. At all. A much shorter post would be 'things my parents haven't argued about'.

But anyway, this isn't actually a post about family dynamics, it's a post about books. I'll explain.

My sister and I were raised in a house full of books. Our teacher mother was obsessed with the written word, and had much more patience than I have with my own child. Although it was probably easier to resist the lure of the 42" flat screen babysitter in the corner before CBeebies was invented.

Emma Bradshaw posted this quote from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on her blog, and it instantly reminded me of life on Fairholme Avenue in our childhood home which felt as big as a castle. A castle with its own library.

The nursery shelves held books galore!
Books cluttered up the nursery floor!
And in the bedroom, by the bed,
More books were waiting to be read!
Such wondrous, fine, fantastic tales
Of dragons, gypsies, queens and whales
And treasured isles and distant shores
Where smugglers rowed with muffled oars,
And pirates wearing purple pants,
And sailing ships and elephants...

There were books to read ourselves, eyes straining under the covers in the gloam of Manchester twilights when we should have been asleep. There were trips to the library and sometimes, for a treat, to the tiny bookshop wedged into Urmston precinct between Boots the chemist and the pound shop.

Then there were books that were read to us. In later years my sister and I held each other and cried as Bambi's mother died, and begged my Mum to stop reading. Before that there were picture books. Dog-eared and with pages attached with sellotape we had the same stories read over and over again to us. Being a sentimental old fool, I've rebought many of these old favourites for T, the originals having been donated to my Mum's school in the years after we outgrew them, or finally consigned to the great library in the sky when the missing pages outnumbered the remaining ones.

Thus we have Meg and Mog, Peepo, Funnybones and of course the book which has become a bit of a blogging obsession for me, Dogger.

There is something about Shirley Hughes' illustrations which brings the simple story to life. I went to an exhibition of her artwork at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool a few years ago and saw the original Dogger, the toy the story was based on, locked in an airtight fishtank in the manner of a priceles antique. Smaller than I imagined, and definitely well-loved, he bore little resemblance to the picture in the book being 'pulled along on a lead made of string like a real dog'.

T adores the story, and unlike some of his other favourites (Meg and Mog's Touch and Feel Counting Book) it's a delight to tell. Bloody good job as we've heard it at least once a night for the last three months. But I don't mind. I sit by the side of his bed, reciting it by heart as he turns the pages and points out more and more detail. It's even Daddy friendly, allowing my husband to have taught his son to recognise a Dalek, part of the fancy dress parade montage in the section about the school summer fair.

In my childhood home though, an innocent tale of sibling love was apparently a source of marital discontent. The section where Mum gives Bella the money for two ice-creams, and Dave shares his with Joe? Joe wanted 'more in-between licks'. Apparently my parents argued over the inflection ... was it more, in-between licks or more 'inbetween licks'. Each parent picked their own side. Twenty years on, my Mum can still remember.

I find it hard to imagine any clearer sign that their life as a couple was nearing its natural end, and there's no contradicting that it was for the best. But this story is filled with such happy memories for me. As it's woven into the threads of T's childhood, the endless repetition almost guaranteeing he'll read the same words to his own first born, I can't imagine compromising this feeling for anything, and I'm sad that my parents' recollections are not as strong, or as comforting, as my own.

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