It all started with reading

Before school age, stuck in bed with measles and a stack of comics (Jack & Jill, Play Hour) to look at between dozing, while Mum was away teaching at a rural primary school – Dad was in the twelve feet high stud long, narrow hall of our share-milker’s, trying to have new wallpaper hung before Mum got home.

But I got bored with the pictures and wanted to know the words. So I spent more time out of bed than in, and Dad spent more time coming down the ladder and going back up than he did papering, as I’d take the comic and ask him as I pointed to a word …
“What’s that say?” He’d tell me, I’d go back to bed, he;d get back to work. Until the next word stumped me. He was so patient.

But after lunch, at my first asking, he told me I;d have to work it out by myself. As he’d given me enough in the morning on which to build, I did work out the words from then on.

Then it was Enid Blyton‘s series – firstly Noddy, then Secret Seven, then Famous Five. Someone’s Bobbsey Twins series – I didn’t enjoy. I hated the way the writer made the coloured housekeeper speak – definite racism.

Cole’s Book Arcade – 1 and 2 – we found these collections of children’s verses to entertain and improve the child’s mind in back of our Nanny’s cupboard – so Mum and Aunts had also enjoyed them.

By twelve I was reading books that made Mum laugh: Nino Culotta‘s They’re a Weird Mob and Cop This Lot, and Johnny O’Grady’s No Kava For Johnny, Chic Sales The Specialist (of which I’ve just bought a reprint). The Egg and I (author forgotten).

WW2 stories – Eric Williams’ The Tunnel and The Wooden Horse; Douglas Bader‘s Reach For the Sky; Audie Murphy‘s To Hell & Back. and more – including one of those magazine/books you bought in weekly parts and bound into a huge book – Purnell’s History of the Second World War.

While at Teachers’ Training College, I found in the basement of one block the on-campus outlet for Wellington’s (then) best book store (Whitcombe & Tombes, now Whitcoulls). They made the mistake of telling me TTC students automatically were allowed a credit account. I went there every day it now feels, and had by the end of term three had racked up a bill of a thousand dollars – this in 1969! They gave me an after-college job, selling children’s books. My earnings there paid off the debt.

At one stage I had over two thousand books – adults’ and childrens’ (being a teacher). After the last two house moves, and retiring from teaching, the count is way down. (I gave my children’s books to the schools I’d taught at.) But every so often I think of a book I used to own and want it back!

If I’d never enjoyed reading and teaching reading so much I wouldn’t now be dreamiong of becoming a writer.

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