The paucity of reading materials in my life was to end on my sixth birthday, in the form of a gift from an englightened aunt.
This book, ‘ Now We Are Six’ , by A.A. Milne accompanied my nineteen-year-old aunt to Germany, in her luggage, Precious cargo. I have it still. Published by Methuen & Co. Ltd; London, 36 Essex Street, W.C.2. First published on October 13th 1927.It had been reprinted thirty-one times . And this was the thirty-second edition, 1950. The inscription inside read:
‘To Dearest Mandy, wishing you a very Happy Birthday, with all my love, Aunt Dorothy’. September, 1951.
It was the loveliest thing I had ever handled. A yellow, cloth-bound, hard-cover book, with the delightful drawings ( called decorations) by E.H.Shepard, inside. It was/is still exquisite, and in excellent condition, considering how many times it was read and re-read. This truly was reading’ manna from Heaven’ to a book-starved child. As I opened it, I felt an excitement, a rush, a thrilling expectation of the wonders that were about to be discovered on its pages. To this day, I feel the same joy with every book I buy/borrow – even hold. This magical anticipation; deep respect and reverence for books has never left me. I experience a flood of euphoria – could it be a dopamine ‘hit’; a rush of serotonin to the brain, perhaps, in the very presence of books. They delight me. I am greedy for them. I’m in a state of grace with every bookshop, or library I enter. I live surrounded by books. All very dear friends of mine. My hunger for books, my appetite for them has never left me. My Kindle,too, doesn’t disappoint – it is a treasure trove. And ordering and downloading countless books – at my fingertips – is pure, gluttonous pleasure.
Later in my life, aged nineteen, I worked as a museum assistant at the V&A in London, and began my career there in the National Art Library. What a glorious, hallowed place that was. I became a grateful minion, an acolyte, along with all the other assistants, restorers, book-keepers and the Senior Librarian, dear Mr Harthan, as we ministered to these sacred artefacts in this Temple of beloved volumes, pamphlets. brochures and tomes to Art. We were almost envious and a little resentful of the clients who disturbed our magnificent horde throughout the day. We kept our eye on these priceless treasures,knowing how unique and special so many of them were.
Within a week, I had learned every single poem in ‘Now We are Six’ by heart. I gulped each poem down and committed it to memory. The book was an absolute feast; and a revelation. Here, at last was humour, fun. word-play, puns, adventure, history, on every page. I had been withering away on my unstimulating diet of fairy-tales, most of whom I found to be slightly creepy – here was wholesome nutrition at last. Day after day, I revelled in these thirty-five verses. I had no favourites. I loved them all . From ‘Binker’ to ‘Waiting at the Window’.
Here, in the nick of time, was my first ‘book-companion’. A friend to turn to, at any time of the day. A ticket to the wonders of the outside world . A book-worm had been born.