Books started to arrive at the cottage. The Aunt had drawn up a reading list, and my father would go to Foyles’s Bookshop in Charing Cross Road to get them. They all had a green Foyle’s sticker inside them, in the form of an open book.
Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery, arrived first. I loved this story of the poor orphan, Anne Shirley,and I identified entirely with her loneliness. I,too, had a cruel aunt to deal with. At school, I also had ‘crush’ on a ‘Gilbert Blythe’ boy, called, somewhat romantically, Keith Dowson, and I was suffering the first agonies of unrequited love, for his affections were all directed to a lovely girl named Carole Sparrowhawk. Years later, I read the poetry of the doomed poet, Ernest ‘They are not long the days of wine and roses’ Dowson ( 1867-1900), and was reminded of him.
We were all country kids – running freely across the fields, watching moorhens hatch their young in ponds; while we climbed haystacks and collected and nurtured lost baby stoats, hedgehogs and fledgling birds. We rode ponies, loved farm kittens and had our companion dogs for company, Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell became a seminal, much-treasured book, and awakened in me a life-long feeling of compassion for animals.
Then there was Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome – a thrillingly adventurous story, and finally, The Borrowers. by Mary Norton – a magical story about ‘little people’ living beneath the floorboards, with delightful illustrations by Diana Stanley. As the Aunt and I were often very poor, we would sometimes lift up some of the creaky, wooden floorboards in the cottage, and look for pennies that had fallen through. We once found enough coins to buy a Kit-Kat. I suspect that a lot of the house-keeping money went on cigarettes for the Aunt, because food became erratic. Sometimes we had egg and chips; sometimes not. We survived on slices of bread and butter with sprinkled sugar or sliced pears on top. I relied on school dinners and bottled milk to stay alive.