“Good morning, good yawning” – a memorable quotation from one of the very few books that we used to have when the children were small
Yesterday Kasia asked me about some books that we used to read together when she was a small child. We didn’t have a lot of money then so I actually bought very few books for her – instead we used to go to the library at least once a week and possibly more often – story time, activities and just book borrowing. We used to get at least ten books on my ticket and some on my husband’s so that we would always have enough to read in the evening. I remember sitting on the sofa, desperate for Neighbours to finish so we could do what I enjoyed and start reading. All ten books would often be devoured in one go and then the next day we would choose the order in which to read them. Kasia was the oldest so she set the tradition but I remember doing exactly the same with Andrzej and Marysia – different books maybe, but a similar process. I loved it.
But they didn’t actually have many children’s books of their own. For these we were reliant on the generosity of friends or what was available in the charity shops. The three favourites above were quite significant in this way. Kasia used to have (and still has) a lot of “personality”. A colleague from St Augustine’s used to frequently come round to our little cottage in Grove Road, either to babysit or just be companionable. She used to find Kasia’s little tantrums quite endearing but exhausting, and so she bought the delightful little book Angry Arthur for her. It was beautifully illustrated and the story worked up into a hilarious explosion of bad temper. We all enjoyed reading it in ever louder and more dramatic voices.
Conversely the Patchwork Cat was a lovely quietener and we could cuddle up and look at the pictures and both more or less fall asleep together. I think that must have been a present from Kasia’s godmother. The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch definitely was which I think must be one of the best children’s picture books ever – so much going on and ultimately very generous and positive. And then there were lots of sequels but I didn’t discover them till the children were grown up!
Stranger Danger 4
Writing all this has brought back some strange memories. When Kasia was still in a pushchair there was a children’s bookshop opposite Ealing Broadway station. It was always crowded but probably with people like me who had no money but like to spend hours browsing. I was quite lonely at the time as I didn’t really know any other young mothers with children. I used to meet some people in the park sometimes, but either they were teenagers or grandmothers and we didn’t really have anything in common. in the bookshop, However, it was easy to talk to people because we all had a common passion – books. And so I remember I used to talk quite a lot to a quite eccentric man. Craggy face, smiley eyes, very tall, and topped by a big homburg hat. He was quite a lot older than me – and so I remember feeling very safe – a father figure you understand – and I used to look forward to our chats. And then one day he suggested that I go back to his house for tea. As he lived very near me I agreed. Yes, I should have known the warning signs – I was thirty after all – but I was very naïve, not to say stupid. So I went. It was quite a long walk – maybe twenty minutes, as I pushed the buggy, and it was all very civilized all the way. Until we got to his house when he suggested I park the pushchair with infant inside it in another room.
Finally, the warning bells began to ring loud and clear in my head, and I said something to the effect of “My goodness me, look at the time!” and I turned tail, more or less barging my way out of the front door. I can just about remember the look of dejection and betrayal on his face as he said something about his wife being out and it was such a good opportunity….
I was lucky – but the biggest disappointment was that we could no longer visit the bookshop – I was too terrified of meeting him again. I still feel uncomfortable whenever I get off the bus in his street, though I have never seen him since! The bookshop has long gone too, sadly.