Good Evening, Bookworms!
After that brief foray, the other night, into the joys of Footballers’ Autobiographies, we now return to the matter in hand, as I recount my formative years as a young bookworm. Last time I wrote my book-reading memoirs, I was in the juniors at Monton Green Primary School, starting to learn to read music and playing the recorder (thus starting to fulfil the wish to understand music which had begun in Switzerland) and reading numerous books. Obviously, at that age, some of them were just reading books for school, but I read a lot of books for my own enjoyment even back then and one of my particular favourites from those days was The 27th Annual African Hippopotamus Race by Morris Lurie, a tale of a young hippo called Edward who is a fantastic swimmer and so, with the help of his father training him up, he enters the race. One of the funniest bits is when twin hippos try to cheat with one of them hiding in some underwater reeds halfway along the course, ready to take over from his brother… their attempt does not escape the eagle eyes of the official hippos in the helicopter…
“Announcer, announce through your megaphone that there are two number 18s and they are both disqualified!”
Actually, I don’t know if I kept a copy of that book when I moved house. Sadly, I don’t think I did. Maybe I should buy a new copy? I can always read it to my niece when she gets older! That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it, lol! Anyway, along came 1984 and my change from primary school to high school. Off to Ellesmere Park High School (later to become Wentworth High in 1987) I went, all those different subjects to get stuck into, all those different rooms to go to. Oh, and the “joys” of class reading in English where we all had the same book. Even in the top set for English, not every pupil reads at the same speed and this is where some problems started as I was accused of skipping pages on one occasion. I have thought about this since and wish I’d thought of my eventual response at the time.
You see, as anyone who ever did PE with me will testify, I was absolutely pants at sport! Anything vaguely resembling physical education was an utter nightmare for me and not finishing last was an achievement as far as I was concerned. You know the Olympic motto, “Citius, Altius, Fortius”, meaning faster, higher, stronger? Well, my attempts at PE were more like slower, lower and weaker! I was slow at running, so I had to be fast at something… hence reading! I do NOT skip pages. I don’t need to. Whatever I was reading, particularly if I was enjoying it, I could read that book like the clappers! I was the Usain Bolt of Reading! I still am on many occasions!
Class readers are a bit hit and miss as far as books go, though, aren’t they? You’re never going to appeal to a whole class. Even before the “joys” of my final two years and set texts for my GCSE English Literature, I can remember a fair few books that I read as part of a class and about which I usually had to write at least one essay, including Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Elidor, A Pair Of Jesus Boots and Charlotte Brontë’s classic, Jane Eyre. I would later go on to study Jane Eyre again at university on one of the literature modules of my degree. In the meantime, the first major exams of my lifetime were on the horizon as my final two years at school meant working towards my GCSEs. I was in the top set and had the Shakespeare-mad Mrs Walsh as my English teacher for those crucial two years as we embarked on the Bard’s classic tragedy, Macbeth, Jane Austen’s legendary Pride And Prejudice, Animal Farm by George Orwell and some First World War poetry. I cannot recall which book or books we used for the poetry, but I can recommend the Penguin Book of First World War Poetry as an excellent and thorough anthology should anyone else wish to have a shufty at some Siegfried Sassoon or Wilfred Owen!
Of course, besides the stuff I had to read, there was stuff I read for the sheer fun of it, and my two much-taped-up copies of Sue Townsend’s first two Adrian Mole books are testament to how much I loved them and how often I have re-read them! Not sure who exactly it was, but it was thanks to one of the members of Salford Trampoline Club way back in its founding year of 1985, who introduced me to The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 and the sequel, The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole. Over the years, as I became more aware, I have got more and more out of these two books and been able to suss out the mistakes Adrian made in his attempts to be an intellectual! Also, a year or so later, another fictional diary came out which was a revelation… When Aidan MacFarlane and Ann McPherson published The Diary of a Teenage Health Freak, they gave teenagers, like I was at the time, the facts of life in a far better, non-embarrassing manner than any P(H)SE lesson at high school could ever manage! It is a credit to the authors and researchers that subsequent editions have kept pace with updated information regarding sex, drugs, alcohol and all the issues dealt with in the original book which first saw the light of day in bookshops in the late 1980s.
The subject, on the timetable, can be known as many things from school to school; Personal Guidance, Personal & Social Education (as it was known at my high school) and often Personal, Health & Social Education. Whatever it was called, these timetabled classes were often embarrassing, cringeworthy periods of the school week! (I imagine many current teenagers nodding in agreement here and saying “They still are, mate!”) This book, however, dealt with a fictional high school pupil, Peter Payne, his PHSE lessons at school and other events at school and in his family which caused him to investigate a lot of matters regarding sex, drugs, solvents, booze and the need for a healthy lifestyle. Pete went through the cringeworthy lessons to present the facts of life for the rest of us in a fantastic format! It was followed up by a sequel, I’m A Health Freak Too, written from the point of view of Peter’s younger sister, Susie, with more female-orientated facts of life in it. I believe it is now known as The Diary of the Other Health Freak, but I shall list it as I know it.
So, books read, exams sat, I left high school and awaited my results. Actually, I was sat dangling my legs in Lake Geneva when my GCSE results were due back home, and had them posted to me, but I’d got what I required and I was off to Eccles College in the autumn of 1989! Join me soon for Part 3 of my bookworm memoirs as I go to sixth form college and start my A Levels. Oh, and things started kicking off big time on the continent and locally when it came to music!
Until my next blog entry, take care and Happy Reading!
Books mentioned in this blog entry:
- The 27th Annual African Hippopotamus Race – Morris Lurie
- Mrs Frisby And The Rats Of NIMH – Robert C. O’Brien
- Elidor – Alan Garner
- A Pair Of Jesus Boots – Sylvia Sherry
- Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
- Macbeth – William Shakespeare
- Pride And Prejudice – Jane Austen
- Animal Farm – George Orwell
- The Penguin Book Of First World War Poetry – Various
- The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 – Sue Townsend
- The Growing Pains Of Adrian Mole – Sue Townsend
- The Diary Of A Teenage Health Freak – Aidan MacFarlane & Ann McPherson
- I’m A Health Freak Too (The Diary Of The Other Health Freak) – Aidan MacFarlane & Ann McPherson