How my Dad’s Hoarding Fuelled My Love of Reading
‘How to be a Little Sod,’ is a book I distinctively remember reading as a child. I’m not sure how old I was, perhaps around eight or nine; I’m sure I was still at primary school. It was a book about having your first child – a cynical view of parenting. As the title suggests it had plenty of rude words, which didn’t bother me, but I’m sure it wasn’t the best book for a little girl to be reading.
I wasn’t into Princess stories, or stories about cuddly rabbits or waddling ducks, like my school friends. Although in truth it wasn’t really about what I wanted; I read whatever I could get my hands on. Like Roald Dahl’s Matilda, I was hungry for knowledge and eager to go wherever books could take me. Trouble was, growing up without much money; there wasn’t a lot of choice.
My Dad is a bit of a wheeler-dealer. When I was younger, he supplemented his income with favours for friends of friends. He would make good use of the trailer he built himself by clearing houses for a little extra cash. Usually, I gathered, it was someone who had died, but it was never anyone we knew. He would take a lot of the belongings to the tip (they call them recycling centres these days) filling his shed at the bottom of the garden with the rest. An avid fan of Antiques Roadshow and Cash in the Attic, he knew there was treasure in there somewhere. It just takes time to find it. He had boxes stacked high of bric-a-brac, trinkets, jewelled photo frames and old curtains that belonged in the seventies. Random objects that had held sentimental value to someone at some point, waited patiently in my Dad’s shed to find their new home. They are probably still waiting there now, 20 odd years later.
I would trawl through the boxes to find, in amongst the bric-a-brac, the occasional book. It was like a treasure hunt. Usually they were coated in dust, with the imbedded fragrance of an old lady’s house. The familiar scent of rose or lavender blended with talcum powder would pop out in bursts as I turned each page of a discovered book.
The books were few and far between. When they came I devoured them whole. My Dad isn’t a great reader, so he had no idea what or who I was reading. He had no idea who Danielle Steele was let alone what sort of books she wrote. He probably had no real interest in what I was reading, rather he was just impressed that I was reading at all.
He would introduce me to people as the “clever-one” of his four children. He would say “she always has her head in a book”. Little did he know the books were filled with sexual references I barely understood, or gruesome crimes I wouldn’t get out of my head for years to come. The books never suited me, but that didn’t discourage me. For me reading was a delightful experience. Books could transport me to somewhere else; I could be someone else. Away from the house I shared with three younger, noisier siblings, I didn’t mind where they took me.
I discovered the local library at some point before my teens. I skipped the children’s books and headed straight to adult fiction. I had the freedom to read whatever I wanted. I’d arrive at the aisle and stand absorbing the covers. Their spines on show, they sold themselves to eleven year old me. I would pick a few and read the back. If I got the bubbling feeling inside my tummy, I knew I had to take it home. I often got weird looks from the librarians. I think back now and wonder how strange it was then. I know today it would be unusual to see a child in the library alone, but back then we were encouraged to do our own thing. I can’t have been the only one. Either that or they were passing judgement over what I was reading and how unsuitable it must be for a girl of my age. If the book wasn’t obviously for me, I thought it even better. I wanted to learn about the world, I wanted to be challenged.
The library was, to me, just a larger pool of books similar to the ones in my Dad’s shed. The books smelled a little better and were in nicer condition with their plastic jackets sealed tight. The librarians weren’t to know that whichever book I picked up would be much more suitable than ‘How to be a Little Sod.’