Did I predict that the washing machine would go on strike on Christmas Eve?
Wrong, it was the central heating in one half of the house, and we can now confirm that every boiler-repair man in the West jets off to the Caribbean for two weeks over Christmas.
Then when they come back they are not really happy to be back because they are inundated with cold people like us dressed as if auditioning for Nanook of the North. They are also prone to drawing in their breath sharply through tanned but pessimistically clenched jaws, there are no spare parts, the water in the outside pipes is frozen anyway and all in all we are only just warming up again and even that is involving some jiggery - pokery - bashery - bangery of the boiler while we await the bits.
Woodburners will only throw out heat so far and no further, so the Hudson's Bay blanket has been my best friend and I have mastered the three-way fold cocoon-like enwrapment which has all kept me warm enough to sink into the oblivion of a good book.
I seem to have been tackling some seriously grown-up reading of late, intense and emotional subject matter, but if I want to touch base, settle down a bit and comfort read there's really no better place to go than the shelves of children's books. I put together a little pile of books that I clearly remember reading years ago to suit a weekend that might connect to my inner child, preferably without that doll which the school photographer made me hold, but those are the very self-same reading eyes.
That is suddenly a very strange thought.
For several months I've been dipping into John Sutherland's very enjoyable memoir Magic Moments : Life-Changing Encounters with Books, Films, Music... published by Profile Books, in which he links childhood memories, mostly literary, to significant experiences which shaped his life. Though John Sutherland is fifteen years older than me I have related keenly to so much that he writes about. Books like this are the perfect prompt to memories of your own offering as they do a scaffolding on which to build up your own version.
Take the title for a start, Magic Moments.
That Perry Como song is etched in my memory because we were a radio home, it was always on ( a great big wooden wireless thing with glowing valves inside of course), and my mum was a great one for singing while she houseworked then stopping for coffee to listen to Mrs Dale's Diary, and so I used to sing along and listen too. Magic Moments and Doris Day singing Que Sera Sera were our absolute favourites. Incidentally my own version of a book like this would have a radio chapter which included the following equations,
Billy Cotton's Bandshow + Wakey Waaaakey = Sunday = roast dinner ,
Sparky's Magic Piano + Nelly the Elephant = Saturday morning = Children's Favourites
Sing Something Simple + Just you and I = Sunday evening = school next day.
Faure's Berceuse + Are you sitting comfortably = Listen With Mother
How about yours?
John and I were also kindred spirits over libraries and comics and I suspect his experiences mirror those of many of us. John could hardly sleep the night before his weekly comic would be arriving and this could have been me, expecially if there was a free gift involved. Then my Saturday trip to the library with the Tinker was a ritual only postponed for the most serious of reasons and I was as keen as mustard to get there. I can only apologise if you were the child elbowed out of the way in Mitcham library back in 1960 by a pint-sized thing in a smocked frock, ankle socks and sandals just as you were going to reach for that Malcolm Saville Lone Pine Mystery book off the shelf.
Sorry, you probably didn't realise those were meant for me.
So as I stood in front of the children's bookshelves this week I was catapulted back forty eight years or so and picked up four books that I suddenly really wanted to read again.
Five Children and It by E.Nesbit
Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aitken
and finally, let's go Lone Pine,
Mystery at Witchend by Malcolm Saville
I could easily have brought these four home from the library one Saturday in the 1950s or early 1960s and so I decided to do what I always used to do and read one after another, and leave Irene et al to one side for a day or two. I might do this regularly through the coming year because I am enjoying it immensely.
I haven't done all the other things I might have done as well, curled up in my bedroom for hours, gone out on my roller skates, dashed round to my friend Anne's house to swap my copy of Judy for her copy of Bunty and then gone out on her brother's go-kart or sneaked a quick go on the pogo stick. Nor have I gone off to spend my 3d pocket money on four shrimps, four fruit salads and some sherbet-filled flying saucers, but I am loving reading all these books again and getting that real sense of childish excitement as I turn the pages.
Emil and the Detectives kept me awake until 1.30am (no need for a torch under the blankets or anything) and it was all I could do to put Mystery at Witchend down to sort out the kitchen, get the fire lit, fling the hoover round and pay homage to the washing machine before I picked it up again. In fact I've got to dash now because Miss Slighcarp is up to no good at Willoughby Chase and Bonnie and Sylvia are on the case.
Who'd have thought it all those years ago.