I adore reading, I don't just read a book, I devour it with relish. How many times have I gone to bed for an early night only to find myself turning page after page, to find out 'who's dunnit'or 'where the body is', or if 'he or she survives', in to the wee small hours, waking up bleary-eyed and tired the next day and this all thanks to my wonderful late father. Yes, I blame him and thank him all at the same time.
My father Philip taught himself to read by the time he was four years old because he was so interested in comic magazines, he couldn't wait to get his hands on 'The Dandy' and 'The Beano' to find out what the stories entailed. He became an avid collector of cars, stamps, coins, banknotes, antiques and through his love of comics, books. He was a Magpie for anything which had a historical past and a story to tell and it drove my mother crazy, after all growing up in a house built in 1842, they don't have a lot of storage space.
The books which my dear Dad collected were anything and everything, it wasn't so much about the genre as it was about who owned it before and it's content and of course he would always be on the lookout for first editions! My mum, frustrated with his hoarding ways suggested (after he brought home another huge box of second-hand books!) we make a library in the house, the back spidery room, drab and unused with creaking floorboards and freezing cold, even on the hottest of summer days would be the most ideal place for the library and my father jumped at the idea.
For weeks an army of tradesmen visited the house and scratched their heads on how to make this dreadful room welcoming and liveable and by 'eck (as we say in Yorkshire) they did a fine job.
Five thousand (and still counting) books were all moved from the attic, dusted and sorted into their genres adorned the beautiful newly built oak shelves that reached the dizzying heights from floor to ceiling, spiders and dead flies falling out of them as we gave these books a new home and me a new hobby.
Ever since I was little, books were placed by the bed, Enid Blyton's Noddy, Charles M Schulz's Peanuts, Beatrix Potter and her little stories about animals, Enid's Famous Five detective stories and the thousands of Ladybird books on all topics to stimulate a child's mind. However, our Library became my new solace, I would pick any book at random on any topic and settle down to read from anatomy to antiques, to poetry to Mrs Beetons 'How to Cook' such delights as Liver in aspic to making sure 'your husband' was well attended after a hard day at work! I was stepping back in time as the words jumped off the page, educating me as to how difficult life could be years ago.
One evening, before supper, I went in and randomly chose 3 books and one blue book, in particular, was extremely delicate and small that I am sure it was made for a lady's hands and it dated back to 1900. It was a book of poetry where it featured William Wordsworth, Robert Browning, Keats etc. writing about the English countryside and the seasons. As I opened the book an envelope fell out and on the front of the envelope was written 'To be opened in the event of my death'. The envelope had indeed been opened and a letter was still in there. The letter was written by a First world war British soldier to his sweetheart, declaring his undying love for her in the most beautiful handwriting. It was written with such heartfelt sincerity it literally had me weeping as I read it. I can't remember who the letter was to or from but I do remember the man who wrote it was only about 19 years old. This was before the internet and how I wish I had kept the letter safe to do research. I had dreamed in my mind's eye the letter had been opened by the man's sweetheart in front of him, safe back from the trenches, where she would weep with joy and not grief.
My father's bidding on boxes of books at auctions would often reveal hidden treasures such as pressed flowers or a homemade bookmark, all lovingly kept by its original owner and of course there were some amazing stories written that have become timeless classics.
Old books tell more than their story on their pages, they tell a story of the owner. A watermark or stain, a name and address written in the front, a ripped out page or a word underlined, for me personally, this is why I am attracted to books, especially old ones.
My father's own choice of reading was on cars, antiques, even books on books and of course his collectables. My mother reads like there's no tomorrow, her subjects of choice are First world war history, anything to do with the Titanic, Michael Connolly's Harry Bosch stories, political and historical families such as Earl Fitzwilliam and the coal seams running under Britain's largest stately home which is Wentworth Woodhouse, in Rotherham South Yorkshire, this book 'Black Diamonds', sits proudly on her shelf and is one of her all-time favourites.
I have been so lucky to have been brought up surrounded by the influences of my parent's book habits and now I am passing this on to my own two children who tried to buy 14 books at Heathrow Airport last week!
The memory of Dad lies in so many areas of my life, there are reminders everywhere of him, a Frank Sinatra song or a performance car and these make me smile, but it's books, usually an old dusty book, that will give me a twinge of sadness as well as a smile, because if anyone was a true lover of books, it was my Dad.
202nd British Columbia