Yesterday - half-way through a mass clearout and springclean of the house - I was delighted to rediscover a large wooden chest I hadn't opened in a long time. It was packed full of books. I shouldn't have opened it, but I did - and that put an end to clearing and sorting for the rest of the day. It was a treasure trove of odd books and esoterica; a window into my past. In among such fascinating curiosities as Apocalypse by D. H. Lawrence, The Notebooks Of Leonardo Da Vinci and The Life Of Rembrandt by Hendrik Van Loon, were 3 little series of booklets which in an instant transported me back 40 years.
The first series - a collection of illustrated children's histories - used to be my mother's, so must date from the late 1920s/early 30s (there's no printed publication date inside). Titles include The Story Of Prehistoric And Roman Britain, The Story Of Saxon And Norman Britain and, tellingly, Our Empire's Story:
Published by Sankey, Hudson & Co of Manchester, they tell the story of Britain almost exclusively in captioned illustrations; and, as you can see, these pictures (some of which I'd coloured in) are very fine:
I also unearthed a series of booklets which accompanied the radio (or should I say wireless) programme Adventures In English, which was broadcast for schools on the BBC Home Service (now Radio 4) in the mid-1960s:
These books and programmes must have been among my first introductions to poetry, and they hit me with a force akin to mystical revelation. The choice of poems certainly didn't make any attempt to talk down to the 10 and 11 year olds who were listening and reading along. There were poems by Auden, Robert Graves, Edith Sitwell and - that most prolific of poets - Anon.
Later, in my mid-teens, I took out a subscription to a local literary magazine called Lincolnshire Writers. I even submitted one or two poems to it, but they were politely declined. This magazine revealed that there were lots of talented poets and short story writers unexpectedly lurking in those neat, mellow-stone Wolds' villages and windswept fenlands. It showed me that you didn't have to go to Liverpool or London or San Francisco (it was now the late 60s) and rub shoulders with the Mersey poets or the Beatles or the Hippies to be creative. You could do it in your own back yard.
The standard of writing in Lincolnshire Writers was exceptionally high. Here are a couple of poems from it, chosen more or less at random:
Journey Into Autumn
Coming south, it seemed the train
Travelled faster than my watch.
It was summer in the north.
Cornfields where the wind had lain
Still were waiting to be cut,
Children trailing the afternoon's
Listlessness behind them found
The blackberries still tart. But
Here the fields bear straw-bales strapped
For winter and the stubble burns.
The boys have gone now who lounged
All summer long beside the track.
Diesels pass unwaved. The last
Down drifts from willow-herb to find
A niche for next year's purple
Flowering. Summer here is past.
Spire and crescent moon
So close in this autumn sky
They form one ikon.