As several observed in conversations for my research on ‘This book is about Heffers’, the bookshop was a haven for many interesting characters.
R D Littlechild (1889-1974)
Sidney Heffer, son of the firm’s founder, wrote in the 1950s,
‘It would be impossible to detail the numerous errand boys, apprentice boys and assistants who entered our employment but mention may here be made of a few who coming to us in almost the beginnings of really vital things have cast in their lot with us and stayed the course.’
Gratitude is sent out to a few who could tell the story of Heffers from a different point of view, including R D Littlechild, appointed as bookselling apprentice in 1903, as recorded in the first company Minute Book,
‘D. Littlechild, entered apprentice for 5 years at 2/- per week on April 25th 1903’
Duncan Littlechild, a strong pacifist who disapproved of Churchill, actively discouraged customers at Petty Cury from buying Churchill’s A History of the English-Speaking Peoples in the 1950s,
‘you don’t want to buy that old rogue’, he would say.
Considered as old school by his colleagues at this time, he would often be observed as ‘kowtowing’ to academic customers on the telephone.
During the First World War Littlechild was a prisoner of war. In November 1917, The Cambridge Independent reported,
‘LANCE-CORPL. R. D. LITTECHILD – Mr. E. Littlechild, 2, Park-parade, has received the following letter from an officer regarding his son, Lance-Corpl. R. D. Littlechild of the Royal Scots: “I regret to be the bearer of news which will cause you great anxiety and suspense, but your son, Lance-Corpl. R. D. Littlechild, went into an attack on the 2nd of this month, and it has been so far impossible to ascertain anything definite regarding his fate. None of the company who arrived saw him hit, but several fell in to the hands of the enemy. You will have to wait patiently, perhaps several months, before hearing news. He was a cheerful and brave soldier, and a highly efficient N.C.O.” Lance-Corpl. Littlechild had been in France since June. He was formerly employed by Messrs. Heffer and Son, Petty-cury.’
Thankfully, he survived and returned to his job at Heffers to continue his distinguished 54-year career. Like many booksellers, Littlechild had great wit and a fantastic memory for faces and books. He was outstanding in debating circles and enjoyed debates against Cambridge undergraduates. On his retirement from the firm in 1957, the Cambridge Press reported that generations of publishers’ travellers had called on him and he always liked to remember the more leisurely days of the early part of the century when the traveller would call in his silk hat and with his bag of books pushed on a barrow from the station by an outside porter.
This post is dedicated to those who went over the top.
‘This book about Heffers’ will be published 1st November 2016, and will be available from Heffers Bookshop, Trinity Street, Cambridge, UK
This book is about Heffers: the bookshop that is known all over the world
William Heffer, William Heffer,
Bowes and Bowes, Bowes and Bowes,
Galloway and Porter, Galloway and Porter,
Deighton Bell, Deighton Bell
This rhyme, sung to the tune of Frère Jacques, harks back to a golden age of bookselling in the early to mid-twentieth century Cambridge when the city was served by several excellent establishments, each with their own distinctive history and character. This book tells the story of just one; Heffers of Cambridge, founded by William Heffer in 1876. As a bookseller Heffers enjoyed that golden age. And as a bookseller Heffers was and still is, ‘known all over the world’. What may not be known worldwide, however, is that Heffers has always been a stationer and was once a prolific publisher and printer. In 1933 ‘Mr Ernest’ (son of William) wrote to The Times, challenging the notion of Heffers bookshop as a craft emporium.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES
Sir, – It seems almost ungrateful to criticize such a delicious jeu d’esprit, and we would not do it, except for one reference you make to Oxford. You say that Heffer’s of Cambridge is a bookshop known even to Oxford men, and then go on to pack that bookshop with “little crafts.” Mentally one conjures up visions of wool and of pewter, of seagrass stools and barbola, and the like, on intimate terms with and indeed almost dominating all that is best, and a great deal that is less than best, in the whole realm of books.
Now, Sir, Cambridge by experience knows better; but Oxford, knowing chiefly by repute, might be led to have a wrong conception of what our bookshop really is. May we beg of you to correct this possible misconception before it spreads too deep for correction?
The Efferini Craftelli is carried on at our Sidney Street branch, whilst Heffer’s books is in the Cury: and come there who will, they shall find neither frills nor furbelows: they shall hunt without success for wool and the silk and the straw that delight the heart of woman. The only craft “worked” there is the craft of books.
Director, W. Heffer and Sons, Limited,
3 and 4, Petty Cury, Cambridge
Published in The Times, 20th January 1933
Whilst, arguably, the impressions held by Oxford men or what delights the heart of woman may not concern us, it is a fact that the ‘bookseller’ and ‘stationer’ trades are from the same stable. Chrimes, in his 2012 portrait of Cambridge, tells us that Cambridge University licensed sellers of books to work from ‘fixed stations’, initially in churches or outside their north and south walls. As one of the few stationary trades, the bookselling trade was considered superior to that of itinerant pedlars. The Latin word, ‘stationarius’ had been used to mean a trader with a fixed place of business, but booksellers secured this term for themselves. The ‘e’ in stationers was an eighteenth century derivation. Oldfield, on the other hand, in his 1944 article on Cambridge and its Stationers, insists the derivation rests rather on the metaphysical translations, ‘that which is established by custom’ … than the literal rendering of a ‘place of abode’ or ‘station’.
In a similar fashion to E. W. Heffer’s eloquent retort, I aim to convey something of the style and character of the Cambridge phenomenon that is Heffers. The stories revealed in the forthcoming book, kindly shared by eighty past and present employees and customers, will testify to the many sides of the firm.
‘This books is about Heffers’ will be published on 1st November 2016.
I’m now writing in earnest and over the coming months will share some of the stories as we lead up to the publication and launch of the book at Heffers in Trinity Street, Cambridge, in November 2016.
Meanwhile, an image has come to light of a bust of the firm’s founder, William Heffer.
The image is contained in an envelope with “Ralph Heffer” written upon it in Stephen Heffer’s handwriting. Ralph (1893-1974), son of Harry Heffer and grandson of William, was not involved with the firm but according to his family, enjoyed working with his hands and would possibly have had a go at creating something like this. The Heffer family were not aware of the bust and we cannot ask Stephen who sadly died in 1996.
I hope the bust has not been destroyed and would be delighted to hear from anyone who knows of its whereabouts. Perhaps it is in someone’s house. My parents have a bust of my grandfather, Sidney Saunders. Or perhaps it is nestling in the corner of a college room or library somewhere. William had good relations with many Cambridge establishments and rented the shop at Petty Cury from Emmanuel College. Even if the bust has been destroyed, it would be nice to know who created it and when.
Here is a brief biography of Stephen Heffer, a gifted artist who worked in the family firm.
Stephen John Heffer(1948-1996)
Son of John Heffer and great-grandson of William, Stephen worked with the firm for fifteen years from 1971. He assisted Managing Director, John Welch, on the bookselling and publishing side, and played an instrumental role setting up the Children’s Bookshop and the Bookworm Book Club. He also made regular visits abroad both in Europe and America, retaining very useful personal contacts with librarians overseas. His travels were noted regularly in the staff newsletter, Trinity Street News and he managed the Grafton Centre shop when it first opened in 1983. An artist, Stephen decided in 1986 to leave the firm in order to train at the Camberwell School of Arts and at Winchester. He then worked as an artist in Barcelona, London and Norfolk and he died in London in 1996. An exhibition of his paintings was held at the Sidney Street Gallery in 1998, providing, as described in the brochure, a unique opportunity for friends and visitors to view the breadth of his vision.
If you recognise the bust and know where it can be found, or if you simply know the story behind its creation, please do get in touch:
Heffers & E.M. Forster, libraries, books & a Del Boy moment
As I eagerly anticipate a period of desk research at the Cambridgeshire Collection in the Central Library next week, I recall the times I’ve used libraries in various locations over the years, for a myriad of reasons.
My current project is a social history of the long established Cambridge Heffers Booksellers, Stationers and Printers, to be published this autumn. I’m particularly excited about this due to the family association with the firm, which began with my great-grandfather’s employment as a boy at the end of the nineteenth century.
‘One lad was anything but a bright specimen – practically uneducated and from a miserable home.’ William Heffer helped the lad, ‘by insisting that he should write in a copy book and work out simple sums each night, bringing the results to his employer the next morning. The boy profited by this strange tuition, so much so that he eventually became head assistant in the science department at Petty Cury – no mean achievement.’ (a 1952 biography of William Heffer 1843-1928, by Sidney Heffer, presented to Heffer’s staff, ‘With the Author’s Compliments’)
The ‘boy’ was my great-grandfather, seen here sitting at his desk.
I’m also thoroughly enjoying the research conversations with former employees, customers, authors and academics about their own memories of the firm. I must admit it’s a labour of love.
Do you have a Heffers story you’d be willing to share? If so, please do drop me a line via firstname.lastname@example.org or see the project background on the website –
One service Heffers provided was the valuation of libraries for probate. Heffers also bought libraries to sell through their second-hand and antiquarian department. A family friend, Eve Stafford, who worked for Heffers, recalled the time when the firm valued E.M. Forster’s library after his death in 1970. Not long after, Eve left Heffers to work for King’s, Forster’s college and home for many years.
In my 2014 blog post, ‘Choosing books, living life’, I wrote about the Saturday morning library routine and how I treasured the time with my children at the library.
Where did I hide from those higher education Alan Sugar wannabes, the chequered suited troopers of Enterprise who loudly proclaimed that profit is king?
Where did I find solace for a day as I regained my composure after an absurd contretemps with Trevor?
Neil Gaiman said libraries are about freedom, ‘Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.’
For me, the appeal of the library most definitely has an affective dimension; an emotional attachment that doesn’t exist for some of the other places I may have retreated to in troubled times such as cafés, hotel lobbies, sports centres, galleries and museums. I guess museums come the closest. Museum artefacts, like books, bring different worlds and perspectives to bear on the problem I’m grappling with. Like the books, I don’t have to examine them intently to seek the answers. I just know they’re there, giving the long view informed by lives that have been lived over tens, hundreds, thousands of years. They remind me that I’m not the first to face this problem (whatever it is), nor will I be the last.
Perhaps that’s why I’ve been an inveterate reader and keeper of biographies and memoires. I feel the presence of the lives I’ve observed through other people’s interpretations; people such as Iris Murdoch, D.H. Lawrence, Frida Kahlo, Tony Judt, Jennie Lee, Ada Lovelace, Lorna Sage, Zelda Fitzgerald, John Lennon, Augustus John, Vincent Van Gogh, Bernard Shaw, The Brontes, Elizabeth I, Thomas Hardy, Karl Marx, Elizabeth of York, Ottoline Morrell and Virginia Woolf. I sometimes look at the volumes and reflect on the years lived though it’s not always a conscious thing. Similarly, living in our five hundred year old home, I feel reassured that many others have lived here, and have faced and overcome their own challenges, whatever they may have been.
In ‘The Comfort of Things’, Daniel Miller says relationships ‘flow constantly’ between persons and things. His extraordinarily moving portrait of thirty households in a street in modern London, focusing on our relationship with material things, reveals the centrality of stuff in our lives and what it means for our relationships with people (Miller, 2008). Like my Great Aunt Winifred Anstee (another family member who worked at Heffers) I’m very attached to my books. Hunter Davies said we are a people divided between those who accumulate and those who chuck out. Like Aunty Win, I’m in the former camp. As a child I loved to browse through her overflowing bookcase. I later learned that she had purchased the bookcase for 5 shillings from Heffers when they made the move from Petty Cury to Trinity Street in 1970, and I’m pleased to say that it is still in the family.
I did have a spell working in a library, though it wasn’t in the role I had dreamed of as a teenager. A history fanatic at fourteen, besides wanting to meet Mary Queen of Scots, I wanted to be an archivist. Instead, I worked as the Senior Housing Adviser at Norwich Advice Services in the ‘90s when it was located in the old Norwich subscription library on Guildhall Hill. I recall two memorable days; first, when I heard the news that Margaret Thatcher had resigned in November 1990, and second, when I became trapped in an interview room by a highly disturbed client for two uncomfortable and alarming hours. The building is now a restaurant.
The most significant event in the history of libraries in Norwich (and perhaps in the UK) was when the central library burned down on 1st August 1994. My (first marriage) wedding anniversary, as it happens. I recall watching the news with horror and fully understanding Councillor Brenda Ferris’ distress as she stood in front of the smouldering pile of bricks and pages – a very real Farenheit 451.
I recently visited a friend who gave her address as, ‘The Old Library’. I was delighted to find a stunning and stylish home, still full of books and a most fitting abode for an inspirational, intelligent and incredibly well read woman, writing up her National Trust funded PhD on the history of adult education at Attingham Hall in Shropshire. My own library at home (not the genuine article like Sharon’s), expanded significantly in 2012 when Trevor and I joyfully conjoined our lives, along with our not insignificant book collections. Is there such a thing as a marriage of libraries? Our small publishing venture, Gottahavebooks is certainly an expression of our shared love of books and of social history. And now my pile of postdoc reading material is getting out of hand as I buy and borrow publications that I had wanted to read for years but dared not for fear of neglecting the doctoral thesis.
We can’t all afford to buy the books we read, and we may not want to anyway. Joining a library gives us access to books and so much more. Being a member of a library also entails certain responsibilities. If you don’t follow the rules there are sanctions. Trevor says it’s about having a sense of order and discipline. He says whilst you don’t have to be a member to use the facilities, one should, for example, be quiet. I do get that. However, my children enjoyed the ‘Dick and Dom in ad Bungalow show’ in the mid-2000s, which featured a game called ‘Bogies’. Celebrities took part and I recall Carol Vorderman shouting out ‘bogies!’ possibly in Cambridge University Library (though I may be wrong). It broke the rules and it was funny.
I’ve had my own entertaining library moments. More embarrassing than funny at the time, my backpack was once so overloaded with library books that I fell backwards whilst making polite conversation with one of my college lecturers outside the library at Norwich City College. I went down gracefully, landing on my back, feeling grateful that the books cushioned my fall. The incident, which now makes me smile, reminds me of Del Boy’s famous fall.
In July, Trevor Bounford and I will be joining friends and colleagues at Old Hampstead Town Hall to celebrate the long and extraordinary life of the late Bruce Robertson, co-founder of the Diagram Group, or Diagram Visual Information Ltd. In recent years, we had the privilege of spending a number of convivial evenings with Bruce and his wife, Pat, at their favourite restaurant, Pasta Plus, near Euston Station in London. I loved to hear their stories about Sunderland Art School where they met, Bruce’s time at the Royal College of Art, the early Diagram years and trips to the Frankfurt Book Fair. I could easily picture in my mind’s eye, a much younger Bruce and Trevor working together at the studio in Soho. We were thrilled when Bruce and Pat made it all the way to Gransden for our wedding bash in 2013, despite Bruce’s many health problems – it meant a great deal to have their blessing.
One of the stories was about the founding of the Diagram Group Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year at the Frankfurt Book Fair, now known as the Bookseller/Diagram Prize. According to Bruce, the prize was originally Trevor’s idea. In 1977 Trevor suggested the Diagram crew look for seemingly bizarre, yet serious, book titles as a part of their book fair routine – scouting for possible publication projects. How do you stop yourself from becoming ‘book blind’? You look for weird titles – odd by accident, not by design.
The first winner, in 1978, was in fact, an academic publication, ‘Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice’ published by the University of Tokyo Press. Of course, to biologists, this title may not appear odd at all but to the outsider… nude mice? Really?
Still running after almost forty years, here are some of the recent winners of the Prize:
2010 Managing a Dental Practice: The Genghis Khan Way by Michael R. Young. A how-to guide on managing a dental practice, published by Radcliffe.
2011 Cooking with Poo by Saiyuud Diwong. A Thai cookbook published by Urban Neighbours of Hope.
2012 Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop by Bakeley Reginal. A guide to banishing fairies from your home published by Conari Press.
2013 How to Poo on a Date by Mats & Enzo. The ‘lovers’ guide to toilet etiquette published by Prion Press.
2014 Strangers Have the Best Candy by Margaret Meps Stiletto. A self-published travelogue published by Choose Art.
In 2013, Bruce donated the Diagram Group archive to the University for the Creative Arts, and it is now being used for teaching and research. In November 2014, Dr Sue Perks and Rebekah Taylor from UCA gave a fascinating a talk about the archive which, for me, illuminated the socio-political context in which the Group operated, and the extent to which their body of work contributed to the democratisation of information about everyday things, predominately in pre-internet times. Personally, I’d love to explore this further, if ever I get the time after finishing the PhD.
Meanwhile, the Diagram Prize concept got me thinking. Not about academic publication titles but about those of public lectures given by academics.
Have you ever given a public lecture and employed a quirky turn of phrase to elicit interest?
Did it attract the right sort of interest?
Or have you ever come across or used a title that prompted an unexpected reaction or audience?
If so, please do share. There’s no prize offered – let’s have a show and tell.
Life is what happens while you’re busy choosing books
(with apologies to John Lennon)
Eating together as a family, especially mid-week, is an aspiration for many as they juggle the various extra-curricular activities of the younger members whose diaries are busier than those of their beleaguered parents. No matter what, however, there is always time for choosing books.
In the‘60s and early ‘70s, as children we frequented Heffers Children’s Bookshop in Cambridge, where every week I would spend my pocket money on a paperback; often a Puffin or Green Knight imprint, for anything between 2/6 (12 ½ new pence) and 4/- (20 new pence). The staple diet included Enid Blyton’s Famous Five stories – Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy the dog having ‘absolutely wizard’ adventures; Willard Price’s Adventure stories – Hal and Roger’s adventures in search of wild animals for the world’s zoos, tackling poachers and helping scientists. (I wonder what Price would make of Copenhagen Zoo’s recent killing of Marius the giraffe); Philippa Pearce’s ‘Tom’s Midnight Garden’; Frances Hodgson Burnett’s ‘The Secret Garden’; Penelope Farmer’s ‘Charlotte Sometimes’; Lucy M. Boston’s Green Knowe stories; C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles and Scott O’Dell’s ‘Island of the Blue Dolphins’.
More significant purchases included the 1969 Hamlyn edition of ‘Tell me Why’ by Leokum, ‘answers to over four hundred questions that intelligent young people ask.’
In 1972/3, I was awarded a first year prize at Chesterton School, presented by Les Brown, our head teacher – who walked around the school wearing a black gown (and who once stood in for our maths teacher and spent the whole lesson talking about the Second World War). I chose two books; the Thames & Hudson hardback ‘A concise history of France’ by Douglas Johnson (£2.25) and the New English Library paperback edition of ‘Burke & Hare: The True Story of the Bodysnatchers’ by Hugh Douglas (40 new pence).
Consequently, this image of the interior of Heffers’ Children’s Bookshop, taken in the late ‘60s, is very familiar. Note the absence of the paraphernalia that you tend to get in children’s bookshops today. Like children’s diaries, the bookshops were less cluttered in those days. The focus was the books. Choosing was always a delight but never took long (it took more time to queue for our wares at Sainsbury’s meat and cheese counters afterwards) and I would be even more delighted if the need arose to use the oak library steps to reach a particular volume.
My family had had a long association with Heffers. It began with the employment of my great-grandfather, Mr Frederick Anstee who worked for the company for forty-seven years (starting at the age of thirteen!). On his death in 1944, E. W. Heffer wrote in the trade journal,
‘We are grieved to announce the death suddenly, on Sunday June 18th, 1944, of Mr Frederick Anstee, of 27 Humberstone Road, Cambridge, aged 60 years. Mr Anstee entered our employment as a boy, forty-seven years ago, and by most faithful, conscientious and capable service he rose to be head of our science department. He was known, appreciated and respected by a great number of eminent scientists throughout the world.’
The Bookseller, 22nd June, 1944
This is Heffers at Sidney Street c1937 Coronation: source: Winifred Anstee’s papers
I plan to write more about my family and Heffers (especially Frederick’s daughter, Winifred Anstee and grandson, Bryan Anstee) in another posting.
We also regularly used the Cambridge city library; initially when it was in the Guildhall (now Jamie’s Italian, I understand), and then in Lion Yard where it became the Central Library from the mid-‘70s. Much of Petty Cury, where Heffers had stood (and where we used to visit my great-aunt, Winifred Anstee, in her office), was demolished in the controversial Lion Yard scheme. During the development, I recall one terrible day when my friend, Daphne Bird, was told that her Dad had been killed whilst working on the building site. I often think of that when going into town, even now.
In the ‘60s I had to undergo regular visits to the opticians. I didn’t mind that so much. It was a chance to skip school, and to sit and read Rupert the Bear annuals in the snug little waiting room. I did mind, however, having to wear the plastic blue NHS spectacles and especially, having to spend the occasional week with a fabric plaster stuck over one of the lenses just to get my lazy eye to work that much harder. I guess reading under the blanket with a torch at night when I was supposed to be going to sleep didn’t help make my eyes any better.
The late ‘70s brought the ‘O’ Level and sixth form ‘A’ Level reading lists, including Signet Classic, New Penguin and New Swan paperback editions of Shakespeare (60 new pence), Penguin editions of Lawrence (22 ½ new pence), Austen (75 new pence) and Solzhenitsyn (90 new pence) (I was intrigued when I heard that Russian dissident Vladimir Bukovsky had moved into our road and so much wanted to meet him but never did); Picador editions of Garcia Marquez (£1.50), Pan editions of Hardy (75 new pence) and Penguin Modern Classic editions of Forster (£1.25). There were many second-hand purchases, of course, some less literary than others. Memorably, the Pan edition of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, a short novel by John Burke based on the screenplay by Alun Owen (“John, Paul, George and Ringo hit London – in this hilarious, action-packed novel, based on their wonderful first film.”) was frivolous and fun.
The ‘80s brought the undergraduate reading list, sparked by my growing and active interest in mental health, poverty and women’s rights. Mum’s sociology books formed the start of my collection. These included the Penguin Education edition of Worsley et al’s ‘Introducing Sociology’ (75 new pence) Pelican editions of Coates & Silburn’s, ‘Poverty: The Forgotten Englishmen’ (75 new pence), and Young & Willmott’s, ‘Family and Kinship in East London’ (25 new pence or 5/-). Purchases of my own, made with my student grant, and that I still treasure, include the Pelican paperback of Oakley’s ‘House Wife: High Value-Low Cost’ (£1.95) and of Pizzey’s ‘Scream Quietly or the Neighbours will Hear’ (£1.50); Pelican editions of Goffman (£1); Picador’s edition of Coote & Campbell’s ‘Sweet Freedom: The struggle for Women’s Liberation’ (£1.95); the Quartet edition of Ralph Miliband’s ‘The State in Capitalist Society’ (£2.25); the Macmillan Press series on Critical Texts in Social Work and the Welfare State (in particular, Norman Ginsburg’s ‘Class, Capital and Social Policy’); a Pelican edition of The Communist Manifesto with an introduction by A.J.P. Taylor (£1.00) (as I wrote in my previous blog on extreme volunteering, this was a time of my involvement in student community action, all inspired and informed by these publications), and the Hutchinson edition of T.H. Marshall’s ‘Social Policy’ (£3.50). At the time our family was acquainted with the Marshalls and I was young enough not to be inhibited in conversations with Tom (T.H.) about his notion of welfare capitalism as we strode out on long walks in the Lake District.
The ‘90s and 00s saw a revival of the Saturday morning library routine but now in Norfolk, initially with George to East Dereham library, and then also with Phoebe on trips to North Walsham library. We used the libraries extensively not just for books but now also for videos. We purchased books of course despite not having Heffers at hand. I treasured the time with the children at the library, not least because it got me away from the grind of the weekend housework which usually took the rest of my Saturday. Favourite publications included Orchard’s edition of Anholt’s, ‘Good Days, Bad Days’ (£3.50) and ‘One Hungry Baby’ by Coats & Hellard (£3.50).
The difference about the ‘90s routine was that it included a breakfast outing, at Woolworth’s café in East Dereham, and at The Dutch Oven (then named Christopher’s) in North Walsham, and the weekly purchase of sweets (for the children, of course). Phoebe was just a week old when introduced to the Saturday routine but it wasn’t long before she too was walking along the top of the wall past the North Walsham post depot on the way to the library exclaiming ‘mind the crocodile!’ as she went. Our second-hand purchases were often made in charity shops. It was in the cellar of the Break Charity shop in North Walsham, one Saturday morning in 2002, that we got the call that George and Phoebe’s granddad had sadly passed away. And then, just four years later, I was on the Saturday morning routine with George, Phoebe and Betty (my mother-in-law), when Betty had a massive stroke from which she never recovered. George, twelve at the time, went in the ambulance with his grandmother whilst I drove with Phoebe to the hospital.
Things happened. The Saturday routine occasionally involved the unexpected; happy and sad.
It wasn’t just on Saturdays and in Norfolk that we sought out books – or experienced events. George was once locked in a bookshop at the end of the day on a family holiday in Galway in 2003, whilst seeking another volume by Darren Shan, a favourite author. On another occasion, he took his entire collection (a full back pack) to a book signing; Shan kindly signed every copy. Another memorable authorial encounter, particularly for George, was a visit by the East Anglian Writers Group to our home in North Norfolk. Clive King, who penned an old favourite, ‘Stig of the Dump’, had come along. This was a time of ‘series’ such as the Spiderwick Chronicles, Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events and of course, Harry Potter. Phoebe got into Jacqueline Wilson’s social realism – she liked the stories but criticized the writing and would often complain, “too many ‘ands’, Mum”.
I still visit bookshops, new and second-hand, and libraries, but the Saturday morning routine is no more; neither is the housework and for that I’m thankful. George is in his first year at Durham University, spending most of his Saturdays at rugby, and Phoebe has a Saturday job in a sandwich bar in North Walsham. Trevor and I have carefully packed away many of the children’s books. These are now in storage, waiting for the time when the children, and their books, can have a home of their own.
Perhaps one day, George and Phoebe will have their own Saturday book and library routines with their own children, and perhaps unexpected experiences too. That will only be possible, however, if bookshops and libraries survive. Without them, we may only get our books online.