Perfect contentment in teenage years was a mug of tea and a book. I drank tea that was excessively sweet, three spoons of sugar, and read voraciously. Perhaps the lack of alternative diversion explained the tea and reading, but there seemed not much need for any alternatives.
My parents were both enthusiastic readers, moving their membership of Somerset County libraries from one branch to the next as they exhausted the range that interested them in each of the libraries.
For a child, there was a pride in having your own library tickets. The tickets were pockets formed from card. The pockets were open on two sides, a ticket bearing the title of the book borrowed was tucked in each of the pockets. Having four tickets was a privilege for older readers – and for children who could read four books in a week and then wonder when there would next be a visit to the library. Loans were for a fortnight, the date for return being stamped on a counterfoil inside the front cover. It would have been a matter of disappointment if all of the books had not been finished in the two weeks.
While giving up sugar in the 1980s, my fondness for tea has never declined. Picking up a mug while reading CJ Sansom’s novel Tombland, I recalled the countless hours I had spent reading during my childhood. Oddly, there are not many of the hundreds of books that I must have read that I can still recall. Worzel Gummidge was read at primary school, The Otterbury Incident when I was ten. There was the boys’ own stuff, the adventure novels of Willard Price, the Biggles stories by W.E. Johns. The artwork of Hergé’s adventures of Tintin remains a vivid memory; the only drawback was that the stories were quickly read.
My parents still have books that they had when I was a child, some of them probably not often read in the past fifty years. Sometimes there is an impulse to lift one off of a shelf and leaf through the pages, not to read, but to establish some link with the times when books represented an escape from the mundaneness of life in a small and dull West Country village.
Perhaps we are people who hoard, to give books away would represent a huge wrench (and to throw them away would be unthinkable). Who knows when one might make an appropriate accompaniment for a cup of tea?