Friday, 22 February 2008
Favourite childhood books
I was so completely "horse-mad" when I was young, but the only pony books I had were ones I could loan from the library. I can remember one book I read when I was about 8, and it was called "The Horse on Ben Awe." For some reason, I started getting nightmares, and my mum wouldn't let me go to the Library for months after that. It was the worse sort of punishment - she just didn't realize how much books and reading meant to me.
When I saved up enough pocket money, I would go along to the hardware shop down the road. One side sold tools, buckets, spades, door handles, and stank of paraffin, which was dispensed at the back of the shop. The other side sold knitting wool, handkerchiefs, haberdashery, and a few books - Collins children's classics. My criteria for a book was, did it have a horse in it? I think they stretched a point on some of the books they offered me. Children of the New Forest had horses in it of course. Lorna Doone had the highwayman Tom Fagus, who came courting Annie, with his handsome strawberry roan mare Winnie, who leapt back and forth over the gate with young Jan Ridd until his teeth fairly rattled. I read that book again and again. I only ever read one Enid Blyton book - a Secret 7 mystery and was very disappointed that there weren't ANY horses in it. Gulliver's Travels had the Houyhnhnms, so that passed muster. The Last of the Mohicans had horses in passing, and was a thrilling read, as was Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. In this manner, I read my way through many of the children's classics, and I would like to thank Beauchop's stores for helping give me such a love of literature.
The Library was my Mecca, once I was allowed to return, and I spent many Saturday mornings browsing the bookshelves and seeing the sun shine through high windows, lighting the dustmotes. I discovered the Pullein-Thompson sisters and think I have read every one of their novels. My favourites were Riding With the Lyntons and Pony Club Camp - the latter being the first pony book I was ever given. I went on to instruct at Pony Club myself, so I think it was a formative book . . . I read all the Jill books, but they annoyed me - she was so silly and such a prig. Best of all were the Westling and Punchbowl novels of Monica Edwards. She wrote about real families, real ponies, and I read them over and over and over (and if I am feeling poorly and need cheering up, I get one out and read it again). I especially loved the Punchbowl series, as it was a real place. There really WAS a Punchbowl farmhouse, with beams and an inglenook and stables and an ancient yew tree where Lindsey used to play her recorder and in the Spirit of Punchbowl Farm, her music conjured up the past . . . Another sort of past was found in Black Hunting Whip, where Dion was set to carry the hunting whip to triumph in a local show, only its original owner appears to borrow it . . . I was forever taken with the idea of the blocked up doorway into what had been the old wing (long demolished) and coming down in the middle of the night, with a candle, to find a door there . . . I think Monica Dickens had read Alison Uttley's novel A Traveller in Time about the Babington Plot, to rescue Mary, Queen of Scots.
A neighbour's daughter I was friendly with loaned me a wonderful American book called The Magnificent Barb, saying I HAD to give it back. It was about a thoroughbred horse descended from the three founding stallions of the English Thoroughbred - the Darley Arabian, the Godolphin Barb and the Byerley Turk. This horse, its poor owners believed, was the Godolphin Barb reincarnated. "'Tis the nap foot - the white foot" - from the rhyme "One white foot buy a horse; two white feet try a horse; three white feet look well about him; four white feet do without him" . . . Somehow it stayed with me, it was a magical book, and Marilyn, I have it still . . .
When the riding school we went to at Testwood organized a jumble sale, there were lots of horsey things for sale. I didn't have much money to spare but I spent a penny on a beautiful old cowrie shell which was in a trunk of "rubbish" at the back of the room, and spent something like 6d in "old money" on a book by E M Ducat, Ponies and Caravans. That was another "true story" about children taking ponies and driving an old gypsy-style caravan on a holiday, with a true brat in the form of a girl called Petronella, who might these days be described as having "issues" when truly she was just spoilt. It was illustrated with photographs - the girls rode in pretty frocks, not a hard hat in site, and Health & Safely would have 40 blue fits and more . . . I have to confess I kept all my pony books, every single one - oh, except for the annoying Jill books which I was happy to give away.
Is it any wonder that I ended up living in a rambling old Welsh farmhouse with beams in every room, not just one but TWO inglenook fireplaces and horses of my own . . . and a daughter to owes her choice of names to two Monica Edwards' heroines . . .