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Wednesday 10 March 2010

She’s Leaving Home!

Children never really leave home; neither do they ever become adults, in their parents’ eyes at least. Until I had my own home my accumulated detritus, collected over many years, lay undisturbed in the attic of my mother’s house. It was my god given right, or so I thought, to leave whatever I wanted in the home that I had grown up in and had my mother ever complained I would have been startled, completely taken aback at such an unthinkable state of affairs.

One fine afternoon I overheard her, in her twilight years, order a young man (to whom she wanted to give a few hours work in case he came in handy one day) to build a large fire in the back garden and put on it anything he could lay his hands on from the garage. I thought no more about it but wandered out, some time later, to find the smouldering remains of my niece’s collection of archaeological reference books amongst other former treasures. It was up to me to inform said unfortunate niece that the bits and bobs she had thought would lay undisturbed until she had the wherewithal to retrieve them, were decimated, destroyed, burnt to cinders, and quite beyond rescue. I can still hear the shrieking and gnashing of teeth that came down the phone line that otherwise sunny afternoon.

When my youngest daughter left home she asked if I would do the same with her collection of books as I had done for my eldest son. A carpenter was duly contracted to create and fit another long shelf or three and no sooner had the varnish dried than Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Anne Rice, Clive Barker, Stephenie Meyer, J.R.R. Tolkien et al were lined up side by side and left to await being reunited with their owner at some future date.

On the opposite wall, in higgledy-piggledy order sits Philip K. Dick, Harry Harrison, Arthur C. Clarke, Iain Banks, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Kurt Vonnegut, Brian Aldiss, Gary Larson and his Farside Gallery, and the high jinx of Calvin & Hobbes.

My son didn’t arrive home to deposit his book collection before heading off to the States. Instead, I got a frantic call saying that his erstwhile father, who had housed his library until now, was moving and would perforce have to dump the books unless arrangements were made. I thought long and hard and two minutes later rang my ex-boss in the UK, a man of integrity, incredible and many kindnesses, and a father himself. Two days later this company director drove up to Horsham and proceeded to load his car with everything that was known to belong to my son and heir, including his art portfolio.

The books were taken back to company headquarters, boxed and shipped, gratis, to Ireland ready to take possession of three rows of shelving where they collect dust but look no less impressive for that. The bonus was that two of the pictures in the portfolio were mounted and framed and hung with great delight, a reminder of the other career path he could have chosen. Whenever my son comes home (it’s been so long now I hardly know what he looks like) he mooches about in my sitting room, taking down the odd book, enjoying the fact that they are all here, safe, on show and not going anywhere.

There is still one shelf dedicated to my children's childhood heroes that entertains visitors, keeping the younger ones amused and sending the older ones way down memory lane. There’s Rupert Bear with his oriental chums; Asterix and friends up to all kinds of tricks; and the complete collection of Tin Tin with the faithful Snowy at his heels.

I’ve heard it said that you’re never alone with a shelf full of books to keep you company. And I know that as long as my tiny sitting room is crammed full of all our favourite books, my children will keep coming home, if only to check on Philip, or Iain, or Terry, or Douglas, or even me!

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Saturday 5 December 2009

What's a Hobbit?

I have been fortunate to have had not one, but two older brothers to read and filter through the sci-fi fantasy section of bookshops for thirteen years 'til I came along. As I've grown, my treasury of books has been added to and enhanced by numerous hand-me-downs and borrowed reads. One of my earliest book-related memories is opening an oblong parcel one birthday and seeing a golden brown book cover with the words: The Hobbit written on it. I looked up at my brother and asked in all innocence, "What's a Hobbit?"... I devoured every last spellbinding word and conjured up the strange worlds first envisioned by Mr. Tolkien. A couple of Christmases later, The Lord of the Rings followed with equally gratifying results.

I also remember scanning through the shelves of books belonging to my siblings to find something to write a school book-report on when I was nine or ten. Everything was brightly coloured and had pretty pictures on the fronts but when I looked inside I was repeatedly disappointed by how small the writing was and how boring the story lines seemed to be. I continued to pick through the stacks for maybe an hour or two, which, when you're that age, seems like forever. The second I picked up Terry Pratchett's Small Gods, I knew I was holding something special. The writing was just the right size, the cover was colourful without being garish and best of all, on reading the first paragraph I laughed no less than three times. I was hooked.

When I was recommended The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy I jumped in head first with no hesitation or questions and haven't been the same since. I felt like I had been waiting for Douglas Adams all my life and everything I had hitherto read was just the introduction. No words, at least on this planet, could describe how I feel about Mr. Adams and his works of utter incredulity. I have devoted much of my spare time to trying to understand what sate of mind he was in when the idea was first conceived and how it came to evolve into such a variety of stories. Hitchhiker's was first spawned as a radio series back when my brothers were hidng behind the sofa from the Daleks of Dr. Who fame. It was remodeled and reworked into the book shortly after, and later still, much to Adams disbelief, more books followed in the series. Stage shows, musicals, computer games, a movie and public recitations have been performed with equally disastrous and ecstatic reviews. All of these creations begin in the same place and time, all star the same characters and all split and follow completely different tangents shortly after the word is demolished in the second or third chapter. I thank my lucky stars, and some of my unlucky ones too, that i have been privy to the knowledge that "Belgium" is actually a most offensive curse word and that [SPOILER ALERT] 42 is the answer to life, the universe and everything.

For Christmas this year I have asked for books, unlike my usual demands for DVDs, shoes or electronics, and I can't wait to see what assails my mind next. Perhaps Brother Clause will find me another piece of literary art that I may cherish and draw from as much as I have previously. I patiently wait for the next installment in my repertoire of cult-collected classics.

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