The launch of the Kindle got me thinking about all the things an e-reader can never be. You can't inscribe it to a loved one or press flowers between it's pages. It can never be an object, loved and cherished and passed from person to person, with any history. Your children cannot draw upon the pages and fill it with precious memories. Illustrations look terrible on it, especially art, which needs a grand scale. For these reasons and many more, help me celebrate the real thing: dusty old books!

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Saviour's saviour!

My good friend, the wonderful writer Saviour Pirotta, has sent a lovely contribution to this growing list of adored dusty old books. This one was not always adored; it haunted him for years and only a chance encounter brought reconciliation. Read on to find out how!

"Being a bit of an apple convert, I have been toying the idea of getting an ipad, even though my macbook air is still in its nappies, less than six months old. But something in the advert on telly put me off. More books than you can read in a lifetime? What a depressing thought.

Surely that's turning reading into a chore, even worse - an unattainable goal. No matter how many books you read, you are going to miss the finishing line, Mr. The grim reaper will have to finish the job for you!

And what about the pleasure of discovering something new. What about happinstance? What about coming across a book, an author you have never read while skiving in a bookshop or a car boot sale, a charity shop? What about hearing about a title at a dinner party? Do those books go at the end of the queue after the ipad selection?

The idea brought back memories of something that happened to me recently, something I call my Christmas miracle.

As a child I used to attend the Roman Catholic equivalent of the Sunday school, except that this took place every day after school. Every Friday we watched a slide show, with a teacher telling a story. He [it was always a he. This club was strictly for boys. The girls had their own club] would stand under the screen and when he wanted the slide changed, he rang a small bell to alert the projectionist at the back of the hall.

One year we watched and heard a Christmas story. One image from the slide show struck a chord with me and continued to haunt me well into adulthood. It was the picture of a lonely man, struggling home through the sleet with an absurdly tiny Christmas pudding in his hands. The teacher said, 'Christmas is a time for families, but even the lonely single man in his garret can enjoy the lord's blessings.'

Sitting in the dark of that hall with the beam of the projector's light shining above me, I had a terrible sense of deja vu that my lot might be like that lonely man's. One day I was going to be that lonely man struggling home through a storm with a Christmas pudding for one.

As I grew older, every time I was turned down by a prospective date, that solitary man's ravaged face would float into my consciousness, always staring through me with baleful eyes. I grew so terrified of ending up alone all my life I allowed myself to overstay a long and loveless relationship.

When I moved up to Yorkshire, newly single and for once able to afford more than a garret, I found myself looking through a pile of books at a car boot sale in Bingley. A small book, the size of a Ladybird caught my eye. It was called A STRING OF BLUE BEADS. I'd never heard of it but I loved the old illustrations, and the tagline said 'by the author of THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD, one of my favourite films [although admittedly I have over a hundred favourite films]

When I took the book home, I realised it was the story of the lonely man with the Christmas pudding. The illustrations were done by a different artist from the one who had drawn the slides used at the Cathecism class but there was the unlucky chap from my nightmares, still alone on Christmas eve, in this version of the book drinking a solitary cup of coffee in a bar. His name was Pete Wakefield. I was glad to put a name to a face that had haunted me for so long.

I raced through the story and, would you believe it, it has a happy ending. Out of the blue, Pete Wakefield meets a lovely girl who is in love with him. No more Christmas puddings for one for the lucky fellow! And no more nightmares for me, not that particular Christmas one anyway. I felt somehow released from a, from I don't know what. It was like turning on a torch in the middle of the night and finding out you haven't gone blind after all, there's a power cut. And somehow, I can never imagine the same thing happening with all my books and stories on an ipad, not in a million years, let alone a lifetime."

a blast from the past

hello, old chap. Long time no see!

a happy ending!

Thanks again Saviour for a wonderful story!


  1. Awe, I love a happy ending!

    I recently rediscovered the book Emma Thompson based her Nanny McPhee screenplay on in my daughter's "I'm too old for these" pile - I don't think I'll be getting rid of it somehow.

  2. Is that the one with Ardizzone's illustrations? If you want you can send me some words to put on here about any faves you want to share...