17th September 2012
Posted: 2nd October 2012 | Category: Headmasters's Blog
When I was a tender young lad I went through reading phases or “obsessions” as my father called them. I took to reading early; all the members of the family were bookworms or “bookmaggots” as my brother would say! We had a library in the toilet which was euphemistically referred to as the thunderbox or throne and my brother actually taught himself Anglo Saxon whilst holding court!
At the age of 11 C.S.Forester was all the rage: Mr Midshipman Hornblower; The Happy Return; Lord Hornblower; A Ship of the Line; Flying Colours; The Commodore. I consumed them at a startling rate.
At 12 I had moved onto Gerald Durrell and was transported with delight as I religiously followed the author on epic journeys and laughed at the animal adventures: The Bafut Beagles; A Zoo in my Luggage; 3 Singles To Adventure; My Family and Other Animals; and Catch Me A Colobus to name just a few.
My target was minimum of a book a week, although Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings took me a tad longer as did Papillon but I left reading The Bible cover to cover till I was in Year 9!
Yes, I was and am still an avid reader and my family obviously led by example but they never actively encouraged me to read widely and thereby expand my literary horizons; they left me very much to my own devices. Or so I thought until I had a chat to mum the year before she passed away.
We were chatting about our favourite authors and as my mum was German we included some of our favourites. Gerda opted for Schiller, Lessing, and Goethe whilst I echoed Goethe but added Kafka, Frisch, Böll and Dürrenmatt. We moved onto great English and American Literature and it suddenly struck us both that we had read a Dickens of a lot of books between us covering every conceivable genre!
I asked mum why had she never encouraged me to read widely and broaden my literary horizons. Here is the transcript of the conversation:
“But I did encourage your reading, Liebchen! So did your father!”
“You most certainly did not!” I maintained.
“But we did! We encouraged you every day of the week throughout your childhood!”
“And how exactly did you do that?”
Mum gave that all-knowing smile that only mums who are always right can give.
“How did you manage to read so many books when you were growing up? Surely there were not enough hours in the day?”
Her Cheshire-cat smile was now bordering on the sardonic!I was caught! My guilty secret was about to be divulged after years of subterfuge. She had me on the ropes with no means of escape! You see the fact is that every night I was sent up to bed at a sensible time and mum or dad would bid me goodnight and my bedroom would be plunged into stygian gloom. I would wait till I heard the creak on the stairs that heralded the All Clear and reach for the torch that I kept secreted on a clip underneath my bookshelf. Switch on and grab book and settle down for a good long read…marvellous!
Time for the revelation of my crime!
“Well you see, Mum, I have been deceiving you about this reading malarkey! When I was a nipper and somewhat wet behind the ears, I pulled the wool over your eyes! I was not the honest, obedient son who went to bed when ordered and went to sleep! I waited until you or dad were on the way back to the lounge and…”4I had to break off as mother had tears in her eyes and her face was puffed up as if she was going to spontaneously self-combust! I looked down and continued…
“and I took a torch and read under the bedcovers. Mum, I deceived you and Dad!
A cathartic feeling began to flow through me until the silence was shattered by a huge guffaw! Mum was wracked with laughter! She was hooting!
I, on the other hand, could not see the funny side of my confession and told her so!
“But, mein Lieber! How could you afford so many batteries when reading so many books over so many years?”
The question was innocent but barbed.
I thought back: I was given the torch when I was 9 and I used it more or less every evening until I was 13 when there was no longer a limit to my waking hours. Four years – seven days a week. How many times had I changed the batteries in that period? And the answer was never!
I looked at Mum who was still wiping tears from her eyes.
“Dummkopf! Your father changed the batteries every fortnight! Of course we encouraged you to read!”
What a sagacious women with a numpty for a son!