... is his private literature. Aldous Huxley said that, and how true it is.
I've been in the UK ten days, and in the bedroom where I sleep sits a bookcase crammed two deep with all sorts of books - my Mum's collection of James Bond novels, for example. She has lots of books she's kept for ever. A lot of Hammond Innes, Alistair MacLean, John Creasey. Some Nevil Shute and Dennis Wheatley. A few Colemanballs. On the bottom shelf there are several books which were of particular interest to myself. Along with all my sister's old LPs (Madness - 7, Specials - Specials, Haircut 100 - Pelican West, etc.) there sit some books my sister and I owned as children. The other night I grabbed a few off the shelf and started thumbing through. Two in particular that I had forgotten I had were The HOW Annual 1973 and Look-In's HOW Annual which hasn't got a year in the title but was printed in 1973 so it was probably the '74 edition.
For those who either can't remember, were too young or didn't live in the UK, HOW was a brilliant TV show, with a brilliant if none too politically correct theme tune, produced by Southern Television. Probably a bit boring for today's kids in the era of iPhones and HDTV, but I loved it. There were four presenters - Fred Dinenage (pronounced 'DIE - nidge'), who was one of Southern's sports presenters, Bunty James, the obligatory woman on the show, Jon Miller who was a science whiz, always making gadgets that had no useful purpose other than demonstrating some scientific principle, and last but by no means least, Jack Hargreaves, who was always showing something to do with the countryside, be it some archaic farm tool or something to do with fishing. Jack was a friend of the family, specifically, my Grandfather Len Dann who had been on several fishing trips with Jack. On a couple of occasions they were accompanied by Jack's cameraman Stanley Brehaut (pronounced Brew-it) and the resulting footage would show up on Jack's other show, Out Of Town. The two HOW books in question are both autographed by Jack. Talk about a trip back in time. I met Jack once, when I was very small, probably about 4 or 5, and the only thing I remember is sitting on his knee and him teaching my sister and I how to click our tongues to make a horse's hoof sound.
Another book in the pile was from 1978 - The Multi-Coloured Swap Shop Book. Again, for all the young'uns and those in the Colonies, Swap Shop was a very successful Saturday morning TV show, hosted by Radio 1 DJ and Top Of The Pops host Noel Edmonds, featuring kids' newscaster John Craven, a very young Keith Chegwin, and later, Maggie Philbin, who went on to marry the cheeky Cheggers. The idea behind the show was that people who had stuff they didn't want could call or write in and offer it as a 'swap' and state what they would like to swap it for. Hence the title. Interspersed with all of this were celebrity guests, news items, cartoons and the like. It was a very watchable show and I was quite sad when it disappeared. They replaced it with Saturday Superstore which had a similar format but without the swaps. Keith was always dispatched to some strange location for the live 'Swaporama' and the location was only revealed as the show was being broadcast so you had to be watching it to know. It always seemed to be some football stadium in the rain, for some reason. They revealed the location so if you were in the area you could get your 'swaps' and take them down there. The show also had a mascot - a purple dinosaur (no, not Barney) called 'Posh Paws' which is Swap Shop spelt backwards - sort of.
Another couple of books off the shelf were More More More Tell Me Why by Arkady Leokum and 1,000 Great Lives by Plantagenet Somerset Fry, which, as well as being very informative to my enquiring mind (and probably the reason I have such a great knowledge of utter trivia), and being written by two people with strange names - were given to me by Uncle Gordon. He wasn't my real uncle, but a friend of the family. He never forgot our birthdays or Christmas or Easter, bless that man. He would always give us books, and always made sure to give us the same books for birthdays and Christmas so there would be no arguments. Easter would always find him on our doorstep with a pair of matching Easter eggs, too. If it hadn't been for Uncle Gordon I probably wouldn't have been so well-read. He's still around, so if you're reading this, Uncle Gordon, thank you ever so.
Nostalgia is a funny thing. It's amazing how a few old books can bring so many memories pouring back. I must admit, I got misty looking at all those books. Now, I wonder what tonight's reading will do for me? I see a What's So Important About...? on the shelf.