Mrs G taught me a lot. I marvel at how little I actually knew before coming to lodge with the Gs for one academic year. I was a reader and surrounded by likeminded readers at home. But I never thought of books per se. Didn’t buy all that many, either.
So to find my ‘landlady’ showing me her collection of first edition H E Bates novels was a novel (pardon) concept. I understood the words, but not so much the sentiment. She also told me that Mr G collected books on WWI. So there were their bookshelves, groaning under the weight of attractive looking volumes. It was nice when they were added to, but the collecting wasn’t frantic.
A year later I was back in England, and had an essay to write on Under Milk Wood. Feeling she’d be interested, I must have told Mrs G about it, because when I arrived at the house for a visit, she packed me into the car to go and ‘look at a book.’
While I already had a paperback of the Dylan Thomas drama for radio, she felt that was to work with. A girl would also need a nice copy. And in her regular trawls through the East Sussex secondhand bookshops, she’d found a reasonable copy for me. I mean, I didn’t know I needed a second copy, but as I said, I knew very little.
It wasn’t a first edition (I suspect that would have been expensive), but it was old enough and the original edition. I have absolutely no idea where we went. It was a drive down some of the countless narrow lanes in Sussex, to a quaint little cottage selling books.
I seem to recall it cost about three times as much as the cheap new paperback, but obviously I bought it. And – equally obviously – it is the copy I’m hanging on to, now that the essay is a mere memory. Because it is a nice copy. And because of how I came by it.
Isn’t it astounding what someone will do for an ignorant ex-lodger? I believe that the H E Bates and WWI collections on their own would not have done it for me, nor would the reasonable Under Milk Wood. But together they started me off on a totally different life.