Tag Archives: Dylan Thomas

A Child’s Christmas in Wales

Dylan Thomas and Peter Bailey, A Child's Christmas in Wales

I had been wondering if my true Christmas feelings only come out when I read a translated book, like the Erich Kästner. More Swedish, somehow. But it works as well to travel into the past as to another country.

Strangely enough, considering my own past with Dylan Thomas, I don’t believe I had read his A Child’s Christmas in Wales before. Now I have, and it’s a most poetic excursion into the past. I’m guessing it’s Dylan Thomas’s own childhood, in which case the memories must be from the 1920s; an era I have no personal experience of.

Dylan Thomas and Peter Bailey, A Child's Christmas in Wales

The words are lovely enough, but I have to confess to having ‘read’ the illustrations by Peter Bailey even more avidly than Dylan’s poetic prose (prosy poetry?). I have never been a small boy in snowy Wales, wearing shorts even in winter, but somehow I felt right at home.

Dylan describes simpler times, and what seems like genuine pleasure in simple gifts and simple pastimes. Those historical aspects are things we would do well to return to.

And God bless Miss Prothero, who thanks the firemen who put out the fire in her house by offering them something to read…

Dylan Thomas and Peter Bailey, A Child's Christmas in Wales

A reasonable copy of Under Milk Wood

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.

Dylan Thomas, Under Milk Wood

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.

Moving tales #2 – the books

The books. Some will simply have to go. About half would be good.

So, one question: Does it make more sense to hang on to old books already read and thoroughly enjoyed, or those not yet read at all? I’m beginning to think that some used ones ought to go, and some new ones should stay, in the hopes they will come into favour at some point. But not too many.

Some books have moved around with me before. A lot. I used to be of the opinion that if I’d liked something, I’d hang on to it. Part of the family and all that. Now that this looks like an impossible ambition, I suspect I can chuck out quite a few books. I look at them and ask myself if I’m at all likely to re-read, even were I not so blessed with new incoming books on a daily basis.

More often than you’d think, the answer is no. And for every 19 books successfully Oxfammed, there is bound to be a 20th I will regret. But there are libraries and secondhand bookshops, and even firsthand bookshops, whence mistakes might be rectified.

Books

Libraries. I must have imagined I actually am a library in the past. Thoughts like ‘that could be handy to have if …’ have confused me. I have hung on to books because I am a snob. It would look impressive – or at least marginally good – to have certain books on my shelves.

And, it’s so useful to have a nice selection if visitors want to read while staying with us. Pah! I don’t like lending books, and we don’t exactly run a hotel here. The only people impressed by our books have been Son’s reception teacher and our former GP. The Grandmother sometimes finds something she will read (which she then takes home with her to finish).

I have been known to feel that if I adore a writer, I must keep all of his or her books, when a few of the best will do. Now that I own a lot of signed books I have felt I can’t part with any of those. But I’ll just have to. (The embarrassing fact is that anything signed to Bookwitch will be rather obvious. Please don’t hate me.)

I can’t get rid of books written by the very nice people I am now reasonably acquainted with. But I will have to. You are still absolutely lovely people. So are your books. Lovely, I mean, not that they are people.

Several copies of the ‘same’ book makes little sense. So does keeping [all of] Offspring’s books. Unless they at least spring clean a little, so we don’t keep every single one. Son could prune his multiple copies of Terry Pratchett and Eoin Colfer. Daughter could decide she won’t bl**dy re-read Cathy Hopkins, again. Actually, no, perhaps she couldn’t.

Some of my fiction is quite easy to decide on. But what about Shakespeare? One collected works is enough, which means the other can go. But the plays we also have separately? What will we want to return to at some point? Which Tom Stoppard play do I like best? Shaw? Do we need two Swedish hymn books?*

*This backfired a little. When the Resident IT Consultant was reminded of Shaw, for instance, he promptly sat down and read one of the plays. He told me off for wanting to deprive him of the poetry of Dylan Thomas. Oh, dear. He claimed the Zen motorbike book was his, and not mine to chuck out. And so it went.

But some books went.

Bookwitch bites #38

January brings not just bad weather and the opportunity to send Offsprings everywhere back to school, but paperbacks galore. Or it seems that way. Candy Gourlay’s Tall Story is out in soft version, with the same cover except for the changes. Jon Mayhew’s Mortlock is also out there somewhere, but I’ve just heard the rumours. Not actually seen it. Marcus Sedgwick’s Ghosts and Gadgets have likewise been paperbacked. Hair raising cover.

If you don’t like paperbacks there is always the Kindle. Philip Ardagh was back on morning television this week again, to talk about Kindling. It was very early, and all he did after travelling across Kent (or whoever it was he crossed well before dawn – who is she?) was sit there on the sofa and say that he doesn’t want a Kindle. Luckily they had a JKR lookalike to tell people all the techy details about bookless reading.

There are new books out there, too. Marie-Louise Jensen’s Sigrun’s Secret has arrived, and I’m in the midst of reading. A more contentious ‘new’ book is Huckleberry Finn without the n-word. A pc world is a much better world, or so some people believe.

You can clean up too much. At university I read Under Milk Wood. An English friend made a joke about reading the placename backwards and how I’d see an interesting word. I read and I read and saw nothing terribly fun at all. You try backwardsing on Llaregyb. I had been sold a sanitised version! B*gger.

How I Live Now is about to become a film, at long last. Possibly. Probably.

And finally, Anne Cassidy, Keren David, Linda Strachan and Gillian Philip have clubbed together to become Crime Central. I will return to them soon, but have to reflect a little on what is meant by crime. Books for oldies still seem to be more about solving the crime. These ladies are more into committing the crime, which is an admirable way to go about things. True role models. ; )

Dissertations and stuff

On account of us (that’s Daughter and I) setting off for Oxford later today, I’ll ponder the business of writing really clever stuff. For some obscure reason the previously mentioned Daughter started asking questions about dissertations the other week. And to be perfectly honest I’m not sure of the finer differences between things.

My educational background never stretched further than essays. Or possibly it did, and I’m just incorrectly using the word essay for my humble efforts. I wrote a dreadful thing on the American space programme, but the poor physics teacher was impressed. It didn’t take me long at all to work out what a feeble piece it was. It taught me the valuable lesson that sometimes the hardest thing is to write about what you love.

So later on at university I simply picked a topic off the tutor’s list and ended up with Under Milk Wood, of all subjects. But it was OK, and I enjoyed it. At the next stage I went for The Angry Young Men, which was less fun, but still interesting. On the other hand, I won’t be sorry if I never read another play by John Osborne. I would much have preferred Tom Stoppard, but apparently he was too fluffy and fun to take seriously.

Needless to say the Resident IT Consultant did stuff on IT kinds of things. I’ve never bothered reading it. And I couldn’t find a copy when I was going to show Daughter how clever her old people once were.

As I was busy flipping out with the effort of having two small Offspring at home, I met someone at one of our Swedish meetings, who taught at the university. She spent the first two years of her first child’s life polishing her PhD, while also effortlessly giving birth to child number two. In fact, I got the impression that for each child (she has four) she spent the maternity period on something academic.

I did try to read her thesis. She was actually very pleased when I inquired about it, and provided me with a copy. As I dug it out for Daughter’s investigation I noticed that I hadn’t even got halfway. It was sort of in my kind of subject, it being linguistics, but I still didn’t understand the finer points of Swedish noun phrases.

So I don’t know. Might be best if I stick with low-level blogging.