When I was nobbut a lad, my reading habits were not entirely as they are today. I did make my way through some of the children’s classics (e.g. The House at Pooh Corner) and key works of the day (e.g. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) but also started my life with science fiction after borrowing Galactic Patrol by E E ‘Doc’ Smith from my dad’s bookshelves at the age of seven. I don’t recall there being encyclopaedias in the house, but as a child I was obsessed by facts and the acquisition of knowledge (at least in some fields) and so my parents provided a number of works to feed this desire (and, I presume, in an attempt to shut me up). I recall 365 Things to Know and another work with a title involving 3 or 4 of the key question words (i.e. how, why, what, where, when, who) and a conjunction – but I’m fairly sure there were others.
Not only do I remember the books, but I also remember hauling myself to the headmaster’s office on several occasions to show him my latest tome of fabulous facts. He seemed quite good at evincing mild interest, which I feel may have been a mistake on his part. I am starting to suspect that I might have been quite an annoying child (which I’m sure readers deduced several hundred posts ago). However, despite my unpaid marketing efforts on behalf of the fact-based publishing industry, I did eventually rise to the primary school equivalent of head boy. This may stand as my greatest achievement to-date.
Yes, even at primary school, I was preparing myself for pub quiz participation when I finally came of age. Well, it was either that or I was training to be a QI elf several decades before John Lloyd came up with the idea for QI: which makes my continued lack of elf-hood all the more galling. To return briefly to quizzing, I do not approve of people learning facts purely because they will be useful in a quiz environment: all my facts have been learned either for the sheer joy they brought or they arrived by chance and I have subsequently been unable to discard them. I feel this is the true Corinthian spirit of quiz participation – anything else smacks of professionalisation and the grubby intrusion of market values.
As so often arises at around this stage in a post, the audience is left wondering why the fool is sharing his largely irrelevant history – though, I should probably make clear that this blog may one day form the basis for my best-selling memoirs (the diary is so last millennium). Well, if you are all sitting comfortably, I shall continue.
The availability of new non-fiction works in my personal library has recently fallen to a very low level (not having gainful employ does mean I hit the bookshelves rather hard): though following an unseasonal visit to October Books yesterday, the position has briefly improved. As a result, my current and previous reading has reverted to a rather similar style to that which I used to share with my old headmaster – and, as in those far off days, both were bought for me by my parents. Question Everything from New Scientist could have been written with the nine-year-old author in mind and did not disappoint his four-decades-later successor: it was full of interesting answers to some jolly fine questions (all I lacked was a headmaster to share it with – so you, dear readers, have been drafted in).
I have now moved on to 50 Moments that Rocked the Classical Music World, brought to us by Classic FM. Its roots do show through in places, and its definition of ‘moment’ is rather flexible (at times smacking more of geology than music), but it still contains plenty to fascinate the late-forties fact-fan. It is particular fun when read in conjunction with Spotify as I can listen to most of the pieces mentioned (some were never recorded) as I go. In consequence, I have been streaming quite the range of classical music over the last few days. From early polyphony with Tallis and Palestrina to a refresher on the Rite of Spring: indeed, even as I type budget-busting Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique accompanies me in commemoration of the first use of truly substantial orchestral forces. However, the most fun was my introduction to Erik Satie – how can you not love the chap who composed Flabby Preludes for a Dog and the Bureaucratic Sonatina? For some idiotic reason, I’d never imagined French classical composers having quite such an impish sense of fun.
What this recent reading makes all too clear, and which my parents had obviously realised, is that I have not changed very much from the boy who went to Lansdown CP School in the dark days of the 1970s (well, it was during the 3-day week). Truly, the boy is father (and also nearer than expected) to the man.