Tag Archives: Notting Hill Gate

Nostalgia, books, puffins and even a competition

According to second-hand booksellers our appetite to revisit the books we read as children is as strong as ever.  However, we want the same edition we read first time around.  If we read  Stig of the Dump in 1973 we want the puffin edition that was out then, we do not want to read the very same book in the 1980 cover.  How, ridiculous.  But is it really?

I have kept many of my childhood books, but by no means all of them.  I live in a huge house but even we would have had problems if we had to find homes for every book I had ever owned. During the seventies I lived in Notting Hill Gate, and on the corner of Hillgate Street and Uxbridge Street there was a cavernous second-hand book shop.  It was more of a second-hand book shed but I loved it.  Last time I looked it was a trendy delicatessen.  I preferred it as a book shed.

The chap who owned it bought and sold books by the yard.  I would pile up all my 2/6 (later 12 1/2 p) Puffin books, he’d give me a price and then I’d spend it buying  more books from him or from a stall in the back of one of the covered   markets halfway down the Portabello.  Over the years I must have bought and sold several miles of books.

I kept a lot of childhood books, but every now and then I have a yen for one that slipped through the net.  The Family from One End Street (plus the subsequent Further Adventures of … and The Holiday at Dew Drop Inn) by Eve Garnett and A Vicarage Family by Noel Streatfield were recent examples.  I can buy all three books in their most recent incarnations, but I want the editions I read as a child.

This one

one end streetand this one

vicarage family  So I completely understand why people won’t just buy the current edition off the shelf.  It’s not just a book, it’s part of your history.

As part of my leaving gift to the school I am leaving I have bought some books for the newly refurbished library.  I asked for  suggestions and had a fun morning with Eileen at The Bookcase choosing modern fiction for teenagers.  Then I got home and thought over the books that were my go to books when I was young.  There was not much in the way of books for teenagers in those days, we tended to leap from Noel Streatfield to John Wyndham and Morris West in one leap.  As my father bought hundreds of books I just started on his library when I outgrew mine.

The more I flicked through Google, the more I realised how these books had shaped me, shaped my own preferred writing style.  Some of them I still read.  So, in addition to those above, here are a few of my childhood favorites.  What are yours?

Princess-and-the-Goblin and all the subsequent books

heidiand Heidi Grows up and Heidi’s children.  I wanted to marry Peter.


the entire series of


Not for reading – but this was a well-thumbed book as a child – and with my own children.


and finally

blackbeard  There are so many more, just a taste of my favorites.

I had two of these too:

BADGThe white one and a black one for being a member of the Puffin Club for four years.  I still have them both.

SNIFFUP! (I’ll send a prize, I’ve no idea what, to the first person to respond correctly to that!)



..it’s the end of the world as we know it …

and I feel fine….. with apologies to REM.
I have always been a huge fan of disaster films.  I sat in the stalls at the Gaumont Notting Hill Gate (the gallery having been closed for safety reasons, this was long before the age of the Notting Hill Yummy Mummy) devouring Towering Inferno, the Poseiden Adventure (which I pronounced the Poisedown Adventure, which was more apt in the circumstances but just revealed my poor knowledge of Ancient Greek), Airport, Solyent Green, The Andromeda Strain.  Then on television there was Survivors, The Stand, The Day After, Threads, The Quiet Earth, The Last Train.  I loved them all and still do.  Today apocalyptic films are more on Hi Tech than High Drama, though Contagion deserves an honourable mention.

As soon as I graduated from Alison Uttley and the Pullien-Thompson sisters I moved on to On the Beach, The Death of Grass,  Alas Babylon, The Martian Chronicles, Canticle for Leibowitz, Earth Abides.  I was actually quite a cheery and optomistic child despite my favoured reading matter!

Recently I have returned to apocalyptic media.  It all started several years ago when my father passed on to me a book I had given him for Christmas the year before.  One Second After by William Forstchen, the story of how a small community survives after an electromagnetic pulse destroys  most of the western world.  I was fascinated, not least because it didn’t pull any punches and showed how a very ordinary man had to change in order to keep his community alive.  Decisions become based on very different criteria.

Whilst on holiday my kindle died on my so I was forced to read from the eclectic collection of books left in our apartment complex.  I am a voracious reader and got through over 20 books whilst away so my reading was forced to be very catholic.  One book that grabbed me sufficiently that I went on to read the sequel was The Flood by Stephen Baxter.  Curiosity piqued I  re-read Alas Babylon (which Forstchen acknowledges as in influence for his own book) and then Lucifer’s Hammer.  You can look all the books up on Wikipedia so I’m not going to go into them here.  What interests me is am I ready if something were to happen here?
Before you laugh, remember Hurricane Sandy or the New Orleans flood.  I remember watching Claire canning fruit and vegetables during the summer in North Dakota and the preparations for tornadoes.  I spent a summer in Antigua in the company of Hurricane David.  For many people being prepared is common sense and almost criminal not to be.  But here in the UK we don’t usually get the wild extremes of weather that means that preparedness is in the forefront of our minds.

Should it be?  Are we pathetically ill-prepared for a disaster that could leave us without food, water, power, drugs?  Is it scaremongering or is it commonsense?

summer in the city

Tuesday morning broke with a gentle warm glow and gradually turned up the grill until only the architecture  and retail gave away the deception that Grey Street was not Rodeo Drive.  I had planned to go straight home after my meeting and deforest the garden but the city girl of my childhood  suddenly broke out, stamped her foot and threw a hissy fit demanding a summer in the city moment.  There is a song/poem I learned in the early seventies about a childhood summer in the city, I wish I could remember it, but one line always sticks “pavements singing”

I’ve no idea what the author meant, but it always reminds me of sitting on the steps of Georgina’s house on Hillgate Place with our penny sweets from the scary lady at the grocers on the corner of Hillgate Street (gosh I can even remember the names!).  Hot and sticky and planning our futures.  She is now a highly respected agent but every time I see her name I think not of famous authors and the Groucho Club, but long hot summers, Holland Park, the Serpentine and the freedom we had to do pretty much as we wanted unencumbered by parents.

Today a report has been published suggesting that today’s children suffer from NDD – Nature Deficit Disorder.  Any more tags and we will be unable to move from the flapping of little bits string and cardboard, like an army of evacuees or an over addressed Paddington Bear.  This one posits the theory that children don’t get outside and interact with nature.  Rather difficult if you live in an inner city tower block I would imagine even if you wanted to.  Interacting with the dead bush in the concrete pot in the middle of the local roundabout has a limited appeal even to the most imaginative child.

Living now, not in the city but the kind of rural idyll I dreamed of as a child my children have not had a shortage of natural interactions, not all of which have been great fun.  We have endless fights with the foxes who tear through the poultry and not just at dusk.  Poultry feed attracts rats and never ever underestimate the intelligence and memory of a rat.  Septic tanks crack, I don’t think I need to expand on that one.    The nearest bus stop is over a mile away, pleasant enough during the summer, terrifying in winter walking along an unlit single track road used as a rat run by morons too lazy to use the brake pedal.  As for the internet to which children apparently are overconnected, that requires a phone line, which works, and can take broadband …… nuff said.

My children long to live in a modern house with wall to wall carpets and reliable heating and plumbing.  They wonder what it would be like to have neighbours.  Oddly enough they don’t want to live in the city, they are exhibiting the classic grass is greener symptoms.

I am sure if you looked at Georgina and I wandering along the streets to get another bag of sweets you could have sighed and said how terrible that we were out on our own unsupervised open to all the hazards of London.  My father spent his childhood avoiding being killed by Hitler’s bombs and scavenging for shrapnel in craters and half standing buildings.

The whole point of life is that it is transient, that it is full of risk.  Yes I am sure that children should get out more, I am sure my mother said that to me as I begged to be allowed to watch some dreadful TV programme on the new colour TV recently delivered by the nice man from Radio Rentals.  I expect my grandmother shooed my father out of the house and told him to go find some more shrapnel.  We all survived, some us did rather well.