The first time I fell in love was in the children’s section of Brooke Park library. I was 11 and she was 10, and her name was Josephine and she had so many freckles on her face that she was a haze of delight.
It didn’t take long for me to work out that she changed her books once a fortnight.
Always on a Wednesday and always between half four and five. I used to arrive early just in case, hoping she’d do the same and I’d get more of her. But she never did and it was during those 20 minutes of earliness one Wednesday that I discovered William Brown. William was the central character in the Just William books by Richmal Crompton and he made me forget my shyness and my sadness by making me laugh out loud. Now laughing out loud in Brooke Park library was like yodelling in a Trappist monastery, but I just couldn’t help it.
William was my age, and he had a gang, which wasn’t supposed to include girls because, well, just because. Yet there was one girl that he couldn’t shake off and she eventually intimidated her way into his gang. Violet Elizabeth Bott was the lisping spoilt daughter of the local nouveau riche millionaire, and it was Violet’s company that William was forced to endure as his second-in-command to prevent her carrying out her threat.
"I'll thcream and I’ll thcream 'till I'm thick." The end of my affair came one Wednesday at the foot of Page 15 of William the Rebel. I looked up for some reason and realized that Josephine had come and gone. Or maybe she hadn’t even been. I turned to Page 16 and stifled a snigger.
During the next few years, I moved from William to westerns. The greatest of these was by a writer called Jack Schaefer. It was called Shane, and it told the story of a mysterious gunman who was a combination of Jesus Christ, Che Guevara and Clint Eastwood. And you couldn’t get much better than that.
Hold on, that’s not true. Alan Ladd, the guy that acted the part of Shane in the movie that was made of the book, was better than the three of them put together. (Apologies here to all Christians, left-wingers and Clint worshippers). Alan Ladd acted Shane.
Or rather, Alan Ladd outdid Shane. He was utterly magnificent, a man who presented himself as a tenderfoot but was, in fact, as brave as any lion, a man that made me want to wear buckskins and two six-shooters and win the heart of any girl I wanted. Ah, the dreams, the dreams.
Just one request from me before I go. Don’t read a library book while you’re taking a dump in the toilet. Not hygienic. Read it anywhere else – bus, train, plane, wherever – but keep it out of the toilet. The very thought drives my obsessive compulsive disorder to distraction. I’m a Quaker at heart but there’s one cinema murder that I approve of. Remember John Travolta’s character in Pulp Fiction, who took a book to the can with him every time he was going in to do his number two? And never washed his hands after? And Bruce Willis’ character who shot him between the eyes just as he came out of the toilet for the last time?
Always remember that.
P.S. Saw Josephine the other day with her grandchildren. All her freckles are gone and she’s a sight. Lucky escape there.
Below: John Travolta before going into the can:
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