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Posts Tagged ‘childhood’

My sister and I used to roller skate to our local library in Anglesea Road, intoxicated with the freedom of the pavements. The advantage of our clunky buckle-on skates over the cooler boot skates was that when you unbuckled them and slipped them off you were shod and library-ready, so you could just sling them over your shoulder and run upstairs to where the children’s section occupied one whole and glorious floor.  I think you were allowed to take two books out, for three weeks at a time, and it was the old system of a slip in the front of the book which was taken out and tucked into a special pocket on your ticket (green for children, blue for adults) which was then filed upright in a wooden tray behind the counter. You had to have a guarantor as a child borrower, and my father was guarantor for all of us. For someone who didn’t like lending his own books, he was a shocking late-returner of library books himself and stacked up some fat fines until he actually lost one of the borrowed books, which presumably was the last straw for the library because they blacklisted him and we had to get our tickets reissued with my mother as guarantor instead. That’s all nothing compared to George Washington, whose late fines on one book (221 years late) have been calculated at over 300,000 dollars; the book has finally been returned

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Early Learning

I think I was looking for something to splutter about when I fell into this den of pinkness. I practically had the column written on gender stereotyping from an early age, and how impossible it was, etc etc, but when I actually looked at the photo, rather than just hauling my iPhone onto my high horse with me, I noticed that the blue section, equalling the boys’ section, does have the dolls, and toy kitchen appliances, and tea sets that I thought would be restricted to the girls’ section – and there aren’t any guns or cowboy outfits, so I make it Early Learning Centre 1 : Hart 0

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The Natural History Museum in Dublin is being reopened today after a couple of years of closure rather dramatically heralded by a collapsing staircase.

It was a strange place because you approached the elephant and other big guns (so to speak) from behind, as if you were creeping up on them – apparently this is because when the new entrance from Merrion Street was created (still known as the “new” entrance, though it was made some time round the turn of the century) it was too much bother to turn everything around. The intriguing thing about the NHM was not so much staring into the beaded eyes, or tracing the stitched-up seam along a furred stomach, or searching ghoulishly for bullet holes, or realising you have started to use words like thorax and genus, but experiencing a crowded, narrow-aisled, galleried Victorian museum – the glass cabinets, the pinned moths, the leatherette curtains to be drawn back from the glass display cases, and silently replaced, weighted with brass rods. There’s so much interpretation and representation going on in museums that sometimes the items themselves are cast into shadow. I’m interested in seeing how many of the old characters resurface in the new museum, and which of the story displays they’ve kept – the snow scene showing a white hare (I think), the modern seaside scene showing the ravages of pollution, the seagull’s oily wings, the plastic top of a six-pack of beer.

But here’s a thing – everyone is saying oh! in auld Dublin, generations of children have spoken of it fondly as the Dead Zoo. Well I grew up a few hundred yards from it, walked past it twice every one of my schooldays, knew every missing knob on those weirdy wide butterfly drawers, touched everything that wasn’t meant to be touched, and I never in my life heard it being called the Dead Zoo, so either that was kept from me for 35 years or it’s a load of eyewash.

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Catching up online with so many newspapers I didn’t read in the flesh at the time, I saw a very interesting piece written by the great-granddaughter of Alice Liddell about the relationship between Lewis Carroll  and Alice as a girl, a necessary sale of souvenirs, etc. 
 
Alice wrote to her son Caryl (ooh, er, there you go): “But, oh, my dear, I am tired of being Alice in Wonderland. Does it sound ungrateful? It is, only I do get tired.” It made me think about poor Christopher Robin Milne and the millstone of Pooh. Apparently the worst bit for CRM was not actually Pooh, but the poem Vespers (Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares. Christopher Robin is saying his prayers”) the Vera Lynn recording of which some of his contemporaries at Stowe played over and over again for pure torture, till Christopher eventually smashed the record into smithereens and scattered it over some playing field. 

Honestly, when you think about how people agonise over whether it’s acceptable to send a child to school in the wrong coat for fear of standing out, God love the poor blighter. He’d be a guaranteed no-pics-on-Facebooker.

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The book chosen for April 2010 is Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and also in April, Bewleys’ Cafe Theatre are putting on an adaptation of his ‘The Birthday of the Infanta’. Here’s a story I haven’t thought about in years. It was published in A House of Pomegranates in 1891, and this illustration is from a Bodley Head edition of this plus The Happy Prince and Other Tales. My copy (from my fabulous grandmother) was a 1977 reprint, gorgeously illustrated by Charles Mozley and sadly stained by a nosebleed on p61. I’d say I welcomed that nosebleed in the wake of ‘The Nightingale and the Rose’ (sobs) – so identifying – and come to think of it there were a lot of sobs at ‘The Happy Prince’, too,  I still think about those stories all the time, and ‘The Selfish Giant’, and ‘The Fisherman and his Soul’, but I detested ‘The Birthday of the Infanta’ and I thought of it as a story for adults which had accidentally got into a children’s book – I don’t think I’d ever read a story before in which the protagonist was such a complete bitch. And yes I know she was only twelve and royal types aren’t traditionally the best adjusted du monde, but reading fiction is not about making excuses for people. It was such uncomfortable reading I only read it a few times, whereas I’m word-perfect on the rest. To paraphrase Little Boots, reading is my remedy, remedy, so I’m revisiting it in April, or before. 

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