Our house was short of words.
There were only newspapers, prayer books and bibles,
and that was it. Nowt else.
The Daily Sketch, The Weekly News,
The Sunday Express, Reveille, Titbits,
secular comics, bolstered by the word of God,
as seen in the church magazine
and the familiar thees and thous
of the Kings James version.
Cereal boxes, instruction labels,
seed catalogues, advertisements,
I read them all.
It was not enough.
There was a strange and hostile world out there
and I needed to find a way through it.
My mum frowned at the sideboard
which I was filling up with stories and hope.
“You don’t want to waste your money buying books.”
I was leaving home in my head,
leaving her behind, and she knew it.
Biffo the Bear was safe enough,
Enid Blyton at a push,
but the defiance of Nancy Blackett
and the superiority of the posh girls
eating Kaffee und Kuchen
in the hallowed portals of the Chalet School
were a threat.
Giving me big ideas.
Showing me secrets.
Something had to be done.
I was taken to see my teacher.
I was in trouble.
“She won’t stop reading.”
“I can’t keep up with her.”
I knew that I was being told off
and I wondered if I would have to stop.
Maybe it was wrong?
It was definitely odd.
Nobody else in our house read books
and they had to put a stop to it
before the house was full of them.
But Mr Naylor didn’t say that.
He said something that nobody had thought of,
something strange and different.
He talked about a library in York.
You could take away four of their books
and bring them home.
Every single week.
My mum took me that weekend.
It was a palace full of books
and I lapped up the words
that streamed out,
hugging them close
all the way to my Granny Esther’s.
My mum thought that she had won,
only she was too late.
I had already discovered that books
could belong to me.
Taking them back was not an option.
The cupboards kept filling up.
The words were winning.