Time is linear. One thing happens, then another, then another. But while time itself may be linear, our memory of it is not. Of course we can order our memories in a linear, sort-by-date, fashion, but we can also sort by importance, by emotion and even (speaking as someone who grew up in the 1970s) by dodgy haircut. And since you are reading a literary magazine you, like me, can probably sort your memories by books – you can pick a book from your bookshelves, start to browse, and be magically transported not only to the world within the book, but also to the world you were living in when you first read it.
I first encountered Denys Watkins-Pitchford, who wrote under the pseudonym of BB, when I was a short-trousered 10-year-old on a fortnightly trip to the library at the top of my road. As I scanned the shelves my eyes were drawn to a book called Down the Bright Stream, not because of the title, but the author. And that was because he didn’t have a name – just those two initials. So I opened the book and found myself in the world of the last gnomes left living in England. I took the book home and dived in. Then I went back to the library and got out The Little Grey Men – the book I should have read first as it was the one that introduced Dodder, Sneezewort, Cloudberry and Baldmoney to the wider world.
Their own world was a small place. It was limited to the woods that surrounded the banks of Folly Brook. Their adventures, too, were miniature affairs. But I was mesmerized by them. And I love these small, fallible heroes who, though recognizably human in character, were creatures in tune with the natural world around them.
Looking back, it’s clear to me now that part of the attraction of these books was that although I had been born, bred and buttered in Britain, I was a child of immigrant parents, brought up in inner-city London. For me the countryside was no more than a rumour, or a vision glimpsed fleetingly from the train
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