When I was a child in the late 1940s and early 1950s I believed that my father was a close personal friend of Charles Dickens. They must, I thought, have met at various inns in London and shared jokes and stories and enormous slap-up breakfasts with baked meats and ale. Samuel Pickwick would often be there, too, and Dickens would address my father as ‘VSP’, as all his friends did. We lived in the country for much of that time, in a house which I imagined was just like Dickens’s Dingley Dell. There was a walled garden, with a little summer-house, and I half expected the Fat Boy to pop up from behind the rhubarb and make my flesh creep.