My parents had no interest in books. Having survived the Second World War, they found everything they needed in each other, and in their north London suburban home with doors they could lock, in a location free from falling bombs. For my father, it was ‘real life’ that mattered, so the daily and evening newspapers were sufficient; and my mother, as ever, deferred to him. They possessed between them a couple of telephone directories, an ancient Thorndike dictionary used by my father for his daily crossword, and the Radio Times, which my mother insisted on calling ‘the television book’, and that was it. Or so I thought.
One afternoon in 1960, when I was a short-trousered 10-year-old, I came home from school and rummaged through the bottom shelf of my mother’s kitchen larder, hoping to find some Iced Gems. No luck with the Gems, but in the larder, inside a dusty old pressure-cooker, I found a paperback book in a plain brown-paper wrapper.
I don’t know about yours, but in my childhood home a paperback book hidden inside a plain brown-paper wrapper, inside a dusty old pressure-cooker, inside a larder, meant something parental was definitely up: this book was out-of-bounds.
I opened it immediately. It was called Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I was just about to flick through some pages when my mother entered the kitchen. So I quickly slipped it back inside the plain brown-paper wrapper, inside the pressure-cooker, etc., then gathered myself sufficiently to divert her attention by muttering something about the Cold War and the Iced Gems shortage.
That evening, I was en famille watching the BBC News when a film came up showing the inside of a bookshop in central London, and a queue of customers stretching from the till, out through the doors and along the Charing Cross Road. They were buying copies of Lady Chatterley’s Lover – each copy thoughtfully covered by the bookshop people in a plain brown-p
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