April 2022 Books Monthly Review of books and stories magazine - on the web 24 years...
  books monthly
     A series of essays on growing up in the 1950s - 1960s


Previous "Growing Up" articles:

Episode 3

For a few months we stayed with Aunt Florrie and Uncle Stan in their little flat above their hardware shop in Prittlewell, on the outskirts of Southend-on-Sea. Mum and Dad had already arranged for me to pick up my schooling at Southend School for Boys - but it would have meant me starting my "A" Levels all over again, having lost a year at the Crypt Grammar School in Gloucester, and I didn't think I could face another two years of "A" levels, even though I would by then have been the right age for them rather than a year too young. I spent the best part of five months traipsing around Southend on Sea, and inevitably found myself in the public library. I had discovered the delights of a large public library in my last few months in Gloucester, and the sheer number of books had inspired and broadened my reading. In Southend Public Library, which I was allowed to join with my Mum standing as guarantor, I discovered drama - written drama, that is. I had studied Shakespeare at the Crypt, reading Twelfth Night for "O" Level English Literature, and starting Macbeth for "A" Level, along with Paradise Lost, which I loved, and Under Milk Wood (which I didn't like at all). In Southend, I was in the literature section and chanced upon a group of books which were the collected plays of Noel Coward. Intrigued, I borrowed volume one and discovered the delights of an almost contemporary literary genius, because he was still alive in 1963, of course. It made a change to read plays written by someone still alive, and although they were plays that had had their heyday in the 1920s and 1930s, they captivated me - I lapped them up, so to speak, and when I had read the complete plays of Noel Coward, I cast around for other twentieth century playwrights, and found Terence Rattigan, but more importantly, I found J B Priestley.

I'd already discovered Priestley in the fantasy section of our little W H Smith bookshop in Eastgate, Gloucester, finding a charming and fascinating adventure book by him entitled The Thirty-First of June. Now, in Southend Library, I found An Inspector Calls, and I Have Been Here Before. For a time, all I wanted to read was plays. I missed my collections of paperbacks, the Saints, Whiteoaks, Tarzan of the Apes etc., which I had sold prior to our move from Gloucester. I don't know who persuaded me to part with my collections, but it's not a choice I would willingly have made; there again, I can't imagine a small suitcase full of precious paperbacks causing a problem with the amount of stuff we had going into storage. I still had my record collection - or rather, my record collection was in storage along with the rest of our furniture and belongings (including my guitar!), but my books were gone. It took me several years to rebuild those collections! In the meantime, the Beatles were really starting to emerge as the primary force in British pop music, and it was while we were staying in Southend that I decided I wanted to see them live. We set off one evening to purchase my ticket, and were horrified to discover that the entire population of Southend were camped all around the town with the same purpose. There were thousands of people waiting for the ticket office to open and I knew, intuitively, that the Beatles were going to become the biggest musical act in the world, and that coincidentally I stood absolutely no chance of getting a ticket to see them for a one-night-only performance in Southend. The following day I treated myself to a Beatle jacket, one of those with no lapels, and I moved on. I continued to buy New Musical Extress and Melody Maker, and one week I filled in the answers to the regular crossword - I forget which of the two magazines it was (or newspaper, as they were then). In December of 1963 I received notification that I had won the crossword competition and my prize, an album of hits by Lesley Gore (all the songs were about Crying, as I recall; such as Cry Me a River) was on its way to me in the post to my temporary address in Prittlewell. I persuaded Uncle Stan to get me a Dansette record player next time we went to the Cash and Carry - I paid for it, of course, with the money I'd been saving which he'd been paying me for serving in his shop. At last I was able to listen once more to my music - albeit just the one album - and not just to the music on the radio.

I don't believe Aunt Florrie and Uncle Stan had a television, but we did play Scrabble together in the evenings, and listened to our favourite radio programmes before the adults (Mum, Dad, Aunt Florrie and Uncle Stan) at last called it a day and went to their bedrooms, leaving me to make up my campbed in the front room. I remember sitting in a sea front café that November, and finding a kind of new-fangled juke box that played special versions of top hits which also carried video, one of which was an Acker Bilk single, On the Sunny Side of the Street. I put my money in the machine and watched Acker and his band on a small screen whilst simultaneously discovering the delights of Coca-Cola for the first time in my life.

The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its 24th year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email at paulenorman1@gmail.com and I'll let you know where to send it.


  In this issue:

  The Front Page

  Children's Books

  Fiction books

  Fantasy & Science Fiction

  Nonfiction Books

  The Silent Three

  The Four Marys

  Living with Skipper


  Acker Bilk Sleeve Notes

  Pen and Sword Books

  Sundays with Tarzan

  The Back Page

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