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‘Tramp. Nothing is until it has a word’

I want to begin with the word ‘nothing’, but something won’t go away. I am eleven years old. I pedal up Plymouth Road, Penarth, on a summer Saturday morning. My daps are a dazzle of Blanco dried in the sun on the kitchen step. Mown grass, the powdery smell of blancoed daps, warm tar of the road. The spin of bicycle wheels. It feels like freedom.

I pick up shopping for my mother from the grocer, drop my bike outside the library, shoulder a bag of books and step into the shadow of the porch. The library is my Aladdin’s cave, my Secret Garden, my Treasure Island. I’m bringing six books back, and I’ll take six away. I feel excited. There’s a book I specially want and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. The library is a world of books, and every book is a world. Although it’s a public library, it’s my private place.

We had books at home: children’s books that were birthday or Christmas presents, A.A. Milne, Walter de la Mare, Arthur Ransome, Lewis Carroll; the William books, and Enid Blyton; Palgrave’s Golden Treasury; Grimm’s Fairy Tales; Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopaedia; a brown and gold set of hardback Charles Dickens, the Brontës, and books my father loved like Moby Dick, Jack London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang. I read them all, over and over. Mostly, we used the library. No house could ever have satisfied my desire for books, or provided me with the frisson of finding for myself slightly risqué romances, like Ethel M. Dell, and E.M. Hull’s The Sheik, hiding on the shady shelves of the library, and books whose titles and authors I forget, but whose pages, people and atmospheres I still inhabit, as they inhabit me. Sometimes,


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