Moss gathering by Trevor Plumbly

By the book

I think I’ve mentioned the importance books have played in my life. After my schooling was severely truncated, they were the cheapest form of entertainment and education available.

In the late 1950s, I was living in a bedsit in North London, 12 bob a week, share bathroom and toilet with penny-in-the-meter electricity. Kilburn in the late 50s was far from welcoming, but it did have a public library. Bedsit etiquette was pretty much ‘mind your own business’, so in the absence of social contact, I wandered up and down rows of books debating which five would suit for the week. At first, escapism was the aim; even second hand adventure was preferable to the reality of dim lighting and a gas fire (penny-in, of course).

Words and music

After rushing through a lot of post-war derring-do fluff, I graduated to Dickens, Hemingway, some poetry and ended up hitting the wall with the Russian heavies; I had enough internal weight to carry without lugging Mr Turgenev’s baggage as well. The early 60s brought the ‘Beat Generation’ and we all started to look for new heroes. The Beatles didn’t really fit my lifestyle (all that screaming); Dylan and Cohen, however, provided me with a previously unattained intellectual gravitas. Looking back, it’s a bit strange that, despite my newly discovered concern with ‘issues’, newspapers and magazines didn’t seem to interest me much.

Long hair and Laura Ashley

I don’t remember whether joining the protest movement was driven by the threat of nuclear destruction or civil rights in southern America, but we were a family of sorts, with serious intentions, some clutching ideals whilst others joined in search of the ‘free love’ myth. But what the hell! We marched together without jockeying for control. It was an innocent time and at 76 I’m revisiting some of the literature, but not the music. The thought of joining a nursing home chorus line of geriatric choristers belting out ‘I can’t get no satisfaction’ is just too ghastly to contemplate. Like a rolling stone? Yeah right!

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