Charity Shop Finds this month:
When three young women are discovered strangled and mutilated in a Glasgow park, it is up to DCI Lorimer to find their killer. Frustrated by a lack of progress in the investigation, Lorimer is forced to enlist the services of Dr Solomon Brightman, psychologist and criminal profiler. Together they form an uneasy alliance.
But when a homeless man is brought in for questioning the investigation takes a bizarre turn. Soon Lorimer has to scratch the surface of the polished Glasgow art world and reveal the dark layers hidden beneath...
I have discovered Alex Gray and her Glasgow series featuring William Lorimer. So far I have managed to get hold of three books in a much longer series, all in pristine condition, and I simply can't get enough of her!
My apologies to anyone who has sent books that arrived after the 25th January - a fair number, going by the press releases I have - I do need to have a cut-off point after which I start to put the pages together prior to publication. Very occasionally there is an urgent title that I try to fit in, but at the moment of writing this I have around 30 new titles that I simply didn't have time to include in this issue, but which will form the backbone of the March issue...
Meanwhile, for those of you interested in nostalgia, Yours Retro published its tenth issue on 25th January, with articles about changing tastes in food from the 1950s onwards, Happy Days and the Fonz and Ron Howard, Casablanca, Buster Keaton, and Henry Fonda and James Stewart, a book about whom will be coming my way for review in the March issue, plus plenty more. It's a superb magazine, the only one of its kind in the UK, and having only discovered it at issue 5, I have vowed never to miss another issue!
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I should like to welcome you to the February issue of Books Monthly! In this issue I want to share with you my continuing memories of the way we used to live in the late 1950s as we approached the 1960s, but first I want to draw your attention to one of the books above, The Woman in the Window. You can read my review of this brilliant book (there, I've given it away!) on the Crime & Thrillers page, but I have to say here and now that it is one of those extraordinary books that can be classified with that phrase-turned-word, "unputdownable"; I don't normally pay any attention to celebrity author endorsements - I like to make up my own mind, but the burb, plus one celebrity author's assessment of the book caught my eye. I was in the middle of reading the celebrated enhanced hardback of Stephen King's Salem's Lot, and then this book arrived and I noticed that Stephen King had read the book and pronounced it as "unputdownable". I started reading, and shelved Salem's Lot until I'd finished it. Sometimes all it takes to get you to read something is such an endorsement.
Back in the late 1950s I needed no inducement to read something - anything. In 1957 (you will recall that 1957 was the Christmas I was talking about in the December and January issues of Books Monthly) I was eleven years old. Rationing had stopped just a couple of years before. We lived in a spacious semi-detached house in Brockworth, Gloucester, my Mum and Dad, and my sister Jean. I turned eleven in September of that year, starting at the Crypt Grammar School just two weeks before my 11th birthday, so technically, I was ten when I took the eleven+ exam. As I recall, there were three boys in my class at Brockworth New County Primary School, the other two being Robert Gillow, who was the headmaster's son, and Thomas Tulley. The rest were girls. As far as I can remember, I was the only one of the three boys to pass the eleven+, but there were also three girls. I chose the Crypt Grammar School for two reasons: my two cousins, who lived in Court Road, the road that ran at right angles along the top of Boverton Drive (and Boverton Avenue, where my Gran lived with two of her sons, Uncle John and Uncle Ernie) went there and recommended it. Secondly, it had a better reputation than the other boys' grammar school, which was in the city, or at least nearer to the city than the Crypt.
Brockworth was a village of around 3,500 inhabitants in those days, about four-five miles from the city of Gloucester, but totally rural. The Boverton Drive and Boverton Avenue estates were raised in the mid-1930s. My cousins' mum and dad, Aunt Elsie and Uncle Bill, were, according to the electoral registers, the first in the family to relocate from London to Brockworth, in 1935. My mum and dad were married in 1939, and emigrated from Camberwell to Brockworth in the summer of that year. I don't know if it was a conscious decision to get out of London to avoid war-related danger, but I do know that the entire side of the family that descended from my Gran were safely ensconced in Brockworth before the outbreak of war. My sister Jean was born in digs above the grocer's store in Boverton Drive in 1941, then within a month or so we were in the three-bed semi. Nowadays they call them villas, and hundreds of thousands of them were built in the 1930s - you can see them everywhere. Ours had bay windows top and bottom. In the meantime, as well as Uncles John and Ernie, with Gran in Boverton Drive, there were outposts all over the Gloucestershire countryside of the Kimber and Norman families. My Aunt Cicely was in the council estate in Brockworth, of which more later; my Uncle Leslie had married Grace and by 1957 they had seven children and lived in the next village along, Hucclecote. And finally, my Uncle Eddie, my dad's half brother, was living in Matson (a small village quite near my new school) with his new wife Joyce.
My dad's three sisters, Doris, Florrie and Ivy, all remained in London with their respective husbands. Holidays with Aunts Florrie and Ivy were exotic adventures for me all through my Gloucestershire lifetime, which ended abruptly in 1963, again, of which more later. I remember the coming of the first supermarket, a Coop franchise, in Court Road. The shop had been open for a short while, but of a sudden it was transformed into a self-service supermarket, and gone were the weighing of sugar, flour and tea etc., in favour of prepacked cartons. We still visited Mr Ellis's shop in the Drive, (where Jean was born), because he had a better selection of sweets with which to ruin your teeth. Spangles, Fry's Five Boys etc., were all readily available now that rationing was no more. We still visited Mr Jacomelli the butcher to buy cuts of meat and sausages. But our weekly shop took place in the city. We would go as a family, of a Saturday morning, down to the bus stop in Ermin Street, and wait for the double decker green and cream Bristol Omnibus (No. 57) to come down the hill from the Cheltenham roundabout, and sail into the city to do our grocery and toiletries shopping in the vast Coop supermarket in the city. The bus would grind to a halt in Kings Square and there was the imposing seven-storey Bon Marché store... I'm lying, I've checked, and there were only four storeys and a basement... it seemed bigger in those days! You can see our bus depositing its passengers on the extreme left of the photo above.
For me, the most exciting part of the weekly shop involved the record and book department in Bon Marché, a trip to one of the two branches of W H Smith, the Boots Lending Library to look through the second hand books they were selling off, or the larger of the two Woolworths, where you could buy records and Airfix aeroplane kits, which cost 2/6d, and were sold in plastic bags. Interesting to see, the other day, a free 1/72nd scale Airfix kit of a Spitfire being given away with the Daily Mail, the same kit only now in a smart red box and costing £9.99. Sometimes, in the school holidays, Gran would take me into the city and we would go into the huge covered market in Southgate, where I would be able to buy individual pieces of Meccano for a few pence to enhance my already considerable collection. Meccano was featured in a very recent episode of Michael Portillo's Great British Railway Journeys as he visited the Frank Hornby exhibition in Liverpool. Two things I never had as a young boy were a train set, and a set of those building bricks. What I did have was books - lots of books, and that brings me full circle for the reason for this memoir - what did we do to amuse ourselves before television and personal computers back in the 1950s? Let's start with Saturdays. And radio. BBC Radio. The Light Programme, to be precise. If we didn't go shopping (sometimes just Mum and Jean went - I don't remember why that would have happened, but it did), I would put on the radio (the wireless) and listen to Saturday Morning Skiffle Club, and records being played by Brian Matthew of people like Lonnie Donegan, Johnnie Duncan and his Blue Grass Boys, Chas McDevitt and Nancy Whisky, etc., etc. Skiffle Club graduated into Saturday club with the start of the trad jazz revival, on which we discovered Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band, Kenny Ball's Jazzmen, Chris Barber's Jazz Band etc., etc. Then I would go to the playing fields for a game of football with friends, back home for lunch, then back out to play till dinner time in the evening.
I often went to the pictures (movies, films) at the flea pit in the council estate the other side of Ermin Street, on the council estate, because the programme changed four times a week. In fact, it was a regular Saturday evening outing for the whole family, and we would get chips from the van on the way home, and then bed and a favourite book. On Sundays the radio would go on in the morning and we would listen, as a family, to programmes like The Clitheroe Kid, Life With The Lyons, Meet the Huggets, The Navy Lark, and Two-Way Family Favourites with Jean Metcalfe and Cliff Michelmore. In the afternoon we kept up to date with the new films, listening to film music and extracts of dialogues on a programme called Movie-Go-Round, then in the evening we went, as a family, to church, then back home to toast crumpets before an open fire and listen to Sing Something Simple with the Cliff Adam Singers. Then bed, and a favourite book (if tomorrow was a school day). On weekdays when there was no school, I would listen to Housewive's Choice, presented by Jack De Manio or sometimes Jimmy Young. Occasionally they played something approaching pop music, but generally, in the 1950s, we had to tune in to Radio Luxembourg. For two weeks each year, Housewives' Choice would be broadcast from the Earls Court Radio Show and roving presenters would ask visitors to the show what they would like to hear... that was the first time I heard Little Eva singing "Locomotion", and I was hooked on popular music. Given that the Beatles burst onto the British music scene in 1962 with Love Me Do, and it was not until 1967 that the first broadcast was heard on Radio One, it is a wonder to me how we ever got to hear all the wonderful pop and rock and roll music that permeated the early 1960s. I remember listening to Capital Radio, with such DJs as Kenney Everett, Dave Cash, Emperor Rosko, Ed Stewart etc., etc., on my transistor radio, and I remember Tony Blackburn kicking off Radio One in 1967 with The Move - was it really something like seven years before regular pop music broadcasts were finally heard on the BBC? (Interesting to note that on this week's episode of Call The Midwife, set in 1963, Timothy remarked that it was a shame it was too early to tune the radio to Radio Luxembourg!) Anyway, that was our entertainment in the 1950s/1960s, music and light entertainment on the radio, lots of reading, lots of outdoor play involving footballs and bicycles... and I remember it all as clearly as if it were yesterday! I have decided to start in March with my very first memory, which was actually a nightmare, and tell you my life story in chronological order. Along the way we'll discover some splendid books from my childhood and onwards through puberty, adolescence and finally adulthood, and you will be able to see why books play such an important part in my life. See you in March, and I hope you enjoy this month's selection of new books.
I received a huge number of brilliant new Blu Rays for Christmas, among them Paddington (brilliant!), Dunkirk (brilliant!, Wonder Woman (brilliant!), the original Stephen King's IT (I already had this, just not in Blu Ray), King Arthur (Clive Owen - again, I already had it, just not in Blu Ray) and Stephen King's The Dark Tower. I've just been handed the new Stephen King's IT, so plenty of movie entertainment over the next few weeks! I also received, from my dear wife, Jeff Lynne's Wembley or Bust double CD, which I listened to last Sunday (14th January) - it is sublime - the finest ELO recording I have ever heard - they even managed to find someone who sounds like Roy Orbison for the brilliant Travelling Wilbury's song Handle With Care. Jeff Lynne goes from strength to strength and remains my very favourite musical performer - a true Rock Legend, a giant of recording, a brilliant man, a brilliant musician! How long before he is knighted for services to the music industry, I wonder?
The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its twentieth 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 and I'll let you know where to send it.