Learning To Read

It sticks in my mind as a special Christmas, not for any of the mature reasons one might think: the last time I saw a grand parent alive, first beer, the time I graduated from the kids’ to the adults’ table (actually, this never happened), some furtive first kiss or smoke by the pool, away from the adults, or the time when family photos finally didn’t seem embarrassing as I had grown into my body or my hair didn’t look juvenile or way-out and teenagerish. No, although this class of milestone would be interesting to reflect upon, that isn’t what this is about. This Christmas was a standout for the presents I was given.

But even that is misleading, as it could seem that I’m about to recount the time I woke up to find a car with a bow around it sitting in the driveway that was all mine. Or something like that. Never happened, and it wouldn’t have seemed right if it did. From memory, Mum and Dad didn’t have an awful lot of disposable money this year and there was no expectation of anything remarkable coming our way from Santa or any other external source either. It was the recession of the early 1990s and I only really received two gifts: a cricket bat, still in my possession almost 20 years later, which is now perfect for backyard cricket, and a book about cricket. Seemed somehow disappointing at the time. I leafed through the tome entitled The Wisden Illustrated History of Cricket by Vic Marks, looking mainly at the colour and black and white photographs, and noting the reproduced score sheets from matches with historic importance. It was interesting. Seemed like there were things in there I wanted to know. Things I should know, as a cricket fan – or someone who called himself a fan.

In those days the family spent time with other segments of our extended family on Christmas Day, and it always seemed that there were females getting ready inefficiently when we went anywhere, so I had a small to medium wait before we would leave together. This book with a mostly yellow cover, large pages, and photographs of batsmen playing shots (I recall Allan Border holding up the 1987 World Cup … but perhaps my memory fails me there) on the dust jacket seemed at once a lesser version of a present than I had perhaps anticipated, and yet it intrigued me. I began to read it, from page one. It drew me in gradually, peppering the early pages with interesting tidbits about society in 18th century England and the origins of the game, but I was pretty much hooked by the time attention turned to the transition to over-arm bowling and the dominance of the annual matches between Gentlemen (amateurs) and Players (professionals). To make it fairer for the poor Gentlemen an experiment was tried where they could bowl at four stumps. This match was in 1837 and the Players still won. The Gentlemen were often allowed to field many more than 11 men, to make the contest more even; that was until W.G. Grace came along and changed everything, making the amateurs a real force in the second half of the 19th Century.

I hadn’t quite got to Grace when we had to go – cousins and grandparents awaited, as did bags of lollies and roasted meats – but I wanted to keep reading. I knew of the big man with the huge beard, but knew little about him. What I read between watching the Boxing Day Test on TV the next day and eating the remains of my Darrel Lea nougat Christmas pudding-shaped chocolate thingy was endearing and charming and memorable. It helped me to decide that the 19th Century was an era of interest, and that the Victorian period was very different in a lot of ways from the early part of that century, and it confirmed for me that books are worth having and make great presents to give and receive, and if a book succeeds as a gift it’s one of the best things to change hands in this way. Above all, I suppose, I may have become a little less acquisitive that Christmas … or perhaps that’s not quite right: I knew I wanted books, but was less keen to have other things because other people had them and they were considered cool. All one needs is for a book to satisfy a personal need – it doesn’t matter what other readers think.

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Published in: on May 31, 2010 at 7:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

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