Pat Cymbal

Pat Cymbal

Pat was born in Sheffield on the 25th January 1926.

She is being interviewed by Liz Hawkins on the 14th September 2011.

This is an interview conducted by Liz Hawkins, on the 14th of September, 2011.  I am interviewing Pat Cymbal, Pat was born in Sheffield on the 25th of January, 1926 and lived in Meersbrook between the years of 1945 and 1965.

LH:  Marvellous.  Okay. Thank you very much for agreeing to take a part in our interviewing.

PC:  Thank you.

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LH:  Really interested in knowing about your reading background, really. Can we start off with perhaps when you were young, when you were very young?  Can you remember if anybody read to you in those days?

PC:  Yes, mother and father.

LH:  Both of them?

PC:  Yes.

LH:  Were they very interested in doing that?

PC:  Oh, I imagine so. They were both great readers.

LH:  Right.

PC:  Mother always read fairy stories, you know, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Hans Anderson’s fairy tales.  Father came from a rather academic family and he wasn’t into children’s stories, as such.  But he used to tell us stories of the Greek heroes, etc., which eventually led onto the Iliad and the Odyssey, you know.  And he was also a great fan of the Idylls of the King, Tennyson.

LH:  Oh, fantastic.

PC:  So [pause] and we loved those stories, and he would read them over and over.  [Laughing] And I remember, when I went to grammar school, we started to do Tennyson and I could recite whole wads of it off by heart [LH laughs], you know, before we started.  I still can to this very day.

LH:  Really?

PC:  Yes.  “All day long the noise of battle rolled.”

LH:  Yes, that’s fantastic!

PC:  Oh yes, lots of it.  I was more influenced by father than mother.  They had library books every week.  I don’t know why every week, but it used to go every week.  And I began, in my teens, to read the books he got.

LH:  Oh goodness.

PC:  And, if you like, I can tell you what they were.

LH:  Yes, please, yes.

PC:  Right, some people never heard of them.  Well, he had a very peculiar taste.  He loved Rider Haggard.

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LH:  Oh yeah, yes.

PC:  You know Rider Haggard?

LH:  Yes, I do know Rider Haggard, yes.

PC:  And I read all those books, you know.

LH:  Oh, yeah.

[Both say]:  King Solomon’s Mines.

PC:  She [LH:  Oh, fantastic], Ayesha, and all those.  And there was also a series of Allan Quatermain books which I loved.

LH:  Oh yes, yes.

PC: So, I read all those.  He also loved P G Wodehouse.

LH:  Yeah.

PC:  So I read all the Jeeves.  This is in my teens, you see.

LH:  Oh wow, yeah.

PC:  He also loved Damon Runyon.  Do you know Damon Runyon?

LH:  No, I don’t.

PC:  Oh, god [laughs].  Oh, I’ve got it there.  Have you heard of Guys and Dolls?

LH:  Yes, yes, yes.

PC:  Yes, well, he was the chap who wrote all those stories [LH:  Oh, wow, fantastic] and they were so funny.

LH:  Yeah.

PC:  If you haven’t read…Mind you, I was looking on the library website this morning and the only Damon Runyon books they’ve got are in the place where they keep books that aren’t printed anymore.

LH:  Oh, right.

PC:  But I have ordered them to deliver one or two to me, you know, which they can.  They are so funny.

LH:  Really, fantastic.

PC:  And at one time, I’ve got a feeling, that some schools did some Damon Runyon.

LH:  Right, right.

PC:  Because they were representative of America at that time, at the time of the hoodlums on Broadway, [LH:  Oh, right, yeah] and he writes about them all as though they’re just ordinary people, you know [LH:  Oh, yeah], and they’re all villains and murderers [Both laugh], but it’s very funny.  He also loved Jerome K Jerome, you know, Three Men in a Boat, etc. [LH:  Yes].  And, oh yes, and the other ones we loved:  Edgar Wallace’s Sanders of the River [LH:  Ah, yes] and that series. Have you ever read any of those?

LH:  No, no I haven’t.

PC:  Oh, well, I was looking those up this morning on Amazon and on the website.  It was in the days when we had an empire [LH:  Yeah] and Sanders was, I don’t know, the commissioner of that part of Africa, you know.

LH:  Right, yeah.

PC:  But he doesn’t write about it in a racist fashion.

LH:  Mmm.

PC:  Although he does refer to all the natives as though they were rather childlike [LH:  Right, yeah] and innocent.  And Sanders was a good man.  He looked after them, they were his children, you know [LH:  Right, yeah, yeah]. They were wonderful books.  So they were the books that I used to read that father got from the library.

LH:  Right. So you didn’t ever have a sense that you were reading either children’s books [PC:  I’d never read] or adult’s books?

PC:  I seem to remember reading one children’s book when I was probably, oh golly I don’t know, nine or ten, and it was called Swiss Stories. I think we had a little library of these hardback books and one was called His Story and one of them was Heidi.

LH:  Oh yes, yes.

PC:  Alice in Wonderland mother read to me, you see [LH:  Right.  Yes, yeah, yes], before them. But I don’t remember reading any children’s books, and certainly not in my teens. I didn’t read any children’s books, in my teens, and my friend didn’t either.

LH:  Right, right, yes [PC:  No, no].  No.  So your father encouraged you to be reading [PC:  No, I think I just…] those books?

PC:  No, I don’t think he encouraged me, I just used to read his books, you know, it was something to do.

LH:  Yes, and he was happy about that, I think?

PC:  On my own, off my own bat [laughing], I cottoned onto Omar Khayyam.

LH:  Right, yeah.

PC:  The Rubaiyat.  That was because I saw a film, The Picture of Dorian Grey.  Do you remember [LH:  Yes] it?  And at the beginning, before it started, there was a quotation.  “I sent my soul through the invisible” [LH:  Yes, yes], you know, so…And I thought, “Oh, that’s lovely” and it said it was the Rubaiyat, Omar Khayyam.  So I must have borrowed that book because I wasn’t into buying books as young as that.  Although I’ve got one next door with three translations [pause] But I remember having it on my bedside table and every night when I went to bed I used to read some of it.  I can recite terribly [Both laugh].  I don’t try to learn, [LH:  No, no, it just sticks in, yes] it just sticks.  And there was something else.  Oh yes, mother.  My mother had a weird sense of humour, and she started reading, one day, 1066 and All That.

LH:  Oh yeah.

PC:  Have you read that?

LH:  Yes, yes.

PC:  Oh, well, I’ve got that next door as … If ever I feel downhearted, I go get that off the shelf [Both laugh]. I mean in no time at all I’m laughing.

LH:  Yeah.

PC:  So, those two books I got myself when I was young.  And then I started on…nothing to do with father, I suppose.  I must have started going to the library on my own … Agatha Christie.

LH:  Oh right, yes.

PC:  So I went through all Agatha Christie’s [LH:  Yes] and then I went onto Ngaio Marsh.

LH:  Yes.

C:  Remember her?

LH:  Yes.

PC:  Earle Stanley Garner, all the Perry Mason books I read [LH:  Oh wow, yes] before they’d ever thought of television [LH:  Yes, yeah, yeah].  Raymond Chandler, you know, and P.D. James [LH: Oh right, yes] I started.  I always liked Adam Dalgliesh, I thought he was rather super, you know, but apart from all that, I was always very interested in history.

LH:  Right.

PC:  So I read a lot of history books, books about kings and queens and even…

LH:  History in the form of [PC:  Hmm?], in the form of fiction or in non-fiction?

PC:  No, no, non-fiction.  A lot of books, biographies, even Catherine the Great and Queen Christina of Sweden, all sorts of people.  And also film stars, Elizabeth Taylor, Vivian Leigh [LH:  Right], people like that, you know [LH:  Yeah, yeah].  I used to read lots of biographies.  That went on really, and has gone on, all my life [LH:  Really].  I still do. The last one I’ve got is of Alistair Darlings [LH:  Really!] I got last week.

LH:  [Laughing] That’s very different.

PC:  I get them as they come out, you know [LH:  Oh yes] Peter Mandelson’s.  They’re very interesting [LH:  Oh yes, yes].  I love knowing what goes on in the background, you see.

LH:  Yes, yes, yes.  So, you were obviously encouraged to read from a very young age, were you?

PC:  Well I suppose by example, yes [LH:  Yes, yes].  To me, it was just normal to read.

LH:  Yes. There was never a sense in your family, as in fact there are in some, that reading was just a waste of time and just get on with other stuff, was there?

PC:  Oh golly, no.  No. And, I mean, even now it’s gone through the family.  My great-nephew, he was here the other day, he’s studying at university, history naturally, might you know it {LH:  Yeah].  But he still reads everything I give him to read.

LH:  Ah right, yeah, yeah.

PC:  You know, 1066 and All That [LH:  Really].  Oh, and there was another book!  I remember it, I’d not written down here.  I think that might’ve come [Pause] I can’t remember if that was after I left Sheffield or not.  George Mikes, have you ever heard of him?

LH:  No.

PC:  He wrote a book called How to be an Alien.

LH:  Oh, right [laughing].

PC:  And it was a funny book again, you see.  And it was spot on.  And he wrote two or three and I read those.  And then I came across a book called The Education of Hyman Kaplan.

LH:  Right.

PC:  Funnily enough, I got a copy of it recently and I’ve reread it and given it to my great-nephew.  Again, it’s a funny…I like books that make me laugh [continues inaudibly].

LH:  Yes.  Where did you used to…I mean, obviously now you’ve talked about Amazon and getting books.  Where did you used to get books from or where did your father get books from in those early days?

PC:  Oh, the library and although we did have books in the house, but not a lot.  His family had a lot of books [LH:  Right], and when we use d to go there every week, and I used to love to go in there and forage through the encyclopaedias [LH:  Right, yeah] and you know all [LH:  Yeah, yeah] sorts of books.  We didn’t have a lot of books at home, but we always had library books around.

LH:  So that as a regular occurrence going on?

PC:  Yes, oh yes.  Mother and father used to spend hours reading.  I mean, we listened to the radio [LH:  Yes] and we listened as a family [LH:  Right] because it was during the war, don’t forget.

LH:  And how did the war affect your life as well as your reading, do you think, in Sheffield?  Do you remember that?  [Pause] Because you would have been thirteen.

PC:  Well, I think it helped me with my education.

LH:  Really?

PC:  Oh, I’m sure it did.  I mean, I went to … I was one of the fortunate ones who had a grammar school to go to.  I went to Abbeydale Grammar, and some of the books we did there, you know, we don’t … The only thing they did introduce me to, but then you don’t sit and read Shakespeare.  I did once sit and read part of a play, but it’s not the sort of thing you pick up and read.

LH:  No, I know.  Right.

PC:  Although I loved it, you know [LH:  Yes, yes], once we started to do it.  But, for instance, Ivanhoe we [LH:  Right, yes, yes] did at school in the first year because I remember drawing all the pictures on the blackboard.  Yes, they’re…because a lot of those books are sort of out of fashion.

LH:  Yeah, they are, yes.

PC:  Sir Walter Scott, things like that.

LH:  So what way do you think the war improved your chances of learning?  That’s an interesting way of looking at that.

PC:  How did I think what improved?

LH:  The war.

PC:  The war…I don’t think the war did, actually.  [Pause] I don’t think the war had any effect on my reading.

LH:  No?

PC:  I mean, I didn’t start to read any books with, or anything to do with…

LH:  And your father didn’t go to serve in the war, did he?

PC:  They wouldn’t let him because he was, he had a Russian [LH:  Ah, he was Russian.  Right] passport.  In fact, at one point, when Russia and Finland were at war, and we were on the Finnish side, there was a possibility he could have been [LH:  Ah, interned] interned.  But he wasn’t, fortunately.  He tried to, of course he was too old to join up.  He tried to join the … to be an ARP Warden.  They wouldn’t have him.  And yet his brother, a mathematician, he was working on something top secret all during the war.  They wouldn’t let me join the WRNS, they wouldn’t let my brother join the navy.

LH:  Really?

PC:  No, you had to have British grandparents [LH:  Ah, really] in those days to join the navy [LH:  Wow].  Yes.  They said it was because it’s an enclosed world.

LH:  Right.

PC:  It’s not like being out.  That’s what they said.  I don’t think it’s true [LH:  Yeah].  I wanted to go into the WRNS, but they wouldn’t have me [LH:  Right, yeah, yeah].  I can’t think that really … I mean, I still went on reading the things I liked [LH:  Yes, yes], you know.

LH:  So you went to Abbeydale Grammar School in those days.

PC:  Hmm?

LH:  You went to Abbeydale Grammar School and what age were you when you left there?

PC:  Sixteen, and I went to the art college.

LH:  Did you?

PC:  Yeah, I wanted to be a dress designer, you see.  I always wanted to be a dress designer.

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LH:  After your mother, in fact?

PC:  Well, yes, yes.  And father [LH:  Yeah] was, well actually, by trade, he was a master furrier, but when he came to Sheffield, there was no call for a master [LH:  Ah, right]…you know, the sort of person who would go and buy the furs and [LH:  Oh] the skins.  He knew how to do [LH:  Wow] the lot.  He used to go and help to buy the skins, stretch [LH:  Right] the skins.  He told me about various things he made for people, you know [LH:  Yeah], long sable coat, cloaks and, oh gosh.

LH:  So did you go into fashion design?

PC:  Hmm?

LH:  Did you…design?

PC:  No, I didn’t because the war was on.  I went…Let’s see, the war started when I was seventeen. Oh, that affected me, actually, art school, because we had to do two evening classes, as well as the day classes.  And I opted for Ancient Architecture because, don’t forget, by this time I loved anything ancient Greek, you know [LH:  Yes, yes], from father’s readings and from the…so on and so forth.  And I did become, at that point, very interested in not only Greek architecture but also Egyptian because we had to do, you know, sections through, Cheop’s Tomb and all that, in this.  So I read quite a lot about ancient Egypt [LH:  Right, right, yes, yes] and ancient Greece in those days, late teens.

LH:  When did you find time to read?  What was…Did you read in bed, or?

PC:  Well, during the war, we did go out, but going out at, was not all that hot [LH:  Right] because there were no lights, you know, and dances, things like that, stopped.  Although we used to go dancing, they didn’t go on very late.  The trams, we had trams in those days, they didn’t go on very late.  And we didn’t spend much time out, as children do now.

LH:  No, no, no.

PC:  And, of course, there was no television.  Not that television’s ever stopped me reading, I don’t think.  It sometimes made me read.  For instance, I was watching Wallander, which I think is marvellous, so I have now ordered from the library some of [Together:  his books], so that I can read them, you know {LH:  Yes, yes, yes].  So…

LH:  [Laughing] Nothing is going to stop you reading, by the sounds of it.

PC:  Well, I read in bed [LH:  Yes].  I wake up very early [LH:  Yes] and I read for a couple of hours every morning [LH:  Right, yes] before I get up.

LH:  Looking back to your days of reading as you became an adult, not necessarily the war, I mean, but just reading.  Was it always something that was a shared thing, or were there things that you might have wanted to not show your parents that you were reading?

PC:  Oh, no!

LH:  Was there ever any kind of secretive reading?

PC:  I can’t think…

LH:  Like Lady Chatterley’s Lover type of reading?

PC:  I can’t think that that happened…

LH:  It sounded as a very shared…

PC:  I didn’t come across any risqué books in those days [Both laugh].  Actually, it would have been quite nice, but we didn’t.  When I started travelling, buying with Walsh’s and then Debenhams, I used to buy a lot of paperbacks [LH:  Yes] at the station, to read on the train [LH:  Yes].  And I remember getting on the train at Liverpool Street, and I got Day of the Triffids.  Do you remember that?

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LH:  Yes, I do.

PC:  And I sat down to read and all of a sudden we were in London!  And I couldn’t wait to get through the day to get…It really gripped me from the very beginning.

LH:  Doesn’t it, yes?  Absolutely, that’s great.

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PC:  But I have read a lot of books that way, just buying them to read on the train, you know.

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LH:  Yes, if you’ve done a lot of travelling, yes, yes, yeah.

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PC:  Yes, and that was when I was in my late twenties and early thirties.

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LH:  And did you ever read any of the classics, like Dickens?  You haven’t mentioned Jane Austen and those sorts of things.

PC:  Oh golly!  I haven’t mentioned those!  Now, when did I start those?  I think, actually, I read most, a lot of them, when I was forty-four.  I left Debenhams and went to college to train to be a teacher.

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LH:  Really?

PC:  [Laughing] Biggest financial mistake I ever made.  And at college, we…I was introduced to George Eliot.

LH:  Yeah.

PC:  You know, The Mill on the Floss and all that lot.  I wouldn’t have thought of reading George Eliot, as it were.  Jane Austen…well.  I didn’t do Jane Austen there.  I think I’d already started on Jane, yes, I must’ve done, read Jane Austen.  Possibly when I was young, after seeing Pride and Prejudice the film [LH:  Right] because I always remember having the paperback of Jane Austen.  There was something else that I remember when I was in Norwich, in my early thirties.  There was a woman in the staff.  She used to hire staff, rather a superior kind of woman.  And when she found out I liked history, she lent me I Claudius.

LH:  Oh, right.

PC:  So that set me off [LH:  Yes].  So I eventually bought I Claudius and Claudius the God [LH:  Right], which…well, actually, recently I’ve given most of my books to my great-nephew [LH:  [Laughs] Yes] because I can’t…I mean, next door, I’ll show you before you go out, it was all books up to the ceiling [LH:  Really, really].  But there’s no point, I can’t reach them [LH:  No].  So I cleared all the top shelves [LH:  Oh right] out and I had a lot of reference books as well [LH:  Right].  But with the computer, it’s not the same [LH:  Yeah.  No, I know, I know].  I mean, I like reference books, but they’re too big and heavy for me to get down.

LH:  And the computer is so convenient, isn’t it?

PC:  She also gave me a book to read, which is very interesting, called Wife to Mr Milton.  You know, Milton the writer, I mean.  And it was all about her life [LH:  Oh] and what she did.  And it was full of recipes [Laughs].  That was very interesting.

LH:  Really.

PC:  I read that in my early thirties.

LH:  Oh right, yes, yes.

PC:  There’s all sorts of bits and bobs, you know, that …

LH:  Yes, yes.

PC:  Jane Austen. [pause] Now, I always loved Wuthering Heights.

LH:  [Laughs] Oh, yes.

PC:  Always, I always liked that.  And I always liked Jane Eyre.

LH:  Yes.

PC:  And I’ve had various copies of those because they fall to bits eventually [Both laugh].  But I wouldn’t like to say how old I was the first time I read them.

LH:  Do you reread books a lot?

PC:  Oh yes.  Oh, certain books, yes.

LH:  Do you?

PC:  Wuthering Heights I’ve read [LH:  Right, yeah, yes, yeah], yes, at least twice.  Jane Eyre, I tend, every time they have a new version.  And there’s another one coming up.

LH:  Yes, apparently it’s very…

PC:  Every time they have a new version, I reread it to make sure I’m not daft and they are, you know what I mean?  [Both laugh]

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LH:  They do say this new film is very good.

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PC:  It…Well, I think they’re all very good because I think we’re marvellous at costume  drama [LH:  Yes, yes, yes] in this country.  But I am never satisfied [LH:  I know] with Rochester [LH:  No], because to me, if you read her description of Rochester [LH:  Yes], Orson Welles more [LH:  [Laughing] Yes] nearly is Rochester than [LH:  Than nobody else] anybody else.  Not nice looking [LH:  No].  Not very tall, but stocky [LH:  Gruff], black eyes, black hair, you know [LH:  Yeah, yeah], unattractive and yet magnetic [LH:  Yes].  And that was him [LH:  Yes, yes, yes].  And I never liked a Rochester since him.

LH:  They make them too handsome.

PC:  Well, that Henry Jones [Pat wonders whether she meant Rupert Parry Jones] I mean he was so good looking [LH:  Yes].  And not only that, they introduced all that sex into it [LH:  Oh yes].  And I mean, Charlotte Brontë just doesn’t go in for that, does she [LH:  No, no, that’s right.  You don’t need it, do you?].  You can take what you like, but she never mentioned it.

LH:  [Laughing] No, that’s right.

PC:  But they didn’t in those days [LH:  No, no].  I have read, not Mansfield Park…

LH:  Northanger Abbey?

PC:  Nope [Pause] Middlemarch!

LH:  Oh, alright.  Oh, I see what you mean.  Right, okay.

PC:  I’ve read [LH:  Okay, right, yeah] that two or three times and that’s a fantastic book.

LH:  That’s a wonderful book, yeah.

PC:  And I thought the way they serialised it was wonderful.

LH:  Stunning, wasn’t it?

PC:  Absolutely flawless [Both laugh].

LH:  Yes, that’s right.  So, how…Do you think, looking back, I mean, you’ve just been such a big reader, haven’t you?  I mean, one of the questions on my list here [PC:  Yes] is has…Are there any ways in which reading has changed your life?  But, perhaps it’s always been a part of your life, hasn’t it?

PC:  I’m sure it must have, I’m sure.  [Pause] Well, it’s…For one thing, it’s changed it for the better because I’ve always enjoyed reading [LH:  Yes] and anything you enjoy and is educational can’t be bad, can it? [Both laugh]

LH:  That’s right.  But it seems to have been woven into your life seamlessly [PC:  Yes], right from very, very early days.

PC:  Yes, I’ve always, always said, even to this day, I like learning things.  This is a book I haven’t read before.

LH:  Ah, right.

PC:  I mean, he’s one of my pets and I’ve always been furious at the way he’s been maligned over the years [LH:  Yes, yes.  That’s Richard the Third, yes].  I’m always wanting to learn more [LH:  Yes, yes, yes], you know, know more.

LH:  And you did mention earlier about how your reading habits might have changed [PC:  Oh yes] and whether we would be interested in that.  Looking back, are there now books that you read with pleasure when you were younger that you wouldn’t dream of reading now?

PC:  [Laughs]  I got from the library recently some Agatha Christie books [LH laughs].  Ah, I couldn’t…I couldn’t read them.  Poirot, for instance [LH laughs], what an abominable little man he was in her books.  No, so I didn’t read those.  I’ll see if I enjoy Sanders of the Rivers when it comes.  They only came on Monday, so I’ll have to wait for that.  What else did I read?  Well, Rider Haggard, we’ve got one or two of his books which father acquired. Father…I’ll tell what father did do, and I have done.  You know in libraries when they sell books off?

LH:  Oh yes.

PC:  He used to buy books and so have I.

LH:  Yes.

PC:  And we’ve got one or two of Rider Haggard’s books and I start…I bought it for my brother, actually.  And I started to read one and I couldn’t go through with that now.

LH:  Oh right, right.

PC:  I don’t know what it was.

LH:  Were they…

PC:  Allan Quatermain, I couldn’t.  He was the hunter, wasn’t he?  Things to do with killing animals, etc, I can’t read [LH:  Right, right] anymore, you know.  Anything cruel [LH:  Right, right].  When you’re young, you’re really a little bit hard [LH:  Yes, you are] in some ways [LH:  That’s true, that’s true].  And when I was in my thirties, I used to wear furs because I was in fashion [LH:  Yeah].  I wouldn’t…If I had a fur now [LH:  Yeah, no, no, no, no, no], I wouldn’t, I couldn’t.  Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat.  Well, I, you see, that book I’ve read over and over.  But it is…The language is dated [LH:  Yes, yes], let’s face it.  And Rider Haggard’s language [LH:  Yes, yes yes] is dated.  And Damon Runyon’s is dated, but it’s just the sort of thing you can keep reading because it’s not like…Have you ever?

LH:  Oh no, I haven’t actually.  No I haven’t.

[Pages rustling]

PC:  He writes…Well, for instance, I’ll read you this first paragraph.  It’s a peculiar way of writing.  “One day, a certain party, by the name of Judge Goldfobber, who is a lawyer by trade, sends word to me that he wishes me to call on him at his office in lower Broadway.  And while ordinarily I do not care for any part of lawyers, it happens that Judge Goldfobber is a friend, so I go to see him.”  It’s all like that:  I am going, I am…You know.

LH:  So it’s like the present tense, isn’t it?  Yeah.

PC:  “Of course, Judge Goldfobber is not a judge and never is a judge, and is a hundred to one in my line against ever being a judge.  But he likes to be called a judge.  It pleases him, so everybody…”  You see [LH:  Right], I love the way he writes [LH:  Right], and it’s all betting and it’s always at the races [LH laughs].  And all his characters, like here…Harry the Horse, Spanish John, Little Isidore.  They’ve all got these funny names.  Lemondrop Kid.  I remember Bob Hope once played Lemondrop Kid.  And in Guys and Dolls, what’s the name…Marlon Brando played Sky Masterson [LH:  Right, yeah].  And they’re always given these names because…sky was because he was a big bettor and the sky was the limit every time, so…And it’s the same with Nicely Nicely George.  People would say, “Hello, how are you today?”  “Nicely, nicely.”  [LH:  Yes]  They are just so funny.

LH:  Yeah, yeah.  They just really still interest you.

PC:  I think, this sounds an awful thing to say, but I’ve got a feeling the only people now who would know him are intellectuals [LH:  Oh, right].  Because I know he was very popular with them in the days [LH:  Yes, yes] when we all knew of him, you know.

LH:  Can I ask you this then, because Mary Grover is very interested in the idea of highbrow, middlebrow and lowbrow [PC:  Oh].  Are you ever conscious that you either did choose any of those or whether [PC:  Not because of what they were] you might choose them now?  No.

PC:  No.  I mean, Damon Runyon, as I say, father used to read when I was a child.  And then when I was in my late twenties and I met a physicist who became a professor of physics and he loved Damon Runyon.  It was so him [LH:  Right].  I began to find out what intellectuals liked to read [LH:  Oh, right] and it surprised me [LH:  Yes] that they would like that [LH:  Yes].  But I suppose it’s because it was so different [LH:  Yes, yes] and they were very funny.

LH:  Yes, yes, yeah.  That’s interesting.

PC:  Did he ever reco…Oh yes, he did.  Ah yes, he recommended a book to me once.  O Henry.  I’d never read any of O. Henry [LH:  Ah, yeah], and oh, [LH:  Short stories] beautiful aren’t they?  The Gift of the Magi [LH:  Oh right, yeah] and The Last Leaf.  Do you remember that one?

LH:  Yes, yes, yes, yes.  Beautiful.

PC:  Beautiful stories and I hadn’t heard of him [LH:  No], so he…It was through him [LH:  Yeah].  And actually, when I was teaching, before I retire I was four years teaching at the high school.  And I remember, I don’t think I read it to them.  I remember telling the girls the story of the Gift of the Magi.

LH:  Oh yeah.

PC:  And at the end, a couple of them were in tears.

LH:  Ah.

PC:  And for homework, I said, “I’d like you to go away and write down exactly what you think about the story” [LH:  Yes, yes].  And some of the things they wrote, it was so wonderful.  I took them to the head and I said, “Read these” [LH:  Yes].  And it was nothing to do with the curriculum [LH:  No] because I used to teach them what I wanted to teach them, you see [Both laugh].

LH:  You could probably in those days, couldn’t you?

PC:  I remember the head came in one Saturday afternoon. [Pat later says she thinks she made a mistake with the day as there was no school on Saturday]  I’d got the radio on, oh, I think I was playing the Four Seasons.  Yeah, but before it became hackneyed [LH:  Yeah].  All the girls were getting on with their leftover work and I was marking, and in she walked and there we were, all listening to the music [Laughs].  She didn’t object [LH laughs] and we were all working.

LH:  And they were learning, weren’t they?  They were definitely learning.

PC:  I remember after I left, one of the mothers who’d hoped that I was going to teach her younger child said to the head that, “I’m sorry Ms Cymbal left.”  And she said, “Well yes, Ms Cymbal was a one off.”  [Both laugh]  You know why, because I’d spent most of my life in business [LH:  Ah right, yes], you see.  It makes a big difference [LH:  Oh, absolutely, absolutely.  Definitely] because a lot of the girls [Pat says it should be ‘teachers] in London I taught with were straight from college [LH:  Yes].  And they knew nothing [LH:  You’d seen a bit more of the world] about anything.  They were lovely girls, with their hearts in the right place [LH:  Yes], but no knowledge of life [LH:  No, no].

LH:  You definitely had a lot of it from your books.  Have you got anything else written down on your page before we finish our interview, Pat?

PC:  Well, of course, I still read history books, as you can see.  And also not only English history.  I’ve given most o … Oh, there’s the Iliad and the Odyssey.  No, oh yes, I became very interested in the Greek plays [LH:  Oh right, yeah.  Ah right], you know, Aeschylus [Pause]

LH:  Yeah.

PC:  I like Euripides best.  He’s the one who writes about women, strong women.  But I had a lot of books on Julius Caesar and Augustus and Tiberius [LH:  Oh right, yes, yes], you know.  I’ve given them all to Lewis [LH:  Yes].  I think I’ve got a few there that are Jane Austen’s [LH:  Yes].  I don’t think he’d like Jane Austen anyway [LH laughs].  But, it’s just sort of continued [LH:  Yes] ever since.

LH:  And you’re always looking out for something new, by the sounds of it.

PC:  Well, I’m getting to the point now where I’ve read practically everything I’d want to read in the library.  I don’t know what I’m going to do.  I shall have to start buying books I think.  I’ve always … As you can see, I’ve always read, apart from history and non-fiction, I’ve always read what I call thrillers.

LH:  Yes, yes.

PC:  I have never liked romances.

LH:  Really?

PC:  Ever. Never [LH:  Ah. No, no] in my life.  Yucky, icky [LH laughs].  And I’ve carried on with that [LH:  Yes], so that you know, now, recent…in recent years.  Michael Connelly [LH:  Right, yes, yes], you know him.

LH:  Patricia Cornwell, yeah.

PC:  I think he’s probably the best.

LH:  Really?

PC:  Well, I… With him, I just can’t put his books down [LH:  Right].  I have to keep reading [LH:  Really] and reading, you know, and it’s so tricky.  Patricia Cornwell, Cathy Reichs, Danuta Reah [LH:  Oh yes].  She’s at the university.

LH:  Is she?

PC:  She’s a lecturer [LH:  Is she?] at Sheffield University.

LH:  You know, I don’t think I ever noticed that.

PC:  And her thrillers take part in Sheffield.

LH:  Danuta Reah?

PC:  And she lives in Pitsmoor.

LH:  Does she?  Wow.

PC:  Danuta Reah [LH:  Yeah]. Linda Fairstein, Faye Kellerman, Minette Walters [LH:  Yes], and also [Pauses] I didn’t come acr…Yes, I did read Ellis Peters at one time because they were historical [LH:  Yes] whodunits [LH:  Yes].  And from that I’ve gone onto Michael Jecks [LH:  Right], who’s my favourite [LH:  Right], Lindsey Davis, Christian Jacq, Steven Saylor, Bernard Knight, and I love Elizabeth Peters books.

Pat-89

LH:  Oh right.

PC:  Have you read those?

LH:  No.

PC:  Oh.

LH:  Did you read all of the Brother Cadfaels from Ellis?

PC:  Who?

LH:  Did you read Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael books?

PC:  Yes.  Oh yes!  That’s what I mean.

LH:  But no, I haven’t heard of Elizabeth Peters.

PC:  Oh, well, you should.  They are marvellous.  She’s an American and she writes like a high-class English woman [Laughs].  And, do you know, I find with American writers, often their grammar is better [LH:  Really, really] than English writers.  And she sounds exactly like a high-class lady.  And I can imagine if they made plays of her books, Katherine Hepburn [LH:  Oh right, yes], because she was a very bossy individual.  And they are Egyptologists, you see, and all these derring-dos take place among…In fact, at one time, they’re living in a tomb, you know, and she seems to do well [Both laugh].  Oh, you ought to read Elizabeth Peters.

LH:  Oh, will do, yes!  Fantastic.

PC:  Oh yes, you should. She’s fantastic.  Lots and lots of books.

LH:  Oh, great.

PC:  But I always…When I tell people to do this, I always say start at the beginning.

LH:  Right.

PC:  Because it’s not good starting halfway [LH:  No] through [LH:  No], when they all run [LH:  No].  I mean, each one’s a different story, like Morse.

LH:  Oh right, yes.

PC:  You know, it’s the same people year after year.  Each time they go back to excavate, like the mummy case [LH:  Yeah], and there’s so many mummy cases.

[Both laugh]

LH:  Well, I shall certainly take from this interview a lot of…

PC:  I didn’t mention Morse either, did I?  I’ve read all his books before this came on…

LH:  Who’s this, Morse [PC:  Yes]?  Ah right, yes.  I shall take a lot of recommendations from you.

PC:  What was his name, what was his name?  Oh golly. This is one thing that hits you when you get old.  That’s why I made a note.  Oh.

LH:  You know, I can’t think of it.

PC:  Can’t remember it.

LH:  No, I can’t think of…I think you’ve had an amazing memory of all the…Not just the books, but all the sense of the books as well.  So I’m going to end the formal interview by saying thank you very much indeed for that.

PC:  You’re welcome.

LH:  I’m sure this will be a really interesting transcript.

PC:  [Laughing] Have I talked too much?

LH:  [Laughing] Oh, no, you haven’t

PC:  I tend to when I want to.

[Both laugh]

LH:  So, thank you very much indeed.

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Ken’s reading journey

By Mary Grover

Husband and wife Ken and Kath were interviewed together for Reading Sheffield. Their marriage includes a strong ‘reading partnership’, based on their shared political and local interests. We will post Kath’s reading journey after this.   

Ken was born on 27 April 1924. For the first 20 years of his life he lived in Fir Vale, Sheffield, in a house where he was surrounded by ‘tons of books’. ‘Everybody in the family read.’ Ken got books as presents and his older sister handed down her favourites – some of them novels his mother and father would not have approved, ‘Istanbul Train and all those stories’.

And of course I read all the boys’ books that you would have. You know, tuppenny bloods and all that sort of thing, school stories and that, which were really funny. By today’s standards rather silly, I expect, but I used to think they were marvellous.

Though Ken didn’t think much of the radio programmes in the Thirties, he did enjoy the books read on Children’s Hour, like Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons, and all are still with him. Down at Fir Vale shops was a tuppenny library, a rich source of popular books, Ken’s favourites being humorous books and The Saint books by Leslie Charteris.

And then, when he was about ten, a new municipal library opened in Firth Park. Ken’s main aim on his first visit was to get the thickest book possible because you were, in 1934, only able to borrow one book a week. So his first choice was The Great Aeroplane Mystery by Percy F Westerman[i]. ‘Absolute rubbish, of course,’ but thick.

The old Firth Park Library building today

It was when Ken gained a place at the Catholic grammar school, De La Salle, that his reading tastes expanded to include a whole range of authors that were new to him.

An English master who was a brilliant man put me onto all sorts of good books. And he was a very opinionated bloke. He used to think that all the best writers were people like Lytton Strachey and all that lot. You know – the Bloomsbury outfit and all those people.

We used to have an English room and there used to be favourite things pinned up on the wall. You know, things like The Land and all those famous poems. Things I’ve never forgotten. I mean all those dreadful poems you had to memorise like The Ancient Mariner and ‘Young Lochinvar has come out of the west / Through all the wide borders his steed was the best’. You know, that sort of stuff and all the classic things – Sohrab and Rustum and all those sorts of things. But it stamps what you’re going to do if you listen. And he was a very unusual person. I used to hang on his every word really, I expect. He never failed to be right in what he’d said. Well, I think so. I thought he was bang on the nail with everything.

During his school days Ken became a socialist, reading ‘loads and loads of pamphlets, political pamphlets. They were all the rage then’.

The outbreak of war led to the closure of Ken’s grammar school and the end to his formal schooling. At 15, he left school to go into ‘the works’, first as an apprentice and then as a draughtsman. But the war meant an increase in Ken’s reading.

During the war that was all you could do, read books, with very little other entertainment. Certainly nothing like the radio or TV as there is now so you were thrown onto books and written material, newspapers.

Towards the end of the war, just turned 20, Ken was lucky enough to marry Kath who shared his taste in books and politics. Kath introduced Ken to Sholokhov’s books, ‘Quiet Flows the Don and all those Russian novels’. ‘And Chinese books, famous Chinese novels,’ adds Kath. These books opened the couple’s eyes to the suffering in ‘Old Russia’ before the Revolution. Ken describes himself ‘ploughing his way through’ Das Kapital. He and Kath became communists and during the Cold War, they took their children to a children’s camp in East Germany. Their experience left them with a deep scepticism about the way East Germany was represented in Western spy stories.

A lot of them are a whole load of rubbish, you know. Weren’t they, Kath? Absolutely. We used to know this girl – East German girl who was a teacher there – and she used to go across the border every night to go and be entertained in West Berlin. They were supposed to be at daggers drawn and everything but it wasn’t like that a bit when we were there, was it? Not a bit. And it makes you wonder just how the news and everything has been manipulated in the past, you know? Shocking, shocking.

However, despite his firm political convictions, Ken describes his reading tastes as catholic: Quiller Couch, P G Wodehouse, Ernest Hemingway, Jane Austen, Just William, Ken has read and enjoyed them all. Indeed, when asked to pick out a favourite book, he chooses one written by the journalist and novelist, Philip Gibbs, who was no socialist.

It was called European Journey. It was set in the 1920s just after the First World War. He’s an artist and a crowd of about six of them toured through France and Germany by car – typical better-off officer-class people. You’ve got to forget all that part of it – because he was a brilliant writer and he writes about Paris and all – really great – just how France is. I love France. He writes about France with real feeling. But it was when he was a comparatively young man. That’s a book I got by sheer chance, just by picking it up. It was old, of course; I’ve still got it upstairs. It’s a lovely book to dip into and just, er, read all these bits and pieces now and again.

As Ken puts it, ‘We never were tied up to one set of things’.

You can find Ken’s full interview here.

 

[i] Although Percy F Westerman wrote over 150 books, none has the title The Great Aeroplane Mystery. He wrote The Secret Battleplane (1916) and Airship Golden Hind (1920). His son, John F C Westerman, also wrote adventure stories for boys, including A Mystery of the Air (1931). Another adventure writer, Captain Brereton, wrote The Great Aeroplane (1911) and The Great Airship (1914), John Westerman’s book seems the closest in title and date, but there is no way of knowing for certain which book Ken borrowed. The Westermans are discussed here.

 

 

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