Pat Cymbal’s Reading Journey

By Thecla Wilkinson

Pat was born in Sheffield in 1926. Her father was Russian and originally a master furrier. She went to Abbeydale Grammar School, leaving at sixteen to go to art college. She worked in fashion, becoming a buyer for J.Walsh and then Debenhams. In her forties she left Debenhams to train as a teacher and taught in London and at the High School in Sheffield.

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Pat’s parents were both great readers. Her mother read her fairy stories such as those by the brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson and also Alice in Wonderland. Her father didn’t read her children’s stories but told her tales from the Greek myths and read Tennyson’s Idylls of the King over and over to her so that, as Pat says

When I went to grammar school, we started to do Tennyson and I could recite whole wads of it off by heart, you know, before we started. I still can to this very day.

Pat doesn’t remember reading any children’s books as such apart from a small set of hardbacks called Swiss Stories, one of which was Heidi. She says that she was encouraged to read by example rather than directly,

To me it was just normal to read.

Books came from the library mainly. Not many were bought, although her father would sometimes buy books which the library was selling off. In her teens Pat read the books her father got from the library; from this time she remembers Rider Haggard, P.G.Wodehouse, Damon Runyon, Jerome K. Jerome and Sanders of the River by Edgar Wallace.

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Then she began to get books from the library herself and mentions The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. She borrowed this after seeing the film of The Picture of Dorian Gray which had a quotation from it at the beginning.

From this time she remembers working her way through Agatha Christie and then Ngaio Marsh, Erle Stanley Gardener and Raymond Chandler. She also read and still reads a lot of history and biography, from the Roman emperors to the autobiographies of Peter Mandelson and Alistair Darling.

She also enjoyed books which made her laugh such as How to be an Alien by George Mikes, The Education of Hyman Kaplan by Leo Rosten and 1066 and all That by Sellars and Yeatman which she still goes back to sometimes.

If ever I feel downhearted, I go and get that off the shelf. I mean, in no time I’m laughing.

Pat doesn’t think that the war affected her reading. Because her father had a Russian passport, none of the family was allowed to join up. Pat moved from school to art college and continued to read. There was no television, of course, but even later television didn’t stop Pat reading.

It sometimes made me read. For instance, I was watching Wallender, which I think is marvellous, so I have now ordered from the library some of the books.

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When Pat was working as a buyer and travelling a lot for work, she used to buy paperbacks to read on the train. The Day of the Triffids is one she recalls vividly,

I sat down to read and all of a sudden we were in London….It really gripped me from the beginning.

pat-cymbal-modelling-age-40's-5Pat had read some of the classics, for example, Jane Austen, when younger but it was when she started teacher training that she read George Eliot and the Brontes.

wuthering-heights-wordsShe also became interested in Greek plays, particularly those of Euripides because he writes about strong women.

Pat likes to re-read favourite books especially if there has been a new film or television version,

I re-read it to make sure I’m not daft and they are.

But there are books which she has gone back to only to find them unreadable, such as Rider Haggard and Agatha Christie, saying of the latter, ‘Poirot, for instance, what an abominable little man he was in her books’.

Pat has been a great reader from childhood and still reads widely.

I read in bed. I wake very early and I read for a couple of hours every morning before I get up.

Does Pat think that reading changed her life?

For one thing it’s changed it for the better because I’ve always enjoyed reading and anything you enjoy and is educational can’t be bad, can it?

 

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