Dorothy Latham

Dorothy Latham

Dorothy was born in Catcliffe, Sheffield, in 1931.

Dorothy is being interviewed by Clare Keen on 17th October 2011.

 

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Clare Keen: It is the 17th of October 2011 and I am interviewing Dorothy Latham that is D-O-R-O-T-H-Y , yep, Latham, L-A-T-H-A-M. And Dorothy was born in …

Dorothy Latham: 1931.

CK: 1931, and in which area?

DL: In which, er, place?

CK: Yes.

DL: I was born in Catcliffe.

CK: In Catcliffe?

DL: Yes, so Rotherham was my nearest … town.

CK: Right.

DL: Yes, yes.

CK: Mmm and then between the years of 1945 and 1965 you lived in … ?

DL: I lived at Nab Rise on the Nab Farm Estate. There was a new estate built on the farm land and so I lived on the Nab Farm Estate.

CK: On the Nab Farm Estate? Oh right.

DL: Yes.

Before that, what was the first day you said?

CK: Er 1945 … to 1965.

DL: Yes … yes …1945 I would still be at Catcliffe I think. I’m trying to work out … I was 22 when I got married so, yeah. So yes and then you know I met my husband and he lived in Dore so that’s why I came to Sheffield. So I think when it starts I was probably not married and still at home wouldn’t it be? Yes.

CK: So Dorothy, did anybody read to you when you were young?

DL: Always, yes. My mother was an avid reader and I can’t remember my father really but my mother really was and very interested in music and reading and we … I was always read books, yes.

CK: So she read books to you?

DL: Oh yeah, when I – I have a bed-time story.

CK: What kind of books?

DL: Well … mm … Rupert [laughs] and … then you see I  … once I could read, you know,  …  I just didn’t put them down and it was a little bit difficult. The war did disrupt things and you know it was a very difficult period. I mean I can remember that when War was declared and coming home my mother was filling a big metal chest with food and … so it – it altered everything because you know you couldn’t travel, you couldn’t go out much and even at school they. It was a village school I went to first and …, they opened the school in the holidays and we used to go and draw but it was for safety. And I can remember having round my shoulders a bag with emergency things in; a small of Nestle’s milk and things and our number KSBF1684. Well, you see, we didn’t know there was gas-masks and it was war, you know, and with living at Catcliffe I was a bit protected because I can remember standing on my lawn at home in the middle of the night and we knew Sheffield was being bombed, you know, but we were that bit away you see? Whereas my husband went in some special shelters and he’d no home; it went in the Blitz. He’d no home at all and even the schools, …  it was home tuition wherever they could manage. And, …, you see, know it seems strange but in those days there were very few cars and travel wasn’t easy. So, …  which now – travel and the distances that we go, it – it was a different world and I’ll … yes.

CK: So, that was your childhood then really wasn’t it? And then you were growing up becoming a teenager and an older teenager; what sort of books were you reading then?

DL: My absolute passion was Anne of Green Gables and to say I adored all the series. If I’d have had a daughter, which I didn’t – I had two sons – she would have been called Anne, as I … were you the same? And I adored it, and I – I was just absorbed with it. And …but I, also because I read so much I liked Dickens and – and you see I did win a scholarship to the … Woodhouse Grammar School which was quite unusual in my village because I think it was a fee-paying. So, you know, I went to the grammar school and of course then you’re doing Shakespeare and … well you do don’t you, you know.

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CK: So, Anne of Green Gables, yes, … would you ? …

DL: Oh I adored it, and all the series, was it, was it something about Montgomery? Was it? I can’t remember…

CK: I can’t quite –

DL: I, I… I got…

CK: I’ll have a look if I’ve got it here. Now did you feel that … what about your first grown-up book? Did you feel that was a grown-up book?

DL: I felt it was in my time, you know, I – you see when I got to be 15 and 16 I didn’t really, you know, … go out. I had a very protected life because you wouldn’t go out at night.  I mean there was a black-out but my father was very strict. I don’t mean being abused but protected and even before I got married and I was engaged to my husband I had to be in by 10 o’clock.

CK: Mm.

DL: He was so patient and … before . . . my father thought the world of him but er, you see the last bus from Sheffield was quarter past nine. It’s a wonder he bothered [laughs] and but you see, he, he hadn’t a car, his father had but … you see there was, it was very restricted with the war. Very restricted.

CK: Where did you get your books from Dorothy?

DL: Well, I was just … I’m sure we went to the library with my mother. I can’t remember buying them.

CK: Do you remember which library?

DL: I think there must have been one in Rotherham or something. Do you know? I don’t know but you see my mum used to go to what they called – called the Workers Education … group. So she was very interested in-in education and, you know, even for me, you know, learning to spell and trying to make me speak better. I was brought up… I was encouraged really and  … and then I know she used to go to this Workers Education … I don’t know how old she’d be when she did that, my mum, but you see she…

CK: And she got books there, did she?

DL: My mum … I …

CK: She could borrow or…?

DL: Well she went, she went for herself.

CK: Mm, yes .

DL: Because, you know, … all my family even my grandma, who lived in Tinsley. I mean I know it was a totally different education but she’d been a teacher. My grandma and … my Auntie Mary was the same, a beautiful organist and my mother was very musical. So in a strange way I was brought up in … a … ordinary household but somehow I got the best. It may sound strange but I was encouraged in … I mean I never went out. I suppose I was too young in the war but I’d meet some people and they were out dancing and doing all that. Well my father wouldn’t have … he … he was very protective. You could say I missed it really.

CK: No, No. There’s a library here I’ve found called the Handy and Red Circle library. Does that ring any bells? It says Rotherham branch and Greenland Road.

DL: I think that’s where I went.

CK: Really?

DL: You see my mum was going so she just took me along and – er – and I – I was always brought up with … with books and … particularly Malcolm … you know, as I say he can remember his grandpa taking him, you know to visit his first one. But C S Lewis …. and … but Malcolm … and see … but my grand-daughters are … you know, very, you know, yeah.

CK: Mm.

DL: I think it must be in us that we … like a certain way of life [laughs].

CK: Did you start buying books or …? At some point?

DL: Well you see in the war it was difficult to buy things. I mean I, toys and things, I mean for Christmas. … You couldn’t get things and I know I used to get saving stamps and things. But you see … my … Uncle Walter, his wife had actually been to university, which was quite unusual and of course there again she was always giving me things … and I … there always seemed books about really. I can’t remember there not and even to spelling you know? Necessary: N-E-C-E-double S-A-R-Y and you know my mother was always encouraging me, really, to … in that kind of life because I think all the family were that way inclined. You know, really.

CK: Mm. Can you talk of any of the books you read as a young adult? Maybe the 50s or so that made an impression on you?

DL: I can remember and this may sound quite strange because you see my father-in-law was very interested and I, I can remember the excitement and it was excitement him telling me ‘I’ve found such a wonderful book and you’ve got to read it’ and it was Rebecca, Daphne Du Maurier.

CK: Mm, right.

DL: And he was telling everybody … and … and it sounds crazy but he was over the moon. ‘You’ve got to read this book’. And … and, you know it was just how it was and the strange thing is my husband, I’m sure he must have been dyslexic because he didn’t read and the only book he liked … it .. it just was interesting. I think there was a problem and I think that his mum … and I mean they were lovely and don’t get me wrong but they weren’t readers … but the excitement of finding Rebecca may sound silly … but he was, he had to tell everyone and I, I couldn’t wait to get it [gasps] ‘Oh, it’s fantastic. Yes, yes.’ And you know, I’d discuss books with him and all sorts and you see my eldest son, his first memory of being taken to a library was being taken by his grandpa. And it was … and …

CK: So did Rebecca have this effect on you?

DL: I was over the moon with it. You would think … I always was and you see we used to talk about books and things and … I  mean II love me classical music and he played in the Halle and therefore we had this …’cos my Auntie Mary played the organ at church and you see my grand-daughters and my son they’re all musical and so it was quite a nice environment because I – I could listen to classical concerts and music and I could read good books which set me apart from what a lot of the young ones were doing because it wasn’t my interest and I, I just loved books and … I liked Dickens … I really like Dickens.

CK: What’s your favourite Dickens?

DL: Oh, don’t know that … I just liked them all. I loved the Brontës. I’ve changed now but Wuthering Heights was my favourite. Soooo romantic and now I just think ‘oh, not so much.’ I loved the Brontës, I …really did and, mm, what’s the other one that’s … oh dear … it’ll come in a moment.

CK: Jane Eyre?

DL: Oh yes … all those and I … to me the enjoyment … you see the trouble was I can get lost in a book and not be doing any work [laughs] and I did have the school homework to do. And you see when I went to the Woodhouse Grammar School I … I got in and you know … it was the English, it was always the English that I was good at and, … you know we did Shakespeare and things. I actually like Shakespeare, you know, … not the … not quite as much as the others but, …yes. Jane Austen. I like Antony Trollope, … The Barchester Chronicles. And yet if you were to tell anyone, it’s the descriptions of the characters and you’ve got to … you, you can’t explain to other people. When I got a book I didn’t want to put it down, you know, I had to … When I got married I had to limit myself to what I did [laughs] but I’ve always, always loved the reading. And, … I’m just trying to think a lot of the others.

CK: I was wondering what kind of books you really liked. I mean I’ve got some categories here, like mm …

DL: I do like, I do like history.

CK: Do you like historical novels?

DL: Oh I do.

CK: Mmm.

DL: I love them.

CK: So I’ve got some writers here, I don’t know if any of these are familiar to you: D K  Broster, Georgette Heyer –

DL: Oh, Georgette Heyer. The lot.

CK: Oh yes, the lot?

DL: Yes. I didn’t, I didn’t recognise the other.

CK: Does Margaret Irwin?

DL: Yes.

CK: Mm.

DL: Yeah.

CK: Baroness Orczy?

DL: Yes! Not many actually. I don’t know why. Yes.

CK: Jean Plaidy.

DL: Oh, I loved Jean Plaidy. Oh, yeah. I’m glad you’re mentioning them because  …

CK: It helps doesn’t it? Yes.

DL: Well yes, you know. Plus I was … even now I’m always reading, you know. And … yeah … and I did I even with the library I’d ask for historical, anything. I still like history programmes and everything. I’m very fascinated with history and, …, yeah, yeah. I’m trying to … Georgette Heyer.

CK: Mm.

DL: I don’t know whether you’ve mentioned that, you might have done.

CK: Do you remember any particular books of hers that you liked?

DL: I …, I mean I just don’t know. This is older, The Belf-belf, …wait I’ve forgotten her name, oh dear I know it. I like Catherine Cookson, I mean I know she’s, there’s a little bit of swearing but I feel it’s you know in the context of the era that it was. I do like Catherine- oh, er…. Rosamunde Pilcher. I think she’s fantastic. I read all those.  I’m just trying to think. I think when you’ve read such a lot, you know … and, I … I, yeah, but yes.

CK: So you liked historical novels.

DL: I do.

CK: Particularly.

DL: I still study, I, you know. I mean Malcolm, you know, he likes the history and I mean, Tom Holland and that but I can’. He’s a historian, but they don’t come over … I can’t follow them on the talking. It’s too hard for me. You know, you know, but Tom Holland. You see, I like the history of Rome and … I do like history very very much and I did read, read a lot of – and history was a subject I took. It was school certificate and you see …if you didn’t get English language you didn’t get you school certificate. It …was compulsory. Well I mean that was a doddle for me [laughs].  But history and I still am fascinated by history. Yes, but anything even now that I can listen to, even though I can’t see a lot on television. And archaeology. Oh yes …, Agatha Christie [laughs] that’s another one. Yes and er, yeah, and even my youngest grand-daughter, she, actually she is doing remarkably well, Louise, but she is quite severely dyslexic. But she can read a bit. Agatha Christie is, you know, and in actual fact because … where she works, … because she’s done the engineering and things and done so well with her college … they’ve put her forward and she has started at the university for doing her degree and a masters. Well … you’ve got to give her credit because she is quite determined and, you know, so … yeah, but she reads, which my husband didn’t except for Jeeves and Wooster. Who was, who was doing that? I … I can’t remember.

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CK: Carry on Jeeves …

DL: Was it James?

CK: No.

DL: It isn’t is it? I like…was it P J  James, was he, or was it she? I don’t know.

CK: P D – it’s a she.

DL: It’s a she isn’t it? Yes.

CK:  Mm. P D James. Yes.

DL: I did –

CK: Detective novels.

DL: I did like those, you see, and …the one in the monasteries … Cadfael is it?

CK: Oh yes.

DL: I did, I liked those. And I liked … I like a mystery, if it’s well written. I read a wide variety.

CK: You certainly did. I’ve got some more thrillers and mysteries here, might ring a bell …

DL: James Patterson, I found fairly recently.

CK: James Patterson? Oh right.

DL: I did like his writing.

CK: But that’s a recent?

DL: It is a fairly recent find.

CK: Yes.

DL: About maybe five years ago.

CK: Right, but going back some. If we have a look we’ve got Eric Ambler, Lesley Charteris, Graham Greene.

DL: Graham Greene, yes, oh yes.

CK: Anthony Hope, The Prisoner of Zenda, Nicholas Monserrat, remember those?

DL: Oh yes.

CK: Is that The Cruel Sea?

DL: Pardon?

CK: The Cruel Sea?

DL: Oh yes, I … yes I have, yes.

CK: You remember that.

DL: Yes. It’s trying to remember, you know, there are so many, so many.

CK: Edgar Wallace, Dennis Wheatley.

DL: Dennis Wheatley, who was the other one?

CK: …, Edgar Wallace.

DL: I have, yes I have. Not as many, I’m trying to think.

CK: Do any of those stand out as ones that you read when you were younger and made quite an impression on you?

DL: … It’s difficult to say. If I heard them again I could kind of put them in the areas…[longish pause] … , because I’m just remembering and you see a lot of them when you remind me I think ‘oh yes’ well they were probably a long time ago. Because I have, I have read an awful lot and is one I found recently, I don’t know whether she is a modern writer, is Betty – is it Betty Neels?

CK: I don’t know her myself but I’m sure my colleagues …will.

DL: I’m not too sure. And sometimes I say ‘Oh I did like that’ and then they send me a lot, you know. Because I’m, I’m very choosey and they know exactly what I like. I did like, as I say, I did like, you know the Brontës, oh I loved them, and you know Jane Austen. I thought they were fantastic.

CK: Do you ever re-read them?

DL: Pardon?

CK: Do you re-read them?

DL: Yes and sometimes I’ve even had them back. You know, now it’s been so long that I think ‘Oh, I’d like to listen to that again’. Somehow I find it therapeutic.

CK: You have audio-books now do you?

DL: I do have the audio ones.

CK: They’re great aren’t they?

DL: I can show you some of what I’ve got.

CK: Oh well, when we’re finished let’s do that. Yeah, that would be great … Now I’m just wondering, … so when you were a young adult; you were using the library a lot.

DL: Yes.

CK: And you went to work. Was there a works library where you worked?

DL: No, you see, I went to as I say Woodhouse Grammar School and then, I, it was just starting and it’s called the Youth Employment Service and it – it was, I suppose they used to call it … it came with the West Riding county council and it was going into schools and advising them on their careers. I went with the Youth Employment Officer, because I was young, and, … you know. And then we had a problem in the mills because there was … an office in Penistone and then I had to go to Barnsley; it moved. I found that difficult traveling to Barnsley but the Youth Employment Officer lived across the road from me so we went on the bus together. The mills got into trouble and we had to work overtime doing the, you know, the documentation. You know, they’d been out of work and it was .. it was awful. And then, when I got married it was the travelling and it was difficult. I went one day, before I was married, to Penistone. I did run that office; it was in a chapel there – not a chapel.  I think it was the council premises. It was at Chapeltown and I went to Penistone and I thought “Well nobody has been in today” and when I got outside it was up to my knees in snow. I can’t to this day remember how I actually got home at nearly 9 o’clock at night and my father said I couldn’t work there anymore. I did stay at it for a little while and then I got married and I … took the civil service exam and, you know, I was in the civil service.

CK: Did you have much time for reading in those busy times?

DL: I was always reading.

CK: When did you manage to fit that in?

DL: Well, I’d often, to be quite honest, read on the buses. I mean you had a long journey sometimes and, … and I always, I still try half an hour in the evenings before I go to sleep in bed. It relaxes me. [laughs] I’ve always kind of, …  often read before I’ve gone to sleep. Read a chapter of whatever it was. I still like to do that.

CK: Did anybody ever make you feel that, or, ever anybody suggest that reading was a waste of time?

DL: No, I mean, you see, Derek was always very, very practical. He had his own business as a plumber and heating engineer but … he liked fiddling, doing things. So … he wasn’t bothered about television and I – so often at night I’d read and he’d be in the garage doing something or – and then when he really wasn’t well both my sons were married. In the end, because he wasn’t well, I didn’t like him in the cold garage because it didn’t suit him so I … took everything out of one of the bedrooms and he did all his joinery and that in there. You know, it was no trouble and he was happy upstairs and he’d come down and he’d make me a drink. No, but Derek and I just got on and he was happy fiddling and …, so you know when he wanted to be making and doing and repairing things. All the neighbours loved him because he could mend anybody’s washing machine; he was just very practical.

CK: Yes, yes. Was there any time when you were made to feel embarrassed about what you read? Or, for example, did you ever read anything because you thought it might improve you in any way? You know, so were there some books that you thought were a bit low-brow perhaps? Or were you sometimes trying to read books that you know were improving you?

DL: I just, a lot of things I just didn’t like, and it – I’ve had some funny experiences because of my disabilities and my sight and it – it must be 10 years ago, maybe a bit more, because there used to be a mobile [library], and I’ve been here for about 15 years because I moved because of a hip operation going wrong and then I found out that my sight was going because I used to write. So I’d got a … book on the, I had a big table, you know, a glass top and shelving you know, I’ve forgotten what you call them in the middle of the lounge. So some friends came and I hadn’t read it; I’d popped this book underneath and they, …and the husband picked it up and he went “Phft do you like this stuff then?”. So, [laughs] I can’t even remember what it was now. Well I won’t say it was pornographic but I don’t think, I don’t know and I was so embarrassed because I’d never opened it and you see I found out that the mobile library that used to stop at the bottom I couldn’t pick, you know, I couldn’t read what they were about and I was bringing things in  … and I think I hadn’t read … this was before I came here so it must be over 15 years ago but I can’t … and when I actually started to read it I just said ‘I hadn’t read it you know’. I’d no idea. [laughs]

CK: You can’t remember what it was?

DL: I’ve no idea. I’m sorry.

CK: Don’t worry.

DL: But it was very, very embarrassing. So after that, you know, they did used to help me. You know, because they knew what I liked and then in the end … you know with my spine going and that, they were lovely and they said “Still come and say hello” and I said “I can’t” and they arranged for me to have the home service and I didn’t know anything about it and I’ve been very grateful for that, very grateful.

CK: Are there any books that you read with pleasure when you were young that you wouldn’t dream of reading again?

[Long pause]

DL: I don’t know about Anne of  Green Gables. I absolutely was besotted with it … and I mean now, I don’t want to read it. Also I thought Wuthering Heights was so romantic; I don’t anymore now.  I don’t know, I think it’s a bit over the top. It doesn’t seem quite real. But as young person I was telling everyone “‘that’s my favourite book”. I must have been about 20, I don’t know. Yeah, that was my favourite and I don’t think it is anymore. I think you alter as you get older on what you like.

CK: Absolutely.

I’m just going to look at … oh, yes I was going to ask you if you were ever inspired by television or a film or a theatre play or something that you saw to then go and read the book. Did that ever happen?

DL: … No. The only thing I can say in that aspect is that if I’ve read a book and it’s made into a film I’m disappointed because your mind works with the book and when I read them, they don’t, they’re not the same. One was about a priest, now which one is that? They made it into a film.

[Pause]

CK: Was it a Graham Greene one?

DL: I can’t remember the author. …It was quite well known and I think it, he was a priest and he fell in love. Now, it is quite famous.

CK: Sounds like Graham Greene.

DL: It might be.

In all of them [dramatisations of books]  I’ve always felt let down. What people don’t realise is when you’re reading your mind’s working and that’s why you want the descriptions of … . It has to be well written because you don’t get it with some of the others. It’s quick, you know. They don’t go into the detail and I don’t think they realise that when you read your brain is working out and in your brain visually you are imagining the positions and the circumstances and when you see it in … I can’t remember. I think the only one I thought that came up well was Great Expectations. I thought that seemed to come over, not that I think about it but a lot of them I’ve … I’ve felt a bit disappointed.

CK: Yes I know what you mean. So you’ve mostly, you’ve been a great library user.

DL: I’ve always …

CK: What about buying books? Do you ever … did you back then, buy books or ask for them as presents and so on?

DL: I did and I’ve always and I’ve asked for books but, you see, when … I got married at 22 and you see when I started work … I gave all my wages to my parents until I was 21. It sounds ridiculous now because money isn’t the same price but I had 10 shillings a week spending money which had to do for gloves, stocking and bus fares and it wasn’t a lot but I do understand my parents because my eldest brother Derek who’s 4 years older than me, … he’s very musical, I mean it was such a feather in his cap but he went to work for Wilson Pecks and it was an apprenticeship with Bechstein pianos and he was trained … with someone from Bechstein on repairing those pianos. Well his wage, up to being 21, was 12 and 6 a week which when you’re on an apprenticeship, you know. Things have altered and his bus fares were 15 shillings. Well they had to … and see that was my parents, they were proud of what he was doing and so he was supported. Do you know what I’m saying? I didn’t think anything against it, I thought that was fine, you know. Because I went to the grammar school, they had to buy the uniform and things. They never grumbled. They had to go to the specialist shop in Woodhouse and it wouldn’t be cheap but you would always have to have the uniform and never once did they grumble about anything. I think they just wanted us to do well. I think we were supported to the best of their ability.

CK: Well I’m going to … sort of suggest some other writers that might ring a bell with you. Just see if you know any of these. Don’t worry if they don’t ring a bell, it’s just something we can try.

DL: Obviously I can’t remember all of them … there’s no way –

CK: Well you’re doing better than I would Dorothy.

In sort of general fiction realist we’ve got sort of H E Bates … and Arnold Bennett.

DL: Arnold Bennett, yes, I have. Arnold Bennett I can’t just remember what it was. Yes, Arnold Bennett.

CK: John Braine.

DL: No.

CK: A J Cronin.

DL: Oh, yes. Yes.

CK: Yes, We’ve got one, The Stars Look Down is that one you read?

DL: Yes.

CK: What about Warwick Deeping?

DL: Now that rings a bell.

CK: Sorrell and Son.

DL: Oh, yes! Oh I thought that was fantastic.

CK: Oh really?

DL: I can’t tell you what age I was when I did those. Sorry, I just can’t.

CK: Don’t worry about that. Can you remember anything about Sorrell and Son and the impact it had on you?

DL: I …found It … it absorbed me, yes it did. I didn’t want to put it down. Sometimes…and,  … you know I thought I could just be a bit of a monkey and sit down and read [laughs] and not get on with what I was doing. I mean my husband never bothered, I could have done what I wanted really. I mean you have to look after the children and things and I tried to look after my parents. So you’ve got to fit things in haven’t you?

CK: Of course, yes. Did you ever read any other of his books? He wrote quite a lot didn’t he?

DL: Mm, if you mention them … I can’t remember.

CK: If my friend Mary was here she could name all of them but I can’t.

DL: I’m not as good [laughs].

CK: I’m not [laughs].

DL: I mean I’m not really.

CK: But you do remember reading that one and thoroughly enjoying it?

DL: I did, yes. Yes, I did. I probably read others, ‘cos you see I, … I was so annoyed when I came here that they sold the library and got rid of the library off here. I thought it was disgusting and now, they’ve actually … we’ve got one, you know. But there wasn’t a library; I couldn’t believe it and they said “Well you can go into town” and I thought [laughs] I’d come here because I was disabled [laughs] and I thought “no library!” and, you know, it was a beautiful old building, it was a shame. And then they built all those flats, you know, so high up. I thought that was a shame. I hope we don’t lose the libraries.

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CK: Well they’re under threat again aren’t they?

DL: I know.

CK: They’re always fighting. What else have we got? A book called Little Man What Now? Hans Fallada.

DL: No, I don’t know.

CK: No, me neither. What about Galsworthy, John Galsworthy?

DL: I have! Now what….?

CK: He did the Forsyth Sagas [sic].

DL:  Oh yes, absolutely fantastic. Now that was the one I also loved on television and couldn’t put it down. Another one that I thought was exceptional on television was Pride and Prejudice, not the film. I don’t like the film. It hadn’t got the feeling of the etiquette and the … it came over loud and harsh but …, the one on television –

CK: On the BBC.

DL: I thought it was fantastic but then they did a film afterwards and there was a group of us went and there were six of us and we went and when it had finished we all went “No”. It started off noisy and riotous and it wasn’t the right atmosphere. They, they weren’t into the culture. But I did like that one, yeah.

CK: Right, what else have we got here? Mm, Nevil Shute?

DL: Oh yes, yes! Oh I like Nevil Shute. Yeah. Gosh I’ve read more than …

CK: J B  Priestley?

DL: Yeah, yes.

CK: Somerset Maugham.

DL: Yes. I’m sorry [laughs]

CK: Rosamond – oh well you mentioned, well did you? Rosamond Lehmann?

DL: No, I’ve not heard of them. Rosamunde Pilcher I mentioned.

CK: That’s right you did. It was Rosamunde Pilcher.

DL: I do. I found her fairly recently; The Pearl Seekers. There’s another one I like and I’d recommend … I wish I could remember the name and she didn’t like it because she said it was too involved and she’d had one or two characters. I wish I could remember the name. I thought it was fantastic and all together at the end she brought them back. But my friend felt it was too involved. I wish I could remember.

CK: That’s a more recent read is it?

DL: It must be about five or six years ago. I told my friend Erica. I can’t remember. It wouldn’t be Betty Neels would it? I can’t remember but one was called The Evening Class I think. You start off and you’ve got different lives and about four characters and somehow it all comes together. I really like, I think the first one was called The Evening Class, … I’m sorry I can’t remember.

CK: Don’t worry.

DL: I must go to the library and find it.

CK: Well, we can look these things up.

What about Howard Spring?

DL: Yes.

CK: Allen Sillitoe, H G Wells.

DL: I … think … I wasn’t too keen on H G Wells.

CK: No, no. Nevil Shute.

DL: Yes, I quite liked Nevil Shute, yeah.

CK: Um, we’ve had J B  Priestley haven’t we?

DL: Yeah.

CK: So, that’s sort of some general fiction. … Rural, I don’t know. The Green Mansions I don’t know, W H Hudson.

DL: No I don’t.

CK: Mm, we’ve looked at historical novels.

A bit of adventure? High Wind in Jamaica? No?

DL: No, I don’t know whether they has been a film about that.

CK: I think there has been a film, yes.

DL: Yeah, I don’t … I haven’t read it I don’t think, no.

CK: Oh, we’ve had lots of crime fiction haven’t we with Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle.

DL: Well, I mean now, Poirot is on every night isn’t it?

CK: Any Dorothy Sayers?

DL: Oh yes! Oh I do yes!

CK: You liked Dorothy Sayers?

DL: Oh I did like her, yes, yes.

CK: So did, when you found an author you liked, did you tend to read all their books?

DL: I looked for them.

CK: You looked for them, yes.

DL: And I have done it even with the library now. They know exact – and I’m reading books that I never thought I would. That’s why I think that Betty Neels is one I’ve found and I’ll ask and they’ll try and look for them.

CK: That’s good.

DL: And what they bring me I don’t think I’ve had a bad one. I’ve really enjoyed what they’ve brought.

CK: It’s a good service isn’t it?

DL: I feel it would be just such a loss to me. Because, you know, I could get very bored. As I say I’m used to … as much into art and into painting. Fortunately I can get the music as well. You see, I used to go to Norton College for the visually handicapped and did a lot, made cards and things for the blind and you see I wanted to, when I retired I was going to go for water colour painting and I went to Pauline Shearstone but this is when I found I really couldn’t see, picking the colours up. I’ve heard since she’s died actually but she was a beautiful local artist.So you see all the things I was doing and all the knitting and embroidery and the art, it’s gone, and I liked gardening, I had a lovely garden at home and you know quite big. That’s why I wanted this, you know … I’ve got … and you know, Cathy does the pots now but I’d go a long way to get a better view wouldn’t I? I can’t see in the distance, I can’t get as much but I just wanted a garden and if it’s nice I can just sit out and I just think “Well I needn’t go driving miles”, you know. I’ve got this and Cathy is very good [sad].

CK: I’m just going to look at a few more titles here, Dorothy. Mm, Cold Comfort Farm?

DL: Pardon?

CK: Cold Comfort Farm?

DL: No, I’ve heard of it but I don’t think I’ve read it.

CK: No, not one of yours.

DL: No, I’ve not read it.

CK: What about Mazo de la Roche? He wrote some sagas – the Jalna Novels.

DL: No, I don’t think I have.

CK: No. mm, any more romances? Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell?

DL: Oh, yes! I think everybody has watched that.

CK: What about the book? Did you read the book?

DL: Yes … and I like the film. Yes, that’s going back isn’t it?

CK: Yes, Margaret Mitchell wrote the book.

DL: Oh, that’s it, yes, oh I did like Gone with the Wind.

CK: What other romances have we got?

DL: I don’t like silly romances.

CK: No. Mills and Boon?

DL: I’ve read some of them, yes. I mean … Yes, yes. Who was that one that was well known?

CK: Barbara Cartland?

DL: Yes. One or two but they’re all … I’m not mad about them but I have read some of them.

CK: A light read.

DL: Yeah, but no I’m not …Somehow they felt a bit … light. I don’t know they just weren’t, they were OK, I’ve read some of them but I wouldn’t go mad.

CK: I remember reading a book by Ethel Mannin. You don’t know her?

DL: No.

CK: Who else have we got here? Kingsley Amis, H E Bates.

DL: What was that, Amis?

CK: Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim.

DL: Oh yes I have, yeah. I’m amazed at all these that I’ve read [laughs].

CK: Well there are whole lists here. I mean I’d just bore you if I read the whole lot of them. I think we’ve got quite a lot there haven’t we Dorothy?

DL: We have.

CK: I’m just going to ask you if there are any ways in which reading has changed your life?

DL: [pause] Mm, in a lot of ways … particularly … as I’ve got disabled, I have to say I’d be quite lost without my books because I have to fight against getting depressed. I’m not, but because I’m so limited because I’ve always been very busy and  worked hard; I mean I’ve had to. I had to look after my parents because my father was two months off a hundred, so I’ve always been very very busy and all of a sudden it’s, because of how I am, I …I’m not one for just needlessly sitting about like this. I like to be occupied. I do like to be occupied and as I say I used to do a lot of work in the garden; I loved the plants, and … and … but you see reading now and I also have the Mappin Street, [Institute for the visually impaired]  the talking news, so I keep my brain occupied and then Cathy comes and she has been working with me today and doing things. You see, but it doesn’t do me any good.  I’ve switched off from what I can’t do because I’m filling my life with things that I can and that may sound strange but it’s no good.  … I’ve reached a good age I’m 80 in a month and …, and I think “Well, I’ve done quite well really”.

CK: Certainly have. Dorothy, I’m going to say “Thank you very much” and I’m going to switch you off now.

Access Dorothy’s reading journey here.

 

 

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Mary Robertson’s Reading Journey

Off to Brid in 1927

Mary was born in 1923. She has lived all her life in the suburbs to the west of Sheffield, far from the smoke of the factories in the east side of the city where her father worked as an industrial chemist. There were books in the house and it was her sister who read them to her before she could read herself.

Mother seemed to be too busy. Father would read after Sunday lunch until he fell asleep but my sister was the one who read to me. She was two and half years older and she would always read to me when I was little.

And this was despite being taunted by the tiny Mary when she was reading. ‘Reader reader!’ was the insult hurled to drag her sister back into her world to pay her some attention. She left her brother alone with his Beanos. Though reading was encouraged, the chores came first. Then the girls could retreat to their bedroom where Mary’s sister read to her.

Mary and her sister on Bridlington sands in 1927. Mary on the right.

Bedtime was reading-time for ‘the children’s books of the day’. First there were nursery rhyme books followed by Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan and the stories of Mabel Lucie Attwell. As a school girl she treasured What Katy Did and the Girl’s Own annuals she was given at Christmas. None of these books was borrowed. All came into the house as gifts because the children were not taken to the library and were certainly not allowed to go on their own: ‘we weren’t allowed out of the end of the road you know’. But the family nevertheless encouraged reading. ‘Oh yes that was our main means of entertainment. Going to the cinema and reading’.

On Sunday we always had the roast lunch, Sunday lunch time and the fire would be [lit] … they were biggish houses down on Westwood Road. And we always read after Sunday lunch. We had lots of armchairs and that is where we always read. Mother, my sister and I – I don’t think my brother did.

One Christmas Mary’s father bought his two daughters the complete Encyclopaedia Britannica, about 12 volumes.’That was our greatest source of delight. We learnt everything we knew.’ When Mary took her first independent steps to find books, it was on behalf of her mother. In 1939, having just left school, Mary was living at home and waiting to be called up.

So I used to go to the library for mother and she liked Mary Burchell, Ethel M Dell. And I used to go to the local Red Circle library … and I’d get some books for her when you paid tuppence a time to join and I would read very light romances. I always felt guilty because, you know, you didn’t read those kind of things then.

When an Ethel M Dell got a little ‘spicy’, Mary would read it hidden under the bedclothes by the light of her torch. Later on Forever Amber and Gone with the Wind would also be read by torchlight.

Mary went to a fee-paying convent school. The nuns were interested in poetry, ‘gentle things’. ‘Poetry was the great thing. Poetry, singing, music.’ So like the children at Sheffield’s elementary schools, Mary and her contemporaries learned a lot of poetry off by heart. But not much else. ‘They were the happiest years of my life but I didn’t learn much! But that’s me, a lot of them did’ so The Red Circle Library on the Moor was the institution from which she ‘graduated’ –  to the Central Library which was to become her ‘greatest delight’. Until she couldn’t walk, Mary went there every fortnight: ‘I loved it’.

Mary looks back in amusement at the thrills she and her mother got from the romantic novels of Ethel M Dell and E M Hull. ‘They got as far as the bedroom door, “and then the door closed”, and that was it.’ She also enjoyed the cowboy books of Zane Grey. ‘It was war days, very dull days and you escaped, as you do now. You escape into another world when you read.’

But her choices from the Central Library were more serious and ‘gritty’: Nevil Shute, Alan Sillitoe, A J Cronin, Howard Spring, H E Bates and John Braine. The novel by H E Bates she remembers is The Purple Plain, describing the survival of three men in Japanese-occupied Burma. Though Bates is more usually associated with his rural novels about the rollicking Larkin family, Mary preferred the ‘stronger’ war novel to the more ‘frivoty’ Darling Buds of May. She also became a serious reader of historical novels. She and her sister shared a taste for Anya Seton. ‘I realised that I liked history far more than I ever did when I was at school.’ When Sue, the history teacher who was interviewing Mary, commented that this didn’t say much for the teachers who taught her, Mary acknowledged this but defends them.

Nuns, you know – bless ‘em, they were lovely, it was a lovely school but I don’t think I learnt a lot. As I say, the war was coming up and it was a very bad time. I left in 1939 as the war started and it broke into anything you were going to do.

Mary was called to serve in the NAAFI shop in a detention camp ‘for the fliers who had flipped their tops a bit with their terrible job. And they were sent to us for three weeks and they used to pile into my shop. Quite an exciting time’, so there was not much reading.

When Mary became a mother, she was on her own with her first baby because her husband was away a lot. It was difficult to travel down to the Central Library with the baby so, in the early 1950s, Mary returned to using a twopenny library in a newsagent’s shop at the bottom of her road. Both this and another she used were simply a couple of shelves full of novels but the stock must have changed regularly because she always found something to read in the evenings when she had ‘got the baby down’.

She was quite discriminating about the degrees of seriousness she would go for. She was absorbed by Jack London’s White Fang and The Call of the Wild but was never attracted to adventure books. Though John Braine was depressing ,his books were well written. She never developed a taste for ‘Galsworthy – the heavier ones’. She definitely ruled out ‘these great novels where it starts with, “She’s the kitchen maid, terrible hard life…” You know very well she is going to marry the Lord of the Manor!’

While Mary is enthusiastic about the authors she loves, like P G Wodehouse, she is absolute in her condemnations too.

I did not [with emphasis] like American books. I still don’t. I think it is the language. . . .  It’s not so much the swearing, it’s the style.

Mary shared a love of reading with her husband but when the children were small, it was the cinema that was the greatest treat. It was a pleasure they shared but not in each other’s company.

Well when we lived down Carter Knowle Road, I mustn’t keep you but when Andrew was a baby I would get him washed or whatever and then run all the way to the Abbeydale and watch the first house and run all the way back and then David would have got Andrew to bed and then he would go to the second house.

File:Abbeydale Cinema - Abbeydale Road 26-03-06.jpg

Mary is clearly open to any suggestion about what she might read. She described the taste that her husband had for Dickens and asked Sue whether or not we had found that Dickens is more of a man’s book.

Sue: I do like Dickens. He is my favourite.

Mary: Do you really? I should have given him a go, shouldn’t I? Given him a go. I think it is a bit too late now.

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