12. Aug, 2016

Thank You, Andrew Carnegie!

I was staggered by an acquaintance of my own age, who once announced with pride that he had never read a book since leaving school and even then…
Having entered my Infants’ School as a fluent reader, thanks to my grandmother, I have ever since lived with books and cannot imagine a life without them.
I soon found my own Aladdin’s Cave in the form of Gorleston-on-sea’s library, bearing the legend “Andrew Carnegie.” It was only later that I discovered that he had been a Scottish-American who made a vast fortune in the steel industry before turning philanthropist. Among his good works was the endowment of countless public libraries both in the USA and here in his native Britain.
I can’t remember the first books I read, only the comics. Sure I was a Beano and Dandy fan but also turned to the Hotspur…6 serials, no pictures but 2,000 words or so each. Then my parents took me to join the library, (by then run by the borough council).
It was there at that library my lifelong love of reading began when I discovered for myself, Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic, “Treasure Island.” At the time I just enjoyed the story but it was only much later that I analysed why.
As someone then just younger than Jim Hawkins, it was easy to identify with him, see things through his eyes and vicariously explore his experiences. The story raised and answered questions. What would it be like to lose a father (I was soon to do so), find a mother dependent on me to a certain extent? To leave home with no safety net? To sail to the other side of the world? To be among very dangerous and occasionally stupid adults? To experience very real fear? To be alone with and dependent upon the semi-demented Ben Gunn? What did I admire about the steadfastness of Captain Smollett and the professionalism of Dr.Livesey?
Above all, what was to be made of the enigma that was Long John Silver? How was it possible for a man to be so friendly yet so treacherous? Did this mean that people were not all good nor all bad? (So much for the western film myth that goodies wore white hats, baddies, black!)
These issues were far removed from Enid Blyton and the Famous Five! By now in my Junior School and getting through at least the three books a week that necessitated regular trips to the library, I then moved onto Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn.” Both books were so well written that they seemed to speak directly to me.
Again they explored the world of life without parents…Tom under the care of his Aunt Polly and Huck under the care of himself. By now approaching the same age as the two boys, I enjoyed the humour, dangers and interests we had in common. (For Becky Thatcher, read Valerie, Eh , Valerie nee B?) A major component of both books was the Mississippi that flowed past St. Petersburg, Missouri just as my town of Gorleston was beside the River Yare (on a smaller scale, but which offered the same opportunity to do stupid things!)
As I grew older and already with a strong interest in history I came across the superb historical fiction of Rosemary Sutcliffe, Sir Walter Scott et al. I read on.
By now I was at Grammar School where ‘O’ and ‘A’ Levels required much reading around set books….History (as opposed to the past), Literature, Philosophy, Politics, Economics, Sociology etc., in preparation for Teacher Training and an eventual degree. This, along with a wide range of novels and poetry has been the pattern of my reading ever since.
So how can the importance of a near lifetime of reading be summed up? It boils down to a single poem…
Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an' a' that;
The coward slave-we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a' that!
For a' that, an' a' that.
Our toils obscure an' a' that,
The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The Man's the gowd for a' that.

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hodden grey, an' a that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
A Man's a Man for a' that:
For a' that, and a' that,
Their tinsel show, an' a' that;
The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that.

Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord,
Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that;
Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a coof for a' that:
For a' that, an' a' that,
His ribband, star, an' a' that:
The man o' independent mind
He looks an' laughs at a' that.

A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an' a' that;
But an honest man's abon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa' that!
For a' that, an' a' that,
Their dignities an' a' that;
The pith o' sense, an' pride o' worth,
Are higher rank than a' that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a' that,)
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
It's coming yet for a' that,
That Man to Man, the world o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that.
Thank you once again, Andrew Carnegie for your library and my initial push into eventual Critical Literacy.
Incidentally, I cannot help but think how the new Duke of Westminster will dispose of his inherited and unearned £9 Billion. Perhaps Old Billy had the answer? (see earlier Blog entry).

The following article appeared on the front page of “The Scotsman” (one of my favourite newspapers) on the morning of Friday August 8, 2016, the day after I finished writing this Blog…