I HAD been moved off Ladybird books and on to Wide Range, but the true extent of my reading prowess had yet to be witnessed that day.
The teacher, Mrs Stead, told me to choose a story from Book One in the series, which I did and began to glide over the first page. Pretty quickly she stopped me and said “there’s no point going on”. I was gutted, fearing I had been outed as a poor decipher of the written word, but she added: “These are too easy for you, you might as well go on to free choice and read what you want.”
‘Ave it! I couldn’t believe it. First in the class on free choice. It doesn’t get better than that, I thought. I was right, it didn’t. Ever.
Prior to that year (I was seven) I had shown no real inclination to read due to rank laziness, but when I tried I found it not too difficult and soon, to my mum’s annoyance, spent every minute of the school holidays devouring all 21 Famous Five books, followed by the 15 Secret Seven stories and then some slightly harder mysteries by Alfred Hitchcock.
Each book cost 50p from a brilliant stall on Keighley Market, and three quid for my birthday and a fiver or so at Christmas would see me stocked up with plenty to read for a good few weeks.
I enjoyed being the first to free choice, possibly the only time in my life I felt superior to anyone at all — well, there was also the time I defeated Richard Gostling 10-9 in the final of the Multiplication Knockout Cup to win a Mars Bar, having smashed a couple of lacklustre opponents 10-0 in the earlier rounds, no doubt scarring the maths dunces for life.
Really the world of education should have opened up to me then, but it stopped as other things that took less time than reading and didn’t result in your mates pouring scorn on you took over.
It would be sixth form before I read seriously again and then only because I had to, largely giving it up again in my twenties due to demands on time caused by work and pubs, and rediscovering its charms around 15 years ago.
My father never read and my brother barely (he once brought home a copy of Meg on the Moon for struggling readers and I finished it in 13 seconds, my boasting resulting in a good thumping), though my mum completes a book most weeks.
My free choice euphoria didn’t last as some of the others soon caught up and it wasn’t like you could leap ahead of them again. Once you can read properly that’s kind of it. It’s more what you read.
Nothing says you have to or should read, and I probably have more respect for the non reader than an adult ploughing their way through Harry Potter, Dan Brown or Barbara Cartland.
It’s snobbery, of course, and it has landed me in trouble in the past, and no doubt will again.
You can read into that would you like. It is, of course, what free choice is about.