A Child’s Christmas in Wales: Dylan Thomas

As the snow is falling on the blog pages (courtesy of WordPress wizardry) and was recently attempting to fall perilously near to the The Landing Bookshelves region, I hereby present a very snowy, Christmas themed post. I was rooting around upstairs for an idea for a seasonal offering and as the snow was flurrying (I didn’t think that was a word but my spell checker obviously does) by the window I spotted the wonderful snow filled A Child’s Christmas in Wales (Dylan Thomas, 1959). We have a version with illustrations by Edward Ardizzone (1973, 1993) that I added to The Bookworm’s Christmas collection a few years ago. I took a few scans to show you some of Ardizzone’s brilliant drawings (see below) of small schoolboys having seasonal adventures in a snowy Welsh village. I have also included a picture of the 1959 edition taken from Wikipedia, alongside our own illustrated edition. It’s enough to make anyone ready for Christmas, with or without the white stuff. Last week we attended A Night Before Christmas at The Pavilion Theatre in Dun Laoghaire and I was delighted to hear Michele Forbes reading from A Child’s Christmas as part of the cornucopia of seasonal stories.

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I began leafing through the pages of the book with a wodge of mini post-it notes in hand, so that I could mark my favourite bits to quote. Before I had finished doing this I realised that the book was already bristling with little paper strips. There were so many bits of the text and so many brilliant drawings that I had to give up my post-it notes before marking up the entire book. As I was doing this on the Luas one morning, apart from trying not to lose scraps of sticky paper, I was also smiling away and imaging it was Christmas already.

For this brief seasonal post, let us just concentrate on the snowy parts of the book:

One Christmas was so much like another…that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.

Such is the fascination of snow that we imagine that all our Christmases were snowy when we were young. The narrator of the book talks about several Christmases, that all meld into one big, snowy Christmas as he tells of childhood games and adventures.

Thomas describes the snow with a wide range of evocative descriptions. Snow was ‘shaken from whitewash buckets’ and then ‘it came shawling out of the ground’; on the roofs of the houses it resembled ‘a pure and grandfather moss’. The town was ‘bandaged’ and the landscape enticingly described as the ‘frozen foam of the powder and ice-cream hills, over the crackling sea’. It certainly sounded magical, as well as edible.

The reader becomes caught up in a white wonderland when anything could happen (at least in a schoolboy’s fantastic imagination) in between Christmas lunch with the aunts and uncles and a spot of carol singing:

Or I would go out, my bright new boots squeaking, into the white world, on to the seaward hill, to call on Jim and Dan and jack and to pad through the still streets, leaving huge deep footprints on the hidden pavements.
‘I bet people will think there’s been hippos.’
‘What would you do if you saw a hippo coming down our street?’
‘I’d go like this, bang! I’d throw him over the railings and roll him down the hill and then I’d tickle him under the ear and he’d wag his tail.’
‘What would you do if you saw two hippos?’
Iron-flanked and bellowing he-hippos clanked and battered through the scudding snow towards us as we passed Mr Daniel’s house.

I love the thought of hippos charging through a snowy Welsh village, on the way to who knows where. The snowy scenes in A Child’s Christmas in Wales truly are scenes of the ideal Christmas that we all wish we had had or think that we have had. Much like the eternal sunny summers of our youth that you just don’t get any more. Or so we think.

Here’s wishing anyone who chances upon this post a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. If you want to browse a few seasonal posts from the archives, then have a wander around The Landing Bookshelves while you’re here! 

Mortimer and Rumpole Illustrated

Murderers and Other Friends

Legal Memoirs…

Lately I have been re-reading John Mortimer’s volume of memoirs, Murderers and Other Friends in between reading a couple of library books which I needed to tackle before they were due back. Still on the library pile is Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis which I have fortunately been able to renew while I finish Lindsey Davis’ Roman crime novel Saturnalia.

I have long been a fan of Davis’ private eye, Marcus Didius Falco who gets embroiled in the seamy underbelly of Roman society with the able assistance of his formidable patrician wife Helena Justina. As I think I have mentioned, I have been having a crime binge lately (apart from reading Mortimer’s memoirs) thanks to my local library.

I hope to discuss the topic of crime novels in a future post, but for the moment I shall return to Mortimer and his well-known creation Horace Rumpole of the Bailey. While doing a Google search on John Mortimer (1923-2009) I came across this short video of an exhibition of caricaturist Tony Healey’s original watercolour Rumpole paintings. If you have not read any Rumpole stories or watched the television versions starring Leo McKern (1920-2002), then these glimpses of the irascible old barrister might inspire you to explore further. The exhibition also includes several lively portraits of John Mortimer.

The exhibition and the video were the work of a London gallery called Illustrationcupboard which specialises in featuring the work of contemporary book illustrators. This definitely sounds like a place to see when I next visit London. Check out the gallery’s website for some fabulous artists such as Jane Hissey, Edward Ardizzone, Brian Wildsmith and Lauren Child.

On  a separate note, I have recently set up a new chapter on the Landing entitled Booksellers Beyond which is aimed at showcasing the talents of various former booksellers who have gone on to explore other creative avenues. My first guest artist is an old friend with whom I used to work in Birmingham, Valleri Jillard who has forged a new career as a mixed media artist. Take a peek at some examples of her work over in Booksellers Beyond by following the links. I hope to add more to this section soon so keep checking back.

But now, back to Mortimer and Rumpole…

Video credit: Illustrationcupboard, uploaded to YouTube 12 March 2012 (exhibition 20 February – 10 March) – with thanks.

The Humour of Dickens

Book cover of The Humour of Dickens featuring several characters

A little light Dickens…

My Reading Challenge has just taken a useful turn, as the members of my book club (all four of us!) have decided to read Charles Dickens this month as a contribution towards the centenary year. This means that I can read a book for my book challenge and tackle the latest book group choice at the same time. I am rather pleased about it, though unfortunately I cannot claim credit for the book club’s good idea.

I ran through a mental list of the Dickens titles that I have not yet read (the dreaded TBR Pile) and I thought of choosing Hard Times. My rationale was that Dickens based the story upon his experiences of Preston (re-naming it Coketown), and as I have lived in that very city it seemed a good reason to choose the book. Although, as I retain a great fondness for the Lancashire city, this may not prove to be wise move on my part. I have metaphorically crossed swords before now with authors who portray my favourite places in a bad light. I wouldn’t want to fall out with Dickens at his time of life.

Finally, I have settled on a compilation volume that I have had on the shelf for some time, The Humour of Dickens edited by R.J. Cruikshank. I have read this volume before, so is not strictly a TBR Pile candidate, but it is reading for sheer pleasure. It deserves a re-read especially in view of the brilliant illustrations it contains which add to the enjoyment enormously. The Humour of Dickens was published in 1952 (my copy has an inscription saying ‘Xmas 1953, from Mairi’) by the News Chronicle, London. The original price of the volume was a princely three shillings and sixpence. I did a quick out of print book search and discovered that copies of the Dickens anthology can now fetch up to around thirty pounds depending on the condition. You can also pay as little as sixty three pence plus postage, which would be more like my price. I can only hazard a guess that I probably paid a pound or so for my copy several years ago in (I think) Birmingham.

The collection has excerpts from fifteen of Dickens’ novels including Oliver Twist, Our Mutual Friend, Hard Times and The Pickwick Papers. I mentioned the illustrations above; there are twenty of these by well-known contemporary (and by now highly collectible) illustrators. One of my all time favourites is Edward Ardizzone (remember the Tim stories?) whose frontispiece drawing of ‘Dinner at the Veneerings’ endows the dinner party guests with more charm than they probably deserve. Other great cartoon artists represented in the collection regularly featured in the newspapers of the time: Horner of the News Chronicle, Low of the Daily Herald and Giles of the Daily Express to name but three. All are different in style but equally vivid in their interpretation of Dickens’ characters.    

I shall be in the right mindset to tackle Dickens since I am reading David Lodge’s novel about HG Wells, A Man of Parts at present. After rubbing shoulders with HG and his literary circle including Henry James and Edith Nesbit, I shall slide back into communing with Dickens quite smoothly I think. Apart from seasonal re-reading of A Christmas Carol it must be a long time since I have read any of Dickens novels. I was all prepared to take the plunge again after our book group had an outing last year to hear Claire Tomalin speaking about her Dickens biography. That plan fell by the wayside (until now), along with the intention of reading said biography. Dickens is still on my ‘to read’ list as I have previously very much enjoyed Claire Tomalin’s literary biographies.

In the meantime, Reading Challenge satisfied, I will be content with Charles Dickens’ funny bits….