on the rock island line

When I was young we had three shelves of books. I remember Little Brother to the Bear and Coral Island. Most of the rest were popular military histories. World War Two was still alive in our house: my father had The White Rabbit; memoirs of Operation Market Garden; biographies of General Montgomery, one of his heroes. The rest of his heroes being engineers there were engineering biographies too. Rolt’s Isambard Kingdom Brunel, an expensive birthday present from my father to me, I could read only under supervision. I didn’t mind. I found it lacked the sadistic punch of The White Rabbit & the calming qualities of Little Brother to the Bear. My father’s record collection was small, we listened to a lot of Chopin. My 78 of Lonnie Donegan’s Rock Island Line had to be played while he was out; when he caught me dancing to it he was confused & angry. That would be 1954, 1955.

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One response to “on the rock island line

  1. Rob

    20 years later: me & my sister are putting on a dance routine for my parents in the front room, sashaying along to ‘Far Far Away’ (God help us…). There’s one bookcase, four shelves in solid dark wood & lead-lined glass doors with a pointless key. My dad’s shelf was full of Alistair MacLean, my mum’s of Sidney Sheldon, & the bottom two shelves housed a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica from the 1930s that was starting to disintegrate. There was a hardback set of Churchill’s history of WWII in there somewhere, but pristine, untouched. Wedged in among the paperbacks was a musty blue-boarded hardback of Longfellow’s Dante, & in one of the notes to the Inferno I remember reading this: “The desire of a man is for a woman. The desire of a woman is for the desire of a man.” But I was only 7, the wisdom of it was lost on me. As was Dante: ‘Ice Station Zebra’ was way more enticing.