“An archive of me”: On the books that shape us, and how we shape them in return

Post by Sarah Pyke

“Sun-bleached […] Bashed up […] Foxed and careworn.”[i] If you’re a reader, and have been since childhood, you probably have a book like it at home – at least one. You can picture its cracked spine on the bookshelves of all the rooms and flats and houses you’ve ever lived in; you’ve boxed it up and moved with it over and over. You unpack your library, and it slots yet again into its rightful place, “touched”, as Walter Benjamin puts it, “by the mild boredom of order”.[ii]

Perhaps, like Amy, describing one such volume to me in an oral history interview, you can’t quite remember when you last opened it, or even took it down off the shelf. But then again, reading it isn’t necessarily the point, any more.  “I would never give it up,” Amy tells me. “If there was an archive of me, this would have to be in it.” She goes on, “It was there at the beginning – it’s a formative book. I kind of feel it would be wrong to get rid of it.”

But if we’re not reading the books that are this important to us, these constitutive and defining holdings in our own private libraries, what is it, exactly, that we’re doing with them? What do these texts, shelved in both our material collections, and in less palpable collections, too – Amy’s “archive of me” – do for, or to, us? And what happens if we do re-read them, years later? As part of the research I’m doing into LGBTQ adults’ memories of reading in childhood and adolescence, I’m asking people to do just that.

The book Amy defended so passionately to me during our conversation – “I would never give it up” – is perhaps an unexpected one: Joanna Trollope’s 1989 Aga saga, A Village Affair.

A Village Affair by Joanna Trollope
That well-known classic of the lesbian canon – move over, The Well of Loneliness.

 

It’s the story of Alice, a young mother in her late twenties who moves to a Cotswolds village with her husband and children, only to fall in love with Clodagh, daughter of the local gentry. Their relationship is discovered, with predictably dire consequences – as Amy puts it:

it allowed me to see representation of women in same-sex relationships, but what happens as a result of that relationship is chaos – loss of family, loss of friends, a world thrown into torment. It is the most over-dramatic book.

Yet Amy describes it as an “oasis in the desert” for her teenage self: “I was a little bit obsessed with that book for a while”.

She admits that, before our chat, she “probably would keep that book forever, but never have read it again”. As Kenneth Kidd suggests, “the adult is variously and simultaneously collector, curator, and even scholar of her own texts, especially those from childhood”.[iii] Amy’s a collector and a curator, then, and in describing her reading process, a scholar too: she recalls how she “pored over certain paragraphs…to try to extract as much meaning as I possibly could.” But her progress was not always rational or linear:

sometimes I think I also read on hoping it was going to change. I don’t know what the hell I expected the different outcome to be. I kept re-reading it and re-reading it and re-reading it and I think, somewhere in me, I hoped to find a different end.

Clodagh (Kerry Fox) and Alice (Sophie Ward)A Village Affair.
Clodagh (Kerry Fox) and Alice (Sophie Ward) in the 1995 TV adaption of Joanna Trollope’s A Village Affair. It doesn’t end well.

 

I’m struck by Amy’s insistence that the book was there “at the beginning” and is “formative”. Our own ‘origin story’, to borrow a term from comic book culture – childhood itself – is, for Jacqueline Rose, “something which we endlessly rework in an attempt to build an image of our own history”.[iv] For queer adults, inescapably invested in explaining themselves within a culture that demands such explanation, origins are perhaps especially important: Amy’s “beginning” is not the beginning of her life, but the beginning of a recognisable lesbian selfhood. In narrating her – inherently unstable – memories of reading, Amy reveals as much (or more) about the ways in which individuals construct their identities in adulthood, in order to establish queer subjectivity in the present and future, as she does about the book itself.

In rereading it as an adult, Amy realises “how brief some of the interactions [between Alice and Clodagh] are”: “even as a teenager every time I went back to it I was disappointed to find that actually I was clutching at some fairly minimal straws”. Asked about analogous reading experiences, Amy reels off, among others, Ellen DeGeneres’ coming out episode, the iconic Brookside lesbian kiss, and a doctored narrative from Australian soap Home and Away, that allegedly saw explicit references to a lesbian relationship censored for pre-watershed British TV audiences. “That is the remarkable power of the queer eye,” Amy comments. “I saw that, somehow understood it, even though any reference to sexuality had been taken out”.

This kind of flâneurie is a strategy to which queer readers seem particularly attuned, and which offers another passage through the archive of childhood or adolescence, in both its material and immaterial forms. The categories of collector, curator, scholar, and, I’d add, flâneur overlap and mesh in the practice and process of queer reading and remembered experiences-with-books. With a nice echo of Lee Lynch, who writes of “cruising the libraries” as a young lesbian searching for fictional representation, and of the “archival textual city” conjured by Mike Featherstone, through which the flâneur roams, Amy ends the interview with a comment on that affirming experience familiar to LGBTQ people everywhere: “And you know, I still like a lesbian nod in the street.”[v]

Amy’s engagement with A Village Affair, as object and as text, shapes her past sense of self, and in keeping it in her “archive of me” she continues to make use of it to construct her present and future. In it, she finds both acknowledgement, and something she can define herself against. Sometimes then, that “lesbian nod in the street”, that mutual affirmation, can occur between a person and a book – even when the book is as unlikely a candidate as this one.

[i] This quotation, and all others from Amy, are from an oral history interview I carried out with her on 20 October 2015.

[ii] Walter Benjamin, “Unpacking My Library: A Talk about Book Collecting”, in Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn, (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), p. 59

[iii] Kenneth Kidd, “The Child, the Scholar and the Children’s Literature Archive”, The Lion and the Unicorn, 35:1 (2011), p. 16

[iv] Jacqueline Rose, The Case of Peter Pan or The Impossibility of Children’s Fiction, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984), p. 12

[v] Lee Lynch, “Cruising the Libraries”, in Karla Jay and Joanne Glasgow, eds, Lesbian Texts and Contexts: Radical Revisions, (London: Onlywomen Press. 1992), pp. 39-48; Mike Featherstone, “Archive”, Theory, Culture and Society, 23: 2-3 (2006), p. 594

 

Anarchivist after all these years

Post by David Rudd

Professor of Children’s Literature, University of Roehampton

Since our conference, I’ve been trying to picture whether or not I am a bona fide collector, and decided that I’m probably not, although I undoubtedly like to collect things. But Jacques Derrida’s more querulous neologism, “anarchive”, seems closer to my practice, which is far more ad hoc, and against any general enrichment of the archive itself. I have to say, I don’t think I’ve ever suffered from that other term Derrida uses, ‘archive fever’, which sounds even better in the French, mal d’archive: the sickness of the archive, bringing to mind mal de mer, or sea sickness.

Collectors, of course, do feverishly try to assemble all they can find pertaining to a particular topic or theme. This obsessive feverishness is most intense in those compelled to be “completists”; that is, to track down every particular item linked to one’s chosen topic – which, in itself, is largely a subjective goal. So, one might start out as, say, a collector of records by a favourite artist, but then things begin to get complicated: there are those different releases, pressings, record sleeves, and cover art; there are advance copies, acetates, tapes, and so on, all tantalising the completist somewhere down the line. Naturally, ‘completion’ itself is nigh on an impossibility – but it is that which makes the desire to track down those obscure items so absorbing.  And, obviously, collectors can always then widen their remit – as they so often do.  I knew a collector of Blyton books who, when he had nearly obtained copies of nearly all her 600-700 titles, then branched out into Noddy memorabilia, of which there is a huge amount: mugs, toothbrushes, pyjamas, cars, records, colouring books – you name it. This is when the collector’s house suddenly seems too small and garden sheds are requisitioned.

When I first became involved in researching Enid Blyton, I was very much dependent on such collectors with their amazing attention to the minutiae of their enterprise (differences in binding, in dust-jackets, in the colophon, the paper stock … and so on), even if it did recreate a slight feeling of mal de mer.  More impressive still, was the willingness of such collectors to share their treasures and their hard-won knowledge with me.  And, I have to say, these collections saved me from a number of errors (for you’ll find that none of the main British copyright libraries have complete Blyton collections – sacrilegious though this might sound).

So those who complain about the updating of Blyton books after her death, are often oblivious to the many amendments made far earlier; like, for instance, the removal of references to the Five eating snoek (a nasty-tasting fish that the British wartime government tried to foist on people as part of their diet); or getting rid of those early, more specific references to the ages of the members of the Five, such that they could remain more timeless.

5onKirrin
Eileen Soper’s illustrated cover

Other errors, though, were strangely unaltered, like the switch in names of the fisher-boy, introduced initially as James in the first book in the series, only later in the same book to reappear as Alf – and this was an inconsistency regularly repeated throughout the series. When it comes to illustrations, though, these are more resistant to change than print, so that George would continue to look through the wrong end of a telescope at her beloved Kirrin island (Five on Kirrin Island Again, 1947), perhaps perplexed that it always seemed to be so small and far away.

 

 

 

 

5onKirrinAgain.jpg
Betty Maxey’s illustrated cover

It would be more than twenty years, in fact, before Soper’s original illustrations would be replaced by those of Betty Maxey (with many collectors lamenting the change – even if Soper’s scientific knowledge was somewhat suspect).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Collectors’ sense of completion, though, picking up on small changes across time and space, is sometimes at odds with their practices. Thus I was surprised at how many collectors had steered round the generally forgotten attempt at a second edition of the original Sampson Low Noddy series (of 24 volumes).  HereComesNoddy.jpg

This revised edition appeared in 1986, and was publicised as being more user-friendly to young readers, Blyton’s original series having proven, it was suggested, too difficult in terms of vocabulary and sentence structure – which was an unusual compliment for that usually denigrated, “Noddy” author, as she became known.  (The fact that this revised edition also omitted the infamous golliwogs was made less of.)  This edition of the series was not well-received though, and even collectors seem to have spurned them, such that I had to track down my own set.

I started out by declaring that I never would be a bona fide collector, nor ever have been; instead, I always find myself on the side of the anarchivic.  Thus, whereas the true collector would always prefer an unread copy of a text, still in its dust jacket (and if it were possible in Blyton’s oeuvre, with uncut pages too), I always had a preference for the copy defaced by the grubby hands and graffiti of an actual reader – someone who, perhaps, decided that Eileen Soper’s black and white drawings could be enhanced if coloured in (in the manner of her dust-jackets); or imagined that an extra code might profitably be built into a Famous Five mystery by having readers follow a more personal treasure trail across its pages (“To find out who I am, turn to page 27” … “Nearly there, now look on p. 134” … “Not quite, but getting warm. See what you missed on p. 89”, etc.).

I also wonder sometimes whether any of my own, childhood copies of Blyton texts (amongst others) have survived – owned by a certain David H. Rudd, of 50 Embercourt Road, Thames Ditton, Surrey, England, The Earth, The Universe – with their carefully-ruled endpapers headed “Date of Return”, and some John Bull Printing Outfit dates added below, to the chagrin of some dealer (“slightly soiled”).  Once again, it was the anarchivist in me that won out, though, even then, there were clearly hints that I might be on the archivists’ side without knowing it, and of course I grew up to become a librarian!

The (Almost) Accidental Archive

Guest Post by Peter Hunt

Emeritus Professor of Children’s Literature, Cardiff University, UK

‘What’s hit’s history,’ as the evil Mr Jemmerling observed (somewhat literally) in Arthur Ransome’s Great Northern, ‘and what’s missed, mystery’ – and anyone who, like me, has tried to write the history of texts for children will, like me, have spent most of their time wondering what’s been missed.

One of the most obvious trends in what I might call for convenience Children’s Book Studies over the past few years has been for researchers to dig under those landmark texts that have been erected to try to make some sense, or some particular sense, of the mass of historical materials spread out around us. After all hundreds and hundreds of thousands of children’s books have come and gone, and they must have had some effect that simple landmarking does not account for. If all this excavating causes some of these landmarks to fall, splendid.

I’m all for this process because it makes history more subtle, more real, and it seems to me that the most influential texts are probably not the most visible ones. The books that really matter to readers, the ones that have been most influential, most important for individual readers, are not always (or often) the ones that appear in the histories. And I don’t mean the books that have been marginalised in the histories but which have massive influence and massive sales – books that have been chewed and swallowed and loved by generations – the Blytons, the Dahls, the Brent Dyers, the Hentys. The books I find most interesting are the ones that have come and gone, that we, as individuals loved (or hated) – the kind of book that we can’t even find in AbeBooks because we don’t remember anything more than that it had a blue cover and a dragon in it.

Oxford History 2
*Details of publication numbers and related issues can be found in the chapter on children’s books in this new volume in the Oxford History of the Novel in English.

It is this sub-stratum of texts that, I think will probably yield – is yielding – the most radical information about how different generations thought. After all, the massive influence of children’s books is not in any doubt, so what were the books that drove the way people thought? For example, in 1939*, 1303 new children’s books were published in the UK – but how many from that year can we name? – Madeline, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, Visitors from London …? And, of course, children’s books have a long shelf-life and resonate in childhoods long after publication.

So, what were those not-forgotten but lost books, and where did they go? Most of them must have gone through the hands of child readers: it’s a cliché to say that collecting children’s books is difficult because the most popular ones were read to pieces … but it’s more than that. The books that weren’t so generally popular, but which were very locally popular, have disappeared too – into boxes in attics, into second-hand bookshops – out of the historical mainstream.

 

One way that some of these books can be accessed is through personal reading histories, such as Spufford’s engaging, not to say enviably aphoristic, study of his own development as a reader, or One Child Reading the remarkable Margaret Mackey’s exhaustive but far from exhausting study of the development of literacy.

Both of these are highly engaging and detailed personal archives, but I suspect that most of us are too badly organised, or too ill-read – or too modestly British – to engage in such analyses, however useful they may be. (For more on the role of such autobibliographical projects in children’s literature studies, listen to this talk by Alison Waller – ‘Experiments in Rereading: Childist Criticism and Bibliomemoir’.)

Leaving aside what the texts I read as a child did to, or for, me, I feel it might be more useful to see a personal archive as a kind of core from an archaeological drill, demonstrating the strata of reading in a particular place at a particular time.

All this is by way of an introduction to an accidental personal archive – an archive classically found in a cardboard box in an attic – nothing grand in numbers (a mere 13), or in location (a suburban bungalow in a midlands town).

When my mother died, twenty-five years ago, we found a couple of slightly mouldering boxes in the attic – books and toys. Nothing ‘valuable’ (unless you count the cardboard Post Office with lick-stamps and rubber-stamps – still my favourite game) – just random survivors from my childhood, long forgotten.

Tosi & Hunt
**If you’d like to ponder on British attitudes to class, you could do worse than to look at this…

As there is no such thing as an average household, I won’t try to claim anything like that for ours, but this was neither rich nor poor, bookish or non-bookish. As the British (much to the amusement of my Italian friends**) always turn to class as a means of self-identification, I might place my family as upper-working/lower-middle. My mother, no intellectual slouch, but of that generation of repressed housewives who never reached their potential, belonged to The Book Club during the war (that is World War II) – and so my earlier reading experiences included the likes of Pearl Buck, Mazo de la Roche, and Peter Cheyney.

There was no real concept of books for children in the family, and this mini-archive is a collection of books bought as presents by non-bookish parents and aunts (not uncles) and grandparents, and in one instance (a circumstance that I am unable to explain) my dentist.

Taken all in all, they are an odd lot – and I thought, if your patience is holding out, that it might be interesting at this point simply to empty the box out, and perhaps in some later blog, look at what was in there more closely – what does this collection actually imply?

It seems to me, as a professional researcher, that there is a great deal that might be written about all these books, but for now, here is a taster menu, as it were: a few links and leads that might be pursued one day. What might emerge from research might not necessarily be coherent, but it would certainly be rich.

You are, sadly, missing the slightly damp smell … but we find first, the comic-book (or sequential-art) version – and very accomplished it is, too – of the 1952 film (released when I was seven).

Danny Kaye

And then…

LEOthis rather exotic book, with illustrations which now make me think of the east-European illustrators, is according to Abe Books, illustrated by Peter Adby. Mr Adby, a little research shows, has had a remarkable, if unremarked output, including illustrating Rupert Bear Annuals, Camberwick Green, Postman Pat, and much else (and, if it is the same man, was still being published in 2015).

[Ed. Can’t help pondering on the doting smugness of the relation – or dentist – who thought to buy this for their little Peter.]

The Golden Encyclopedia (inscribed Xmas 1954, Aunty Dot) is a lightly-Britished version of a Simon and Schuster title derived, presumably, from the highly-successful Golden Book encyclopedias. It has nicely Richard Scarry-type illustrations and might provide a key to post-war publishing and printing history – where did we get our books from in a time of real austerity?

Even more fascinating is Roland Davies’s The ‘Come on Steve’ Annual (Aunty Jane, 1952). The cartoon strip was a feature of The Sunday Express (1932-9) and then The Sunday Dispatch; Davies made several short cartoon films, and went on work on a huge range of cartoon strips.

Golden Hen

If Steve was an integral part of newspaper and cinema culture before and during World War II, Diana [Patience Beverly] Ross’s The Golden Hen (1942), here seen with additional colouring by P. Hunt, was part of the radio culture. The author thanks the BBC for permission to publish stories that had been broadcast ‘from time to time’. (The style of illustrations again sent me off in search of an eastern-European connection – after all, the illustrations are ‘by Gri’ – but it turns out that Gri was the name of Ross’s cat…)

Then there was the pop-up book, printed in England by Purnell …

Rudolph

Twopenny

I’ve written extensively about Timmy Turnpenny and its author Joyce A. Vallance in what Dennis Butts and I hope is the forthcoming sequel to How Did Long John Silver Lose his Leg? probably to be called Why Was Billy Bunter Never Properly Expelled? So, suffice it to say here that the book was part of a ‘uniform’ series (‘The Milly-Molly-Mandy Books’) which, to judge from the reprint history, was highly successful between 1939 and 1945.

 

The Big Book for Boys was passed down by my father – a present to him from Auntie Nellie (?) in 1923. It is one of the mass of inter-war ‘rewards’ – in this case edited by ‘Herbert Strang’ for Oxford University Press under Humphrey Milford – which managed to perpetuate pre-first world war attitudes long past their sell-by dates.

Then there was Film Fun Annual 1955 (thank you Aunty Vera and Uncle Reg, whoever you were) which was a throwback in cartoon style (with the story carried by dense text under the panels) to the 1910s, and in the stories (‘a grand holiday yarn’) to the 1920s. On the other hand, it was dominated by American film stars: there are Abbott and Costello, Red Skelton, Bill Boyd, Joe E. Brown, and Laurel and Hardy; the Brits are represented by Frank Randle and Old Mother Riley.

Coming directly out of war-time cartoons is Kathleen Starr and J. F. Horrabin’s Japhet and JaphetHappy Annual – with a lot of jokes about rationing: this was probably the 1950 or 1951 edition, as it features Caractacus the dog, a late addition to the cast. The strip was created by Horrabin in 1919, and published by the News Chronicle from 1930. The News Chronicle, not quite incidentally, was the liberal newspaper – taken by my parents until it was swallowed by the Daily Mail in 1960 – and Horrabin was at one point a Labour MP, so there is a political angle here.

Peter Pan

Aunty Molly (a neighbour, as I recall) contributed the book of the film in 1954, with its rather perfunctory renditions of the Disney visuals.

And there is one oddity (and even odder in that it was bought for me by my dentist – perhaps as a penance – in 1955). This is Victor Becker’s Gipsy’s Happy Holiday – and I thought that at last I might be able to pursue my quest for something eastern-European (ish) to fit in with the theory that post-war illustration in Britain was influenced by east-European immigrant artists. It certainly looks it:

Gipsy Happy Holiday

But apart from the fact that this is a translation (from the German?), and the second book in a series (the first was Gipsy’s Great Adventure), I haven’t been able to find any solid provenance for the book.

And, finally, the truly terrifying…


I have written elsewhere (somewhere) about this book, taking it as an example of the way in which children’s books can implant, at an early age, ideas, images, and fears that may never actually go away. Spare me from larch plantations (in which there may be pursuing foxes).

I once read a review of Derrida’s Archive Fever (in an attempt to understand it) and the reviewer (an IT specialist) defined archiving as ‘what we do to data that nobody ought to want any more, but we aren’t allowed to delete it altogether, so we wipe it off the main database and stuff it onto tapes in a vault and God help anyone who wants to read it.’ The books in the boxes in my mother’s attic are those tapes and their vaults, and their very existence challenges the idea that they contain data ‘that nobody ought to want any more.’ These are archives that we really should want!

My box of books is a ‘fuzzy set’ if ever there was one, and an archive must – as Archibald MacLeish said of poetry – not mean, but be. But if we insist on digging for meanings, pace Derrida – then maybe we shall strike, if not gold, at least some very interesting veins. Of one kind or another.

Hook, Line & Singer

HLS 2

Hook, Line & Singer (2013) by Cerys Matthews brings together many of the concerns of ArchiveChild—personal memory as archive, the collection of cultural artefacts, research in practice—so I want to take a moment to introduce it to you before our conference on Friday (1st July). I will bring the book with me as part of a small exhibition of ArchiveChild music-related material, so you’ll be able to take a look close up.

Hook, Line & Singer is an anthology of songs that draws variously on memory, archive, and field research. Some songs are for children and others are for parents, but really this seems pitched at anyone who might wish to make and share music informally. It’s a rich compendium intended for practical use, yet it’s also of interest to the local historian—it takes a personal approach to history, forged through memory and songs that bind cultures in a meaningful way.

Hook, Line & Singer is a gorgeous book—a beautifully produced hardback with stitched spine, printed on heavyweight paper that should withstand life on and off the music stand. It’s a book to be shared; a book to be used; a book to raise the rafters. It’s also full of images that evoke the folk traditions of many of the songs collected here. Each section is introduced with a full page, coloured illustration and every song is topped by a monochrome print.

I’m not sure of the printing methods used in Hook, Line & Singer (certainly there is a mix of techniques), though I would guess at lithography, wood block or lino-cut – the stuff of chapbooks and popular sheet music. The various cuts of mulberries, chickens, or children on a see-saw add to the communal texture and tone of the book and I would like to know more about them. However, the illustrations are not credited (with the exception of the odd signature here and there) and, though there is mention of a designer (Jim Stoddart) on the dust jacket, this seems to me an unfortunate omission. For a book so drenched in traditional and popular culture, it’s a shame that this aspect of the book goes unremarked. It is possible that these are stock images of long-forgotten origin, but given that they  enhance songs—some of which are equally hard to trace—that Matthews has worked so hard to source and acknowledge, it’s a shame that her editors at Particular Books did not think to match her efforts (and of those working with her on this project).

There is much to enjoy here though and I am drawn in immediately by Matthews’ introduction that personalizes the project—she begins with a family anecdote about a gargantuan pig and an impromptu rendition of ‘Mochyn Du’ (‘Black Pig’)—but which also takes seriously the rhythms and trajectories of folk culture. The reach of the book is as compelling as the warmth with which she draws together songs and draws in her audience:

As I grew older, my curiosity grew alongside my song collection. I bought books and leaflets, visited local museums, and acquainted myself with singers, historians, artists, record collectors and musicians—and kept learning as many songs as I could. Through them I learned about Ireland’s famine and Cajun food; I heard protest songs from Catalonia and sang songs from as far afield as Tarawa, Kenya, Cuba, Trinidad and Australia (p. 9).

The global remit of the project is enhanced by ‘Monoglots to Polyglots,’ a section with songs in different languages (all with an accompanying translation into English), including French, Gaelic, German, Polish, Welsh and Norwegian.

 

Matthews shows a willingness to travel and there is  an understanding that signposting is crucial if her audience is to follow her. The anthology is well organized into sections, ranging from action songs, to music-hall favourites, to seasonal offerings—and the thinking behind each section (not always obvious…which I rather like) lends personal colour to the arrangement. Each song is presented in the same way over a double-page spread, with historical or cultural information about the song on the verso (left), lyrics, music and arrangement on the recto (right).

The emphasis throughout is on making songs available though, so this is less about historical detail than it is about presenting songs to be played, sung and shared. Matthews has scoured the archives of memories, museums, and musicians in order to offer up the resulting collection—and clearly she wants her collection to have a life beyond the pages of this book:

Take your singing voice, guitar, ukulele, recorder or piano and jump in. The melodies, words and actions are there to assist you, but please change them as you see fit — make them yours (p. 10).

If you fancy a sing-along on Friday feel free to bring along your bagpipes…

HLS 1

Finders Keepers

FINDERSKEEPERS_LOGO

Finders Keepers is one of my favourite record labels, I think because it thrives on a contradiction that renders the forgettable unforgettable. My interest begins with the label’s name, which is as evocative as the music it releases. So much runs through my head when I look at that familiar logo:

• nostalgic refrain (endlessly pulling past into present)
• resilient childhood slogan (with dubious ethical undertones)
• thrill of the chase
• buzz of acquisition
• jealous discovery of rarity (holy grail-ness )
• superior recognition of inherent value (rarely monetary)
• risking it all (on a cover or a record title – the music might well be awful)
• endless storage problems

Finders Keepers is a reissue label—founded in 2005 by Andy Votel and Doug Shipton—hunting down little known or forgotten treasures to unleash on a widening audience of music lovers and collectors. The titles in their catalogue—the pair source master tapes from ‘lost’ artists or labels from all over the world—are eclectic and many of their releases are now collectable in their own right. If you want to know more about Finders Keepers, there’s a  great Vinyl Factory article on the label’s history, marking the label’s 10th anniversary in 2015.

The Finder Keepers catalogue can be seen as an archive of sorts, since it brings together material that will not be found elsewhere. It serves (admittedly niche) public interest and allows collectors access to music that otherwise they would have no way of getting to. So – why am I telling you all this here? Most of the catalogue has little to do with Archiving Childhood, but Finders Keepers has reissued a couple of tracks that have found their way in to my ‘childhood’ music collection…and which I’d like to share with you.

The Moomins: Finders Keepers (2015)

First up is a pair of 7” Moomins singles, which were released for Record Store Day 2015 (RSD deserves a post of its own, but I’ll save that for my—coming soon—archive child spin-off blog). As soon as I saw them listed on the RSD release list I knew that they deserved a place in my collection…and the tease on Doug Shipton’s twitter account as the records started to arrive in independent record shops only made them more desirable.

FK RSD 15

The run was limited to 900 records distributed across shops in the UK and I knew that I had to be up early to be sure of getting hold of one (I set the alarm for 4.00 am in order to arrive at Rough Trade East in good time). I say this is a ‘pair’ of records, but actually there are two versions of the same single – same musical content, different image on the cover. Since part of my interest in vinyl lies in cover art and illustration, I wanted to find both – and I needed my partner in crime to help with this. Individuals are only allowed one copy of each RSD release on the day, so technically one of these belongs to my daughter (and my conscience is clear; these are never going to be sold on…and I am sharing my finds on this blog post in an act of educational benevolence — plus you will be able to listen at the conference on my portable record player).

This Finders Keepers  release is the first ever issue of music from a stop-motion adaptation of Tove Jansson’s Moomin books. The Moomins (Opowiadania Muminków) was a Polish television series, which first appeared in 1977 and was then adapted by Anne Wood (FilmFair) for a British series that ran from 1983-86. Tove Jansson was involved in scripting the series and worked closely with Anne Wood. Richard Murdoch narrated the FilmFair version and the theme tune was written by Graeme Miller and Steve Shill.

If you’d like to see some of the animations you’ll find them at this fuzzyfelt moomins site.

The Moomins single includes two tracks:
Side A: The Moomins Theme
Side B: Midwinter Rites

For some detailed information about the Miller-Shill soundtrack, take a look at the Finders Keepers catalogue description.

The sleeves are custom made from a sort of fuzzy felt material, which has been hand stitched. The images are stills from the 1983 series and while each version has the same back cover, there are two versions of the front.

 

The records are beautiful objects in their own right, but they also represent a torrent of creativity that links children’s literature, animation and a DIY music aesthetic of the 1980s. I am so grateful that Finders Keepers took the time to hunt down this little gem of cultural history, which brings together creative forces from across Europe.

One Summer: Finders Keepers (2016)

This is my most recent acquisition from Finders Keepers and I must admit that the cover of this one attracted my attention above anything else. It’s a post-punk soundtrack from Willy Russell’s coming of age 80s drama, scored by Alan Parker, and the single screams youth rebellion in cover art that sheds its school uniform on the flip of a sleeve.

I also had to buy it in order to discover how an entire soundtrack could be squeezed on to a 7” single – this is probably the longest listing on any of my singles:

A1 — One Summer (Billy & Icky)
A2 —Billy & jo
A3 —The Tollbooth
A4 —Kidder’s Cottage
A5 —Benllech Mountain
B1 —Icky
B2 —Southport
B3 —Rollercoaster
B4 —Tension
B5 — Lime Street (End Titles)
B6 —Please Close The Gate

Parker’s harmonic rendering of 80s scouse rebellion is by turns melancholic and punchy. There’s an underlying urgency to the score, but it shifts into more gentle moments of electronic nostalgia that loop into the sort of television programming for schools that I recall from the 80s. (NB That Parker was a session musician for Bowie will come as no surprise to anyone who pays close attention to this score.)

I didn’t see One Summer when it was first aired in 1983 and so this particular release has given me an entry point back into the culture of my own youth.

For those of you interested, I’ll also have the single with me for a spin at the ArchiveChild listening post at our conference on 1st July (and you can read more about the release over at Finders Keepers).

Collection on a Windowsill

My childhood was punctuated by visits to the Isle of Wight.

Tea Towel Blue
Crooked diamond of my dreams on a faded tea towel by a pale yellow dresser.

My grandmother lived in a bungalow on Victoria Road in Freshwater and she is responsible for one of my earliest collections and subsequent research projects.

Grandma’s kitchen was impressive for many reasons: its larder stocked with stewed apple and blackberry (from the orchard in her garden); orange, lime and blackcurrant squash; Wagon Wheels, Viscount and Club biscuits; homemade cheese pies; sardine and tomato paste; cupboards toppling with beloved bluebird china; a reclining wooden chair with fat sliding arms. But for all these delights, my first concern when visiting Grandma was always with a certain narrow windowsill at the back of the kitchen.

There, on that narrow ledge, Grandma stacked tea-cards collected from boxes of Brooke Bond PG Tips.

I’m not sure that Grandma was especially committed to PG Tips, but she collected those cards for years because she knew how much I loved them. On some occasions there would be several piles of cards (much to my excitement) and I would sort them carefully into series. I was always allowed to take the cards home, since none of the other cousins (or my brother) really cared about those tea-cards. Not as much as I did anyway.

I don’t think I ever owned a full series of tea-cards, nor was I permitted to order the albums designed to hold them. However, I remember the Vanishing Wildlife series (1978) vividly and I certainly had a good number of these cards.

Brooke Bond Album
The Tea Card album I never owned
Brooke Bond Card
Vanishing Wildlife Picture Card (1978)

I used my precious collection for what became my very first project at Kempshott Junior School (at least the first I can recall) on endangered animals. This pretty much involved copying images of almost-extinct creatures from the picture cards, and then writing up the information on the back of each card.

Q&A-us
I once believed that this book could answer any question asked of it…
British Costume
British Costume (1973)

I added any extra information I could find in my beloved Children’s Book of Questions and Answers (ed. Addison, 1977), but we can safely say that I hadn’t heard of plagiarism then. I remember being really proud of the project though!

 

 

 

PG Tips Picture Cards

Picture cards (as they were actually called – I knew then as tea-cards though) were introduced into the Brooke Bond manufacturing process in the 1950s, building on the pre-war success of cigarette cards. Children had shown themselves to be avid collectors of such cards, so Brooke Bond took advantage of post-war advances in printing and mechanized production lines to  corner the market.The last cards to be produced for the UK market – ‘Farewell to PG Tips’ — appeared in 1999.

Picture cards were relatively small (standard cards measured 36x68mm) with an image on the front and related information on the reverse. They were produced in series of runs of up to 50.

There are various sites relating the history of these cards out there – and most are linked to collecting. I like this one run by Lee Towersey, because it all stems from the fact that his father used to drive a van for Brooke Bond – great piece of family history there! Towersey explains that, ‘the first series of picture cards, their subjects drawn from natural history, were produced with the assistance of the eminent naturalist and author Miss Frances Pitt and illustrated British birds.’

PITT MUTE SWAN
British Birds – Frances Pitt’s first card: ‘The Mute Swan’
Pitt Tommy
London: Blackie & Son (1912)

Numerous series followed this initial run and as an enthusiastic amateur naturalist I was drawn to the natural history cards. Though the cards might seem throwaway to some, they continued to be illustrated by renowned illustrators.

 

‘Frances Pitt’s Birds’ was a pretty impressive way to start, but Charles Tunnicliffe also worked on a number of different series for Brooke Bond, including Wild Flowers and African Birds. Those of you interested in children’s literature might know him better for his Ladybird Books, or for his work on Henry Williamson’s Tarka the Otter (1927).

 

Ethics 2
London: Bloomsbury
tunnicliffe-tarka
Tunnicliffe’s 1949 cover and illustration for Williamson’s Tarka the Otter (Puffin) image from Roaringwater Journal blog

Given that Tarka has featured in my MA Children’s Literature teaching and gets a brief mention in Ethics in British Children’s Literature (2013 – see the chapter on ‘Environmental Ethics’) it’s true to say that those picture cards on Grandma’s windowsill have had a significant impact on my career.

Thank you Margaret Billings and thank you Brooke Bond.

 

Tropical Birds
Tunnicliffe’s Tropical Birds Album (reprint 1974)

 

 

 

Collecting the Archive: Archiving the Collection

To my mind there is a clear relationship between collections and archives, but it’s not always easy to explain how they differ. It’s one of those fuzzy distinctions that slips around in everyday usage. The terms are often used synonymously – so what is the difference between a collection and an archive?

A quick etymological hunt reveals the following:

  • archives – noun. traced from the Greek notion of ‘government’ and ‘public records’, through to the French 17th C. usage that refers both to ‘a repository of public records’ and also to ‘the records themselves’.
  • archive – verb. the act of archiving does not appear until the 19th C. and the related noun, ‘archivist’, follows from this.
  • collect – verb. the idea of collecting is relatively loose and initially has no specific object, as in to ‘gather together’ [F.16th C.] . Traced from the Greek, the verb form, ‘to collect’ also leads to ‘assemble’, ‘choose’, and ‘read’. This link with reading then moves through to the collection of passages, ‘collectanea’ [L.18th C.]– a specifically literary association.
  • collection – verb. refers to the ‘action of collecting’ [14th C.] and ‘things collected’ [15th C.].

Evidently then, there is a distinction to be made between the public (archive) and the more individual, or private (collection). Historically, the collection is more about process and activity, while the archive is a holding place…a monument of sorts. Even so, there is a great deal of overlap here. Archives hold ‘the records themselves’, but they also store ‘things collected’. Archives can be full of gathered objects, or literary manuscripts, as well as more official public records – and they are collections of a kind…if we accept that archives hold things that are gathered together.

What this etymological trawl confirms on a personal level, is that I am a collector of things, both privately and professionally. The act of collecting itself is important and I realise that (private) collections, now lost to time, might still have consequence…because once I did the collecting and this has marked itself in me; I am marked as a collector. I am excited by the idea that I collect as I read (professionally). I know that I do constructive things with my reading (give lectures, publish books and articles, etc.), so this makes me wonder whether the more obvious instances of collecting in my life might also have useful outcomes…

I would like to think that my collections have a purpose; that they will do more than take up space, or earn money in an auction (wishful thinking).

Newspapers and magazines (in print form) encourage the collector in me, since they seem ephemeral* – I cut out pages/passages related to my research, or to family chronicles. I want to shape something, build a memory, contribute to critical discourse, and attend to history. In collecting, cutting, and pasting I am reaping something that reaches beyond the day a photograph or a story appeared in print. It seems to me that this process of collecting can lead to something bigger than a collection; something that refuses to be limited to the ‘action of collecting’. When I collect cuttings of my daughter in a school play, I am building an archive of my daughter’s journey through childhood. The collected items come together to build something of consequence…something encompassing, yet greater that the items themselves. This particular archive is personal and it hinges on the process of collecting, but it has the monumental reach (and potential) of a public archive.

[* Of course many newspapers are archived and so I need not collect in this way. I could (but don’t…) leave the public record to store the ephemera of my intellectual musings.]

Soetymology has taken me quite some way, but a quick look at resources I’ve been using recently for my own research is also helpful in distinguishing between archive and collection.

Cecil Sharp House http://www.cecilsharphouse.org

The folk arts centre, Cecil Sharp House, is home to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library http://www.vwml.org

Its vast collection of English folk songs, tunes, dances and customs is listed as a ‘Digital Archive’ (digital archives deserve another post…), while the ‘Cecil Sharp Photo Collection’ affords a more personal sense of Sharp himself. The archive is of national (and international) consequence; the collection lets the viewer get close to the man. Archive and collection are distinct and yet they speak to each other in the manner of interjection – each hangs upon the other.

Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books (UK) http://www.sevenstories.org.uk/collection

It’s interesting that the wonderful ‘Seven Stories Collection’ describes itself both as collection and archive (see http://www.sevenstories.org.uk/collection). I am certain that this is because it thrives on that very active sense of collecting I have been tracing here. Seven Stories gathers manuscripts partly in order that people can access it in an immediate way through exhibitions and public events. However, it also has a view to preserving the heritage of British children’s literature, and it is at this point that it serves as an archive (that incorporates a series of collections…and encourages collecting as process), thus: ‘We are the custodians of a unique and ever-growing national archive of modern and contemporary children’s literature.’

**************

Archives seek to preserve the fragile materials of shifting culture. They look to the wider public to invest in and recognise the value of the heritage they preserve. Archives can bring together seemingly random objects and give them collective purpose. Without the purposeful drive of the collector we would have no archives. If writers, artists, readers, critics, fanatics, or trainspotters ceased to gather…ceased to collect…why then the archive would ossify. The collection would dry out on a windowsill in the sun and a helpful someone, somewhere would brush it into the sea.