With all the furore about Bowdlerisation of children’s classics, it feels important to check my memories on the shelf marked Best Left Unopened; to crack those colonial spines, passed down from my mother’s mother, and wake the shamed dead in order to set them straight. But there aren’t any words except dedications from aunts and uncles born out of cotton dust and coal smoke, marking birthdays, Christmases, and the rush of storm clouds across burgeoning cities; and every page is a map to where the pavements end, to where ships freight inexplicable machines, and to the point at which children test their homemade wings against an insouciant sky. Once upon a time, my grandmother found language wrapped in a blue silk ribbon. Once upon a time, my mother painted small puppets between stiff embossed covers. Once upon a time, I thumbed these pages like an almanac charting the movements of stars, tides, and night cars crossing the bridge between floating islands glimpsed through mist. There’s a photo slipped between pages and, though I don’t know who all these smiling people are, I know they’re mine. When I’m gone, should anyone care, you can change all the words you like: just keep the full stops, the clouds, and these smiling strangers.
Picture Nick Victor