It seemed almost too perfect – the childhood memories of a beloved illustrator and author of books mostly for children, packed full of pictures.
“I was born, the eldest of five children, on 16th October 1900 in the town of Haiphong in the province of Tonkin…”
… but when he was five his mother brought young Edward home to England, to live with his grandmother. His father remained at a distance, influencing events without ever being part of them, but it didn’t seem to cast a shadow over an idyllic childhood. It was lovely to read simple accounts of family life, visits to the country, and boyish high jinks.
Boarding school was a less happy experience, because, though there were some wonderful memories of rags and adventure, there were darker memories of bullying and of not quite finding the right niche.
School stories and holiday stories balanced each other beautifully, and they were followed by stories of military recruitment – unsuccessful – then work as a clerk – deadly dull – until realisation dawned that art could be a career.
It was the right niche, and I wold have loved to know a little more, but it was there that the story ended.
The pictures in words were lovely, and the sketches, so distinctively Ardizzone echoed them beautifully. But there were only hints of emotions, because this is a book of memories as pictures. And, as that, it works beautifully.
But this isn’t a book to explain, it’s a book to love for what it is.
And so here are some of those words and pictures,
“There was something splendid and noble about riding in the wagonette. It was so high that we could look over the hedges to the fields beyond; we felt like lords of the countryside surveying our domain. As we rode we sucked, in rather unlordly fashion, enormous bull’s eyes, called humbugs and were all very jolly. In fact we must have been a jolly sight. The girls were dressed in cotton frocks and sunbonnets, the boys in sailor suits and big straw hats, while the ladies wore the big hats and high-necked blouses of the period.”
“In the afternoons my mother would lie with her feet up on the drawing room sofa and read to us. Her favourite reading was from Dickens and his work was a favourite of our to listen to. I think my mother must have judiciously cut out large chunks from the text to speed the action. Certainly we were never bored by these readings, quite the reverse. We adored them and adored most of all the sentimental bits. I doubt of any of us, my mother included, were quite dry-eyed at the death of little Paul Dombey.”
“In the passenger seat was a stout lady, well veiled against the dust, and beside her a very large Pekinese. Now the lady was a certain Mrs Chapman who at the time reigned supreme as the Mayor of Worthing. In the speed and wit of her repartee she was a match even for my grandmother. At her home she kept many big Pekinese like the one she had brought with her. It is rumoured that once she hunted the Pekes in a pack, as if they were beagle. I would not have put it past her.”
“I tried hard to do the right thing but failed. This unhappy situation drove me to take refuge in painting and drawing, a hobby already, but even more so now. I lost myself in hours of doodling, making up odd monsters, caricaturing boys and masters and inventing strange landscapes. During free time in fine weather I would be out and about attempting to draw the local landscape, in particular its trees. I was, of course, an active member of the art class run by Miss Annie Hazeldene. And, looking back, I realise I owe much to her.”