Fear of Books

March 22, 2010

I came across a book on my shelf the other day and it brought the memories flooding back. But first, let me give you some background.

My mum is very much the literary type. When I was growing up she had shelves groaning under the weight of books, everything from Shakespeare to Julian Barnes. So I guess it wasn’t very surprising that she took responsibility for choosing my books and reading bedtime stories to me. My dad on the other hand is more of a blokey bloke. He was captain of the local darts team and he’d often keep me rapt with tales of exotic pubs such as The Marlborough, The Drum and Monkey, The Done Our Bit Club. It was like having a dad in the navy telling me about all the places he’d been only he didn’t have to get the clap.

Anyway, at some point, when I was about seven years old I’d guess, my dad decided he should do more to bond with his son. I knew nothing of this but it seemed my dad was determined to read me a bedtime story. It couldn’t be anything I already had: the Mr Men weren’t his style and my mum did the voices for Winnie the Pooh which he wouldn’t be caught dead doing.

No, he was going to have to get something special that suited his style.

All three of us went out to Kilburn’s premiere discount bookshop. The shop was large, tatty and piled high with all the books that couldn’t be sold anywhere else. Their stock was peculiar to say the least. I once convinced my parents to buy me a book from there that in retrospect seems a bit odd. It was a Star Trek sticker book that contained loads of huge stickers you could peel off and stick on your walls. In your mind you’re probably imagining sticky back pictures of Spock, Kirk, the Enterprise and various hot alien chicks. It wasn’t like that. The book was in fact health and safety notices from the USS Enterprise; “Important: Keep arms and legs clear of the transporter while in use”, “Do not use communicators in the sick bay”, “Use of tribbles is forbidden at all times!” I had these stupid things stuck up all over my room.

So yeah, it was a weird bookshop full of weird unsellable books.

While I was browsing I looked over at my dad and he had a brown picture book in his hands and a smile on his face. Clearly it was a kids book and he was buying it. Huh? My little brain couldn’t comprehend why my dad was buying a book for me. Weirdly nothing more was said and I promptly forgot all about it.

Until bedtime that is.

Disconcertingly my dad was going to read me a bedtime story. OK, that was weird. “Winnie the Pooh please” I said. My dad then told me we weren’t going to do Winnie the Pooh because he’d got me a new story. He then produced the brown picture book I’d briefly glanced earlier. It was called “The Man from Ironbark”

Oh.

An explanation

The Man from Ironbark is a landscape shaped picture book with large dark pictures spanning double pages and very few words. It’s based in Australia at the turn of the century and all the events occur in a town not disimilar to your classic wild west movie set. It is clearly intended as a childs book yet it’s earthy tones and weird subject matter exhibit a questionable understanding of children. If Australian children are brought up reading this then it explains why Aussies are such a strange bunch.

Back to the story

So, here’s what happened when my dad read me the story.

The story is about a country yokel who decides to go into the town where all the posh town folks live (remember: it’s a wild west town in Australia so it’s not that fancy). While there he notices that most town men have well trimmed moustaches rather than the scruffy unkempt beard he sports. He pops into a barbers so he can get some of that trimmed ‘tache action.

This is where it goes wrong

Man from Ironbark Meets his Nemesis

I was immediately drawn to the evil look in the barbers eyes and the flash of the cut-throat razor. This looked pretty terrifying and the seven year old me was worried. What could possibly happen next? Nothing bad surely, this is a kids book!

Man from Ironbark Screams in Terror

ARGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!!!! ARGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!!

I was screaming my head off with tears rolling down my face. My dad then moved on to the next page to try to show me that everything was OK

Man from Ironbark gets all Chuck Norris

For some reason that didn’t really do it for me. A guy holding his neck together while strangling another man and doing god knows what to a cat (not pictured) really didn’t make me happy.

So the result was that I was screaming my head off and telling my dad to go away. My dad was frantically trying to explain that he hadn’t really cut the guys throat, that it was all a prank, but it was too late. I was terrified and freaked out.

Unsurprisingly my dad never read me another bedtime story again.

The Ironbark book sat unwanted on my bookshelf and I remember being terrified of it for years. It just seemed to be tainted with bad feelings and nightmares.

Weirdly it’s now the only original book I still have from my childhood. I destroyed the Mr Men books in a misguided attempt to decorate my bedroom. The Winnie the Pooh books disappeared into the loft and were never seen again. I haven’t even the first clue what happened to the Barbapapas.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: