I didn’t own many books when I was tiny. We relied heavily on the little shop-fronted library at Childwall Fiveways. Mum and I would walk along there, sometimes stopping at Nana’s on the way there or back. The librarian, Miss Skelland, knew us well and greeted us by name. In thos days one of the rules was that children had to take books out on their parents’ tickets until they reached the age of seven. Adults were limited to four of their buff tickets and children to two of their green ones. Making Mum use her tickets for both of us was ridiculously restricting at the rate we both consumed our books so Miss Skelland gave me my very own tickets at the age of four. What a wonderful woman. (I was later to work for Miss Skelland one summer break from college, at Norris Green library. I discovered then that this wasn’t the onlt way the Mills & Boon writing librarian broke the rules. She swore like mad. Not badly but often, though never in front of the public with whom she was always friendly and professional. In the staff room she would happily dress down anyone who upset her and bloody and hell appeared in every sentence.)

 One of the books that I owned myself was ‘Farm Babies’ written by Elsie Church and illustrated by Margie. My favourite story in that was about a foal called Trotty who eventually succeeded in jumping a fence. ‘“I did it, I jumped the fence, cried Trotty.’ This phrase became a stock one in our household and for the rest of Mum’s life she or I would often share a joke about it when one of us succeeded in doing something after a number of tries.

 I regularly borrowed from Childwall Library books in a series about a family of mice called the Slimtail’s (Mary Chell’s positioning of the apostrophe, not mine!). The Slimtail family lived with their pet weevil, Edwin, at No. 9 Barley-bag Avenue and had adventures avoiding Tom Noddy the cat. There were a series of these books and one – ‘More Slimtail’s’ – is currently retailing, second-hand, at £293.75 + £2.80 postage. You’d think they’d let you off the postage!

 

Unlike many households we did not have comics as an introduction to reading. It was only when we were much older that comics were allowed. GB had ‘The Eagle’ while I had either ‘The Dandy[ or ‘The Beano’ or, occasionally ‘The Beezer’. GB had a regular order but I just picked up the occasional one. In the early 1960s I had two other periodicals on order with Mr Kelmsley at Shuttleworth’s newsagent – ‘Knowledge’ and ‘Look and Learn’.

In those days there were three newsagents at The Rocket. On the corner of Norville Road and Bowring Park Road was Howcroft’s. When Nana came to live with us I used to pop around to Howcroft’s for her to buy her the untipped Woodbines that she smoked (Mum smoked tipped Woodbines but, unlike Nana who smoked until she died at 93, Mum gave up when I was about fourteen). There was no restriction on buying cigarettes in those days and many shops sold single cigarettes (a penny loosey which later became a tupenny loosey, then a thripenny loosey, etc…). Many a child began his cigarette smoking career by buying a penny loosey and coughing his way through it behind the advertising hoardings.

 On the Rocket Hotel side of Queens Drive was a block of shops which disappeared in the late 1960s when the M62 was built. This block included the newsagents we preferred – Shuttleworth’s, largely because the staff, presided over by the kind Mr Kelmsley, treated children as human beings and actually served them in turn rather than always ignoring them in favour of adults which many shops did.

Opposite Shuttleworth’s was another block of shops with a newsagents called Greene’s. As well as newspapers, magazines, cigarettes and tobacco, all three shops sold sweets but until 1953 they were still rationed as a result of the War. An attempt had been made to de-ration them in April 1949 but it only lasted four months as the manufacturers ran out of sugar and panic buying caused chaos. The price of sweets had more than doubled since before the War and as a result many adults did not take up their full ration of 6 ounces and Mum was sometimes given their coupons to use for GB and I. There was a lot of criticism when sweets were de-rationed because sugar remained rationed. In addition to the effect on households, manufacturers had to meet the demand with only half the sugar they had previously had available. On 5th February 1953 there was a rush for the shops as the first de-rationed sweets went on sale. Toffee apples were the biggest sellers, with sticks of nougat and liquorice strips also disappearing fast. How the area supported three very similar shops I don’t know but I think Howcrofts and Greene’s are still there to this day.

‘Knowledge’ and  ‘Look and Learn’ were both weeklies and while ‘Knowledge’ was slightly highbrow and totally educational, ‘Look and Learn’ was fun and pretty. Its 24 pages contained a wide range of articles on history, nature, literature, astronomy and art and a weekly poem. Half its pages were printed in full colour and the paper was beautifully illustrated by some of the best artists of the time.