I was a voracious reader as a child. From the time I was able to read ‘proper’ books, I read everything I could get my hands on. We were near great libraries and I would borrow four on a Saturday, then return on Monday evening to borrow four more. If I found a book I liked, I would reread it over and over.
I have very mixed feelings about the MS Readathon, partly because I’ve become very cynical about the charity sector in general and partly because I have some hangups about it from my childhood. However, when I was about 11 or 12 years old, I was sent along to the launch of the contest as a representative of my class in school. I didn’t really know what to expect and it was always nice to be able to escape school for a bit.
The launch was held in a large hotel function room – for the life of me I cannot remember which one – and it was a hot, busy, noisy affair. There were press photographers and, most important for me, free books! Some of the authors of said books were there, and I got a copy of Wildflower Girl signed by Marita Conlon-McKenna, which is still on my bookshelf today.
Back then, I hadn’t a clue who Maeve Binchy was, but I overheard one of the teachers talking about her and I decided she must be important enough to get to sign a poster we were all given and which other authors had signed for me, so I plucked up the courage to go over to her. She was sitting down and I have no idea what I said to her but she signed the poster and had a little chat with me, and as I thanked her and turned away she commented on a red bow I had in my hair because I felt I should probably dress up a bit for a Big Day Out like this.
I’m sure I got rid of that poster in a decluttering session years ago because I certainly don’t have it now. I do, however, have a big collection of Maeve Binchy books on the same shelves as the well read signed copy of Wildflower Girl. The first Maeve Binchy book I ever read was Circle of Friends and my favourite bit of the novel is where a nearly 10 year old Benny is dreaming of getting dressed up for her Big Day, her birthday, only to have her dreams of velvet and frills dashed when a practical, boring ensemble appears.
I reread that section a lot, and I think of me getting dressed up for my own Big Day, and it reminds me that long after the humdrum days of school are over there’s some high points, even if they don’t seem significant at the time. I think of me, and Benny, and I relate to Benny’s feelings of not being pretty enough and worrying about what she might wear and I think back to that red bow and meeting Maeve and I wish I could tell her just how much pleasure that day gave me and that I’m sorry I didn’t keep the bow and the poster.