Book Of A Lifetime: English Songs and Ballads, By TWH Crosland
After the Second World War, my family moved from a Displaced Persons camp in Schleswig-Holstein to a refugee camp in Sussex. From there we were taken in by English families. My mother worked as a domestic, and my father as an agricultural worker. Our first "host" family were the Dobbses of Whatlington. Rosalind Heyworth Dobbs (née Potter) was an artist and mother-in-law of Malcolm Muggeridge, connected through her parents and eight siblings to the Bloomsbury set. After she died in 1949, we transferred to Miss Winifred Morton in nearby Burwash Common.
I don't remember much about the more colourful Dobbses, but I remember Miss Morton as a large, stern, bed-ridden lady, swathed in silk dressing gowns, fond of fresh peaches. And I remember her because she taught me English and gave me my first ever book.
You might think 'English Songs and Ballads', compiled by TWH Crosland in 1903, and overloaded with gloomy accounts of maritime battles, was a strange choice of Christmas gift for a Ukrainian-speaking four-year-old. And I have sometimes wondered unkindly whether her gift, well-thumbed and pencilled with cryptic marginalia, was of the oh-hell-I-forgot-to-get-something-for-that-girl variety. But I have treasured it all my life.
It must have been some years before I could read it for myself, but as I grew up, the vivid figures of the Ancient Mariner, Oriana, the starving seamstress, the boy on the burning deck, Lochinvar, proud Maisie and Lord Ullin's daughter became my entourage, better company than the teasing, hair-pulling kids at my drab Doncaster and Gainsborough schools. By the time I reached my mid-teens, my tastes had become more sophisticated. I read "real" poetry, and started to despise the melodramatic stories and overwrought language of Crosland's balladeers, and I only picked up the book occasionally, for reference to a half-remembered refrain.
Much later, in the age of Google, I discovered that Thomas William Hodgson Crosland was himself quite a colourful figure, and not someone I would have much liked in real life. A right-wing Tory, anti-Semite and militant homophobe, he was an associate of Lord Alfred Douglas, Oscar Wilde's lover. After Douglas was "cured" of his homosexuality, he and Crosland joined forces to persecute Robbie Ross, Wilde's close friend, trying to get him arrested for homosexual offences. Did stern Miss Morton know of this?
In 1902 he published a bizarre anti-Scottish diatribe called 'The Unspeakable Scot', yet curiously 'English Songs and Ballads' contains many Scottish dialect poems, including several by Robbie Burns.
Crosland was a poet himself, not a very good one, but 'English Songs and Ballads' inspired me to write poetry too. Unfortunately the dum-di-dum-di-dum it inspired also ensured that I was doomed to fail as a poet. Maybe that's how I became a novelist instead.
Marina Lewycka's 'Various Pets Alive and Dead' is published by Fig Tree; she will be appearing at the 'Independent' Bath Literature Festival on 10 March
elephant appealThe first 23 lots in our charity auction have now gone. But there are 22 more still up for grabs
From rainforests and reefs to beaches and boat trips
The Silicon Valley awards which treat scientists like rockstars
comedy'Fresh Meat' star sees off stiff competition from Alan Carr, David Mitchell, Graham Norton, Lee Mack and Sarah Millican to win top prize
Arts & Ents blogs
Jack Whitehall crowned king of British Comedy Awards
Beyonce guerrilla releases entire new album worldwide on iTunes
American Psycho, theatre review: Matt Smith regenerates as ripped uber-narcissist
MasterChef: The Professionals 2013 - Steven Edwards crowned winner
Kanye West is as 'misguided as they come': Ohio police chief rejects rapper's claims that his work is as dangerous as law enforcement or military service
- 1 Italian court annuls prison sentence for elderly paedophile after 11-year-old victim tells investigators in Catanzaro that she loves him
- 2 Australia incest case: Deformed children found in remote farming community after generations of inbreeding
- 3 Woman who miscarried in private prison 'made to clean up after herself,' court told
- 4 Physicists discover 'clearest evidence yet' that the Universe is a hologram
- 5 Fox News presenter tells viewers it is a 'fact' that both Jesus and Santa Claus are white
- < Previous
- Next >