Recently I finished reading Susan Hill’s “Howards End is on the landing”, her memoir about “a year-long voyage through her books, in order to get to know her own collection again”. I started it in April 2017, and quoted from it at the time in this piece about typefaces, serifs and readability. I put the book down somewhere and didn’t complete it until last month, now that “the reading fit is on me again”. It’s excellent. I’m glad to have found it. I must have carried “Howards End is on the landing” around with me for a few weeks in the spring and early summer of 2017. Tucked into its pages are my Official Poll Card for the June 2017 election and an unused prescription for Chloramphencol eye ointment: the conjunctivitis which I wrote about at the time in this piece cleared up without the need for another dose.
Ms Hill writes about being a publisher as well as reading and writing books, and she recalls her childhood experience with the John Bull printing set: “No one who missed the era of the John Bull printing set can say they have lived”. My brother and I had one when we were young, but she clearly went further in her use of hers than we did with ours, diligently creating whole publications while we merely typeset the odd word or phrase. I hadn’t thought about it for a while, but did write about it years ago, in the following piece from “1000 Memories”.
FAC OR REJECT
It was September 1972, my 10th birthday and Jim’s 13th, two days between them. The strike was still on, the building sites were still closed. Even I could tell that we didn’t have much money. We never asked for much for our birthdays. That year we got less than we ever had before. I got a single from Mum and Dad, a song I hardly knew, It’s Four in the Morning by Faron Young. It was okay but I wouldn’t have asked for it. Mum liked it.
Jim got a single he did like, Popcorn by Hot Butter, and a book of poetry, A Puffin Quartet of Poets. Each of them cost 25p, the singles and the book.
Someone gave us a John Bull printing set, tiny rubber letters that you could arrange on plastic racks to make words. You had to work out the words backwards because the little rubber letters were all the wrong way round. We made up each of our names and stamped them on bits of paper. Jim took all of the letters out of the rack with the little set of tweezers that came with it and worked away at a new set of letters. He tried something, changed a letter or two, and then starting stamping things with the new words: FACTORY REJECT, one word on each line. He stamped bits of paper and pages in his school books and then he stamped the white cover of my Faron Young single, but some of the letters came out stronger than others. On the cover of It’s Four in the Morning it says
Back to now
Over 47 years later I still have the single, and the lettering is still visible, as you can see here, with a copy of today’s paper as the back-drop, and then zoomed in.