It was The Borrowers by Mary Norton. Though perhaps I ought to amend that and say that it is the first book I remember chosing for myself in a bookshop. My grandparents – I think – actually paid for it. My memory is hazy. I am sure it was W. H. Smith’s in Redcar, but I don’t know how old I was. Maybe around eight? In my mind’s eye I see a lot of wooden panelling: it was far more recognisable as a bookshop than W. H. Smith’s is now. Later as a teenager and a student I continued to buy books there. What I most remember about that first occasion is the agony of indecision, a scenario which has been played out in many other bookshops over the years. I choose well that day with The Borrowers, a wonderful children’s classic.
When I was old enough to save up my pocket money I loved the books about Jill and her ponies books by Ruby Ferguson. I see that first editions are going for incredible sums, and that there are plans to reprint them. For me the books were sheer wish fulfilment as I was a keen rider, and, like Jill, longed for nothing more than a pony of my own. Alas, it was not to be. But the books provided me with a rich fantasy life. These no doubt rather flimsy paperback are long gone, but I do still have a more ambitious work, a fine red hardback with a gilded title and crest: Introduction to Riding and Stablecraft by Major-General Geoffrey Brooke, C.B, D.S.O., M.C. It was aimed at adults, but from the address that I wrote on the flyleaf, I can’t have been more than ten or eleven when I acquired it. Did I save up for it, or did I ask for it for my birthday or Christmas? This book was my horsey bible and I knew it more or less off by heart, could identify all the points of a horse and every kind of bit.
It didn’t occur to me at the time to be curious about the author, but it does now, and the website of the Western Front Association tells me that he was a cavalry officer in the first world war, wrote lots of books on equinine subjects, and that his second wife, Dorothy founded a charity to rescue ex-war horses in Cairo, an animal welfare charity that still exists today. My eleven-year old self would have approved.