I did not know it at the time but we were on the edge of a new interest in old books. There had always been antique shops, but not many. Most people preferred new furniture when they bought a house. For a while antique furniture was astonishingly cheap, perhaps because modern furniture at first was not particularly attractive. After the war many people became interested in good quality antique furniture. But second-hand books were still second-hand books and had no special appeal except to scholars.
When I started the shop, there was a growing interest in all old things except for books and what were considered to be the best pictures from the past. I could find books to sell with the greatest of ease because there was very little opposition and little demand. After the war there was a rise in the number of auctions, especially in big country houses that nobody wanted.
Instead of sitting in my shop all day I went out two or three days a week to view auctions and search for books in another way. As I said before old bookshops were few and far between. All the time I was gathering knowledge about which books were most wanted. Sometimes I travelled so far I had to stay overnight to get the benefit of finding new shops to visit.
Kate was not happy with that. She was used to me being at home every night. Ever since she could hold a pencil in her hand it was very clear that she was a natural artist. She produced miniature picture books in a definite style of her own. She used colours well. Whenever I returned from one of my trips there would be under my pillow one of these small books welcoming me home. When she was old enough to write, she added stories, usually to do with animals and birds. These were her three greatest interests. By the time she was ten years old she had produced some exquisite work.
Both my sons were going through difficult teenage times. Kate with her useful cheerful self got on with her life and I sought refuge in my new bookshop.
All three of my children were highly creative. Both boys loved anything to do with machinery. Quentin and Kate made friends with ease and had an optimistic outlook. Robin was extremely sensitive to atmosphere. He thought he would like to go to university and was offered a place that was just right for him, a sandwich course in mechanical things. He loved solving that kind of problem and he still does. When he was in the sixth form, every Friday night after I had gone to bed early as I usually did, he would knock on my door, come in and sit himself down next to me. Then he would pour out all the emotional stuff that was bothering him.
He had an exceptional sensitivity to places and people. This made life very difficult for him.
I understood this myself because I had a similar tendency but not so powerful. The great psychologist Adler had this same ability to read people’s minds very quickly and diagnose problems before his clients had spoken. It was very useful to me when I became a teacher and a psychotherapist. My son must have recognised it in me, because he never told anyone else about it.
He would stay for about an hour and I listened without talking. He finished in a flood of tears and went away feeling much better. When he started his university course he was at first happy to be there but after a short time he could not bear to be away from home, meaning me. I thought the problem was settled. But it wasn’t. However, I insisted he find a suitable job through the help of a friend who ran a small factory and he continued to stay at home. He eventually worked his difficulties out and went away to a training centre where he learned a lot about televisions. Years later he said to me one day “Do you remember when I used to come and see you and tell you my problems? You shouldn’t have got so upset. I got over it on my own.”
“Now he tells me!” I said. He laughed.
Both my sons, on their own, taught themselves about computers and worked successfully for themselves in that area. Robin rebuilt an old motor-cycle and did all sorts of repairs to the cars he purchased. Even before he was five he could mend broken toys. Kate also refused to go to university for which she was more than qualified to do. However, in her early thirties, she began and finished a degree in psychology at the Open University. I was amazed that she should have chosen one of my favourite subjects. Had I suggested it earlier she certainly would have refused.
All of these skills were nothing to do with us parents. Whenever I see in the paper advice on how to keep children entertained in the holidays, I laugh with scorn. All children, if left to their own resources, will inevitably work out for themselves what they best want. It is much better to go along with their dearest desires, providing they are not too dangerous for their age, than try to force ideas into young minds. I always did what I wanted to do and I never needed encouragement. My children did exactly the same thing.
What is the result? They have worked for themselves most of the time and tried to do everything they wanted to do. Quentin built up a band for himself. Both brothers and Kate taught themselves how to play several instruments. They rarely asked me for help of any kind. Nor did I ever try to make them do anything. Well not very often! We got by as a happy family by respecting each others special interests. I am an enthusiastic person and so are my children. I believe that enthusiasm appears naturally once we are engrossed in what we love doing. However, if we need to get where we want, we also have to learn to work our way through disappointments. They are the only times when we parents may give a bit of encouragement. But not too much!