I had a very poor record with sports at school; in fact the only event that I enjoyed at all was the cross-country run. There were about two hundred of us in the race, and we ran a course that took us along Canterbury Road towards Birchington, turning left into Spurgeon’s Homes. We ran through the grounds, then out along Park Road. The route then took us along the East side of Quex Park, until markers indicated that we turned left again across the fields towards Westgate. We passed the most enormous dung heap that had leaked a noxious brown liquid right across the track, which we splashed through quite cheerfully, carrying the smell on our plimsolls all the way down to a housing estate on the outskirts of Westgate.
The very last part of the course took us down the lane that separated the school’s playing fields from the Ursuline Convent school grounds. This led us to the finishing line, which was right beside the back entrance to the school. By that stage of the race, the field was well strung out, with a few boys a little way behind me, and one lad just ahead. Determined to make a race of it, probably because there were teachers watching, I waited until there were only a few yards to go and then put on a desperate spurt, dashing past my opponent just before we crossed the finishing line. That small victory gave me great satisfaction, putting me in 35th place out of 200.
My most lasting memory of that school was of the interior of the science lab. It was filled with exciting things, and especially a row of locked glass cabinets filled with specimens preserved in formalin. On the top of the cabinets were some big glass jars that contained the remains of various animals and even a human embryo!
Science was always my favourite lesson, and I used to hang around the lab after class hoping to be asked to give the teacher a helping hand. This was a subject I could understand, and it was explaining for me the answers to so many questions that had puzzled and interested me. We learnt about the planets and stars, about energy, about the atom and molecules, and how plants and animals were structured. What could be better! My reading tastes changed quite a lot. I was still a regular visitor to the public library but now I haunted the non-fiction shelves and the reference library. I also started to frequent second-hand book shops in search of bargains. One of my favourites was ‘Horvaths’ in the Old Town Square in Margate. This was a wonderful old shop of a kind that doesn’t seem to exist anymore. It was quite a large shop that seemed to stretch back for ages, but you could never see the rear of the premises because of the piled up stock. It was full of narrow passages lined with all manner of second-hand items, but I was really only interested in the books which took up most of the left-hand side of the shop. Derogatively termed a ‘Junk Shop’ by my parents and most other people, ‘Horvath’s’ had a veritable storehouse of irreplaceable material. I am sure, thinking back, that old Horvath had bought most of his book stock many years before, because so much of what was there was dated from the latter part of the nineteenth and early twentieth century’s. What I and most other dedicated ‘book worms’ liked about this kind of shop was the chance of discovering something really special amongst the dusty shelves. The tidy, carefully sorted shelves of a modern bookshop just don’t have the same appeal as you know that the proprietor has already found those little gems and either priced them out of your reach or passed them on to a specialist dealer.