I was raised by Strict Baptists, so I was deprived of any recent literature, but blessed from very early on by a huge library of classics.
When I was eight I searched for something to read and found a white-jacketed book full of illustrations. It was about a bullied orphan who left boarding school to live in a haunted house and marry a black-haired man, and though now and then I had to ask my mother to decipher a word, I was enthralled. No one told me I was too young for Jane Eyre.
My parents are devoutly Christian, members of one of the few Strict Baptist chapels left in Essex. It’s hard to explain how it was to be brought up in that chapel and that home: often I say, laughingly, “I grew up in 1895”, because it seems the best way of evoking the Bible readings and Beethoven, the Victorian hymns and the print of Pilgrim’s Progress, and the sunday school seaside outings when we all sang grace before our sausage and chips in three-part harmony.
Though we by no means resembled an Amish cult, there was an almost complete absence of contemporary culture in the house. God’s people were to be “In the world, but not of the world”, and the difference between those two little prepositions banished television and pop music, school discos and Smash Hits, cinema and nail polish, and so many other cultural signifiers I feel no nostalgia for the 80s and 90s: they had nothing to do with me.