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from The Wind in the Willows

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By John

A photo of John Simmons

I fell in love with Mole the first time I heard about him. He definitely entered my ears before my eyes because Mr Whitfield read the story to us in class, breaking it into small chunks at the end of the school day, like pieces of cake for tea.

Until this moment, at the age of eight and three quarters, I had had no desire to read. But this was a story that wrapped me in a warm blanket and I listened enthralled. “’Up we go! Up we go! till at last, pop!, his snout came out into the sunlight.” I was captured in the spell of a story and it still has me in its hold.

At the end of each school day for that wintry term, a mole, rat, toad and badger became my real world. I couldn’t wait for the tedious hours of the day to lumber along until we neared the journey’s end, the story that would send me skipping home through open roads beside a caravan, stumbling through wild woods covered in snow, carried down a canal on a barge, puzzled by the piper at the gates of dawn but enchanted by his mystery.

My mum must have been thrilled when I asked for a copy of this magical book. Up till then, my only reading had been comics – Dan Dare and Roy of the Rovers were my heroes. Mole couldn’t have been more different, stretching the possibilities for heroism to a more everyday level. Mole showed you could become a hero simply by caring, by being nice to other people.

On my ninth birthday, my mum gave me a copy of The Wind in the Willows. She inscribed it to me “nine years old”. I don’t know how long it took me to read it but in my memory it was only a matter of a few hours. From a three-page comic strip to a 200-page book in one Toad-like bound of sudden enthusiasm. Overnight I became a reader of books; I longed to get home and read more.

Other heroes stepped from the pages of books by Captain WE Johns (Biggles), Richmal Crompton (Just William) and Rosemary Sutcliff. But none of them ever supplanted Mole, because Mole showed me the joy of reading. And that showed me the joy of writing.

Home time

Mole settled down to listen

wrapped in a comfort blanket

woven by words;

Mr Whitfield seemed less ratty

when he was Ratty’s voice;

Toad went “poop-poop”

through the corridors of school

disappearing into the distance

just before going-home time.


They still live in this book

inscribed “from mummy”,

a gift instilling

a lifetime of reading,

memories as present as closing your eyes.

The 26 writing group has worked with The Story Museum as part of its 26 Characters exhibition. The group have produced a collection of poems, and couldn’t resist being part of the gallery of favourite characters.

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