I’m going through a bit of a stage in life where I’m reminiscing my childhood – a lot! A lovely childhood in which I was very fortunate to be surrounded by books and regularly taken to both bookshops and the local library. Nowadays whenever I go near anywhere selling secondhand books I’m always drawn to the children’s section – looking for things that I had in my own childhood. I’m pretty sure that’s where my Ladybird collection started, but I don’t limit myself to Ladybird books.
As a child I was obsessed with the idea of being either a Detective or a Spy. That was basically all I wanted to do and it possibly explains why I still love crime fiction as much as I do. These fascinations came from two series of books published by Usborne and I can still clearly remember stumbling across these books for the first time and then spending hours and hours pouring over them when I must have been Junior school age.
From what I can remember (and what I’ve pieced together from the Internet) there were two series. The Good Detective Guide and The Good Spy Guide. Each consisted of three books, but there was also a combined version of each: The Detective’s Handbook and the Spy’s Guidebook.
As a child I think I had all the separate versions, but also one of the combined versions too. All I think bought in a random little stationery shop in Rotherham where my parents used to often take us on a Saturday whilst they bought stationery for their office.
Clearing out our garage recently I stumbled across a pile of children’s books that I must have picked up in a moment of longing for the simpler childhood that I had, compared to those my kids seem to have today. One of these was Catching Crooks from the Good Detective Guide series and it instantly took me right back to being sat in my garage den at my parents house as an 8 or 9 year old.
Catching Crooks went alongside Fakes and Forgeries and Clues and Suspects and I must have spent hours and hours reading and re-reading these books. In particular I remember being obsessed with finger prints for a while and my friend and I making sure that we took the fingerprints of our bemused parents and then we made ourselves a little box file to keep them in. We were convinced that one day the police might knock at the door asking for our help with a local crime and we’d then be able to pull our our fingerprint cards with a flourish and prove that no one in our families was responsible.
We drew maps of the local area, looked for safe routes should we ever had to escort valuables through the area and kept a log of cars and their numberplate going down our street. I now wonder what the neighbours thought we were up to!
I wasn’t just obsessed with being a detective though. The spy series included Secret Messages, Tracking and Trailing and Disguise and Make Up and again I poured over all these titles, convinced that I’d soon get the call to use everything I’d learnt to be the first female James Bond. After all I’d mastered using lemon juice as an invisible ink so what more did I need to learn?
Oh the innocence of it all is adorable as I look back. There’s part of me though that wishes my kids could be that obsessed about something they found in a book rather than just being obsessed with Minecraft and Roblox!
I’m desperately trying to declutter our house at the moment so really don’t need any more books in the house, but I can’t deny that there’s a part of me that would love to have both series again so I can properly reminisce over all the titles. Both spy and detective work has moved on considerably from the 1980s, but there’s a big part of me that wishes it hadn’t, and that we could go back to old school techniques in a simpler world.
Should you too want to go back to the 80s for some innocent job training for kids then eBay is where you need to go. Both the Detective Guide and the Spy Handbook are available, and not that expensive either. I wonder if either MI5 of the Police have any jobs going for a middle aged mum of three that can blend in quite well at the school gates?