Today is a very special day – Charles John Huffam Dickens, one of my favourite authors, was born today 200 years ago. Ok, plenty of people are talking about this, writing about it, and there’s several Dickens-themed things on TV, so what can I add ?
Well, I feel like Charlie (first name terms and you’ll see why) has been stalking me all my life. I grew up in the area where he lived in the latter part of his life and died. Indeed, as a teenager my paper round included his former home at Gad’s Hill, now an independent girl’s school, and all of the surrounding streets, all named after him and his characters. He wrote A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Our Mutual Friend and half of Edwin Drood there. Gad’s Hill was also a setting in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1 by the way – the pub across the road named the Falstaff Inn being a bit of a clue.
I went to scouts close to an old forge reckoned at the time to be the inspiration for the forge in Great Expectations, and I’ve walked several times across the marshes that feature so prominently in that book in particular. Including my most recent walk there, which came complete with full Dickensian fog and associated eeriness. I half expected Magwitch to pop up at any moment.
And another coincidence, Charlie wanted to get his debt-ridden father out of the way of the temptations of London and rented a cottage for him in Alphington on the outskirts of Exeter, Devon. You guessed it – that cottage was opposite the end of road I used to live in. Not to mention the fact that I share my birthday with his day of his death.
So that’s Dickens, my favourite classics author, and one who I feel a special connection with.