Whether set in far away places full of mythical creatures, amid the colourful pageantry of times gone by, or in the work-a-day real world of the here and now, stories serve to unite and to educate, to share tribal traits and beliefs, to warn, to question received wisdom, to show novel ways of thinking and to capture new ideas, to pass on skills and techniques, to place the current day in the context of the past, and - above all perhaps - to entertain.
Many books that you read in a lifetime will change the way you think about the world, but arguably none more so than those that your read (or hear) in your very earliest years. The magic contained in the books you read (or which are read to you) as a child is so spellbinding that it can remain with you all your days. Those talented, clever people who write children's books have an almighty burden upon their shoulders: for their words - and the worlds they create with them - are quite literally capable of shaping young minds. Paradoxically, of course, a child might not remember all the details of the carefully crafted characters within a story - nor even who the book was by or what it was called - but he or she may take away the essence of the story and make it part of his or her own human fibre.
One such for me was a story that was first read to me and then read by me when I was able to do so. At one point in it, the little girl puts on her Sunday-best dress, packs up her tiny brown suitcase and goes to stay with some neighbours, the Cocoas, for a few days. This thrilling event is called a Cocoa weekend. So of course all my life, my mother, my sister and I have always referred to a few days away as being a Cocoa weekend. I can't for the life of me remember what book it was in. I wish I could. But no matter, the essence has remained even if the title is lost now to my childhood memory.
And so it is that the dog and I are about to embark on our latest Cocoa weekend. I'm off in the morning to Lancaster to collect Roo from university, to drop her belongings into storage for the duration and to bring her back home for the long summer holidays - a Cocoa vacation perhaps? Meanwhile, Kaos has gone to stay with my mother in a canine version of the same thing, except with a lead and collar and tins of dog food rather than a pile of suitcases and a car full of computer equipment. Roo and I should be back home again on Monday evening.
And whilst I'm enjoying my Cocoa weekend, I will try my best to retrieve from the dark dusty corners of my brain what the name of that wonderful book was.
The British Isles: from Mercator's 'Atlas or Meditations of a Cosmographer on the Creation of the World and on the Form of Created Matter' 1595.