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Gaining work experience in Oxford’s bookshops

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A dismal homecoming
Brian Aldiss Writer
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Did I read all of The Odyssey? I can't remember. It was certainly a long journey and finally, of course, the climate got colder, things got drearier, but eventually we moved round the British Isles and into the port in Liverpool – Liverpool docks. And we were all getting excited. There was going to be a band to meet us, and crowds there cheering us.  Three years abroad in the Far East! No one there. Not even the lowliest sergeant major. Just empty docks. And I've always thought that was a swindle, that they couldn't muster someone to come and welcome us. Bastards! Really, really horrid.

And so, well, we got on a train and we went back to Aldershot and there we checked out and as we left by the gate, there would be a corporal with a slate, and he would say, 'Well, now, chaps, that wasn't too bad, was it? Why don't you sign on for five and seven?' Get lost! Off we went, bought some sort of civilian clothes and dispersed to our destinies.

And England was run down and it lacked the vital electra that they had in the East. The East was buzzing, and England was awful... terribly dead. And where did I go back to? Where were my parents then? Oh, I don't know. Anyhow… oh, they were down in Barnstaple, yes, so I also went down to Barnstaple. And I couldn't bear it there. I had to get a job... I had to do something. And so, one day... I suppose after some tiff with my father, I went down to Barnstaple railway station and got on a train that came to Oxford. There's a new chapter for you. And, yes, and so in Oxford I made my living – as I still do.

Brian Aldiss (1925-2017) was an English writer and anthologies editor, best known for his science fiction novels and short stories. He was educated at Framlingham College, Suffolk, and West Buckland School, Devon, and served in the Royal Signals between 1943-1947. After leaving the army, Aldiss worked as a bookseller in Oxford, an experience which provided the setting for his first book, 'The Brightfount Diaries' (1955). His first science fiction novel, 'Non-Stop', was published in 1958 while he was working as literary editor of the 'Oxford Mail'. His many prize-winning science fiction titles include 'Hothouse' (1962), which won the Hugo Award, 'The Saliva Tree' (1966), which was awarded the Nebula, and 'Helliconia Spring' (1982), which won both the British Science Fiction Association Award and the John W Campbell Memorial Award. Several of his books have been adapted for the cinema. His story, 'Supertoys Last All Summer Long', was adapted and released as the film 'AI' in 2001. His book 'Jocasta' (2005), is a reworking of Sophocles' classic Theban plays, 'Oedipus Rex' and 'Antigone'.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Aldershot, Oxford

Duration: 3 minutes, 11 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2014

Date story went live: 17 August 2015