It Runs In the Family

Niamh's bookcase at home

Growing up, two things have always been constant in my life: books and music.  

Some of my earliest memories involve carrying a shoulder bag that would always weigh me down with the book I was reading that week – if I ever left the house without one then it seemed life itself would simply end – and of walking into my grandparents’ house to hear music playing through the wooden speakers. My granddad loved playing everything, from minimalist jazz to Canadian folk.  

On a visit to my dad’s childhood home, the halls echoed with the sound of the albums my granddad just had to show my dad and the music brought everything to life. I would walk into the living room, where the two would exchange book and film recommendations and sit on the couch, feeling the rhythmic thump on the floor from my granddad tapping his foot to the beat. One, two, three, four; one, two, three, four. He would lean up against the floor-to-ceiling bookshelf, adjusting the volume every now and then whenever my granny would tell him it was too loud, and just get lost in the music.  
It was a tradition – a ritual, you might say – that my dad grew up with; something still upheld to this very day. When dinner was finished, they would clear the table, do the dishes and then go to relax on the couch with music on. 

Niamh and her dad Sam

Niamh and her dad Sam

Nine years ago, when my grandparents moved to a new town, I was worried that this tradition would somehow end, or at least dwindle. They were moving from a house they had created those family rituals in and I didn’t want them to get lost along the way. But that didn’t happen. In fact, it was actually rather the opposite.  

Not only did my grandparents bring all their books, music, and even the same old brown speakers, but in the transition period from old to new house, my dad brought those traditions to me. Our little, wooden house in the quintessentially English town of Whitstable, too, was one with bookshelves and stacks of CD’s at its heart. A colourful array of books lined the shelves; a sea of Chabon, Murakami and Auster, to name a few. My dad got new speakers and was always so proud to show me and my mum the bands he loved when growing up, and he even let me play my old favourite songs (most of which I’m too ashamed to admit). I remember coming home from school to Sir Duke (You Can Feel it All Over), my dad whistling along and asking me to guess when the beat was about to kick in. When it wasn’t Stevie Wonder, it was always some kind of jazzy brass band or The Beatles. But mainly The Beatles. And when my grandparents come to visit, the same thing happens, except now it’s my dad who plays the music and recommends the latest books.  

Watching this exchange of likes and dislikes, ‘you have to watch this, you’ll love it’ and ‘don’t even bother’, has impacted on me a lot. At the time, I didn’t know how much of an effect it would have on me in my later years but looking back now, I realise how it has shaped my life. The music, books and films that I have grown up with have ultimately created the new tastes that I have today. I find myself listening to music now that has the same vibe as music that has been there my whole life, and it’s taken me until now to truly realise that.  

Books and music are now at the heart of everything I do; who I am. They have always been a huge part of my family’s identity and I want to carry this tradition with me for as long as I can.   

Niamh and her granddad Colin

Niamh and her granddad Colin

by Niamh Hitchmough