I am a lazy intellectual, an academic slacker. A dilettante who likes to know a little bit about everything. I love to learn things, but I hate to read textbooks. Adults can't be all that different from their childish counterparts, because I've always been that way. Perhaps that is why I liked Horrible Histories books so much.
Every six months between the ages of eight and twelve, my teacher handed out book catalogues from a mail-order company. I'd circle at least half the books with my pencil and take the catalogue home to my parents. The only ones my father would buy me were the Horrible Histories – I guess he thought that books on history must surely be educational. Little did he know that they were full of blood, gore, violence, and dirty jokes.
That's not to say that they weren't educational. I cried at the Victorian women in the mines, forced to crawl on their knees, harnessed to the heavy coal carts. I laughed at the slang from the 1960s and the 1800s and the 1660s. I looked skeptically at my mother's make-up after learning that Georgian women beautified themselves with belladonna eye-drops that made them blind and lead face-powder that leached poison into their skin. I obsessed over the Aztec sacrifices of adolescents, the bodies piled high in bloody pits. I had nightmares about the Roman fisherman who trekked across the country to offer a fish to the Emperor, who decreed it too small and ordered the man to be skinned with the scales of the fish. I played the same games as children in the First World War.
I had always liked reading stories, but before Horrible Histories I hadn't realised that interesting stories could be true.
I think it's safe to say that almost everything I know about history I learned from Horrible Histories books. They've got me through school essays and pub quizzes – I sometimes even get a few questions right when watching University Challenge.