Five Get Into a Fix part 2: All about Aily

Last week I finally posted the first part of my review, having been intending to do so for over a month. But we all know that time goes funny over the Christmas period and barely seems to count, so really, it was just a week or so. And it’s done now, and I’m keeping up by publishing part two, now!


Aily is one of those curious characters that only seem to exist in Blyton books. The kind who you may wonder is entirely human, sometimes.

Julian and Dick first meet her while they are at the chalet on the hill. They are not sure if she is a boy or a girl at first, only that they must be very cold.

It was a small girl coming alone, a wild-looking little creature with a mass of untidy curls, a face as brown as an oak-apple – and very few clothes! She wore a dirty pair of boy’s shorts, and a blue blouse – or it might have been a shirt. Her legs were bare, and she had old shoes on her feet. She was singing as she came, in a high sweet voice like a bird’s.

The illustration on the left is from the first edition, the one on the left is from the serialised story in Enid Blyton’s Magazine.

With her she has a little dog, and a lamb. All three are pretty wary of the two boys, though the dog is able to be tempted with a little ham. The lamb then wanders over and Dick, in a unusual move for him, takes hold of it and won’t let it go unless the girl comes to talk to them. He might do something like that in the midst of a mystery, when finding out a bit of information might be crucial, but otherwise it doesn’t seem very like Dick, even if he is very gentle with the creature.

Anyway, with the kidnap of her lamb and the bribing with biscuits, the girl is persuaded t talk to the boys. She does not speak much English and they have to talk slowly and clearly for her to understand them but she introduces herself as Aily, the dog as Dave and the lamb as Fany.

She also tells them (in a round-about way) that her father is a shepherd up on the hills, while she lives down the hill somewhere. With that she simply gets up and runs down the hill.

As Dick says:

What a funny little creature. Like a pixie of the hills, or an elf of the woods. I quite expected her to to disappear in smoke, or something. I should think she runs completely wild.

I see her as as a younger version of Tassie from The Castle of Adventure, I wouldn’t be surprised if she wandered about in the winter in just her dress and perhaps even no shoes.

Aily is also revealed to be even more Tassie-like when the boys ask Mrs Jones about her.

That mad little thing! She’s the shepherd’s daughter – a little  truant she is, runs off from school, and hides away in the hills with her dog and her lamb. She always has a lamb each year – it follows her about everywhere. They say there isn’t a rabbit hole of a blackberry bush or birds’ nest that child doesn’t know…

She’s as wild as a bird – there’s nothing to be done with her. If she’s scolded she goes off for weeks, no ne knows where. Don’t let her some round that hut now, when you’re there – she’ll maybe steal from you.

It’s not clear just how old Aily is, but old enough to supposed to be at school. Perhaps 7 or 8? Though in the illustrations she looks younger. Mrs Jones obviously has quite a low opinion of the girl, while the Five of course are much more taken with her.

Aily’s family

After moving up to the hut they meet Aily’s mother coming down the hill. It’s not clear if she has merely been to see her husband, delivering a meal perhaps, or if she has been looking for Aily. She has no better an opinion of her daughter than Mrs Jones does. She ask the Five to tell Aily, if they see her, to tell her not to stay out that night.

That child! She’s fey, I tell you… You tell here there’s a good whipping waiting for her at home if she doesn’t come back tonight. She’s like her father, she is, – likes to be alone all the time – talks to the lambs and the dogs like they were human – but never says a word to me!

It’s quite an information dump there, which takes the children aback, especially when added to all the gossip she has already imparted about the old lady at Old Towers (more on that later).

Julian is smart enough to know that a promise of a whipping is not a good enticement for a child to go home, and says as much, and the woman goes off muttering.

Aily’s father visits them the next morning, and he is much more like Aily than his wife. Aily’s mother spoke English fluently, whereas the shepherd is halting and needs things repeated just like Aily does. Presumably he spends most of his time with the sheep and dogs, and talks to them in Welsh. He doesn’t mention Aily, so perhaps she did go home after all – that or he just isn’t that worried about her!

The only view we get of the shepherd from the first edition, on the left, and an alternative scene on the right from Enid Blyton’s Magazine.

It’s interesting that later, in the end chapters, Aily sees her father while she and the Five are in a bit of a dangerous situation. She makes no move to go to him, or even make him aware of her presence. It could be because she’s afraid of Morgan, as he does go to her and pick her up later when he spots her, but perhaps despite being somewhat alike they don’t have a great relationship.

One last point is that we never learn Aily’s last name, she is always just Aily (except when she’s that child, of course.) Her father is just the shepherd or Aily’s father, though her mother is referred to as Maggy once.

Aily’s secrets

Aily herself turns up later that day, so she probably hadn’t gone home. I know it says that she runs off all the time, especially if she has been scolded, but I can imagine her mother would have locked her up – or at least tried to, to keep her home for a bit. Mind you, I wouldn’t put it past Aily to go climbing out of windows.

She is far less shy this time, as she probably knows there will be food on offer. If she’s off roaming the hills – especially in winter – I wonder how much food she is able to scavenge. I wonder if Mrs Jones suspects her from stealing from the farm – perhaps cheese or milk from the  dairy, as that would be more accessible than food from the kitchen.

Aily confirms that she did not go home last night (George must have assumed that as she asks where she slept last night), but instead slept in the hay at Magga Farm. She then tells them more about Old Towers and the old woman there – things that her mother clearly doesn’t know, if it’s true. During this little interrogation it’s revealed that Aily can’t read, something she is perhaps embarrassed by as she tries to hide it.

She reminds me of Brodie, as when asked what some notes means she makes up nonsense about them saying that Aily is a good girl and so on. This is exactly the sort of thing Brodie does – he insisted that one of our Christmas cards said Happy Birthday Brodie, there are lots of present for you. But Aily is presumably a bit older than four, otherwise they’d not have expected her to be able to read.

Clearly she misses so much school that she hasn’t learned – though I also wonder if it’s a Welsh/English thing. I assume her Welsh speaking is much better than her English but I don’t know if they were teaching both in schools in Wales in the 1950s. I know that there was a time that the Welsh language (and history) fell out of favour with schools, but whether or not that would have affected a tiny village school in the 50s, I don’t know. It’s possible that Aily might be able to read and write in Welsh, and the Five just didn’t consider that.

Anyway, her story, and her information that there’s a way into the grounds and the inside of Old Tower is of great interest to the Five (for reasons we will look at later). But before they can ask her anything more Aily’s mother passes, and spots her. Aily tries to hide but her mother grabs her and shakes her, dragging her home to be whipped.

Aily comes through

Aily obviously manages to escape, however, as the Five find her hiding in the oil-bunker of their chalet that evening. She doesn’t want to go inside with them, so she clearly hasn’t hidden there in the hope of them looking after her. Julian suspects she might sleep there, as it’s sheltered, on occasion.

This time she has run away from home as Morgan (Mrs Jones’ son) came calling, having heard her story about Old Towers from Julian and Dick. She’s a plucky soul, though, as despite being afraid of Morgan (and I suspect rather wary of the goings on at Old Towers) she readily agrees to lead the Five to the secret way in. This is mostly because she’s fallen for Julian who has protected her from Morgan and looked after her. Much like Jo took a liking to Dick, and Sniffer to George, Aily is now willing to do anything to please Julian.

So the next morning they set off – Aily deigning to wear a hat and scarf only because they are they same as Julian has on. It’s funny as she complains that tobogganing makes her nose cold, but as the others point out surely she’s cold all over already.

The above scene is only illustrated in the Enid Blyton’s Magazine version of the story.

Like Tassie, Aily is the kind of kid who never gets lost and is able to guide the Five to the right part of the hill in the middle of a heavy snow fall. She is goat-like in her ability to jump down into the deep pot-hole she reveals to them and goes off into a dark tunnel, so her night-vision must be good!

Inside the house she just hares off alone to check where the caretaker is – and then shows them the kitchen where she takes a bit of meat-pie and eats it. I guess that answers the question as to where she finds her food. She’s also smart enough to have locked the sleeping caretaken into his room. She won’t go any further than a corridor on the second floor, though, as she is too afraid of the rows of paintings that line the walls.

Later Blyton says that Aily has a  simple mind as she believes that the thunder and lightening comes from inside the hill as that’s where a great rumbling comes from. On one hand that sounds quite harsh, but on the other it might be quite true. Living where she does – and hardly attending school – means she probably lacks access to the knowledge of the wider world.

Anyway, it’s Aily – and her lamb – that lead to the final climactic scenes in the book. Fany, the lamb, skips off the wrong way underground and Aily plunges after her right away, with the Five following soon after. And that’s how they get caught up in everything that’s going on under the hill.

What happens to Aily?

I’d like to say that Aily has a happy ending but she doesn’t really get an ending at all. She returns to Magga Farm with the others to have a good meal and then isn’t mentioned again. Morgan returns later, but I’d have liked to have seen her father come and be reunited with her, perhaps with Aily realising that her wandering and adventuring is perhaps a little too dangerous and agreeing to go to school a little more. In return her father might promise to let her join him at the weekends and teach her what he knows about animals and nature.

I had no idea I’d be able to write over 2,000 words about Aily, but there you are. I think I’ve managed to cover a lot of the story as it relates to her, so next time I will look at the other story elements and then get to the usual nitpicks and observations.

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Jacqueline Wilson Vs Enid Blyton

Six months ago, though it feels like less than that, I wrote about English Heritage vs Enid Blyton. The furore that time was over English Heritage updating their website to mention some criticisms of Blyton’s writing. I found the update poorly done, giving undue prominence to accusations of racism, sexism and so on, but defended their thought process in doing so. I was therefore pleased when they made a further update which added more positive information on Blyton, while retaining a slightly reworded paragraph on her controversies.

Although I have titled those posts English Heritage vs Enid Blyton, it would probably be more accurate to say it was English Heritage vs Enid Blyton’s fans, who on the whole took it very badly. There were some reasoned arguments both for and against, but also a great deal of ridiculous over-defensive nonsense.

And unfortunately we appear to be right back at that point with words and phrases like snowflake, PC brigade, woke, wokeism, (and for some absolutely inexplicable reason wokey cokeys), being thrown around by rather a lot of people who do not appear to know what they are talking about.

What on earth has Jacqueline Wilson done?

Jacqueline Wilson’s ‘crime’ is to have written a book. The book is The Magic Faraway Tree: A New Adventure. 

Primarily known for writing original children’s novels (my favourites include The Suitcase Kid, The Lottie Project and the Hetty Feather series) Wilson has, more recently, begun to write her own versions of classic stories.

The first, Four Children and It, came in 2012, and is a modern story based on Five Children and It by E Nesbit. I have read this and found it very enjoyable. It retained much of Wilson’s storytelling style but also the whimsical yet often troublesome nature of making a wish to a Psammead.

Then came Katy, in 2015, a modern retelling of What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge, and then another E Nesbit retelling, The Primrose Railway Children, in 2021. I have read and enjoyed both the originals of these stories, and I would like to read Wilson’s versions too, at some point.

And now, of course, it’s the Faraway Tree’s turn. There seems to be some confusion at the moment, as the book is not out yet. It is due out at the end of May, and so, naturally none of the foaming-at-the-mouth ranters on Facebook have actually read it.

What they have read, though, is the Daily Mail’s version of events. Judging by the Daily Mail’s article(s) they haven’t the foggiest clue what’s going on either.

When is a rewrite not a rewrite?

The Daily Mail doesn’t seem to know if this book is a rewrite or not. Hint: it’s categorically not. The clue is rather in the title of the book – The Magic Faraway Tree: A New Adventure.

In their sensationalist headline they call the book a woke rewrite, a phrase they use later in the article too.

But they also admit that Wilson has said the book is a follow on… rather than a rewrite. They also quote Wilson as saying I had such fun writing a brand new Faraway Tree book. 

They follow this (in their style of writing an article then adding related / contradictory / repeated content as captions to the photos used) with A beloved novel by Enid Blyton has been rewritten by Jacqueline Wilson to airbrush alleged sexist elements.

Then Mrs Wilson said: I would agree with you in that I’m not actually updating it, I’m following on.

They then quote the The Free Speech Union, Classic works of children’s literature should not be rewritten to make them more politically correct.

And claim that this new book is the second time the book has been changed. It was updated in the 1990s to change the children’s names from Dick and Fanny to Rick and Frannie.

And lastly: This year’s rewrite will also not be the first time Mrs Wilson has change other classic authors’ works.

So… is it a rewrite or not? Because the author (and the Editorial Director at Enid Blyton Entertainment) has clearly stated that this is a new book, yet the Daily Mail use the word rewrite (or a variation of) seven times, not to mention their uses of updated and changed. It’s almost as if they are trying to stir the pot by claiming that Wilson has done a rewrite of the original.

The Daily Express isn’t much better, though they stick to the rewrite story right until the end of their article, before extensively quoting Wilson saying that it isn’t a rewrite.

Enid Blyton ‘wouldn’t be thrilled’ with woke The Magic Faraway Tree rewrite..

ENID BLYTON’S The Magic Faraway Tree is being rewritten again for political correctness… undergoing a ‘woke’ gender-neutral rewrite…

After more than 70 years, Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree series is being rewritten to appease the political correctness of today…

The original book, which was released in 1943, will also be tweaked…

After Jacqueline Wilson was confirmed to be making some significant changes to The Magic Faraway Tree…

They also try to accuse Wilson of making alternations to the book, before finally getting to the truth.

The backlash

The Facebook fans have either not read the article or have not read it properly because the majority of them are bemoaning a rewrite that doesn’t exist.

Some of the more ridiculous criticisms included accusing Jacqueline Wilson of using Enid Blyton’s name to make herself famous.

Jacqueline Wilson. Dame Jaqueline Wilson, awarded an OBE for services to literature in schools. Author of over 100 books, books which have sold over 10 million copies and been translated into over 30 languages. Dame Jaqueline Wilson, Children’s Laureate from 2005-2007, a holder of five honorary degrees from UK Universities…  I think she’s already pretty famous, don’t you?

Then, as usual, the cries of What next?? Shakespeare? Well, first, it’s not a rewrite, and secondly, Shakespeare’s ideas have been adapted, lampooned and rewritten many times over. (Also suggested have been Dickens and Austen, who I’m sure have both had their ideas reused, though probably less often than Shakespeare.)

Here are ten books based on Shakespeare’s plays just as an example. It’s not on that list but even Moby Dick was heavily inspired by Shakespeare. And of course, there are countless films, including many which take the original plot and characters and plant them in a different environment. William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996) for example. Or my favourite bizarreness, the film West Side Story (1957) which is also based on Romeo and Juliet, then has a cheerleader remake (Bring It On 5: In It to Win It) where two opposing teams (also called the Sharks and the Jets) compete. I know these are films and not books, but as Shakespeare’s works are plays, designed to be performed rather than read, I think they’re still relevant.

There were also the usual accusations of trying to ‘erase’ history, which is blatantly untrue, as this is a new story set in the present day.

And lastly, there seems to be a lot of ‘leave Blyton alone’ comments. This isn’t an attack on Blyton. This is an author who loved the books, read them over and over as a child, and is now writing her own story – an homage, if you will.

The truth

Buried amongst all the woke rewrite nonsense is a bit of information on what this new book is actually about.

Three kids, Milo, Mia and Birdy, are on a countryside holiday when they wander into an Enchanted Wood. Among the whispering leaves, there is a beautiful tree that stands high above the rest. The Magic Faraway Tree is home to remarkable creatures including a fairy called Silky, her best friend Moonface and more. Birdy is delighted to find that fairies are real. Even her older brother and sister are soon won over by the magic of the Faraway Tree and the extraordinary places they discover above it, including the Land of Unicorns. But not every land is so much fun. Danger looms in the Land of Dragons. Will Moonface’s magic work in time to save the children?

I really like the idea that the Faraway Tree is always there, and now and again, children discover it. Perhaps not that often, but maybe once in every hundred years the right group of children come along and befriend Moonface and Silky and the Saucepan Man, who are of course, immortal.

To be honest, I’d have been happy if she had plonked Jo, Fanny and Bess in the 21st century and have them visit more or less the same lands and have the same adventures, but against a modern backdrop, because that sort of thing fascinates me. I often wonder about how the Famous Five would have fared in the present day, and have even come up with a few stories in my head about them as grown ups today.

But then again I love fan fic, and all the what-ifs it offers. What if the Famous Five were from 2022? What if Philippa Mannering loved animals, and her brother David hated them? (I created that one on the spur of the moment but now I’m definitely intrigued and will probably spend too long thinking about it).

And to me, that’s what this is. It’s fan fic of the most epic kind. Wilson is in the privileged position of being a famous author who is able to have fan fiction published on a large scale with powerful advertising. Anyone could write a Katy novel or anything by E Nesbit as they are in the public domain, but not just anyone could get them professionally published on a large scale. Only a select few are given permission to write in the Blyton canon.

If you don’t like fan fiction, or films which wildly reimagined the classics then this might not be for you. You also might not like it if you aren’t a fan of Wilson’s, and that’s OK. But otherwise to dismiss it out of hand purely because it’s based in the now, and therefore reflects more modern attitudes is, in my opinion, just daft.

I will of course be reading it and reviewing it when it comes out, and I would be interested in the thoughts of anyone else who reads it too.

If you want to hear what Wilson said in full you can listen to the Radio 4 programme for another couple of weeks, the interview is at around 2 hours 45.


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Monday #459

Last week I managed to break out of my time loop and actually post the first part of my review of Five Get Into a Fix.

Jacqueline Wilson vs Enid Blyton


Five Get Into a Fix part 2

“I shall go all gloomy and glumpish if you scold me as soon as we get here,” complained Snubby. “I feel glumpish already.”

Diana gave a little squeal of laughter. “Oh, Snubby—that’s a lovely word. Much better than gloomy. Do you feel down in the glumps?”

Glumpish is a great word, modelled on the name of Mrs Glump, owner of the Three Men in a Tub Inn at Rubadub.

rubadub mystery



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Five Get Into a Fix

I have been meaning to read and review this for a while, and having finally got around to it in the first week of January I realise that I am actually reading it at the time of year it is actually set. Which is quite nice, even if we have no snow.

As a side note, I am rather gobsmacked to realise that I haven’t read this book in over ten years. TEN YEARS. I know this as I started logging everything I read on Goodreads in early 2012, and I have not read it in that time. I knew it had been a while, but I hadn’t realised it was that long. The Fives are my favourite Blyton series, so I feel a bit guilty to have abandoned some of them for a decade!



A story in three parts

I didn’t divide the last book (Billycock Hill) into parts, mostly as I was too preoccupied with trying to work out why it’s my third least favourite Famous Five book. It was probably also because I didn’t have a good enough grasp of the storyline before reading it which is when I generally start this bit, fine-tuning it if my opinion changes after reading.

Anyway, Five Get Into a Fix is my 8th favourite book and so I have a much better recollection of the story.

I would therefore divide this one into:

  • The Five at home, and their first days at Magga Glen
  • The Five moving to the summer chalet on the hill and getting involved with Aily
  • The underground adventure and the ending

Off to Magga Glen

I had forgotten that the book started with a mention of Christmas. The Five are lamenting that they spent Christmas day in bed because of having a bad cold (seems a bit extreme to me, but from later descriptions it sounds as if they had a flu-like illness) and are still not feeling up to scratch.

As is often the case in Blyton’s books an illness means time to recuperate is needed, and doing that in your own home is only for the poor. If you have the money you go off for sea air, or mountain air, or as for the Five here a bit of both. I’m not sure that the actual air itself is of particular benefit (other than it being healthier than city smog) but a change of scenery, some exercise and so on is undoubtedly good for you.

The Five end up going to Magga Glen as fortuitously the gardener has overheard their plight and has an old aunt who lets farmhouse rooms in the Welsh mountains not too far from the sea.

All they need to do is pack copious amounts of clothing (more than they would if their mother/aunt wasn’t supervising I’m sure), plus skis and toboggans (doesn’t everyone had a shed full of these?) and they are off.

The first strange thing

Often nothing mysterious happens for a while, but we get one thing quite early on in this book. It seems like an isolated incident – nothing more than a wrong turn taking them to a locked gate guarded by an aggressive dog. Nothing too strange about that, lots of people have dogs and gates.

Even the when the car crawls heavily down the hill from the house, despite the accelerator being pushed down, it seems just a spot of engine trouble.

But then the tale of the strange magnetic hill reaches the Five’s ears. A hill that the postie can’t take his bike up as it becomes too heavy, a hill topped by a house inhabited by only an old lady who’s said to be off her head. 

Still, they’re not going to take a wrong turn again, and they certainly wouldn’t be going back up the hill to to the big old house for any reason.

When Welsh hospitality isn’t enough

The Five often camp out, or stay in caravans and so on, but sometimes they go to farmhouses or other homes (Five Go Down to the Sea, Five On Finniston Farm, Five Go to Smuggler’s Top). They don’t always stay the entire time – in Five Go to Mystery Moor the riding school is oversubscribed, so after a few weeks there for the girls they head off camping, and in Five Are Together Again they end up camping in field next to Tinker’s house, but this book takes the biscuit for short stays.

They stay just two nights, and if George had had her way it would have been even less. There’s nothing wrong with the house itself, or the hospitality. Mrs Jones is pleasant and tells them they can have the run of their part of the house, plus she provides them with ample food.

However George is silly enough to let Timmy off the lead where he runs into a few of the farm dogs, gets into a scuffle with them and sustains a small bite. George naturally thinks that this is the end of the world, and it’s just about the end of the holiday as she insists that she and Timmy need to leave for his safety.

Luckily there’s a solution. There just happens to be a summer cabin on the hill, all kitted out for small groups. And it just so happens to look across to the back of the hill that the old house is on…

Naturally Mrs Jones is sceptical. The house is designed for summer stays, not winter. There’ll be nobody to ‘do’ for them, and (probably) she has whole larder-full of food she had planned to feed them. But still, they are nothing if not persuasive and get their own way. Morgan, the enormous son of Mrs Jones lugs their stuff up on a sledge, and the Five are alone at last, and although they don’t know it yet, poised for another adventure.

In the next post: All about Aily, Noises and mists and shimmerings and something afoot at the old house.

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My 2021 in books and Blyton

Last year I did more in-depth round up of my year in books, so I think I’ll try to stick to the same format this year.

As I said last year (yes I’m being lazy and have copy and pasted this): Every year I set some reading goals. The main one is how many books – I generally start with a goal of 100 and if if I hit that early I’ll increase it, and I also have some looser goals that I don’t put actual numbers on.

Goal: read at least 100 books

What with the lockdown keeping me off work for over seven months I had a bit more reading time on my hands, so I hit 100 books in July. At that point I upped my goal to 150 and in the end read 166, so you can see that my reading slowed down in the second half of the year.

Last year I aimed for 150 and read 166, but I was on furlough for 7 months last year, while this year I only had two months on furlough. So I aimed for 100 books and read 121, which I am more than happy with.

Goal: Read more new books than rereads

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with re-reading old favourites, I love revisiting childhood books as well as things I first read a few years ago and enjoyed. I am blessed with the sort of memory which means I can reread a murder mystery two or three years later and still not remember who did it, but some books are so good that even if I do remember it doesn’t matter, I’ll still enjoy it.

Having said that, I think anyone would miss out massively if they only ever re-read books. I know I would which is why I try to strike a good balance whereby I read at least as many new books as I do old ones. Last year I read 115 new to 51 old, which is a great result for me.

This year I read 27 that I had already read before and 94 that were new.

I am terrible at maths but the internet tells me that last year 70% of my books were new, this year 78% were. Obviously that doesn’t take into account the length of those books, but either way, I hit that goal!

The rereads

Most of my re-reads came from me re-reading the whole Anastasia Krupnik series by Lois Lowry. I’ve read the first five probably a dozen times, the last three I bought as a grown up so I’ve read them a little less often.

Another series I revisited is the Aurora Teagarden series by Charlaine Harris, about a librarian who solves murders. I’ve read these all at least once before, in print, this time I’m listening to the audiobooks. I listened to six of the ten books last year but the covers aren’t very inspiring so I’ll just show three.

My re-reading of all the Buffy novels didn’t really get very far as I only managed two, and though I did continue with the Kinsey Millhone books, I only read two of those as well.

Most, but not all, of my Blytons were re-reads as well, but I will get to them later.

The new

There are too many new ones to list, but a few things I ‘discovered’ were:

The Robert Langdon books by Dan Brown. ‘Where have you been?’ I hear you ask. ‘Those books were huge about fifteen years ago, and now everyone hates them.’

Well, I’m almost always late to a good reading party. I just never had the inclination to read them before, but as they’re always on those ‘must read’ lists, I thought I’d give them a go. And, I really liked them. They were clever, fast-paced and I just tore through them. They were ridiculous, like the biggest summer blockbusters on 500 pages, but great fun. I really must watch the films now.

I was also late to the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children party. I have seen the film of that, though. I’ve been meaning to read the book – or as it turned out – books for a while, and now I’ve read the first two and I loved them. The fact all the photos inside are real vintage ones is just brilliant.

I was a little less late to the Thursday Murder Club party, I read that not long after the second book came out. I’m not sure I completely understood the hype – it was good, but only from about the half-way point on.

Goal: Read some books I’ve always meant to

My list of books to read is probably a mile long at this point, many of which have been there years yet I’ve never got around to them.

Lately I’ve tired to focus on reading one classic a year, reading some books that have inspired film or TV adaptations that I’ve enjoyed, and books that seem to appear on every ‘must read’ list.

The classics

This is the point that I rack my brain to recall if I did actually read any classics.

If we discount children’s ones (for the moment) then yes, I read Of Mice and Men by Joh Steinbeck – so chosen as I knew it was pretty short.

The children’s classics (all in audiobook format) were Alice in Wonderland (I could take it or leave it) The Secret Garden (I loved it), and The Phoenix and the Carpet (good, but not as good as the first book).

The books adapted for screen

As I’ve said before I love reading books that films were based on, and seeing films that were based on books, regardless of which order that happens in. I’ve already mentioned quite a few that have been adapted – a few of the Robert Landon ones, Miss Peregrine, and the above four classics. I also think that some of the Aurora Teagarden books have been made into TV movies though I haven’t seen any of them.

I can add to that Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (seen), 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (not seen) The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald (seen) and The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak (not seen).

Books on all those ‘must read’ lists

I ticked off quite a few must read books this year though I think I’ve mentioned all of them already.

The Robert Langdons, Gone Girl, Of Mice and Men, The Book Thief and Alice in Wonderland certainly all appear on a lot of lists – though they do not necessarily all appear on the same lists.

One that appears on some perhaps more niche lists (lists of paranormal fiction, or books you will like if you like Jodi Taylor, Ben Aaronovitch and Jasper Fforde) was Soulless – the first Parasol Protectorate book by Gail Carriger. I liked it, but not as much as anything by the three names above, and so I’ve not picked up any more of the series yet. It may be one of those ones that takes time to really get into.

Goal: Find a good balance between books for children’s and books for grown ups

Again, there’s nothing wrong with loving children’s fiction – there have been so many amazing books published for children, and more come out every day. But it is easy for me to fall into reading too many children’s books as on the whole they are much easier than books for grown ups. I think it’s important to challenge myself as I usually end up loving the grown up books I do read.

Last year I read 104 grown up books to 56 for children, and 6 for teens/young adults.

This year I read 77 for grown ups,  36 for children and 8 for teens/young adults, so percentage-wise not too different.


Goal: Read more feministly

This was a new goal last year and I did reasonably well, but I have shirked a bit in 2021.

I read a short book We Are Feminist, which was all infographics, by Helen Pankhurst (the great granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst).

The only other one I could count is The Radium Girls by Kate Moore, which looks at the appalling treatment of women who worked in American dial painting factories in the 1920s. Although there were men affected by radium poisoning – it was sold as a health tonic! – the book focuses on a group of women, generally lowly paid and not listened to when their health began to fail in horrific ways. The book details their long fight to have recognition that their work was the cause of their illnesses, some of the women fighting until their deaths.

I got a couple of interesting feminist books for my Christmas so my 2022 can start off well for this goal.

I have added a new goal along with this one, though, which is to read more about Black history and rights. I would have said read more racistly, but that just sounds like the opposite to what I want to achieve.

For that I read Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge and How To Argue With a Racist by Adam Rutherford.

Read more non-fiction

Obviously the above books on feminism and race are non-fiction but I think reading some of those last year reminded me that I should be reading more non-fiction in general.

I didn’t do a fiction vs non fiction count last year, but this year it was 22 non fiction to 99 fiction, which isn’t bad at all. A few of the non fiction were short photo-histories with descriptive captions, but most were of a decent length.

A few of my favourites from this year were The Radium Girls from above, a book that has really, really stuck with me, but also The Butchering Art – the story of how Joseph Lister revolutionised surgery (after a whole lot of fighting back from other surgeons) by introducing asepsis.

I also enjoyed some books about books – The Book Lovers’ Miscellany and The Library Book.

I am not a huge memoir reader (with the exception of historical nurses/midwives) but now and again I like to read more recent ones. This year I enjoyed Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher and Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills.

How did the pandemic affect my reading?

Last year it affected me more, I think, in that it gave me more reading time, but deprived me of my usual source of books – the library.

This year I was busier, and had access to the library again, but I think I’ve just gotten very tired of the strain and stress of living in a pandemic and so I went through several phases of not even picking up a book because I couldn’t be bothered.

Last year I read 73 ebooks, 51 physical books and 42 audiobooks.

This year it was 27 ebooks, 66 physical books and 28 audiobooks. Audiobooks take a lot longer to get through than reading the equivalent in text so with less time this year it’s not surprising those have taken a big hit. I also read less ebooks as I was able to borrow from the library again.

(As an aside I don’t think that the format matters, they all count equally, I just like to see the numbers!)

And finally, my Blytons

Well, this is what you’re here for, isn’t it?

As with last year I read embarrassingly few Blytons for someone who blogs about her every single week.

I was carrying on my reviews of the Famous Five books of which I managed four:

Five Go to Mystery Moor
Five Have Plenty of Fun
Five on a Secret Trail 
Five Go to Billycock Hill

I also read two new (to me) Blytons:

The Big Noddy Book #6
Chimney Corner Stories

I did read some things that are Blyton-related, or Blyton-adjacent, if you like.

Such as the excellent biography of her writing career – Enid Blyton the Untold Story by Brian Carter.

I also read a couple of continuation books, though all from quite different perspectives.

Well Done the Naughtiest Girl by Anne Fine
Five Go Parenting by Bruno Vincent
Return to Kirrin by Neil and Suzy Howlett

The unofficial one – Return to Kirrin – is the only one worth reading out of those three by the way.

There was also the truly awful Island of Adventure based on the also terrible tv episode, but the less said about that the better.

And then there are few of the if y

ou like Blyton type of books.

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
The Mystery of Tully Hall by Zoe Billings

Did you hit your reading goals last year?

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Monday #458

I feel like I’m stuck in a strange time loop where every week I say I’ll review Five Get Into a Fix and then something comes up that prevents me actually doing it. Maybe this will be my lucky week and I will actually manage to get it done.

My 2021 in books and in Blyton


Five Get Into a Fix

The boys were tired, but not too tired to examine the little hut thoroughly—though it really was more like a one-roomed house. It faced across the deep valley, and the sun shone straight into it. Julian opened cupboard after cupboard, exclaiming in delight.

‘Bedding! Towels! Crockery—and cutlery! And look at these tins of food—and bottles of orangeade and the rest! My word, people who come to stay at Magga Glen in the summer must have a fine time!’

I’m sure it’s a very nice little summer house but it amuses me just how excited Julian is by mundane necessities such as bedding, towels and crockery. Oh, and the cutlery!

Of course I have in no way chosen a quote from Five Get Into a Fix to prove that I have actually read some of it over the past week…

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December 2021 round up

I’ve still to do my year in books for 2021, so for now (and slightly late as I entirely forgot about it*) I will look at what I got up to in December.

*It would have been slightly late when I wrote that, it then became really quite late after I caught one of those 48 hour bugs before I could finish the post.

What I have read

I didn’t read a lot in December as there was a lot of other things going on. I had already reached my target of 100 books in October, so in total I read 121 books which is not bad at all.

  • Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas – Adam Kay
  • The Switch – Beth O’Leary
  • Love and Lies at the Village Christmas Shop – Portia MacIntosh
  •  The Book Lovers’ Miscellany – Claire Cock-Starkey
  • The Land Girls at Christmas (Land Girls #1) – Jenny Holmes
  • The Toast of Time (The Chronicles of St Mary’s #12.5) – Jodi Taylor
  • Crash Test Girl – Kari Byron
  • Hollow City (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #2) – Ransom Riggs

As you can see I managed to squeeze in a few Christmas-themed books.

I didn’t quite finish:

  • Last Scene Alive (Aurora Teagarden #7) – Charlaine Harris

After someone else told me a year or two back, they didn’t like to end the year with any unfinished books I have tried to finish all my books by December 31st. I had two others unfinished this year as well, but I’ve been reading them on and off for a while.

What I have watched

  • Hollyoaks
  • Only ConnectTaskmaster and House of Games, the first two of which had some Christmas special episodes.
  • On Tuesday nights we watched some Christmas films – Godmothered, The Family Stone and The Holiday.
  • By myself I watched the third Christmas Prince film – A Royal Baby, which was just as silly as the others, but good festive fun.
  • We’ve finished Hawkeye, and I’m now on series five of Charmed
  • Episodes three and four of Malory Towers series two, which I have of course reviewed.
  • The Last Duel, which turned out to be rather different than I expected. I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to the first 1/3 but then got interested in the last 2/3.

What I have done

  • Finished my Christmas shopping, and got it all wrapped – even slightly before the last minute.
  • We met Santa at the Transport Museum
  • I finally started and then finished a jigsaw of a bookshop (it was harder than it looks!)
  • Collected more sea glass and pottery from a few different beaches
  • Drank a lot of hot chocolate in cafes and even on the beach
  • Had daily visits from the Elf on the Shelf
  • I had a quiet birthday, as we just took a walk on the beach and had a chilly picnic, then had tea at my parents’ at the weekend.
  • We also had fairly quiet Christmas and Hogmanay celebrations, just seeing our immediate families but that’s not too different from usual, and it was a whole lot better than in 2020. We ate a lot of food and played some games so it was all good.

What did your December look like?

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Monday #457

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope everyone who celebrates it had a good Christmas. We kept our celebrations small, though not really any smaller than usual, and were glad to be able to mix freely with our immediate families unlike last year.

We are now into 2022 a year which will hopefully be better than either of the previous two.

The weather has started out very mild – making the traditional loony dook perhaps a mite more attractive than it would have been for our intrepid university students back in 1951. Perhaps we will still get snow at some point, though, perhaps even before I finish Five Get Into a Fix which I have been promising for a few weeks.

December round up


Five Get Into a Fix

New things are lovely, but a New Year, a whole, brand-new year, is a glorious thing to have. And there’s a New Year for everyone, too… a new year for you, and one for me.

I usually get quite maudlin on Hogmanay, thinking of another year over, but not so the past two years. I’ve been quite glad to see the back of both 2020 and 2021. Perhaps the hope for 2021 was a bit misplaced, but surely 2022 cannot be anything but better than the past two years?

The above quote is from Blyton’s From My Window column  in The Teachers World, from December 31 1924. I wonder what 1925 brought Enid.

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The Book Lovers’ Miscellany +/- Enid Blyton

This is one of those posts that requires an explanation first, so buckle up.

As you all probably know, I love books. I also love books about books. So much so I have a whole virtual shelf of books about books on Goodreads. (I also have one titled books about bookshops and libraries.) I like books where people talk about their favourite books, or their experiences of loving books as they grew up. Or books full of bookish facts.

And so, when I got The Book Lovers’ Miscellany for my birthday last week I dove straight in. As with any book about books I always hope and/or expect to see the name Enid Blyton crop up. Sometimes she does, but never as often as I anticipate. Surely she should be on everyone’s favourite authors list?

That then brings me to this post. Reading the miscellany I found myself inserting Blyton into several different lists, and being pleased when she was already in some of the others. And so this post will include my imaginary insertions, plus the real ones.


The Book Lovers’ Miscellany

Written by Claire Cock-Starkey and published by the Bodleian Library (who get mentioned quite a few times inside) this is a short book full of facts all about books, authors, publishers, booksellers and more.

Ever wondered how ink is made? Or what is the bestselling book of all time? Or which are the oldest known books in the world? Highbrow to lowbrow, all aspects of the book are celebrated and explored in The Book Lovers’ Miscellany…

Between these pages you will discover the history of paper, binding, printing and dust jackets; which books have faced bans; which are the longest established literary families; and which bestsellers were initially rejected…


Also in the ‘series’ are A Library Miscellany (which I also have, but am yet to read) and A Museum Miscellany. 


– Noms de plume

I’m not sure how many sections are in the book exactly, but I’d guess around 100. Even I couldn’t shoehorn Blyton into them all, but the very first one I could.

Quite a few examples are given, some I knew and some which I didn’t. I knew that the Bronte sisters wrote with men’s names but I didn’t know that Nicci French was actually Nicci Gerard and Sean French.

Absent was Enid Blyton writing as Mary Pollock*. There could even have been a footnote (there are many in the book) postulating the reason for the pen name, as I don’t think it’s ever been conclusively settled whether it was the war-time paper rations or Blyton wanting to see if her books still sold well without her name on them.

Personally I prefer reason number two. She was already getting around paper rations by having multiple publishers and had several books a year out without adding just six to the total.

She also wrote as Audrey Saint Lo and Becky Kent(short stories) plus Justin Geste (a play for grown ups).

*I couldn’t resist my own footnote to name the books written as Mary Pollock – The Children of Kidillin 1940, Three Boys and a Circus 1940, The Secret of Cliff Castle 1943, The Adventures of Scamp 1943, Smuggler Ben 1943 and Mischief at St Rollo’s 1943.

– Trilogies, tetralogies, pentalogies and so on

I now know (but will likely forget very soon) that a series with two books is a dilogy or duology, then it’s a trilogy, tetralogy or quartet, pentalogy or quintet, hexalogy or sextet and then heptalogy.

It was nice to see Lynne Reid Banks’ series The Indian in the Cupboard is a pentalogy or quintet, as although I knew it had five books I haven’t seen it so named – unlike, say, The Time Quintet (Madeline L’Engle) or the Millennium Trilogy (Steig Larsson).

Blyton could have been given as an example as she wrote some duologies (the Adventurous Four, The Wishing Chair), trilogies (Mr Galliano’s Circus, The Naughtiest Girl, The Faraway Tree), quintets (The Secret Series), sextets (St Clare’s, Malory Towers, The Barney Mysteries).

But what I need to know now is what do you call a series with eight books? Fifteen books? Twenty-one? Twenty-four? (The Adventure Series, The Secret Seven/The Five Find-Outers, The Famous Five and Noddy).

– Continuation novels

Listed are several famous examples but Blyton has dozens. Perhaps they weren’t mentioned as they are generally pretty rubbish!

The best I’ve read is probably the unofficial Return to Kirrin and the worst is a tie between any of the Naughtiest Girl ones.


+ Most prolific writers

I’m not surprised that of all the headings, Blyton also comes under this one, despite no exact number ever being settled on as to how many she wrote. (It’s hard to quantify as many of her works, even during her life time, contain partly or fully reprinted stories).

The number given here is ‘over 800’ though it is most often given as ‘over 700’, putting her in third place behind Corin Tellado (4,000!) and Kathleen Lindsay (904).

– Alternative book titles

I think everyone knows that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone became Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in America, but who knew that Casino Royale was renamed You Asked for It?

Likewise who knows that The Island of Adventure was renamed Mystery Island?

– Publishing rejections

Everyone knows that J.K. Rowling was rejected for Harry Potter several times, and there are several other high profile names on this list like Beatrix Potter and James Patterson. Gone with the Wind was rejected an incredible 38 times! There must have been a lot of publishers kicking themselves over that.

Blyton’s biggest rejection was for her only (known) attempt at a novel for grown-ups, The Caravan Goes On, though some of her short stories for grown-ups were published in magazines and newspapers. A play for adults (The Summer Storm) as also rejected.

+ Most translated authors

I knew Blyton would have to be on this list.

She is in fourth place with 3,921 distinct translated editions, after Agatha Christie, Jules Verne and William Shakespeare.

– Lost books

So many tragedies of lost books like Shakespeare’s Cardenio, but it got me thinking of The Caravan Goes On – mentioned above in rejected books. The original story has never been published and the contents aren’t known but there are theories that it was reworked into one of her children’s books. Mr Galliano’s Circus is suggested, but a more likely candidate is probably Come to the Circus, which deals with slightly more grown-up themes.

– Most popular children’s books

How could Blyton not appear here, you ask. Well, I don’t know either, but she doesn’t. It has been done by sales, and although Blyton has sold over 600 million books worldwide, none of her books individually have sold over 20 million, the lowest of the fourteen books listed.

I suppose this is fair enough, as you can’t argue with numbers like that, but I wonder how far down the list we would have to go before a Blyton book showed up?

Lack of Blyton aside this is a very interesting little book. Unfortunately my memory is terrible and I will likely forget most if not all of the facts I have learned, but that just means I’ll have to read it again some time.

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Monday #455

For those of you who love Five Get Into a Fix and were eagerly awaiting my review (I like to at least pretend there are people out there that feel that way about my blog, OK?) I’m sorry it failed to materialise, it was just one of those weeks.

I’m going to try again this week – as in, at least get the book off the shelf and start reading it but I’m making no promises as there are only five days to Christmas and you know what that means. Wrapping, last-minute shopping, more wrapping, the big food shop, cleaning and tidying, trying to cram in at least a few wholesome Christmas activities for Brodie…

The Book Lovers’ Miscellany +/- Blyton


Five Get Into a Fix

I’ve shared this one before, but I love it. From The Christmas-Tree Party (Tricky the Goblin and Other Stories, 1950) this one shows Janey watching the goings on in the house across the street. Although that might sound slightly creepy (Rear Window, anyone?) it means she’s in place to spot the Christmas tree about to fall over onto the dining table which has been set for a party. Thanks to her warning the neighbours she is nicely rewarded.

But enough about the story! The illustration is very obviously Eileen Soper (I think Janey is the spit of a young Anne) and I love her patterned jumper, though with different colours added to different pages (she’s alternately in pink, red and black/white) it looks like Janey changes outfits every hour.




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Even more of Enid Blyton’s Christmas stories

Blyton wrote so many stories that it’s hardly surprising many of them were Christmas stories. 

I have, in the past, written a series of posts covering as much of her Christmas output as I could – covering 1920-1945, 1946-1950 and 1951-1962. After that I discovered I had more Christmas content – some just had unobvious titles and others I had only acquired more recently. That lead me to write Christmas bits from Enid Blyton’s magazines and More of Enid Blyton’s Christmas stories.

And now I’ve discovered three more Christmas-themed stories in my collection, so it’s time for another post!

A Hole In her Stocking

I missed this one before as I didn’t think to use ‘stocking’ as a search term. In case you were imagining me piling up my hundreds of Blyton books as I check the contents pages of the books that have them, and flick through the pages of books which don’t, I actually just search the Cave of Books. That’s not to say that you won’t ever see me surrounded by piles of books as I’m researching and writing, but in this case it was more efficient to type ‘ ‘Christmas’, Santa’, and ‘Reindeer’ and so on into the Cave search bar!

All that aside, this one is easy to miss as it doesn’t sound very Christmassy. It could be about a hole in an every-day-wear sort of stocking.

Found in The Sixth Holiday Book (but originally published in Sunny Stories #317), this one is about a girl called Mollie. I rather relate to Mollie who is described as lazy. I mean who doesn’t flick a duster around a room instead of getting into every corner? Or uses a safety pin to make do for a missing button? I’d draw the line at going around with a hole in my sock just because it didn’t show, but only because I’d not be able to put up with feeling it all day. Then again I tend to throw holy socks in the bin because I can afford new, I might feel differently if my only option was to darn them. 

Unfortunately Mollie chooses a stocking with a hole in the toe to serve as her Christmas stocking (so my assertation that the titular stocking could be a regular one wasn’t so far off the mark). 

Even more unfortunately for Mollie all the presents that go into her stocking are exactly the kind which would fall through a hole – a pencil, a shilling, a stick of barley sugar and so on. 

Naturally she’s upset to find an empty stocking in the morning – but it’s odd to me that she is upset that They don’t think I’m a nice little girl. No one has given me anything. I thought that usually Santa filled the stockings, but perhaps in Mollie’s house he leaves a gift under the tree and other people put the gifts in the stocking.

Anyway, her family point out the hole and she finds the gifts scattered across the bedroom floor and promises never to leave her stockings undarned again.

I had in my head that this is a familiar plot to another Blyton story. There is One Christmas Morning where Robert has a full stocking from Santa but an empty pillow case from his family, but the dog has bitten a hole in the pillow case and the presents have fallen down the side of the bed.

A Hole in Santa’s Sack

I only recently found the last book in the Macmillan Readers series (The Magic Knitting Needles and other Stories) and therefore this Christmas story. It continues the theme of holes in things nicely, though.

I haven’t read it yet but I’m going to guess that Santa flies around accidentally dropping presents from a hole in his sack, and some kind children gather them up for him. Often Blyton is a bit predictable in her short stories, but then again, sometimes she’s not!

As it turns out Blyton scores in the unpredictability stakes here. The hole in the sack is caused by goblins who have flown after Santa in their aeroplane to steal presents. They only get away with one – though it’s a big one – before Santa notices and safety-pins the sack together again. (Bet nobody would call Santa lazy for that!)

The story moves away from the Christmas theme then, with the Goblins ending up being frightened by the toy in the box, which is then adopted by a family of rabbits. I hope no child was left disappointed by their missing toy that Christmas morning!

In Santa Claus’ Castle 

This last one didn’t come up in the search as it’s the final chapter of a story which appears in Enid Blyton’s Omnibus. The story is just called The Faraway Tree, and is another instalment in the Magic Faraway Tree/Enchanted Wood series.

Chapters one to three cover the children plus their friends going to The Land of Toys where they inadvertently turn into toys, and then get on the wrong side of Mr Oom-Boom-Boom. It is in trying to outrun Mr Oom-Boom-Boom that they arrive in chapter four and are advised to try the Land of Santa Claus.

Santa, being used to dealing with toys might just be able to turn the group back to being human, elf, and whatever Moon-Face naturally is. 

I’m not sure how it all works but the ‘time-table’ says that the next land to come will be the Land of Squalls, but the train time-table has journeys to the Land of Santa Claus, so that’s how the friends travel there. 

They find a snowy land – as the porter says, it’s always snowy there as it wouldn’t be any good for sleighs otherwise. 

Having ridden a sleigh to Santa Claus’ Castle initially Santa believes them to be toys and wants to put Silky at the top of his tree.

The solution is convenient for the friends, but oddly meta for us. Much like the story about Noddy meets Father Christmas where Noddy and Big-Ears are both real ‘people’ but also characters in books, Santa here has heard of Moon-Face and the others as children keep asking him for their books. There are three of them, in fact. Imagine that!

He has also heard of the slippery-slip and is delighted to be offered unlimited rides on it. It’s a simple matter of flying in his sleigh back to the Faraway Tree, and just as simple for Santa to turn the friends back into their usual selves.

I have heard mention of a Christmas-themed Wishing Chair story, but it’s not in either of the main books or the story in the omnibus. It’s possible that it’s in More Wishing Chair Stories which I don’t have. There are some newer books a couple of which appear to be Christmas-themed. Some of the new ones are written by Narinder Dhami while others appear to be reprints of Blyton stories, but I can’t see where they originally came from.

If anyone knows the story I’m on about, please tell me! 


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Monday #454

We are creeping closer to Christmas now, so let’s just hope that the Omicron ‘no C(h)rimbo’ variant doesn’t spoil thing too much for anyone.

More Christmas bits and pieces


Five Get Into a Fix

The Great Big Snowman can be found in Enid Blyton’s Happy Story Book and is illustrated by Eileen Soper. There must have been quite a lot of snow to make such a big snowman. But not so much to allow little boys to wear trousers instead of shorts!

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The Island of Adventure: the 1980s film

There have been a few adaptations of the Adventure Series over the years, and this is (to my knowledge) the very first.

I have already reviewed the 1990 adaptation of The Castle of Adventure with Susan George, Gareth Hunt and Brian Blessed. This does not continue on from The Island of Adventure, as it introduces the characters to us again and has them meet for the first time as well. I expect that the rights to Island were still held by the 1980s film makers, else they just didn’t want to repeat the story so soon.

It was definitely a rights issue which meant that the 1996 adaptation of the full series couldn’t include Castle, but that doesn’t explain why their replacement for it (The Woods of Adventure) is so dire. Mind you, the whole series is pretty awful.

I’m getting off topic, though. This 1980s adaptation is the first (as far as I know). I’m not clear as to where it was released, though. I have referred to it as a TV movie before and it does very much watch like one, but I am happy to be corrected.

I am being deliberately vague when describing this as a 1980s film as there are two dates online for it. IMDb gives 1981, which the BFI gives 1982.

I watched this on the DVD that I got for Christmas last year. The quality is not brilliant but I expect that it isn’t really any worse than when it was first released. It also appears to be on YouTube in full.

A slightly different story

I was honestly not sure where to start with this review as I have very mixed feelings about this adaptation. So I will start with an overview of the story as told in the film, noting particularly where it deviates from the book.

Like in the 90s Adventure Series the film opens with a dramatic scene unrelated to the children. This time a man in an orange boiler suit gets shot, then an obvious dummy in an orange boiler suit plunges to its death from the top of a cliff. A Royal navy helicopter collects the body from the sea. A different man (a dry one) holds up a one hundred dollar bill for our inspection. Two more helicopters fly over a rocky coastline. A hand burns a hundred dollar bill.

All very dramatic, and rather dark for an Enid Blyton film. There are guns in her books and now and again they are fired, but the shots always go wild. I can’t recall anyone ever being shot or plunging to their death from a cliff!

Then we return to slightly more familiar territory. We see Philip who is sitting on a bench talking to a pet mouse, and he hears a strange voice who turns out to be Kiki up in a tree. So far, so good if you can ignore the fact that Philip looks about 20.

Jack and Lucy-Ann turn up a minute later, also looking about 20, and Jack has been styled to look like a stereotypical anorak.

Here is where we deviate again. Only Philip is at Mr Roy’s school, which seems larger than in the book, while Jack and Lucy-Ann just happen to live nearby. Presently Mrs Mannering comes to collect Philip from the school. She drives a rather flashy convertible, which suggests that money is not an issue. In the books Mrs Mannering slaves away in order to pay for their schooling.

Jack and Lucy-Ann turn up again and Philip asks her if the Trents can come to stay at Craggy Tops (an ambush if ever I saw one) and she says she’ll telephone Aunt Polly to ask.

There must be some time passing between these scenes as Philip meets the Trents, and they say he shouldn’t call their house as their Uncle wouldn’t like it, but they can call the school. The next thing they turn up as Philip’s leaving and he introduces them as ‘friends of mine’, yet to our knowledge they’ve spent about 2.5 minutes together. He then says he will call them with Aunt Polly’s answer (never mind their Uncle then) so he must have their phone number by now.

It’s all coming across as rather contrived and unlikely at this point, and nothing like the excitement of them running away from Mr Roy’s school.

Joe (formerly Jo-Jo) picks them up at the station, and as with the 90s adaptation he is now a white man, however he is still foreign.

They manage to add back in the Trents being unwelcome as Mrs Mannering spoke to Uncle Jocelyn who said the children could come, but didn’t tell Aunt Polly.

The scene at Craggy Tops is quite close to the books, Kiki inadvertently sucking up to Aunt Polly by saying poor Polly, and Uncle Jocelyn ranting about not keeping the children but keeping the parrot if she wants.

The boys are still sent to sleep in the tower room overlooking the Isle of Gloom – or just Gloom as they refer to it – and Joe warns them off the island.

There’s then a bit of a silly scene where Kiki flies into Jocelyn’s room and Jack goes to ask if he’s seen her. Well she’s sitting out in full view if either of them just looked around!

Exploring the cliffs Lucy-Ann spots an archway/tunnel and cries look! Apparently Philip and Dinah have never noticed it before even though they live there, and it’s through that onto the beach that they find Bill.

Of course this is in a more dramatic way than in the book. Philip finds a boat and climbs in, only for a man in a wetsuit to come up from the water behind and get him in a chokehold. It’s rather reminiscent of the beginning of The Sea of Adventure when Bill grabs Philip having mistaken him for a spy in the garden.

Lucy-Ann asks him to take them to Gloom 2 minutes after introductions. He asks them some questions and of course is particularly interested in Joe. The children are unable to tell him Joe’s last name, as apparently Aunt Polly doesn’t know it, or where he came from. He just sort of appeared. 

Thank goodness that Jack is there with his astute observations. I think he’s foreign. He’s got some sort of an accent.

Bill takes them out on the boat straight away. At least Philip is suspicious after Bill’s attack on him. They have a nice time sailing around the island and when they get back Dinah kisses Bill on the cheek. Lucy-Ann is so forward (compared to her book counterpart) that she says if Dinah can kiss you I don’t see why I can’t and kisses him too. Earlier Dinah said I like him, about Bill in an almost dreamy teenage romance kind of way, but now, in response to Philip’s teasing that she has a crush on Bill she says he’s the kid of person she’d like to have as a father.

Still, the fact that Bill asks them not to tell their aunt and uncle about him, and the way he puts his arms around the girls later does seem rather creepy. Obviously we know he’s a good guy but it all comes off as a bit inappropriate.

They then try to add more complexity to the story. Bill takes them into town and they are to meet him for lunch at the hotel. In the book Jo-Jo is hanging around so after they eat they slip out the back way. On screen Bill knows the woman working at the hotel and rushes the kids out before they’ve even eaten anything. I can’t work out who the hotel woman is. Has he been in for lunch so often that she knows his favourite sweet? He kisses her twice and they seem genuinely fond of each other but a bit flirtatious too. She warns another hotel staff member that she saw nothing and should say nothing to anyone about Bill.

He then drops them back at Craggy Tops, right outside the gate after, though. Very clever if he’s trying to keep a low profile!

The boys then steal one of Dinah’s few triumphs from the book. In the book she absconds with a book and map from Uncle Jocelyn’s study, having spotted it by accident and asked him a few questions. Instead the boys plan to go in and steal a map. Somehow they end up believing that Uncle Jocelyn is part of the mining operation and Bill is from a rival company.

Then at last they’re off to Gloom. Being the 80s it’s a Coke can they find on the island instead of empty food tins.

The underground portion plays out more or less as it does in the book with the children getting locked in a cave minus Jack who’s off looking for Kiki. Apart from all the men wearing orange boiler suits and blue hard hats. It looks a much more professional organisation, with Johnathon Rhys-Davies as the Bond-type villain (Smith) lording it over all his minions.

The children don’t play-act at bad air but break the lamp and escape leading to a few minutes of confusing running around in the dark (they’re using torches, but it is actually dark! Usually torches are unnecessary on TV as it’s bright enough to see).

Having escaped the island they try to phone the police but the phone doesn’t work. Bill finds his boat has been set on fire – much more dramatic than them finding it has a hole hacked in the bottom – and goes to Craggy Tops. Discovering no dial tone he just knows that the wires have been cut.

Then we’re back to following the book as Bill and Philip go down the well to Jack’s rescue and get caught.

Rhys-Davies continues to play the Bond villain, explaining his entire operation and plans to Bill because it won’t matter, he’s going to die.

So Mr Cunningham, we meet at last… I shall leave you now. We shall not meet again.

At least he stops short of No, Mr Cunningham, I expect you to die!

This is all delivered in what I think is supposed to be a Russian accent, but Rhys-Davies is  a bit like Sean Connery and does most things in his own accent.

I was disappointed that they just climb out of the well shaft in the end, but I suppose flooding it and floating up would have posed some filming challenges.

There’s a brief scene in the middle of that where we see the minions escaping on dinghies in the dark, then the sun has come up and a submarine emerges only to be blown up by a Navy ship.

For some reason Smith and Jake escape the mines AFTER Bill and the boys.

It then all gets rather dark (in the thematic sense) for a Blyton adaptation as Smith shoots Jake not once but twice. Once from a distance and then again as he lies on the jetty. Then it all gets rather silly and overblown as they throw in a high-speed boat chase where Bill is after Smith. Smith makes it to a harbour and makes for a beach buggy (was it just waiting there for him?) but is caught by other officers. He then breaks a tooth and kills himself with cyanide.

Joe tries to climb the well shaft by Craggy Tops (how did he even know about this?) and the girls brain him with the heavy well bucket and possibly kill him.

We end with Bill talking to his boss who tells him he’s off to Afghanistan. Bill says he is going to visit the children again before he goes, and that one of these days he will get married. He boards a train to Cornwall and just happens(?) to be sitting beside Mrs Mannering…

The setting

This is so 80s it almost hurts. Though when we first meet Dinah she’s going a good impersonation of a 1950s pin up. The rest of the film she’s wearing a pair of knee high white boots – not very practical for scrambling around islands but probably very on-trend.

Craggy Tops isn’t very impressive. Rather than being a large and rambling house built into the cliffs by the sea its a smallish building built into a rocky mound some way back from the sea. The fact it doesn’t have electricity or running water makes it seem all the more archaic, even more so than it would have been in the 1940s. In the book they’re just too rural/inaccessible to be hooked up. For the film it’s explained as Uncle Jocelyn refusing to have mains electric and thinking that the mains water is poisoned.

The Island is ok, not that we see much of the outside of it. The caves and tunnels are fairly dark but they seem convincing enough.

The cast

As I said earlier the children all looked too old. Having checked IMDb, they were 18 (Dinah), 20 (Jack) and 21 (Lucy-Ann). I couldn’t find a date of birth for the actor playing Philip but his first acting role was as a ‘youth’ in 1976, so he was at least 18 if not older.

To be honest at first I kept expecting them to break into rude jokes like the Comic Strip Presents episodes.

There were no bad actors in this, but given their ages the children weren’t brilliant. Philip in particular was a little flat at times. I enjoyed Uncle Jocelyn’s scenes and he got some funny lines – his disbelief when Jacks says he calls ‘her’ Kiki, (he’s talking about the parrot of course but Jocelyn thinks he means Aunt Polly) is very funny.

Bill was OK, though not how I imagine him and I’d say the same for Mrs Mannering. Bill did get some good lines though, like what did you expect, the Ritz? when Philip complains that the undersea tunnel is grotty.


Overall I wasn’t terribly impressed. It stuck to the book in general (far more so than the 90s series did), but the added scenes with the Navy were unnecessary. They played out like stock footage from some other film as they were entirely unrelated to what was going on with the children. The various on-screen deaths were also a bizarre departure from the tone of the book.

A few changes (like the escape from the mines) I understand but why not have Jack and Lucy-Ann at the school to make their friendship more believable? And why did Mrs Mannering have to be shoe-horned in at the beginning?

Character-wise the children weren’t all that much like in the books. Philip’s pets were shown at the start but forgotten by the time they got to Craggy Tops. He and Dinah barely argued except over whether Bill was a good guy or not. Jack was introduced as bird-obsessed but did very little bird watching, and Lucy-Ann was much more confident than in the books.

They also missed one of my favourite parts – them discovering the secret passage from the beach to the house and then using it to trick Jo-Jo. Talking of which, Joe in the book is surly but not nearly as menacing as Jo-Jo.

Have you seen this? What did you think?

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If you like Blyton: The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner

I have been meaning to try this series for quite a while. I’m sure I’ve ‘bought’ at least one of the books when it was free on Kindle, but I can’t seem to find it now. Anyway, turns out my library has the first one in their ebook collection so, I have now borrowed it and read it.

Gertrude Chandler Warner and The Boxcar Children

Gertrude Chandler Warner was born in 1890 and was a first-grade school teacher, beginning in 1918 as men in the United States were being called up to serve in the First World War.

Having written eight books as requested by a religious organisation, in 1924 Warner decided to write one for herself, and that was The Boxcar Children.

She wrote a further seventeen books in the series between 1949 and 1976. The long gap between books one and two is because she waited until she retired from teaching before continuing the series.

Starting in 1991 the series was then continued by other authors and there are 159 books and 21 special novels, the most recent two from 2021. The original books are largely set in the 1920s and 30s, whereas the newer books are set at the time they were written.

One thing that is interesting is that in 1942 Warner rewrote the first book in order to simplify the vocabulary and shorten the story. This was to make it suitable as a ‘school reader’. It now has a prescribed vocabulary of six hundred words and a text of about 15,000 words. This is quite obvious when reading, as the vocabulary is very simple and at times repetitive.

First edition cover by Dorothy Lake Gregory

The original 1924 text is available via Project Gutenberg as the book entered the public domain last year. I will need to at least skim-read it at some point to compare.

The Boxcar Children and The Secret Island

There is no evidence that Blyton ever read The Boxcar Children, and why should she have. Although she was a teacher herself by the time it was written, it would have been unlikely for her to have chosen an American school book for her pupils. Firstly we know that she didn’t have the highest regard for the American way of life, and secondly she wrote so much of her own teaching material that she wouldn’t have needed to look anywhere else.

Despite that, there are several similarities in the books – though the theme of children having to survive by themselves is not new, there are many books where children are orphaned, run away, or even pretend to be living alone for fun. Blyton used the plot more than once herself – there are quite a few similarities between The Secret Island and Hollow Tree House, not to mention the Five running away (temporarily) in Five Run Away Together, and of course Barney from the Barney Mysteries.

The Boxcar Children (Jessie, Henry, Violet and Benny) are orphans who are supposed to have been taken in by their grandfather after the death of their parents. However, he is their father’s father and he didn’t like our mother. So we don’t think he would like us. We are afraid he would be mean to us.

They actually haven’t met him before, as he has never visited, but they are now on the run, living like Barney, moving from place to place and doing odd-jobs for food, money and shelter.

We first meet them outside a bakery where they offer to wash the dishes in return for a night sleeping on benches in the shop. They overhear the baker’s wife saying she will keep the older three to work for her, and youngest (Benny) must go to a children’s home and so they sneak off, and evade the couple when they come after them.

It’s a bit of an odd opening, very abrupt, and reads rather like a fairy-tale story minus the magical creatures. We don’t know how long it has been since their parents died, what happened to them, any detail on how the children have been surviving… but that may be clearer in the original, unabridged version.

Despite the slightly different circumstances, then, in both The Secret Island and The Boxcar Children we have four children who are on the run from their relatives.

While the Arnold children find the very well-hidden island, the Alden children (named Cordyce in the original) find the eponymous Boxcar.

They are nearly as inventive as the Arnolds as they string up a washing line, build a fireplace outside, dam a stream to make a pool and generally make their boxcar as comfortable a place as possible to live. While Blyton’s characters generally made beds of heather and bracken (which makes sort of sense as it is springy) the Aldens made beds out of pine needles. I suppose that’s all they had to hand!

Illustration from the abridged version by L. Kate Deal

They don’t appear to have planned their running away like the Arnolds as they have very little with them to begin with, a few pieces of clothing, some soap, Violet’s workbag, and towels all kept in a large laundry bag. This means they scavenge at a dump for cracked crockery and rusty cutlery when setting up their home.

One of four illustrations from the first edition, by Dorothy Lake Gregory

While Jack goes off to market days to sell berries and mushrooms, Henry (not the oldest, I believe, but the oldest boy…) goes into town and finds work at a doctor’s home, picking cherries and mowing the lawn and so on. Jessie, as the oldest girl is the ‘housekeeper’, though she has to wait for Henry to come home to light a fire for her.

Just like in The Secret Island, suspicions develop over this boy who doesn’t seem to have  a home, especially when all four children help at the doctor’s home and then an advert appears in the newspaper looking for four missing children…

One thing that isn’t similar is the food. The Arnolds don’t eat as well as say, the Famous Five, but they do not badly. They have fresh eggs and milk, flour to bake rolls, plenty of berries and mushrooms, fresh fish from the lake, plus all the lettuces and vegetables they manage to grow themselves. The Aldens have to buy in all their food, though I imagine if they lived in the Boxcar longer then they might have started cultivating their own. Instead they eat a lot of bread and milk, some cheese and blueberries, and Henry also buys some meat and is able to take some vegetables home from the doctor’s garden to make a stew.

The sense of danger is more muted for the Aldens than the Arnolds. They are eager to avoid their grandfather but they have not the fear of being treated as cruelly as the Arnolds have already experienced. They do hear a noise one night outside the Boxcar, and the dog they have found growls, so there is a brief period of tension but that’s all. They are unaware that the grandfather has put an advert in the paper, and as he lives in another town he is quite a distant threat as compared to the Arnolds aunt and uncle, and the men who come to search the island.

Spoiler alert!

One last similarity is that both sets of children are being looked for by someone kind. For the Arnold children it is their parents who are hunting for them, not the aunt and uncle. For the Aldens it turns out that their grandfather is a kindly man who has made every effort to make his house comfortable for them.

My thoughts

I enjoyed the story although I feel that is is a real shame that the reprint has been so dumbed down. Having looked at the first page or two of the original it is much better.

The original begins with the children and their father moving to a new town, and their father is a drunk. He’s dead within a paragraph and their neighbour (the baker’s wife again) stays with them overnight and plans to send Benny to the children’s home. They run away that night – packing a bag with the things we see them with in the reprint. So although it is still quite abrupt it all makes a bit more sense, and the events are clearer.

Based on that, and the few other bits I stopped and read I would definitely recommend reading the original edition.

Although I like the style of the original illustrations there are only four and they make five year old Benny look like a toddler!

It’s interesting that Blyton has been heavily criticised for the simplicity of her language while Warner deliberately kept the vocabulary limited – far more limited than anything I’ve read of Blyton’s. Warner does talk to the reader at least once, though (The children would have more than milk and bread, as you will soon see) which Blyton did quite often.

I’d like to read a few more of these to see if the rest are overly simple, or if she went back to her original style. Of course I want to check out one or two new ones to compare, as well.

I’m interested to see how the story continues as – mild spoilers ahead – the Boxcar has been moved somewhere new and is to be just a playhouse for the children, so it will  no longer be a survival story. The rest of the novels are billed as mystery stories, much like the Secret Series which went from a survival story to mysteries.

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Monday #453

Having just noticed that there was no Monday #452 published last week, I endeavoured to solve the mystery and investigated behind the scenes in WordPress. I could not find an unpublished draft, a post published with the wrong date or any evidence that such a post ever existed so I’m forced to conclude that what happed was I forgot to write one. Not exactly a mystery worthy of Fatty, then.

I’d like to blame the festive season but we all know that I make mistakes like that all year round! Talking of festive, I don’t actually have anything festive lined up this week. I have a few ideas but they need more work before they’d be ready.

If you like Blyton: The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner


The Island of Adventure: The 1980s TV movie

Christmas Eve at Kirrin Cottage—and the Five were all there together! They were up in the boys’ bedroom, wrapping Christmas presents in bright paper. Timmy was very excited, and nosed about the room, his long tail wagging in delight.

‘Don’t keep slapping my legs with your tail, Tim,’ said Anne. ‘Look out, George, he’s getting tangled up with your ball of string!’

‘Don’t look round, Anne, I’m wrapping up your present,’ said Dick. ‘There’ll be a lot to give out this Christmas, with all of us here—and everyone giving everyone else something!’

– Happy Christmas, Five!

Ignoring what happens later in this story (with presents being stolen in the night) this still sounds like a bit of a stressful Christmas to me. The Five not only wait until Christmas Eve to wrap their presents but they wrap them with the recipient(s) in the same room! Even I try to have my presents wrapped before Christmas Eve.


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Malory Towers on TV series two – Episodes three and four

After a slightly shaky start to series two, let’s have a look at episodes three and four.

Episode three: The Stray

There are at least four plots woven together in this episode, though three are quite minor and so don’t overshadow the main story.

The main story is about Ellen. In the books we know that as a scholarship girl she will be less well-off than the other girls, but I don’t recall it being of any great importance until they are looking for a thief. TV Ellen is shown as ‘poor’ over and over. Her Malory Towers dress is too large – when Gwen commented o9n this in the fist episode Ellen said her mother had bought it to last. She doesn’t have the right lacrosse kit – the other girls have beige jerseys with a logo while she has plain navy. Incidentally they played lacrosse in black skirts and white blouses last time so the new kit seems to have been brought in just to make Ellen an outsider. Her plimsolls are also far too large (bought to last again, maybe?), so large one flies off during their lacrosse warm up.

Sally begins to blossom in this series – I think the actress is coming into herself as well. Sally is no longer closed-off and is getting storylines of her own. As head of form she is worried about Ellen feeling like she doesn’t fit in.

Gwen, however… well, she’s just being Gwen as usual. She thinks it’s up to Ellen to make an effort and just send out for the right gym kit. Sally has to point out to her that as a scholarship girl she might not be able to afford that.

“Ellen already gets a scholarship, if she wanted a nice trunk she should have just brought one with her. They’re hardly expensive.” – Gwen

Gwen’s the kind of girl who will grow up to not understand why life is more expensive when you’re poor. I can see her asking why someone doesn’t just spend £200 on good quality boots that will last a long time instead of £20 supermarket ones.

Anyway, she is shocked to find out that Ellen is poor. But luckily for Ellen (or not as the case may be) Gwen is magnanimous enough to say that she will still be Ellen’s friend despite that. Though it would seem that it is mostly because she wants help with her French prep.

“I understand you come from poverty?”

“Well, I didn’t have a governess at home if that’s what you mean.”

“Same thing.”

Ellen is quite funny as she sees that too, and is somewhat sarcastic in her gratitude to Gwen, which Gwen takes seriously.

Ellen then has an outburst which is more characteristic of the books but comes rather out of nowhere. She calls Gwen lazy (which is kind of fair enough, as Ellen has been helping her with a lot of prep) but she also rants about how all the other girls have been lazy too, preferring to play tricks than work. Obviously she is worried about her marks as she only gets to stay on her scholarship if she does well, but it is a sudden outburst. Ellen in the book appears sulky and cross almost all the time because she is studying at all hours. Ellen does remind Gwen/us she’s never done Latin before, though we know she did well enough in the class test that perhaps suggests she studied very, very hard but we didn’t see even a hint of it. We do see her reading a book in her lacrosse kit, suggesting she’s studying harder than some of her classmates but it’s not to the stressed excess of the books (yet).

Anyway, Sally and the rest of the class (except Jean) decide that they are going to do something to make Ellen feel welcome. Their idea is to get together some old lacrosse kits and a spare trunk and give them to her.

Well, if you’ve ever read an Enid Blyton book you’ll know that her poorer characters hate charity. It’s a common theme in stories from all sort of authors – people don’t like being given handouts. I imagine people still feel like that now but it seemed particular common in the time before we had state benefits and the NHS. People were proud to cope with life and accepting charity could be seen as weak.

Ellen is no different. She’s humiliated by the girls’ actions and Jean gives them a talking to. It’s a shame as they really did mean well, but being genuinely wealthy they just hadn’t anticipated or thought about how it might make Ellen feel.

One of the other plots is actually connected to the title of the episode. I hadn’t paid attention to the episode title so when Matron’s kippers were stolen I didn’t twig right away. I thought aha, we have a thief! But kippers are a weird thing to steal…

Well obviously it’s a cat… Ellen finds it and tries to keep it starting a plot reminiscent of Katherine finding the dog in St Clare’s. Matron catches her as it turns out Gwen’s allergic to cats, and gets Ron (the gardener) to take the cat away but Ellen rescues it again. I can’t help but wonder why Ellen’s so bothered about the cat, has she really got the time and energy for it as surely we are leading up to her breakdown over studying so hard? Perhaps they’re just trying to make her more well-rounded but I’m not sure a secret cat plot was needed at this point.

The third plot is the one that I assume will run through the whole series, that of Malory Towers’ financial troubles. It’s a very small part of the episode as Darrell (who is still in remedial with Irene, now taught by Miss Grayling) sees a letter on Miss Grayling’s desk about debts and arrears, and she and Sally work out that the school might be sold and closed.

And lastly there’s the mysterious artist’s identity. Two more pictures are found, and Darrell is determined to find out who it is – even going so far as to plant coloured pencils in girls’ desks. That doesn’t work but the artist outs themselves anyway, and it isn’t Ellen as I previously thought.

Just one further thing, though not really a plot in its own right. It was Matron taking lacrosse in this episode (rather outside of her duties, I’d imagine, which might explain why she sat drinking tea while shouting at them from the side-lines) . She says that Miss Osbourne is unavailable – is that a new teacher as it was Miss Potts last year.

Anyway, Ellen storms off after the shoe embarrassment and Matron is fuming. She has Ellen meet with her later – in a summer house of all places. Matron is surprisingly kind to Ellen, definitely showing a different side of herself. It was almost as if she had been in Ellen’s shoes at some point. She talked about how the other girls don’t really understand or appreciate how rich they are compared to others. She also doesn’t punish Ellen.

Episode 4 – The Audition

This episode has slightly less going on – just three storylines.

The main one is Georgina Thomas holding auditions for a play about Lady Jane Malory and her lover Highwayman Jack.

Auditions are to be held at 2pm yet the posters only go up that morning, giving the girls very little time to get into pairs (they MUST audition in pairs, seemingly as Lady Jane and Jack even though there must be other parts) and learn any lines.

Gwen is desperate to get the leading part as her father is upset with her over something and threatening to stop her pocket money. She feels the need to do something to impress him, but nobody wants to audition with her, though Darrell eventually agrees.

Darrell you’d make a smashing highway man – you’re already so boyish – Gwen

I expect Gwen meant that as a sort of compliment, but yikes. It’s a wonder Darrell agreed.

They audition – for about thirty seconds, on a tiny stage in a small room. There are only a few other girls auditioning too, all from Darrell’s form. Gwen, who can’t act for toffee in the books is not bad. She does forget her line but Darrell says the wrong line first and throws her off. Yet Georgina makes Darrell read for Lady Jane and gives her the part…

As Darrell doesn’t want the part, she only did the audition as Gwen needed a partner, and Gwen is rather upset Darrell talks to Georgina and tries to get her to give Gwen the part. Unfortunately for Gwen Georgina is obviously a bit unhinged as instead she gives Gwen the role of Jack and decides to direct AND play Lady Jane herself… thus making the whole auditioning for Lady Jane in pairs pointless.

Saying that, there is a scene in the credits with Darrell playing Jack on stage, so it looks like it will all change around again.

During all that Gwen talks about her father and somehow ends up saying that her father is very ill, when it’s quite clear that he isn’t. She also seems to realise how much hard work a play involves, so she’s probably going to regret auditioning.

One of the minor plots involves Irene, who has been asked to give a note to Mam’zelle excusing her from class to write music for the play. Watching the scene where Mr Parker gives Irene the note, plus the love story song lyrics I just knew she was going to muddle them up, something about how the camera focussed on her putting a piece of paper in each pocket.

Mam’zelle gets the lyrics which read like a love letter, and sends a reply back with Irene, the first line of which talks about her and Mr Parker being free to declare their feelings.

First it starts out looking as if Mam’zelle is going to be embarrassed when Mr Parker has to admit they’re song lyrics, but then it looks like the two of them are flirting away… only for them to finally reveal they were playing a trick on the girls. Mam’zelle knew the letter wasn’t real, and her letter to Mr Parker revealed that after the first line. Quite a ‘risk’ to take, assuming that Irene would read the first line and only the first line of her letter.

The other plot includes a trick, too. A diary of Lady Jane’s turns up, and may contain more clues to her hidden treasure. Alicia brings Darrell and Sally a letter from it, and a map, which should lead to the gems – points to Stef for pointing out how new and clean the paper looked. Darrell and Sally go digging around only to find a chest with a note in it making fun, as it’s all Alicia’s joke.

It’s half in fun, I think, and half because the two of them are leaving Alicia out. She’s lost Betty and as they don’t want to tell her about the letter and the debts, they won’t let her join them in the treasure hunt.

Some additional thoughts

The remedial lessons are a nice bit of continuity from the last series, but there’s no mention of the leak in the girls’ dorm even after the ceiling fell in. It must have been quietly repaired in between episodes. Mr Parker has also faded into the background, apart from a couple of scenes in episode four, giving Irene the note etc, he’s barely been seen. Is that his storyline done, then? He arrived, was uncertain, over reacted and Mary-Lou talked him out of it?

Miss Grayling says that she grew up in the grounds of Malory towers and has searched for Lady Jane’s treasure many times, but even the newly found diary doesn’t solve the mystery. I hope we find out more about all of that!

I think these episodes were a little better than the first two, but they had too much going on. I think they could have left out the stray cat and the mystery artist for two stronger episodes, though the next one is called The Caricatures so it looks like the artist is going to become important for at least one episode.

Gwen’s still the best part of the programme for me, her facial expressions are brilliant. I think the actresses are really getting into their stride with the show now, although they were all good in series one they are better in series two.


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November 2021 round up

It’s now officially the Christmas season, so that mean it’s time to look back at November.

What I have read

I started out well in November, reading several books in two days each, but then, again, I picked up something that slowed me down. I have read 109 books this year, though, over my target of 100 so anything else I finish now is just a bonus.

  • Tinker, Tailor, Schoolmum, Spy – Faye Brann
  • Saving Time (The Time Police #3) – Jodi Taylor
  • The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine – Lindsey Fitzharris
  • These Our Actors (Buffy novelisation) – Ashley McConnell
  • The Telephone Box Library (Little Maudley #1) – Rachael Lucas
  • Death of an Avid Reader (Kate Shackleton #6) – Frances Brody
  • A Fool and His Honey (Aurora Teagarden #6) – Charlaine Harris
  • The Thursday Murder Club (Thursday Murder Club #1) – Richard Osman
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine’s Children #1) – Ransom Riggs
  • Bridge to Terabithia – Katherine Paterson
  • The Boxcar Children (Boxcar Children #1) – Gertrude Chandler Warner

And I’m currently reading:

  • Word Perfect: Etymological Entertainment For Every Day of the Year
    Susie Dent
  • Hidden Figures: The Untold Story of the African American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race – Margot Lee Shetterly
  • The Switch – Beth O’Leary

It has been The Thursday Murder Club that has slowed me down. Everyone has raved about how good it is, but I felt like I trudged through the first half. It did suddenly get a lot more interesting just as part two started, though, and I made short work of the second half.

What I have watched

  • Hollyoaks
  • Only ConnectTaskmaster and House of Games
  • Our Tuesday nights had more Baby-Sitters Club and we have finished the 8 episodes that made up series two. It wasn’t as good as series one, but still fun.
  • I’ve watched a few movies – Calamity Jane, The King and I, and to get in the Christmas mood – A Christmas Prince 1 & 2 (number 3 is up next!). Ewan and I also watched Jungle Cruise together.
  • We’ve started the new Marvel series of Hawkeye
  • Stef and I have watched Malory Towers series two  together – I’ve reviewed episodes one and two already.
  • I’ve also started watching Charmed again, and got through the whole first series. I’m not sure how many times I’ve watched through all the episodes but it has been a few years since the last time.

What I have done

  • Went up the hill to watch everyone’s fireworks as there was no organised display
  • Visited Transport museum (having taken out a years’ membership!)
  • Made regular library visits outside of working there
  • A few walks in the wood, even doing some geocaching along the way
  • Had lots of hot chocolate and cakes in cafes
  • A few walks on the beach and collected more sea pottery (rather a lot actually, I need to actually start using it to make something now!)
  • Put up the Christmas tree and some decorations
  • Visited our local museum to see a new exhibit of shops from the past
  • Cleared out my big living room cupboard so I can now easily get into my journals and magazines


What has your month looked like?


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Cunningham and Petrov: The Mystery of the Missing Children chapter 31

Last time Bill, Anatoly and Johns spent the night in Merthyr ready for their early morning trip back to the Mountain.

Chapter 31

The three men woke early the next morning, breakfasted, and then got in the car for Johns to drive them to the chosen meeting place on an abandoned airfield outside of Merthyr.
From Johns phone calls to HQ the previous day, they had to meet at the airfield because the helicopters were due to land just after daybreak and the men needed to kit them out.

They’d drunk plenty of coffee with their breakfast, and brought flasks of the hot liquid for later, though that was perhaps wishful thinking. There was a good chance the coffee would come back with them undrunk, owing to the unpredictable nature of the job.

By 7am the airfield, the former runways cracked and full of weeds, was a bustling hive of activity. Several other cars had arrived and disgorged various agents and a few scientists. There was a bit of an argument going on between the two groups, in fact, as there wasn’t going to be a lot of space on board the choppers, but the scientists wanted to bring more equipment than the nominated pilots were happy with.
Bill sighed and took charge of the situation, negotiating firmly but fairly. He then called everyone together so he could appoint Johns leader of the second team. He, Bill, would lead the first team from the top of the mountain downwards, with Anatoly as his second in command, while Johns would lead the other team from the bottom of the mountain, with Henderson as his second.

He knew he should probably have given Henderson control of the second team, as he had been in charge of all those men until this point, but Johns had been involved from a much earlier point.

“You all right to rappel down onto the mountain top?” he asked Anatoly as he mentally began dividing everyone into two teams. The scientists would have to wait on the ground, with a guard or two, until it was safe for them to enter, then the parts of their kit they were being allowed to take could be pulled up on ropes to the top of the rope ladder.

“I should be well enough at it,” Anatoly said with a wry smile. “I was always very good at climbing a rope in gym class,” he knew that wasn’t what Bill meant, but it was easier to tease Bill than to be serious with him. Anatoly felt that Bill was closer to being family than the service would have allowed under normal circumstances. Had it not been for his father, Anatoly wouldn’t have even had Bill. He smiled at Bill’s disgruntled face and saluted. “It is a privilege to be your second in this,” he added, with more seriousness to his tone. “A lowly agent as myself can never really hope to be given than honour.”

“All right, knock it off,” Bill said amiably. “I’ve nominated you already you don’t need to lay it on so thickly.” Decision made, he divided the remaining men into two groups. One team would board a helicopter with the scientists and land around where he and Johns landed with Philip, the rest would accompany himself and Anatoly and rappel down onto the mountain top. There were last-minute checks, were the ropes the right length, was there enough rope left to make harnesses, enough D rings, and so on, and then they were off.

The helicopters made the journey much faster and easier than by donkey, and with Johns and Bill navigating they didn’t get too close to the mountain in case they alerted the servants and paratroopers still there. Once Johns had successfully taken his chopper down and then was leading the men towards the entrance of the cave, Bill took his men back, higher up above the mountain, ready to rappel down to the platform.

Luck was with them, and nobody was on the flat mountain top. That really would have spoiled the element of surprise. The broken helicopter still sat there, like an abandoned carcass, and Bill hoped it could be coaxed back to life. He sent down the two men who were best at rappelling first, one from each side of the helicopter. Both had done their national service and a few extra years in the Royal Marines. Once they landed and disengaged from the rope they would hold them for the next two men.

Anatoly looked sideways at Bill, waiting for the order to go. He was kitted out and waiting for the command. “Shall we go?” he asked watching the boys on the ground. “We can give them some cover if the other servants appear.”

Bill adjusted his harness, which had been nothing but a length of rope five minutes before, one last time. “Read if you are.”
Anatoly nodded and attached himself to the rope, and started repelling downwards with a smooth practised motion. Bill followed him a few seconds later. Soon they were stood firmly on the plateau of the mountain, looking at the broken Helicopter. “You really did a number on it didn’t you?” Anatoly teased as he and Bill rid themselves of the makeshift harnesses.

“I’d like to see you try to land on the top of a mountain in the dark, lad,” Bill snorted before he turned his attention to the matter at hand.

He raised a hand and waved to the pilot of the helicopter hovering above, which then veered off to the side and began to descend to ground level, leaving them alone on the mountain-top.

“Pfeiffer, you get on at that helicopter and see if you can get it up in the air again,” he commanded. “Everyone else, weapon’s ready, we’re about to go in. I’ll be leading the way, but you’ve a map between three there, so consult those if we get separated.”

The men all nodded and drew their weapons, and with Anatoly leading from the front with Bill, they made their way into the mountain.

If any of the men had been looking for a thrilling game of cat-and-mouse, or even a good fight they would have been sorely disappointed. Food supplies were running low in the mountain and the remaining men had been disagreeing with each other about what the best way to escape would be. So in fact, they were almost relieved to have the decision made for them. Apart from two paratroopers who came to blows with each other, they put up next to no resistance and allowed themselves to be escorted down the tunnels to the rope-ladder.

When they got the men outside and counted them up, they realised that the helicopters would have to do at least two trips each to get everyone out of the valley. Bill radioed up to Pfeiffer to see if the damaged machine would live to fly again, but the news wasn’t good. The two helicopters they had would have to do all the work. Bill sent Anatoly to get Pfeiffer, who had been unfortunately left without a map to get out of the mountain, and then he set about dividing the agents, and the men they had captured up into groups to be transported.

By the time Anatoly and Pfeiffer reached the bottom of the rope ladder and emerged into the daylight again they didn’t have long to wait for the helicopters to return.

“Sorry boss, but the chopper up there’s going to need a whole new steering rig,” Pfeiffer said. “It’ll fly again fine once that’s in, but there was nothing I could do to fix it with just a few tools.

Bill nodded, “Understood. Thank you for looking. We can arrange that when we get back to civilisation.”

“What will happen to the mountain now Bill?” Anatoly asked after a minute. “Do you think we will move our own men in?”

“Fancy a bit of cave-dwelling, do you?” Bill joked. “Our scientists will be in for a while, anyway, then I suppose it’ll depend what they find. We might have to fill the whole thing in… or we might end up using whatever’s in there for our own benefit. Just have to wait and see. For now, I’d be happy never to see the place again. I just want to get back to the Evans’ farm for a slap-up lunch and enjoy the rest of my holiday.”

Anatoly laughed a little, “no, I would not like to live in that cave maze. I could go for that lunch!”
“Did someone mention lunch?” Johns asked, appearing at Bill’s shoulder.

“I did,” Bill confirmed. “Probably a late lunch, by the time we get rid of this lot… but I’m sure Mrs Evans will have kept it warm.”

“Not to mention, getting back from Merthyr,” Anatoly pointed out slyly.

“He’s right, we may have to eat in Merthyr and then get back to the farm for dinner,” Johns pointed out.

Bill consulted his watch. “We’ll see.” When they arrived at the farm they found Mrs Evans bustling around in the kitchen, and soon they were sitting down to eat, Bill, Anatoly and Johns, the four children, Allie, Mr and Mrs Evans, accompanied by Kiki, Snowy and Sally and her babies.

They argued good-naturedly as to whether the meal was a late lunch or an early dinner, and in the end decided that it would depend on each individual perspective, and when that person had last eaten so that everyone saved face.

“Though,” Bill said wisely, “if this is an early dinner, you’ve only got supper to come. I’ve still got dinner and supper.”

The end.


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Malory Towers on TV series two – Episodes one and two

I gave the majority of the episodes in season one a glowing review (The Dress being the only one I found disappointing) so I’m keen to see how series two holds up.

Episode one: The Head of Form

Episode one begins at the train station, though have just got off the train to get on the bus, rather than boarding the train so we don’t see her parents or Felicity. What we do see the contrast between the two years as now Darrell is popular. There’s all the usual chatter about bagsying seats beside friends and so on.

Gwen introduces the new girl – the new scholarship girl – Ellen, and gives Ellen a run-down of the other girls. I expect this is as much for the viewers’ benefit as Ellen’s. Immediately Gwen latches on to Ellen, I mean she’s the only girl who doesn’t know what she’s like!

At the school Alicia reveals that Betty has left – thus kick-starting the subtle fight between her and Sally over Darrell.

As the episode title suggests the episode is about picking the head of form. In the books this is done by the teachers and announced, but the show has decided to make it a vote. Mr Parker – the new teacher – ‘s first job is to take nominations. He arrives in the classroom just in time, to a chorus of giggles from the girls, as Darrell had bumped into him at the train station causing his case to fall open and reveal a teddy bear.

Gwen nominates herself – I think she just wants the time off sports for school council meetings – and makes Ellen second her.

Irene nominates Alicia – who I wouldn’t have imagined would want to do it, far too many rules and hard work – but it’s seconded by Jean.

And lastly Sally nominates Darrell, though Darrell had been about to nominate Sally. Of course the books have Sally as head girl, so this is an interesting development.

Almost immediately Darrell almost ruins her chances – they go down for a swim before breakfast (something Matron encourages them to do, though I don’t remember it being done last year) and she jumps in with Ellen only to discover Ellen can’t swim. It’s actually quite painful to watch! She has assumed that Gwen is holding Ellen back from swimming because Gwen herself hates is, and knowing what Gwen’s like it’s not an unlikely scenario, but she doesn’t ask Ellen, or give her a chance to speak. And of course Gwen uses the aftermath to get several digs in about Darrell’s temper.

Gwen’s attempts to become form-head are quite funny. She brings Matron flowers but Matron a) has hay fever and b) doesn’t have a vote.

She also puts flowers in the classroom and tells Mr Parker that she’d bring that in as a regular thing if she was head of form. Of course in the books there are flowers in the classrooms and the girls have a rota for watering them and cleaning the chalk boards etc.

After a period last year of it being somewhat forgotten Darrell’s word blindness/dyslexia shows up again. Mr Parker apparently hasn’t heard of it and humiliates her in front of the class over being unable to spell his name.  It’s quite bizarre how wild he goes – as if he’s been pushed to the limits but he’s only been there five minutes and the girls have barely given him any trouble.

Anyway, the upshot is that after Mr Parker gives Irene 200 lines for trying to stand up for Darrell Darrell loses her temper and has to withdraw her nomination.

She then nominates Sally (with no second it would seem) and we are probably back on track for Sally as form head just like in the book.

Alicia makes a speech full of jokes, and declares she’d get rid of detention and order-marks which I think is beyond her remit!

Gwen begins by saying she’s not just a pretty face, but Malory Towers has sharpened her less visible qualities, going on to quote Churchill about everything in her life being a preparation for this moment. So she bigs herself up on all fronts, smarms up to the teachers and makes vague promises. She’d make a good politician!

Sally is more down to earth. She wants to be a form representative, rather than a head, and represents the girls as individuals making things fair and even for them all. Though she leads by saying I don’t want to be head of form, followed by a long enough pause to make you think she’s standing down!

Mrs Grayling sets Mr Parker right on Darrell’s dyslexia and tells him to read up on it, but of course it’s too late for the head girl post which goes to Sally by one vote, Alicia coming in second, of course.

Alicia is much more disappointed that I’d have imagined but she perks up when Darrell reminds her that if she was head girl she’d have to behave. Gwen is also rather disappointed but I can’t imagine how she thought the girls would vote for her after her behaviour last term. Darrell did extend an olive branch but she must know she’s not popular!

The Alicia-Darrell-Sally triangle continues as Alicia wants to keep her plans for a trick secret from Sally, lest she spoil it. She also says that the head girl job is for girls as dull as ditch water so Sally is perfect.

She does however invite her to a midnight feast, where they play loud music and shout and dance – not very sneaky!

We get a hint into what’s to come as Gwen discovers a little drip by her bed and tries to get Ellen to swap her under false pretences, but the other girls stop her. You’d think Ellen would be pleased but she complains that she can’t please everyone at once – just a tiny hint of the attitude of book Ellen I suppose, though so far she has seemed fairly happy.

2 The Dunce’s Cap

The dorm roof is still leaking, again this is probably a hint that Malory Towers is falling apart and there’s no money to fix it. They apparently couldn’t even afford a bucket as the water is just pooling on a chair. Still, it gives Gwen the idea of soaking her unfinished French prep so that  it is illegible.

Unfortunately for her Mam’zelle Rougier just tells her to stay behind after class and redo it! I’m not sure if Mam’zelle simply saw through her story, or just didn’t care.

Also unfortunate is the fact that Matron knows they had a midnight feast and has words with Mr Parker telling him not to let the girls away with any nonsense.

Meanwhile, Alicia’s trick from her brother has arrived, a piece of pink chalk. Unlike in the book the chalk has no instructions so they are confused when it doesn’t draw. I’d have assumed it was to sneak into a classroom to baffle a teacher when writing on the chalkboard.


However, they play around testing it out and quickly discover that it is heat-activates. So, the trick is on. And despite Alicia wanting to keep Sally out of pranks in the previous episode, she makes no attempt to keep this one a secret from the head of form.Their first use of it is on Mam’zelle Rougier, using the distraction of Gwen’s sob story about the leak, and pull it off nicely.

Mr Parker, having taken Matron’s words seriously has brought in a dunce’s hat. I’d have thought that was an outdated idea by Malory Towers time but apparently it was still in use in 1950s America.

I thought this would be the start of the pressure on Ellen (her book storyline revolves around her being a scholarship girl under tremendous pressure to do well, so much pressure she makes herself ill and ends up cheating for an exam) along with her statement that she’s never studied Latin before, but in fact it is Mary-Lou that falls apart. She knows her Latin just fine but having to stand up in class and recite it, knowing that the Dunce’s hat awaits any girls who fail, it’s too much for her and she flubs it.

Darrell and Sally had made a joint decision to confiscate Alicia’s chalk to prevent anyone getting caught and having to wear the dunce’s hat but when Mr Parker makes Mary-Lou wear the dunce hat Darrell speaks out and then uses the chalk on his chair as revenge.

I was expecting a nice OY but what we get is a wonky O. Well, that’s what I thought anyway. Turns out it’s a D for dunce. The effect is the same – it’s obviously not a naturally occurring stain but the OY is pretty iconic so it’s a shame they changed it, even if tying it into the fabricated dunce plot is quite clever.

D is for Dunce or is it Derriere?

The second problem is that Mary-Lou was in the dunce’s corner behind the desk, so it’s going to look like she played the trick. The girls’ solution to this is to all join her in the classroom wearing their own home-made dunce’s caps. It’s a nice bit of solidarity, but I’m not sure how it was supposed to stop her from being blamed by Mr Parker. Gwen also takes part which isn’t like her!

Is there a collective noun for a group of dunces?

He catches them and Darrell says it was all her idea, but Mary-Lou (definitely their courage mouse as said in the first episode) goes out to talk to him about the psychological impact of the dunce’s hat, and he actually listens.

The episode ends with Darrell finding an excellent caricature of Mr Parker, but not knowing who drew it. Seeing as there were no caricatures last year, and there is one now that there’s a new girl, my money’s on the new girl.

So far that puts Ellen in the unenviable position of being Ellen, Belinda and possible Daphne too.

The sub-plot of the leak provides us some good comic relief in this episode, as Matron finally investigates. Having poked the ceiling she decides it’s a leaking pipe and sends Irene for the caretaker, but she is caught by Mam’zelle Rougier whose class she’s supposed to be in.

So that leaves Matron plugging the hole with her finger for ages, then using a tissue, leading to the drip becoming a pour and and finally her being soaked as the ceiling collapses. My notes from this scene simply read hahaha Matron. But honestly, she’s the absolute dunce of the episode. It’s a 1940s school, there must be plenty of buckets around, she could have stuck one under the drip and gone to get the caretaker herself. I was literally shouting at the TV GET A BUCKET, MATRON!! 

Some miscellaneous thoughts

The train station they arrive at is called PorthMallory, a new name for the TV show.

Other new names include some of the girls getting surnames – it’s Mary-Lou Linett, Jean Dunlop, and Irene Edwards.

Another even bigger change – and one that I can’t get over yet – is that Miss Grayling is being played by a new actress. She’s fine, but the first one was so perfect! I was wondering who the new teacher was at the start of the first episode as I knew we were getting Mr Parker , as I had missed Gwen telling Ellen (and us again) that she was the head! Obviously things happen and cast members become unavailable, and they’ve done well to have all the original girls come back, but I’m gutted nonetheless.

Miss Grayling with Mr Parker

I’m also missing Miss Potts as she was brilliant!

And lastly, I may be wrong, but I thought that it was usually just the boys that learned Latin at school – after all, they were the ones that would go on to become doctors and lawyers. If so, it continues to show Malory Towers as a somewhat progressive school following on from the girls learning chemistry the previous year.

My thoughts on series two so far

It’s early days but so far this hasn’t quite lived up to series one. It may well pick up, and I’ve still enjoyed it but something is missing.

I haven’t worked out Mr Parker yet, but he’s rather all over the place. He’s half panicked that he isn’t in control and half going over the top to be in control. It is quite a different dynamic, to have a brand-new teacher rather than an old hand. Hopefully he will settle as the girls are obviously suffering a bit!

They have tried to cram quite a lot into the first two episodes so far, and not all of it ties together very well. I’d have liked to see Mr Parker being pushed a lot further before losing it with the girls, perhaps the OY could have pushed him over the edge to bring in the dunce’s cap. I suspect that there’s some back-story there, with the teddy bear and his admission that he had to wear a dunce’s hat at school himself, but we will see. Jason Callender who plays Mr Parker gives a few small clues in an interview about his character development and highlights the fact that he is the first male teacher at the school – something that isn’t mentioned on-screen, but goes some way to explaining his behaviour perhaps.




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Monday #451

In case you missed yesterday’s post today is the day that Malory Towers series 2 comes to BBC iPlayer! Stef and I are going to have a watch-along of at least the first couple of episodes tonight (yes, we live hundreds of miles apart but we press play at the same time and chat on Facebook messenger as we watch!) and I will have a review ready for Wednesday.

Malory Towers series 2


Cunningham and Petrov: The Mystery of the Missing Children chapter 31

I think the book of the week has to be Second Form at Malory Towers which will be the basis for the new series of the TV show.

The Second Form features the unforgettable invisible chalk trick, not to mention the dramatic cliff-top rescue of Mary-Lou and the reveal that one of the girls is a thief. I can’t wait to see how the TV show handles all these plots.

Second Form at Malory Towers dust jacket 1957 reprint by Lilian Buchanan


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