July 2020 Round Up

Last month I said

This might be my last full month of [lockdown] before getting to go back to work but we will see!

I’m still off work with not even the suggestion of a reopening date, so maybe this month will be my last month of being stuck at home, but I’m not holding my breath.

What I have read

It felt like a not-so-good month numbers wise as I didn’t read much in the last week of July, I couldn’t settle on anything having finished all the Rivers of London books. Saying that I still have 18 titles in my read list! I reached my 100 during this month and have upped my target to 150, though I’m already 74% of the way there.

  • The Hanging Tree (Rivers of London #6) – Ben Aaronovitch
  • Welcome to the BSC, Abby (The Baby-Sitters Club #90) – Ann M. Martin
  • A Rare Book of Cunning Device (Rivers of London #6.5) – Ben Aaronovitch
  • Bandaging the Blitz – Phyll Macdonald-Ross
  • Lies Sleeping (Rivers of London #7) – Ben Aaronovitch
  • The October Man – (Rivers of London #6) – Ben Aaronovitch
  • Mallory’s Christmas Wish (The Baby-Sitters Club #92) – Ann M. Martin
  • False Value (Rivers of London #8) – Ben Aaronovitch
  • Stacey McGill, Super Sitter (The Baby-Sitters Club #94) – Ann M. Martin
  • The Adventurers and the Cursed Castle (The Adventurers #1) – Jemma Hatt, reviewed here.
  • Dawn and Too Many Sitters (The Baby-Sitters Club #98) – Ann M. Martin
  • St Mary’s and the Great Toilet Roll Crisis – Jodi Taylor
  • The Muse of History – Jodi Taylor
  • The Deeper Meaning of Liff – Douglas Adams
  • Undead and Underwater (Undead #11.5) – MaryJanice Davidson
  • Claudia Kishi, Middle School Dropout (The Baby-Sitters Club #101) – Ann M. Martin
  • The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts (Lonely Hearts Bookshop #1) – Annie Darling
  • The Picture Post Album – Robert Kee

As always I’ve got some on the go that I haven’t finished (way more than these three but I only list ones I’ve actually picked up in the past month!):

  • Dubious Definitions – Brian Allen
  • Little Stars (Hetty Feather #5) – Jacqueline Wilson
  • Tales From the Folly (Rivers of London short stories) – Ben Aaronovitch

I still haven’t read book three in the Unseen trilogy but that’s mostly because I couldn’t find it! I’ve either taken it out the cupboard as I knew I’d be reading it soon and it’s fallen down the back of something, or it’s still in the cupboard… the cupboard which is a disorganised riot of books after I repeatedly went though all the books there for my displays. I’m sure it’ll turn up eventually.

Once I finish the Rivers of London short stories that’s me done with the series until Ben Aaronovitch writes some more! There are some graphic novels but I find graphic novels really hard to follow. I might try the ones in the library when it reopens though.

I’ve still got plenty of Baby-Sitters books (which seem to get more and more ridiculous as the series progresses) to go, at least!

What I have watched

  • Hollyoaks, twice a week until they ran out!
  • Angel seasons 4 and 5, now to decide what to watch next.
  • Malory Towers on the iPlayer, which I have been reviewing two episodes at a time.
  • The Baby-Sitters Club on Netflix, a really really good adaptation of the first eight books, plus two episodes with a new story line. Good acting, good adapting of the source material, generally decent additions/changes where necessary. I hope they make more!
  • Tiny House Nation on Netflix – I love watching them build tiny houses with fold out beds and magic storage solutions. I could never “go tiny” as they put it, though, as no magic storage could ever hold all my books!

What I have done

  • Been for more local walks but also some further afield ones as we are allowed to travel now.
  • Play parks are also open again so we have been going to those a lot.
  • Children under 12 no longer have to socially distance so Brodie has been able to play with his cousins and spend proper time with his grandparents, aunties and uncle (and I’ve even had a few hours off when he’s gone to someone else’s house!)
  • We’ve had some picnics, including one in the rain, after which we played on the beach in the rain. The weather was great when we couldn’t do anything but sit in the garden, now we can go to the beach it doesn’t seem to want to stop raining!
  • Finished my book displays
  • Bought some more toy storage for the living room and did some online shopping for Brodie’s birthday – he will be three on Thursday!
  • Continued the 5 weekly workouts I’ve been doing which have included Tabata, Boxfit, HIIT, Body Balance, yoga, aerobics and pilates.

What has your month looked like?

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Monday #383

I’m not going to mention the L word. I’ve said it enough over the last several months.

Instead I’ll mention how Brodie has learned to say Noddy while playing with his Noddy figure and car. “Noddy car!” “Noddy house, snack!” (If you imagine lots of other words in there it meant Noddy is going in his car to his house to have a snack). I’ll have to get him watching some of the Noddy TV episodes again.

July round up


Cunningham and Petrov: The Mystery of the Missing Agent chapter 4

Darrell Rivers is one of my favourite Blyton characters. We first meet her at age 12 as she prepares to go off to boarding school at Malory Towers. She is intelligent and friendly but struggles to control her temper, a recurring theme though her six years at Malory Towers. She stands up for what she believes in even if she doesn’t always do it in the most sensible way, and by her sixth year has risen to head girl and gives out some pretty great advice to other girls.

Darrell as played by Ella Bright

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Fan fic Friday: Cunningham and Petrov: The Mystery of the Missing Agent chapter 3

In chapter one Bill (with his donkey code words) turned up at Anatoly’s flat and in chapter two they made some plans.

Chapter 3

When Anatoly had left for work Bill got up, stretched, and decided to do his best at giving himself a clean down. He also wanted to get some more coffee before he went out to costume up and look into travel plans for him and children.

After two cups of very strong coffee he locked up and walked to the tube station, taking a tube towards central London. He was on high alert at all times – he was always on alert but even more so right now – and his eyes scanned left and right constantly, looking for trouble.

He didn’t see any, not on the tube, nor on his walk to Simon Edgar’s house. Simon was an old friend. They had attended boarding school together, many many years ago. Bill had lost touch with most of his old school friends, but had run into Simon again as a young police officer. He wasn’t altogether above the law, but he was very useful and it was hard not to like him.

Simon was a small-time criminal. He worked for a theatre mostly, providing costumes and props as a mainly legitimate job. He also ran small hustles, hosted illegal gambling and wasn’t above handling goods that had ‘fallen off lorries’. He had helped Bill a few times over the years, providing information, mostly, and Bill felt he would be a good person to approach if he was looking for a brief change of identity.

His friend was not an early riser, so he was still in his dressing gown when Bill arrived on his doorstep.

“Well well well, William!” he said with a smile, stepping aside. ” I haven’t seen you in a long time! What can I help you with?”

Bill entered the cluttered hall, careful not to look too closely at any of the boxes lest he see something that would prick his conscience. “How do you know I’m after help?” he asked with a wry smile.

“Because you only ever darken my door when you’re in a spot of bother,” Simon replied.

Bill smiled a little, “Well you are right, I do need your help.” He moved into the living room. “I need a disguise. A good disguise. Have you got anything in that sort of line?”

“Well,” Simon eyed him up and down. “Depends what you want to disguise yourself as. I’m guessing that a pantomime dame ain’t what you’re looking for.”

“Nothing that will stand out,” said Bill with a chuckle. “Something like a teacher, something where we can obscure my face, perhaps.”

“Teacher I can do, but not a fancy one. Nice pair of glasses, maybe. I’ve got some good false beards as well. Come upstairs and you can try a few things out.”

“A false beard could be good,” smirked Bill.

“How about a nice wig, cover that glaring egg head?” Simon said with a broad grin, leading the way back into the hall and then up the stairs.

“You’re one to talk,” Bill laughed. “I can see your bald spot from here,” he teased.

“Least I’ve still got more hair than you,” Simon shot back.

“I can’t fault you there,” Bill agreed. “How have you been anyway, Simon? Any more close encounters with London’s finest?”

“Oh you know me, always ducking and diving!” Simon opened a door on the upper landing and Bill followed him into a room crammed with rails of clothes of all colours and styles. Sequins shimmered, both on garments and on the floor, there was lace and velvet and taffeta and various fabrics Bill couldn’t identify by name. All were slightly shabby and past their best, hence the number of sequins that had parted company with their costumes and fallen to the floor like so much rainbow snow.

What was interesting was that Simon had led a reasonably privileged life, privileged enough to go to attend private school even if it wasn’t one of the top ones. Yet he had submerged himself in the seedy underworld of London and played up to being a grafter, one of the lads, and somehow he fitted in just perfectly.

Simon went though his racks of clothes, pulling things out that might suit and fit Bill.
“How long have we got to get an outfit together?” asked Simon as he handed Bill a load of clothes on hangers.

“I want to use it today,” Bill said, though he didn’t go into any further detail. He could trust Simon not to let anything slip about his visit, but it was prudent never to give away anything more than was necessary. He flicked through some of the items he was now holding and immediately discarded the most garish of the options. He kept hold of some trousers; one with a patch on the knee, a few blazers and shirts and jerseys.

“Today? Well we will have to make sure it all fits straight away,” said Simon, raising an eyebrow. “Your sticky mess is that bad then if you need it today. Do you need to walk out of here in it, then?”

“It’s fairly bad,” he agreed mildly, thinking over his options. “No, I’d best not wear it out of here. People might be confused to have seen me come in and some old teacher leave. I’ll take it and change somewhere.”

Simon nodded. “Well you get trying those clothes on then, and I’ll look through which hair pieces I’ve got, and the hats while you find something that fits.”

To be continued…

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Malory Towers on TV – Episodes eleven and twelve

We are nearly at the end of the series now, only one more episode to go after these two!

In case you missed any of the previous posts:

Episodes one and two
Episodes three and four
Episodes five and six
Episodes seven and eight
Episodes nine and ten

Episode eleven – the spider

I keep forgetting the episodes have names but I will include them from now (and go back and add them to previous posts).

The titles give you a clue as to what part of the book will feature – and this time it’s the part where Gwen plays mean tricks on Mary-Lou and tries to blame Darrell and Alicia.

It begins with Gwen demanding Mary-Lou’s help with French prep but she’s too busy organising Darrell’s stockings by thickness. Gwen points out it’s weird and I have to agree! In the books Mary-Lou keeps tidying Darrell’s locker to “help” but she at least stops short of organising her stockings.

Darrell gets frustrated with her in both the book and the episode and Mary-Lou ends up smashing one of Darrell’s photos of her family while trying to kill a spider, and then the photo gets torn. Darrell is furious and snaps at Mary-Lou, saying she would like to send another spider her way.

It’s clever how they weave together different parts of the book. In the book it’s Alicia’s photo, and has nothing to do with a spider, but in both Gwen tricks Mary-Lou by putting a spider in her desk. However, in the book this happens in the first third and the rest of the tricks occur nearer the end. The TV show has condensed the story so that it becomes a more intense campaign of tricks.

As in the book Gwen cuts Mary-Lou’s tennis racket but she also puts her gym kit into a bucket of water. This causes her to catch a chill (but makes me ask how she could be so stupid as to wear a soaking wet kit) and therefore be unable to swim (in the book she just catches a cold), bringing us to the other plot of the episode.

Sally and Darrell hatch their plan to give Mary-Lou confidence and it goes pretty much the same as the book – Darrell pretends to be in difficulty in the pool so that Mary-Lou will throw the life ring and save her, only the ring isn’t there and so Mary-Lou jumps in herself. The only difference is that Mary-Lou actually pulls Darrell to safety, rather than needing rescued herself.

Tying in a future plot the girls buy Mary-Lou a fancy pen as a reward. (And Mary-Lou saves Gwen from a spider in an amazingly sudden show of confidence).

Episode twelve – the ghost

Stef and I said at the start of this that we’d better finally find out who the ghost is, and that it had better be good. We did and it was – I will give a spoiler alert before I give it away.

We have Mary-Lou seeing the ghost in the toilets just off their dorm room, and she thinks that the ghost is the one playing the tricks despite Gwen’s insistence that it is Darrell and Alicia.

Sally draws a map and marks all the ghostly sightings, working out that they all have their dorm and the san in common. She and Darrell plan an overnight ghost watch, and Darrell suspects it is Matron.

In following the ghost – who is nowhere near bulky enough to be Matron! – they discover a secret passage. There are no secret passages in the books but it is such a common Blyton plot point that I’ll let it slide.

They follow the ghost down the passage and it turns to confront them…

Here is your spoiler warning! Do not read on if you don’t want to know the identity of the ghost.

I want to say here that I CALLED THIS! I said to Stef more than once who I thought the ghost was, and why she was doing it and I was right. I even put my theory in my review of episode seven.

We get more hints that [Emily] isn’t all she seems. She tells the Riverses that her mother is a nurse but can’t remember where she works (and is a bit flustered about being asked.) I’m starting to wonder if they haven’t lifted a plot from another St Clare’s book and she’s going to turn out to be the daughter of one of the school staff with a free place there. (In episode 8 she refuses to recount her seeing of the ghost from the previous episode when a painting falls off the wall, and I suspect she might have been sneaking down to visit her mother, but we will see!).

Well last night I was insisting that Emily was the ghost, visiting her mother, Margaret in the san. I was right. It’s no secret at St Clare’s that Eileen is Matron’s daughter, but it causes various problems. In the show Margaret arthritis in her hands, meaning Emily has been sneaking down at night to help with her darning and other sewing work.

As if that isn’t dramatic enough Matron catches them (having been waylaid on her way to the pictures by Gwen telling tales about secret passages) and upon hearing Margaret has arthritis fires her on the spot. She’s actually quite kind about it – for Matron anyway. She says she is sorry that she is ill, but she must put Emily first and not use her as a helper seeing as it is affecting her school work.

It is down to Emily, Darrell, Sally and even Gwen to talk to Miss Grayling (who is thankfully back!) and tell her the problems they have had with Matron that term. Matron returns to form and denies knowing about Margaret’s arthritis and calls her lazy, but Miss Grayling doesn’t believe her.

I was baying for Matron to be fired but I knew it wouldn’t happen, if there is to be a second series she would have to come back and continue being the antagonist. Instead Margaret gets promoted to Matron of South Tower with her own assistant, and Matron must do her job without an assistant.

Then we end on some of the best acting in the whole series, and no surprise is from Danya Griver as Gwen as she smashes Mary-Lou’s pen. There’s no dialogue, just a whole host of emotions showing on her face from sadness to rage to satisfaction.

Random additional thoughts

It is a shame we have such a limited number of teachers for the series as it means Miss Potts is not only the first form’s main teacher but she also referees lacrosse and in episode 7 teaches chemistry too. (The Malory Towers girls never seemed to do science at all so it was good to see them getting a slightly more rounded education). It also meant that Mam’zelle Rougier was the one to deal with the spider trick, and her jumping around and screaming hysterically isn’t quite as funny (or as realistic) as it would have been with Mam’zelle Dupont.

Miss Potts is channelling a bit of Jillian Holtzmann it seems!

Talking of the spider the fake one was pretty awful – it wasn’t even the same size and shape as the spider in the live shots. What was good was the additional story of Gwen getting the gardener’s boy to catch the spider for her, pretending she was doing a project on spiders. Enid’s single line about Gwen catching one somehow now seems a bit contrived. (Odd how we get random scenes with this additional character who doesn’t have any real importance but we couldn’t have had a third teacher!)

Also added is the idea that there is a lifeguard for the pool – though it seems to be a school girl with a whistle (Alicia calls her Barbara when asking her to judge their race). When you think about the books it’s actually a bit mad that the girls are allowed to swim with no adult supervision all the time – and/or without a life ring being available! On screen the lack of life ring is screamingly obvious as the empty white board for it is right next to Mary-Lou so Darrell really should have noticed it! The life guard is pretty useless in any case as she just stands with the other girls at the far end of the pool and watches as Darrell ‘drowns’.

In a strange little added scene Gwen gives a presentation to her class all about the bouffant hair-do, using Mary-Lou as a rather unwilling-looking model. No idea what that was about other than filling two minutes of an episode?

As always the secret passage was extremely well-lit for a passage with no windows and no lights.

And lastly I thought it a shame that two important previous plots were completely forgotten about. Darrell’s ‘word blindness’ has either gone or she hasn’t had to write a single thing in class, and Pamela doesn’t seem to have come back from her debutante ball, not even to collect her belongings and say goodbye.

Just one episode left, then, which I will review soon and then I can give my thoughts on the series as a whole. I anticipate this last episode will reveal Gwen as the person carrying out the tricks on Mary-Lou, but I wonder what else they’ll throw in?

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Monday #382

Back to two posts a week for a while I think, now that the locked down library displays are done.

Malory Towers on TV Episodes 11 & 12


Cunningham and Petrov: The Mystery of the Missing Agent chapter 3

For all those children, and a few adults too, who find an escape into a safer and more attractive world in a book by Enid Blyton, it may come as a surprise that for the author herself the stories were also an escape. Her best writing was done at the most difficult times of her life. Much later on, when she achieved a mature happiness in her second marriage, some of the freshness went and the repetitive nature of the long adventure, mystery and school stories, of which her critics have complained, reflected the fact that her need to escape into the safe world of the child had almost gone.

A very interesting theory from Imogen Smallwood, Enid’s younger daughter, who sadly died in February this year.




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Locked down library displays weeks 14 and 15

Here we are at the end of my book displays. I still have no information on when I may return to work but I have more or less run out of ideas, and 100 seems like a nice round number to end on.

Week 14 is the last full week, though really at this point it was no longer 7 displays a week as I had to wait to retrieve/borrow some books from my parents’ house and there was some procrastination involved too.

Day #92

The Naughtiest Girl

Exactly what the title says, the Naughtiest Girl books. Including those by other authors along with the sign Harry sticks on Elizabeth’s back in the first book.

Day #93

Lesser-known Blyton books

I’ve used most of Blyton’s best-known stuff already, The Famous Five had their own display as did the Five-Find Outers and the Naughtiest Girl above, and I’ve used lots of other titles in other displays. Here are some I haven’t used before, ones I think less people will have heard of.

From the back left:

  • Humpty Dumpty and Belinda (one of two Collins Colour Camera books)
  • The Train that Lost its Way (one of 12 Brockhampton Picture Books with Eileen Soper illustrations)
  • The Troublesome Three (a picture-strip book)
  • The Daffodil Story Book (one of eight Foyle’s Flower Story Books, though this is a later and sadly abridged edition)
  • The Surprising Caravan  (another Brockhampton Picture Book)
  • Nature Readers #5 (one of 30 booklets each containing two nature stories, which originally came with large Eileen Soper prints)
  • The Enchanted Village (more of a booklet, about Bekonscot the model village)
  • Hurrah for Mary Mouse (one of 23 picture strip books)
  • Trouble for the Twins (one of 18 Brockhampton Little books with Eileen Soper illustrations, several titles are shared with the Brockhampton Picture books)
  • The Hidey-Hole (Blyton’s last published full-length novel)
  • Round the Year with Enid Blyton (a compendium of four books, one for each season)
  • Plays for Older Children (goes with Plays for Younger Children with music by Alec Rowley, first published in one volume as The Play’s the Thing).
  • A Book of Naughty Children (followed by A Second Book of Naughty Children, both illustrated by Eileen Soper)
  • Bimbo and Topsy (about Enid’s two daughters and two of their pets)
  • A Picnic Party with Enid Blyton (paired with A Story Party at Green Hedges, each having a narrative by Enid about the parties and then several stories, one for each child attending)
  • A Prize for Mary Mouse and Hallo Little Mary Mouse (more picture strip book)
  • Jolly Little Jumbo (another Brockhampton Picture Book)

Some close ups below:

Day #94

There’s been a murder!

That title should be read with the distinct Glaswegian accent of Taggart, aka Thurr’s been a murrderr! (ably done by David Tennant here).

That’s tomato sauce mixed with Worcestershire sauce on the knife, by the way. Nobody was actually murdered in the making of this display (I don’t advise using a real kitchen knife in a library unless you really do want a murder).

Day #95

Make, Do and Mend

Most of the books are my mums, but all the crafting supplies are mine. The title is from the government backed scheme to have people repair and re-purpose clothing during World War II as clothing was rationed. I’ve added the comma after make as crafting can be about making, doing and mending, rather than making do.

I really loved doing this one and thought it came out great, but you can’t make out all the detail from the photo so there are some close ups below.

Day #96

Career options

Just in case anyone was in need of inspiration.

Day #97

Fairy tales

Lots of Ladybird Classics which were beloved favourites in our house – I started to write which ones I especially liked but it was just about all of them!

Day #98


Alongside our Ladybirds we also had a lot of these Disney tales – some of which are retellings of books in the previous photo. (We didn’t have two Jungle Books, the larger one is one Brodie has acquired somewhere).

Day #99

The Babysitters Club

A selection of the different covers amongst the 130 or so books my sister and I collected between us. This is one of the few things we both enjoyed reading and we got together this week to watch the new Netflix series which was surprisingly good considering it had been modernised.

Bottom left are two of the original American-style covers, those on the bottom right have the ‘brick window’ style of the UK editions, and that’s what most of our collection looked like except the mysteries which are on the middle right, but they kept the roof motif.

I think I got into these by reading the mysteries – which are sort of Nancy Drew type stories – and at first found the regular stories dull in comparison. Then somehow I started enjoying the regular stories and I’m currently trying to read all the ones I missed.

Day #100

200+ years of children’s booksI nearly had to do this one on the floor as it was so big, but as I had done all the rest on the dining table I dragged it out, put up both the leaves and managed to squeeze all the books on.

I was also very late in doing this, well past what should have been day 100. Mostly because I was procrastinating, knowing it would be a lot of work. Also because I hadn’t decided on my criteria. I had originally had the notion that I would use the publishing dates of the editions I had, but that turned out to be both onerous and limiting. So I went with original publishing date – none of the books on the table are actually 200 years old!

Anyway, the books are:

  • Swiss Family Robinson – Johan David Wyss – 1812
  • Coral Island – R.M. Ballantyne – 1857
  • The Princess and the Goblin – George MacDonald – 1872
  • Heidi – Johanna Spyri – 1881
  • Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson – 1882
  • A Little Princess – Frances Hodgson Burnett – 1905
  • The Railway Children – E Nesbit – 1906
  • The Leader of the Lower School – Angela Brazil – 1913
  • Queen of the Daffodils – Leslie Lang – 1916
  • Kits at Clynton Court School – May Wynne – 1924
  • Winnie-the-Pooh – A.A. Milne – 1926
  • The House at Pooh Corner – A.A. Milne – 1928
  • In Storyland – Enid Blyton – 1934
  • An Exciting Term – Angela Brazil – 1936
  • Sue Barton Student Nurse – Helen Dore Boyleston – 1939
  • The Treasure Hunters – Enid Blyton – 1940
  • Five on a Treasure Island – Enid Blyton – 1942
  • Three Terms at Uplands – Angela Brazil – 1945
  • The Ship of Adventure – Enid Blyton –  1950
  • Merry Mister Meddle! – Enid Blyton – 1954
  • Saucers Over the Moor – Malcolm Saville – 1955
  • James and the Giant Peach – Roald Dahl – 1961
  • Cherrys to the Rescue – Will Scott – 1963
  • Rye Royal – Malcolm Saville – 1969
  • Fantastic Mr Fox – Roald Dahl- 1970
  • Ballet Shoes for Anna – Noel Streatfeild – 1972
  • The Princess Bride – William Goldman – 1973
  • The Witches – Roald Dahl – 1983
  • Anastasia on her Own – 1985
  • The BFG – Roald Dahl – 1982
  • The Steps Up the Chimney – William Corlett – 1990
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J.K. Rowling – 1997
  • The Bad Beginning – Lemony Snicket – 1999
  • The Naughtiest Girl Marches On – Anne Digby – 2000
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – J.K. Rowling – 2005
  • The Tree of Seasons – Stephen Gately – 2009
  • The Mystery of the Whistling Caves – Helen Moss – 2011
  • Murder Most Unladylike – Robin Stephens – 2014
  • Diamonds and Daggers – Elen Caldecott – 2015.

And yes, now I’ve typed it out I realise that I put The BFG in the wrong place.

I’m  a bit sad that my displays are done, but also quite glad as it was hard thinking up so many ideas! (Plus my shelves were always a mess with things being hauled on and off all the time).

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Fan fic Friday: Cunningham and Petrov: The Mystery of the Missing Agent chapter 2

In chapter one Bill turned up at Anatoly’s flat after spending the night at Mrs Mannering’s home (in the spare room, of course).

Chapter 2

The next morning Anatoly moved as quietly round his flat to dress as Bill slept in the arm chair. After he had dressed, he went to the small kitchenette and started to fry what was left of his bacon for breakfast, hoping to tempt Bill out of what couldn’t be a very deep sleep, he was sure.

Bill cracked one eye open. However quiet Anatoly had tried to be it was such a small space that it had roused him from his awkward dosing. “Just let me know if I’m in your way,” he said, drawing his feet back out of the kitchenette space.

“No no, I have worked around you,” Anatoly assured him. “Bacon sandwich for breakfast?” he offered nodding down to the bacon in the pan.

Bill attempted a nod in return, felt the stiffness in his neck, and groaned slightly. “Yes, please,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck in a futile attempt to make it feel normal.

Anatoly nodded and looked at his boss apologetically. “I should have let you had the bed,” he said as he went to butter the bread.

Bill attempted to shake his head and grimaced. “I’ll be fine,” he said. “I’ve slept in worse places.”

Anatoly nodded, “Next time you can demand the bed. Anyway, you will need to tell me what I need to say to the higher ups today.”

“I will,” Bill said, leaving it ambiguous as to which statement he was replying to. He excused himself to use the bathroom and moved stiffly down the dark, rather stale smelling hall to the equally unpleasant shared toilet. When he came back Anatoly was putting bacon onto buttered bread and handed him a plate. “Thanks,” he said, leaning against the edge of the counter as he took a bite.

“No worries,” Anatoly said biting into his sandwich. “I could not leave you unfed,” he smirked a little.

“I appreciate your generous hospitality,” Bill replied in a teasing tone. “In all seriousness, you ought to rethink your living arrangements. I know that new agents don’t earn particularly good wages, but they usually earn enough to rent more than one room.”

Anatoly shuffled awkwardly. “I have to pay for mother,” he reminded Bill.

Bill pressed his lips together. In his opinion there were other solutions to the problem of Anatoly’s mother, but it had to be Anatoly’s decision. “Still. There has to be something less…” he groped for as inoffensive a word as he could find that was still accurate.

“Squalid?” Anatoly suggested.

“I prefer insalubrious,” Bill said with dignity.

Anatoly smiled wryly. “You use your word and I use mine,” he said. “I have not had much time to look at different accommodation, even if I had the money to move.”

“Well, it’s something to think about, at any rate,” Bill said mildly. “Now. Today. I need you to speak with the Chief. Roscoe, that is,” he added, as there were several chiefs of different divisions. “Call his secretary and say you’re speaking on behalf of me, and she should make you an urgent appointment. I’ve got a couple of bits of confidential material for you to give him, and I’d ask you to answer any of his questions honestly as to where I’ve been and what my plans are. I’ll be out today making some arrangements, and you can fill me in later if the Chief has any instructions to pass on.”

Anatoly nodded understandingly. “I understand,” he paused. “What are you planning exactly?”

“Are you sure you want to know? The less you know the safer you are.”

“Roscoe will want to know, and I may have to come and save you,” Anatoly parried back with a smirk.

Bill snorted. “You’d better not use that sort of attitude with any other senior agents,” he warned, only half-joking. “All right then, well, as I told you last night I’ve been to see Allie and her kids. They’re just had the measles and need a bit of a holiday to get their strength up. And I’m needing to disappear, so that worked out quite well really.”

Anatoly nodded. “You are going to take them somewhere on holiday and act like their tutor taking them to museums or such like?”

“Something like that,” Bill confirmed. “I thought I’d take them somewhere remote, though. Out of the way. The less people that see us the better. I was thinking the coast of Scotland. Somewhere wild with plenty of seabirds. I’ll only post as the tutor until we’re off the beaten track, then I should be safe to be myself again.”

Anatoly nodded,”How are you going to decide where to go exactly? Did you need some maps?”

“I may have to consult some travel agencies for ideas,” he admitted. “I intend for us to camp out so I will need to hire equipment, and perhaps a boat, so I will need to get details on those as well as options for bed and breakfast places if the weather turns nasty.”

“Did you need anything from the office? Or will you go through the travel agents?”

“If I come up with some possibilities I might get you to have them checked out and organised through HQ,” he said. “Then I can get some train tickets booked. Best to travel in an unassuming manner as possible,” he said, in case Anatoly was going to ask why he wasn’t taking his plane.

“I understand, but it will mean a more chance of you being spotted,” Anatoly pointed out. “You will need an extremely convincing disguise.”

“Oh indeed. As I said I am going to be posing as the children’s tutor, so I will dress accordingly,” Bill assured him. “Some thick glasses, perhaps a false beard…”

“We’ll have to send you through a west end show to get some of those,” Anatoly laughed.

I have my contacts,” Bill said mysteriously. “Now, have you got a spare key so I can let myself back in later?”

Anatoly nodded and reached into one of his cupboards and brought down a strong box. He opened it, sorted through some of the contents and then handed the spare set of keys over to Bill.

“Much obliged.” Bill pocketed the keys securely. “See you later, then.”

“I will collect fish and chips on the way back from work,” Anatoly said with a grin. “Cannot have you starving. Do not get into trouble, now, Cunningham,” he teased as he went out of the door.

Bill waved him off, and made a mental not to withdraw some cash from one of his many small accounts in different names. He should at least make payment for the food if not the ‘bed’.

To be continued…

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If you like Blyton: The Adventurers and the Cursed Castle by Jemma Hatt

As you’ve seen me say before I am always quite wary of anything that proclaims to be perfect for fans of Enid Blyton. However, in this case, I think the claim is justified.

There are three books in The Adventurers series;

  • The Adventurers and the Cursed Castle
  • The Adventurers and the Temple of Treasure
  • The Adventurers and the City of Secrets

and they are available in paperback, as ebooks and on audiobook.

Full disclosure: I was given free audiobooks of all three Adventurers books in return for an honest review. If you’re new to my reviews I’ll tell you now that I am brutally honest in the failings of any books I review – even ones by Blyton herself.

The audio part of the book

I always think there should be two parts to an audiobook review, a review of the plot, story and characters just as there would be for a paper (or Kindle) book, but also a review of the performance as that’s just as important. A narrator can make or break an audiobook.

As a side note: I know not everyone gets along with audiobooks, but I love them. I listened to this while cooking, walking, hanging up the washing etc.

The narrator here is Ciaran Saward and he does an excellent job. He gives each character a distinct and convincing voice – both male and female, and Great Uncle Herb and Mr Bunce are particularly good. I thought his Cornish accent was perfectly good, too, but native Cornish folk may disagree!

With one exception (Stephen Fry doing Harry Potter) I always have to play my audiobooks on somewhere between 1.3 and 1.5 speed, depending on how ridiculously slowly the narrator speaks so I was very pleasantly surprised to find that I could listen comfortably to this at the natural speed (though I think I used 1.1 in the end just because I was impatient to find out what happened next!).

The Adventurers, the baddies and the background characters

I am going to try very hard not to simply explain the whole plot of the book with additional comments like I so often do. Instead I will try to touch on all the areas where I think this book succeeds in pleasing a Blyton fan.

First, the characters starting with our titular Adventurers.

They are Lara Jacobs, her cousin Rufus Kexley, her dog Barney, and Tom Burt who they meet on holiday.

Rufus has the strongest personality out of the three and he instantly struck me as a modern-day Snubby. He’s absolutely irrepressible and loves jokes and pranks much to the despair of any adults responsible for him. He, like Snubby, seems to be bounced between adults, too. He spends most of his time living with grandparents (his mother is off in America trying to become famous) and goes to stay with Lara when they go off on holiday. He’s not an orphan, like Snubby, but he might as well be.

Lara is, like Diana (and Roger), exasperated by her cousin. In fact, they don’t get on at all at the start of the story but that changes as they start investigating the mysteries of Kexley Castle. She is not like Dinah otherwise, though, she is perhaps more of a George. She doesn’t need to shout about being as good as a boy but she definitely makes the point that she shouldn’t be left out because she is a girl, and it’s often down to her to make the leaps of logic required in solving a mystery. She is also the owner of the dog in the series.

Barney, I’m afraid to say is no Timmy or Looney (or Buster, or Scamper…). In one of my few criticisms of the book, Barney is almost forgotten a great deal of the time. I know George is probably over obsessive about Timmy, but he has strong personality and is always involved. I honestly forgot about Barney several times as there were whole chunks where he wasn’t mentioned. He plays an important role in a couple of scenes, but other than that he doesn’t really have a distinct personality. Saying that maybe he’s more realistic than Timmy!

Tom is harder to find a parallel for. He is the one with the local knowledge, and is a sensible and organised type. He’s a bit of a loner due to helping out his parents at Kexley Castle so much (business there is poor so there isn’t a lot of money coming in). In a Blyton book the son of a housekeeper would either be an annoying gnat like Yan or tolerated but not welcomed as they would be of a lower class, but here of course it’s natural for Tom to make fast friends with the visitors and it’s heartening to know that it will continue into other books.

Then the baddies are Mr Bunce purportedly of The British Museum (and not of Boggis, Bunce and Bean, but just as nasty) who comes to stay at Kexley Castle in the hope of stealing the lost Egyptian Treasure, and Karim his assistant who lurks around following the children. Mr Bunce is an extremely oily and unpleasant man who the children know is up to no good at once. He is quite idiotic and bumbling at times, but at the end shows that he is a cold and dangerous man.

The other characters are Tom’s parents; his mother is the housekeeper of the castle and prepares the meals, while his father works for the produce business owned by Uncle Herb. He spends a lot of time down the pub which leads to various amusing digs from his wife.

Uncle Herb is really Great Uncle Herb, and the owner of Kexley Castle. It wasn’t immediately apparent how the family tree went but I think I’m right in saying his younger brother is Lara and Rufus’ grandad, and then their mothers are sisters. (I’m not sure where Mr Jacobs, Lara’s father is – the one downside of audiobooks is it’s easy to miss a few words without noticing sometimes). Anyway, Uncle Herb is a somewhat crotchety old thing not too far from Uncle Quentin or Uncle Jocelyn.

He resents the intrusion of the children and makes no attempt to hide it – but he also joins in the treasure hunt for a brief time, giving up when the first clue seems to lead nowhere.

And lastly there is Sam, and old blind man they meet on the beach. He is really quite rude to the children and often refuses to acknowledge them, but he has a sad backstory.

Is this a new Famous Five?

No, but not because it isn’t good. More because it draws on different genres and plots.

I couldn’t pick any Blyton series that I thought this was a modern-day equivalent of, but as with the characters I could pick out several little likenesses to Blyton’s – and other authors’ works. I’m not suggesting anything has been copied, but perhaps these were inspirations – or I’ve just read so much children’s books you couldn’t write anything without it reminding me of something!

First up – Five on a Treasure Island, as there is a treasure which has been brought back from Egypt on a ship, then lost. Not totally dissimilar to George’s great-great-great however many grandad who brought the gold ingots which then disappeared. Both turn out to have been hidden, with clues left to its location, though the ones in the Cursed Castle are much more complicated than a single map. The historical back-story is more detailed in Cursed Castle – it includes a curse – and we get quite a sense of Jack Kexley’s personality as the children follow his many clues.

Also like the Famous Five the parents/responsible adults are gotten rid of quickly with the grandparents off on a cruise and Lara’s mother having to suddenly travel abroad for work.

It is also has similarities to The Treasure Hunters, with a large family home/castle likely to be sold due to a lack of money, and then saved by three children who find the long-lost treasure. Mr Bunce and Mr Potts play similar roles, too.

As for non-Blytons it’s a little bit Nancy Drew-ish or even National Treasure-ish given the complexity and number of clues they must find and solve.

Will you like this if you like Blyton?

I think so. It has strong characters both in our main child cast, the baddies and the other adults. The puzzle is somewhat fantastical but that’s part of the fun (a single coded clue would lead to a very short story for one thing), and leads to enough red herrings and suspenseful situations to carry the reader’s interest.

It is modern, set in current time, but is not filled with annoying slang or pop culture references in an attempt to be ‘current’ and so it shouldn’t date quickly at all. The children use a computer to look up some information at one point (a charmingly slow and ancient PC!) but the children are not constantly on mobile phones nor do they use them in solving the mystery or getting out of trouble. There are one or two ‘fart’ jokes courtesy of Rufus but that says more about him than the book.

I have read an interview with Jemma Hatt where she talks about her discussions with a potential publisher over the cover design; they wanted to use stock photos while Jemma was set on having an illustrated cover. I think she was absolutely right on that, as she has ended up with a great series of covers  by Andrew Smith while stock photo covers can so often look cheap and nasty.

On the whole I found it amusing, engaging and I look forward to listening to the next one, and I will review that too.

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Monday #381

You might not have noticed (I certainly didn’t until yesterday) but I have messed up the numbering of the Monday posts. So I’ve just renumbered 75% of them. Somehow I went from Monday #279  back to #230, not once, but TWICE! Last week was Monday #280 as I somehow managed not to make the same mistake a third time, but it has been corrected to #381.

I bet absolutely nobody would notice the numbering discrepancy but I thought I’d better explain just in case someone did and thought they’d lost 100 days somewhere.

If you like Blyton: The Adventurers and the Cursed Castle by Jemma Hatt


Cunningham and Petrov: The Mystery of the Missing Agent chapter 2


Locked down library displays weeks 14 and 15

AHENNY (adj.)

The way people stand when examining other people’s bookshelves.

– Douglas Adam and John Lloyd, The Meaning of Liff.

I think we all recognise that awkward head-tilted-to-one-side posture people use when they’re nosying at books on someone’s shelves (or indeed in a bookshop).

Photo by Ving N on Unsplash

Not a very Blyton-related quote this week, but maybe there are Blytons on the shelves when people go ahenny to look at them! Ahenny is actually a place in the Republic of Ireland but The Meaning of Liff has taken lots of place names and used them to define common feelings or objects for which no English word exists. Many of them are used by my family regularly much to the confusion of anyone who hasn’t read the book. Some extracts can be found here (some might be mildly rude, though).

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Locked down library displays weeks 12 and 13

I’m nearly at the end of these – as I expected I’ve run out of ideas before getting to go back to work.

Day #78

123, ABC

Day #79

Colours and shapes

I had intended to include the first Crayons book; The Day the Crayons Quit but I just couldn’t find it. Of course it was on the shelf the whole time…

Day #80


Quite a few Blytons here;

Centre back is Enid Blyton’s Magazine Annual (the first of four) and beside that the 2015 Famous Five Annual, in the middle row are Enid Blyton’s Bedtime Annual 1978, the 2014 Famous Five Annual and the Famous Five Annual based on the 90s TV series, and the front row has the 2015 Famous Five Annual.

The others are Oor Wullie and Broons annuals, from DC Thompson and published in alternate years since 1939.

Day #81

Janet and Allan Ahlberg

Were there ever a better married book producing pairing than the Ahlbergs? We had so much of their stuff growing up and I’ve tried to get as much as I can for Brodie too.

Here is Peepo! (which he is not interested in at all), Baby’s Big Box of Little Books (which make good stacking material as well as reading), Burglar Bill, Each Peach Pear Plum (one of his favourites), The Clothes Horse and Cops and Robbers.

Other great books by the Ahlbergs include the Jolly Postman series, Funnybones and Happy Families (Mrs Wobble the Waitress and so on).

Day #82


This one was for Stef as she just loves bunnies. Beatrix Potter features, naturally.

Day #83

Former library books – local edition

See, I found The Day the Crayons Quit eventually!

Some of these (The two Roald Dahls and the Margaret Mahy one) were bought by my mum when I was a child. There were many more (several Malory Towers books amongst them) but these are the only ones I took when I moved out.

Most of the rest I have acquired since starting work at the library – too many opportunities to rifle the sale shelf! – and a couple (Sleeper and the Spindle and Mealtime) are from my mother-in-law’s branch as she also worked in a library and had too many opportunities to rifle the sale shelf.

One (a very interesting book called Victory in My Hands by Harold Russell, which is about an American soldier who lost his hands in an explosives accident and who then went on to win two Oscars [even though he wasn’t an actor] for the film The Best Years of Our Lives which was about injured US veterans returning from service) is old enough to have a lengthy set of rules pasted inside which includes advice on what to do if there is a infectious disease in the home.

Day #84

Former library books from further afield

These are books I have bought online (one or two were gifts bought online) and all come from libraries within the UK. I don’t mind ex-library books (I know some people avoid them), in fact I actually find them really interesting. The little green one at the back is particularly interesting as it is from Boots (the chemists) lending libraries which I had never heard of.

Below are a few of the internal library markings from some of these books.

Day #85

Former school library books I should have returned

These were all books I read in high school and somehow never returned, probably because I had enjoyed them! A couple were old enough to have been bought for the schools which merged to become the one I attended a few years before I started there.

The Forbidden Game books I just read for fun (somehow I only stole two of the trilogy, though I borrowed them all, and had to buy the other one later…) the middle two were assigned reading in English and the last was a personal choice to read and write about for English.

Day #86

Books some people keep in the bathroom (but I keep in my hall)

This is the second time I’ve forgotten to include the Famous Five for grown-ups books by Bruno Vincent! Those also live in the hall with other, much funnier, books.

Day #87

Orange you glad I’m still doing these displays?

Some of these look a bit red but I assure you that in real life they are orange!

Blytons are The Secret Mountain, Hurrah for the Circus!, The Second Form at St Clare’s, The Mystery of the Spiteful Letters, The Adventures of Mr Pink-Whistle, The Children of Cherry Tree Farm and Twenty Minute Tales. (It makes me think, though, that each of these has probably been published in a multitude of other colours too. How did they decide what colour to make the boards? Do many series have all the books in the same colour at least for the first edition? If not, why the chopping and changing?)

(Title is from the joke:

Knock, knock!
Who’s there?
Banana who?
Knock knock
Who’s there?
Banana who?
Knock knock
Who’s there?
Orange who?
Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?

though other versions are also available)

Day #88


I’ve done Buffy and Charmed, so had to also do the Buffy spin-off series! This is my whole collection, though I’m only missing about a dozen as it was a much smaller run of books. (But very consistent in terms of cover style!)

Day #89

Girls’ names

Not quite a baby-names book of books, but a decent list, still. (And of course you can totally use these for boys if that’s what you want to do.)

Katie and Katy
Tyke (short for Theodora)

Day #90

Boys’ names

Again, don’t let my arbitrary categorisation of the names stop you using them for whoever you want! (I’d probably give Dick and Wally a miss either way, though).


Day #91

Think pink

I only had five pink books so the rest I borrowed from my sister (desperate times and all that.)

As 100 doesn’t divide equally into 7 day chunks (not sure why I didn’t consider that when I started these posts!) the next and final post will be week 14 plus a couple o days.

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Fanfic Friday: Cunningham and Petrov: The Mystery of the Missing Agent

Previously we wrote about what Bill (and Anatoly) got up to during the events of The Valley of Adventure – we called it The Mystery of the Missing Aeroplane. Now it’s time to find out what the pair of them were doing during The Sea of Adventure.

Chapter 1

Bill Cunningham was in a pickle. He’d been in some tough spots before but this time the Chief had insisted that he take some time out and lay low somewhere remote. Somehow he’d agreed to take the Mannering-Trent children with him. As he knocked at the door of the young man he knew he could trust to hide him until then, he hoped Anatoly Petrov wasn’t too upset with him for being unable to make his passing out ceremony to full agent.

Anatoly frowned as he heard the quiet knocking on the door to his tiny bedsit. Very few people knew where he lived, and he liked it that way. Silently he slid out of bed and picked up the gun that he always kept close to hand. Crossing the small space he unlocked the door and slid the bolt back, leaving it on a rather heavy chain. He didn’t have a spy-hole, as they were just a perfect way to get your brains blown out. He’d rather take his chances by opening the door well armed.

Bill knocked again at the door, his hand on his own gun, aware of the slimmest chance that it wasn’t Anatoly in there. After all, he wasn’t sure if the people he was supposed to be hiding from didn’t know about Anatoly or couldn’t have infiltrated him.

In a deliberately thick accent Anatoly said “Hold your donkeys, I am coming,” and allowed the door to open the few inches allowed by the chain.

“I couldn’t get the donkeys up these stairs,” Bill replied seriously, responding to their shared code to identify themselves.

Satisfied that firstly it was Bill as he knew the voice and he had given the correct response to his idiotic statement – and that nothing particularly dangerous was happening in the stairwell –  he closed the door only long enough to remove the chain. If Bill had wanted him to be ready for trouble he would have used the phrase ‘hurry up, my ass is freezing out here’ or ‘my ass is roasting out here’ depending on the weather conditions. He made up his mind to suggest they move away from equine code phrases in the future as he opened the door and let Bill slide in at speed.

Bill smiled weakly at Anatoly. “Thank you. Sorry for disturbing you so late, but I have a favour to ask of you.”

“It is not a problem,” Anatoly said, locking the door again. He turned and motioned Bill to the chair in the ‘kitchen’ part of his room. There was only one, so he sat on the bed again. Thankfully he had not been in bed to sleep, and was still dressed. “What can I do for you? You have been off the radar for quite a while. Are you in trouble?”

“May I smoke?” Bill asked, reaching for his pipe.

“Yes, of course,” Anatoly said, reaching for his own pack of cigarettes but holding out the box of matches so that Bill could light his pipe first. He watched as his mentor sat back and puffed until the tobacco caught and then blew out a stream of smoke.

“I am in a bit of trouble and am having to lay low,” Bill said. “May I stay here tonight, before I catch my train from Euston tomorrow?”

“Stay here?” Anatoly repeated, looking around the small space he called his own. There was a single bed which he was sitting on, his trunk where he stored his clothes and things at the end, a sink, a unit with a small stove, and the armchair that Bill currently occupied. He had chosen an armchair rather than squeeze in a table and dining chair. The toilet was out in the hall, shared with a few flats. “I mean, of course you can, but it would be an awful squeeze.” He owed Bill so much that he couldn’t refuse him a place to hide for a few days.

“I’d appreciate it,” Bill said through the smoke. “I can sleep in this chair, and I’ll need to be central to organise my escape.” He paused and glanced sideways at Anatoly. “I’m sorry I didn’t make your passing out. I’m quite proud of you, you know.”

Anatoly shrugged as nonchalantly as he could, glad the room was dim as it hid his suddenly red face. “I knew you would have had good reason not to be there.” The passing out ceremony had been on his nineteenth birthday – so it had been a double celebration for him, though he’d had nobody to share it with.

“I did try my hardest to get there,” Bill said softly. “I didn’t want you to be on your own.”

Anatoly felt his face turn impossibly redder, whether at the kindness Bill was showing or the reminder that nobody else in the SIS really liked him he didn’t know. “Being hunted is a pretty good reason for not showing,” he said. “Who is after you?” he asked after a moment. “Is it that gang you were after the last time we spoke?”

Bill nodded, “It is the same lot. Unfortunately I slipped up and need to lie low for a while, so I’m taking the children away as cover. I’m to travel as their tutor. Do you think you can put up with me until then?”

“Well, as long as you do not snore…” he said, having worked with Bill long enough to feel like he could risk a joke at his expense.

“I do not snore,” Bill said with a sly smile. “I know it’s not ideal, but I thought it would give us some time to talk, and I’m almost certain that no one would look for me here.”

“No, I do not suspect they would,” Anatoly agreed. “As the junior agent, though, I must insist that you have the bed.”

Bill waived him away. “No, as the senior agent, I insist that you have the bed. It’s your bed after all.”

“Well, if you are sure…” Anatoly wasn’t sure if he was supposed to argue it any further. “Should I take a message into HQ with me tomorrow?”

“I’ll write a letter before you leave in the morning. I may have some little errands for you to do if you get time tomorrow,” Bill said with a smile.

“Yes, of course, I do not have much lined up for the next few days.”

“You wait until I’m gone, then the higher ups will have lots of things for you to do,” Bill laughed. “I think we should get as much sleep as possible now, don’t you?”

“I can hardly wait, I have barely been out on my own yet since I qualified,” Anatoly grumbled. “And not until you have told me all about the trouble you have found yourself in! I want to know what I am getting into, harbouring a fugitive like you.”

“I’m only a fugitive to the wrong people,” Bill laughed. “I’m still on your side, remember?”

“I know, but I still want to hear all about it. As much as you can tell me, of course.”

“All right,” Bill said with a smile. “However you’re making me feel like a old grandfather telling a kid a story,” he laughed but then proceeded to tell Anatoly all he was allowed to.

Anatoly sat back against the pillows and listened to Bill’s tale of tracking down a rogue gang, and the subsequent realisation that they were then coming after him. He stifled a laugh when he heard how Bill had tackled Philip in his own garden, thinking him a member of the gang, but sobered when Bill said that a gang member had actually been lying in wait around the other side of the house. A short time later he clicked out the light and settled in bed, Bill sat in the armchair with his feet propped on the trunk and a spare blanket spread over himself.

To be continued…

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If you like Blyton: the Bobbsey Twins by Laura Lee Hope

This recommendation comes to you via one of my regular readers and commenters, Sean Hagins, as I have never read any Bobbsey Twins books.

Sean has reviewed these books extensively on Goodreads and so I will not duplicate them in full here, but I will provide some background information on the Bobbsey Twins and the author, as well as quoting and linking to Sean’s reviews.

Laura Lee Hope

First up – there is no such person as Laura Lee Hope. That’s a pseudonym for multiple authors writing for the Stratmeyer Syndicate, who also published the Nancy Drew books under the name Carolyn Keene, and the Hardy Boys books under the name Franklin W. Dixon.

The Bobbsey Twins

There are rather a lot of Bobbsey Twins books. The very first book came out in 1904, and that original series ran for 72 books, the last published in 1979. Much like Nancy Drew the series was refreshed in 1980 for six years, and ran for 14 books  – this is sometimes known as the Wanderer series due to the publisher being Wanderer books. Interestingly three of these were originally published as The Tollivers series, and then just had the name and other details changed to fit into the Bobbsey Twins series.

It was then refreshed again in 1987 for The New Bobbsey Twins), and this time there were 30 books published, the last in 1992.

There are in fact two sets of twins in the books; Bert and Nan Bobbsey who are 12, and Flossie and Freddie Bobbsey who are six (and I thought Blyton was obsessed with twins!). These four siblings have many adventures, solving mysteries like junior Nancy Drews or Hardy Boys – some of the later books actually say a pre Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys Mystery Book at the top so I assume they were aimed at both genders, whereas Nancy Drew were seen as girls’ books, and the Hardy Boys as boys’.

I love the Nancy Drew books and plan to do a recommendation for them myself later.

The Wanderer Series

Just a caution; many of the reviews linked to below include spoilers including the identity of the baddie(s).

The Blue Poodle Mystery

In which the Bobbsey twins search for a poodle who interrupted a ballet performance and then was stolen.

Sticking with the theme of not starting at the beginning, this is one title that Sean does not particularly recommend, though he still rates it as three stars. He notes that it is one that I never really liked… I can see that it’s all over the place, and points out the implausibility of the twins being just too good at too many things as between them they are gymnasts, band members and now ballerinas. Although both Blyton and other authors of the time frequently features children with improbable amounts of freedom to explore, Sean notes that there is NO WAY an adult would let a 12 year old boy and two 6 year old twins go off by themselves on the streets of New York City!

So by the sounds of it unless, like me, you are a stickler for reading right from the start of a series you might as well skip this one.

Read Sean’s full review (including spoilers) here.

Secret in the Pirate’s Cave

In which the Bobbseys are off to Bermuda, and become involved with thieves trying to steal valuable artefacts from the local museum.

Mrs Bobbsey wins a free trip for two to Bermuda! Mr Bobbsey can’t make it, so he suggests she go with the 4 twins (he pays for the other 3 tickets presumably). They are told by the police Lt to watch out for “Slippery Sam”. The Bobbseys are eager for another mystery along with their vacation and decide to keep an eye out.

Well, the thrills start right away.

Read the rest of the review here.

The Dune Buggy Mystery

In which a dune buggy bought at the town dump is stolen.

Sean’s review can be found here.

The Missing Pony Mystery

In which the Bobbseys’ favorite pony, Cupcake, is stolen and the twins join forces to rescue him. The Thrilling conclusion includes a near kidnapping, a confrontation with the thieves, and the Bobbseys’ exciting television appearance!

No review is available for this one I’m afraid – but it sounds good!

The Rose Parade Mystery

In which the twins are on holiday in California and get involved in a parade, and have to work out who is vandalising the floats and trying to spoil the parade – all while trying to follow some mysterious clues to a treasure.

Clues start appearing to a mystery! This one is a benign one of mention of treasure and the fact that they have to track down the next clue and the next to find it. Between this, and the building of the float, you would think the twins’ plates are full, but also, there is another mystery occurring-a not so nice one! The flowers for the Hamlin’s float are vandalised  a tent collapses, the Hamlins have been receiving threatening letters saying that the float won’t enter, and other strange things!

Read the full review here.

The Camp Fire Mystery

In which the twins help the members of a Camp Fire club to catch the culprits who stole their bicycles.

This time, the twins are visiting New Mexico and staying with Tony and Kathy Leonard. The story opens with an out of control hot air balloon crashing on the Leonards’ property. The balloonist acts in a secretive and suspicious manner, getting the twins intrigued enough to want to investigate him. When his truck drivers arrive to haul the balloon away and take him back, Mrs Leonard voices the twin’s questions to him (much to their chagrin as they wanted to check him out without him knowing). Ryan Michaels (the balloonist) gets even more surly and tells them to mind their own business.

Later, the Bobbseys see in the newspaper that there is a rash of bicycles being stolen in the area…

The rest of the review can be found here.

Double Trouble

In which the twins are faced with a dangerous puzzle that leads down twisting trails, as they attempt to foil an international band of thieves

No review is available for this one – I had to do some searching just to find a synopsis! I wonder what the double in the title refers to, simply the double set of twins, or something else?

Mystery of the Laughing Dinosaur

In which the twins track down a valuable stamp stolen from a museum.

This book is pretty good – the title is misleading as the Laughing Dinosaur is a small subplot that doesn’t have much to do with the main plot.

The tone of this book is kind of all over the place. The main mystery deals with a stolen valuable stamp from a museum. It
seems to be the usual fluff with the kids tracking down a missing stamp, and yet, there are parts of this story which are quite a bit darker than any Bobbsey Twins book I remember.

Read the rest of the review here.

The Music Box Mystery

In which Flossie receives a music box that may have been intended as a gift for someone else and the twins quickly realise that a mystery is involved.

They are sticking to the same old formula of a main mystery, and a side mystery. In this case, the main mystery works very well and is a good story by itself. The side mystery falls flat to me and seems kind of tacked on…

Read the full review here.

The Ghost in the Computer

In which the Bobbsey twins investigate a ghostly figure in the school.

Read the review here.

The Scarecrow Mystery

In which a scarecrow who disappears and reappears at other locations and an odd-shaped key lead the Bobbsey twins into another mystery.

Before I begin this review, let me say that this book is my absolute favourite of the Wanderer series (with #2 Secret of Pirate’s Cave coming in at a close second).

This one keeps a good continuity with the last book as in that one the twins had their last week of school and started their summer vacation. Here, the twins are still on summer break. It starts with the family on the way back from a day trip to the beach. Freddie points out a scarecrow that they are passing by in their car and says that on the way to the beach, it was in a different field a couple miles away.

It sounds somewhat Wizard of Oz-ish to me, but I bet there is a far more logical explanation for the moving scarecrow.

Read the whole review here.

The Haunted House Mystery

In which the Bobbsey twins suspect that odd events at a historic Oklahoma mansion and the theft of a duplicate dollhouse may be connected with rare animals being stolen from the zoo.

Despite a lot of tired tropes and recycled ideas and the way everyone knows the Bobbseys and are in awe of them), this really was an enjoyable read. The action was fast paced and the storytelling was entertaining. I think the Wanderer series ended on a high note with most of the best stories contained in the last 4 or so books (Unlike the New Bobbsey Twins which started out even stronger, and then fizzled away!) I give this book a 9 out of 10.

The full review can be found here.

The Mystery of the Hindu Temple

In which the Bobbsey twins travel to Nepal where they become involved in investigating the theft of valuable Hindu temple treasures.

(Gosh these kids are well-travelled!)

Overall, this was an interesting addition to the series that I really enjoyed. I give this book an 8 out of 10.

The whole review can be found here.

The Grinning Gargoyle Mystery

In which the Bobbsey twins are drawn into a mystery involving the manufacture of perfume while on a family vacation in Paris.

So, we come to the final Wanderer book now! It’s been fun rereading this series.

Before I start, I will say that this title is one of the more puzzling as the gargoyle isn’t even mentioned until the book is two-thirds of the way in, and isn’t really a major plot point anyway. I would call it, the Case of the Missing Young Woman, or Mystery in Paris, but I digress…

Read the full review here.

So thank you to Sean for letting me use bits of his reviews here. You can see some photographs of his Bobbsey Twins books on Flickr.

A bit about Sean:

Hello! My name is Sean J Hagins. I’m 44, so a bit too young to have read Blyton when it was new, (and some would say too old to read Blyton now!)  Actually, as a kid in the 1980s, I loved reading what I guess would be called old-fashioned (or I like to say “classic”) children’s books. As a Jehovah’s Witness, I don’t like books with sexual themes, graphic violence, cursing, or supernatural things – which even a lot of today’s young adult books have.

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Monday #380

I ran out of time to finish my lock down library post which was meant to go up on Sunday, but that’s because I was writing chapter 9 of The Mystery of the Missing Agent with Stef, so I hope you can forgive me!

If you like Blyton: The Bobbsey Twins by Laura Lee Hope


Cunningham and Petrov: The Mystery of the Missing Agent chapter 1


Lock down library displays weeks 12 and 13

dear ole ju
i simply love you,
though its only on enid’s pages you reign
cause you are jolly nice
smart and polite

These are the opening lines of a poem I just found this week, all about my beloved Julian Kirrin. It is by Sayantani Gupta and you can read the rest of the poem on her blog here. It reminds me of one of Ern’s ‘pomes’ where Fatty, or in this case, Sayantani, has let their tongue go loose and finished it off nicely.

Ah, Julian!


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Lego Blyton: Five on a Hike Together

Not too long ago I shared my Lego builds of Five On a Treasure Island. That was the first one I did, and then I got thinking of what else I could build (however badly) out of Lego bricks… and so Hike it was!

Lego Hiking

First up Dick sleeps in the barn and is woken by a strange bullet Lego-headed man who gives him a strange message and passes him a mysterious note (represented here by a Lego newspaper).

They show the note to a policeman who tells them off for wasting his time. Maybe he’s cranky because his police station has no roof.

Having gotten advice from a postie they arrive at Two Trees. I’ve said before that I always imagined the trees to be enormous palms (for no sensible reason I can think of) so I decided to use palm trunks to represent the trees.
They hunt out the boat house which is very overgrown (with palm fronds, of course).

They pull aside some rotten planks bricks to break into the boat house.

Inside is a raft that was far too big to fit with the roof on, and no Saucy Jane.

They go boat-hunting around the edges of Gloomy Water.

Before having the brain-wave to look in the water itself. (Rafting obviously doesn’t agree with Julian’s hair…)

Then Dirty Dick and Maggie turn up to hassle them.

And lastly they have a run in (or should that be a row in?) with Dick and Maggie on the lake and Anne nearly falls in the water. Obviously the book doesn’t end there but it’s kinda hard to do an underwater boat at night in Lego.

PS could you tell that the barn, the police station and Two Trees were all the same build with the windows and doors changed? I call that the economy of building.

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Five Go Down to the Sea part 3

Well, here we are, finally at the nitpicks I promised. Hope they were worth it!

The timeline

Warning, this first nitpick is a long one!

The timeline of the story in regards to the Barnies’ visit makes no sense to me. If you read the book quickly you’re unlikely to notice, but I was trying to pay attention to as many details as I could.

Early in their visit Mrs P tells the Five that she’s heard the Barnies are coming soon, though she has no firm date which must be inconvenient as there will be at least some prep to do!

Anyway, a few days later (it’s unclear exactly how many days) the Barnies pass the Five and say they’re staying at Poltelly farm that night, then coming to Tremannon soon. That turns out to be two days later.

You might imagine that there is to be a show at Poltelly, but no, the Tremannon show is to be the first, first of the season, first of their tour of Cornwall, or of that bit of coast it isn’t clear. What doesn’t make sense is that the point the Barnies pass the Five is within walking distance of Tremannon. Even if the Five take a few shortcuts there’s no reason why the Barnies couldn’t go straight to Tremannon instead of travelling on elsewhere then coming back.

They say they will do one night at Tremannon and then move on, and the huge feast Mrs P puts on for them certainly seems like a ‘last night’ event, but when Yan rescues the Five from the Wrecker’s Way he says the Barnies have performed again!

The Wreckers’ Way(s)

The logic in the discussion on pages 131-135 baffles me entirely and I read it at least twice. They (mostly Julian and Dick) suggest some possibilities for how the Wrecker’s Way was used and where it is.

I will paraphrase for you:

Dick: The Wreckers’ Way leads from the house to the beach.

Julian: I’m not sure. The Wreckers’ Way may have lead to the sea from inland somewhere, something convenient for the villagers. No, I think the people in this house flashed the lights, then when a ship was wrecked they signalled to a watcher on the hills, then the people from the house went down to the coves and waited for the friends to come down the Wreckers’ Way.

Now, it just so happens he is correct, technically. The secret passage called the Wreckers’ Way leads from the farm to the beach. BUT there is another secret passage from the house to further along the beach, one which has a branch leading to a storage room for wrecked goods. You could argue that both should be called Wreckers’ Ways as they are both used the wreckers.

They then discuss how its likely to be smuggling now and not wrecking, and that there must be a passage from the house to the coves. Why they don’t believe that to be the or at least a wreckers’ way is surprising.

The smuggling operation

I can’t quite get my head around the reaches of the Guvnor’s smuggling operations.

All the flashing lights (at least two nights) and the secret rendezvous with at least four men at the boat seems like a lot of work for what is one small package. I understand that a small package could be worth a lot of money but why not save time and bring in dozens to store? Or, if it is handing over one little packet surely it could be done discreetly in the day? Perhaps he is a Mr Barling type who loves the thrill of clandestine moonlight smuggling trips but that’s never suggested.

He is travelling presumably a significant amount of the year with the Barnies, so how often do they come to Tremannon? Yearly? Obviously it is perfectly set up for smuggling but does he have several such places around Cornwall?

When he’s apprehended Mr P says that is one of many packets…. around this coast. So perhaps he does deal in bulk, but again, so much work for a package at a time?

General nitpicks 

  • The Five plan to arrive at the station 7 minutes before the train is due. I know that trains were less strict on times in Blyton’s books but the Five are usually more sensible and would leave more time for unexpected events.
  • There’s a question mark missing on page 54 when Dick asks Is it true that your father was one of the Wreckers in the old days. I have a sixth impression so I wonder if this has always been missing and the mistake repeated in every impression or if it’s a new error.
  • A ham is described as being as pink as Tommy’s tongue when I assume it is meant to be Timmy!
  • Why does Sid have to keep Clopper’s head when it’s Mr Binks who wears it?
  • It seems unlikely that the Guvnor would just leave Clopper’s head lying around when it’s normally guarded 24/7, and when Julian and Dick caper out in the suit he then paces the barn instead of going after them. I can only imagine he thought that it was Sid and Mr Binks, but surely he’d be able to tell it wasn’t, given that the two boys can barely run in it?
  • There’s a strange line on page 128. Only the tower seems still strong, which is strange tense to use when nobody is speaking. The rest of the descriptions of the ruined house are in the past tense.
  • It is unusually stupid of the Five to go into a room which they know can close behind you, and not make sure the door does not in fact close behind them. I know Timmy can’t operate all door handles but they don’t even know if there is a handle!
  • Julian and Dick get given Clopper at the end so why oh why is it never mentioned again?
  • One of the dogs on the farm is called Ben and Benny (not really a nitpick) but is also called that dog Scottie. That Scottie dog would make more sense, the first implies his name is Scottie.

I never thought I’d have so much to say about Five Go Down to the Sea, as usually the more I like a book the less I can say about it (Smuggler’s Top being an exception.) Despite the number of nitpicks I’ve pointed out here I am fairly sure I didn’t notice a single one of these as a child, I just enjoyed the story.

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Monday #379

Five Go Down to the Sea part 3


Lego Blyton: Five on a Hike Together


Locked down library displays weeks 12 and 13

I considered doubling back and seeing if I could listen in, but I figured that would have been a little bit too Enid Blyton – even for me.

– PC Peter Grant in Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch

I always love spotting Blyton references in unlikely places!




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June 2020 Round Up

This covers week three thousand of the lock down… or something like 10-13 if you’re not using hyperbole. This might be my last full month of it before getting to go back to work but we will see!

What I have read

I read a lot this month, not because I had any more time than usual but because a) I discovered a new series, b) started reading some books I had missed from an old favourite series and c) spent less time on my phone and laptop and got in a good hour or two of reading each night (and went to bed too late as a result, but you can’t have everything.)

  • The Burning (Unseen Trilogy #1) – Jeffrey J Mariotte
  • Door To Alternity (Unseen Trilogy #1) – Jeffrey J Mariotte
  • Dawn and the We Love Kids Club (Baby-Sitter’s Club #73) – Ann M.Martin
  • Kristy and the Copycat (Baby-Sitter’s Club #74) – Ann M.Martin
  • Undead and Unstable (Undead #11) – MaryJanice Davidson
  • A Swiftly Tilting Planet (Time Quintet #3) – Madeleine L’Engle
  • Jessi’s Horrible Prank (Baby-Sitter’s Club #75) – Ann M.Martin
  • Mallory Pike #1 Fan (Baby-Sitter’s Club #80) – Ann M.Martin
  • Rivers of London (Rivers of London #1) – Ben Aaronovitch
  • Kristy and Mr Mom (Baby-Sitter’s Club #81) – Ann M.Martin
  • Moon Over Soho (Rivers of London #2) – Ben Aaronovitch
  • Mary Anne and Camp BSC (Baby-Sitter’s Club #86) – Ann M.Martin
  • Whispers Underground (Rivers of London #3) – Ben Aaronovitch
  • Stacey and the Bad Girls (Baby-Sitter’s Club #87) – Ann M.Martin
  • Broken Homes (Rivers of London #4)- Ben Aaronovitch
  • Mary Anne and the Zoo Mystery (Baby-Sitter’s Mystery #20) – Ann M.Martin
  • Foxglove Summer (Rivers of London #5) – Ben Aaronovitch
  • Babysitters’ Fright Night (The Baby-Sitters Club Super Mystery #3) – Ann M. Martin
  • The Furthest Station (Rivers of London #5.5) – Ben Aaronovitch

As always I’ve got some on the go that I haven’t finished:

  • Gender Rebels:  50 Influential Cross-Dressers, Impersonators, Name-Changers, and Game-Changers – Anneka Harry
  • The Hanging Tree (Rivers of London #6) – Ben Aaronovitch
  • Bandaging the Blitz – Phyll Macdonald-Ross

So that was 19 books, including 6 full length ones for grown ups. As you can tell the Ben Aaronovitch books were my new series (recommended by fans of Jodi Taylor and Jasper Fforde). My rediscovered series was the Baby-Sitters Club, of which I have over a hundred titles in paperback, but I was missing various later ones so I’m now trying to read those on my Kindle hence the jumps between series numbers. I prefer the covers with the roofs on top; those are the British editions published by Scholastic Hippo and what I grew up with, but I couldn’t find many examples online. I discovered also that the text was slightly altered for British readers, the girls pay “dues” every week in America, but “subs” here, for example.

I have been so busy with Peter Grant and the Baby Sitters that I have completely abandoned the Unseen Trilogy I started at the beginning of June and also the Undead series which I’ve been reading for a while.

If anyone fancies picking up the Gender Rebels book I urge you not to bother. I’ve read about half a dozen of the stories and I’ve not picked it back up in ages because it’s awful. The author has thrown in so many bits of slang and so many jokes it entirely detracts from the meagre details given about these women. (Therefore, I won’t mention how DUH NUGGET, POXY ASS, MOUTH BREATHER, STOOPID UPON STOOPID centuries-old sexism is is just one example of the writing style. When Kit became more precarious than a sedated flamingo on a Segway is another gem.)

What I have watched

  • Hollyoaks but still only twice a week
  • Angel seasons 1-4
  • Not so much watched as been aware of some football on in the background as apparently the premier league is back, but sans fans.
  • Meet the Fockers (a not very funny at all sequel to Meet the Parents)
  • Some of The Blues Brothers as Ewan was watching it (it was not at all what I expected)
  • One episode of George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces where one build was turning an old bake house into a tiny apartment with a rotating kitchen/bathroom and a fire breathing dragon on the front wall.
  • Ralph Breaks the Internet (sequel to Wreck-it-Ralph) which was fairly good.
  • Malory Towers on the iPlayer, which I have been reviewing two episodes at a time.

What I have done

  • Some more socially distanced garden meetings in various weathers including temperatures that required blankets.
  • Been for some walks in woods which fall within the 5 miles we are allowed to travel
  • Carried on with my locked down library displays and my cross stitch
  • Tried to bring some caterpillars in to grow them into butterflies which was an absolute failure as despite my best efforts they all died
  • Continued the 5 weekly workouts I’ve been doing which have included Tabata, Boxfit, HIIT, Body Balance, yoga, aerobics, pilates and functional fit.

That’s his flower-smelling face in the middle, just in case you were wondering. He has to smell just about every flower he passes when we go out.

What has your month looked like?

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Fan fic Friday: Conquering the Castle, Epilogue

The final chapter of a fairly uneventful story – though I hope you picked up on the hints for the second St Andrews novel which I am hoping to start working on with Stef soon.

Previous chapters if you missed any:
Chapter one (talking about going to the castle)
Chapter two (exploring the castle)
Chapter three (exploring the mine and counter mine)
Chapter four (resolving an argument)
Chapter five (Anatoly does something stupid)



“Thanks for that, Tol,” Julian said when they were safely out of the woman’s sight, she had followed them as far as the gate and stared malevolently at them as they walked away.

Sally looked back and shuddered. “I’m not sure I do want to go back now, she’ll never trust us!”

“You will be fine,” Anatoly said. “She is furious with me, she will forget all about you lot in time.”

“But you two-” he jabbed David and Julian in the chest in turn. “Owe me big time. I did not have to take all the blame back there.”

“Hey.” David rubbed his chest though his coat. “It was you that did the climbing.” Julian elbowed him in warning.

“On your stupid dare,” Anatoly growled, stepping a bit too close for David’s comfort.

“Let’s not fight any more,” Darrell said, pulling on his arm. “Let me see your chin, Toly. I think it’s still bleeding!” She whipped a handkerchief out of her pocket, and to Anatoly’s ever-lasting shame, licked it and then wiped his chin.

“I am not a child, dorogoy,” he said a little testily as Julian and David risked a snigger.

“It was pretty childish to climb up a castle wall,” she reminded him. “You’ll need a bit of sticking-plaster, I think,” she added before he could argue further. “Let’s go back to St Salvator’s. I assume you have a first-aid kit?”

“Of course,” he grunted.

Despite insisting he didn’t need any further treatment Darrell harangued him into fetching his first-aid kit from his room (though he only brought down a pocket-sized tin and not the full-sized one) and made him stand by the window so she could check the scrape was clean before she put a bit of sticking-plaster over it.

“Yes, thank you, dorogoy, I think I shall live,” he grunted as she fussed over him.

“You nearly didn’t!” she reminded him. “I saw you almost fall!”

“Pff, that,” he scoffed, thought it had been a heart-pounding few moments. “My foot merely slipped a little. I had it completely under control. That woman was much more frightening,” he joked.

“Yes, I thought you’d end up in the bottle dungeon for sure,” David said with a laugh. “I’m surprised there aren’t a whole load of missing students down there given that they seem to desecrate the place on a weekly basis.”

“Well, you know us students, we’re trouble makers through and through,” Sally joked bravely. Julian put his arm around her.

“Are you all right?” he asked softly.

“I’m fine, I just had a bit of a fright with Toly nearly falling then that woman raging at us. I didn’t even get to finish looking around the castle.”

“We saw most of it, didn’t we?” David said, frowning.

“I didn’t get a chance to go up to the Archbishop’s residences, above the entrance, or into Cardinal Beaton’s tower,” she protested.

“I had a good view of them from above, you did not miss too much,” Anatoly said.

Julian rolled his eyes. “We can go back, just the two of us,” he said. “We’ll give that woman a few weeks to calm down and forget about us and then go back, and we can take our time and see everything.”

“You could go in disguise,” David said helpfully.

“There’ll be no idiots dropping pencils from great heights or climbing towers,” Julian carried on, ignoring him.”

“But there will be one idiot who dares people to climb towers,” Anatoly shot at him.

“Honestly, it’s a wonder we are ever allowed back into anywhere the way these three behave,” Darrell said to Sally.

“You’re right. Why don’t you go with Sally next time?” Julian suggested. “The two of you always behave impeccably and I know you’re just as fascinated by the history as Sally is.”

Darrell thumped him as surreptitiously as she could. “No,” she said sweetly. “I know that you like history even more than I do, and Sally would much rather go with you. And anyway, on your own none of you three boys are quite as stupid as you are together.”

“That’s almost a compliment,” David grinned.

“I will take it,” Anatoly added, giving Darrell a kiss.

Later in the evening, once the girls had headed back to their own dorms, David threw himself into an armchair and looked at Julian.

“Did you ever read my note?” he asked.

Julian sighed and got up from his comfortable seat by the fire, hoping nobody would steal it in the mean time.

He went to the coat rack and felt inside his coat pockets, finding the crumpled note where he had shoved it earlier. Returning to his seat, which was only still empty due to Anatoly scowling at anyone who dared approach it, he sat down and smoothed out the paper.

It read

Qeb abcbkabop xob xijlpq rmlk vlr, ybtxob lc qeb pmv fk vlro jfapq.

“Is this a code, or have you just written a load of gibberish so that I’ll waste my time trying to decipher it?”

Anatoly reached out and snagged the piece of paper and glanced it over. “Caesar cipher. One of the most basic ciphers there is. And he only shifted by three letters,” he said dismissively, tossing it back to Julian.

“I only had a minute to scribble something,” David protested.

Julian looked over the paper, and sure enough, if he went back three letters for each letter David had written it began to make sense. Given time he would have worked that out himself, so he tried to be grateful that Anatoly had saved him the time.

“The defenders are almost upon you,” he read out after a moment. “Beware of the spy in your midst.”

Anatoly glared at David as Julian crumpled the note again and tossed it into the fire. “It was just a joke, Tol, relax,” David sighed.

“It was a stupid thing to write,” Anatoly said in a low voice.

“We all know David’s pretty stupid,” Julian said, though not in the unkind tone he had been using with David that afternoon.

“Oh, says the mighty intelligent Julian,” David snorted, and as always, the conversation degenerated into smart remarks, point scoring and general name-calling.


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Malory Towers on TV – Episodes nine and ten

Malory Towers went on the iPlayer very early in the lock down, so early April and here I am just getting to episodes nine and ten (of thirteen). I know a lot of people binged it but I watch two episodes and make notes, then it takes me a few days to turn those notes into a review. If I watched more than two I’d forget even more than I already do – I already frequently have to re watch bits and pieces to get the details. Then I go through for screen grabs to add, so it’s not a quick process. And as I said on Monday I’ve got so many ideas I have to alternate them.

Anyway, previous reviews are below:

Episodes one and two
Episodes three and four
Episodes five and six
Episodes seven and eight

Episode nine

This episode opens with more ghostly goings-on. Sally’s still in the san and she sees a figure in a dark cloak cross the room and go through a door. Yet in the morning Margaret and Matron reveal that the door is just a cupboard and is devoid of any figures ghostly or otherwise. Sally insists she saw the person and that they never came out again. As the viewers saw the (presumably real) person too, I’m intrigued as to where they disappeared to.

The main story line of the episode then revolves around Sally and her future at Malory Towers.

Her parents intend for her to go home and not return to the school. Naturally Darrell thinks it’s all her fault as she interfered and wrote a letter to Mrs Hope telling her how unhappy Sally was, and she goes to see Sally. Sally is pretty annoyed that Darrell wrote, and admits she does have a sister. She reveals that she was sent to boarding school the day her mother and sister came home from the hospital and that they don’t want her at home. However she also says that she doesn’t want to go home because she loves Malory Towers.

In fact she wants to stay so badly that she runs off to hide with the intention that her parents can’t take her home if they can’t find her.

Matron carries on being absolutely awful and instead of informing Miss Potts who seems to be in charge during Miss Grayling’s absence she has the other first formers search for Sally. Alicia and Katherine find Gwen loitering about with something in her hands, at first I thought it was perhaps Darrell’s work book taken from Pamela’s desk, but it could be a magazine. She’s certainly hiding but I couldn’t work out the significance.

Anyway, Mrs Hope arrives and still nobody apart from Matron and a few girls know that Sally’s missing until Irene puts her foot in it, in a rather funny farcical conversation with Miss Potts.

Darrell finds Sally who is hiding… down by her bed in her dorm. Mrs Hope and Miss Potts then come to the dorm and the girls hide under Sally’s bed. They then listen to the conversation where Mrs Hope admits that she was very ill after the birth and wanted Sally to go to school so that she didn’t get stuck being a carer. This is a bit kinder than in the book where Mrs Hope admits that when Sally became withdrawn and difficult after her sister was born that they sent her away to make things easier!

They have a touching reunion and Sally declares she wants to stay.

The second plot is an advancement on Darrell’s reading/writing problems.

In remedial she says the text is jumping over the page and uses that as an excuse to see Matron (and Sally) as above. Pamela discovers that Darrell writes everything out twice, a rough draft then a tidier second version. Darrell says she’s just “slow” and has always been that way but Miss Potts says she may have ‘word blindness’ – which we now call dyslexia. The term dyslexia has been around almost as long as word blindness (both date from the late 1800s), but it seems likely that the less medical term of word blindness would have been used in this scenario – it was still heavily used by scientists as late as the mid 1920s at least. (Here’s an interesting history of the discovery of dyslexia and some of the work that went into understanding the condition, which includes a little information on the word blindness v dyslexia).

I still think that it would have been better for another girl to have dyslexia, rather than Darrell who is known for her skill as a writer. I know that dyslexia doesn’t affect someone’s ability to create ideas and stories, but in the books she’s a skilful writer in all respects. Saying that it does show how much resilience and fortitude she has, doing all that extra work and covering up how much she struggles.

The third plot is about Pamela and Gwen and sets us up for the next episode. We suddenly discover that Malory Towers has monitors – but they are not the monitors we know from the Naughtiest Girl books. It’s more like the St Clare’s books where the younger girls are expected to wait on the higher forms. In St Clare’s it isn’t well explained but it seems as if there is a rough sort of rota whereby the girls take it turns to wait on the upper forms.

The only monitor we know of at Malory Towers is Sally, who waits on Pamela. With Sally supposed to be going home Miss Potts asks for a volunteer to replace her as monitor and Gwen eagerly volunteers. Now we know that Gwen is only ever out for herself and it seems she has volunteered at least partly because Mary-Lou says that Darrell would love to be a monitor, but isn’t there to put herself forward.

Surprisingly Miss Potts agrees and Gwen begins her new role and is immediately useless. I’m sure in St Clare’s there’s a minor story where one of the younger girls is deliberately terrible (spreading boot polish on toast for example) to get out of the chores, but Gwen is genuinely hopeless. She obviously isn’t pleased at being asked to make cocoa (perhaps she saw herself as more of a companion than a maid) and has to admit she doesn’t know how to make cocoa. We get a tiny glimpse at a not-so-awful Gwen as she says she didn’t want to admit she couldn’t do it.

The episode ends with the ghost again as Darrell finds the cloak – proving it is indeed a real person.

Episode ten

I don’t think there is a single thing in this episode from the books and that’s why it is the weakest one so far.

It’s called “The Dress” and that’s what it revolves around. There is a debutante in the sixth form about to be, well, debuted. (I can’t help but think that Miss Grayling would not hold with such nonsense in her school!)

Gwen has obviously learned from the St Clare’s story line and brings Pamela burnt toast, hoping to get out of being her monitor so that she could be the debutante’s monitor instead (surely the debutante already has one?) and Darrell becomes Pamela’s monitor instead.

Meanwhile Darrell discovers that Pamela is planning to leave Malory Towers despite only being in the lower sixth. She assumes it is financial problems and talks to Miss Potts but, not exactly a big shock, it turns out that Pamela is the debutante.

It may have been pretty obviously telegraphed but I did enjoy seeing Gwen’s face when she realises she’s entirely messed up.

Pamela clearly isn’t very happy about being a debutante – perhaps that’s why she looks far prettier as a schoolgirl than when she is done up in her dress. (I don’t know if that was an intentional thing done with makeup etc or purely her well acted misery showing through). I get a bit rage-y thinking about the pure misogyny involved in all this – Pamela explains it’s her responsibility to be debuted into society as she needs to find a husband in order to provide an heir and to help her run her family’s estate when it comes to her. (I’m disappointed to see that debutantes are still a ‘thing’ even without the royal connections. I also think it’s very weird that girls of 16-20 essentially dress as brides for their debut).

Anyway, Darrell can’t resist interfering and books Pamela a place on the open day at the teacher training college she had wanted to go to. Understandably Pamela is furious – she’s clearly unhappy but has made up her mind that debuting is the right thing to do. Darrell only makes things worse by then trying on Pamela’s dress and getting caught in the act. Pamela is also furious about this, but really, how silly is it to store a couture dress in an unlocked classroom?

My notes for this scene basically read “DARRELL, NO!” It’s such an idiotic thing to do. It’s such a non-Darrell thing to do. Far more up Gwen’s street.

And of course the zip gets stuck and of course they rip the sash and scatter the beads as Gwen tries to help her out of it. Obviously they scramble to fix this and persuade Emily into helping, only one of the pearls is missing. Gwen has a pearl hair pin (she mentioned this before) and so goes to fetch it, only she’s wearing the flipping dress as she insisted it would be easier for Emily to fix if it was on a person, despite there being a mannequin bust there for the dress. Yes, Gwen, wearing a debutante dress several sizes too big goes all the way through the school to fetch a hair pin which Darrell could have gone for.

It’s obvious they had two dresses made as although it’s clearly too big on the chest for both Darrell and Gwen, that a dress that reaches the floor when Pamela wears it is only trailing an inch on the floor when the first formers wear it.

There’s a reason, though, because they needed Gwen to scare Alicia, Irene and Mary-Lou when they think she’s the ghost. In further inexplicable silliness she then wears the pin back and then dithers over whether or not to let Emily take it to fix the dress.

Pamela forgives Darrell and explains to her the deal with her family’s estate and so on.

“I love that there are girls out there that are breaking with tradition, who’ll make new paths for the rest of us to follow. We can’t all be pioneers, Darrell Rivers.”

I can’t help but feel that’s a cop out.

Apart from nothing in this episode being from the books I can’t see anything that was necessary for the advancement of the plot of the series. Darrell is to lose Pamela as a coach and mentor but that could have been dealt with in thirty seconds, it did not need a full episode! Obviously I haven’t seen the remaining three episodes but I imagine you could skip this one entirely and not miss anything.

Random thoughts

It strikes me as odd some of the things they change. Why does Matron (or Miss Potts) come and wake them every day? In the books there is a bell rung, so presumably a maid would go to each tower and ring it from a spot where each dorm could hear it. Here you’ve got a matron or teacher having to go to each dorm, or four of them sharing the towers, to wake the girls. Who’s got time for that?

The benefit in this episode was that we got this little conversation:

“The early bird catches the worm.”

“Yeah but the early worm gets eaten.”

“Interesting you see yourself as the worm in this, Alicia”

The whole monitor thing made no sense, as I said above it has never been mentioned before and I’m not sire that the term ‘monitor’ fits the role. In the books the girls take it in turns to be (class)room monitor each week which means changing the water in the flower vases, wiping down the blackboard, tidying up, restocking chalk and dusters and so on. So they monitor the readiness of the classroom for the next lesson. At Whyteleaf monitors are a panel who monitor behaviour at the school and provide advice.

At St Clare’s the similar role is just called ‘waiting on’ the girls, while Roald Dahl talks about ‘fagging’ at his public school – clearly not a term I’d expect to hear now (then again one of the roles of the fags was warming the seats of the outdoor toilets, how very un-Blyton).

The name of the role aside, why when Gwen fails does Darrell get the job? Surely as Sally isn’t leaving she could go back to it.

It’s a shame that Miss Grayling is missing from these two episodes. Miss Potts is brilliant as always but Miss Grayling adds a little more gravitas. I wonder if the actress simply wasn’t available?

Sally’s plan strikes me as really stupid. Her mother was hardly going to leave while she was missing – and even if she did, as soon as Sally reappeared the school would ship her on home! It’s also ludicrous that she and Darrell hide under the very bed Mrs Hope sits on and have a conversation without Mrs Hope or Miss Potts hearing them.

On a positive note, we get a few glimpses of the grounds (not sure if some of these are actually the grounds of where it was filmed) but they are beautiful.

I’m particularly intrigued by the doorway into the slope in the last screen grab.

Lastly, they do nothing to make the forms less confusing in the show! Blyton was always very vague and girls moved up and down, and then suddenly we had upper and lower forms… Pamela is in the lower sixth, and expected to move up to the upper sixth the next year so exactly how many years would she spend at the school?

I still recommend the show but it’s clear that the more they deviate from the source material the less believable the story gets!

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Monday #378

I am usually scrambling about for blog ideas but at the moment I seem to have far too many, even with posting three times a week! I am having to have a break between lock down displays on Sundays to fit in the monthly round up this week, and next week there won’t be a fan fic Friday so I can fit something else in instead. It’s the final chapter of Conquering the Castle this week anyway, so next week is a good time for a break before we start on the next fic which is The Mystery of the Missing Agent, based on the events of The Sea of Adventure.

In other news, last week I was excited to get three free audiobooks from Jemma Hatt’s Adventurers Series. Jemma herself got in touch and offered me them in return for an honest review, which I think is a fair deal especially as I had been planning to buy at least one of these to read and review anyway! (Sometimes bloggers can be bitten by being offered freebies which they then spend hours and hours testing and reviewing, and in the end it isn’t really worth it for the sake of the free item, but this is certainly not one of those situations.) So, a review of the first Adventurers book will be coming in the next few weeks (see what I mean about too many ideas!). I feel like I’ve finally ‘made it’ as a blogger!

Malory Towers on TV episodes 9 and 10


Conquering the Castle: Epilogue


June round up

“You’re only kids – but you’re the finest company of friends anyone could have. You know the meaning of loyalty already, and even if you’re scared you don’t give up. I’m proud to have you as my friends.”

Bill gets a little choked up when he discovered that the Mannering and Trent children chose to search for him instead of making for safety in The Sea of Adventure.

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