September 2022 round up

September is over and with it went the last dregs of summer. We are now into October and autumn, but here’s what I got up to in September.


What I have read

I reached 100 books this month, which was my goal for the year. Now I need to decide if I want to up it by another 15 or 20 books, or just leave it. It’s not like I’ll stop reading either way.

What I have read:

  • The BFG – Roald Dahl
  • A Mother’s Love (Wartime Midwives #4) – Daisy Styles
  • The House in the Cerulean Sea – TJ Klune
  • The Primrose Railway Children – Jacqueline Wilson
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
  • The Story of Our Queen – reviewed here
  • The Little Bookshop on the Seine (Little Paris #1) – Rebecca Raisin
  • Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs (Jane Jamieson #1) – Molly Harper
  • Five Go to Demon’s Rocks – reviewed here and here
  • The Library – Bella Osborne
  • Nice Girls Don’t Date Dead Men (Jane Jamieson #2) – Molly Harper
  • Class (Maggie Adair #1) – Jane Beaton, recommended here
  • Rules (Maggie Adair #2) – Jane Beaton
  • The Single Mum’s Book Club – Victoria Cooke

And I’m still working on:

  • The Light Years (Cazalet Chronicles #1) – Elizabeth Jane Howard
  • Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator – Roald Dahl
  • Gunner Girls and Fighter Boys – Mary Gibson

What I have watched

  • I’ve continued with House of Games and George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces.
  • Despite a fair few bad reviews we’ve been enjoying Rings of Power
  • I watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with Brodie now he’s read the book
  • The Queen’s cortege as it passed through Dundee, and then most of the funeral coverage (minus the actual services).
  • I went back and watched the first two series of The Crown and I’m now on series three which I’ve not watched before.
  • My sister has introduced me to Pretty Woman and 13 going on 30 on our Tuesday movie nights.
  • At the weekends we have watched The Shape of Water (worst film I’ve ever seen!)
  • Thor Love and Thunder and Dangerous Minds

What I have done

  • I took a trip into town with Brodie and my sister to visit the museum and treated ourselves to fancy ice cream sundaes
  • We made use of our membership to go to bus day at the Transport Museum, which included a free shuttle bus on vintage buses there and back, and we had lunch out after at a pizza place. Brodie even had his photo taken driving a bus which ended up on the front cover of the local paper.
  •  I visited my favourite place – St Andrews – with my parents and sister while Brodie was at school, we had lunch and a walk around as well as visiting some of the shops
  • We went to Blair Dummond Safari for my nephews’ birthdays
  • We turned an ordinary walk in the woods into a mushroom hunt and must have found at least a dozen different varieties

What I have bought

The Story of Our Queen, which I wrote about recently. I bought a copy the day after the Queen died, but then ended up reading a pdf copy a friend put online. It is still a lovely book to have, though.

How was your September?

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Monday #495

My weekend seemed to go past at whirlwind speed and I completely forgot about writing a Monday post on Sunday evening.

I have at last remembered that today is Monday, though.

September round up

and

Five Go to Demon’s Rocks part three

This week’s location isn’t from the books, or even inspiration for the books. But it is one of my favourite places and having gone on about lighthouses rather a lot over the past weeks, I thought why not have some more? Stef and I used to put up photos every Monday so it will be nice to revisit that even if it’s just for today.

The lighthouse nearest the camera is the Tayport Low lighthouse, formerly used to guide ships into the River Tay. The Tayport High (or West) lighthouse is still operational, and is just a few minutes’ walk along the river bank. The Low lighthouse was replaced by the Tayport Pile lighthouse (a strange boxy thing on legs in the river) which is also not operational any more.

We like visiting this bit of stony beach on our walk. Brodie loves to go ‘rock climbing’ and digging with his vehicles.

As for me, I love it as it’s a great place to find sea-glass and pottery as well as being very beautiful. The lighthouse is in the garden of a house on the low cliff, and I’m very jealous. I’d love to live there with my own lighthouse, and have my own back gate right onto the beach.

 

 

 

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Blyton for Grown-Ups: Class by Jenny Colgan

This is my first Blyton for Grown-Ups post – all the rest were written by Stef.

To preface – I am always looking for books set in bookshops and libraries. I recently found The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan which fitted the bill. It’s about a woman who, after losing her library job, moves from Birmingham to a tiny (fictional) village on the banks of Loch Ness where she opens a mobile bookshop and slowly brings the locals around to the idea. There are two more books in the series which focus on other newcomers to the village, but the bookshop is always in the background.

I liked the writing but didn’t particularly fancy any of her other titles which mostly fall into the category of woman opens (or returns to her families’) teashop/bakery/café after going through some sort of personal upheaval, and then falls in love with a local man who is either bad-tempered, secretive or who appears to already be in a relationship. Sometimes all three. I don’t mind those sort of stories but I prefer them when they have at least have the added interest of a bookish theme.

And then I spotted Class, which she originally wrote under another name and which unfortunately meant it wasn’t as popular as her other books.

It’s not set in a bookshop or library but it is set in a girls’ boarding school…


Promises fulfilled

How often have you been lured by the promise ‘perfect for fans of…’ printed on a books’ cover? Thankfully I’m pretty cynical and don’t often fall for it. Sometimes, of course, the book is wonderful, oftentimes, it’s not.

Class – and its two sequels Rules and Lessons – promise quite a lot.

Just like Malory Towers for grown-ups
Sophie Kinsella

If you were a fan of Malory Towers or St Clare’s books in your – ahem – youth, you’ll love this
Closer

These are the endorsements that I’m often suspicious of. But I do love Sophie Kinsella’s books and I knew I already like Jenny Colgan’s writing.

Colgan herself doesn’t doesn’t mention Blyton in her note to readers at the beginning of Class or Rules, but there’s also an introduction for some reason in Rules,

When I was growing up… I was obsessed with boarding school books… Malory Towers, St Clare’s…

Unfortunately she also had to follow that with a swipe at Blyton –

As a voracious adult reader, I realised a couple of years ago that I still missed those books. The prose of Enid Blyton jars a little these days (and they do horribly gang up on and bully Gwendoline for the sole sin of crying when her parents drop her off).

I had already finished the first book before I read that, and having thoroughly enjoyed it was too invested to let that put me off. Perhaps she was just being trendy, who knows. She does have her main character mention Noddy, and the Bookshop series in based in Kirrinfief so I think she still likes Blyton, really.

As Colgan lists several boarding school series as childhood favourites it is impossible to say that any parts of her own series are directly influenced by Blyton. There are several things I picked up on, though, that I feel I recognise.


The story

Descriptions I had read of the first couple of books suggested that there would be a strong romance element to the stories, but in fact that plays quite a small part. The story being planned to stretch over six books perhaps accounts for that. Usually the best part of romance novels is the will-they-won’t-they part anyway.

Maggie Adair is our main adult character, and the series begins with her applying for a job at Downey House, a girls’ boarding school on the coast in Cornwall. Her boyfriend, Stan, isn’t happy. He thinks she should stay at her inner city Glasgow school, the school they went to as teenagers themselves.

Nonetheless she goes for the interview and gets the job. Her parts of the book are about her adjusting to the world of rich girls, a stark contrast to the deprivation she witnessed in Glasgow, trying to keep her relationship with the unsupportive Stan going and ignoring the fact she rather likes her ‘opposite number’ – the English teacher at Downey Boys boarding school just along the coast.

We also see quite a lot of Veronica Deveral, a headmistress with a long-kept secret, and Mam’selle Crozier, a young a fun-loving French mistress who is having man troubles of her own.

Significant parts of the story are actually about the girls themselves, focussing on a few of the girls in Maggie’s first year guidance class.

There’s new girl Felicity who’s determined she’s going to hate boarding school life
Also new is Simone, a scholarship girl who struggles to fit in
And Alice who’s cool and cutting and encourages Felicity to behave even more badly than she already is.


The Blytonisms

Downey house is very like Malory Towers. The girls arrive by train or car, up the sweeping drive to the castle-like building with four towers. The girls are divided into the four towers, but they are entitled Tudors, Plantagenets, York and Wessex, rather than compass points. There’s even an outdoor swimming pool, though we don’t see them using it.

The school is led by the very competent Miss Deveral who has a Miss Grayling-worthy speech to give to her new girls.

I want you to take advantage of everything we
can offer you. Downey House isn’t just about books and exams, although
those are part of it. It’s about becoming a confident, rounded young woman.
It’s about being able to take on the world. So I don’t want you to chain
yourself to the library. I want you to get out there; to enjoy the fresh air; to
make good friendships with the other girls; to participate in as many sports
and societies as you can, and to throw yourself into everything with as
much enthusiasm as you’ve thrown yourself into getting in here.

You’ll get a lot out of Downey House—as long as you give a lot back

Felicity’s determination she doesn’t want to go to boarding school is rather like Elizabeth Allen in The Naughtiest Girl. She doesn’t act out at every opportunity, however. Instead she just doesn’t put effort into her work, has a slight attitude in English class as she particularly dislikes Miss Adair, and allows herself to be led astray by Alice (somewhat like Darrell and Alicia in their first form). She makes one grand gesture at the Christmas concert which backfires rather badly on her, and she is offered the choice to go back to a regular high school if she stays until the end of her first year. Of course, by then she has learned she rather likes the school…

There is a plot about thefts in the school, with the culprit revealing she has been kicked out of a few schools for theft before. Unlike Daphne she doesn’t get a second chance. The thefts also prompt a dramatic night-time rescue of a girl from the snow covered wilderness that surrounds the school.

There’s a big prank played by the girls which – as it’s played outside of class doesn’t garner too much of a punishment even though the main culprit owns up as she wants the credit!

There’s even the same element of Blyton’s dodgy maths when you compare the number of pupils to the number and teachers. There are just over 350 pupils, with the girls only beginning at year three, and going on to sixth form. That makes 80-90 students a year, yet there are only two English teachers, one French, Physics, Maths, PE, Music and Drama. The only way it could work would be if each year was split into two classes of 40-45 pupils (very unlikely at a prestigious private school) as that would give eight classes between eight teachers. The classes we witness (always Maggie’s) seem significantly smaller than that.

Of course it isn’t a carbon-copy of Malory Towers. Apart from the adults’ storylines it’s also set in the 2000s. Mobile phone use is quite restricted but the girls are a bit more worldly and certainly a lot more interested in boys than any of Blyton’s pupils were. But then this is a book for adults.


I had a little confusion trying to identify all the books in the series. Colgan says she wants to write six but it seems she has only done three so far, the third being titled Lessons.

The first book – Class is often subtitled as Welcome to the Little School by the Sea so the series is sometimes known as Little School (or just School) by the Sea. It’s also called The Maggie Adair series, and for some inexplicable reason Fantastic Fiction, usually a pretty reliable source, has it as the Maggie series (2 books), Maggie Adair series (4 books, all Lessons as this was published in 3 parts as well as in one volume), and Little School by the Sea (3 books). Some sites also call it The Muir Island series which must be a mistake that keeps getting copied.

Regardless of what anyone’s calling it the first book is an enjoyable read, which for me, was particularly fun because of all the Blytonian elements.

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Five Go to Demon’s Rocks part 2 – Jeremiah Boogle and the Wreckers

Last time I focussed on Demon’s Rocks and the lighthouse. This time it’s going to be all about Jeremiah Boogle and the wreckers.


All about Jeremiah Boogle

Jeremiah Boogle is one of a few similar characters Blyton gives us. The sort of very old man who loves to sit and tell stories about times long past. Often they get past and present muddled up. Sometimes they are very crotchety and have little time for the youth of the day, but of course the Five are so polite and well-mannered that they are exempt from this scorn.

jeremiah boogle demon's rocks

We first hear of JB as I will call him from his great grandson George Jackson, who drives the Five plus Tinker and Mischief to Demon’s Rocks.

I was born at Demon’s Rocks. My old great-grandad is still in the same cottage where I was born. My word—the stories he used to tell me of that old light-house…

You ought to look up my old great-grandad, and get him to tell you his tales…

Ask for Jeremiah Boogle. You’ll find him sitting some where on the quay, smoking a long pipe, and scowling at anyone that comes nigh him. But he likes children, so don’t you be afraid of his scowl. He’ll tell you a few tales, will my old great-grandad!

The Five find JB, sitting at the docks with his pipe just as described. JB is not so complementary about his great grandson, however. George seems a perfectly friendly and capable young man until you hear JB talk about him.

That’s more than that silly young great-grandson of mine can! He don’t know nothing, nothing at all—except about cars. Well, who wants cars, nasty, smelly noisy things? Pah! That young George Jackson is a ninny.

 

However he quickly gets on to his stories of wreckers and regales them with some fine tales – see below for more on that. From what Tom the Tobacconist says, it would appear that the locals think that JB is a bit of a fantasist. They are probably too young to remember or have witnessed the wreckings, and the fact that he holds a grudge against the wreckers’ descendants is probably a source of amusement to them. Still, he seems well-respected and liked.

I did a some maths to work out JB’s age (and the timeframe for the wreckings) based on the information we are given throughout the book. There’s a propensity for children to think anyone over the age of about thirty is ancient, but Blyton’s old men are usually genuinely very old.

I began with the assumption that the story is set around 1961 – the year of publication. Tom the tobacconist says that JB never forgets anything, even if it happened 80 or more years ago, so we can assume he is at least 83, putting his birth around the late 1870s. Tom also says that the wrecking business occurred nearly 70 years ago, so in the 1890s. JB told the children that he was not much older than Tinker at the time, so around 10-12 perhaps. This ties in, as in the early 1890s, a 12 year old would have been born in the late 1870s. None of the dates are exact – there are lots of ‘nigh ons’ and JB is estimating Tinker’s age so it could be a few years either way.

Anyway – he’s clearly sprightly for his age as he gives the children a tour of the underground caves, breaks down the lighthouse door with his shoulder (alongside a policeman) and is even nimble enough to avoid being rushed at by one of his arch enemies.


All about the Three Wreckers

The present-day bad-uns of Demon’s Rocks, who the Five have some run-ins with, aren’t wreckers, but they are descendants of the wreckers.

Jacob and Ebeneezer Loomer (this is the first time I’ve actually noticed they have a surname!) give tours of the wreckers’s caves at Demon’s Rocks and boost their income with a little petty theft from time to time. (Though the policeman says that Jacob is a fool as well as a rogue and might have given the things stolen from the Five away…)

I think I’ve always thought the tours were their job – these two fellows he spits at have the job of showing people round the caves here—especially the Wreckers’ Cave (Tom the Tobacconist is a font of local knowledge). But later Julian asks JB is they have to pay to go in the caves, and he answers No. People give Ebenezer a tip – a shilling or so—if he shows them round—or Jacob, when he’s there. That makes it sound a bit less organised or official than a job. The Five also find out that Jacob and Ebeneezer have dressed up the main wrecker’s cave with some old boxes and so on, pretending they are genuine. They also only take the visitors so far in as they are afraid to go too far into the caves.

Anyway, they are descendants from the Three Wreckers – One-Ear Bill, and his son Nosey and nephew Bart. One-Ear’s name reportedly came from his ear being chewed off by a monkey. All three were hated and fears in the Demon’s Rocks community.

JB tells them that back in his day there was no lighthouse at Demon’s Rocks, but instead a warning light would be lit on the cliffs to tell ships to stay out to sea and avoid the dangerous rocks. In a similar plot to Five Go Down to the Sea – but with more personality as the wreckers have names and identities – the wreckers move the light to force shipwrecks which they can then plunder. At first the wreckers just took from any ships that happened to crash but then they got greedy and began to cause them. I don’t know why but that somehow just makes it all worse.

They went to prison in the end – thanks to JB telling the police about them – but their treasures were never found. One-Ear Bill had hidden them – somewhere that not even Nosey or Bart could find them, and then One-Ear Bill died in prison. JB has hunted for the treasure (even though he doubts anything was ever hidden there), as did Bart and Nosey along with hundreds or maybe thousands of tourists but not a single thing has ever been found. Until the Five show up, naturally.


Next time – all about Uncle Quentin and Professor Hayling

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Monday #494

It is now the last week of September, meaning we passed the autumn equinox a few days ago. It is definitely feeling more autumnal now, much cooler weather and darker evenings. My thick cardigans have come out and I am (as every year) on the hunt for a decent pair of boots to see me through the winter. Maybe I should give up and just buy a pair of galoshes to go over my normal shoes!

Five Go to Demon’s Rocks part 2

and

If you like Blyton for grown-ups: Class by Jenny Colgan

Belinda had wandered off to look for her night-case. Whilst the others were still putting out their things, she sauntered back, a brown suit-case in her hand. She opened it and shook out a pair of pyjamas. She stared at them in surprise.

“Golly! I didn’t know I had pyjamas like this,” she said. “And what posh bedroom slippers Mother has put in for me. For a surprise, I suppose!”

Darrell looked over her shoulder. Then she grinned. “You’ll get into trouble if you unpack any more of those things,” she said. “They belong to Georgina Thomas! She’ll be jolly wild if she finds out you’ve got her night-case! She’s probably hunting all over the place for it now. Can’t you read, Belinda?”

Belinda adds to the chaos of the first day of term in Second Form at Malory Towers by losing her case then taking the wrong one.

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Enid Blyton and Queen Elizabeth II – The Story of Our Queen

I have found myself a bit emotional at times in the past weeks, since the announcement was made that the Queen had died . She had been monarch for my entire life – my parents’ entire lives – forever, or so it felt. She was a constant presence even for those who never met her. And although I have never met any of the remaining royal family members, I nonetheless was moved by their obvious grief.

Although I am not an ardent royalist (there is certainly room for reform in the system) I have always been quite fascinated by the royal family – a lot of people are. It’s a life very far removed from anything most of us can imagine.

I have enjoyed seeing stories recently about how the Queen terrified a Saudi Prince by driving him around in her Land Rover, or the time she pretended not to be the Queen to a couple of American tourists who didn’t recognise her as she strode around the Scottish Highlands.

It struck me, some time on the Friday, the day after the Queen died, that there was an Enid Blyton book about her that I didn’t own and had never read. Needless to say I swiftly remedied that.


The Story of Our Queen – fact or fiction?

This is a non-fiction book, though, unusually it is told rather in the style of fiction. It begins:

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, a little Princess was born. She lay in her beautiful cot, a small golden-haired baby, her big blue eyes watching the sunbeams that shone through the window.

This, and various other little moments, particularly dialogue are most likely fictionalised – as with The Crown, we know of major events and often have rough ideas of what sort of conversations went on but the exact wording and so on has to be imagined.

It doesn’t shy away from the major events of the young princess’s life – beginning with the birth of her younger sister, Princess Margaret. In a chapter titled An Important Little Girl the death of her grandfather, King George V – or Grandpa King as she called him, and the abdication of her Uncle Edward.

The word abdication isn’t actually used, perhaps Blyton wanted the book to remain accessible to even the youngest of readers, and of course there is no mention of the Wallis Simpson or divorce. She explains that he

…did not wish to reign, and gave up his rights as king ; and so his brother George, Elizabeth’s father, became King instead…

It does touch on what an impact that must have had on the young princess, though.

Elizabeth knew that she herself was next in line—she would be Queen of England when her father died! It must have been a solemn and frightening thought—but even at that time the little girl was determined to serve her people well . . . and how she must have hoped that it would be very many years before she was called to the throne.

It was several years, but not very many as of course we know that King George VI died  aged 56 in 1952 when Elizabeth was just 25.

Her father’s coronation is mentioned, reminding us that although those of us reading it today have only seen one coronation, Blyton was alive during the time of three coronations, though the first was when she was only around three-and-a-half.

I found these lines – about the old grand customs and age-old ceremonies interesting. As it has been so long for most of us since a coronation was held, the customs perhaps seem very much of the early to mid 1900s era. It hadn’t really occurred to me that they would have seemed ‘old’ during Blyton’s time. But of course various royal traditions must go back hundreds of years.

And now, in this present year, 1953, all the old grand customs and rites are taking place once again, at Elizabeth’s own coronation. Once more she carries history on her shoulders and is part of the long long centuries that have seen our kings and queens come and go…

You will remember the day of King George’s funeral, when once more age-old ceremonies and rites brought our magnificent history to life —and we saw the pomp and grandeur of long-past days unrolling before our eyes.

WWII is also mentioned – a rarity for Blyton, though difficult to avoid in a non-fiction book covering that time.

But now a black shadow was over the country—the shadow of war with Germany. Like many other children the two princesses were sent out of London because of the fear of bombing….

It was decided that they must be brought from Balmoral to somewhere near London… Few people knew that their beloved little princesses were living safely during those war years within the great stone walls of stately Windsor Castle.

It also covers the war contributions of the princesses.

they knitted a great deal, they collected war salvage, they had parties for London children who had been sent into the country, they did stirrup-pump practice in case of fire, and they helped in many war concerts. There was always something to do.

Along with my favourite information as somehow it seems incongruous (despite the story about her and the Saudi Prince)

Princess Elizabeth joined the A.T.S., drove army trucks and lorries, even in the black-out at nights, she oiled and greased trucks, took down engines, changed wheels, and did anything she was told. It was her own wish to do this and the nation was proud of her.

The death of her father is softened somewhat – there is no mention of his his prolonged illness beforehand (or the fact that the princess had taken on an increasing amount of royal duties due to his poor health).

The King, her father, was dead. When his servant had gone to
awaken him that February morning, he was in too deep a sleep ever to wake again—his soul had slipped away with his dreams.

The book ends with Blyton and the reader looking forward to Elizabeth’s coronation.


General comments

This is a lovely book. It is a very simple version of the Queen’s life, as it is aimed at young children, but it is still full of interesting information about her life. Although it omits precise and darker details of what went on in the royal household it doesn’t completely ignore the facts of the abdication or the losses of King George V and VI.

I would have loved to have had another volume, chronicling the early years of her reign and on, but of course Blyton died in 1968, and her poor health prevented her from writing for a few years before that.

The illustrations are charming, and the likenesses to the royals are very good. I have seen a suggestion that they were copied (with a few alterations) from photographs from the time, which seems fairly likely.

 

 

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Five Go to Demon’s Rocks

I have now reached book #19 of 21. A lot of Blyton fans seem to feel that the latter books in the series are the weakest. I would certainly say that books 20 and 21 – Five Have a Mystery to Solve and Five Are Together Again – are the weakest of the series, but I don’t think that Demon’s Rocks is weak in any way at all.

In fact it is my sixth favourite Famous Five title, coming in above a lot of the earlier books which many fans would class as the best ones.

It is Demon’s Rocks that has given me a life-long association between Enid Blyton and lighthouses. With that in mind my first post is going to be light on plot and heavy on location.


The location of the lighthouse

I’ll begin this section by sharing that – on paying closer attention to the finer details of this book – I realised that my mental picture of Demon’s Rocks isn’t at all accurate.

In my mind, if you were out to sea, you would look landward and see Demon’s Rocks village on the left with the harbour out front. Then to the right of that the land rising to cliffs, a rocky ‘beach’ in front, running from near the harbour all the way along the cliffs. I therefore pictured the lighthouse sitting on those rocks, close-ish to the cliffs. The boat, in my mind, was needed as parts of the rocks were submerged at high tide, with enough sea between between the rocks and the harbour to necessitate a boat at high tide.

My mental picture also has the front door facing out to sea. This is entirely wrong for a few reasons. Firstly that would mean the waves were directly battering it and the stairs (which is foolish), secondly the dust jacket clearly shows the door on the opposite side to the sea.

Now, the left-to-right layout is never contradicted nor proven in the book, so we can picture it that way or as a mirror image. I suspect the Five heading towards the lighthouse on their right contributes to my left-to-right image, though with the sea behind the lighthouse that doesn’t mean anything. We don’t know if they are coming from their boat here or heading back after exploring.

Anyway – the true layout, now that I have paid attention, is that the lighthouse actually stands on a rocky bit of land out to sea. (I am imaging most of my readers saying ‘well DUH’ at this point.). At low tide enough rock is uncovered to enable people to walk out to the lighthouse.

The car swept down almost to the edge of the sea. The light-house was now plainly to be seen, a good way out from the shore… ‘These are the rocks that we can walk over when the tide’s out,’ said Tinker.

Clearly the young me didn’t pay enough attention to the very clear description here, and the older me also didn’t pay enough attention and just relied on my childish imagination.

I think this time, reading for a review plus having recently read about a similar lighthouse – the Bell Rock Lighthouse, which isn’t all that far from where I live – finally hammered the correct details into my head.


The real Demon’s Rocks?

You can’t walk to the Bell Rock Lighthouse though, as it’s several miles off the coast. I still wondered for a brief moment if that one had inspired Blyton. It is, after all, the oldest sea-washed lighthouse still in operation now, and she may well have heard the story of the HMS Argyll running aground on the Bell Rock during WWI.

However, I thought it was possibly more likely that her inspiration had come from closer to home. It’s also entirely possible that she was inspired by something she had read in a book, or in a postcard from abroad. But still, I fell down a several hour-long rabbit-hole on Wikipedia and other sites, looking for sea-washed lighthouses around England that may have been inspiration for Tinker’s lighthouse.

There are a few offshore lighthouses off the coast of England – but the key phrase there is off the coast, anywhere from 1.25-30 or more, so definitely not a walkable distance! Most of them are, like the Bell Rock, well off the coast. There are a couple that are positioned like Demon’s Rocks.

Beachy Head lighthouse (my top contender) is at the rocky base of the cliffs in East Sussex, and is in fact, a replacement for an older lighthouse which had been built up on the cliffs but suffered from its light being obscured by fog. (In Demon’s Rocks it’s the other way around, but this is still a little bit of a parallel that I think lends credence to my theory.)

Here you can see it at high tide – cut off from land, and again at low tide.

Photos by Mike B on Pexels and Jaleel Akbash on Unsplash

You can walk to Beachy Head Lighthouse at the lower end of low tides, across the rocks. It doesn’t look very much like Demon’s Rocks lighthouse, but then Soper’s illustrations aren’t exactly gospel (they even sometimes directly contradict the text). Plus, of the few lighthouses that can be walked to at low tide Beachy Head is one that looks like the traditional image of a lighthouse. The others are very short and squat, or boxes on legs.

New Brighton Lighthouse perhaps looks a little more like Soper’s illustration, and it can be walked to, but the beach surrounding it is sandy and it lacks cliffs.

Photos by David Hughes from Pixabay and Marius Cern on Unsplash

Soper’s illustration probably most resembles lighthouses like Flamborough Head – but without the buildings at  its base, Heugh Lighthouse in Hartlepool, Hurst Point in Hampshire or Trevose Head, Cornwall. It’s not unreasonable to suggest, though, that Soper’s inspiration could have come from an entirely different place from Blyton’s, as Blyton doesn’t describe the outside in great detail, other than the balcony and it being tall.

Flamborough Head by James Kemp on Unsplash and Trevose Point by Wirestock on Freepik

 ‘That one’s made of stone. It’s wave-swept so it has to be fairly tall, or the shining of the lamp would have been hidden by the spray falling on the windows.’ – Jackson, the driver.

As a child (and as an adult even) I didn’t realise that wave-swept (or sea-washed) meant more than it being close enough to the water to be wetted, it actually meant out to sea.

Anne gazed at it. It was sturdily built and seemed very tall to her. Its base was firmly embedded in the rocks below it…. A gallery, rather like a verandah, ran round the top, just below the windows through which the light-house lamp once shone.

Mind you, Soper didn’t draw a very tall lighthouse on the cover. It looks rather squatter than I’d expect given the four floors beneath the lamp room and all the references to it being tall. Then again, any taller and it wouldn’t have fitted on the cover!

Inside the ground floor has the trap-door which will become important in the latter parts of the story. Then there’s a store room, an oil room, a room used as a bedroom and then the sitting room/kitchen and the lamp room at the very top. No mention of a bathroom at all – not even for washing up or brushing teeth!

I had forgotten that there is one of those little bits of tragic history that Blyton likes to throw in behind the lighthouse.

It’s an odd little light-house, really—built by a rich man years and years ago. His daughter was drowned in a ship that was wrecked on these rocks—so he built a light-house, partly as a memorial to the girl, and partly to prevent other ship-wrecks.


The practicalities

I have to say the Five had me quite stressed at times. They rightfully point out that if they leave the boat at the lighthouse they have to be back in time to walk across the rocks before the tide turns.

Nowadays of course you’d just google tide times, but they don’t have that luxury. There may have been a tide times chart up at the harbour – because of course it changes daily – but the Five are never shown to consult such a thing nor mention any specific times.

When they cross rocks by Kirrin Island (to get to the wreck/newly discovered cave) it is very slippery, but they are lucky that the path to the lighthouse aren’t too bad. They are described as wicked rocks – with sharp edges and points that would hole a ship at once.


The lighthouse of old

The chapters where they are trapped in the lighthouse are probably some of my favourite parts of this book, and they give us a glimpse of the lighthouse when it was working.

The bell they find was cast in 1896 – which sounds pretty old to us, but it’s younger than Jeremiah Boogle (my maths on his age will be in the next post). It hadn’t been heard for 40 years, (around 1921) he says, when it suddenly rings out in the middle of a dark and stormy night.

‘A bell! A bell I’ve not heard for nigh on forty years!’ said old Jeremiah, standing up, hardly able to believe his ears. ‘No—it can’t be the light-house bell. That’s been gone for many a day!’

The light also won’t have been seen for forty years so it’s not surprising that Jeremiah Boogle is astounded and wonders if he isn’t imagining it all.


Part two will be all about Jeremiah Boogle and the Wreckers.

Posted in Book reviews, Locations | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Monday #493

Having written the bulk of the below last week, I then failed to hit ‘schedule’.

Two weeks ago we heard the sad news of the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Although some time has passed, the country is in an official period of mourning until after the funeral, so things will take some time to go completely back to normal. Though the ‘new normal’ of King Charles III will take some time to get used to, I think. I believe around 85% of the UK population had only known Queen Elizabeth II as monarch, so a lifetime of consistency has suddenly come to an end for many of us. I think many people, even though they wouldn’t consider themselves royalists or huge fans of the monarchy are feeling unsettled right now.

I have been writing as usual, however, as I think that life has to continue as normal as much as possible!

Five Go to Demon’s Rocks

and

Enid Blyton and the Queen

God save the king!

– An apt phrase of Kiki’s from the Adventure Series books (excluding The River of Adventure which came out in 1955).

Her phrase was updated to say Queen in later editions, so I have to wonder if they will revert back for future publications?

kiki

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If you like Blyton: The Primrose Railway Children by Jacqueline Wilson

Having covered the controversy of Jacqueline Wilson writing a new Faraway Tree book, and then reviewing that book you may be tired of seeing her name popping up here. Regardless, I have just recently read The Primrose Railway Children – a modern reimagining of E Nesbit’s classic The Railway Children – and am going to review it while it is still fresh in my mind.


The Railway Children

I know that I should really review the original book first, but as I said above this is fresh in my mind. If I don’t review it now it’ll end up languishing in my drafts for goodness knows how long with the other 40 or so posts I’ve started but never finished.

I have at least read the original, though I had to check whether or not I definitely had. I have watched the two films many times over, so many, in fact that not only do I confuse them with each other, it would also have been entirely possible for me to believe I had read the book even if I hadn’t.

But I have – back in 2017, though I have already forgotten what I learned in terms of how it differs from the films.

I couldn’t pick a favourite of the two films. The first is the 1970 version with Jenny Agutter as Bobbie and Bernard Cribbins as Perks. The there’s the 2000 remake which I believe was a straight to TV version. That has Richard Attenborough as the Old Gentleman, but more importantly the brilliant Jemima Rooper as Bobbie. It also features Jenny Agutter as Mother. I really love it when actors return for a remake and play a parent or other character. Also of interest is that Georgie Glen is in the 2000 film, and she would go on to star in Call The Midwife alongside Jenny Agutter.

Jenny Agutter has also returned for a sequel to The Railway Children, playing a grown-up Bobbie in the 1940s. I can’t wait to watch it!

 


Jacqueline Wilson reimagines

JW ‘has form’ if you will, for reimagining classic children’s books.

I have read another of her E Nesbit reimaginings – Four Children and It and thought it was very enjoyable. I actually read it before I had read the original, though I was familiar with the story from the 1991 TV mini-series.

She has also done the Faraway Tree, of course, as above, and also Katy as in What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge. I have read the original Katy books a long time ago so I’d like to read this as well.

I know a lot of people criticise Jacqueline Wilson and ask why she can’t ‘come up with her own ideas’ and so on, but she has written hundreds of imaginative books of her own already. Besides, she really  is passionate about the books and authors she reimagines. I didn’t know this until the other day but she is the president of the Edith Nesbit Society. So I don’t see these books as her cashing-in on previous writers’ successes at all, but a celebration of classic stories which will hopefully encourage children to seek out the originals too.


The Family

In the original book we have Phyllis, Roberta and Peter whilst JW gives us Becks, Perry and Phoebe. The original Father only appears for about one page – repairing a toy engine – until he arrives at the train station at the end of the book (Daddy, my Daddy! always makes me cry, regardless of what version I read or watch), while we spend some time with Mr Robinson  him in the first chapters before he disappears.

Mr Robinson is a bit of a dreamer, still harking back to when he had a popular children’s TV series based on Robinson Crusoe. Mum works full time supporting the family while Dad works on and off but always comes back to wanting to reboot the show or make a film.

We get an idea fairly early on that everything is not OK – Mum and Dad are stressed and there is some gossip at school but no detail.

Knowing the original story I was immediately trying to work out what was going on. Was Dad going to prison, if so, what for? He tells them he is off for a job interview one morning, and doesn’t come back. Mum tells them he has got the job and has had to travel for it, and won’t be contactable for some time.

The story is told from the perspective of Phoebe, the youngest, and so she guesses he’s gone off to a deserted island to film a new TV series or movie and this idea carries on through the book, lending a similar mystical, imaginary sense to the ‘dragon’ train taking the

Of course in 1905 it is much ‘easier’ to avoid gossip and rumour by moving from a city into the country. It’s also easier to tell three children that their father has gone away, and tell them not to ask questions. Of course the Robinsons don’t play at being Poor though Mum does say they have a debt to pay off, and money does become a worry when she loses her job later. Mum uses the internet to find as remote a holiday rental as she can, for the whole summer plus the last few weeks of term before that.

(I was still trying to work out what was Going On at this point, and wondering if it could really be prison if they plan to return to normal in around three months.)

Mum plans to work from home during the holidays (a very familiar concept these days) only when they arrive at the house she’s rented it turns out she didn’t take the woman seriously enough on the phone when she said it was dilapidated and basic. It’s so basic that it has an outside toilet. OK, so it does have an old-fashioned indoor one as well, but for a moment thought they had found an authentic 1905 Railway Children house. There’s no shower and only  a hip-bath. The kitchen has an old-fashioned range in it, and a small boiler that isn’t really sufficient for four people. I love the idea of the old range cooker but prefer the convenience of a nice modern oven. Getting to grips with a different oven is usually the hardest part of any holiday, even when they leave the instructions. Everything always seems to take about 50% longer to cook than it says it should.

Disastrously for phone-obsessed Becks there’s no Wi-Fi and no phone signal. (I’d have been devastated if I’d been without a phone signal at Becks’ age, though that predates smart phones and WiFi. At 14 I was still texting away on 2g at 10p a message…)

By 1905 standards it’s comfortable enough, even if Perry has to (and actually prefers to) sleep in a large cupboard off the landing. For modern teens and preteens, it’s horrific. The original family’s house is much larger actually, but even they would have been happy enough with this cottage as they weren’t expecting Wi-Fi or even electricity.

There must be electricity at the house as nobody seems to use candles or torches, but there’s no TV and no toaster, but Mum mentions wanting to go out to the café to charge her laptop and phone. Working from home – as an editor for a publishing house – is a very tricky prospect when there’s no internet at home. It’s not immediately clear how she plans to get around this, but the problem is ‘solved’ when the publishing house let her go. It isn’t said why, and could initially be put down to her not being contactable, but as reporters were contacting them before they left London it’s very possible there’s some scandal too.

The lack of technology is helpful for the story in two ways. Firstly it keeps the children in need – and want – of activity, leading them to the Primrose Railway and making that an important place for them. Secondly, it reduces their ability to see news or gossip online. Becks does get a signal at the railway but spends most of her time talking to the young guard there, so she doesn’t accidentally or purposely find out anything about Dad.

In the end it is Phoebe who accidentally finds out the truth – she sees something in a magazine that tells her that her father is in prison, much like Bobbie finds out the truth about her father from a newspaper. The difference is that Bobbie’s father has been unjustly accused of being a spy, while Phoebe’s father is guilty of his crime. There are some mitigating circumstances but it really destroys Phoebe’s hero-worship of her father for a long while.


The Railway

Naturally, in 1905, small railway stations in rural locations were ubiquitous (and well-staffed).

In the 2020s this is very much not the case. There would be little joy to be found at a railway station for children today. JW neatly gets around this by introducing something I love – a heritage railway.

The Primrose Railway of the title is a section of track reopened in the 1980s by some enthusiastic volunteers and is still going when the Robinsons arrive. It sounds like a great railway with a station at each end, the far end being close enough to the town to visit it. There’s a cafe (and free WiFi) at the main station, a friendly station master who befriends the children, and lots of other friendly volunteers who are happy to talk to Perry about the trains (he develops something of an obsession with trains while they stay there, while Peter was always interested in trains.) They also dress up in Edwardian clothing, giving a lovely sense of the time the original book was set.

The station-master – Mr Thomas Brown tells them about the railway –

“The Primrose Railway is authentic in every single way. This small branch line was opened in 1906. It was closed down by the infamous Dr Beeching in 1964, but twenty-five years later a group of railway enthusiasts got together and worked tirelessly to get the branch open again.”

I wondered if he was going to fulfil the Old Gentleman role, or perhaps Perks. In the end it turned out he was more like Perks as he does become a good friend of the children and helps them out quite a bit. He also laments a bit about what Beeching did to the country’s railways – a man after my own heart.

That was taken the day the Primrose Railway was closed down. July the second, 1964, one of the worst days of my life. That Dr Beeching – the Chairman of British Railways – closed down thousands of stations and branch railways in the 1960s. Thousands! He closed this station and all the others on the line and left them to moulder!”

Beeching aside, the children visit the railway quite a lot. There isn’t much else to do where they are. Becks likes the teenage boy volunteering as ticket collector, Perry is obsessed with how many wheels each model of train has and so on, and Phoebe likes Mr Thomas Brown and the railway in general.

They get into trouble once, for exploring the track and going through the tunnel. In the original book they also enter the tunnel – to rescue the boy in the red jersey when he doesn’t appear at the other side during the paperchase. Of course a train comes along and they have to squeeze into the manhole in the walls. The same happens to the Robinsons though they are just in because Perry ran in to take a look.

The Robinsons are in deep trouble for doing such a dangerous thing, while the original children are praised for their rescue. They are also seen by the workmen clearing up from the earlier landslide. They remark that it’s against by-laws to cross the track, but make no attempt to stop them or tell anyone – a slightly different attitude to today!

The landslide in JW’s book happens after they are in trouble for going through the tunnel and so is a way to redeem themselves. Becks is on the train, giving Phoebe and Perry extra impetus. Perry tries to run back to the station to warn them, but doesn’t make it in time while Phoebe waves her red Manchester United t-shirt as a flag (petticoats being in short supply in recent years). It’s not quite as dramatic a scene, I preferred the original as they watch several trees slowly ‘walking down the slope’ before they realise what is going on. In the new book just one large tree falls.


Some Blyton references

Jacqueline Wilson continues to show her affection for Blyton and her books by making several references, though some are more oblique.

“I read a book once about some runaway children and they hid inside a hollow oak.”

That’s obviously Hollow Tree House.

‘Perhaps there was a farm somewhere? That’s what children in books did when they went to the country. They bought cans of milk too, and freshly churned butter, and there was always a friendly farmer’s wife who gave them a cottage loaf still warm from her oven.’

Phoebe’s musings could be about many books but several Famous Fives certainly fit the bill.

“You’ve been reading too many of those Enid Blyton boarding school books,”

Phoebe says this to Becks when the latter plans to stuff clothes under the bedding to make it seem as if she was in bed. I don’t remember them really doing that in any of the boarding school books. Block definitely did it, though!

It’s possibly more Pollyanna-ish as they discuss the possibility of her falling and breaking her neck as she climbs down the tree.

“Half the time I wasn’t me anyway. I was Charlie in the chocolate factory… I lived up the Faraway Tree or in Narnia…”

This is one from their dad.

“His own made-up Robinson Island had been as colourful and cosy as Noddy’s Toytown.”

And lastly another one from Phoebe.


Parallels and differences

I would say that this book is more different to the original than it is the same. She has not merely taken the original story and modernized it.

The bare bones are there – father disappearing to ‘work’, a move to a much less comfortable house. Finding the railway and spending time there, making friends. Saving the line from the landslip. Finding the truth out about their father and being reunited with him in the end.

The main difference is that the dad is guilty, and the children have to come to terms with that. Their reunion with their father is in a prison visiting room, rather than a station platform as a free man. There is hope, however, as his sentence is to be reduced due to good behaviour and he used his time in prison helping other inmates with their reading. After he gets out they stay near the railway, mum gets a much less high-pressure job and Dad writes a best-selling book about his prison experience, and continues to work with young offenders.

The children are also more perceptive, I think. They know that something is wrong, despite Phoebe trying to maintain the fantasy that he’s on a desert island. They have theories like their parents are splitting up, that he’s in debtor’s prison and so on. The original children are much more in the dark.

The parallels are often quite subtle. Mr Thomas Brown fulfils some of Perks role. He gets offended when Mum offers him money for the work he has done in the garden, a subtle nod at the way Perks gets offended when the children bring a range of birthday presents for him and he thinks its charity.

Not being able to find the house (or the boiler in it) echoes them not being able to find their meal the first night.

Similarities and differences aside, this is a good read. There’s the mystery of what happened to their father as well as the usual sort of family dramas that JW writes so well. Each family member is realistic and has their own little story as part of the bigger one, keeping the plot moving on as they work towards finding out what has happened to Dad.

Whether or not you have read (or watched) the Railway Children this is an enjoyable story.

 

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The Enid Blyton Society Journal

I have been a member of the Enid Blyton Society (EBSoc for short) for – I was going to say over ten years but then I checked – fifteen years now, and with that comes three journals a year. I have also bought up as many back issues as I have been able to find, meaning that I now have 65 of the 78 issues so far. (My reminder note to resubscribe for journal 79 is currently pinned to the memo board in the hall, so I must remember to do it!)

This was my very first journal.


A History of the Enid Blyton (Literary) Society Journal

The first few years of journals were titled The Enid Blyton Literary Society Journal. Originally the EBSoc had the longer name of the Enid Blyton Literary Society – in order that it wasn’t confused with The Enid Blyton Collectors’ Society. The Collectors’ Society closed in 1998 and after that the literary was no longer needed.

The first journal was published in 1996 with 32 pages. That, and the next three had black and white printed covers on coloured coloured (buff, pale yellow, pale blue and pale mauve respectively). From Spring 1998 the journals took on the familiar white card with coloured printing.

Two editions exist of journals 1-9 and 11, the difference (apart from the covers for 1-4) is that the second editions have a contents page.

Every year has three journals, a spring, summer and winter issue.

Although it started out as a slim publication the number of pages has varied – it’s usually more than 60, though it depends on the number of articles!

No inch of space is ever wasted, either, with even the back cover containing another gem.


The contents

The contents of the journal vary, but there are some broad categories with regularly feature. The bulk of the content is written by society members – so anyone can send articles in for consideration. Many of them are forum members whose names I recognise. The rest is provided by Tony Summerfield, or Enid via Tony Summerfield.

There are many reviews written for the journal, of Blyton’s books of course, but also of books written about Blyton, of TV series based on her works and so on. After 78 journals there has been more than one article about certain books and series, but it never feels repetitious as each contributor brings a fresh perspective. Some contributors are rather like me and have quite a lot to say, and so you will find their articles are split into several ‘parts’ published in sequential journals.

(Click on any of these article previews to read the text.)

There are often articles about particular characters, places, events, or themes within her works.

Tony Summerfield includes uncollected stories which are ones published in magazines but never reused anywhere else – the sort of stories most people will never have read unless they happen to own a particular issue of Sunny Stories. He also includes a lost of things under the Enid Blyton Ephemera banner, such as scans of letters, photographs, cards and postcards and all sorts of interesting bits and pieces.

There are even a number of famous names (in the Blyton world, anyway) who have written for the journal.

Every journal is a mixed bag of content with something that is sure to appeal to every reader.


To subscribe yourself

Just visit the Fireside Journal page and select your location!

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How many Enid Blyton books have I actually read in the last ten years?

As someone who writes upwards of 2,000 words a week about all things Blytonian, I feel that I actually don’t read an awful lot of her books! At least nowhere near as many as I used to.

So I thought I’d have a look and see how many I’ve actually read since I began keeping record in 2012.


2012

I only began recording books in April 2012 – the first month’s record was on a page in a notebook which I think I still have somewhere. Then I discovered Goodreads and never looked back!

Stef and I didn’t start this blog until November 2012 so from April-October I was just reading whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Then from November came the reviews! I think I was still buying a lot of Blytons around this time, filling in gaps in my collection and also starting to collect series that were completely new to me. Some (old favourites) I read straight away which would account for the random Famous Fives in 2012, others may have sat on my shelves for some time before I got around to trying them out.

April
Mr Galliano’s Circus
Mister Meddle’s Muddles
Fun For the Secret Seven

May
*Enid Blyton at Old Thatch (I had visited Old Thatch after the 2012 Enid Blyton day and bought this from Jackie.)
The Little Tree House
The Further Adventures of Josie Click and Bun
Josie, Click and Bun Again
More About Josie, Click and Bun
Welcome Josie, Click and Bun
Merry Mister Meddle
Well, Really Mr Twiddle

June
Hello, Mr Twiddle
Five Go Off In a Caravan

September
The Valley of Adventure
The Blue Story Book

November
The Mystery of Banshee Towers – I had finally managed to buy a handback of this after a long time searching.

December
The Christmas Book
The Secret Seven

So from that list I can see that I had completed the Josie, Click and Bun series and then read them all, and I must have been buying Mr Twiddle and Mr Meddle books too! Possibly even the Secret Sevens as I don’t think I would have read two random ones otherwise.

As the Old Thatch book is about Blyton rather than by her I’ve listed it but not counted it in the total.

2012 total – 17
overall total – 17


2013

It seems like I continued buying and reading Blyton’s fantasy books in 2013 with my first reads of Mr Pink-Whistle, The Wishing Chair, and re-reads of an old favourite, Amelia Jane.

March
*Who’s Who in Enid Blyton

April
Humpty Dumpty and Belinda
The Mystery of the Spiteful Letters

May
Mr Pink-Whistle’s Party
Bimbo and Topsy
The Adventures of the Wishing Chair

June
Five Have a Puzzling Time and Other Stories

September
Naughty Amelia Jane

October
Amelia Jane Again!

December
More About Amelia Jane
Five on a Treasure Island – this was me reading two copies at once to compare them but I’ll only count it once!

2013 total = 10
overall total = 27


2014

This is the year I started my Noddy collection and was reading them as I bought them, so in entirely the wrong order!

January
*The Famous Five Annual 2014

March
Hurrah for Little Noddy

April
Noddy Gets Into Trouble
Noddy and His Car
First Term at Malory Towers – comparing two versions again

June
You Funny Little Noddy
Noddy and the Bumpy Dog

July
Noddy Goes to Sea
Do Look Out Noddy!
The Secret Island – another comparison

October
Noddy Goes to Toyland
Here Comes Noddy Again
The Island of Adventure – yet another comparison

December
Well Done, Noddy
Father Christmas and Belinda

Well I certainly didn’t let any of my Blytonian reading go to waste this year!

2014 total =14
overall total = 41


2015

In 2015 I carried on buying and reading Noddy books which account for most of the titles on the list.

January
Noddy Goes to School

February
Noddy at the Seaside
*The Famous Five Annual 2015

March
Noddy and the Magic Rubber
The Amelia Jane Bumper Book

April
Be Brave Little Noddy

May
Noddy Has an Adventure

June
You’re a Good Friend, Noddy!

July
Noddy and the Bunkey

August
Noddy Goes to the Fair

September
Mr Plod and Little Noddy
Noddy and the Tootles
Noddy: A Classic Treasury

October
*The Famous Five Adventure Game book 2

November
Noddy and the Aeroplane
The Twins at St Clare’s – comparing two editions

December
Enid Blyton’s Christmas Stories

2015 total = 15
overall total = 56

 


2016

Into the third year of Noddy books now, ending with the Christmas one which I read, rather unseasonably, in the summer. Then I started reviewing the Barney Mysteries, which at least I already had!

February
*Famous Five Annual 2016

March
The Rockingdown Mystery

April
The Rilloby Fair Mystery

May
Cheer Up Little Noddy!
The Ring O’ Bells Mystery
Noddy and Tessie Bear

June
The Rubadub Mystery
Noddy Meets Father Christmas

July
The Rat-a-Tat Mystery
The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage – comparing two editions

August
The Ragamuffin Mystery
Real Fairies – a little gem I found tucked away in the library stacks

December
Five on a Treasure Island – I gave the Jan Francis audiobook a go

2016 total = 12
overall total = 68


2017

I seem to have almost abandoned series completely in 2017 and gone for stand-alone titles.

February
Those Dreadful Children

March
The Children at Green Meadows

April
The Treasure Hunters

May
The Saucy Jane Family – another comparison. Usually I do the first book in a series but I found a cheap omnibus edition that for some reason started with book 2.
The Zoo Book

And then Brodie was born and very little reading of any kind was done!

2017 total = 5
overall total = 73


2018

Once the immediate new born period was over I managed to get back to both reading and blogging, though not really at the rate I had managed before.

January
The Enchanted Wood – the very first time I read this if you can believe it.

March
The Magic Faraway Tree – another first, though I still haven’t read The Folk of the Faraway Tree or Up the Faraway Tree.

April
The Secret of Cliff Castle

May
Five on a Treasure Island – the third time I’ve read this since 2012, this time for a review

July
Five Go Adventuring Again – the first non-Treasure-Island Five I have read since at least 2011.

August
The Secret Island – the second time I’ve read The Secret Island but this time on audiobook.

October
Five Run Away Together
*Jolly Good Food
The Naughtiest Girl in the School – a comparison of the texts

November
Five Go to Smuggler’s Top – my all-time favourite Blyton book, but the first time I’d read it in at least 7 years.

2018 total = 9
overall total =82


2019

I read over 120 books in 2019 so it seems shameful that only five of them were Blytons! Though I did read at least ten books that were continuations or recommendations for Blyton fans.

February
Five Go Off in a Caravan

April
Five on Kirrin Island Again

June
Five Go Off to Camp

October
Five Get Into Trouble

November
Five Fall Into Adventure

2019 total = 5
over all total = 87


2020

If I thought five was bad for 2019, it was only four in 2020! I think in the throes of the pandemic I really couldn’t face reading about idyllic coastal adventures while I was trapped at home.

April
Five on a Hike Together

May
Five Go Down to the Sea

August
Five Have a Wonderful Time

September
The Island of Adventure – my second read since 2012, this time on audio

2020 total = 4
overall total = 91


2021

February
Five Go to Mystery Moor

March
Five Have Plenty of Fun
*Enid Blyton the Untold Story

May
Five on a Secret Trail

July
Chimney Corner Stories

September
New Big Noddy Book #6 – I found this on holiday and ended up reading it to Brodie a few times as one of the stories is about a fire-engine. I’ve only counted it once, though!

October
Five Go to Billycock Hill

2021 total = 6
overall total = 97


2022

2022 isn’t over yet but I will have to get a move on if I don’t want it to be my worst-ever in terms of Blytons read! Maybe I will even break 100!

It’s crazy that by this point there are still Famous Fives I haven’t read in ten years!

January
Five Get Into a Fix

August
Five on Finniston Farm

2002 total = 2
overall total = 99


What isn’t on the list

Well, of course anything I haven’t read isn’t on the list. Strangely this includes most of my favourite Blyton series – apart from the books I have done comparisons on I haven’t read Malory Towers, The Adventure Series or The Secret Series. In TEN years! I know time flies but sheesh, I used to read these through every few years.

Maybe once I finish the Famous Five reviews I will start on one of the above series, and probably take a few years to get through them all.

What’s also missing are all the continuation books I’ve read which include six Naughtiest Girls by Anne Digby, two Malory Towers by Pamela Cox, a Secret Seven by Pamela Butchart, several Famous Fives by Bruno Vincent… and various books I’ve read and recommended for my ‘if you like Blyton‘ series.


A further bit of maths

I’m terrible at maths so I’m going to strain myself here (and use a calculator!)

I wondered what sort of percentages Blyton books made each year…

2012 – 17/108 =15.7%
2013 – 10/129 =7.75%
2014 – 14/189 =7.4%
2015 – 15/139 = 10.8%
2016 – 12/162 = 7.4%
2017 – 5/107 = 4.6%
2018 – 9/98 = 9.1%
2019 – 5/121 = 4.1%
2020 – 4/166 = 2.4%
2021 – 6/121 5%
2022 – 2/90 (so far) 2.2%

 

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Monday #491

That’s us into September now and the days are rainier (though still fairly warm) and the nights are getting darker much earlier.

How much Blyton have I actually read in the past ten years?

and

The Enid Blyton Society Journal

Mr. Phillipino and his daughter Annabella came in first, riding in a golden carriage pulled by four tiny white ponies. Phillipino jumped out of the carriage when it had gone twice round the ring and stood in the middle, cracking his great whip. In came the beautiful black horses he owned, pawing the ground gracefully, tossing their plumed heads, cantering round and round the ring after the carriage.

Annabella leapt from the carriage, which was taken out by the ponies, and jumped on to one of the black horses. A glittering youth rode another. Then in came the three clowns, turning somersaults and cart-wheels among the horses, shouting and yelling.

Out went the horses, and the clowns ran round on the red plush ring itself, whilst a procession of performers came in—Terry the sharp-shooter and his beautiful wife, Juana the famous sword-swallower, Jinks and Jenks the wonderful trapeze-folk, Madame Clara and her three parrots sitting on her shoulder, Mr. Hola and his two chimpanzees who walked by him, fully dressed, holding his hands, Delia and her Dancing Bear, and last of all the three great elephants, Rag, Tag, and Bobtail, with their proud keeper, Mr. Jummy.

Susy-Ann and Pip see the circus for the first time in Boys’ and Girls’ Circus Book (reprinted later as Enid Blyton’s Circus Book).

 

 

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August 2022 round up

August was a better month all round.


What I have read

I had a much better month in August. I picked up quite a few books which turned out to be un-put-downable and so got read in two days each. Last month there were a couple of books that were easy to put down and I wasn’t excited to pick up again.

What I have read:

  • George’s Marvellous Medicine – Roald Dahl
  • The Magic Faraway Tree: A New Adventure – Jacqueline Wilson reviewed here
  • The Wreck of the Argyll – John K Fullton reviewed here
  • Fantastic Mr Fox – Roald Dahl
  • One Foot in the Fade (The Fetch Phillips Archives #3) – Luke Arnold
  • Scotland’s Lost Branch Lines: Where Beeching Got it Wrong – David Spaven
  • Dirty Gertie Mackintosh – Dick King-Smith
  • Are We Having Fun Yet? – Lucy Mangan
  • Home Fires and Spitfires (Wartime Midwives #2) – Daisy Styles
  • Five on Finniston Farm – Reviewed here and here
  • Death and Croissants (Follet Valley Mysteries #1) – Ian Moore
  • The Bookshop on the Shore (Scottish Bookshop #2) – Jenny Colgan
  • The Adventurers and the Continental Chase (Adventurers #4) – Jemma Hatt reviewed here
  • Keep Smiling Through (Wartime Midwives #3) – Daisy Styles
  • Five Hundred Miles From You (Scottish Bookshop #3) – Jenny Colgan

And I’m still working on:

  • The BFG – Roald Dahl
  • The House in the Cerulean Sea – TJ Klune
  • The Light Years (Cazalet Chronicles #1) – Elizabeth Jane Howard

What I have watched

  • We’ve continued House of Games, Only Murders in the Building, and all of The Sandman.
  • I gave up on the effort of swapping discs for Murder she Wrote and finished Cabins in the Wild with Dick Strawbridge, the new series of Dream House Makeover and Instant Dream Home. Then I started on Red Dwarf and went back to George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces.
  • I also stuck on some movies, making use of our Disney+ subscription to watch Cheaper By the Dozen 1&2 and Pollyanna.
  • On Tuesday nights we watched Honey We Shrunk Ourselves and both versions of Freaky Friday.
  • We watched about half of Lightyear (about the ‘real’ Buzz Lightyear but Brodie found the robot too scary). Brodie and I also watched Ghostbusters 2… again, he’s gone Ghostbusters mad. He got some of the Playmobile sets for his birthday and randomly bursts out with Busting makes me feel good! and I ain’t afraid of no ghost.

What I have done

  • The big things that happened were that Brodie turned five and started school! So we have all been adjusting to the new routine. He seems to like it so far and be happy to go, so that’s good! For his birthday we had a little party in the house which, although in August, had a snow theme. We made snowflake biscuits and I made marshmallow snowmen. All because he wanted a snowmobile (a real toy of course) on his cake. We also went ten pin bowling (I won, Ewan called it my best sporting achievement, I regard it as my only sporting achievement…) and crazy golf (where I did manage more holes in one than anyone else but also managed to ricochet the ball off a stone edging and send it careering across the car park…)
  • Towards the end of the holidays we went down to the waterfront for ice cream, played at the urban beach and Brodie ran around in the fountains getting soaked
  • We went to the beach and Brodie got pretty confident in going into the water after a while
  • We took a longer than anticipated walk along the old railway but only found one of two caches we hunted for
  • Brodie completed his summer reading challenge so we went to the library to get his final prizes (and play with all the toys).
  • We set up our new (non-holey) paddling pool in the garden on a hot afternoon which is when we did our blackberry picking and a bit of gardening
  • We visited the transport museum, and played some board games in the cafe before pretending to drive lots of vehicles
  • And lastly we went to Montrose Air Station –  which is less than an hour away but we’d never heard of it before. It’s a former RAF base (1913-1952) with several of the hangars still standing and turned into a museum.

How was your August?

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Five on Finniston Farm part 3

And now for my miscellaneous musings and nitpicks!


The food

For an adventure set on a farm the Five don’t actually seem to do a lot of eating, at least, not on-page.

As I’ve mentioned already they do visit the dairy twice, once for ice-creams and once for platefuls of macaroons and more ice-creams. It’s a it reminiscent of the scene in Hike where they go on about how many rounds of sandwiches they’ll eat, and the woman is astonished. Well, Janie’s mother is astonished that a whole plate of macaroons – at least 20 – has disappeared.

One breakfast comprises cold ham, boiled eggs, fruit and coffee – not a combination I’d be particularly happy to see laid out!

Their celebration meal after the treasure is found is a bit better, but still not the most impressive amongst the Five books (or many others). Thickly buttered bread, home-made jam, home-made cheese, ginger cake, fruit cake, plums, home-cooked ham. It amounts to making your own sandwiches with cheese and ham or jam, some cake and fruit. Where’s the meat-pie, the salad and tomatoes, the jam tart and so on? I’m guessing Mrs Philpot is on a budget for the meals!

And lastly, a snack while they are out is a Grimy packet of peppermints. 


George and Harriet as boys

George doesn’t really play up to being ‘as good as a boy’ in this book. First she demands the boys take her suitcase, as that’s what they’d do if they had any manners.

Then at the farm she and Anne do a lot of clearing up after meals, washing dishes, laying the table and preparing food. While George is not unkind and would want to help, there’s not a single time she suggests the boys help, or complains that they get to go off and milk cows or repair chicken coops while she is stuck doing girls’ work. In fact, it’s said that she wants to help lay the table, not even that she is resigned to doing it. Is this a sign she is maturing and moving on, or did Blyton just forget about that element of the story?

She is pleased, however, that both Junior and Mr Henning believe she is a a boy to begin with. Obviously neither of them are paying attention to the sleeping arrangements. Later, though, Junior tells her to skip it, sister, so he has obviously figured it out.

As for Harriet, she’s a bit more like Henry/etta from Five Go to Mystery Moor. She likes to be mistaken for a boy but doesn’t go on about it. With Harriet it seems to be more about the twins being alike, than her necessarily wanting to be a boy. Mrs Philpot says

They feel they have to be alike, and as Harry can’t have long hair like a girl, Harriet has to have short hair to be like Harry.

She is often referred to as Harriet through the book, and seems perfectly happy with it. Mind you, what a way to name twins! Having them both as Harry would be pretty confusing.

I suspect that the benefits of being treated the same as Harry does appeal to her, though. She gets to camp in the bar and do the physical labour and repairs with her brother, though she does help in the kitchen on occasion while the Five are there.

It’s interesting to wonder how George and Harriet would fare in the future. Would they ‘grow out of’ wanting to be a boy/look like their twin before or after it becomes too difficult due to reaching their teenage years? There’s nothing to say that either of them would have to develop a liking for all things pink and girly, but they will be accustomed to being treated pretty much equally with their male counterparts, and probably find it quite an adjustment to be treated as young women. But then that’s often the case when children are young, girls can run and play etc until they are needed at home while the boy can get an education or job outside the home.


Illustrations

A couple of points on the illustrations.

First the endpapers show the tunnel very close to the farmhouse, making it seem even more odd that it has never been found before.

Secondly, Junior is referred to as a fat, pasty-faced boy. However none of the illustrations suggest he is at all fat.


General comments

  • I was so caught up with my AirBnb analogy I forgot about my usual thing of dividing the story into parts. This is a hard one to do, but I suppose part one be from page one up until they leave the dairy for the farm. Then their time on the farm while the Harries are unfriendly, the time while the Harries are friendly, and lastly the hunt for the castle site and the treasure.
  •  There is a special note at the beginning of the book telling us that the farm is based on a real farm, which Enid’s family actually owned and although it doesn’t say there we know it was in Stourton Caundle, Dorset. She tells us that the chapel is real (and in fact here is a photo of it) and so was the heavy door in the farmhouse. She never found the castle site or the secret passage, though. The location of the real Stourton Caundle castle, long lost just like Finniston Castle, has been identified thanks to old maps and satellite photos.

  • Talking of locations, this one is one of the few Fives where the location is actually mentioned – Tremannon in Cornwall being another. It is always assumed that Kirrin is in Dorset, and there are theories on where many other places are based on, but no locations are given for Mystery Moor, Demon’s Rocks, and so on. But Finniston Farm being in Dorset – as stated in the book, not just because it’s based on a real Dorset farm. This is good evidence that Kirrin is probably in Dorset as the girls take the bus to Finniston Village, and Mrs Philpot is an old school friend of Aunt Fanny.
  • Anne is teased for her interest in horse brasses and other old things. While I can’t help feeling her sudden interest is merely an excuse for her to want to go into the antique shop where the knowledgeable Mr Finniston resides, I also love antique shops and second hand shops. I’m very much with Anne on her hobby so it’s a shame she doesn’t actually have time to really look at or buy anything during the story. Maybe after the book ends!
  • Describing Junior as under the clothes rather than bed clothes conjures up a slightly different picture.
  • Dick is uncharacteristically mean when he and Julian first meet the girls, pointing out that George has a spot and Anne’s hair doesn’t suit her being in a pony-tail. It’s a shame that Anne gets embarrassed by this and makes the excuse that it’s just because it is hot, and then takes her hair down. I was also annoyed at him for saying he hoped the girls were back as Mrs Philpot wanted help with shelling peas. It clearly never occurred to him to offer to help himself. (Yes, he was working on the chicken coop but there were four of them doing it and it was obviously a job that was going to take a few days. A break to shell peas, a time-sensitive task as it needed to be done before dinner, wouldn’t have been a problem.)
  • Nosey riding Snippet and forgetting to roll over to dislodge him is very like the way Miranda rides Looney from the Barney Mysteries.
  • Blyton words in a little self-reference by calling one of the fields Faraway Field. There are probably lots of Faraway-named things out there as they are far away, but this is unlikely to be a coincidence here!
  • Blyton talks directly to Anne at one point – You’re wrong, Anne You’ll see far too much of [Junior]. It’s a good thing Timmy’s there – he’s the only one that can, manage people like Junior.
  • I was surprised how often the lack of money was mentioned. Usually in Blyton’s books nobody wants to admit struggling, certainly not mentioning it multiple times.
  • I spent quite a while trying to work out the family relations in Finniston. Old Great- Grandad is Jonathan Finniston, so I wondered if Mrs Philpot was nee Finniston, and his grandson-in-law has taken over the farm. But later Old Great Grandad mentions that Mr Philpot is his grandson, obviously his daughter’s son. It’s not said how Mr Finniston in the shop is related to Old Great Grandad, but they must be related (even if distantly) if they are descended from the Finnistons of Finniston Village.
  • Junior buys about 30 macaroons a week from the shop, and George says it’s no wonder he’s pasty. That’s a bit rich considering she polished off at least five or six plus an ice-cream that afternoon, and could easily do that most days of the week. I actually feel slightly sorry for Junior as his father won’t take him out, even though he says he’s lonely alone. He does bring a lot of it on himself but clearly he has been raised that way.
  • Myxomatosis has wiped out most of the rabbits on the farm, having first arrived in the UK in 1953 and killing 99% of the rabbit population, then causing regional outbreaks in the decades after.
  • One of the boys says that I thought I saw two people up on that hill after tea yesterday. It must have been Mr Henning and that friend of his – with Junior. So did they see two or three people? (or do they not count Junior as a person?)
  • And lastly, I thought it funny that they insist on a wash and tea before showing off the treasures. Interesting priorities!

Next up will be one of my favourites – Five Go to Demon’s Rocks.

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Monday #490

The latest book I read had two – count ’em – two references to Blyton in it. Of course I have saved them for a part two of Blyton references in fiction. I have already half-written both of this week’s planned posts, so if I succumb to the stomach bug Brodie brought home from school this week (along with the cold) I should still manage to get something posted.

Five on Finniston Farm part 3

and

August round up

She went into a hairdresser’s, and asked for all her pretty curls to be cut short, like a boy’s. The girl did not want to do it, but Lotta suddenly took a pair of scissors and began to chop off her curls herself, so the shop-girl had to finish the job properly. What a funny little thing Lotta looked when she came out!

Then she bought a shirt and a pair of blue shorts at another shop.

Lotta slipped behind a hedge on her way back to Mr. Binks’s house, and changed into her new clothes. When she came through the hedge into the road again, she looked exactly like a little boy!

Lotta felt rather grand. She stuck her hands into her pockets, and whistled as she went, with Lulu at her heels. The spaniel did not seem to notice that Lotta was any different. She smelt the same, and that was all that Lulu cared about!

Lotta does a bit of disguising in Hurrah For the Circus! 

 

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If you like Blyton: The Adventurers and the Continental Chase by Jemma Hatt

As you might remember I have reviewed three of Jemma Hatt’s books already:

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

I listened to all of the above on audiobook, but for this fourth instalment I have an actual physical (signed no less!) copy, as with the others, kindly provided by Jemma for me to read and review. I can still hear Ciaran Saward’s excellent narration in my head, though with all the different voices he gives the characters.

I am guilty of letting this book sit on my shelves for so long that there are actually two more books in the series out now,

The Adventurers and the Jungle Jeopardy
The Adventurers and the Sea of Discovery

(Image above taken from Jemma Hatt’s Facebook page).


Does it snow in Portugal?

Well, actually, yes it does – but only in January in the mountains in the north. But that’s not where the snowmobile scene in the cover occurs.

Let me rewind. I’ve probably read the blurb or some other description of this book before, but I didn’t refresh my memory before I began reading. Having a snowy scene on the covers and a snowmobile motif above each chapter heading, I somehow got it into my head that the snowmobiles and snow were going to be a much bigger part of the story than they actually are.

I mean, the title is Continental Chase implying that they travel to at least a few European countries. The book begins with the children discovering that Uncle Herb (of Kexley Castle) had won a holiday to Portugal but as he doesn’t like leaving the castle he just put the letter in a drawer.

Lara’s mother, when she finds out, is keen to go, and of course the hoard of children also want to go. It’s all sorted quickly that she and Tom’s mother will take the two plane tickets, while the children are driven by Dee and Logan, thus allowing them to embark on an adventure.

But how do they get from heading to Portugal to needing snowmobiles?


Detour one: Paris

Although the drive is already going to be some 22 hours at least, the children (at this point Lara, Rufus, Tom and Daisy) persuade Logan that it would be good to go via Paris. Logan owes Dee a trip to Paris as he cancelled on her the last time, so he’s easily persuaded. The real reason, however, is that Maye is in Paris and has been following some suspicious people from her hotel.

Her suspicions are pretty flimsy, but as it’s only an extra forty or fifty minutes on the road (and an overnight stop) they don’t see the harm in going, even though they also think she’s making a mystery out of nothing.

At this point I started getting a bit stressed about them even making it to Portugal and their free holiday. I was starting to wonder how much of the two week holiday they would get to enjoy. Fourteen days, minus 1-2 days travel each end, minus a day in Paris… but I reminded myself that the children would probably have a much better time on an adventure than lazing by a pool anyway.

As it turns out Maye’s suspicious people are actually quite suspicious. Logan gets passed a mysterious envelope by mistake (a la Five on a Hike Together), the suspicious people really don’t like the kids watching them, and Karim (Maye’s brother) disappears after taking a fake phone call from their hotel.


Detour two: the Alps

As the police are unhelpful (they are kind but seem to think that Karim will just turn up of his own accord), the group decide to travel to the co-ordinates that they found in the envelope.

This is in the Alps, but it doesn’t say exactly where. They they arrive the locals speak French, so they’re possibly still in France but it could also be Switzerland. Either way, they’re going well out of their way from Portugal.

This is where they get the snowmobiles, loaned to them by Leo whose family have a hire place. Having driven the snowmobiles up the mountain they find an abandoned factory and one small clue, some writing carved into the floor.

Much like in Five Fall Into Adventure, it’s from the kidnapping victim and mentions where they’re being taken next.

Karim had more time than George, it would seem, so he was able to write a proper note (in Arabic, thus proving the writer was him, much like George’s Rs identify her writing) saying that he was being taken to Rome, possibly the Basilica.

On their way down the mountain they have a James-Bond-esque showdown with the enemy and the girls do a very George-worthy bit of sabotage with the enemy snowmobiles.


Detour three: Rome

Going even further out of their way (yes I was still stressed by the thought of that lovely holiday going to waste!) they head to Rome and more specifically the Basilica in the Vatican City.

Here the book takes on shades of the Dan Brown series – the Da Vinci Code etc – as they split up to explore and look for Karim while trying to avoid the enemy. In a further Dan Brown-worthy plot, one of the enemy turns out to be not what he seems, and the children briefly team up with him. But is he what he then seems to be, or is he a double-crosser?

With all four sets of coordinates in the children’s hands, thanks to the their brief collaboration with the maybe enemy, another Da Vinci style puzzle awaits. All four clues together should lead them to a final location where the ancient treasure is hidden.

But first – they need to rescue Karim. With him free the children are told to butt out of the mystery and finally they start heading for Portugal. (Thank goodness, I thought).


But wait… it’s not over

Having solved the final clue (think National Treasure and The Five Find-Outers, two things that seem unlikely to have much in common but definitely do) they discover that the final place is actually only an hour or so from their holiday house.

So of course they are going to see it through! They get there early in the morning and run into the definitely enemies and also the maybe enemy. They find the treasure, but it’s a bit of a hollow victory with the enemy standing over them about to snatch it from them, and it’s only thanks to Barney that it turns out all right in the end.


Grown-ups and technology

This book in particular features a lot of two things that Blyton’s books don’t – grown-ups and technology.

They do get rid of the most sensible adults which helps, but a bunch of kids can’t really travel around Europe solving mysteries without access to money and a mode of transport. That’s what Logan and Dee are in the story to provide – they do the driving and pay for hotel rooms.

I gave Logan the nickname of Liability Logan in this book as he really is hopeless. Dee is a lot better (she pulls off her own vehicular sabotage towards the end of the book) but she along with Logan are pretty easily side-lined when necessary for the kids to go do their thing.

Their phones are used quite a bit – mostly as they need maps a lot to work out the coordinates and how to get there, but they also use them to keep in touch when they split up in Rome. The girls are rather glued to them at the start of the book which is remarked on by the boys, and they talk a few times about school gossip which they pass on via their phones, but other than that they don’t use their phones much.


A few last thoughts that didn’t fit anywhere else – I can see a similarity to the Lone Pine books with the group of adventurers growing larger though nobody was added in this book, except Leo temporarily. I can’t see him becoming a regular as he lives rather far away! Mind you, Maye has become a regular and is moving to London so there’s hope for Leo yet.

I was mildly disappointed that – like so many modern publications – there aren’t illustrations in the book (other than the snowmobile chapter headers). I think that her books are independently published (the listed publisher is Elmside Publishing which seems to only have published the six Adventurers books) which is probably a major factor. I know that Jemma Hatt has recently become a full-time author, so I would love it if she was picked up by a traditional publisher (as long as that was what she wanted!) and for her books to be reissued with illustrations – preferably by Andrew Smith who does the front covers.

This fourth instalment has more in common with the third book in terms of genre, than it does with the first two. Although not as detective-ish as book three it took the idea of following a trail and expanded it across Europe rather than sticking to one city. I hope that some of the later books in the series feature more of the brilliant puzzle/traps that appeared in the first two books, but again I didn’t miss them too much as there was so much going on as they raced around France and Italy.

Another strong entry to the series!

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Five on Finniston Farm part 2

I spent the whole first part of my review imagining what it would be like if The Famous Five booked their holidays through Airbnb. Now for (hopefully) more commentary on the plot and so on.


Janie’s gossip

Before they even make it to Finniston Farm the Five are in need of refreshments, and stop in at the local shop. There they are served by a girl called Janie, on this reading I realised she and her mother are the inspiration for the scene in Five Go Mad on Mescalin.

Janie is a chatty girl and provides them with some interesting information. On their first visit she tells them about Old Great-Grandad and the Harries.

‘I know the twins there,’ said the girl. ‘The two Harries. At least, I don’t know them well—nobody does. They’re just wrapped up in each other, they never make any friends. You look out for their old Great-Grandad—he’s a one he is! He once fought a mad bull and knocked it out! And his voice—you can hear it for miles! I was real scared of going near the farm when I was little. But Mrs Philpot, she’s nice. You’ll like her. The twins are very good to her—and to their Dad, too—work like farm-hands all the holidays. You won’t know t’other from which, they’re so alike!’

‘Why did you call them the two Harries?’ asked Anne, curiously.

‘Oh, because they’ve both . . .’

She is cut off there by her mother and so the Five don’t get to know why she calls them the Harries, giving them a minor mystery until they reach the farm and it all makes sense. I would write more about the Harries but I think Stef covered it all in her Twinnies Twins post, so I will save just a few observations for later.

On their second visit she drops a bit of a bombshell about their having been a castle on the farm’s land

‘My uncle’s been on Finniston Farm all his life. You ought to get him to show you where Finniston Castle used to stand, before it was burnt down, and . . .’

‘Finniston Castle!’ exclaimed George, in surprise. ‘We went all over the farm this morning, and saw every field—but we didn’t see any ruined castle.’

‘Oh no, you wouldn’t see anything!’ said Janie. ‘I told you—it was burnt down. Right to the ground, ages ago. Finniston Farm belonged to it, you know. There’s some pictures of it in a shop down the road. I saw them, and . . .

Yet again she is cut off by her mother. Makes you wonder what she could have told them, given the time!

Although she only features on a couple of pages Janie is actually really important to the plot. Nobody else on the farm has mentioned the castle to the children – not Janie’s Uncle Bill when he gives them the Land Rover tour (hard to point to the spot when nobody knows where it is, but still worth a mention, surely?). It’s not clear how much the twins know. They have never looked for the castle site before, and didn’t know that the great door to the kitchen once came from the castle, but then not all children are particularly interested in things like that. It’s strange that they wouldn’t know anything about the castle or the story of it burning, though. They sit silently and listen Anne retelling the story she and George got from Mr Finniston, actually it’s almost as if Blyton forgot they were there as they neither interject to say ‘Phew, we never knew that’ nor ‘Phew, we knew about the castle but not the secret passage’.

The chapel is obviously still standing but that’s never mentioned, not even on the tour, though I suppose with a huge farm they might just not have gone near to it in the Land Rover.


The Five hardly cover themselves in glory

The Five don’t mess up in this book, or do anything stupid, but they don’t exactly show any real intelligent mystery-solving, or do anything that impressive. Most things are practically served to them on a plate – I suppose this helps the action-packed final chapters keep up their pace, there’s no time for head-scratching!

Having found out about the castle by complete accident, from Janie, the girls do visit the antiques shop and hear a bit about its history and the relevance of the chapel. They don’t look at any pictures, maps, or do any other research (though it’s unlikely there’s anything to look for, it would have been nice if they’d even asked). Mr Finniston in the shop gets upset over the story and they leave him to it, not going back.

They decide to search for the castle (allowing them to be overheard and followed, but that’s mostly on Timmy!, and take the logical step of starting at the chapel, as they know that was connected to the castle via a secret passage.

They reason that the cannot be more than a quarter mile from the chapel, which seems fairly reasonable, so that’s where they start looking. They are successful, but only by sheer luck as the dogs dig up an old kitchen midden.

They are then able to identify the castle site due to a big round depression in the hill, and grass that is a different colour to the surrounding grass. To be honest, it sounds like it could have been found without the kitchen midden so all the locals who have already looked for it must have been pretty dumb.

By this point the Hennings have found out about the castle site and the Five can’t get to it again, so they have the brainwave about looking for the other end of the secret passage. Their logic says that the passage had to originate in the dungeons/cellars as the castle was surrounded. This is likely (and ends up being true) but not a certainty. How many passages have we seen down wells, for example. It could easily have started in the outer walls, an outbuilding, etc, as long as it was inside the outer walls.

They start to hunt for the passage, walking from the chapel towards the castle, hoping to find some clue as to the line of the passage to dig into. It doesn’t seem to occur to them to have a nosy in the chapel first. It is partly filled with sacks of grain and so on, but surely it is worth a nosy?

In the end they do find the passage but again it is dumb luck as Nosey and Snippet find it by accident. Having gone into the cellars they are then extremely lucky that the men clock off at 5 exactly, without noticing that they have just broken into the cellars.

And not the Five, but it’s incredible that two of the farmhands found a little underground room in the chapel many years before, but did not notice the completely unhidden secret passage leading from it.


Next time all my other notes and nitpicks.

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Monday #489

Better late than never…

Five on Finniston Farm 2

and

The Adventurers and the Continental Chase by Jemma Hatt

“And look—what’s that over by the bank there?” said Betty.

They all looked. They saw a house-boat there, badly in need of a coat of paint. It was very old and had been left to rot to pieces. It had once been a good one, and had had plenty of brass rails and white paint. But now it was a sorry sight. Plainly, no one had used it for ages.

The children make an exciting discovery in The Boy Next Door.

At the houseboat illustrated by Gilbert Dunlop

 

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Blackberries

Like lighthouses I associate blackberries with Blyton, even if they only feature prominently in the odd book. For lighthouses that is, of course, Five Go to Demon’s Rocks, while for blackberries it is The Hidey Hole.


Blyton’s blackberries

Blyton’s children always seem to be picking wild berries and so on when they are on their rambles, hikes and camps. I haven’t the time to search though every book for references for this, but I know they are mentioned nine times in The Secret Island

The blackberries grew ripe on the bushes that rambled all over the place, and the children’s mouths were always stained with them, for they picked them as they went about their various jobs.

Jack picked them on his way to milk Daisy, and so did Mike. Peggy picked them as she went to get water from the spring. Nora picked them as she went to feed the hens.

Nuts were ripening, too, but were not yet ready. Jack looked at the heavy clusters on the hazel-trees and longed for them to be ripe. He went to have a look at the beans. They were ready to be picked! The runners grew up the brambles, and the long green pods were mixed up with the blackberry flowers and berries.

The children pick and sell blackberries, along with nuts, in the later months, after their strawberry and raspberry crops have died back.

There are no blackberries in the Famous Five books (according to Liam Martin’s excellent book, though the brambles and bushes are mentioned once each), but there are at least nine short stories with blackberry, or blackberries in the title, though.

 


The Hidey-Hole

The Hidey-Hole is Blyton’s last full-length novel, published in 1965 and coming in at xx pages. It is not amongst her best books, her writing was definitely declining through the early 1960s. An EBSOC member once wrote in the EBSOC Journal that blackberries were mentioned 93 times in the first 8 chapters, so you can see why I associate the book with the berries!

The basic plot of The Hidey-Hole is that some children are looking for blackberries to pick to raise money for a disabled boy who needs a special trike. They try their usual spot – the common – but the gypsies have already picked all the good ones. They later find a huge crop in an old man’s garden, and get permission to pick those, and that’s where the Hidey-Hole of the title comes in, as a place some thieves hide stolen goods.

the hidey-hole


My blackberries

We didn’t find 93 blackberries out back (or any stolen goods), but we found enough. There were actually a lot more but they were annoyingly out of reach, spread across the brambly slope at the back of the communal garden.

We just picked what we could reach from the steps and the bottom of the slope and our fingers were very pink by the time we were done. (We didn’t come down these steps, I thought I’d add. We came down the next set along then up these, very carefully!)

I’m sure (other than selling them) the blackberries picked in Blyton’s books would be made into blackberry crumble or some other sort of dessert to be served with custard, ice-cream or cream. I didn’t have nearly enough to do anything like that (nor the baking skills to pull it off), so we added them to porridge bars which are not entirely un-Blytonish. Porridge has a long history as a breakfast staple (particularly in Scotland) and oats have long been used in things like haggis, and in the 1950s Scott’s Porage Oats (a brand still going now) were putting recipes on the backs of their packs for flapjacks, rolled oatcakes, oat digestives and a crusty apricot pudding.  The porridge bars I make are, I suppose, are not entirely dissimilar to flapjacks.

For credit this is the original recipe I found when I first wanted to make porridge bars, but I quickly changed it up to suit me.

For a start I’ve always made double as that fits well in my rectangular Pyrex oven dish (and we’re greedy and can eat that much in a few days.) My basic recipe is:

  • 2 cups of oats (mine are usually Tesco’s or Aldi’s own brand)
  • 2 cups of milk (usually whole milk but my last batch had almond milk and was just as good)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1-2 bananas, mashed (I have used tinned apple per the recipe, which is fine but a couple of bananas are really nice and make it go further)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup raisins

I’ve also experimented and added other fruit, like the blackberries above.

You can use tinned apple/applesauce per the original recipe or I imagine strawberries or any other soft fruit would work quite well – I quite fancy trying it with rhubarb next. That’s the beauty of this sort of recipe – you don’t have to be precise, you can throw in most things and you really can’t go wrong.

The recipe is sweet enough, I think, but you can make it more dessert like by adding sugar, sweetener, honey or golden syrup if you like. I sometimes add a handful of chocolate chips, too.

We always eat the slices cold, often for breakfast but sometimes for snack.


 

 

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Monday #488

That’s two weeks in a row that I have managed to write and publish two posts, I wonder how long I can keep it up for? Brodie starts school tomorrow so I will have a little more time on my hands (even if the school run is much longer than the nursery one was!).

Blackberries

and

Five on Finniston Farm part 2

“Blackberries, blackberries,” sang Betty, as they came to the common. “Dozens of blackberries, hundreds of blackberries, thou…”

Where are all these blackberries you’re singing about? asked Jocko, stopping and looking around. “I can only see a few rather unripe ones on that bush over there.”

“Oh well, there’ll be plenty further on!” said Betty.

Only there aren’t any more blackberries on the common as some gypsies have already harvested them to sell. The children have to look elsewhere, which is how they come to stumble upon the Hidey-Hole in the book’s title.

the hidey-hole

 

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