Well, it has come to my attention that all of a sudden I have had an influx of people stumbling over it and reading it. Lucky me I hear you say, well be that as it may, it also means that I have to keep entertaining you all with my witterings. So with that in mind, here is a little story for you, are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin:
The first book I can ever remember reading properly, devouring and turning it around to read it again; even though Dad had given it to me was ‘Swallows and Amazons’. I was fairly young, only about 6 or 7, but I can still remember thinking that Roger, who the book opens with, had a great Mother (set in the 1930s they wouldn’t have had Mums). She stood patiently waiting for her son running up the field, instead of running straight up to her, because the wind was against him, Roger had to ‘tack’ up the field, as he was pretending to be sailing. Their father was at sea, he is an absent figure in the books, only popping up here and there, and mostly to move the stories along. The Walker children’s Mother is also only there when the story needs it, to make the tents and bags filled with hay for the children to sleep on, the whole book focusses on John, Susan, Titty and Roger, and later Nancy and Peggy Blackett, the Amazon Pirates. The oldest children John and Nancy are probably only 11 or 12 when the series starts, ranging down in ages to Roger at 7, and Bridget the ship’s baby who is only 1 in the first book. With the 12 books, the Swallows and Amazons are only not in 2 of them, ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’, which are set on the Norfolk Broads. These books have Richard and Dorothea, affectionally known as Dick and Dot who’s father is a university professor and marks exam papers so is only mentioned in letters to their mother; and Tom, Nell, Bess, Joe, Pete and Bill. The Coot Club, Tom is the local doctor’s son, Nell and Bess are the twins who live next door, they are left handed and right handed so are also called Port and Starboard. Dick and Dot link all the stories together, as they move between the lakes in the North and the Broads, they also are on a cruise with the S&A in ‘Great Nothern?’, (apart from John who I have an unnatural yen for as a character in a book) Dick and Dot are my favourite characters, they are so un-boatish, but bring a well roundedness to the stories with Dot’s stories and Dick’s astronomy, which is why Arthur Ransome probably introduced them in the first place.
The books are wide ranging in their scope, the trip along the south coast to the Bay of Biscay was so accurately written, sailors used to navigate by the childs book ‘Peter Duck’, from the lakes, to the broads, to tidal water near Pin Mill. Children were taught how to light fires by reading what Susan did to start her legendary fires and fireplaces, how to air an houseboat, although I never saw a Primus, I knew I would never be able to light one, I am not nearly as domesticated as Susan. We were taught how to make rudimentary tents by hanging a rope from two trees with some canvas over the top and stones holding it open, how to make charcoal, what dissolves gold – aqua regia if you are interested, and learnt semaphore, patterans and leading lights.
You may laugh at the carrier pigeons, the telegrams, the knicker bockers and stockings, knitted caps and the ‘Come on old chap’ bucking up that goes along, but how many children would be able to play outside now with the Mister Mate being a 9 or 10 year old girl in charge of the cooking, and not seeing their parents from one day to the next? The summers are long, hot and filled with holiday tasks, brothers and sisters are separated at boarding schools meeting up on trains to their vacations.
Dan brought me a boxed set of Swallows and Amazons for my birthday. I am pining for them, I am pining for a lot of my beloved books, which are now on their way to Melbourne. When we start living in our flat, I know that I will not be able to unpack all of the books I have packed, but Arthur Ransome’s 12 books about childhood jollys and games will be the first ones I look for. They have been a part of my life for over 25 years, if you don’t read and love books you won’t understand this sentance, but they truly are companions, friends. As soon as you open a familiar book, even though you have read it before and know the story inside out, you know that you are in safe hands – it takes you away from where you are now. A good book, a comfy chair and a log fire, is absolute bliss. I am lost to the world when I read, totally absorbed in the story, coming up for air, blinking in disorientation.
I hope my little blog makes you all smile, takes you away from where you are, cheers you up. I’m off to see if I can download Swallows and Amazons as an audio book, to assuage my craving.