With lashings of ginger beer*

It is difficult not to reveal one’s age when discussing anything you may have read or watched in your childhood but I loved watching the Famous Five on TV.

I was an Enid Blyton reader during my childhood but my oeuvre during my younger years had been more along the lines of the Magic Faraway Tree and the dubiously titled “Mr Pink Whistle Interferes.” So whenever I picture the Famous Five they will always be the TV versions.

As I got older mystery and adventure books drew me in and I started reading the Five’s adventures plus I also discovered Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew…who doesn’t love a story with secret passageways, torches, penknives, trapdoors, panelling that moved to reveal hiding places, treasure maps, spooky castles and adults whose dastardly plans were foiled by children (and a dog) – clearly I was an Agatha Christie reader in development.

The Famous Five were brothers Julian and Dick, their sister Anne, cousin George (Georgina) and Timmy her dog. They seemed to never age – which was sort of true as Blyton hadn’t planned on writing so many (she planned 6 but wrote 21) – and so Five seem to go into a time vortex and remain perpetually pre-teens! Either that or they never went to school and are on never-ending school holidays!

I imagine everyone had a favourite in the group. Julian was the self-assured older brother, while Dick was the more laid-back and famished second child, and the youngest sibling was Anne (who always seemed to be turning her ankle). But it was cousin George that I think most readers probably wanted to be – mainly because Timmy was her dog!

This year in September the Famous Five are turning 75 – hoorah! – as ‘Five on a Treasure Island’ was first published in 1942.

Cover of Five on a treasure island  Cover of Five on a treasure island  Cover of Five on a treasure island  Cover of Five on a treasure island  cover of Five on a treasure island

As a grown-up you realise that all was not well in Blyton land – she had a troubled personal life – and her books can seem anachronistic and politically incorrect in 21st century terms. But her books still endure today and are still heavily read by children (and adults). She was extraordinarily prolific and wrote hundreds of books for children of all ages – including Noddy, The Secret Seven, Mallory Towers and St Clare’s school stories, and the aforementioned Magic Faraway Tree books.

But it is the Five that are perennial favourites with lots of readers.

I suspect it has a lot to do with children getting the upper hand on adults, and the endless eating – ice cream, scones, sticky buns and cakes, hard bolied eggs, apple pies, etc.

In fact I’m off to have a cup of tea and a slice of ginger cake now…

Cheerio!

Five forget mother's day

*Note: With lashings of ginger beer never appeared in an EB book but rather was coined by the writers of the Comic Strip Presents in their parody Five Go Mad in Dorset.

Buses, Byzantium and fangirling Stella Duffy

image_proxyMany years ago I used to bus up and down the Walworth Road and round the Elephant and Castle, south of the Thames in London, either on the 68 or the 468 (if memory serves me right Janet Frame used to take one of those buses, or one very similar).

While I’d spend quite a lot of that time reading I also used to enjoy looking out of the window at the variety of people and places. I always enjoyed the Mixed Blessings Bakery, Rimworld the hat shop, and the halal noodle bar. On a more serious note, there was also a memorial to victims of the Blitz on the side of the Cuming Museum. As with any city it was a true palimpsest, with many layers of history side by side and intermingled.

Imagine my nostalgia when the pages of a book took me on that same journey, but decades earlier. A book which has a dedication which talks of a taniwha in the Thames. I just loved Stella Duffy’s London Lies Beneath, so rich and evocative of the melting pot of the city in 1912.

This sense of place and history and connections is one of many reasons I am so excited that Stella is coming to the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season on 15th May to talk about her latest books, including London Lies Beneath, and her task of finishing Ngaio Marsh‘s unfinished Money in the Morgue.

Stella Duffy, photo by
Stella Duffy, photo by Gino Spiro

Stella writes and campaigns in many areas, such as the arts, breast cancer, women’s and LGBT issues, and has worked in the theatre and written a number of novels and short stories. More recently she has become a co-director of Fun Palaces – a weekend each year where a variety of venues and locations enable arts and science for all, with a belief that community belongs at the core of all culture. They are a brilliant idea and Central Library Peterborough has had the opportunity to host a Fun Palace for the last couple of years.

I have also only just realised that Stella has written fiction about the Empress Theodora – I do love a bit of Byzantium!

I can’t wait for 15th May and hope to see you there.

Five Forget Mother’s Day

If you’d told me when I was ten years old that I’d still enjoy a Famous Five tale 30 years later I’d have been thrilled. If you’d told me that at 15 I’d have been mortified. Such is the inextricable (and uncool) bond that Enid Blyton’s youthful sleuths have with childhood, innocence, and jolly good fun.

But things have changed and so have George, Dick, Anne, Julian and Timmy. Get ready for “Enid Blyton for Grown-ups”.

Cover of Five Forget Mothers Day

The former Dorset-based cousins now flat together in London, have office jobs, mobile phones, and drinking problems (Julian). It’s now less “lashings of ginger beer” and more “out on the lash at the local”. Author Bruno Vincent’s reworking of Blyton’s much beloved characters incorporates humorous observations on modern life, knowing nods, and is positively soaked in irony.

Take, for example, George’s response to Anne’s suggestion that they all chip in for a Mother’s Day gift for Aunt Fanny, since she was practically a second mother to them all during their summers in Kirrin.

…My memory is that we were nearly killed about two dozen times. I think Mummy should count herself lucky to have escaped a custodial sentence for neglect…

Five Forget Mother’s Day sees the now young professionals grappling with mysteries of the “what do we get Aunt Fanny for Mother’s Day?” variety.

It’s a fun, quick read that somehow manages to be witty and modern whilst still retaining that “don’t worry, old bean, we’ll all muck in together and get through this sticky wicket” attitude that typified the original Famous Five.

An unexpected benefit of this particular title in the series (others on my “to read” list include “Five Go Parenting” and “Five on Brexit Island“), is that if you leave it lying around, your co-parent might take this as a passive-aggressive hint that Mother’s Day is Not To Be Forgotten. In my case this effect was unintentional, but it could perhaps be strategically deployed in families where forgetfulness is rife?

Five Forget Mother’s Day; conspicuously visible on a couch arm near you?

Five Forget Mother’s Day
by Bruno Vincent
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781786486868

 

Mr Postman please, is there a letter in your bag for me?

Book coverIt’s only February and already I have a new worry waiting in the wings: letterboxes. As in – how will I explain letterboxes to my grandchildren on our future walks round the neighbourhood? Given that I have, as yet, no grandchildren and that letterboxes are still being used (well, sort of), this may seem a premature worry to you.

But the signs are all very clear. New Zealand Post alone processes 50 million fewer postal items every year. In the States this climbs to a terrifying 28 billion fewer postal items per annum.

I’ve been keeping my own stats and can confide in you that I received only twelve Christmas cards this year – all from the mobile elderly still lucky enough to have a post office nearby. Twelve. What else could I do but cheat and put up a few of my own to boost the numbers?

Our neighbourhood is full of characterful letterboxes: a weirdly shaped pukeko, a  mosaiced castle, a cheerfully painted kettle –  they are often the first and sometimes the only indication of the personalities that inhabit the houses. Chrissie Ward saw this coming and has put out a book on New Zealand letterboxes: Kia Ora Postie.

Of course I love my e-mails, but part of me is still the lady in this photo waiting for the postman to bring the mail from overseas – written on lined paper using a fountain pen and blotting paper, the parcel secured with string and sealing wax, embellished with colourful stamps and hand delivered to me outside my cottage  by a cheerful, chatty postman. Almost all gone now.

What makes you come over all nostalgic?  No need to send a note via carrier pigeon, just click on Leave a Comment above!

The ghosts of cinema past

Architectural plan of Everybody's TheatreEverybody’s Theatre (pictured) was proposed to be built on Lichfield Street the 1930s, and I’m thinking it might have been quite flash for a night out.

The image is from of our collection of  digitised plans of Christchurch buildings, where you’ll also find the original floor plan of the Majestic Theatre. I read recently that the Majestic building will be refurbished again, and I started thinking about the disappeared theatres in Christchurch.

From the tiny Savoy 1 & 2 (where I saw everything from Star Wars and  2001 : A Space Odyssey to Arnie movies and the eye-popping Evil Dead 2)  to the West End (Stripes), or the Avon (Goodbye Pork Pie, I think), there’s several theatres that have disappeared over the years.

Which Christchurch theatres do you remember? And which movies did you see at them?

Trash to treasure – bestsellers from decades past

Following on from our recent displays of classic and vintage science fiction and adventure thriller, the Popular team is once again taking us on a trip down memory lane (this time the slightly risque shaded reaches of Lovers Lane, perhaps?).

Wendy says:

Pop into Popular and have a look at our display of “sizzling” books from the past – books that defined a generation, made a difference, turned heads and pages.

For the post-war generation, it was little beauties like On the Beach, Room at the Top, or The Sun Also Rises. In the 60’s and 70’s, many of us remember most fondly the books we weren’t meant to read: for some it was Angelique and the Sultan, or Valley of the Dolls; for others, Lolita and Portnoy’s Complaint.

Trash or treasure?
Movies from the books became classics themselves – think Gone With the Wind, Far From the Madding Crowd, and Doctor Zhivago. The scene of Alan Bates and Oliver Reed’s naked wrestling in Ken Russell’s Women in Love is forever etched in my mind …

So if you would like a little stroll down popular fiction’s Memory Lane, come and have a browse here at Central, or leave a comment with any books that “sizzled” for you.

To infinity and beyond

Display

To all those who got excited about our post a couple of weeks ago on retrospective displays at Central, a big thanks, and wow!  You guys are a little scary in your fandom.  You will be pleased to know that we now have a table full of sci-fi goodies just waiting to be browsed over and borrowed.  Next on the menu is Adventure – we’ll be digging up armfuls of McLean, le Carre, Wilbur Smith and assorted other stories featuring rugged middle-aged soldiers/scientists/archaeologists marooned in the desert/Arctic/South American jungle, who find mysterious artifacts/enemy spies/deadly germs, and who save the world with the help of exotic young and beautiful Russian professors of linguistics.  Oh, and a gun.

Once again, please overwhelm us with suggestions of authors and titles, and we will do our best to track them down for you!

Oldies and goodies

Ice Station ZebraSeeing as we’re getting all nostalgic and historical round here this year, we at the Popular Centre thought it might be fun to dig around in the shelves and stacks and bring out some of those ‘oldies but goodies’ that might not get to see the light of day very often.

You know the ones I mean – the books you read as a kid (under the blankets, with a torch), or the ones you nicked from mum’s bookshelf (Peyton Place – sorry, mum!) when she thought you were reading the Hardy Boys; books read in baches on the West Coast during a rainy holiday; books that made you feel really intelligent when you were reading them (Leon Uris and Dostoyevsky, anyone?), and books that you read guiltily when you really should have been studying for that advanced physics exam.

Over the next few months we plan to bring out some of these old treasures so you too can revisit the past, renew old friendships, and maybe even make some new friends. Look out for retrospective displays of everything from early science fiction to classic 1950’s and 60’s romance (saucy or not), with a good helping of horror/western/adventure and even actual classic Classics for good measure.

Starting early next week, come and visit us on the ground floor at Central, and see what’s on display – we’ll even let you take stuff home. And if there’s anything at all that you’d just LOVE to chase down and reread, please let us know and we’ll see if we can find it for you!

The Beano

Cor readers, here’s a book.  The history of The Beano: the story so far is a big glossy book (too big to read in bed comfortably) that is probably aimed at nostalgic adults rather than children.

I had not known that The Beano had been around so long. It came from the D.C. Thomson comic empire in the 1920s (they are the group that gave the world The Wizard, The Rover and The Hotspur. These publications were followed in 1937 by The Dandy and in 1938 by The Beano, described as “a great new fun paper” and giving its readers a free “Whoopee mask” with every copy. They started with their most enduring character, Lord Snooty, an aristocratic boy who lives in a castle but spends most of his time with a gang of rascally working class friends. He is still going strong and hasn’t aged a bit. Other strips featured such characters as Big Fat Joe (“he hasn’t been weighed since the age of three – the weighing machine always broke you see”) and other vaguely anarchic types who would be classed as ADD or in the need of an army of social workers these days!

The Beano continued during the War despite other children’s publications ceasing publication. It became something of a propaganda tool with Lord Snooty and his pals making Hitler look foolish and Pansy Potter, The Strong Man’s Daughter, capturing a German U-boat. Goering was portrayed as a fat fool and Mussolini featured in a strip defiantly titled Musso The Wop.

The 1950s brought in that delinquent, Dennis The Menace, and other mischief makers such as Minnie The Minx and The Bash Street Kids. They all continued for decades and provided an irreverent and essentially British flavour. They were all involved in practical jokes or escaping stern and put upon schoolteachers and long suffering parents. They usually didn’t get away with it so parents could rest easy that delinquent behaviour didn’t go unpunished!

The 1980s introduced favourites such as Ivy The Terrible (girls were rarely constrained by polite role models in The Beano) and in 1998 the first pregnancy in a children’s comic took place when Dennis The Menace’s mother went into labour and Dennis had a sister.

This delightful book is filled with lots of  comic strips and a number of adventure stories and it wonderfully evokes an innocent world of endless fun and excitement. Although it’s not mentioned in the book you can see how the endlessly rude adult comic Viz took much of its inspiration from comics like The Beano (their characters like Buster Gonad and his unfeasibly large testicles and Felix and his Amazing Underpants are in the same visual style but with ruder content) and Private Eye uses the Beano style in comic strips about politicians).

So if your childhood reading included a weekly fix of The Beano, this luxury book, with its journey through the comic strips of almost a century, will give you that warm nostalgic glow that comes from recalling the escapist delights of another world.