The Adventure Series on TV: The Castle of Adventure part 7

We left last week on a cliff-hanger again. Dinah, Lucy-Ann and Philip (inside a suit of armour) were down in the cellar/dungeon and shut themselves in. Then someone opened the trap-door and came down to join them. But is it Jack, or is it one of the spies?

I’d guess one of the spies, as that way it fits with the book and would cause the spies to keep the girls prisoner while Philip has to keep his presence a secret.

So shall we see who it is?


IT’S A PAIR OF PIRATES

Well, not really. It’s our spies (named Nico and Mannheim I’ve just noticed), but Dinah immediately blurts out that she and Lucy-Ann won’t tell anyone about their pirate radio station. I think she’s pretending that’s what they believe, but it’s a bit hard to tell. She certainly doesn’t trust them as she cuts off the idiotic Lucy-Ann when she’s about to mention Jack.

The girls wait until they are distracted, leg it and the spies manage to both fall over the same chair? Stupidly the men have a) left the trap door open, and b) don’t think to pull the lever to close it before the girls can get out.

The girls aren’t much smarter. They don’t think to slow the men down by shutting the doors from the outside, and Lucy-Ann screams a lot as they run. They’re lucky there are not other spies around as they make themselves a real target!

Dinah impresses a little more by grabbing some large, handy rocks and pelting the men with them (she has great aim!) but when they reach their access window they discover the plank is gone!

They are therefore caught and weirdly Dinah shouts “where’s our plank?” more than she does “let us go.”


RANDOM PADDING

Two men dressed in black, with balaclavas and black face-paint are fighting in the woods… from the identical outfits you have to assume they’re actually on the same side? And then a phone rings. Bill and an army sergeant are observing the fight.

Then Bill and Aunt Jane drive down the same road approaching each other. Neither makes any effort to pull to the side so there’s a bit of a stalemate and horn honking. But it’s all right as she then recognises him and shouts “Bill Cunningham, you male chauvinist.” She forgives him when he reverses and invites him over. (He was already invited to Spring Cottage so none of that was at all necessary!)


NIGHT-TIME ESCAPADES IN THE CASTLE

Buttons appears in the castle in the middle of the night and Jack attaches a note to his collar to get Tassie’s help.

Grogan – Allie’s American friend turns up again and is more threatening towards the girls. He reveals that Scar (Scar-neck in the book) is coming tonight.

All three men walk right past Philip but don’t notice his hand holding the visor open.

One climbs Jack’s ladder again but is scared off by the eagle flapping its wings on the nest. The eagle must like Jack better…

Philip exits the suit of armour, revealing it is a hollow front and not a full suit, but it’s still noisy getting out of it. He then follows the American friend down a secret passage leading (presumably) out of the castle. He leaves the girls behind because “If they find you’re gone, they’ll know which way.” Not really, they could have opened the trap door and gone out and hidden elsewhere in the castle.


BILL AND JANE, TASSIE AND ROSE

Bill finally visits Spring Cottage. He has a weird moment when Jane reminds him that Philip’s father loved nature too and Bill says “Yes, I remember” in a very deep and meaningful way. I’m not sure quite that I’m meant to infer from that, if anything.

Button returns to Tassie’s caravan. Who’s sent you a letter? You can’t read, says Tassie’s mother (Rose), snatching the note from her. She’s furious when she reads the note and says your fancy friends are at the castle, but won’t reveal the rest, just shouts at Tassie for getting involved. Tassie lruns away just as Sam arrives.

Sam’s look is so threatening that Rose rushes off after Tassie. (Bearing in mind this is well after dark). None of this is dramatic enough, clearly, so Tassie has to fall over a bit as well.

Jane reveals the children are at the castle just as Bill goes to leave and the thunder and lightening starts.

Tassie follows Button in, emerging at the end of what looks like a large tunnel (very similar to where Grogan exited earlier). She claims she came in by an underground stream when she meets Jack to plan a rescue.


AND HERE BE SPOILERS!

Sam turns up in the cellar and reveals he got in with keys. Niko says that Scar won’t be happy about all this. And then… Sam removes his neckerchief to reveal…  A SCAR.

So not a cliffhanger this week, but a major reveal!


We’re really getting somewhere now! The final episode will hopefully have a thunderstorm and an exciting escape. It’s just a shame that there are so many padded out earlier episodes and then the ‘kidnapped’ section is so short as a result.

Also disappointing is the consistent ‘comic’ villainy shown by Nico and Mannheim.

Nico – “Ask them about the boys. I saw them in the woods with some boys. Oh, and they had a parrot.”

Grogan “Where?”

“Here, on his shoulder. Like that bloke, you know, pieces of eight, pieces of eight…” (While doing a jig and a parrot-type squawk).

It’s just so annoying!

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Monday #230

Well, we have another Monday in our midst, and it’s got some good news attached to it. Fiona has had her baby boy!! Brodie was born last Sunday, and is now over a week old, and he is GORGEOUS!! Auntie Stef is desperate to get up there for cuddles! So I hope you’ll join in congratulating Fiona and her other half on their new arrival! Look how gorgeous he is in his Noddy sleep suit.

20170813BrodieCampbell

1 Week old and already a Blyton and Beatrix Potter Fan! 

Now, for the more boring part – this week’s blogs!

Monday#230

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Grown Up Blyton: Too Many Cooks by Marina Pascoe

Continuing my theme of let’s see what books we could read as adults if we wanted a break from Blyton, I have decided to look at Too Many Cooks by Marina Pascoe. This is the second book in the series of Bartlett and Boase Mysteries but I decided to review it because I have recently finished reading it (well listening to it) and I can’t quite remember all the twists and turns of the first book in the series. So shall we take a look?

bartlettandboaseBartlett and Boase

Set in post world war one, we’re in slightly different time zone than Enid Blyton’s mysteries, which are set more in the post world war two period but the detective methods are similar and Bartlett and Boase have all the characteristics to unravel a mystery that the children do. The lack of ‘scientific’ research at their fingertips allows me to draw comparisons between the two authors and the different series.

George Bartlett is a inspector, moved down from London for the good of his wife, Caroline’s, health and runs the small Falmouth constabulary alongside his trusty local boy, Archibald Boase. Between them they make a formidable team, even though they are very different. Bartlett thinks of Boase as a substitute son to the one he lost in France during the war and the two rub along well. Boase is included in the Bartlett family life quite a bit by this novel because he is stepping out with Bartlett’s daughter Irene. Together life in Falmouth is supposed to be a bit of an easy ride for hard working Bartlett, after London life, but it doesn’t turn out that way.

George Bartlett is an easy to like character, devoted to his wife daughter Irene, and faithful hound Topper, he muddles through a lot of Falmouth life, with a rough London edge to him. In most novels this would have made him an outsider to the locals but he seems to fit in alright, and everyone, apart from his superintendent, like and respect him.

Archie Boase is a young man, living in rooms in Falmouth with an appetite to rival that of the Famous Five – he always seems to be eating pork pies!- and is eager to impress and get on with everyone. He’s a fine copper, and has a good knack at seeing things from a different perspective. Boase works well, and respects his superior, Bartlett, usually bowing to his superior knowledge but at the same time he’s not afraid to speak his own mind. Never a bad thing in such a close knit dynamic.

About the Story

So now I’ve given you an idea of Bartlett and Boase as characters, maybe it’s best to look at the story now, and see if I can get you interested in them.

The mysteries that I’ve read (Empty Vessels and Too Many Cooks) turn into great rambling, difficult to solve mysteries. There are curve balls thrown at every chance and  there are so many twists and turns I really have to be paying attention to what I’m listening to to be able to understand how someone got from A to C without passing B, as it were.

My best advice about Bartlett and Boase is, forget Agatha Christie, forget G.K Chesterton, and anyone similar. What you have here with Bartlett and Boase are two policemen, doing their job and having difficult circumstances, but they have human nature in the way. Especially when it comes to Too Many Cooks because there is so much deceit that goes on with one of the characters because she’s worried about the consequences that will catch up with her. If you learn anything from this book, its that self-preservation always gets in the way.

Too Many Cooks is a murder story, there is definitely no way around it, because of the nature of the kill(s). I won’t go into too many details but a body is found and there’s a young women who always seems to draw Bartlett and Boase’s attention and something never really feels quite right with her. Between the detectives doing their best to figure out a murder, find a missing man, and chase this strange girl who seems to be everywhere they turn, your head is so full of information that its hard to know which way to turn.

I cannot fault the writing, quite frankly, because it takes a skilled writer to be able to work with so many threads in a plot and bring them all together successfully, which Pascoe does manage to do…well almost. I did feel a bit jilted at the ending because it wasn’t the resolution I would have liked, but I think that actually adds to the book and the realness of the story. Things don’t always work out nicely which is…ok and because we’re reading adult books now, we can’t expect the nice happy endings that Blyton would give us. I know that is one of the reasons we still do read Blyton, but hey you might still enjoy Bartlett and Boase.

Set against the backdrop of the port town of Falmouth, where author Marina Pascoe actually lives, the atmospheric descriptions of the place are well worth a read. Pascoe also manages to convey that the police investigation takes a lot of time, and leads and information can be slow. I think sometimes you lose this in a more fast paced novel, but that does not make it any less absorbing. With cultural additions, such as Egyptology rearing its head and having a large part to play in the story, and things such as dances and clothing being so accurately described and portrayed you really feel as if you are back in 1920s Falmouth. Always a good mark of a proper expert.

Why read it?

I realise I may not have entirely sold you this book, but I can promise you, it will keep you hooked and desperate for more. The twists, turns and amazing things that come out of them are worthy of Blyton and Christie. You should really give these books a go, even if you’ve been put off by my review. Smooth reading, with a wonderfully vibrant 1920s backdrop.

Let me know your thoughts below!

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The Zoo Book, part 5

The final four chapters now!


CHAPTER THIRTEEN: ARMOURED ANIMALS

The hedgehog (aka the hedge-pig) get a page and a half to introduce us to armoured animal. I’m not sure the humble hedgehog is really zoo exhibit material but it gives Blyton a chance to show off her knowledge of British wild-life.

  • The porcupine, despite the looks, is not a cousin of the hedgehog but rather is a rodent. The name means spiny pig. Blyton says perhaps you have seen penholders or toothpicks made of porcupine quills. Probably not that likely these days.
  • The armadillo
  • The tortoise and the turtle are both reptiles, and very similar so get lumped together here. They’re cold blooded, lay eggs, are slow and lazy, fond of sleeping and live to be a great age. Tortoise not a good pet as they eat what they shouldn’t (I assume she means flowers etc) and disappear easily. Only then does she say that turtles rarely leave the sea and have flippers instead of stumpy legs (I have seen an awful lot of people get turtles and tortoises mixed up, this sort of thing doesn’t help!). The hawkbill turtle has a shell which when polished and made into ‘tortoiseshell’ brushes and combs, is very beautiful. Probably more beautiful left on the animal though!
  • Crocodiles and alligators, another pair of similar animals that people confuse. Blyton tells us where we can find them and describes them as slow and clumsy on land… but I think they can get up a reasonable speed, or have I watched too many SyFy movies? I don’t think they can keep it up for very long but I’m sure they can run. Their anatomies (and differences) are covered – apparently the alligator gets the will eat human beings if it can get them, but the same isn’t said for the crocodile, but both are not pleasant creatures. I was interested to read that neither has a tongue, I’m not sure I knew that.

Interestingly the below anecdote is then included:

Once a traveller killed a crocodile and cut it open, and what do you think he found inside it? Here are some of the things, and they will show you what a man-eating monster it must have been: eleven heavy brass arm rings, three wire amulets, one bead necklace, fourteen arm and leg bones of various animals, eighteen stones, and some porcupine quills! This is difficult to believe, but it is quite true. 

How I wish I knew her source for that story! I have a hard time believing it.

  • Ant-eaters are cousins of the armadillo. Pangolin is the proper name (ant-eater is a generic term which  applies to the aardvark, numbat and echidnas too.) “The great ant-eater” is mentioned, and I think that means the aardvark.

pangolin ant eater london zoo


CHAPTER FOURTEEN: BIRD LIFE AT THE ZOO

So many birds, Blyton says she found it hard to know which to write about and so has stuck to those you are likely to see at the zoo.

  • The eagleMany of them you cannot see under the best conditions – the eagles for instance. How can any one see the real splendour and power of an eagle when it is cooped up in a cage? Mountains and the blue sky are the proper background for a bird like that. That comes across as a bit mean – all about the visitor, never mind the poor birds.
  • The vultures, like jackals and hyaenas they are ‘dustmen’ eating leftovers from other carnivores. The condor is not a nice looking bird, he too would look better in his native home. (And be more comfortable probably!)

london zoo vulture

  • The owls. Blyton mentions a naked-footed owlet. I can’t find out anything about this. It appears in an 1877 book about London Zoo, but other than that I’ve drawn a blank. Naked-footed owl brings up another few very old sources. It/they must have another name though!
  • The ostrich can carry two men on his back. Ostrich feather farming is described  – where they wrap the males’ wings in cloth then the feathers are cut off. But it’s ok, it doesn’t hurt and they regrow!
  • FlamingoesOnce there came a gale and blew through the Zoo gardens. It scurried the flamingoes off their feet and gave them the lift they wanted in order to fly – and there were all thee Zoo’s precious flamingoes sailing over Regent’s Park, astonished and delighted to be able to use their wings again! It took a long time to recapture the but at last all but one were brought safe home again to Three Island Pond. 
  • The pelicans who store fish in their big baggy beak.
  • The parrots, and also cockatoos and parakeets. Unfortunately, when many parrots are kept together, as at the Zoo, the talkers seem to lose their “talk”, and simply screech and scream instead. (How dare they revert to their natural form of communication!) The Kea has become a meat-eater after white men found New Zealand and began farming sheep. They now fly down and try to eat sheep alive. The New Zealand Government offers five shillings to any one killing a kea.
  • The penguin. There’s a sad story of a penguin couple with an egg; the other penguins were so interested they wanted a turn at nursing it, and it broke. The mother penguin cuddled a piece of the broken shell for a long while after. Maybe it’s pregnancy hormones but that’s so tragic! (I also wonder how rare it was for penguins to successfully breed in zoos if all the other penguins were so fascinated by it.)
  • The peacock is described in detail making me wonder if peacocks weren’t common in the UK then as they were imported. Maybe you could only see them in zoos or in the private grounds of very rich people.

peacock london zoo


CHAPTER FIFTEEN: THE AQUARIUM

Ah, I now see that fish and other sea creatures are going to be covered here, as I did think them missing from the water loving animals chapter.

Much of the chapter focuses on the aquarium itself at first. It was built underground to maintain the temperature of the tanks and cost £55,000. It is a dark space with lit tanks so you can see the fish better. Sea water was brought in from the Sea of Biscay in steamers to London, then via barges up the Regent’s Canal to the Zoo. It was stored in reservoirs under the aquarium and pumped up into smaller reservoirs which then ran into the tanks. Water leaving the tanks then ran through sand to clean it. Compressed air was pumped into tanks too and the pipes were lined with enamel to prevent rust. It sounds like they put a great deal off effort into the project, and I hope it was successful in keeping the fish etc alive and well.

octopus london zoo

Not many animals get a long description but some mentioned are seaweeds, anenomes, fishes, shell-fish, crabs, lobsters, turtles, the octopus, salamanders and eels of different types. One interesting story is that flat-fish start out normal shaped and flatten by lying on the sea bed. This sounded so bizarre that I had to look it up. It’s not quite true, but they do start out like normal fish then go through a bizarre puberty.

Also interesting is that it takes half an hour for a lobster to shed its shell, as it doesn’t grow, and up to three weeks to replace it (they hide away when unprotected, I’ve never seen a ‘naked’ lobster at the aquarium!) Slightly contradicting herself from earlier Blyton says that Green turtles are always very lively. A good description of the sea horse is that it’s not much like a real horse but like a chess knight.

sea horses london zoo


CHAPTER SIXTEEN: FAMOUS ANIMALS

Most toy elephants are called Jumbo, claims Blyton, and there was a read Jumbo in 1865 which is where the name comes from. He carried children on rides for 16 years. Then, as sometimes happens with elephants when they are about twenty years old, he became restless and trouble-some. He would charge at the walls of his stall, splinter the wood and drive his tusks though the iron plates that strengthened his house. No one except his keeper dared go near him. When Scott took him out into the Gardens, Jumbo quietened down and was very peaceful. But it was dangerous to have an elephant about as strong and as big as Jumbo who might lose his temper any moment and kill someone. So the Zoo decided to sell him. 

Mr Barnum (I assume P.T. Barnum of the famous circus?) of the US wrote and offered £2000. But Jumbo wouldn’t get into the crate to go. It took five weeks to persuade him, and in that time a song was written about him and it was in the newspapers. Barnum showed him for three years and all was well, until… travelling in the wilderness by a railway line Jumbo charged at a train engine and lost.

Alice, Jumbo’s wife had also gone to Barnum’s, but she was burnt in a fire two years after Jumbo died. Another elephant, Jingo, was sold to Mr Bostock by the Zoo, but he was so homesick he died on the ship.

How very cheery! Next up, a load of primates who probably developed lung cancer…

Consul the chimp was brought up with an ordinary family so he could do excellent tricks and earned a lot of money. He could write and type his own name. He sounds like the inspiration for Sammy in the Galliano’s Circus books – he would eat a meal with cutlery, undress and get into bed etc. He also smoked cigarettes, though.

Mickey “a cripple” who swung himself about on his arms and had a real temper.

Orang-utans like Sandy who could smoke a pipe and Jacob who escaped and built a nest up a tree. Jacob was returned to his cage but the nest was left as a curiosity.

Sandy Junior who spat out meal worms at people.

Jenny the monkey, formerly a pet on a ship. She could smoke a pipe and drink out of a glass. Strangely she had a real chicken for a friend.

And then back to Sam and Barbara – Sam was shot when he got lonely after Barbara died. Another polar bear called Sam used to collect umbrellas. This habit began when someone poked him with an umbrella (as you do when you go to a zoo!) when he was asleep. Sam was angry, grabbed the umbrella and broke it into bits. 

After that he fancied more umbrellas so used to pretend he couldn’t reach a bit of fish on a ledge. So when the visitors used their umbrellas to help him out he would grab them and ruin them.


And there we have it. A rather fascinating insight into not only London Zoo but to the attitudes of people towards wild animals in the 1920s. A lot of it is really quite sad and uncomfortable. I was surprised at the many stories of death and suffering of Zoo animals. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been right to paint a picture that all zoo animals were happy and lived long lives but their suffering wasn’t detailed with the idea of raising awareness or making a point about animal welfare. It was all treated as rather ‘ho ho ho, how jolly.’

I’d love to know what children of the time made of it, and how much it expanded their knowledge of animals they had perhaps never even heard of before.

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Monday #229

We’re flying through the year and it’s our first Monday in August! Hope you like what we have for you this week!

Monday#229

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July Round Up

Well, I may or may not have done my last Monday post but this will definitely be my last monthly round up for a while!


WHAT I’VE READ

Despite being on maternity leave the whole month I haven’t found as much time for reading as I had hoped!

  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – Audiobook narrated by Stephen Fry
  • Blotto, Twinks and the Dead Dowager Duchess (Blotto and Twinks #2) – Simon Brett
  • Why is This Night Different From all Other Nights? (All the Wrong Questions #4) – Lemony Snickett
  • The Zoo Book (reviewed in several parts)
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Audiobook narrated by Stephen Fry
  • High Hopes: My Autobiography – Ronnie Corbett

For the baby:

  • Each Peach Pear Plum – Janet and Allan Ahlberg
  • Five Minutes’ Peace – Jill Murphy
  • Sally and the Limpet – Simon James
  • Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes – Mem Fox
  • No Bed Without Ted – Nicola Smee

And still on the go (most of the ones from last month I haven’t picked up again lately):

  • Matilda – Roald Dahl audiobook narrated by Kate Winslet
  • The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar – Roald Dahl audiobook
  • Dead Before Dark (Sookie Stackhouse #1) – Charlaine Harris audiobook

So I got through some of my library books at least! I was hoping the Harry Potter audiobooks would keep me going up until the birth but I finished them too soon and thought it was too soon for a third re-listen so I’ve moved onto something new. I got through over 114 hours of audiobooks this month!


WHAT I’VE WATCHED

  • The Highland Midwife which sadly only had three parts.
  • Hollyoaks, as always
  • Murder She Wrote. Season three of twelve now!
  • The Designated Survivor on Netflix
  • The Castle of Adventure – I’ve been reviewing more episodes for the blog

WHAT I’VE DONE 

  • Had a baby shower and got lots of lovely books (and lots of predictions of when baby will arrive, some people have already been proved wrong.)
  • Went to St Andrews with Stef and hobbled about very carefully.
  • Had a pamper afternoon with Stef with face masks, hair masks and strange foot masks.
  • Worn hiking boots all month to support my sprained ankle.
  • Taken lots of naps.
  • Done my best to finish the reviews of The Zoo Book and The Castle of Adventure before I disappear.
  • Gone out to lunch with my mum several times (what else is there to do on Maternity leave?).
  • Supervised/helped Ewan put together all the nursery furniture and put up the pictures we had. The whole room is organised and ready now!

WHAT STEF HAS READ

Current reads:

  • Too Many Cooks – Marina Pascoe
  • The Ravenmaster’s Boy – Mary Hoffman
  • Peggy and Me – Miranda Hart


WHAT STEF HAS WATCHED

I haven’t really watched anything much this month. Everything just seems to have gotten away from me. I have listed what I gave watched below:

  • Top Gear: India Special – Top Gear is one of my guilty pleasures, and I haven’t got Amazon Prime to catch up on Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond’s latest show, The Grand Tour, so I settle for reruns. 
  • The Antiques Roadshow – Caught a couple of episodes while I was there off a week or so ago, and they are delightfully quaint and humorous.>
  • Red Dwarf – Still watching the old series of this show with my other half. 

WHAT STEF HAS DONE

So I have been quite a busy bee this month, one way and another.

  • A visit to Fiona, in which I played nursemaid for she had sprained her ankle the week before.
  • Had a pamper day with Fiona, with products from Lush to make sure that there was nothing to cause any issues with baby.
  • BBQ – even though we haven’t quite had the weather I have had two bbqs this month, one in Nottingham with some old friends and my goddaughter, and then with my work, in which I was able to just chill with my colleagues.

So not done that much either, so sorry for being boring. I will try and be better next month!

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Review: The Caravan Family

thecaravanfamilyFinally, I hear you cry, she’s found and read the first book in the series! Now perhaps she can tell us what happened in the beginning (assuming that you haven’t already read them in order like you’re supposed to! What a topsy-turvy reviewing process we’ve been through with this series. At least now we can say they have all been done! With that said, lets have a look at the very first Family Series book.

The beginning of the Caravan Family

Mike, Belinda and Ann have been staying with their mother and grandmother in their grandmother’s house while their father has been ‘away’ for two years. Having just looked at the year the book was published, it was the end of the Second World War, so Enid Blyton could have been referring to the children’s father being away at the war, which would strike a chord with many of the children reading these serialised books in magazines.  No reference beyond that of Daddy coming home is made again, but if it’s anything like the Blyton books we know, she will have wanted them to be far removed from reality so the children could enjoy themselves. This is partly why the Famous Five books never mention the war, and they have amazing food, because Blyton wanted children to remember happier times, I assume.

Anyway, after coming home, Mummy and Daddy decide that they need to move out of Granny’s house and that they would quite like a country cottage somewhere, but it turns out that they can’t afford the ones they like. Daddy doesn’t have much money – which begs the question how can he afford the trips away, and the trip on the Queen Elizabeth later on, so I assume he gets a brilliantly paid job or one with lots of benefits, so the children and their mother can live in relative comfort.

Soon it becomes clear that the little cottage in the country is out of their reach and, while they are walking to go back to Granny’s, the children spot some old, run down, gypsy caravans in a farmers field. After some discussion the Farmer agrees to sell them to the family, and the children are overjoyed. There is a snag however, that this will only be temporary until school starts again and Mummy and Daddy can find somewhere else for them to live.

After a spell of cleaning, repairing and repainting the caravans, they all move in on the farm where the caravans stand, given that there are no horses to pull them at this point. The children are soon running around the farm helping and becoming very sensible, which surprises their mother who often found it quite hard to get them to do chores while they were living at their grandmother’s. Now they are making beds, tidying, washing up, cooking, fetching wood for fires and not to mention all of the other things they get to do on the farm!  The children grow more respectful of the world around them and little Ann gets over her fear of cows and geese, and helps as much as the other two do.

There’s a lovely little part when they move into the caravan for the first night and Mike ‘dictates’ where everyone will sleep. Unusually for the eldest he doesn’t demand the topmost bunk, but says he will sleep at the bottom because he’s the eldest. Belinda is then to sleep in the middle and Ann at the top. I don’t know why but I felt this was very sweet and well meaning of him, because in books such as the Famous Five, Julian would very much demand the top bunk but Mike seems to be a less demanding older brother. What a nice change.

As we move on through the book, we meet Uncle Ned and Aunt Clara, who also own a farm and the children all pitch in and help get the harvest done, and the horses, Davey and Clopper also help pull the machines. It’s nice to get some context of Uncle Ned and Aunt Clara and I think it finally answers my question as to why they don’t stay on their farm. The school that Mummy and Daddy want to send the children to is a long way from the farm so they have to move the caravans for the children to be able to attend, and it ends with the caravans being pulled off into a sunny day (well it looks like a sunset in my edition, but I don’t think the caravans would be moved at night time. Not these ones anyway!)

What I thought of it

Actually this whole little story is very sweet and endearing! The development of the children, the finding the caravans and them the whole life on the farms. You get a feel for the animals and the farm as Blyton manages to transport you to these amazing places in technicolor. Although we love her mysteries and adventures, I feel her real forte was nature and animals. Her writing does seem to come alive with them and that is what makes The Caravan Family such an engaging read.

Belinda, Mike and Ann are very sweet as well, skipping about, wanting to help and getting stuck in with the chores. I know it sounds strange, but since my first reading (at the end of the series) where I had no real idea about them, they have grown on me as young innocent things who are very much young people who are beginning to understand and take on the world. I suppose now that I have all the books – even though some of them are new text editions – I will have to read them through the proper way around to really get a proper feeling for the characters and any growth in the children. The amusing thing is though, that they do feel as though they don’t get much older. They always seem to stay around the same age, which is a tactic employed very well by Blyton and other authors, where despite the passing seasons the children refuse to age. How I wish I had that superpower!

Anyway, all I think I can say now is that you need to read this quiet gem of a Blyton series. Yes, some of them aren’t as good as others and I may have been hasty in some of my first opinions, but you know, I reckon they’re well worth the reading time!

Let me know what you think in the comments below!

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The Adventure Series on TV: The Castle of Adventure part 6

Yet again we ended with a cliff-hanger created by character clumsiness/silliness. Previously we have had Dinah sliding off a perfectly good tree-bridge and Jack being attacked by an eagle while climbing the tower. Not to mention all the high-drama accidents mid-episode like Philip nearly falling from the plank, both Jack and Lucy-Ann (separately) falling down slopes and so on.

Well, obviously Jack’s not going to fall to his death, as that would rather spoil the programme. But now he will be trapped inside the castle, at least until the other children replace the plank.


THE BAD GUYS REVEAL A LITTLE MORE (BUT NOT MUCH!)

Allie’s American friend, who we now know is in charge of the spying operation at the castle, meets up with his boss. He’s wanting out as his underlings are useless (he seems quite justified here). The only way out, though, is at the wrong end of a gun so sensibly he chooses to stay in. All we know about the boss at this stage is that he’s a whispering man.

It turns out that Sam is ferrying supplies to the spies (try saying that ten times fast) at the castle, so it’s no wonder he’s been so keen to keep Tassie away from the place. He admits, though, that he has no idea who has hired him. He just delivers.

He hangs around later as well and has a chat with the spies, it’s not clear how much he knows about their doings.

Jack then overhears the spies discussing how they also don’t know who they’re working for, but discuss a fair bit about their audio/visual spying methods.


SECRETS ARE THE ORDER OF THE DAY

The children try very hard to persuade Aunt Jane to let them join Jack at the castle. She’s not at all happy with any of it – until they stuff her up with a load of nonsense about SRTs. SRTs are (apparently) survival trips into the wilderness that they go on from school all the time. Often alone, Philip stresses. But mostly in small groups, Dinah says very firmly to ensure that she’s not left out.

Aunt Jane calls Allie to check this out but clearly doesn’t mention the phony SRTs as Allie says they can go, because ‘she trusts Philip’. This is after Philip has struck the rather low blow of Dad would have let us go.

Sam is also keeping secrets. He seems to have Tassie’s mother believing that all his income comes from his ‘rag and bone’ trade, but she questions this as a week’s worth of scrap metal has hardly netted anything. She also wants to know how long he is planning to stay – after all he said he’d be around for three months and it’s been four and a half. From this I’m not sure if they knew each other before he turned up.


THE TRENTS ARE NOT SHOWING US THEIR BEST SIDES

Well Lucy-Ann has always been rather annoying and this episode is no exception. When they arrive at the castle she’s first to see the plank is not at the window. Before the others have even cleared the wall she’s wailing Where’s the plank? The plank’s gone! It’s right at her flippin’ feet!

There she is, looking up, and then three small paces forward the plank is just lying there!

She then repeatedly whines about not being scared but not wanting to explore the cellars. In the book Lucy-Ann is so good-natured and kind that her being the most afraid of the group isn’t a problem. This Lucy-Ann however has no redeeming qualities!

Jack’s problems are more in the careless vein. He leaves a camera film box lying out in the castle courtyard for the spies to find. Now Jack and the other clearly suspect there are other people around the castle, and while they don’t yet know they are bad guys, book Jack would be more careful (and environmentally conscious!)

And later, once he’s shown the others to the cellar he disappears to find Kiki. Why? He knows how to get in and out of the cellar so obviously has to be out of the way to allow the others to be trapped but it makes no sense for him to go hunting for Kiki who is more than capable of flying away from any dangers.


AND SO FOR THE MAIN DRAMAS

After getting safely into the castle, (almost surprising that they didn’t squeeze in another near-fall) and shouting JAAACCKK at the top of their voices, Dinah doesn’t believe Jack about the spies. She thinks he’s dreamed it all – well the part where they tried to climb up to Jack’s hide and were attacked by the eagle is rather far fetched. And really, it is a miracle the two groups have never run into each other so far, as neither lot have been particularly discreet.

On a side-note I can’t work out where Jack’s hide is. It is reached via a long metal ladder (which looks more modern than the rest of the ruins) and has a good view of the nest. Why didn’t the boys go there the first time instead of climbing the ivy-covered tower?

From the pictures you can see there’s at least one stone wall and a wooden one too – and his ‘hide’ is really just a screen stuck in the middle of the space.

Anyway, the only way for Jack to prove there are spies is to lead the others right into their den. And so he does – then abandoning them as I’ve said above to hunt for Kiki. And dun-dun-dun would you believe it? The spies are on their way back just as the kids are heading underground.

Philip then creates even more drama by a) getting into a suit of armor in around ten seconds, without any noise and b) scares the girls so much that Lucy-Ann accidentally hits the trapdoor-shutting axe.

Unfortunately all three are too dumb to work out what she’s done and have to wait for Jack to rescue them. Except maybe it’s not Jack, maybe it’s the spies…


SOME RANDOM OTHER THOUGHTS FROM THE EPISODE

One plus is that the cellar has a big old-fashioned four-poster bed. It’s always nice when details from a book are kept, even if they’re not all that important. On the other hand, it bugs me when other details are abandoned or changed for no reason. Jack refers to Kiki as a good boy in this episode, for example. It’s clear all through the books that Kiki is a female.

Then there’s Philip suddenly being called Phil, ugh. That’s probably worse than Lucy-Ann getting shortened to Lucy.

And lastly, the MOD seem to be full-on role playing while testing their new machine, which just look odd, and a bit of a waste of budget (unless it’s stock footage from somewhere I suppose!)


So another episode where not an awful lot happens. A few secrets are revealed, I suppose, but the only real ‘event’ is the girls and Philip getting trapped down in the cellar, and that happens in the last few minutes.

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Monday #228

Happy Due Date Fiona!

Baby’s due today so I will be waiting with crossed fingers for news as I know she’s very keen to meet him, and very pregnanty at the moment! Hope you’ll send good wishes to her, to try and help baby come on time! Let’s hope we have some good news before next Monday!

Anyway, that said, this is what we have for you this week:

Monday#228

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The Zoo Book, part 4

I’m looking at chapters ten to twelve this week, which leaves just four more after that.


CHAPTER TEN: THE GIRAFFE AND HIS COUSINS

Blyton has some advice here: If you happen to be a girl and go to the Zoo wearing a hat with a wreath of flowers round it, don’t stand too near the giraffe’s cage. It’s probably unnecessary advice these days (though maybe giraffes are attracted to plastic flowers on headbands?). I do remember at Edinburgh Zoo the giraffes could reach you over a high wall around the back of their enclosure. Sadly there are no giraffes at Edinburgh now.

She also mentions how dangerous giraffes can be:

Look in the giraffe’s stall at the Zoo, and you will see a small piece of plate glass fixed over a hole knocked in the wooden wainscot. That hole was made by a giraffe. He suddenly lowered his head one day, swung his neck round, and gave a sidelong, hammering blow at his keeper – but missed him by an inch! Instead, his horned head struck the wood and gave the giraffe a nasty surprise.

I can imagine, as I’ve seen giraffes using their heads/necks as clubs to fight other giraffes on documentaries and it’s quite astonishing the noise it makes!

Then we go on to the ‘cousins’ to use Blyton’s usual loose terminologies!

  • The camel. I think there has often been a misconception that a camel’s hump stores water, but Blyton makes it clear that it supplies fats for a period when they can’t get much to eat. She also explains that they have water cells that can hold 1.5l of water for dry times (probably why the above confusion arises).  I can never remember the right way around but Blyton does tell us that the Arabian camel has one hump and the Bactrian has two (and is also the more bad tempered). Dromedaries (a breed of Arabian camels, but I had to look that up) are best for riding, and are faster than “ordinary” camels.
  • Llamas are obstinate and self-willed, though sometimes ridden still. We are told they have a very nasty habit of spitting. 
  • The zebra. Zebras can be tamed, but not very easily. They become very tired if ridden for long. There was once a gentleman, however, who taught three zebras to run in harness with a pony and draw his carriage through the London streets; but they never became good tempered and were always ready to bite. Probably because they are wild animals and never truly domesticated. It must have been quite a sight though!


CHAPTER ELEVEN: LOVERS OF THE WATER

There are some people who think that all animals who live in the sea must be some kind of fish, but that idea is quite wrong. No animal written of in this chapter, except the shark, is a fish.

Who are these people? I know some people believe that whales etc are fish, but surely everyone has heard of seals and know they’re not a fish?

Anyway, she describes fish, how breath underwater via gills and so on. Sea animals come to the surface to breathe (ie whales and sea lions). Fish have scales and fins, sea animals which do not belong to the fish family have no fins and have their bodies covered with fur. That just confuses things, doesn’t it? It sounds like there are a lot of furry fin-less whales swimming around.

  • Seals have two fur coats which are oiled. She mentions ladies’ seal-skin jackets which are hopefully a thing of the past now! From that it’s obvious that seals are hunted for their skins but she doesn’t say anything about how they are ‘collected’. Perhaps the brutal seal-clubbing that goes on was a step too far to describe?  There is a really good and long description of  the various parts of seal anatomy, but she doesn’t attempt to delve into the various different seal species.

London Zoo seal

  • Sea-lions aka “hair-seal” (I haven’t heard it called that before!), looks nothing like a lion (you can imagine some poor kids imaginations running wild with the name!). Blyton includes some ‘facts’ and anecdotes which I have included below:

They are very clever animals, and can be taught to perform all sorts of amusing tricks, which they seem to enjoy thoroughly… a sea-lion living in the Zoo would climb up and down a ladder, fire off a gun and kiss its keeper!

There was once a sea-lion who thought he would like a walk round the Zoo, so he climbed over his wall and over the railings and set off round the gardens. He scrambled over the flower beds and the grass, and suddenly arrived at the deep pool belonging to the polar bears. He thought the pool looked rather nice, even if it did have bears in it, so he took a header and dived in.

Alas! the bears did not like such a sudden visitor, and they attacked him. Before the keepers could rescue him he was so badly bitten that he died.

  • The walrus: Blyton feels the need to explain that the walrus  is a real animal, not just something made up in Alice in Wonderland! I was interested to learn that the name comes from whale-horse.
  • The sea-elephant – which I thought might have been a manatee* but turns out to actually be the elephant seal. It has a curious trunk and huge size (it can grow to 20 ft long Blyton says – I just had to check that! and it’s true, exceptional males can get that big).  Thankfully they are not a conservation concern now, though Blyton says they were well-hunted for their leather-like skin.
  • The whale. Blyton confirms this is not a fish as it is warm blooded. Whales never leave the sea to go on land. If it happens to be thrown on shore by a storm, it is quite helpless, and has to lie there until it dies. How pleasant! Blyton says there are two kinds of whales – one with teeth and the other with long fringes of whalebone instead, used like a brush to sieve small fish from the water. Apparently the Greenland whale is the best known and is where we get most of our whalebone. (Greenland whale is also known as the bowhead whale or Arctic whale. I’d still argue that the blue whale or the whale shark is better known, but maybe not then!) The blubber and whalebone from one Greenland whale would have been worth 3-4 thousand pounds, (which is around £200,000 today!). Big whales were getting rarer in the 1920s due to over hunting, but other things are being used instead of whalebone so whaling is gradually being given up.
  • Porpoises and dolphins. Porpoises are apparently also known as sea hogs! Dolphins are such clever and interesting animals but hardly anything is said about them, or porpoises.
  • The shark, the only true fish of the chapter. With one snap of its cruel mouth it can bite a man’s arm or leg off, whoops, there’s a whole load of kids terrified to go into the sea long before Jaws was released!
  • The beaver. Blyton moves into fresh-water animals now and describes the beaver and how it builds dams.
  • Otters. I love otters so I was disappointed to get just a small paragraph about them.

I wonder if the Zoo just didn’t bother with fish seeing as they don’t really get a mention, or other sea-creatures like eels, crabs and so on.


CHAPTER TWELVE: SNAKES

Snakes are almost as bad as hyenas in Blyton’s eyes!

I do not think you will spend a very long time in the Reptile House at the Zoo. Modern and up-to-date though the Reptile House is, the inmates are not very pleasant. Snakes, crocodiles and alligators are evil-looking, and the tortoises are so sleepy and motionless that one soon tires of watching them.

I have to say that the reptile house was one of my favourite parts at Edinburgh. It had snakes tortoises, poison arrow frogs and caimans amongst other things. I was so sad when I went maybe five or six years ago and discovered that they’d knocked it down!

She does then says that snakes have beautiful colouring, and move in a curious gliding way. Snake anatomy is described well too. Some people will tell you that snakes sting (Really?). Blyton explains that actually they bite – the “sting” is its forked tongue. She describes how they shedding their skins and the anatomy of biting. Rattlesnakes, Indian cobras, King cobras, boa constrictors, pythons and anacondas all get a mention.

But it all gets brought back to how horrible snakes are:

The snakes at the Zoo are fed once a week, but I have never been to see them fed. I do not think I should like to see a snake swallowing a duck or a goat whole, and watch the animal slowly going down its neck and body. I think it would be a horrid sight, don’t you?

London Zoo cobra


So another interesting few chapters. It’s interesting how it swings from ‘amusing anecdotes’ about polar bears killing sea lions to very factual descriptions of anatomy etc, to Blyton’s clear animal biases and fascinating old ‘facts’ and names of animals.

I can only imagine what it would have been like reading this as a child before such a thing as television existed.

*As it turns out the manatee is a sea cow.

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Review: The Buttercup Farm Family

I realise that I have read this series in a most peculiar order and for anyone trying to follow the series, I’ve not helped. So I apologise. Nevertheless I have now read five out of the six of the series and omitted the first ever story of Mike, Belinda, Ann and their caravans (I have, you’ll be pleased to hear, just ordered a copy from eBay to make up for this fact). Leaving the whole saga of the misreading to one side, I hope you’ll continue reading and find out about the fifth book in the series, The Buttercup Farm Family.

Buttercup Farm

the-buttercup-farm-familyThe reason I mentioned about my not reading the series in order just now is down to the fact that I felt as though I had missed a big point of this plot when I first delved into the book. Buttercup Farm is put forward as a destination for the children to go and stay when Mummy and Daddy go away to America for a business visit-slash-holiday and Granny can’t look after them because she’s looking after someone else’s child.

Ann suggests Buttercup Farm, of which I assume has been spoken about before in the first book, because it’s suggested with an air of ‘well aren’t you silly for not thinking of it’. Auntie Clara and Uncle Ned own this farm and work very hard on it by all accounts and it would be a suitable place for the children to go while their parents are on holiday. Auntie Clara and Uncle Ned will look after them, Buttercup farm is close enough for them to go to school and come back to the caravans everyday as well as be able to help with jobs around the farm. Let’s be practical for a moment now (boring I know) but why not just stay there all the time if it’s so good for school and things? Anyway, Uncle Ned and Auntie Clara agree, saying they’d like to have the children and the caravans are moved, towards the end of the Christmas holidays.

The fact that this is happening in the Christmas holidays means that we get to see the transition of the farm through the year, which one would have to assume was Enid Blyton’s intent. We know from previous books and works that Blyton loves nature and animals, so are we really surprised when I say that, out of all of the Family books so far, Buttercup Farm is probably the strongest? Not only that but I think it was the one I enjoyed the most. Not only did she have a natural talent for mysteries but she has one for writing about animals as well, and life on a farm.

Life on the farm

The children throw themselves into life on the farm, Belinda takes on the task of looking after the hens. She feed them, collects the eggs, and mucks them out. When two of the hens get broody, the children get some hens eggs and ducks eggs for the hens to hatch. While the hens are on the eggs, the children explore more of the farm, Ann takes to the little lambs, and even gets to feed one whose mother doesn’t want to know about the poor thing. She calls the lamb Hoppetty because he jumps about an leaps about. He turns into quite a cheeky lamb, even trying to get upstairs to find Ann when she’s at school.

So Ann has Hoppetty and Belinda has her chickens, and Mike’s feeling a bit left out, because the girls have animals to care for. However, the sheep dogs have a litter of five puppies, and Mike falls in love with the puppies, but because they are from such good sheepdogs they are all sold to other farmers so Mike can’t have a puppy. Luckily for Mike though, one of the new owners backs out of the taking the last puppy, Rascal, and Auntie Clara convinces Uncle Ned to let Mike have the puppy.  What his parents will make of that, I do not know because the issue never gets addressed, but all the children now have animals to care for and look after while they are on the farm.

Just towards the end of the book when the children are helping bring in the hay for the harvest their mother and father pop back up, having been gone an extra two months than their original six month ‘holiday’ and are pleased to see their children being so helpful.

Conclusion

I think this book works better than some of the others in the series because every page, pretty much has a new animal on it, and talks about all the different things that happen on the farm. I think its really good for younger children to see what farm life is like, find out information about the processes on the farm, and responsibility of looking after animals. These are lessons that Blyton teaches very well, and we have seen similar explains of her love of nature before. When Fiona’s baby is a bit older I plan on reading these books to him, so he can get the joy out of them at the right age, instead of the slightly more ‘realistic’ approach I take to them now.

The Buttercup Farm Family probably seems to have more story to it because of the animals and the different things the children do, instead of them waiting for things to happen, by and large. I really enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to any of you!

Let me know if you’ve read it and what you think of it below!

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Monday #227

Well I’m still here! Still waiting on baby to arrive (due a week today) so here’s what we have planned:

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The Adventure Series on TV: The Castle of Adventure part 5

We ended on a less-dramatic scene in the last episode (I hesitate to call it a cliff-hanger, actually) with someone – Bill? MOD man? Sam? someone from the castle? prowling around Spring Cottage.


SO JUST WHO IS THE NIGHT-TIME PROWLER?

Whoever he is, he has incurred the wrath of Kiki (who is caged!) and the geese outside. They wake Philip who has a look out of the window, causing our prowler to get a warning from his partner waiting in a van.

And I was right. The prowler is Bill. Goodness knows what he’s doing sniffing around Spring Cottage in the dead of night. It would certainly make someone unfamiliar with the books suspicious of him.

He then turns up in town the next day and bumps into Allie, telling her he’s just doing some business, but would like to visit them at Spring Cottage soon.


POORLY LAID PLANS AND DISASTERS

The children plan for Jack to secretly stay at the castle overnight (how they thought Allie wouldn’t notice, I don’t know) and for that he needs food.

They therefore sneak all the slices of bread from the breakfast table and hide them in their waterproof coats… and then the boys raid the kitchen while Dinah keeps Allie occupied. But then Allie says she’ll make them a picnic and they have to sneak all the food back practically under her nose…

Tassie has similarly bad luck, she is caught by Sam when she tries to meet the children and we don’t see her again in this episode.

And the worst time is for Allie as she get another call from Jane – her mother has collapsed and is in intensive care.


A FEW CURIOUS POINTS

Curious for the children is how Buttons turns up without Tassie, and manages to get inside the castle again.

Curious for me is where the children have found what look like ready-made panels for Jack’s hide.


LATE NIGHT TROUBLES

And finally, we get to the good stuff.

Jack is left overnight and has a chat with himself that if he can’t get out of the castle then no-one can get in. Unless they find the plank. Which they won’t, in the dark. So that’s all fine, clearly.

Being the 90s the children can’t possibly be left alone, so Aunt Jane (I assume from Mannering side, or perhaps she’s an honorary aunt) comes to Spring Cottage to let Allie go to her mother

Jane is not at all happy that Jack is camping out overnight, but she is persuaded into waiting for the 10pm flashes with the children. The signal comes in, exactly as promised, and they reply… but ten minutes later we see Jack going to signal.

So… someone else in the castle just happened to need to signal with the same pattern at the same time as Jack should have? It’s pretty pointless, really, as Jack’s OK at this point. It’s not like he’s already been captured and prevented from signalling or anything. The children getting the wrong signal, and Jack not getting a reply to his, doesn’t have any impact on the story whatsoever.

Anyway. There’s then some strange noises in the castle and Jack finds an open cellar. There are suits of armour down there, which gives me hope for later in the story. There’s also a whole lot of high-tech things there too, though. None of this old-fashioned  ‘table of blueprints is all we need’ attitude.

We meet a couple more of our enemies now, one of whom is the chap who escaped Bill’s colleagues by going into the ladies. Their presence means Jack has to hide, and gets shut in the cellar. Unfortunately it is not a charming grating stone operated by a hidden lever. It’s a hydraulic door which you wonder how the children missed – though you do pull an axe on the wall to operate it.

Next to appear is Allie’s friend from the MOD. No surprise that he’s a baddie, really.

Jack lets himself out of the cellar and decides it’s time to make his getaway. Fair enough. But instead of quietly sneaking out he does it in a pell-mell fashion, and just about breaks his neck when he knocks the plank down. Yes, the plank they securely tied onto the tree because one of them nearly fell first time they entered the castle.

And we’re left on another cliff (castle) hanger, as Jack dangles out of the window.


I’m glad that things finally start to happen in this episode, but bearing in mind that we are now 120 minutes into a 200 minute adaptation, we’ve had to wade through a lot of padding to get here. I wonder how rushed the remaining 80 minutes will be, or whether they plan to greatly simplify everything.

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Grown Up Blyton: Brighton Belle by Sara Sheridan

New to the blog, I thought it was worth looking at some of the authors that us grown-ups could try as a change to the numerous Enid Blyton books we read. I thought of this idea when I was up in Dundee with Fiona (she brings out the best ideas in me) and she said that it could work, so here it goes!

Brighton_Belle_Book_CoverWhy should I read something else?

I suppose this is your question, when you read the schedule and saw the title for the blog. However, all am I trying to do is create a blog where people of all ages can find some good recommended reads. My starter today is Brighton Belle by Sara Sheridan. Sara Sheridan is a Scottish author, who is in the middle of writing  her Mirabelle Bevan mystery series, of which Brighton Belle is the debut. The book first crossed my hands in my library some years ago while I was at work and I knew I wanted to read it.

I took it home and was immediately transported to 1950s Brighton, England and I felt right at home. This was an England I had dreamt about in my childhood while I read, and re-read Enid Blyton’s books, and now I was getting to see it through grown-up eyes!

At the time I discovered this book, I was really absorbed in writing my story, The Missing Papers – A St Andrews Mystery (which you can find here) and I thought that this was the perfect book for research. It was perfect for me to immerse myself in writing the kind of story where you could almost watch in your head – like Blyton managed to create for so many people.

Another advantage of Brighton Belle is that it has short, manageable chapters. I remember once having people comment on the fact that they liked children’s books because the chapters were shorter and punchier. Not many adult books do this, though I think they are beginning to realise its advantage. Sara Sheridan does these amazing, short punchy chapters, that along with the detail, and the mystery not only in front of our heroine, but behind her as well, you just have to keep reading and devouring her writing.

Appetite whetting

Brighton Belle has a realistic, gritty, no nonsense approach to life, and the hard times that everyone was going through after the Second World War, make this novel so real it is hard to believe it is fiction. Sheridan is a self confessed swot, so her research is second to none. She will dig and dig and dig to get to the facts, and then she presents them perfectly. There are things I never knew about Britain after the Second World War such as the racial divide between people with different skin colours. In Blyton’s books this is sort of glossed over, with people of different ethnicity largely being the baddies. Sheridan in contrast actually points out the divide, and our heroine’s best friend and colleague is the gorgeous Vesta Churchill, who provides light relief and a fresh jolt of energy to Mirabelle, who has been floundering since the death of the love of her life.

Vesta encourages Mirabelle to act more like her wartime self, a former SOE agent, taking risks and following the line of enquiry as Mirabelle’s boss from the debt collecting firm she works for now, goes missing. The layer upon layer of mystery, surrounded by the picture of Brighton that Sheridan in such vivid colour that you walk the paths of Brighton with her. You have to be on the ball in a very Agatha Christie sense to find out who committed the murders before its revealed and it manages to roll in so many aspects of 1950s recovery that you cannot fault Sheridan’s knowledge and research at all.

I remember being at a talk by Sheridan a few years ago where she said the inspiration for Brighton Belle ,and Mirabelle, had come from: when her father had mentioned seeing a lady on a beach, dodging the deckchair attendant, so she didn’t have to pay the two pennies. Given that everyone back then was fighting their own demons from the war, this ‘simple’ story sparked off Sheridan’s creative flow and Mirabelle was born.

Final thoughts

Although Sara Sheridan is not a typical mainstream author, she is beginning to gain steam and publicity. She is a first rate storyteller who, much like Blyton for us, brings the whole ‘movie’ of the story to our minds with the use of her clever sentences and words. Mirabelle is such an easy character to love – I really wish she was my friend – that you want to find out if she finds happiness. Vesta adds a charm and warmth to the story while highlighting the racial issues. I haven’t spoken about him, but Detective Superintendent Alan McGregor provides the reassuring police presence that we so love to see in our mysteries by Blyton, that he reminds me of a ‘grown up’ Inspector Jenks, who tolerates Mirabelle’s help but wishes she wouldn’t get in harm’s way.

These Mirabelle Bevan mysteries have been described as worthy of Agatha Christie and I couldn’t agree more. You need to read these books, they are just the sort of read that you need when you want a little more depth and substance to a mystery, one that really makes your brain work, you need not look any further than Mirabelle Bevan, and Brighton Belle will confirm that!

Let me know what you think, if you’ve read the book before, and if you’ll be giving it a go – you won’t be disappointed!

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Monday #226

Your blogs for this week! Hope you’re up for something new from me, even though most of us don’t want to grow up, I thought I would supply some different reading materials for the adult sides of us!

Monday#226

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The Zoo Book, part 3

With six chapters done so far, there are ten more to go! The first few I found quite depressing reading at times, the next few weren’t quite so bad. I wonder what the next lot will be like.


CHAPTER SEVEN: THE DOG TRIBE AND THE HYÆNAS

The first thing I notice is the use of the ligature for AE, something that’s fallen out of use for the most part these days.

Several ‘types of dog’ are covered –

  • Wolves – really only a very large and very savage dog. Not sure how factually correct that one is! Blyton adds some ‘folk tale’ type stories about wild wolves.
  • Jackalshalf wolf and half foxes (again, is that biologically true?)
  • Foxes – They are such a nuisance to farmers that, if it were not for the fact that fox-hunting is carried on in England, there would soon be very few foxes left!  Is it just me or does that not make any sense?
  • The Dingo

And finally the hyæna. Hyænas are really unpopular creatures and Blyton jumps straight on the bandwagon.

She describes them straight away as ugly, unpleasant-looking animals. Then carries on with:

Their sloping hindquarters give them a very cowardly appearance. Their manners are disgusting, and no one could really like a hyæna. It is a very cowardly animal, and even if attacked it sometimes will not show fight. It is said that Arab hunters… will not even use a weapon against it, but simply throw a handful of wet mud into its face. Then they drag it along by its hind feet and give it to their women to kill!

It reminded me of a quote from the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer –

Buffy: Wow. Apparently, Noah rejected the hyenas from the Ark because he thought they were an evil impure mixture of dogs and cats.

Willow: Hyenas aren’t well liked.

Buffy: They do seem to be the schmoes of the animal kingdom.

I couldn’t find any biblical evidence that the hyaenas were banned from the ark (but it’s hard to be sure as having looked at a handful of different versions I notice some referenced hyaenas at other points while others just said beasts. 

What I did learn though that in his 1614 History of the World Sir Walter Raleigh wrote that Noah kept hyaenas from the ark as they were hybrid animals like mules. He thought that God would only have saved pure-bred animals. The fact that hyaenas still exist today (in his opinion) is due to them being reconstituted though unnatural unions between dogs and cats. In actual fact they are most closely related to weasels.

The much maligned hyaena


CHAPTER EIGHT: SOME HORNED AND HOOFED ANIMALS

And we continue with the vaguer chapter titles as Blyton tries to categorise a bunch of animals.

Here we have :

  • Bison (a favourite joke from my family is what’s the difference between a buffalo and a bison? You can’t wash your hands in a buffalo…) She says there are only a few hundred left in America, in reserves and parks. Thankfully today they have largely recovered thanks to conservation efforts. Blyton doesn’t think much of bison it seems – Bison are stupid animals…who behave like lemmings and follow a stampede even if that goes over a cliff etc. She says that The Indians used this flaw to kill many of them (though she at least says that the whites also killed a lot of bison).
  • Buffalo (not to be confused with the American bison which are often called buffalo… though Blyton doesn’t make this point) of which the African type are more powerful and dangerous while the Indian sort are easy to tame to pull plows.
  • Yak of Tibet.
  • Ibex and chamois – chamois leather comes from the chamois goat.
  • Eland – in danger of becoming extinct in Blyton’s time but now classed as least concern.
  • Springbok.
  • Gnuthey look ungraceful and awkward. 
  • Deer – she explains the difference between antlers and horns, and talks a bit about reindeer.
  • Elk aka the moose. Here there’s a story of two boys who inadvertently relieved a wapati (Indian deer) of his antlers as he was rubbing them against the fence to shed them.
  • British deer – covers the 3 types, red, fallow and roebuck. But all are English references about finding them in parks like Richmond etc. What about the wilds of Scotland?

CHAPTER NINE: SOME MONARCHS OF THE WILD

An even vaguer category now!

  • The elephantmost children who go to the zoo have ridden on an elephant’s back. How times have changed! Edinburgh Zoo used to keep elephants and I may have seen one as a very small child but from what I can see the zoo stopped having elephants in the late 80s due to lack of space for them. London Zoo send its last elephants to Whipsnade in 2001 after a keeper was crushed to death. (And I’m pretty sure they stopped giving rides many years before that!) Blyton describes the difference between African and Indian elephants, and touches on the ivory trade in a very mild and non-judgemental way. She adds that only kind people can train elephants as they remember any any acts of cruelty or injustice.

Elephants on one of the 12 colour plates

  • Rhinoceros, again she covered the difference between African and Indian breeds. An interesting fact is about flies getting into skin folds and them bathing in mud to keep them out.
  • Hippopotamus – plenty of good facts here.
  • Wild boar – found in the forests of England long ago. They were extinct in Britain and were at the time of Blyton’s writing – but now there are some wild groups having escaped from farms (and some purposely reintroduced in Scotland recently).
  • Kangaroos – Can only be run to earth by very swift and powerful dogs, why is this an important fact? She does at least describe their physique and talk about how they keep joeys in their pouches. Blyton mistakenly states that smaller kangaroos are called wallabies. They are from the same family but they are different animals!

Since these chapters are mostly factual about wild animals it makes for easier reading – aside from a few comments about hunting.

What’s interesting, perhaps, is how several animals were extinct or nearly extinct in Blyton’s time but have bounced back in the intervening years so much that these animals aren’t under any threat now. I had expected it to go far more in the other direction. Saying that, Blyton was perhaps writing at a time where elephants and tigers etc were utterly abundant in the wild, she just didn’t make a point of saying so.

One niggle I have is that on at least three occasions she talks about animals in England and entirely seems to forget that those animals exist in Wales and Scotland (and quite possibly Northern Ireland too!). The deer are one example as I pointed out above, but also the wild boar and foxes.

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