The Whicharts by Noel Streatfeild (Facebook group reading challenge)

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Reading this, the adult book which Noel Streatfeild adapted to create Ballet Shoes, was a very strange experience indeed.  It was a bit like finding out that your sweet little old auntie had a disreputable past about which you’d had no idea.  Sleaze.  Grooming.  Mistresses.  Illegitimate children.  Going after married men for their money.  This is not what I’m used to from Noel Streatfeild!  And, although it was meant as an adult book, some of the writing was quite simplistic, which made it even stranger.  As a stand alone book, it’s something that you’d read once, quite enjoy, but probably never read again.  As a Hall of Mirrors version of Ballet Shoes, it’s fascinating, in a rather weird kind of way.

Well, we’ve still got the three girls, although they’re Maimie, Tania and Daisy rather than Pauline, the ridiculously-named Petrova, and Posy.  And they’re still, respectively, an actress, a would-be mechanic and pilot who dislikes the stage, and a dancer.  But, rather than being three orphans whom GUM randomly collected, they’re the three illegitimate children of a rakish brigadier (a very Edwardian type – probably had mutton chop whiskers, used sandalwood aftershave, smoked expensive cigars and played billiards), by three different mistresses.  And, rather than being his niece, their guardian, Rose, is his discarded long-term mistress, whom he dumped when he met Maimie’s mother.  Rose takes in the first two women (not simultaneously!) and, after they’ve given birth, they ride off into the sunset and she takes on the babies.  She then also takes on Daisy, whose mother died of, presumably, childbirth fever.  I’m not sure what’s more unrealistic, GUM collecting orphans or this.  Where on earth is Rose’s self-respect?!

However, Rose is a very attractive character.  Like Sylvia, she’s devoted to the children.  Unlike Sylvia, when the money runs out – in this, darker, version of events, Mr Serial Seducer dies, whereas GUM just goes missing for a while and then turns up safe and well -, she gets a job.  It’s in a wartime munitions factory: this book starts in the Edwardian period, rather than the inter-war period.   There are boarders, but they don’t feature much, whereas they’re key characters in Ballet Shoes.  There is a kindly mechanic who helps out Tania, but he doesn’t live with them.  There is, however, still a devoted Nannie, who stays on even when there’s no money to pay her full salary (Noel Streatfeild is obsessed with devoted old nannies).  And a cook.

Rose herself then also dies, so the girls – and Nannie, of course – are left to fend for themselves.  As I said, this is a much darker version of events.  Daisy doesn’t feature much, unfortunately – and surprisingly.  Posy re-emerges in a different guise as Lydia in the Gemma books, Nicky in Tennis Shoes, and arguably as other characters too: she was obviously a character of whom Streatfeild thought a lot, so I’m surprised that Daisy isn’t a stronger character here.  Tania, however, is the one whose mind we really get into – she’s fascinating.  And very little changes from Tania to Petrova.

Maimie, on the other hand, is a big shock, though.  She’s certainly nothing like Pauline.  She decides early on that what she needs is a man with money.  Not a husband, or even a keeper – that’d mean being tied to one man.  Just a lover with money.  It’s not clear whether or not she deliberately goes after married men, but her men are all married.  There’s an uncomfortable episode in which she’s groomed by a sleazy theatre manager, to whom she succumbs.  In the MeToo era, this would be seen as abuse.  In a different time, it’s not, as she is not forced, but it’s not very pleasant.  We don’t get the detail, but we see her worrying in case she’s fallen pregnant.  I really wasn’t expecting all that in a Streatfeild book.  That was a long way from Ballet Shoes.

So was Maimie’s whole attitude.  Interestingly, we hear Phyllis, a wardrobe mistress with whom Tania becomes friendly, musing about how she herself has always stuck to the straight and narrow, and all she’s got out of it is a thankless, low-paid job, and the as yet unfulfilled hope that she might strike lucky and marry a nice man, who’ll probably also have a thankless, low-paid job … whereas Maimie, by using her face and figure to ensnare married men, breaking all sorts of moral codes and without doing any work, is living the Life of Riley.  Plenty of people must have thought that at one time or another …

A small note on diversity and religion.  Maimie’s main lover, one Herbert Rosen, is Jewish.  He doesn’t bother with religion any more, but (probably?) identifies as being Jewish.  Maimie’s first crush is also Jewish, although he hardly features at all: she goes off him when she finds out that he sells socks.  That doesn’t carry across into Ballet Shoes … well, obviously not, as Pauline doesn’t have any lovers, or even any crushes!  I just picked up on it because there’s not a lot of religious diversity in Girls’ Own books.  Elinor M Brent-Dyer is unusual in having so many Catholic characters. And one agnostic, although the poor girl is forced to attend church services.  Antonia Forest has one Jewish character.  And Noel Streatfeild has the kindly Jewish uncle in Curtain Up.  But there aren’t many characters who aren’t Protestant.

Oh, and there’s, there’s a strange episode in which Maimie temporarily goes very High Church because she’s got a girl crush on a teacher who’s very High Church, and Tania, Daisy and even the narrative make fun of her.  What was that about?  The bishop’s daughter making fun of someone’s religious beliefs and practices?!

So, the three girls are very different. As are the Fossils, but there’s much more of a bond between them than there is between the Whicharts.  The name, incidentally, comes about because they misunderstand the Lord’s Prayer and think that their father’s surname must have been Whichart – “Our Father Whichart in Heaven”.  That was quite good!   There’s no “let’s make the name famous and no-one will be able to say that it was because of our grandfathers” scene.  It’s a lovely scene, that one in Ballet Shoes, but there just isn’t that bond here.  Maimie and Daisy are both reluctant to move out because it’d mean leaving Tania on her own, but that’s only because of guilt, not because they don’t want to be parted from their sisters.

And, in the end, they do go their own ways.  Daisy goes to live with her maternal grandparents, who turn up looking for her.  Tania goes off to find her mother, in a totally bonkers episode which sees her, aged 16 and without a driving licence, drive all the way from London to somewhere near Carlisle, find out that her mother’s moved down south, sleep in the car overnight, and then drive all the way to the Sussex coast … whereupon her mother whisks her off on a cruise to Java.  No, me neither!  And Maimie, we presume, is set up in a nice flat by Herbert.  It’s quite sad, really – but, then again, it looks as if they’ll all be happy, in their own ways, so maybe it isn’t.

Life isn’t always easy, in Noel Streatfeild’s children’s books.  But it’s always fairly innocent.  It isn’t here.  I haven’t read any of her other adult books, so I don’t know what they’re like, but I can’t think of any other example of an adult book, especially one with a fair bit of sleaze and seediness (by the standards of 1931, when this was published), being adapted into a book for little girls.  And it’s such a classic, as well.  It’s very strange.

This is a rather silly book, to be honest.   Rose taking in the three kids, and Tania’s mad drive up and down the country, aren’t very convincing.  But it’s quite interesting, in its way.  However, it was impossible for me to read it without comparing it to Ballet Shoes every step of the way, and, as I’ve said, it was like being in a Hall of Mirrors.   I don’t think I’ll be reading it again, but I’m glad that I have read it, just to see what it was like.

 

Party Frock/Party Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

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I thought I’d read all the “Shoes” books, but I’d somehow missed this one until now.  It’s not one of Noel Streatfeild’s more interesting stories, being entirely based around preparations for a village pageant, something which wouldn’t merit more than a couple of chapters in any of her other books.  However, the idea of an entire community, plus the American troops based nearby (it’s set in 1945), all getting involved in organising a local event, was rather lovely; and it was all pleasantly devoid of horribly annoying kids or morality-teaching mishaps.

The whole premise was pretty bonkers, though.  Three and a half years into rationing, a young girl received a beautiful party frock as a Christmas present from her godmother in America, and the pageant was organised because she couldn’t wear it for an afternoon party and it wasn’t possible to organise an evening party because there were no night service buses to where the family lived!  So the frock sat in the wardrobe for 9 months, by which time she’d nearly grown out of it.  Whilst one would not wish to turn up at Buckingham Palace or Sandringham House wearing attire unsuitable for the time of day, would anyone really have been that bothered if a girl of about 12 had worn a long party frock for an afternoon party, once they knew that she’d just got it as a present and was dying to wear it?!  And it was a shame that the children’s ideas for the pageant were hijacked by adults, and turned into something completely different.  But still.  It was a very nice, sweet story, the wartime setting worked well, and of course the pageant turned out to be a great success.

The idea for the story came from Noel Streatfeild’s niece receiving a party frock as a present from America during the war, and not having an occasion on which to wear it.  In the book, Selina, the recipient of the dress, was living with her auntie, uncle and six cousins.  Her parents, who’d been based in the Far East, had been taken prisoner by the Japanese, but we heard at the end of the book that they were safe and well.  The uncle was a doctor, and probably over military age anyway, but I’m not sure why there seemed to be so many other men around, unless it was because it was a rural area and some of them were exempt due to being needed for farm work.  All the references to clothes rationing and food rationing were interesting, though, and it was nice to see the community marking VE Day and VJ Day.  It was rather sad, though when the children reflected that there’d been nothing to celebrate since the Coronation (in May 1937), when the younger ones hadn’t even been born and the older ones hadn’t been old enough to remember much.

It was classic Streatfeild in that the family claimed to be so poor that Phoebe, the youngest daughter (and the one likely to turn into a Lydia Robinson or Nicky Heath, although she was quite sweet as she was) had to wear clothes that barely covered her backside … and yet they could afford to send John, the eldest son, to Marlborough.  Oh, pull the other one!  But the fact this was set in a rural area meant that the entire social spectrum could be included.  The pageant was performed in the grounds of the local stately home, a former abbey known as, er, the Abbey, owned by Squadron Leader and Mrs Day, who were shortly to sell up after it’d been in the Day family since the Dissolution.  And all the kids from the village school (not, naturally, attended by Selina and her cousins) took part, as well as the family’s own friends.  The idea of it, everyone getting involved, really was nice.  Although the kids came up with the idea as an opportunity for Selina to wear her frock, they gave the profits to charity.

Selina’s cousins were all supposed to write scenes for the play.  Well, four of them were: the other two were too young.  Phoebe was very into poetry, and Sally, the other daughter, was very into ballet  Selina herself was sidelined almost from the start.  She was the stage manager and ran errands, and generally did a lot of work, but without getting much credit or attention.  Then the Days’ nephew Philip, who was staying with them whilst he recovered from injuries sustained in the war, and had some experience in theatre, got involved, and took over, and, before long, the little pageant had become an enormous event involving hundreds of people.

Phoebe’s scene, which she’d put a lot of effort into, was scrapped completely, and replaced by something Philip had thought up, and Sally’s scene was taken over and reworked by the local ballet school.  Whilst the kids did seem upset about this, the narrative was clearly in favour of it, and didn’t show the kids much sympathy.  Yes, it all ended up being far better than anything that young children could have written and produced by themselves, and Sally was offered a place at a posh ballet school, and it was good that so many people got involved, but it was a shame that the children’s enthusiasm and the work they’d put in seemed to count for nothing.

That’s very Streatfeild, though.  My all-time favourite Streatfeilds are the Gemma books, but I always feel sorry for Dulcie, the leading light of the local university drama society, when she’s deprived of the chance to play Juliet because Gemma, who isn’t even a student at the university, is parachuted into the role.  The narrative shows no sympathy at all for Dulcie and her supporters, stressing that Gemma is the better actress.  Again, the production was much better than it would have been without outside involvement, but I do feel sorry for the people who are pushed out.

Towards the end, the Abbey caught fire, and Selina heroically helped to put out the flames, thus proving what a heroine she was, even though everyone seemed to have forgotten that the pageant was originally meant to be about her and her party frock.  That wasn’t very Streatfeild at all: it was the sort of thing that’d happen in an Enid Blyton book, or maybe an Elinor M Brent-Dyer book.  But at least Selina got a bit of glory.

The pageant was a huge success on the day, and Philip Day – on whom I think Selina had a bit of a crush – made a point of saying what a great job Selina had done as stage manager.  It still seemed a shame that the children’s own ideas had been taken over and turned into something else, though, and even more of a shame that Selina only got to wear the dress once, and said that it was getting tight so she was going to pass it on to Phoebe.

But it was all good fun, and everyone enjoyed themselves!  No-one got conceited about their part and was punished by fate by breaking their leg just before the pageant, or annoyed everyone else by thinking that they were the most important person in it.  And, hey, the American soldiers bought the Abbey to use as a youth hostel for American children wanting to holiday in post-war Britain – er, as armies do – so the Days were able to stay put.  Happy endings all round.  It wasn’t a very memorable book, but it was nice.

 

 

Curtain Up/Theatre Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

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It’s over 35 years since I last read this book, and I’d forgotten how infuriating Noel Streatfeild’s over-use of Cockney rhyming slang is.  “I’m worn to a shred by the time I’ve laid the Cain and Abel, and when it comes to dishing up I never know how to drag my plates of meat up the apples and pears.”  Seriously?  Not even Mick Carter in EastEnders talks like that.  It sounds like a sketch by The Two Ronnies.  As for “putting your hand in your sky rocket” … don’t even go there.  However, if you can endeavour to ignore that, this is a very good book.  All three of the main characters are genuinely nice – the stock annoying brat, in this case their cousin, is only a minor character – and very realistic.  It’s also interesting because of the wartime setting, which includes the news that Petrova Fossil from Ballet Shoes is helping to build aircraft for the war effort.  Petrova is a star. I remember all the fuss about Charlene in Neighbours being a Girl Mechanic, and that was in the 1980s!  As a kid, I wanted to be Pauline, rather than Petrova, though.  Pauline, or Sorrel, or Gemma.  I can’t sing and I can’t dance, but (in those long-ago days when I actually had the confidence to stand up on a primary school stage) I used to think I could act.   I can’t.  But kids in Streatfeild books are always talented.

Our three kids – Streatfeild likes families with three or four kids – are Sorrel, Mark and Holly Forbes, who have been living a Terribly Respectable life with their vicar grandfather, their mum having died and their sailor dad being missing in action.  When their grandfather dies, they have to go to live with their unknown maternal grandmother, who turns out to be the matriarch of a theatrical dynasty.  The grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins are all fairly stereotypical theatre sorts, but, apart from the grandmother herself, they aren’t too OTT.  One of the cousins is a brat, As I’ve said, but there’s nearly always a brat in a Streatfeild book – think Lydia Robinson, Nicky Heath, etc..

The grandfather had been paying their school fees, and the schools apparently can’t wait until his will’s gone through probate and his funds have been released.  The grandmother, despite living in a large house and employing the rhyming-slang-talking housekeeper, and now the grandfather’s housekeeper as well, is broke.  So the children go to a theatre school run by a friend of hers, Madame Fidolia of Ballet Shoes fame, and receive financial assistance from the Fossils of Ballet Shoes fame (why??).  Sorrel turns out to be good at acting.  Mark is good at singing, but is eventually allowed to return to his original plan of following his dad into the Navy.  Holly is meant to be good at dancing, but turns out to be a comedienne, whilst their nice cousin Miriam, daughter of a comedian, turns out to be a dancer.  The nasty cousin, Miranda, is also an actress, but Sorrel outperforms her in The Tempest – hooray!!  My brain always gets the production of The Tempest in this book mixed up with the one in the Antonia Forest Kingscote books, for some reason.  Maybe it’s because they both involve characters called Miranda.

There’s a lot of whingeing about being poor, but, more interestingly, we see the effect of rationing and wartime shortages on their ability to buy the items required at a theatre school.  That’s surprisingly unusual in GO books.  However, there’s an absolutely cringeworthy scene in which Madame Fidolia tells the other pupils that they should feel sorry for the Forbes kids, because they’ve got no-one at home to see that they look nice (rather insulting to the two faithful family retainers, who bend over backwards to help the kids).  This is apparently meant to be a positive thing, but how mortified would you have been at your whole school being told to feel sorry for you?!  We also see the theatre school kids putting on performance for injured service personnel in hospitals, and for service personnel on leave – a nice wartime touch.

The three children all come across quite well, especially Sorrel.  I always quite like Streatfeild’s responsible older kids, and Sorrel is particularly appealing – sensible and responsible but without having any of Ann Robinson’s prissiness.  Mark refuses to be pushed into a career that he doesn’t want, and Holly is very stoic when told that Posy Fossil’s dancing scholarship is to go to Miriam rather than to her.  Everyone seems fairly realistic, despite the luvvie-ishness (is that a word?) and eccentricities of some of the family members: there’s nothing in the books that really grates.

I don’t know how I missed this one when I did my Streatfeild re-read around 10 years ago, but somehow I did.  Oh well, I’ve re-read it now.  Very good book!  Or do I mean “fish hook” 🙂 ?!

 

 

Tennis Shoes by Noel Streatfeild – Facebook group reading challenge

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I somehow managed to miss this one when I read most of the “shoes” books 35 years ago, but, fittingly, read it on my way to London for the ATP World Tour Finals!  Most of it’s fairly typical Noel Streatfeild stuff,  but I was struck by the comments about the importance of physical fitness and competitive sport in enabling the nation to keep up with what was going on elsewhere.  There’s no mention of Nazi Germany, or indeed of any political issues at all, but with this book having been published in 1937, it’s not hard to imagine where Streatfeild was coming from.  I hadn’t anticipated that.  Otherwise, it’s as you’d expect, with the usual types of Streatfeild characters, including a devoted governess/housekeeper who knits jumpers for nurses in order to fund the kids’ tennis club subs, and a really annoying kid who refers to herself in the third person.  It’s not as good as the “Gemma” books, which I love, but I quite enjoyed it.

Like many of Noel Streatfeild’s books, this one involves several children – siblings Jim, Susan, Nicky (Nicolette) and David – getting involved in something, in this case tennis, and then finding out that chasing your dreams isn’t always as easy or as enjoyable as it might have sounded. Their grandad was very into tennis in his younger days, and so was their dad until he suffered an injury, which sounds like a war wound. The boys don’t feature that much, and it’s mainly about the girls, who are almost exactly like the Robinson girls in the Gemma books – Susan is shy, self-conscious, extremely hard-working, and obsessed with house points, just like Ann Robinson, and Nicky self-possessed, self-obsessed, and annoyingly given to talking about herself in the third person, just like Lydia Robinson. We’re only talking about fairly young children here, with even the eldest not into their teens by the end of the book, so we’re only looking at junior, local and sometimes national, events, but Susan’s tennis career gets off to a promising start. Then Nicky, who’s been practising in secret, overtakes her. Most of today’s top tennis players are so lovely that I’m certainly not going to say that you need a selfish, ruthless streak to succeed, but I do wonder if that’s how Streatfeild felt!

It’s also a story about London middle-class life in the 1930s in general, and there are a few things that strike me. One is the amount of time the kids have off school due to illness and quarantine. OK, that’s a standard plot device used by authors of children’s books – think Enid Blyton, Lorna Hill and Arthur Ransome – to give their characters more time to spend pursuing their interests or having adventures, but, without wanting to write an essay on the importance of vaccinations, it’s certainly worth remembering how much of a problem things like mumps and measles were until recently. Another is the amount of freedom that children, middle-class as well as working-class, have – Jim and Susan, aged only ten, are allowed to go round London on their own, and no-one even seems to notice when David disappears for hours to hunt down the family’s missing dog, or mind when he goes off with a strange woman. Sadly, no-one could write that anything like that now.

There’s also the issue of money, which always tends to arise in Streatfeild books. I have nothing but sympathy and admiration for the Robinsons in the Gemma books: their money worries arise when the hard-working dad has to take a lower-paid job due to health problems, and they deal with it by the mum going out to work and the kids being told that they’ll have to cut back on extras. However, I get very irritated with Sylvia in Ballet Shoes: whilst I appreciate that she didn’t ask Great Uncle Matthew to leave her to bring up three kids and then disappear, I’m uncomfortable with the fact that she lets her staff go unpaid, accepts freebies from neighbours and makes no effort to try to earn any money.

The Heaths fall somewhere in between.  They’re comfortably off, but the kids are supposed to save up part of their pocket money, birthday money and Christmas money to help pay for their tennis clubs subs. That’s perfectly reasonable, even laudable, but Miss Pinn, the family governess/housekeeper (not to be confused Annie, the cook/maid, a former trapeze artist), spends her limited free time knitting jumpers to sell to nurses at a nearby hospital, and gives the money to the kids’ tennis fund! What?? OK, the kids are very young, and at that age you don’t always think about things very carefully, but why on earth do the parents let them take her hard-earned money?

Another annoying money-related issue plotline arises when Nicky, who’s spent all her money and therefore hasn’t got anything to put into the tennis fund, raises the money by selling four umbrellas to a rag and bone man. OK, she has to learn that she’s supposed to save up if she wants something, and that she can’t go around flogging other people’s stuff, but her punishment is that her next two Christmas presents and next two birthday presents from her mum and dad will be umbrellas, to replace the ones she sold. That’s two whole years without presents from her parents! Couldn’t they have told her she’d have to earn the money to buy new umbrellas by doing household chores or something? Talk about going overboard!  Sorry to moan, but I really did find that OTT.  And poor Miss Pinn!

It was the comments about the national importance of sport and fitness, made by the dad, who’s a doctor, that really got me thinking, though. His view is that England (I’m not excluding the rest of the UK here, it’s just that he always says “England” and “English”!) has fallen behind the rest of the world in sporting terms, and that this is a major problem because it’s tied in with a decline in physical fitness generally. He blames this on doctors putting too much emphasis on pill-popping and surgery, and not enough on promoting healthy lifestyles. Streatfeild really annoys me by showing the kids making nasty comments about fat people, but I’ll try to ignore that and focus on what the dad says.

His concern about encouraging people to keep fit and lead a healthier lifestyle is the sort of thing we hear a lot about these days, and you certainly can’t disagree with it – although, only a year after the Jarrow Crusade, it would have been nice if he’d managed to acknowledge the fact that most people didn’t exactly have too many lifestyle choices. But where’s all this emphasis on keeping up with the rest of the world coming from? He seems very worried about lack of sporting success- but, if you look at the history of British tennis in the 1930s, it was in an extremely healthy position. I wondered if maybe it was the British showing at the Berlin Olympics that concerned him, but Wikipedia informs me that Britain came a very respectable tenth in the medals table.

Maybe he was one of those people Gareth Southgate was talking about the other week, the sort who expect England/Britain to win every sporting trophy going, and whinge when it doesn’t happen! What seems more likely, even though few people were anticipating war as early as 1937, that this is a resurgence of Boer War era concerns about the health of the nation with an eye to international politics … and, by extension, with an eye to what might possibly lie ahead.

I do appreciate that I’m probably completely overthinking this, but I just found it interesting. On the one hand, we’ve got this rather self-contained little world – and, to be fair, most of us live in a rather self-contained little world when we’re only 9 or 10, regardless of our socio-economic background. But, on the other hand, there’s this strange sense of something very big and not very nice going on. Streatfeild could just have said that the kids got into tennis because their dad and grandad were both into it, or because they’d seen pictures of famous players, or had even been to Wimbledon as a treat, but, instead, there’s this sense of something much bigger. You don’t normally get that in a Noel Streatfeild book.

And it is very much a Streatfeild book, and it works pretty well as a tennis book. Other than the Trebizon series, there aren’t that many children’s tennis books around. If I’d read it when I was the same sort of age as the kids in the book, as I did with Ballet Shoes, White Boots, etc, I might well not have thought twice about the “because of England” comments. But, as it is, I did.

Overall, though, it’s a fairly typical Noel Streatfeild book, about kids who are into something – be it tennis, ice-skating, singing, instrumental music, acting or ballet.  And the foreword claims that this was Noel Streatfeild’s own favourite of all her books. It isn’t mine, but I’m glad I’ve read it.  I just can’t understand why I’ve never read it before!

Things we did because of children’s books …

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Making everyone in my primary school class sign my autograph album, sticking “Bold Bad Girl” notices on other kids’ backs in the playground, trying to make invisible ink with orange juice, tying “wings” on an armchair to see if it’d fly (it didn’t), telling myself that I liked Turkish Delight (I don’t), trying to write a pantomime (starring my dolls), insisting on having waffles on my first visit to America, hiding food to keep for midnight feasts and, to cap it all, insisting that my dad make up stories about Amelia Jane because Enid Blyton hadn’t written enough of them (sorry, Dad).  And even going to Oberammergau in 2010.  “Things we did because of children’s books” have come up in a few people’s blog posts recently, so I thought I’d write a couple of top ten lists.  And I think part of the reason I’m so keen on writing things in list form anyway is because Judy does it in Daddy -Long -Legs.

It was mostly Enid Blyton books. Despite (or possibly because of) the fact that teachers in the late ’70s and early ’80s had an absolute down on Enid Blyton, and were always telling us not to read her books, I adored them and so did a lot of the other kids in my class at primary school. We used to plot to sneak out of our respective homes at night, meet up and go off on adventures. We never did (and I’m not sure that there were that many adventures to be had – we lived on housing estates in North Manchester, not in smugglers’ coves or anywhere with stately homes haunted by banshees), but it sounded good. But here’s a list of ten things that I/we did do:

1. Sticking notices on other kids’ backs, like in The Naughtiest Girl in the School. This was actually the brainwave of another girl in my class – she and I were a very bad influence on each other! Unfortunately, they just fell off after a minute. How did they get them to work at Whyteleafe?! They must have used pins, but surely you’d feel it if someone was pinning something to your back!

2. Trying to make invisible ink with orange juice – thank you, the Five Find-Outers. It sort of works …

3. Tying wings (I think they might have been luggage labels) on to a big armchair that we used to have at home, to see if it’d fly like the Wishing Chair did. It didn’t. Very disappointing.

4. Hiding food from tea (including carrots, for some bizarre reason), so that my sister and I could have a midnight feast. But we were only little kids at the time, and we always fell asleep before midnight. And it wouldn’t have been quite the same as getting the whole class together round the Malory Towers swimming pool anyway.

5. Getting my dad (who is very good at making up stories for little kids) to come up with new stories about Amelia Jane, because I was put out that Enid Blyton hadn’t written more of them. Poor Dad!!

6. Writing a pantomime, like Darrell Rivers did. However, whilst Darrell had the whole of her class at Malory Towers to take the parts, I only had my dolls and teddy bears, which was a bit of a problem as (unlike Amelia Jane) they couldn’t actually talk.

7. Sending people to Coventry. Ouch. I feel awful about this now! The bitchy girls in the Malory Towers and St Clare’s books were always sending people to Coventry, and I’m afraid that we once decided to do this to someone who’d been causing trouble. We were only about 8 at the time, to be fair, and I don’t think it lasted past one dinnertime, but I do remember doing it.

8. Deciding that the island in Heaton Park lake was a mysterious island with strange things going on on it, like in The Island of Adventure. Highly unlikely. It’s very small, and clearly visible from the café, and somewhat devoid of abandoned mines or secret tunnels.

9. Trying to make a lacrosse stick by tying a piece of wood to a bin.

10. Telling myself that any bit of woodland I went into was the Enchanted Forest. I still kind of do this! I don’t expect to see Silky and Moonface, but being in woodland always makes me think of Enid Blyton books, even now.

And ten things from children’s books by other authors:

1. Getting everyone in my class at primary school to write messages in an autograph album, like Laura Ingalls Wilder did in … was in Little Town on the Prairie or These Happy Golden Years? I think autograph albums were a thing at the time anyway, but I liked the idea of being like Laura. I’ve still got it. One person wrote “Lose weight” – what a horrible thing to do!  Most of the other kids wrote really sweet things, though, or funny things.  Bless them! I wonder what happened to them all.

2. Having ballet lessons, so that I could be a ballerina like … I was going to say like Lydia in the Noel Streatfeild Gemma books, but, much as I loved those books, I couldn’t actually stand Lydia! Like Veronica or Jane in the Lorna Hill Sadler’s Wells books, then. Preferably Jane, so that I could marry Guy Charlton. This did not end well. Clumsy, unco-ordinated fat kids had to stand in the back row and weren’t allowed to do any proper dancing, just wave their arms about. I packed it in after a couple of years. So much for being a ballerina!

3. Convincing myself that, like Caroline Scott in No Castanets at the Wells, I would magically shed my “puppy fat” and become slim and glamorous once I got to my mid-teens. Thirty years after reaching my mid-teens, I’m still waiting!

4. Insisting on trying waffles almost as soon as I set foot in the United States for the first time, because Lilly Page made such a fuss about them in What Katy Did At School. As I soon found out, they are rather over-rated.

5. So is Turkish delight, as eaten by Edmund in C S Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It tastes like hair lacquer. Why did I keep trying to convince myself that I liked it?!

6. Wanting to live on a boat, like Noel Streatfeild’s Margaret in Thursday’s Child (and also various kids in Enid Blyton books). I mean, why?! I’d get claustrophobic. And what are the sanitary facilities like?!

7. Wanting to own a pony, like Jinny in the Patricia Leitch books. Again, why?! I am scared of getting close to horses! I always think they’re going to bite me.

Interestingly, the “because of children’s books” things that I was still doing even once I was supposedly grown up were mostly from the Chalet School books. That probably says a lot about how good Elinor Brent-Dyer’s writing is, certainly in the early part of the series. Mind you, there are also the things I still won’t do – including dyeing my own hair, after L M Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables dyed hers green by mistake. I even told my hairdresser that. She must have thought I was mad.

8. Telling my bemused modern history professor that, no, I did not want to write an essay about the French Revolution – I wanted to write one about the Austro-Hungarian Empire instead. And I got an A+ for it (apologies for showing off)! I would have explained, but I didn’t think he was really a Chalet School sort of person.

9. Having to have coffee and cream cakes all the time, whenever I’m in Central Europe, despite the fact that I very rarely drink coffee at home (I have umpteen cups of tea a day) and really should not be eating cream cakes. EBD, I blame you for this!

10. Going to the Passion Play in Oberammergau in 2010. Religion isn’t my thing, and I don’t think I’d have thought of going if it hadn’t been for The Chalet School and Jo. And I’m so glad I did, because it was a lovely experience, on a lovely sunny day.

Those are just 20 things. There are millions more.  I still have to remember not to call my best friend from school by the silly nickname we gave her because of a Beverly Cleary book, and which kind of stuck  – and which she prefers to forget about.  Having a February birthday, I used to write “The Secret Diary of [Name] aged x and 3/4” on diaries – thank you, Adrian Mole.  And I still tend to write lists mid-prose, like Judy does in Jean Webster’s Daddy-Long-Legs.  

And I’ve still never actually had a midnight feast …