# 1936 Club – Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome

 Pigeon Post cover

I read Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome as my first book for the 1936 Club, it’s the sixth book in his Swallows and Amazons series and I can’t say that it was a favourite of mine. To be fair the the Swallows and Amazon children aren’t enjoying themselves much to begin with. It has been a dry summer and the ground is parched so there’s no water near the camping ground they intended to pitch their tents. This means that they’re having to camp out in the back garden and because of the fear of a camp fire setting the whole area on fire they aren’t even allowed to cook for themselves.

Nancy and Peggy’s Uncle Jim is on his way back home to the Lake District, he’s been having an adventure of his own in South America, searching for treasure unsuccessfully. The children hear a rumour of a long forgotten old gold mine in the nearby mountains and set about looking for it, they know it is in a cave with some heather nearby. But they’re upset by the appearance of a suspicious man that they name Squashy Hat. He’s roaming all over the hills and daubing paint on stones, they’re sure he’s also looking for the gold.

Things improve when Titty discovers that she’s able to dowse for water and they manage to dig a well which gives them good water, so they are able to camp out after all, and they can communicate with Mrs Blackett by using some carrier pigeons.

Other readers seem to have really liked this one, and it did win the Carnegie medal, but I was never going to enjoy the subject as the children went off every morning, all armed with their hammers, merrily attacking the Lake District mountains with them and crushing up loads of quartz. Even as a child I had an aversion to mines and quarries, especially quarries due to my beautiful local mountain being completely hollowed out for use as hard core for road building! I’m looking forward to reading the next one in the series though.

Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome – 20 Books of Summer

Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome was first published way back in 1933 but my copy dates from 1948 when according to the inscription ‘Dear Phil’ was given it by his Nannie for his 11th birthday.

The setting is the Lake District in winter where the Swallows and Amazons children are joined by Dorothea and her brother Dick, they’re staying with their mother’s old nurse over the school holidays. Very quickly they meet up with the Swallows and Amazons and they join forces to have lots of fun and adventures on the frozen lake. The snow and ice is just perfect for them as they’re pretending that they’re Arctic explorers, the local townspeople are Eskimos and when Uncle Jim’s/Captain Flint’s houseboat gets frozen in the ice it’s renamed the Fram, pretending that it’s the ship in Nansen’s Arctic expedition.

This is a lovely read with the children quickly becoming firm friends and discovering that they have a lot to learn from each other, they all have their own talents and are happy to share their strong points with the others. Dot and Dick are very good at ice skating but know nothing of semaphore or Morse code. Obviously the Swallows and Amazons children are good at sailing and that skill is transferable as toboggans are converted to sail across the ice on their runners.

There’s a lot to pack into this adventure and the school holidays are lengthened by over a month as Nancy succumbs to the mumps which means that the other children can’t go back to school in case they’re infectious. Everywhere has to be disinfected and even notes from Nancy have to be baked in a hot oven before they can be touched. Honestly, I can’t get away from infectious diseases!

This one was my 14th Book of Summer read. It was perfect cool reading over a few hot days.

20 books of summer

West of Scotland book purchases

I’ve been in my beloved west of Scotland earlier in the week so that Jack could go to a football match. It’s too far to do comfortably in one day so we stayed overnight and that gave us plenty of time to visit the shops and eateries that we wanted to visit. Amazingly the weather dried up and we had bright sunshine and blue skies – so much for the weather in the west being wetter than the east!

Without even trying I ended up buying eight books, some from charity shops and the four books from Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series were from a sort of junky ‘antique’ shop. I was so pleased to get these ones that date from 1948 and still have their pristine dustjackets. They were all given to a boy called Phil in 1948 from his mother, nannie and John and Mary.

Missee Lee by Arthur Ransome
The Big Six by Arthur Ransome
Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome
Great Northern? by Arthur Ransome

Books by Arthur Ransome

Arthur Ransome Books

The Westering Sun by George Blake – because of the lovely cover and it being Scottish.
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar – a mystery to me but it was 50p so I thought I might as well buy it.

Books

And two more Scottish books.
The Flight of the Heron by D.K. Broster
The English Air by D.E. Stevenson

Books Again

It’s World Book Day today which is probably why the date was chosen for the publication of Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light. I dashed to W.H. Smith’s this morning to get my copy of it but annoyingly had to go out tonight so have only managed to get to page 43 so far. Of course it’s not going to be easy to read in bed as it’s so weighty. I suspect that I’ll be reading most of tomorrow!

Oh – and Jack’s team (Dumbarton) won their football match. Sometimes being away from home for one night only is just perfect as you can have one whole day of doing exactly what you want, and you’re only away from your own bed for one night. We visited Helensburgh and the Loch Lomond area and I managed to get some scenic photos which I’ll show you soonish.

Peter Duck by Arthur Ransome

Peter Duck cover

Peter Duck by Arthur Ransome is the third book in his Swallows and Amazons series, it was first published in 1932. This one seems to be very difficult to find in second-hand bookshops and a good friend of mine ended up buying me a new copy of it.

Peter Duck is an old sailor, commonly known as an old salt, he lives in Lowestoft and is spending his time at the harbour watching everything that’s going on and wishing he could go out to sea again while fearing that he never will. He has sailed all around the world in clippers with wool and tea, but his sailing in recent years has been limited to going up and down the local rivers with potatoes and coal.

When he realises that one of the ships in the harbour is on the serious business of stocking up on food, water and everything from the chandlers that they could possibly need for a long voyage he’s very interested. The Wild Cat is a schooner which is going to be crewed by Captain Flint alias Uncle Jim and the children of Swallows and Amazons fame – Nancy, Peggy, Titty, Susan, Roger and John, accompanied by Polly the parrot and Gibber the monkey.

When another adult crew member is unable to join them at the last minute Peter Duck steps in to fill the void. He’s thrilled to have the chance of getting on the high seas again.

But there’s another very smart schooner in the harbour and the captain – Black Jake – has been watching everything that has been going on. He’s an obvious baddy and after hearing Peter Duck telling a tale of his childhood experience of seeing treasure buried on a remote island he’s been determined to find it. So when the Wild Cat sails out of the harbour she’s closely shadowed by Black Jake’s schooner Viper. That schooner is crewed by ex-convicts, a violent bunch of desperadoes.

The Wild Cat heads for Peter Duck’s Caribbean island, named Crab Island by him, by way of the Bay of Biscay through heavy seas, and eventually manages to shake off the Viper. At one point the two ships had been so close that it looked like the crew of the Viper would be able to board the Wild Cat. The young red-headed lad called Bill who had been on the Viper manages to escape from it and is helped onto the Wild Cat by the Swallows and Amazons. He has led a dog’s life on the Viper being frequently whipped, but he’s a knowledgeable sailor and a great help aboard the Wild Cat.

This book is really an updated (for 1932) version of a classic tale of piracy, the children have a lot to learn about real sailing, not just rowing around on a lake. It’s a good old adventurous romp with some danger thrown in – just what I was needing really.

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

Swallows and Amazons cover

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome is the first book in the series which is set in the Lake District, I believe it was Coniston Water and Lake Windermere that inspired Ransome to write these books. I’m fairly sure that I read one donkey’s years ago but after we visited Coniston around this time last year I thought I would start at the beginning of the series again. This book was first printed in 1930 but my copy dates from 1942 and according to the inscription it was given to Frank for his birthday on 27th of August 1943.

The Walker children John, Susan, Roger and Titty (what possessed the author?) are in the Lake District for the summer holidays. Their mother is busy with the new baby and father is away, but has given the children permission to sail to one of the islands in the lake and camp out there. Mother gets out her sewing machine and makes a couple of tents and the children are well stocked up with food and equipment. They’re dab hands at sailing too and manage their borrowed dinghy Swallow professionally.

Sailing towards the island they sail past a houseboat, complete with a small cannon, a green parrot and a man that they name Captain Flint. He doesn’t seen at all friendly. The island seems perfect but there’s evidence of previous inhabitants with a pile of wood and the remains of a fire.

It isn’t long before another boat turns up, it’s called Amazon and is skippered by two girls who live locally. Nancy and Peggy fly a pirate flag and are up for adventures. John is impressed by their sailing knowledge and it isn’t too long before they’re all friends. It turns out that Captain Flint is really their Uncle and up until this year he had been good fun, but since he has started to write a book about his travels he has changed into a curmudgeon and sees the children as his enemy.

There’s a bit of a mystery going on but really the charm of this book is that you can’t help wishing that you too are by a lake with a wee boat to sail around in, visiting various islands and just getting away from it all.

It was different times though and I imagine that if parents allowed four of their children aged from 7 to 12 to sail off and fend for themselves social services would have something to say about it!

I believe that in the modern reprints of these books the character of Titty has her name changed to Kitty. I’m wondering what Titty was supposed to be short for – maybe Felicity of Verity but presumably in 1930 it wasn’t deemed to be faintly not nice for a wee girl.

Sometimes when I read books I have a particular piece of music going through my head, for this one it was of course Deacon Blue’s Dignity.

New to me books

Books Febrauary 2019

Nine more books entered my house the other day. I say that as if they did it of their own volition, bursting in the front door like gatecrashers, but I must admit that it’s entirely my fault that my TBR piles continue to multiply. A visit to Edinburgh’s Stockbridge area usually leads to me buying more books although my pre-Christmas visit was disappointing, if I’m remembering correctly. I made up for that this time.

Anyway I bought:

The Cheval Glass by Ursula Bloom (1973)
Send a Fax to the Kasbah by Dorothy Dunnett (1991)
Dolly Dialogues by Anthony Hope (1896)
Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull (1938)
Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian (1970)
Secret Water by Arthur Ransome (!939)
The School at Thrush Green by Miss Read (1987)
Summer at Fairacre by Miss Read (1984)
The Sleeping Army by Francesca Simon (2011)

2019 February Books

It’s quite a mixture. I had thought that Dorothy Dunnett had only written historical fiction but Send a Fax to the Kasbah was contemporary in its day. The blurb on this book says: This highly pertinent look at the world of big business in the last decade of the twentieth century presents Dorothy Dunnett at the very top of her form. Mind you, as it was first published in 1991 and uses the word ‘fax’ in the title it will probably seem quite historical now.

To me Anthony Hope was the author of The Prisoner of Zenda and I had never heard of Dolly Dialogues but it seems that it’s an amusing read – so I could use it to count towards the humorous classic in the Back to the Classics Challenge. I bought this one for £2 but people are asking silly prices for it on the internet.

I always buy British Library Crime Classics when I see them in secondhand bookshops, sometimes the cover is the most impressive thing about the books. So far the mysteries have only been about 50% good and I’m left thinking that there must be better crime classics which are more deserving of being reprinted. I think that Excellent Intentions will be a good one though.

Master and Commander is the first in a series of books by Patrick O’Brian. I believe they feature the ship HMS Surprise, that’s mainly why I want to read the series as one of my ancestors was transported to Australia for sedition (it was a fit up!), and I just recently discovered that he was transported there on The Surprise.

The Sleeping Army is aimed at older children but it is described by Jacqueline Wilson as ‘a wildly original, rollicking twist on Norse mythology.’

The Miss Read books are for when the news is driving me crazy and I can’t settle to read anything that might not be a nice gentle read. The blurb says: ‘She conjures up scenes of thatch, hollyhocks and lovable eccentricities which the world recognises as the epitome of Englishness.’

Have you read any of these ones?

Recent book purchases

When we drove up north of Aberdeen for a few nights last week we had a specific goal in sight – a bookshop in Huntly that we had been told about by a friend. To be honest I was quite disappointed when I saw the shop as it’s really small, however I managed to buy a surprising number of books.

Another Book Haul

1. Continental Crimes Edited by Martin Edwards – a compilation of short stories, another in the British Crime Classics series.
2. Man Overboard by Monica Dickens
3. An Impossible Marriage by Pamela Hansford Johnson
4. Coot Club by Arthur Ransome
5. Company Parade by Storm Jameson
6. No Signposts in the Sea by Vita Sackville-West

and three Puffin books – yes it seems that I have started a Puffin collection – sort of inadvertently.

7. The Wool-Pack by Cynthia Harnett (A Carnegie Medal Winner)
8. The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall (A Carnegie Medal Winner)
9. A Parcel of Patterns by Jill Paton Walsh

Have you read any of these books?

Coniston Water and Brantwood

After visiting Grasmere we drove on to Coniston Water on the way to our next overnight stop in Derbyshire. It was a lovely day and thankfully Coniston Water wasn’t nearly as busy as other places in the Lake District – such as Ambleside which always seems to be heaving.

We were making our way to Brantwood which is the lovely house that the writer, art critic, philosopher, philanthropist and environmentalist John Ruskin bought, it is situated high above Coniston Water and these photos were taken from the grounds at the front of the house.

Coniston Water

Coniston Water

Coniston Water

You can see in the photo below that there are lots of wee boats and yachts in the lake. This lake inspired Arthur Ransome to write his Swallows and Amazons series.
Coniston Water

And below is a photo of Brantwood, it has marvelous views of the lake. Ruskin bought this house unseen as he had often holidayed at Coniston and at a time when he was ill he thought that if only he could lie down in the water at Coniston he would get better. It must have worked as he lived here for many years.

Brantwood, Coniston

I suspect that the one thing that everyone knows about John Ruskin is that his wife had to go to court to get an annulment for non-consummation of the marriage. That harmed his reputation for a long time but that was just a small part of a long life which included many interests. He was interested in educating ordinary working people, at this time education in England was in a very poor state compared with in Scotland. He was involved with progressive schools for girls, and he also set up workshops that trained and employed people who would probably otherwise be unemployed and destitute.

I’ll show you some photos of the inside of the house soon.

Book purchases

One of the best things about travelling around the UK is having the chance to visit different secondhand bookshops, not that there are that many of them left nowadays mind you. However, I did manage to buy eleven books on our recent trip to the Lake District, Derbyshire and Peterborough.

Books Again

My first purchase was in Penrith:
The Star Spangled Manner by Beverley Nichols – first published in 1928 but my copy is from 1937. It’s obviously his thoughts on America, a place he travelled in extensively. It’s a very nice and clean copy in fact I think it might never have been read.

At the same place I found:
The Sea for Breakfast and The Loud Halo – both by Lilian Beckwith. I’ve never read anything by her, but her books were very popular when I worked in libraries yonks ago. Again the books are in great condition, I love the covers.

Two Persephones were my next purchases – from the great bookshop in Buxton. I could spend all day in there but the old books are a bit pricey. These reprints were very reasonable though:

Gardener’s Nightcap by Muriel Stuart
Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple

Somewhere, I can’t remember where, I bought Voices in the Wind by Evelyn Anthony. I used to read her books back in the 1970s but this one was published in 1985.

I bought a few books aimed at children: Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransom, Flight of the Grey Goose by Victor Canning and The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks.

Over the Mountains by Pamela Frankau turns out to be the last in a trilogy, so I’ll have to track down the first two.

The last two are non-fiction:

The Blessings of a Good Thick Skirt by Mary Russell which is about women travellers and their world.

Lastly I bought a nice old copy of In Search of England by H.V. Morton This book has been reprinted a lot since it was first published in 1927 but my copy is from 1943 – complete with dust jacket.

Not a bad haul I think. Have you read any of these books?