Phantom Horse Goes to Scotland by Christine Pullein-Thompson

Phantom Horse Goes to Scotland cover

I went through a phase of reading pony books when I was probably about 9 or 10 and the Pullein-Thompson family wrote so many such books, it seems it was almost a family business, so I definitely read some of theirs back then, but not this one which was written long after my childhood.

Phantom Horse Goes to Scotland by Christine Pullein-Thompson was first published in 1981, it was later re-titled Phantom Horse Island Mystery.

It’s the summer holidays and Jean and her brother Angus are disappointed because their parents are having to go abroad because their father is a sort of diplomatic troubleshooter, he’s got to fly to the Middle East (nothing changes!) and their mother always accompanies him. But what will happen to the children?

Luckily Angus had seen an advert in a newspaper about The Island School and College of Further Education whch focuses on riding and dressage, ideal for Jean, and Angus can be coached on mathematics which is his weak point. Mr Carli is the headmaster and everything is arranged very quickly. The children fly to the Scottish island, as does Phantom, Jean’s horse!

Apparently Mr Carli had only recently bought the island and most of the original inhabitants had recently left to go to the mainland. There’s only one cottage which is still inhabited and they will be moving out soon as the woman is heavily pregnant. There’s something strange about the whole set up, but Jean is very happy with the training in dressage that she’s getting and the teachers seem fine.

When Jean and Angus realise that some new horses have been moved onto the island under cover of darkness they are sure there must be some sort of nefarious purpose behind it and their investigation leads to danger.

This was a very quick read and quite an entertaining adventure. I will give it three stars on Goodreads I think. I was a bit annoyed that as far as I was concerned there were some details of the tale which weren’t satisfactorily tied up.

It might seem unlikely that parents would send their children off for the summer to a place that they hadn’t even checked out, owned by a man that they knew absolutely nothing about, but some people did do things like that to their children. I was sent to Germany for a month to stay with a penpal and really we knew very little about the family, and it was the summer before I went to high school. I had to fly from Glasgow to Dusseldorf (where I got lost), then on to Stuttgart airport. I survived but I would never have done that to my own children! I still remember the shock I got when I saw the Nazi medals in pride of place in their display cabinet, everyone I knew at home had their WW2 medals hidden away in a drawer, and the one thing that my parents had warned me about was – do not mention the war!

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

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.