The New House Captain by Dorita Fairlie Bruce

 The New House Captain cover

The New House Captain by Dorita Fairlie Bruce was first published in 1928 but my copy is a reprint from the 1950s – going by the illustrations, there’s no date in the front.

This is the first book in this Dorita Fairlie Bruce series which features Springdale School. The school is located in the west of Scotland, Ayrshire I believe but sadly there wasn’t much in the way of Scottish atmosphere in the book, apart from one character who was a Glaswegian and supposedly had a rough accent, but there was no dialect written in any sort of Glaswegian.

However the story itself was quite entertaining with the headmistress’s unexpected choice of Peggy Willoughby to be the captain of The Rowans house. Peggy’s best friend Diana had been sure that she would be the captain and she’s more than a bit miffed to miss out on what she regarded as her right – to her best friend. To Peggy’s dismay Diana more or less drops her as a friend, using the fact that she has to study for a scholarship to sideline Peggy instead of supporting her and siding with the ghastly Sydney whenever she could. Sydney is a girl who has no team spirit and is only interested in herself.

Obviously there’s a lot more to it than this. I had read a book in this series previously and there were lots of descriptions of the Scottish countryside and a plenty of Scots dialect dialogue in it. The New House Captain is the first book in the series so I assume that the author decided in the later books that she should make the Scottish setting more obvious, which I think was a good decision. However my copy of the book was published by Spring Books, not the usual Blackie of the original books so there’s a possibility that this edition has been gutted of its Scottish atmosphere.

Dimsie Moves Up by Dorita Fairlie Bruce

Dimsie Goes to School cover

Dimsie Moves Up by Dorita Fairlie Bruce is the second book in the Dimsie series which I started reading recently. It was first published in 1921 but my copy dates from 1950. These books were obviously very popular as this book was reprinted eight times within those years.

In this book Dimsie is unexoectedly moved up a form along with several of her friends, with new girls arriving those who had done well academically the previous year need to move up to make room for them. Some of the older girls in the new form make Dimsie and her friends promise not to give flowers to any of the teachers. It’s something that none of the younger girls had even thought of doing. It’s explained to them that some girls go through a phase of being soppy over their female teachers or older girls. Nowadays we’d call it having a crush. Dimsie and her friends set up an ‘Anti Soppist Society’ as they don’t want anything to do with that sort of nonsense.

Dimsie Moves Up has quite a lot about games in it, but even if like me you were never keen on PE at school this doesn’t detract from the storyline

Nita Tomlinson isn’t a prefect but she has been made games-captain. Giving someone like Nita any power is just madness, she does her best to make trouble all round, stealing away best friends and generally throwing her weight around. I suppose she’s the sort of character that you love to hate, whereas Dimsie is a lovely girl, nothing startling in the looks or brains department, just a girl with plenty of common sense and kindness. She reminds me a bit of Darrell in Blyton’s Malory Towers series but I must say that I think Dorita Fairlie Bruce was a much better writer than Blyton was, although I loved her books as a youngster.

It has been mentioned before that the name Dimsie is an unfortunate choice, her actual name is Daphne and I’d plump for Dimsie any day rather than that. However I googled dim as in dimwitted and it seems that it was first used in that way in 1934. However another source cites it as being used in US colleges first in 1922, which is still after this book was published.

Dimsie Goes to School by Dorita Fairlie Bruce

Dimsie Goes to School cover

Dimsie Goes to School by the Scottish author Dorita Fairlie Bruce was first published in 1920 with the story taking place in 1919. It was originally titled The Senior Prefect. My copy was published in 1932.

It begins with the ten year old Daphne Isabel Maitland better known as Dimsie travelling by train from her west of Scotland home to her new boarding school at Westover, a coastal town in the south of England. She’s accompanied by her older cousin Daphne who is a prefect at the school.

There’s a bit of a mystery as to what has happened to Dimsie’s mother as she has disappeared and only communicates with her soldier husband through solicitors, but Dimsie is unaware of this. There’s a new headmistress at the school and many of the girls are upset by the change, especially when she cuts their hockey practice time by half, reasoning that they don’t do at all well in their exams. However she starts lessons in domestic science which hadn’t been taught there before. This is a good idea given that it’s just after World War 1 when the lack of servants became such a problem for middle-class households.

Although the war has ended it’s still very much part of the book as air-raids and coastal trenches are mentioned as well as shell-shock, and Dimsie’s father is a colonel in the army.

There’s talk of spies, counterfeit money, a strike and even a problem with burglars in the neighbourhood and rumours fly around, aided and abetted by Nita, a nasty piece of work who takes aim at Daphne with a view to getting her sacked as a prefect. The characters of the two Maitland girls shine through it all though with Dimsie in particular becoming popular with just about everyone, the addition of some well written Scots dialect was enjoyed by me anyway.

I found it interesting that it was written in 1919 and that first marking of armistice day is described as ‘the rejoicings’. That struck me as being really strange as today more than one hundred years later it’s always a very sober affair. I think a lot of people in 1919 who had lost family members in the war would not have felt much like celebrating and in a girls’ school there would have been girls who had lost fathers and brothers in the war.

Whatever, this was a really entertaining read and I think it was better than any by Angela Brazil that I’ve read and she was the most popular writer of school stories, but maybe that was just because she wrote so many of them.

Christmas books

This Christmas I got far fewer books than usual due to not being able to travel around and visit bookshops where in normal years from the autumn onwards I would just ask Jack to put any book purchases away and wrap them up for Christmas for me.

More Christmas Books

Christmas Books

I was lucky enough to be given a copy of Completely Perfect by Felicity Cloake. She’s a cookery writer who features in The Guardian, I really like her as any recipes of hers that I’ve tried in the past have worked out well, and you can’t say that for all food writers. The blurb on the front says: ‘A gift for anyone who is learning to cook’. I’ve been cooking for over 45 years but I’m sure I can improve using these recipes which are all classics.

During a brief lifting of lockdown I visited a favourite rake-around upcyle shop near Perth, they’re always so much more interesting than ordinary shops as you just never know what might turn up. This time I bought three lovely wee Alison Uttley books to add to my own collection of children’s books. Squirrel Goes Skating, Moldy Warp the Mole and Little Grey Rabbit’s Party.

It’s lovely to think that they’ll be in use again at some point in the future. I hope my granddaughter will grow up liking books! They’re illustrated by Margaret Tempest and I think the endpapers are beautiful. These editions date from the early 1970s.

After reading my first book by the Scottish author Dorita Fairlie Bruce I decided I would have to resort to the internet to get some more. So I opted to begin the Dimsie series:

Dimsie Goes to School
Dimsie Moves Up
Dimsie Moves Up Again.

These books date from the 1930s. I’ve ony read one book by her before and that was from her Springdale series, set in Scotland, so I hope I enjoy these ones as much, although I believe the setting of the school is England. The very first page has endeared me already though:

The mail train from the north roared its way towards London down the long bleak incline of the Chap Fells, and Dimsie curled up in her corner seat, regarded the green rounded hills with a certain contempt; the Scottish mountains to which she belonged, were made of altogether sterner stuff, and already she was begining to feel a little bit lonely without them. Ben Lomond – the Cobbler and his Wife – they had all been as living friends to Dimsie through the ten short years of a life that had not known many human friends.

If you look at my header photo of Dumbarton, the town I grew up in, you can just make out Ben Lomond in the distance.

Did you get some lovely Christmas books this year?

Prefects at Springdale by Dorita Fairlie Bruce

 According to Queeney cover

I think I had been looking at Angela Brazil books when this author’s name popped up. I had never heard of her, but was interested to see that her books are mainly set in Scotland. Although Dorita Fairlie Bruce was born in Spain – hence her nickname Dorita – her name was actually Dorothy, she was really Scottish and apparently second only to Angela Brazil in popularity where school stories were concerned. Her books are set in Scotland, I recognised the area as being Ayrshire, the other side of the River Clyde from where I was brought up and quite a bit south. At one point some of the girls go on a jaunt with Dimsie to Arran which is a place I’ve always wanted to visit and intended to do it this year – but we all know what happened to that plan.

I don’t think it was just the setting that led me to enjoy Prefects at Springdale, which was first published in 1936, more than any Angela Brazil books that I’ve read. Somehow the schoolgirls seemed more authentic to me. Unfortunately the books can be quite expensive, there are seven books in this Springdale series and I inadvertently started off with the sixth one. Well, I was amazed to find this book in a pile at an antiques centre, the books are usually really expensive but obviously the seller didn’t rate this author highly as it was priced at £5, I snapped it up.

Anne is preparing to go back to Springdale School, packing her trunk when her sister Peggy tells her that she has received a letter from Diane, also known as Dimsie, a Springdale old girl who is now 23. She’s going to be working there as a temporary games-mistress until a permanent replacement can be found. Peggy is worried about Dimsie and wants Anne to look out for her. It’s going to be a bit of an awkward situation all round as some of the younger girls had rather idolised Dimsie when she was a senior girl.

This was a great read which seemed quite before its time with one of the girls being keen to become an archaeologist and another one being determined to train as a museum curator and luckily they both get a chance to get some hands on experience. There’s a bit of an adventure and a smidgen of romance and this one was an enjoyable trip back in time and place. I also like the rather stylish 1930s design of the book cover.

When I opened this book I discovered that a previous owner had left a wee cache of bits cut out from pop magazines, from the 1970s. I suspect that she wasn’t allowed to stick posters on her bedroom walls so made do with small ‘photos’ cut out. She was a fan of Gilbert O’Sullivan, Rod Stewart, Slade and two mystery chaps that I don’t recognise. I’ll try to take a photo of them and add it here later, maybe someone can enlighten me.

Whose posters did you put on your bedroom wall? I was devoted to Marc Bolan and T.Rex. I’m not even sure if teenage girls still do things like that nowadays.