5 Things to Do in Norwich

June 16, 2014 at 6:37 pm | Posted in Eating and Drinking, Fashion, Learning Stuff, Travel | Leave a comment
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Just back from a lovely weekend in my home town of Norwich. I love that place. Here’s my pick of things to do from this visit.

Eat local. Loads of delicious produce from Norfolk is available on the market and from other delis and stores. Here’s some tasty looking asparagus from Louis’ on Upper St Giles, and some gooseberries and strawberries from the market. Mmmm!



Buy some books. The Dormous bookshop on Elm Hill has good secondhand books including Blytons and Penguins. The Book Hive is a new-ish but now much beloved institution. This picture is of their window display promoting their ‘Book Hive Year’ whereby you can sign up to receive one hand-picked book a month for a year.

Book Hive

Send a postcard home. The Famous Five always send their parents a card or two while they are away. I love this letterbox which is embedded in the window of stylish art/craft/gift shop, Verandah on Upper St Giles (the shop was formerly a Post Office). You can buy some gorgeous cards just up the road at Fabulous Frames (separate post on these to follow).


Learn stuff. Norwich Castle Museum is one good place to do this. It’s a museum in a castle! What could be better than that? They currently have an exhibition on called The Wonder of Birds: Nature: Art: Culture. It’s good. So good I bought a catalogue. No photos allowed inside the exhibition but there were stuffed birds aplenty, drawings, paintings, textiles, fashion, eggs and fossils. Extinct birds were represented too, including the Great Auk, whose replica egg would have delighted Jack of the Adventure series (keen ornithologist Jack dreams of one day spotting a Great Auk).

Wonder of Birds

Eat local, part 2. Ronaldo’s ice cream stall, located on London St, does the best ices. They use local milk and cream, fruits, nuts and liquers. I had liquorice which I wasn’t sure I’d like. It was, needless to say, utterly delicious. If you can’t decide though, I’d make like the Famous Five and have at least three ice creams each:

“I advise you to start off with vanilla, go on to strawberry and finish up with chocolate.” – Julian, Five Have a Wonderful Time.


Artists Textiles

May 17, 2014 at 4:04 pm | Posted in Aunt Fanny, Fashion | 1 Comment
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A largely visual post today, after my visit to the penultimate day of the Artist Textiles exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey, South London. The exhibition focuses on the work of 20th century artists such as Picasso, Alexander Calder, Barbara Hepworth, John Piper, Sonia Delaunay, Raoul Dufy and many others, exploring their work in the area of textile design. This was one way in which ordinary people were able to engage with, purchase and surround themselves with modern art – fabric for curtains, printed scarves and cotton print dresses were much more affordable and practical than large sculptures or paintings. Everyone could own a Picasso after he finally agreed to produce some designs for Dan Fuller of Fuller Fabrics in the 1950s.

The exhibition is beautiful and often works are on open display, enabling you to get up close to see the textures and colours of the fabric. Here are just a few of my favourites – all picked with the tastes and interests of Aunt Fanny, unsung hero of the Famous Five, in mind.

Marcel Vertes, ‘Radishes’, c. 1945

Vertes Vegetable PatchMarcel Vertes, ‘Vegetable Patch’, 1944

I think Aunt Fanny would appreciate these. She’s a keen gardener and as a woman of the 1930s/40s/50s/60s would have thought nothing about growing produce to feed her (very) hungry family. Vegetable Patch is actually a screen printed silk headscarf. Can’t you just imagine her donning this to pop down to the Kirrin shops?

Chagall textileMarc Chagall, ‘Belles Fleurs’, 1956

This is a furnishing textile by Chagall. Maybe Fanny would like to cover her sofa, or make a nice pair of floral curtains for the bedroom from this. We know she enjoys flowers.

Rockwell KentRockwell Kent, ‘Harvest Time’, 1950

Country woman Fanny would probably drawn to this evocative harvest image of American Rockwell Kent’s screen-printed furnishing fabric. Kitchen curtains perhaps?

Piper textileJohn Piper, ‘Chiesa De la Salute’, 1960

Perhaps Uncle Quentin took Fanny to Venice for their honeymoon? If so, she would no doubt like to be reminded of more romantic times by John Piper’s characteristically atmospheric screen-printed fabric, produced for Sanderson.

Sutherland dressesGraham Sutherland, fabric designs for Horrockses dress, c. 1949

The Fashion and Textile Museum has previously devoted a whole exhibition to the Lancashire off-the-peg fashion company Horrockses, whose dresses were worn by royalty and housewives alike (Princess Margaret was frequently snapped in affordable Horrockses outfits). Aunt Fanny would have almost certainly owned frocks made by the company, who were hugely popular in the 40s and 50s. Here are details from these two dresses, in roses and snowdrop patterns. Mmmm.

Sutherland rose detail


Christmas Countdown 7 (or 0)

December 22, 2013 at 10:14 am | Posted in Fashion, George | Leave a comment
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The Famous Five Christmas present countdown challenge is over! So, last but definitely not least, George. As we know, George would rather be a boy and likes to dress like one. She’s also a keen sailor so what could be better than this cosy pair of boys pyjamas, with a sailing boat motif and/or a stylish boy’s sailors sweater from Petit Bateau? pyjamas   PB jumper

Happy Christmas everyone! Se you in 2014 x

Rainy Days

July 30, 2013 at 10:18 am | Posted in Fashion, Julian | 3 Comments
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raincoatOne of my favourite scenes from the Famous Five stories is perhaps not one of the most exciting moments, but is nevetheless highly evocative of the bracing pleasures of wet and windy mornings, such as today’s. It’s from Five on Kirrin Island Again when the children decide to go out for a clifftop walk in the rain. As they don mackintoshes and sou’-westers and head out into the elements, Julian comments that he really likes ‘the feel of the wind and rain buffeting against his face’.

I never knew what a sou’-wester was when I was a younger reader of the stories, but for those of you who might just be wondering, it’s a waterproof hat, generally in that glorious yellow that you associate with salty sea dog fishermen, with a wide and long section at the back to help protect the neck from the gales that come in from the prevailing south west winds. I don’t have a sou’-wester, as that’s going too far even for me, but I have recently procured the next best thing, a lovely yellow raincoat from Petit Bateau (they do stuff for grown ups as well as children). As well as being a bright and cheery colour on the outside, it’s also got a lovely warm blue and white stripey lining and capacious pockets for essentials (string, compass, Oyster card). Just the ticket as I brave the (typical day off work) weather and head out for a trip to the park.

Wet and Wild?

January 23, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Posted in Cycling, Fashion | Leave a comment
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Possibly. As you may have noticed, FFS has been rather quiet since the beginning of the year – as quiet as a term at Gaylands School one might say. Yes, Timmy does get into a few scrapes (eating goloshes, being smuggled into George’s dorm etc) but the Kirrins’ adventures are generally confined to the glorious hols. I’m pleased to report that although I have not been doing much else, I have been gallantly cycling in to work most days, well wrapped up and partially waterproofed. As cyclists out there will know, however, cycling in waterproofs can be hot and sticky work and it’s even worse if you’re not fully water-tight. So, I am most tempted by one of these rather lovely Inverness capes:

Rather than the traditional tweed, this one is made from waterproof fabric and is light and airy with lots of coverage (the wet feet issue is still to be resolved – wellies I suppose). And it comes in yellow! (red and blue are both also available). It’s reminiscent of the waterproof outfits donned in Five on Kirrin Island Again and can be bought from Bobbin Bicycles for £51.


November 23, 2010 at 10:46 pm | Posted in Fashion, George, Julian | Leave a comment
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As the evenings draw in and it gets steadily colder and colder, it’s good to have some warm and cosy nightwear – for sleeping in of course, but also for those days (generally Sundays) when getting dressed is just one step too close to leaving the house. According to George, pyjamas are the only way to go, as poor/irritating (delete as applicable) Berta swiftly discovers after arriving at Kirrin Cottage in the middle of the night in Five Have Plenty of Fun:

‘George got out of bed, still looking very mutinous. She watched Berta shake a night-dress out from her night-case and pursed up her lips. “She doesn’t even wear pyjamas!” she thought. “What a ninny!”‘

Too right George! But what pyjamas should one wear? Well, as Eileen Soper makes quite, quite clear, it’s the classic blue & white stripe (occasionally, if certain editions are to be trusted, there is also scope for red & white stripes).

I purchased a fine pair recently from Jack Wills. Promisingly, the company cites ‘British military history, British sporting traditions [and] British country pursuits’ as its design inspiration but normally I would not shop there, being about 10 years too old for their clothes (there is a sister brand, Aubin & Wills, which aims for a slightly older audience). On this occasion, however, I followed the siren call of a Sheringham cable knit cardigan in the window and before I knew it was in the changing room trying on these beauties (left) instead. They are heaven in pyjama form, made from soft brushed cotton and sporting pockets too.

Now, you wouldn’t really think that pockets would be useful in nightwear but, if like George, you are kidnapped and need to throw the contents of your pyjama/dressing gown pockets out into the road to leave crucial clues as to your whereabouts, they can come in extremely handy. For my part, I will not be taking Timmy out for midnight walks (plastic Timmy is thankfully low maintenance), tackling crooks (I hope) or visiting Tesco in mine (apparently a Welsh branch of Tesco has instituted a ban on shoppers wearing pyjamas) but instead I will be lounging about the house, firmly avoiding adventure of any kind.

An Education

April 11, 2010 at 9:47 pm | Posted in Anne, Aunt Fanny, Fashion, George, Travel, Uncle Quentin | Leave a comment
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A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to spend a long weekend in a beautiful old schoolhouse in Cley (rhymes with ‘eye’), a village on the North Norfolk coast. Although Norfolk is rather outside the purview of Miss Blyton – in my experience of her ouevre at least – the weekend did actually have quite a bit of Famous Five style. Firstly, the school itself could be similar to the local educational establishment George attends before the Famous Five series opens (thereafter she joins Anne at the charmingly named Gaylands boarding school). The Cley Schoolhouse has now been converted in three separate houses but it still retains much of its scholastic charm. The garden wall is still marked out for games of Fives, the outside of the building still proudly proclaims itself as a ‘British School’, and inside there is a grand old hand bell (which we duly rang to summon everyone to dinner) and loads of shelves of old books – no textbooks or copybooks but a fantastically esoteric selection ranging from the diaries of David Lloyd George to Discovering English Customs, to a plentiful supply of Blytons (Famous Fives, Secret Sevens, Barney ‘R’ Mysteries, Six Cousins and so on) plus other excellent children’s authors like Joan Aiken, Arthur Ransome, Eleanor Graham and E Nesbit.

My bedroom was under the roof and reminded me of the room George and Anne share at Kirrin Cottage: ‘When Anne awoke she couldn’t at first think where she was. She lay in her little bed and looked up at the slanting ceiling’ (Five on a Treasure Island). George and Anne’s windows look out across the moors with a small side window with a view of the sea. I couldn’t see the sea from my room at all -the sea is a lot further away at Cley, across a stretch of salt marshes, and the flat North Norfolk landscape is very different to that of Blyton country. The Cley marshes are very good for birds so would appeal to Jack and Philip of the Adventure series though. See here for BirdingWorld photos of Stone Chats, Shore Larks and Little Auks spotted nearby.

Cley has a great smokehouse, plus a good deli that sells local honey, jams, fresh bread and hot sausages(!). For more practical goods (newspapers, toilet paper etc) it’s best to visit the local market town of Holt which is also home to Old Town – an excellent place for Fanny to treat herself to a nice ‘Bungalow’ housedress or to buy some braces and a new twill jacket for Uncle Quentin.

Nature Study with Enid Blyton, Part 2: Wind and Rain

March 19, 2010 at 12:02 am | Posted in Anne, Fashion, George, Julian, Learning Stuff, Timmy, Uncle Quentin | 1 Comment
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‘Is it a windy day? I do hope it is, because I am going to talk to you about the wind and its work – and if you can see through the windows what the wind is doing, it will be a great help’. So begins Enid’s chapter on ‘The Wind and its Work’ (Round the Year with Enid Blyton: Spring Time). ‘Where does a wind begin? It must begin somewhere, mustn’t it!’ Yes Enid, it must. But where? Unfortunately this appears to be a question without an answer, but luckily she can tell us why it begins. I do hope you are paying attention:

‘When air is heated over any place it becomes lighter than the colder, denser air round about; the cold air rushes in and pushes the warm air before it. When we feel the cold air rushing in we say, “How windy it is!” The current of cold air has made a wind, which we feel on our faces, and which we see stirring the trees.’

Enid goes on to discuss weather vanes, the different winds (north, south, east and west), where they come from and what they bring us. The west and south-west winds bring rain. They come from across the Atlantic Ocean, collecting moisture on their way. As she notes, ‘it is the west wind that piles up the big grey clouds and brings out our umbrellas’.

There is a superb description of a bracing rainy morning in Five on Kirrin Island Again. It’s the Easter hols and because Uncle Quentin has commandeered Kirrin Island for an important scientific experiment (and erected a tower on it no less – a potent symbol of his uncompromising patriarchal power over poor George), the Five are land-bound.

As we know, the children are hardy types and don’t let the rain keep them indoors: ‘They never really minded the weather. In fact Julian said that he really liked the feel of the wind and rain buffeting against his face’. They don their mackintoshes and sou’westers (presumably so named because they offer protection from south west gales) and set off for an invigorating walk along the cliffs with Timmy: ‘At the top it was very windy indeed. Anne’s sou’wester was blown to the back of her head. The rain stung their cheeks and made them gasp’.

Because the day is so wet, the Kirrins are forced to wait until half past ten that night for Uncle Quentin’s signal to indicate all is well on the island (at night he signals with a lantern; by day he uses heliography aka a mirror and the sun). Aunt Fanny won’t let the children stay up so late, and although Anne and George fall asleep, Dick and Julian do manage to stay awake. I like to think that they stave off sleep by perusing (in a supremely postmodern gesture) Enid’s chapter on ‘The Wind and its Work’, and follow her suggestion to read the story Æolus and the Winds (‘it is an old Greek story, and you will find it in the story of Odysseus, or Ulysses’).

Bobs and brooches

February 27, 2010 at 8:04 am | Posted in Fashion | 1 Comment
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In the spirit of Helen Bonham Carter’s Enid wardrobe, here is my take on the Bobs brooch, found in the lovely (if a tad overpriced) Home & Colonial in Berkhamsted, Hertforshire. It’s not diamante like Enid’s/HBC’s, but it is vintage 1950s and I really like it.

Bobs was the black and white smooth-haired fox terrier that Enid bought in 1926, shortly after she and her husband Hugh Pollock moved to the quaintly named Elfin Cottage in Beckenham, Kent. According to Blyton aficionado Norman Wright, Bobs ‘could do many tricks, including sitting up and having a biscuit balanced on his nose, and rolling on his back when Enid told him to “die for the King”‘. The little dog was first mentioned in Enid’s ‘Letter from my Window’ in November 1926 and from 1929 a ‘Letter from Bobs’ became a regular feature of Enid’s Teachers’ World page. As ‘Bobs’, Enid would report events that happened in the family that week and after Bobs died in 1935 his column was produced posthumously, unbeknownst to his eager readership. The great modernist writer Virginia Woolf was blatantly influenced by ‘Letter from Bobs’ when she wrote Flush (1933), a biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning written from the point of view of the poet’s cocker spaniel. Yes. Well, maybe…

Brogues for all seasons

February 19, 2010 at 8:51 am | Posted in Fashion, George | Leave a comment
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Brogues: “A great cross-seasonal buy” and “a brilliant flat shoe for women who feel the ballet pump is simply too girlie”, according to last Saturday’s Guardian magazine. Perfect for George (and me) in that case.

Simon Chilvers, the Guardian‘s assistant fashion editor, suggests that at the moment they should be worn with slim rolled-up chinos. Chinos are perhaps a little too early, and American, for the Kirrin boys (they were big with American teens in the 50s and 60s). Julian, Dick, George and Anne tend to wear their brogues with shorts, or with straight leg trousers for the boys and simple skirts for the girls, often teamed with blazers and jumpers as part of their school uniforms (see previous posts on Five on Hike Together),

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