Fields, flowers and jams on Chatsworth Road

July 27, 2014 at 1:52 pm | Posted in Aunt Fanny, Eating and Drinking, Joan the Cook, Timmy | Leave a comment
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I’ve just returned from a Sunday morning jaunt to Chatsworth Road, E5. I’ve not been down there for a couple of years and there are now so many lovely places to shop, eat and drink. Sunday (11-5) is market day. Here are a few my highlights from today’s visit:

 

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This lovely gentleman at the ‘From Field and Flower‘ stall very easily talked me into buying a stawberry honey creme and some pollen (it’s full of vitamins and good for the joints). My friend and I were encourage to try lots of delicious Italian (and one English) raw honeys. I’ll definitely be going back once I’ve worked my way through the stock of Welsh honey I picked up on my recent-ish trip to Hay-on-Wye.

 

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Some delicious home-made confectionery courtesy of The Almond Kitchen. The vanilla marshmallows were yummy and would be perfect for taking on a Famous Five expedition.

 

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Ditto these doughnuts from London Borough of Jam. ‘Timmy’s just silly over those doughnuts’, we find out in Five Have a Wonderful for Time. Sadly, the lady in the LBJ shop informed us that the bakery who makes them forgot to put the jam in! So only custard available today.

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But lots of jam in the shop itself. Amalfi lemon and vanilla, strawberry and rose, apricot and camomile and much more. Mmmmm. I can imagine Aunt Fanny or Joan the Cook making some delicious jams like these, using herbs and flowers from the Kirrin Cottage garden.

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And another one for Aunt Fanny, the beautiful and serene Botany, which sells plants (lots of succulents in little pots and jars), local flowers, gifts for home and garden, and a wonderful curated selection of flora and fauna-themed books including novels, histories, pattern sourcebooks, growing guides and cookbooks.

Chatsworth Road also has lots of great charity and antique shops, fruit and veg shops and stalls, plus the excellent Firefly Books, where I picked up a copy of 1000 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up (still a little time for me, then) for a mere £2. Bargain.

 

A Blyton lunch

January 18, 2014 at 4:12 pm | Posted in Anne, Aunt Fanny, Eating and Drinking, George, Julian, Timmy | 2 Comments
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My friend and work colleague Wendy pointed out this enjoyable feature on lunchbox sandwiches in the Guardian yesterday with the  instruction “scroll down”.

Ha ha! I was very pleased to see ‘The Enid Blyton’ given its full due as a valid lunch option. Sandwiches with sides of radishes and hard boiled eggs are excellent lunchtime fare, my only quibble would be to suggest that for a more aesthetically pleasing, and authentically Blytonian, experience you should wrap your dipping salt up in a little screw of paper rather than use tupperware. The sandwiches that the authors of this article and The Little Book of Lunch suggest are watercress – very tasty and classy  – but Enid has a wonderful knack for making the humble sandwich sound like the most appetising thing ever, even when it includes such retro delights as Spam. So here are a few more canonical suggestions:

‘”Cucumber dipped in vinegar! Spam and lettuce! Egg! Sardine! Oooh, Mr Luffy, your sandwiches are much nicer than ours,” said Anne, beginning on two together, one cucumber and the other Spam and lettuce” (Five Go Off to Camp, sandwich-maker: Mrs Luffy).

‘”Aunt Fanny cut dozens and dozens of sandwiches,” said Anne. “She said if we kept them in this tin they wouldn’t go stale, and would last a day or two till we went back. I’m hungry. Shall we have some now?”

They sat out in the sun, munching the ham sandwiches. Anne had brought tomatoes too, and they took a bite at a sandwich and then a bite at a tomato.’ (Five on a Secret Trail, sandwich-maker: Aunt Fanny, with improvisation by Anne).

Potted meat (devoured ravenously and even two at a time by a malnourished Uncle Quentin) (Five on Kirrin Island Again, sandwich-maker: Aunt Fanny).

‘They had a magnificent lunch about half-past twelve. Really, Mrs Johnson had surpassed herself! Egg and sardine sandwiches, tomato and lettuce, ham – there seemed no end to them!’ (Five Go to Mystery Moor, sandwich-maker: Mrs Johnson, of Johnson’s Riding School).

‘”I made [Timmy’s] sandwiches myself.” [said George]. And so she had! She had bought sausagemeat at the butchers and had actually made Timmy twelve sandwiches with it, all neatly cut and packed. (Five Get Into Trouble, sandwich-maker: George).

Perhaps the best sandwich-making and eating in the Famous Five books comes in Five on a Hike Together. The process of making the cheese, pork, ham and egg sandwiches (4 different types – not all together!) is stretched across no less than five pages (the children do ask for eight sandwiches each so it takes a while) and then there are seven pages of expectation and build up before the children finally sit down in the heather on Fallaway Hill in the late autumn sun to munch their sandwiches while gazing across the lonely moor.

‘At last the sandwiches were finished and the old woman appeared again. She had packed them up neatly in four parcels of grease-proof paper, and had pencilled on each what they were. Julian read what she had written and winked at the others.

“My word – we’re in for a grand time!” he said.’

(Five on a Hike Together, sandwich-maker: un-named ‘shop woman’ aka ‘old woman’ aka ‘Ma’)

Joanna the Cook’s Ginger Biscuits (1)

July 31, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Posted in Anne, Dick, Eating and Drinking, Joan the Cook, Timmy, Uncle Quentin | 1 Comment
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photoYesterday’s reference to Five on Kirrin Island Again gave me the urge to bake a version of Joanna the Cook’s famous ginger biscuits. Joanna knows how to use food to make people happy and cheer them up when they’re sad. When poor George is forced to let her beloved dog Timmy stay on Kirrin Island with Uncle Quentin (he needs a bodyguard to protect him while he conducts top secret scientific experiments), Joanna directs the children towards the biscuit tin. “I made you some of your favourite ginger biscuits this morning”, she tells them, much to Dick’s delight:

‘”I do think good cooks deserve some kind of decoration, just as much as good soldiers, or scientists, or writers. I should give Joanna the O.B.C.B.E”.

“Whatever’s that?” said Julian.

“Order of the Best Cooks of the British Empire,” said Dick, grinning.’

As I’m off to visit Anne later (companion on such infamous adventures as Peter’s Tower in 2010 and last summer’s wet and rainy trip to the Blytonian equivalent of Mecca, Corfe Castle) I thought I would make her a batch of ginger biscuits [Anne  – if you’re reading this, surprise!  And I hope you like ginger…].

I won’t post the recipe for these up here as it comes courtesy of Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer, Jane Brocket‘s excellent compendium of recipes based on food in children’s books. I’ve made several of JB’s recipes (Battenberg cake, saffron cake, pineapple upside down cake) and I have to say that they are a) delicious and b) have worked every time. Although having said that, mine look a bit pale, cracked and ugly. And they did take a little longer in the oven than JB recommends. But they taste good and that’s the most important thing, right?!

All packed…

March 30, 2013 at 10:12 am | Posted in Cycling, Timmy, Travel | 2 Comments

…and ready to set off for Caen, Normandy via London Waterloo, Portsmouth and Brittany Ferries. Plastic Timmy is raring to go, as am I, especially as I will be riding my brand new (to me) bicycle, an early 80s British bike built by Mike Kowal and restored for me by the brilliant Rob Sargent of Sargent and Co. More on all of this to follow.

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Plastic Timmy’s Dorset Photo Album

July 11, 2012 at 9:51 pm | Posted in Timmy | 1 Comment

Timmy on the chain ferry between Sandbanks and Studland

Timmy on the steam train from Swanage to Corfe

Timmy looking noble and a tad damp at Corfe Castle

*No dogs were harmed during the making of this photo album

Norfolk Cycle Tour (Day 3)

June 12, 2012 at 10:18 pm | Posted in Cycle Rides, Cycling, Eating and Drinking, Timmy | 1 Comment
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Georgian market town Holt attracts lots of visitors (locals meeting for a coffee, tourists, second home owners in search of olives and harissa). I went to pick up a few supplies for my day and to have a little look around its shops which include an outpost of the Norwich art and craft shop, Verandah, and Old Town, purveyors of modern versions of old style home and workwear (stove pipe trousers, house dresses – lots of twill).

For provisions I went to the Owl Bakery and got a sausage roll, warm from the oven, and a coconut tart, which was the closest I could get to one of the Five’s favourites, coconut macaroons. There’s a tea room at the back of the bakery where I stopped for a coffee, which was much needed on what was shaping up to be a damp and misty morning. The tea room is charming without trying too hard and has booths and tables with old tea tins, metal teapots, tennis rackets and other miscellanea propped up on shelves all around. I had a good cup of hot coffee but did note that it cost more than a cup of coffee in a fancy East London cafe (this says much about the fashionable parts of North Norfolk).

My route on Day 3 was Holt to Heydon, via Blickling Hall. There are a few nasty B roads around Holt but cycle route provision means there’s an underpass to help you avoid the worst of these. Within a few minutes I was once again completely alone on a quiet road in the midst of woods and fields, on my way to my first stopping off point, Baconsthorpe Castle.

Baconsthorpe is an actual ruined castle, on the very edge of the village at the end of a long farm lane. Apart from the Tudor Gatehouse, the rest of the castle is a little Kirrin-like. Timmy and I had the place to ourselves, apart from the cawing rooks and a lot of geese (there’s a mere next to the castle). We explored a little and as it was a bit lonely and eerie we stopped to fortify ourselves with the coconut tart  –  a delicious and very restorative elevensey (is this the singular of ‘elevenses’?). As we were leaving some day trippers in a motor car turned up. Pah!

The roads around this part of the county are lovely. Contrary to popular belief, Norfolk is not flat, especially around this area which was shaped long ago by Ice Age glaciers. There were a few little climbs followed by some exhilarating downhill stretches. In Itteringham we stopped off for a ginger beer from the village post office. NB This is an excellent little shop which sells postcards, stationery, teas and ices much in the tradition of the village shops encountered by the Five.

My timings were much better than the previous day, perhaps because I decided to abandon my 20 church quest, and I arrived at Blickling in good time for a picnic lunch inspired by a meal in Five Have a Wonderful Time in which they feast on sausage rolls and strawberries. I confess my version was a little inauthentic as I opted for fresh (although rather squished after a morning being bumped around in my bike basket) rather than tinned strawberries.

After a look around the hall and its gardens, I visited its excellent and rather large secondhand bookshop. Despite trying to travel light I succumbed to two hardbacks. These were Blytons, of course: a hardback Ring o’ Bells Mystery and Enid Blyton’s Nature Lover’s Book. The second is a thing of such beauty that I will return to it in more detail another time.

Day 3 was by far my greediest day. In less than an hour I was in Heydon’s Village Tea Room and Shop (I took a longer route to avoid busy roads) with a pot of tea and a scone. Like Biddy’s Tea Room in Norwich they sell lavender scones so I requested to have mine with lemon curd and cream – a heavenly although rather indulgent combination. But surely ok after all that cycling?

My destination for the night was the Stable Cottages at Heydon Hall, run by the fabulous and indomitable Sarah. I was given another cup of tea and, with the other guests, sat outside and watched the wide array of birds (woodpeckers, nutcrackers) that frequent Sarah’s garden and the grounds of the hall. Rather magically, a barn owl appeared and flew around the estate on its early evening hunt.

This was the final night of my trip. The next day I had a gentle ride back into Norwich day (2-3 hours along the Marriott’s Way, old railway track which is now a designated cycle route) and decided to round off my trip with a final cream tea, this time in the garden of the Briton’s Arms on Elm Hill. Whipped rather than clotted cream but very good nevertheless.

Tally for the penultimate and the final day: Ruined castles (1), ginger beers (1), cream teas (2), stately homes (1), churches (0).

Kentish Cycle Tour

August 29, 2011 at 11:26 am | Posted in Cycle Rides, Cycling, Dick, Eating and Drinking, Timmy, Travel | Leave a comment
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This year’s Kentish cycle tour took us through a wealth of different terrain (we were east of the Medway so I think I should actually say that it was a cycle tour of Kent rather than a Kentish cycle tour). We enjoyed coastal paths, flat marshland, woods, hills, wheatfields, hop fields and plenty of orchards – and the vast majority of our riding was on designated cycle routes as Kent is very well-served in this respect.

Dick and I took the high speed train from Stratford to Broadstairs. Traveling from east London should have been convenient but it was actually a bit of a faff given that the station is situated in the middle of a building site at the moment. Bikes need to be taken on a very circuitous route to get onto the platform and then on a shuttle bus to the station itself. Once in Broadstairs we found our way to our seaside hotel and then set off to explore the town. Dickens connections here are strong – he lived and worked in Bleak House, which is perched above the town, and the Dickens House Museum, on Victoria Parade, was once the home of Mary Peason Strong – the original of David Copperfield‘s Betsy Trotwood. The museum showcases all sorts of Victoriana, as well as letters written by Dickens from or about Broadstairs.

In the evening we treated ourselves to ice creams from the legendary Morelli’s. Opened in 1932, Morelli’s was refitted in the 1950s and the Broadstairs branch retains much of the charm of this period – pink leatherette seating, a soda fountain, jukebox and a truly bizarre ceiling feature. The ice cream is excellent and I think Julian et al would approve – there are many flavours to choose from as well as a host of weird and wonderful sundaes (the Brazil comes with a miniature palm tree stuck on top).

After an early morning dip in the sea (bracing and a bit sea-weedy) we set off on the first proper day of cycling: Broadstairs to Canterbury. We took the Viking trail along the coast to Ramsgate and then on to Sandwich. The first section boasts gorgeous views of the sea and coastline and although the final stretch is largely alongside a busy road it’s nicer to be on a separate path than borne down upon by impatient and speeding traffic. After a stop in Sandwich to get some provisions we set off on National Cycle Route 1, a truly beautiful ride through luscious orchards and (later on) cool, dark woods. We picked up some apples for sale by the side of the road and had to eat two right away – they were warm from the sun and wonderfully juicy. I couldn’t resist also buying a jar of home-made damson jam  – probably foolish given I would have to carry it around for another 70 miles.

We stopped to picnic in an orchard and after a post-prandial snooze (we did drink some cider with our bread, cheese and apples) and some hills, we arrived in Canterbury in the late afternoon. We stayed with my lovely friend Emma whose nearest FF character would probably be a cross between the sweet Jennifer Mary Armstrong (Five Run Away Together) and one of the excellent FF hostesses like Mrs Thomas of Billycock Farm.

The next morning we made for Whitstable via the Crab and Winkle Way. Canterbury is nestled in a hollow so we had a steep climb out of the city and round the university before joining (parts of) the disused railway line that used to run from coast to cathedral city. Sections of the route are quite undulating – a fact which proved the downfall of the line as Stephenson’s poor Invicta engine couldn’t quite handle the gradient. When we arrived in Whitstable the sun was out. So, even though we were laden with cycle panniers (including that heavy jar of damson jam – argh!) we had a paddle before some oysters (for Dick) and brown shrimps (for me) before pressing on to Saturday night’s destination, the amazing Linen Shed in Boughton-Under-Blean. After long flat stretches around Seasalter we began a series of climbs up to Boughton. Happily we were rewarded with stunning views back across the countryside to the sea, then our first hop field and then, upon arrival at the Linen Shed, a refreshing shower followed by tea and home-made granola flapjacks, and later on, wine, on the verandah.

Vickie is, in short, an incredible hostess and has created a beautiful place to stay. This feature in the Wealden Times gives a flavour of this wonderful weather-boarded buiding which stated life as an army drill hut before having stints as the village hall and even as a cinema. Breakfast the following morning was certainly on a par with the best Blytonian feasts: grilled vine tomatoes and Serrano ham (me), a full cooked breakfast with rosti and creamed mushrooms (Dick), fresh breads with raspberry and lavender jam, ripe peaches and raspberries, passion fruit and Greek yoghurt. This set us up well for our longest day of cycling so far – approximately 40 miles down through Kent, via Ashford to Rye in East Sussex.

Things started well. I got us a tiny bit lost (I am always convinced that the map, rather than me, is wrong) but it was nothing major and we soon found National Cycle Route 18. I was so thankful that I left the Dutch Bobbin at home this year and actually had a bike with a range of gears. We climbed hill after hill – made that much harder by the luggage we were carrying (including, yes, that pesky jar of damson jam). We finally got to the highest point of the climb, a few miles from the village of Wye, and stopped to admire the view. Here is plastic Timmy enjoying the scenery.

We started the descent, picking up speed as we whizzed down an actually quite steep hill. And then… disaster struck! Something suddenly went THUNK and my back wheel seized up. I managed to avoid an approaching tractor before stopping and dismounting to assess the damage – weirdly wedged breaks and a severely buckled wheel. I cannot repeat what I said at this point. After assorted cursing we disengaged my breaks and limped/wobbled the next few miles to Wye where we made straight for the pub for a lime and soda before bike and I took a taxi to to Halfords in Ashford leaving Dick to have a solo adventure and navigate his way into town by bike.

Spending a sunny Sunday afternoon on an industrial estate is possibly one of the most depressing things ever but happily the charming young gentlemen of Halford’s Bike Hut were able to replace some missing spokes and got me back on the road reasonbly sharpish. After a few false turns en route, Dick turned up and we decided to press on to Rye. It became a bit of a gritted teeth job, especially on the final stretch from Appledore into Rye. This was several miles of uneventful road going against the wind and wasn’t terribly fun at the end of a long day. Thankfully we’d been able to have a quick restorative cup of tea and a scone at Miss Mollett’s delectable tea room in Appledore. Although there was too much pretty vintage crockery for Dick, and too many wasps for both of us, they do serve an excellent cream tea which I would highly recommend. We finally arrived in Rye in the early evening. We felt tired and windswept but also proud that we had overcome adversity and had traversed many miles to get there.

This post has gone on far too long so I won’t say much about our stay Rye. It is, as is well know in the world of Blytonia, the original of Smuggler’s Top. It was also the home of Henry James, E. F. Benson and John Ryan (of Captain Pugwash fame) as well as once being a veritable hive of smuggling. I plan to return in a more suitably atmospheric season (mist and fog are probably necessary to experience it as the Five did), and not on bike next time. Having said that, I will certainly be going back to explore more of Kent on two wheels. It was particularly lovely riding through the orchards, especially as it was harvest time (there’s a bumper crop this year!) but I imagine a springtime trip, when the blossom is out would be quite magical too.

Cycling Hol 2011

August 13, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Posted in Cycle Rides, Cycling, Dick, Timmy, Travel | 3 Comments
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It’s that time of year again. James, no, sorry, I mean Dick and I will shortly be setting off on this year’s cycling odyssey. This time we’re leaving the Cotswolds behind and will be heading south to explore the garden of England, aka the fine county of Kent.

Our plan, in short, is this: Broadstairs – Canterbury – Faversham (via Whitstable) – Rye (so a little bit of Sussex too in fact) with the final day’s destination to be decided (somewhere where we can catch a train back to London Bridge rather than Victoria). We’re not covering a lot of distance as we’re hoping to enjoy the seaside too, but we’ll almost certainly take some more meandering routes between each place. I have a handy guide to Kentish cycle routes and it looks like there will be a wealth of national and regional cycle routes to follow along the way (click on the map above left to be taken to Kent County Council’s very useful cycling pages).

While in Margate the other week I also picked up an old Penguin Guide to Kent, Sussex and Surrey. Purportedly for travellers ‘of all sorts’ you get the impression its author ( S. E. Winbolt) liked a good fast run down from the capital to ‘one of the great playgrounds of London’ in a Bentley or some other powerful car. The book dates from 1939 so it’s quite poignant to think about how everything was soon to change. The leisurely motoring holiday would become a thing of the past  – all that petrol guzzling – and Kent and Sussex quickly became the part of the country most vulnerable to invasion, a fear reinforced by the sound of bombs and gunfire drifting across the channel.

Mr Winbolt is quite keen on churches, geology and topography (he was an archaeologist) so, the odd Baedeker raid notwithstanding, quite a bit of the book’s contents should still be relevant. It also has some charming touring maps of the three counties although I suspect we’ll be using my OS, and Dick’s iphone, slightly more frequently.

We’re off on Thursday. B&Bs have been booked and the silver ‘lady bike’ is prepped and ready (it’s significantly lighter than the Bobbin – with lots more gears – and it has larger wheels than the Brompton so is better for touring). Timmy is also raring to go. Luckily the fact he’s small and plastic means I don’t have to lug around a smelly bone for him, unlike the devoted George who is frequently weighed down with the butcher’s finest by-products.

Margate Photo Album

July 23, 2011 at 10:33 am | Posted in Anne, Eating and Drinking, George, Timmy, Travel | Leave a comment
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The trip to Margate was good fun. The town was much as anticipated – run down in places (very run down) and very much on the up in other parts. The most visible sign of this is the brand new and proudly modern Turner Contemporary gallery, built on the seafront in the spot where J M W Turner used to stay. The Old Town too is a thriving cluster of shops, cafes, galleries and pubs, and there are also some nice things a bit further afield too.

The Turner Contemporary is a real shot in the arm in terms of Margate’s revival. Exhibitions will change on a six-monthly basis and next year will see a major exhibition of Turner paintings which will hopefully draw visitors from far and wide. The inaugural exhibition is a group of specially-commissioned works inspired by Turner and Margate, focused around a work by Turner himself: The Eruption of Souffrier Mountains, in the Island of St Vincent, at midnight, on the night of 30th April, 1812.

This piece (below) is by Daniel Buren. It is actually two floors high (this picture was taken from the first floor balcony). As you enter the gallery it fills your vision and floods the room with glorious yellow light, capturing something of the visual and emotional impact of Tuner’s famous sunsets. Thursday was a gloomy day but the yellow and different shades of grey looked good together.

In the evening we drank perry in The Lifeboat Ale and Cider House and had impressive Indian food at The Ambrette (delicious spiced local crab). We stayed in the beautiful Reading Rooms, a new-ish B&B in a Georgian townhouse in Hawley Square. Words cannot describe its loveliness. Here is a picture of the exquisite breakfast served in my exquisite room: fresh fruit salad, toast with cream cheese, cinnamon and honey (plus extra toast and jams), tea and freshly squeezed juice. It’s like a very sophisticated version of the breakfast the Famous Five enjoy so much in Five on a Hike Together [NB more traditional FF fare such as porridge, bacon and eggs and sausages is also available on the Reading Rooms’ extensive breakfast menu].

Fueled by breakfast we set off to explore some of the local independent shops (my favourites were crafty place Blackbird; the Pilgrims Hospice Charity bookshop in the old Midland Bank; and R G Scotts – old furniture, crockery, vintage maps etc) before braving the strangeness of the Shell Grotto (£3 entry). This underground network of passages, with 4.6 million shells lining its walls and ceilings, was discovered in 1835. Everything about it is a complete mystery – it is not known when it was created or by whom, or what the various symbols depicted on its walls actually mean. It’s very dank and slightly sinister – Anne would definitely not like it and I suspect George and the boys, and even Timmy, would get the willies too.

After this we needed some fresh air and a nice cup of restorative tea. We found it in Batchelor’s Patisserie, pictured below and (as I liked it so much) in the first photo of this post.

Batchelor’s is a proper bakery and cafe with original Formica fittings and display cases full of amazing treats. We had an old school cheese quiche and salad for lunch but you can also get sausage rolls, soup and sandwiches as well as cheese and fruit scones, fresh doughnuts, Congress tarts, various slices, cheesecake, coffee cake as well as a selection of fancy French macaroons, petit fours, Kentish ice cream and even home-made jam to take away. They sell a wide range of loaves too, and almost everything is made on site. Batchelor’s even has a proper 1950s style coffee machine and serves up a quality cappuccino. It reminded me a bit of the dairy/cafe that the Five frequent in Five Have a Wonderful Time where they get addicted to the doughnuts and ice cream (‘”Timmy’s silly over those doughnuts” said George, “he just wolfs them down”‘).

The sun finally came out late on Friday morning and effected an incredible transformation on the town. Although much of it is still rather desolate – the old lido is deserted and empty for example – the sun brought people out onto the golden sands and the view from the Nayland Rock shelter, where T S Eliot gained inspiration for ‘The Wasteland’, was decidedly cheery.

In two years’ time the 1920s Dreamland Amusement park will be restored and re-opened so hopefully this will add further to the re-invigoration of Britain’s oldest seaside resort. I will almost certainly go back but am now looking forward to more Kentish fun with next month’s cycling holiday which kicks off in Margate’s neighbouring town of Broadstairs…

Top Tens… and Top Threes: Caves

January 28, 2011 at 12:03 am | Posted in Anne, Dick, George, Julian, Timmy, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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John Mullan’s excellent and entertaining Guardian series picks out various literary ‘Ten of the Best’ categories  – villains, moustaches, fake deaths, towers, instances of invisibility etc. (Freud would probably find the selection of ‘best ofs’  I’ve highlighted here revealing but we’ll skip over that). Professor Mullan gets a big thumbs up for his learned, wide-ranging and completely unsnobbish selections. So alongside Homer, Shakespeare, the Brontes, Dostoyevsky, Melville, Proust and modern authors such as Ian McEwan, Zadie Smith and Philip Roth, we also find children’s writers such as C S Lewis, Alan Garner and (hurrah!) Enid Blyton. The latter makes it into the categories of ‘Ten of the Best Swimming Scenes’ (Five Get Into Trouble), ‘Examples of Rowing’ (Five on a Treasure Island) and ‘Secret Societies’ (the Secret Seven). It’s rather jolly to see the ‘wild swimming’ antics of the Five positioned between Byron’s ‘Written after Swimming from Sestos to Abydos’ and The Swimmer by John Cheever, or the rowing from Five on a Treasure Island sitting alongside the rather darker example from The Talented Mr Ripley.

With some of these categories in mind, I am going to begin an occasional series of ‘Best ofs’ drawn from the Famous Five – by contributing a Blytonian example to categories where she doesn’t feature, or by drawing up a top three or five for categories in which there are numerous FF contenders (caves, breakfasts, beaches, horrid children). Sometimes I’ll just offer up my pick of other features of her books (animal characters, secret passages, farmers’ wives, hoards of treasure etc.). Is this extremely nerdy? Should I find a better use of my time? Probably. But please humour me and do feel free to nominate your own.

As caves have already been mentioned, I will start here. Mullan’s examples are all excellent, ranging from the cave of Mammon in Spenser’s The Faerie Queen to the Marabar Caves from E M Forster’s A Passage to India (read Mullan’s full selection here). As I do not have the whole history of world literature to draw upon I will not aim for ten and instead propose a modest three. So my offerings are:

The Kirrin Island Cave, Five Run Away Together

When the Five slope off to Kirrin Island to get away from the nasty Stick family they plan to sleep in Kirrin Castle. Unfortunately the roof has fallen in since the previous summer and they need to find an alternative place to stay. While scoping out the old wreck (too smelly, wood too rotten) Dick spots what looks like a cave in the cliffs. “There aren’t any caves on Kirrin,” asserts George, before the children make their way over the rocks to investigate further…

‘”It is a cave!” said Dick, in delight, stepping into it. “And my, what a fine one”.

It really was a beauty. Its floor was spread with fine white sand, as soft as powder and perfectly dry, for the cave was clearly higher than the tide reached, except possibly in a bad winter storm. Round one side of it ran a stone ledge.

“Exactly like a shelf made for us!” cried Anne in joy. “We can put all our things here. How lovely! Let’s come and live here and sleep here. And look Julian – we’ve even got a skylight in the roof!”‘

The skylight comes in handy as a quick exit onto the clifftop (Julian rigs up a rope) and it even helps them take a hostage in the form of the Sticks’ nasty son, Edgar, who takes an unfortunate tumble through the hole. The children make beds of heather and there is a very nice scene where they make a little fire to watch as they fall asleep. Once the children retrieve various household possessions from Kirrin Cottage, stolen by the Sticks and brought to the island (the Sticks are of course involved in Something Fishy), the cave becomes even more cosy. It’s so cosy in fact, that Jenny Armstrong, the little girl the children rescue from the Sticks’ clutches, isn’t that fussed about being returned to her parents and would rather stay on Kirrin Island with the Five.

The Billycock Caves, Five Go to Billycock Hill

‘Warning’, reads the sign at the entrance to Billycock Caves. ‘Keep only to the roped ways. Beware of losing your way in the unroped tunnels’. The caves constitute a veritable Labyrinth, and provide the perfect place for some bad men to hide kidnapped airmen Jeff and Ray. They are also cold, magnificent, and awe-inspiring. The children go exploring one rainy day, carefully staying to the roped ways. They soon come to a cave ‘full of what looked like gleaming icicles. Some hung down from the roof, others rose up from ground. In some places the one below had reached to the one hanging down, so that they had joined, making it look as if the cave was held up by great shining pillars.

“Oh!” said Anne, catching her breath. “What a wonderful sight! How they gleam and shine!”‘

The next cave they go through is smaller but full of rainbow-coloured ‘icicles’; the one after is ‘of a dazzling white, wall, roof, floor and pillars. So many stalactites and stalagmites had joined that they almost formed a snow-white screen through which the children peered’.

The children are chased out by eerie whistling sounds but luckily, Curly the Pigling is not deterred and his wanderings lead to the rescue of the two airmen. Phew. The Billycock Caves are probably based on Cheddar Caves in Somerset.

The Wreckers’ Caves, Five Go to Demon’s Rocks

Baddies Jacob and Ebeneezer supplement their dishonest earnings by showing trippers around the dark and smelly Wreckers’ Caves near the village of Demon’s Rocks. Luckily the Five, plus Tinker and his pet monkey, Mischief, have a better guide in the form of old Jeremiah Boogle, a salty seadog who spends his days sitting on the quayside smoking his pipe and telling tales of One-Ear Bill, an olden time wrecker. Curiously, the caves don’t lead back into the cliffs but instead descend steeply and wend their way under the sea (much like the undersea passage that leads from Kirrin Farm to Kirrin Island – it must be a feature of the coast in this part of the country). This makes the Wreckers’ Caves very unnerving as the sound of the sea ‘mumbling and grumbling’ overhead can be clearly heard. While many people, and not least Jacob and Ebby, have attempted to find One-Ear Bill’s hidden treasure it takes the Five, plus monkey, to finally track down the stolen hoard of gold coins.

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