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
Tags: , ,

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?!


Happy Birthday to the Famous Five

June 24, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Posted in Learning Stuff, Travel, Uncle Quentin | 1 Comment
Tags: , , ,

2012 marks the 70th anniversary of the Famous Five. The first book, Five on a Treasure Island was published in 1942, with a further twenty following over the next two decades.

To mark the occasion, the Ginger Pop shops in Corfe and Poole, in conjunction with the Dorset Tourist Office, the Energy Institute and others are running an adventure trail around the Isle of Purbeck this summer. This is based on the sixth adventure, Five on Kirrin Island Again, in which Uncle Quentin attempts to solve humanity’s energy problems through an incredible new invention. Helping the Five thwart the plans of baddies eager to steal Uncle Q’s secrets, the trail takes in a variety of locations around the area, giving visitors the chance to explore all manner of attractions and to win some exciting prizes!

Demonstrating typical levels of organisation, imagination and intrepidation, Anne has organised a trip for us via train, steam train and boat. So, hurrah, we are off on Friday for a long weekend roaming across Blyton country. I’ll be sure to report back on our activities, not giving away any vital clues about the trail of course.

For more information on the Famous Five Adventure Trail 2012, visit the Ginger Pop website.


A Famous Five Christmas 2011

December 1, 2011 at 9:36 pm | Posted in Anne, Aunt Fanny, Dick, George, Julian, Uncle Quentin | 1 Comment

Well, it’s now December so it’s time for the annual suggestions of presents for the Kirrin clan or for similar-minded folk.

For Anne: 60s animal stamps from retro stationer Present and Correct or (for a time of less austerity) an adorable bunny tuck box to take back to Gaylands school.

For Julian: Also from Present and Correct, these stylish and useful map crayons for Julian who loves to boast about his excellent map reading skills and well-developed bump of locality. Or from Temple of Commerce, a corrective grammar sticker pack so he can put the grammatical world to rights.

For Aunt Fanny: a beautiful bedspread from vintage retailer Horrockses. These are based on original 40s and 50s patterns. I like this one which is called ‘Betty’.

For George: A dog lamp that will recall the hi-jinx of Five on a Secret Trail. Note that Pedlars actullay describe it as a ‘collar of shame’. So perhaps this is actually quite an insensitive present (and again not an austerity gift)…

For Timmy: Well, I confess I’m struggling a bit here. In previous years I’ve suggested a studded collar and a fake bunny for him to chase and there’s only so much variety you can introduce into doggy gifts. Perhaps George could get him this bone shaped biscuit cutter so that Joan the Cook could make some of her legendary biscuits just for him?

For Dick: Gourmand and gourmet Dick might like to enjoy his ice cream out of one of these gold ice cream bowls, also from Pedlars.

For Uncle Quentin: The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing should keep Uncle Quentin quiet and out of the way on Christmas Day. Although I’ve blatantly taken this image from Amazon, I of course suggest that all bookish presents are purchased from your nearest non-chain book shop. I’ve already been to the wondrous Broadway Bookshop for some of my gifts…

For more suggestions, see ‘Christmas Gifts for the Kirrins‘ and ‘Christmas with the Famous Five: Gifts

Tinker, Tailor…

September 11, 2011 at 8:19 pm | Posted in Dick, Julian, Uncle Quentin | Leave a comment
Tags: , ,

“That’s a thing I don’t understand [said Julian] – to be a traitor to one’s own country. It leaves a nasty taste in the mouth to think of it. Come on – let’s have a think about dinner, Anne. What are we going to have?” – Five Have a Wonderful Time

Spies are very much in vogue at the moment. I’m eagerly anticipating the new film adaptation of John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and have just finished a weekend viewing marathon of the original 1979 television series with the great Alec Guinness as George Smiley, who’s brought out of retirement to track down a mole who has penetrated the highest levels of ‘the Circus’, the British Secret Intelligence Service. The plot of the recent BBC series, The Hour, also hinged on the unmasking of Soviet agents working within the Secret Service and (heaven forbid!) the British Broadcasting Corporation, so there is definitely something in the air.

Spies, stolen secrets, kidnappings and defections abound in Blyton’s books. The Famous Five personally take on quite a few of these cases, although their methods are a little different to George Smiley’s. And while betrayal and corruption leave their mark on the characters in le Carré’s novels, the Five are able to quickly deal and move on – often with the aid of a good meal, as Julian’s above comment suggests. Apparently there’s nothing like tinned peaches and home-made custard to get rid of the nasty taste left in the mouth by the deception, violence, and moral ambiguity of spying.

The Famous Five books are (as we know) very much of their time. After the disappearance of two of the ‘Cambridge’ spies, KGB double agents Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean in 1951, there was extreme paranoia about Soviet penetration of the British Secret Service. Blyton’s treatment of spies and traitors offers a narrative of reassurance. The upright and oh-so-British Famous Five are always clear where their loyalties lie and everything always comes right in the end.

In Five Go to Billycock Hill (1957) the children are distraught about the disappearance of their friend Toby’s airman cousin, Jeff. He appears to have gone AWOL with a top RAF aeroplane, prompting Dick to make the rather extreme comment: “If he flew away in that plane, he was a traitor to his country. And traitors deserve to die” ( this has been cut from recent, updated, versions of the book). Happily, Jeff’s innocence is proved with the help of the Five and Toby’s little brother and his pet ‘pigling’.

Likewise, Terry-Kane, a scientist chum of Uncle Quentin’s, suspected of making off with some state scientific secrets, is exonerated in Five Have a Wonderful Time. Characters that the Five or their friends and families like are therefore proved to be OK – an escapist antidote to the disbelief that surrounded the notion that Cambridge educated men like Burgess, Maclean, and later Harold Philby, Anthony Blunt and (possibly) John Cairncross [the Infamous Five!], could be agents of a foreign power. Clearly spies and subterfuge are recurring elements of many of Blyton’s books but Five Have a Wonderful Time was published in 1952, the year after the Burgess and Maclean scandal, and Billycock Hill in 1957, the year after they resurfaced in Moscow. It’s therefore highly likely that these incidents were in Blyton’s mind when she was planning and writing these particular books – and promoting a very different set of ideological and moral values to those of Burgess, Blunt et al.

Christmas gifts for the Kirrins

December 5, 2010 at 11:03 am | Posted in Anne, Aunt Fanny, Cycling, Dick, Eating and Drinking, George, Joan the Cook, Julian, Timmy, Travel, Uncle Quentin | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , ,

Here are this year’s suggestions for Christmas gifts for members of the Kirrin Family, or your own equivalent George, Aunt Fanny etc.

Julian is interested in archaeology and the Romans, as we know from Five on a Secret Trail. He also prides himself on his map-reading and path-finding skills. So how about this English Heritage Hadrian’s Wall Archaeological map? It details the whole length of the famous Roman frontier, built by the Emperor Hadrian from AD122, and points out temples, bath houses, kilns etc in addition to the wall and its fortifications. To complement this, Rosemary Sutcliff’s 1954 novel, The Eagle of the Ninth. A proper boy’s own adventure story (but so much more than this too) in which a young centurion sets out to discover what happened to his father’s legion when it marched into the mists of Caledonia in AD117 and never returned…

“Who’s this from? I say who gave this to me? Where’s the label? Oh – from Mr Roland, how decent of him! Look Julian, a pocket knife with three blades!” A classic Swiss Army knife for Dick would be an infinitely useful gift. For Dick’s modern equivalent, perhaps a version that includes a memory stick?

A stylish bicycle bell for George. She might also like a sturdy basket for her bicycle as she always has to carry a heavy, smelly bone for Timmy whenever the Five go off somewhere.

Anne has expressed her desire to learn to paint and draw. As the Five take in some truly stunning scenery on their numerous adventures, a portable pencil and watercolour paint set might come in handy.

Present choices for canines are somewhat limited. As Timmy got a sexy studded collar last year, perhaps his passion for rabbits could be indulged this Christmas? He’s strictly forbidden to chase real bunnies so this running rabbit toy could be a suitable substitute. It squeaks and is double stitched for extra strength.

I have previously mused on Aunt Fanny’s hypothetical reading tastes, so what could be nicer for her than a beautiful Persephone book? There are some suggestions for books to match every taste on the Persephone website and you can even buy someone a book a month for a whole year. NB On the 14th and 15th December there will be a Christmas open house at Perspephone’s Lamb’s Conduit Street shop. All books will be gift-wrapped free of charge and there will be mulled wine and mince pies all round. Wizard!

Like many Uncles and other random male relatives, Quentin can be tricky to buy for. There’s a lot to be said for the classic gift of a good pair of socks or a tie. Quentin is usually quite scruffy – his work is more important than sartorial elegance. But when he finally presents his scientific gift to mankind he’s going to need a decent tie to wear for meeting the Prime Minister, receiving the Nobel Prize etc etc. This one from Old Town is quite nice.

Joan the Cook. After working flat out to produce a massive Christmas lunch, plus numerous puddings and cakes, Joan deserves to put her feet up for a while. As we know from Five Fall into Adventure, she has a bit of a soft spot for a man in uniform. When the police visit Kirrin Cottage to investigate a burglary they manage to eat up all of Joan’s home-made buns during the course of their preliminary investigation.

‘”You’d better stay in and give the policemen a good tea,” said Julian. “They’re coming back with a photographer.”

“Then I’d better do another baking,” said Joan, pleased.

“Yes, make one of your chocolate cakes,” said Anne.

“Oh, do you think they’d like one?” said Joan.

“Not for them Joan – for us, of course!” said George.’

That night Joan ‘dream[s] of policemen eating her chocolate cakes’. So, some classic British cinema in the form of the Ealing Studios production The Blue Lamp could tickle her pink.

High Tea at Fortnum & Mason

November 28, 2010 at 10:00 pm | Posted in Aunt Fanny, Eating and Drinking, Uncle Quentin | Leave a comment
Tags: ,

A decadent treat today – high tea at Fortnum & Mason, Piccadilly, London. It was an altogether more refined affair than the numerous high teas that populate Blyton’s books (more Aunt Fanny Goes up to Town than Five Go Down to the Sea) but was nevertheless still incredibly filling.

To start, a selection of canapes, washed down with a jug of ‘Fortnum’s Mint Refresher’ (fresh mint, lemon juice, ginger ale and sugar syrup). Next, a ‘Queen Anne’ blend of tea, served alongside an English muffin with poached egg, Hollandaise sauce and smoked salmon (other options included Welsh Rarebit, a twice-baked goat’s cheese souffle and a Beef and Fortnum’s Ale pie – the savouries on the menu are often inspired by classic Fortnum’s recipes which are drawn from the company’s archives and updated for modern palates). This was followed by a tier of miniature scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, homemade ginger parkin (a thumbs up from Julian et al here) and a kind of fancy Jammy Dodger, plus a selection of dainty cakes worthy of Marie Antoinette, proffered by waiters carrying heaving silver trays. We opted for a violet mousse cake, a little meringue sandwiched together with lemon curd and a fruit financier.

I was far too intimidated by the opulent setting to take a photo so pictured is my rather upmarket ‘doggy bag’ (I wasn’t too intimidated to ask to take our substantial amount of leftovers home) and a jar of F&M ‘Old English Hunt’ marmalade, bought as a gift. The latter is definitely not for Uncle Quentin who has been known to spread mustard on his breakfast toast instead of marmalade. Needless to say, Uncle Q is so far engrossed in his world of facts and figures that he rarely notices what he’s eating  – so a fine Fortnum’s preserve such as this would be completely wasted on him.

An Education

April 11, 2010 at 9:47 pm | Posted in Anne, Aunt Fanny, Fashion, George, Travel, Uncle Quentin | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , ,

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
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

‘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’).

Christmas with the Famous Five: Gifts

December 22, 2009 at 12:06 pm | Posted in Anne, Aunt Fanny, Dick, George, Julian, Timmy, Uncle Quentin | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , ,

Stuck for some last minute gift ideas? Take inspiration from the Kirrin family! Well, possibly…

Presents for Julian and Dick Knitted gifts from Aunt Fanny to keep them warm and stylish(?) during adventures

For George ‘”Who gave you that book about dogs, George?’ asked Julian, seeing a rather nice dog-book lying on George’s pile. “Mr Roland,” said George rather shortly.’

For Anne The Princess Doll’s House, a model of the Welsh cottage-style playhouse given to Princess Elizabeth on her 6th birthday in 1932. Read more here

For Timmy “Timothy! Look what Julian has given you – a collar with big brass studs all round. You will be grand!”

For Aunt Fanny
As a keen baker and gardener, Aunt Fanny might like this vintage Hovis tin for making bread or for using as a planter. Pedlars sell lots of great vintage items including this and Uncle Quentin’s calendar (below).

For Uncle Quentin Absent minded Uncle Quentin might benefit from a desk calendar like this (although Aunt Fanny might have to update it whenever she goes into his study)

Blog at
Entries and comments feeds.