Tags: Five Go to Demon's Rocks, Five on a Hike Together, Joel Segal Books, Landmark Trust, Lympstone, Peters Tower, Route 2, Topsham
‘”What I’m looking forward to is our first night there,” said George. “All alone, high up in that old light-house. Nothing but the wind and waves all around! Snuggling down in our rugs, and waking up to hear the wind and waves again.”‘ (Five Go to Demon’s Rocks)
On my weekend trip to Peters Tower I mostly channeled Demon’s Rocks (life in a lighthouse), with a hint of Five on a Hike Together (an autumn excursion). It was dark and rainy by the time I arrived in Lympstone after a 3 and a half hour train journey from London. I had a simple supper (by FF standards) of cheese and biscuits and then wrapped myself up in one of the tower’s regulation rugs to reacquaint myself with its small but perfectly formed library.
The Landmark Trust provides a thoughtful selection of books, many with local(ish) interest. Titles like Devon Shipwrecks and A Book About Smuggling in the West Country sit alongside novels (some Hardy, Austen, Sterne and Fowles) and modern cookery books.
The next day dawned bright and fine. Peters Tower is a clock tower and chimes the hour between 7 in the morning and 11 at night. As the bedroom is immediately under the bell I woke up at 7. You never know what view will be waiting when you look out of the window. The Exe estuary is extremely tidal so sometimes the water comes right up to the tower and sometimes there is nothing but a long stretch of mud between each shore. On Saturday morning there was water.
A few miles up the estuary from Lympstone is the small town of Topsham. I took the train but had cyclist envy. National Cycle Route 2 runs alongside the coast here (it is planned to eventually traverse the south coast all the way from St Austell to Dover) and Topsham is the home of the Route 2 Cafe and Cycle Hire. It’s nice inside and they have their own Route 2 cups. I had a fruit scone and a pot of tea which was fine – but not a patch on the scones served just around the coast at the Cosy Teapot in Budleigh Salterton.
There are other nice things in Topsham too – the views, an array of good pubs, a good deli/butchers, a cheese shop, and the excellent Joel Segal Books. The shop is spread over three floors of an 17th century building and its contents range across most subjects. The books are arranged in aesthetically pleasing ways, often organised by publisher/edition. I liked the current (and slightly 70s feeling) autumn-inspired window display.
There were more autumn colours and leaves when I went for a walk along the cycle path on Sunday. This bit of Route 2 (between Lympstone and Exton) could seem a bit sanitised but cycling in London on a daily basis makes me think that a little bit of boardwalk riding away from terrifying taxis and white vans is actually ok.
The storm on the final night was quite appropriate, as per the climax of Five Go to Demon’s Rocks:
‘”Are you quite sure that the light-house [tower] can’t be blown down?” said Anne, in a small voice.
“Dear Anne, use your common sense,” said Julian [unbelievably smugly]. “Would it have stood for all these years if it hadn’t been strong enough to stand against storms far worse than this?” […]
There was an extra big gale of wind that buffeted the light-house, and made Timmy stand up and growl. Rain pattered against the window, sounding as if someone was throwing pebbles…’
The next morning (my final morning) I went out to look at the tower from the small jetty that sticks out into the estuary. The flood gate next to the tower had been closed, the dustbins blown over, and the water seemed higher, and murkier, than usual.
And then it was back to school. Well, work…
Tags: breakfast, Christianna Brand, coffee, Five on a Hike Together, Fortnum & Mason, Hackney City Farm, honey, hot milk, Jane Brocket, Nurse Matilda, porridge
In the spirit of the previous post, it’s time to celebrate breakfast. This repast from Five on a Hike Together is a memorable and well-earned one. Dick and Anne have been separated from Julian, George and Timmy and end up spending the night at a horrible farmhouse where something strange happens… When the cousins are reunited the next day they sit down for a feast and an update on their adventures. I particularly like the idea of the children drinking coffee with hot milk – a mixture of sophistication and comfort:
‘A wonderful smell came creeping into the little dining room, followed by the inn-woman carrying a large tray. On it was a steaming tureen of of porridge, a bowl of golden syrup, a jug of very thick cream, and a dish of bacon and eggs, all piled high on crisp brown toast. Little mushrooms were on the same dish.
“It’s like magic!” said Anne, staring. “Just the very things I longed for!”
“Toast, marmalade and butter to come, and the coffee and hot milk,” said the woman, busily setting everything out. “And if you want any more bacon and eggs, just ring the bell”
“Too good to be true!” said Dick, looking at the table. “For goodness’ sake, help yourselves girls or I shall forget my manners and grab.”
Porridge is a staple breakfast food at this time of year and is memorably described in innumerable children’s books, from several of Blyton’s series (FF and the Barney ‘R’ stories immediately spring to mind) to the surreal breakfast in Christianna Brand’s 1964 novel, Nurse Matilda. Jane Brocket includes a guideline recipe for porridge (to be served with thick cream) in Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer. As she notes, some people hold that porridge should be made just with milk, others plump for a mixture of milk and water.
I’m definitely in the latter camp but proper FF porridge probably does need full cream milk with extra cream. It’s useful to know that the more you stir porridge as it cooks, the creamier it will be. Golden syrup is the topping of choice in virtually every children’s book I’ve ever read, but I’m a fan of honey.
Given the plight of British bees it’s important to try and buy British (and preferably local) honey – some beekeepers’ reports suggest that within ten years time the British honeybee will be a thing of the past. This Telegraph article from 2008 (yes, it is written by someone called Bee Wilson) is quite interesting. Apparently only 5 per cent of British honey is sold through supermarkets so visit your local farmers’ market or track down your local beekeepers through the official website of the British Beekeepers’ Association.
Fortum & Mason sell some fancily packaged and no doubt tasty British honey. If you have too much money you can buy this miniature bee hive complete with a pot of honey made by bees who live on the roof of Fortnum’s Piccadilly store (according to F&M they ‘visit only the best gardens’). Personally, I think it’s the rarefied atmosphere of London, and particularly the east end, that gives metropolitan honeys a distinctive flavour – honey from the Hackey City Farm is very good and is a fraction of the price.
Tags: BBC, comfort food, feasts, Five on a Hike Together, Five on Kirrin Island Again, Five Run Away Together, gluttony, Ian Fleming, Michael Rosen, Radio 4
As the queen and royal family of literary gluttony respectively, Enid Blyton, and the Famous Five in particular, get lots of coverage in this BBC Radio 4 programme Midnight Feasts and Lashings of Ginger Beer, broadcast on Tuesday 12 January and available until the 19 via the BBC iplayer.
In the words of author and contributor Michael Rosen, food is ‘the sex of children’s literature’ – the one unfettered desire that children’s authors can write about (in contrast to a writer like Ian Fleming who writes about sex and food with equal greed and sensory description). The concept of food as a substitute for love gets plenty of attention – one example being Martin in Five on Kirrin Island Again. When the children discover he has lost his mother they make sure he gets the nicest buns at teatime. Elsewhere in this book Blyton describes how Joanna the cook is the queen of comfort food: ‘That was always Joanna’s way! If she thought anyone was upset, she offered them her best and freshest food’.
There are endless other food-related quotes with which to illustrate this post so here is just one:
‘”If we go [to Kirrin Island] for a week or ten days, we must take plenty of stores,” said Julian. “The thing is – can we possibly find food enough for so long? Even if we entirely empty the larder I doubt if that would be enough for a week or so. We all seem such hungry people somehow.” Five Run Away Together, p.75.
Tags: autumn, Five on a Hike Together, outdoor, swimming in autumn
In terms of Famous Five reading, October has to be all about Five on a Hike Together. This is the story in which they get together for a long weekend in late October and yes, you’ve guessed it, go off on a hike. It’s all sensible for the first few chapters – the girls set off in their sturdy brogues and pack extra pairs of socks, and the ever responsible Julian has made arrangements for the Five to stay in a series of farmhouses and b&bs because, as any sensible person knows, in October ‘it will be too cold to sleep out of doors’ (George). The hike starts well:
‘School already seemed far behind them. The October sun shone down warmly, and the trees in the village glowed yellow and red and golden, dressed in their autumn colourings […] They took off their thick blazers and carried them. Each of them had a rucksack, a mac rolled up tightly, and now a blazer to carry. But none of them noticed the weight at the outset of the day.’
But soon adventure presents itself and before you know it, the Five are facing off with dodgy biscuit-stealing criminals, sleeping in the cellar of a ruined cottage, and Julian and Dick are stripping off and diving into an icy cold lake. In October. Eek.
It’s a lovely story though, and I think one of its charms is in its restraint. The children only have a long weekend away from school, making the story more subdued and lacking the sense of freedom and abandon that characterises the books that are set during the longer summer and Easter holidays. This feeling translates through to adult life, I feel, even though I’m no longer subject to terms and holidays, and the summer stories have less appeal for me at this glorious yet more sombre time of year.