Tags: Christmas gifts, Eagle of the Ninth, Hadrian's Wall, Old Town, Persephone Books
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.
Tags: British schools, Cley, Cley Schoolhouse, Gaylands, Holt, Old Town
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.