Jennings and Darbishire by Anthony Buckeridge
Because the UK is celebrating Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee around now, this week's books all have a first publication date in 1952.
Chapter 2 – The Unwelcome Gift
[The two boys are looking for stories for their school newspaper – they find a fishing boat in the local seaside village]
Jennings took two snaps of the stern, one with his finger over the lens and one without. Then he said ‘I wonder if they’d let us go aboard…’
The crew of the Sainte Marie, in their working clothes, would have won no prizes at a fashion show. All five wore greasy blue overalls, faded and stained to such an extent that it was impossible to distinguish the patches of oil from the patches of blue cloth which seemed to be all that held the garments together. Their seamen’s caps were shapeless with age and their ancient seaboots flapped in folds about their ankles. They were tough wiry men with weather-beaten features, stubbly chins and – as it turned out – hearts of gold.
observations: This week’s books are all from 1952, and one possibility would have been that acclaimed classic, The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. Luckily, an even more classic book featuring fishermen was also published that year, and we have chosen this one instead.
Jennings and Darbishire are 11 and 10, and are at boarding-school in the south of England. In real life that would make them tougher than any Hemingway character, but they are also absolute charmers, and the plots invented for them by Anthony Buckeridge are priceless. In this case: the fishermen (not understanding about boarding school) give them some raw fish ‘pour votre maman’. The boys smuggle the parcel back to school and have endless trouble trying to hide it, eventually shoving it up a chimney. They then try to get it out from the roof down, with a fishing line. Working out which chimneypot is which, Jennings says ‘I’m looking for a ray of light in the darkness’, which portentous sentence goes straight down the flue, ‘amplified like a megaphone’ and is sent booming out of the fireplace, causing Matron to jump a mile and spill her tea, then ponder this extraordinary message.
How could Hemingway compete with that?
You might think the books incomprehensible to modern children in the UK, let alone elsewhere – but experience shows that all children find them very very funny, and no harder to understand than Hogwarts. Jen is the natural leader, his friend the bespectacled un-sporty follower – and it is a measure of Buckeridge’s genius that he did NOT, as so many children’s writers would have, make Darbi into a super brain clever boy. They are both complete dunces. There are many many books in the series to delight today’s children, and their parents, each as timeless, as well-plotted and as funny as a PG Wodehouse book.
Links up with: Fish in this entry. Dickens’ version of boarding school here, and a different kind of school here.
The picture is from the National Library of Ireland.