Friday, 31 March 2017

Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome

 
published 1936

 
 
Pigeon Post 3


[The holidays are beginning for the 3 groups of children – Swallows, Amazons and Ds]

They had just time to look at their own tents, and at the camp fire.

“Now for the pigeon-loft,” said Nancy.

They raced across the lawn and round the house to the stable yard…


 
Pigeon Post 2


Peggy said “Here you are. Don’t kick up too much row going up the ladder. That’s the door they fly in at.”

They went up the ladder to see the pigeon-loft, with its whitewashed sill for the pigeons to land on, and the little doorway with its swinging wires to let the pigeons come in and to keep them in when they had come. Nancy opened the big door for humans at the top of the ladder, and showed them the inner door of wire netting, and the big loft behind it, where Homer, Sophocles and Sappho were enjoying their evening meal, sipping water, and talking over the afternoon’s flights.

 
Pigeon Post
 

commentary: Another good one from the series: though one with very little sailing. (I’m re-reading them all, and Swallows and Amazons and Winter Holiday have appeared on the blog).

This was one of my favourites as a child, and it stood up well. The 8 children are back at the Blacketts’ house in the Lake District for the school holidays, but of course go camping – there is a drought so they can’t go to Wild Cat Island. But they have the pigeons, who can carry messages back to the worrying natives, and they have a project: prospecting for gold in the hills, hoping to surprise Uncle Jim. I remembered a lot about the book (‘Lurk! Lurk!’ which I think I used to drive my family mad with one holiday, and ‘reverse snakes’) but had no memory of how this strand was going to work out. As an adult reader I was concerned: obviously the children can’t find gold*, but isn’t this all going to be a massive anti-climax? And there are odd mentions of how Nancy’s view of the world is slightly strange, and that perhaps she can’t go on dividing people into pirates and natives. I’m sure I noticed nothing of this as a child reader, and in fact Ransome sorts it out very nicely and satisfyingly. I think most children will have guessed the secret of Timothy the Armadillo by the end.

*Interesting point this. I was thinking as I read that the children were obsessed with mines and the possibility of great riches, just as Agatha Christie works are in a similar era. Now, nearly all AC mines are going to be fake, or confidence tricks, but they do occasionally turn out to be real, just in time to cheat someone or make someone else rich. The Blackbird Mines, those diamonds in South Africa, the Mpala Gold Fields. So apparently I think this fairytale ending can happen in a book for grownups but not one for children.

The Ss & As &Ds use bicycles, which they call dromedaries – something which misled me for years into thinking that dromedaries must have 2 humps (=2 wheels), and there is an excellent scene where Nancy turns up with
Two small necklaces of blue glass beads which she hung on the lamp-brackets of the dromedaries.
“Every camel in the East wears them,” she said, “to keep off the evil eye, and our dromedaries will need them extra badly to save them from getting punctures.”
There is a fascinating description of Titty discovering that she can dowse for water – this whole section is done in an unexpected and sensitive way.

Susan tells Roger, about a passing adult,
“if he talks to you, you’re to remember that these are the holidays and he isn’t a schoolmaster.”
In my naivete, I thought this meant ‘you don’t need to be over-respectful or too too polite or call him sir.’ Far from it.
“I don’t know what you mean” said Roger.
“Oh yes you do,” said John. “No secret cheekiness. That’s what she means. And you jolly well know it.”
Imagine.

So all in all, a good read and a nice look back at a different age.

Coloured pigeons from a German book on the birds, via Flickr.

Pigeon housing, 1930s, Texas from the Library of Congress.

Boy with pigeon, Sydney, 1935, by Sam Hood from State Library of NSW.
























10 comments:

  1. This does sound like a good read, Moira. And it sounds like one of those rare things: a book that young people can enjoy, and enjoy again later when they're adults. I like the dynamic among the children, too.

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    1. I don't know how I'd feel if I hadn't read the books as a child - I'd be interested to know if a complete newcomer would like them. But they are entertaining and funny, with some nice characters

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  2. At least one children's book does have diamond mines that turn out to be real - A Little Princess! (Have you read the sequel by Hilary McKay? I absolutely adored it...)

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    1. Excellent catch Daniel! Though the surprising thing is that her father doesn't turn out to have been alive all along - I don't think it would be so harsh today. Yes, read the sequel, it's the book that started me on my reverence for Hilary McKay.

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  3. The gold mining doesn't come across as fantastical, because Ransome is so good at having the children research the practical and scientific details, even if events don't always go according to plan ("Gold dissolves in Aqua Regia").
    The peril at the end is again really well done, as are the adults' reactions - Squashy Hat being unexpectedly calm and capable (poor Squashy Hat! I feel much more sympathetic to him rereading as an adult) and Captain Flint, worried for the children, being rude to the telephone operator ("Fellside Seven Five... Five, not nine... F for fool, I for idiot").

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    1. Oh yes to all! And yes, one does react differently when older. That's why I was so struck by the passing reference to a sense of discomfort over Nancy's behaviour. It would have passed me by completely when I was 10.

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  4. This one falls in the "too many other books to read" category. I don't remember any children's books, except for Alice in Wonderland, that I would go back to, but mostly because I have no memory of them anyway. That is a shame.

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    1. I think if you didn't know them as a child they aren't likely to appeal in the same way. I was forever trying to introduce my children to my own childhood favourites, with very mixed results... you hope they'll like the same books, but of course they don't.

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  5. I didn't read these as a child and I think the time has passed now - I'll echo Tracy - too many other books to read.

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    1. And I'll echo my reply to her - if you didn't read them as a child then it's probably not worth it. It was the combination of memory and fresh reading that I enjoyed.

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