I was talking with Dave on the phone the other day and he was telling me how his daughter doesn’t really like him reading Harry Potter stories to her. He felt she is probably too young to appreciate the books. I asked him whether he had read the Harry Potter books himself and he enthusiastically affirmed that he had. The first book came out in 1997 when he was probably about nine so I guess he was at exactly the right age to devour all seven books over the next ten years. Roo has read them all. I started the first one and could see the appeal but I wasn’t particularly gripped by the stories. There’s no doubt that J. K. Rowling is single handedly responsible for enhancing the reading ability of the nation. Dave is a voracious reader and I guess he is typical of someone whose journey into literature was encouraged by Harry Potter.
For me it was Capt. W.E. Johns and Enid Blyton. The Biggles books will have to wait for another day but the Enid Blyton books were almost an infinite source of pleasure. My parents delighted in reminding me for years how I insisted that my Dad read me “Noddy And The Magic Rubber” every night for four years before I would go to sleep. I can’t believe that’s true although I do seem to remember the story quite well.
The first full length novel Enid Blyton wrote was “Adventures Of The Wishing Chair” and it was published in 1937. I remember it clearly (along with the follow up “The Wishing-Chair Again” published in 1950). I recall one of the adventures in this book every time I come towards the end of a good book. Peter and Mollie, the children who find the magical wishing chair, fly to an enchanted land where one of the things they find is a charmed book which never ends – every time they get towards the last page, they suddenly find that there are another ten pages to read. When I read a new Anne Tyler or Nick Hornby, I’m always disappointed when I find I am over half way through it and wish I could fly on a wishing chair of my own.
My favourite Enid Blyton books were the fifteen adventures of the Five Find-Outers. Larry, Pip, Daisy and Bets are in thrall to the new boy in the village called Frederick Algernon Trotteville (whose initials are FAT and whose nickname is Fatty). He is a whizz at solving mysteries and puts the village policeman, Mr Goon, to shame. His dog, Buster is both a help and a hindrance, often barking at the wrong time but sometimes identifying the villain.
As already mentioned, an early favourite was the Noddy series. Enid Blyton wrote twenty four Noddy books and I remember clearly in the first book when Big Ears helps him build his house, Noddy suggests that they put the roof up first so that if it rains, they won’t get wet. I still find that amusing.
The most serious of her books were the Adventure series. I devoured “The Island of Adventure”, “The Castle of Adventure” and so on – there were eight such books featuring Jack, Philip, Dinah, Lucy-Ann and Kiki the parrot.
In December 2016, the Royal Mail dismissed suggestions that Enid Blyton be commemorated on a 50p piece because she was “known to have been a racist, sexist, homophobe and not a very well-regarded writer”. I agree that some of my more unpleasant instincts were almost certainly consolidated by reading a lot of her books but I do find a sneering put down that she was not well-regarded to be a superior attitude propagated by people who feel they have too much prestige to lose by asserting that these books are not very good. They were aimed at children and a lot of people (e.g. me) had their literary fires ignited by reading her books.
I think the only other author I read apart from Enid Blyton and Capt W.E. Johns for the first twelve years of my life was Joyce Lancaster Brisley. She wrote seven Milly Molly Mandy books – the first in 1928 but the second was only published twenty five years later. The books concern a heroine called Millicent Margaret Amanda who lives in a Sussex village (possibly based on Alfriston) in the Twenties where there are very few cars, no household electricity or telephones. In The Guardian, Lucy Mangan describes each story as “a miniature masterpiece, as clear, warm and precise as the illustrations by the author that accompanied them.”
I have taught many Mandys at the different schools that I worked at and I can’t remember any of them being anything but hard working and pleasant. I taught a couple of girls called Milly and one of them, who lives just over the road would come into my tutor base every morning at 8:00 for three years where she would chat, help me organise my day and often clean the desks. Last year, I taught a girl named Molly at BHASVIC. Her team would often win the chocolate challenge which was useful because Tesco offered large bars of “Molly’s” chocolate for only 30p and I would normally buy 10 bars at a time to give as prizes. The determination to win a 30p bar of chocolate had to be seen to be believed, even in mature, intelligent eighteen year old mathematicians. This Molly also once threw a rolled up piece of paper into the bin that I was standing next to, missed and hit me in the face.
Molly Tuttle was born in California in 1993 and she has just released her third solo album. In 2017, she was the first woman to win the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year award. In 2018 she won the award again, along with being named the Americana Music Association’s Instrumentalist of the Year. In the sleevenotes, she writes that in March she found herself “creatively, mentally and physically drained”. I wrote briefly about her a couple of weeks ago when I was writing about Karine Polwart’s covers album. This is another such album; she writes “there is no real theme to the songs I have chosen, but they all bring me back to vivid moments in time.” Unfortunately, she has not included Neil Young’s “Helpless” on this album which was the first I had heard of her. However, there are some great tracks here, featuring some great musicians with whom she swapped tracks via email in order to come up with a full band sound.
“She’s A Rainbow” is from The Rolling Stones’ best album “Their Satanic Majesties Requests”. Molly Tuttle claims not to be able to name ten Rolling Stones songs but she fell in love with this song because, as she writes in the sleevenotes, “it’s a love song to all feminine beings”. Her guitar playing on this song is phenomenal. She has a lovely voice – it’s pure without being shrill, it’s emotional without being maudlin.
“Olympia (WA)” was always going to be a favourite because Roo and I went there in 2014 and it was lovely. It was written and recorded by an American band called Rancid and appears on their 1995 album “…And Out Come the Wolves”. It’s upbeat, uptempo and uplifting. Ketch Secor from the Old Crow Medicine Show adds great harmony vocals. (Is there nothing this man can’t do?) Once again, her guitar playing is amazing – how is it possible to play that quickly?
“Standing On The Moon” is from a 1989 album by The Grateful Dead called “Built To Last”. It’s a beautiful song and the last lines are used to form this album’s title. “Standing on the moon with nothing left to do. A lovely view of heaven but I’d rather be with you.” The whole album is a lovely mix of uptempo songs with amazing guitar playing and slower songs that give full rein to Molly Tuttle’s soulful voice.
The last song is “How Can I Tell You” which was originally on “Teaser And The Firecat” by Cat Stevens. It’s another wondrous performance and features some stirring violin, viola and cello. The sleevenotes refer to the fact that she first heard the song on the day Molly Tuttle’s Mum phoned to say that her dog had died. She writes “That experience sort of cemented this song in my heart”.
Frederick Algernon Trotteville. Buster. Kiki. Milly Molly Mandy. Molly Tuttle. Those experiences cement these songs in my heart.