Lost Idyll

Here at Blogstead na Mara in Donegal we have seven volumes of Arthur Ransome on the bookshelf – Swallows and Amazons of course but also some of the others like Peter Duck and Winter Holiday.  The obvious absentee is the great ‘We didn’t mean to go to sea’ and I’ll pick up a copy of that somewhere or other.  

I don’t read them all the way through.  I just pick one up as I pass and open it at random.  And I enter a world which takes me back to childhood – back to childhood reading and also back to the time when I too was a child in a sailing boat on a lake.  That was Lough Erne in Co Fermanagh where I learned to sail.

It’s a timeless world but very much of its time.  John the eldest is a chap – a big brother who is responsible to the point of dullness.  Mate Susan seems untroubled by gender stereotypes.  And then there is Able Seaman Titty aged nine and a half.  She draws maps in Indian ink and names everywhere with names like Rio and Darien.  Last of all is the lookout Roger.  Father is perpetually on his ship in the South China Sea.  Mother rows the whaler across to the children’s camp on Wildcat Island.  As mothers do, she rows with long steady strokes.

Time to watch the Swallows and Amazons DVD.  Disaster.  My childhood idyll was obviously far too tame for the film makers.  Spies are everywhere and mainly out to get Uncle Jim, aka Captain Flint.  Four children messing about in a boat on a lake are suddenly in imminent and constant danger of death.  For reasons where are beyond me, Titty is now Tatty.  Children having adventures of the imagination are now having real and dangerous adventures.

You are right.  I HATED it.


  1. Anthony and I both enjoyed Arthur Ransome as children -comment by my late mother-in-law to his godmother, some 47 years ago, that the new girlfriend” had been brought up on all the right books , ” although that was from a shared love of Charlotte M. Yonge. My favourite Ransome remains ” The Picts and the Martyrs.” Did you have” Old Peter’s Russian Tales?” My mother read us one a day when we had measles. Very satisfying to be able to dip into the well-loved and well-remembered world created by a particular author- although one of your predecessors as Primus castigated my taste for Georgette Heyer, saying he would sooner read the label on a sauce bottle…

  2. I haven’t been a Swallows and Amazons reader (yet!) but I feel for you and all those others who have let their imaginations run riot as children and now have their vision and memories destroyed. Film makers did the same with “The 39 Steps” by introducing a love angle (they could have waited and done Mr Standfast) and the ludicrous “memory man”. It makes you go bah! Humbug – but then you can still reread the books and recapture your own imagined picture.
    Have a good break.

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