I am on a revisit to my childhood reads and at the moment they involve Enid Blyton. Here I am again with another one First Term at Malory Towers.
We are straight into the book with the departure of Darrell Rivers to Malory Towers, the boarding school for girls located in Cornwall. Darrell is excited even by her uniform
Brown coat, brown hat, orange ribbon, and a brown tunic underneath with an orange belt. I like it.
Not the type of uniform that a girl of today would probably like and certainly one that would be worn with some reluctance. But not in the world of Blyton, where it is a given and it levels all the girls the same as they meet at a London station for the special train to Malory Towers. (Do you think this is where J.K.Rowling got her idea?) Here we meet Darrell’s contemporaries; Alicia Johns, a fun girl but rather hard-nosed in her actions against others, Sally Hope a rather quiet girl who arrives at the station with no one to support her or say goodbye and then there is Gwendoline Mary Lacey. And all my memories come flooding back to me and to my mum when I mentioned her name it all came back to her as well. Gwendoline is spoilt and cannot bear to let go of her mother and her governess, Miss Winter who thinks Gwendoline is too good for everything and too good at everything.
And so the first term begins for Darrell and the other girls. We meet more characters, Mary-Lou who will not say boo to a goose and is continually picked on and needs some courage. Irene who is of genius quality with her music and her maths is oblivious to the world around her. Then there are the teachers, we are introduced to Miss Potts the form mistress, fair but firm, encouraging but not over zealous in her praise. The two French Mistress’, of stereotypical quality found in such book and other ‘scholastic’ ones ever since no doubt. Mam’zelle Dupont; “fat and jolly” and Mam’zelle Rougier “thin and sour” both with awful tempers. Not politically correct descriptions but who cares this is Blyton at her best.
The facilities are the best and the opportunities the girls have in both academia and sport are always seen. Do not forget these girls arrive with their “tennis racket in its press” in the summer term. I am sure lacrosse features in the Winter term. Then there is the swimming pool.
One of the things that Darrell liked best of all was the big swimming pool down by the sea. This had been hollowed out of a stretch of rocks, so that it had a nice rocky, uneven bottom. Seaweed grew at the sides, and sometimes the rocky bed of the pool felt a little slimy.
I can hear all the health and safety people take a sharp intake of breath, and head forth to Malory Towers to condemn such a pool for young girls to be swimming in let alone diving as well! But this is a book where such things do not matter, I never bothered about such things. It all creates the magic of a boarding school and its setting. I comment on it because of the cynicism that I have and what I now know being an adult compared to a child reading this years ago.
The term goes on with the trials and tribulations. Tricks are made with pretend deafness, spiders and spilt ink. Courage and cowardice are fought and lost. Work is hard and positions are important. Tempers are lost and regained and new friendships are formed. I do not need to go into detail of all the events, as they just fit in so seamlessly and that although they are short they are dealt with effectively and efficiently. Good and bad, rights and wrongs corrected. The right sort of justice is dispatched to the right people with no comeback. Rereading as an adult I wonder if perhaps Blyton was using some sort of moral tale with these stories. That thought passes very quickly and I have just enjoyed the book for what it is pure pleasure. Unlike with the previous two books of Enid Blyton that I have read this year, I want to continue to read all of these and perhaps; I am going out on a limb here, read the follow up novels by Pamela Cox. Let me push that to one side for the moment.
But why the appeal of these books some twenty years since I read them and seventy years since they were published? There is something about school books. Boarding Schools in particular. I think it is the structure of the set up that I love (I am rather obsessive in the structure; a place for everything etc) the camaraderie of the girls, the opportunities open to them, that perhaps when I was growing up I thought I did not have these. Completely untrue of course but then I think we always believe the grass is greener and our friends have a better mum than our own.
Then there is/was the desire to be a teacher (I am not, but that is another story) and where would I want to teach but at a boarding school, where I would have the opportunity to develop these girls a long way from home, help them with their love of the subject I would teach – History. (I have a degree in this) Be their mentor but let them have their fun, just not too many midnight feasts! Where I would have my own living quarters, at the top of the school with a fantastic view where I could mark their work as the sun shone through the windows and then in the winter with a big chair, a roaring fire and a rug in front of it with plenty of books around whilst I whiled away my own time when not educating these young folk! What an idealistic view of being a teacher in a boarding school I had or perhaps secretly still have?
Not withstanding the little boy wizard of J.K.Rowling’s imagination, I do not think there has been any books of the school set up since. Please if there are and I have missed them point me in that direction. I have read Harry Potter, and fantasy and wizardry are not genres of choice for me. What was though was the boarding school, the lessons, the structure that was the bones of the book which kept captivated, although I do admit to finding the fantasy and wizardry rather interesting.
A couple of years ago by chance I discovered Jane Beaton – Class: The Secret Diary of a Teacher in Turmoil obviously a fan of the boarding school type and written in the chic-lit genre to bring us up to date in a boarding school environment. There was a subsequent book Rules which like any good ‘school’ book takes us through the second year. I have seen no publication date for the third.
School stories still have me and I look forward to continuing my adventures with Darrell Rivers et al and losing myself in their lives for a while. I will give you my school report on the next book soon!