Thursday, 8 October 2009

Pigeons at dawn

I thought that, as I have been so neglecting the Bookshelf, that I would post a quick catch-up. As some of you will know, I have been in Devon looking after Aged Parents, and far too busy fetching and carrying to attend to my blog. By bedtime I was too tired for much reading, so I found an old copy of Arthur Ransome's Pigeon Post, which kept me going longer than you could imagine. It was very comforting, a story of prospecting for gold on the Cumbrian fells. The characters are familiar from Swallows and Amazons, with the addition of Dick and Dorothea Callum. Nancy is determined to find gold before Captain Flint gets home from foreign climes, although plans are initially frustrated by Mrs Blackett's refusal to let them camp on the fells because a drought means that there is no water anywhere. How the problem is overcome is too good to spoil, so I'm not going to tell it here.

Much ingenuity is exercised in devising a communication system with homing pigeons - Mrs Blackett is remarkably tolerant about the final arrangement which involves a loudly clanging bell whenever a pigeon deigns to return to its home (the dilatory and unreliable Sappho comes home at 5am). And the long-awaited arrival of the armadillo, Timothy, is delightful.

I wasn't a huge fan of Ransome's books when I was a child, but I am making up for it now, partly, I suppose, because it makes me rather nostalgic for the days when children had freedom to go off with a tent and quantities of revolting things in tins, without the feeling that adults were peering over their shoulders all day. I felt especially wistful at the idea that a group of children would amuse themselves far into the night by singing campfire songs. The sun used to shine in those days, too.


  1. I wasn't a fan of the Ransome books as a child either. Read one or two, wasn't much taken. I really should try them again as I suspect I would now understand their appeal. My current nostalgic children's reads are a set of Enid Blyton books lent to me by my grandaughter. Such bliss. :-)

  2. A friend of mine has recently died who was an expert on Arthur Ransome and his death has spurred me to go back and re-read this series. I have to give a short talk on Ransome in the spring as well, so all those things coming together, along with your post has just prompted me to start from the beginning and work my way through.

  3. I'd say Ransome is ideal reading in times of stress and busy-ness.
    Pigeon Post is one of my favourites, along with Swallowdale and The Picts & the Martyrs.

  4. I love all the Ransome books. I find that as I get older, I find new things to love in them. When I was a child it was just about the stories. Now I see the details of each child's character, how they deal with things so differently from one another.

    I always felt these books are so full of love.

  5. Beautiful written. I still haven't read any of his work and should. If children were off doing such a thing now, they would be in a mystery thriller and would be stalked or murdered. What a world. I love what mashadutoit wrote about the books being 'so full of love.'

  6. Cath, certainly worth trying again - as you'll gather, I have really enjoyed them.

    TT, what a lovely subject to have to talk on - do let me know how it goes.

    Callmemadam, I still have those two to re-read, but I as I would like old cloth covers to match those I have, I shall be patient.

    Masha, I was particularly enjoying how Ransome wrote about the girls, Titty and Dorothea in Pigeon Post.

    Nan, that's true, sadly, which makes it a pleasure to discover "new" old books - you've talked about some which are new to me because they are American, and that I look forward to reading when I can.

  7. I've heard people accuse Ransome of sexism because of the characters of Nancy and Susan - Susan being so much the domestic girl, and Nancy the typical tomboy. Apart from the fact that I entirely disagree about this description of these two girls, what about all the other wonderful girls (and sensitive boys) in the books?
    I found it interesting that you chose the two dreamers - Titty the poetic, philosophical dreamer, and Dorothea the adventurous dreamer with a practical streak. All these children are storytellers, but they all tell different stories.

  8. Masha, one of the things I enjoy about these books is that the children are all different and have individual characters. As it happens I have an aunt who is only 5 years older than me and she was just like Nancy. She still loves boats, and she's never had children, whereas I was much more of a dreamer. It seems to me that there is room for lots of difference, and Ransome was writing about children of his time who were having lots of fun. All those chidren could have grown up to have interesting and satisfying lives.