Thursday, 17 March 2011

Scottish Islands-Dauntless

The Dauntless and her crew were sailing up the west coast of Scotland towards the Isle of Skye when their holiday plans were interrupted. Another converted fishing boat, bent on less lawful business than the Dauntless, crossed their path, and they found themselves unaccountably involved in a hunt for smugglers. Captain Blake and the boys would have left the smugglers unmolested but for a chance meeting with Captain Blake's old friend, McDougall, late of the Customs, who persuaded the Captain to take him aboard.

In spite of all Captain Blake's efforts to keep the boys out of trouble, the fact that they alone had seen and could recognise the smugglers made then, key witnesses for the Crown ; but what finally lined them up on the side of the Law was the smugglers' wrecking tactics. When they beheld the ripped sails and smashed engine of the Dauntless the boys were all out for retaliation, and the chase occupied the rest of their holiday."
The climax of the book takes place in the description of an encounter with the whirlpool at Corryveckan. They never actually make it to the island of Skye. In come ways the ending of the story is remarkably tame.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Hilbre Islands Again

The Rising Tide – Mabel Esther Allan
When she inherits three small islands, Fennel Chalfont, an eighteen-
year-old orphan, plans to go and live there. The main island has a
house, the ruins of an ancient Abbey, and some cottages. Only one
cottage is inhabited, by a Mr Parry-Jones and his granddaughter,

Penny's friend Sue decides to join in the adventure, and the two
girls drive to the north-western estuary planning a winter of writing
and bird-watching. They are not deterred by the warnings of the
danger of the tides and the difficulties of living on a remote island.
Their first meeting with Ceiridwen, a schoolgirl on horseback,
strikes an uneasy note of strain and mystery, for why should the
child seem, to fear and resent strangers so much? Though she is
dismayed by their lack of welcome and the state of Great Seal House,
Fenny loves her islands and quickly feels a sense of responsibility
toward the lonely and puzzling Ceiridwen, who is so much more Welsh
than English.

The danger of the rising tide is soon apparent, but there is a rising
tide of menace, too, as various events seem to prove that their lives
may be in danger. On clear days the mountains of Wales are visible,
but it is some time before Fenny guesses that the- source of the
mystery lies in that other country.-

Hilbre Islands Cheshire

The Brydons in Summer
This is the fifth book in a series of nineteen about the Brydons family. It was first published in 1949.
The Brydons live at One Elm Cottage, Milchester, a village in the north of England. Next door to them at Beechacres is St. Jonathan’s Convalescent Hospital for Crippled Children, where their mother, Dr. Brydon, is the doctor-in-charge.
The Brydons, Roger, Ruth, Simon and Susan who are twins, and Dan, are all looked after by Miss Marsden. ‘Marsdie’ is an old friend of their mother’s. Or perhaps it is better to say that the Brydons look after Marsdie, as she is terribly forgetful. Sam Mitton is Dan’s special friend and shares all the Brydon adventures.
In this book there are three major scenes. The first is about a day in which the boys and the girls decide to swap the chores of the household. The girls do the tasks normally allotted to the boys and the boys undertake the cleaning and the cooking. Disaster ensues. The second is about the Garden Party at St. Jonathan’s Hospital where sporting events cause fun and amusement. Three weeks later the inmates of the hospital go on a trip to the sands at Hoylake on the Dee Estuary. Inevitably the Brydon boys and Sam get involved in an adventure on the Hilbre islands which nearly leads to disaster. The book has a neat little sketch map which makes the setting clear.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

His First Ship

His First Ship
This book was first published in 1936. The illustrations were by D.L.Mays.
The principal character in the story is Alan Carr. The ship involved
in the voyage is the Mary Rumbold
Crew of Mary Rumbold
Captain Rendshall
Mate Jim Morrison
Deck hands – Mush Herring, Stone Ginger
Radio Officer Nevison

Alan Carr is too young to be accepted by the Golden Line but
the junior partner of Whatmough and Duvant, Mr. Dexter,
manages to get him a job on the small coastal vessel called
the Mary Rumbold.

Alan begins the voyage in Boston in
Lincolnshire and travels up to Dundee and then on to
Thurso. He experiences sea-sickness, the rescue of the
crew of a yacht off Berwick and the escape of a pig on
the River Tay. He gets arrested by the police in Aberdeen
and succeeds in rescuing his own parents who are on holiday
on the South Coast.

He learns the harsh lessons of life at
sea and Percy F. Westerman makes many adverse comments about
the way in which the British government treats its merchant
seaman. In particular the way in which British trade is taken
from British ships by the Dutch because the Dutch government
subsidises their seamen to undercut the British ones.

On her
last voyage to the breakers’ yard the Mary Rumbold founders
in a gale in the North Sea. Alan conducts himself well during
the time of crisis. The book ends with a letter from Whatmough
and Duvant offering him a cadetship on the Golden Effort.

In a later book in the series Alan Carr in Command the reader
learns that Mate Jim Morrison has been killed by the Germans
and that Captain Rendshall is a distressed mariner who has spent
two years in an Italian prisoner-of-war camp.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Torridons' Triumph

This is a story with a young seventeen year old girl as the principal character. It is one in the series of four. Jan Torridon has to try to keep things going whilst her father is ill in Glasgow hospital. Her home is in Kilmodan, probably on the coast of Argyll, and remote from any places of large population. The family consists of Mr Torridon, eldest son Torquil who is about to go to University to train to be a doctor, Jan aged seventeen and young Ivor (about 14). Jan loves sailing and the family's yacht which is called Cormorant.

The illness of Commander Torridon throws the three children into turmoil and they soon discover that they have to face a huge financial problem. Chartering the Cormorant is one way of meeting their debts. However, this takes Torquil off the scene for the first two weeks. Meanwhile Jan is left to deal with the business that Ivor has drummed up by rashly placing advertisements which offer the facilities of a sailing training school. The first two customers are two rather ill-matched American cousins called Ruth and Lucilla. All that Lucilla appears to be interested in is making an impression with the opposite sex. Ruth is lame and seems to be very much the poor relation in her family.

Over a short period of time Jan finds that she has developed a real liking for Ruth and they work their way towards a very strong friendship. Meanwhile Ivor tries to play his part in the arrangement by teaching the remaining pupils how to sail the dinghies.

Jan finds that she has to cope with her fiery and irresponsible younger brother, with the cooking and cleaning chores, with the financial arrangements and the chilling background presence of her father's business partner who now wants his money back. Torquil returns from his cruise in the Cormorant and the family finds that things are likely to get worse for them. Jan also finds that Torquil believes she has not looked after the budget in the way that he could approve. It almost seems like she has made things worse whilst being desperately unhappy at the same time.

Lucilla's attraction to Torquil is an irritating factor and a short voyage to give everyone a break turns everything into a crisis when the weather starts to put all the sailors both amateur and experienced under pressure. The destination is a small island called Eileen Dubh where a run ashore proves to be a mixed blessing. On the return to Kilmodan the storm draws closer Lucilla is knocked overboard and Jan is the one who plunges in to the rescue. Torquil and Ivor complete the recovery but the whole group are forced to endure a good deal of discomfort on Cormorant and spend the night riding out the storm in the lee of another small island called Eileen Mor.

Two episodes dominate the end of the book. One is the severe illness of Lucilla and her slow recovery from a pneumonia like condition. This forms a new bond between Lucilla and Ruth and between Ruth and Lucilla's parents. Meanwhile Torquil is forced to sell Cormorant in order to pay back Bingham, his father's partner. Though he avoids having to sacrifice the boat directly to Bingham and makes a deal with the man who originally charted the boat and whom he likes, for Jan the fact remains that her beloved Cormorant has to go. A further surprise lies in wait in the last few pages of the book.

The next book in the series, Torridons' Surprise uses many of the same characters but Jan is forced out her Kilmodan world into a new situation that shows another side to her character. The Scottish location of the book is somewhat clarified when we find that two of the major characters complete their marital arrangements by a wedding in the town of Oban.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Turner and the Tees

In “Colonel Sheperton’s Clock” a little wooden galleon, ‘The Golden Rose’ was the centre of all David’s daydreams and adventures. In that fantasy world he could leave behind his handicapped leg and all the feelings of inadequacy that went with it. The prosaic and rather under-stated build-up to the operation that will give him a chance to walk and run like anyone else, is actually presented as less important to David’s emotional growth than the friendship of Peter and Arthur and the mystery that they stumble across when they find a scrap of an old newspaper inside the organ of Darnley Mills Parish Church. When they solve the puzzle of Colonel Sheperton’s clock and David realises that there is adventure and heroism on his own doorstep if you know where to look, it breaks the chain that has bound him to the obsessive and escapist fantasies of childhood. This idea is continued in “Sea Peril” where David gains further self-respect when he discovers within himself the instinctive courage to put his swimming ability to good use and rescue the drowning Jane and her dog. As the series progresses the author allows David more and more opportunities to reflect on the world around him with perception and increasing intelligence. Though not allowed to dominate any of the action, his thoughts about his own future career and whether it will take him away from Darnley Mills, becomes a strand of the storyline that sustains this plausible representation of his progress to maturity.
It is only when you get to the end of the modern cycle of stories that you realise each and every one, though set in the present, has had strong elements which have led back to the past. Even certain events in the two series mirror and reflect each other – the summer journey of the boys upriver in “Sea Peril” so that they can explore the Bridgebolton Estate is matched by the magical Boxing Day journey of Richard and Emma down the Darnel in the opposite direction to “Powder Quay” during that first winter of World War I. The snow piled high that stops for a while a doctor getting through to the injured Midshipman Diggle in “Powder Quay” reminds us inevitably of the snowbound cottage of Miss Cadell-Twitton in “The Grange at High Force” and the desperate journey made by the boys to rescue her. Most poignant of all, however, is the moment in “War on the Darnel” when the lost engine, “Taffy” is found in the shed in the yard on the Bridgebolton Estate. It isn’t just a reminder to all of the boys about the former importance of the lost railway and how it was a part of the economic life-blood of the region; it is a personal message to David about the courage of his great-grandfather, Taffy Hughes, in whose honour the locomotive was named. His own resolution having been tested and found reliable, David can meet this tangible reminder of the past with happiness and pride. The reader, who knows about Taffy’s later life from “Powder Quay”, and who witnessed the way he coped with the death of his wife and then his only son, realises that there is far more to this family “inheritance” than David has yet understood. But now we are back to the adult themes that are explored indirectly in the final volume, “Skull Island”, through the painful experiences of Peter’s aunt.
Each of the “Darnley Mills” stories is strong in narrative grip, rewardingly deep in characterisation and themes, compelling in its description of northern landscapes and seascapes, and “The Grange at High Force” was awarded the prestigious Carnegie Medal. Nevertheless it is only when one has read all the nine inter-linked stories that one can truly appreciate the extent of this lost domain that has been created by this skilful author.

Theresa Tomlinson

Theresa Tomlinson
Of all the books mentioned in this guide no other storyteller has used the particular blend of historical fact, imagined fictional happenings and stunning first-rate contemporary photography to such good effect as Theresa Tomlinson does in the two related volumes “The Flither Pickers” (1992) and “The Herring Girls”(1994). The small fishing communities to the north of Whitby and the small town itself are the locations for these two moving stories. The turn of the 19th to the 20th century is the period in which the stories are set and the remarkable photographs of Frank Meadow Sutcliffe that are incorporated in each book reinforce without overwhelming the author’s careful recreation of both the people and the places.
Her stories are ones of loss and love, of tragedy and triumph, of the spirit of independence and the sense of community. Although both the stories are told from the point of view of teenage girls, strong links are built to the experience of their elder siblings and to the world of their fathers and grandfathers and most particularly their mothers and grandmothers. More than anything else the author has been meticulous and inspired in her description of the hard and sometimes dangerous physical work involved in being a fisherman, a flither picker or a herring girl.
Liza Welford in “The Flither Pickers” has a special feeling for her grandmother who she realises is on the very brink of death. She cannot feel the same sense of closeness to her mother who seems to fret all the time about Liza’s younger brother. Before she dies the old lady seems to have something that she wants to tell her granddaughter before it is too late. However, the opportunity passes and Liza finds herself slowly discovering information from some of the older women in the small community. Uncovering this mystery, which somehow links to her own mother, takes the rest of the book. At its basis is a tragedy which sounds all too probable. What happens to John Ruswarp is an even more poignant disaster. Young John has got Irene, Liza’s elder sister, pregnant and, though the two want to marry, there is the inevitable family upheaval on the same day as the old woman’s funeral. When Liza’s father quickly accepts the situation and talks about a new life coming to replace the old one that has gone, it seems that events have taken a positive turn. But life by the sea is so hard and so dangerous that an inevitable new peril is just around the corner.
The days of terrible storms bring renewed danger and the author conjures a spell-binding but spine-chilling scene in which the lifeboat is launched with an old man as the coxswain, young boys at the oars, and all the women and children in the village dragging the heavy, lumbering vessel across the sand to be catapulted into the tumultuous waves. It would be all too easy for the author to turn this attempt at rescue into a triumph but her theme is the harshness of the life that was led by these resilient people. It is with a shudder that we hear Liza think of one of her hated items of clothing.
“It was special for funerals, and we had plenty of them.”
There are many more details of the horrors that these little communities sometimes had to face. Even Frank, the elder brother who joined the army to escape the dangers of fishing in the small cobles, returns with stories of the concentration camps in the Boer War to remind us of the other horrors that are to be found in this world. There is seemingly no easy escape from a life of grinding poverty and relentless hard work.
Liza’s way out would be through education. Her teacher thinks highly of her but Liza knows that she must miss school in order to help her family through its time of trial. For a while she must become a “flither picker”, undertaking the hard manual labour of searching the beach and rocks for the bait that will serve to entice the cod and haddock on to the lines of their menfolk. Only then can she get close enough to her mother to talk about the secret that her grandmother had wanted to pass on.
Amongst the horrors that Sandswick people always dreaded was the thought of your family being taken into the Workhouse. It was the lowest point on the scale of ignominy. In “Herring Girls” it the possibility that has to be faced when Dory Lythe’s mother who used to take in the village’s washing collapses with a stroke and cannot move. It falls on Dory to make some money so that the family can be safely got through the winter. The local clergyman believes that Dory could be found work as a laundry maid but she is determined to be a herring girl and the whole community of women close round her to defy the Reverend Hawkins and his plans for the workhouse for the rest of the family.
But herring gutters work in teams and, though Dory can count on her friend Mary-Jane, there seems to be no one else willing to make the short journey to Whitby for the herring season. Only Nelly Wright puts herself forward and neither of them like Nelly. Although she is twenty one, she is one of the few girls in the village who has never had a boy courting her.
The rest of the story is about the time the three girls spend in Whitby and it would be a shame indeed to steal the plot from the author and reveal all its details here. There are memorable scenes of the individual efforts of the girls as they work at the fish-quay, struggling to master their new skills, experiencing both the hostility and later the friendship of the Scottish professionals, and almost collapsing with the exhaustion of maintaining the frantic pace of gutting (“gipping”) , sorting, packing and storing. As they learn their trade so they and the readers begin to understand the whole concept of the “herring season” and the way in which it brought a huge influx of strangers and a brief prosperity to the small fishing town. Whilst we follow the story of the herring girls the author continues to let us know what happened next to the other characters we met in “The Flither Pickers”. In particular Liza Welford’s struggle to use her education to better herself runs in parallel to the efforts of her friends from Sandwick to earn enough money for the coming winter.
The closeness of death to the life of the fisherman is recaptured by another dramatic scene under the cliffs and quays of the small harbour and the words of the old hymn that Dory hears the Cornishmen singing in the chapel are brought vividly to life.
“Will your anchor hold in the straits of fear,
When the breakers roar and the reef is near”
This time, however, the ending of the book avoids the tragedy that is so profound in “The Flither Pickers”. All the girls have gained pride in themselves and felt the comradeship of the other gutting teams. Nelly Wright, most unexpectedly, has discovered something even more worthwhile that has transformed her character and changed the adverse opinions of the other girls.
The meticulous attention to detail gives the the books a feeling of authenticity that convinces you from the start. However, the very human scale of the girls’ experiences ensures that the main sensation is of being involved in the lives of very ordinary but very remarkable human beings.
Many other of Theresa Tomlinson’s books are worthy of note and some are clearly set in the north-east. “The Night of the Red Devil”(2000), for example, is intended for younger readers and fits into the genre of what nowadays would be called the “time-slip” novel. A lump of jet found on the beach near Whitby and his friendship with his new friend, Naomi, transforms Sam’s boring holiday with his family into an exciting adventure. When he goes through the magical doorway to the past Sam finds himself in Henrietta Street in 1870. The “Red Devils” of the title are the jet polishers of the famous Victorian industry that was then at the height of its prosperity. However, very soon both Sam and the reader know that somehow disaster is looming.
In “Beneath the Burning Mountain” (2001) Theresa Tomlinson takes her readers even further back into north-eastern history to the days when all the ghastly processes concerned with the production of alum dominated the lives of certain working class communities. Once again Ann and Polly Langtoft, living in the 18th century, are facing poverty and danger with nothing to rely on but their own reservoirs of courage and the strength of the community that they live in. Set in a fictional village just beyond the fishing community of Sandwick described in the other two tales, the author brings out the harshness of everyday life for the two teenage girls who have to collect urine for use in the final stages of the making of alum crystals. However, this is the time of the wars against Napoleon and even the rigour and stench of these revolting conditions is to be preferred to being taken by a particularly ruthless press-gang operating out of an inn in Whitby. The author has managed to mix real events from history with the story of two humble teenage Yorkshire girls. The landslip that destroys their community is based on a recorded event at Kettleness and even the riot against the press-gang is suggested by something that really happened. An old rumour about how George III was secretly brought to the Yorkshire coast to help cure his madness is also cunningly incorporated into the story. The strength of the family pulls the Langtofts through their time of crisis, and the reader can see that new alliances have also been forged between the people of the fishing village (the “fish faces”) and the alum workers (the “piss-pots”), not least through the growing love between Ann and Tommy.
Although she calls her little town Seaburn, all the details of Theresa Tomlinson’s modern story “Riding the Waves” (1990) suggest that she is in fact thinking of the Victorian spa resort of Saltburn on the Cleveland coast. Two characters dominate the story. Matt is an eleven year old in the first year of the comprehensive school who has been sent on a local history project to visit Florrie, an old lady that has some remote connection with his family. From this starting point the story then begins to unravel the different ways in which the lives of the two characters both resemble and differ from each other. It involves the young boy and the old lady taking a trip into their memories and their feelings about the past. This also involves drawing the reader into an exploration of what Seaburn/Saltburn was like in the days before it fell into decline. The relics of the town’s former glory are all around Matt : the pier, the famous hydraulic lift, the remains of the splendid hotel. They are also there inside Florence’s head, wrapped up with the memory of her love affair and the baby that she had to give away. When the reader gradually works out that Matt was adopted, the emotional link between these two characters at the opposite ends of the age spectrum is strengthened and begins to have a beneficial effect on both of them. Matt’s ambition is to join the surfers and ride the waves back onto the Seaburn beach. Florence begins to show him that learning how to do this is a metaphor for life, how you must climb back and start again every time that you are knocked down.