Another favourite book of mine as a child, which again I must have read so many times, was ‘Swallows and Amazons’ by Arthur Ransome. It was published in 1930 and based on some real children who Ransome taught to sail in the Lake District. The story follows the summer adventures of two sets of children who each sail a boat, the Swallow and the Amazon and camp on a lake island which they decide to call Wildcat Island. I didn’t ever go sailing as a child but I certainly spent a lot of my time in a canoe on the river Cam and its upper reaches, The Granta,, so I understood to some extent the watery adventures.
I must have read it when I was maybe ten or eleven, I don’t know why I hadn’t come across it earlier, but I found it in the library, and loved it and read several others in the series, although none quite captured me as that first novel about the Walker and Blackett children. I was a great reader and also a great listener to Children’s Hour, the hour long radio programme for children with its dramas, stories, and plays. I might even have heard Swallows and Amazons on Children’s’ Hour. I think it was the first book in which I consciously recognised a way of writing something which wasn’t just describing a series of events in an adventure and the characters in it.
The particular episode I’m thinking of is near the beginning, when one of the boys, I have a feeling it was Roger, is running down a hillside and pretending to be a yacht, tacking from side to side as he descends the steep slope, heading into the wind. The way the reader is able to observe the boy and be the boy made a great impact on me, and that small episode, maybe only a paragraph long, remains more vivid than much else in the great book!
I guess the reason I was thinking about ‘Swallows and Amazons’ is because I’ve been writing here about books I read which include descriptions of food and the cooking and eating of it – and camping on Wildcat Island the children have to cook for themselves, mostly things in frying pans as I remember, including scrambled eggs. Years later – I was probably fourteen or fifteen, I went for a bike ride and picnic with a friend, and I guess I took some squashed sandwiches and cake. She took a small primus stove, a frying pan, some slices of bread to toast, and either some eggs to scramble, or a jar of pancake batter – I have a feeling it was the latter. I was amazed – and was taken straight back to Wildcat Island and the Swallows and the Amazons! I’m sure our picnic was magnificent, in my imagination if not in the reality of it!