They that Go Down to the Sea in Ships

A fit of September blues, accompanied by September skies. (That means grey; where I come from September skies are famous for their particularly beautiful deep blue colour.) My September blues, however, are not merely due to the fact that summer is over; my plans for rowing up the Thames à la Three Men in a Boat are over too. For reasons I don’t want to discuss here not only we didn’t succeed in following the Three Men upriver this summer, we didn’t even have a holiday. Maybe better luck next year?

So – for a while at least – this is the last post in the Upriver series. And what better way to wind up and lighten the September blues at the same time than to immerse ourselves into some books set on boats (and envy the people who get to sail on them)?

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The Hardest Book in the World to Find

There’s a song by the English comedian stroke musician Mitch Benn titled The Hardest Song In The World To Find. Of the song in question there is only one copy left, and that’s stuffed in the wrong sleeve in a second hand record shop on Camden High Street. Although my interest in obscure music records is nil, I can fully sympathise with Mitch Benn’s sentiments because there’s a book that I couldn’t track down, not in thirty years.

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The Little Prince

Today I want to write about a French book; I want to hold up the humanity of a French writer, who fought and died for the freedom of France in 1944, against the mindless hatred of those who committed the terrorist attacks in Paris last Friday. I want to talk about a book for children that should be read by adults: a book about human nature, of love and friendship and, inevitably – given the author – the Sahara. I want to talk about The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

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From Ransome to Keats to Homer

When I was ten, I read Swallows and Amazons and in the course of that, Arthur Ransome introduced me to English poetry. One of the characters, Titty (I still wonder what sort of a name is that for a girl), was much given to recalling random lines of poetry that they had taught her at school.

From:

The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle’s wreck
Shone round him o’er the dead.

To:

… like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

These lines spoke about adventure and unknown worlds in pulsating rhyme. I’m not surprised that they stuck in Titty’s head; they certainly stuck in mine. Ransome  – and not my literature teachers – made me read Keats; and Keats made me pick up Homer again, many years after I left school.

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Ten @ Ten

I got bitten by the list mania bug today and here’s my first list: my top ten books when I was about ten. So here goes, in no particular order:

  • Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne
  • The Treasure of Silver Lake by Karl May
  • The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
  • Lassie Come Home by Eric Knight
  • Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
  • Lottie and Lisa by Erich Kästner
  • Tizenkét halálos perc (Twelve Deadly Minutes) by Jenő Szentiványi
  • The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
  • In Desert and Wilderness by Henryk Sienkiewicz
  • The Children of Captain Grant by Jules Verne

All right, it’s eleven.