Lockdown Diaries: Day 9 (The Land of the North-West Wind)

Locked Down in London, Day 9:

Braving the freezing wind and the sudden scattering of hail, gone for a walk with Young Friend of the Elephants. To celebrate the Sunday, we walked to our local beauty spot, from where you can get great views of the centre of London in the distance. It was cordoned off. Why, I’m not sure, because it’s such a spacious area that it was never crowded even in the best of weather. The walk that was meant to raise spirits merely succeeded to reinforce my sense of loss: we can’t even enjoy the views now.

How I miss the great outdoors!

Virtual Escape: The Land of the North-West Wind

(Click the gallery to enlarge the pictures.)

The great outdoors… Today, we’re escaping to the Canadian wilderness with the help of an enchanting, heartwarming children’s story about two Ojibwe children and their beaver kittens. It’s a story about nature, animals, good-will and courage in the face of adversity; a story of the great outdoors, its beauty and its dangers. I recommend it to all children – and all adults young at heart!

I will tell you about an Indian hunter and his young son and daughter, and of two small kitten beavers that were their friends. And you shall hear of their adventures in the great forests of the North, and in the city too; of what good chums they were, and how one of them was lost and found again, and about the dangers they were in and all the fun they had, and what came of it all.

And now we will clean forget the motor-cars, the radio and the movies and all the things we thought we could not do without, and we’ll think instead of dog-teams, of canoes and tents and snow-shoes, and we’ll journey to that far-off, magic land.

And there you’ll see great rivers, and lakes and whispering forests, and strange animals that talk and work, and live in towns; where the tall trees seem to nod to you and beckon as you pass them, and you hear soft singing voices in the streams.

And we’ll sit beside a flickering camp-fire in a smoky, dark-brown wigwam, while you listen to this tale of Long Ago.

(Grey Owl: The Adventures of Sajo and Her Beaver People)

In the preface to the book, Grey Owl claims that the story of Sajo and her beavers is true and in telling it he only made minor changes. Perhaps. 🙂 He was a bit of an impostor. Nor would he be the first author who claimed a fictitious story was real, in order to enhance its appeal!

Grey Owl (1888-1938)

Grey Owl [Public domain via Wikipedia]

“…he had insight, he had vision. This man had a message. Everybody’s green now. He was green when there was nothing to it. His message was ‘you belong to nature, it does not belong to you’.”

(Don Smith)

Despite his name, Grey Owl was not an Indian; he was born in England as Archibald Stansfeld Belaney and emigrated to Canada in 1906, when he was 18. He was fascinated by the Indians and soon created for himself an Indian identity; learned woodcraft and worked as a fur trapper before becoming a conservationist, working for two Canadian national parks: Riding Mountain and Prince Albert. He’s credited with saving the Canadian beavers from extinction and is the author of several books, most of which he wrote while staying in Beaver Lodge in Prince Albert National Park.

Further reading:The Adventures of Sajo and Her Beaver People by Grey OwlGrey Owl: Canada's great conservationist and imposterCanoeing in the Wilderness by Henry David Thoreau (for those of you who don't go in for children's literature!)
Keep safe, keep sane, keep smiling!

And keep looking after the beavers. 🙂

The Wave (The Anatomy of Mass Hysteria)

A history teacher in a Californian high school finds himself unable to answer the question as to how the German population could allow the holocaust to happen. He decides to start an experiment in class… which quickly spirals out of control.

This is the premise of The Wave, a young adult novel by Morton Rhue which I found abandoned on the coffee table in the living room one evening earlier this week – Young Friend of the Elephants has this annoying habit of abandoning her books and empty tea mugs on the coffee table when she evacuates the sofa. On being questioned about it, YFE, currently aged 14, commented that the story was good but that the quality of the writing would make a moron weep; a summary with which I fully concur after reading it. (But that’s ‘young adult’ for you – it’s too moronic even for a young adult.) 

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Nine Books to Get Your Kids Off the Sofa

It’s a dark and stormy night… no, actually, it’s just a dark and miserably wet January afternoon. It’s that time of the year when hardly anybody can be bothered to get off the sofa; the new year’s resolution crowd has already disappeared from the gym. The same is true for our children, who are far too addicted to their electronic gadgets anyway and would do well to spend more time outdoors.

So perhaps this a good time to offer them a good book in exchange for those gadgets; and why not make it a book that will encourage them out of doors? By the time they finish reading, spring will be just round the corner.

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In the Footsteps of the Swallows and Amazons

Swallows and Amazons

Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons and its sequel, Swallowdale were two of  my childhood favourites. They hark back to a time when children enjoyed rather more freedom than they do now (although even in those times surely not a lot of them was allowed to camp alone on an island). If you want your children to get outdoors to enjoy fresh air, if you want them to develop their imagination, if you want them to have interest in other things than just owning the latest iPhone… get these books for them and let them expand their horizons.

In terms of age, we’re talking about age ten and about, both boys and girls – because although these books treat adventure (adventure of the kind that’s actually believable), the girl characters are just as strongly drawn as the boys. A cut above Enid Blyton.

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Messing About in Boats

It was going to be Plutarch today but life intervened in the form of a sunny Easter weekend. Sunny as in summer-like sunny. So yesterday we hired a boat and made a long day of it on the Thames; because there’s nothing better than messing about in boats…

Sometimes even Plutarch can wait.

Quote of the Week:

Kenneth Grahame (1859-1932)

“What?” cried the Rat, open-mouthed: “Never been in a—you never—well I—what have you been doing, then?”

“Is it so nice as all that?” asked the Mole shyly, though he was quite prepared to believe it as he leant back in his seat and surveyed the cushions, the oars, the rowlocks, and all the fascinating fittings, and felt the boat sway lightly under him.

“Nice? It’s the only thing,” said the Water Rat solemnly as he leant forward for his stroke. “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing—absolute nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,” he went on dreamily: “messing—about—in—boats; messing—”

“Look ahead, Rat!” cried the Mole suddenly.

It was too late. The boat struck the bank full tilt. The dreamer, the joyous oarsman, lay on his back at the bottom of the boat, his heels in the air.

“—about in boats—or with boats,” the Rat went on composedly, picking himself up with a pleasant laugh. “In or out of ’em, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you’ve done it there’s always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you’d much better not. Look here! If you’ve really nothing else on hand this morning, supposing we drop down the river together, and have a long day of it?”

(Kenneth Grahame: The Wind in the Willows)

 

Seven Snowy Stories

The winter’s first – and in these parts possibly only – snowfall put me in mind of books in which winter features prominently. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the ones that came to mind immediately were children’s stories. So here are seven snowy stories to surprise your children (nieces, nephews, grandchildren, your best friend’s horrible brat…) with. Perhaps for Christmas? 🙂

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In the Footsteps of the Swallows and Amazons: Around Lake Coniston

Pirates on Lake Coniston

If this post will have any merit, it won’t be in the quality of the photos, taken from a distance from a moving boat; it will be in the subject.

For fellow admirers of Arthur Ransome‘s Swallows and Amazons, here follows part two of Waterblogged’s tribute to Arthur Ransome and the beauty of the Lake District: today we’re going on a tour around Lake Coniston.

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The Beauty of Patterns (The Rabbit Problem)

Decorative tiling (azulejos) in the Plaza de España, Seville

Shells and galaxies curl in spirals, stripes run down on the sleek hide of tigers and zebras, waves and sand dunes rise in crescent shape. Some patterns – like the leaves of a palm tree – win you over with their strong, simple lines, others – like crystals and snowflakes – with their intricate geometry. And mankind copies nature: floral motifs proliferate in embroidery, decorative tiles combine into complex matrices, spiral staircases rise towards glass ceilings. The geometry of architecture, natural symmetry, repetition and variation…

The beauty of patterns seduces the eye and the mind.

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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:

All right, it’s eleven.