Book review: Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

In many ways this is the ultimate children’s adventure:

Pirates, natives, exploration, tension, scary scenes, humiliation, exhilaration, excitement, battle, peace-making, new enemies, new friends and above all…


Freedom from the normal world.

In Swallows and Amazons the protagonists inhabit two worlds.

In the first they are family members bound by the usual restrictions that brothers and sisters – on holiday in the Lake District with their mother and not-yet-toddler sister – have.

And then they discover Swallow, a small sailing dingy ocean-going schooner in which they sail on to Wild Cat Island and set up base.

With their island base established, the adventures come thick and fast.

Excellently told, though some might say this book could be a little clumsy and that the use of sailing slang might be a barrier.

Some might try Swallows and Amazons and say that the terminology would be an obstacle to young readers.

I would argue otherwise, for surely even the widely-read (and much inferior) Harry Potter has introduced children to a world of muggles, quidditch, etc…

Which makes me wonder what the many Harry Potter readers would think of Swallows and Amazons?

Given the age of the book – published before the 1939-45 war – it has aged very kindly.

Arthur Ransome’s conversational style doesn’t feel like a clunky old black and white movie that some books of this time have.

The writing is a little ‘old’ in one or two places but these few patches don’t spoil the overall delivery.

Nor do they interfere with the pace.

And I’d forgotten what a major influence this book had been on my childhood; because of this book I saved my summer holiday pay and bought a dingy and in later life learned to sail.

Swallows and Amazons, much better than Harry Potter.


Food glorious food?

I just don’t get this…

Müller Light Yoghurts.

I can’t eat them, being a vegetarian.

Because Müller Light Yoghurts contain gelatine.

A yoghurt product?

Containing gelatine?


Is it any wonder that our food chain is so screwed up if a natural food like yoghurt contains animal parts?



To the theatre…

On Thursday The Lovely S and I had an evening in the West End.

A meal at Bertorolli’s followed by…

Monty Python’s Spamalot!

What can I say?

OK, I’ll do the obvious.

If you’re thinking of going to see this piece of musical theatre…

Don’t go.

Don’t go unless you expect to laugh so much you are willing to be considered to be a total embarrassment by the person sitting next to you

But you won’t be because the person sitting next to you will also be laughing loud, hard and long.

No, don’t go.

Not unless you expect to see a wonderfully sung, acted and staged piece of work.




The definition of purgatory is…


In Worcester.

On a Saturday.

On a wet Saturday.

When every chav in the county under the age of 16 is also there.

With his/her kids (really!).

Mission accomplished in part though: stuff needed was bought.

But what an awful place the centre of Worcester can be.


A flying visit to the yard…

Dodging the many thunderstorms The Lovely S and I stopped off at the yard on the way back from shopping in Worcester yesterday.

Unsurprisingly we were the only ones there.

Beech – as soon as he saw me – called out as if I was his long lost friend.

Perhaps he knew I had apples for him.

Surprisingly he doesn’t look in bad nick.

Beech drops weight worryingly easily, he gets stressed and he’s never been the world’s best eater.

At this time of year he’s usually looking his best but a couple of months of enforced box rest has left his coat looking scurfy and slightly dull.

His eyes are clear though; he’s as alert and interested in everything that’s going on around him as Beech usually is.

But he looks fed up; let’s face it, enforced box rest for months on end during the peak grass season…

Poor love.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the yard…

The lorry has had a visit from the signwriter.

The url for the main website ( is now blocked out in six-inch-high letters on the rear and both sides of the horsebox.

As anyone who has achieved publication will tell you, an author is expected to undertake a programme of self-promotion.

My cunning plan (Baldrick) is that the lorry will act as a mobile advertising bulletin board,

As we travel around people will see the website address and (hopefully) check out what it’s all about.

I’m not really aiming to increase book sales for Crossing The Line.

All I’d like to achieve is to get the ‘brand name’ (to use the marketing cliché) further out in to the potential market-place.


Holding out for a Hero

there’s been so much going on I’ll have to do a piece-meal catch-up

We spent yesterday evening at Stafford (not Stratford!) Castle, Staffordshire.

First we stopped off for an early evening meal at the Yew Tree Inn, a brilliant little ‘find’ tucked away in the countryside.

Sadly the options available to me lacked choice but the one vegetarian dish on the menu was absolutely brilliant.

After the meal we drove to the Castle where we enjoyed an open air production of ‘Much Ado About Nothing‘.

I’m not going to review the play, I’m not as qualified as The Lovely S.

I will say that I enjoyed it; the front- and back-of-house team made the comedy come alive.

The worst of the rainy/windy weather held off, and we drove home full of comment and conversation about the wonderful evening we’d just enjoyed.


Although I enjoyed the play…

I feel as though Shakespeare could have done with a bloody good editor.

Some of the scenes were overlong, too wordy and not particularly focussed on the plot.

But it wasn’t a bad Saturday evening.

I feel very sanctimonious having not spent the evening lounging about in front of the television!


Five and a half hours…

No, not a title for a rude film.

It’s the amount of time that it took to drive from Docklands to our home in Worcestershire yesterday.

Or, to put it another way, we travelled for five and a half hours at an average speed that was a fraction over 27 miles per hour.

Welcome to the 21st century…

It’s just such a shame that this 21st century doesn’t have any of the swooshing about in unbeleivably fast transport capsules that I was promised when I was a boy.

In our 21st century it takes three hours to get from east London to Oxford.

Dick Turpin did it quicker on Black Bess!


My new friend…


this is bonkers and bizarre and I probably shouldn’t have done it but I am a country boy who just stays in the Big Bad City during the week so…

I left my large concrete-steel-and-smoked-glass office at about 12.30 to go to a meeting down on the Isle of Dogs.

Unusually I was going to drive down – normally I walk.

Drive down because I was going to stay on the Isle after the meeting, prior to driving in to the West End for an evening of food, fun and frolics.

So I left the office and made for the car park.

Part-way there a chap stopped me in the street.

“Excuse me, is there a supermarket around here?”

I told him the nearest was down on the Isle of Dogs.

“How far away is that?”

“It’s about half an hour on foot but I can get you there if you like?”

He looked as though he couldn’t believe it.


“I’m going that way, I’ll give you a lift.”

“Well that’s very generous of you, thanks!”

We walked the 100 metres to my car, got in and we chatted as I drove.

Dan is from sarf London, temporarily working on the north side of the river on one of the many urban regeneration projects as a labourer.

In no time we got to Asda, he offered me profuse thanks again, shook my hand, said flattering things, got out and went on his way.


Yes, I’m prepared to admit that – in hindsight – my actions may well have been careless.

But what a world (city?) we now live in where just helping someone has so many cautionary tales attached.

We should be ashamed of ourselves for creating this society.

I am.


Why the BBC sucks (2)

clipped from the BBC News website:

Many young people do not know how dangerous roads are for inexperienced motorists, a survey suggests.

Some 32% thought that one in 40 drivers killed were aged under 25 and 5% thought it was one in 400, when the figure is actually 25% of deaths.

There are two problems with this slack piece of journalism.

1. What’s with the use of the word ‘some€™ in this context? Does the work experience trainee who wrote this piece mean ‘more than 32%’ ‘less than 32%’ or even ‘32%’? It’s a ridiculous use of the word ‘some’ in the professional world of journalism. And yet… have good trawl through the BBC News website and you’ll see they use ‘some’ in this context as a matter of routine. Twats.

2. How confusing is the second paragraph? 32% of people thought one in 40, 5% thought one in 400 – that’s OK – but the figure is actually 25% of deaths. What on earth? Where’s the consistency?


I’m starting to wonder if the BBC is employing an infinite number of monkeys…



Cock on!

it’s a northern (mancunian) expression; it means ‘you really must have a look at this most excellent item darling’.  or something like that.

The Australians – long known for having ‘off the wall’ advertising campaigns – have had a brilliant yet obvious idea.

The Aussies have realised that blood, guts and gore don’t strike terror in to the heart of young males any longer so…

They’ve taken the established thinking that boys who drive like total twonks are suffering from penis deficency (awww, bless the poor lambs!) and built the message in to a public road safety message – the pic below captures the theme:

How excellent is this?