Back to those long hot summers
So there I was, drip-drying nicely by the side of the lake, cooling off a small dog while munching my way through a salad, feeling very happy when I suddenly started to wonder just why I was feeling so happy. Admittedly the scenery had come straight out of an audition for the gates of Heaven, the weather was wonderful, as was the food and the water, and the dogs, and I'd just finished several excellent books. What struck me was that the reason I felt so happy was that I'd felt like this before - as a 10 year old during one of those long summer holidays that seemed to go on for ever. And those holidays had been very like this one. My memory of them consists of glorious weather in the countryside near where I lived - the place where I actually lived was built-up and industrial, but a short bike ride and you were in beautiful countryside, you felt as though you were miles from anyone else, and all I can remember doing was walking, climbing trees, swimming, playing with dogs, picnicking and reading. In short (with the exception of the tree climbing) a junior version of the holiday I was currently on.
So it seemed appropriate to wrap myself around a book that was a reflection of that - Arthur Ransome's Swallowdale. Swallowdale is the second in the Swallows and Amazons series. The Blackett and Walker children meet up again in the Lake District, but plans for a second idyllic summer seem to be scuppered when the Blackett Great-Aunt causes chaos, and the Walkers nearly sink their dinghy, Swallow. However after finding a hidden valley and making plans to climb a local mountain life starts to look up.
I found this book slightly confusing - there are frequent allusions to Peter Duck, a character from the third eponymous volume. In fact I began to think that I was reading the books in the wrong order and that I'd missed one out. I hadn't but the writing was rather strange, and I could be forgiven for thinking that. That aside however I found Swallowdale an endearing tale. The Blackett childrens' family background becomes clearer in this volume. If Swallows and Amazons was about happy families, Swallowdale is about families sticking together and being happy in spite of what life may throw at them - the loss of the Blacketts' father (presumably in the Great War) and the problems of family relationships are faced almost head on in this tale. And it proves to be surprisingly moving.
What really shines though is the portrayal of a gloriously happy childhood. The childhood that I suspect we would all have liked to have, and, if we were lucky, occasionally, just occasionally, glimpsed. What better volume to read by a lake among the mountains on a sublimely beautiful summer's day. Almost as good, read it on a dark winter's day if only to remind yourself that one day summer will be here.