Thursday, March 15, 2007

Childhood favourites

Hoarding, I think, is a gene you are born with. I definitely have it; I hate to throw anything away, because it may well prove usual in the future. I have discovered this through bitter experience: I only ever want something I have not needed for years when it is gone.

I remember as a small child, going to a fete at a big hall. My granddad was determined to divert me from the toy stall, but I would have my way. I was delighted to discover the twins of some of my cuddly toys: toys I no longer played with, but whom I loved nonetheless. When I realised their true identities, I threw a tantrum, then spent all of my money buying them back.

Like those long ago toys, I consider my books to be my friends. I have vast quantities of them and am very possessive of them – which is why I can’t quite fathom why I gave away my Jill books. Perhaps it was because, about to leave home to go to university, I considered it was time to “put away childish things”.

Jill was my horsy heroine. I received my first Jill book as a hand-me-down from a woman my mum was working for, along with my first pair of hand-me -down jodhpurs. Like the jodhpurs – they were ancient elephant-eared Harry Halls – Jill was already rather quaint. Written by Ruby Ferguson between the late 1940s and early 1960s, Jill’s world had disappeared; it was another country, where they do things differently.

Vaguely politically incorrect, Jill’s world is full of gollys, goshes, and simply super exclamations such as “My Russian rabbits!” It’s a world where girls ride out in shirt and tie even at weekends, where tweed hacking jackets are de rigeur and competing in a bowler hat is the norm (I’ve always wanted a bowler hat). Proper teas with sandwiches and cake are daily occurrences and sausages and chips are the height of luxury.

I love Jill because she had attitude. She may have been a demure 1950s teenager, but she was feisty. In Jill’s world, you ‘loathed’ ‘drips’ and ‘blots’ and sarcasm was an art form. Sophistication was pressed powder and a little bit of lipstick. It’s also a world where the health and safety police would have a seizure.

A lot of Jill’s design for life has stayed with me. You try to play by the rules, you tell the truth, you don’t go ‘pot-hunting’ at gymkhanas, and you always put your horse’s welfare before your own. If you do that, you too can win the under-16 jumping at Chatton Show with your ‘ordinary’ ponies Black Boy and Rapide.

There are nine Jill books in the series and in the last few years, I’ve bought them all back. Dipping into one is not only nostalgia for my own childhood, it’s also a rose-tinted wallow in a world I never knew.


Anonymous said...

Crikey ! A bit of a translation required here as well, methinks...

But before we come to that, I have never heard of these books. I am a lot less possessive about books, as I like to let other people enjoy them - even if they aren't particularly interested ! Or I give them to 2nd hand bookshops. My sister was 8 yrs younger than I, but her tastes were things like 'Mallory Towers' as well as Famous Five and Secret Seven - don't think anything horsey was on the agenda.

I suspect your best bet would be to take time out to go to the Hay on Wye literature festival [and horses like hay, so they have cantered over there..sorry]. Hay has a huge number of second hand bookshops. I haven't been there recently, and I couldn't explain why this small-ish Welsh town is the 'second-hand book capital' of Britain.

But if you are after the comfort of the presence of some of your child hood books, they may have some in stock. I have tried to ditch the hoarding habit I got from my mum + dad. My view is that the danger of having too much clutter is that the really important stuff might go AWOL. As happened with a valuable historical map done by my great uncle - which disappeared during a house move, never to be seen again.

That said, I do keep a childhood teddy which is only 9 inches tall!
It has survived being down the loo [mater to the rescue...] and I once saw his 'twin brother' in funky feature in the Saturday Guardian - so maybe I'm not quite as behind the times as I thought...!

In our neck of the woods, and in Somerset there is something called 'Bookbarn'..
Bristol Bookbarn
Central Trading Estate Bath Road
tel: 01173 005400

Can't easily find their website, but there may be something along similar lines 'oop north' which may be able to assist you. Many books from schools would have been purged when PC came in, and less elitist, more inclusive images were required..

I don't use 'Amazon', but they do sell some 'second-hand' stuff - if you look for 'out-of-print' stuff like the splendid 'Book Of Heroic Failures' by Stephen Pile, it will 'used' copies, but I've never tried to order stuff.

mutterings and meanderings said...

Ask any horsy girl over 25 and she'll know all about Jill Crewe, and Jackie and Misty and the Pullein-Thompsons...

I've bought all the Jill books back and occasionally buy a Monica Dickens or a Pam Smythe (names which will no doubt be unfamiliar to you too!)

We're lucky in that we have a branch of Barter Books here (, which has a whole shelf of pony books costing about 60p each. the bloke said to me once: "That shelf is as popular with adults as it is with children."

I too read the Mallory Towers, Twins at St Claires stuff too but I've never been a particularly girlie girl.

I've been to Hay-on-Wye a few times. Heavenly place!

Childhood books are comforting. Tom's Midnight Garden and Mr McFaden's Hallowe'en are also marvellous.

And hoarding stuff isn't clutter... it's keeping treasure...

Anonymous said...

Voila !
A full set on ebay - go on, treat yourself..

By the way, what is a 'blot' ?!

Sorry to prattle on, but in parts of Wales, tea with cake is still a part of the rigid daily routine, usually with jam / cheese sandwiches [both if you are lucky!]

As for the Beans and Chips, these are so venerated, there is even a Welsh pop song called 'Sausage, Beans & Chips Wehay!' Don't believe me ? Check out the website of a hip and happening BBC Dejay, from my home turf, between Lionel Ritchie [Hello] and Gnarls Barkley [Crazy]...
One of the songs is called 'Dafad Ddu' [Black Sheep] but we'll draw a bit of a veil over that...

And the less said about 'pot-hunting at the gymkhana' the better, I think...

Anonymous said...

Sorry, might have been a bit of a duff link earlier..

mutterings and meanderings said...

My blog is a conduit between the horsy world and society at large...

A blot is similar to a drip. Jill's cousins Cecilia was a bit of a drip.

Pot hunting was competing soley with the intention of winning, and was much frowned upon.

Do you feel you've learned something?

I reckon I could do a Mastermind round on the Jill books with very little revision!

Anonymous said...

Know what you mean about the 'H&S' police - my niece is around 8, and although she doesn't own a horse, or go to gymkhanas, she does go riding.

However she got an 'electronic horse' for Christmas ! She has to 'groom' it and take it for rides rather like one of those 'tamagotchi' virtual 'pets'.

I had to ride the bl**dy thing, but was all fingers and thumbs..She has a bit more luck on the real thing.

My mum always used to tell me 'it wasn't who won or lost, but how the game was played'. I guess this is what the aim of the gymkhana was - or that it was more about competing against yourself [improving on what you did last time] than 'beating' the others.

Not totally convinced by that approach when you look at how Wales are doing in the rugby, relative to Ireland, who allegedly tried to asphyxiate one of the Scottish guys..but winning isn't everything.

Reading between the lines gives me the impression you didn't start on riding very young. I have never really ridden, but have a soft spot for horses since growing up in the countryside - though with current petrol prices, who would bet against them becoming the best way to get around again ? Bedtime !

Brom said...

I have always promised myself to collect all and read all the Jennings set of books. I also liked the Secret Seven, but Jennings was my fave.

Yes, Hay-on Wye is a strange place to find those bookshops, but they have to be somewhere I suppose.

Thanks for calling in at my place!

mutterings and meanderings said...


I started riding when I was four - my grandparents briefly owned a riding school. I didn't get my own horse until I was 15.

The reference to "a world I never knew" is the 1950s - my 'pony days' were the 1980s!

Arthur Clewley said...

barter books at Alnwick is terrific, although I've never actually barterted anything back to them. It's the model railway in the ceiling that does it for me, and having a coffee in that front bitand just watching people browsing. Hmm, who was that girl in muddy jods buying Jill books last time I was there, no, it couldn't have been...

Anonymous said...

Who's that bird ? Check out this link to the BBC story about a nasty crow !

But check out the picture - and then have a look at the picture used for about 4 stories on the right ! I think a poor crow is being victimised here !

Anonymous said...

Doh! Just look for 'Mother attacks crow at school' on the BBC 'Scotland' section...

mutterings and meanderings said...

Arthur, my Barter Books is on a branch line.. though the main station is a rather fabulous place...

mutterings and meanderings said...

Anon, apparently crows that are brought by by people do this, because they're looking for food.

Poor crow! I like crows, even though they peck out lambs' eyes and eat my dad's pheasant chicks.

Karen said...

OK first some shop and web advertising to get it out of the way - is great for second hand stuff.

If you're ever in Carlisle then visit Bookends - massive place full of 2nd hand books and CDS.

If you're ever in Scotland there's Wigtown in Dumfries & Galloway which is Scotland's answer to Hay-on-Wye (I'd love to go to the festival).

Or in Stirling (still in Scotland) there's Stirling Books (but should be called the book dungeon). Very Black Books. Sells delicious coffee and internet access too. I worked there for a couple of months - brilliant job, crap pay. I messed about online, drank free coffee and plucked books from the shelves when I fancied. There is also the rival Well Read Books which is a bit more upmarket.

Karen said...

I was a big fan of the St Clares books, Mallory Towers, Secret Seven, Famous Five.

Other favourites are Moondial, Five Children and It stories, Princess and the Goblin, Princess and Purdie, and The Little White Horse. Was also into Roald Dahl.

One of my favourite children's books was one that my grandma had when she was young. She was bought it as a present when she had scarlet fever so it had to go in a book oven when she came out of hospital. As a result the glue has dried up and the pages are falling out. It's called Godmother's Garden by Netta Syrett and it's fantastic. You can download the audiobook here

Another favourite book of mine is The Plague and I by Betty MacDonald. It's a true account of the author's stay in a TB sanitorium and believe it or not it's hilarious!

We have about 500 books at home (both fiction and non-fiction) and I've probably read about 100 of them. So a long way to go yet!

I have what I call my "craft box" where I put things that I think migh be useful for art projects that I'll undertake. Plus I have huge amounts of wool but never seem to get round to doing any knitting.

mutterings and meanderings said...

A book oven? That' a new one on me!

The Grocer said...

Hoarding I'm sure has its origins in genetics. I think we are genetically inclined to keep things that may be of some value in the future. You should see my parents garage, Aladdin's Cave and we are coming along strong as well. We had a box for 8 years after our last house move unopened, a time capsule, it may even still be there underneath the old carpets and kids toys.

Anonymous said...

Hello! My name's Amelia, I'm 16 and horsey. Unfortunately I don't have my own horse, but I love all the Jill books, also what about 'Prince among Ponies', 'I wanted a pony', 'Jump to the top', 'Four ponies and shannah'... i think i was born in the wrong era...i'm really an undiscovered jill crewe/ann derry :D

VanessaR said...

How wonderful to find another Jill fan - there's a lot of us about you know!

Sorry to come to this so late but I was sent over by Rilly Super as she thought I might find your blog interesting, as I do.

Firstly, about me - I'm a publisher who reprints brilliant kids' fiction including pony books - Fly-by-Night by K M Peyton recently and Six Ponies by Josephine P-T imminently.

Also, if you're after buying pony books, the site to visit is - a friend who is a bookdealer specilaising in equine non-fic and pony books.

Will definitely be adding you to my list of blogs and do come a recommend some more pony books that should be reprinted to me!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for helping me identify the song I heard on Radio Cymru on my way home from work in Warrington a few years ago. It was, I now know, Rocyn - Sosej Bins a Chips, though they were the only words I understood in all the song and the words spoken by the radio station presenter afterwards.
Now, where can I get a copy?