Monday, 8 September 2014

Fictional Food Adventure: Reading The Secret of Spiggy Holes

 I've loved rediscovering the 'Secret' series by Enid Blyton. 

After reading about the Campfire Cocoa described by Jane Brocket in Turkish Delight and Treasure Hunts, I ordered the featured story, The Secret of Spiggy Holes from my library. I hadn't paid close attention to the title itself, and sort of assumed it was going to be a Famous Five tale and confess that the prospect of reading it wasn't especially thrilling.  Prepare to gasp - I never read any Famous Five stories as a child! However, I did enjoy reading many Enid Blyton's as I grew up - the Faraway Tree and Wishing Chair stories lived at my Nanny and Grandad's house and I have a very clear memory of a particular visit when I was there on my own. I felt very independent and grown up because Nanny got me out a folding garden chair, (with a cheerily bold floral pattern on) and set it out in her sunny little front yard for me. I sat there feeling safe and happy while she probably baked something yummy or cooked dinner - (I LOVED her skinned sausages rolled in flour and fried, served with her home-made flat chips). I was shielded by some brick walls which seemed tall to me at the time, but able to look through a wide gap to the colourful bed below the kitchen window, and in through Nanny's open front door. I was given the choice of some books to read and I remember so clearly sitting there in the sunshine, immersed in the stories about the Faraway tree.

Another clear Enid Blyton memory is of me sprawling on my bed and my Mum arriving home with a pile of books for me from the library. We lived at the top of a hill outside the village and our little library was at the bottom of the hill. I loathed walking and I loathed heat, so I'm going to assume that it was the summer and that my Mum was being kind in not making me exert myself in the heat.I had to walk up that hill every day after school!  I don't really know why else I wouldn't have gone to the library with her, but I remember that particular stash of books and I love my Mum for the variety it held. There was something really exciting about receiving surprise books. There was a story about three sisters, being raised by very strict parents who refused to embrace modern day living. And there was a Secret book by Enid Blyton. It was this one. The Secret Mountain.

I had never heard of it before but  I launched into it and I remember loving the adventurous feel. I think sometimes I was a very foolish child, because I did not ask for more books in this series - I just enjoyed this one and left it at that. I was probably too busy daydreaming. Anyway, there were more. There were six.
 A few years ago, I think I found the same edition in a charity shop and bought it jubilantly.  I then collected some of the others in the series, buying some nice Armada paperbacks on ebay. I have a soft spot for Armada paperbacks. They are instantly recognisable. There's a certain era when they seemed to use the
same illustrator for the Pullein-Thomspson sisters, for the Monica Edwards pony books, and lots of other ripping yarns besides. When I see one I get instantly excited.

So I chose Armada versions of the Secret series because I was so pleased to find that they existed. And despite loving those covers, there is something more resonant in the version I first encountered, sometime in the mid-nineties. A period of fairly uninviting design. Some of the worst book design in the history of books, perhaps. The book cover on The Secret Mountain was not beautiful and it's really horribly cartoonish but I still equate it with the spirit of adventure, because that was how I was introduced to the story. If I'd first seen the next or previous edition then that would be my special version. The version I got through the library this
time was a completely different publication, and a quick Google search reveals many more designs for the same title. I think that's the illuminating thing - these books have been repackaged and presented again and again for each new generation. The story deserves to be read and it's still here for the children of today, whether they buy a brand new current edition, or happen across a ragged old copy in a jumble sale or charity shop, or pick up the copy on their Grandmas's shelves.  That cover will stay with them and will sit side by side with the memories of the story, and perhaps, the memories of where they read it too.

When The Secret of Spiggy Holes arrived at the library the other day, the surprise was both a delight and a relief. I WILL read a Famous Five book, I promise, but it was a real treat to be reacquainted with Peggy, Jack, Mike and Nora, and embark on one of their adventures. I did rather race through it and was keen to reach the Cocoa moment, but the story was a good'un, with some exciting twists and turns. Cocoa kept occurring but THE actual Cocoa-making is quite late in the book. Now, Enid Blyton is a great one for writing about food and her heroes are forever tucking into wonderful picnics and midnight feasts, snacks and high-teas, but I think if you counted up all the food mentions in all her many stories, The Secret of Spiggy Holes has got to win. These kids must have had worms! They are ALWAYS hungry and ALWAYS eating. I don't know how they had time to get into any adventures!

Despite having finished the book now, I still feel in the mood for these adventures so I'm definitely going to embrace a bit of E.B whenever I get the chance, and now I can happily make the Campfire Cocoa, knowing just how welcome it would be when you're out of doors at night and needing a warm, full, tummy. Stay posted for cosy Cocoa.

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