Friday, January 18, 2008

Mossy tiles and Americans

The older mini-W, who's eight, is currently getting her fix of Enid Blyton. She's reading me one of the Famous Five books, which I devoured as a kid, although I have to admit that I was more of a Secret Seven kind of a guy.

Listening again to Blyton's stories after a number of years, the obvious things are undoubtedly true. She was a very good writer. The books are very dated from a conceptual point of view. The language is old-fashioned. This much we know already, so it comes as little surprise. Enid Blyton was giving her secret password to St Peter at around the time I was born, so I wouldn't expect the stories to have a particularly modern feel.

A couple of other things have, however, struck me quite strongly.

The first is the slow-burn nature of the narrative. We're half way through Chapter Six of Five on Finniston Farm and - as the mini-W puts it - "the adventure hasn't begun yet". She's right. There's an optimistic assumption by Blyton that her young readers will have the same tolerance level for scene-setting and character development as an adult.

The second thing I'm observing is very particular anachronisms that go beyond the ginger beer and long country walks of the post-war middle class. In the Finniston Farm book, there are a couple of American characters who are treated as complete stereotypes - loud, brash, rude and materially obsessed.

The children note that a number of old Dorset tiles have been stripped from the roofs of farm buildings. Julian - the older boy - explains the phenomenon to his comrades as follows: "Old tiles like that, brilliant with lichen, can fetch quite a bit of money - especially from Americans. There's many a barn out in America covered with old tiles from this country, moss and all..." Perhaps the Americans staying on this particular farm with the children haven't personally taken the tiles down. But the assumption is they've probably put in a bid for the remaining ones.

What a precise and bizarre piece of social history. It almost makes me want to get on a plane to America to investigate. I'd head out to Ohio and see some barn covered in mossy looking Dorset stone. Perhaps I'd challenge the owner about this plundering of British heritage and he would confess, sheepishly, that he offered cash for them in Maiden Newton back in 1959.

No comments:

Post a Comment