Monday, 1 February 2016

Swallows and Amazons

I didn't read Swallows and Amazons as a child, out of jealousy more than anything. I was landlocked apart from a few gurgling streams. I did manage to pick my way up a few of the watery pathways with the help of some wellies and a tall stick to hold onto. But there was no prospect of sailing, so an adventure like Swallows and Amazons seemed irrelevant to my experience, and also sick-making in it's torturous distance. Like, gimme that! I wrote it off as a book for posh boys.

 

I'm working my way through an Open University degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. This year is my final module and I chose Children's Literature which means I get to devour and analyse Peter Pan, Treasure Island, Tom's Midnight Garden, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and Arthur Ransome's first Lake District book - among others.

Swallows and Amazons is a book for posh boys. But the little girl that lingers in me has loved the adventure on Wild Cat Island. It's a delicious thing to discover that I can enjoy the book now, reading as an adult with her own daughter, as a writer making plans, and as if the imaginary is real as it is in childhood so often. As if I am a child.

The Walker children move from the vivid reality of the mundane - packing of supplies, building the fire, boiling the kettle for hot tea - into the imaginative game where war is declared, pirate treasure is sought, land dwellers are handled carefully. They live their games with vivid reality. Ransome observes the minutiae. He offers meticulous descriptions. He also omits elements of experience that would make the book authentic. They don't dig out a latrine. The siblings never quarrel. There are only two scraped knees. It never occurs to John to fancy Nancy. Reading the book as an adult I suppose, and experiencing it as a nostalgic memory, I don't feel it suffers for these omissions. I think it's realistic as an impression in it's portrayal of the obsessive single-minded nature of children. Children focus on their imaginary life in a way that is unwavering, even if adult interference or rain or high winds cause a change of tack. They return to the game.

The children eat a lot of seed cake and bunloaf. I am like an obsessive child in that when I enter into an imaginary realm, reality has to reflect it. (As above, so below?) So when I sat down to read I boiled the kettle and had a slice of seed cake or bunloaf prepared.

Seed cake is made with carraway seeds and is a delicate yellow centered cake with a light aromatic, aniseed flavour.



I finished the top with demerara sugar for an awesome crunch. It caught a little on the edge there, but it did the job.

Bunloaf is a speciality of the Cumbria region where the Walker children sail. It's made with spices and tea. Too evocative not to be made.


Quite naturally, I ate it with butter and marmalade. If it was August and the weather fine, I might have put the tent up in the garden. Everyone seems to constantly harp on about - can I type it? - "living your dreams". It's a cliché. And it's hard to do. Through some self-consciousness or conditioning we tell ourselves it's childish and it's silly. We want things on a bigger scale, too. As adults we want to own Holly Howe, whereas as children a night in a tent is the pinnacle of longing. Well, I can't afford a houseboat like Captain Flint. But I can bake a cake. And it's like, for a few moments, the dream is real.



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