What a joyous Sunday Inner Child morning I spent reading Fell Farm Holiday by Marjorie Lloyd and published in 1951, though I'm not so sure I was entirely successful in privileging my Inner Child over my Outer Grown-Up. However I sincerely hope the cover artwork for this book is safely preserved somewhere in a Puffin Museum because it's a true one-off. I loved it then and I love it now.
I've discovered this much about the artist William Grimmond,
"This jobbing artist did so much for Penguin
that he might as well have been on the staff. Summarising the correspondence
on file at the Bristol archive it would appear that nothing was ever too much
trouble; and he never got rich on the proceeds. For instance: when commissioned
to produce the cover for the first original Puffin Story Book, Fell Farm
Holiday, most artists would have imagined or copied a suitable Lake District
panorama. Grimmond took the MS, and used clues in the text to locate the actual
farmhouse on which the story was based, and then produced a wonderful watercolour
of the scene."
So my morning spent in the company of the Browne children, surely the most perfect children ever to grace the pages of a book?
I suspect twenty-first century children might be sticking their fingers down their throats at Family Browne who shun lying in bed beyond dawn and love nothing more than a marathon trek in the pouring rain.
Read this and you'd think parenting was a breeze, which in fact it is for Mr and Mrs Browne because they are in India, so the children are dispatched from boarding school to Mr and Mrs Jenks, the willing childless farming couple in the Lake District who look after all five of them without a murmur for the entire long summer holiday.
Not just the obligatory set of twins, but in true Bobbsey style two sets, fifteen-year old Pat and Kay, thirteen-year old Jan and Hyacinth and then poor lone 'infant', eight-year old Sally, who is almost surplus to requirements with just the occasional walk-on dogsbody part as in bearer of cakes or peeler of hard-boiled eggs. Food plays a big part in this story and surely that is significant in this post-war time era when rationing was still around (except not in the Lake District it would seem).
But what of the perfect children? Not a single word of dissent doth cross a lip for the entire 150 pages, paragons of virtue all and I wish I could recall what I made of all that when I read this as a child.
Did I vow to imitate?
Did I scorn them in their hob-nailed walking boots?
I don't think I was the scorning sort of child so I was probably a paragon of goodness for about thirty minutes before normal service was resumed.
It is the older children who take off across valley and fell leaving 'the infant' Sally behind to bake, and these children don't just go on a little hike. Dear me no, twenty-five miles plus, uphill for three hours non-stop, carrying food, gaberdine raincoats, getting caught in the mist and sleeping in a house full of strangers (but no one worries unduly) swimming in freezing cold tarns (no parental consent forms signed, no lifeguard, no warnings of pneumonia), hitching lifts sitting atop the churns on the back of milk lorries (not a seat belt in sight) climbing and belaying up the pikes (just a rope, no harness, no safety helmets) Then there is the five-day long expedition with tents, primus and enough supplies to feed an army (bless that little cook Sally) to establish base camp and map Eskdale and with a night spent sleeping under the stars high up on Scawfell Pike. Mr and Mrs Jenks greet this plan with massive enthusiasm the only damper being Mrs J's worry about the scourge of eating tinned food instead of her home-cooked, and doubtless Mrs Browne best kept out of the way in India because she'd have been having a fit of the vapours.
But all this aside I have loved the book all over again and for all those reasons that I may seem to have dismissed it.
Reading now but in the context of post-war 1950s and I'm surmising that perhaps someone had to write a new script for a generation of children who had been born in the shadow of war, with parents who had lived through it.
Fell Farm Holiday can readily be interpreted as a book about restoring a normal equilibrium, instilling confidence and a can-do spirit back into childhood, trusting in the intuition and instincts of children to be safe and indulge their sense of adventure after a war spent cowering in air-raid shelters and facing the grim realities of mass death and destruction.
The 'it's safe to go outdoors' message comes through loud and clear and perhaps there's also a sub-text, a rallying cry to the nation's children; a war has been fought and won to preserve this land for you, now get out there and enjoy it, the worst that will fall on you from the sky is rain.
As you can see far more Grown-Up thinking than Inner Child for this book.
But what of the ending, well blow me down if a telegram doesn't arrive from the parents in India on the very day the Browne's are to go back to school suggesting the children go back to the farm for Christmas too.
Did the long-suffering Mr and Mrs Jenks feel put upon?
Not a bit of it as Mrs Jenks exclaims, beaming broadly
'I've been wondering for a long time how I'll manage my baking days without Sally.'
Now I have to find Fell Farm Christmas because I'll bet little Sally's in there churning out the mince pies and the cake while the others are bound not to get lost in the snow because, even when they forget their compass, Browne children do not get lost ever.
With the children effectively dumped by their parents (and the children seeming not to mind one iota) I had to laugh when, as the they all arrive at the farm for the Summer carrying just rucksacks (having sensibly sent their weighty trunks on ahead,) young Kay informs us,
'we were travelling light, a tip we had learnt from Father'
...out of the mouths of babes and children.