I was in the mood for some unashamed nostalgic reading a while ago. I had been unashamedly over-indulging in Game of Thrones and I think a person needs some respite now and again. Wars and treachery seemed unlikely in a boarding school on the Isle of Man in 1952. Mind you go back a thousand years or more and I reckon life was possibly more like Game of Thrones than we care to imagine.
Scouring the shelves I came across a little collection of books bought some years ago from Fidra, a publisher of children's fiction and I had always had a soft spot for The School on North Barrule because of the cover. What's not to like about the idea of a boarding school on an island where the girls wear shorts for their uniform and you are sent out riding on your bicycle, but nor had I read anything by Mabel Esther Allan...except I think I must have done as a child. Mabel was in her writing prime during the 1950s and I feel sure I would have borrowed these from the library.
Born in 1911 in Wallasey in Cheshire, a Mersey-side town opposite Liverpool, and blighted by sight issues, Mabel seems to have had a miserable childhood which might have been partially ameliorated by reading boarding school stories, and with it came the determination to write her own. Autobiographical writing including in this edition reveals that on June 5th 1944, the day before D Day, Mabel was suddenly blessed with perfect vision, and having feared blindness all her life she was not going to waste this gift. By the end of the war she had sold her first book and proceeded to write 160 more between then and 1994, including several under various pen names ( Jean Estoril, Anne Pilgrim, Priscilla Hagon)
Mabel Esther Allan was surely impossible to miss in a 1950's children's library
And so to North Barrule...
Voirrey and Andreas Quilliam set sail from Liverpool for boarding school on the Isle of Man thanks to a gift from an aunt. Their father, a Manx man has died and the family have fallen on hard times, so the paying of school fees is a generous gesture for which Voirrey is extremely grateful whilst Andreas sulks for England, is a complete pain and promises trouble.
North Barrule is a disciplined but self-regulating school where snobbery is 'almost unknown', the atmosphere is relentlessly happy and the freedoms granted the children are extensive. Responsibility breeds trust and with it comes the fun...and I almost wanted to go too.
Does anyone else remember going to Brownie Revels or Guide Camp in the back of a lorry?
We did didn't we...I haven't imagined that because I thought of it as all the pupils hopped into the lorry for a school trip across the island.
The book is surprisingly well written. So often there are the jarring over-prosaic moments to contend with in children's literature of the past that can lead to huge disappointments as an adult reader. I'm thinking of The Young Detectives by R.J.Macgregor, possibly my favourite read of all time as a child, and now wholly unreadable for its pedantic insistence on never using an apostrophe when two words would be more correct. Who knew I was being groomed in the correct usage at such a young age.
There is of course the brightest cleverest girl in the school at North Barrule, Christian Brent to whom Voirrey is drawn. Misunderstandings will be resolved, mischief will be forgiven, there will be resolution, reform, relocation and ultimately the sense of belonging that Voirrey especially yearns for. Desperately proud of her Manx descent, and possibly more knowledgeable about the island than the locals, Voirrey strives hard to live up to the ideals and be accepted.
I on the other hand just about know where the Isle of Man is, but beyond that my knowledge is sorely lacking. The Tinker loved it there and it was one of his holiday destinations with two friends (brothers) both of whom had, like him, been widowed, so he would have known all the locations in the book very well whilst me, I have had to source a map.
So the book was a wonderful wallow, highly recommended if you are in need of one too.
Meanwhile does anyone else recall reading Mabel Esther Allan...
Or are there other boarding school books you favoured...
Chalet School and Malory Towers fans...on your marks...get set...go, we have not had an indulge for a while now and I think we deserve one...it is time.(with a nod to RJ McGregor on that final sentence.)