When I was a child, I was addicted to The Famous Five books, by Enid Blyton.
To this day, I cannot drink ginger beer or explore a network of secret underground passages without thinking about good old Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy the dog. I loved Enid Blyton’s other books, too (The Adventure Series was my favourite, although there is also a special place in my heart for The Magic Faraway Tree) and, to the horror of my friends and family, I will occasionally re-read these books if it’s been a particularly long, hard winter and I’m in need of some comfort reading. I recommend it. Not only will you be swept away into a world of crazy smugglers and sinister old castles, but you will also learn some important life lessons, such as:
1. All underground caves have a stream running through them. If you find yourself trapped in one (by smugglers, natch), all you have to do is follow the stream to the place where it breaks ground, and you will be freed.
2. You will almost always end up trapped in an underground cave during the “hols”, so you better have been paying attention to point 1.
3. Don’t worry, though – your faithful dog or other animal friend will guide you through the dark, winding tunnels to safety if the underground stream thing doesn’t work out.
4. If you don’t have a handy animal, the circus folk camping near you will lend you one.
5. There will always be circus folk camping near you.
6. Some of them will secretly be smugglers, though.
7. About those tunnels… If your animal friend has been, say, poisoned by the smugglers/circus folk, you should unwind a ball of string or make chalk markings on the walls as you walk, so that you can find your way out again.
8. You will use your torch to see these chalk markings/bits of string
9. You do HAVE a torch on you at all times, don’t you?
10. While escaping from the smugglers, remember to always observe regular meal times, even if you are underground/in grave danger.
11. It’s OK: you will always discover a bag of Barley Sugar and some potted meat sandwiches in your pocket.
12. Right next to the notebook and pencil that you carry with you AT ALL TIMES.
13. Friendly farm folks that you meet on your travels will supply the barely sugar, potted meat and also: ginger beer. You’ll have to supply the pencil and notebook yourself, though.
14. Ginger beer cures almost every ill.
15. And while we’re on the subject: food that you eat outdoors always tastes SO MUCH BETTER, don’t you think?
16. If the people you meet along the way have slightly ridiculous names, they can probably be trusted. Examples: Nobby, Fanny, Dimmy. (No offence to anyone called Nobby or Fanny, by the way. If your first name is ‘Dimmy’, though, well, good luck to you.)
17. If the people you meet along the way are crazy old men who warn you to NEVER GO NEAR THE OLD CASTLE AT NIGHTFALL, you should wait until nightfall and then go there immediately.
18. Not if you’re a girl, though. If you’re a girl you should remain at home, preparing a slap up dinner for the hungry adventurers, with lashings and lashings of ginger beer and some delicious ices for afters. Remember: you may like to think that you’re “as good as a boy” any day, but you’re really not.
19. But back to those smugglers…
20. Don’t worry too much about the smugglers, because most arch villains are relatively harmless.
21. I mean, they may tie you up and leave you in an underground cave (in fact, they almost certainly will), but they will not otherwise lay a finger on you.
22. You’ll be able to use your penknife to cut the ropes that bind you and escape by the light of your torch, though.
23. What do you mean, there’s no room for a penknife in your pocket, what with all the ginger beer, torches, notebooks and barley sugars?
24. OK, the monkey will carry the penknife for you.
25. You WILL encounter a monkey at some point in your adventure.
26. Thank goodness all monkeys are friendly, eh?
27. Also: all dogs can climb ladders. Which is lucky, because how else will you get down into the caves?
28. All islands and castles have a dark secret.
29. It normally involves smugglers.
30. As soon as you arrive at the sinister old castle you will be holidaying at, you should seek out the secret passage. This will save you a lot of time later.
31. The secret passage is located behind a sliding panel which you will find either in your bedroom or in the library
32. Every building has a secret passage. And a library, come to think of it.
33. The secret passage leads to underground caves.
34. Which are used by smugglers.
35. So you better have paid attention to point 1, eh?
[This post was originally published in March 2008]