Something a little different this month. I'm often asked about the issue of books for young people and responsibility -- the possibility of triggering, etc. This is the true story of how seriously I took books as a child in 1970s Belfast.
Thank You, Enid Blyton
Enid Blyton barely mentioned bedrooms.
Why should she when there were so many
More exciting places to fall into adventure:
Secret passages, ruined castles, treasure islands?
Bedrooms were for sneaking out of at exactly midnight.
The Cregagh Estate in the 1970s, where even the rooves were flat,
Couldn’t compete with the Five Find Outers spying
On suspects from behind the windows of village teashops;
Or Barney the circus boy who tramped the kingdom
With a monkey on his shoulder, sleeping under hedges.
Barney was tall and noble with strange blue eyes,
A secret sorrow, and a long-lost father,
And if I couldn’t join midnight feasts at Malory Towers
I wouldn’t have minded snuggling up under a hedge with him.
Enid had spoilt me for the front bedroom at number 33,
For brown flowery wallpaper and brushed-nylon sheets.
Enid knew I should be opening my window onto Mistletoe Farm
With a pony in the stable, and hens in the yard.
At the very least there should be a secret passage.
My life was horribly devoid of secret passages.
I thought it must be something to do with Belfast.
The Famous Five never fell into adventure round here.
I rode my bike round the estate looking for lost dogs to love
And empty houses which would turn out to be
The headquarters of midnight-signalling smugglers.
The old lady next door rustled in long black skirts
And didn’t like children. Clearly a smuggler’s accomplice.
So one July in 1976, I crept out of bed and outside
To spy. From my vantage point on the front steps
Number 31 looked innocent enough, its windows dark
And blank. But I was too well-read to be fooled by the ordinary.
I had my torch, my notebook to record Suspicious Movements,
And a stolen packet of custard creams to stave off starvation
Should the watch prove lengthy. Enid had taught me well.
Daddy, pulling open the front door at ten past midnight,
In blue Y-fronts and a rage worthy of Uncle Quentin,
Didn’t know which to be more shocked at: the spying or the fact
That, tucked into my brushed-nylon dressing gown pocket,
Was the front door key, ready to let me back in when my task was
Done. I wasn’t stupid enough to lock myself out.