What did you read when you were younger? It’s a question that is guaranteed to start a good conversation, as you exchange notes about what you loved (and hated). I was brought up on a lot of children’s classics, as well as mid-20thc authors – and the most prolific of these must have been Enid Blyton.
I’ve recently started working through her Five Find-Outers and Dog mysteries series again, and although I remembered a lot of the plots, I’d forgotten what a vivid picture they’d given me of a cosy, Home Counties England. In these books, the children’s households come equipped with maid, cook and gardener, the policemen is a respected figure (well, I suppose some people admire Mr Goon) and every corner has a cafe serving lemonade, ices and macaroons. It’s a very safe, comfortable world.
Reading through them, I also noticed the names of several real places, and began to wonder if there might be a real ‘Peterswood’. I was going to search an atlas and see if I could identify it, but thanks to the wonders of the internet, I don’t need to! http://www.enidblyton.net/mystery-series/on-the-trail-of-peterswood.html told me everything I needed to know about possible locations.
Although the first story in the series, ‘The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage’ was published in 1943, Enid Blyton seems to have drawn on memories of her previous home, Old Thatch, at Bourne End. She moved to Green Hedges in Beaconsfield in 1938, and incorporated some features from that area in the later books. Old Thatch is a very picturesque 16th century house that used to be an inn, and the gardens can still be visited in the summer; see http://www.oldthatchgardens.co.uk/
The series has gone through so many reprints since first publication; some of my copies were jumble sale hardbacks but I also remember the Knight paperbacks of the 1970s, bought with book tokens. ‘The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage’ was published again in May this year with a cover once more designed to appeal to young readers; I hope they will get the same enjoyment from them. The sense of place in them has always remained with me, and I hope one day to visit Old Thatch and see if I recognise anywhere – just from books!