Birthday > Earth Day: Happy 144th, Vladimir Il’ich!

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Nice post here to celebrate Lenin’s 144th birthday – many happy returns Vladimir Ilych!

Originally posted on The Charnel-House:

Never thought of it before, but Maiakovskii’s tripled refrain

Ленин ⎯ жил,
Ленин ⎯ жив,
Ленин ⎯ будет жить!

…in his poem Lenin, seems to echo Rosa Luxemburg‘s final written words in “Order Reigns in Berlin”:

Ich war,
Ich bin,
Ich werde sein!

Vladimir Lenin, born 144 years ago today. Some rare and not-so-rare posters of Lenin appear below. Click to enlarge.

Nikolai Akimov - Lenin. For every 10,000 enemies we will raise millions of new fighters, 1925

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Happy Birthday Vladimir Nabokov!

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The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.



Recent Reads: The Secret Island by Enid Blyton


Yes, back to Blyton again! As I didn’t recall Malory Towers that clearly, I wanted to re-read a book I remembered better – one that was a great favourite and that I *have* returned to over the years – “The Secret Island”. This is the first in another of Blyton’s series, featuring four children – Mike, Peggy, Nora and Jack. Mike and Nora are twins; Peggy is the older sister and Jack is a boy they are friends with who lives semi-wild with his grandfather. The three children live with a cruel aunt and uncle, as their parents have gone missing in a plane crash, and they’re basically being used as child labour, slapped if their work is not up to scratch. This gets too much for them all, and when Jack says he may run away as his grandfather is going to move, the children beg to go with him. Because Jack knows of a secret island where he thinks they can hide from the world…

secret island

This is a lost landscape, one that we wouldn’t see nowadays, when there were deserted parts of the country, overgrown lake edges, little islands stuck away that no-one paid any attention to. In our modern age of overdevelopment it would be hard to get lost for any time at all. But back in 1938 all was possible… The children do indeed run away, taking what they can with them (including hens and a cow!) and set up camp on the island. They’re incredibly resourceful, learning to fend for themselves, cook and grow things, build shelter, mend their clothes, take care of their animals – like young castaways! But the outside world will not stay away for ever – will they be caught and brought back to civilisation?

This is a Blyton I obviously read and loved over and over again, because I remembered it so well and still loved it! From the escape from their relatives to the bringing of the cow to the island, to the wonderful ending, all was still fresh in my mind. In many ways this book exemplified Blyton for me – full of excitement, children being allowed to be resourceful, peril from the outside world, setbacks and triumphs and a happy ending – what more could you want?

Well, you wouldn’t want the modern version, that’s for sure. At the start of my version (Armada, 1970s sometime) Nora has been slapped six times by Aunt Harriet for not doing the washing properly, which is a pretty strong incentive to run away. In the modern version, Nora’s hands are simply red from washing – no slapping, no threat, so even if you were having to do lots of chores, why go to the extreme of running away? Enid gave her children pretty good reasons for doing what they do – it’s lost in the modernised versions. I will never, never, NEVER read a new version of an Enid Blyton book – it’s old ones for me every time.


“The Secret Island” was a great read – I can see why I loved it so much as a child, and I still love it now. If you’re going to read Enid Blyton, do yourself a favour – seek out the old editions with the REAL stories. They’re most definitely a better book and a better read!

Recent Reads: Nothing Can Rescue Me by Elizabeth Daly


If in doubt what to read next, pick up a vintage crime story – that’s a motto of mine and something that can usually be relied on to solve any reading crisis!

I read my first Elizabeth Daly last year, after picking up one of her volumes online. It’s surprising that Daly isn’t better known in this country, as she’s very much the Agatha Christie of her country; and this book was something of a classic country house mystery, but set in the USA!


Henry Gamadge, Daly’s detective, is doing war work and his wife is away. Running into an old friend, Sylvanus Hutter, he’s invited to the Hutters’ house in the country – Underhill. Gamadge has been a visitor in the past and knows the family – Florence Mason (née Hutter) and her nephew Sylvanus jointly own the house and are likely to receive large legacies too, particularly when one of them dies. Someone has been playing slightly ghostly tricks on Florence, trying to scare her, and Sylvanus wants Gamadge to investigate.

This being a country house mystery, we are provided with a variety of suspicious house guests, from Florence’s (younger) husband Tom, through her dippy friend Sally, attractive young people Susie and Percy, to the loyal secretary Evelyn Wing. Then there is the odd cousin Corinne Hutter.

Needless to say, there is a murder or two, and suspicion falls on just about everybody at one time or other. There is an added, slightly spooky element with the use of planchette – as Sally is convinced that evil spirits are at work (there was a similar, ghostly element in the first Daly I read which makes me wonder if it’s something she features in all her books). Will Gamadge find the truth?


This was a lovely, satisfying read, full of all the ups and downs of a classic murder mystery. Gamadge is an engaging detective – clever, likeable and human, infuriated by being outwitted by the murderer and determined to find a solution at all costs. The supporting cast was well-drawn and the setting was beautifully portrayed – in fact, I recall that the location was important in “Evidence of Things Seen”, and it will be interesting to see if Daly always chooses a striking setting as a backdrop for her detective!

I confess I had a slight inkling of who the murderer might be, but certainly had no idea of the motives or twists and turns of the plot. Daly and her Gamadge are definitely new favourites on the crime front and I’m looking forward to exploring more of their adventures!

A Poe Anniversary


“As the strong man exults in his physical ability, delighting in such exercises as call his muscles into action, so glories the analyst in that moral activity which disentangles.”

The Murders in the Rue Morgue


Today is the anniversary of the first publication of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” in 1841. The story is regarded as the first “proper” detective story, introducing C. Auguste Dupin to the world. An early practitioner of Holmes and Poirot’s methods (the detecting is mostly done with the ‘little grey cells), he would go on to feature in two more stories, and Poe would have set the standard for detective stories to come.


I reviewed the book here, and highly recommend it (and anything else Poe wrote!). Only be very careful that the edition you choose has a plain cover that doesn’t give the game away…

Recent Reads: First Term at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton


It’s really got to me, this editing of Enid Blyton thing – so much so, that I’ve made the point of picking up some early copies of her works so I can read the original publications. The Malory Towers books are a case in point – I would have read old 1960s/1970s paperbacks which were *probably* ok, but in any event I found a couple of early hardback versions – and since they have a lovely map and diagram on the endpapers, they were irresistible!


Alas, my volume is not quite so lovely as this one…

Though I’ve revisited other Blytons, I don’t think I’ve re-read the Malory Towers books for years. So “First Term at Malory Towers” seemed in many ways like a new read! I remembered the heroine, Darrell and her best friend Sally – and the foolish French mistress! – but not a lot else. Of course it’s possible I didn’t have the complete set – after all these years, it’s impossible to tell.

“First Term” introduces us to the series and the girls, when Darrell goes off to boarding school for the first time. Refreshingly, Darrell is no saint – although basically a nice girl, she has a flaming temper and a tendency to laziness, both of which are displayed here. We meet a variety of girls, all with their different characteristics and problems – from Alicia the class prankster through timid Mary Lou to Gwendoline the spoilt brat. Sally obviously has something more serious going on, as she seems emotionally locked away and indifferent. And all these elements are played out and resolved against the lovely background of a boarding school by the sea, with its own sea water bathing pool.

Revisiting Malory Towers was beautiful escapism – I *so* wished I could go to a boarding school when I was young! There are jolly japes in class – a spider meant for Mary Lou in the French lessons causes havoc with Mam’zelle! – but also deeper problems. Darrell receives a real scare over her temper, and the issue with Sally reaches a dramatic climax. And then there is the slapping incident…

I had a look at one of the modern versions of this book in Foyles to see if I could spot any modernisations – and wished I hadn’t. At one point while swimming, nasty Gwendoline ducks Mary Lou and gives her a real scare. Darrell loses her temper spectacularly and gives her such a slapping you can see the handprints on Gwendoline’s leg. This is obviously considered so politically incorrect nowadays that the modern, watered-down, wimpy version has Darrell simply shaking Gwendoline. No, really….

But this removal of Darrell’s action completely undermines the foundation of the book. The girls are seen to have a very strong moral code of behaviour – no sneaking to the teachers, but a justice all of their own. Darrell herself realises instantly what a terrible thing she’s done and apologises, even before the head girl of the year tells her to. When the other pupils think that Darrell is guilty of damaging Mary Lou’s pen, they deal with it themselves – sending her to Coventry until the truth is discovered. This gives them an inward strength and we see them develop their characters. Shaking Gwendoline simply doesn’t work – it’s wimpy, weak and doesn’t demonstrate Darrell’s character trait of an uncontrollable temper at all. I’m sure that the line from one of the teachers about the girls dealing with sneaks by spanking them with a hairbrush has gone too…

000580-ap222I loved renewing my acquaintance with the girls of Malory Towers – partly I suppose because I was rekindling my youth, but also because I was delighted to rediscover what a fun book it was! I shall definitely be returning to more of Blyton’s work – and *always* in the original versions!

The Editing of Enid


I should say upfront, before I start ranting a bit, that I was brought up on Enid Blyton. Apart from my beloved “Pookie” books, the earliest stories I can remember are Enid. As soon as I had any kind of pocket-money, it would be spent weekly on a new book – a Malory Towers or an Adventure series paperback, usually Armada or Piccolo, for something like 2/6- (that’s two shillings and six pence – about 25p on modern parlance!) I loved them to bits, and I kept my collection of battered copies with me for many years. They were pure escapism – children having exciting adventures, discovering secret places and plots, or attending boarding schools and having fun and jolly japes while learning to be all-round good people. Eventually, I let the books go – my own children weren’t interested in reading them, and I figured there was no longer a place in my life for them.


However, I confess for having had quite a hankering for them recently, and a look at OH’s very old hardback copies had me wallowing in nostalgia. So I *was* rather excited (as I reported here) to be gifted with a lovely set of reprints of the Adventure series at Christmas time. I re-read “The Island of Adventure” and was transported back to childhood. And yet – as I thought about the book afterwards, something seemed not quite right…

I’d been thinking about the Malory Towers books, and I description I read online of some old books for sale stated that this was the original text, no longer available in current editions. Did this mean my Adventure books weren’t the original text too? I decided to investigate. The books themselves said nothing about text changes, but some digging about on the Enid Blyton society forums revealed the truth – the books have been updated and modernised and rewritten many times over the years.


Not “original” at all – actually rewritten….

I have to confess I was infuriated. I *can* understand the reason for some of the changes, where there are racial stereotypes. But why on earth modernist? Change shillings for modern pence? Take out the lovely old-fashioned expressions? When I read the Blyton stories in the late 1960s/early 1970s they were already out of date and that was a good part of their charm. Girls I knew didn’t go off to boarding schools, play lacrosse and have midnight feasts – but I didn’t want to read about the things I knew, I wanted something different. And I agree with so many of the comments on the forums – particularly those that point out that we don’t update classic children’s books like “The Railway Children” and “The Secret Garden”, so why on earth should we rewrite Enid Blyton.


Battered old 1970s edition, but with all the text and pictures!

Even more infuriatingly, it seems that the paperback editions I read and used to own are the last ones to use the original text (and in the case of the Adventure books the wonderful original illustrations). Hindsight is a terrible thing – I *so* should have kept them. I haven’t the heart to break it to OH that the editions he got me are not the original Enid; instead, I have decided to quietly re-collect the editions of my favourites, the ones I originally have. Fortunately, worn 1970s paperbacks don’t seem to be that collectible or expensive, so I should be able to get hold of the copies I lost. As for whoever owns the rights to Enid Blyton’s work – you should be ashamed of yourselves…..

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