Leo Baxendale: School’s Out Forever

No fan of comics, no matter how much they are removed from their childhood enthusiasms, can let the passing of Leo Baxendale go by without a formal salute. Baxendale, from Lancashire, was one of the greatest artists to work on the_Beano of legend, not to mention the even more anarchic comics of the Sixties, such as Wham and Smash. He worked on classic series such as Lord Snooty, Minnie the Minx and Little Plum, not to mention Frankie Stein and his icnic Uncle, Grimly Feendish.

But Baxendale’s immortality is secured by his having been the creator of the Bash Street Kids. I can’t type those words without images tumbling through my head.

Cartoonists tend to live long lives, and Baxendale’s reached 86 before succumbing to cancer, which really ought to learn to be more discriminating.

Baxendale’s brand of anarchy was tolerated by my parents as long as it was confined to the Beano or the Dandy but they objected to the likes of Wham and Smash, for which I had to rely on my mate Alan’s weekly order.

Despite that, I still grew up a happy absurdist, for which I can thanks Spike Milligan and the Goons. Lots of others got it from Leo Baxendale. All of us mourn the passing of a genius.

Under a Solitary Tree: Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club – The Neglected Mountain

With the possible exception of Mystery at Witchend, the seventh Lone Pine book, The Neglected Mountain was clearer in my memories than the rest of the series. There are many reasons for this: the unusual opening, starting at the end of an unexceptional holiday, a disruption that would echo with any ordinary child, Peter’s long letter, Mr Morton’s challenge and trying to fit together the multiple maps of the Lone Piners’ different journeys.
But most of all, I remember The Neglected Mountain for its dramatic ending, an ending that, for once, involved genuine risk, real injury, and the confirmation in terms suitable for the pre-teen that I was when first I read this yet completely unmistakable, of the real and abiding feelings between David Morton and Petronella Sterling.
This, more than anything, is what distinguishes the Lone Pine series from its contemporaries: that Saville was not afraid, from a very early stage, and despite his willingness to comply with his readers’ wishes that the children never grow up, to depict bonds and loyalties that grew and deepened to an audience that hovered between being completely ignorant of such things and highly embarrassed by the merest suggestion of them.
As we might suspect from the title, the scene has shifted back to Shropshire, and once again to the lonely, brooding, ancient and legend-wrapped Stiperstones. It’s the Shropshire sextet once more, with the Warrenders safely away south.
Though it’s in no way overt, Saville makes romance the theme from the beginning. It’s the last day of the Easter holidays, and the gang are at HQ2 at Seven Gates, where things are a-stir. Charles Sterling has brought back Trudie, the vet’s daughter from Bishop’s Castle, and she’s accepted his proposal.
The romance thrills the girls, and Trudie is eager to get to know her soon-to-be cousin, Peter (she will end up asking Peter to be a bridesmaid). The news seems to have something of an unsettling effect on the two oldest Lone Piners, as only David and Peter are woken in the night by the sound of a plane in trouble.
David claims to be in a crazy mood, and wants Peter to sneak out with him, to go up Black Dingle in the moonlight and reach the Devil’s Chair. He finds the superstitions surrounding the Stiperstones, which Jenny has imaginatively named the neglected mountain, to be risible, but though Peter feels them as strongly as ever, she accompanies him. He has asked her, rather than Tom, ostensibly because Tom would have asked questions, but we know that David is starting to enjoy having just Peter’s company.
They climb the mountain. The sound of the plane has cut out long before and, from the Devil’s Chair, they can see fire on the top of the Long Mynd. Racing back, they rouse Charles, to phone the Police, so that whatever aid is needed can be delivered. It’s the adventure, come far too late for them to enjoy, or even explore it.
Or so Peter thinks, until she returns home to find Hatchholt deserted and a wild-looking stranger sat at the table, a man who has completely lost his memory and who, for all he knows, could be Peter’s father…
It’s an unusual technique to begin the novel, and Saville cleverly distances everything by switching, in the next chapter, to Peter’s long letter to David, telling him what happened. The stranger was, of course, from the crashed plane, as was the older man, apparently a Doctor, who has been found by Mr Sterling, who seems eager that his highly-strung bearded young friend not speak to anyone. And both seem impressed by the remoteness of the Shropshire hills…
But of course it all peters out (apologies). From school, no-one can do anything. Saville touches upon those school weeks, awaiting summer: David’s obsession with cricket, Dickie’s hatred of his Dorset school, Mary’s much happier time at hers, Tom on the farm and lonely Jenny, with no friends until the Club convenes again at Witchend, by which time she has been invited to Ingles, and is helping Tom around the farm. Hmm. By then, Peter can’t convey to her friends the disturbance she felt.
There’s no adventure in sight, and everyone’s trying to think what they can do. The Twins want to go to Seven Gates, but Jenny objects, that not being a holiday for her. Tom’s due back for harvest inside a week, and Jenny will loyally accompany him when that happens. In the end, everyone decides to travel to Bishops’s Castle, for the Fair, to try to meet Reuben and Miranda again, but in any event to see Trudie, and Mr Morton devises three routes for them to travel in pairs, to increase the fun.
There’s a brilliant line as the Twins assume that the girls and the boys will pair up along gender lines, and Saville comments that Peter and Jenny look at each other uneasily! It’s in the air: of course they are going in boy/girl pairs. Nobody wants anything differently.

It’s all very gentle and easy-paced, and Saville seems to be in no hurry to get to any adventure, and then, as we follow the Twins – who start off last but arrive first, mainly because they get to use the bus – the first sign sneaks in.
They’ve been to Ludlow for lunch (pre-paid by Mr Morton). They’ve met Mr Cantor in the cafe, back in his elderly man persona and therefore clearly undercover (a cover they proceed to blow instantly). And when they get to the vets, who should be there, having his sheepdog, Lady, looked at, but Alan Denton of Bury Fields, near Clun.
But en route, walking towards Bishop’s Castle, the twins are passed by a car driven by a youngish man, with unruly hair, who offers them a lift, but who displays an interest in Macbeth that Mary doesn’t like, especially as Macbeth seems to take to the young man. Mary frantically attacks the young man, for no seeming good reason, and he drives off. She comments about the strange smell on his jacket. And then she recognises that smell on Lady.
Tom and Jenny’s journey to Bishop’s Castle is by bicycle, and by Clun. There’s a noticeable discrepancy with The Secret of Grey Walls, where the cycle ride to Clun from Witchend took the whole day but Tom and Jenny are expected to reach Clun today in just under three hours, and not leave Clun for Bishop’s Castle until 5.00pm. I know that this journey is taking place in summer, not winter, but the difference is acute. Saville’s reputation for careful research of his scenes does not appear to be justified here.
Having so much time to kill in Clun, our boy and girl decide to visit Bury Fields and the Dentons. It is they who discover Lady, and find that she is blind, hence Alan Denton’s rush to the vet’s without them.
However, Tom and Jenny do overtake Reuben and Miranda en route. Fenella now has a bit of a puppy, and a strange man has already tried to buy it for ten shillings (the equivalent of 50p, nowadays, but to a child in the early Fifties, a fairly rich sum).
Meanwhile, David and Peter (aww) have been sent off on foot, to cross the Mynd and the Stiperstones, via lunch at the Hope Anchor. Unusually, Peter is wearing a frock, practically the first time we have seen her out of her usual jersey and jodhpurs combo. We already have David’s word for the fact that, one day very soon, someone is going to describe Peter as a very beautiful girl: lucky him.
The Stiperstones, and the superstitions Peter feels and which David cannot understand, make her quarrelsome, but otherwise the Captain and Vice-Captain enjoy their time together. They descend Greystone Dingle, after a brief visit to the cave, and in the woods at the foot of the valley, they meet a crying boy, a Barton Beach eight year old who has lost his puppy, and believes it to be being kept inside a small, locked stone hut.
The Lone Piners have to keep Johnny from smashing the windows, and when they take him back to the village, promising to help the next day, they bump into Charles, who is on his way to Bishop’s castle and Trudie and drives them the rest of their journey.
And it is Charles who points out that the thing each of their separate journeys has in common is dogs.
What this is about is that a career criminal named William Harris – the ‘Doctor’ of Peter’s long letter – intends to develop a formula that will knock out guard dogs, without otherwise harming them. Due to a mysterious hold that Saville never explains, he has the highly strung, excitable, intelligent but weak John Robens under his thumb, to create this spray. They are working in isolated country so as not to be observed, but Robens is finding it difficult to get enough dogs to experiment on.
Saville cleverly sets up a degree of tension the next day as the Lone Piners buzz about without making any real progress, thanks to the influence of adults with other priorities. Things start well: Tom and Jenny go down to the Barton Post Office to see if Mr Harman has any details of the resident in the hut, and wind up delivering a telegram to Robens, summoning him into Shrewsbury to see the ‘Doctor’. Their presence enables Johnny to free his dog, who later goes deaf temporarily.
Robens sets off to Shrewsbury, and is accidentally followed by the Lone Piners in Charles’ Land Rover. But Charles has business on his mind, and is not prepared to be deflected by the Lone Piners’ investigations, though they do manage to stalk their quarry enough for Peter to recognise the Doctor from Easter at Hatchholt. But they return from Shrewsbury, not even having reported their suspicions to the Police thanks to Charles, to discover Macbeth is missing.
And we the reader know that Robens has Macbeth and that, determined to get away from the Doctor’s pressure, he has gone to a new lair, underneath the neglected mountain, beyond the underground pool we know from Lone Pine Five. Incidentally, the line about how the Lone Piners once called this HQ4 is indeed cut from the revised edition.
All which makes Peter, when she wakes at 6.00am, the more determined that the club should rely upon itself and dedicate all its resources to finding Mackie, without waiting for the grown-ups. Given the danger Robens poses, David refuses to allow the twins to go off alone and, for once, they are separated. Dickie will go with Tom and Jenny, round the mountain and up Greystone Dingle, Mary with Peter and him, up Black Dingle and round to Greystone past the Devils’ Chair.
It’s a desperate situation and it’s heading for one of Saville’s finest climaxes. David, Peter and Mary check inside the cave, and find evidence that someone else has been there. The underground pool is nearly dry, and they pass beyond it into the further cave where Robens has set up his alternate laboratory. Macbeth is found unharmed, but Robens is heard returning.
Peter retreats up a rocky slope at the back of the cave, with David and Mary following. The trio try to keep silent and unseen, but the slope is unstable, the stones are sliding back into the pit. David is caught in the middle, holding on to Mary to stop her sliding down, but behind him the stones are falling away into a second, unseen pit. Peter is sliding that way, but holding onto David. But she is clear-minded enough to realise that he cannot hold both, that she has led them into this danger, and that his prior duty is to his little sister. Telling him to look after Mary, she lets go, and falls backwards into the dark.
Saville is typically spare in his description. David’s emotion on seeing Peter crumpled and unconscious in the dark is set out in brief, the enormity conveyed by his instant and little concealed fear, and the statement that he had never felt older. His desperation persuades Robens to go for help, and leads the scientist to a breach with the Doctor in his determination to do the right thing. The rest of the Lone Piners, with Charles, assist in getting Peter out and to hospital, from which she returns, after three days, with a broken ankle, and a case of shock.
But what has happened has cemented the relationship between the two senior Club members. Nothing matters to them but the feelings they all but admit to one another in the dark, as David protects Peter and Peter surrenders to the knowledge that with David she will always be safe, come what may. Not a romantic word is spoken, nor is there so much as a caress that is not directed to Peter’s comfort, but even the pre-teen me could clearly tell what all this signified, and the intrusion of such a relationship was not embarrassing or rejected.
And Saville caps this gloriously in the final lines of the book, as the Twins comment upon Peter’s popularity with everyone, and Dickie muses that he thinks of her as part of their family. To which Mary, for once not understood by her Twin, who was there is the dark when David was in the pit with Peter, comments that she will certainly always be part of their family.
But this was still a series of adventure stories for children, and it would be another seven books before there would be an advancement on that development. For the moment, Saville had delivered an ending more meaningful than those threats of fire or water he had previously organised: this time the danger was personal, and one of our favourite characters displayed courage under fire, and got seriously hurt as a consequence. The Neglected Mountain struck hard, and we all felt it.

Deep Space Nine: s04 e17 – Accession

Gimme that old-time religion…

Another strong episode though, given that it dealt with religious themes, one that gave me considerable pause for thought. And a B story that was, in its own way, a bit disturbing and which could have done with a bit more room in which to breathe.

It’s that which starts the open, suggesting a domestic, character-driven week to follow. The Chief and Julian return from overstaying in another of their regular holosuite sessions (Spitfire pilots in the Battle of Britain) with little time to clear up the Chief’s quarters before Keiko returns from her year’s expedition. Miles is looking forward to his family’s return, but is taken aback when Molly tells him that Keiko is pregnant. He doesn’t seem especially pleased.

Oh-ho! thinks I, she’s been gone a year, she’s got pregnant on a one-night visit to DS9, has she? I bet she has, I bet she has! But that’s not the route the B story took. At first, O’Brien tells Julian that he was looking forward to some serious me-time with Keiko, romantic stuff, dating, now Molly’s a little older, but no sooner is that raised than it’s dropped completely, and the story turned along the lines that O’Brien has had so much fun roistering around with Julian – stopping off for a beer in Quark’s, darts, the holosuites – that he doesn’t really want to give that up.

It’s a sad story and it remained unresolved, except to the extent that Keiko, who has results to analyse and reports to write and can’t be doing with having her husband under her feet all the time, manipulates both Miles and Julian into meeting up for the good of the other.

I found that incredibly cynical. The only solution is lying? Manipulation? Sneakiness? Or maybe a married couple, who love and understand each other, could have sat down, talked, been a bit honest and achieved the same result without games being played? It might not have made for such ‘good’ television in the eyes of those who make it, but it would have made for better television for me.

Still, that’s the B story, and the A story is what brings us here. From Keiko’s return in the open, we switch to Sisko and Kira dealing with reports, interrupted by Sisko fulfilling one of the obligations created by his status as the Emissary, to bless a Bajoran wedding. Uneasy lies the head that wears the entirely dubious intensely religious status of a religion that’s not yours, eh? But a light-ship of nearly 300 years vintage drifts out of the wormhole, bearing a Bajoran, Akorem Laan, a poet who went missing 200 years ago.

Akorem has spent all that time in the Celestial Temple, though to him it has been merely days. He has been healed of life-threatening injuries, and sent back. He has fulfilled the prophecies. He is the Emissary.

At first, Sisko is delighted to step down. He never wanted the role, never felt comfortable with it, found his status intrusive. Stepping down to only have to worry about the Klingons, the Dominion and the Maquis feels like a vacation. At this moment, I’m not sure whether Sisko has been aware of the extent of the power he’s wielded, or rather not wielded as Emissary. It’s possible he hasn’t, because as a Starfleet Officer he’s entirely too rational a creature for religion. If that’s so, he’s about to learn otherwise.

Because Akorem is a Bajoran of two hundred years ago, long before the Cardassian Occupation destroyed the d’jarra, the heavily-mandated caste system, family-based, that herded Bajorans into limited ‘natural’ roles. Major Kira comes from the caste that does art. And Akorem the Emissary is certain that the message of the Prophets is that restoring the d’jarras will restore Bajor to its former peace and prosperity.

The prospect worries Kira, but she believes. Despite the sickening evidence of seeing herself being deferred to because she is of a higher caste, despite her evident lack of any artistic skill, she starts looking for a replacement First Officer to take over her duties. This leads to a touching moment when Sisko tells her that she may find someone to take her place, but she can never be replaced.

Sisko is seriously worried. Caste-based systems are rightly banned by the Federation, though Akorem isn’t too bothered: he has the offstage backing of Kai Wynn to reinstate the d’jarras whether it means being refused membership or not. Ironically, that’s not good for Sisko’s career: Starfleet have never approved of him being the Emissary but his relinquishment of the status has more or less directly meant his mission to aid Bajor into the Federation is a failure. He ain’t smelling of roses just now.

Oddly enough, I was debating cultural imperialism here only two weeks back, taking a negative view of Sisko’s interference with the Klingon ritual of Mauk-t’Ovar, and Sisko’s attitude to Akorem’s promulgation can be seen in the exact same light. But there’s a difference between a cultural imperative imposed between individuals in a living culture both accept, and the resurrection of a planetary wide system that not everyone embraces, and that those who do accept by imposition. Akorem talks of legal sanctions forcing the Bajorans into these castes, and his chief disciple, Vedek Porta, considers it only right that a member of an ‘unclean’ caste should be killed for not knowing his place.

That’s the basic problem with castes: they’re non-negotiable, inescapable, restrictive of people’s individuality and their ability to develop, and there are always those at the bottom end who have to take all the shit because that’s what they’re there for.

Sisko cannot intervene or force Bajor to reject the Emissary’s pronouncements, much as he or we might wish it, but he can reclaim the role of Emissary. And the only way to do so is for he and Akorem to enter the Wormhole and seek the Prophets.

It’s a weird, disturbing experience. The ‘Prophets’ take familiar forms. They refuse to give answers, and leave the disorienting impression that this is because Sisko and Akorem wouldn’t understand: they are linear, they live in time, the Prophets outside of it. The Prophets are ‘of Bajor’, as is ‘the Sisko’. The only clear outcome is that the Sisko is the Emissary, and Akorem is a messenger to him from the Prophets to encourage him to understand that, and that he has a role to play.

Thus dismissed, Akorem wishes for death, but Sisko intervenes. Akorem is sent back to his proper time, without memory, to conclude his life as he should. Sisko returns to being the Emissary, this time with a greater acceptance of his position, which I assume will be reflected in later stories. For the first time, he’s committed. And he’s aware of the tremendous power he wields, though I suspect he will in future consciously not wield it.

I have my problems with religion, having taken nearly sixty years to become an atheist, and I have reservations about this story on the grounds that I don’t accept the Bajoran religion, despite acknowledging its influence. The Prophets -its Gods – are aliens of a different order to us, which makes them not-Gods, notwithstanding their power.

But this was an excellent story (the B story aside). Richard Libertini was good as Akorem, though the producers wanted David Warner for the role (and he wanted to do it but was persuaded out of it by his wife because he was on vacation) and he would have been brilliant. Camille Saviola makes her final appearance as Kai Opaka, or rather her seeming. And Rosalind Chao is always an adornment.

Book Making

It’s been some time since I last published through Lulu.com. Since The Revenge of the Purple Puffin in 2012, there’s only been two books, both based on existing writings and both which, for differing reasons, I’ve made Private Access, meaning that only I can see them on Lulu.com, and only I can purchase actual copies.

Having been so fallow for so long, it’s mildly amusing to record that I have now published three books in the last ten days. They’re all Private Access again, for various reasons.

The first of these, completed over the Easter weekend, is obviously The Legendary Semi-Autobiographical Novel, the proof copy of which should be arriving any day. It spurred me on to complete a project I have been adding to in a desultory manner for several months. I’ve written several series on this blog where I’ve taken an author and reviewed his career, book by book, and I decided it would be handy to have these all compiled.

Given the number of times I’ve done this, I decided to make this a two volume project, given that I had over 500 pages without having included Christopher Priest, George MacDonald Fraser or the current Lone Pine series.

So I added in the final author for Volume 1, and started down the Book Creation path again.

It wasn’t quite as bad as with the Novel because I’d had a bit of practice by then, and I also worked out a technique that drastically speeded things up by avoiding the worst and most finickety problems, and got it all worked out yesterday, though I was going to hold off with my proof copy until I’d been paid again.

Until Lulu.com came up with a 25% off voucher, valid only today, which had me quickly ordering it, an even more quickly completing the next of such volumes, which is devoted solely to the Terry Pratchett Discworld series of last year. That proved to be even quicker to prepare and steer through the Creation process, and the 25% off came in equally handy.

I’ve three more similar projects in mind, all of them compiling blog-series of greater or lesser length, all of which I’ll get to fairly quickly, before I forget any of the techniques I’ve learned.

It’s a bit mechanical, but the process is simple in itself. First, I need to prepare a print-ready copy, setting things like Font, Font size and removal of Orphan/Widow controls. I prepare documents in Arial 11 point on my laptop, but don’t like the look of that in print, so I use Palatino Linotype, or Garamond Light for the books themselves, still 11 point.

Since I’m assembling these volumes from existing separate pieces, the easiest approach is to set the Lulu Template to the Orphan/Widow controls and them cut and paste each article in order, having temporarily converted the source document as to Font and paragraph indents. I then insert a Manual Break so each new ‘Chapter’ starts on a new page, discard the changes on the previous document, and repeat on the next.

It’s repetitive, but in the end you will end up with a camera-ready master document, ready to upload to Lulu.com

This is where it gets complicated. Because even though you are using the Lulu Template for the size of book you want, when it makes a print-ready copy, it will tell you it’s had to adjust the document you’re uploaded to the size specifications of the template you’ve actually used!

However, a bit of practice making nearly perfect meant that, instead of having to download multiple Print-Ready copies (which are a complete pain in the arse to check) to ensure that there are no unsightly and unprofessional Widow/Orphan blanks at the ends of pages, I managed to get the Discworld Book complete in two passes, because all that had happened was that, in four instances, the revised layout had brought the Manual Breaks right to the start of a page, so there were blank pages between chapters. I quickly worked out how to eliminate that issue in the Upload copy.

And after three recent goes at the Cover Creator, I reckon I’ve sussed how to get through that efficiently.

But none of these volumes are available to such of you, if anyone, who might like to own one. Whyever not, you might think, given that the sub-title of this blog is ‘Author for Sale‘ (emphasis added).

Well, the Legendary is an officially unfinished first draft printed up as an anomaly. I’ve begun working on the revisions that will, I hope before the year is out, making it a publishable book. The Literary Criticism volume includes my Peter Tinniswood series, which included extracts from each book, which are obviously copyright to Tinniswood’s estate.

In the context of the blog, which is free for all to see, I’d argue that these are fair use quotations, appearing in the context of reviews. If I start reprinting them in a book for which I’m asking payment, that’s a usage I’m not so confident of defending. Besides, who’s buy a book that really only contains material freely available on-line for the price only of an Internet search?

The same and more goes for the Discworld Book. An entire book, devoted to Terry Pratchett’s creation? Without the consent/approval of his Estate? Oh no, not trying that one on. It’s not respectful, anyway.

For my own use and purpose, that’s different.

So why tell you all this? Just that it feels good to know that my bookshelf is expanding again, and that I’ve mastered the techniques that will go into producing the book I hope to have out there before this year ends. That’s going to feel even better.

Under a Solitary Tree: Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club – The Elusive Grasshopper

The sixth Lone Pine Club book, The Elusive Grasshopper, has already been foreshadowed at the end of its predecessor, with Jon and Penny Warrender’s telegram warning of another sighting of ‘the Ballinger’. And so it comes to pass, as Saville returns us to Rye, and our favourite pair of cousins, though not without a substantial initial diversion…
Though we start the story in Paris, of all places, and there are two prominent new guest characters deeply involved in matters before the Mortons make their entry, once again in the middle of the book, we are once again in Sussex. This time, Saville’s focus is upon the expanse of Romney Marsh, lying to the east of Rye, and stretching to Dymchurch and the lighthouse on its long tongue of shingle  at Dungeness. And if the story is once more caught up with smugglers, this time it’s the Twentieth Century version, and not the men of Eighteenth Century Sussex with whom the Warrenders are concerned.
We already know, if we have read Lone Pine Five, that Jon and Penny are in France, improving their command of the language, although we are hardly surprised to discover that Jon knows it fluently already, and Penny hasn’t progressed one whit in the three weeks that they have been staying with Monsieur and Madame Duchelle – themselves no English speakers – and their daughter Arlette.
Arlette, who is sixteen but, being French, is pretty, chic, always beautifully dressed and looks twenty, speaks good but not perfect English, and after this three weeks that her family has entertained the Warrenders, the next day she is coming to England with them, as a guest of Jon’s mother, staying for two weeks at the Gay Dolphin.
Arlette is something of a stereotype French girl, but affectionately so. Saville is being clever here in not giving any details of the past three weeks, because you just know that Penny has run the gamut when it comes to this pretty, mature, effortless young woman who can carry out long conversations with Jon that Penny can’t follow, let alone join in. It tells us more about Arlette than words can do that Penny’s only jealousy is the momentary one of Arlette intruding on the life in Rye that the redhead misses so much, but being Penny, she relents a moment later, and is enthusiastic and welcoming of their young hostess.
Who will repay her by being almost as enthusiastic about a Lone Pine adventure as Penny herself!
Before we get to the story, I’d like to point out that, just as Jenny Harman infused the previous story, Penny is all over The Elusive Grasshopper, with her enthusiasm and energy, her refusal to be condescended to or put down without spitting back, her rushing into assumptions and her surprising maturity and fairness, especially in the face of the occasional casual behaviour from her cousin, who is no nearer to understanding her than ever.
Or perhaps he’s beginning to learn: we start with the Warrenders alone in Paris, on l’Avenue de l’Opera, enjoying a drink outside a cafe and talking of Rye. Jon has bought Penny a present: a necklace of green beads. They’re cheap and ordinary, but they match the green sleeveless dress she is wearing, determinedly holding up the honour of English girlhood, and for Penny they’re a significant gift: the first time Jon has treated her as a girl as opposed to a cousin. It’s a bigger step than he realises, but it’s one the intuitive Penny recognises.
The moment is also significant for another reason: Penny’s chatter about Rye causes a man sat behind her to start and turn round. Jon recognises him: he is almost certain that it is ‘Slinky’ Grandon.
And Grandon, coincidentally enough, is on the train with them from London to Hastings, with Arlette proving her value to us forever by following him when Penny begs, without question or hesitation.
Then, at Hastings, Grandon gets into a car with someone and, although the Dolphin’s legendarily phlegmatic porter, Fred Vasson, refuses to disobey orders and follow that car, the Warrenders do get close enough to recognise that he is sharing the car with a woman who, despite now sporting decidedly gingery hair, is definitely the former Miss Ballinger.
Hence the telegram we have already read is dispatched in chapter 2.
Until reinforcements arrive, or the necessity for them can be confirmed, Jon and Penny have to entertain Arlette, whose curiosity about a country that is so different to her own leaves her open to suggestions that they cycle across the Marsh, eventually ending up at Dungeness, and the little railway halt there.
It’s noticeable, incidentally, that the Lone Piners are forever biking to different places (how else should they be able to get around?) whereupon they promptly complain about cycling, and abandon their bikes to come home by another form of transport, the bikes to be collected the next day (when and by whom is never detailed: I envision a fleet of bike-retrievers following them around…)
Whilst Jon is fussing over the miniature engine, he’s approached by an elderly birdwatcher, seeking directions to the nearby bird sanctuary. When the birdwatcher returns, his binoculars case is unusually heavy and he unusually protective of it, though the binoculars are round his neck, and as he hasn’t gone off on the direction of the sanctuary at all, the suspicious Jon leads the girls to the nearby, bombed out schoolhouse, where Arlette finds an unconscious man on the floor…
This is the other guest in this book, and he will recur throughout the Lone Pine series. He is James Wilson, a guest at the Dolphin, a young, self-confident man in his early twenties, who has so far distinguished himself by admiring the chic Arlette and patronising Penny: this really is not a safe thing to do.
It is not, however, Penny who has brained him, but rather the birdwatcher, presumably. Because Wilson is a reporter with a major London newspaper, and he’s nosing around Romney Marsh for a story about smugglers, which is why Jon and Penny immediately offer knowledge, and experience. Unfortunately, Wilson only takes Jon seriously, even though it is Penny who spots the crucial evidence: Arlette has her photo taken by the engine for her parents, but the photographer has sample photos up, and in one of them Penny spots the Ballinger walking in the background.
Nothing for it them but to call for the Lone Piners. Once again, this is only the Mortons, albeit without their parents. It’s still pissing it down in Shropshire and the Morton parents have closed Witchend and gone home. Peter has refused to abandon her Dad again, Tom’s back working on the farm and Jenny, not being a middle-class girl whose boarding school does not resume until October, is back to her educational grindstone.
Mrs Warrender agrees to take the Morton children and be responsible to them, but she is determined that their presence should not lead to Arlette being neglected, or her being dragged into nothing but adventure.
So enter the Lone Piners, who adopt Arlette as a kind of auxiliary member from the outset. She clearly likes David (it is probably a very good job Peter has stayed behind), but when it comes to dividing forces to try to track down Ballinger and Grandon and where they are, she goes with Penny, David with Jon and the Twins on their bikes to look at the nearest village.

The Twins are still very much the Twins. There is nothing so outrageous as their kidnapping of Percy, but they persist in their belief that they are the be-all and end-all of the Club, that only their ideas count, and that the seniors are deliberately excluding them. Needless to say, they find the villains.
Wilson, meanwhile, has spotted a frogman swimming ashore with what will eventually prove to be watches, being smuggled into the country to avoid Purchase Tax. Unfortunately, he has also been seen and is ambushed and knocked out, requiring Jon and David to rescue him. And just as Wilson is proposing to take what he’s got to the Police, the Police approach him.
Once again, the adults are moving in, but the Twins are still out there on the loose and, needless to say, it is they who get the lead on Ballinger, thanks to the mistreatment of a maid who has run away after being beaten. Between Judith, who describes two very familiar women, and an elderly lady leaving her only home, the Twins are able to track Ballinger and her ‘niece’ Valerie to a house-cum-shop called the ‘Grasshopper’. There, Ballinger is conducting a successful and legitimate business in buying up good quality second hand furniture for sale to Americans, and running her smuggling racket behind the scenes.
Needless to say, and with a stupidity that it’s hard not to condemn, the Twins ignore the fact that they are only ten years old, not to mention past experience, and go in and get themselves captured: you’d think David would have leashes made for them, perhaps in tartan to match the one Macbeth sports.
Once the Police are in on this, there really isn’t any place left for the children, but that is the one taboo in a Lone Pine book. David, with Wilson and Arlette, tracks the Twins to the Grasshopper and rescues them, whilst Jon and Penny, whose adventure this is supposed to be, get left behind unjustifiably. And Penny is busy letting Jon know what she thinks of him for allowing this when the cousins are summoned to the Police. And why? The Warrenders are to be taken on the Police raid to bring in the smuggling gang.
This is one of those points where the adult me parts decisively from the youngster who was thrilled at the adventure and sees it as only what’s due. In the child’s vision of what is right and proper, Saville is acting correctly. Jon and Penny are taken by motorboat along the coast to Dungeness, whilst the main body of coppers arrive in an unmarked, unlit Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway little train (a detail to tickle young me pink: I have still never seen this miniature railway but was already a devotee of the Ravenglass & Eskdale version in the Lake District).
There’s no way the Police should be taking two teenagers on a raid like this, but it’s a treat and thank you for putting them onto busting a lucrative smuggling ring. This time, Ballinger, Grandon and Valerie are taken into custody, with the Warrenders as witnesses, and we see that Jon and Penny both are too sensitive to gloat: indeed, neither can take pleasure from the ruination of their enemies.
It’s completely fitting that the story should end with them, as indeed it began, and though David and Peter are the couple who, rightfully, are the heart of the Lone Pine books, Saville is generous with his belief in commitment between people who care for each other. There is a brief moment during the raid when Jon, leaping out of the motorboat to help drag it up the shingle, is pulled back by the undertow, and Penny screams. At the very end, Jon asks her why she screamed and Penny, fingering the beads he gave her, takes a long time to answer before claiming it’s a stupid question: ‘a wave must have splashed over my boots’.
I’ll have more to say on this subject in the context of the next book, and Saville cleverly leaves the subject hanging, cutting for the last lines to David asking Arlette how she likes England after these nasty event, and the French girl replying that she likes it ‘ver’ ver’ much.’ A stereotype to the end, Arlette, but a nice one, and decidedly unFrench in her easy adaptation to the Lone Pine way of spending holidays, and it is sad that Saville never brought her back again. James Wilson was another matter.
Incidentally, although my copy of this book is another Armada paperback, it is an older edition, prior to the 1969 revision, and thus retaining the full text of the story. It still only occupied 158 pages in this edition, which suggests there was little need to cut it down to the publishers’ standard length four years later.

Saturday SkandiKrime: Department Q – A Conspiracy of Faith

This was the third and, to date, most recent Department Q film, first broadcast last year. Given their popularity in Denmark, and the existence of at least four more adaptable novels, there’s every reason to anticipate that this won’t be the last, and on the evidence of ‘A Conspiracy of Faith’, I’d welcome it.

I haven’t been greatly impressed by the first two films – too reliant on cliche, too slow and in the case of Nikolas Lie Kaas’s portrayal of Carl Morck, too one-notedly grumpy – but this one was head and shoulders above its predecessors, with a genuine sense of atmosphere, some superb cinematography, especially in the countryside of flat flowery fields and boundless skies, and in Pal Sverre Hagen’s Johannes, a villain of charismatic intensity.

What’s more, where the first two films were both underplotted, stretching an hour or so’s plots into longer time-frames, it was hard to believe that so much happened in so short a time. There was probably about three hours worth of story presented in 105 minutes, with the least sense of anything being short-changed.

The story began with a message in a bottle, floating ashore after eight years, and opening up the unreported disappearance of a boy named Poul, son of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who we later learned, from his surviving brother, Trygve, murdered by an adult, stabbed to death with scissors, with the surviving younger brother threatened into silence.

The bottle comes to Department Q, currently consisting of Assad and the slightly hyperactive Rose (Johanne Louise Schmidt again excellent). Carl is absent, on sick leave, a burn-out case. It’s an unusual angle to explore, and his absence, even when present, took the story in a direction I’d not often seen before.

Carl’s got it bad. Assad’s concerned, and so, later in the story, is the representative of the Viborg Police, the authorities where another pair of children have gone missing, kidnapped by Johannes. Lisa, played by Signe Anastassia Mannov, plays only a minor role in the story, but has the feel of a series regular being introduced in a minor role, like Rose last time. As Ms Mannov is exactly the kind of blonde-haired Scandinavian woman I tend to notice in such programmes, that will be no hardship.

Johannes is not merely a kidnapper but a serial killer. He’s clever and collected, posing for years as a family friend to get to know the children, taking the families for everything, but only ever returning one child. He preys upon deeply religious families, often from outre faiths. Magdalene and Samuel’s parents belong to The Lord’s Disciples (who believe Jesus was born in Texas: thankfully, they appear to be fictional). He steals the children on religious festivals.

He also has a slightly older lover in Copenhagen, Mia (played by Lotte Anderson, who we all know) but when it comes to love-making he seems to prefer to make her get herself off, a process that causes him to laugh in a very mood-busting manner.

Johannes is very much in the mold of the extremely clever serial killer, such as Hannibal Lecter. He concocts a complex plan for the delivery of the ransom money by the children’s taciturn but decent father, Elias, that circumvents a massive Police operation to capture him. Elias jumps from the train to confront him, but ends up being stabbed with the scissors – an horrifically graphic sequence, carried out in painful slowness.

Elias winds up in hospital, on life support. His wife, Rakel, blames Carl, who at this point is blaming himself and pushing away Lisa’s attempts to support him. Out of seeming nowhere, Carl senses Johannes is in the hospital (I didn’t get what seemingly triggered Carl’s suspicions, something like an alarm that didn’t go off?). he’s there to finish Elias off, and inject Rakel with something that gives her seizures. She’s found in time to be saved but Elias dies clutching the hand of Assad, who he’d previously been grossly prejudiced against.

The Police surround the hospital but Johannes escapes, by being allowed to drive a car out of the garage. Unfortunately, he’s already killed the young detective, Pasgard, that Rose has shown an interest in, and he’s knocked out and kidnapped Carl, who he takes to the boathouse where the two children are being kept.

As the Police hunt desperately for Carl and the kids, it all starts to come out. We’ve seen flashbacks of the young Johannes, with an abusive mother, screaming at him to read The Lord’s Prayer in Danish, not Norwegian, screaming at Johannes’ older sister that neither of them were wanted. Now we see her throw hydrochloric acid into the face of the girl, Rebecca, blinding and burning her. And we see young Johannes approach his mother, asleep in bed, and stab her to death. With long-nosed, sharp scissors.

In between comes the most horrible part of the film. Johannes explains to Carl what he is doing and why. He is the Devil’s Son, you see. Not his only, chosen son, but one of many, soldiers spreading the Devil’s ‘faith’ as it were. It’s utterly insane, but it arises naturally from the background we are now seeing in full, and Hagen gives it a kind of comprehensible sanity.

Johammes sees himself as a faith-buster. He takes and kills the children of the deeply faithful, he destroys them. They live on, their faith stolen. God did not help, did not serve or rescue. Like stones in a pond, they spread their faithlessness thereafter. He plans to do the same to Carl. Carl might not believe, might regard all religion as stupid superstition, fit only for morons, but Carl has faith. With a terrifying calm, Johannes throws Samuel into the water and holds him under. He lets him up, toying with him, several times, as Carl pleads that he be taken instead, but finally holds the boy under until he ceases to struggle and the bubbles stop.

Carl has had to watch it. He puts his faith in himself, in the Law, in what they do, and he will henceforward have to live with the knowledge that this little eight year old boy was killed in front of his eyes and his being there made no difference whatsoever.

Next, Johannes frees Magdalene and gives her the scissors, asking her to stab him.Whether this was a genuine offer or a trick, we won’t know: she refuses to do it, will not take that step, which disappoints him.

What might have followed is interrupted by the sound of a helicopter. carrying Assad. Johannes runs: Carl gets Magdalene to free him and he immediately dives in. There are bones beneath, but he gets Samuel’s body out of the water, applies life-saving techniques, and with a rush of relief the boy spits water out, and opens his eyes.

Which leaves Assad to hunt down Johannes, in considerable openness, on the edge of water. Johannes strikes from concealment in the reeds, stabs Assad with the scissors, but his leather jacket saves him the worst. The two struggle. Assad gains the upper hand and, calmly, deliberately, holds Johannes’ head under water until he dies.

There followed an odd but very effective coda. Poul’s body had been retrieved and could now receive Christian burial. The service, which failed to impress me, being all about Poul being with God now, appeared to be being held for the benefit of Trygve alone, but at the back Department Q sat in a row: from right to left, Carl, Rose, Assad – and Lisa. A hymn started, not one whose words I recognised, about God and angels. Unexpectedly, Rose joined in in a thin, clear, unashamed voice. Carl looked at her, then dug out what was either a hymn book or a prayer book. His face slowly crumpled, and he began to cry. It was extraordinarily moving.

So this brief series ends, and whereas I wouldn’t bother watching either of the first two again, not even the one with Sonia Ritter, this I would sit down to again, for Hagen’s Johannes, for that affecting ending, and for those big skies, laden with cloud and sun and air, for that brilliant story.

The Infinite Jukebox: Owen Paul’s ‘My Favourite Waste of Time’

The one thing that people who sneer at mass-appeal, commercialised, manufactured pop will never understand – mainly because the vast majority of mass-appeal, commercialised, manufactured pop is criminally abysmal at everything but separating young people from their money – is that it is about the most potent force known to man and woman: young love. And in amongst the utterly synthetic crud are songs that, sometimes intentionally but more often not, cross that magic barrier into high and joyous art.

And those of us who usually sneer at mass-appeal, commercialised, manufactured pop don’t tend to notice that we’ve met such a thing until it has gone from the airwaves long enough for us to listen to it as something other than an ear-devouring annoyance.

I remember ‘My Favourite Waste of Time’, and Owen Paul, from the summer of 1986. It was the perfect prefab summer song, instantly bringing to mind Hawaiian shirts and beach barbecues, buoyant, effervescent, light as the most uncollapsed souffle and coming with a pre-guaranteed refrain that could have held up twenty tons of concrete. I was conditioned to hate it.

I was in love that year, for the first time in a long time, and to my amazement she loved me too. But she was going away for three weeks in the height of summer, to Canada, to stay with her brother and sister-in-law. I missed her like crazy, life was put in suspension, and in that absence and my intense need was sewn the seed of things that, many years after, would break us apart, mere weeks before what would have been our tenth anniversary.

Owen Paul was the soundtrack of that summer. No matter how much I didn’t listen to the radio any more, I couldn’t escape them, not least on Top of the Pops, which I wouldn’t leave for many more years yet.

When they got back, her fourteen year old daughter wanted to catch up on the music she’d missed. I remember her genuine puzzlement at the inherent contradiction in the song. How can she be his favourite and be a waste of time?

I couldn’t explain it, but I instinctively understood, and even in the midst of hating the song, the writer in me loved the fantastic conception, or maybe I was just listening more intently than I was kidding myself I did. Because he’s having a rush, and maybe he’s kidding himself a little bit too, but he’s young and free and the summer is time that doesn’t matter. Nothing need be done, no responsibilities need be undertaken, school’s out but University’s not here yet, like the summer I had in 1973, the very last time that nothing really mattered. Everything he does, everywhere he goes, is a waste of time because he has nothing but time and it’s the most fun thing ever and she’s the very best waste of it, because her being with him is the way that he gets forty-eight hours out of every day, and maybe he’s not really kidding himself at all, because anything that you enjoy this much is no waste, no waste at all.

And who knows, maybe the girl isn’t going to be a waste of time at all?

But to think that implies that there is a future ahead, when the guy is happily ignoring everything but today, and that’s what this song really captures, a great and glorious and permanent now. It’s about all the things that pass too soon, and I don’t mean 1986 and the woman I missed too much, I mean that time in your life when if it comes good for you, you can live without thought and consequence, and the little ducks line up for you all in a row and if there ever is an end, it is in memories that will warm you forever. Life is nothing but time that’s yours to waste, on nothing but living, and she’s the one who is the best way of wasting it.

Owen Paul, singing irrepressibly, like he can’t contain the fun he’s having, didn’t just record a big hit, didn’t just record a summer anthem to rival those legendary lost Beach Boys classics, didn’t just define his career in three minutes, he tapped into something immortal, and I hear it and yearn for it every time I hear this.

Sun, summer, love, pop. When you get it right, there’s no joy sweeter.