Collecting Eagles

Just you wait…

It’s just over two years ago now. I was still in the relatively early stages of a blog series about Dan Dare – Pilot of the Future, reading and studying all the official stories in the canon created by Frank Hampson, a genius son of my home city, Manchester. I wasn’t rushing things: the early stories ran for anything between six and eighteen months at a time, which was a lot of reading. Still, it took me the best part of six months for the penny to drop.

I’d been introduced to Eagle in late 1963, less than halfway through the long decline, but I’d become a Dan Dare fan just like all the other little boys who’d preceded me in the dozen plus years the comic had then existed: just one front page, and we were gone.

From the first week of 1964 until about two months after its ignominious end, merged into Lion – which had begun as a cheaper, tattier knock-off of Eagle – I got it every week, apart from that one when the newsagent forgot to deliver it. I had a complete collection from that point on.

A long time passed. The comics went to the children’s hospital, I went on to other things. I proved to be one of those who still loved comics as an adult, though mostly American ones. But there were those landmark Dragon’s Dream collections of the Man from Nowhere trilogy, and Alastair Crompton’s magnificent The Man Who Drew Tomorrow that didn’t quite make it to publication before Frank Hampson succumbed to cancer, that reminded me.

And there was the fellow fan who, long long ago, alerted me to Manchester’s Central Reference Library having bound editions of Volumes 1 to 10 of the Eagle, 1950 to 1960. Dozens of Saturday afternoons I spent, reading, researching, making notes with the ambition of writing a book about Dan Dare.

It would have been possible, even relatively easy, to have bought back issues in the Eighties, complete volumes in one go, instant collections. I had the money, but not the room, so I let the opportunity go.

When I did start to collect old Eagles, it was the early Nineties, and I had a plan. Since Volumes 1 – 10 could be read any old Saturday afternoon, I would focus on everything after, try to build a collection of Volumes 11 to whenever Dan Dare went into reprint (Volume 17 no 2, incidentally). My main source was Sheffield’s Old Magazine Shop, from which I returned with treasures. I would drive over on otherwise unoccupied Saturday afternoons with my scrawled out list in hand, and once I started following Droylsden, every away game that saw me traveling through Sheffield included a visit, no matter how depressed the market was.

Sometimes I’d dig a bit further back, if something particularly cheap turned up, but the objective was still Volumes 11 onwards. Anything more was just a pipe-dream.

Then along came a wonderful wife and three brilliant step-children, and old freedoms to splash my money on whatever frivolity I chose became a thing of the past. I had no regrets. She was with me when I passed through Sheffield, but the stays were shorter, the searches more desultory, the collection no longer growing.

Like I said, with life much changed, I was several months into writing my Dan Dare series when the penny dropped. I did an eBay Search for Eagle comics. I wrote about the experience here.

That was just two years and one week ago today. The ease, and relative inexpensiveness, of collecting started that old ambition of collecting Volumes 11 – 17 in full. And, who knows, maybe, in time, working a bit further back, those late Fifties volumes where I had some issues already.

I’ve still not been back to re-read the bound volumes at Central Ref. I searched ‘Eagle Comics’ on eBay at least twice a week. Once you strip out the results that obviously don’t relate to my Eagle, there’s still somewhere around 4,000 items whenever you search, so I go through the first ten pages, make a note of when the last item is due to end, and re-search when that item will be on page 1 instead of page 10.

And slowly I extended my ambition. Maybe, if I was patient, if I kept my eyes open and didn’t overextend what I could afford, maybe, just maybe I could, perhaps, one day, get a complete collection? It’s a pipe dream.

Well, guess what, people? Today I have added three more issues to my collection. They’ve yet to arrive so they don’t get knocked off the list until they do, but once they arrive, my Wants List is in single figures.

That’s right. I am nine issues away from a complete sixteen year run of the Eagle. Nine issues. Nine.

Of these outstanding issues, six come from volume 1, and I am currently Watching four of them. One is No. 1, which I do have, but in such a ratty state, I will still be on the look-out for a better copy. One sold today on eBay, for nearly £80: far too rich for me, unless, until it’s the only one left and then… I’ll think about it.

And there’s maybe a dozen or so that are complete, where the Centrespread is missing because someone extracted it for the Cut-out, and there are people who sell just these on eBay, so when I have that unbelievable collection, I will make a list of incompletes and maybe I can mix-and-match.

And then a long, leisurely sitting back and reading, without having to leave the flat on Saturday afternoons. Then we’ll see some real Nostalgia.



Under a Solitary Tree: Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club – Saucers over the Moor

After seven books set in either Shropshire or Rye, it must have come as something of a surprise to Malcolm Saville’s fans to find the Lone Piners suddenly despatched elsewhere. After opening in Rye, Saucers over the Moor, a very contemporary story, takes our gang to Dartmoor.
Indeed, it’s the beginning of a peripatetic phase in the series because, although Saville returns to Shropshire twice in the run of six books beginning with Saucers, the Lone Piners suddenly start ranging far and wide, to areas that, with the exception of Dartmoor, they visit only once.
Saucers over the Moor was published in 1955, at the height of the early UFO craze. It’s a rare, unrepeated dip by Saville into the world of Science Fiction, since the saucers of the title do actually exist in his story, but the subject itself would have been at the forefront of his readers’ minds when they received this story. The year before this book appeared, a report of a UFO sighting on Coniston Old Man in the Lake District was made by a seemingly reputable schoolboy, who may have gone on to read this book when it was published.
Because of the Flying Saucer theme, and Jon’s obsession with it, this book is perhaps more firmly tied to its times than any other but Mystery at Witchend, so much so that, in the Foreword to the revised Armada edition, Saville all but apologises for having written about something that, twenty years later, would have meant little to a modern audience. But the book is a good picture of the times: Jon is full of assertions that flying saucers are real, and that everyone of any intelligence or sense knows this, whilst Peter – escaping from Shropshire for the first time – is to her roots the country girl, attuned to the land and things of it, and instinctively hates and fears such things and wants not to come near them in any way.
On the other hand, the Flying Saucer theme does damage the story in the long run. At the book’s climax, the Lone Piners are told that, the following day, it will be publicly announced that Flying Saucers exist and that Britain has built them. No such announcement came, not in this world nor in that of our group of friends, and it’s a major mistake of Saville’s to have gotten so carried away.
Just as it’s similarly a mistake to bring the story he has plotted into a children’s book. Secret research stations, spies, national security, attacks by mercenaries and defence by soldiers: these are things that the teenagers cannot be brought into and cannot have more than the merest influence over, though the Lone Piners do their best. The ending has to be removed from sight, and explained to everyone, and I don’t think that is very good for an audience that wants to get involved to the last.
In its other aspects, the book is a success. It begins, as always, with Penny coming back to the home she loves in Rye, being met by her Aunt Margaret (a first name, at last) with Jon due at tea-time. But, more importantly, letters are awaiting from her parents. Three years after she last saw them (an interval introduced in The Elusive Grasshopper, though in The Gay Dolphin Adventure, Saville hinted at a vague but longer period), they are returning to England for six months.
And there are letters awaiting about secret plans. The other Warrenders love wild, lonely country, particularly down west, so they have rented a big, isolated house on Dartmoor for six months, providing fishing for him and sketching for her, and enough room for their daughter to invite not just her cousin but as many of her other friends as can get down from Shropshire and other parts.
But of course Jon and Penny start the hares off themselves when it’s their turn to host Lone Pine adventures, and that comes that first night back in Rye, when Mrs Warrender takes them out for a moonlight stroll round the town and to Jon’s thrill and the others’ consternation, they see a Flying Saucer.
The saucer is also seen by someone they believe is a guest at the Hotel, a man named Green, who is a birdwatcher. Now I am sure that there are people in the Lone Pine Universe who do genuinely watch birds for the enjoyment of it, but by this point readers have been conditioned to suspect every birdwatcher they encounter and Mr Green is no exception.
And why is he being so arsey about his injured hand?

Wisely, Saville avoids the actual reunion between Penny and her missing parents, jumping ahead a week, to the day they’re due to set off to Dartmoor, and leaving it all to a very brief memory from our favourite redhead that misses out the emotionalism we all expect from her. The plan is to collect the Mortons en route, from Exeter station, with the twins joining the Warrender car and David waiting to escort Peter from her later train.
Before we actually get to this point, we are introduced to Dan Sturt. Dan, who is only a couple of years older than the oldest Lone Piners, is a very junior reporter on a Plymouth based newspaper. He lives with his mother, who runs a cafe called The Moorland Pixie (ouch) in Princeton, home to the infamous Prison, and the crossing point of the only north-south and east-west roads across the Moor. Dan is after a story to prove himself: he too has seen a Flying Saucer.
And the expected crossing of paths occurs when Peter discovers that the faulty bike she has hired has been stolen from its resting place by the bridge, by Dan, who desperately needed to follow a lead that turns out to be Mr Green.
I don’t want to go too deeply into the story for once. It is only loosely attached to what is really going on, and is mostly peripheral. What Dan explains to the Lone Piners, who he meets the following day, is that there is a secret research station known to be concealed on the Moor, up beyond the source of the Swincombe Brook. This is where the Flying Saucers are being developed, as is openly admitted by the end, and Green is being used by enemy agents to watch the Moor as they prepare an attack by helicopter.
The Twins are set onto Green, together with a mysterious and supercilious visitor who is his Chief, and they produce one of their patented performances under the watchful eyes and cheers of David and Peter. They’ve already discovered that Donaldson, the ex-Navy man who has been installed at King’s Holt as general housekeeper, cook and factotum for the Warrenders and their party, goes out onto the Moor at night, and he’s caught on the phone making a dramatic reference to ‘564’.
So who’s on whose side? The Lone Piners split up. David and Jon, in a rare display of Fifties conservatism, hike up Swincombe Brook to see if they can find the Research Station beyond the bog at the source of the Brook. Penny takes Mary to Hexworthy to track Mr Green’s movements, and Penny and Dickie stay at King’s Holt to watch Donaldson (the Warrender parents have, conveniently, gone off into Cornwall for a few days alone).
Splitting the Twins up doesn’t prevent the traditional, and on this occasion rather perfunctory kidnapping. Green tries to persuade Peter and Mary into his car but the former very sensibly refuses. They then phone Penny at King’s Holt, who sends Dickie to the main road to watch for Green passing, but he, in a completely idiotic move that casts real doubt on the advisability of including him in any adventures, gets into Green’s car, thinking he can track him and that Green can’t do anything to him anyway: Hello? How many times have you been tied up before now?
But everything now is subordinated to the big boy’s adventure in a way that contradicts Saville’s approach to date of treating the whole club as equals. David and Jon make their way upstream a considerable distance, until a helicopter appears overhead. This is an enemy, and it produces a man from a hole in the rocks, who takes photos of it, before he falls into the ravine, busting his ankle.
This man will turn out to be a British agent, 564, on guard against attacks on the Research Station. David and Jon chase off the helicopter, from which a man has started to descend on a rope ladder. 564 is desperate that neither he, nor especially his camera, are captured by the helicopter gang, and David and Jon struggle him back to King’s Holt, passing a beaten Green on the way and hooking up with the girls and the Twins, who have recovered Dickie painlessly. (This has not only been the most ridiculous kidnapping to date but the most ineffectual one).
The problem is that, as soon as everyone get 564 back, Donaldson locks them in. By cutting up the curtains to form a rope, Penny gets down to ground level, just in time to confront a frantic Green, on the run from soldiers and demanding her help. She’s defiant, but the candlestick she tries to belt him with is too heavy, and when she slips and falls, hurting her back and screaming, Jon comes charging downstairs and smites Green with a perfect uppercut. Aww.
It’s all over bar the shouting, and a fighter pane shooting down at least one helicopter as the attack is foiled, but that’s a long way away from King’s Holt. Donaldson mops up with explanations, which basically confirm everything the Club has guessed, and Dan gets his story (subject to Secret Service vetting, naturally…). And there you go.
Speaking with my pre-teen head on, it’s pretty exciting, but from the wider perspective of the years, Saucers over the Moor offers a most unsatisfactory end, because the subject matter is just so far above anything that teenage children can deal with. Once you start getting helicopter attacks and soldiers, and mercenaries spreading over Dartmoor, your heroes become completely ineffectual, and that doesn’t work.

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 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, 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 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

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.