Imaginary Albums: Lost 70s Volume 15

It’s that time again. After fifteen compilations over sixteen years, we have still not yet come to the bottom of my memories of the more obscure Seventies pop music. As always the key to this compilation is that the song has been pretty much forgotten, usually but not exclusively because it was never successful in the first place. There are 21 tracks on this latest outings and, as usual, there’s a rough chronological order to things, and there are a preponderance of tracks from 1971. Honestly, I don’t remember it being this crowded with obscurities when I lived through it.

Old Fashioned Girl – John Keen
We kick off with Speedy Keen’s first song after Thunderclap Newman split up, if they could ever truly be said to have been together in the first place. ‘Old Fashioned Girl’ was a great rock song with a screaming guitar and a compulsive chorus. For some strange reason, given that everyone knew him as Speedy, this, and the first album, were released under the name John Keen, with which the self-styled ‘bleeding long-nosed rock’n’roll herbert’ had been born. I have more to say about this on The Infinite Jukebox, here but this is the kind of opener that gets anything off to a good start.
Haunted – Bob Clarke
From the start of 1971, I began selecting a single of the week, a habit I maintained for the next half-decade or so. Without fail, I would pick some new single that had come to my attention and which thrilled me. This was not always the easiest thing to maintain: there were weeks when the selection of new records was extremely scanty, and for weeks when the family had gone away on holiday to the Lakes, where medium wave radio reception was absolutely shit and I barely got to hear any music at all, I had to allow those selections a two week run because I wouldn’t know what to choose the following Monday. And there were plenty of occasions when I would catch a song once, nominate it for myself, and then discover that it was on no-one’s playlist and I would never hear it again. This was one of those songs. I don’t think I heard it more than two or three times at best, ethereal and, so my memory told me, laden with spooky sound-effects. I loved it. For over thirty years, if not even longer, I forgot it completely, then it popped up on a YouTube sidebar. It’s not what I remember, but then I no longer remember anything but the circumstances. Perfectly pleasant stuff. What made me love it is now as much a vanished thing as 1971 itself.
Walk in the Night – Jr Walker and The All-Stars
This is another of those slightly dodgy entries, a track that reached the UK top 20, and one that was very popular for a very long time. But even this seems to have slipped into a kind of audio limbo, not having joined the ranks of those classic Tamla-Motown singles that those with the best of taste revere and cherish. Junior Walker was a sax player, and the band did a lot of backing tracks for Motown, together with the odd single, either a sax instrumental or a song with limited lyrics to suit Walker’s limited range. ‘Walk in the Night’ was a quasi-instrumental, a smooth, easy-loping melody, a gentle dancing beat, with sax breaks flowing smoothly and a bunch of girl backing singers contributing the title line and a lot of ooh-oohing. Smooth as anything, one of those late night dancefloor-fillers, the ideal lead in to the slow snogging session. It remained in people’s memories far longer than such limited hits usually do, and it should never have lost its place.
Sing Children Sing – Lesley Duncan
In the early Seventies, Lesley Duncan was an already successful backing singer and songwriter, whose beautiful ‘Love Song’ had already been recorded by both Elton John and Olivia Newton-John. She was also getting an increasing reputation for her own singing, a deep, near-husky voice on beautiful songs, with messages on ecology that were ahead of her time. ‘Sing Children Sing’ went down a storm with Radio 1 DJs and was played continually. I didn’t like it. It was too downbeat, too dry, too sententious for my then little-developed tastes. It flopped, like many turntable hits that I couldn’t get behind but which, years later, I came to recognise for their brilliance. ‘Sing Children Sing’ came back into my head only lately. I played it for nostalgia and stayed to play it again because its simplicity and its unostentatious vocals proved to be deeply moving. It’s taken me more than forty years to appreciate the quality of this song, and of the late Lesley Duncan. I’m glad I didn’t leave it any longer.
Day By Day – Cast for Godspell
Everybody remembers Jesus Christ, Superstar, but not too many people who weren’t there at the time remember that it was not the only religious musical at the turn of the Seventies. The other one was Godspell, more famous for giving David Essex his start (though let’s not be too hard on it for that). Godspell was a bit more hippy-trippy, crossed with an element of gospel, and wasn’t written by Andrew Lloyd-Webber, which gives it a bit more cred, street-wise, but not so much kudos on the longevity front. This was the single, an explicitly religious song, which I hated at the time, but whose energy and enthusiasm and sheer peppiness has evidently bled into my memories and taken up deeper roots than I ever imagined.
What is Life – George Harrison
When the Beatles officially split in 1970, there was a long silence, musically at least. George Harrison was first out of the traps, greeting 1971 with ‘My Sweet Lord’, and rapidly following it with the triple All Things Must Pass album. The rumour was that the album was basically every song Harrison had written that the Beatles had refused to record all at once, and given the general standard of his work after that point, it’s at least an arguable case. I’ve never listened to the album, but if it was strong enough that Harrison could afford to waste a song like ‘What is Life’ on the b-side of ‘My Sweet Lord’, it must have been strong indeed.
‘What is Life’ is George the rocker, hammering out an addictive riff, supplemented by some fierce brass, as he roars into an impassioned love song, or it might be God who he’s enquiring what his life might be without the object’s love. Either way, it’s a fantastic track and I preferred it to the a-side. In the UK, Olivia Newton-John had a Top 20 hit with a cover that demonstrated succinctly what was deemed to be commercial: the riff is flattened slightly, the sound sweetened, the repetitions reduced and a descant tone introduced so that the audience doesn’t get bored. And the love Livvy is singing about is definitely not religious, but romantic (and not carnal). What a waste of a great song.
September in the Rain – Dinah Washington
There have been some oddball choices in this series – Guy Marks, anyone? – but there will be some puzzled faces at this selection. Surely Dinah Washington is not Seventies music? How can she qualify? Do you really like something like this? Well, the answer to the last such question is, yes. Improbable as it seems, much as my tastes and instincts in music are removed from the kind of stuff my parents enjoyed, I love this record. It’s the same as any other genre of music: no matter how unpalatable it may be to your general tastes, something will come along that, for no easily discernible reason, will slide through your prejudices, and I have loved the easiness and freeness of this arrangement, the confident delivery, the wonderful smoothness of its old-fashioned sound ever since I first heard it. In the early Seventies. The song itself only dates from the early Sixties, and for some reason it was reissued in 1972, or thereabouts, and got a lot of airplay, enough for me to hear regularly, so either Radio 1 actually played it or I was listening to more Radio 2 than I remember. Whether this is a Sound of the Seventies or not, it’s a Sound of My Seventies.
Spill the Wine – Eric Burdon and War
One of the features of these later compilations is the number of songs they include that I hated at the time, but have now changed in my attitude to. By 1970, Eric Burdon’s career was in tatters. He had broken up the Animals in 1967, gone from being a Newcastle hard-ass bluesman to a psychedelic flower-power dreamer, and this collaboration with War, a black band themselves moving uneasily between soul and rock, was a shapeless, unstructured thing, alternating between meandering hippy narrative and an impassioned appeal to spill the wine and save/take? that girl. I still don’t understand it. But my ears are now so much more broadly attuned to what I couldn’t understand when I was young (which all you Burden fans will appreciate).
Vehicle – The Ides or March
Now this really is a case of nostalgia above everything. When I was first listening to pop music, in those early days of discovery in 1970, this blast of jazz-rock with its rasping vocals was big on Radio 1, and I hated it. There was this, and Blood, Sweat and Tears’ ‘Spinning Wheel’, getting all the airplay but thankfully never selling. ‘Spinning Wheel’ is still far beyond any personal pale, no matter how my tastes shift, but when I listen to ‘Vehicle’, I remember hating hearing it more than I hate hearing it. Do you understand what I mean?
Brown-eyed Girl – Ian Matthews
With the exception of ‘Woodstock’, I was pretty ignorant of Ian Matthews’ career when he came out with this cover of Van Morrison’s justly-celebrated first solo single, in 1976. It’s softer, less distinctive, more orthodox and Matthews’ voice doesn’t have the rasp that Morrison brought to this jaunty remembrance of time and love past, but I still like it. A good song need not only be celebrated in a single form.
Mary Skeffington – Gerry Rafferty
This is the most recent song to arrive in the Lost 70s pot, a memory that floated up out of a short session of skipping through Gerry Rafferty/Humblebums songs on YouTube. I recognised the name, I recognised the song, but that’s about all. I don’t know when I got to hear this, I am not even certain that it was this version that I heard, and I am certain that I thought of it as traditional back then, though Rafferty is the writer and it’s apparently about his mother. All I remember is that I remember this, and it is gentle, fair and takes me back. That I don’t know where it takes me to is no reason to exclude this. (Addendum: looking up the YouTube link has exploded the mystery: I knew it best back then from an album track cover by Olivia Newton-John, played by my mate Alan. Three Livvy cross-overs in one compilation!)
Black-skinned Blue-eyed Boys – The Equal
In contrast, this one has been waiting the longest to be included in a compilation. The Equals, fronted by a teenage Eddy Grant, are usually thought of as a Sixties band, and few remember that, after a succession of singles that only really brushed up against the top 20, this went all the way to the top 10 in early 1971. It’s a splenetic burst of anti-war agitprop, with pop underpinnings, protesting the overwhelming presence of black men in the US Army in Vietnam, and it’s aggression could sustain it for far longer than the three minutes it lasts. It ought to have been more celebrated, but hey, no matter how loose enough now children the Equals were, their time had gone. Eddy Grant had more to offer later, much later.
We’re gonna change the world – Matt Monro
It’s nearly fifty years since this song was on the radio, in 1970, usually on those Radio 1 shows that shared the frequency with Radio 2: Pete Murray, Jimmy Young, Terry Wogan, et al. Matt Monro, born Terry Parsons, was an easy-listening singer, more my parents’ meat than mine, but this is a vigorous pop tune with a striking chorus, and the song has left me confused for that near fifty years. On the surface, it’s a protest song, a bustling story of a morning when women are rising, collecting, gathering to hold a protest in support of peace. Monro names them, several of them, traces their path into a greater flow, but each verse ends with the contrasting figure of Annie Harris, who isn’t involved: going back to bed, going off to work, following dull patterns whilst this tide of female protest builds, drawing all the excitement to it. Come with us, Monro urges, run with us, we’re gonna change the world. But this isn’t a protest song. It never has been, despite the enthusiasm and energy it puts into talking up what the marchers are doing, what they are aiming for. The women are stupid, ineffectual, misguided. Annie Harris has avoided them for good reason. One’s dragged away by a policeman, another has her face slapped (with the underlying implication that it serves her right, the stupid, interfering cow). Meanwhile, Annie Harris is the true hero, she knows her place, she’s in the office, typing. For a moment, she pauses, and thinks of Don, glances at his last letter: ‘Died for others to live better’, then brushes away a tear and carries on, no doubt Keeping Calm whilst she’s at it. He’s the true hero, the man. He gets things done whilst these stupid women merely witter and Annie Harris knows her place. It’s a horrible, utterly conservative, disgusting mess disguised as a jolly paean to the spirit of the time, and the desire to see things improve. How stupid these women are, to think they can change anything. A wierd song, a poison pill, coated with the sugar of an energetic chorus. Fifty years only makes it look more foul.
Peace – Peter
I didn’t have many mates at school, and one of them moved away when his parents went to live in Tenby. His gran still lived about ten minutes away by bike, and he used to come back to Manchester every summer, and we’d meet up, play subbuteo, talk music. I was at his gran’s that Friday afternoon when it got too nice to play subbuteo indoors, so I biked home to get my football for a kickaround, and I saw my Dad for that last brief time, before he went back into the hospital to die in as much comfort as they could find for him. The following summer, Steve C was back. I was listening to Radio Luxembourg in the evenings, but he was tuning in to RNI, Radio Nordsee International, pirate radio whose frequency I could never find. They played this ballad/anthem, and he loved it. I never heard it. It’s here for him, if he ever reads this blog.
Mamy Blue – Los Pop Tops
In 1971, we hadn’t yet quite got the idea of inviting a Europop record back into our homes when we came back from summer holidays. That dismal practice only began in earnest two years later, with the chirpy Swede, Sylvia (no relation to Sylvia of ‘Pillow Talk’), and that act of cultural war, ‘Y Viva Espana’. This early, all we had to put up with was this sententious piece of drippy gloom, with people lazing around intoning various variation of ‘Mamy Blue’ and the word ‘Oh’, whilst the singer practiced his fake sincerity. It was responsible for more abrupt switchings off of my transistor radio than anything else that summer, but, as the years go by it has become… well, tolerable. Nostalgia for lost youth can be a punishing thing.
Amoureuse – Kiki Dee
Pauline Matthews from Bradford had been around for half a decade and more before she broke into the Top 30 with this slow, sensual song about shagging a bloke for the first time. She’d found a measure of fame in 1969 or thereabouts, by becoming the first white English woman to be signed by Motown, but that was all she got out of the deal. To get that far, she’d changed her name to the slightly more poppy Kiki Dee, suggesting kookiness and all sorts of Sixties girl-singer lightness. ‘Amoureuse’ was a world away from all those impressions, intense and rich in sound and voice. It was what Dave Marsh described as Topic 1: do I or don’t I? Unlike the Crystals, Kiki wasn’t concerned about what he would think of her in the morning, but what she would think of herself. Based on a song as smooth and melodic as this, I don’t know if she came, but she certainly deserved to stay.
Heartsong – Gordon Giltrap
An instrumental from a guitar virtuoso that was a minor top 30 hit and became background music for BBC factual programmes like holidays shows for many years. More recently, the BBC started snatching instrumental breaks from songs by Doves, which were a lot more classy and engaging, but this was not a bad little piece of music to have on tap.
Garden party – Rick Nelson and The Stone Canyon Band
By 1972 or thereabouts, there was a big hole in the middle of the day on Radio 1. You had bozo DJs out to promote themselves from breakfast through to about midday, and bozo DJs out to promote themselves from 2.00pm until the end of independent radio 1 transmission at tea-time. In between, there was a massive dislocation of expectations, in the form of ex-radio Caroline DJ, Johnnie Walker. You see, Walker’s USP was seriously unique on daytime radio: he was into the music. The music. Really. You wanted the good stuff, the serious, thoughtful non-bubblegum/boyband shit, you listened to Johnnie Walker. Walker lasted like this until 1976 before moving to America, believing that American radio offered more in terms of the music than Radio 1 offered in supermarket openings. This 1972 single by Rick, formerly Ricky Nelson, about his experiences in trying to play contemporary music to an audience wanting only golden oldies, was a gentle, laid-back country rocker that had a very great influence on Walker. If memories are all I sing, I’d rather drive a truck, Nelson sang. At least we got four more years out of Walker, when we really needed someone like him. I wish I’d realised that I could have had even more from John Peel all that time.
Stay with me till dawn – Judy Tzuke
Another song about a first night spent shagging with a bloke. There was six years and a musical upheaval between Kiki Dee and Judy Tzuke, who looked and sounded incredibly Southern Californian but actually came from London. Musically, Ms Tzuke had written an intense ballad, with heavy strings but otherwise sparse instrumentation, for a voice that occupied a higher register than Ms Dee, and six years on there was no suggestion that this was her first time ever, just her first time with someone she wants to know. It was 1979, the height of New Wave, the death knell for Southern California, even when this wasn’t really from that laid-back state. It was just as gorgeous, and Judy Tzuke made Stevie Nicks look like a mile of bad highway. In the end, Kiki Dee had the longer career: Tzuke never repeated this record’s success. But not many people get to make a sound like this. She has nothing to be ashamed of. And if this was about anyone in particular, then he was one seriously lucky bastard.
Where were you – The Mekons
You can always tell we’re reaching the end of one of these compilations when the punk tracks start to come out. ‘Where were you?’ was much beloved of Peely. The Mekons come from Leeds and they called themselves after the Mekon so that’s two strikes against them already, but the aggressive and scruffy charm of this student bar favourite has yet to be exhausted. They not only don’t make records like this any more, they can’t.
Good Technology – The Red Guitars
This is not a punk record. Nor is it a New Wave record. But it wouldn’t have existed without either form. The Red Guitars came from Hull, and this is a slow burner, building with a seemingly ponderous certainty towards a finale with screaming guitars. It’s one of those tracks that don’t leave any room for a following song, which is why it’s at the end here and why no-one can remember any other Red Guitars tracks.

Under a Solitary Tree: Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club – Lone Pine Five

One of the advantages of a large cast is that there is always room for a change in perspective. In his List of Members before Lone Pine Five (so named because it is the fifth Lone Pine Book) gets under way, Malcolm Saville notes that Jenny Harman has had little opportunity to contribute to the childrens’ adventures, but that this book will see her come to the fore.
We’re once again in Shropshire, once again on the Stiperstones, but this time without the Warrenders, who cannot be easily carried halfway across the country a second time. Not that they are completely out of our thoughts…
Saville begins his story with Jenny, waking up and counting the roses on her bedroom wallpaper. It’s a red letter, or rather red postcard day for her as Tom has written to invite her to meet him and his Uncle at the Market in Bishop’s Castle and, despite her stepmother’s instinctive negativity, she has her father’s support in going. Which is where her adventure begins.
At an auction, Jenny takes a liking to an odd and old spoon in a lot of broken cutlery, which Tom buys for her. Almost immediately, she’s approached by an elderly, grey-haired man called Wilkins, who believes it to be a Roman relic, and who cannot understand what importance it could have to a young, and no doubt foolish girl.
That isn’t meant offensively, on Wilkins’ part, and it isn’t taken offensively by Jenny, who has an immediate sympathy for an obviously distracted gentleman, but Tom gave it her and she will wear it next to her heart forever. Literally, since she fashions a ribbon that enables her to wear it round her neck, after which it lives a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t existence, being fished out and replaced over and over.
Wilkins is obsessed by history, with the Roman history of Shropshire, and with the possibility of discovering a Treasure Trove on the Stiperstones similar to the then-recent Mildenhall Treasure (1942). Not because of the possibility of wealth by Treasure Trove, though we’ll soon see that selflessness doesn’t extend to the rest of his family, but because since his wife’s death, it has become his focus.
Indeed, he’s looking to stay at Barton Beach to explore, and not only does Jenny suggest her stepmother’s spare room but she volunteers the Lone Pine Club to help him search, proud that she, at last, is bringing them an adventure.
It’s interesting how the Club is disposed, or should that be dispersed, this time. Peter has been staying with the Mortons in London, whilst her father has been staying at Seven Gates, which Uncle Micah has now turned over to Charles Sterling, but they’ve had to ‘persuade’ the parents to come up to Witchend this time. And they can’t have Jon and Penny again, because they’re in France, learning French with a French family, and besides, Saville has them up his sleeve…
But really, they’d be in the way, because Saville has set out to capture Jenny Harman in these pages, and he’s done so beautifully. The excitable little girl whose loneliness has forced her to imagine her own life into being, with all the melodrama and exaggeration of the books she loves, is gaining the confidence not to be abashed among her friends. Jenny wants to prove her worth, even though she doesn’t need to, not to her friend Peter and especially not to Tom, who might not understand her but who already cherishes her.
The ‘adventure’ Wilkins offers might not seem much on the surface, but it brings more traditional elements in its wake. The children all receive permission to camp out, at first in HQ2 at Seven Gates when they arrive in rain (this is to be a very wet book) and then in a cave discovered by the Twins, who are at their demanding and scapegrace worst, constantly avoiding having to do any of the chores the others share faithfully, and arrogating leading roles to themselves.
Saville extends his fictional Shropshire geography by having the Twins slip off to explore Greystone Dingle, a parallel narrow valley to Black Dingle, though not as fearsome and further from the farm. It has a stream, of sorts, appearing and disappearing underground, in rocks that Saville admits are not suitable geologically for such things.
The camp, near the head of the Dingle, becomes HQ4, which is an interesting example of those points at which the revised editions cut down the original story, because I clearly recall a conversation in which the designation was proposed, and objected to, on the grounds that the Club couldn’t just keep establishing new HQs everywhere they went, so that only the Twins (it being Dickie’s idea) regarded it as HQ4. There’s a reference to that uncertain status in the next Shropshire book, The Neglected Mountain, which I shall look for with interest.
Long before we reach the cave with the Twins, the villains of the piece have been introduced, though they’re not much cop as villains, not like the Ballinger and her gang, or even the rather more anonymous sheep-stealing bunch. These are the Smithsons, husband, wife and son, an unpleasant, self-centred lot who never rise above the level of nuisances.
Mr Smithson is Wilkins’ nephew, and the old man lives with this family, we are led to believe, though it’s clear its not out of the goodness of any Smithson heart. Mr S is a greasy, selfish and above all vulgar specimen, quite obviously what, in the War, would have been a spiv, Mrs Smithson is a painted and powdered woman utterly out of place in the country, and as ignorant as her husband, and their son Percy is a sorry specimen, spoilt, pimply, with all the makings of a bully except the remotest atom of the force required to assert himself.
They arrive in a flashy car, towing a caravan, in a hurry to overtake Mr Morton as he tows a trailer along narrow country lanes, and eventually all but forcing him off the road at a bend. When they catch up with the Smithsons, Mr Morton goes to give the driver a piece of his mind – Smithson immediately denies any involvement – but instead he allows the Lone Piners, and especially the Twins, to take over, after Percy throws a stone at Mackie and hits him.

This is one of those points where Saville drops his standards of credibility. The Twins are furious and put on one of their most intense performances, all of which is in front of their father, who not only makes not a move to check them but, despite the fact he’s facing a dangerous driver who’s nearly caused an accident that could have seriously hurt several people, seems to regard his younger children’s performance as just punishment.
Then lets them go off alone, at the age of ten, to explore an unfamiliar corner of a dangerous mountain, miles away from Seven Gates, when their declared purpose is to further torment the unpleasant Percy. It’s not quite setting the forest alight, but it’s giving in to the fantasy of the children’s adventure story without enough consideration for the reality that has to go along with real landscapes and places.
But back to Jenny. These Smithsons are out to get her Mr Wilkins, suggesting to her indignation that he’s not quite right in the head, when actually all they want is the treasure they think he knows how to find. That their presence upsets him, that they are threatening him, that the Smithsons are nasty pieces of work, all these things are obvious to Jenny, and she is determined to protect Wilkins, even if it gets her on the wrong side of her friends.
The Smithsons are small-time, lacking the imagination to rise to cruelty. They park their car and caravan at the foot of Greystone Dingle where it blocks the tracks – blocking the gypsies, Reuben and Miranda, the Lone Pine trailer (until, David and Tom clear the way with axes) and later Henry Ringway’s car – with no thought for others, and when challenged act as if they own the place and can order other people off.
On the other hand, they can initially frighten Mr Wilkins away from Barton Beach, so that his friends aren’t subjected to unpleasantness, and they lock him in their caravan overnight.
The Lone Piners sleep in the cave but are still undecided what to do. Not so the Twins, who wake up in the early hours still determined to wreak revenge on Percy. What are they going to do? They’re going to kidnap him. And when I say kidnap, I mean kidnap. As in genuinely abduct and imprison.
This isn’t actually very funny. I mean, you can see that Percy deserves it, and the Twins only want him for an exchange of hostages for Mr Wilkins., and when they reveal this brilliant idea, and their tie-bound and sock-gagged prisoner to the older members, all they do is remove the sock. No-one seems to think that this is in any way going a bit too far.
Meanwhile, it’s raining. It’s been raining for much of the book, with only enough dry weather to get the Lone Piners out of HQ2 and into the putative HQ4. And it’s getting worse.
The Smithsons come up the valley, looking for Percy, he all bluster and threat, she weepy and doting. To their immense surprise, Percy refuses to leave his captors: in part, it’s because he is hungry and smells the stew Peter is cooking, but in part it’s also because he feels the contempt the others have for him and is trying to prove himself better than that, though the Percies of this world always undermine themselves: his sneer at his retreating, defeated parents is met with the single, devastating line that “None of the Lone Piners ever forgave him for that.”
That doesn’t include Jenny. She and Tom have slipped downvalley to look for Wilkins, and find him breaking out of the caravan. They pursue him to the village, and Jenny even further, on the bus to Shrewsbury. Wilkins has found a source of strength in himself, a determination to rid himself of the obnoxious Smithsons, and he takes Jenny to meet a real Roman expert, Henry Kingway, who agrees with Wilkins’ theories, then back to Seven Gates, to collect Charles Sterling, who knows the land.
And the rain comes down, endlessly, steady, draining, and on the way up Greystone Dingle Jenny finds Peter racing down. But this is not the calm, steady Peter we know, but a panicky, desperate version that frightens us: inside the mountain, the Lone Piners have discovered an underground pool, fed by a waterfall, whose level is steadily rising as the incessant rain feeds it. And the Twins and Percy have fallen in.
It’s a replay of Seven White Gates that, at the very moment the Twins get into a danger that requires adult rescue, a party is already hastening on the way, and this time the rescue party are only there through coincidence, which is not impressive plotting. That said, Saville handles the situation quickly and well: between Charles and (of course) David, the soaked victims are saved, but the water is rising at a frightening level, and when everybody gets out, there is the astonishing sight of the ground upheaving and the underground river bursting its banks, flowing down Greystone Dingle in an unstoppable, dirty flood.
That, too, is a repeat, of the ending of Mystery at Witchend, the blowing of Hatchholt Dam, but Saville has different thoughts in mind. Peter, recovered from her funk, is first to react, running full-tilt down the valley, to try to beat the water to warn the Smithsons. David automatically follows her, but neither can hope to beat the flood, which overtakes both and sweeps away the caravan, though thankfully without hurt to people.
And it is David, whose steadfastness comes to the fore, who calmly and convincingly approaches Smithson to suggest a truce, and his car to ferry people to Seven Gates, for food, dry clothing, hot baths. Give Smithson credit for that: after all, he and his miserable family are not real villains, unlike the Ballinger.
But Lone Pine Five is Jenny Harman’s book. She has been at the centre of things, her passion for excitement, her immediate emotionalism, her determination to do things for people has driven everything, and we like her all the better for it and of course she must have her reward: first thing the next morning, with only Tom for company, she returns to Greystone Dingle, fresh in its devastation from the water tearing up the valley. Together, they find the exposed mosaic of the flooring of a Roman villa, and together they find the blackened, dirty relics that Jenny presents to Wilkins at the breakfast they return to interrupt: what will become known as the Greystone Treasure.
All thanks to a spoon.
Now it must be said, as I’ve pointed out above, that Lone Pine Five has flaws. It repeats plotting, it re-uses a climactic water threat (the third time in only five books), the Twins are actually starting to get out of hand and their behaviour is not just delinquent but applauded, and given Saville’s passion for setting his stories in real places that he’s meticulously researched, the underground river where geologically it’s unrealistic is an unwelcome contrivance.
Yet I enjoyed this much more than The Secret of Grey Walls, in part perhaps because this was one of the ones I owned and read relatively early on, rather than borrowed or acquired when I was already growing out of such entertainments. But mostly because Saville so successfully animates the story with the girl who so far has been a semi-comic background figure. Yes, Jenny is still childish in many ways, more so than the other ‘seniors’ with whom she is bracketed, and you might not want to spend too much time with her in real life, but in this story, where we see the mind that drives the chatter and unrealism that she strives to bring into her life, we can’t help but warm to her. Saville shows us the girl who needs her friends, who sees them only too rarely, and who has to cram a month of their company into a few days at a time.
Amusingly, for adults who think about such things, Jenny has been accelerating in time: after being ‘nearly fifteen’ to Tom’s fifteen-and-a-half last time round, she has moved to ‘two months younger’ than him. In lapidary inscription, and popular children’s fiction of the last century or so, no man is on oath.
There is an unexpected coda to the book that is unique to Lone Pine Five, which is the natural point on which to end. The feast is interrupted by the arrival of Mr Morton who, in view of all this rain, has come to break up this camping lark and take everyone back to Witchend. But he’s also carrying a telegram, addressed to David. Telegrams in fiction were as important as they tended to be in real life: it comes from Rye.
‘We may want Lone Piners soon have just seen Ballinger again up to no good we wouldn’t be surprised Jon and Penny’
Three guesses about the next book…

What if they held a General election and nobody voted?

At 11.15 am today, our not at all unelected Prime Minister (thank you, Tim Fenton announced that we were going to have a General Election on June 8.

This proves several things, including that the Fixed Term Act is every bit as worthless as we always said it was, and that all that stuff about not cutting and running, about dealing with the job at hand, about not looking to put party above the country was exactly what we always said it was: bullshit. Complete and steaming bullshit.

I came into work. I was here two hours and no-one, in a room in which about fifty people were working, mentioned it. Several of them had been here since before the announcement was announced and didn’t know. No-one was excited.

Given that the result is probably going to be a disaster, in line with the last three elections I’ve followed, I cannot summon much interest in this one. I live in a seriously Labour constituency and will vote Labour on the day, but I have no hopes, and I think the turnout is going to set new levels. I think this is going to be the General Election that no-one wants.

I can certainly do without it.

Deep Space Nine: s04 e16 – Bar Association

When in doubt, stick a dabo girl up front

I may or may not have mentioned this before, but I really don’t go for Quark-centric episodes, which makes this week a bit of a problem. ‘Bar Associate’ was more palatable than these things usually are, however, which was because this was more of a Rom-centric episode, ably supported by Leeta the dabo girl (Chase Masterson with her cleavage well to the fore).

In some ways this was a heavily political episode. Like many others, I have the image of America as a land of individualism, the legacy of the Wild West, the man with the gun on his hip, making his own way. That makes America a land where the Union, workers coming together to negotiate collectively, even more of an anathema than it is in this country (more fool us). Most fictional depictions of American Unions paint them as barely one-step above criminal enterprises.

So it was out of the ordinary to see DS9 so firmly in favour of Unionism, at least in so far as it struck against Quark.

It’s the month of the Bajoran Ritual of Cleansing (which meant no Kira until a tiny cameo near the end). Nobody’s coming into the Bar, so Quark cuts the staff’s pay by a third, unilaterally. Rom’s already ill because Quark doesn’t allow him sick-leave to get his ear infection treated, and knows damn well that once profits resume their normal level, the pay won’t. After all, Ferengi is capitalism at its worst extreme.

So, after being prompted by Chief O’Brien, whose ancestors included a prominent Union leader (shot 32 times for his pains), Rom decides to form a Union and go on strike against Quark.

This is a very dangerous thing to do since it strikes directly at the heart of Ferengi culture and tradition, and indeed it leads to the appearance of Ferengi Commercial Authority Liquidator Brunt, with a mandate to stop this by any means necessary, fair or, preferably foul.

Foul includes trying to intimidate Rom by beating to death someone he cares about. No, not Leeta, though Brunt does spend a lot of time with his eyes lingering on her prominent bosom, but rather Quark himself. This prompts Quark to settle the strike: in return for Rom officially dissolving the Union, the staff will get all their demands settled. It’s a deal.

More importantly, Rom has stood up to his grasping, dictatorial, doctrinaire **** of a brother, and held his nerve. So he promptly quits his job as waiter and becomes a junior technician for Starfleet, moving their relationship on towards a more balanced level.

This may well be less irritating than most Quark stories, but it still didn’t engage my interest all that much. I’m afraid I’m just too prejudiced against him and the caricatural Ferengis to ever really get absorbed into one of their episodes. Important as this episode may have been to Rom’s progress, and to the series on a character level, it was just too lightweight for me, after so many good, heavy episodes.

The B story this week was hardly developed enough to be called a B story. It was nothing more than a couple of nudges along the way to developing the relationship between Worf and Dax, and a couple of nudges about how Worf is finding it hard to adjust to life on board DS9 as opposed to the Enterprise. He moves quarters into the Defiant and has a comeback to Dax’s suggestion that he’ll have to adapt to them in time by suggesting that they might have to adapt to him, and that’s about it.

And that’s about it.

The Legendary Semi-Autobiographical First Novel: On the Page

Back on December 15th, I announced (by way of creating a rod for my own back) that I was going to dedicate myself to transcribing a novel written in first draft thirty years ago, which I finally wanted to exist in a more permanent form than the original hand-written sheets.

I estimated it would probably take me half a year just to transcribe: I was out by the best part of three months. I also intended only to transcribe, but the further the transcription progressed, the more I got into my old work, and the more ideas came to me for improving and deepening it.

But first things first. I have been off work over the entire Easter weekend, and I have used that time to format and re-format (and re-format and re-format and re-format and re-format…) my final script until it looks as professional and physically correct as I can get it, and I have today designed its cover, and finalised it with, and ordered a proof copy.

It now exists, and anyone can read it. Provided that anyone is me, that is.

But the job I set out to do is done, and I am now free to start working on the Second (and any subsequent) Draft. I suspect that’s going to take longer than four months, but when it’s done, this version will be made publicly available.

I’m just going to relax out the rest of the weekend now.

Under a Solitary Tree: Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club – The Secret of Grey Walls

The Secret of Grey Walls was the fourth Lone Pine Club book, and the first to feature the Club’s entire membership, all eight members (Jon and Penny Warrender’s formal induction takes place in this book, as the Lone Piners’ establish a third HQ). It’s a return to Shropshire, though once again Saville changes the immediate scene, bringing all his characters together for a winter escapade in and around the quiet town of Clun, in the southwest corner of the county.
Grey Walls was the first of the Lone Pine books that I devoured in this re-read, courtesy of an internet friend who, similarly inspired to investigate her memories, acquired a hardback copy and lent it to me. So it’s the first in this series of blogs where I’m working from the original, and full-length text, and with the benefit of the original Bertram Prance illustrations.
From the first, Saville had invited his readers to write to him, and many did, each of whom received a handwritten reply. Saville referred directly to this in a short foreword to the book, stating that his readers have asked him to keep the Lone Piners at their current age, and that he will do so. It would be nearly twenty years before he would go against those wishes, and that too would be at the prompting of the Lone Pine fans.
After three summer adventures, Saville sets Grey Walls in winter, between Xmas and New Year, at first in familiar country. The Mortons are at Witchend, Peter at Hatchholt, and planning to spend most of her days riding over there, but Saville is not interested in going over old geography, and quickly shifts the scene to another part of Shropshire.
The catalyst, or MacGuffin, is a letter, two letters in fact, delivered to Witchend and causing complete disruption. The first is for the Morton parents: unspecified business in London requiring their urgent presence, Mrs Morton’s signature as well. Ordinarily, they’d be happy to leave the children under the care of Agnes, despite the evidence that this might not be the best thing for discipline, especially so far as the Twins are concerned.
But Agnes has a letter too, this from her sister, who keeps a boarding house, Keep View, in Clun. Sister is going into hospital for an operation and, with not much notice, wants Agnes to look after her business for her. So there’s nothing for it but to close Witchend, no matter how that affects everyone’s holiday plans.
That is, until Dickie has one of his brilliant ideas, which is that, instead of sending everyone away, send them to Clun. They can be guests at Keep View, help Agnes’s sister’s business, keep everyone together for the holiday, and the guest house should be big enough to not only invite Jenny Harman across from Barton Beach, but Jon and Penny Warrender as well! The whole Lone Pine Club together for the first time (taking Jon and Penny’s induction as read) and enabling them to meet Peter, Tom and Jenny, and the latter to meet the Warrenders.
There comes a point in each of the Lone Pine books where the members are scattered into groups facing different aspects of the problem at the same time, and Grey Walls is no different in that respect, but Saville also splits the Club into three groups just to get to Clun, by different ways and means, and arranges for each of his groups to have encounters that dovetail to set up the crime of the story.
Jon and Penny, travelling by train, find themselves sharing both a compartment and a dining car with Alan Denton, a Clun-based sheepfarmer, taking his new sheepdog up from the south.
The Mortons and Tom, plus Jenny from the Barton Beach road, are cycling (Tom goes to meet Jenny on her route, suggesting that he’s got to know her much better in the interim since Seven White Gates). En route, they meet the gypsies, Reuben and Miranda, who are leaving the Clun area because sheep-stealing is going on, and they do not want to be accused, being Gypsies.
And Peter travels alone, across country, on Sally. Part way, she finds her way being blocked by a parked furniture van, driven by two unsavoury and vaguely threatening men: she’s sure she can hear the bleating of sheep…
The actual story is over quickly: within two days of the Club arriving in Clun, the sheep stealers have been arrested by the Police, thanks in part to the Lone Piners, though not necessarily as much as they think.
The gang trek out to Bury Fields to meet Alan Denton and his mother, by which time he’s been a victim of sheep-stealing, sixty ewes or so. On the way back, they get lost and discover a mysterious house, surrounded by grey walls, tucked into a fold of land by Offa’s Dyke, which seems deserted but rather the inhabitants are refusing to acknowledge there is anyone there. There are also mysterious strangers in the woods, one of whom appears to be the elderly Mr Cantor, the rather suspicious guest who drops into the middle of the Lone Pine party by taking a room at Keep View.
Cantor – balding, bespectacled, fussy, given to an absurd tweed suit and plus fours (for our younger readers, an even-then archaic form of trousers, beloved of golfers, which were baggy down to the calf where they ended, tightly) – is a seemingly sinister stranger who causes mixed reactions among the Lone Piners. The vivacious Penny, ever willing to talk to anyone, likes him, the twins put on their show for him, Peter dislikes him intensely, even before he patronises her over the van she has seen race through Clun in the middle of the night.
But Cantor (whose real name will not be revealed for many books and years) is the Police, a detective investigating what is now only just being realised to be organised sheep stealing, in different parts of the country.

Before this is revealed, the Club splits its forces in true Lone Pine fashion. The Twins divert Cantor all over the place, but discover the hidden sheep pens that he was looking for, at which point he drops his disguise as an elderly archaeologist, and calls in the Police. And that’s really all the Club do, as the others, when you look closely, get deeply involved without having any effect.
The boys go off to look at Grey Walls, to try to get in. They have various encounters, and stay far too long, end up getting inside the walls, David and Jonathon in the back of the furniture van the crooks are using to transport the sheep, Tom, acting on his own initiative for once, through the sheep tunnel under the walls, but all three are captured after a bit of an offstage fight.
As for the girls, they initially get the passive role, of heading back to Bury Fields too try to persuade Alan Denton – anyone – that their encounters are real. But when the boys don’t return, they sneak off on their own, in the dark, to rescue their… well, let’s say it, early though it is in the series and along way from being fulfilled, but it’s obvious enough that it is boyfriends they are seeking to protect: Jenny is concerned for Tom, Penny for Jon and Peter for David, and whilst the overall loyalty of the Club to each other matters, each girl has one boy in mind.
Jenny goes alone to Bury Fields, despite her fears and melodramas, while the two older girls head for Grey Walls, and into the direct fulfilment of Peter’s prophetic dream with which Saville opens the book, and about which I’ll have more to say shortly. That dream ended with them outrunning fire, sweeping down from the tinder-dry winter woods, and fire they have to outrun, as do the farmers on horses brought in the nick of time by Jenny.
And the girls get inside the walls, and Peter calms the savage alsatian inside, but as I said, none of this would mean anything in practical terms but for the vanload of coppers summoned up by Cantor. Saville does a very good job of distracting his younger audience from this, but I’m too old not to see that a certain amount of wool is being pulled over certain eyes in the denouement.
Before I go on to the things that interest me most about this volume, I’d like to say that I think Saville is guilty of a colossal mistake when it comes to setting up his dramatic ending. Peter’s dream, which sees her running downhill, ahead of fire, with a red-headed girl that she doesn’t recognise but whom we all know is Penny Warrender, is not so much foreshadowing as a straight recitation of what is to come. All that’s missing from the dream is Peter’s self-recognition when she comes to live it out.
On neither occasion do we know how or why the fire has started, through Saville sets up the dry conditions half a dozen times over as the story progresses, but when all is revealed, I for one was horrified to learn that it was deliberate, and what’s more, it was the Police who set it!
Naturally, it was Dickie Morton’s idea, and from the perspective of an excitable ten year old boy, it’s a perfectly feasible means of scaring out the bad guys, but for heaven’s sake, for an adult to think it’s a good idea, and a Policeman as well, is impossible to swallow. Hell’s bells, this is the English countryside, and they’re going to burn a wood? They haven’t got a clue who might be about; I mean, Peter and Penny have to run for it, and it bloody near traps half a dozen local farmers and their horses!
The burst banking at Winchelsea in Gay Dolphin was entirely credible, as being a real natural disaster and a danger that the Lone Piners were plunged into at the responsibility of the bad guys, from whom you expect it, but giving kids the idea that starting fires was perfectly ok, even the cops do it, was stupid at best and lunatic at the worst. From a basically conservative writer, it comes as a massive surprise.
Be that as it may, what interests me about this book is the dynamics of the expanded Club, and especially Peter’s reactions to all of this. Her letter at the end of the previous book enthusiastically welcomes the idea of the Warrenders making the numbers up to eight, but when it comes to actually getting them to Shropshire, and formally inducting them, she has some pretty clear reservations.
Most of these are about Penny, with Jon getting tagged in, and it’s interesting to see that Peter’s reservations stem from the green-eyed monster. Please do remember that this is the fourth in a series of childrens’ adventure stories and that Saville is already painting a picture of the loyal, steadfast, calm and clear-headed Peter as being jealous of how David Morton praises Penny. And despite the fact that Penny is adorably excited to be there and instantly eager to be friends, Peter still finds it difficult to settle to her.
The two never quite clash, but it’s not until they go off into the night together, that they really start to bond properly. Though Saville doesn’t say it, what allays Peter’s concerns about Penny’s volatility is that she is evidently as much concerned for her cousin as Peter is for her ‘special friend’. Peter’s insecurity about whether David might actually like another girl disappears, and she accepts Penny fully at last.
I’d mentioned before that Tom and Jenny have already set up their own little bond, despite having had really no time together in Seven White Gates, and the friendship is clearly mutual. As is the feelings between Jon and Penny, as we already knew. There’s is less overt than the others, despite Penny being the most overt of the Club, the twins aside. Saville has made a bit of a rod for his own back here in making them cousins: it was still thought in those days that cousinship was a bit too close for marriage, and that the genetic closeness was a contra-indication to having children. Yes, I know we’re a very long way off from such ideas, and especially so in the mind of the audience!
But it’s plain that the bickering between the Warrenders, which is the product of the long years they’ve already spent under the same roof, doesn’t hide a deep commitment to one another. Since they’ve grown up as virtual siblings, this is quite deep waters.
One final note, upon ages. Saville introduces the Lone Piners to us at the beginning of the book, and gives everybody’s ages. David, Peter and Jon are all now fixed at sixteen, with Tom fifteen-and-a-half (though he’s already been at Ingles’ farm for two years, and becoming quite the countryman). Jenny is ‘nearly fifteen’ and Penny a year younger than Jon, which makes Jenny no more than about eighteen months younger than Peter rather than the four years or so she was when she was introduced.
We are going to have to learn not to take this side of things seriously. The Lone Piners will stay ‘the same ages forever and ever’ only not quite. Or for a good long while at least.

Saturday SkandiKrime: Department Q – The Absent One

In the original Danish

Probably it read better in the book.

The second of three Department Q films was made a year after The Keeper of Lost Causes and didn’t make any significant changes to the formula. Johanne Louise Schmidt joined the main cast as Rose, the latest secretary for Department Q, aka Carl ‘Morose’ Morck’s personal cold case fiefdom, and looks to have established herself as a useful member of the team (which hasn’t been tearing up any trees since its first, semi-miraculous success). And Carl’s even more grim and impatient of unnecessary protocol, such as not breaking into a subject’s home to look for evidence when you’ve got none.

The crime, on this occasion, was a double-murder and rape: Thomas and Marie, twin children of a Police Inspector, were killed twenty years ago, and a local bad boy confessed and did three years before being released after pleading temporary insanity (he was off his head on pills and coke). The father has never accepted the outcome and has been writing to Carl, without success. He even beards him, only to be rudely rejected.

So he goes home and slits his wrists, which guilts Carl into re-opening the case. That’s our first egregious cliche of the week, but not the last.

Anyway, Carl takes the Inspector’s box of evidence (and his cat) back to the office, where Rose organises the contents with brilliant efficiency. She also loves the cat (which Carl names ‘Cat’).

On the surface, it looks open and shut, though of course it isn’t. There’s a few details here, mainly about things that require far too much money than the low-life patsy could have managed, which encourages Carl, and even Assad, to start digging deeper.

We, the audience, have not so much digging ahead of us. The film has already introduced us to two filthy-rich men, Ditlev Pram, played by Pilou Asbek (Borgen, 1864) and Ulrik Dybbol, played by David Dencik (Follow the Money 2, byt here without his wig). And it’s not too far before we’re seeing them twenty years younger, at an exclusive Boarding School for the boys and girls of the disgustingly rich.

And whilst the film, over its 115 minute length, eventually dots all the i’s and crosses all the t’s, including the rapes, they are unnecessary details because we see quickly enough what’s gone on.

There’s a lousy streak of rottenness through the middle of this film, the rottenness of wealth and power that creates the expectation that you can do whatever you want, hurt anyone you want, indulge all your most vicious impulses, all in the certain knowledge that you will never have to face the consequences, that they can be headed off, bought off or, if need be, killed off. Your money will protect you. And so will the rest of the rich. Not to mention the fact that you are so much more fucking clever than them because, well, you’re rich and powerful, aren’t you?

There’s only one answer to the sort of people who think like that, who imbibe that feeling of invincibility with their mother’s milk, and I was glad to see the film end with that, but the outcome depended on a madwoman, who was part villain, part victim and altogether out of her head from the beginning, but who was the spine of the film.

This was Kimmie, Kirsten Lauren Lassen to give her her formal name. She’s played by Danica Curcic (The Bridge 2) in the present, as an obviously paranoid and mentally suspect bag lady whose only friend in a prostitute who OD’s midway, and by Sarah-Sofie Boussnina (1864, The Bridge 3) at school, as an obviously wild child sensation seeker.

Kimmie was screwing Ditlev at school and getting fully involved with his and Ulrik’s wild and vicious escapades. She fucked the Physics teacher who was about to fail Ditlev, then cried rape to get him dismissed. Eventually she fell pregnant, but the night of her telling him was the night of the beating/rape of Thomas and Marie, which had to become murder when Thomas pulled Ulrik’s mask off.

This was over the line for Kimmie, who was interrupted ringing the Police. Four nights later, she was attacked in her home by Ditlev and Thomas, who raped her and punched her in the stomach to kill the foetus. Kimmie disappeared for twenty years.

She’s eventually captured trying to kill Ditlev, who’s still a complete bastard. Carl tries to get through to her, after it’s discovered that she’s been writing Ditlev mad letters for twenty years, thus discrediting her eye-witness testimony. But she tells Carl that Ulrik is a collector…

So he and Assad break into Ulrik’s (Maverick cop, remember, Maverick: Cliche City, Arizona), get shot with tranquiliser darts, wake up to find they’re going to be killed. But Kimmie to the rescue: she knocks out the prison guard sent to take her to court, walks out of the police station, or prison, or whatever non-security place this is without anybody noticing, gets to Ulrik’s mansion unseen, frees our hapless pair of heroes and goes after Ditlev, despite all Carl’s attempts to reform her and restore the sanity we’re not entirely sure she ever possessed.

It might have worked, but for Ditlev, or so we’re meant to think. Personally, I don’t believe that for a second but, when it looks like she might be calming down under Carl’s urging, the smug, stupid, arrogant twat looks up at her with appealing eyes under his soaked-with-petrol fringe and confident that he can still work his will on her, uses his old pet term for her, “Princess.”

Deserves it all: she fires the petrol and burns him to death, but having finally ended her nightmare, and having burned, symbolically, all her bridges back to sanity, steps into the flames herself and ends the torture.

I’m still left with the impression that this might all have seemed more cohesive in the book, where interiors could also come into play. The adaptation had to paint in fairly broad brush-strokes, whilst accommodating turns in the narrative that never entirely came over as an organic progression. As with the first film, there were extensive flashbacks, though as time went on, these became more and more otiose, showing things that the narrative had already established for us, until they ceased being revelations and became instead tedious confirmations.

Incidentally, the film also featured Beate Bille in the minor role of Thelma, Ditlev’s wife. I mention this solely because Ms Bille was an extraordinarily beautiful woman. That’s all.

Last one next week.