Monday, August 1

Secret

I was a precocious child.

By the age of two, I’d already pretty much mastered the ABC. And was well on the way to D.

By three years old I knew that this was Janet and that was John. I knew that Janet looked at the dog. And that John looked at the dog. And that the dog looked at Janet. And John. And as for Peter and Jane, I had them licked. Down pat. No more of such childish nonsense for me, I was moving on to the classics. 123 with Ant and Bee.

At the age of four, like so many children who grew up in England, I discovered Enid Blyton. I don’t have the same fond memories of her books that most have, my Blyton period was relatively short. Just a few short years, and then at the age of about six or seven I was introduced by my new best friend Graham to the delights of Biggles, and from that moment all thoughts of wizzo adventures and lashings and lashings of ginger beer were banished from my thoughts.

I don’t think I ever really related to Enid Blyton very well. The England depicted in her books was very different from the one I lived in. Her characters were all upper middle-class, their fathers had important jobs which would take them away to far off places, and the children would go away on camping holidays with a surprising lack of adult supervision, or would be invited to stay at a big country house with a rich uncle. And while there they would get involved in an adventure, be captured by smugglers or pirates and escape to warn the friendly local bobby who would be ever so grateful to them for being so clever. These things never seemed to happen on our council estate.

That’s probably why I was never a big fan of the Famous Five, and why I much preferred their less popular counterparts, the Secret Seven.

The Secret Seven were still impossibly middle-class, but somehow they seemed a bit more normal. They went to school, for one thing. Okay, private boys and girls only schools, but at least they didn’t seem to be on this perpetual holiday. And they had a purpose. They didn’t just stumble across adventures, they went looking for them. They were a secret detective society you see, with secret meetings, and a secret badge, and passwords and codes and everything.

Peter was the leader. He was really bossy and got annoyed when anyone forgot one of the rules. He formed the club with his sister Janet, although she wasn’t second in command because she was just a girl. No, Jack was second in command, even though he kept losing his badge which made Peter very very cross. And then there was Colin, who always seemed to be the one to see something suspicious for them to investigate. And George, who never seemed to do much, as far as I recall, but at least he was one of the club. There were the girls as well of course, Janet, Barbara and Pam, but they were girls and as such, in an Enid Blyton story, they were mainly there to get in the way and be protected by the boys and occasionally think up a scheme for Peter to organise. Oh and there was Scamper the dog. There was always a dog in an Enid Blyton book.

I wanted to be like Peter. I wanted to have my own secret detective club. But when you are four years old and the only people who play with you are your older brothers and the local neighbourhood kids, there really aren’t that many people who want you to make badges for them and boss them around. And there were a surprising lack of adventures you could get yourself into in our part of the world.

But just up behind our house was an overgrown grass area we kids knew as The Wasteland. When I was about eight or nine they levelled it off and built blocks of flats there, but before that, when I was allowed to play, it was the place I always headed for. And in among the overgrown grass and the weeds I had my own imaginary Secret Seven society, and we had the best secret badges and secret passwords and codes ever, and we had the best adventures and solved the most thrilling mysteries.

The only thing missing was the lashings and lashings of ginger beer.