18 November 2011

The iron fist in the velvet glove

I can hardly believe that chapter five is reached and Elizabeth STILL hasn't got past her first day.

I could rant about the mixed philosophy of the school yet again, but I think it would be better just to let the principals of the school tell you themselves (for some reason there are two - I don't know why, they don't seem to actually do anything except lollop about in their drawing room). Elizabeth goes to see them this chapter (can I say that I NEVER went to see a principal when I started a new school - and I started at new schools four times in high school). Here's what they have to say to Elizabeth (after laughing delightedly when she said that she was going to be naughty):

"We never punish anyone, Elizabeth," said Miss Best, suddenly looking stern again. "Didn't you know that?"
"No I didn't," said Elizabeth in astonishment. "What do you do when people are naughty, then?"
"Oh, we leave any naughty person to the rest of the children to deal with," said Miss Best. "Every week the school holds a meeting, you know, and the children themselves decide what is to be done with boys and girls who don't behave themselves. It won't bother
us if you are naughty - but you may perhaps find that you make the children angry."

A cold shiver ran down my spine when I read that passage. I pictured them sitting there with sneaky hip flasks getting quite squiffy during their conversations with the new brats (it's what I'd do). And that is all I'm going to say about it (there must be something terribly wrong with me today if I'm not running at that red flag).

This chapter "Elizabeth is naughty" exposes Elizabeth to the true brutality that Whyteleaf School authorities (by that I mean the students) are capable of.

Basic plot: Following that not very encouraging meeting with the principals, Elizabeth goes to supper where she is still in food coventry, makes a joke (Enid never did have a very good sense of humour, so I won't try to repeat the joke), then finds out that she has an assigned bed-time.

Elizabeth, predictably, objects to going to bed at 8 p.m.

Irish Nora's response?

"No wonder you're such a cross-patch! my mother says that late hours make children stupid, bad-tempered, and slow."

I rather love that response: it's supremely arrogant (in that Nora has known Elizabeth for less than half a day) and slavishly apes an absentee parent all in one. Nora, however, is a true daughter of Enid: she doesn't stop her parent aping there. No, she takes it to its logical conclusion and decides become an absentee supervisor herself, expecting Elizabeth to do as she's told while she buggers off back to the playroom.

In a massive piece of perversity, Elizabeth doesn't go to bed (gasp). She instead goes to play on the swings (honestly, playroom, swings? If you're going to be naughty, steal some cigarettes and go sit behind the bike shed!). Honestly, this girl is made to be a rebel. I mean, we all know the dangerous effects of swing sets, don't we? It's a slippery slope to slides (I tried not to make the pun, really I did), then merry-go-rounds before she's a full-on jungle gym junkie. Tsk tsk ...

Fortunately for Irish Nora, back-up is at hand to save Elizabeth from this slippery slope. A boy comes along and orders her to go to bed or he'll dob her in to the other kids (fittingly, we're not told which boy - and neither is she - what she doesn't know, she can't dob. Gotta love corrupt government).

"Pooh!" said Elizabeth, and she swung herself very had indeed, put out her foot and kicked the boy so vigorously that he fell right over. Elizabeth squealed with laughter - but not for long! The boy jumped up, ran to the swing and shook Elizabeth off. He caught hold of her dark curls and pulled them so hard that the little girl yelled with pain.
The boy grinned at her and said "serve you right!"

That fight scene started so promisingly. Finally, I thought, Elizabeth is going to actually do something worth her title. Then it was matched and bettered by the other kid and my hopes were dashed.

It would have been so much better if he had hit his head or done some actual injury that would REALLY get Elizabeth in to trouble. All that happened was that Elizabeth came out second best in a fight, and we got a glimpse of the iron fist inside the velvet glove. How is Elizabeth supposed to be naughty when the corrupt system in which she is operating allows right-minded individuals to commit violence with impunity while punishing the minority for the same infractions? This is so unfair to we readers ...

Because of course Elizabeth is going to be dobbed in to the authorites by this unknown boy. And did I mention that he's a monitor?

Here ends Elizabeth's first day in Blytonia. The score? Elizaeth 0, Blytonia 4 (perhaps 5). We'll see how day 2 goes next time.

11 November 2011

Shrimp paste and bullying

Blast Enid – she’s gone and annoyed me again.

You may well be thinking well there’s a news flash, but you have to understand that even though I may rail at the old girl, even though I am fully aware that I am not going to agree with a thing she says, even though I read the books with an eye to ripping their guts out, I still open one of her books hoping that this book will not disappoint me. I’m all grown up and I still want to believe Enid when she tells me that if you do this and this and this you will be pretty and successful and everyone will like you ...

So then, when I open a book and read something as stupid as I read in this chapter, I just get annoyed.

Chapter 4 is called “Elizabeth gets in to trouble”. And it annoys me because it’s so very very stupid. The basic outline of the chapter is Elizabeth trying to break every rule that happens to come her way, or to make herself obnoxious, and coming up against the Irish bouncer Nora each time (mixed in is the obligatory oohing and ahhhing over classrooms, but classroom decor porn is more Enid’s thing than mine – seriously, only food is described in more detail). She does things like put too many items on her dressing table (apparently punishable by drawing and quartering) not sharing her food (which sends a person to food Coventry), and having messy hair. I mean, the scope of this girl’s villainy is beyond compare.

Of course, she doesn’t like doing any of these things, and she’s quite upset when she gets punished for them. When bouncer Nora takes her stuff, she instantly wants to redeem it, and she belatedly tries to share her food (but being in food Coventry, she’s turned down ...) and she’s horrified that her hair is messy. You really get the impression that she’s really not trying too hard (and, being a Blyton character, she is smitten with the classrooms – what is it with Enid and big square rooms with desks in it? They aren’t really that exciting ...), which of course gives you the SUBTLE hint that perhaps Elizabeth will stay ...

Seriously, the girl is trying to get expelled and she’s making a fuss over food sharing? If it were me, I’d be sneaking around trying to find what I could burn down. Or perhaps I would look at a fake bomb threat, or taking a classroom full of students hostage. I’d be home again in a day or two – a week, tops (you know, once the police got through with me). Problem solved.

Of course, Elizabeth's problem with disobedience may have something to do with the entirely unexpected form of discipline. I think I mentioned in an earlier post about the bullying aspect of this school. Nora the Irish does like to ‘shove’ her way past a recalcitrant student in her charge, but more insidious is the fact that the students go straight to ridicule the moment someone steps out of their pre-conceived notion of good behaviour. They mock Elizabeth over EVERYTHING she does. And remember, Elizabeth has been at the school for perhaps two hours at this point. She’s tired, her parents shipped her off to school with no notice and no proper goodbye, and ridicule is the most appropriate way to deal with her? Welcome to Blytonia people: this is where sanity comes to die.

I got to the end of the chapter thinking that there was very little that a box of matches wouldn’t solve at that school ...

I forgot to mention the food, which is the only redeeming feature of the chapter. It appears that first day is the day all the students eat the ENTIRE swag of food sent on by their parents. There is an orgy of chocolate cake, jam, shrimp paste, currant cake and other assorted fish pastes. I kept imagining that the fish pastes were contaminated with some sort of salmonella – that would have made the story soooo much more interesting.

03 November 2011

The greatest disappointment

I went shopping today.

I was going clothes shopping, but as invariably happens I got sidetracked by all the pretty books in the bookshop. And then I remembered that there is a new Jasper Fforde book out this month and the clothes were forgotten ...

Anyway, I came across the most wonderful sight whilst I was browsing: A large picture-book hardback version of the Magic Faraway Tree.

I was instantly besotted. It took me right back to a similar version I had growing up (I think that they just changed the cover and re-released the version I had as a child). I grabbed the book, all ready to buy it and put it aside for the grandchildren (perhaps not my own grandchildren, just some poor benighted souls who may not be exposed to the glorious wrongness of Enid) when I had the foresight to open it.

I was instantly confused. The story was about Joe, Beth, Frannie, and their cousin Rick. For a moment I thought that this was a new story or one about characters I had not come across before - I mean, Enid DID write well over 800 books, I may well have forgotten one or two. But then I realised what the abomination really was: it was a re-worked version.

Joe, Beth, Frannie, and their cousin Rick were the updated versions of Jo, Bessie, Fanny and Dick. Dame Slap became Dame Snap and no longer hits people (thus losing all of her menace).

It was terrible. My beautiful picture book had been vilely defaced. I'd heard about such a travesty occurring, but to see it was worse than heart-breaking. I departed that place, the burning gall of disappointment threatening to choke me as I went ...

Let me know if you have had similar disappointments with the works of the great lady.