Friday, 1 June 2012

Jubilee-ing and Black Hearts in Battersea

It's all gone bunting crazy round here. Estate Agents especially can't get enough of those fashionable little flags it seems. A double bank holiday weekend approaches with a schedule of street parties round every corner, picnics in every park and a flotilla of a 1000 boats to sail down the Thames: God Save Our Queen for 60 Glorious Years! (and let's not mention the 10 degree temperature drop and three days of driving rain that's forecast.) I'm unwrapping a Union Jack wrapped teacake in her honour as I type.

The Queen's Coronation Day (I burst with pride to announce) also coincides with my birthday. I have always taken for granted that flags should be raised and the Anthem played to provide a suitable backdrop to the Unwrapping of Breakfast Gifts. My 6th birthday marked the Queen's Silver Jubilee, we played 'Pin the Crown on the Queen' at my party and everyone got a small flag as a going home present. I received a lot of jubilee china mugs as gifts; none still in existence alas. The husband has been more careful with his silver jubilee biscuit tin which still holds such marvels as decorated milk bottle tops, special edition 50p piece, first day cover and a jubilee copy of  Krazy comic. Treasure.
The boys' school is of a fairly Republican bent, so their celebrations have been muted in comparison to some. They are however all going on a whole school picnic today which found me trying to make red, white and blue popcorn in a panic at 8.40 this morning; enough of a failure as to potentially worry whoever finds one of the 5 stray blue pieces. Otherwise I'm afraid the closest thing I have to a keepsake for them is the wrapper from my teacake.

So what book to recommend in Her Majesty's honour? A book published in the year of the Accession? ('Charlotte's Web') A book that features the Queen? ('The BFG', 'The Queen's Knickers', 'Horrid Henry meets the Queen') A generally royal book? ('The Prince and the Pauper', 'Princess Smartypants'. 'I want my Potty'...)

Slightly wickedly in view of the conjunction of flotilla and weather forecast I'm drawn to 'Black Hearts in Battersea' the second book in Joan Aiken's epic 'The Wolves of Willoughby Chase' sequence; the first of which I reviewed here. Taking up the story of Simon, the girls' rescuer in that first book and moving the action to London, it also introduces one of children's literature's best ever heroines in the form of Dido Twite. The assuredly melodramatic plot involves the substitution of babies, long lost twins, kidnap, gun running, escape by hot air balloon and a conspiracy to assassinate both aristocracy and King. It's exciting and funny in equal measure and had Bill as gripped as its predecessor when I read it to him earlier this year.

At the (black- obviously) heart of the book are a series of increasingly inventive attempts to kill the incumbent Duke and Duchess of Battersea who are only rescued from a series of misadventures by the fortuitous employment of an enormous piece of tapestry the Duchess likes to carry with her to work on when bored. One of these attempts involves their ducal barge being scuttled as it progresses back down the Thames from a Royal visit to Hampton Court. Wrapping the tapestry around the hole manages to buy enough time for the boat to find rescuers and the sinking Duke and Duchess to be saved from drowning.

'"By Jove!" said the Duke, as he stood steaming and emptying water out of his diamond-buckled shoes. "What a scrape, eh? I fancied my number was up that time - so it would have been too, if it weren't for your plucky lads, Furneaux! Much obliged to 'ee all!"
"Indeed, yes!" The Duchess smiled round warmly upon the dripping assembled students. She looked much less bedraggled than anybody, as the upper part of her body had never been submerged, thanks to the speed with which she had been towed to land. "You are a set of brave, good souls. You must all come to dinner at the Castle as soon as possible."'

The lessons for the Queen here are obvious. 1. Pack Tapestry or expendable Corgi on Sunday in case of anti- monarchist conspirators. 2. Wear Proper Queen outfit with big puffy skirt to aid flotation. 3. Ensure competent swimmer outriders accompany you for immediate rescue- I suggest David Walliams, Ben Fogle, Rebecca Addlington and Duncan Goodhew as a minimum to swim beside boat on Sunday. 4. Consider staying at home with a good book which if Alan Bennett is to be believed you'd surely prefer anyway.

Happy Jubilee Weekend.
'Black Hearts in Battersea' by joan Aiken, pub. Random House, isbn, 978-0-09945639-1

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