Thursday, 10 June 2010

Saturday Island - Gotta be a keeper, right?

My dearest of Old Pigs,

This is how Michael in Saturday Island by Hugh Brooke, addresses his much loved ship wreck companion, Aggie.

It’s a Heineman Adventure book that sold for two shillings and sixpence in 1935

Agatha Spottiswood (31, mild mannered, gentle eyes and a good line in rhyming patter inherited from her ex-pierrot mother) lives and works with her bother Charlie, and his blowsy second wife, Dora ‘dyed hair and getting fat’ in The White Hart, a down at heel back street pub in Brighton. They conspire to get rid of her so that they can ‘improve’ the place with such modern delights as a radiogramme and soft shaded lights, with perhaps a creamy cocktail or two on the menu.

They sweet talk Aggie into buying into a tearoom with Cousin Millie, the other side of the world - Jamaica. On board the s.s Hercules she meets Michael. An upperclass boy of thirteen returning home from boarding school with his dragon of a stepmother, Mrs Douglas Crosbie. (She has the coldest eyes Aggie has ever seen)

Aggie, who is rather taken with the rhyming possibility of his stepmother’s name idly writes a silly verse on a scrap of paper in the passenger lounge of the ship, that is retrieved by Michael from the waste paper basket, to his delight (and Aggie’s severe embarrassment)

“My teeth are false, my hair are few.

My age is over sixty two.

Please pass the salad dressing, do,

Said Mrs Douglas Crosbie”

A friendship between these unlikely two is born. All they share is a sense of humour. Aggie is in turns enchanted and intimidated by Michael’s clear voice, exquisite manners, and cold unemotional upbringing. He thinks she is a ‘nice old thing’ and funny. He lets her into a secret. He tells of her of a water tight emergency chest that he has on board and proudly shows her the list of contents: One compass, 5 different fish hooks, 2 yards of gut, 20 yards of fine line, 1 very sharp Bowey knife, 2 tins of sardines, Chocolate, 1 pair of siccors (sic), 1 sack of oats, 1 sack of corn, 1 Billy can, 6 boxes matches wrapped in oil cloth, thick cord, air pistol, 1000 buletts (sic) 1 catapult, 6 foot of thick elastic, a hammer and the Union Jack. ( I do so love a list in books) Aggie remarks that she would have packed some tea, and continues to stare at the silky smooth sea and dread the end of the voyage where she will doubtless never see Michael again and be bound to a hot sticky tearoom in Kingston.
Of course there is a hurricane. Of course they both wash up on an uninhabited (apart from a skeleton they name Mr Grimsby) island. They make a shelter, Aggie nurses him through sunstroke, he teaches her how to fish, he lords it over her with his knowledge of all things outdoors, and when she tries to ‘mother’ him he makes her come up with amusing doggerel that peppers the book. Aggie is reduced to making a grass skirt and uses the Union Jack as a bra. The only thing she misses and longs for is that most British of things, that even now, we have been known to yearn for when in a foreign land – a nice cup of tea. (Aggie takes it Indian and strong and with two lumps of sugar)

Then it takes a dark turn. They fall out. They move to separate ends of the island. Things begin to change. But as with all good adventure books there is a happy ending. One where Michael gives her the highest of accolades – My Dearest of Old Pigs. (This became an accepted form of address between my mother and I, and she would frequently start letters to me addressed to ’ My Dearest of Gloucester Old Spots’)

It’s a cracking read. Funny and poignant. And still delights.

I recently found it second hand on Amazon and in 2010 it’s selling for £49.50 I may well have to buy it as you can see my Mother’s copy is, quite literally, falling apart. An investment, I would say.

Most definitely a keeper. What do you think?

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