Sunday 27 July 2014

Something to Do, by Septima - by Louisa Young

 Did you have this? Did you? 

I looked at it today for the first time in decades and I realised: I am history. Things are not now as they were when this fat, heavenly book was normal. (Also, can you see what I did, when looking for something to do? I coloured in the Os. Of course I did.)

And if you had it, did you have one of these inside? Not with my name, obviously - but did you have the Puffin Club Bookplates? Where you a Puffineer? If I say 'Sniffup', will some ancient tribal voice within you cry out 'Spotera!'? Are you interested in my red-plastic-foldered full set of Puffin Post? If so, please be in touch.

And this history is important history, to me at least. It concerns dates. According to the bookplate, the book belongs to Louise Young. But then, in the same writing, we have Louisa Young, written five times, all around it like a garland. Five times! 'How must she have felt, when writing that? Why did she do it?' Well, I can tell you. I remember it clearly. I was changing my name. There was a new girl at school, called Louise. I didn't like her. I didn't actually like the name Louise, either - sounded like wheeze. I had been waiting for my chance, gathering my courage. I remember writing the new names many times, so it would be strong enough to outweigh the old name. I remember writing it in different pens so it would look as if it had been written on different occasions, which I felt would give further strength to its case. I misspelt my surname, so as to give variety within the evidence. I think I was already reading Agatha Christie, though it seems unlikely with that bad handwriting. I had definitely read the Tales of Ancient Egypt (Roger Lancelyn Green? A Puffin Book, anyway) and I knew that Isis had power because she knew Ra's real name.

I think I may have been doing different writings on purpose too. To mystify anyone who might  investigate, and find that my real name was, in fact, Louise, and would charge me with the crime of misrepresentation, or cart me off to a dungeon or make me get rid of my new beautiful romantic dashing Italianate fraudulent A.

And now, a little more historical analysis gives us crucial information about this important ontological shift: the date. 'To Louise' (old version, nb) 'with love from Nannie, Christmas 1967'. Nannie had not yet got with the programme re the new name, and her handwriting is of a generation which by now often, can't write anymore: a handwriting learnt in the 20s and 30s. Nannie is 92 now. She does write, though she's largely blind and its largely illegible. I can read it though, because mostly she says the same things: thank you for the - , it was so lovely to see -, my leg is - , God bless and love to you all. The were six of us, and Nannie was the extra mother.

But back to the book. 

Undoubtedly I was a terrible nuisance, but I loved the book and I'm sure it shut me up.

Things to make!  I made these, mostly as presents for the adults who wouldn't play with me, so that they would suffer: 

They weren't very good, though I was excellent at pomanders to hang off them. I had a box, full of things to make things out of. I might have made the box, come to think of it. There was a lot of cutting and folding, and tabs, and glue. Cotton wool. Pompoms made of wool I never got the hang of. But carnations made from tissue paper, or paper hankies! Oh, and it was the sixties, there boxes of paper hankies in which the paper hankies were all different colours. Violet, lemon, pistachio (were there pistachios then? Perhaps not) rose and tangerine. I think my mother was a little annoyed. The bouquet of carnations was adorable though.

I wore this. 

Note there is no nonsense about this being an outfit for boys. Nothing was gender related. It was sewing, cooking, building, playing in bed (February, month of colds - I can still make a delightful mouse out of  a handkerchief, and I know how to make him jump). This Month's Pet - April, a Muscovy Duck. Weeding,with a lovely little chart of illustrations: Sowthistle, speedwell, plantain, scarlet pimpernel. Oh, and the illustrations are by Shirley Hughes! Colouring in, again, by me.


 I still don't know who wrote the book. Here is the mysterious introduction. Once I got round to reading it (several years later I suspect - what nipper reads introductions?) I realised Septima was not some Roman lady so grand she had no surname. For a while I examined each family I met, seeking to match up the children's names, the Julias and Davids, Simon and Ian, with the list here, just in case, to see if I might catch them out. Nancy Shepherd was the editor. But the seven who add up to Septima remain a mystery.

The advice they gave was good, it encouraged us to think for ourselves, and remains in my mind as the kind of thing I think I have always known, like a Dylan melody or a Shakespeare quotation. But I must have learnt all those things somewhere.

'If you do light a fire - '! Lord, the nostalgia for back then when children were treated reasonably. My friend Chris bought a combine harvester when he was fourteen, and hired himself out with it in the summer holidays.  Many years later Puffin, who have always been a lovely publisher to me, went into a bit of a tailspin because in my ancient Greece book, Halo, I wanted to give instructions on making a bow and arrow, and how to cook baklava. Everything had to start with 'first find a grown up'. Pah. 

There is one thing that I do it to this day. Seeing the diagrams again brought tears to my eyes. 
The little legs! The little fat conkers! They look like tiny good-tempered spaceships . . .

And I adjusted it. Behold: the Champagne Cork Chair. 
You will need: a bottle of champagne (make sure it's the good stuff), and a pair of tiny pliers, though you can do it with a pair of tiny hands and your teeth if you're strapped for pliers. 

1) Open the bottle and drink the contents, with friends (the easy bit). 
2) Unravel the wire from round the bottom of the cage, and slither it out through the loops (the tricky bit).
3) Bend it into a chair-back, using the existing curves to make a slight 18th-century feel.
4) Twist the ends tightly and neatly round the legs (the other tricky bit). 
5) Accept lavish admiration (the other easy bit.
Here's one I made earlier.

Look how loved this book was, and how well used.  

Tomorrow, I might make some things. Or just think about how much I learned.
This is what it says on flower arranging, and I do believe this is extremely good advice for any child on how to exist at all. 
It may actually be my philosophy for life: 
'Think about each thing and when you have studied carefully how and where it grows, then you will have a feeling for it and know how to use it'.  


Jean Bull said...

An absolutely lovely post, Louise, sorry, Louisa!
I bought this book for my children, and I have still have it, but I think that you got more out of it than they ever did!
I love how you loved it so much and coloured in the pages, and also your updated champagne cork chair.
Excuse me while I go and dig out my old copy.

Sue Purkiss said...

Wonderful! Have never seen the book, but I wish it had been around a few years earlier, for me. I also love the champagne cork chair - most elegant!

adele said...

Wonderful post, Louisa...but only shows how YOUNG you are ( forgive the pun!) In 1967, when you were given the book, I was getting married....

Pippa Goodhart said...

YES, that was me too! I had the book and that same almost regal book plate, and I too made conker and pin chairs for my dolls' house. Ah, you've made me all nostalgic!

Anonymous said...

Bliss. Three cheers for the Puffin Club! Now, where did I put all my Puffin Posts?

Ann Turnbull said...

Lovely, and so nostalgic - though I too am older, and got married a year before you were given it! However I remember a similar book from my childhood - was it called "Things to Make and Do"? or "The Bumper Book for Boys and Girls"? Maybe we had both of those. There was a lot of emphasis back then on keeping busy and making things with odds and ends that cost nothing. We did not have a TV to entertain us until I was twelve.

Ruan Peat said...

My favorite from then was your mentioned Roger Lancelyn Green, and Ruth Manning Saunders, fairy tales and heroes, myths and the history. I particularly remember the Norse gods book Rodger did, I recently re bought a new copy as my old one looks like your 'something to do' book!

Kit said...

I had that book and those book plates and those red plastic folders of Puffin Post! Love the story about your name change and am glad that you manged to hold sway and keep your preferred name..
I remember that conker furniture. I wonder if my mother still has the book itself stashed in her loft.

Catherine Johnson said...

Oh my god! Mw too. The copy is upstairs somewhere worn and tattered.
January brings the snow
Makes my feet and fingers glow....

Unknown said...

I still have this book. I love it it keeps me in touch with the past.