A LETTER TO ARTHUR RANSOME


‘The island had come to seem one of those places seen from the train that belong to a life in which we shall never take part.’

Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome

 

Encouraged and supported by my doughty,

doting mother and her two sisters – all

elementary school girls – at nine I passed

the entrance exam for a local, day

boys’ preparatory school. We called the teachers

‘Sir’, irrespective of gender, and ‘Ma’

behind their backs if they were female.

 

Mine was Ma Riddell and the first task she set

that September was to write a letter

to Arthur Ransome, telling him how much

we had enjoyed ‘Swallows and Amazons’,

which the class had read the previous year.

The Head Master would choose which letter to send.

 

I was too conscious of my new school cap

and blazer, of being by chance somewhere

I should want to be, ashamed of where I lived

and being found out, to say I had not

read the book, knew nothing about the author.

 

Of course, my letter was chosen, much

to Ma Riddell’s chagrin – not a word

but an expression, facial and tonal,

I knew. “Time you did joined-up writing, Selzer!”

Ah, pedagogy as command rather than

tuition! I said nothing, of course – nor

at home. I assumed the three sisters knew

what they were saving up and paying for.

 

I read all of the novels. An only,

fatherless child, I longed for the idea

of siblings, did not snigger at Titty’s name,

fell in love with the stern kindness of Susan.

I cannot remember what I wrote or whether

he replied. Much later I learned he was

supposedly an MI5 agent,

was definitely married to Trotsky’s

secretary. They lived in Westmoreland,

childless, above the lakes he fictionalised.

He was a Guardian writer, left wing

and affable – a father figure.

 

 

 

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  1. #1 by Ashen Venema - February 24th, 2017 at 15:22

    Enjoyed this reminiscence.

  2. #2 by John Huddart - March 1st, 2017 at 21:51

    This portrait is a happy parallel of two lives, where the apparent differences between Mr Ransome and yourself drift away, and the qualities that link become strong – especially at the end!

  3. #3 by Mary Clark - March 1st, 2017 at 23:21

    Funny how your life intertwined with his, almost through force, but when it was also meant to be.

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