Thursday, 1 May 2008

The folly of youth

Completely self-indulgent bit of nostalgic wallowing coming up, so if you arrived here seeking anything interesting or intelligent then please look away now.

A trip over to the excellent Books, Mud and Compost (a blog title which instantly caught my eye, as might be imagined) sent me wheeching down memory lane at breakneck speed.

Pony books!!

How I loved pony stories when I was 9 or 10. I must have read hundreds of them, including lots of the titles listed here and here. The only thing was . . . I didn't have a pony, I didn't even ride, and in fact getting too close to ponies in real life made me sneeze and come out in a rash of eczema.

But that didn't stop me rushing to the little village library every Friday evening to exchange one week's-worth of tales of gymkhanas and (I'm sorry to say) fox hunting for another batch of loosebox romance.

This post on Books, Mud and Compost reminded me that I'd just about emerged from this phase of my life when sheer pony heaven suddenly landed on earth with the arrival on television of Follyfoot. It was perfect - horses, adventure, romance, and above all that brooding crush-magnet Steve Hodson. One of the main joys of watching the programme each week was the opportunity it afforded for bursting into deliciously uncontrollable sobbing - there was always a foal being born (or dying), or an elderly horse having to be humanely despatched, or (worst of all, I seem to remember), darling Steve getting caught in a man-trap. And I see that the Follyfoot website crucially includes a 'cryometer' in its episode synopses.

Surprisingly, Follyfoot assisted a number of now-famous film directors along their career paths, among them Stephen Frears and Michael Apted.

A brief, excited rummage along the muddled bookshelves turned up my well-thumbed, yellowing 1971 edition of Monica Dickens's book upon which the series was loosely based. Hooray! One daughter is now too old for it and the other too young, so I may just have to read it again myself. (Although this kind of exercise is fraught with dangers, as I discovered to my cost when I bought a DVD of The Flashing Blade, which I remembered with deep love and affection, only to discover that it was actually quite hopelessly risible and boring - I wish I'd stuck to the romantic memories.)

Without doubt, the most memorable thing about Follyfoot was the theme tune - 'The Lightning Tree', by The Settlers - which became, for a while, my favourite song in the entire world. You can easily see why if you watch the clip below! (cringe)

My sister and I would sing this continuously on long car journeys. In dodgy close harmony. All the way from Berkshire to Devon. And I used to wonder why my parents always wore fixed, long-suffering expressions and would keep trying to point out interesting landmarks on the way.

Oh, happy, carefree days (apart from the sneezing, the itchy rashes and the regular weekly bouts of weeping, of course)

OK, thanks, got that out of my system. You can come back now.



Anonymous said...

Juliet Haha! I also went through pony books at a great rate despite never getting close to a pony (or even wanting to). Finally went on a pony trek in my twenties only to suffer from a form of motion sickness (!)
didn't see Follyfoot, but love that tune, which is so emblematic of the times. Thanks for the nostalgia trip.
BTW I was similarly mad on ballet books - Sadlers Wells mean anything to you?

Juliet said...

Hi Alison - No, I didn't get into ballet stories (apart from Noel Streatfeild's 'Ballet Shoes'), but I did love boarding school stories, which no more reflected my own life or experiences that did gymkhanas and pony-trekking, but that really didn't seem to matter one jot. Which is why I continue to be deeply sceptical when educationalists cry out for children's fiction that is 'relevant' to youngsters by 'reflecting own lives'. What was great about these books is that (a) they were good compelling stories and (b) many were in series, which fostered a voracious appetite for reading the whole lot, and thus much time was spent in libraries, bookshops and swapping paperbacks with friends. Essential life-skills, then!

Kim Velk said...

Really, how do you do it? Another wonderful post. My sister was the mad about horses one but we all did the _Misty_ books here in the states in the 70s - though they were written well before. (All about wild ponies on Chincoteague (sp?) Island off the coast of Maryland and their girls, as I recall. Marguerite Henry wrote them... Funny how it comes flooding back. The illustrations were wonderful; I can just about feel one particularly satisfying softbound volume in my hands now. I should find them again and send one to my sister. Thanks Juliet.

Juxtabook said...

I rode a bit when a kid, but not well, and only in pony books did my true inner horsey self pull off proper riding. I loved Follyfoot but never saw the TV series which is a shame; all that crying I missed out on sharing! Glad you found Books, Mud and Compost - Jane's knowledge is encyclopaedic.

Anonymous said...

Which is why I continue to be deeply sceptical when educationalists cry out for children's fiction that is 'relevant' to youngsters by 'reflecting own lives'.
Absoutely. The Chalet School might have been on Mars, did that matter a whit? (Probably part of the appeal!)

Juliet said...

Alison - oh 'don't get me started', as they say. Fiction is surely for broadening rather than limiting horizons? If I were to pick up a book these days which 'reflected my own life', it would be so deeply boring as to be unreadable!

ksv - I don't remember Misty, but one of my favourites was My Friend Flicka and its sequels by Mary O'Hara which were set in Wyoming. Did you ever read those? Agree about it all coming flooding back. I hadn't thought about pony books for decades, probably, until I landed on Books, Mud and Compost and whoosh, I can't stop thinking about them!

Juxtabook - Follyfoot is available on DVD now, so you can catch up on all that weeping and wailing! I'm sorry to say I've just been looking wistfully at boxed sets on Amazon and ebay . . . oh dear . . . where will this little foray into the past end?

Jane Badger said...

Thank you for the mention. I still think of myself as a horse at times, though now it's rather more of a brood mare than the Arabian I once was!