Saturday, October 18, 2008

Comfort reading and British Martime History

When hit by lurgies like the recent 'flu I tend to retreat to bed with a bit of comfort reading, which for the last few weeks meant Arthur Ransome. Of course they've all been read many times but two less familiar and hence selected were Secret Water and Great Northern?

What struck me was how in the nautical adventures of the children Ransome tapped into different aspects of British maritime history. Of course some are obvious - such as the influence of pirates and the book Treasure Island in particular.

However Great Northern? has parallels with the great scientific voyages of Captain Cook and Darwin on the Beagle, which are hopefully as meaningful for today's kids as they ever were.

It was harder to connect to the themes in Secret Water's - mapping and the culture shock of western explorers encounters with savage tribes. In the book the Swallows spend most of the week mapping the Hamford Water using the same survey methods used for such engineering triumphs as the Great Trigometric Survey of India.

Its hard to image a modern teenager bothering, saying instead something like "you, like, just use iPhone maps". There would probably be a similar blase attitude to the remote tribes who even in the deepest Amazon seem to have agents nowadays to manage the stream of TV documentary makers.

And the scene where they pledge to be tribe brothers by exchanging blood, sorry that's just a total yuck no go - not just unhygienic but pretty dangerous.

But one sub plot remains as plausible today as it ever was. Any time two dinghies are heading in the same direction its a race, and there are rules like port must give way to starboard.

And racing boats can lead to great things - as we were reminded of this week when the Olympic gold medallists including sailors paraded through London.

GPS and satellites can map the world at a touch of a button, but trimming and race tactics - that's still hard!


tillerman said...

I've a feeling its time for me to rediscover Arthur Ransome. A whole new generation (grandkids) will soon be ready for me to read Swallows and Amazons to them.

JP said...

I've tried a few with my nephews and neices.

Some age better than others - "We didn't mean to go to sea" works well.