This past weekend I finished three Arthur Ransome books, Winter Holiday, Pigeon Post and We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea. These three books are some of my favourites in the series, closely followed by Secret Water, (but we’re not there yet). This is the second of three posts I’ll push, it was way too long for one blog, about Pigeon Post.
Pigeon Post sees the Ds back in the Lakes for the summer holidays with the Swallows and Amazons (SAs). After the very cold winter and frozen lake, the following summer has been dry and hot. Sparks from engines by the train tracks have caused fires and the whole area is worried about the fells catching fire. Parents are managed out the story for this book by the Ds father marking exam papers and Bridget, the Walker’s youngest, is getting over whooping cough. The Walkers have all come straight to Mrs Blackett’s from their schools. The Walkers are hoping that Mother will join them in a couple of weeks, then they’ll have Swallow to sail, until then the plan for the next couple of weeks is prospecting for gold.
The indefatigable Mrs Blackett has all eight children camping in her garden, while the whole house is being redecorated and is full of plasterers and paperers. Susan is very happy with a new present, a mincing machine so she can make meatballs with pemmican (pressed beef).
To supplement Semaphore and Morse code for signalling, Nancy and Peggy had been given a homing pigeon by Uncle Jim, that they call Homer. They then got two more pigeons for company, looked up Greek poets and called these Sappho and Sophocles. The pigeons will allow the children to camp higher up on the fells where they think the gold is, after talking to an old slate miner who tells them an old folk-tale about finding gold in an old cutting with heather growing nearby.
A pigeon a day keeps the natives away.Nancy Blackett
The usual high-jinks abound, there’s a native ‘Squashy Hat’ who is encroaching on their prospecting, Dick reads the books on mining, Titty dowses for water so they can camp closer to the where they need to be, they buy hammers and motor goggles to go into cuttings with. Titty buys a ball of string so they don’t lose their way in cuttings in the hills, but they all promise to not go into cuttings that the older children don’t deem safe (!) Although, with one exploration, a passage that caves in after some of them. Roger makes a discovery, they make charcoal for smelting ingots and the pigeons, while keeping most of the natives away, don’t rule out ‘native trouble’ entirely.
The lake is almost entirely absent from this book. It’s so hot and with such little rain, the becks have dried up, the lake is lower than usual and only mentioned when they row to Rio for provisions. Pigeon Post is a love-letter to the high country of the Lake District, can’t say I blame Arthur Ransome for that. If sailing isn’t your thing, or you can’t get past Amazon Pirates with skull and cross-bones, this might be the book to introduce you to the series.