When I spotted a battered old hardback of First Term at Malory Towers in a book shop last week, I knew I had to buy it. I was obsessed with the Malory Towers stories as a child; I’d read them over and over again, enchanted by the descriptions of boarding school life. No parents, no washing up duty, no annoying brother and sister; instead, life was one long jolly of midnight feasts, pranks on teachers, swimming in the fresh sea water pool and laughing and joking in the common room. I wanted to go to Malory Towers so badly that I pleaded my parents endlessly to send me to boarding school. I could think of nothing better; as a child who adored every second I spent at school, being there 24 hours a day with boundless opportunities for fun and feasting seemed like a dream existence. My parents were obviously far too sensible to agree to the demands of a 10 year old who based her ideas about life on Enid Blyton books, and I went to the school down the road, just like my brother and sister. However, I never lost the dream, and I chose my university based on the amazing halls of residence that rather resembled Malory Towers. Within a matter of weeks, I realised that my parents had saved me from a horrific 7 years. Enid Blyton didn’t write about the evils of sharing a bathroom with 40 other girls, the terrible lack of privacy, the bitchiness and the mess. There was fun and there was feasting, but it didn’t make up for having to stand in a shower stall that was swimming with other people’s hair every morning. Enid Blyton was certainly selective with her truths.
I was excited to open the pages of Malory Towers for the first time in sixteen years. Would it cast the same spell on a sceptical adult? Would I be enchanted once again by tales of a childhood spent in the idyllic surroundings of a Cornish stately home where nobody actually seemed to do any school work and got afternoon tea served to them every day? Well, I enjoyed it, but more for nostalgic reasons than its literary merit. Whenever I reread books I loved as a child, I am always surprised that I didn’t end up becoming a frightful bigot. Enid Blyton’s clear belief of the supremacy of the British white middle class oozes from every word she wrote, and she has no sympathy for those who are unable to embody her rather pre war public school boy values of selflessness, courage and self sufficiency. Anyone who isn’t perfect or able to admit that they’re not perfect and be very humble about it is dismissed as selfish, stupid, unkind or weak. Deviance from the middle class code of acceptable behaviour is usually down to ineffectual parenting by silly, indulgent mothers with painted nails and fur coats. Sensible mothers, who wear tweeds and brogues and are married to equally sensible fathers with good jobs and solid red brick detached houses in smart suburbs produce sensible, hardy, intelligent children who are Good and Kind and Brave and held up as an example to all the little boys and girls reading at home. At times, it’s toe curling.
However, I still loved every minute. It’s so bad, it’s good. Every cliche of mid century boarding school stories is here. There’s no nonsense Matron in her starched white apron and cap, handing out doses of vile tasting medicine with twinkly eyes; firm but fair favourite teacher Miss Potts, with her neat bun and stylish dresses; blustering Mam’zelle, who is always getting her English phrases mixed up, and wise, sensible Headmistress Miss Grayling, who dispenses advice from behind her bureau with the air of a god. The ‘dormys’ contain spotlessly clean rows of beds with cheerfully colourful eiderdowns, the comfortable and spacious common room is within a turret with a glorious view of the sea, the classrooms are bright, attractive and contain very interesting acoustics that allow for girls to spend their lessons talking, passing notes and plotting pranks without being heard by their teachers, and nobody ever has to do any homework, but instead can spend their free time swimming, playing tennis, lying about in the sun or taking bracing cliffside walks. If only all of us could go to a school like this, eh? No wonder I attempted to bankrupt my parents by nagging them endlessly about packing me off to the halcyon world of Malory Towers.
You have to, of course, read this sort of stuff with a pinch of salt and your rose tinted glasses on, and keep reminding yourself that Enid Blyton was the product of a different age. Despite her questionable ethics, she certainly knew how to spin a yarn, and I was gripped by the pursuits of Darrell Rivers and her motley crew of friends as they navigated their first term of boarding school. I spent a very happy couple of hours in bed with this book, a cup of tea, some custard creams, and my childhood memories. I want to get the rest of the set now, and save them up for when I need a bit of indulgent comfort reading. I also want to go and work at Malory Towers, because my workload would dramatically reduce and I’d get a view of the sea from my classroom. All I need is some extra long hair pins, some pince-nez and some court shoes and I’ll be good to go. Malory Towers, here I come!