You can always tell when I’m undergoing a period of what psychologists refer to as ‘regression’ (that is, for the uninitiated, when you retreat into your childhood behaviours to escape from stressful adult experiences), because I start reading the Malory Towers books, like I used to do when I was a seven-year old. And, sometimes, when it gets really bad, I’ll move onto the The Faraway Tree series after.
But recently I’ve been thinking about this pattern of childish activity and I’ve decided that enough is enough. I’m chucking my old books in the bin. The lot of them.
I know Philip Larkin said it was your Mum and Dad that fuck you up, but, I’m sorry to report, Philip got that wrong. My Mum and Dad did their level best, but their inadequacies had little effect on my emotional development.
It is entirely Enid Blyton’s fault that I am what I am.
I particularly blame her for my lack of dating prowess. She relentlessly poured 1940s’ middle class morals into me, via charming stories about pixies and schoolgirls and trees you could climb to reach a magical land that was sometimes more fun than your real life and sometimes totally fucking awful – you never knew, you’d just have to go up and have a poke about and if the worst came to the worst you’d have an adventure and in the end you’d escape and slide down a big swirly slide and go home to a kindly mother who’d reward you with jam sandwiches and ginger beer. These were morals I thought would apply in an abstract way to reality. They have, in fact, turned out to be absolutely useless for navigating 21st Century romantic life on the mean streets of Armley and Woolwich, where I spend most of my time.
For example, in the Malory Towers world, people who do wrong things – such as tell outrageous lies, show off about their riches, steal from their classmates or treat others with indifference and cruelty – are punished in a timely fashion in a way that gives closure to their victims, but leaves hope for future redemption. Like in The Second Form at Malory Towers, when Daphne flees with everyone’s money and jewellery and has to hang off the edge of cliff looking after little Mary-Lou who’s run out to protect her. Remember that one? How uplifting it was to the spirits and how it made you believe good would always triumph over evil in the end, and everyone would get their money back?
Or in the last book, when Gwendoline Mary, who has been a right bitch from the start, is knocked for six by the news that her father is ill and that she will not be going to a Swiss finishing school after all, but must return to the family home to nurse him. An event that will be the making of her, in the end.
I had always thoroughly expected this pattern of virtue-reward, vice-punishment to apply to relationships, and also to other things, like employment and friendships. It does not.
Malory Towers is not like real life and The Sopranos, where all the people, but especially the men, behave as badly as they possibly can and everyone secretly finds it very attractive and wants to have sex with them regardless. Where indifference and cruelty are rewarded with money and orgasms, and yes, death, eventually. Although we’re all rewarded by death in the end regardless of our morals, so real life and The Sopranos don’t exactly teach us a lesson worth learning there.
But then again, nor did Enid. And all I can conclude from my experience is that filling your child’s head with upright Christian morals, framed in occasionally racist and often sexist tales of sprites and imps and sardine sandwiches at midnight, sets them in very bad stead for conducting functional relationships indeed.
So take heed, any parents reading, and do your child a favour: burn the books. Especially if you ever want grandchildren.
*Image by Franky242 at freedigitalphotos.net.