This was not about the terrible disease from which old men have often suffered. This was the only story where the Famous Five children and those from Swallows and Amazons appeared together and declared war in support of their own author, Enid Blyton children versus Arthur Ransome children, taking place in the ‘secret water’ of Walton on the Naze when the 1950s were truly the 1950s and not an excuse for some monochrome nostalgia about such an era.
Julian, George, Dick and Anne versus Nancy, Bridget, Titty and co., with boats bobbing and weaving between the tall shrimping sheds. But there was very little engagement of forces as each character gradually meandered off to do their own thing, either singly or in pairs. Sometimes cross-booking in weaving cahoots. None of them really caring about the next exciting adventure of smugglers and spies and the even deeper backwaters of their readers’ imagination.
One of them, not sure which one, with a jam jar as vessel to secure for himself (I think it was one of the boys) a tiny stickleback fish to swim around in some of its own surrounding water before it expired a few days later and floated on the oily gritty surface. The boy, if it was a boy, dodged between the shadows, fearing that older boys — some with the beginnings of facial stubble — might follow him for whatever reason, perhaps to entice him into a shrimping shed or to take him on an adventure that was quite beyond his capacity to understand.
He sometimes spotted one or two of the other children from the books; they were floating pieces of wood near a houseboat like would-be Pooh-sticks. One of them suddenly fell in the mud and that was possibly the last thing that the child ever did. And as soon as it grew dark, the boy, if it was a boy, saw a man and a woman singly weaving around the backwaters to see if they could find one of the children they had lost and to bring him back to book. Neither knew whether it was the man’s imagined child or hers.
Instead, the man and woman found each other. And fell in love, and that became more than just everything else concerning the course of what they later wrote, or didn’t write, whichever alternate world happened to prevail. Their lostling child became a changeling, became one of the old men within his own mysterious backwaters. A time and a place too silent and dark even to have trouble in.
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