Books have always played a huge part in my life, but never more so than in the story I am about to tell you. I will take you with me to an age of innocence. The time was 1958, the place was Malta. My Father joined the Royal Navy when I was an infant. To me, he was a stranger who appeared every two or three years with nice presents, stayed for a couple of weeks then disappeared again. It wasn't until I was older that I equated the eventual appearance of two little sisters with the nice man's visits.
He was stationed in Malta at Fort St Angelo for three years. Rarely did a sailor get a shore-based position like that. When she found out about his new posting Mum decided she would undertake the journey, with 3 little girls, to be with him. She had never been out of Scotland or even flown before. This was the bravest and best decision she ever made. Mum had insisted she would not live in Married Quarters so Dad had rented a lovely little house for us in the village of Vittoriosa. There was a huge sandstone wall between the house and the Fort and dockyard. This meant Dad could roll out of bed and walk through the dockyard to the Fort each day.
We settled in with ease apart from the fact that all of the other Naval families in the village were English and my Scottish vocabulary stumped them at first. A "Press" was a cupboard "a piece" was a sandwich and "a forpit of tatties" was a quarter of a stone of potatoes. I soon adapted though and life was wonderful. I had become acquainted with the works of Enid Blyton before I left Scotland and brought two books with me. One was called "Five on a Hike Together" published in 1954. Inside was an invitation to join "The Famous Five Fan Club" All that was required was to send a One Shilling Postal Order and a Stamped Self Addressed envelope to London. You would then be sent an FF metal badge by which you would be known to other members worldwide. Heady stuff! I begged, cajoled, and harassed my poor mother until she gave in and sent for one for me. In those days all we had was snail mail. Also when you're young time moves at different paces. It's calculated by how much you want something multiplied by how much you want something, in other words, time moved so, so, slowly. But at last, the badge arrived. It was all I had wanted and more.
The next morning my mother had no idea why I would not put on the dress she had laid out for me to wear to school. It had a round neckline. I insisted on wearing a white blouse and a skirt. She shook her head. I remember there being a lot of head shaking around that time. She capitulated eventually, poor mum, I didn't make her life easy, and away I dashed to catch the school bus. I needed that collar on the blouse so that I could hide the FF badge under it. For the rest of the day, I flashed that little badge and recruited members from among my school mates, all of them outsiders like myself. If they wanted to join my Secret Society they would have to get a Famous Five Fan Club metal badge. Then there would be an initiation, to test skill, bravery, and cunning. Yes, it would appear that at nine years old I was more KGB less KAS (Kid at School) Over the next few weeks parents were gratified to learn how much their little darlings enjoyed reading and One Shilling Postal Orders winged their way to the UK at a steady pace.
I had not been idle whilst waiting for all the badges to arrive. Our FFSC group consisted of five of us, apt and manageable. I had worked out a simple secret code for passing messages to each other. I was number one, Catherine, then number two was Julie, number three was Robert, number four Sandra and finally, number five was Henry. The first week the C of my Christian name became A in the code, so D was B, E was C, F was D, etc. The second week, number two, Julie, started the Code, so J was A, K was B, L was C and M was D. On week three we have Robert, so R was A, S was B, U was C. I will leave you to work out weeks four and five. I thought it was a simple code but the rest of the gang's opinion differed. I was sure a couple of attempts would iron out the creases.
Next on the agenda was our secret headquarters. Close to where I lived a chapel was being rebuilt. The devastation caused to this wonderful island during the wars was still obvious everywhere. I used to stop after school and watch the builders shaping the huge blocks of sandstone for the chapel by hand. Their skill was amazing. The space for the chapel had been cut out of a hill and on one side part of that hill had been left. I noticed a huge wooden roof beam that seemed to be embedded in the hill, about three stories high. Looking up I thought I could see a cave-like hole adjacent to where the beam entered the hill. Interesting. That Thursday night I spent hours drafting a message to the other four. Who's stupid idea was this code? Oh, yea! Mine. Once finished it read: OGGV/CV/EJCRGN/PGCT/OA/JQWUG/UCVWFCA/11CO. I printed it out four times on slips of paper ready for surreptitious distribution the next day at school.
Saturday morning we gathered at the bottom of the hill. So they had managed to decipher the code, good. I told them what I hoped to find and showed the supplies I had managed to garner in dribs and drabs over the past few weeks. I had two candle stubs, half a box of matches, and five chocolate biscuits. The biscuits were a little the worst for wear because I had stuffed everything into the pockets of my trousers and jacket to avoid detection. Still edible though. We scrambled up as silently as we could. The last thing we wanted was to be spotted and stopped. We made it to the hole in the side of the hill. It was the entrance to a cave, how exciting. I poked my head inside first, not my idea, the others insisted. Fair enough I suppose. I got out a candle stub and the matches, lit it, and looked around.
I really think children are little primitives. Like pack animals, they herd together and turn on anyone who is different. They also have little fear of germs or dirt or horrible smells, all of which were present in the cave. Once we got inside we could stand up and take stock. The wooden beam I'd spotted lay on the ground. It protruded into the cave through a large hole in the far wall. It was perfect. Next, Initiation Time. I walked over to it and poked my head through the hole and into the chapel beyond. The huge beam lay right across the roof space making the perfect challenge. The moment was here, time for a little drama. "Right FFSCers, here is your challenge," I boomed, "you must walk on the beam to the middle of the chapel, turn around, then walk back. Do that and you will be a FFSCer for life." Good Golly, they all made a dive for the cave entrance! What the chuck?
"Hold on," I yelled, "not so fast. Are you men or mice?" I swear there was a chorus of " Squeak Squeak" "All right, I'll go first and show you how it's done" I said. With the briefest hesitation, I stepped on to the beam, walked halfway across, did a shuffle turn, and walked back. I ducked back into the cave, took one look at the ashen faces in front of me, and said "No one else is going to be asked to do that, it's fecking dangerous." My memory of that day will always be of tears, laughter, and chocolate biscuits. We small band of brothers, we members of the FFSC had many more adventures, I almost killed them on a trek across the island due to dehydration, and nearly drowned them when we swam the uncharted waters between the Married Quarters and the netted Lido. I had miscalculated the distance to the Married Quarters from Vittoriosa. All right, I admit it, I got us lost. We finally got there, met with our classmates as arranged but almost 3 hours later than we had said. We drank some lemonade, filled up our water bottles, and left. We had assured our friend's parents we would be picked up shortly and off we went. When we got outside the walls that surrounded the Married Quarters we stopped and they all looked at me. "I can't walk back the way we came," said Julie, "I just wouldn't make it" The rest agreed, still looking at me.
"Right," I said, "I have an idea," Funnily enough none of them looked particularly excited at this announcement, I couldn't think why. I said, "Look, there are only a few yards of open water between us and the Lido." The Lido was a sandstone outcrop where we could swim safely as it was surrounded by a huge net. It kept us in and things like jellyfish out. "We can swim over, slip across the net, and catch the Liberty boat back to Fort St Angelo, job done" "We can't go back home soaking wet," said Sandra. True, I thought.
In such a hot country we usually had our bathing suits or trunks on under our shorts and tee shirts, so it took us no time to get organised. There we were like little ducks, with our clothes and plimsolls in a bundle on our heads, secured with our shoelaces. We doggy paddled over to the Lido so as not to get our clothes wet and got to the shore. Without, I am glad to say, being eaten by sharks (Julie) or attacked by jellyfish (Sandra) We were just in time to catch the last Liberty boat of the day too.
We were very lucky and we survived it all, right up to the moment when our parents followed us one evening and discovered our secret headquarters amongst the dirt and animal droppings. We had to promise we would not go back to the cave and without that, we became ordinary again. That was when I vowed never to grow up. Two marriages and two divorces later I think I've kept that vow. Or maybe I just get bored easily?
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Hey, Kate would you be kind to watch the first video it's on Harry potter. https://youtu.be/KxfnREWgN14 Sorry for asking your time, This my first time to edit video
Yes, I will go and look right now
Very well done, I enjoyed it and the music fitted so well.
Thank you 🙂
Wow!!!! Such a adventurous real story. You had an amazing childhood, Kate. Thank you for sharing your experience. Wonderful story. Waiting for more of yours... Would you mind reading my new story "The adventurous tragedy?"
This is very cute, Kate. I love the idea about a secret society among children - that never occurred to me. Is this a true story from your childhood? It reads like nonfiction and, if so, fascinating. If not, then I really admire all the detail you included!
Thank you so much Kristin, and you are almost correct, I have so many wonderful memories from my time in Malta that when this prompt appeared I could not resist writing a tale around the Famous Five badge I persuaded my mum to get for me. The part about the cave and me walking that beam is true, I was one weird child!
Adventurous, I would say! Looking forward to reading more!
Well, funny you should say that as it appears I haven't changed one iota from my nine-year-old self. I have almost finished writing a story about my adventures as an adult, from talking to spirits and reading tarot cards to an online virus that changed my life. Again it has been such fun writing it, maybe I'll get it out there at some point :)
That all sounds so interesting - you have a lot to offer! 😊