william’s adult friends

The facts

“It’s not jus’ an ordin’ry Western,” said William. “It’s bloodcurdlin’ an’ nerve-shatterin’. It says so outside the cinema.”
“William, it sounds horrible,” said Mrs Brown with a shudder.
“But that’s what it’s meant to be,” said William in exasperation. “Victor Jameson’s seen it in London an’ he says it’s fab. It curdled his blood an’ shattered his nerves.”

Verdict

This is a really excellent story: William is desperate to see the latest, highly popular, Western at the local cinema, but a visit from his Aunt Felicia is in the way.

“It’s a prior engagement, William,” said Mrs Brown.
“I don’t care what it is,” said William. “I think it’s jus’ tyrrany.”

William turned to another of his favourite day-dreams. Suddenly (by what means he never could determine) he leapt to the loftiest pinnacle of fame, acclaimed and honoured by the highest in the land. His parents stood humbly in awe of him, but he was gracious and affable. He forgave them for their harsh treatment. “It’s all right,” he said when they apologised abjectly for not allowing him to see ‘The Masked Ranger’. “Don’t give it another thought. It was a little hard on me but don’t worry about it. any more.” He threw out his arms in an expansive gesture. “I’ll take you both to a party at Buckingham Palace tomorrow an’ I’ll take you for a voyage round the world nex’ summer holidays.”

So bitter is he that, on hearing from Henry about the Piltdown Man hoax, the Outlaws decide, out of sheer malice, to prank a local historian. Miss Radbury specialises in documentary research, so William resolves to create some fake historical letters to fool her.

“How could you forge old letters?” said Ginger.
“Write letters with bits of hist’ry in ’em an’ put old dates at the top, like January the third 1500 or somethin’ like that.”

They are just pondering the question of how to make the paper look old, when their friend Miss Thompson is about to throw away a load of old letters from her family’s recent past. They intercept them – but, of course, need to make some adjustments…

“Tell you what!” The light of an Idea gleamed in William’s face “If there isn’t any hist’ry in ’em let’s put a bit of hist’ry in ’em.”
He opened an envelope, took out the letter and scrawled across the bottom of the last sheet: “P.S. Someone told me ithere’s a battle going on at Trafalgar. I wonder whose going to win. Nelson’s got a wound in bis eye and can’t see signals.”
They set to work with energy.
An account of a Church Bazaar ended with the words: “P.S. Christopher Colombus has jus’ set off to discover America. I hope he gets there all right.”
An account of a local fair ended with the words: “P.S. I saw in the paper this morning that Charles the First has been executed. We’ll have to wait till 1660 for the Restoration.”
Henry, whose energies were chiefly taken up in supervising the spelling of the other three, tried to confine his historical references within certain roughly defined limits. “The Black Hole of Calcutta took place yesterday and tomorrow the six hundred are going to ride into the Valley of Death.”
William’s references spanned the whole field of history with wild abandon. “Henry VIII got married to the third of his six wives this morning.” … “I went to Lendon in a horse-coach last week. It took hours and hours. I shall be jolly glad when someone  invents railways.” … “I was helping to put out the· fire of London all yesterday. I feel rotten this morning. I think I must have caught the plague.”
Douglas confined himself to the only historical film he had seen: “Someone told me this morning that Richard the Third was thinking of getting the princes murdered in the Tower if he could find a good murderer. He’s swopped his kingdom for a horse and got into a muddle.”
Ginger who had recently read a book called ‘Scenes from English History’, gave a brief account of his experiences in the Crusades (which included the Battle of Agincourt).

As it turns out though, Miss Radbury is delighted with the letters… because one of them has a Penny Black on it!

Oh – and William rather takes to Aunt Felicia after all.

The facts

“The Society believes that cows and sheep and all other animals should be allowed to lead long happy lives with freedom from want and fear and that they should be allowed to attain the peace and dignity of old age and die of simple natural diseases like human beings.”
“Dogs are all right,” said William, “an’ so are some insects. An’ I’ve met guinea-pigs an’ goldfish that were quite decent. I shouldn’t mind any of them dyin’ of natural diseases if they want to.”

Verdict

Definite echoes of Our Man in Havana in this story, with William’s friend Miss Thompson setting up a fictitious network of animal rights activists to save herself the embarassment of disappointing the nice officer from the national charity who has so much faith in her. “The odd thing is that I still half believe in them, you know – Mr Coleman, Mr Flower, Mr Beauchamp, Miss Poppins, Mrs Belmont and the rest.”

William took a formal farewell of his hostess, fixing her with the glassy smile that accompanied any exhibition of “manners” on his part and enunciating the words “Thank you for having me” in a loud and husky voice.

But that all comes later… first, William takes pity on a shy market researcher sitting by the side of the road and decides to help her out by finding people to complete her survey. (The whole episode has a very modern feel to it.)

Fortunately, William espies a student protest marching from ‘Newlick University’ (with a pig), and manages to solve both strands…

The facts

“What sort of games will you have?” said William.
“Gameth like Pothtman’th Knock,” replied Violet Elizabeth.
“Gosh! What’s that?” said William.
“It’th a nithe game,” said Violet Elizabeth. “Thomeone goeth out into the hall and then knockth at the door and thayth ‘A letter for thomeone’ and the perthon who’th name they thay hath got to go out into the hall and kith them. And if theythay ‘two letterth’ they’ve got to give them two kitheth, and if they thay ‘three letterth’ they’ve got to give them three kitheth and if they thay ‘ten letterth’…”
“Shut up!” said William. His face had blanched with horror. “Gosh! It you think we’re going to a party withsickenin’ games like that, we’d… we’d…”
“We’d rather die a thousand deaths,” supplied Henry, who had a large range of dramatic expressions.

  • Number: 34.2
  • Published: 1964
  • Book: William and the Witch
  • Synopsis: William is determined to evade Violet Elizabeth’s birthday party.

Verdict

Martin Jarvis masterfully turned this story into a five-part audio book: Violet Elizabeth Takes Control, William the Dear Little Boysie, William’s Brilliant Plan, The Outlaws and Aunt Jo, and Violet Elizabeth’s Party. But it’s still excellent in single-story form.

The Outlaws can’t think of anything worse than attending a special old-fashioned birthday party (featuring games such as kiss-in-the-ring, shudder shudder) being held jointly for Violet Elizabeth and for her mother’s godmother, Aunt Jo. And strangely enough, Aunt Jo can’t think of anything worse either.

Still, Mrs Bott is determined to make a success of it – a reporter from the Hadley Times is going to be observing the whole affair (“a mention in the ‘Hadley Times’ represented the height of her ambition”) and is equally determined that William and his friends will attend.

“Oh, there you are, William, love,” said Mrs Bott. “I’ve just been telling your mother about a nice little treat I’ve got for you.”
“I’d rather die a thous…” began William.
“Say ‘how d’you do’, dear,” said Mrs Brown hastily.

“I wonder what they’ll do when they find we’re not comin’ to it,” said William.
“They’ll ring the p’lice,” said Henry.
“Gosh!” said Douglas, with mingled apprehension and pride. “Real p’licemen lookin’ for us!”
“We might pretend we’d lost our memories,” said Henry.
“I’ve tried that,” said William. “It didn’t work.”
“We could pretend we’d met a hypnotiser an’ got hypnotised,” said Ginger after a moment’s silence. “We could act as if we’d been hypnotised. We could keep shuttin’ our eyes an then openin’ them an’ sayin’ ‘Where am I?’”

The Outlaws are outraged and astonished when their mothers all insist that they go. “More like hyenas than yuman parents” is Ginger’s bitter observation. So they decide simply to run away on the afternoon of the party and thereby evade it.

While they’re loose in the woods, they happen to come across Aunt Jo – also a fugitive from the party! Despite her advanced age, she is a woman of great energy and ingenuity, and leads the group to safety from Mrs Bott’s search party (and they just happen to take advantage of the situation and drop some rotten apples on the heads of their pursuers).

Mrs Bott is in paroxysms of horror when she realises that the Hadley Times has been monitoring the entire farce… at least, until she hears what the reporter has actually written.