‘Mine has not been a life of consistent effort towards a single end. It seems to me that I have been like a shuttlecock bandied to and fro by lunatics. I seem to have led not one life, but snatches from a dozen lives.’
I’ve never read Swallows and Amazons; I keep on meaning to get around to it but I starting to suspect that the gulf between me and a group of early 20th century children messing around with boats in the lake district is too wide to bridge.
However, there was so much more to the author than sailing idioms and high japes on the low seas. For some reason I keep on bumping into him in books and it’s obvious he led an incredibly interesting life. Did you know he was one of the first members of the British Secret Service? That he ran away from the Bolshevik revolution and then managed to successfully argue his way back in over a game of chess? That the kids in Swallows and Amazons were actually based on a Syrian family from Allepo on holiday in the lake district?
For a while it felt like every time I read a book about interwar politics and history Arthur appears somewhere off to stage left, with a small but vital role in world changing events. I’m in awe of his quietly extraordinary life and I wonder whether the children who met him sailing in the lake district had any idea that they were playing with Trotsky’s confidante. I’m lucky to have had had a ringside seat to some of the political upheavals Britain has faced over the last few years and believe me politics is an addictive spectator sport. I’d love to have been able to have swapped anecdotes with him and understand just how much what I’ve been witness to is a pale shadow of his experiences.
Anyway, I’m posting this to urge people to take a closer look at him. This book is the one that sparked my interest:
I’d love to read the new biography too, The Last Englishman, by Roland Chambers.
Finally here’s the article I came across this morning on the children who inspired Swallows and Amazons that got me thinking about Arthur Ransome and his adventures: