Footrot Flats & Books That Bring Back Childhood

Footrot Flats & Books That Bring Back Childhood

In which I show off my admittedly terribly puny collection of Footrot Flats books, and admit that my childhood had some terribly stereotypical Kiwi elements. I’m still getting used to the idea that not everyone had pet lambs growing up, or had to help with the docking.

I haven’t really re-read Footrot Flats for a while, despite carting these few books around with me for ages (and my little Dog toy is now so old that his head falls off from time to time, and he’s blue rather than black). It always feels to me that it’s a very Kiwi sort of comic. That a lot gets lost in translation if you’re not used to farms that run down to the sea, and eels living in creeks and wild pigs in the hills among the punga and manuka, and the problems of rugby season coinciding with lambing season. I think every country has their own quirks and familiarities, things that you’re so used to as you grow up that you just sort of assume everyone else is, too. For me, reading about small town America is still a strangely exotic thing.

And childhood is such a curious thing to re-encounter. I can re-read books I read as a kid, and I go back into the book’s world very easily. It’s fun and beautiful and wonderful, but it’s also not my childhood. That’s a very rare thing to find again, but somehow Footrot Flats does that for me. It takes me back to collecting mussels from the rocks on the pebbly beach below the house, and the chooks that laid everywhere but the hen house, and the smell of the damp dark manuka wood after rain, when you’re straggling through the bush in your jandals for some unknown reason (probably either trying to find the pet lamb that the dog used to lead away into the hills when we were out, or because I was Adventuring). It’s all snippets – we left New Zealand on the boat when I was seven, and I’m not one of those I-can-remember-what-we-had-for-lunch-on-my-fifth-birthday type people. But even snippets are precious.



How about you, lovely people? Where did you grow up? What books or comics or movies bring that back to you, the scents and sounds and feel of it? Let me know below – I’d love to know more about you!

6 Replies to “Footrot Flats & Books That Bring Back Childhood”

  1. I grew up in an anonymous suburb in the country that gave the world the template for Western industrial society, so there wasn’t anything very distinctive about my childhood. But I do remember enjoying books by a now forgotten and out of print author named E W Hildick. And I liked them because as well as being funny and well written, they were about kids like me, living in places like mine, living ordinary lives like mine. In the 1960s and 70s there was a severe shortage of books like that for children. Ted Hildick was a teacher in a rough part of Leeds, and he found that the kids in his class were reluctant to read; they couldn’t identify easily with the plucky boarding school kids who inhabited nearly all children’s literature. So he wrote books that they could easily identify with, and then snuck some education in while he had their attention 😉 I never had any problem reading or identifying with Nancy Blackett or William Brown, but all the same I did appreciate stories set in the world I really lived in.

    1. That’s it exactly, isn’t it? I hadn’t even connected it before, but yes – you’re entirely right! I enjoyed the Famous Five, and Swallows & Amazons, all those sorts of books, but Footrot Flats, while not about kids, was full of things I recognised. Even the odd NZ children’s book I did get my hands on didn’t tend to be about life on farms (although I’m sure those books are out there), but was more city kid stuff. Although I’m pretty sure Murray Ball never snuck much education in… 😉

  2. I wish I could read some of Hildick’s books (especially the Jim Starling series) again, and see if they were as good as I recall them. It must be over 40 years since I last saw one, but I still remember many of the characters, episodes and jokes. (There was one where the gang were trying to use medieval language, and got it wrong, so trying to call one of their enemies a ‘wretched craven’ came out as a ‘Richard Gravy’, which was somehow more effective). I don’t know why they fell out of print; I don’t remember them having any problematic attitudes or dated opinions. Maybe they just weren’t necessary anymore, as others followed the trail blazed by Jim Starling, Lemon Kelly, the Questers, and Louie the milkman.

    1. It’s a shame how some things just seem to fade away like that. I love the ‘Richard Gravy’ thing – they do sound like really fun reads! I guess now they’d be considered outdated or old-fashioned.

  3. I lived in East Africa as a child, where the countries were still newly independent from England. I can remember reading the Ladybug? children’s books, which were for beginning readers. I also read East African folk tales. I have a particular fondness for Good Night Moon, because my mother would read it to me at bedtime. My father had a wonderful ritual where he would have us count down until lights out. And he’d always leave the door cracked open a little so there was a little light and we could hear our parents talking in the living room. Somehow, Goodnight Moon is associated with all those wonderful memories.

    1. Aw, such lovely memories! I absolutely adore how certain stories can stir these things up again and reconnect us to being small and full of imagination. And what an amazing experience it must have been, growing up there! You must have some wonderful stories.

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