Background to The Dorset Squirrel stories.
When I was a boy living at Pinegrove Farm, (Cwm Cadno in my stories) during the late 1940s and early 50s, the oldest of we six children all had jobs allocated to us. My elder brother, Robin, drove the Ferguson tractor and my younger sister, Sally helped out with the milking. I was given the ‘pest control’ job which involved keeping the rabbit, pigeon and grey squirrel populations under control.
I loved shooting and carried a .22 rifle with me whenever I was on the farm out of school hours. Each morning I would do the rounds of my rabbit snares before going to school and again when I got home, shooting any rabbits, squirrels or pigeons I sighted. My mother took the rabbits and pigeons to the market and these provided part of my pocket money. I cooked and ate many of the squirrels.
The rest of my pocket money came from a Government bounty of one shilling (5p) for every grey squirrel’s tail handed in to the local office. When one is hunting a creature regularly one becomes very familiar with every aspect of its life and I couldn’t help comparing the way that grey squirrels took territories from the native red squirrels, with how we arrogant Europeans took ‘territories’ from native people during the era of colonisation and empire building. It was from this comparison that the basic theme of the three squirrel books evolved.
(I would say that since I lived in Kenya during the 1950s and 60s and saw the abundance of wild animals there, I have never shot any animal or bird and have never wanted too.)
A lot of the action in The Silver Tide and the subsequent two ‘squirrel’ books takes place at the Blue Pool in Dorset. I first went there in about 1946 when I would have been seven years old. I don’t remember much about it then except that it had a kind of magic which has stayed with me and I have tried to convey this feeling into the minds and attitudes of the squirrel characters in the books. The Blue Pool is a worked-out clay quarry which holds a large pool of water which changes colour almost by the minute depending on a number of factors. In 1935 the surrounding area had reverted to heath and woodland and was opened as a tourist attraction.
Rowan’s Pool is a couple of miles to the west and was then called Creech Pool. This too is a mellow abandoned clay working and had an island at one end just as Rowan found it in The Silver Tide. My family picnicked there in about 1947 and my father made a canoe out of a balloon-fabric groundsheet rolled and tied around a long bundle of heather. I used this to get across to the island with its distinctive three pine trees.
On a later visit, a tree from the mainland had fallen and made a bridge just as it had done in The Golden Flight.
It was in this pool that I found a dragonfly larva which I took home and kept in a bowl of water in the greenhouse and later watched it emerge as a dragonfly just as I described it in Chapter Twelve of The Silver Tide.
Summary of The Dorset Squirrels.
The Red Squirrels of Dorset brace themselves for the arrival of the Greys who are intent on colonising England or, as they call it, New America. Can they resist the superior force or must they abandon all they hold dear and flee to seek refuge on Brownsea Island?
Through the three stories that make up The Dorset Squirrels we follow Marguerite the Bright One and her companions as they try to come to terms with the conquering hordes. Their thrill-packed journeying takes them from their home at the Blue Pool to many well-known parts of England’s most beautiful county in their search for peace and security. These include Lulworth Cove, the Isle of Portland, the Chesil Bank, the swannery at Abbotsbury, the ruins of Corfe Castle, the deserted village of Tyneham, the Agglestone Rock, Studland Beach and of course Brownsea Island where their descendants still live under the protection of The National Trust.
If you liked the rabbits of Watership Down, the moles of Duncton Wood and the badgers of The Cold Moons, you will love The Dorset Squirrels.
Gunta on Never be too sure ~ That you a… trekkingworldgirl on The Sapients of Earth.