[At a girls’ grammar school in the Lake District in the 1950s]
Penny whispered to Sue:
“I’m going to have them.”
“The tangerine ones?”
Penny was referring to a particularly daring pair of slacks which had been brightening a shop window in Castle Gate for the past week. Most of Penny’s closest school-friends had been taken to inspect them. The general verdict had been that they were very gay and dashing. But… well… Penny was one of the very few girls who could possibly wear them. By that, they didn’t just mean that she had the right measurements...
On Monday she returned from the lunch-hour clutching a big parcel… she undid the string and the slacks dangled floorwards in all their lengthy glory. As Penny had foretold, “glory” was the word.
“I got this too,” she said, holding up a floppy black sweater in her other hand. “I just couldn’t resist it.”
[her schoolfriends persuade her to try them on in the 6th form common room]
The verdict was favourable. With Penny’s black hair and creamy-white skin, the slacks and sweater made her look like something on a magazine cover. After another minute or two of heated discussion on appropriate lipstick shades, her friends began reluctantly to open books and begin their studies. At that moment [headmistress] Miss Florey, having knocked twice without reply, opened the door and walked in.
“Oh dear!” laughed Mum when Sue reached this point of the story. “And was Penny still in her tangerine slacks?”
“Well,” said Sue, smiling at the memory, “yes – and no.”
observations: Found it! I explained last week how the writer Lydia Syson told me of the awesome tangerine slacks in this series: I tremendously enjoyed reading through 3 of the series in order to find the reference, and would happily re-read the remaining two if they weren’t so difficult/expensive to get hold of.
This is a splendid final entry in the series: and what I love is that Miss Florey has come to find Penny to discuss the possibility of her making ambitious plans for university. For those younger than me: such a nice juxtaposition of scenes - Penny allowed to have a big interest in clothes as well as her studies and career - would be vanishingly rare in any YA fiction of the 1950s or 60s, let alone a book by a man.
And as I said last time – Trease just seems to be such a nice man, as well has having very proper views.
The narrator Bill has already applied to and (hardly a spoiler) got into Oxford. The process is described in some detail. Nice historical point – he goes off to do his National Service for the next 18 months, meaning he and Penny go up to University at the same time. The book then describes their first year: an adventure about lost treasure, as well as the usual May morning, student plays, studies and activities. It’s a joy to read, as well as being full of contemporary references, and a great picture of Oxford life. Lydia remembered the slacks: the detail that stuck with me for 30 years was that Penny used a hatbox as a kind of extra suitcase:
She said, in that curious voice girls use when trying to talk and to apply lipstick at the same time: “You don’t have to use hat-boxes for hats! What an old-fashioned idea!”Penny becomes Pen, the two of them wonder whether they should be finding different friends, and there is a discussion about the integrity of historical research exactly paralleling the key plot point in Dorothy L Sayers Gaudy Night, 20 years before.
Great books, well worth reviving. I loved them as a teenager, and I love them now – they deserve to be read by a younger generation, even as historical fiction...
As Lydia Syson Tweeted to me: “Glory!”