How the Famous Five inspired my love of islands - Ian McMillan

As a boy I used to love reading Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books.

Ian remembers visiting Lundy as a youngster. (PA).
Ian remembers visiting Lundy as a youngster. (PA).

Maybe I enjoyed them so much because their lives were so far removed from anything I recognised that they may as well have been science fiction tales of the adventures of aliens from the Planet South.

One of the minor recurring characters was the mysterious Uncle Quentin who, to my absolute amazement, owned an island. In my head, it sometimes got mixed up with the island in Treasure Island so that I half expected Ben Gunn to appear with Quentin from behind a palm tree.

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Uncle Quentin’s island awakened in me a lifelong love of islands, the smaller the better. There’s something about the circumscribed nature of an island, the way that if it’s small enough you can walk round it in a day, the way that just a few people live there and the way that somehow you might imagine that they live simpler and more fulfilling lives.

The first small island I actually visited was Lundy, in the Bristol Channel, on a church youth group trip. What intrigued me most about the island was that it had at one time declared a kind of independence and had minted its own currency named after the island’s most common bird, the puffin.

Not only that, I was the proud owner of a One Puffin coin that Mr Coward, our milkman, had once found in his change and given to me.

I took the coin with me on the long, slow 1970s trip down the country and I fondly imagined spending it in the island’s one shop.

We sailed across to Lundy on a boat that wasn’t much bigger than those boats you have in the bath and the sea was, to use a technical term, unkind. I was in my early teens and I was wearing, for fashion reasons that I can’t recall, a pair of green corduroy trousers and my face was as green as my legs.

Someone pointed out Lundy on the horizon and it didn’t look a lot like Uncle Quentin’s place. It looked like the kind of mark you get on your glasses when you’ve been walking in the rain. I touched the puffin coin in my pocket because I thought it might make me feel a bit less bilious.

We approached the landing point. The rain hammered down. Men shouted to us from the shore, instructing us to do something that I couldn’t quite make out. They pointed and gestured. Then I realised they wanted us to leap ashore. “Come on, green trousers, jump!” one of them shouted. I jumped. I splashed. I landed. My first island!

I felt for the One Puffin coin. It wasn’t there; it had slipped out of my pocket and sunk in the angry Bristol Channel. Ah well, it felt somehow symbolic. And my love of islands continues to this day, but I don’t wear green trousers any more.

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