Enid Blyton, a split lip, and the Reformation

When I was five years old and waiting at the bus stop after school, a bigger boy called Simon (names have not been changed to protect the innocent as he was proper guilty) grabbed hold of my plaits and started swinging me around, like a hammer thrower at the Olympics. I escaped and he came after me again, so I swing my PE kit at him. This would have usually meant a slap in the face with a pair of plimpsoles, but I’d put my library books in there too, so he got two hardback Enid Blytons upside the head. I remember exactly what they were, as it was during my gnome/pixie phase, and it was in general a day to remember.


Simon’s lip was split, and the upshot was when it was all reported back to school I was in as much trouble as him (and the injustice burns to this day). Although I don’t hold it against Simon, as one night some time after this he appeared at the door asking if he could live with us (which was bizarre as we were never friends). My mum gave him toast and marmalade and made phone calls in the hall, and in the end police and a social worker came as it turned out he was known to them. He went into foster care, and was eventually adopted by his foster parents and according to Facebook his life looks pretty normal today. So if anything, our run in provided a connection that later helped him.

I mention this story for two reasons –

  1. I have managed to get a load of extra hours at work this last couple of weeks, and have had no time to properly read, so needed something to pad out this post.
  2. Β If my most recent book purchase, the breeze-block sized Heretics and Believers by Peter Marshall have been in the bag Simon would likely have lost some teeth. It is 650 pages of quality paper (50 of which are notes/references, the thought of compiling which make dizzy.) And, I would have also been one hell of a precocious five year-old.



I love this book. Due to all this work I felt I could splash out on something that had been on my wish list for a while, and it has everything. The review quotes are from respected historians and publications. The cover art is Thomas More and his family by Rowland Lockey after Hans Holbein the Younger. For a quote and cover snob like me, this gives me nothing to complain about. I keep looking at at it, noticing family resemblances and details like the clock, flowers, the slim fingers.


And then I run my (stubby) fingers of the raised surface of the golden foil letters of the title. However, I’m only 56 pages in, but one thing I can say to echo the reviews is that this is a readable history. I’ve come across Peter Marshall before in history textbooks, and his work is complex yet accessible. If you fancy a book on the reformation, one that isn’t just names and date and politics but also features the people’s experience of religion and its significance in their lives, this is it. There’s a story about two noble women having a proper fight in church over who get to the kiss the pax first, and nuns in low cut dresses. And I’ve learned stuff. One of my favourite new pieces of knowledge is that anniversary services held for the dead were called ‘obits’. They were unlike requiems in that they were recreations of the actual funeral, and were supposed to be carried out every year, for ‘as long as the world standeth’ (impractical much!) They started limiting the practice as obviously, people had places to go and things to do. And seeing as the world still standeths, imagine if they were still being carried out for every person with a few quid who had died before us?! And for us and our families?! Every second building would be a church, we’d have wardrobes full of black and every other day there’d be a funeral to go to. Goths would ironically be super-happy.