|Illustrated by John Verney himself|
I was given Friday's Tunnel to read as a child. For many years I read it about once every six months. It was very different to other books for girls, and I identified with the 'tomboyish' main character February Callendar.
Friday's Tunnel was written in 1959, with some attitudes reflecting the age. However, February is a bright and brave 12 year old, who leads the search for her missing journalist father. Augustus (Gus) is an ex-MP (left-ish, but no party specified), a respected journalist, and an expert on a tiny Mediterranean island, Capria, where he spent the war. The book is set at height of the 'Cold War' - before 'Bay of Pigs'. When an international incident blows up over Capria and the USA and Russia start sabre rattling Gus is sent out to the island to report for his paper, but somehow disappears before he leaves the UK.
February, with help from her brother Friday, and a student, Robin, who was sent to tutor them for the summer as well as various of the mass of younger daughters sets out to solve the disappearance. Along side this is the story of Friday's tunnel, which he is digging with help from the many young sisters.
Some of the language used is dated, as are references to Danny Kaye and Woody Woodpecker. The attitudes of the period are largely clear through the mother, January, who despite being 'not very strong because of having so many children' is pregnant again. She is very much a stay at home mother who is described as 'beautiful' and spends most of her time burning food. January seems far less of an influence on February than her father. Despite the way her mother is portrayed February is spirited and intelligent. She is largely allowed to ride anywhere on her horse although she is warned off going near a particular area by her father before he disappears. This was an age where children were far less supervised than today.
I thought that I wouldn't like the book, that I would find the world of the late 1950s too far removed, but I was wrong. Yes, there are plot holes, the reason for the international crisis is not possible, but it seemed like it was a valid reason - the story should still hook kids. I still like the book, I still like February Callendar, even now.
There is another reason why I like the book, something I had completely forgotten about through the many years since I last read it. I am not going to spoil the plot - just in case anyone gets the chance to read it - but it has a lot to do with my interests now. In fact I do wonder if this book percolated through to my subconcious and has actually affected my life now.