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Strange Bundle is book 10 of 15 of the Mysteries, published in 1952, which I first read in 1969 when I was 12. Several of the covers of the paperback editions show Goon fishing a bag out of the river. So does the 1984 copy I picked up in a secondhand shop in Blairgowrie in 2005, when I was researching Looking For Enid, and which I scanned first thing this morning. Oh, the present, the recent past and long ago - what a strange bundle they make!

The story starts with most of the Find-Outers ill in bed on an icy January day. However, Bets has recovered from the flu, and she walks to the Trotteville house to visit Fatty. He too is on the mend. In fact, he’s in disguise as his own visitor, the pillow-in-the-bed trick fooling both Bets and Mrs Trotteville. Bets stays for the afternoon and Fatty treats her to a disturbing display of ventriloquism... Here’s the original illustration by Treyer Evans, as coloured-in in my Methuen by an anonymous hand.

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Next day the Five are all feeling better and they meet up in the tea shop close to the police house. Goon comes in for a snack and he is the second person to fall victim to Fatty’s amazing new skill as a ventriloquist, being convinced that a nodding cow on the mantelpiece is mooing.

Are you ready for an unrolling of
Strange Bundle? First, let’s remind ourselves of the basic Bourne End/Peterswood set-up. The Hiltons’ house is in the west, closest to the river; Fatty lives just off the main street; Goon’s house is in the middle of town; and Larry and Daisy Daykin live in a house along New Street, the blue pin furthest to the right on the map below. The latter is one of two primary locations in Strange Bundle.

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Just a quick word about the site of the Daykin house, which I go into in the
Burnt Cottage page of this website. When looking at the Google maps of today one has to bear in mind that Enid was first exploring this area when it was considerably less built up. The historical map below is from 1930. Find Coldmoorholme Lane (brown) on the left, and follow it north from the river to the main road. Then turn right along that, go past the location of Fatty’s house and Goon’s police house (both of which are identified in my page on Missing Man), then turn left at the main junction just north of the station (marked with a red dot). Then one can clearly see the loop of New Road and Highfield Road surrounded by unbuilt up land, New Road continuing up to the north edge of the map. Larry and Daisy had to live on New Road as there was nowhere else in that part of town!

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The Mystery gets underway the morning following the moo-mocking of Goon. The milkman tells Larry that there was a break-in at the Cedars, next-door-but-one to Larry and Daisy’s house. The Five are soon having a look round, but not before Fatty humiliates Goon with more virtuoso ventriloquism. Goon flees thinking there is a dog, a pig and a man loose in the house, shouting for his Auntie. Larry reports that the burglar didn’t come in at the front door but over the wall at the back of the garden and in through the kitchen. Here, Enid is being consistent with what she’s told us nine years earlier, in
The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage, about the houses on Larry and Daisy’s street. I’ve marked Mr Fellows back garden with a blue tack, as well as Larry and Daisy in their back garden. Mr Fellows blue escape route down New Road I’ll come to very soon.

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Larry suggests that the burglar came in at the back. Fatty comments:

‘I see - so you think someone else - probably Mr Fellows, say - ran out of the front door, and instead of making straight for the front gate, ran across the front beds to the back gate and disappeared out that way. That probably means he went down the road, not up.’

To begin with I was a bit puzzled by the references to a back gate, given the wall that was supposed to need climbing at the back of the house. But this street view of what I think of as Mr Fellows’ house, albeit taken sixty years after Enid was writing, helps clarify the situation. The front gate is the gate directly in front of the front door. The back gate is not at the back of the house, it is the gate that leads via a path to the back door! For that revelation alone I feel I deserve a gold medal for Find-Outing. The photo also clarifies the up and down the road business. Mr Fellows is going to run towards the river. So he goes out the front door, cuts across his front garden to the ‘back’ gate, and legs it downhill towards the River Thames, the river that Enid so loved to set fire to. Exit photo left carrying a strange bundle!

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Early in the book, Mr Fellows’ house is described as being small. But when Fatty is going round it, he says there are three rooms upstairs. I’d say that at the most there would be one room upstairs in this house. There are several discrepancies like this, but what can one do? Though it can never provide all the answers, I feel this Bourne End-based analysis does help to understand what’s going on in the book. Long live my ‘O’ Level Geography, grade 3!

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As we’ve been told, Larry and Daisy live two doors down, and I’ll come to their house later. But right next door there is a boy called Erb whom Larry calls on. Larry asks Erb if his bedroom faces the Daykin house. It doesn’t, it faces the other way: uphill to Mr Fellows’ place. When Erb looked out at about 12.30am, disturbed by an owl, he could see a light on downstairs in the sitting-room of Mr Fellows’ house, though the curtains were drawn. Then Erb was woken again at quarter past three in the morning. The light was out in next door’s living room, but he could see a light on in next door’s kitchen, that faced the kitchen in his own house (Enid can’t stop herself adding that unnecessary detail). Not the usual electric light, a torch perhaps. Larry presumes this to have been the torch of the burglar.

Progress? Well, a little, but I wonder why Enid put Erb and his house in between the Daykin house and Mr Fellows’. It doesn’t really help the plot. Unless there
was a house in between the two houses in Enid’s template and she felt the need to deal with it. In any case, I like the detailing, it takes me back to the suburban street I was living on when I was the Find-Outers' age and reading Blyton books. Me and my brother at number 8 Townhill Road, The Clarks at number 6, and the Myles at number 4, with the Campbells opposite at number 9. Which brings to mind another slight discrepancy. Larry and Daisy are described as living opposite number seventeen. In fact the houses pictured are on the side of New Road that has odd numbers. I’m guessing Enid forgot that (she wasn’t so good with numbers) or didn’t bother to check it out.

The house nearest in the photo below is the one I’m tentatively marking out as the Daykins. There is little doubt in my mind that they effectively live on what is New Road, but it’s difficult, maybe impossible, to pin it down to a precise house. This house does not have enough rooms upstairs. Though a window facing west (so as to catch sight of the burning cottage in book one), suggests there is at least one room upstairs. Pity Larry and Daisy don’t live in the house next door, in Erb’s house, which does have rooms upstairs. Maybe that is effectively where Larry and Daisy do live, but Enid may not have wanted them to be too close to the scene of the crime as that would have meant focussing on them, which she didn’t want to do. She wanted to leave plenty of room for Fatty to investigate the burglary in retrospect.

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OK, so the night that Larry interviews Erb, Fatty goes on a night prowl. First he disguises himself with a tweed overcoat and a blue-spotted scarf so that he looks like a young man asking for information about his sleep-walking uncle.

‘Fatty went to Mr Fellows’ house and looked at it. He stood at the back gate and looked along the road. Yes - he would go down there - and when he came to the bottom he would see if there was any sign of a night watchman’s brazier of glowing coals.’

With you, Enid, with you all the way...

‘He walked down smartly. At the end he looked this way and that. No sign of any watchman or the road being up. He turned to the right and made his way to the next cross-road. There he had some luck, red lamps burned in a row, and in the midst of them was the dark shadowy shape of a watchman’s hut, with the brazier of burning coals in front of it. Fatty walked along.’

Fatty asks after his Uncle Horatius, who was in the habit of sleep-walking in dressing-gown and slippers. The nightwatchman refers Fatty further down the road to another nightwatchman. I’ve marked on the map below the position, as I understand them, of the two braziers, glowing with red-hot coals.

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The second watchman, old Willie, confirms that a figure wearing slippers ran down to the river the night of the burglary. Fatty doesn’t get any more out of the watchman because Goon is on the same trail that Fatty is. Fatty has to hide while Goon is interviewing Willie, then Fatty plays a trick on Goon by filling an old sack with broken bricks, blacking up his face and generally re-disguising himself as an old codger. He plods past the watchman (who signals for Goon) and makes for the river. Fatty goes down the towing-path to a small jetty. Goon catches up with him and watches in horrified curiosity as Fatty lobs his sack into the river and runs off. End of evening’s entertainment.

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The next morning, Goon requisitions a boat and hunts for the bag with a boathook. The Find-Outers watch what happens. I’m there too, virtually, at the end of Wharf Lane (the stop signs indicate that the Google van can’t go any further). The river has changed so much over the intervening seventy-odd years since Enid pictured the scene, that it’s no wonder Google can’t see clearly what Goon is up to. Plenty boats for me to hire though. But, no, let it always be Goon who hires the boat and becomes the fall guy, never me.

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I switch from Google, 2012, to Armada, 1965. The trouble with this view, is that the colour of the trousers that Goon is holding up is wrong. It should be a blue pair of trousers, not orange or red (sorry about the poor quality of scan). We’ll get to the significance of the wrong-coloured trousers in a minute.

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As we can see from the above image, Goon retrieves a bag from the river all right. But it’s not the bag of bricks that Fatty threw in. Rather, Goon has chanced upon the strange bundle that Mr Fellows disposed of on the night of the burglary! But Goon is not at all happy with his haul of sodden doll’s clothes. Good job that Fatty has taken refuge in Spicer’s Shed. If Goon should catch him now there would be trouble!

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Could Fatty be hiding in that building? Is Dean Marine the new Spicer’s Shed? I don’t know, but what I do know is that even after all this time, Goon is determined to find Fatty:

He looked at the four children nearby, scowling.
‘Where’s that fat friend of yours? I want him. I’ve got a few things to say to him!’
‘What fat friend?’ asked Larry, innocently. Goon’s scowl became even more ferocious.
‘You know who I mean - that Toad of a boy!’ spluttered the angry policeman.
The old boatman heard him. He was still painting his boat and looked amused at Mr. Goon.
‘He’s in there,’ he said, pointing to the shed.

Goon chases Fatty and catches him, stuffing the clothes down the front of his shirt. Fatty falls onto the floor of the shed and Goon falls on top of him, still relentlessly pushing everything down Fatty’s neck! Trousers, coat, socks, cap, shoes. Pip and Larry try to haul Goon off while Bets and Daisy rain blows on his back which he hardly feels.

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‘Mr Goon!” said Old Spicer in a shocked voice. ‘You’re a policeman! You can’t do things like this - to a boy too.’

But Goon does not regret his actions. In fact he’s feeling on top of the world as he walks away from the scene. Bets is very upset, but Fatty reassures her that he is basically fine. He makes it clear that her tears upset him much more than Goon’s attack. Actually, as the Find-Outers get on their bikes, Fatty registers that he has a new respect for Goon. The clothes-stuffing idea was a spirited one!

Before moving on, you might want to explore what I’ve been writing about for yourself on Google Maps. If you use this link
Bourne End (Strange Bundle) and make use of Street View (little yellow man at the top of the zoom function), both at the houses on New Road and down by the river, it should all come to life, if it hasn’t already. It may not work for you, of course. Depends how computer-orientated and geographically-inclined you are.

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Onward. The Find-Outers cycle to the Trotteville house (up Wharf Lane then along Oakfield Road to Marlow Road...) and Fatty gets changed in the shed at the bottom of the garden. The last soggy garment to emerge from about his person is a little red glove that matches one that he found the first time he had a look round Mr Fellows’ place.

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In the ‘Hugh = Goon?’ page on this site, I suggest that the Find-Outers’ long and detailed investigation of the doll’s clothes could have been inspired by something that happened to Enid in 1944. Hugh’s new wife sent a doll and an apricot-coloured velvet coat to Green Hedges, and one can be sure that such an unusual pair of gifts coming from such a loaded source would have aroused great interest. Enid gave the doll to Gillian, though she was 12 by then and possibly too old for dolls, but the coat was too small for either Gillian or Imogen, and so that was disposed of.

The Find-Outers’ examination of the clothes has to be put on hold and resumed another day, so that Enid can devote a whole chapter to perusing the garments:

‘And now for the clothes,’ said Fatty, taking them out of the box he had put them in. ‘Use your eyes well - there’s obviously Something we mustn’t miss! Now - the trousers first!’
He shook out the blue trousers. They were long ones, with little buttons at the top. ‘No pockets’ said Fatty. ‘Don’t dolls’ clothes ever have pockets, Bets?’
‘Oh, yes, sometimes,’ said Bets. ‘Aren’t they dear little trousers - a boy doll would look nice in those. Let me have them, Fatty.’
Bets took them. She turned them inside out. There was nothing that would tell them anything - they were just trousers with buttons. Bets passed them round to the others, and then Fatty put them down.

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Bets finds a little handkerchief with the name ‘EURYCLES’ embroidered on it. Fatty realises that this is the name of a Greek master of ventriloquism and so he works out that the clothes are those of a ventriloquist’s doll. Actually, there are two big coincidences in
Strange Bundle and this is one of them. Fatty is learning to be a ventriloquist when a mystery involving a ventriloquist’s doll crops up. The other coincidence is that when looking for one sack that’s been dumped in the river, Goon hooks the other bag that’s been dumped there.

OK, so Mrs Ida Pollock sent the doll and the little coat to Enid who wrote back thanking Ida and telling her that the coat was too small for either of her daughters. I’ll return to that in a second. First, another potential inspiration for this scenario must be mentioned. Perhaps it can best be introduced by this photo. The Noddy doll by itself is featured in another photo that appears in
The Story of My Life, which was first published within a month of the publication of The Mystery of the Strange Bundle in 1952.

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In the above photo, Enid is sitting in the lounge of Green Hedges, where she wrote her books. She is not at the padded armchair by the fireside where she typed, but elsewhere in the room, seeing to her correspondence. In the foreground, is the big Noddy toy, looking every inch the ventriloquist’s playmate. Now basically, as we all know, Noddy sports a blue hat, red top, blue shorts and red shoes. What about the doll of Mr Eurycles? You’ve guessed it: blue cap, red coat, blue trousers and red shoes. Some of the detailing is different, like the colour of their respective belts. But if you could see one little guy out of the corner of your eye, your undermind might well come up with the other. And, in 1951, when Enid would have been writing
Strange Bundle, the slightly sinister model of Noddy seems to have been sharing her space.

Strange Bundle ends with a rather complex set of revelations emanating from the Chief and an unidentified big-wig, which I’ll summarise. Mr Eurycles is a ventriloquist who has been helping the British secret service. He made a list of names and information that he hid in the heel of one the shoes of his talking doll, Bobby-Bob. When trapped in a car by traitors, Mr Eurycles threw Bobby-Bob out of the window. The doll was picked up by a police car who reported the incident to Mr Fellows, Mr Eurycles assistant. Fellows went to the police station to collect the doll because he knew that there were secrets hidden somewhere in his clothes. He couldn’t find them, but when the burglar turned up at his house that night on the lookout for the secret information, Fellows had the wit to flee with the clothes and chuck them in the river. Contrivance after contrivance, but who cares? It’s the guts of the story that leave an impression. Particularly the night flight of Fellows as pieced together by Fatty.

I’ve just come across this picture of Enid and another toy Noddy. Noddy looks more like he does in the books this time, but what’s going on between himself and his creator? Well, let’s listen to the maestro herself:

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Enid: “Noddy?”

Noddy:
“I never did it, I never.”

Enid: “Did what?”

Noddy:
“Oooh I never did! Where’s my auntie? Where’s Big-Ears? Big-Ears or my Auntie, I must have one or the other.”

Enid: “Big-Ears?”

Noddy:
“Correction, not Big-Ears, he threw all my spare clothes in the river, my long trousers and everything. “

Enid:Fatty’s got your long trousers now. He’s going to try and trick Mr Goon into wearing them as longjohns.”

Noddy: “Oooooooh, my sainted Aunt! ”

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But I can’t leave the story on that light and irreverent note. In the above wraparound dustcover by Treyer Evans, Bets, kneeling, is holding what I’m thinking of as an apricot-coloured velvet jacket. The one that Enid received from Hugh’s new wife in winter, 1944.

Imogen and Gillian last saw Hugh in May 1942 when Gillian was 10 and Imogen was 6. By Christmas 1944, when the child’s coat was sent on behalf of Hugh, Gillian had turned 13 and Imogen 9. How could the too-small coat do anything but symbolise that, as far as their father was concerned, his daughters had remained as he had last seen them, while they had moved on. Perhaps the coat would have fitted six-year-old Imogen in 1942. But by 1944 she’d grown; by 1944, a lot of water had already passed under the bridge, laughter and tears that Hugh knew nothing about. I wonder what Enid did with the little coat. She told Ida that she sold it, but I wonder if she really did that. It suits my purpose to assume she put it away in one of the many spare bedrooms at Green Hedges. Put it away until she knew what she really wanted to do with it.

Years later, the Noddy doll arrives at Green Hedges and, in my mind at least, it’s brooding presence prompts Enid to return to the little apricot-coloured coat. I picture Enid cycling from Green Hedges to Bourne End with the coat in a bag. No, perhaps this time she drives, as Imogen recalls her doing between 1938 and 1940, when Old Thatch was still owned by Enid and Hugh. This time Enid drives in to Bourne End along New Road, passing what she thought of as the house of Larry and Daisy Daykin. She decides to park there and walk to Wharf Lane and along that road towards the river. At the riverside she knows so well from her ten years of living in the village, feeling very angry because she had to leave this idyllic place because of the behaviour of her first husband, she weighs down the bag with stones and bits of broken brick. She’s still furious with Hugh as she walks to the end of the jetty and drops the bag into the river. There goes her perfect family life: splish. There goes what could have been. The ripples quickly settle down and the river is calm again. It’s as if the little coat had never existed. It’s as if the little family that had lived at Old Thatch had been a mirage.

Enid wanders into Spicer’s Shed and reflects. It’s winter 1951. She chose to take her girls away from Bourne End in 1938, partly in a bid to save the marriage with Hugh. When that failed irrevocably, she took the girls away from Hugh’s unstable influence altogether. Enid had lost her own brilliant and much-loved father when she was 12, and she hadn’t wanted the same thing to happen to her own girls. Well, Hugh was neither brilliant nor well-loved. Better, Enid had thought, that Hugh be shown the door while Gillian was still just 10 and Imogen 6. Kenneth would be their father. And this had worked out. Hadn’t it? The girls soon learned to call Kenneth, Daddy. Gillian is now a 20-year-old at St Andrew’s University, a normal seeming young woman if not exactly happy-go-lucky. But Imogen, now a 16-year-old at Benenden School, is a deeply troubled teenager. Do poor Imo’s troubles stem from missing her natural father? Enid doesn’t think so but she can’t be sure. She can’t be sure she did the right thing in pushing Hugh out of the children’s lives.

Gillian and Imogen are strangers to their father; Hugh is a stranger to his daughters. Oh, well, so be it. Every cloud has a silver lining, and Enid realises she has an opportunity to set the Thames on fire again. As soon as she returns to Green Hedges she will write a new Mystery set in Peterswood. She has absolutely no idea what she will write and won’t do until she sits down with her typewriter. But, deep down, she knows exactly what she has to say.

Oh, the present, the recent past and long ago, what a strange bundle they make. Then and now.

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Acknowledgements: The basic scan of the dust-wrapper from The Mystery of the Strange Bundle, and internal illustrations from the book, plus the paperback cover immediately above, are taken from the Cave of Books on the Enid Blyton Society website, which is the work of Tony Summerfield. Thanks to Google for making this exercise not just possible but a cakewalk.

Note: If any copyright holder wishes an image to be removed from this page then they should contact me and I will do as they ask.