The opinions expressed in previous entries may or may not express the current opinion of the author.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

In the Orchard with Jill

On Monday, my oldest daughter texted me to say she was re-reading Jill's Gymkhana (presumably as an antidote to having had the recent misfortune to experience the movie Bridesmaids) and demanding to know why I hadn't named her Jill.

Jill has a special place in our hearts. As a young girl, I read and re-read the Jill series many times over, sometimes reaching the last page of a book and immediately turning back to page one. There is a treacle stain on my copy of Jill and the Perfect Pony, the vestige of a midnight sandwich eaten in bed while reading the book for about the 12th time. To this day phrases from Jill will often pop into my head, and her life remains for me a kind of Shangri-La of perfection, if Shangri-La is the proper term to use in connection with a life spent in pigtails and jodhpurs.

I read the books to my oldest when she was little, and often when Daddy was away on business and younger siblings safely asleep, she and I would load up a tray with a pot of tea and a plate of biscuits and get comfy in bed with a Jill book to read aloud in (as Jill would say) the Silent Watches of the Night. When my daughter graduated from college, my present to her was a complete set of Jill books, first-edition hardcovers with the proper illustrations, gleaned from several months' searching over the internet among British second-hand and antiquarian booksellers.

Everything you need to know about horses and about life is there in the Jill books. Always take care of your pony before you take care of yourself. Never be a pot hunter. Don't boast. Drink lots of tea and eat hearty. Don't complain. If something goes wrong, it's your fault, not the pony's.

Jill inhabits the come-back-all-is-forgiven version of 1950's England. The children are plucky and independent, the adults eccentric, stern, or kindly - and distant; the food is plentiful and wholesome (bread and dripping's good for you, right?); buses or trains take you anywhere you need to go if you can't get there by horseback; tall trees throw leafy shadows across long lanes in endless summer afternoons; and horses abound.

Inspired by my daughter's example, I picked up Jill's Riding Club to read in bed that night. In the very first chapter, I came upon the following paragraph:
In the end we went to our orchard and sprawled under the trees, and my ponies Black Boy and Rapide nuzzled us and tried to chew our hair, and it was all very pleasant, especially as Ann had brought some chocolate.
 And had I not earlier in the evening of the very same day posted an account and photos of our horses joining us under the trees as we partook of refreshment, and did they not also try to chew our hair?

I am so thankful - although I find myself in the real world more than 50 years on and thousands of miles away from Jill's fictional afternoon in the orchard - that Black Boy, Rapide, Bridget, George, Jill, and I all still inhabit the same universe.


  1. .....and I thought I'd read every horse book ever written when I was little! ;-) That sounds like an interesting series. I will have to see if my local library has them and put a few on my reading list for the next camping trip :-)

  2. Read and re-read all the Jill books lots of times. Love them, this post brings back happy memories!

  3. I loved Jill and Ann! I think I call the field behind our house a paddock in Black Boy's honour.

    I loved Mrs Darcy, how Jill's mother just had to write another children's book to earn a bit of money, how they could not kill one of their chickens so had sausages for Christmas.....you've brought lots of memories back. They were my favourite of the pony books, although I read loads of Pullein Thompson also, they were never re-read as Jill was.

    (I also saw Bridesmaids and just did not get it.)