Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Rupert and the Ice-flowers

One thing about Rupert Bear is that he's always wearing the same outfit: red jumper, matching yellow check trousers and scarf, and white boots. You never see him wearing anything else.

I dare say that on a boiling hot day in summer, he might lounge around in wicked shorts, a surfin' Hawaiian shirt, and designer shades to die for. But it never is summer in Nutwood. It's always winter, or at least the nippy end of spring or autumn. And there's no central heating at home, either.

So he needs to keep his jumper and scarf on all the time. I feel sure that I've seen him in a dressing gown, but even then, not without the trademark scarf.

Of course, youngsters don't analyse Rupert's attire in this way. They want Rupert to look the same all the time, give or take a few details, so that they can tell him apart from the other characters. That's why Desperate Dan and Dennis the Menace and Snoopy and Superman and Batman and Billy the Fish all wear the same things without ever going for a fresh look. They can't change their appearance, ever, otherwise they'd risk not being instantly recognised. So if Batman, the Caped Crusader, turned up at a crime scene dressed for tennis, it would cut no ice whatever with the arch-criminal. (Remember that he has no super-powers to show, only gadgets)

Anyway, you take my point. Cartoon characters can't mess about with their look. They've got to have a whole wardrobe of the same stuff. I suppose this could make life simpler for their mums at washtime, apart from what a big job it is to iron a superhero's cape (so much material!).

As a footnote to this, you may recall the scene in the first Incredibles cartoon by Pixar (my goodness, it came out almost nine years ago, how time flies) where the lady who makes outfits for superheroes is discussing what Mr Incredible's next costume should look like. She recommends against a cape, because it snags, and might get you sucked into jet engines. Wise words, I reckon. And they would apply equally to Count Dracula and Mephistophiles. But totally irrelevant of course to my theme, because say what you like about him, Rupert does not wear capes.

On with the story.

The usual double-page opening shows an ice-bound scene, with steps leading up to a cave, and a jolly hare with an ice flower in its mouth. The story now begins with Rupert drawing the flower-like shapes made by Jack Frost on the window. Then Mummy asks him to go into the village for a little shopping. Off he goes, in his red coat (and yellow scarf), and he seems to revel in sliding about, whizzing past a bent old codger called Gaffer Jarge.

'Be careful, lad,' comes Gaffer's cry
Rupert Bear goes sliding by.

Three things here: (a) the Gaffer calls him 'lad', and clearly seems to believe that Rupert is an ordinary boy - which, in relation to the young readers of the annual, is what he is supposed to be; (b) the road looks fit only for a skeleton bob, and I really don't know how Rupert manages to stay upright (perhaps he has super powers); and (c) you'd never catch me doing that - even when very young I was in terror of falling over, and it's only got worse over the years. Besides, I can't fall over at sixty without Consequences, such as a sprained or broken wrist. That said, one of my friends in Brighton, who is two years older than me, yearns to go snowboarding again, and failing that, to get some roller skates. So I'm completely shamed.

Well, Rupert gets the groceries, but, chortling at the tumbles of his friends, and not minding where he's going, slips up badly himself (arse over tit, if you don't mind my saying so) and breaks the eggs. Back home, a shaken Rupert has to confess to Mrs Bear what happened. She doesn't scold him, but he's grounded while the ice lasts, for his own safety. But then he has an inspiration! Finding his old sledge in the lumber room, he takes it to Daddy for mending, explaining that he can't fall if sitting on the sledge:

Mr Bear agrees, sets to with a smile, and mends the thing nicely in time for a fresh snowfall:

More things to note: (a) Mr Bear is dressed for golf - the plus fours, the bow tie - which is rather curious; (b) Rupert knew, as all children in 1958 knew, that any father who Smoked A Pipe was the sort of father who would mend a sledge in a jiffy, and make a Damned Good Job Of It. Nobody smokes pipes now, at least not in Sussex. They might still do so in Nutwood.

Rupert sets off, largely on foot (negating the chief purpose of the sledge) and discovers some tracks in the snow. A hare pops up, with an ice-flower in its mouth, says to Rupert, 'Good morning, good morning, lovely weather for ice-flowers, isn't it?' and bounds off. If you've never seen a hare, you need to know that they're much larger than rabbits, and they run really fast, whereas rabbits just lollop around. Here's a baby hare on the South Downs that thought it was 'hidden' when right under my feet (how charmingly naïve), and a grown-up hare I saw in full flight near the caravan, when I was pitched on the Lincolnshire Wolds:

And just in case you don't know what a rabbit looks like, here's my own favourite shot of one:

Back to our story. Rupert now encounters two pals, Bill Badger and Algy Pug, both with scarves and sledges. They agree to search for the hare, but find an ice-covered lake instead, and so they whizz pell-mell down to it:

Now that's a puzzle! You don't get alpine scenery in south-east England. North Wales or the Lake District, yes - but then one's village wouldn't be called Nutwood: it would be Llancoed-y-Llyn or Lakethwaite, or something like that, and the chums would be calling each other 'boyo', or, if it's Cumbria, whatever kids call each other on the high fells. These inconsistencies matter, but we'll have to press on.

The friends fail to find the hare, but Rupert is prepared to go on alone and pulls his sledge up to the top of a hill. With clouds about to engulf him, he flies down a steep slope at breakneck speed, taking a perfect header into a snowdrift (and a good thing his parents never see what he gets up to, I'm thinking):

As you can see, the hare pops up again, and gets him to follow. It wants to show Rupert where the ice-flowers are, takes him there, then abandons him. Rupert, completely lost, trudges on and finds a frozen waterfall, with a dark cleft behind. This leads to a cave full of matted bracken. Rupert stumbles on an old man, who has been asleep:

The old man, yawning and stetching, explains that he's been trying to hibernate through the winter, to avoid the cold, like the other animals. But he hasn't slept well. This said, he's most hospitable, and makes some nice hot porridge for Rupert. Plus he knows the difference between a boy and a bear: he calls Rupert 'little bear', and not 'my lad'. No flies on him! He says that he's working on a medicine that will let him sleep for months. And he needs only one missing ingredient (guess which!) to perfect the brew. Next moment, he spots the ice-flower that Rupert has stuck in his coat lapel: the missing ingredient! Rupert shows him where to find more. Taking a single bloom - ah, sustainable harvesting! - the old man rushes helter-skelter back to the cave, and a puffed Rupert finds him mixing up his medicine. In gratitude, although he was going to help anyway of course, the old man now nails strips of bark from a magic tree onto the runners of Rupert's sledge:

It is of course bark from the Traveller's Tree, the rarest of all the Wishing Trees. If Rupert wants to get home, all he has to do is wish it, and the sledge will now take him. He wishes hard, and amazingly the sledge moves forward fast. In fact, it's unstoppable, and Rupert races up hill and down dale, flashing past the hare, his friends, his father, and flying into the front garden at home:

What a ride! This is my favourite story in the annual, and you can easily see why I love it. I've never owned a sledge, never ridden on one. So this is my Excellent Substitute Experience. Unfortunately for Rupert, no second ride like this is possible - the bark has completely worn away:

I have to say, Rupert's parents really are fab. All they do is take an intelligent interest in his adventures, and never give him stick for what happens. Nowadays we have this phrase 'helicopter parents', the sort who hover over their children, making sure they can't come to harm, never have a dull moment, and never need to think for themselves. That's too claustrophobic. And even if a modern parent took a less hands-on approach, I think he or she would still freak out if told about that old man in his cave, and insist on stress and trauma counselling for Rupert. Sigh.


  1. Never on a sled....say it ain't so Lucy!

    Still snow on what the kids call "murder mountain" here, and I am sure I can find an extra toboggan in the shed.

  2. It IS so. I'm such a scaredy-cat when it comes to adventurous things, and always was.

    Why is it called 'murder mountain' - is it so steep that you can hurt yourself?


  3. Ah now there is a story that would take a blog post or two to tell.

    Condensed version, two person sled, daughter and I, ramp built by teenagers at bottom of hill, airborne, x-rays and two months of limping for me.....

    that was few years ago and no I didn't land on my head


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