Minnow [1980]

Sample Images

Minnow 1

Minnow 2

Minnow 3

Published: Jinty 3 May 1980 – 30 August 1980

Episodes: 12 (skipped one issue)

Artist: Peter Wilkes

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Minna Purves’ class starts swimming lessons. For some reason Mum is totally against Minna going to the swimming class. She says it’s wrong for Minna, but won’t explain why. However, nobody is excused from swim class without a note, so Minna’s off to it anyway – behind Mum’s back.

Minna has no swimsuit, so she has to make do with an unflattering swimming costume from lost property (no wonder nobody claimed it!) that makes her a butt for teasing, especially from Sharon. They call her “tadpole”, but the swim coach, Miss Garrett, more kindly calls her a “minnow”, and so her nickname is born. Emma is Minna’s only friend in the class.

Surprisingly, Minna soon finds she is a natural in the water and Miss Garrett even thinks she will become a very good swimmer. But when the waves machine comes on, Minna has a strange panic attack that she can’t explain (hmm, could this be what Mum was on about?). Following this, it becomes obvious Miss Garrett will have to give Minna some special attention if she is to regain confidence and carry on swimming.

Mum finally tells Minna that her father was drowned at sea, which gave her a phobia about water and losing Minna to it (but is that all there is to it?). In Minna’s view, this is all the more reason to improve her swimming. The coach for the local swimming club, Mr Byrnes, comes scouting out the class for new members, and Minna wants to join. They do trial laps to get into the club, but the noise from the cheering has Minna going off into another panic attack. This time there is a flashback too, of clouds and seagulls. Minna is pulled out and despite the mishap, Mr Byrnes wants her to join. But there are two problems: first, Minna has to pay fees, and second, she needs the signature of a parent/guardian. Minna addresses the first with her savings, which is easy enough. As for the second, well, she has little choice but to forge Mum’s signature.

While looking for something to copy Mum’s signature from, Minna finds other surprises that deepen the mystery: old letters in a foreign language, and a photograph of her mother and father holding swimming trophies. Later, when Minna wonders why her mother never lets her handbag out of sight, not even indoors, she can’t resist opening it – and finds an Olympic gold swimming medal with her father’s name on it. When Minna tackles Mum about it, Mum says it’s best for Minna not to know why.

That evening Minna goes to the swim club. To her consternation, bully Sharon is there too, but at least Emma is there also. When trying to dive off the diving board, the faces in the water and their voices yelling for Minna to jump set off another panic and she runs off, screaming that she has got to get away or she will drown like her father. As Minna runs off she unwittingly knocks Sharon into the pool, which makes Sharon hate her even more. Minna is encouraged to return to the water later, when there are no voices or faces, and her love of water returns.

Miss Garrett gives Minna a better swimsuit so Sharon will stop teasing her over the old one. But Miss Garrett also wants to question Mum about the strange panic attacks, not realising Minna is swimming behind her mother’s back. Minna does some quick thinking and says Mum is not in – which turns out to be true, as she’s late home from work.

At the next swim session, Sharon has the girls all teasing Minna by splashing water at her – which triggers off another panic attack. Sharon is stricken with remorse when she sees she nearly caused Minna to drown and she has to be pulled out. From then on she gives Minna no more trouble. Minna remembers more from the strange flashback: this time she saw mist over the water. But it all fades again. Miss Garrett says she seems to remember a bit more each time, and Minna finally tells her not to approach Mum about the matter because of the upset it could cause.

Newspaper reporters come in to do a feature on the swim club – and they would take a photo of Minna jumping off the diving board, which makes the front page the next day! Minna tries to hide it from Mum, but of course she finds out eventually. After the initial shock and anger, Mum agrees to let Minna continue with swimming, but she says something odd: “I think the damage may already be done…” Now what can she mean by that? Mum also says that she couldn’t save Minna’s father from drowning, but then Minna wonders how this could be if Mum and Dad were champion swimmers. She realises Mum is not telling her the full story and there is more to it. Mum also seems to be getting more overprotective in her behaviour when she suddenly starts collecting Minna from the swim club. While she does so, Mr Byrnes seems to think he knows her from somewhere.

Then two suspicious-looking men take a photo of Minna and Mum outside the club and drive off in a hurry, and they are clearly not reporters. The strange men send Mum off into a real fright. She whisks Minna off home and locks the place tight. She says it’s something she’s been dreading all of Minna’s life but still won’t explain what the hell is going on.

That night, Minna has more nightmares of the strange flashbacks, and this time she dreams she is a drowning baby with yelling voices all around her. One voice yells, “Leave me. Save the baby!” But as always, it fades.

Next day, Mum goes out to withdraw all their savings and tells Minna not to let anyone in. But the sinister men return and, with the unwitting help of a neighbour, make their way in and kidnap Minna. They tie her up and take her to a ship, which has notices written in the same language as Mum’s letters. They won’t explain what the kidnapping is about because they assume Mum has done it already (which she hasn’t). And then the ship starts sailing.

However, Minna manages to break out when a man brings her food (stupid idiot left the door open while untying Minna’s hands!) and she dives off the ship. (You will find it all on the Peter Wilkes page in the panel gallery.) The swim back to shore in the cold water tests all her new swimming skills to the limit, but she makes it – just.

Minna arrives home, where Mum and Mr Byrnes are so relieved to see her. Mum says the men were using Minna as blackmail to force her to return home, which is an Iron Curtain Eastern European country. Mum met Minna’s father at the Olympic Games, where he won his gold medal (and Mr Byrnes a bronze, which is how he came to know her). When Mum’s home country would not allow her to go to England with her new husband and newborn Minna, he tried to help her escape by boat. But it all went horribly wrong when fog caused the boat to founder against some rocks. Mum managed to save baby Minna from the water, but Dad was killed. Minna realises that this disaster was what she had been recalling in her flashbacks, and now she can see it in its entirety for the first time.

Mum made it to England with Minna, but has always lived in dread of her Iron Curtain home country catching up with her and dragging her back. This was the real reason why she had been so opposed to swimming, and she even gave it up entirely. She also realised her home country would try to grab Minna once they realised what a good swimmer she was, because they never give up.

Sure enough, the men come back to try again. However, the police are waiting for them this time. The police say they will arrange for Mum to remain in England. Mr Byrnes says it would be easier if she married another Englishman (hint, hint!).

A few weeks later, Mum is back in the swim with her new husband (Mr Byrnes, of course). Minna’s panic attacks have disappeared, and she is learning more and more about swimming from her Olympic champion parents.

Thoughts

This story must have been popular, because it prompted one reader to write to Jinty on how she loved the mystery and leaving everything unexplained until the last episode so readers could keep having a go at solving it. She also asked Jinty to write more mystery stories, which was a suggestion Jinty didn’t seem to take up much for the remainder of her run.

Girls always loved mystery serials. It does not take a Sherlock Holmes to guess that Minna’s strange flashbacks, Mum’s opposition to Minna learning to swim, and Dad’s death from drowning are all connected. The mystery is just how they are connected. It deepens when Minna finds evidence that both her parents were swimming champions, so what’s turned Mum off the swimming that made her a champion? It gets even more tantalising when it becomes more and more obvious that Mum is not telling the whole truth. Not even when the sinister men show up, which makes the situation cry out for her to tell Minna everything.

When the creepy men appear in the story, their introduction makes it evident that Mum is not just some problem parent who is unreasonably opposed to the swimming because she was traumatised by a tragedy associated with it, as other parents in similar stories are. It becomes even more so when Mum starts behaving that she is clearly in hiding and making preparations to run away. This not only deepens the mystery still more but also makes it even more exciting. And when Minna is kidnapped by the strange men who won’t tell her what’s going on either and have her bound for some unknown destination, it all comes to a very exciting and dramatic head.

This is the first Jinty story since “Curtain of Silence” to use the topic of the Iron Curtain. As with “Curtain of Silence”, it uses sport and kidnapping as part of the Iron Curtain oppression. Unlike “Curtain of Silence”, however, the Iron Curtain element is not revealed until the end of the story, and it’s all part of the mystery that permeates the story right up until the final episode. We don’t even know the name of the Iron Curtain country or exactly who the kidnappers are. It also raises the disturbing question of just how much people who manage to flee the Iron Curtain ever fully escaped from it. Even in a democratic country, did the shadow of the Iron Curtain continue to hang over them in one way or other?

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