Tag Archives: cross country running

Spell of the Spinning Wheel (1977)

Sample images

Wheel 1 1

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Wheel 2

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Wheel 3

Publication: 5/3/77-25/6/77

Artist: Jim Baikie

Writer: Alison Christie (now Fitt)

Reprint: Tina Topstrip #42 as “De betovering van het spinnewiel / The magic of the spinning wheel”

Plot

Rowan Lindsay’s shepherd father is an outstanding cross-country runner and is determined to “blaze the name of Lindsay beyond this humble dale!” But his ambition is dashed when he is rendered lame after a fall into a quarry. So it now falls to Rowan to blaze the name of Lindsay in cross-country running.

Dad cannot work because of his injury and money is tight. Mum sets up a craft shop, but it isn’t taking off. Then, on a visit to the next village, Rowan is inspired by a spinning wheel being sold at auction. She is surprised to find nobody bidding against her. The bidders even warn her against buying it; one woman says she would not touch it for all the tea in China while another tells Rowan she is buying a whole load of trouble. Rowan is puzzled, but she brushes it off and has the spinning wheel delivered to her house. Soon business is booming with Mum selling handspun wool.

But soon the warnings bear out when Rowan pricks her finger on the spinning wheel. A strange sensation goes through her, and then Rowan finds any humming noise is sending her to sleep. This starts interfering with Rowan’s cross-country running, and even puts her life in danger several times. Dad believes Rowan when she says the spinning wheel has put a Sleeping Beauty-type spell on her, but Mum just won’t and thinks it is rubbish. She keeps thinking Rowan is ill and having dizzy spells and wastes doctors’ time and Rowan’s by sending her to medical examinations. Doctors think it is exertion and bar Rowan from running. Dad, who believes in the spell, helps Rowan to train secretly, but there are ructions with Mum when she finds out.

To complicate matters, the Lindsays need the spinning wheel for their income, which makes it all the more difficult to get rid of it. And what with Mum spinning at it all the time to make wool and money, Rowan can’t escape the humming and the sleeping spells.

It gets worse when Rowan’s cross-country rival Della Barnes discovers Rowan’s weakness and starts taking advantage of it to send Rowan to sleep with the sound of hair dryers and such. But at one point she gets a nasty shock when she allows Rowan to fall asleep after hearing the hum of bees – only to find Rowan nearly drowned because she had her head in a stream. Later on she tries to put Rowan to sleep with her tranny while Rowan is running on an emergency, but Rowan manages to beat her.

Mum won’t listen and their efforts to convince her just lead to rows. So Rowan and Dad try other ways to deal with the spinning wheel. It becomes manifest that removing it from the house is not the answer, the only answer is to destroy it. Rowan tries having it replaced with a look-alike. But it feels like the evil spinning is striking back. Rowan nearly goes over a cliff and the replacement spinning wheel falls to the bottom.

However, the spinning wheel does have its weaknesses. One weakness is that the spell doesn’t work when the spinning wheel gets damaged and is out of action. But once the spinning wheel is repaired, it and its evil spell are back in business. Another weakness is that its power weakens over distance, as Rowan discovers when it goes to London with Mum. But then Mum gets a tummy bug (we wonder why?) and comes back with the spinning wheel. Back to square one.

Rowan reaches breaking point and just runs off – only to fall under the wheel of a car. When she wakes up in hospital, she feels the spinning wheel engineered that too. While she recovers at home, a hiker drops by. He seems to believe Rowan’s story and offers help. But they soon find he is student psychiatrist who thinks she is mentally ill. Dad throws him out, but not before his interfering gets Rowan so upset that she throws bricks at the spinning wheel and Dad and Mum have yet another row.

Nobody seems to pursue the history of the spinning wheel and what makes it tick, despite the warnings Rowan received about it having an evil reputation.

A doctor gives the green light for Rowan to resume cross-country running. And it is here that the old adage that “seeing is believing” comes to the rescue. The spinning wheel takes a step too far by spinning all by itself in order to put Rowan to sleep and put her out of a big cross-country event. But when Mum sees what the spinning wheel is doing, she is finally convinced and has it destroyed in “The Burnings”, a carryover from witch-hunting days.

Rowan is free to pursue her cross-country event without fear of falling asleep from humming noises. She wins of course, while jealous Della does her best to lose gracefully.  Mum agrees that Rowan is more important than money, and Dad promises her another spinning wheel. Rowan is going on to carry the Lindsay torch and let the spell of the spinning wheel fade into memory.

Thoughts

This is regarded as one of Jinty’s best-remembered stories, and it is the only serial I have seen that features a spinning wheel. I am a spinner myself, and this is one reason I have always been drawn to this story.

The evil influence in this story is unusual in that we can’t actually see just what the evil is. In most evil influence stories there is an expression of evil (either from the object itself or the person wielding it) that not only makes it more frightening but also gives clues as to what motivates the influence (revenge, power, or general maliciousness). This is not the case here; there are no apparitions of evil faces, whispering voices, dreams or whatever to scare the living daylights out of the readers and the protagonist while at the same time providing hints as to what is happening. In the case of the spinning wheel, the evil itself cannot be seen, except in the final episode where it starts spinning by itself. For the most part the influence of the spinning wheel is felt rather than seen as its terror over Rowan increases.

The evil of the spinning wheel is perhaps all the more terrifying because we don’t know why it is evil. Rowan gets warnings that the spinning wheel has an evil history, but she does not go back to follow them up and learn all she can about the spinning wheel. This is something that heroines in evil influence stories normally do, and Rowan not doing it leaves a gap in the story that is rather frustrating. Readers must have been dying to know the truth about the spinning wheel, what with all the hints Rowan gets when she buys it, and they must have been annoyed that the reveal never comes. The fact that the spinning wheel was destroyed in a carryover from witch-hunting does suggest a connection to witchcraft. Did a previous owner have a reputation for it? Was it cursed by someone with a reputation for sorcery, such as a witch or gypsy? Was there material on it with a reputation for evil? Or was it something else – Sleeping Beauty herself, maybe? We never know because nobody goes to find out.

Perhaps Rowan doesn’t chase up the history of the spinning wheel because she and her father are too fixated on how to break its power. Destroying it is the obvious answer, but they are frustrated by Mum refusing to believe the spinning wheel is evil, and she also needs it to make money.

It is a bit odd that the spinning wheel seems to strike back when Rowan tries to fight it, but it does nothing when Mum takes it to the Burnings. Maybe it thought the game was up once Mum saw it spinning by itself? Or maybe it realised too late what was happening? Or were all those accidents and Mum’s tummy bug just coincidences and all the spinning wheel could do was send Rowan to sleep?  The story is so skilfully crafted at keeping the evil more felt than seen that we cannot know for sure. Then again, perhaps the Lindsay parents disabled it to render it powerless before bringing it to the Burnings.

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Story theme: Sports

Many apologies for the long break in between posts. Life has got hectic and the run-up to Christmas didn’t help!

Jinty and Penny cover 7 February 1981

Stories featuring sports are very prevalent across the range of girls’ comics titles. This clearly taps into both the day-to-day experiences of many or most schoolgirls (playing on their hockey or netball teams) and into aspirational ideals (winning regional or national contests, going on to have a career in their chosen sport, excelling at unusual sports). At one end of this theme, many many stories will have some element of sports included, simply as a part of the protagonist’s daily life; I don’t count these as “sports stories” per se. At the other end of the spectrum, there are stories that are clearly mostly about the pursuit of excellence in the protagonist’s chosen sport, with a sprinkling of some complicating factor to spice the story up, such as peer rivalry. And in between there are stories where the sports element are strongly included but given a reasonably equal weighting with other elements.

To me, therefore, a “sports story” needs to feature the sport in question as the main story element, or with equal weight with the other elements. Often the story positively teaches us various details of that sport in a didactic way, as if part of the expectation is that readers might have their interest sparked by that story and go on to take it up themselves. The protagonist is someone who takes seriously the idea of practice, learning, improvement in their chosen area: they are not just naturally gifted without trying at all, and part of the drive of the story is about their drive to improve or to excel.

It seems obvious, but it also needs to be a sport not an art: as you would expect, there are plenty of ballet stories, and these are excluded from my categorisation. Ballet has its rivalries but it is not a competition with winners and losers, except in artificial ways that the writer might set up (for instance in “The Kat and Mouse Game”, the ‘winner’ gains a contract with an influential ballet impresario).

Finally, it is worth remembering Jinty also had a strong focus on sports in ways that lay outside of the stories themselves: for a period of time there was a specific sports section in the comic, with articles about specific sports, improvement hints and tips (such as how to win at a bully-off in hockey), and interviews with sports women and men. Over and above this, there was a lengthy period where Mario Capaldi drew cover images illustrating a very wide range of sports – netball and rounders, yes, but also archery, bob-sledding, ski-jumping… These are not sports stories, but form part of the context in which the sports-themed stories need to be read.

Core examples

There are so many strong sports stories that it is hard to choose a single one as a core example. A wide range of sports are represented: ones that a schoolgirl might well have direct experience of such as hockey, gymnastics, running; and more unusual ones like judo, water-skiing, and figure skating.

“White Water” (1979-80), drawn by Jim Baikie and included in the sports section that Jinty ran for a year or so from late 1979, is a classic example of a story that includes teachable elements as well as dramatic ones. Bridie is in a sailing accident with her father, who is killed: her grieving mother moves them away from the sea and into an industrial city that depresses Bridie mightily. As well as grieving for her father, she also has a gammy leg that was badly hurt in the accident, so Bridie is pretty fed up; but she then finds out about a local canoe club. She is determined to learn canoeing, especially once she is told about sea or white-water canoeing. Along the way there are rivalries and misunderstandings – her mother hates the idea of Bridie doing anything at all like sailing, and the existing star of the canoe club doesn’t like the challenge represented by this bright (and sometimes tetchy) new member. But the story includes lots of information about canoeing techniques, certainly enough to either help interest a reader in the sport, or even to help someone already learning it.

You can see below the wide range of sports represented in Jinty.

  • Prisoners of Paradise Island (1974) – hockey
  • Hettie High and Mighty (1975) – hockey
  • Ping-Pong Paula (1975) – table tennis
  • Tricia’s Tragedy (1975) – swimming
  • Miss No-Name (1976) – athletics
  • Go On, Hate Me! (1976-77) – athletics, particularly running
  • Battle of the Wills (1977) – gymnastics and ballet.
  • Concrete Surfer (1977) – skateboarding
  • Cursed to be a Coward! (1977) – swimming
  • Curtain of Silence (1977) – cycling
  • Spell of the Spinning Wheel (1977) – cross-country running
  • Darling Clementine (1978) – water-skiing
  • Wild Rose (1978) – gymnastics
  • Black Sheep of the Bartons (1979) – judo
  • Prisoner of the Bell (1979) – gymnastics
  • Waves of Fear (1979) – swimming/hockey/orienteering
  • Toni on Trial (1979-80) – athletics
  • White Water (1979-80) – sailing/canoeing (see above for details)
  • Blind Faith (1980) – showjumping
  • Tears of a Clown (1980) – long-distance running
  • Child of the Rain (1980) – tennis
  • Minnow (1980) – swimming
  • Spirit of the Lake (1980) – figure-skating
  • Tearaway Trisha (1980) – cycling
  • The Bow Street Runner (1981) – long-distance running
  • Diving Belle (1981) – high-diving
  • Life’s A Ball for Nadine (1981) – netball (and disco dancing, competitively)

 

Edge cases

As ever, there are clearly-related stories that don’t quite fit in the main theme. Sports are such a pervasive trope in the life of Jinty and other girls’ comics precisely because they were an important part of many girls’ school lives. Of course they also made up a big part of other popular fiction read by girls; it becomes a reinforcing theme that is always available for use.

  • Jackie’s Two Lives (1974-75) – features a mentally disturbed woman grieving over her late daughter and trying to recreate her in another girl, but also features horse riding and show-jumping
  • Wanda Whiter than White (1975-6) – the main story theme is constant trouble with an interfering, tale-telling girl, but also features horse riding and show-jumping
  • Champion In Hiding (1976) – the champion in question is a sheepdog, trained to win at dog trials
  • Rose Among the Thornes (1976) – the main story theme is family rivalry, but there are sections where Rose is involved in running races in her local village
  • Stage Fright! (1977) – includes some realistic elements of sailing
  • Land of No Tears (1977-78) – gymnastics and swimming as part of the futuristic competition to find the most perfect schoolgirl
  • The Changeling (1978) – main character loves horseriding and this is used as part of the abusive family/wishfulfilment story
  • Knight and Day (1978) – really a story about an abusive family but includes a family rivalry based around swimming and competitive diving
  • Paula’s Puppets (1978) – a story of magical objects and group strife, but includes elements of athletics (running)
  • Combing Her Golden Hair (1979) – a strange comb has the protagonist rebelling against her strict grandmother, whose rules include a ban on swimming
  • Freda’s Fortune (1981) – mostly wish-fulfilment gone wrong, with horseriding
  • Holiday Hideaway (1981) – protagonist has gymnastic skills
  • Worlds Apart (1981) – each dream-like parallel world featured a society built around an individual’s interests, and this included a sporty girl’s world

 

Other thoughts

This is probably one of the most pervasive themes you could possibly have in a girls’ comic; no doubt those who are expert in other comics titles will be able to mention many more examples of stories and of unusual sports featured in them. Reviewing the list above, I am surprised not so much by the number of stories as of the range of sports included. Of course the sports that girls played on a regular basis at school – hockey, swimming, athletics, netball, running – would feature in the girls’ comics. Even then, the weighting of specific sports doesn’t seem entirely even, mind you – in Jinty there was only one netball story compared to two or three hockey stories, and a few athletics stories. There is a noticeable absence of lacrosse stories despite the fact they are a staple of girls school prose fiction (I am sure they must be included in some other comics titles). I also don’t recall any rounders stories, which was a very typical summer sport for girls to play.

I am sure that other titles included some aspirational sports such as figure-skating or show-jumping as Jinty did, and the inclusion of some ordinary if less usual sports such as orienteering doesn’t seem unlikely either. However, the fact that skate-boarding, table-tennis, and judo were included as part of the range of stories shows, I think, that Jinty wanted to push the boat out and include elements that were not just a bit unusual, but also modern, fresh, and popular in the wider world: elements that were not marked as ‘élite’ and expensive.

The Bow Street Runner (1981)

Sample images

Bow Street 1

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Bow Street 2

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Bow Street 3

Publication: 10/10/81 – concluded in Tammy & Jinty merger

Artist: Phil Townsend

Writer: Alison Christie (now Fitt)

The Bow Street Runner holds a particular place in Jinty history for being the only Jinty serial (besides Pam of Pond Hill and Gypsy Rose, which were regulars) to continue in Tammy & Jinty. It is also where long-running Jinty artist Phil Townsend crosses over from the Jinty team to the Tammy team.

Beth Speede, as her name suggests, has a talent for running. In Bow Street, where she lives, she is known as the Bow Street Runner because she uses her speed to run errands for the residents, most of whom are elderly and invalid. Among them is Beth’s own father, who suffers from a heart condition. This means he can’t get a good job. Mum can’t either because she is lame. So the Speedes, like everyone else in Bow Street, are a poor lot. Still, Bow Street may be a poor and rundown street – which gets it threatened with demolition at one point – but it is home to everyone who lives there. They are a close knit community bound together by Beth the Bow Street Runner. The street would fall down without her, and her invalid parents wouldn’t survive without her either. Quite literally, in fact – it is the Bow Street Runner herself who saves Bow Street from demolition. The street gets modernised instead.

But Beth is soon putting her talent to far more serious uses when she receives a prophecy from a fortune teller: “I see you running for help across green fields…I see the face of a girl crying.” Beth is completely terrified by this prophecy. She takes it to mean she is running to get help for her sick father, and the girl crying is herself – crying because she failed. So she takes up cross country running to increase her speed, in the hope that she will outrace the prophecy and save her father.

However, there is a cross country championship and trophy that is also at stake. So naturally, Beth, like any other heroine of a sports serial, finds herself up against an enemy who makes constant trouble for her. In Beth’s case it is Louise Dunn, a rich snobby girl (and nose to match) who has been promised a pony if she wins the championship. Louise’s tricks include tying knots in Beth’s shoelaces, getting her suspended from the sports club, and interfering with the markers. And it gets even worse when Louise finds out about the prophecy and starts using it against Beth.

Stories about poor girls who work to rise above (or work with) their poverty are always popular. And readers love stories about girls who find a talent but face all sorts of adversity – largely in the form of a spiteful enemy – in using it to prove themselves and triumph at the end of the story. “Tears of a Clown“, “Minnow”, “Concrete Surfer”, and “A Dream for Yvonne” are just some of the Jinty stories with this theme.

However, what should be the greatest strength that carries this story is instead the weakness that lets the whole story down – the prophecy. Sorry, but you can tell a mile off that Beth has got it wrong. The prophecy is just too vague, wide open to other interpretations, and Beth’s interpretation of it is just so stretched and forced that you can’t really understand how on earth she can come to that conclusion. For the prophecy to work, it should take the form of a riddle with double meanings. Beth (and the reader) takes what appears to be the most obvious meaning. Then Beth (and the reader) is taken by surprise when it turns out that the prophecy had an entirely different meaning. Jinty had the right effect in “Cursed to be a Coward!” Here the heroine receives a prophecy that says: “You will end in blue water.” The heroine takes this to mean she will drown, and becomes terrified of water. But it turns out the prophecy is referring to an actual name – Blue Water – the name of her new house boat. But in “The Bow Street Runner” the prophecy menace does not work, and it comes to absolutely nobody’s surprise when Beth finds she has got the prophecy wrong. The prophecy meant running for help for Louise, who had an accident during the championship run. And the girl crying is a deeply remorseful Louise. So it has to be said that this story is not as good as it should have been because the prophecy looks like it has been badly thought through.

Oh yes, Beth wins the championship and becomes the pride of Bow Street. Louise’s dad builds the Speede family a bungalow at the top of Bow Street as a reward. But Beth is very happy to remain the Bow Street Runner.