Wednesday 28 October 2020

A Minor Mystery Resolved

 For nearly fifty years I've had the faint memory of a book encountered during the very start of my schooldays, but about which I could say almost nothing at all. The book had some creatures on the cover which were somewhat reminiscent of Moomins, but it was not a Moomin book. (When I first heard of the Moomin stories, I felt that my quest was ended, only to realise that it was not the case). All I could recall with any clarity was that there was something in the book about small creatures who were easily squashed, which is really not much to go on, and not necessarily the sort of thing one wants to be Googling.

It turns out that the book in question is this one:

It was published in Australia in 1967. Presumably a British edition was available at the same time, or at least by 1971 or 1972, when I most likely encountered it.

From the Wikipedia entry:

Gumbles are the most friendly and cheerful creatures in the bush and can be squashed into any shape without being hurt, although when flattened or "spanked" out completely they cannot regain their own shapes without help. They are hopeless when they get the giggles.

I would still be searching for this book were it not for a question on this week's edition of Only Connect, which mentioned the word Bottersnike and made enough of a connection to have me rushing to the computer. Such is serendipity.

I am delighted to have squared this circle and will be seeking a suitably old paperback copy of the book in question.


  1. I remember loving this book! I came across it in our junior school library. I vividly recall the Bottersnikes cramming the Gumbles into jars…

  2. Lockdown seems to have promoted a love for tracking down and buying books from childhood for me too. With the help of some great groups on FB, one called 'OLD CHILDREN'S BOOK COVERS' being particularly useful, a lot of old Puffin, Target, Beaver, Hamlyn books have returned from the past. Such is the nostalgia drive lately that Usborne have re-released their Worlds of the Unknown 'Ghosts' and 'UFOs' books. Great stuff.

  3. Some further digging suggests that the UK paperback of this book appeared in January 1973, which is a little later than I suggested, but still in keeping with my memory of reading it (or being read it) during my school days in Cornwall.

    I have a particular affection for the Puffin edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with the wonderful coloured drawings on the front and back.

  4. I had this and I loved it! (I was a member of the Puffin Club). While I remembered the name, I would have struggled to tell you anything about the story...

  5. Interesting the items at the fuzzy edges of our longterm memory.

    When I was very young, I watched a Christmastime cartoon, and what remained etched in my memory was the idea of a jaggedly drawn Jack Frost tapdancing savagely across icicled Victorian rooftops. No name, no other details, just a snaggly Jack Frost up on the roof.

    In pre-internet times there was nowhere to go with such incomplete memories, but the memory had such staying power that I began to search online as soon as I was able--but with no immediate luck.
    Then I met my wife--and she remembered the same cartoon! though a lot of good it did us.

    Finally a few years ago, I came across the Canadian production of Oscar Wilde's The Selfish Giant

    and I wasn't instantly satisfied that this was the cartoon I remembered, but over time I was convinced.
    But there is still room for indeterminancy, as my wife doesn't agree with me . . . .

    So I guess I'd wonder, are you *sure* it was Bottersnikes? Or just reasonably sure, as I am with The Giant?

    Also, "not necessarily the sort of thing you should be googling" :-)

  6. That's a good story. I'm fascinated by these faint threads of memory, and what happens when we pull on them. As for Bottersnikes, yes, I'm 100 sure - it was a lightning flash as soon as I read a descrption of the book.

    I'll mention a similar case. I spent some time in hospital when I was small and remembered a reading a book with drawings of big red walking quadruped robots in. This again would have been somewhere around 1973.

    Decades later, Adam Roberts put some images up on his blog - pages scanned from the 1959 Lion annual! There were my robots, exactly as remembered. Very kindly, Adam sent me that annual, and I still treasure it as a closing of that circle.

  7. As soon as you said "creatures squashed" I knew it was Bottersnikes. Aussie here and that was a childhood favourite.

    2 things I am trying to find:
    1. Spaceman stranded on dry planet and likely to die. Once in millenia rain falls and rehydrate dormant fauna that are visually stunning, possible jellyfish like.

    2. Movie that ends with a marble (a tom bowler) being crushed by a steamroller, and the marble magically reassembles itself.

    1. Stephen, did you see that Al responded to your comment about the movie you were trying to find? (marble being crushed by a steamroller). Sounds like he found the one!

  8. I'm drawing a blank on both of those, alas.

  9. Although!

    Scroll to the end! Steamroller and smashed marble etc.

  10. It was a series as I remember more than one book. Wikipedia confirms and tells me that there was even a Netflix series. abebooks seems to have a few copies.

  11. On a different topic, it looks like Sora didn't get to the Brittlestar in time.

  12. I'd forgotten you used to live in Cornwall. Where abouts in Cornwall did you used to live (speaking as a Cornish resident myself)?

  13. Truro for a year or two then Playing Place (small village outside Truro). My first school was what is now Kea Community Primary School. After we left Cornwall in 1973 I didn't return until 2012, but it was surprising how familiar Truro felt.