Tom’s Midnight Garden – book & dvd

I’d never heard of Tom’s Midnight Garden until I read about it a couple of weeks ago on Shazza’s blog. Written by Philippa Pearce and first published in 1958 it’s a classic story for older children/young adults but it sounded so fascinating I just had to get a copy, and I read it in its entirety one evening earlier this month.
Tom’s younger brother Peter has the measles and so Tom doesn’t catch them as well he’s packed off to stay with his very dull aunt and uncle who live in a first floor apartment in what was once an old manor house. There’s no garden to play in, just a back yard where the dustbins are kept and where one of the other residents tinkers with an old car ; the only thing that interests Tom is a big old grandfather clock in the communal hallway which never strikes the right time. He soon realises that every night at midnight the clock strikes thirteen so one night he sneaks out of bed to investigate and finds that the extra hour takes him back to a time over half a century earlier where the old house is just one residence and the back yard is now a huge and very beautiful sunlit garden. There he befriends a lonely little girl called Hattie and meets her in the garden almost every night, where they play together and have different adventures which he gradually realises are taking place in the late 19th century.
No matter how many hours Tom stays in the garden he finds that when he goes back to his own time he’s only actually been gone for a few minutes, but time in the garden advances through the seasons and several years. Although Tom stays the same age Hattie grows up fast and as she grows older Tom seems to her to become thinner as though he’s gradually disappearing, then after one last outing together, where she begins to fall in love with a young man from her own time, Tom finds he has become completely invisible to her. He doesn’t see her again and the next time he goes to the garden he finds that it’s turned back into the modern day back yard where in a panic he runs into the dustbins, knocking them over and making quite a noise.
The following day it’s time for Tom to go back home but before he leaves the house he’s told that the elderly and reclusive landlady in the upstairs flat, who he’s never previously met, wishes to see him, presumably so he can apologise for disturbing her and the other residents during the night – and that’s when he discovers that she is actually Hattie, many years older than when he last saw her in the garden. After a long conversation, in which Hattie tells him about her life through the years between their last meeting and the present day and asks him to visit her again, they say a fairly formal goodbye to each other and Tom turns to go but at the bottom of the stairs he rushes back and gives Hattie a big hug, happy that he’s found her again after so long.
The story is extremely well written and the description of the beautiful garden is so detailed that I could really imagine myself exploring such a place. I must admit though that the time shifting aspect of the story seemed to ask more questions than it answered and left me a little confused. When Tom was in the garden no-one but Hattie and the gardener could see or hear him and as the story moved on through their adventures I found it hard to tell who was actually real and who could have been a ghost, or if the whole thing was just one of Tom’s dreams. Nevertheless it was an intriguing and fascinating read and left such a lasting impression that on learning that it had once been made into a tv series I was prompted to find out if there was a dvd version of it. There was quite an up-to-date one made in 1999 so I sent for that and watched it last weekend.
The start of the dvd is nothing like the start of the book and I initially felt a bit disappointed until I realised that it shows present-day events after the story has moved on, events which lead back to the beginning of the story. The story itself is told in its entirety as a flashback and the film is very true to the book right up to the last few minutes where it reverts to the present day and a continuation of the film’s beginning. Although the book doesn’t mention Tom’s age I got the impression that he was about 11 years old but the film portrays him as being 14. The book ends where young Tom hugs the now elderly Hattie and I was left with the feeling that there should have been a bit more, but the end of the film shows a now adult Tom with a wife and baby daughter, who they’ve named after Hattie, living in a cottage which is one of several built in the original garden of the old house which is now being demolished – and still standing at the bottom of their own part of the garden is the big tree where young Hattie had carved her own initials and young Tom’s signature drawing into the trunk so many years before. It’s a very fitting ending to the film and I think it finishes off the story very well.
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The house and garden in the story are based on the author’s own childhood home in Cambridgeshire and a bit of Googling discovered an article written in 2014, which included many photographs, when the actual house and over three acres of garden were up for sale. I’m not sure if the garden in the film is the real life garden or a bit of computer-generated imagery – or maybe some of both – but it’s a truly beautiful garden, and looking at the photos of the real garden it’s easy to see how it inspired this magical fantasy story. The book makes a lovely read and the film really brings everything in the book to life – certainly well worth anyone reading and watching.
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Will You Love Me? – a book review

Will You Love Me? by Barby Keel is an emotional true story of the deep bond which can exist between a human and a dog and shows how, in rescuing others, we can also help ourselves. The first two chapters are written as if being related by the dog, an ex racing greyhound fallen into the wrong hands. Permanently chained to a wooden post and with no shelter, beaten, kicked, scarred and bleeding from cigarette burns all over his body, terrified of humans and so weak from starvation he can hardly stand, he’s almost at death’s door when he’s dumped in the dark and rain at the gates of the Barby Keel Animal Sanctuary in East Sussex.
The story is continued by Barby herself and tells of the hours, days and nights she spends nursing the dog, which she names Bailey, back to health and helping him to overcome his nervousness and fear of humans. It’s a wonderful moment for her when Bailey finally gets his first taste of freedom in an off-lead run round an enclosed paddock. She also has to deal with the daily comings and goings of various animals and the financially devastating effects of two burglaries at the sanctuary’s town centre charity shop, and all this while undergoing a debilitating course of radiotherapy treatment after getting breast cancer for the second time. The book also gives an insight into Barby’s early life and how she started the sanctuary, the money-raising events, hard work and great expense involved in the day-to-day running of it and the care of all the animals living there, which wouldn’t be possible without the help of a few official staff and a band of very willing volunteers.
Eventually Bailey, although still a bit underweight, ┬áis considered confident and well enough to be rehomed, and though it breaks Barby’s heart to let him go a new forever home is found for him with Mary and Ron, a lovely couple who already have two rescue greyhounds. After several meetings to make sure that Bailey and his new owners are right for each other the final papers are signed, and as he walks out of the gate to a new life with Mary and Ron and their other two dogs it’s as though he’s always been with his forever family. There’s a welcome surprise for Barby a few weeks later though when Mary and Ron bring Bailey back to visit her on the day of the sanctuary’s summer fete.
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This book is the third in a series of three, though it can be read without reading the other two first as each one is a different story in its own right. Although Michael had bought me the previous book several months ago I hadn’t got round to reading it before I spotted this one in my local Asda store ; as a long-time lover of animal stories, especially real life ones, it was the photo on the front cover which attracted me. One look at the sad face of the pictured dog and it was a no-brainer – I bought the book.
I read it in its entirety last Sunday morning and right from the first chapter there were several times when the story brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes, though thankfully the unhappy times are outweighed by the happier ones. It’s a story of sadness, hope, triumph over adversity, and the love humans and animals can have for each other – for anyone who loves animals it makes an interesting and very moving read, and unless you’re extremely hard-hearted there’s every chance that at some point it will make you cry.