Patti Wilson decides she must find her divorced mother a new boyfriend.
- I Must Find Mr Right! – Tracy: #55 (18 October 1980) – #65 (27 December 1980)
Patti Wilson decides she must find her divorced mother a new boyfriend.
Published: Mandy Picture Story Library #226
We continue commemorating the Halloween season with “The Barn”, as it’s got owls and a haunted barn.
Beth Braden and her parents move to the countryside when Dad gets a job on an estate with Mr Horden. Beth is soon settling into the country life, though Horden rapidly makes it clear he is not the nicest of bosses to work for. Beth soon discovers that Horden has big plans for developing the estate. Moreover, he does not care how he goes about it, or who or what gets in the way.
Beth comes across an old barn and immediately likes it for its character and historical feel. She also finds a love heart carving that says BB loves LD, and is struck at how she shares the same initials as BB. She is dismayed to hear Horden is planning to develop the area for a luxury villa, which would look awful in that area. It would also demolish Beth’s beloved barn, which looks like it has heritage values too. Unfortunately she can’t do anything to put Dad’s job in jeopardy. Later she learns she has BB’s old room in their new cottage when she stumbles across BB’s box hidden under the floorboards. The box contains a pressed flower and a silver owl brooch.
At the village disco Beth meets a boy who has the same initials as LD – Luke Daniels. Beth learns that Luke’s father lost his job on the estate when Horden took it over, and for this reason he gets frigid with her once he hears who her father works for. But they soon come together again when they find an injured barn owl. Luke has been taught a few things in how to nurse the owl. They decide to keep her in the old barn where they can continue to nurse her. There is an owl window in the barn too, which suggests it has been used for owl watching before.
Then Beth and Luke overhear a conversation between Horden and Councillor Roberts. They realise Roberts is helping Horden to get council permission for the development plans as part of an illegal deal.
Beth’s father also tells her that Horden is trying to get permission to pull down an oak tree despite it having a protection order because it houses rare bats. Learning that buildings that house rare creatures could get them protected too, Beth realises that if they can get the barn owl to settle in the barn, they could get it protected. But it’s not just because of the owls; it’s also for BB and LD because Beth senses it means a lot to them. Beth also feels there is a presence in the barn that does not want the barn to go.
The owl begins to settle into the barn, and her mate turns up to feed her. But Horden’s application for council consent to convert the barn is now moving, so they have to come up with a way to stop it, and without Horden knowing Beth is part of it. They hit on the idea of entering a photo of the owls in a junior wildlife photo competition in the newspaper, with a note to say where the owls live, in accordance with the rules. But it will be entered under Luke’s name only to protect Beth.
There is something spooky about what happens when Luke takes the photo of the owl feeding its mate. Beth could swear she heard someone gasp as it was being taken. Luke thinks there was something odd about it too – he is not much good at photography, yet he seemed to know when to take the photo. Beth now really begins to suspect something in the barn wants it to be left intact. It’s no surprise that the photograph wins the competition.
The owls have settled into the barn so well that they have started nesting. A reporter who runs the nature column in the newspaper comes to do an article on the owls and hears about Horden’s application for planning approval. He gets the application blocked, much to Horden’s fury and Luke and Beth’s delight.
However, Beth and Luke soon learn that Horden is not going to take it lying down. He poisons the two nesting owls and all that is left are their new chicks. The kids now raise the chicks themselves, and it is not long before the chicks are learning to fly.
Then BB’s diary turns up from under the floorboards. It dates from 1913 and also contains a record of owl watching, which BB used to conduct with a boyfriend called Len. Their chicks are almost ready to fly by the time Len goes into the army. The silver owl brooch was his parting gift to BB, and she says the owls would help to keep them close. Sadly, Len was KIA. The diary ends with BB reporting hearing strange noises in the barn and thinks it is a tramp. Luke and Beth then find evidence that there was a fire in the barn once. BB does not mention this in her diary, which suggests that the fire was after her time.
All of a sudden, fire strikes again in the barn, courtesy of an arsonist. The smoke nearly claims the lives of Beth and the owls, but Mr Daniels puts the fire out in time. He then explains that BB – full name Beth Baxter – perished in the other fire, which was accidentally started by the tramp. Sure enough, she used to live in the cottage and she was owl watching too.
Horden is jailed for attempted bribery of the council. So he has been forced to sell up. The new owner is a much nicer man who is happy to employ both Mr Braden and Mr Daniels. He also agrees to leave the barn and its owls as they are.
This is a story you have to love for the wildlife caring, the dash of the supernatural and the hints of romance. Though there is no sign of romance between Beth and Luke and they seem little more than close friends, we will not be surprised if it goes that way at some point. That was the way it went between the two predecessors who parallel with them so much, right down to the initials. Even before we learn the full story and names of BB and LD, we get the impression that their story ended tragically. After all, how else could the haunting have started? We get the feeling the story is going to go in the direction of a haunting once Beth sees the love heart in the barn, even before the supernatural is introduced. The supernatural touches are very deftly and cleverly done. Instead of apparitions, objects moving and spectral warnings, the haunting is kept indistinct and gives little more than subtle nudges here and there to influence events in saving the owls and the barn.
Many could regard Mr Horden as just a ruthless, greedy man who stops at nothing and nobody to get what he wants. Yet he can also be seen as an allegory of the destructive forces of greed and profit at the expense of the environment and driving our fellow species into extinction (as exemplified in bowling over the rare owls and bats), and not giving a damn about it. Councillor Roberts could be regarded as even more distasteful because he’s corrupt. He’s breaking council rules and the law in order to help Horden because he stands to have his share of money out of Horden’s venture. Just how these two are caught out is not revealed, evidently because there were not enough pages to go into those details. Perhaps the arsonist was caught and made a confession.
The artwork does a brilliant job of bringing the story to life. It has a rugged, even heavy feel at times that blends in perfectly with the rural setting and depicting the owls and the barn, especially when the supernatural elements are introduced.
Charlene Hodge is thrilled when the boy she has a crush on, Marcus Dolby, asks her out, but then he goes away to France on an exchange school visit, and Charlene is left waiting anxiously for his return. Meanwhile, Dave Webb, the class wimp, moves into the house next door to Charlene. She isn’t too happy about this, but when she hears Dave’s older brother mocking him, she invites Dave to her party, in order to shut him up. Afterwards she worries what she will do if Dave actually shows up and how it will look to her friends. Luckily Dave doesn’t appear, as he knows she only invited him to make him look better in front of his brother. He also says he knows no girl would be interested in him, Charlene says he shouldn’t be so wet and actually try to ask a girl out. He invites her to go bird watching with him and after some hesitation Charlene agrees, figuring no one will see them that early in the morning. She is surprised to find she enjoys herself spending time with Dave. So she realises he is not so bad and she decides to try and find him a girlfriend.
This doesn’t prove to be an easy task, especially as at first she still doesn’t want to appear too friendly with Dave in case she gets teased. Also she’s worried in case Marcus finds out and gets the wrong idea. After deciding to help Dave it seems she becomes more aware of how unfair people treat Dave. While it doesn’t seem like she was maliciously involved with teasing before hand, it didn’t seem to occur to her before how much Dave is bullied. Mr Dimchurch, one of the teachers is particularly harsh on him and certainly these days no teacher would get away with what he says and putting Dave down in front of the whole class. Charlene at first thinks if she can get Dimchurch to treat Dave with more respect, others will follow suit. Her efforts don’t go well as Dave’s clumsiness just make things worse. Hearing the rest of the class teasing him, Charlene thinks she is no better than the others, as even though she is not taking part in the teasing, she is ashamed to be seen with Dave. It is after this she becomes more active and open in her friendship with Dave
Charlene talks to her friend, Jane, about why no-one gives Dave a chance, saying it’s what’s inside that matters not appearances. Jane points out that Charlene wouldn’t have taken a second look at Marcus if he wasn’t so good looking, so Charlene tries to smarten Dave. She encourages him to buy new clothes but then feels terrible when she finds out he sold his computer games cheaply in order to get a new shirt (that gets messed up when he trips while bird watching). Clearly Charlene’s opinion of him matters to Dave and he makes conscious effort to return her friendship. When some boys snatches Charlene’s postcard from Marcus, Dave actually steps in to try and get it back for her, while he doesn’t stand up for himself, he clearly likes Charlene, so he doesn’t want to see her bullied. This is an important step for him as it may lead him to talk up against his own bullies too.
All the while, Charlene is on the look out for a girlfriend for Dave, she thinks she finds a good match with Hayley who is also a bird lover, but again a boat ride ends in disaster. She also returns home and finds out Marcus rang, but her dad said she was out with the boy next door. She again worries what Marcus must think, but she decides that as long as Dave has a girlfriend by time Marcus is back, then Marcus will see there’s nothing to worry about. So her next plan to find Dave a girlfriend is to get Dave to join the choir, as there is a shortage. While Dave’s not a singer, he does have a talent for whistling, so she convinces Dimchurch to add in his whistling for a song. She also sees this as an opportunity to build bridges between him and his family. But on the night of the concert it is another disaster – because of time restraints the song is cut and Dave trips getting off the stage.
Again after this incident, Charlene is the only one that cares about how Dave is afterwards. Later she enlists Dave’s help to rescue a girl’s pet bird and it appears she has finally found a potential girlfriend for him as the grateful girl likes him, but she hasn’t taken into consideration that Dave only fancies one girl now…
Dave then buys her tickets for open air concert she was interested in, even though it’s not really his scene. Before Charlene can answer Marcus arrives, home earlier than expected. While Dave admits his feelings for her, he wants her to be happy and gives her and Marcus the tickets. At the concert Charlene tries to put Dave out of her mind and enjoy her time with Marcus. Then when he asks her to get her a burger, she returns to hear him saying how Dave was no competition and she is like all the other girls that will come running when he snaps his fingers. Charlene wonders what she saw in such a big head and let’s him know what she thinks of him by pushing his burger into his face. She then goes to apologise to Dave and see if he will give her a chance as she now knows who she would like to be her boyfriend.
As a romance story this is well done as we see Charlene and Dave build up a friendship before they begin dating. What makes it more interesting is the theme of bullying throughout. While the story is told from Charlene’s point of view, it is interesting to see t Dave undergoes the trials that are usually reserved for the main protagonist. He deals with bullies and bully teachers, a lack of confidence and clumsiness. While Charlene gets a little teasing for hanging around with Dave and trying to help him – it is nowhere near the amount of bullying that Dave has to face daily. It’s no wonder he has little confidence, as not only do his peers tease him, his whole family are down on him too, until Charlene comes along there seems to be no one that believes in his potential. Charlene also realises while she isn’t active in the bullying, she also doesn’t do anything to help Dave. After this realisation, she makes a conscious effort to help him and openly be his friend and try to get others to respect him too. Having an ally also helps Dave try new things too and stand up to bullies (even if it’s on Charlene’s behalf rather than his own).
It is easy to see why Dave falls for Charlene, as she is the only person that has tried to help him and is actually nice to him. He does seem to appreciate her for herself as well and while he has hopes that they might start dating, he is smart enough to figure out she is trying to get him a different girlfriend. As for Charlene early on she sees Dave’s good qualities, when she actually spends time with him. While at first she is still nervous about being seen with him, around other people, she does become more active in helping him. While her plan is to get Dave a girlfriend, she does suspect that it is her she likes, but she figures he’ll forget about her once he has a new girlfriend. Although she does make an attempt to “improve” Dave getting him to buy better clothes, etc she doesn’t disparage his actual interests and does try to find him a girlfriend with similar interests. Equally Dave makes an effort with what he knows Charlene enjoys by buying her concert tickets when it’s not really his thing.
While Charlene is worried that Marcus will get the wrong idea about her and Dave, it doesn’t occur to her that he thinks so little of Dave, that he believes there’s no competition. This again shows Charlene’s good character and that she values Dave as a person. Although she initially was attracted to Marcus because of his looks, finding out what he is really like brings home the truth to her that appearances don’t matter and also liking Dave as a person she also sees him as more attractive on the outside by the end. John Armstrong does good job with the distinguished characters from Marcus’s smug looks and Dave’s clumsiness (without Dave becoming cartoonish). The story is well paced, both Charlene and Dave are likeable characters and it has some good lessons about bullying and perceived attractiveness.
Sally and Ruth both get new boyfriends at the same time Brad and Gary. Suspiciously They never meet each others boyfriends, then Ruth begins to suspect something is up and when she finds out Gary’s full name is Gary William Bradford she figures out they are dating the same guy.
A popular format for stories were the small digest picture story libraries. These could tell a variety of stories and were a light easy read and complete, so no need to track down the rest of the story. I’ve already looked at some of the DC Thomson picture story library for girls that were published under the names of 4 of their popular titles; Bunty, Mandy, Judy and Debbie. IPC also had their equivalent picture library which is discussed on the Jinty blog here
DC Thomson published other types of digests to capture different audiences such as the lighthearted Beano and Dandy comic libraries, Commando war stories in pictures and romance based Star- Love Stories in Pictures. Another romance based digest was Blue Jeans photo novel but it used black and white photos and was aimed at teens. Although I never read the Star digests when they were originally published, it is nice to see some familiar artists and interesting stories available digitally.
DC Thomson has only a small collection of digital content on comixology (more details here) including Beano and Dandy Annuals, Best of Bunty, Commando and Star, but the collection is growing and hopefully will continue to expand. The Star-Love Stories were first published in the 1960s and lasted until the 1990s with over a thousand issues printed. The Star digests had something in common with the Commandos as they both had the same editor for a time Chick Checkley. Unfortunately like other DCT publications details of the creators involved are still hard to come by, some familiar artists do pop up though. This looks to be Julian Vivas work.Also some familiar themes appear such as jealous rivals, career driven protagonists, historical stories, mysteries to be investigated, cruel guardians, family feuds and misunderstandings. One of my favourite’s in this collection is “Mistress of Jarmyle” digital issue #9 (originally printed in 1989 as #1195). A historical story set in Somerset in 1815, Caroline Bennet returns from America, to claim back her family home, Jarmyle, and seek revenge on Lord Grantley, the man responsible for taking over Jarmyle and killing her father in a duel. She keeps her identity hidden in order to get close to the nephew of Lord Grantley intending he will pay for his late uncle’s crimes. The art is very pretty and the digital upgrade makes it very clean and crisp. The plot is somewhat predictable but there are still some surprises and it’s a good read. The art on the covers of these books are nothing like the inside art, but they are very vibrant and striking.
Another story “Journey to Love” has orphan Jo Gibbs, a young woman who is taken advantage by her guardian who expects her to do all the housework and give her the money she earns (a familiar setting!). Jo decides enough is enough and pursues her goal of becoming a nurse which leads her to taking a job at a residential home. This in turn leads to her to be taken on the pensioner’s trip to Spain, where this potential romance and some shady business going on. Other stories include “Treacherous Heart” where an aspiring model, Alison, has to deal with a jealous rival who isn’t happy with her getting top jobs and envies her photographer boyfriend. She plans to sabotage Alison. In “Two Hearts” sisters Liz and Corrie move to the Scottish highlands to help with their father get his hotel up and running. The sisters are very different Liz more willing to muck in, while Corrie is more snobbish. They both find love interests but it seems that Corrie has her eye on Liz’s potential partner. I found the ending a bit rushed in this story but the story kept me interested as I didn’t know who was going to end up with who.
In the original format a small pin up of popular band or star would be inside the front cover. This is not included in the digital format but it may have been fun to include this in for nostalgia. Still for just 69p each, there is plenty of nostalgia to be captured in the stories. So far there are 12 digital issues available. They are fun reads and I’m looking forward to future releases.
When Chris dumps Tricia in a rather badly handled manner, she expects her friend Kirsty to dump Damon in sympathy as he is a friend of Chris. But Kirsty cannot bring herself to do it, so she is trying to date Damon in secret from Tricia.
Paula Shelton sends her German pen pal Joachim photographs of herself and her best friend Sara. But when Joachim replies, Paula realises he thinks Sara is her. She decides not to tell him the truth in case he does not write again. But then Joachim says he is coming to meet Paula in person on a school trip. When Sara hears about the problem, she agrees to swap identities with Paula while Joachim visits.