Magpie Memories – Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging

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TW: there is some discussion of the homophobia, transphobia, racism, and fatphobia, present in these books. It’s mostly “casual” (whatever that means) but I’d feel remiss if I didn’t point it out. It’s in its own bullet point so feel free to skip.

How do I love this series? Let me count the ways.

I’m currently writing my thesis for my (gasp) Masters, and am revisiting some old favourites in a bid to keep reading while having so much research-type stuff to do. I’m planning to do a little series called “Magpie Memories” to that effect. For this series at least, I’ll read one book at a time and then post my thoughts.
I first encountered Georgia when I was about the same age that she is at the start of this book – fourteen or thereabouts. These books were basically my Secret Diary of Adrian Mole: a little subversive, a little sentimental, and very, very, funny ( or should that be v v funny with knobs on?) I was decidedly not a Georgia in school; honestly, I was probably more of a Nauseating P. Green (though not quite so hamster obsessed). But I was in it with Georgia. I felt her feelings, even when her feelings were VERY OBVIOUSLY WRONG. She was like a pal; a crap pal who lacks empathy, but one who definitely makes you laugh.

The plot of this one is basically just Georgia Discovers Boys. Georgia meets Robbie (The Sex God), and kind of stalks him (in a not too alarming way for the most part) until he notices her and likes her, and dumps his girlfriend, Wet Lindsay, in order to go out with G. Along the way, she kisses a few frogs and lives to tell the tale. It is a little creepy, because he’s 17 and she’s only supposed to be 14, but you just kind of have to roll with it, especially as their relationship is mostly fairly PG. I don’t mind Robbie, I can see why Georgia likes him. He’s musical, he’s good looking, and he seems reasonably approachable and not full of himself. Also, Jas falls for his brother Tom, and they have a pretty straightforward, uncomplicated courtship (legumes aside). Given that this one covers a whole year, and the subsequent books only a few months, very little happens over a pretty long space of time. Also, the timeline is a bit Babysitter’s Club as I’m pretty sure Georgia is the same age throughout the next few despite more than a year having passed.

THOUGHTS OF WISDOMOSITY:

  • Some of the references are kind of dated. If we’re to assume that Georgia is fourteen around the date this book was published in 1999, she’s about five years older then me. She references using Panstick (sic – I think the brand is Panstik?) which my GRAN wears on the reg. She references some stuff about Sharon Stone which seemed a bit weird, Esther Rantzen with regard to Childline which was definitely before our collective time, and then SLADE. Who would’ve been naff for my parents to listen to, assuming it wasn’t Christmas. She also says “record” when that… is absolutely not the word that we would’ve used round about that time. It very much smacks of the author mining the references of her generation, but it can’t possibly be set then because G later references mobile phones and so on.
  • “Boys don’t think girls are for funniness” – this book can be so stereotypical (see below) but I think it captures a lot of the teenage ideas of sexuality and femininity really really well, or at least the way they were when I was growing up. I had no idea what boys wanted, but I thought they wanted some hypersexualised version of myself that effectively had no personality, or was just cool enough and enough of “a laugh” without actually giving away anything that was going on in my actual brain.
  • Angus is the best cat but also sounds like a complete nightmare.
  • One of the biggest problems I’ve had revisiting this is the casual… everything -ism of it. I will say, it reads very true to the time and to my memory of being at school roughly contemporaneous with Georgia, but it has not aged well and it is everywhere. I know some people are happy enough to excuse things like this as of its time, but firstly, we’re not as far removed from this era as we might think, secondly, just because I recognise it probably wouldn’t have been written the same way now doesn’t mean it isn’t worth pointing out, and thirdly, some of these DID hurt me at the time! Some examples:
    Homophobia: is honestly rampant throughout the series. Constantly referring to affection between girls as lesbian, phrases such as “please don’t make me have to be a lesbian like Hairy Kate or Miss Stamp”. Miss Stamp is CONSTANTLY referred to as being a lesbian and perving on the girls in the showers (because gay people are unsafe around children… *eyeroll*). I know we’re still very much in the Section 28 period here but come the fuck on.
    Racism: these books are a bit given to stereotypes about non-English people, the worst of which being describing someone as having “a touch of the Oriental”, though I note in my Kindle edition that this is changed to “a touch of the Asian” (which is, in context, only a bit better). Also the word Jewess?
    Fatphobia: every word ever written about Slim, for a start. And Nauseating P. Green.
    Transphobia: the whole Masonic apron/transvestite fandango. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if your dad wanted to be a woman?! (No.)
    It doesn’t kill the book for me (but I am saying that from a relative position of privilege, so ymmv), but I would say that if you were picking these up for the first time in 2019, you should prepare yourself. You never get the sense that it’s meant in a cruel way, exactly, but it’s so pervasive that it doesn’t really matter so much. I wouldn’t blame anyone for being bothered by it.
  • The beauty regime sounds exhausting. I can’t imagine wearing hold-up stockings to SCHOOL. I can sympathise on the deeply impractical uniform though. I went to a school where we basically had to go outside at lunchtime, but weren’t allowed to wear proper jackets, just blazers. In Scotland. In winter.
  • The bullying of Nauseating P. Green is so uncomfortable but felt really real to me, so I don’t know what to think about it.
  • I probably should feel bad for Wet Lindsay but she is also exactly the type of person I hate, so.
  • There are a couple of really weird mentions of things that seem totally beyond the scope of this book to talk about. First, the whole Cousin James fandango where he tries to KISS HIS COUSIN. It’s not like they’re young kids! It’s very odd and not really given the gravity that something like that deserves – I don’t know why it’s there, full stop. Secondly, Jools has seen her brother’s penis a lot?! That is just very odd and again, thrown out there with no further comment!
  • The way Georgia feels about trying to talk to Robbie is pretty much the way I feel about trying to talk to anybody.
  • In some ways these books are, I think, the spiritual successors to the Enid Blyton Malory Towers/St Clare’s books, which sounds mad, but. They are clearly focused on a certain kind of English middle-class society, that is largely populated by girls, who go to an all girls’ school. The focus is on their relationships (which naturally by the 90s include an openness about boys that wouldn’t have existed in the Blyton era). Despite certain references, there’s a sort of timeless quality about them, and the tackling of relationships is often very PG – while sex is mentioned, it often seems like a remote possibility. I don’t know exactly how to articulate what I mean, but there’s a sense of a kind of goldfish bowl world here in exactly the same way as I felt about the Blyton books.
  • There are so many random background characters that get mentioned (eg. Patty, Sarah, Mabs) who barely ever get a line or mention which always struck me as a bit bizarre. Are these people your friends or aren’t they?
  • Rosie is referred to as Rosie Mees – I just want to point this out because I remember at some point being weirded out as they refer to her as a different surname.
  • I kind of forgot about the plot about her dad going to New Zealand. I will say that the way it was handled in the film made me cry, a lot, but that’s mostly because I miss my dad.
  • I kind of wish we got more backstory about how the Nicolsons ended up with two kids with such an age gap (at least 11 years). I am also endlessly surprised by Georgia’s patience with Libby because it seems almost out of character for her! Her family life is on the whole a bit odd (not necessarily in a bad way) so it would be interesting to know a bit more about.
  • The end was kind of romantic I guess but I still never get THAT jazzed about her and Robbie, because it seems weird to be with someone you can’t speak to. As much as I made fun of my own social anxiety above, I’ve never been in a relationship with someone that I couldn’t have a conversation with.
  • There is so much that DOESN’T happen in this book. Including Dave the Laugh appearing. About which I was vair vair disappoint.

WORDS OF HILAROSITY:

  • “It’s like living in a house full of chickens dressed in frocks and trousers.”
  • “I am very ugly and need to go to an ugly home.”
  • “Your head looks a bit swollen up.”
    “No, that’s just Sunday.”
  • “All was not entirely well in the cat department.”
  • “I can already feel myself getting fed up with boys and I haven’t had anything to do with them yet.”
  • “I have become Ratwoman.”
  • “Nobody likes a lopsided girl.”

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