Another Winter Holiday Connection: Morse Code

September 12, 2009 @ 6:41 am | Filed under: ,

I didn’t include Morse code in my list of places our chapter of Winter Holiday took us because it wasn’t mentioned in the passage I quoted. But it was mentioned in the chapter, most enticingly. The book opens with the two children, Dick and Dorothea, beginning to explore the farm they’ve come to visit. There’s a big lake, and they see a boat with six children doing intriguing things around a large island in the middle of the lake. Readers of Swallows and Amazons know at once who these children are…oh, it’s so exciting. Dick and Dorothea long to make contact with them but aren’t sure how, until night falls and they figure out that the light in a distant window belongs to some of those nautical children. They signal with a flashlight, flash flash flash, until oh! The window light flashes three times in response. Contact! (With Mars, thinks astronomer Dick.) It’s terribly exciting.

And then the window light begins flashing in Morse code, but Dick and Dorothea can’t read it. Neither can we. This site is helpful, though we spent considerably more than the “minute” it boasts is necessary, and I can’t say we’re anywhere near mastery. Heh. More useful is the trick Jane remembered from Cheaper by the Dozen: words whose stresses match the dot-dash pattern for each letter of the alphabet, like “a-BOUT” for A (dot dash), “BOIS-ter-ous-ly” for B (dash dot dot dot), “CARE-less CHILD-ren” for C (dash dot dash dot), and “DAN-ger-ous” for D (dash dot dot). We began thinking up words for the rest of the alphabet—GARGOYLish for G, luGUbrious for L, and so on. I can now tap out “bad lad” in Morse code. Or “glad cad.” I’m sure this will come in useful someday.

    Related Posts


13 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. feebeeglee says:

    My husband pointed out that you can spell CALL DAD CAB which could be useful. Also, DAD CLAD, in case anyone was wondering if he was dressed.

    And so on. He’s got that far-away look in his eye now…

    Sure sounds like a great book.

  2. Constance says:

    Winter Holiday may be my favorite Ransome and Dorothea is certainly my favorite character. I recently started reading S&A to my nephew but it was hard going. As a reader, I guess I didn’t read every sailing word but he expected an explanation of every term. Even when I made it up, it was somewhat distracting from the story which moves fairly slowly anyway. I sort of crave this book:

  3. MelanieB says:

    Constance, I’m drooling. Another book to add to my (interminable) wish list!

  4. Jamie says:

    About half of the Morse code alphabet has stuck with me from Girl Scout days. There are mnemonics for the letters that are all dashes (Take Morse Orders, for the letters represented by one dash, two dashes, and three dashes) and all dots (Energy Is Secretly Hiding, same sequence, and even though that is a really stupid sentence it has stayed with me for more than twenty-five years).

  5. sarah says:

    Yes. Well. Swallows and Amazons has been responsible for a lot of things in our house. Hmm. Looking up now I see a pile of cardboard cut up to make yet another boat model. I can see a red origami scow. I can see a backpack stuffed with sea scouts clothing. I can see things tied with marine knots. I can see a child playing a sailing game on the computer. Yes. Thanks so much Mr Rackham. There’s NO hope of her doing embroidery now.


  6. mamacrow says:

    Winter Holiday is my altime fave Ransom, for some wiered reason it was the first I read. In fact, when I read your previous post I had to go straight down the library and get it out!

    I can’t wait to read it to the kids and I’d LOVE to do morse code again… Oh, and semophore. I’ll never forget SOS (dot dot dot, dash dash dash, dot dot dot) but that’s all my knowledge (so far)

  7. sarah says:

    Lol, I knew it. I was making my bed and looking with a narrowed eye at all the S&A books on the shelf and I thought … uh oh, I’ve written Rackham at Lissa’s blog instead of Ransome, I know I have. Had to come and turn on computer again and load it all up to check. Blush! Cringe! I am not really an idiot, I just zoom through my morning blogs too quickly.


  8. Kay says:

    Thanks for stirring our focus back to Swallow and Amazons …..
    By the way, we also absolutely loved Calpernia Tate by J. Kelly.
    Also enjoyed My One Hundred Adventures by Polly Horvath.

  9. Penny in VT says:

    Methinks ’tis about time our family read these…

    What would I do without you to light our literary way?

    Thanks 🙂

  10. Melissa Wiley says:

    Penny, Kay’s right—The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is great fun. I bet you & your girls would enjoy it muchly. 🙂 I haven’t blogged about it yet because I wanted to give my girls a chance to read it first and it had to go back to the library. Also I can’t decide: read-alone? Or their daddy’s next read-aloud? He would do such a marvelous job with Granddaddy…

    About Swallows & Amazons, I had several false starts before I finally got into the first one. Jane had read it, adored it, inhaled the whole series, begged me repeatedly to read S&A aloud to her sisters, and I just couldn’t get us past the opening chapters. Meanwhile, there was Alice, for YEARS, exhorting me to persevere because I’d be enchanted if I did…and always, always, she said: “You’ve GOT to get to Winter Holiday.” That’s HER kids’ favorite readaloud and the family revisits it almost every winter!

    Well, I finally (last year) read S&A on my own. As Constance said, the nautical terms can make it a tricky readaloud for landlubbers. But the story, oh the story! Such fun. And this week when Jane brought me Winter Holiday and urged me to read it to the gang—she knows we’re all going to fall in love with it—how could I refuse?

  11. Sarah N. says:

    Melissa, thank you for sharing about your false starts with S&A. I tried it a few months ago after hearing so many people whose literary advice I take seriously rave about it, but I couldn’t get past the first few chapters. Now I’m encouraged to try again.

  12. Lisa says:

    Totally unrelated to your post! Saw ad for this and immediately thought of you, your friend and the Bee book you posted about

  13. Lisa says:

    Today I had time to read this and thought “Cheaper by the Dozen”!! Remember when the father has them all learn morse code with spoons!! taptaptaptaptap