Back with the Borribles
Aimée and Rose de Larabeitti remember the stories their father, Michael, told them—stories he would go on to publish as the anarchic, anti-authoritarian, and completely wonderful Borrible Trilogy of young adult books
I didn't need imaginary friends when I was growing up, I had the Borribles. Grown-ups couldn't see them, but that didn't matter, in fact that was the best bit, and they were everywhere, just out of sight. My dad should never have been a grown-up and in a way he never was. He wrote in my treasured first copy of the book, that I was an original Borrible, but he was the original Borrible, the one who started it all. The story-teller, their Historian…
He used to read me these books he'd written, or was writing, populating them with the rich voices and fruity language from the Battersea streets he'd grown up in. I didn't realise how lucky I was. When I re-read them to myself now, as I often do, it is his voice that still rings in my ears. That cheeky grin (Bingo's perhaps) the sharp wit (Orococco definitely) and the crafty glint in his eye (Spiff, for sure).
I tumbled headfirst into the Borrible world, my heart beating faster at the very thought of the chance of at least one great adventure with my true friends. Their world was utterly irresistible to my imagination. There they were, hidden in plain sight! There was one London, a facade of busy-ness and 'Business': the daily commute, the glass-fronted office blocks, law and order. Then there was Borrible London, much better: broken down old houses, train tracks, mischief, anarchy and adventure. I immediately knew which one I wanted to belong to.
I even had my own Borrible hat, a white and green woollen bobble hat, given to me by my dad after he'd borribled it off someone else. For a period I wore it all the time, low-slung over my ears, keeping my head down if I passed suspicious looking adults (so most of them) and I desperately wanted to become Borrible: waking up every morning to see if the tops of my ears had developed into the sharp intelligent points that belong only to a true Borrible.
It never happened. I didn't have the requisite 'bad start'; in fact I'd had the best possible start. A childhood full of stories, told to me by my father as if they were meant just for me. So in the end, it didn't matter that I'd grown up and hadn't turned Borrible. My dad had instilled in me the very same spirit, which I carry with me to this day. A spirit of adventure; the recognition of the unbeatable value of true friendship; a deep mistrust of authority (especially the Police) and unlike many grown-ups, I see through that first, more superficial London and I inhabit the same one as the Borribles do, as much as I possibly can.
That Borrible spirit is there for the taking, for anyone who picks up the books and loves them. As the Borrible proverb says: 'it's a shame to go through life without one great adventure,' and here we all are, fans of the books, young and old, still being lippy, still causing mischief and still seeking out as many adventures as we can. You're never too old to not grow-up.
Rose de Larrabeiti,
London, 10th of January 2014
I was a lucky kid, in all the normal ways, but also because I had an amazing story teller for a father. Bedtimes were pretty special anyway; fantastical stories to carry me away to far off places, but then along came The Borribles and they got even better. Dad read the books to me as only he could because they were his creation. With him there, an arm around my shoulder, the adventurers and their adventures leapt off the page, my heart racing, desperate to hear more.
During the day, I had my own Borrible adventures in the derelict buildings at the back of our house. Bobble hats, homemade catapults, muddy knees and a few bumps and grazes along the way. It was pure unfettered, tomboy bliss.
The last of the trilogy, The Borribles Across The Dark Metropolis was written when I was a little older and I will never forget Dad handing me the manuscript. There I was, given, as I saw it, the amazing privilege of being able to read the book before anyone else. I was so utterly hooked that I lay in bed, curled up under the covers with a torch, long past 'lights out' and read until I reached the end. No doubt my Dad would have forgiven me had he caught me breaking the rules that night. Just this once.
Now 30 plus years later, it is my turn to bring the stories to life for my son Sam. Of course I don't have my Dad's magical way of reading them aloud but then I don't need to because the stories speak for themselves. What feels like a lifetime later my son is as gripped as I was. Far from being a lost treasure of a long ago decade The Borribles is a story which grabs the imagination of this iPad generation and holds it fast in exactly the same way it did for those of us who were kids in the internet free, rough and tumble world of the 1970s.
Aimée de Larrabeiti,
12th January 2014
After unrest in London, the Borribles' publisher, Linda Davis at Collins, sent Michael the cowardly letter below to inform him they were dropping the series … due to its disrespectful attitude toward authority!
Behind-the-scenes Sketches and Notes!