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Better drowned than duffers

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In Swallows and Amazons, the Swallows all write letters to Daddy at Malta (but under orders for Hong Kong), asking for his permission to sail Swallow to Wild Cat Island and camp there. .

Daddy replies in the famous Duffers telegram:

BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WON'T DROWN

Susan says that he added the won't drown to comfort Mother.

John says that Daddy thinks we shall none of us get drowned, and that if any of us do get drowned it’s a good riddance. (SA1). He is particularly keen not to let Daddy down. Hugh Brogan comments: John’s father’s telegram is famous. John’s comment is enormously significant: ‘Daddy knows we aren’t duffers’. It was something that the boy Arthur could never have said to himself with any confidence; yet how much he wanted to! Now, in fiction, all could be arranged. (LAR p.313).

It has been suggested that Ernest Altounyan whose children were, in part, the models for the Walker family was noted for his pithily worded telegrams and this one is typical of his style (CFT). Roger Wardale comments in Nancy Blackett: Under Sail with Arthur Ransome that the telegram is in his style (NBUS p.66).

In the Japanese version, the telegram reads "Duffers (noroma:ノロマ) who would drown, if not duffers, will not drown."

Duffer: One who is clumsy or incompetent.

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