Monthly Archives: September 2015

Take Away the A

When your aunt becomes an ant. It does make a difference, does it not?

Here is a new – sort of – ABC picture book, which brings home the importance of letters. All the letters. Michaël Escoffier has written this very clever collection of letters, with little ‘poems’ for each missing letter and how it affects things. ‘Without the A the beast is best.’ How about that?

Michaël Escoffier and Kris Di Giacomo, Take Away the A

It looks so simple. But the more you read and think, you realise there’s a lot of planning behind all this. ‘Jam I am.’

Weird and lovely illustrations for this ‘alphabeast of a book’ by Kris Di Giacomo.

And without the W I am a mere Bookitch. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

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Past Calais

I think it was Danish author Janne Teller who said she’d written a short book featuring a nice Danish family who had to leave their country and find somewhere else that would take them. And a couple of years ago I read and reviewed After Tomorrow by Gillian Cross. It was a pretty scary read, seeing as it turns those ‘migrant’ stories on their head. It’s you heading into the unknown, where you are not welcome, and because you have to. Not because you’re greedy.

Re-reading my review made my heart palpitate, and it all looked so familiar. It’s what we see in the media nearly every day, except we are the the ones not too keen to let those others in.

As I say in that review, I’m one of those migrants. And remembering how the boy in Gillian’s book doesn’t speak French and how that causes problems, I am full circle, again. Because I have created a migrant in the next generation, too. One who doesn’t speak French, and thereby missed the expected knowledge in the supermarket regarding what you have to do if you are buying grapes. Not kiwis, just the grapes. I’ve married a foreigner, too. One who has been told off in another country’s supermarket for putting the food he’s buying the wrong way at the checkout. I remember a Swedish tourist many years ago, crying over the bananas in London’s Queensway, because she’d done what she was used to doing at home.

None of us fruit shoppers are persecuted at home. We just went on holiday or moved abroad for some perfectly normal reason. That can be hard enough. Add a little peril to life or starvation and then see how you manage.

Literature is full of people like us. A long time ago it would have been enough to leave your village and move into town. Or the further away countryside to the capital, or from the poorer end of the country to the richer end. And then the move from one poor country to another country, perceived to be better. It probably takes a generation or two before life becomes almost normal in the new place. That is unless you move somewhere else again, like where they sell grapes differently.

There are different class immigrants too. Despite her poor grasp of grape-buying, Daughter is a higher class foreigner than her similarly recently arrived supervisor. He outranks her in all academic aspects, but the receiving country rates him lower. (He’s Australian…)

And speaking of Australians. The Resident IT Consultant chatted to someone here, whose son moved to Australia. There he married an Australian. And now he can’t find work. And he can’t move back home if he wants to continue living with his wife and children.

Maybe if we could all go where we want to be, it would sort of even out? Natural selection and all that.

If You Were Me

It would seem that Sam Hepburn is good at taking a topic I’m not all that keen on and then writing a novel about it; a novel so good and so exciting you don’t know what to do, because you have to hold on to the book to keep reading, but at the same time you could really do with holding on tight to your chair. Or something. You know.

Sam Hepburn, If You Were Me

If You Were Me is a gut-churning thriller, about Aliya and her family who had to flee Afghanistan in a hurry one night, only to exchange a bad situation there for a bad one in London. Her brother who was an interpreter for the British, is accused of being a terrorist, plotting to kill the man who helped them enter the country.

With the help of Dan, who came to sort out the plumbing in their decrepit flat, she starts sleuthing, desperate to clear her brother’s name. Dan is keen to assist, but he also has reasons to hide certain aspects of their investigation, to keep his family safe and intact.

It’s amazing how these two manage to find any clues at all, let alone that they are able to make something of what they discover. Very, very exciting indeed. And basically, you must remember you can’t trust anyone. Had the introduction not suggested it might end well, I’d not have believed it possible.

Aliya and Dan are two incredible heroes. Not everyone else is bad, but very nearly.

Wheelbarrow bookshelf thingy

Do you want to save £1500?

In that case you get yourself the smallest Ivar shelf from Ikea, which will cost virtually nothing. You add a couple of wheels to the ends of two of the four legs. You put some kind of handles on the opposite side of Ivar. You paint it a nice colour.

And that way you have yourself a nice, mobile bookshelf. Your to-be-read pile can always be with you.

Or you could buy one of these beauties; designer Matti Klenell’s The Truck. It’s just rather expensive.

A day in the sun

Rather as with flying, when the Resident IT Consultant and I sit apart, unless we travel on different planes, we have taken to having days out separately too. ScotRail have introduced a club for old people, for which we qualify. Their opening treat was a cheap ticket anywhere in Scotland during September, so we had to hurry while the offer lasted.

The Resident IT Consultant went to Aviemore earlier this week, after a break of more than 40 years, and had a successful day, climbing Cairngorm, coming down again with walkingboot soles flapping in the air, necessitating hitchhiking to the station and then a taxi home. The boots are now in the dustbin where they belong. But it was a nice sunny day and he enjoyed himself. There was a scone involved at some point.

As for me, I returned to Arbroath yesterday, 30 years after the two of us went there – briefly – and didn’t enjoy it. So why I went back is a mystery. I think I was under the impression I’d been wrong that time. That it was only my visit to the baker’s that went wrong. (It’s the only occasion I have ever been aware that my English accent was the wrong accent to have. And I tend to be quite slow on the proverbial uptake.)

But yesterday I suddenly remembered more. I recalled that the reason we went somewhere else afterwards was that we left early, because it wasn’t at all what we’d hoped for. That memory had disappeared with the breadrolls. Walking towards the sea from the railway station I felt like someone in a film or a novel, and not in a good way. There wasn’t a scone in sight.

It was good to see the sea. I crave the sea in this inland area I have moved to. The sunshine was pleasant. There were plenty of benches on which to sit in the sun staring out to sea, which is something I do well. I like a working harbour, and they have one. There is fish everywhere, including the famous Arbroath Smokies.

Don’t misunderstand me; I reckon this is a good place if you belong. The trouble is, I don’t. Just as I didn’t 30 years ago, when all I wanted was bread for our lunch.

So after enough sea and sun, I walked back to my cheap train, on which passengers were able to travel like sardines. But I had my book, and a day is not wasted when there has been sea and sun, as well as plenty of reading, even if fish-style.

Stalking

In mid-September a Swedish book fan was ordered by Stirling Sheriff Court to leave her favourite author alone, and to go back to Sweden the next day. And no, that wasn’t me.

The author in question is Stirling historian Neil Oliver, who has been bombarded with letters and photos and CDs by this woman over the last year. Her stalking continued when she turned up at a book signing Neil was doing at Waterstones in Glasgow this month, trying to hand him an envelope.

I understand that this must have been upsetting for Neil. I’m wary of people knowing where I live, so for his address* to have become known to her will have made him feel unsafe.

But, the man appears on television regularly. It’s easy to ‘fall’ for a charismatic television presenter at the best of times. As an author he’s a bit of a public figure. At a bookshop signing he is doing a public event.

It’s tricky. I understand her fervour, and I get his fear. I don’t know what the solution is.

But I can sort of see myself in her place. It can be hard not to admire too much.

(*The full name and address of the poor fan has been made public, with the help of the Stirling Observer. This is something that wouldn’t happen in Sweden.)

Btw, I love you all!!!!!!

Arabel’s Raven

I’m so old I have actually experienced the period in which Joan Aiken’s little book is set. And that’s really quite nice, because I almost felt that it was so lovely that it was all fiction. But it truly was that idyllic once upon a time. (Wasn’t it?)

The kind of time when ravens come and sort your life out. Become your pet, and generally cause mayhem. (Why do ravens feature in fiction more than other birds?) When there were actual unions for people who work, odd – but kind – policemen and children could be independent, thinking creatures.

Joan Aiken and Quentin Blake, Arabel's Raven

Arabel is a very young girl, whose taxi-driver dad brings home Mortimer one late night. Well, he didn’t know it was Mortimer (but Arabel could tell when she saw him that he was a Mortimer), and he was so tired he forgot all about the bird. I believe the bird might have been a wee bit tipsy, due to some unorthodox reviving done by Arabel’s dad.

Anyway, this short book is about more than slightly drunk birds in taxis. It’s a crime story, because someone is going round stealing stuff, and it’s not Mortimer. If anyone can solve the mystery it’s Arabel, who is able to walk all the way where she needs to go on just the one pavement and not cross any roads because small girls aren’t allowed to on their own.