Monthly Archives: January 2019

Getting the giggles

I had no idea what it was about, but coming across this YouTube clip a few days ago, my spirits lifted. Considerably.

Having watched it again, I still don’t really know, which is understandable as I don’t watch This Morning. But I’m sure most of us recognise the situation; where something that is often very minor, suddenly makes you laugh until you cry and you can’t stop. When eventually you do stop, it’s the work of a split second to get going again. As Phillip and Holly do here.

I don’t often refer to such laughter and abandonment on Bookwitch, but I seem to recall the tulips. The memory of them still make me feel very jolly. What was so good that time was sharing the merriment with someone. I’d like to think I departed from that job, being remembered for being fun.

(Yeah, I know. You’re surprised, because these days I look quite thundery most of the time. But that’s only on the outside.)

I have a collection of cuttings, collected from all over the place. They are very funny. At least, I think so. They are the kind that would make me laugh all by myself, needing to wipe away tears of laughter. There isn’t usually any need to actually look at them, as the memory of first finding them can be enough to set me off. (The pineapple juice?)

I suppose I assumed we were all a bit like that. Not necessarily collecting cuttings, but enjoying a good explosion of laughter when it hits you.

Many years ago, I decided to be proactive at finding some social life after we’d moved to a new town. I had seen an article in the Guardian about the National Women’s Register, and it sounded like just my kind of thing.

The first meeting was OK, if nothing special. The next meeting really tickled me, as the topic was going to be funny things that make us laugh. I brought my whole collection.

It didn’t take me long to discover that what these women found funny was, well, not very funny. There were no laughs and my cuttings stayed in my bag.

Now, tulips, on the other hand…

And Golden Wonder potatoes!


Made in…

‘Read the first paragraph,’ said the Resident IT Consultant. ‘It’s what makes me so angry with the Guardian.’

Guardian cutting

So I read and I could sort of see his point. What kind of mother takes her small child to the seaside to build sandcastles on a freezing January day? Britain might be bad for reliable summer weather, but that is definitely when you should try this. Even if it rains and is chillier than you deserve. (Besides, you can always go to Spain, instead. 😉)

It was part of the Guardian Review’s weekly column ‘Made in’ where authors are invited to write briefly about where they grew up and how it shaped them as people and as authors. I’ve enjoyed it a lot, and whether they have been people I know or not, it’s been good. Some have had dreadful childhoods, others fairly average ones, and some have been really lucky to grow up in paradise.

But it seems it wasn’t the midwinter sandcastles the Resident IT Consultant had objected to. It was the spelling of Arran with just the one r, making it Aran and more Irish than maybe it should have been. For him it was more than the Grauniad tendency to misspell everything, and more that the subeditors are uneducated [and don’t know their islands].

Just goes to show how we value things differently.

I was willing to overlook the Arran conundrum, but can’t get past the idea that the beach in winter was meant to be a treat. Yes, the sea is always nice. But sandcastles..?

I wish Janice Galloway every success with her new book, Jellyfish. And at least I had heard of her. The Resident IT Consultant had not.

Everybunny’s Amazing

We like finding ourselves in books, whoever we are; yellow spotted pet dragons, little boys in wheelchairs, or friendly bunnies and foxes.

And eventually, they all go to bed. I think that might be what they have in common.

Steve Antony, Amazing

Zibbo – that’s the dragon – and his young master do everything together, and I have to say they can be quite naughty. Although, the mess in the fridge could possibly be blamed on untidy parents?

They race in the park and they play ball, but above all they enjoy parties. Just don’t let Zibbo – that’s the dragon, remember? –  near the candles on the cake. Or your cat. Who might be a ‘real’ pet.

Steve Antony’s Amazing ends with our two tired friends going to bed and sleeping. Because they’ve had fun.

In Ellie Sandall’s new book about the bunnies – Everybunny Dream! – they are all out playing with their best friends the fox cubs. Until it’s time to come in and put pyjamas on, wash, brush, comb, clean, trim, and HUG.

Ellie Sandall, Everybunny Dream!

When all the bunnies are in bed, there is a noise, and it’s Mrs Fox returning an errant bunny. Then they all snuggle up for a story, bunnies and fox cubs together.

Let’s hope these two books will inspire some tiny humans to go to bed too.

The Bookshop

Trailers, eh? I’ve been fooled once or twice in recent memory. Not that I go to the cinema all that often, but I did catch a couple of trailers for The Bookshop, liked them and thought I’d go and see the film when it came.

I’m almost certain it never came. Not here. And that’s interesting in itself. Why ‘trail’ a product you won’t be selling?

When Daughter was last here she assisted the old folk – that’s us, the Resident IT Consultant and me – by compiling a Netflix list of films, making them easier for us to find. And urged by positive noises on social media, we watched The Bookshop a few days ago.

The Bookshop

It had Bill Nighy in it. Not many films don’t, these days. I like Bill. He was good in this one, as well, even if he only ever has the ‘Bill Nighy’ setting. His face after reading Fahrenheit 451..!

The thing is, while it was a pretty decent film, it was nothing like the trailer had led me to expect. I don’t know the book by Penelope Fitzgerald, on which it was based. On the one hand it was another of the popular retro settings, travelling back to the 1950s, and a seaside bookshop being set up by book-loving widow is quite an attractive idea.

On the other hand, there was much nasty behaviour by her neighbours – made worse by today being 2019 – and she was far too kind and polite, as well as perhaps a little naïve. Her helper, played by Honor Kneafsey, was refreshingly observant and outspoken for someone so young.

And being me, I couldn’t help but pick holes in the authenticity of the retro-ness. But apart from expecting a different film, it was good. Not cheerful, so much.

The Art of White Roses

Cuba, 1957. It’s not a time or a place we get to visit much in YA literature. In The Art of White Roses Viviana Prado-Núñez takes the reader to Marianao on the outskirts of Havana, where we meet the Santiago family, and especially 13-year-old Adela, named for her dead grandmother.

It seems no one likes Batista. Nor do they seem to be supporters of Fidel, and I suppose that’s quite normal. Most of us fall between the extremes, don’t we?

Viviana Prado-Núñez, The art of White Roses

In their neighbourhood, people are disappearing and they don’t know why or what’s happened to them. Besides, people are more worried about everyday kinds of things. Adela doesn’t much like the nuns at school, and her parents are struggling, both with daily survival and with their marriage. Adela’s grandfather lives with them, spending his time watching television, occasionally uttering words of wisdom.

What with [the fear of] people being killed, and things like infidelity and rape, there is much adult content here. Adela seems to understand much of it, while her three year younger brother Pingüino for all his flamboyant naughtiness, does not.

This is less about the Cuban revolution and more a novel of growing up and making sense of the normal world. The explosions and the killings are mostly a backdrop.

Viviana freely admits in her author’s notes that she doesn’t know what Cuba was like back then. That’s all right. I still felt transported to a new and interesting place, full of life and smells and colours. She wrote this book as a teenager, and this mostly shows in a certain lack of guesswork as to what wasn’t really very common in 1957, anywhere. It’s a bit like unthinking mobile phones and knowing you have to work out what you’d have done without them.

Those are just details, and this story is a wonderful description of life as most of us haven’t known it, except in the way all lives are quite similar, in some way.

There is much, well, relatively much, Spanish in the book. I don’t know to what extent that might make it harder for a non-Spanish speaker to read. For me it added more, nice flavour. By not translating it all, Viviana at least doesn’t talk down to her readers.

Star Wars: Cobalt Squadron

I would say that any Star Wars fan would like this book, but what do I know? I saw the first Star Wars film 41 years ago, not knowing there’d be more of them. Didn’t understand it, forgot most of what I saw, and I was an embarrassment when I was taken to see one of the more recent films a few years ago.

But yes, I think you’d like Elizabeth Wein’s Cobalt Squadron, which ‘takes place prior to – and contains characters and ships from – The Last Jedi.’ I liked it. But then I like sci-fi, and felt I didn’t need to know more than I do to read it. I trusted Elizabeth – who apparently watched The Empire Strikes Back 13 times as a teenager – to get it right.

It’s got that Carrie Fisher in it, as Leia Organa, and when looking stuff up, I see that the main character in Cobalt Squadron, Rose Tico, was also in the film, so is actually ‘real.’ I liked her. Clever and brave, and good with technical stuff.

Elizabeth Wein, Cobolt Squadron

The story here is about saving Atterra Bravo from the First Order, and the rescue mission undertaken by Rose and others, with the blessing of General Organa. Having to fit in with plots before and after, there is obviously a limit to what can happen, and where, but as I said, I liked it.

It’s good when knowledgeable fans write extra stories to do with what they love so much.

And If I’d known then what I know now, maybe I’d have paid more attention back then, and not got my various robot characters mixed up. I won’t insult or upset you by showing quite what an idiot I was. Still am.

Disappearing act

Eleven years after writing about Kriktor the boa constrictor, my thoughts return to this old childhood favourite.

I was reminded of Kriktor’s disappearance from the library when reading about the young Lucy Mangan’s search for The Phantom Tollbooth. Some things are easier today, now that we can search all over the world for almost anything we want or need.

When Lucy’s teacher had read the book to the class, Lucy understandably wanted a copy for herself. But there were none; the library had no longer got it. My Phantom Tollbooth copy is an ex-library one, as was one of Lucy’s subsequent [three] copies, when she finally found them, years after falling in love with the book at school.

We can probably assume that the London libraries near her got rid of this book because they saw no need for it. My Kriktor’s tale was different. He was ‘borrowed’ and never returned. Used for a television programme, I suspect his disappearance was not unusual. Busy people in a busy studio won’t stop to consider one picture book, and whether it should be accompanied ‘home’ to the safety of its library, where more children can enjoy it.

There are other ways of losing books from libraries, of course. I have often thought of writing about the wicked ways of the world here, but stopped before giving anyone ideas.

In my early twenties I had a boss, who told me about this fantastically funny novel she liked, and how hard it had been to source another copy when hers went missing. Eventually one was discovered in a library, and she borrowed it, before going back there, apologising for ‘having spilled coffee’ on the book and offering to pay for it.

All right for her, and as it was anything but a literary marvel, possibly not the end of the world for the library. But it’s the principle of the thing that bothers me.

And then she lent it to me to read.

Before you get too excited, I gave her the book back when I’d read it. I have no recollection of either the title or the author, but she was right; it was very amusing and a fun read. And there was not a single stain of coffee anywhere.

A Step So Grave

‘Ach bash mash buch.’ I really have not paid enough attention, even to what I myself have listened to, written about or read. This quote, which might even resemble Gaelic for all I know, is from the 13th – the 13th!!! – Dandy Gilver mystery by Catriona McPherson.

I have seen Catriona in events and found her really interesting. But did I hear what she was saying? Clearly not. When A Step So Grave arrived and looked so very enticing, I read the press release. Or did I? I seem to have noticed what it was about, but not that it was the 13th Dandy Gilver book.

Catriona McPherson, A Step So Grave

Admittedly, it didn’t take me long to discover that the good Mrs Gilver had detected crimes before, now that she has stumbled on a murder at her son’s fiancée’s home. But 13?

Anyway, you’ll be glad to know that this book was just as good as I’d thought it would be. Better, even. And it would seem there are another twelve before it, should I find myself at a loss for what to read.

Set in the 1930s, which is very much a favourite period of mine for murders and detecting, this takes us in the direction of Plockton, which I’ve still to visit. It lets us move among the rich and entitled, and whatever you think of them, it’s fascinating. These ones, I mean the ones who are ‘hosting’ the murder, speak Gaelic, which goes a bit like ‘bee yellow oak banana,’ although it means something quite different. The English Dandy almost finds herself in a foreign country, despite residing in Perthshire, with her wealthy husband Hugh, and their two sons, the elder of whom is marrying the daughter of an old friend of Hugh’s.

This is newly written classic crime, where the detective has a maid who doesn’t mind helping with the detecting, along with Alec, Dandy’s partner in crime-solving. Before they are done, the reader goes from suspecting one character to another, doing the full rounds, before possibly getting there.

I think I might like a maid, as well as the piles of money. The flip side of this, however, is that you are reminded of what comes after the mid-1930s. They talk about the last war, but we know what is coming.

Between one M.A.S.H. and another

The other day, Son became one year older. This happens every now and then, to many of us.

30 badge

I got him a card, with a badge, with a number, which he wore for at least an hour or two. The Resident IT Consultant served up some Indian food, which was all the more welcome as we had banned Son and Dodo from coming here to eat on New Year’s Eve, due to lurgies.

pink tulips

And – having put them on the Resident IT Consultant’s shopping list – I was supplied with the tulips I’ve always hankered after on this day, feeling I needed to be rewarded for my contribution to all this.

I drew the line at baking a cake, though. I got some small caterpillars for our elevenses, of which I was able to eat the broken-off corner of one caterpillar ear. I reminisced about M.A.S.H. which was the last thing I watched before Son arrived, and it was also his very first television programme, mere hours after being introduced to his home. I have always been proud of how well I organised my television viewing, with no missed episodes while I was ‘doing’ other things.


This year, after the caterpillars, Dodo and Son went to Dundee to celebrate. As you do.

The Key to Flambards

I have a confession to make; I have only read the first K M Peyton book about Flambards. And I only read it after meeting Kathy at Meg Rosoff’s house seven years ago. That’s when I learned that everyone adores her. This is understandable. And [female] people my age have read ‘all’ the books and adore them. Also understandable.

I got a bit confused by Christina, back then, and in the end I didn’t pursue the remaining three Flambards books. She was a heroine, albeit not your typical leading lady.

Linda Newbery, The Key to Flambards

Now we have The Key to Flambards, a new sequel by Linda Newbery, another big Peyton fan. She asked Kathy’s permission to use her house and her characters, and she has placed them in the here and now. So 14-year-old Grace [Russell] is Christina’s great great granddaughter, and she and her mother Polly come to Flambards for the summer, for the first time.

The two of them have had a hard time with Grace’s parents divorcing and Grace experiencing a life-changing accident. And here they are, at a Flambards where not much has changed, with relatives they didn’t know, all over the place.

Luckily Linda has provided a family tree, which helps, and as a less devoted Flambards reader, I am not entirely sure where Kathy’s characters end and where Linda’s begin. I came to the conclusion that it didn’t matter and I was better off not worrying too much about it, apart from a little Wikipedia research…

The story is exactly as I’ve come to expect from Linda and I really enjoyed it. Grace has a lot in common with Christina, and there are modern versions of Mark and Will.

The future of Flambards is uncertain and the people who work and live there have to try and save the place. Grace and her mother come to love it, and make new friends. Grace learns to ride.

I saw a review that suggested the teenagers in this book are old-fashioned. Maybe they are, but we need them as well as the fashionably edgy ones. The old Flambards fans will expect something similar to before, and besides, Linda covers ‘everything’ in her book; disability, divorce, unemployment, the war in Afghanistan, the exploitation of the countryside, abuse and violence, same sex relationships. It’s just that it happens in a romantic, countryside setting.

Highly recommended, whether you know the old Flambards or not. If you don’t, you might want to have a look at it afterwards.