Monthly Archives: February 2020

When the dentist calls twice

Or the five-coat crofter.

Well, the dentist called, to say he had a cancellation in an hour, if I wanted to come. Wanted to? Is he not a dentist? I turned him down. I had another ten days before it was my turn. Besides, I was just on my way back to bed after half a breakfast. I mean, half a breakfast! I never have just half a breakfast.

When I woke up I had an email, which suggested the dentist had called again, so I checked with the Resident IT Consultant (who had been forced to honour my appointment with the hairdresser, rather than cancel. Good thing he had some spare hair), and yes, it seems there had been a second call.

This time they’d had a patient talking about her university course homework, jokingly asking if he knew any Swedish-speakers. Well, yes, he did. And the Swedish-speaker’s husband said it was fine to email her, despite the bed situation.

So I found myself staring at three pages from some parish records in Öster-götland in the 1880s. As you do. Basically, some poor man had died and this was an inventory of what he left behind. It’s quite interesting, actually.

He had five coats! Five! He only owned three shirts. And one pair of trousers. The coats were valued at three times the amount for the bed and the sofa, together. There might have been a metal chamberpot, too.

The handwriting’s a bit taxing, but luckily I’m so old I have been taught joined-up writing of that very kind at school. I could read most of it.

But, I mean, five coats!

Sick reading?

Despite being in favour of feeling well, I seem to have a track record of liking books about illness.

The small, classroom library in my first year at school. Maybe first two years, with me aged between six and eight. Because I can remember which classroom I was in, and which teacher I had. I think it was once a week that we got to choose books to borrow from a selection lined up around the classroom.

There was one book, which I often think back to, that I borrowed many times. I have no idea of the title, nor of the author. It was ‘just’ a book that I really liked reading. The ‘plot’ was along the lines of young girl goes into hospital… There’s a few of those.

Then there’s the book I think of as being about a young girl who was orphaned by the Spanish flu. And there was a coat.

Except, the girl with the coat had parents, so I am thinking it’s two books. Both of which I own[ed], having stolen/borrowed them from my much older Cousin. So somewhere on a shelf I might be able to find them.

But again, it doesn’t matter much what they were, only that I enjoyed them so much.

The Spanish flu story introduced me to the fact that there was such an epidemic, many years before. And our orphaned heroine was – I suspect – of the goody goody type. Or an Anne Shirley, but Norwegian.

The coat tale just goes to prove that what goes round comes round. Give away your lovely new pale blue winter coat to a needy child (because you can wear your old one a bit longer), and that child, poor though they may be, will save your life later when you are unwell.

It makes you wonder what similar books of unknown background will remain in the memories of today’s readers, decades from now. And I very much doubt I would ever have parted with a pale blue coat.

Middle of the night reading

It’s not every book that lends itself to intermittent attention in both directions.

By that I mean something that is so good, but still easy to read when you’re feeling iffy, that it grabs your interest enough to read, until you fall asleep, and have to leave it.

And when you can’t sleep, it’s just as easy to return to for however long you need to be entertained, until you feel tired again and have to lie down.

Please note, I don’t do reading lying down. Must sit up, and preferably not in bed. Armchair next to bed will do. Means the return journey is conveniently short.

So in the last day or so I’ve dipped in and out of Michael Grant’s first [for some time, at least] adult crime thriller. I don’t think it should be described as light reading; I reckon it requires a fair bit of skill to be so accessible in an on-off kind of way.

There is a Dolly Parton quote about her looks, which you could tweak to refer to Michael’s writing. I think. And I’m a little surprised he kept the name, seeing as he changed to Grant in order to keep his YA writing separate from previous adult stuff. This being pretty adult, I had somehow assumed he’d be back to being Reynolds.

I’ll tell you more later. First I need paracetamol.


Feeling flushed

Tiger Heart

The young chimney sweep Fly in Tiger Heart by Penny Chrimes is almost a Dido Twite. She can cope in the kind of a situation where you find yourself sharing a cage with a tiger. He is, of course, not just any tiger.

Nor is Fly just any girl. They are both magic, and because they can talk to each other, it becomes clear that the tiger believes Fly to be a princess. Well, she knows she isn’t, but she can still make the best of a bad situation. And suggesting making money out of displaying the tiger to the public isn’t that way.

There is much evil surrounding her, but also much love and respect, both from the tiger – once he stops wanting to eat her – and the other creatures kept in cages. Fly also has some truly good friends, the way girls like her often do.

But as I said, there is evil, and it’s hard to go up against it and win.

But you know, any sort of second cousin of Dido’s will try doing just that, and princess or no princess, there is no telling quite how things will turn out.

But you can guess. And having guessed, this tale still makes for a great read; with rubies, elephants, pirates and long lost families.

I loved it.

Are we not all the same, then?

How many times can I jump in, feet first, and say the wrong thing about who is allowed to write what? Too many, probably.

But honestly, in a world where so much is wrong, should there be this much arguing about whether people are brown-skinned enough to write certain books? Somewhere at the back of my mind runs a song which claims that we are all the same, regardless of colour [of skin]. I mean, I know we are not. Not really. We should be, but life isn’t fair or equal.

I’d quite like to be paid a seven-digit sum for a novel, should I ever write one. But I’d rather not be at the receiving end of threats. (Could these people not have a go at someone who’s done something worse than write a book?)

This made me think of Elizabeth Acevedo, who identifies as Afro-Latina. She writes books about young people with a similar background to her own; black, Spanish-speakers, born and living in the US. That’s good, because it’s what many of us need, whatever our colour.

I’d like to think that no one will question Elizabeth’s ‘right’ to write these stories.

But then my mind wandered, as it does. You know those acknowledgements at the end of a book? I remembered that in her latest book, With the Fire on High, she thanked someone for advice on what it’s like to be a teen mother. And that’s good. It means Elizabeth, who I understand has no children yet, got feedback on what she ‘made up’ for her heroine Emoni.

If you really wanted to, though, you could take this cultural appropriation thing as far as you need to, to get an argument going. Maybe only someone who’s not only a mother, but who was a teenage mother, should write this book? Stupid, but isn’t this what’s happening when white people get it into their heads to write about a topic they are not ‘qualified’ to cover?

I obviously believe that anyone may write what they want. If someone wants to publish that writing is another thing, as is whether anyone will read it.

Meanwhile I’m more than happy with the efforts of  Elizabeth, and authors like Angie Thomas and Jacqueline Woodson. There could and should be more, and with time there probably will be. Unless we should all have worried more about the men who have the power to end the world right here and now. Maybe argued some more, and stopped them. Instead.

Lucky thirteen?

Who’d have thought? Thirteen today, and I’m not going to hand in any towels or broomsticks just yet. Probably.

But where I have occasionally mentioned that Bookwitching is rather like holding a tiger by the tail, it’s more me being blackmailed. Not by a tiger, however. Although, I am currently reading a book featuring a talking tiger.

No, what’s getting to me are the somewhere north of 8000 pictures I’ve got squirrelled away for use on here. Yes, it costs money. Yes, I should probably – definitely – have made other technical decisions years ago. But here we are, and my picture storage provider is trying to con me out of more money. And more again.

I’m not falling for it, but a) I hope they are not going to pull the plug prematurely, and b) I will have to unlink to these 8000 photos – only some of which have been ‘borrowed’ – and put them somewhere else instead, and I have 22 months in which to do it.

My arithmetic is fairly good. This won’t be possible.

Right, cheerful thoughts!!

It’s been fun. Mostly. Some of the drivel I’ve written is reasonably enjoyable if read in a good mood.

And I’ve got a talking tiger to read about.

To illustrate how weird my illustrations are, below is a photo of James Draper’s espadrilles. It’s one of my most popular photos. James, for anyone who doesn’t know, runs the Manchester Children’s Book Festival at the MMU, as well as being Manager of the Manchester Writing School. (This in sharp competition with Michael Palin and John Barrowman. For photos. Not footwear.)

And here he is again, wearing a slightly more respectable outfit, for some reason…

Hubble bubble

Not until my fourth visit to Berlin in as many months did I manage to get to the Hugendubel bookshop in Tauentzienstrasse. There are two, actually. The one I visited was the one not in KaDeWe, but next door to the electronics shop five minutes away from Daughter’s flat, where they sell everything from kettles to televisions. Now that is a shop we’ve seen a lot of!

The two-storey Hugendubel shop front made me expect a veritable treasure trove of books. The reality was rather more modest. (And let’s face it, your average Waterstones is bigger than that, and the density of books much greater.)

So, two floors of not very tightly packed shelves. Mostly gift books or bestselling novels, I think. There was a play area for small children next to the picture books. (But it was right opposite the mall’s water-feature café, with no wall between them, so…)

And then I spotted Harry Potter’s old bedroom from across the shop, and walked over to where they had built a pretty credible English staircase with carpet and everything, and a sleeping space – filled with books – underneath it. No walking on the stairs, but an invitation to crawl into the under-stairs bit, and customers were encouraged to take photos. Which I did, but no crawling.

The many Harry Potter books on display suggest that the Germans, like the Swedes, go for sumptuous book covers (most likely with sumptuous prices as well), where in the UK we are more used to plainer paperbacks. Lovely, except for when it comes to paying.

Speaking of which, they overcharged me, by forgetting to take the promised 50% off my purchase. Being a witch, I’d sort of been half prepared, so noticed and made sure they didn’t fleece me more than I was prepared to be fleeced.

Off my trolley

Things change.

And, yeah, you and I both know I don’t much like change. But this isn’t one of those changes.

Back in the infancy of Bookwitch – the blog, not so much herself – she wrote by hand, and she sat in her comfortable armchair and read books. Oh, the innocence of it all…

Daughter was still at school, and she needed to build me a piece of furniture for her GCSE tech. The teachers were still raw from her brother’s triangular table, so there was a complete ban on triangles of any kind. She designed a Bookwitch trolley to sit next to my chair, and where everything would go, from mug of tea and spectacles to current books and paper and pen. It’s on wheels, so I could push it around. It’s what I do best.

But now, I don’t do these things, apart from the pushing.

The trolley leads a more sedate life, mostly holding maps and large books for the Resident IT Consultant. It stands quietly, next to the two Oyster catchers in the window.

That’s life, I suppose. Needs change. Still love the trolley, and Daughter. Also still have the triangular table. (It’s behind me!)

Can’t say the same for the rest in this photo, which has a certain antique value. Wrong room. Wrong house. Young-ish looking witch. Much of the furniture is gone and the lamp has had its foot removed, but you’ll be pleased to learn I still wear the Crocs…

Eleven years on, we are coming up for Bookwitch’s 13th birthday, and there might be changes. I’m already at war with someone about Bookwitch’s looks (I don’t mean her in the photo).  We’ll see how that goes.

Bookbugs and more giveaway books

It’s not only country singers who give away books. The Scottish government has been handing out book bags to different age groups of children for years now, and the 2020 Bookbug Picture Book Prize, The Station Mouse by Meg McLaren, is one of this year’s books.

‘The Bookbug Picture Book Prize celebrates the most popular new picture books by Scottish authors or illustrators. The runners-up were The Prince and the Witch and the Thief and the Bears by Alastair Chisholm, illustrated by Jez Tuya, and Sophie Johnson: Unicorn Expert by Morag Hood, illustrated by Ella Okstad.’

A free copy of each of the three books was gifted to every Primary 1 child during Book Week Scotland in November, in the Bookbug P1 Family Bag.