Category Archives: Blogs

There’s always one

Bathroom visit in the early hours, a few weeks ago. Barely awake, I noticed an annoying beeping sound. I thought about it. ‘Hmm, it’s rather like when smoke detectors try to tell you they are hungry,’ I said to myself. ‘If we had one.’ It seemed odd that I could hear the neighbours’ one.

Exiting the bathroom, I discovered we did indeed have a smoke detector. And it went beep once a minute. I felt I couldn’t demand the Resident IT Consultant should pop out of bed to deal with it, so I tried to sleep a bit more despite the noise. Wasn’t easy, but I managed some. Woke up to find the beeping had stopped. Still informed the Resident IT Consultant about it (he’d heard nothing…) but I could tell he didn’t believe me.

What’s more, he wasn’t going to change the battery, because the smoke detectors are wired in. I suddenly remembered finding this out once before (when it had actually rung and scared the living daylights out of Daughter and me) and how stupid it all seemed. And then I had forgotten.

I was travelling to London the next morning, so wanted an early night, and contrary to other such well-intentioned evenings, I was ready to hop into bed at nine. ‘Beep!’

It was on again. Obviously having rested all day long it felt nice and fresh. This time the Resident IT Consultant couldn’t deny hearing it. Hah!

How was I going to sleep? He thought about it, googled how to do it, and then proposed climbing up there and removing it live, as it was too dark to see anything if he removed the lighting circuit fuse [to which it is wired] first. I thought about this and then said I wouldn’t allow it. After all, he was supposed to drive me to the airport the following morning and it’d be so inconvenient if he eloctrocuted himself just then. And I’m a bit fond of him, too.

After more thinking he decided to go ahead anyway. The dratted thing came off reasonably well, while obviously still beeping as it had a back-up battery. The Resident IT Consultant pulled the battery out and put it and the smoke detector side by side, rather like a chopped off limb.

‘Now you’ll stay quiet,’ he told it.

‘Beep.’

Yeah, you couldn’t make it up. There was a back-up back-up battery. ‘I’ll put it in the conservatory,’ I said. We could still hear it. I went out in my pyjamas and stuffed it in the garage instead, where it beeped away during the night.

But at least sleep was once again possible and the Resident IT Consultant was still alive and I made it to the airport, the London Book Fair, Terry Pratchett’s memorial and all that.

We now have a replacement pair of alarms, which [touch wood] shouldn’t be quite so hard to disable in the middle of the night.

Maybe.

Ankh water

Ankh water

I overlooked this bottle the other week, as I carefully photographed everything that was in my Terry Pratchett partybag.

I was extremely thirsty that evening, but this bottle of Ankh water was safe from me. I’m not sure I can ever drink it. One, it’s a precious memento. Two, is it safe to drink Ankh water?

Surely it’s a fairly questionable substance? So on balance I reckon it will be better for it to grace some surface or other at Bookwitch Towers, and I can smile at it as I swoosh past. It’s got a reasonable date, after all.

And to return to harping on about libraries, I know I forgot to mention the Beaconsfield library two weeks ago. They have decided they want a plaque outside in Terry’s memory. After all, it’s the place he reckoned he learned the most in, having little respect for his secondary school.

Aren’t we glad Terry had his library to go to? Would we have had any of his books if he’d been stuck with school learning only? (Well, maybe. Apparently some of his teachers became Discworld characters. But still. Libraries rock. Apart from the Stockport librarian who felt Terry was unsuitable for children.)

Stirling goings-on

The Bookbug Week‘s flagship event will this year take place only a mile or so away from Bookwitch Towers. Scottish Book Trust’s annual book week for young readers runs from May 16th for a week, kicking off at Bannockburn with a day of, I think, poetry and stuff.

Bookbug

The rest of the programme happens all over Scotland, and the theme this year is international. Songs and rhymes from around the world.

This tallies with what you find in the programme for Stirling’s own Off the Page where, surprisingly, they offer both a German Bookbug session, as well as a bilingual event or two.

You can also do colouring in and design your own coat of arms, along with attending a teddy bear’s picnic. At the other end of the age scale (or so I imagine) is a vintage reminiscence tea party, which sounds really very nice. Except I hope I am not old enough for that sort of thing yet.

Somewhere there are dragons.

In schools (they have all the luck!) you might find Chae Strathie, Janis Mackay, Kirkland Ciccone, Alex Nye, Ross MacKenzie and Mairi Hedderwick.

But despair not, Mairi Hedderwick is also doing a public event. Maybe even two. This ten-day long festival starts on May 6th, and other public children’s events offer Lari Don and Nick Sharratt.

Helen MacKinven, whom I met at Yay!YA+ last week is also doing an event. As are several of the big names in Scottish crime, such as Lin Anderson, Helen Fitzgerald, Denise Mina and Caro Ramsay.

There are many more events and many more authors. And much upset on my part because I will not be going to any of these… The more attractive the event, the less convenient the date (for me).

Another Hamlet

Something, I forget what, made me remember the other Hamlet. I think of him every now and then, and I blogged about him once before:

‘Swedes have long admired the British for their wit. The English department at Gothenburg employed several such witty Englishmen to dazzle the Swedish students with their Englishness. They were usually called David something-or-other.

The short Hamlet was written by David Wright while he was still at school, if I remember correctly. He provided us students with copies of his admirably brief play, which was very funny, primarily because everything had to happen with such speed. I may still have it somewhere.’

I read through it again, and maybe it’s not the work of a genius. With added maturity I can see it’s more schoolboy wit, but still. It’s English schoolboy wit rather than Swedish. Not saying they are better. Just different.

The grown David Wright was amusing and entertaining too. I’d happily have gone to his lessons just for the fun of it.

At that time one of our set books was Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. For someone as witty as Tom Stoppard (I must have been collecting them at the time!), I seem to recall that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern struck me as more boring than expected. Perhaps it’s just me. I might have a Hamlet block somewhere.

The EIBF schools programme 2016

Perhaps I could – temporarily – start a very small school? That way I could book seats for me and about three pupils to attend as many of the rather interesting looking school events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival as possible.

I’m doomed whatever I do, as there are too many events, and some of them happen simultaneously (and I don’t), but it’d be nice to go to some of them.

This year’s programme is available online now, for anyone who wants to have a look, and to daydream a bit.

Anthony McGowan is coming, and will be talking about his fantastic Brock and Pike books, alongside Patrice Lawrence, on Urban Grit. It’d be worth getting out of bed that early for. I’ve realised why Vivian French scares me so much. She has written 300 books! She’ll be talking about [one of] her latest, Alfie Onion. Jennifer Downham and Annabel Pitcher sound like a duo made in heaven.

Lynne Rickards will talk about her Puffling, and Gill Lewis is bringing her Puppy Academy with her. Keren David and Alex Wheatle will be doing diversity [duck!], while on the same day there is going to be LGBT theatre on offer.

Miriam Halahmy will bring her emergency war time zoo, and Gill Arbuthnott and Nick Armstrong are offering A Beginner’s Guide to Electricity, which sounds more fun than you’d think. A bit of Shakespeare or some terrorism, with Tony Bradman and Tom Morgan-Jones, or Alan Gibbons and Brian Conaghan respectively.

Sarah Govett, Tanya Landman and Anne Cassidy should all be pretty good, and on the last day Debi Gliori, Philip Ardagh and Barry Hutchison will be let lose in Charlotte Square.

And countless others. I suppose we could always just agree to hang around, hoping to catch sight of all these lovely authors…

2016 Yay! YA+

Cumbernauld Theatre

I swear I didn’t enter Cumbernauld Theatre yesterday morning, uttering the words ‘do you know who I am?’ I merely wondered if they needed to know who I am. You know, similar question.

(I suppose I should be grateful I arrived at all. The Resident IT Consultant was to give me a lift. What he’d omitted to consider was the amount of diesel a pumpkin likes to have in order to go all the way to Cumbernauld. It did. It even got him to the nearest petrol station after, so he could drive home.)

It’s interesting how the meaning of the term YA keeps slipping and sliding. Yesterday I suspected that what it meant was that the books were by young adults, and not just for them. In my mind I categorised the authors present as the teenagers, the debutantes (I know), the old hands (those with three published books) and the grand ‘old’ lady (sorry..!). Kirkland Ciccone had done his best to find authors I’d never heard of before.

Scotia Books at Yay!YA

And when Googling Kelpies Prize winner Alex McCall it is well nigh impossible to find anything that doesn’t suggest he’s an older man who has a lady detective in Botswana, but no, it’s not that one. The other Alex (Nye) also has a prestigious award under her belt, the Royal Mail Award. And organiser Kirkland won the Catalyst prize. Elizabeth Wein has won a number of awards, including the very valuable Bookwitch second best book ever.

Code Name Verity

I’m glad that’s the novel Elizabeth chose to talk about in her session in the bar. Not just because it’s such a favourite, but because I’d not heard her in an event about Code Name Verity before. She read a bit, down in her ‘cave,’ and then she showed the children her silk map, and mentioned that one author who inspires her is Hilary McKay. (Such a wise choice!)

Elizabeth Wein

If you’re wondering why the others have not won prizes, it’s because Victoria Gemmell and Martin Stewart have only just got their first books out (Martin’s not actually officially out, even), and Estelle Maskame is only 18. Not that that should stop anyone.

Estelle Maskame

Estelle was in one of the other bars, where she read the first chapter of what I will probably always call DIMLY, when it should be DIMILY, Did I Mention I Love You? She’s one of these online wonders with millions of hits who has gone on to be published ‘properly.’ Estelle began writing her first book (it’s a trilogy) when she was 13… It’s apparently very popular, and I can sort of see that I’d have liked it when I was 14. And as for becoming a role model for pupils barely younger than herself, I can see how that works.

Martin Stewart

In the third bar was Martin Stewart, more or less stuffed in a fireplace, who also read from his book, Riverkeep. It’s based on the Glasgow Humane Society, which seems to be about fishing people out of the river Clyde; either dead or alive. Martin is a former teacher, who gave up teaching when he was offered a book contract on the basis of a short story he’d written.

Kirkland Ciccone

That was my afternoon in three bars. The morning was spent in the theatre itself where Kirkland introduced Alex Nye, before ‘exiting’ – by that I mean standing just behind the rows of seats – and allowing himself to be interviewed very loudly, drowning out poor Alex and making the audience laugh.

Alex did much the same talk as she did in Dunblane in November, and I think it’s a good one, which works well for a secondary school audience. This time her spooky sound effects worked fine and added a certain something to her ghostly readings. I especially like her 007 and M photograph from Glencoe.

Alex Nye

This ‘failed’ waitress who still hasn’t got the red sports car she craves, got lots of good questions from the children, so now we know she writes accompanied by Kate Bush, and that she admires Marcus Sedgwick (that rather explains the spookiness). Her next book about Mary Queen of Scots will be out in July.

Then Kirkland himself took over and basically did half an hour of stand-up comedy, that no author in their right mind would want to appear after. Luckily there was no one else after the exploding houses of Cumbernauld or Kirkie’s older brother the Tesco robber. He did mention Meg & Mog and Winnie the Pooh, but only to follow with Stephen King and some seriously bad book covers.

He wore his leopard jacket again, and teamed it with failed black hair. Apparently he had been aiming for blue.

Kirkland Ciccone, Victoria Gemmell, Alex McCall, Elizabeth Wein, Martin Stewart

Lunch was nice, with lots of things I’d have liked to eat but couldn’t. Luckily the others made up for this, and Alex Nye did some heroic work on the macaroons. Victoria Gemmell had handbag trouble and spent quite some time jamming an enormous pair of scissors into the zip. I’m not sure if that helped. Kirkie said she ought to give me a copy of her book, but unfortunately Follow Me sold so well that it was decided she shouldn’t. (I gave Victoria my card.)

If you are thinking I’ve not reported on either her or Alex ‘not-Botswana’ McCall, you are correct. Kirkie stashed them down in the changing rooms, and whereas they both returned reassuringly unchanged, I vowed last year not to go down there again. (And after hearing one of the ushers telling me and Alex Nye about their resident ghosts, I feel less inclined still. Alex, on the other hand, looked ready to come back to investigate.)

Alex McCall

I had a little look at not-Botswana Alex’s award winning book Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens, as I’d understood it to be for much younger readers, but if that is the case, I have to consider myself younger. It looked quite promising. And I’d have loved to hear Alex speak. He still looked as young as he is (that makes sense, doesn’t it?), but seemed nice. Perhaps our paths will cross again.

Kirkland Ciccone

There was a sort of book signing at the end. Some of the small venues overran, and some schools had had to leave to get back on time, but there was still a throng of fans in the queue. I decided I was in the way, so escaped into the car park where I was recognised as ‘the witch from last year’ before my newly fed transport arrived for the second time in one day.

Elizabeth Wein

Well, what a surprise!

What surprises me is that people are surprised. The Resident IT Consultant discovered an online Guardian article about foreign students at the University of Stirling. He found it interesting, and was only marginally disgusted by its accompanying photo, of a red London bus on Westminster Bridge in London. I thought that was the kind of rookie mistake made by foreigners, not Guardian editors.

So students come over here expecting it to be pretty much like it was at home. And it is, if you’re European. Sort of. It will be almost the same, unlike how it is for those from much further afield. But it will still be different. I believe that even somewhere small like Malta has ‘regional’ differences, and Sweden obviously has them, as does the UK. You can generally go somewhere in your own country where they eat funny food and speak in a way that forces you to ask again.

But then the natives that these students lived and studied with were also a bit odd, not grasping that a foreigner won’t know everything; that in their country they might not have (oh horror of horrors!) mince pies. The foreigner might politely decline eating them for years, believing the pies to be meaty (well, they were, originally). So you could explain a few things. And you, the visitor, could ask a few more questions.

I do agree with this article’s findings on [Stirling] public transport. It is very hard to find out about tickets and routes and all the rest.

As for what you wear when you go out, and whether that night out starts or ends at three am, is another matter. Ask. Adapt. Or avoid. By all means, be disappointed by the lack of your favourite food in the new place, if you must.

Having a favourite Blue Peter presenter is something else, however, covered in this article on not being quite the same as others. The half this, half something else. I have two of those myself, and whereas Offspring fit in best in Britain, they are not as ‘normal’ as those who are completely home made. Nor do they fit 100% in the other place.

I can talk Blue Peter reasonably well. Not only did I watch with Offspring for years, but as a student I benefitted from living with the G family, who had a Blue Peter aged child. I never quite got it, but it was a lot easier than Doctor Who.

Basically, though, we are all strange.

Go somewhere else, and see how your normality evaporates. Only a few weeks ago, a mortified Daughter quickly opted to order the Easter Bonnet at the local café, rather than have me continue my interrogation of the waitress as to what it actually was. (She did ask me to ask..!) That was no digestive biscuit, and that was definitely no teacake.

Oh, there is another kind of teacake???

How was I supposed to know?