Category Archives: Humour

The goat

I nearly always read the news one day late, and sometimes not at all. But one morning this week my attention was drawn to the short piece about the goat in a Carrickfergus shop.

Goats are nearly always fun, but I primarily noticed it because of Carrickfergus, where I’ve never been, but which is home to one of my most favourite detectives, Adrian McKinty’s Duffy.

Then, for some reason, I decided to dive into my junkmail, which I hardly ever do. (I ought to really, as it often contains important stuff.) Found a tweet by Adrian McKinty about funny books, and followed the trail to Adrian’s blog, thinking it was odd how he cropped up twice in a morning.

On the blog I followed the trail further to Adrian’s new website where – naturally – there was a goat. In Carrickfergus. In a shop. You couldn’t make it up.

Except Adrian did. The *new, as yet unpublished sixth Duffy (yay!) has a scene where Duffy encounters a goat in Carrickfergus.

Duffy and the goat

The annoying thing about this deliciously funny coincidence will be that in future people will say Adrian borrowed the incident from the news.

*Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly.

Diary of a Provincial Lady

I can so see myself as a provincial bookwitch, diary-writing and coping with a hopeless husband and two child-like children, not to mention my difficult staff!

E M Delafield, Diary of a Provincial Lady

Never having read E M Delafield’s Diary of a Provincial Lady before, I am finding this is exactly my kind of thing. I’ve not quite finished it, as I am wanting to make it last until Christmas, but wanted to tell you that you might need this book, or you could slip it into someone’s stocking.

Because this little volume is so gorgeous and so small and so pale blue (with a most attractive painting of a reclining bookwitch on the dustwrapper), with gold edged pages, and so small (yes, I know I already mentioned this) that it will actually fit in people’s stockings, unlike many other stocking fillers. And I’d not realised it’d be so small, but that just makes it more perfect. It will fit in your pocket, or your small handbag, while still offering nearly 200 pages of diary.

‘Shall she, says Lady B., ring for my car? Refrain from replying that no amount of ringing will bring my car to the door all by itself, and say instead that I walked.’

Now, isn’t that just the kind of thing you’d want to write in a diary? It’s so tiresome to be ‘poor’ and be chased by the bank, when the Lady Bs in your life require you to live above your means.

The one thing that would make reading the diary better, would be an instant knowledge of French; as there is a little too much – that matters – in that language. But then, I suppose in my diary I will have to make a feature of lack of French. And I won’t have three staff, while regularly visiting the pawnbroker.

First published in 1930, you feel you are there.

(There will be 100 books in the Macmillan Collector’s Library. That’s a lot of stocking fillers.)

When books become retro

In the end it was the fonts that made me go all nostalgic.

Inger och Lasse Sandberg, Här är Lilla Anna

I was reading Scandinavian Retro, a style magazine, featuring mainly mid-20th century things. I’d expected furniture, china, textiles. That kind of thing. But here were all 105 books by Inger and Lasse Sandberg; every cover of every book they wrote and illustrated together for over fifty years.

First I wondered why, when they started in the mid-1950s, I hadn’t really read any/many of their books. I’ve always been aware of them, but had somehow felt they were after my time as a picture book reader. And mostly, it turned out they were. They had a slow start and I must have missed the early books while I was still young enough.

Inger och Lasse Sandberg, Är det jul nu igen? sa Spöket LabanI did read about the little ghost, however. Both for myself, and later to other young people, including Offspring. Lilla spöket Laban (Laban, the little ghost) is rather sweet. He is scared of many things, including the dark, which is awfully inconvenient for a ghost. Apparently he was born to help the Sandberg’s middle child who was afraid of the dark, after his older sister locked him in a wardrobe.

But, as I said, I can only have read a handful of the 105 books. They all look thoroughly familiar, however, and I worked out it’s because of the font(s) used on the covers. The pictures are also quite typical for that era, but there being so many, for me they blend into one and the same. There’s probably a name for the font, but for me it will always be the ‘Swedish children’s books font.’

Inger och Lasse Sandberg, Fixa fisk, sa Pulvret

And, as I also said, there were obviously more than one font, and styles developed over the years, but mostly they all look soothingly familiar.

Just as Laban was born to deal with the dark, many of the books were written by Inger to cover a small matter of some importance to small people everywhere. I really like the sound of the story about the man who suddenly shrinks and discovers what it is like to be small and treated like a child again. He becomes a children’s politician after that, with notes explaining to young readers what a politician is.

Never mind your ABCs. You can have a book about the number 0, which when standing next to other numbers, becomes terribly important.

And when all is said and done, this whole concept feels frightfully Swedish and egalitarian, besides being trendy and nice to look at.

To Sir With Love

I freely admit to having a Reader’s Digest past. Somehow some sales person must have managed to bypass Mother-of-witch and her frugal approach to most unnecessary things in life, and persuaded her to subscribe to those books. I have no idea how many of the abridged novels she read, but I got through a lot of them. I was at the age when there simply weren’t enough books around to read, and I searched the bookcase daily for more entertainment, and discovered that quite a lot of those odd looking titles were not that bad. Nice, easy reads, and quick, due the their abridged nature.

To Sir With Love by E R Braithwaite was one of them. It was probably also one of my best loved books on the RD shelf. That will be why I introduced Offspring to the film starring Sidney Poitier, when the opportunity arose, years ago. When Daughter was last home, we watched it again. It made us talk, and think about things.

Do you remember my Canterville Ghost Favourite Teacher? I thought of him then. Not long before I had read a letter to the editor in a Swedish magazine, and I’d wondered if the writer might have been him. Right name, and I believe, right town. And what he said seemed to fit as well.

So I Googled a bit, as you do, and came to the conclusion it very likely was Favourite Teacher. On Swedish sites you get some odd information, like date of birth, and thanks to Mother-of-witch who was also a teacher, I knew how old he’d be. And then I hit on the idea of Google images, and found a photo that could very well be him, ‘a few years on.’

At my age you can’t take for granted your teachers will still be alive.

Apart from being such a great teacher, and managing the difficult balance between fun and friendly, versus knowledge and discipline in the classroom, he was also the politest teacher I’ve ever had. We were between the ages of 13 and 16 and he addressed the boys by surname and the girls were Miss and surname.

Just like Sidney Poitier, in fact. That was one of the details I’d forgotten, but which came back when I watched the film again.

There were two Misses C in my form. I was Miss C at the front, while the other Miss C sat at the back. ‘Mats hört immer zu’ is a phrase I still remember, helping me know what to do about the German verb zuhören, while chuckling about Mats who never did any kind of zuhören whatsoever. And as all you English native speakers must know, ‘skulle heter would, skulle heter would, skulle heter would.’ As opposed to should, which is what we might have guessed and what Favourite Teacher was there to prevent.

And there were many more where those came from.

Two languages, for all three years of secondary school. I was very lucky.

He wasn’t easily taken in, either. When one girl asked to copy my homework, I wasn’t worried. She came back and said he’d given her [her first ever] full marks, while adding he thought she had ‘cooperated with Miss C.’

The last year we gave him a – collective – gift when we left school, because he had been our form teacher that year. He wrote each of us a thank you card, posted to our home address. That’s what I call class.

Miraculous Miranda

What a lovely book! Siobhán Parkinson’s Miraculous Miranda is a feelgood and funny novel about young Miranda, her family and friends. Miranda is an intelligent girl who works hard and she is often the winner of Word of the Day at school. She adores new words.

Siobhán Parkinson, Miraculous Miranda

She has a best friend, COR, and there is a difficult boy, Darren, who needs sorting out. Miranda also has an older sister, Gemma, who at first is described as your typical older sibling, with attitude. But we slowly discover that Gemma is ill. Very ill, in fact. Except Miranda appears not to know, and she is mostly annoyed when yet another hospital stay means her crazy Gran has to look after her.

So as we follow Miranda’s daily struggle to win Word of the Day; in reality her family is falling apart with worry over Gemma. She has heard about other ill children, who despite trips to Disney, still died. The reader can probably work out that death is not unlikely.

But this is a children’s book, and the title suggests a miracle might happen, so maybe not? Well, it’s a bit of both, and it’s tremendously well done.

And Darren is actually pretty adorable. (I reckon we’ve all known someone like him at school.)

The Canterville Ghost

Soon after I’d started at my new secondary school, the school hall burned down. This was unfortunate, but certainly nothing to do with me. In fact, we were quite lucky, since it happened on sports day, when nearly everyone was out, and only [I think] the choir was there to practise. And the head teacher, who might have attempted to put the fire out.

The hall was almost brand new, so it was a shame, but the replacement hall was – probably – even better. I can barely remember what the unfortunate first hall was like.

Nor can I remember for how long we had to go without a hall while it was being rebuilt. We had assembly first thing every morning, which meant the school had to come up with alternatives. In effect this meant that the teacher who taught the first period got to ‘entertain’ the class for fifteen minutes before starting on the real stuff.

My Favourite Teacher ended up doing most of my assemblies, as I had him for two subjects, which managed to cover several mornings of the week. He very sensibly read to us, and his first choice was The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde.

Despite having him for English, our teacher read the story in Swedish. Perhaps it was just as well, since this way everyone in the class could enjoy it. And I believe learning to enjoy a good story rather than making it be too educational is the best way.

We had a lot of fun with the ghost and the Otis family. In actual fact, I still consider the name Otis to be a fun name, so I guess it’s just this happy memory.

After Canterville we had other books/stories to listen to and they were all excellent. But I can’t remember what they were. I was sad to return to the new assembly hall when the time came. Those assemblies were generally also fairly good, but not quite up to Canterville standards.

Oscar Wilde, The Canterville Ghost and other stories

(There’s a new Canterville Ghost out now, along with other Oscar Wilde stories. Enjoy some fresh blood stains for Halloween!)

The Dragonsitter: Trick or Treat?

Josh Lacey and Garry Parsons are back. This time their lovely dragonsitter has Halloween trouble. Edward needs to borrow the dragons from his uncle, because he needs to win a fancy dress competition, to win a computer because their old computer is very old and won’t live much longer.

Josh Lacey and Garry Parsons, The Dragonsitter: Trick or Treat?

And for once Uncle Morton agrees and is ‘helpful.’ Not that the man ever is entirely helpful, as he still thinks of his yetis and stuff. But there is romance and ingenuity and plenty of mishaps, just as you have come to expect from a Dragonsitter story.

Every time I begin a new one I can’t see how Josh can milk this dragons and mishaps thing any further, and every time I am proven wrong. There is always something you can do with dragons. This time it’s mainly young Arthur, and he needs to poo. But will he?

Not Arthur. He really can keep it in.

But it’s quite amusing what happens as we wait for the poo.

(Garry Parsons really knows how to draw dragons.)