Category Archives: Humour

The importance of culture

I couldn’t help noticing that The Importance of Being Earnest was on again at the weekend. Earnest has a special significance to me. He proved that my English was better than I thought.

This was while living with the G family and attending the University of Sussex for a year, back at the beginning of time. In our second term Oscar Wilde’s drama would be one of our set books, and when it was on at the university’s Gardner Arts Centre, during our first term, we were advised to go and see it. I probably would have anyway.

But I suspected I wouldn’t understand all of it; either not catch what they were saying, or not actually know all the words. I suppose I could have taken the executive decision to read the play before, but that idea didn’t seem to occur to me.

Mr G, when he heard of my plans, said ‘a handbag?’ in a funny sort of voice, the relevance of which escaped me. (I got it afterwards.) Personally I was pretty impressed that a university would have its own theatre on the premises, as it were.

Anyway, we went, we saw, we enjoyed. What’s more, I reckoned I could understand every word. (If I were to read the play now it could be I’d find a difficult word or two, but at least it seemed plain as daylight at the time.) I think in a way that’s when I stopped thinking of myself as a foreigner handicapped by limited vocabulary. These days I know there’s a lot I don’t know, but I don’t fret. In fact, there is more I don’t catch, or understand, when watching NCIS: Los Angeles, than that time with dear Earnest.

Since then I’ve been to lots more plays, and I’ve seen several more versions of what I consider ‘my drama debut.’ The famous film with Edith Evans’s handbag quote, and probably also this one that was just on television with Colin Firth, as well as other stage productions.

At least we had no problem knowing about the trains to Worthing, what with it being more or less next door to us in Brighton.

(PDF time travel back to 1977.)

The Dragonsitter’s Party

‘Never take popcorn from a dragon.’ Obviously. And when you find a babysitter who ‘does pets’ you shouldn’t assume she will do dragons, especially if they get annoyed at having to share the popcorn.

Josh Lacey and Garry Parsons, The Dragonsitter's Party

We are back with Eddie and his family, and the dragons. Who just happen to turn up for Eddie’s birthday party. Eddie’s mum is still very much in love with Gordon, so she puts up with him having brought the dragons, although, as I said, it’s hard to go out for a romantic dinner when the sitter doesn’t do pets. Or dragons.

They have a magician booked for the party. Who needs a magician when you have an univited dragon or two? The magician arrived with a trained rabbit, but it’s safe to say he didn’t manage to leave with it. The guests thought it was the best party ever.

Eddie’s ever absent Uncle Morton is helping with the lambs (since Gordon is busy wooing Eddie’s mum), and fails to turn up to relieve them of his dragons, yet again.

I love these books, and I have high hopes for the future, considering what Uncle Morton gave Eddie.

An egg. And I don’t think it was an Easter egg.

(Wonderful illustrations by Garry Parsons as always.)

Truckers

Poignantly Terry Pratchett’s Truckers was re-issued on the day he died. But perhaps we should see that as his gift to us; and ‘nothing ate him or ran him over or anything.’

I simply had to read it immediately. It was as if nothing else would do. And I felt so much better for it, reading, instead of doing ‘stuff.’ I mean, I’d read Truckers before, as part of Son’s copy of The Bromeliad, which doesn’t live with me any more. But that was a long time ago, well before I knew very much about this Terry Pratchett.

Terry Pratchett and Mark Beech, Truckers

One of my all time favourite quotes comes from Truckers, ‘Road Works Ahead.’ I’d forgotten many of the others, but if I had the talent of remembering lines, I’d walk round quoting Truckers at everyone I meet. (Count your blessings, people.)

Masklin is a true Pratchett hero. He may be a nome, but he is a leader and a great and brave man. He had to be, as Outside the Store there was only him, not counting old people and women. And Grimma is a marvel of female role model, especially for male readers. Careful what you say or your brain might explode a little.

Truckers is a book full of wisdom, and also of commercial clichés and funny misunderstandings. When Masklin and his very small band of Outside nomes are forced to abandon their Outside home they end up in the Store – Arnold Bros (est 1905) – where after some rest and respite, they and the Store nomes discover that Everything Must Go.

And go they do, in the most spectacular manner, stealing one of the Store’s lorries, the driving of which is only slightly awkward when you are four inches tall.

If I could be Granny Morkie, please?

(Illustrations by Mark Beech)

A Birlinn rendezvous

There is a certain freedom – not to mention a sense of adventure – in standing at a railway station as a train comes in, and you’ve got a trainload of alighting passengers to choose from. Who to go and ‘have coffee’ with. Well, to be truthful, I had already googled Sally from Birlinn, so I had an idea of who to look out for, and she knew to find a short, fat witch. And she did.

Sally was coming all the way to me, to talk about the many good children’s books Birlinn – who are an Edinburgh based publisher – are about to let loose on the world this year. I walked her to the Burgh Coffee House, as she confessed to earlier youthful trips to the Rainbow Slides in Stirling. What’s more, she came here from Linlithgow, and the less said about this lovely place and me, the better. (Actually, Sally has more or less sold me on the town, now. It has a good bookshop just by the station, apparently, so as long as I manage to get off the train in the first place…)

Joan Lennon, Silver Skin and Joe Friedman, The Secret Dog

So, Birlinn. Sally brought me books by Joan Lennon and Joe Friedman, which both look promising. She talked me through their whole 2015 catalogue, and plans include a Peter Pan graphic novel, books by Alexander McCall Smith about the young Precious Ramotswe, history by Allan Burnett, the Polish bear Wojtek, Lynne Rickards and the ever orange Tobermory Cat by Debi Gliori. There will be poetry and there will be naughty young lambs.

The books all have some connection to Scotland, be it setting or author or anything else. I knew it already, really, but it’s worth saying again, that Scotland has books all its own. It’s not just an appendix to England. If Norway can have a publishing industry, then so can Scotland.

There was a bit of gossip, too, and a secret that can’t be mentioned. And after that Sally ran for her train back to the big city, hoping that someone else would have done all the work by the time she got back to the office.

I might wear purple

Terry Pratchett

Son ‘put a lot of sugar in it and showed it the milk.’ That’s Terry Pratchett’s coffee we are talking about, and you know why I’m writing about him, so I don’t need to announce to the world that Terry has gone to meet Death. I think what I’ll do is reminisce a little.

We were with Terry that time in September 2010 to give him a Mars bar, and because he had very generously requested a second interview with me. From me? Whatever. We came. We laughed. We left.

Terry Pratchett

I’d met Terry for an interview ten months earlier. He’d had such a long and busy day, and was so tired, and hungry, that all he wanted was a Mars bar. And because I don’t eat chocolate, I had nothing like that to offer. Otherwise, I’m a mother. You know. We always carry spares in case anyone needs anything.

He was upset that we didn’t get as long as he’d expected, even though it meant he could go and eat something. So he asked to see me again, partly – I think – to discuss the librarian I told him about, who wanted to ban his books to under sixteens. Maybe he even found me less hard work than the real professionals he had seen earlier, and liked a less intense kind of chat.

The interviews were followed by invitations to book launches, and a Terry Pratchett launch is like no other. I feel very fortunate to have had this opportunity, which I did little to deserve. But in general we dont mind having that which we don’t deserve.

Terry Pratchett - Dementia Friends

When I heard about Terry’s diagnosis in 2007 I immediately assumed this would be the end for him, for his books, and everything. That’s why I have felt that every new book we’ve been given in the years since, have been lovely bonuses. I’m amazed Terry could keep going the way he did, despite the handicap of being unable to write. 66 is too young to die, but it is preferable to 59.

In 2008 when Neil Gaiman signed Son’s copy of Good Omens, he said it was a shame Terry wouldn’t be able to sign it as well. There was even a catchphrase that went with the Good Omens signature. Well, you know me. I didn’t feel it was too late, and it wasn’t. Terry’s signature might have ended up somewhat shakier than it once was, but he knew the words to go with it.

Philippa Dickinson and Terry Pratchett

The last time for me was the launch for Dodger, and Terry wore the wrong hat, by which I mean it wasn’t his usual style, but a hat for Dodger. And I should have gone up to him and said a proper hello. Instead I went all modest and assumed he’d not remember me, because I was merely a small cogwheel.

I’m lucky, though. I have not yet read all Terry’s books, if that’s not the wrong thing to admit to in company like this? I’ll eke them out. And I shall wear purple, even if it was a colour Terry didn’t like. So there.

Terry Pratchett and witch

Many, many thanks to Clare, Philippa and Lynsey who made my adventures possible.

‘So where do you come from?’

‘Sweden,’ 

‘Sweden?’

‘Yes.’

‘Hahaha…’

‘It’s not that funny.’

‘Yes, hee hee, it is, it is. Let me tell you a story, to get ourselves warmed up.’

Murder Most Unladylike

Who doesn’t like a good murder set in a girls’ boarding school in the 1930s? I mean, it ticks a lot of my boxes. What about you?

Robin Stevens, Murder Most Unladylike

13-year-old students Daisy and Hazel set up detective agency Wells&Wong at Deepdean school, and it’s not long before ‘luck’ strikes, when their science teacher Miss Bell is found dead. Only for a while though, as the body disappears pretty swiftly and no one knows Miss Bell is a bit more dead than the head teacher makes out she is.

Daisy is rather bossy, not to mention fearless, while Hazel, who comes from Hong Kong, is more conventional and careful. A good detective agency needs both to succeed.

And you know, it’s rather hard to check people’s alibis when you are not the police and when there is no body or even a public acknowledgement that the corpse is indeed a corpse. But Daisy ferrets out where everyone was, and they work out what the motive might have been. Would you kill for the post of deputy head?

The detecting isn’t made any easier when you are a relatively innocent young girl, who doesn’t quite understand the undercurrents between the adults. Wells&Wong do work out who did it, and it puts them in more danger than expected.

As for me, I kept thinking it was turning out a little Midsomerish. When you deduct the number of dead people and the murderer, you’re not left with a whole lot of characters for a sequel. And I hope author Robin Stevens won’t kill more teachers and students in every book. Even a fairly dim parent would surely take their child out of a school like that?

Waffle Hearts

This is, quite simply, a very lovely book. I missed Maria Parr’s Waffle Hearts when it was first published, and am so glad to have caught it now. It was lying around when Son was visiting and he picked it up and informed me it had been translated by his friend (Guy Puzey), as though I ought to have known.

I’d never heard of Maria, either. Seems she’s big in Norway, and Waffle Hearts is the kind of book that has won a lot of awards, except we haven’t heard of it here. But think Astrid Lindgren and The Six Bullerby Children, and there you have it.

Maria Parr, Waffle Hearts

Set in Mathildewick Cove, somewhere near the sea in Norway, 11-year-old Trille (he’s a boy, before you go getting the wrong idea) lives with his family and relatives in this small hamlet. Probably smaller than a hamlet, actually. And next door lives Lena, who is his best friend. She is a bit crazy, and life is a lot more exciting when she’s around. It’s just that Trille fears she doesn’t like him as much as he likes her.

Each chapter features a new, mad idea Lena has come up with. They are not Pippi Longstocking stuff; just simple little things a child might think of, and which nearly always land the two children in some hot water, with someone or other of the family. Like the day they played Noah’s ark on Trillle’s uncle’s boat. You can imagine. Or when they advertised for a dad for Lena. (Easily confused with a puppy.)

There are waffles. The best in the world, made by Trille’s lovely great-aunt. Her brother, Trille’s grandpa is a wonderful kind of grandpa. Lena gets concussion rather a lot, and there is much scope for things going wrong when you toboggan across roads. In fact, ‘don’t try this at home!’

It’s not just sweetness and old-fashioned happiness, however. It gets sad, too. Really sad.

You’ll want to read this, even if they do spread butter and sugar on their waffles.

(Charming illustrations by Kate Forrester.)