Category Archives: Humour

How to be an Alien

I know. I blogged about How to be an Alien before. I love George Mikes, and particularly that book. And I feel that maybe we need more of that kind of thing. (Mine is the 24th impression, from 1978.)

George Mikes, How to be an Alien

Except, perhaps it’s now an unsafe topic of conversation? As George points out, ‘Do not forget that it is much easier to write in English than to speak English, because you can write without a foreign accent.’ Yes. My smallish vocabulary can always be blamed on my choice of writing style; pretend I prefer plain and simple. You can’t hear me.

How times have changed. George reported being told by a very kind lady ‘you really speak a most excellent accent without the slightest English.’ Don’t we all? Now though, I wonder what any kind lady is likely to say under similar circumstances.

Where are you a foreigner? Those of us who are here, would generally like to believe that in our own countries we wouldn’t be, and that this misfortune would befall the British instead, but according to George Mikes this is not so. Or more correctly, was not so, but I’m guessing many British people are not foreign even when they go and live in Spain. George was upset when he was informed that his much ‘loved and respected’ mother was a foreigner, back in her own Hungary.

I used to believe I knew and understood everything in How to be an Alien. England was charming and amusing, and you could smile fondly over her, as you would a toddler.

When I first read the book, I had never heard of Princes Square and Leinster Square in London. The whole idea seemed preposterous. Then one day I discovered I was staying in a hotel in one of them. Or was it both?

These days I tell people I live at no. 4 and that it’s the house between nos. 3 and 5. This needs to be pointed out or casual visitors may end up on the other side of the road.

Anyway, I used to reckon all I needed to do was learn how things are done here and I’d be fine. Now I find that I am taken aback by how normal things are in – to me – hitherto unknown countries on the continent, and how much I have changed over the years.

But I do feel queueing is a fair way of doing things. And I’d like to hope that the humour in George’s book will be appreciated by most people.

The Superpower Project

Exploding grannies appear to be a thing these days. Especially at the beginning of books, and I suppose it’s as well to get granny out of the way as soon as you can, plotwise and with a violent end.

Paul Bristow and Luke Newell, The Superpower Project

Paul Bristow’s first book The Superpower Project is both funny and exciting. Illustrated in comic style by Luke Newell, it looks just like the kind of book middle grade readers would be drawn to, but had I not been offered this by an adult, I’d never have looked at it twice.

And that would have been a shame, because I enjoyed it a lot, and I should know by now not to judge a book this way. The blurb is much more my kind of thing, though.

Megan and Cam suddenly discover they have superpowers. Megan can fly, and Cam can, well, turn into a hamster. This all seems to have something to do with Megan’s gran. They sort of inherit an ancient robot with amnesia, and soon after they discover that the town’s transformer-sculpture robots are out to kill them.

So why did gran explode, what did she want them to do, and what’s with all these sculptures, and their weirder than weird owner Mr Finn?

Set in Greenock, the children and their robot end up investigating old factories and an old hospital, a graveyard and the bottom of the river, among other things. They are brave and intelligent and with a nice line in humorous chat. And hamsters are obviously really useful animals.

When you think about it.

There is a promising epilogue, too, and I can only hope there might be more mayhem in Greenock before long. There are several other characters it’d be fun to see more of.

And I actually didn’t know that all schools are legally obliged to have three nice teachers.

The Adventures of Alfie Onion

I loved this! My first (yeah, sorry about that) Vivian French book. Not my last.

Vivian French, Alfie Onion

Alfie Onion is an adorable boy with a somewhat misguided but romantic mother, and a lazy slightly older brother, Magnifico Onion, the seventh son of a seventh son. He is supposed to make his mother proud.

Unfortunately he likes his food too much and is too scared to make a truly good hero. (And we all know who’s the hero in this book.)

It’s a case of going to find the princess and to kiss her and become tremendously rich. And happy. Magnifico can’t go on his own, so Alfie has to go with him. There are ogres. And trolls, and a talking horse and a couple of mice and some magpies, and Alfie’s loyal dog.

Even when you know who has to kiss whom, this is fun and exciting. Great stuff. And how to get round the seventh son nonsense.

Cute and funny illustrations by Marta Kissi.

Findus goes Fishing

No sooner has Sven Nordqvist got his 70th birthday out of the way, but he has a new book out in English.

Sven Nordqvist, Findus goes Fishing

Findus goes Fishing is darker than many other Findus books. Pettson is depressed. He sits and stares into space and he sighs and he gets angry with Findus (who – it has to be said – is behaving like a rather hyper toddler).

Finally Findus realises this is not something he can sort of jumpstart with some fooling around. He suggests going fishing. Pettson doesn’t want to fish.

In the end it takes some trickery from Findus before Pettson gives in. And what do you know? Just getting out makes him feel better. Fishing makes him feel better still. He almost smiles at the end. (And this is Pettson. He doesn’t do smiling.)

Sven Nordqvist, Findus goes Fishing

This just shows you two things; Findus is a very kind cat (deep down), and getting out of the house cheers you up.

Sometimes I wonder if these books are for children at all. It is quiet humour and lessons in living for us old ones. And it is art. That landscape they walk through to go fishing is stark and dark (and I really don’t like it…), but it is so true. A person could study the details for hours.

Sven Nordqvist, Findus goes Fishing

Get it for yourself! Never mind the little ones.

Sven Nordqvist is 70 today

And so is ‘his’ King. But never mind that little coincidence.

Do you remember Sven Nordqvist? Creator of Pettson and Findus, the cranky old man with the cunning – but kind – cat. I’m a bit surprised he is that old, to be honest, but like many Swedes he has aged well.

I like Pettson. And, all right, I like Findus, too. And Sven has a past in my old home town, so I feel sort of at home with him as well, and that crankiness is something I can sympathise with.

His famous characters first appeared 33 years ago, well before I required any picture books with lots of words for any Offspring, and had we not been given a copy by someone who knew what we were missing, we might never have been introduced. After all, who does not like pancake cake? (And when I make it, if I do, I don’t have to deal with hens and other complications first.)

Sven Nordqvist, photo by Leif R Jansson, for TT

Somewhat surprisingly he lives in a flat in the middle of Stockholm. You’d think he’d be hiding out in the wilderness, behind those clucking hens and other creatures.

And it seems that while Sven likes praise as much as the next illustrator of opinionated cats, he gets so much of it from people like me (that’s old and keen bookish females), that it no longer registers. He prefers to hear it from young readers.

According to an article in Hallandsposten the other day, these days Sven mainly works on what pleases him; drawing for himself.

I suppose today he could always pop over to the Palace with some freshly made pancakes.

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.