Category Archives: Humour

Czech this

Oddly enough, until yesterday I never really looked into Tom Stoppard’s past. I mean, no more than what seems to be generally known, like him having been born in Czechoslovakia, and writing highly amusing drama. It’s odd, because he was my favourite dramatist when I was at university, and it was only my tutor’s perception that Tom lacked depth that meant I never ‘did’ anything about him in an academic way.

Perhaps it was the lack of Google and Wikipedia? Although, I did have a volume on British dramatists where I could look people up. Or maybe I simply felt that Tom’s work spoke for him?

I used to think he was awfully clever; to have been born a foreigner and still be able to write the way he did. Yeah, I know. I sound almost xenophobic, but that’s not what I meant. I believed that if a language was not your native one, then there would always be something that you couldn’t do with it. I knew I couldn’t.

And it seems that Tom agreed with me in some way. I found this quote on Wikipedia: ‘His stepfather believed strongly that “to be born an Englishman was to have drawn first prize in the lottery of life” – a quote from Cecil Rhodes – telling his small stepson: “Don’t you realise that I made you British?” setting up Stoppard’s desire as a child to become “an honorary Englishman”. “I fairly often find I’m with people who forget I don’t quite belong in the world we’re in”, he says. “I find I put a foot wrong – it could be pronunciation, an arcane bit of English history – and suddenly I’m there naked, as someone with a pass, a press ticket.’

Two years ago I’d have found that amusing. Now I don’t.

It’s noteworthy that his stepfather was happy to marry a foreigner, and to take on two little foreign boys as his sons. But what’s more, Mr Stoppard appears to have believed that the act of doing so made these little foreigners British. How many people – who matter – share his thoughts today?

As for the pronunciation, the arcane history, or being naked; I’ve been there too. At least I share something with Sir Tom.

So, as I was saying, I adored his humour back then. I must have read almost every single play he wrote, up until the mid 1980s when I moved on to other reading material. But I always wanted to be able to write like Tom Stoppard, even if he ‘lacked depth.’

I had a bit of an epiphany thinking about my tutor’s comment. I’d like to think she has changed her mind over the years, and with hindsight I see that humorous drama like Tom’s could very well be viewed like children’s books, or crime; not quite properly grown-up.

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have everything you could want.

The very same tutor was terribly ambitious, so after I teased the group with my frequent trips to London, going to the theatre to see new and exciting plays, she organised a drama week for us. She bought tickets for about eight plays in six days and charmed a lot of money from someone at some party or conference, which meant that we could all have a week in London for next to no cost.

And one of those plays was a Stoppard, Night and Day, starring John Thaw, but sadly not Diana Rigg.

Where am I going with this? Not sure. But Sir Tom is clearly an immigrant, with a refugee past, a Jew, who made it in Britain. Made it to Britain. And he dares to be clever with the language spoken here. Whether he has stopped feeling inadequate I have no idea. And I suspect he won’t be one of the first to be forced to leave when Brexit really gets going.

Night Watch

Commander Vimes’s mushroom must be a little stronger than mine, which falls apart if I as much as look at it. That aside, I heartily approve of the use of such a normal tool for tasks it wasn’t exactly intended for. It proves how grounded Terry Pratchett was, and shows that Sam Vimes is adaptable, as well as polite. Not so much for bopping someone on the head with said mushroom, but more for how he came to own one in the first place.

Reading Terry’s Night Watch made me miss old-fashioned, decent behaviour. While there is much that isn’t in Night Watch, there is also a lot in there which is. Sam Vimes is a very decent man, as was his creator.

Terry Pratchett, Night Watch

In Night Watch Vimes is subjected to a spot of time travel, and contrary to the rules of such things, he actually interacts with his younger self, without Discworld exploding any more than you’d expect it to.

Time travel is interesting. Do you in fact change the past by going back, so that when you return to your present your past is a new past, or the one you always had, because you did what you did? Because you were always meant to go back?

There’s a revolution happening in Ankh-Morpork, with grannies on barricades and the lot. They are ruled by a bad man, and then they get, well, a different bad man. The way you do. The young Vetinari is there, and I liked getting more of an understanding of who he was, before he became what he is now.

Seamstresses and younger versions of Vimes’s current City Watch, including a clueless Sam Vimes, provide much background to the Ankh-Morpork of today. And I loved the young Nobby Nobbs!

You can’t easily summarise a Pratchett novel, and most of you have probably read it already. Let’s just say it was exactly what I needed in today’s climate of madness.

There’s a Dragon in my Backpack!

Tom Nicoll and Sarah Horne, There's a Dragon in my Backpack!

I loved Tom Nicoll’s first book about the Mini-Dragon, who came to Eric via a Chinese takeaway meal. These things happen.

This made it hard to ignore* the second story about clever little Pan, so I didn’t. Eric has this annoying neighbour who goes to a fancy private school, and Toby always wants what Eric has. In this case the dragon.

Except he doesn’t quite understand Pan isn’t a toy dragon.

Anyway, it is Show and Tell at Toby’s school, and well, you can guess. Toby wants Pan to come so he can show off. Eric says no. And then…

Well, there’d be no story and no book if what happened didn’t happen.

Eric has some good friends – Min and Jayden – and they meet a couple more unflappable children at the Show and Tell. People who understand that you help others.

This is fun! And Sarah Horne’s illustrations are just right.

*I know I’m too old for the regular interest age for this kind of book. But I don’t care. It’s got a Mini-Dragon.

I love cheese

I also love books.

Today’s the day when one should talk about love. I’ve been trying to come up with ‘love’ stuff to mention.

So that’s cheese and books. I love my family.

And, I quite like Bookwitch. Yes, awfully narcissistic of me. It’s not love, though.

The other day I had cause to search through older parts of Bookwitch, looking for something. Gold possibly. And I found I enjoyed re-reading older posts. Not all of them, but some were reasonably entertaining.

So that was nice. Reassuring. Maybe it hasn’t been a complete waste of time.

I came to the conclusion I am [a bit] like Gwendolen Fairfax, who said:  ‘I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.’

Cough.

Well.

And I discovered a fan letter I’d completely forgotten about. Clearly I could do with regular re-readings, if only to remind myself of my destroyed life, as imagined by my fairy blogmother.

I just love fan letters❣️

And ten years on…

Ten years go so quickly, don’t they? While the fresh-faced Bookwitch looks good for ten, that other, tired witch propping her up is certainly showing her age. I reckon she thought she’d still be 29, ten years in. Whereas it’s more like, well, at least 49.

Meg Rosoff and the ALMA award, with Alice Bah Kuhnke and Katti Hoflin

I’ve often wondered if I’d last this long. The next wondering has always been whether to give it up. You know, nice round figure (and I don’t only mean me) to end it all.

Philip Pullman

But when I voiced this thought to Ross Collins last month he seemed shocked (and I’m not fooling myself into thinking he’s been here for the duration), so I immediately retracted my threat.

Julie Bertagna, bookwitch and Neil Gaiman

Ross then said I must have ‘got’ a lot of authors in that time, so I sighed deeply and said yes. He seemed concerned that I wasn’t sounding happier, which kicked me out of my morose state of mind. Yes, I do ‘have’ lots of authors, and I love every single one, and treasure them, and this is a cause for celebration. Not sighing. But you know, when you’re 49 sighing comes easily.

John Barrowman

In the last few days I’ve been in email conversation with someone else, about books and publishing and all that kind of thing, and I realised I’ve picked up quite a bit over the years. Not just authors, I mean.

Gordon Brown and Nick Barley

Actual knowledge, except it’s more like English grammar; I couldn’t tell you what it is. I just feel it.

So don’t ask me anything. I don’t know.

Philippa Dickinson and Terry Pratchett

There have been many absolutely wonderful books. And some less so. There have been really fun and interesting events, many of them in unusual places I’d not otherwise have got to visit. And those authors. Oh, those authors.

Steve Cole

Thank you.

(That’s the ‘I will go on for many more years’ thank you. Not the farewell thank you. I hope.)

Sara Paretsky

Who Let the Gods Out?

Maz Evans introduces the reader to Zeus and Co in a most memorable way. There is nothing quite like becoming friends with these old gods to make you understand who they are and grasping their respective skills and personalities. Occasionally literally. I feel better educated already, although being old I’ll forget.

A bit like Elliot’s mum, who seems to have lost it, rather. The two of them live near Stonehenge and money is short and the neighbour is trying to steal their farm. Elliot is tired from having to do all the work, as well as go to school. And that’s when Virgo arrives in his cowshed.

Maz Evans, Who Let the Gods Out?

She’s no god, merely a constellation. Usually she’s in charge of paper clips, but has been ‘entrusted’ with a minor task on earth, which she then manages to get wrong. What follows is a merry romp around the famous stones, with Zeus and his family. At times it got a little too James Bond for me, although that will be because I am old, just like the Queen, who is more ninja like than you’d expect. She knows to appreciate Pegasus.

The gods are powerful and kind, as well as somewhat naïve (about human things) and godlike, but they do their best. Zeus really likes women, but not even he cares for the ghastly neighbour. (It would have helped had the two bad characters not been portrayed as charicatures; vulgar, fat, and so on.)

Full of fun and educational with it. I’d never before realised how Charon transports people around. Although, talking transport here, I was aghast at the apparent single track for the train to London…

Ends on a real cliffhanger, so be prepared for the wait.

Babette laid an egg

Babette Cole

I well remember the shocked giggling at the book party. Back then, about twenty years ago, I was part of a group of mothers who hosted and attended many selling parties, and one kind was the Red House book party. That’s where my neighbour discovered Babette Cole’s Mummy Laid an Egg!

Babette Cole, Mummy Laid an Egg

She had probably been a little bit too properly brought up for the openness in Babette’s book. Hence the palpable shock, even if she giggled. Which just goes to prove how essential this very funny picture book was, and still is. Children need to be told where babies come from, if only so they can pass that knowledge on to their parents.

And now Babette has died, and there won’t be any more books to produce such gasps among the older generation.