Category Archives: Humour

The Dragonsitter to the Rescue

It’s the hotel’s fault; if they don’t want your dragon to come and stay, they shouldn’t say dragons are free. And they probably wouldn’t have, if they had an inkling that the very same dragon had just ruined its previous hotel, elsewhere in London.

Josh Lacey and Garry Parsons, The Dragonsitter to the Rescue

Dragons do. They don’t mean to, but it happens. They are big, and hungry, and they breathe fire. And if you’re a mummy dragon and your little Arthur is lost somewhere in London, you will do anything to get him back.

So will Eddie, in Josh Lacey’s latest Dragonsitter story. I think it might be the best so far (unless I say that about all of them, in which case it’s simply that they are all so wonderful that I get taken in by their charm), and I really enjoyed holidaying in London with Eddie and his sister, and their slightly useless dad, while their mum is romancing in Paris.

This was my second dragon book finished in one day. The other one was a longer, fantasy novel, whereas I’d label the Dragonsitter books as normal dragon stories. Totally realistic, and not fantasy at all.

Josh Lacey and Garry Parsons, The Dragonsitter to the Rescue

Eddie’s happy-go-lucky uncle Morton is off looking for Yetis in Tibet, having left his two dragons in the tender care of his nephew. Once more, I should say. He always manages to be incommunicado, as poor Eddie tries to sort out the latest dragon happenings.

(Would I love Ziggy and little Arthur so much if it weren’t for Garry Parsons and his illustrations?)

Traitor’s Purse

A S Byatt has a lot to answer for. I’ve now come across several reviews of Margery Allingham’s Traitor’s Purse, where the reviewer only read the book after her article in the Guardian last year.

Personally, I wanted to remind myself of the plot, so went to our Allingham shelf to reacquaint myself with the book, only to discover we didn’t have a copy. Hence its appearance on my Christmas wish list, and because it was the only item on the list issued to the Resident IT Consultant, I wasn’t massively surprised to receive a copy. Which, had been my plan all along. [Don’t give them a choice.]

Margery Allingham, Traitor's Purse

It’s been years since I read Margery Allingham’s Campion books. I loved them, and I rather loved him as well, being much more fun than Lord Peter Wimsey. And I obviously would have loved to be Lady Amanda; the girl who decided she was going to marry him.

In Traitor’s Purse, set in 1941, Campion has had a knock on the head and doesn’t even remember her, or his manservant Lugg, or who he himself is, let alone what he’s supposed to be doing. (Saving the country is what.)

Being a man, he doesn’t start asking useful questions like ‘Who am I?’ but sets about quietly grappling with each thing as it comes along. He makes the mistake of thinking Amanda is his wife, and his private fears about maybe losing her are wonderfully described. You take a girl for granted for years and…

This is a great detective trying to solve a puzzle in the dark. He works out who is good and who is bad, and almost what the problem is, but hasn’t got a clue what to do.

After this long away from Campion’s world, I noticed the social aspects much more. But it’s a marvellous story and the writing is as good as ever, and you have to overlook the fact that occasionally the upper classes are portrayed as more reliable than the rest of us. It’s the way it was.

But behind it all is the usual humour and courage and an exciting plot. ‘Good lord, he could climb like a cat!’ This is a handy discovery when you are forced to flee over the rooftops. Most of us will already know whether a route like that is likely to be successful, but Campion hasn’t got any idea of what he can and can’t do. He just knows he has to try.

My thanks to A S Byatt. I hadn’t read this one, and I’m so glad I did. Might be time to return to more old diamonds.

A Baby Ganesh Agency Investigation

This is India’s answer to The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Vaseem Khan has written a sweet and funny crime novel about Inspector Chopra, who is forced to retire on health grounds from the police in Mumbai. In his early fifties, he is an honourable man who has always tried to do the right thing, and who could never be bribed.

In The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra we meet him on his last day, as he agonises over what will become of him, now that he no longer has a job to go to. His wife, Poppy, is rather pleased he will be staying at home, but of course he ends up doing no such thing.

Vaseem Khan, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra

First there is the baby elephant. His uncle has sent this large gift for a reason. It’s just that ex-Inspector Chopra can’t work out what that is. And on his last day in the office he meets the distraught mother of a murdered young man, and rashly takes on the task of finding the murderer.

Chopra is a brave and determined man, who will let neither a bad heart or old colleagues stop him from doing what’s right. And then there is Ganesha, the baby elephant. The Chopras live in a tower block, so keeping even a small elephant is tricky, but Poppy is as determined and fierce as her husband is honourable. There is a priceless scene when she and Ganesha sit down in the living room to watch Bollywood films together while snacking on goodies!

The murdered young man leads Chopra to many bad and seemingly impossible discoveries. And who can he trust, when everyone can be bought?

This is a nice, comfy kind of whodunnit, set somewhere exotic to the European reader, and very satisfying. Described as a Baby Ganesh Agency story, I wonder if there will be more? There certainly could be. Elephants are as loyal and dependable as the former Inspector Chopra.

(And the food! Poppy prepares the most wonderful dishes for her husband. He has little time to eat while out solving crimes, but oh, how delicious it sounds.)

Mog’s Christmas Calamity

I was pleased to see that the new book about Mog – Mog’s Christmas Calamity – is a little different from the television commercial. I suppose in much the same way most books differ from the film. I have no idea if Judith Kerr wrote it for television, or if she wrote a Christmas story featuring dear Mog, and it was then adapted for the small screen.

Judith Kerr, Mog's Christmas Calamity

Some of the laugh-out-loud comedy is not in the book, which feels right, as that would have made this new book different from its predecessors. What there is, is pure Mog, and a proper Christmas tale, with misfortune and a solution.

Book-Mog doesn’t look like her television actor either. (Who would play you in the film, Mog?)

This is – naturally – a lovely picture book, and I hope many children will be given a copy. Not just because it’s a sweet story, but because the proceeds go towards child literacy.

Buy one for every reader you can think of. It’s not every day Mog rises like a phoenix. Make the most of her.

W.A.R.P. – The Forever Man

That FBI. It gets everywhere, including the 17th century. But that explains a lot, actually. And it’s lucky they wear those fetching overalls, with the letters on the back, so you will know it’s them. And there is always one more wormhole through which any combination of characters can fall, to some time other than their own. Quantum foam. Hah.

Yes. So Eoin Colfer thought it’d be more normal to write about time travelling FBI agents than leprechauns. It’s easy peasy getting your head round tunnelling dwarves and foil-clad centaurs, but my head always gets confused when it tries to think about time travel. Like, if so-and-so did this then something would/would not happen. And you mustn’t meet yourself.

Eoin Colfer, The Forever Man

I enjoyed The Forever Man, which is the last instalment of Eoin’s W.A.R.P., the time travel-based witness protection scheme which put people safely in Victorian London. I wasn’t sure I would, as the time travel slipped back to Cromwell’s days – which I’m not keen on – and Riley’s old boss was going to reappear. I’d really hoped to have seen the last of him. But that strange thing happened; where you find yourself almost fond of the baddie, because you go a long way back and familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt.

So – the now unkillable – Garrick is back, and his latest hobby is to burn witches at the stake. And he decides Agent Chevie is a witch. Riley needs to free her, but the trouble is that he and Garrick know each other so well, that it’s almost impossible for one to trick the other. Luckily the FBI has one or two tricks up its sleeves, and not everyone in this witch-hunting village believes that burning witches is a marvellous idea.

This is exciting, and romantic – yes – and funny. It even restored my faith in the FBI.

Eoin; please consult me if you need more timetravelling Swedish bores. Sorry, boars. Or similar. Especially if they are to be called Olaf.

Stirling Literary Society

The Resident IT Consultant had been a couple of times, but I needed something special to tempt me out on a wet and dark Monday night, so it was my first time. Stirling Literary Society meet at The Smith [local museum] once a month, and the thing that got me out of the house was Scottish Children’s Literature. Dr Maureen Farrell from the University of Glasgow drove through floods to tell us about it.

When she realised that her degree didn’t cover any Scottish books Maureen decided to do her PhD on Scottish children’s literature, but was dissuaded because it was thought there wasn’t enough material for a doctorate… (I was unsure in the end if she went ahead with it anyway, or not. But whichever way, Maureen knows a few things about those non-existent children’s books.)

In the ‘beginning’ there were books, and some children read them. And there were chapbooks, sold by travelling chapmen. In the 18th century James Janeway published A Token for Children. Often books were written by puritans who wanted to educate, and needed to use language accessible to children. As early as 1744 there were ‘magazine giveaways’ with balls for boys and hoops for girls.

Then we had Sir Walter Scott. Naturally. He wrote a book for his grandson, but as a ‘very wordy writer’ it probably wasn’t all that easy to read. But he enjoyed it so much he wanted to give up writing adult books. The first proper children’s book in Scotland seems to have been Catherine Sinclair’s Holiday House, where children played and were naughty.

Maureen Farrell’s criteria for what counts as Scottish literature are books by someone Scottish, set in Scotland or about Scottish people. If not, we couldn’t lay claim to J K Rowling or Julia Donaldson.

There wasn’t really time enough to talk even quite briefly about most Scottish authors. Maureen galloped past Treasure Island, The Light Princess, Peter Pan, and on to Theresa Breslin and Eric Linklater, explaining what the Carnegie Medal is (very elderly audience, but maybe not necessary?), Molly Hunter, Joan Lingard, and she showed us covers of lots of books, including The Wee Free Men.

She described the beginning chapter of Nicola Morgan’s Fleshmarket, and I decided I could possibly avoid fainting if I was lucky. Jackie Kay cropped up with both fiction and poetry, local author Rennie McOwan got some attention, as did Mairi Hedderwick and Debi Gliori.

And then there were the books in Scots, of which she had many to show us. I particularly liked Roald Dahl’s The Twits, which became The Eejits.

I reckon you can deduce that there’s enough for a PhD there, somewhere. We could have gone on for hours and only skimmed the surface. There was a lot I knew about, obviously, but there was also quite a bit I didn’t, because I was never a small Scottish child, unlike others in the audience who had strong and fond memories of many of the books mentioned.

Mog lives again

Would you buy your brussels sprouts in a supermarket you don’t normally frequent just because it revived Mog?

I fail to see how normal people could be swayed by this. It’s one thing to advertise sweets and toys at children, or for that matter, wine and discounted sofas at adults. That way you are being sold a particular item that you might not need, but will develop a craving for.

But Sainsbury’s are not flogging a dead cat, however adorable and Christmassy. Well, they are. I understand that you can go to the supermarket and buy Judith Kerr’s latest book about Mog. (Anyone reading this, feel free to get me a copy..!) Other than that, though, they are either ‘merely’ hoping to win the Christmas television commercial war, or possibly also hoping that you will pop into one of their branches for your Christmas food. Whether or not you are already a customer.

So as a part time customer, I feel neither more or less of an urge to let them supply me with sprouts after the Mog ad.

It’s lovely, though. More so for those of us who have got used to the idea of Mog being dead and not expecting to see our darling cat again. But that little film of Mog’s nightmare and subsequent crazy accidental frenzied exit from the house has had many of us old cynics laugh and cry at the same time. And that is a most welcome feeling.

Thank you Judith Kerr for giving us some more Mog. And thank you Sainsbury’s for making Mog come to life again, in such a spectacular way. (I might be in later for sprouts. Or I might go to Lidl. I’ll see.)