Category Archives: Humour

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.)

The Compleat Discworld Atlas

‘Oh, it’s not a real map,’ said the Resident IT Consultant on seeing the newly arrived Discworld Atlas. Whereas I would say it is as real as Discworld. But what do I know?

In fact, I feel it looks suspiciously like Earth in some ways, which is odd for something supposedly flat, which rests on tortoises and elephants and stuff. (I know. Discworld experts are fainting left, right and centre on hearing – reading – my ignorant musings on Discworld. Sorry.)

It’s just, my Discworld looks different, in my head. And yours, and theirs, will be different still inside your respective heads. Which is where it should remain, unless it’s to get messy.

The Compleat Discworld Atlas

But it’s a lovely volume of regional maps (I’d forgotten, or possibly never realised, quite how many areas there are), with all sorts of information on people and money and anything else you might want to know.

And when you get to the end there is a big fold-out map, which could get very nicely tangled in windy weather or turn soggy in the rain, were you to take it out when you go places.

All in all, this is a nice book. At least, I think so. If it has anything new to offer the Discworld nerd, sorry, specialist, I couldn’t say. It has plenty to offer me, and that’s what matters.

(You could always play with the elastic band which keeps the atlas under control.)

Lockwood – The Hollow Boy

All of Chelsea is covered in ghosts, and Lockwood & Co have not been invited to help fight them. All the other agencies are there.

You and I know how unfair that is, and so do Lockwood and his two assistants. They have to persevere with some of the more minor ghostly problems in London, and you and I know how good they are with stuff like that. They only disobey Lockwood’s orders occasionally, risking their lives and making mistakes that could cost people their lives. But on the whole they do well.

Jonathan Stroud, The Hollow Boy

Lucy is particularly keen to try her special abilities to solve the ghosts’ problems, and Lockwood would rather she didn’t. She is getting on better with her dreadful green pal in the jar she carries around, and he in turn has some helpful suggestions for how she could get rid of… Well, I won’t tell you who, but let’s just say Lucy and the boys don’t agree on something of great importance.

Brave and talented though Lucy and Lockwood are, I’m not sure where they would be without George. He is often quiet and always hungry, but generally researches their cases thoroughly, discovering what others have missed or not even bothered to look up in the first place. I have to admit to seeing him in a new light in this third book about our psychic investigators.

Old enemies surface, as do new ghosts, and that person I was referring to above. Chelsea needs saving, and then there is the mystery of Lockwood’s sister.

This is another jolly, thrilling and amusing instalment in the Lockwood saga. I have to admit to panicking towards the end, when it looked like George’s cake-eating was about to take a beating. But I’ve been reassured there are many more ghosts coming my way.

Mr Sparks

‘Well, I didn’t see this coming!’ I thought I knew where Danny Weston was going with his new novel, Mr Sparks. Set in 1919, it’s the story about 12-year-old almost orphaned Owen. He lives with his ghastly aunt at her hotel in Llandudno, when one day a strange man arrives, with even stranger luggage.

It talks. The man is, of course, a ventriloquist. Or is he? As Owen gets closer it appears that the dummy, pardon, Mr Sparks, speaks and thinks on its own. But that’s not possible. Is it?

(I’d say Mr Sparks is as real as, erm, Danny Weston. And we all know him, don’t we?)

Danny Weston, Mr Sparks

Soon this little horror story has Owen and Mr Sparks in a closer relationship than the boy had imagined possible. Who is in control?

It’s not as scary as I had been afraid. It’s more creepy. And then it didn’t go in quite the direction I’d imagined. And then it looked fairly promising, all set for a happy-ish ending, and then, well, maybe it didn’t. I know how it ends. As long as that Danny Weston doesn’t do anything I don’t want him to do!

You hear me?

I should probably disclose that Danny has been kind enough to dedicate Mr Sparks to me (and someone else, whom I shall ignore for the moment), which is, well, nice. It was clever of him to let Owen live in Llandudno, that pearl of seaside resorts. Although we might have to have a little chat about the pier at some point.

But that’s not why I say this is a good book. Actually, I haven’t said that yet.

It’s a good book! Even without the dedication. Creepily good, even.

Arabel’s Raven

I’m so old I have actually experienced the period in which Joan Aiken’s little book is set. And that’s really quite nice, because I almost felt that it was so lovely that it was all fiction. But it truly was that idyllic once upon a time. (Wasn’t it?)

The kind of time when ravens come and sort your life out. Become your pet, and generally cause mayhem. (Why do ravens feature in fiction more than other birds?) When there were actual unions for people who work, odd – but kind – policemen and children could be independent, thinking creatures.

Joan Aiken and Quentin Blake, Arabel's Raven

Arabel is a very young girl, whose taxi-driver dad brings home Mortimer one late night. Well, he didn’t know it was Mortimer (but Arabel could tell when she saw him that he was a Mortimer), and he was so tired he forgot all about the bird. I believe the bird might have been a wee bit tipsy, due to some unorthodox reviving done by Arabel’s dad.

Anyway, this short book is about more than slightly drunk birds in taxis. It’s a crime story, because someone is going round stealing stuff, and it’s not Mortimer. If anyone can solve the mystery it’s Arabel, who is able to walk all the way where she needs to go on just the one pavement and not cross any roads because small girls aren’t allowed to on their own.