Category Archives: Humour

Hey, Sherlock!

Reading the third Garvie Smith mystery, I again blessed Simon Mason for having written these books. They fill you with a happy glow as you enjoy both the humour and the crime mystery. As I may have said before, in real life 16-year-old Garvie would [probably] be horrendous, but in print he’s everything you want in a hero; intelligent, handsome, kind, good at maths, understands his fellow human beings and knows instinctively what they might have done and why. He’s also rude and smokes and drinks and sleeps all day. And he’s about as good at building fences as he was attending school in the run-up to his GCSEs.

Simon Mason, Hey, Sherlock!

This time we have a disappeared girl; a maths genius (or close) and someone who is also a nightmare to her mother, just like Garvie is to his. Can he find Amy, or is she already dead?

I love the way Garvie’s useless friends are so very useful when it comes to what he needs, be it knowledge about vans, or tricks for breaking into places. Or getting out of them again, in a hurry. His contacts are about as good for fact-finding as those the police have.

What I like so much is that Garvie understands human nature, in a way the adults around him don’t. And he’s kind. He really is.

As long as he can find a different job from fence building to be useless at, I would love to meet up with Garvie again.

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Remembering Judith Kerr

Now that we don’t have Judith Kerr to come and do events, we can have events about her. Because we need them.

Judith might have looked like a little old lady, but in Tuesday’s panel we learned that this was a woman who could out-party those much younger than her. I think Daniel Hahn rather envied her her stamina in that department. And Lindsey Fraser remembered a time when Judith’s train had been late and she needed a whisky, a bit early in the day, but someone sourced the requested tipple.

Her arrivals in the yurt always caused a certain kind of murmur among those present, those who were more famous than Judith, richer, younger; even more important. Everyone had some kind of relationship to her. Catherine Rayner said it felt like meeting the Queen. And like meeting the Queen, it was impossible to talk to her. She tried, but could never get the words out.

Catherine’s friends would ask ‘is she any good?’ as though Judith’s simple picture book drawings meant she couldn’t do proper art. She showed us some of Judith’s sketches, and they were certainly proper art. As was Mog’s scared face in the book about Mog’s nightmares. And those pictures of birds with teeth!

The first book, The Tiger Who Came to Tea, often caused people to read hidden meanings into what the tiger symbolised. According to Daniel, Judith said it’s a book about a tiger who came to tea. As for Mog and the translation into German there was a discussion with the translator that Judith lost. Mog would be a boy in German. And then she gave Mog kittens.

Judith Kerr 2

After Judith was widowed she kept drawing, sitting at the same table she’d worked at for fifty years, saying ‘if I didn’t draw, I’d probably have taken to religion.’ Her husband was the one who suggested the plot for her first Mog book by saying ‘couldn’t she catch a burglar, or something?’

Tom Morgan-Jones talked about Judith’s last book, Mummy Time, and brought out so much more meaning from it than I’d seen. It even had those horrible teeth in it, again. He read most of the book, showing how it works on two levels; for the child, and for the adult reader.

Like Tom, Eilidh Muldoon never met Judith. And as everyone seemed to say, she also found the Tiger really scary. When Goodbye Mog was published, she was too old for picture books, but has since discovered how good it is to read them as an adult. The pictures in this last Mog are dreamier than the early Mog illustrations, and this could in part have been due to the same ink not being available.

Goodbye Mog

It’s not only Mog’s death that has helped readers deal with bereavement. Kate Leiper has experience from working in care homes for people with dementia, where she used to show them My Henry, which is about an old lady in a home, who dreams about her dead husband coming back for her. This was written after Judith’s husband died.

As Daniel said, you can have quite dark stuff in picture books. It’s all about condensing, according to Catherine. You put a lot in and then take more and more out. Judith would never use words about that which you could see from the pictures. And in Mog in the Dark – the nightmare book – she only used 50 [different] words.

This was a wonderful panel event; one which made us love Judith Kerr even more. As someone said, she had faith in human nature. And she considered herself British from the start of WWII. That’s worth remembering now, when we remember Judith. The piece from When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, read by Lindsey, about the family fleeing Germany, approaching the Swiss border by train, and being so very nervous. It’s all coming back.

A sunny evening in Charlotte Square

Luckily the couple attempting to cross an Edinburgh street by stepping out in front of a bus were fine. Otherwise we’d have been a Poet Laureate short. Although, Simon Armitage wasn’t the only one in town, as we’d come across Carol Ann Duffy in a a pavement café earlier that afternoon. You can’t have too many poet laureates.

Ma Isabel Sánchez Vegara

Arriving at the book festival, Photographer and I breezed in and started by snapping Ma Isabel Sánchez Vegara signing books in the bookshop in Charlotte Square. She had a queue of very small fans. She was soon joined by Harriet Muncaster, whose hair will have outdone just about every other hair in the square. Harriet’s fans were slightly bigger.

Harriet Muncaster

I picked up my ticket for the day, and then we hung around, hoping for the promised photocall with Carnegie medalist Elizabeth Acevedo. We might have missed her, or she us. Her events partner Dean Atta had a go though, as well as doing much clowning around in front of Chris Close and his camera. Felt like pointing out that it’s better to have authors break a leg after their event…

Elizabeth Acevedo and Dean Atta

After an inspiring talk in the Spark theatre in George Street, we joined everyone else in the – much improved – George Street bookshop. They even have roving staff who relieve you of your money as you queue for the signing. Very efficient. My Photographer might just have told Dean Atta about her hair, while I told poet Elizabeth Acevedo how I don’t really do poetry!

Had hoped to catch Konnie Huq still signing, but were too late. Instead we headed to the Kelpies Prize award ceremony, where we encountered Lari Don and Linda Strachan, as well as Gill Arbuthnott and Sarah Broadley in the audience. It was very crowded. And hot. I sat on what seemed to be a soft, plush birch trunk with a rounded bottom. But I could easily have been mistaken.

Kelpies Prize

Left early so as not to miss Ian Rankin’s photocall. His fans were already queueing for his event, well before the event before had finished. We had to wait while the ever calm and cool Ian slipped into something more comfortable. While he did so Photographer discovered Phill Jupitus a few metres away, and was [un]suitably excited. I’m afraid I had no idea who he was.

Ian Rankin and Phill Jupitus

Then it turned out Phill was also attending Ian’s photocall (I’m guessing he was going to chat to Ian at his event). The Photographer sort of gasped as she went off. I understand that she told Phill that he’s very funny. So he shook her hand.

I’m now looking forward to a considerable saving on the cost of hand soap.

And Simon Armitage is still un-run over by a bus.

(Photos by Helen Giles)

What’s your favourite pizza topping?

Frank Cottrell Boyce

During the signing in the bookshop after Frank Cottrell Boyce’s event, I was reminded that he’s used to having people trying to get close by crawling under tables. In this case it was young fans who wanted a photo with a much admired author, while I’m remembering the bookshop owner who wanted to invite him to do an event…

Frank knows how to entertain his fans, and this turned out to be my second astronaut and space related event in one day. Having been introduced by Lindsey Fraser, he read from Runaway Robot, having first told us about lost property, which can be anything from your umbrella to a lost hand. And when you find it – the hand, I mean – it’s not necessarily yours.

He also told us the ‘story of the magic haddock.’ And there was something about a wandering pizza bot, which he did with a good Italian accent.

The questions that followed weren’t always the most original, but Frank answered them politely, with kindness, although he turned down the opportunity to help one boy with writing a book. We must have had some moon-deniers in the audience, but Frank was able to deal with that by talking about Alan Bean, the fourth man on the moon.

Frank Cottrell Boyce

More reading from Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth, the lightsaber birthday party episode. This was followed by more fun questions, the best of which was ‘what is your favourite pizza topping?’ Frank did a quick check to see how the audience felt about pineapple, before admitting to liking anchovies and capers.

Second best question was ‘how much books have you read?’ Frank wasn’t sure, because he always reads. When he was asked whether he has started his next book yet, Frank felt this confirmed that his publisher had planted questions in the audience. He has ‘honestly’ just started, and won’t be late this time…

To finish he read from Cosmic, the bit where Liam starts secondary school. The he’ll ‘tell them after the biscuit,’ is a good way of deciding when to own up to not being the new teacher.

And then it was book signing in the bookshop, and children crawling under the table (which to my mind needs more space around it).

Frank Cottrell Boyce

It’s always good to see Frank. He’s a cheerer-upper.

(Photos by Helen Giles)

Fun, and hardly any rain, in Charlotte Square

It was an odd moment. There I was in the [authors’] yurt, and the two people the two Offspring aspire to be like, were both present. I don’t see how that can ever happen again.

Anyway. We had to be up early to get to Edinburgh in time, so actually got up even earlier and had breakfast before doing any festival work. Then we queued outside the Spiegel tent for our first event, with Dr Sheila Kanani, who just happened to be Photographer’s mentor at Space School many years ago.

Sheila Kanani

And afterwards as we hung around for the signing in the bookshop, we spied Frank Cottrell Boyce, looking rather like Chris Riddell’s alter ego, complete with flapping shoelace. Before we got round to tying it, I found Lynne Rickards, so had a nice chat with her, and I believe it was the day’s first mention of cellos.

Also chatted with Sarah Broadley, who was Sheila’s chair, before we all walked back to the behind-the-scenes area, for – well – more chatting. Discovered Jo Nadin in the yurt, sitting right where we all tried to fit in, which meant that the number of Doctors in the yurt went up again. We all had lots to talk about, and we were literally left holding a baby. Twice. I suppose we looked trustworthy.

Daniel Hahn came over to say hello from Son. I think this must be why I don’t see Son so much. He sees other people instead. Chris Close did planet stuff with Sheila, so we are looking forward to seeing the resulting photo after her workout in front of his camera. Meanwhile, Frank Cottrell Boyce came in, with a couple of young Cottrell Boyces. They seemed very nice.

Since I had agreed to meet the publicist from Sandstone, we said goodbye to the assembled doctors and went to buy a salad before finding Ceris, who was sitting outside the other yurt with a group of my ‘colleagues.’ Lots more chat, including the second cello reference of the day. There was also more space talk, and the books by Astrid Lindgren came up.

Frank Cottrell Boyce

Then we had to run for Frank’s event, chaired by Lindsey Fraser. It rained. It wasn’t supposed to rain. In the bookshop afterwards I was finding out why Lindsey had her arm in a sling, when Diana Hendry came up to ask the very same thing. Seems like you just had to stand still, and authors would come from all directions.

Chris Hoy

After some ‘light’ sustenance, the Photographer and I hit Charlotte Square one last time [for Tuesday]. Went to have a look at Sir Chris Hoy signing books in the company of his author Jo Nadin and illustrator Clare Elsom. They had a Very Long Queue.

Jim Al-Khalili

The last attraction of the day was Jim Al-Khalili, another doctor and professor and scientist and all that. Photographer went to speak to him, as one scientist to another. And possibly had a photo taken with him.

I tried taking a picture of one of the ducks, but that failed spectacularly. And then we went home. It was a mostly fine day. With much science. And space.

Duck

See, that’s the duck there, right on top of Chris Riddell.

(Most photos by Helen Giles)

Good Omens, again

We’ve started on Good Omens on television again. The Resident IT Consultant and I watched it as soon as it was available, and managed to stretch it out over nine days, or something like that.

When Daughter asked if this was something she’d like – Good Omens, not the stretching – I only paused for a few seconds to run the possibility she might not like this wonderful book, especially on the screen, and especially with David Tennant in it. I could not come up with a reason against.

So now that we are all together in the same house for a few weeks, we’ve downloaded the episodes again and are watching with her. I’m fairly sure I could tolerate watching it with lots of different Offspring, one after the other, but I only have the two.

I’m relieved to discover we are having technical hitches even with someone young in the room. It’s clearly not just us old ones being old that causes it.

And you discover something new when you watch again. One day it might even become totally clear. Except it seems even God admits that the third baby is somewhat unaccounted for.

Some comprehension deficiency

Just a short, flippant post for you today.

I sometimes write down quotes and thoughts, intending to use them for something. Occasionally I forget what I had in mind. This was one such time. But it fits in well with how my brain is working – i.e. not really working – right now.

I am ‘experiencing comprehension deficiency.’ That sounds so much better than ‘I am stupid.’

Thank goodness for the internet and its search functions. Sitting there as I was, with my quote and not a clue, I discovered it came from Doctor Who. I know this because someone blogged about it, here.

But, yeah, my deficiency has more to do with being surrounded by intelligent and clever people. I am intelligent too, of course, but not quite like this. I’ll never help send anyone to the moon, or anything like that.