Category Archives: Humour

The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star

I just love Ganesha, the baby elephant detective in Vaseem Khan’s Inspector Chopra novels! And I rather admire Poppy, aka Mrs Chopra. (I may have mentioned this before. Like every time I review Vaseem’s books.) I reckon Poppy is finding herself, going from loving wife of a police inspector to someone who… Well, maybe better not give it away, but there were one or two scenes in this, the third outing for Chopra and his elephant, that made me laugh out loud. Poppy knows her mind, but she still can’t prevent her personality from getting the better of her.

This crime adventure is set within the Bollywood business, but it is also pure Bollywood in itself. It is colourful and crazy, while also showing the reader the serious side to life in India; how some people have very few rights and lead dreadful lives.

Vaseem Khan, The Strange Didappearance of a Bollywood Star

Chopra’s sidekick Rangwalla has his own mystery to solve and he definitely discovers a few things about himself that he’s not proud over. But people can change.

So on the one side we have a kidnapped Bollywood hero and on the other we meet the Mumbai eunuchs. Chopra’s decent behaviour gets him into trouble, and were it not for those around him who love him; Ganesha, his adoptive boy Irfan, Poppy, his staff and his friends, things wouldn’t have ended so well.

Forgive me if I keep going on about how much I love these books. There is a charm and a decency, coupled with humour and a good crime plot and a fantastic setting. It leaves me wanting to learn more, but first I want some of chef Lucknowwallah’s food. And I’d like an elephant best friend.

The Dragonsitter Detective

Reading the latest Dragonsitter book I was engulfed in a warm glow. Not because Josh Lacey’s dragons breathed fire on me, I hasten to add. I just love these books. Short – and funny – enough to entice any young reader to enjoy themselves, and the right length for me to drink a cup of tea and eat two potato scones.

Josh Lacey and Garry Parsons, The Dragonsitter Detective

And don’t you just love a wedding? Eddie’s mum is finally marrying Gordon, and they’ve all travelled up to Uncle Morton’s island for the great day. Morton is away, as usual. This time he’s hunting the Kraken from a submarine. But he has to give his sister away! And make a speech!

Unfortunately both his dragons are stolen, and it is down to Eddie to find them again. He is a good boy, so he does. And the wedding is only slightly delayed.

And Morton? Well…

I never did find out if Eddie had to wear a kilt.

(Fiery illustrations by Garry Parsons)

Not a lot of Lotta

But enough. The Retired Children’s Librarian frowned upon the books from publisher B Wahlström in general. I can’t recall what she thought about the Lotta books by Merri Vik in particular, though. Among children the books were popular, and to some extent they did what the Retired Children’s Librarian said, which is they were cheap enough that they could be pocket money books.

Merri Vik, Det är Lotta, förstås!

I believe we all bought some, and then we borrowed from each other. You couldn’t really borrow from the library, for the above reason. They were quick reads, so most of us went through a lot of Lotta books, and then there was Nancy Drew and the Hardy boys and all the rest.

Lotta was 13 to begin with, a messy and forgetful but sweet natured girl, who often ended up in trouble. And then it – obviously – ended up all right. Likeable, but samey, which is why I have no idea which ones I read or how many.

There is one I think of several times a year, however.

I think of it every time I pack a suitcase; my own, the Resident IT Consultant’s, and occasionally Daughter’s, when she’s got ‘complicated’ packing to do. It’s because Lotta once accidentally upended her sister’s already packed suitcase, and was forced to stay and repack it, despite saying she had a boy waiting for her outside. Apparently at that moment she was suddenly able to visualise her mother’s packing technique, having watched her pack for years.

So every little thing fits in beautifully, and she even folds the ironed dresses (this was a long time ago) to check that they will go in all right. And the flabber-ghasted sister realises her hopeless sibling has done a perfect job, and also that the boy was actually waiting for her all this time.

That, dear reader, is what goes through my mind every time I pack. Literary, or what?

Merri Vik, Lotta slår till

Meeting Danny the Granny Slayer

Charlotte Square comes to Cumbernauld. I might have mentioned before that the Edinburgh International Book Festival have decided to branch out, and are touring five New Towns in Scotland over the next year and a half, with little pop-up festivals for a weekend, and this is the Cumbernauld weekend. The first weekend, and with a really good looking programme.

I could have wanted to do more, but limited myself to the children’s event on Saturday morning. I couldn’t resist David MacPhail, Lari Don, Barry Hutchison and Jenny Colgan. Barry unfortunately couldn’t come and was replaced by Mark A Smith, but that was also fine. Not that I knew Mark, but he had a very jolly song for us.

Lari Don and Macastory

As did Macastory; two oddly dressed men from the future who sang a lot, and required hands to be clapped and shoulders shaken and other energetic stuff. The venue got changed to the pop-up Waterstones in the shopping precinct, which I thought was odd until I understood there was no ‘real’ Waterstones there. I did see the yellow buckets I’d been told about by Kirkland Ciccone, however.

The Resident IT Consultant came along to make sure I found the way, and he discussed getting lost – or not – with David MacPhail as we waited. David was first up and had some fun Vikings he told us about. I liked the polite one best, who apparently was modelled on David himself… He read a bit from one of his Thorfinn books, and then he told those brave enough to ask, what their Viking names would be. We had Danny the Granny Slayer on the front row.

David Macphail

Lari Don came next and talked about her Spellchasers trilogy (I know, I covered this a few weeks ago), and she wanted to know if any of us had the urge to be turned into an animal. One girl wanted to be a dragon, with an interesting idea for how to deal with the 45th President while in her dragon state. Long live creativity!

Lari Don

Mark A Smith followed, talking about his hero Slugboy, who seems to be some kind of anti-superhero. Unless I got that wrong. He Slugboys it out of St Andrews, which I felt was rather posh for slugs. Mark, as I said, had a song written about his hero, which we had to sing, to the tune of Glory glory halleluja, so it was terribly uplifting and all that, as well as a clever idea for audience participation.

Mark A Smith

Last but not least we had Jenny Colgan, who brought ‘her child to work’ and then proceeded to use her – fairly willing – son to hold the iPad to illustrate her Polly and the Puffin story as she read it to us. We had to do the puffin noises, so thank goodness for Macastory who didn’t seem to mind making fools of themselves.

Jenny Colgan

They also provided fun interludes, with songs and commentary, and we learned some sad facts about the future.

And that was it. The Resident IT Consultant led me safely back to the car (free parking in Cumbernauld!) with only one wrong turn. I’m hoping the authors were suitably accompanied back to somewhere they wanted to be, too. If not, there are authors to be discovered in downtown Cumbernauld.

Cumbernauld New Town Hall

Findus Rules the Roost

It might have been better if Gustavsson had made a stew out of his old rooster, considering the noise he makes. But Pettson is a real softie, so had to rescue the rooster and bring him home to his hens. And to poor Findus. Who has been best friends with the hens until this moment.

Sven Nordqvist, Findus Rules the Roost

But from now on those ladies are very taken with their new rooster, even if he is rather loud. Findus is more direct, asking ‘what’s the good of that?’ when he realises the rooster is there to stay.

Or is he?

The hens fawn over him, and Pettson finds the crowing quite attractive. To begin with.

It’s pretty much like when your mother brings home a new baby and expects you to love it, and everyone else does love it and they seem to forget you. And there is noise, all the time, everywhere. Findus hides in the attic. Pettson talks to the rooster and sets limits. Everyone begins to feel upset. You can see Gustavsson’s point.

Findus is naughty and…

Well, the rooster knew how to – ahem – say goodbye nicely.

I love these books. I am in no danger of tiring anytime soon, even if Findus is a handful. But I do sometimes wonder what Pettson actually lives off. Sawing logs, fishing and picking redcurrants will only go so far. As will savouring the peace and quiet at the end of the day with Findus in the garden.

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.