Category Archives: Humour

Astrid the Unstoppable

You probably haven’t read Maria Parr’s Astrid the Unstoppable yet. In which case you are very lucky indeed, for what a glorious story this is! I felt so happy, having access to Astrid’s never-ending adventures. (In real life I might have got wiped out by the unstoppable-ness, but in fiction? Never!)

Astrid is the only child in the Glimmerdal valley, somewhere in northern Norway. It almost doesn’t matter, because 74-year-old Gunnvald in the nearest house is her best friend. They have a very special relationship.

It’s a story about kindness and [super-]energetic behaviour, about absent parents, and about belonging to a community. This is so wonderful. I thought Maria’s first book Waffle Hearts was special. Well, Astrid the Unstoppable is even more special.

Eventually there are a few more children, and Astrid even learns to cope when it turns out Gunnvald has been keeping a big secret from her all her life (almost ten years). If you want the perfect children’s book, look no further! Here you have courage and friendship and fiddle music, and as much madcap sledging and skiing as you can digest.

It’s more than refreshing to have a story where the children can go about on their own, with no need to kill or otherwise remove the responsible adults. I never lived in a place like this or did what Astrid did, but I still felt this was a return to my childhood.

And I cried when reading the piece about Astrid’s aunts.

Maria Parr, Astrid the Unstoppable

‘Astrid thought that God must have been having a good day when he made her aunties.

“Today I’m going to come up with a surprise,” said God, and then he started putting together an auntie.

He made her skinny and freckly, and decided that she would crumple up like a concertina when she laughed. Then he stuffed her full of noise. He’d never put so much noise in an aunt before, Astrid thought. God decided that she would like everything that was funny, everything that made loud bangs, and everything that moved fast. When he’d finished, he took a step back and looked at that aunt. He’d never seen anything like her. He was so pleased with her that he decided to make another, so by the end of the day, God had made two aunts who looked exactly the same. To put the icing on the cake, he took an extra fistful of freckles from his freckle bowl and sprinkled them all over both of them, especially on their knees.

“Knee freckles are my favourite thing,” said God.’

(Beautifully translated by Guy Puzey)


Thief of Time

I can’t claim to have understood what Terry Pratchett wanted to tell me in Thief of Time. But it’s as fun and entertaining as any other Discworld novel, choc-a-bloc with deep, if obvious, thoughts about life and all the rest. And there are some good quotes.

Terry Pratchett, Thief of Time

I too like to consider myself as ‘one who was slightly intellectual.’ I also practise what Lu-Tze, the Sweeper, does, in becoming invisible because you are just so lowly and boring that no one sees you. I don’t sweep, however. That’s too much work.

There are monks and there is cherry blossom. Chocolate, even when life brings you nougat. I know that feeling.

Terry obviously thought up some deft moves between different times, and some of his characters are, if possible, even odder than usual. Lu-Tze’s apprentice Lobsang is at the more normal end, and I’ve always liked Death’s granddaughter Susan. The character who looks like a ‘society lady who had just had a really bad day in a threshing machine’ is a masterpiece, developing in an interesting way through the book.

When your reading life feels as if something is missing, it’s good to have Terry and his world to go back to.

Actually, I might sweep a little after all.

We know that!

I love Tim Dowling. I just had to mention this. His column in the Guardian Weekend ten days ago was almost like a re-run of Daughter’s attempts with her pub quiz book and me.

Parents are amazing! Especially so since their children appear to have little, or no, concept of what makes for relevant knowledge.

At last Tim was able to show his sons what he’s made of! (Mostly old sitcoms, it seems.)

I know very little about some areas of pub quiz terrain. I don’t mind this. But how Daughter could believe, even for a minute, that the Resident IT Consultant or I would know 1980s pop music is incomprehensible. We’re ancient!

But ‘What is the name of the pub in Emmerdale?’ is a different kettle of fish. I’ve not even heard of many later television shows/soaps, let alone would know who’s in them. It’s just not important.

‘The Woolpack,’ I replied.

‘How the **** do you know that???’

Honestly. Children.

Fun on the radio

What you want to do now is to put your feet up and listen to the radio.

On Boxing Day (that was yesterday) there was a programme about [Badger] The Mystical Mutt on Radio Scotland. It was really about Lyn McNicol and Laura Jackson, who are the two slightly crazy women who are Badger, and who travel tirelessly around Scotland and beyond to bring their very large dog into schools to teach and entertain.

I’ve still to catch them in the act, but the books I’ve read have been fun, as are Lyn and Laura.

You have another four weeks during which you can listen to this online, or if you get up early on New Year’s Day you can hear the programme on the radio.

And today on the Today programme, you can hear Prince Harry interview Barack Obama. That could almost be worth getting up early for.

I’m not much of a radio listener, but I might take up my own suggestions here.

That’s the question

How to explain the Carry On films to a young person? It didn’t go well. I’m just hoping it won’t be necessary to actually watch one in order to educate Daughter further. They are older even than those bands she thought were old and that the parents would know in the pub quiz book. (1980s pop…) As if.

On Christmas Eve morning we went out for elevenses. Or rather, Daughter drove her elderly people to somewhere nice – even if the place had run out of fruit loaf – yesterday morning, and the Resident IT Consultant discovered what it’s like to be a passenger with opinions on whether the driver has seen that other car over there, or not. You know, when you go ‘arghhhhhhh’ from the back seat. That’s never popular. (And she drove just fine.)

Back home again, whenever we had a quiet moment the quiz books came out. You learn a lot and you forget even more.

As you can’t ever have too many quizzes, we watched the Christmas University Challenge. This would have been easier had we known it was on over two hours earlier in Scotland… But what a great team Frank Cottrell Boyce was on! He wasn’t captain, but he seemed to know more than the rest. And they introduced him as a children’s author, which warmed my heart.

While we waited for Paxman & Co to turn up, we watched A Muppet Christmas Carol. It had been a long time. So long that Daughter was amazed that she didn’t freak out [more] in the past. It is a little scary in places, and I had not realised that the ghost of Christmas future was a dementor. Unless it’s the other way round.

As for the presents, I gave the Resident IT Consultant a nice book about railway stations which I really wanted to read. He gave me what I’d asked for, which was Philip Pullman on essay writing and an old Terry Pratchett novel. A Moomin mug and a Bookwitch mug completed the booky gifts.

There was a new mouse, too. This scares me somewhat.

The ones I enjoyed the most

It suddenly struck me that perhaps it’s unwise to say anything about best books. Because this time of year I usually list the ones I liked the most, which isn’t the same thing.

And by the time December rolls round I often despair. Yes, I remember that marvellous book I read recently. This year that was La Belle Sauvage. Because it was recent. Longer ago and my memory blacks out, in much the same way as when someone asks what I did at the weekend…

No need to worry though. Out of the 137 books (2017 wasn’t the best year for finding reading time), the twelve that emerged more victorious than the rest, were closely followed by quite a few other excellent contenders.

Best of 2017

I’ve not picked a best of all, nor am I doing the alphabetical order.

Elizabeth Wein, The Pearl Thief

Sally Gardner, My Side of the Diamond

LA Weatherly, Black Moon

Joan Lennon, Walking Mountain

Michael Grant, Silver Stars

Joanna Nadin, The Incredible Billy Wild

Anthony McGowan, Rook

Phil Earle, Mind the Gap

Jakob Wegelius, The Murderer’s Ape

Hilary McKay’s Fairy Tales

Patrick Ness, Release

Philip Pullman, La Belle Sauvage

And as you can see, the 2017 colour for book covers is primarily black with some blue and teal. Rather like last year, in fact. I appear to have picked six women and six men, which feels nice and equal.

There is only one translated book, but there are two dyslexia friendly books, plus one prequel, one equel, one end of a trilogy and one middle of a trilogy. And two Scottish books. All good.

Books like these are what makes it all worth it.

Eating the stale bread

You can’t mention Dave Allen’s stale bread too many times. It’s good enough to bring up again (the sketch, not the bread), which is why I’m doing so. (The idea that you can’t have today’s freshly baked bread until you’ve eaten the stale bread, and then tomorrow you…)

Usually at this time of year I plan what I will read over Christmas. I might have one or two really special books, and I decide that reading them will be my Christmas present to myself.

And every year I remember – too late – that I never have time to read, between getting food onto the table and taking it off again, and the odd other bit of household chore. The kind that’s quicker to do yourself than to ask someone to help you with.

So right now I’m reading a Christmas book. There are more than two weeks left, and whereas I’ve made no preparations at all, I’ve been feeling slightly off-colour, so am permitting myself to read.

It’s the one that arrived last week, but isn’t published until May next year, and it was either read it now or find that it has to be hurriedly done in five month’s time. Because somehow Christmas, the tables and fifty other books got in between me and it.

And, well, I reckon we can always buy food instead of cooking. Had a quick look online. Sainsbury’s believe party food is a packet of crisps, and Marks & Spencer had the most divine looking canapés [almost] ever. It’ll be a hard choice.

I know. I’ll be making them myself. But one can dream a little.