Hobnobbing with the Pope

Not me. Anthony McGowan, if he’s to be trusted. But why* shouldn’t this cricket-mad slightly crazy children’s author socialise with the Pope?

He’s also much nicer and kinder than he tries to make himself out to be. Tony, that is, not the Pope.

Anthony McGowan

It was the cricket I really wanted to hear about. Any author can talk books and writing, but not all live for their cricket quite like Tony does. His whole being lit up when I pushed him onto his favourite topic.

So here is he – finally – talking about the Pope, teachers as role models and getting wrecked in Vienna with the new children’s laureate. Not bad at all for a working class northern kid.

*It seems he didn’t. I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that. Read that email, I mean. Anyway, he was close, and so was I.

The graduate (2)

Graduation St Andrews

Four years ago I wished for a pause in this graduation business, and I’d be an ungrateful parent to grumble now. Anyway, the second Offspring graduated yesterday and we went along to enjoy some typical British June weather and a bit of gown and town.

Four years ago I had a photographer taking photos. This time I had myself, and the results are not quite in the same ballpark. But at least I can show you a whirlwind being applauded by none other than Dr Vinton G Cerf, Vice President of Google. And she is my whirlwind. So there.

Graduation St Andrews - Vinton G Cerf and whirlwind

Some other subject will get Neil Gaiman this week, as their Honorary Doctor of something or other. But in fairness, on any average day in the life of the Bookwitch, I Google much more than I Gaiman, so I think it was appropriate that St Andrews made one more Honorary Doctor of Dr Cerf. Besides, thinking about his accomplishments, they are actually pretty admirable. He had been a bit disconcerted when told about the capping and hooding that would happen, but discovered it was all quite innocent.

Graduation St Andrews - Professor Aaron Quigley

And both the Professors of Computer Science who spoke did so briefly and interestingly, for which I thank them. The Principal and Vice-Chancellor (they are one and the same) Professor Louise Richardson did all of the capping, processing in the region of 200-300 new Bachelors, Masters and Doctors. The Dean of Science, Professor Alan Dearle, heroically spoke nearly every name correctly, and managed most of the titles for the theses as well (and some of them were outlandishly long and complicated).

The St Salvator’s Chapel Choir sang rather nicely, both before and after the ceremony.

Graduation St Andrews

Once we were done, we trooped into the Quad for some mingling and photo opportunities and lots of hugging. When it was time to go into the Garden Party the Resident IT Consultant gallantly sacrificed himself and let the ladies use the three allotted tickets. So he never saw the dainty Buckingham Palace style cakes. (Just as well, really.)

Met Birdie’s mother, who sported a very trendy Berså brooch, but I was too polite to mention I have the full dinner set… And as I said, we sat out in the cold, enjoying our little cakes, wondering why our warm clothes were in the car, but blessing the fact that it didn’t rain as forecast.

It was also good to finally meet the ‘teachers’ and more of Daughter’s classmates, since at this stage it is the kind of thing you don’t do much. Very good of the department to offer a light lunch beforehand. I’d be more than happy to return for more tropical cake another year.

A special witchy thanks to Dr Bruce Sinclair. Not so much for the cake, as for [only] doing his job so well and really making a difference.

At the World’s End

At the World’s End by Catherine Fisher is a short, but intense, book.

Catherine Fisher, At the World's End

Set in the near future, something dreadful has happened, and 14-year-old Caz is one of a few survivors who took refuge in a shop when whatever it was happened, and she has lived there for nine years. They believe the air outside is not safe and it’s so cold no one can survive.

But how can you be sure?

Caz and her friend Will are the next sacrifices to be sent out there, when food gets – even more – scarce.

You are literally on your toes as you read, and with a title like this, I wasn’t sure how gruesome an end it was possible to go for.

Read, and you will find out.

Carnegie medal for Tanya Landman

Three months ago I said I’d be rooting for Tanya Landman and her Buffalo Soldier to win the Carnegie medal. And what good rooting that must have been! Yesterday Tanya did win and I’m very, very pleased. For her. Not because I was right. Although I do like being right.

Tanya Landman, Buffalo Soldier

It’s not surprising, as this was the book so many of her peers were enthusing about on social media. This does happen for some books every now and then, but in Tanya’s case I felt the admiration was more widespread than usual.

Buffalo Soldier is about a recently freed female slave, who dresses as a man and becomes a soldier in the American Civil War. It’s a hard life, and it’s a hard book, but it is truly wonderful and I can thoroughly recommend it.

(Strangely enough I’m just now reading another book set in the same period and in a similar place, so I’m guessing I sensed it was time to return to this war and to the slavery issues.)

Congratulations, Tanya!

Manchester Children’s Book Festival 2015

Oh, how I miss them! That’s Draper and Tew, of the Manchester Children’s Book Festival. They – and their festival – could almost have made me not move away. And as soon as I moved, they decided they could just drink lots more coffee and they’d be able to put up a festival every year.

Kaye Tew

Hmph! It’s too late to move back. However, I will make it there before this year’s festival is over. I will, I will.

Unfortunately, I will also have to miss a lot of good stuff before I get there. Like Liz Kessler launching her Read Me Like a Book, again. This time in the company of none other than Carol Ann Duffy. That could actually be quite good.

Did I mention it starts on Friday this week, on the 26th? Before that they have some trailblazers during the next few days. On Saturday 27th it’s the Family Fun Day, with Steve Hartley, Ruth Fitzgerald and Matt Brown.

More bookish events on the Sunday, before the Monday 29th Liz Kessler event. During the week there will be lots to do, including Alex Wheatle, Alex Scarrow and Sam & Mark, who I don’t know at all, but understand I should know…

Then we have the poetry weekend 4th and 5th July, when Mandy Coe will simultaneously be at two local bookshops (as if I believe that!). Meanwhile at the library and at Waterstones more poetry will be flowing, and James Dawson, the reigning Queen of Teen, will appear on Saturday afternoon.

James Draper

I have probably missed something off, but that’s because I’m missing Kaye and James. And you won’t mind me posting ‘library’ photos of them from last year, because it’s all I have, and anyway, they will be needing that coffee. I think I might label the last photo James and the Giant Coffee. That’s literary enough.

Forget about the red carpet; and just put a reserved sign on the chair at the back, please.

Anglaise

It was the fact that the Swiss HR person had made Daughter anglaise (and she sort of is, half) that influenced me. The first thing we saw as we exited Geneva railway station (after a free – yes – train ride from the airport, on a journey that was almost shorter than the three language announcement for passengers) was a red double decker bus parked across the road. The old style kind, which makes me think of London, which made me say ‘look, an English bus!’

The anglaise Offspring has better eyesight, so she laughed and pointed out that it wasn’t. ‘Can’t you see what the sign says?’ So, this was a double decker – once – bound for Falkirk. Via Kilsyth.

Muppets go to Kilsyth

Once we’d turned in the right direction, we found our hotel, a little bit too uphill for tired and hot witches, but fine when we got there. The (probably Ukrainian) receptionist spoke Swedish, as well as English and French. Naturally. At breakfast the waiters switched effortlessly into English, as did the cleaner. The taxi driver, who was clearly some kind of foreign, immediately rescued us non-French speakers with perfect English. Swiss enough to give another driver the finger, but otherwise most polite.

The places we had our meals in all served us in English (didn’t think to try Swedish). I know, we should have tried harder, and I will, once I know the French for cone. The elderly lady on the short train journey bid us adieu, whereas the chap in Migros said au revoir, and maybe he will, one day.

While Daughter sorted out her anglaise-ness with HR, I walked around town, only resting twice in the English church; once out and once on the way back. I rested some more in the English park, with nice views of the lake.

Lake Geneva

Don’t misunderstand me; I maintain my love for the UK, for the people, the weather and the food. I don’t mind if the British don’t daily switch between five languages. But I mind going to London hotels and being served by people who don’t actually understand English.

It’s just unfortunate that ten years ago I asked Daughter’s school to excuse her from learning French. It was the right request to make at the time, but now it would have been convenient with some basic French knowledge.

I like the orderliness of every balcony in a block of flats having the same colour and pattern awnings. And I might just advise Daughter against the flats for rent in the red light district. The area had seemed ideal, until we walked round and found rather more than we had bargained for.

We’ll see how it goes. The talking, the flat-hunting, and all that. But at least at Migros they have self-checkouts where you don’t suffer from unexpected items in bagging area. It worked so fast and efficiently that even I might try it one day. If it’s au revoir.

A little learning never hurt anyone

Bon jour!

I have come to the realisation that I may have to learn French. After all these years.

This paltry blog post and my language musings come to you courtesy of 36 hours in Geneva and very little sleep. I was requested by Daughter to accompany her there, when she went to do a little recce, as it seems she might spend the next few years there. And reccing is better done in company.

I recced a little extra while she met with important people out near the French border. The kind of place where your mobile phone believes it is in France. I got to go and look at the nice parks where you can sit in the shade of the trees, staring out across the waters of the lake. Where you can maybe have some ice cream while doing so.

In which case it helps to know if you want that ice cream in a hmm or a hmm. By default I ended up with a cone, as it seemed clear(-ish) I didn’t want the ‘other thing.’ It’s interesting being like an immigrant again, but in a situation where you don’t speak the language.

It is of course possible to speak Swedish. You can say adjö and trottoar and toalett and you’ll be quite right. But I might want to learn to string those very useful words together, to make sentences. To make sense.

This post was brought to you by Hot in Geneva.

Merci.