Sunday, 27 April 2014

grown up book diversions

I am, like all the best heroes of children's literature, an orphan. It's not quite the same thing. I'm 42 years old and everyone should be an orphan eventually, unless the natural order of things has gone horribly wrong somewhere. Still, most people get their parents around for longer perhaps.
My father died at a ripe-ish (but not quite ripe enough) age when I was pregnant with number one Fellow Reviewer. It would have been his 87th birthday on Friday. A day I was happy to celebrate. I raised my glass to the sky; though it didn't contain the whisky he would have chosen himself. He seemed quite close by.
It doesn't need to be his birthday for me to think of him of course. Every night when I read to the boys I find echoes of his voice and mannerisms in my own, whether its an old classic he shared too or something new. It's one of my (many) pleasures in reading aloud- finding myself following a well worn, familiar groove. An act of and active remembrance.

My mother died at a not-ripe-at-all age and when I was 12. That is sad and unfair and not right. But it is also a simple fact that I live with day to day without intrusive sorrow. Remembering her properly can feel trickier. Particularly having a sense of her as a grown up person that I might have had a grown up relationship with rather than "just" a mother.
This week I have been discovering the delights of reading Barbara Pym and a side benefit of that is a sudden joyful sense of following my mother's literary legacy in a new direction and finding her sitting surprisingly close at my shoulder too. I'd forgotten how much our tastes marry. I should have twigged and looked up Barbara earlier. She was always waiting next on the list.

My shared-heart book inheritance from my mother started with Gwynneth Rae's Mary Plain, continued with Noel Streatfeild (my mother knew her a little and I still have some of her personally signed copies-swank-) and then progressed after her death to her extensive Georgette Heyer collection- the first of these handed to me by my canny pa when I was a teenager ill with the flu. And to be honest it is with the peerless Georgette that I have stayed happily for the last 30 years, cycling through them on a yearly or so basis whenever I need to be sure of reading pleasure. Blissfully funny and well crafted Regency romance as comforting and satisfying as a mug of hot chocolate with cream.

If I picture my mother's bedroom bookshelf; her personal ledge of soothing treasures, I can also see the Barbara Pym novels all there in a line. I'm pretty sure I plucked one out as a teenager and gave it a go before abandoning it unable to see the point of all the spinsters and church. It would have all seemed too old and unromantic.
Now I AM old and unromantic I am obviously ready for them. They have been making me snort with laughter like no new-to-me book has for years. Today I wallowed in a bath reading the second half of 'No Fond Return of Love' and every page had perfect lines that would have made me score them with highlighter pen were I bonkers in that particular way. The world of limited gentility they're set in has gone of course but proves quite as pleasurable as the Regency to visit. And a reminder of what a boon social media has been to those of us with gossipy stalkerish habits who no longer have to endure a decaying seaside resort holiday to assuage our curiousity.

'An elderly man with an Aberdeen terrier passed them. "It must be strange to live at the seaside all the year round," Viola observed. "Look- there's the hotel I was thinking of- The Bristol..Shall we go in?"
"Yes, but let's peer first," said Dulcie. "This is the dining room, obviously."
A middle-aged couple, looking like people in an advertisement- she in pearls and a silver fox cape over a black dress, he in a dark suit- sat at a table in the window. A waiter bent over them- 'deferentially', Dulcie supposed, helping them to some fish- turbot, surely? Its white flesh was exposed before them. How near to the heart of things it seemed!'

Back to the children's books after this but just wanted to say thank you Barbara Pym- and welcome to the bedside shelf; Georgette and PG are shuffling along to make space for you. And also; hello and nice to laugh with you grown up Mummy.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

The Story Museum

Last week we went on our Easter holidays and, appropriately enough, trotted in the footsteps of our namesake by choosing to spend a few days moving a canal boat through water. Whilst alas, not by means of genuine little wooden horse power; even by diesel engine it was a soothing way to see a very small amount of world move past very slowly.

We had four days of this-
Before setting off the Fellow Reviewers found a copy of the World Wrestling Federation Annual 2011 on the borrowing shelves of the canal boat offices. They both pored over every detail of this find and found it most improving holiday reading. If you want to know the record of The Undertaker versus (sic) Sheamus as of four years ago, they're now your go-to guys.
It also inspired a fair amount of this from alter egos Shucks and Mr Chuckalot-
(insert your own wrestling commentary/screams)
Anyway. This whole holiday, lovely though it was, was ACTUALLY a thinly veiled excuse to get my family positioned in the general Oxford area so that on the way home we could visit the newly opened Story Museum.

I'd been eager as any beaver waiting for this place to open properly. It's hosted the odd event in the last year or so as it was being transformed but '26 Characters' is its first 'proper' exhibition. Twenty-six UK authors and illustrators have been photographed dressed as a character that inspired them as a child. Each photo has then been put in its own story space with props and teasers from the character's book, along with an audio reading and interview.

I'm not clear what the building was before being reincarnated as a space devoted to inspiring story love. Whatever it was it's still a magical rabbit warren full of twists and turns and secret rooms. The transformation is also clearly very much a work in progress; bare bricks and exposed ceilings and the remains of an old canteen kitchen mean that the building itself feels a story. Our exploration had the air of an adventure- with genuine uncertainty about which way to go next or what we'd find round each corner. It's an exciting building.

We all loved the exhibition; highlights including the unexpected discovery of Narnia, brewing tea on a stove with Badger and illicit peeking at what Borrowers watch on telly. Eddie was very taken with all the beds on offer and spent a long time luxuriating amongst the vines in King of all Wild Things, Max's before some pretty vigorous bouncing on Mary Poppins's. I hope she'd approve. Participation is invited; we rode on the White Witch's sleigh (being careful not to take any Turkish Delight) and threw water over the Wicked Witch. We also all wrote our birth details on parcel tags in case we should be left in a station handbag on the way home.
E makes himself at home

spying on Pod and Arrietty
Our favourite thing of all though was, what I assume to be a permanent feature; the dressing up room with announcing throne. This is SO clever and SO much fun we could have spent a whole day hogging it. It's a simple idea that works brilliantly. They have a row of really proper old school dressing up stuff- by which I mean not ready-made child sized costumes but loads of weird old coats, cloaks, hats, masks and dresses so you can really spiral off in mad sartorial directions. Then they have these boards where you select a title and a thing and a place and slot the words in and walk up a red carpet holding your selection. By some total MAGIC these are read and announced with really proper pomp and ceremony and trumpets when you sit on the throne. It's the biggest ego boost I have ever experienced. I would like one in my kitchen to be honest. We had a LOT of goes. Even penguin.

You can find out more about The Story Museum and the exhibition here- and listen to the authors talking about their choices. But really this Fiendish Monkey of the Future commands you just go. It's excellent.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

The Top Secret Diary of Pig

A momentous day for the Little Wooden Horse. It's time to let the fellow reviewers TAKE OVER. A bit anyway. Here's Bill's very first, own typed review for Emer Stamp's 'Top Secret Diary of Pig', which he grabbed to re-read for the second time today as a little light relief from the harder work of book 4 of Skulduggery Pleasant.

"It is about a Pig that speaks slang and lives on a farm which is run by a hungry farmer and his wife.Pig has a friend called duck and funnily enough he`s a duck.Next door to Pig are the chicken`s though Pig calls them Evil chicken`s.I like this book because it`s funny and full of poo."

There you go. Goodness; suddenly realise how pointlessly verbose I've been all this time. Nothing much to add to that except to say pig's adventures and his enforced spaceflight, also made me giggle; despite the fact  it is REALLY full of poo. A good, silly choice for those who want their farts with heart.

There was a great tutorial by Emer Stamp on how to draw all those 'Evil chicken's' in yesterday's Guardian.

'The Unbelievable Top Secret Diary of pig' by Emer Stamp, pub Scholastic isbn. 978-1407136370

Thanks to Scholastic for a Review copy many moons ago.  Bill's decision to review and his opinions are his own.