Monthly Archives: March 2012

Unappeeling

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I fully intended my next blog to be about my lovely Tuesday with the Surrey Libraries Children’s Book Festival: the adorable children of Ash and Frimley Green; Gillian my brilliant assistant; the boy who farted in the middle of my Animal Antics slide show; the child who asked, after my frankly hilarious presentation on The Clumsy Monkey: “Do you write any funny books?” But those delights will have to wait, as I have yet to be sent the photos by the kind teachers filming the occasions.

In the meantime, I invite you to enter the strange world of last night’s Peel Raffle Evening. Yes! A peel was being raffled! As if the evening out in a strange new place, free wine and grapes weren’t enough!

Imagine my disappointment as, instead of a bun fight over a nice zesty piece of mandarin, I was asked to put my name into a hat and wait in ghastly suspense to be told whether I’d won the right to have my face painted with acid and the surface of my 41-year-old skin burned away to reveal more 41-year-old skin underneath.

Now I’m down with the world of cosmetic surgery. I watched and enjoyed Footballers’ Wives. I once stood in the gateway of Dunstanburgh Castle while a force 8 gale blew my features into unrecognisable shapes. But being asked to partake was a whole new thing. I put my name in the hat (it was free, and although the wine was Chardonnay it only seemed polite) and prayed as I’ve never prayed before.

Oh, thank all the little Shetland ponies that gambol through the tussocky hills of Lerwick: the honour went to someone else. Now the writer in me could relax, stand on its hind legs and bay with joy at the magnificence of this material. The face of the salon owner looked like a waxed apple on the shelf at Waitrose. Her billowy orange chiffon assistant was as charming and expressionless as a freshly laid egg. The most beautiful woman there had no boobs, flat shoes and short grey hair. I learned that we over-exercise our faces in unforgivable ways. I discovered that if your muscles find themselves unable to frown, you actually can’t feel sad. I envisioned tiny skin gardeners pushing huge derma-rollers up and down crepey cleavages to create the kind of surface to make a spin-bowler weep. I rolled in unmentionable cheek-fillers like a happy dog. And I am refreshed, invigorated and utterly thrilled to think that I will never do any of these things to myself.

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Animal Antics

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I love a good animal fact, as you may have deduced by my previous interest in herring and their bottoms. Did you know for example that some monkeys burp at their friends for fun? Or that seals can sleep underwater? I discovered these when researching my ANIMAL ANTICS series for Stripes. The life of a children’s author is not all jokes, jokes, jokes you know.

Today I dusted off my colouring pens, stuck my tongue out of the side of my mouth to aid concentration, and test-drove my first Pongo mask in anticipation of two events at Ash and Frimley Green libraries next week, part of the Surrey Libraries Children’s Book Festival. As polar bears have transparent fur – another magnificent animal fact with which to wow your friends – I felt Pongo wouldn’t object to going multi-coloured. The effect is tremendous. Thank you VERY MUCH to Tom and the designers at Stripes. As Sunny the Singing Sheep (she’s a bleatboxing lamb, actually) would say:

To-om, drumma-drumma-drumma drum / Oh To-om, drumma-drumma drum drum / You is well drumma-drumma-drumma drum / Da bo-omb drumma-drumma drum drum

Morris The Clumsy Monkey will also be joining in the fun with Pongo and Sunny on Tuesday. The effect of thirty little Pongo / Morris / Sunnys is going to be unbelievably cute. Check out this last event for Pepper the Potty Penguin. ADORABLE!

Trump ‘n’ chips

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The Ig Nobel prize is awarded about a week prior to its more earnest and important Nobel cousin, to reward scientific research which fulfils that very thing which much of science fails to address: making people laugh.

I’ve never been one for laughing at science, as I’m too much in awe of all the binary code, genetic programming and brain-exploding universal theories. But I can appreciate the need for research into fish flatulence. So I thank you – Dr Bob Batty, Dr Ben Wilson, Professor Larry Dill and your assorted research assistants – for bringing this to public attention in your recent lecture at Dundee University.

Farting in company holds many horrors for humankind. The opposite appears to be true for herring. The British/Canadian team monitored these fine fish through the night with infrared cameras and underwater microphones, and Dr Batty revealed the following:

We heard these rasping noises, which sound like high pitched raspberries, only ever at night, whenever we saw tiny gas bubbles coming from the herrings’ bottoms.

And a further observational nugget from Dr Wilson:

We also noticed that individual fish release more bubbles the more fish are in the tank with them. In other words it seems that herring like to fart in company.

 I’m with the herring on this one, especially in the confines of a car in the early stages of the school run. Perhaps you can tell why I’m in my particular line of work.

 

“O Fazio!”

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Ah, Italia. Land of tomatoes and hair gel, Caravaggio and cobbles, gelato and alleyways smelling of wee. It’s on my mind at the moment. This can partly be blamed on the children’s book fair junket taking place in Bologna this week (where hopefully my books are going down a storm), and partly on last night’s viewing of BBC4’s Inspector Montalbano on iPlayer. I am now intermittently muttering “Ecco-la!” and “Fazio!” around the house and fighting the urge to get operatic with the washing machine, which has sprung a leak.

Ecco-la!” means “Look at that female object!” I’m not employing it to draw attention to anything female or otherwise; it just bursts out of me like water from an ill-fitting garden hose when I’m making tea or checking my emails and fills me with vigour and purpose. The experience is highly recommended.

Fazio – or more accurately, Fazio! – is Inspector Montalbano’s sergeant, constantly summoned down the airy corridors of the Vigata police station with magnificent emphasis thus. The quality Montalbano imparts to the “Fa” part of “Fazio!” is as bright as gold and summarises everything that’s beautiful about the language.

Another reason for watching Inspector Montalbano is balcony envy. A moment of reverential silencio, please.

Buona fortuna to all in Bologna this week. And if you make me rich and famous enough to get a balcony like this one day, so much the better.

Beware the Egg Boxes of March

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May the more superstitious among you strike me down, but there’s something amusing about fearing a day which (in my experience at least) is more often full of birdsong and the first wash of the year drying on the outside line, than Roman senators draped in crimson and clutching daggers and skulking behind the back of the sofa. The only real danger in this house lies with the so-called secret Mothering Sunday cards (made of egg boxes painted yellow and bearing a pleasing resemblance to daffodils) drying on the boiler and being guarded most savagely by my children. “Don’t you DARE look on the boiler, Mummy, or Junius Brutus will stab you from behind and have a special coin stamped in his honour and spawn a host of films starring James Mason.”

Junius. Junius Brutus. The son of Marcus Junius and Tarquinia and the nephew of Tarquin. When his father and elder brother were murdered by Tarquin the Proud (Tarquinius Superbus), he feigned insanity, thereby saving his life, and was called Brutus for his apparent stupidity.

Well! The world’s most famous assassin was called Stupid! Perhaps the unfortunate murder of Julius Caesar in 44BC was all a terrible misunderstanding. Caesar: Come and talk with me a while, Stupid. Brutus: WHO ARE YOU CALLING STUPID?

Fish food for thought

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We have acquired fish. Real live ones. There’s a lemon goldfish, an orange comet and a black moor now swimming happily on top of the chest-of-drawers in the boys’ room. Their names are Timothy, Allan and Sonic.

That assortment of names brings all manner of things to mind. Things that one doesn’t normally associate with living, swimming fish. Three men in a pub seems to be the front runner. Timothy and Allan have known each other for several years and are members of the same Angling Club. Sonic is a relative newcomer, whose attempts to blend in are hampered by his odd, boggly eyes and somewhat conspicuous name. I can hear the conversation now.

Timothy: Catch the game on Sunday?

Allan: No hands, mate. Just fins. Not catching much, to be honest. Pint?

Timothy: Lovely, son. Water for me.

Sonic (late and gasping): All right, lads. What are we drinking?

Timothy: What are you, an alien from Betelgeuse Seven?

I wrote a book about a fish once. It was a marvellously named Flame Angel, and was stolen from the SeaLife Centre in a fictitious US coastal state, snatched from the company of fellow water-dwellers with equally fabulous names: peacock wrasses, teardrop butterflies, turbo snails. I’m pleased to report that the fish was returned safe and well and wet by the end of the story. (The book was called VANISHING POINT, and was part of a series called The Pet Finders Club, in case you’re interested.)

I’ve liked fish ever since. They are lovely to watch, gentle and soothing and shiny. OK, Sonic is more amusing than shiny. I hope Timothy and Allan are being kind, and not muttering darkly about foreign weirdos taking all the jobs in the tank. Apparently, black moors can live up to twenty-five years, so perhaps Sonic will have the last fish flake in the end. (Assuming Crumble doesn’t eat him first.)

Jumble-icious

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Pop the goodies on the trestle, / Don’t you think this lovely dress’ll / Find a home as soon as Lynn / Lets the plastic baggers in? / What’s the entrance fee we’re charging?/ Got to stop them all from barging / Past the nearly newish rack / Straight towards the bric-a-brac.

Jumble sales. Jumbling to those in the know. It’s like being a millionaire with a gold credit card. I’ll take that, and that. Maybe even that, despite the crackling manmade fibres. Oh, I’m so buying that full-length velour ball gown. And I know I’ll give the asymmetrical jumper a go even though I’m not entirely sure which way is up. Put your elbows and your capacious flat-bottomed shopper away, Madam. I saw the embroidered biker jacket first.

Now they’ve formed a decent queue, / Pull the bolt back, let them through! / Ready with your plastic tubs, / Guard those raffle-ticket stubs, / Here’s a lovely summer two-piece, / Child’s pyjamas stamped with Snoopys, / Janet Reger, I declare! / (Doesn’t seem to be much there.)

No other retail experience comes close. We’re talking armfuls. We’re talking endless plastic bags filled to the brim. A blissful half an hour of trying things on back at home, weeping with laughter and gasping with delight, sorting out what to keep and what to pass on to next week’s Scouts event. Best buy of the day: the dress which shall henceforth be known as Princess Margaret 1976. Elmoor of London, it says on the label. Elmoor. It speaks of tweed, smoky coffee houses, talcum powder and Bri-Nylon. It’s time-travel boiled into a frock. If I’m not invited to a vintage garden party very soon, I shall have to host one.

Truffle hunt among the blouses, / 20p? You’re safe as houses, / Not a waste of cash, I swear it, / If you never get to wear it. / Love the Pierrot lustreware! / Got to have a bust to wear / This trouser-suit, it’s cut so low / (It once was mine, I ought to know).

Bric-a-brac has never appealed as much as those mountains of over-washed jumpers, the long collars on psychedelic drip-dry shirts, the rail of bling-button Jaeger suits, the occasional item which produces a mystified silence followed by: “Oh well, I’ll buy it anyway and find out what it is when I get it home.” In the world of jumbling there’s no such thing as buyer’s remorse.

Have a cuppa now we’re done. / Wasn’t that a lot of fun? / Take a slice of lardy cake. / Hope I never have to bake / Another batch of home-made scones, / They weren’t as good as dear Yvonne’s.

Off to dance the night away with Lord Lichfield now. But before I put on my dancing slippers, I must alert you to my guest blog slot on the lovely Girls Heart Books tomorrow, March 12. www.girlsheartbooks.com. And there will be giveaways of WILD #1: TIGER TROUBLE. See you there!

Time to parcel up what’s left, / Village hall looks quite bereft, What’s this object lying here? / Absolutely no idea.