Tag Archives: humorous novels

Out of the mouths of babes and … budgies.

I’m posting by special request this week, I mentioned my grandfather, my father’s father, in a post on a forum and was asked if I’d say a bit more about him so, fresh from Setting Tripwires for Granny, here is a little bit about him …

Gin-Gin was my father’s father, StJohn Bell (Gin-Gin is pronounced exactly like it’s written, as if someone’s saying the name of the drink, twice. Much like his name, StJohn—which is actually pronounced sin-gin—and indeed, that’s probably where Gin-Gin came from). He was a larger than life character, I think he worked for the Sun Alliance, was chairman of the district council and was full of life. He was always laughing and he had a gold tooth which could catch the light when he smiled. He was known for his draconianly right wing views. That said, despite views which, in those days, put him firmly on the right with Norman Tebbit and company towards the lunatic fringe of the Conservative Party, he would probably be standing a little to the left of centre in the modern version such is the gargantuan crazy-quotient in both that party and politics these days. 

Gin-Gin had white hair which, like my father’s and my oldest uncle’s receded very slowly from the age of about thirty – it never totally disappeared. He had a hooked patrician nose, very bushy eyebrows, underneath which sat a pair of green/blue (I think) twinkly eyes, a ready (and extremely loud) laugh and as I mentioned one gold tooth, his eye tooth. Yeh, if you’re read my books you’ll know exactly which character is based upon his looks. He had a marked and somewhat subversive sense of humour. Indeed, humour was how he communicated with the world. He was not keen on political correctness, citing it as simply reverse prejudice but I never saw him talk down to anyone, ever. He was a strong character, with a great deal of charm and he communicated with the world through humour. He probably should have been a stand up comedian. If it had been more of a gentleman’s profession, perhaps he would have been. Despite having polar opposite political views to me on many things, I found him very easy to get on with because at his heart, what drove him was a genuine desire to be decent to people and to make the world better for everyone. 

He was sometimes, as he told me once, ‘a very bad man’ (although possibly not as bad as he thought he was) in that he had a sense of the absurd and a very satirical bent to his humour that meant anything he said about other people tended to be a little bit close to the bone. Often it would be because he came uncomfortably close to the truth – albeit a little exaggerated – in his summations of people. He didn’t suffer fools gladly and if he thought you were a fool, or didn’t like you, you’d know. Although you could often change his mind by standing up to him, especially if you used humour.

However, having painted him as a bit of a draconian scary dude, the side of him I saw was jovial, always smiling, quick witted, mercurial, constantly joking and brimming with joi de vivre. I liked him enormously because at the bottom of it all, he was simply a natural rebel, like my dad, and so am I.  

As a child he used to tell me stories about his misspent youth which my mother and father, and possibly Gran-Gran, my grandmother, may well have worried I’d try and replicate. In fact I really didn’t need any encouragement from Gin-Gin to get up to mischief although there are a number of stories which had me in awe as a youngster including one occasion when he talked about his time at Lancing College. Strangely, I had completely forgotten about this one until I read tale of something similar perpetrated at a WW2 RAF base.

The loos at Lancing in my grandfather’s day were somewhat primitive, they were fairly primitive in my day in parts of the school, but we’re talking properly primitive here. In Gin-Gin’s time the school was for boys only so most of the loos were constructed along the same model, urinals one side and then a series of stalls. The stalls were, essentially, one long bench seat with partitions and doors. Underneath the bench seat was a channel in which water was continuously running washing away any bombs as they were dropped, so to speak. This channel was boxed in, so you sat on a box, essentially, with water running beneath you. Gin-Gin went into the upstream cubicle, closest to the wall and locked the door. From his pocket he removed a paper boat then he waited until an opportune time when enough of the other cubicles were full. He gave everyone time to sit down, open their books, newspapers etc and then he set fire to the paper boat, dropped it through the hole in his cubicle and swiftly and silently exited. He listened to the irritated shouts and screams as the boat passed under each bottom in each cubicle on the way down. Then he ran away laughing.

Personally, I’ve always thought that public school is an excellent preparation should you be unfortunate enough to end up in prison at any point, be incarcerated in a lunatic asylum or be compelled to spend your twilight years in an old people’s home. I suspect that when, in later life, Gin-Gin did end up in an old people’s home, his behaviour may have been reminiscent of his behaviour at school.

In his twilight years, Gin-Gin was in a home for quite some time, a place called Pax Hill, just outside Lindfield. He didn’t enjoy it but I’m not sure he’d have enjoyed anywhere, to be honest. It was actually a lovely place, the care workers were intelligent, capable people and they were very good to him. Furthermore, some were blokes, which was important for Gin-Gin as he liked and needed male company. Gin-Gin was partially sighted and had a colostomy which he couldn’t sort out without being able to see. Otherwise, he was pretty much on the ball, whereas, unfortunately the other residents were mostly suffering from forms of dementia.

The home was in a house that had once belonged to a friend of Gin-Gin’s. He told me how it had been filled with very smart sculptures and how the house had been commandeered by the Canadian army during the war. They’d used the sculptures for target practice until a friend who knew some big wig in the British Army got a general to talk to their general and explain that the statues were all quite old, some from the Renaissance, and some genuinely ancient. Canadians were considered a bit rum by the locals throughout the area for some time afterwards! Anyway, there was a sitting room downstairs where we used to sit with Gin-Gin and in said sitting room was a budgrigar in a cage. The more mobile of the daft old ladies used to come and coo over it so it was clearly a source of great comfort. Some of them were rather syrupy about their interactions with said bugie and Gin-Gin found it all a bit toe curling. So he decided to do something about it. 

One day I was visiting him and as we sat there one of the little old dears came to talk to the bird. I’ve no idea what her name was but her husband was called Ambrose and had been a priest and she talked about him a lot, lauding his many holy, kindly and generally wonderful attributes. Gin-Gin found her a bit Holier Than Thou. Perhaps she was just high-minded in that way that believes laughter and humour are somewhat disrespectful, not to mention a bit of a waste of time; time that could be used in more weighty and serious pursuits. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that one comes across people like this occasionally, folks with no time for levity. I confess, I try to avoid them as much as possible and I advise you to do the same, but I’m digressing.

As well as not being blessed with much of a sense of humour the lady who had been married to Ambrose was the kind of person who would faint rather than laugh at a knob gag. Gin-Gin was the kind of person who would roar with laughter at a knob gag, Gin Gin liked to laugh full stop and by the time he got into the home his sense of humour was about all he had left. So I suspect the lady disliked his jokes and I suspect that Gin-Gin, knowing she disliked his jokes, was at pains to make more of them whenever she was around. Chalk and cheese, basically.

Some of the lady’s stories about the great goodness of her husband were, Gin-Gin felt, aimed squarely at him in a ‘you’re-a-bad-man-and-my-wonderful-Ambrose-wasn’t’ kind of way maybe he even felt there was a dash of ‘why-are-you-here-when-he’s-gone?’ It may well have been like that but, most likely, she just missed Ambrose and eased her sadness by talking about him. She might even have felt that Gin-Gin and Ambrose would have got on and wished they could have met one another. Who knew. But before long, Gin-Gin had nicknamed her, ‘Relic of the Sainted Ambrose’ Ambrose being her husband about whom she used to wax lyrical.  

One day, she came into the drawing room at the home and started to talk to the budgie while Gin-Gin and I were chatting. There was silence for a moment and then he whispered,

‘Listen to what the bird says.’

So we stopped talking, which, looking back on it, must have made Sainted Ambrose’s Mrs wonder if we were discussing her and must have only fuelled her distrust of my grandfather. She began to chat to the budgie in what, I have to hand it to Gin-Gin, was a pretty nauseating way.

‘Whose a sweet iddy-diddy ickle birdie then.’

That kind of thing.

Gin-Gin rolled his eyes at me. 

‘Gugger,’ said the Budgie. Gin-Gin’s face split into a huge grin and the gold tooth appeared.

‘What was that sweetie?’ asked the old dear.

‘Gugger,’ said the bird.

‘Awww, what are you trying to say sweetie?’ she asked.

‘Gugger,’ said the bird and then it whistled.

After a little more cooing and fussing, and with a daggers look at Gin-Gin, Ambrose’s wife and Relic left.

‘Come on,’ said Gin-Gin and he led me over to the budgie’s cage.

He didn’t have great sight so he felt around for the bars a bit and then gave them a gentle tap and whistled. The bird put his head on one side and whistled back.

‘Who’s a silly little bugger then?’ said Gin-Gin

‘Who’s a silly little gugger then?’ said the bird.

An enormous, mischievous smile spread across Gin-Gin’s face.

‘Bugger!’ he said.

‘Gugger,’ said the bird.

‘That’s right, you’ve nearly got it!’ He turned to me, ‘I’ve taught their bloody budgie to say bugger.’

Guffawing evilly, we returned to our seats.

Later I told Mum and Dad and they started giggling and told me a similar story.

Miss Watson, another lady in the home, the only one Gin-Gin got on well with, happened upon him in the drawing room, standing in front of the cage going, 

‘Bugger! Bugger! Come on! You, can say it! Bugger!’

Stifling her laughter, Miss Watson crept away before he’d noticed her and got the matron, because Miss Watson knew that matron would find the whole thing as funny as she did. Which was true. The matron then passed this on to Mum and Dad remarking that she was very glad the bird couldn’t handle the B sound and the other old ladies seemed to be too innocent to appreciate what it was actually saying. 

My parents and my brother and I reckoned it was a lucky choice of word since if he’d gone for fuck or sod it would probably have managed to repeat him verbatim – even ‘gollocks’ would have been less subtle. 

However, his efforts with the budgie did come back to haunt him eventually. He had also taught it to wolf whistle, something it did very well, and one day, as he sat in one of the comfy chairs, minding his own business, one of the prissier inmates came into the room and the budgie wolf whistled. To Gin-Gin’s horror she rounded on him and accused him of harassing her! Matron was called to intervene and in the end ruffled feathers were smoothed down but only when the budgie wolf whistled again, at a point when it couldn’t possibly have been Gin-Gin. But, poor old boy, his name was mud with the ladies after that, except Miss Watson, with whom he got on well. That said, he probably didn’t care that the ladies didn’t like him. From what I gathered they were a bit stuck up and I got the impression Miss Watson wasn’t that keen on them either. Certainly, she only seemed to chat to Gin-Gin and did her own thing a lot of the time, going for walks or arranging trips out with friends.

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#ComedyBookWeek, two reviews.

Three weeks ago Comedy book week was looming and I wanted to join in but at he same time, looking at my diary, it was patently clear that I didn’t have time to do it justice. So I decided I would read as many books off the list as I could and review them. That’ll be a nice series of posts over the week I thought. And then I read … er hem … two books. But if all the others are as good as these, you will find a fair few new authors to follow and worlds/stories to enjoy.

The Bumpkinton Tales, Volume 1
by Matt Drzymala

Matt Drzymala’s books have been vaguely on my radar for a while. I think he posts in some of the same Goodreads and Facebook groups as me. As someone without much time, I really like short stories so I when I saw this collection featured in Comedy Book Week I downloaded it at once. They’re all based around the imaginary town of Bumpkinton. Here’s the blurb:

bumpkintonTalesWelcome to Bumpkinton!

Come in, have a cup of tea and a scone, and lose yourself in five humorous tales from the village.

Follow Father Whitworth O’Grady as he chokes on a penny, Albert Scatterhorn as he becomes the grubbiest Father Christmas ever, and Amelia Goose as she feuds with… well, anybody. Plus a whole host of characters as they attend the village’s first Singles Night with a sex-crazed ladies’ man.

Jump in and find out more for yourself…

So I did jump in.

First impressions, this kind of reminded me of Barbara Pym in that there’s a wry wit that crops up in the observation from time to time which is reminiscent of hers. The pace is gentle and this book is series of short stories so you can dip in and finish an instalment. For the most part I really liked the characters, and I enjoyed that some were rather trying, just as people in a real life village are. There was a great atmosphere of gossip created and I enjoyed the whole, does he or doesn’t he? thing surrounding a couple of characters and their reported misdemeanours. There’s a fair bit of comic mileage in the total madman in charge of the paper who, basically, just says ‘hello’ to you and then makes up some spurious interview.

However, these stories are much more than a light read. The characters have empathy and depth and you do start to care about them quite quickly, even the ones that are, frankly, a bit grim. There was a point where I almost felt sympathy for the village busybody and found myself hoping that she might find love, or something. We find out how and why she was transformed from a shy bookish girl to nightmare harridan. After I discovered her past I found her just as odious but at the same time, with understanding, came an ability to give her a little slack! And this depth and reality to the characters, and the way we find out little tit bits here and there as the stories proceed, just as we would if we actually lived there and were genuinely getting to know these people, was an excellent touch and really cleverly done. There is an intelligence and subtlety to it that I really liked.

As someone who grew up in a small village and sang in the church choir (for my sins) I did find it slightly unseating, at first, that the priest is Roman Catholic – it’s definitely more Father Ted than Rev in that respect. But if you, too, find that strange, it’s worth persevering because you soon get used to that.

So, all in all, I recommend this. It’s a lovely bit of light, gentle humour except that, like life, it works on many subtle levels and there’s a lot more to it than that.

Four stars.

Where to download The Bumpkinton Tales

The book is £1.99 as I write but should be reduced to 99p for Comedy Book Week.

Mission Improbable
by J J Green

ImprobableThe galaxy is in crisis, and Carrie Hatchett is the last person on Earth who should be fixing it.

Carrie is a low-achieving daydreamer. After providing a good home for her butt-ugly dog and psychotic cat, her biggest challenge in life is to avoid being fired, again.

But a strange green mist sucks her beneath her kitchen sink, and an unusual clerical error leads to an offer she foolishly doesn’t refuse.

The Transgalactic Council hire her to settle a conflict between the mechanical placktoids and the mysterious oootoon. Carrie must overcome her personal weaknesses and, for the first time in her life, succeed in her job, to uncover a threat to the entire galaxy.

Mission Improbable is Book One in the light-hearted, fast-paced Carrie Hatchett Space Adventures series. “…like Scully and Mulder on acid.”

As a big humorous fantasy/sci-fi fan I had to give this one a go. I think I may not have been in the mood for this book to begin with. I felt that Carrie was the most annoying, thoughtless, irritating woman and I wanted to give her a sharp rap over the head and tell her to belt up. Then something happened to the cupboard under her sink and suddenly, things began to look up, and Carrie got interesting enough for me to forgive her.

This is a much more straightforward book, in many ways, than its partner in this post. Where The Bumpkinton Tales is all half tones and subtlety, Mission Improbable is blocks of primary colours and is definitely not subtle. However, in this case it isn’t a bad thing. Carrie is really quite dim to start with, but she has a good heart and you can’t help rooting for her eventually once the author’s imagination kicks in. Because what really lifts this book is the wonderful originality of thought in it. The oootoon were inspired, I liked Gavin, I particularly liked that Gavin was called Gavin, and the placktoids are a stroke of genius. This book is a piece of light fluff, total whimsy but it’s none the worse for that. You’re looking at a reviewer, here, who has written a book about lobster-shaped aliens who are covered in marmite (vegemite if you’re Australian) scented goo. Let’s just say there were aspects of this book, and I, which were pretty much made for one another.

It was a quick read, the action clipped along at a good pace and once it got going I really enjoyed the twists and turns of the plot and zipped through it in an afternoon. I also got to like Carrie by the end.

OK, so this is a book of it’s type, and in this case, it’s madcap space comedy. It’s not deep. It’s not designed to be deep, because what it is, and what it’s designed to be, is FUN. That said there is a pretty solid and commendable message about not judging by appearances, listening to both sides, thinking and evaluating before jumping to conclusions.

For me, the greatest test of a book is whether or not you think about it after you’ve read it and if you do, how long for. I found that I was chuckling about some of the creatures and ideas in this book for some time. In fact I still am, as I write because the more I think about them the more delightfully off the wall they seem. So although to start with, I was thinking, hmm… not sure, as time goes by, I am looking back on the reading experience more and more fondly.

So did I like it? Yeh. Another four stars. I will definitely be buying other books in this series. It’s not deep, but it is what it is, and I enjoyed it. Recommended.

Where to download Mission Improbable

Mission Improbable is free to download, everywhere.

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