I am tired. I am tired. I am tired of this lurgy.* I am also garblattingly tired of schlepping plants indoors and then back outdoors. We may or may not have had a frost last night—I think we didn’t quite, but it was near enough to be putting towels on the windscreen** and I certainly brought an awful frelling lot of frelling plants indoors last night. And slapped them down on a plastic sheet on the sitting room carpet. My dahlia cuttings haven’t even arrived yet and I can already pretty much fill up the sitting room carpet. This may say more about the size of my sitting room*** than the number of my tender young plantlings . . . but it’s still way too much haulage of leaking pots ARRRRGH.† And then you get to do it all over again in reverse the next morning. BORING. BORING BORING BORING. Especially the part about tripping over hellhounds, who want to go out themselves. I haven’t yet dropped a pot and sprayed the kitchen with wet compost and terra cotta shards . . . but it could happen. Especially when I’m already kind of seeing double from the lurgy. And I had to bring the little green frellers all in again tonight. . . . with Chaos standing in the middle of the floor looking outraged because we wasted good hurtling time last night doing the same stupid thing. I couldn’t agree more.††
Meanwhile I’ve spent a lot of time on the sofa, reading. I’ve thrown several books at the wall in the patented hellgoddessy way, and there are at least a couple that I will probably tell you about later, but the one I finished today which is perfect for someone with a lurgy, is TO BE A CAT by Matt Haig. It’s a kids’ book, the hero is having his twelfth birthday on this the worst day of his life, and it’s written in rather deceptively simple language. But it’s full of good stuff for any age with a sense of humour.
Barney Willow’s parents divorced a couple of years ago, which was bad enough, but what was really awful is that ‘ . . . two hundred and eleven days ago (Barney was counting) his dad disappeared altogether. He’d never seen him since, except in dreams. . . . This was the first birthday he’d had without his dad being there.
‘If that wasn’t bad enough it was also the first birthday he’d had at his rubbish new school. And school meant Miss Whipmire, the head teacher from hell. He didn’t know if that was her exact address, but it definitely shared the same postcode.’ And then there is the bully, Gavin Needle, who thoroughly has it in for Barney, and Miss Whipmire, who seems to hate Barney even more than all her other students, blames Barney. Even a best friend named Rissa Fairweather who lives on a barge (with no TV although her mum does make fabulous carrot cake) and loves astronomy can’t entirely make up for these defects.
And the title? Things get so bad for Barney that he wishes—really really hard—that he was a cat so he didn’t have to be Barney Willow any more.
You can guess this does not go well.
It’s a cracking good story anyway and all the stuff that I, as a cranky elderly person who has read many, many, many evil-teacher stories before, and even a certain number of magical-cat stories, was sitting there thinking, well, what about—? are all answered satisfactorily. But the best part (to this cranky elderly person who has perhaps spent too much time reading) is some of the throwaway stuff:
‘He saw books with spines as tall and wide as doors, large names on them: William Shakespeare. Leo Tolstoy. Mark Twain. Voltaire. Barney had no idea that all four of these very famous dead writers had, at one time or another been cats. Or that one of them had even admitted to having been a cat. (That one was Mark Twain, who had written very brilliant books about Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, who were both boys but acted more like wild and adventurous cats and were based on Mark Twain’s own early years as a tomcat . . . ) . . . most of the really brilliant people who have ever lived have been cats . . . because many of the great cat geniuses, in cat form, get very fed up of not having the kind of wiggly thumbs and fingers that let you write a book.’
Also, Rissa is totally cool. ‘This isn’t just weird, she told herself. This is over the hill from weird.’
And I love the illustrations.††† There’s also a little repeated series of a leaping cat in the lower-right-hand corners of the pages so if you run your thumb over the edges really fast so they fan down, it looks like a cat really is leaping.
Also . . . you know there’s the whole business of how much blood and gore are suitable for kid readers. I can’t deal with horror in most of its graphic modern incarnations, but on the other hand the whitewashing of fairy tales because they’ll be too distressing for children makes me crazy because it is utterly wrong-headed. There’s enough real blood and real death and real cruelty in TO BE A CAT to give it an edge that—particularly as it’s also so funny—it would be less engaging and effective without.
I liked it a lot. I recommend it.‡ And I know Matt Haig is a big deal for some of his other books, but this is the first one I’ve read. I’ll have to go look him up now. I need more books on The TBR Pile.
* * *
* It’s all Hannah’s fault! She left it here! And her grovelling from three thousand miles away does not appease me in the slightest! . . . Moan.
** You would not believe the racket an ice-scraper makes at mmph o’clock in the morning
*** Made a good deal smaller, of course, by three walls of bookshelves
† It’s like how many ways can you confound yourself? We haven’t had rain in months so of course you’re watering everything by hand. And the best way to be sure you’ve watered thoroughly enough is if it oozes a little out the bottom end. This is not a problem outdoors.
†† I have no idea how I’m getting hellhounds hurtled, but the odd and surprising truth is that I am. This is one of those absolute confirmations about coping with ME—whatever your level of capacity is, you have to use it frelling DAILY or you will, by the gods, lose it. And if you do use it to the absolute last whisker there will (probably) be some left even when you’re going through a bad patch, or a lurgy. I wonder if they’ve done any studies of people with ME or similar having holidays? I’d say the ten days or a fortnight doing nothing kind of holiday is positively harmful to someone like me, but this is probably one of the many, many things that varies with the individual. I think the trick is recognising where the last whisker is. You go over your limit and you will pay. But if you don’t tap yourself out, tomorrow you will have less to tap.
††† By Pete Williamson http://www.petewilliamson.co.uk/books.php
‡ This is not an April Fool.
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