Few things annoy me more than someone who gets on the train and decides to have a loud phone call for entertainment while ignoring the glares of other people. It’s completely antisocial. Why can’t they bring a book, newspaper or magazine like everyone else? Or use the time for quiet contemplation?
In the wise words of Lemony Snickett, never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them. They might be a public phone caller.
You might have guessed from my recent post about my Sass and Belle cushions that I’ve got a bit of a thing about foxes. I’ve been feeling a bit run down at the moment, I just seem to be so busy that when I have a moment to myself I just end up falling asleep so I decided to buy myself a treat to cheer myself up. Meet Mr Cordy Roy Fox by children’s toy maker Jellycat.
I wanted to get Cordy Roy for my newborn niece at Christmas, but as you can guess by looking at his cheeky little face, he’d sold out so I got her a Jellycat raccoon instead who my sister assures me is now her best friend. If you’re looking for toys for children that encourage imaginative play, Jellycat is a great place to look. Not only do they have a great range of animals which includes dragons and woolly mammoths, but they have dolls which map to fairy tales and would make great bedtime story companions.
I’m not a cat person. I come from a family of dog people and was always taught that cats were the enemy. Even if we weren’t dog people, we had rabbits, guinea pigs, frogs and birds in the garden and cats have a really unfortunate tendency to kill things.
Despite my views on cats as a collective, I’m a big fan of @MYSADCAT on twitter. Maybe because the Bear looks like he’s doing penance for the sins of cat kind. Having grown tired of being shown every picture the sad cat account tweets, my boyfriend got me Tom Cox’s The Good, The Bad and The Furry for Christmas thinking it was a happy fusion of things I like. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the twitter account, I even like his Guardian articles, but can you really string out a series of what are ultimately in-jokes about your pet cats into a book that’s worth reading?
It turns out you can and he has. And it’s a really fun read. While there was a lot of material that stuck close to the theme of the blog with cute pictures and funny captions, the book was so much more than that, talking about Tom Cox’s life, relationships, family, hopes and fears… just with his cats as a way in. There are actually some really sad and moving moments in the book, even for a non-cat lover, fortunately there were a lot that had me laughing so hard that I was worried that my ribs were going to break. I think the worst of these was when he was describing his friend who, burying her recently deceased cat, accidentally dug up it’s dead brother and was stood with a dead cat in one hand and a skeleton cat in the other crying her eyes out. I know that shouldn’t be funny, I know that it makes me a very sick person, but seriously, it’s the way he tells it. The only real problem with Tom’s writing in the book is that it makes me feel Shipley deserves his own twitter account to vent at the world and I don’t think he has one.
Good morning all, it’s currently ten minutes to six in the morning and I have been awake since 3:30 am thanks to some idiot screaming, “Ian!!!” outside my bedroom window for far too long. To distract myself from the dark thoughts that I have been having about whoever Ian and his would-be hailer were, I’ve decided to get in on the Shelfie act that my friends keep telling me about and share with you a shelfie of my living room bookcase the dining room and landing you don’t get to see because we’re decorating so they are piled with all kinds of non-book nonsense.
My all time favourite personal shelfie (yes, I may have taken more than one) is this one I took in 2008 when my boyfriend and I had just moved in together and my very literary guinea pig decided that he had a new favourite hangout.
Beneath the city of man is a kingdom of rats. The rats are a sophisticated society, with each rat working for the good of the collective depending on its individual abilities. It might be a warrior, a taster, a historian, a spy or a translator but it will put the needs of the kingdom ahead of its own desires because they understand that tradition and love is where the strength of their kingdom lies, and nothing demonstrates the strength of the Kingdom more effectively than The Twyning:
“They were The Twyning. They tugged against one another, forever in motion, forever going nowhere. For almost all their lives, they had been united by an accident of nature that had occurred while they were still in the nest.
Their tails had become inextricably entangled. As they had grown, the knot of living tissue that was at their centre melded and fused together so that, with adulthood, each of these was less an individual rat than a limb on a greater shared body, a spoke on a wheel of flesh.
We know that to have a twyning within the kingdom is a rare blessing. As it grows, it is fed and kept alive by citizens, and it is respected by all, even by the Court of Governance and by the ultimate source of power among rats, they king.
The Twyning expresses life’s mystery. Unable to move in any one direction except at an awkward, complicated shuffle, it has its own kind of strength, for nothing terrifies a human more than the sight of rats, helpless, bound together, yet powerful.
Above all, it shows the power of the kingdom.
For it is love which keeps The Twyning alive.”
The Twyning by Terence Blacker
The most important tradition in the rat kingdom is the abdication of a dying king, who swims downriver to the world above allowing his successor to be named, but when the time comes for the great King Tzuriel to step down, something terrible happens. It will push rats and humans to the brink of war, and at the heart of it all is a young rat called Efren…
I am on a rat run at the moment. By which I mean that I have been reading a lot of books about rats, which my boyfriend is a bit worried about. He suggests that I may have a few issues, but really, there a few things finer than a fictional rat and The Twyning by Terence Blacker is one of the best rat books I’ve ever read.
Set in Dickensian London, The Twyning portrays a world in which talentless politicians conspire with fearful and biased scientists to achieve their personal ambitions, bending the law of the land and spending public money to support their pet causes while impoverished children live on the street ignored or abused by those in authority. In many ways it’s a novel for our times. Swap the word rat for badger, unemployed or disabled person and Dr Ross-Gibbs’ plans might read like a Tory manifesto, but don’t for a second think that I mean to suggest that this is a soap box rant. It’s more a politically aware, urban Redwall for the noughties- vividly imagined and sharply executed.
I particularly like the well-timed moral ambivalence of this book; there are good humans, ordinary humans and bad humans at times just as there are good rats, ordinary rats and bad rats at times. Both sides have members who act well, both sides have members who act badly so there are shades of grey for readers, young and old, to interpret.
It’s difficult to express how good this book is without giving too much away, but if you like stories with friendship, battle, love, gore, misadventure and redemption then this book is for you.
And if anyone thinks that the idea of a tangled group of rats called a Twyning is silly, check out these Rat Kings to see that these things do, in a sense, exist.
Some writers can never equal their first novel. I could never equal my first sentence. And look at me now. Look how I have begun this, my final work, my opus: ‘I had always imagined that my life story, if and when…’ Good God, ‘if and when’! You see the problem. Hopeless. Scratch it.
Firmin: Adventures of A Metropolitan Lowlife by Sam Savage
So begins our eponymous narrator.
Firmin is an erudite lowlife with a taste for literature, popcorn and pornography. He is also a rat, of the literal, grey fur, bewhiskered variety. Born the runt of the litter in the basement of a bookshop, and forced to eat books to survive, he finds that the words have a strange effect upon him. Because for all Firmin looks like a rat to the outside world, he has a sophisticated Fred Astaire style character inside him just dying to get out- the books he’s read have made him intelligent and articulate, a rodent with a poet’s soul.
The concept of a book loving rat living in a bookshop in Boston is, on the surface, a cheery Disney-style image, but Firmin rejects the idea of the Disney mouse (“I piss down the throats of Mickey Mouse and Stuart Little. Affable, shuffling, cute, they stick in my craw like fishbones”) and replaces it with Sam Savage’s rat, a far more poignant character. Because life as a literary rat is incredibly lonely, isolated from your own species and regarded as vermin by most humans, what’s the best that you can hope for?
Firmin is far from fluffy, at times he is repulsive- but I found myself rooting for the little guy all the same. I found myself laughing aghast at his dangerous naivety, and crying at his humanity because for all Sam Savage has shaped his narrator in a rodent’s body, where it counts he is one of the most human characters I’ve read in a long time.
Anyone who uses Pinterest, come to that anyone who likes pictures of animals reading books should check out the Literary Critters board from St Martin’s Press. They may well be the cutest things I’ve ever seen. I want them. All of them.
Does anyone know any other good sources for pictures of cute animals reading on the web? I think I need some to cheer up rainy days!
Image by BadgerHero, used under the terms of Wikimedia Commons License
Badgers remind me of my childhood. Mysterious woodland animals who usually played a noble role in fiction, defending the weak, standing up for what was right… They remind me of more innocent days in my naive youth. A time when I believed that a democratically elected government had to listen to the views of the people, or, if they insisted upon taking a paternalistic approach, the mainstream of scientific opinion… you know, silly things like that…
Given the UK government’s current foray into badger fiction* (fiction in the sense that they are flying in the face of the facts/a ten-year independent scientific study into badgers and Bovine TB) I thought I would share my top five badgers in actual fiction.
1. The Badger Lords of the Redwall Series by Brian Jacques
I was obsessed with the Redwall Series by the late, great Brian Jacques when I was small. I’ve always had a fondness for rodents. The Redwall books are a little like what Lord of the Rings might be if you take out the magic and replace hobbits, dwarves and orcs with mice, squirrels and wildcats. My favourite characters always the badgers and the mice. Though the badgers are noble characters, they suffer from bloodwrath which turns their eyes red, the sign of a great warrior who will not hold back or even be able to restrain themselves in the heat of battle.
2. Badger in The Animals of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann
If you’re of a similar age to me, you’ll probably remember The Animals of Farthing Wood as a television series in which a diverse group of woodland animals who are threatened by man’s interference in their wood, form a motley crew and journey to the safety of a woodland reserve. It doesn’t look as though this will go ahead, due to the smaller animals natural fear of the carnivores eating them, until Badger suggests they take an oath of mutual protection. It’s a very nice story about understanding other people’s limitations and supporting them (Badger carries Mole on his back because he can only walk very slowly). Someone should also read it to the Environment Secretary because it makes the point that animals under threat migrate.
3. Tommy Brock The Tale of Mr Tod Beatrix Potter
Now Tommy Brock is a very naughty badger, the kind of badger you could imagine the government wanting to do something about. Don’t be fooled by his smart waistcoat and downturned gaze. This is the kind of badger who would steal a nest of baby rabbits and hides them in Mr Tod’s oven. Now you might say that badgers don’t commonly eat rabbits in the wild. To that I say, foxes don’t commonly own ovens. We’re suspending our disbelief here. Suspended? Thank you. Many people love Beatrix Potters “good characters” but I’ve always had a soft spot for the villains. Yes, I prefer Samuel Whiskers to Tom Kitten, and I salute Tommy Brock for stealing the baby rabbits and making everyone wonder why Benjamin Bunny decided to sire a family with his first cousin Flopsy. Well, that’s rabbits for you.
4. Mr Badger The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graeme
I admire any badger that wears a dressing gown, and the solitary Mr Badger may have attempted to stage one of the first interventions in literature when he tried to dissuade Toad from his path of self-destruction by placing him under house arrest. Interestingly, Badger and Mole are driven out of Toad Hall by a crew of stoats and weasels. Did you know that the TB virus can survive for a very long time in empty badger setts, infecting any badgers which move into the area. Interestingly, since rats and weasels move into Toad Hall, rats, weasels and ferrets can also carry the disease. As can foxes. And deer… shoot anything that moves will be next.
5. Trufflehunter Prince Caspian C S Lewis
This Old Narnian badger rescues Prince Caspian and hides him when he is fleeing from his evil, murderous Uncle Miraz. As a good and true Narnian, he surely lives on in Aslan’s Country, the true Narnia. But you have to wonder what fate lies in store for less vocal members of the meles meles if the government proceed with this madness.
Honourable mention should go to Bill of Rupert the Bear fame and Captain Ramshackle of Automated Alice but I felt that we had one randomologist too many in the form of Owen Paterson at this time.
* Even if your name isn’t Sherlock, you will notice that I have used this post on fictional badgers to ram home my views on the cull. I make no apology for that, it is madness. A ten-year study has shown that culling will not solve the problem of Bovine TB. It may in fact make it worse as studies showed TB decreasing in cull zones but rapidly increasing in surrounding areas. 92% of the surveyed British public are against the culls so both the scientists and the people the government have been elected to represent are being ignored.
If you’re a UK resident and as annoyed about this as I am please sign this petition. It’s already been debated once and the cull was postponed. Hopefully a second debate will see the cull cancelled altogether and Bovine TB managed through vaccination, improved husbandry and better biosecurity.