Quote of the Week – Us Two

24-06-19 Two
“Us Two” by A A Milne, from the collection “Now We Are Six”

Yes, it’s a Quote of the Week this Monday, rather than a Word of the Week. Why? Who knows? Just felt like it.

In fact, I was reciting this to myself as I carried out a reconnaissance mission on Saturday to find the office I will be working at for the next month. As I was walking along on my own, it might not seem the most apt poem to be thinking of, and this is emphasised by the fact that I don’t entirely agree with the sentiment that it isn’t much fun for one because an awful lot of things are very pleasant to do on your own. Of course, in the context of the poem it makes much more sense, because Pooh has been doing something he wasn’t keen on (looking for dragons, finding dragons, saying “Boo” to dragons, etc) and it is always better if you have an ally when you are doing something that worries you. That ally doesn’t have to be a real person, and even if they are real, they don’t have to be standing beside you in your moment of need. Most of us have people in our hearts who we are confident would cheer us on if they knew we were feeling trepidation, and knowing that is enough to enourage us.

So, if you come across dragons this Monday morning, think of your allies and then remember to shout “Boo! Silly old dragons!” and it will probably turn out that they are only geese.

Five of my favourite short story collections

31-05-19 Books

It is always fun thinking about favourites and today I’ve been looking at short story collections. Five of my favourites, in no particular order, are:-

Winnie The Pooh by A A Milne

Yes, this does count as a short story collection; perhaps it is the all-time perfect short story collection. After checking the end-papers displaying a map of the Hundred Aker Wood (that’s how it’s spelt on the map!), we are introduced to Christopher Robin and Pooh, watch as Pooh gets stuck in a very tight place, go on hunts for heffalumps, commiserate with Eeyore when he loses his tail and celebrate his birthday with him, then we survive a flood with the help of an umbrella. We meet Kanga and Baby Roo then everyone goes on an Expotition to the North Pole before it’s finally time to say goodbye. My hardback copy was a present from my brother when he was a grown-up and I was still a child (I’ve got a second, paperback copy from when my daughter was young). I love Winne The Pooh.

Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

A fair leap from Winnie The Pooh, although they sit near each other on my strictly alphabetical order bookshelves! I love Murakami’s novels, as I have said before, but he is also a skillful short story writer. In this particular set he concentrates on the lives of men who are alone in some way or another and the seven stories are written with his usual blend of the familiar and the surreal. For me, the standout story is Samsa In Love because it mirrors Kafka’s Metamorphosis in that the central character awakes in bed to find he has been transformed into something utterly alien to him – in this case he has become a human being. Stepping outside our human experience and describing our normal functions as something utterly inexplicable gives this story a wonderful strength.

Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks

I’ve raved about this collection before and doubtless will again. These stories, all of which contain typewriters as a central or peripheral theme, are written in a way that reminds me of the already-dated sci-fi stories I read in my teenage years: the writing from the 1950s that I was reading in the 1970s. In this volume, I think my favourite story is These Are The Meditations Of My Heart which is the sweet and uplifting tale of a girl alone in a big city who finds her sense of belonging when she buys an old typewriter on a whim. I would also give honourable credits to The Past Is Important To Us which is a rather bleaker story on the theme of time travel and obsession and to Steve Wong Is Perfect which rounds off the collection with a story about a guy who seemingly can’t stop bowling perfect strikes; it deals with how people react to fame.

The last two collections on my list are the two where my copies appear to be eternally missing. I am sure I have both, but when I look for them they are not there and I think I need to re-purchase them.

The Complete Short Stories of H G Wells

This is a very thick tome, not quite at the level of The Complete Works of Shakespeare, but not far off. Wells wrote a lot of short fiction and most of it is very good indeed. The Time Machine, which many people know, is one of the longer pieces in the collected works. For me, the stories that have stuck through the years are The Empire of the Ants (yep, the ants are on the rampage and it isn’t pretty); A Vision of Judgement, which has had me rather dreading the possibility of there being a deity for most of my life; A Story of the Days to Come about which I can remember nothing except that I really enjoyed it. However, if I were to recommend one story above all others it would be A Dream of Armageddon in which the narrator sits opposite a man on a train who tells him a tale of a dream world which he wakes to every time he sleeps and is more real than the world he inhabits in his waking hours.

The Menace From Earth by Robert A Heinlein

Pure 1950s sci-fi which contains a story that still haunts me years after I first read it – Year Of The Jackpot. It charts a year where things go increasingly wrong, which starts with small reports in the newspapers of people behaving oddly and gradually expands until the hero realises that the world is heading to a doomsday. As things get progressively worse, he and the girl he falls in love with along the way set themselves up in a remote area and prepare to sit out the destruction of most of civilisation. There are times even now when I read a news story that is just plain odd, and I think of this story and how it ends, and I feel a chill.


 

Best poem for Christmas Eve

Christmas Tree
My Christmas tree, 2018

 

There is no better poem for Christmas Eve than the marvellous “King John’s Christmas” by A. A. Milne. Here it is in its entirety for you to enjoy. You can check out some other popular Christmas poems at Pan MacMillan.

King John’s Christmas

King John was not a good man –
He had his little ways.
And sometimes no one spoke to him
For days and days and days.
And men who came across him,
When walking in the town,
Gave him a supercilious stare,
Or passed with noses in the air –
And bad King John stood dumbly there,
Blushing beneath his crown.

King John was not a good man,
And no good friends had he.
He stayed in every afternoon…
But no one came to tea.
And, round about December,
The cards upon his shelf
Which wished him lots of Christmas cheer,
And fortune in the coming year,
Were never from his near and dear,
But only from himself.

King John was not a good man,
Yet had his hopes and fears.
They’d given him no present now
For years and years and years.
But every year at Christmas,
While minstrels stood about,
Collecting tribute from the young
For all the songs they might have sung,
He stole away upstairs and hung
A hopeful stocking out.

King John was not a good man,
He lived his life aloof;
Alone he thought a message out
While climbing up the roof.
He wrote it down and propped it
Against the chimney stack:
“TO ALL AND SUNDRY – NEAR AND FAR –
F. CHRISTMAS IN PARTICULAR.”
And signed it not “Johannes R.”
But very humbly, “JACK”

“I want some crackers,
And I want some candy;
I think a box of chocolates
Would come in handy;
I don’t mind oranges,
I do like nuts!
And I SHOULD like a pocket-knife
That really cuts.
And, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red india-rubber ball!”

King John was not a good man –
He wrote this message out,
And gat him to his room again,
Descending by the spout.
And all that night he lay there,
A prey to hopes and fears.
“I think that’s him a-coming now,”
(Anxiety bedewed his brow.)
“He’ll bring one present, anyhow –
The first I’ve had in years.”

“Forget about the crackers,
And forget about the candy;
I’m sure a box of chocolates
Would never come in handy;
I don’t like oranges,
I don’t want nuts,
And I HAVE got a pocket-knife
That almost cuts.
But, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red india-rubber ball!”

King John was not a good man –
Next morning when the sun
Rose up to tell the waiting world
That Christmas had begun,
And people seized their stockings,
And opened them with glee,
And crackers, toys and games appeared,
And lips with sticky sweets were smeared,
King John said grimly: “As I feared,
Nothing again for me!”

“I did want crackers,
And I did want candy;
I know a box of chocolates
Would come in handy;
I do love oranges,
I did want nuts.
I haven’t got a pocket-knife –
Not one that cuts.
And, oh! if Father Christmas had loved me at all,
He would have brought a big, red india-rubber ball!”

King John stood by the window,
And frowned to see below
The happy bands of boys and girls
All playing in the snow.
A while he stood there watching,
And envying them all…
When through the window big and red
There hurtled by his royal head,
And bounced and fell upon the bed,
An india-rubber ball!

AND OH, FATHER CHRISTMAS,
MY BLESSINGS ON YOU FALL
FOR BRINGING HIM A BIG, RED
INDIA-RUBBER BALL!


It just remains for me to wish you all a joyful and peaceful Christmas, however and wherever you celebrate it.


 

Quote of the week – He had a sort of look

Norwich street
The city I call home

Here’s a random shot of a Norwich alley to accompany a random quote; they only go together in so much as I took the photo yesterday and was reading the poem this morning in the bath.

Tomorrow I will start my December reading of a book of poems called “Christmas Please” and the next four weeks will be devoted to Christmas or winter quotes. I thought today I would keep it fun and appeal to the inner six-year-old in each of us. From A A Milne’s “Now We Are Six”, part of the poem “Forgiven” – Christopher Robin’s nanny has accidentally opened the matchbox wherein Alexander Beetle was living and Alexander cannot be found…

We went to all the places which a beetle might be near,
And we made the sort of noises which a beetle likes to hear,
And I saw a kind of something, and I gave a sort of shout:
“A beetle-house and Alexander Beetle coming out!”
It was Alexander Beetle, I’m as certain as can be,
And he had a sort of look as if he thought it must be Me,
And he had a sort of look as if he thought he ought to say:
“I’m very very sorry that I tried to run away.”


Are you still six? Do you own A A Milne’s poetry books? If not, why not?