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  • Writer's pictureRobyn


Penelope Lively - again - How it all Began & Roald Dahl's My Uncle Oswald

Ed asked for the sparkly rocks he painted with Sally to be featured - there are also sparkly pine cones on the Christmas tree

Sometimes there are days that are just a bit less hard. Sometimes instead of waking up at 5.30, the children stay in their rooms until after seven o'clock. Sometimes on very special days they giggle on their way downstairs and then EAT THEIR BREAKFAST. Both of them, at the same time, without getting up and running around the kitchen or needing to be cajoled into eating every mouthful. Sometimes, it would seem, just a little bit more sleep for everyone makes life so very much easier.

Such was all the happiness and joy that I managed to get both their sheets changed, laundry in the machine and everyone dressed and out of the house by 9.30 without any tears and I'm pretty sure there wasn't even any cursing under my breath about sodding shoes. I'd arranged to bundle them off to the grandparents for a couple of hours so I could brave Tesco for the Christmas shop without having to chase after errant children. This was a wise decision, for whilst not yet quite fraught, it was an unusually busy supermarket for 10 on a Thursday morning and my trolley ended up being too full to have had a toddler sat in too.

But the bit of the day that was bloody amazing? That was soft play. These are not words usually strung together in my experience. It was gloomy and the kids needed a bit of a run around, so I decided to brave my local Jungle Mania. It's a bit smaller than some of the other places and somehow feels like the safe option, but I was pretty much counting on it being rammed as most of the schools are now broken up. I finished How it All Began last night and decided to grab something on the way out the door, just on the off chance I could sit for an uninterrupted minute. Oswald peeked out from between a couple of Christmas cards and the irreverent Dahl was slipped into the nappy bag.

I really love Roald Dahl's adult fiction. Oswald is so very wrong it is right. The consent issues play out very poorly if you want to think about them too much, but Oswald himself, with his self-proclaimed 'Casanova is a poor comparison' is a farcically comic creation. Instead of sinister witches lacing sweets to turn children into mice as in his children's fiction, chocolates and grapes get laced with the most potent sex powder the world has seen and all manner of frolics take place - but it is always men who are being taken advantage of. Yasmin Howcomely, his chief accomplice is as willing as her name suggests. The descriptions of the lurid acts themselves are generally not very lurid - they had me giggling rather than blushing which is probably good considering where I was reading. For example, as Yasmin is ravished by a drugged and out of control Cambridge professor, Oswald describes how he 'went at her as though she were an uneven road surface and he was trying to flatten her out' and wonders whether he ought to have provided her with a hat pin so she could make her escape once satisfaction was achieved. Other descriptions are somewhat more phallic, featuring knights and lances or soldiers and their scorching hot cannons, but in the age of the idiotic Fifty Shades, its all actually pretty tame.

The Lively book was an easy choice - I had two minutes to grab a book when I was supposed to just be buying the nice picture book Sally had picked out for Pip's birthday (she chose a nice Osbourne farm lift the flaps type thing which he quite likes - though not as much as he currently loves Bear Hunt or how strangely transfixed he is by Peace At Last) but was in fact dashing around Waterstones picking up books for Christmas and thought I might just grab something for myself to read. Thus I ran to the shelf containing books by the last author I had enjoyed and picked the title in stock I hadn't read yet. It was a ploy that worked out perfectly well. How it All Began follows a motley crew of people loosely pulled together when a character is mugged and breaks her hip in the opening chapter. Affairs, break-ups, break-downs and a few people just trying to get on with their lives are all drawn in prescient detail. How it All Began is perhaps not quite the right title for a book dealing with mostly people of middle age - perhaps How Some of it Started might have been more apt, but it was a lovely book to read in my break from War and Peace. I will finish that sodding book - I'm just not entirely sure when. And there was definitely no way I was going to pop that in my bag to take to soft play!

Oh, and then I came home to find a lovely bunch of flowers from husband for my birthday tomorrow.

Today has not been a day I have had to sit on the floor and not cry. Sleep is magical; books are great; tea is always a necessity, and my family can be pretty lovely too.

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