Friday, 29 November 2013

This is an ex-parrot

You may have heard that the old Monty Python crew—the still living ones—are having a reunion tour in July of 2014. They are doing their first live performance since Live at the Hollywood Bowl thirty years ago. It was originally meant to be a one-off gig but as the tickets sold out in 43.5 seconds (I should mention that the O2 Arena seats up to 20,000 people) they have extended it to a few other dates.

And we’ll be there.

Spiderman has asked me not to enquire as to the cost of our tickets. I shan’t.

We have never been in such a large venue before. It is a good thing they project the stage onto a screen as we’d have no chance in hell of seeing them. They’d be like ants, I have no doubt.

But it doesn’t matter.

We’ll be seeing them.

Monty Python.

Our comedy heroes.

Live. On stage.

Really, really old men that used to be funny.

I hope they still are.

But we will be able to say we were there—we saw them—and that will be worth it.

Let the silliness begin.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Like Dr Seuss on Acid

This is my new favourite song. It is weird and wonderful, like Dr Seuss on acid. It is definitely an earworm and I’ve been humming it constantly which annoys Spiderman to no end. He hasn’t actually heard it (he refuses to) but I think this is because he knows he’ll be consumed by it and be forced to start making animal noises in public or talking to friendly horses in morse code.  

I came across it last week in our school talent show. Apparently I was the *only* person in the school who had never heard it. It featured in no less than 5 acts and I never got tired of it. After the talent show, I ambled over to Spiderman’s school and told him all about it. A friendly sixth form boy (think 12th grade) overheard me and filled me on the details such as who the artist is (none of the wee children mentioned it) and the fact that they have a video.


The band is called Ylvis--they are possibly the most successful band from Norway since A-ha. The song is called What does the fox say? and is like a children’s primer mixed with a load of nonsense all set to a very danceable beat.

Here’s a link to the video which is helpfully subtitled. What does the fox say? 

 If for some reason you can't access youtube (I myself have to go to the public library to watch it) then here are the lyrics just to give you an idea of the delicious weirdness. 

It is already so popular that it has acquired a parody. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? The parody by Annoying Orange (which is equally funny) is like an episode of Veggie Tales on drugs.

I think it gets funnier every time I hear it. I did have to explain to some kids about the line “And the seal goes ow ow ow!” because none of them knew about baby seals being clubbed for their fur.

I read somewhere online that it was being turned into a children’s book and I will be standing in line to buy it when it does.

 I’d better start practicing my morse code.


Sunday, 17 November 2013

The Iron Man

The Iron man came to the top of the cliff. How far had he walked? Nobody knows. Where had he come from? Nobody knows.

 Taller than a house, the Iron Man stood at the top of the cliff, on the very brink, in the darkness.

I mentioned in my last post about the amazingly talented artist Tom Gauld and the cartoon we bought from him. This is a giant blow up of his illustrated version of Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man. There is a cracking exhibit at the British Library at the moment sponsored by the Folio Society where they’ve taken famous children’s books and shown you different illustrations for each. You can see:

 The Iron Man

The Borrowers

The Secret Garden


Peter Pan

The Wind in the Willows

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Just So Stories

 I was so excited to see Tom Gauld’s Iron Man that I made Spiderman go back with me another time armed with the camera so I could have my photo made. Because I’m bossy like that. He talked me out of pretending to drive Toad’s Motor Car, though. Shame.

Did I also mention this exhibition is free? If you live in the UK, check it out if you can get to London. Mum, when you come at Christmas make sure you go! All my peeps in the US, I’m afraid you’ll have to settle for just me and the Iron Man.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Great Expectations--the video game

We recently saw a limited edition print at GOSH! Comics by one of our favourite illustrators Tom Gauld. We got really excited and wondered, "Why have we never thought about buying some of his artwork?"

We considered buying the limited edition print (we have a few of those) but Spiderman suggested contacting him directly and see if he had any for sale from his collection of cartoons You're All Just Jealous Of My Jetpack.

He did! So on Tuesday night when we were in London for Distraction Club we leafed through the book during the intervals  noting down our favourites so we could ask to see if he had any of those available.

Sadly, our first choice the Owl and the Seasick Pussy Cat had already been sold, but this gem of Great Expectations--the Video Game was available! But then we hit a dilemma. Spiderman had mentioned in his email another of his cartoons that we really like that had appeared in the Guardian. An Interview With a Cultural Teddy Bear was also available! Oh no! What to do?

We debated, back and forth and could not seem to decide between them and so we did what any greedy art loving people would do--we asked if he would be willing to hold the Cultural Teddy for us for a month or two when we had more money and we would buy it then.

He said yes! What a lovely man. So Great Expectations has arrived and will be framed shortly and a Cultural Teddy will join it in a few months.


If you like quirky illustrations--his cartoons often have a very literary bent--then please check out his website He's done a cracking graphic novel called Goliath (yes that Goliath) and has done my favourite illustrations for Ted Hughes' The Iron Man.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

There is no excuse for cruelty

Why the Tin Man has a heart (and you should too)

The Tin Woodman (as he is always referred to in the books) has always practiced ahimsa (the Sanskrit word for non violence) long before he had his heart. In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz there is a scene where they are all walking down the yellow brick road on their quest to ask the great and powerful Oz for the gift they believe they lack--The Scarecrow for brains (despite that he shows great ingenuity in the book), the Tin Woodman for a heart (despite the fact that he is so gentle and loving), the Cowardly Lion for courage (despite being quite brave) and Dorothy who shows all the qualities mentioned above (cleverness, kindness, bravery) despite only being seven years old who only wants to get back home to Kansas.

Once, indeed, the Tin Woodman stepped upon a beetle that was crawling along the road and killed the poor little thing. This made the Tin Woodman very unhappy, for he was always careful not to hurt any living creature; and as he walked along he wept several tears of sorrow and regret. These tears ran slowly down his face and over the hinges of his jaw and there they rusted.

When Dorothy asks him a question, he cannot speak and must mime for them to get to get the oil can. 


“This will serve me a lesson,” said he, “to look where I step. For if I should kill another bug or beetle I should surely cry again and crying rusts my jaw so that I cannot speak.” Therefore he walked very carefully, with his eyes on the road and when he saw a tiny ant toiling by he would stopover, so as not to harm it. The Tin Woodman knew very well he had no heart, and therefore he took great care never to be cruel or unkind to anything.

The band of travellers who have now added Dorothy--yes that Dorothy--to their numbers, travel west towards the Winkie country.  So best beloved, can you recall what items were on the list that Ojo need to procure for the antidote to petrifaction?

Whilst talking to the Tin Woodman (who was now Emperor of the Winkies)  Ojo spies a drop of oil at his knee and quickly catches it in a small bottle.  They discuss the fact that he has found the three hairs from the Woozy’s tail (still in the Woozy as no one could pull them out), a six leaved clover (which he spent time in prison for), a gill of water from a dark well and the seemingly impossible ingredient found only moments before--a drop of oil from a live man’s body.  But one item remains.

The left wing of a yellow butterfly,” said Ojo. “In this yellow country and with your kind assistance, that aught to be very easy to find.”

 The Tin Woodman stared at him in amazement.

"Surely you are joking!” he cried.

 “No,” replied Ojo, much surprised; I am in earnest.”

 “But do you think for a moment I would permit you, or anyone else, to pull the left wing from a yellow butterfly?” demanded the Tin Woodman sternly.

 “Why not sir?”

 Why not? You ask me why not? It would be cruel--one of the most cruel and heartless deed I ever heard of,” asserted the Tin Woodman. “The butterflies are among the prettiest of all created things, and they are sensitive to pain. To tear a wing from one would cause it exquisite torture and it would soon doe in great agony. I would not permit such a wicked deed under any circumstances.”

Ojo was astounded to hear this. Dorothy, too, looked grave and disconcerted, but she knew that the Tin Woodman was right. The Scarecrow nodded his head in approval of his friend’s speech, so it was evident that he agreed with the Emperor’s decision.

Scraps is the only one on Ojo’s side stating “I want to help Ojo, who is my friend, to rescue his uncle whom he loves and I‘d kill a dozen useless butterflies to enable him to do that,” but as the Tin Woodman points out she cannot help her heartless remark because she was created without a heart.

“The yellow country of the Winkies,” said Ojo sadly, “is the only place in Oz where a yellow butterfly can be found.”

 “I’m glad of that said the Tin Woodman. “As I rule the Winkie Country I can protect my butterflies.”

 “Unless I get the wing--just one left wing--” said Ojo miserably, “I can’t save Unc Nunkie.”

“Then he must remain a marble statue forever,” declared the Tin Emperor firmly.

They decide to go back to the Emerald City and seek the advice of Ozma. She was informed of the situation whereby the Tin Woodman had positively refused to sacrifice the yellow butterfly to the magic potion.

He is quite right,” said Ozma, who didn’t  seem a bit surprised. “Had Ojo told me that one of the things he sought was the wing of a yellow butterfly I would have informed him, before he started out, that could never secure it. Then you would have been saved the troubles and annoyances of your long journey.”

Ozma informs the group that Glinda the Good has known all along what Dr Pipt was up to and what happened to Unc Nunkie and Margolotte and about Ojo’s quest. She also knew that Ojo would fail so she sent the Wizard and told him what to do. Dr Pipt’s four kettles and spell book have been destroyed. His body was straightened out so that he would no longer be crooked in any sense of the word.  Unc Nunkie and Margolotte are brought back to life and Ojo the Unlucky is re-christened Ojo the Lucky.

Aww…gee that’s swell.

This was a huge and powerful lesson for me growing up and I’m sure is one of the reasons I try to practice ahimsa today. I always say that if you love animals the best way to help them is to not eat them. But there are other ways that animals are exploited for our gain. 

Many people are shocked at the experimentation still being done (considerably worse in the U.S. as the EU has tighter laws) on animals for cosmetics and household products. Proctor and Gamble are one of the worst offenders for this and it is well worth considering boycotting them for this reason. If you do decide to boycott, make sure you tell them why.

If you are interested in cruelty free cosmetics and household products then in the U.K. look for the Leaping Bunny logo. This means it was certified cruelty free by the BUAV (British Union Against Vivisection) but if you are in the U.S. check out this list of cruelty free companies. 

But what about medical testing? Surely we *still* need to test on animals here? Well organisations like the Dr Hadwen Trust (based right in our town!) think differently. They point out that animal experiments  predict  correctly how a medicine will react on humans between 5-25% of the time. That’s far worse than tossing a coin!

What about birth defects? Don’t we need to test drugs on animals to see if they cause birth defects? How many of these do you recognise?






Nitrous oxide




These are just a sampling of medications that are safe for humans but cause birth defects in animals.

If we don’t use animals, what will we use?

The Dr Hadwen Trust says, “This statement falsely assumes that animal experiments have been responsible for medical advances in the past. However, the real benchmarks of medical progress have relied on non-animal methodologies as will future developments.” Such as:

In vitro (test tube) research

Epidemiology (population research)

Post mortem studies

Genetic research

Clinical studies

Human tissue

Computer modelling

Advances in technology (MRI and PET scanners)

Human stem cells--which have already successfully been used to treat children with leukaemia.

Just to name a few.

So we don’t need to needlessly torture animals to save humans. There are alternatives. For more information visit 

So be like the Tin Woodman.

Use your heart.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Kindness Breeds Reform

A better model for the current penal system


Our gang of travellers marches onwards, looking for all the ingredients needed for the antidote to the Liquid of Petrifaction . They found the Woozy who is now accompanying them as they were not able to pull his three hairs from his tail. The antidote said you must have three hairs from a Woozy’s tail, but did not tell you how to get the three hairs out of the tail.
the Shaggy Man

As they head towards the Emerald City Ojo tells the Shaggy man that he must look for a six-leaved clover and being a green object he will only find it in the Emerald City. The Shaggy Man warns Ojo that it is against the law to pick a six-leaved clover. He urges him to wait and get Ozma’s consent, but Ojo is so anxious to find the cure for Unc Nunkie that he disobeys and picks one and hides it in his basket. He feels the law is stupid and believes Ozma will not know.

But Ozma does find out by means of the magic picture and Ojo is arrested the moment they arrive at the gates by the Soldier with the Green Whiskers. He is whisked off to prison, with the Shaggy Man shaking his head in sorrow.

            Instead of entering the Emerald City as a respectable traveller who was entitled to welcome and hospitality, he was being brought in as a criminal, handcuffed and in a robe that told all he met of his deep disgrace.

         Ojo was by nature gentle and affectionate and if he had disobeyed the Law of Oz it was to restore his dear Unc Nunkie to life. His fault was more thoughtless than wicked, but that did not alter the fact that he had committed a fault. At first he had felt sorrow and remorse, but the more he thought about the unjust treatment he received--unjust merely because he considered it so--the more he resented his arrest, blaming Ozma for making foolish laws and punishing folks who broke them. Only a six-leaved clover! What harm could there be in picking it? Ojo began to think that Ozma must be a very bad and oppressive ruler for such a lovely fairyland.

        The little Munchkin boy was so busy thinking these things--which many guilty prisoners have thought before him--that he scarcely noticed all the splendour of the city streets. 

 He arrives at the prison where the jailer Tollydiggle removes his handcuffs. Ojo was astonished that he was not locked in in any way and when Tollydiggle went to prepare his dinner he made a point to stay put and not to explore. He did not want to betray her trust by looking like he was trying to escape.

           “Why is the prison so fine and why are you so kind to me?” he asked earnestly.

            Tollydiggle seemed surprised by the question, but she presently answered.

              “We consider a  prisoner unfortunate. He is unfortunate in two ways--because he has done something wrong and because he is deprived of his liberty. Therefore we should treat him kindly, because of his misfortune, for otherwise he would become hard and bitter and not be sorry he had done wrong. Ozma thinks that one who has committed a fault did so because he is not strong and brave; therefore she puts him in prison to make him strong and brave. When that is accomplished he is no longer a prisoner, but a good and loyal citizen and everyone is glad that he is now strong enough to risk doing wrong. You see, it si kindness that makes one strong and brave; and so we are kind to our prisoners.”

            Ojo thought this over very carefully. “I had an idea that prisoners were always treated harshly, to punish them.”

         “That would be dreadful!” cried Tollydiggle. “Isn’t one punished enough in knowing that he has done wrong? Don’t you wish, Ojo, with all your heart, that you had not been disobedient and broken the law?”

Ozma of Oz
Ojo is tried and goes before Ozma--who is not a cruel and heartless leader--but a kind and gentle Ruler. She explains that “I suppose a good many laws seem foolish to those people who don’t understand them, but no law is ever made without some purpose and that purpose is usually to protect all the people and guard their welfare.”

She goes on to explain that a six-leaved clover is an ingredient used in magic charms and transformations. That so many witches and wizards were using their powers for evil and not good that she forbade everyone except Glinda the Good and the Wizard (who will only use their magic to benefit the people and make them happy) from doing magic. The law was there to protect the people from committing evil--if they can’t get the ingredients, they can’t do black magic. Simple as that.

Ojo is truly repentant and is set free to continue his quest. Ozma will allow him to gather what he needs so that Dr Pipt can work the charm and then she will take his magic powers away.

I am always very moved by the passage about the role of the prison. As someone who is anti-death penalty I think it has something valuable to say. As Sister Helen Prejean says, “Everyone is worth more than the worst thing they ever did.” I definitely think people should be punished for their crimes, but our modern penal system breeds hatred and darkness. If any of these people are expected to get out and become a productive member of society then we need to change how prisons work. I am not saying they should be a joyride or a holiday camp, but humane treatment would be a start. So many prisoners are in solitary confinement which can have seriously damaging long term psychological effects. Prisoners need access to books, educational training (such as getting their GED) because low literacy rates and high  conviction rates go hand in hand. They need someone to help show them the goodness that is in them--perhaps long buried and forgotten. They need to be able to be helped to make restitution to those they have harmed.  

I am part of an organisation called LifeLines which writes to prisoners on death row in the United States. My pen friend and I have been writing for five years. This man is truly one of the dearest friends I have ever had--he is a candidate fro redemption and could very well, if released, become a productive member of society. However, I fear he may never have the chance.

Our overcrowded prisons in the UK and US tell us something different must be done. Kindness breeds reform.  Baum knew that back in 1913 when he wrote the book. Have we learned nothing since then?




Sunday, 3 November 2013

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

All I ever needed to know about life I learned from Oz

I really did learn so many lessons from Oz--how to be brave, how to use the gifts you have (even when you don’t think you have them), how to be open and accepting to people/creatures who are quite different from yourself, how to go with the flow when the whole world around you is not as you expected, how you can be a princess in Oz but still have to do the washing up at home--just to name a few.   

But this is one of my favourite scenes in any Oz book--the chapter is called Scraps and the Scarecrow.

On their way to the Emerald City, our intrepid band of travellers, Ojo the Unlucky, Scraps the Patchwork Girl, Bungle the glass cat and their new friends the Woozy and the Shaggy Man , come face to face with the Scarecrow who is riding the Sawhorse (whom youll remember, oh best beloved, was brought to life using the Powder of Life). 

Upon seeing each other, the Scarecrow and the Patchwork Girl stared at each other in wonder and then asked their respective friends to tart them up a bit. OK, not the words Baum used, but thats what happened.


            “Shags,” he whispered drawing the Shaggy man aside, “Pat me into shape, there’s a good fellow!”

 While his friend patted and punched the Scarecrow’s body, to smooth out the humps, Scraps turned to Ojo and whispered:

“Roll me out please; I’ve sagged down dreadfully from walking so much and men like to see a stately figure.”

She then fell upon the ground and the boy rolled her back and forth like a rolling pin, until the cotton had filled all the spaces in her patchwork covering and her body had lengthened to it’s fullest. Scraps and the Scarecrow both finished their hasty toilets at the same time, and again they faced each other.


The Shaggy Man introduced them where after they both bowed with much dignity. Here is a photo from the 1914 silent film version of The Patchwork Girl of this meeting.

              “Forgive me for staring so rudely,” said the Scarecrow, “but you are the most beautiful sight my eyes have ever beheld.”

            “That is a high compliment from one who is himself so beautiful,” murmured Scraps, casting down her suspender button eyes by lowering her head. “But, tell me, good sir, are you not a trifle lumpy?”

         “Yes of course. It’s my straw, you know. It bunches up sometimes , in spite of all my efforts to keep it even. Doesn’t your straw ever bunch?”

          “Oh I’m stuffed with cotton,” said Scraps. “It never bunches, but it is inclined to pack down and make me sag.”

          “But cotton is a high grade stuffing. I may say it is even more stylish, not to say aristocratic, than straw,” said the Scarecrow politely. “Still, it is but proper that one so entrancingly lovely should have the best stuffing there is going. I--er--I’m so glad I’ve met you Miss Scraps! Introduce us again, Shaggy!”

         “Once is enough,” replied the Shaggy Man, laughing at his friend’s enthusiasm. 

I love this exchange because two very unique creatures who are considered “queer” (to use Baum’s words) have found each other perfect. This is how I feel about the Amazing Spiderman. From the moment we first spoke at JD’s birthday party in February of 1989, I knew he was the one for me. It was completely clear on that first night after talking for hours that we were way too weird for anyone else.

So lesson number one--beauty is in the eye of the beholder


There is someone out there for everyone

Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Seemingly Impossible Task

Our story continues….

Poor Ojo

Ojo and Scraps decide they will seek out all the ingredients for the antidote to the Liquid of Petrifaction whilst Dr Pipt begins the six year task of making the new batch of the Powder of Life.  Scraps recites in verse form (Ojo gave her a good dose of poesy when he was adding her brains) what they must search for.

Here’s a job for a boy with brains:

A drop of oil form a live man’s veins;

A six leaved clover; three nice hairs

From a Woozy’s tail, the book declares

Are needed for the magic spell,

And water from a pitch dark well.

The yellow wing of butterfly

To find must Ojo also try,

And if he gets them without harm

Doc Pipt will make the magic charm;

But if her doesn’t get ‘em, Unc

Will always stand a marble chunk.

After this outburst Dr Pipt remarks, “Poor Margolotte must have given you the quality of poesy by mistake. And if that is true, I didn’t make a very good article when I prepared it or else you got an overdose or an underdose.”
the Glass cat

And so they set off, Ojo the Unlucky, Scraps the Patchwork Girl and Bungle the haughty glass cat with pink brains (“You can see ‘em work”)

the Woozy with three hairs in his tail


Throughout their journey they meet many wonderful, magical, mystical creatures such as the Woozy(something Baum does exceedingly well) and we learn many lessons along the way.


The three lessons I always take away with me from this book are:

1. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

2. Kindness breeds reform

3. There is no excuse for cruelty

Stay tuned for the lessons!