Posts Tagged anecdote

The Wall

Peter Sis’s illustrations are careful, unassuming and somehow gentle. But the story he tells of his childhood in Prague, The Wall, through his pictures, through minimal text supplemented with historical annotations and snippets from his own journal entries, is of a world that, however permanent it looked at the time, is now hard to believe in.


September 1963

Colonel Jan Pixa was named a Hero of the Czech Socialist Republic – for his ingenious plan for catching “disturbers of the border,” people tring to cross over to the West. He made a fake border so the “bad guys” would think they had gotten through. When they saw the American flag and were greeted by secret service men disguised as American soldiers, they’d think they had reached the West. The defectors would tell the secret service everything they knew and name their friends. What a surprise when the defectors found out they weren’t in the West after all and were going to prison for life. Colonel Pixa is a hero.

Slowly he started to ask questions. He painted what he wanted to – in secret.


Everything seemed possible . . . It was the Prague Spring of 1968!

Everyone wanted to draw. They painted a wall with their dreams . . .

and repainted it again and again.

Things got worse. He dreamed of being free. Wild dreams.



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Allan Ahlberg

I like listening to Desert Island Disks on Radio 4 – hearing people talk about their childhoods and their lives. I’d downloaded a few to listen to in the car this summer as we went up to Skye and across France. I’ve just listened to the one with Allan Ahlberg, which I recommend to you.

Allan Ahlberg has made so many brilliant books, and very nearly didn’t. It was meeting his late wife Janet who was an illustrator that got him writing.


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The Torch

Children’s author, poet, broadcaster… Michael Rosen often goes for anecdote-poems. Here’s a favourite:

Here’s the story he tells if your connection is slow –

The Torch

I nagged my parents for a torch:
– I’d love a torch, oh go on, one of those ones with
the black rubber round them, go on, go on…
It was no good. I wasn’t getting anywhere. Then came
my birthday. On the table was a big box. In the box, a
torch. My dad took it out of the box:
– You see that torch, he says, it’s waterproof. That is a
waterproof torch.
So that night I got into the bath and went underwater
swimming with it: breathe in, under the water, switch on,
search for shipwrecks and treasure. Up, breathe, under
again, exploring the ocean floor. Then the torch went out.
I shook it and banged it but it wouldn’t go. I couldn’t
get it to go again. My birthday torch. So I got out the
bath, dried myself off, put on my pyjamas and went
into the kitchen.
– The – er – torch won’t work. ‘S broken.
– And my dad says, What fo you mean, ‘It\’s broken’? It
couldn’t have just broken. How did it break?
– I dunno it just went off.
– I don’t believe it. You ask him a simple question and
you never get a simple answer. You must have been
doing something with it.
– No, no, no, it just went off.
– Just try telling the truth, will you? How did it break?
– I was underwater swimming with it.
– Are you mad? When I said this torch is waterproof, I
meant it keeps the rain off. I didn’t mean you could go
bloody deep-sea diving with it. Ruined. Completely
ruined. For weeks and weeks he nags us stupid that he
wants one of these waterproof torches and the first thing
he does is wreck it. How long did it last? Two minutes?
Three minutes? These things cost money, you know.
At the weekend, he says,
– We’re going into Harrow to take the torch back.
We walk into the shop, my dad goes up to the man at the
counter and says,
– You see this torch. I bought it from you a couple of weeks
ago. It’s broken.
So the man picks it up.
– It couldn’t have just broken, says the man, how did
it break?
– And my dad says, I dunno, it just went off.
– Come on, says the man, these torches don’t just
break down. You must have been doing something with it.
– So I said, Well actually, I was in the –
And I got a kick in the ankle from my dad.
– I was in the – er – oh yeah – the kitchen and it went off.
So the man said he would take it out the back to show
Len. He came back in a few minutes and said that Len
couldn’t get it to work either.
– You’ll have to have a new one, he says.
– I should think so too, says my dad. Thank YOU!
Outside the shop, my dad says to me,
– What’s the matter with you? You were going to tell him
all about your underwater swimming fandango, weren’t you?
Are you crazy?

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summer holidays – M reading Aesop

The King of the beasts was in an irritable mood. That morning his mate had told him that his breath was most unpleasant. After doing considerable roaring to show that he was king, he summoned his counselors.
First he called the sheep.
“Friend sheep,” he roared, opening his great mouth, “would you say that my breath smells unpleasant?”
Believing tha the lion wanted an honest answer, the sheep gave it, and the king of the beasts bit off her head for a fool.
Then he called the wolf and asked him the same question. The wolf, catching sight of the carcass of the sheep, said, “Why, your majesty, you have breath as sweet as blossoms in the spring -”
Before he could finish he was torn to pieces for a flatterer.
At last the lion called the fox and put the question to him. The fox gave a hollow cough, then cleared his throat. “Your majesty,” he whispered, “truly I have such a cold in the head that I cannot smell at all.”

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Plundering porpoises!


Most of what happened at Paddington Green Primary School when I was a kid has been wiped from my memory, or not even stored there in the first place. But I do remember they walked all us urchins across to the Library in Church Street. The author/illustrator John Ryan was there. He showed us how he made his mechanical animations for the Pugwash programmes, like this one.

(added to post later)

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