Monday, 9 April 2018

The Tiger Who Visited the Past

Everyone knows this wonderful book.
Well, except its new readers. No one is actually born knowing the book.

I read it to my children in the 90s and we have the same copy still. Now I read it to my grand-daughter, MB, who also has her own copy, the 50th anniversary copy, signed by Judith Kerr—but I tend to read the shabby old paperback to her instead of the shiny, heavy hardback.

My daughters had no problem with this book, though it looked rather old fashioned. Today, it looks almost alien. It describes the childhood I had, and that's a world away from now.

If I could draw, this post would be much better. You'll have to put up with words and make the pictures in your head. But that's what writers and readers do, so it won't be a problem.
My grand-daughter's life is not the life of an absolutely typical 4-year-old. For one thing, she has only one toy with batteries: an Octonauts station. Most of her toys are either wooden or they're LEGO/Playmobil, a lot of it previously owned by her mother and aunt. She spends a good deal of time with someone who can't operate the TV, and is only allowed an iPad on aeroplanes. We walk to the supermarket a good deal. If there were a child whose life came close to that of Sophie, it's probably her. But still the book is stuffed with beguiling mysteries. I've added some mysteries that I imagine will strike some of MB's friends.

What are Sophie and her mum doing? They're having tea, with cakes and buns and sugar-laden stuff, before daddy gets home. Is this just her snack? Will she have pasta and pesto/chicken nuggets later? What's that brown jug with a lid the tea comes out of? How come Sophie's mum is sitting with Sophie at a table for her snack? Hasn't she got a job to go to? Has Sophie already got back from nursery/after-school club? Wouldn't she be watching something while she had her snack? Why are they eating such unhealthy food? And if that's what they eat, why aren't they a lot fatter?
[revised picture brief: Sophie is on the sofa eating breadsticks and hummous; her mum is on her iPhone; Sophie is watching TV or playing a game on the iPad]

Someone knocks on the door. What, no doorbell/entry phone? Who are these people it 'can't be'? What's a milkman? What's a grocer's boy? Can't they go to the supermarket like normal people? Why is Sophie allowed to answer the door on her own? And she lets a stranger in—doesn't she know better than that? If not, she shouldn't be opening the door. Her mum doesn't even tell her off.
[revised picture brief: Sophie's mum goes to buzz the Tiger in after checking it's not a canvasser for UKIP or a Jehovah's witness. Or a mugger]

Why do they think a tiger will eat buns? Haven't they ever seen Planet Earth? But we'll let that go as it is a story after all. They seem to have quite a strange kitchen with no microwave, dishwasher or washing machine. It's not clear what Sophie's mum is cooking but it takes a lot of pans. Why does the beer only belong to daddy? They have a lot of odd things in their cupboard and fridge... At least the recycling is piled up near the sink so they aren't total savages.
[revised picture brief: Sophie goes into the kitchen to microwave a ready-meal for the Tiger; the Tiger gets some apple juice from the fridge but ignores the beer, prosecco, wine and non-dairy milk]

Why is Sophie's mummy so distressed about not having any food for daddy? Can't he cook? Can't he use Deliveroo? Isn't there an all-night Tesco or an M&S local? Daddy comes home and he's wearing pretty odd clothes and a weird hat—why? Maybe he's a used-car dealer. Why does daddy think it's a brilliant idea to go out in the dark to a cafe? Is his phone out of battery? Why does he gaze into the distance while Sophie and her mummy tell him what's happened? He probably thinks they're covering up for something with an implausible tale, or they are the latest victims of the opiate crisis. But no matter, because there is a cafe that sells really unhealthy food nearby. What's wrong with the bus they go past? People can fall out of the back; it should be in the depot being fixed.
[revised picture brief: Daddy/muumy use the Deliveroo app to choose some food and all watch something on Netflix until it arrives]

At the cafe, why does daddy drink beer but Sophie and mummy have no drink at all? Well, it is the patriarchy.
[revised picture brief: They sit on the sofa with their Deliveroo delivery and play on their phones]

Why do they go to the shop with a basket on wheels to buy food? They can't live in too remote an area for a Tesco/Sainsbury/Ocado delivery because we've just seen their street. And wouldn't you have to order tiger food from Amazon? At least mummy is up to date with the plastic-bag pariahdom.
[revised picture brief: Daddy arranges an Ocado delivery while mummy and Sophie choose the best option on tiger food delivery]

But as one mrsflowerpot said on twitter in 2004, 'what kind of nutcase lets a tiger in anyway?'

Anne Rooney
Blog: The Shipwrecked Rhino
Latest book:
Dinosaur Atlas, Lonely Planet, 2017


Susan Price said...

Love it!

Rosemary Hayes said...

Just LOVE this, Anne xx

Saviour Pirotta said...

Love this, and hopefully the 'weirdness' of the characters' lives could lead to a discussion about the 'distant' past. I wonder if the current play adaptations update the story.

Katherine Langrish said...

Wonderful! Thankyou!

Dotty Jo x said...

Still use this book with great success today, but I do have plenty of explaining to do. Recently bought these for myself and my teacher friends. You'll love them, please take a look - totally brilliant and a real antidote to the fifties-ness of the original. Jo x

Enid Richemont said...

Brilliant, Anne.

Penny Dolan said...

A most perceptive and accurate reading, Anne. Just the kind of post I needed to see today, so thank you!

Amanda Craig said...

Very funny - and yet I recognise everything about the life it describes (as a mother who works from homes). I hate doorbells, to we have a knocker. I've never ordered a meal from Deliveroo in my life, and as for eating while watching TV...perish the thought! But maybe part of the charm of children's classics is that they not only describe but instruct new parents. I learnt a lot about how to organise small children from Lucy & Tom books. which were set in the time my own childhood.

Moira Butterfield said...

Some things will always remain exciting at any age, I think, like going out somewhere to eat when it's the dark, because that's unusual when you're little (or is it now?). I remember reading Peepo by the Ahlbergs to my son, with its 1940s imagery. He didn't seem to care that it was different at all, but I used to tell him that it was how his gran and grandad grew up. He probably thought 'What's she on about now'.

Stroppy Author said...

Moira and Amanda - we are contemporaries, so yes, your children might have thought it quaint but not totally alien as mine did. I have a door knocker and my children had milk delivered by a milkman and I've never ordered anything from Deliveroo. But I'm not in my 20s. Looking at the lives of MB's cohort, they are much more different from my children's lives in the 90s than theirs were from mine in the 60s. I agree that having a tiger come round would still be exciting, though :-)

Leslie Wilson said...

I guess when the Tiger knocks they might assume it was a delivery person (a lot of them seem allergic to doorbells). Not Amazon, nothing due today. Not Ocado, they’re coming tomorrow. Abel and Cole; not their day either. Perhaps a delivery for next door? (Always taking in deliveries for them). Oh, it’s a tiger, canvassing for the Green Party in local elections! I did hugely enjoy this post, Anne. Thanks!

Stroppy Author said...

I love your additions, Leslie!

Lynne Benton said...

Thanks, Anne - a lovely post! It really made me laugh.

LuWrites said...

Best post I've read in ages. Also reckon the entire family might have suffered obesity problems from bun intake. Or maybe the tiger chased the calories away...