Fun with Mammy and Katie
HUMOUR:The collected wit and wisdom of the Irish mammy and the political thoughts of a less-than-happy baby citizen make entertaining – if pricey – stocking fillers
Isn’t It Well for Ye? The Book of Irish Mammies, By Colm O’Regan, Transworld Ireland, 236pp, £9.99
Angry Baby: Ireland’s Youngest Political Activist Speaks Out, By Arthur Mathews, Hachette, 200pp, £10.99
Seven years working in a bookshop taught me one thing about Christmas: clear the bookmarks, flyers and pens off the counter, replace them with small piles of stocking-filler joke books and stand back while the shoppers indulge in a lot of last-minute gift buying. They’re the literary equivalent of snack-sized Rocky Road Mini Bites beside the tills in Marks Spencer or bags of Tayto next to the self-service counters in Tesco: impulsive, indulgent, disposable.
The comedian Colm O’Regan’s Isn’t It Well for Ye? The Book of Irish Mammies started life as a Twitter feed, 140-character words of wisdom uttered by mammies throughout the land and endlessly retweeted by followers. The concept loses some of its humour in book form where brevity is replaced by lengthier pieces that veer from laugh-out-loud funny to mildly amusing to predictable and stale.
Perhaps the problem can best be summed up in an early section titled Bunreacht an Tí (or Constitution of the House). A series of articles with witty titles – I Hope You Didn’t Use the Good Scissors for That; That’s the Good Tea Towel, Hold on a Second and I’ll Get You a Rag, for example – are undermined by long paragraphs extrapolating on the premise, which tend to kill the joke and leave the reader thinking, Yeah, we get it. An argument, if ever there was one, for the concise nature of Twitter.
The more observational pieces are the most successful. An essay titled Stranded recounts almost perfectly the experience of family holidays down the country when I was a child: “Those sun-drenched memories started the night before, with the making of the Holiday Sandwiches . . . A 500 ml bottle of TK White Lemonade, its packaging and labels gone, would carry the milk.”
And there is also A Cautious Reception, which recounts the seismic shifts and sensibilities of the Irish mammy, not to mention the twin rabbit ears of the television aerial, on the momentous day in September 2000 when Coronation Street moved from RTÉ Two to TV3.
Special praise, however, should be reserved for Doug Ferris’s neat and witty illustrations, which appear throughout the text and never fail to raise a smile.
The politics of the house give way to the politics of the country in Arthur Mathews’s Angry Baby, a “diary” of baby Katie Woods, born February 2010, who glares out from the cover wearing an expression of righteous fury and a T-shirt bearing the slogan “Bertie Ahern Ruined My Country”. Katie spends her early months trying to understand the country that she has been born into: “Enda is ancient as hell, but looks 30 years younger . . . He is very neat and tidy, and his mama obviously sends him off to the Dáil every day in a lovely suit and tie.”