I’ve just been helping my little granddaughter with her reading homework. At 5 she is already coping with the vagaries of English, can recognise ‘through’, and ‘should’, and other bizarre spellings. We did have trouble with ‘knight’ which kept coming out as king, for obvious reasons, but I am impressed by how she and other kids assimilate such inconsistencies, as we all had to do back in the day.
That set me thinking of Janet and John, or was it Peter and Jane? Janet/Jane in a pretty dress was always helping Mummy peel potatoes in the kitchen, while John/Peter in flannel shorts dismantled a carburettor in the garage with Daddy (apocryphal perhaps as I don’t have the evidence now). Not that we thought this was anything other than normal, when we girls were expected to play with baby dolls and toy cookers, while the boys and their pipe-smoking Dads got to enjoy Hornby railway sets and Dinky cars.
Back to the Future. The girl in the modern books is called Biff and she looks and dresses exactly like her brother, Chip, in jeans and trainers. She has a magic key which takes her on adventures and time travel, although not as far as I am aware to the 1950s. To begin with she goes on a school trip to a castle and is annoyed when the boys dress up as knights and she has to be a lady. Then her magic key transports her to King Arthur’s court where the knights are squabbling about who gets to sit at the top of the table near the king. Biff impresses them all with her amazing skateboarding skills, then uses her feminine diplomacy to organise a round table for them to use. Everyone is happy until she asks to be a knight. They laugh heartily and say ‘girls can’t be knights’.
Back home, in the real world, we leave her saying ‘it’s not fair, girls are as good as boys’. She’s right, on both counts, but it’s a nasty business being a knight, especially with that silent ‘k’ and all those s-w-ords.
Moving to the next story: Gran is a silver-haired old lady holding a feather duster (aren’t we all – or have we skipped a generation somehow?). She does at least drive a car, but she is fooled by a crafty car salesman into buying a souped-up sports car because her old car has failed its MOT – (‘What is fail?’ asks my granddaughter. I try to explain, not very successfully, ‘Well it’s like you have to do a test, but you don’t pass it, you don’t get through’. She nods doubtfully, and I realise that in her world there is no such thing as passing or failing – or not yet anyway).
Not surprisingly Biff’s parents disapprove of Gran’s new car in case she gets caught speeding. So – the magic key transports Gran (with Biff and bro) to Monaco, where she wins the Grand Prix or possibly the Monte Carlo Rally, all against the machinations of an evil mustachioed Baron. Meanwhile Back in the Future she is unaware of all this, and is already trading in her sports car for a small runabout like mine. Of course she is. How else will she be able to squeeze into a tight parking space near the supermarket?
I’m thinking of writing another book for the series. In this story Gran causes a sensation parking her sports car on the pavement outside the hairdressers, where she goes in and gets her hair dyed magenta. After this she drives to the Bank of England and sorts out the financial crisis, successfully negotiates world peace at the UN, and teaches Donald Trump how to bake scones at the White House. For all her achievements she finally gets to be elected President of the Federation of Planets and exchanges the sports car for the star-ship Enterprise. I think that’s enough to be going on with. It’s a story that can’t fail surely, even if it needs a magic key. Perhaps the feather duster could transmute into a wand of some sort. Of course in this book Biff can get to be a knight if she wants, but she won’t be allowed anywhere near sharp implements, including potato-peelers.