WHEN MUM WENT FUNNY Jack Lasenby, Longacre, Dunedin NZ, 153 pages, paperback, NZ$16.99.
When Mum Went Funny is a warm and witty re-creation of rural life in wartime New Zealand, seen through the eyes of a young family. The youthful narrator thinks his Mum went crazy during the war but readers will quickly see that Mrs Costall is just coping with the problems of raising a family and running a farm single-handed while her husband is fighting overseas.
Her four children may be poor but they have a rich fantasy life. They ride Old Pomp to school at Waharoa and pretend he’s a Lancaster bomber. ‘Kate was the pilot, and the rest of us squabbled over who was going to be the air gunner in the rear turret.’
There are lively accounts of such events as putting the car up on blocks, milking the house-cow and driving the sheep to Waharoa. Mum often talks to God (“You’d think a poor old body on her own wouldn’t have to slave out in her garden from daylight to dark to put food on the table for four great overgrown children.”), spins outrageous yarns and threatens to sell her children to the visiting circus for lion-tucker. Mum’s threats always turn out to be jokes on her family. Tired of cooking, she shows them food pills to replace meals. It is only after a long debate that the children realise they are being offered peppermints.
Jack Lasenby’s humorous invention never flags, making this the best account ever of a mother who played barefoot for the All Blacks.