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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Cairo Jim Memories

This morning I woke up thinking of Cairo Jim.

Cairo Jim is the hero of a series of children's books by Geoffrey McSkimming. I know Geoffrey because we were in touch for a while by email after I went to a library conference where he was the speaker and I learned from him that there was a market for short non-fiction at the NSW School Magazine, where he worked at the time. Thanks to this information I established a long, happy relationship with the magazine and its delightful  editor, Jonathan Shaw.

But this is about Cairo Jim. Cairo Jim is Geoffrey McSkimming's creation, a sort of Indiana Jones for younger readers, although the author does throw in a lot of in-jokes which adults are more likely to pick up than children, like the Asterix comics. Mind you, he told me I was the only reader he'd met ever to spot his reference to Marge and Gower Champion, those famous Hollywood dancers of the 1940s in  On The Trail To Chacha Muchos. That book is chronologically the first, though the second written. In it, Cairo Jim visits South America where he first meets his Shakespeare-quoting macaw companion Doris, while searching for a local tribe, the Chacha Muchos, who danced off into the jungle under the leadership of their chief Arturo Murrayo. At one point, Jim is rescued by that fabulous flight attendant Jocelyn Osgood, who arrives in a balloon accompanied by a dance band who think she's Dorothy Lamour.

Jocelyn Osgood has her own series, in between the Cairo Jim books, starting with After The Puce Empress. She solves mysteries. She is a strong, capable woman and there are hints that she has a thing for Jim, but he never notices. Actually, he doesn't notice when another woman, a member of the Turkish branch of the Antiquities Squad, throws him strong hints about her attraction to him via her mobile phone ring tones and in a later book she finally tells him that she was causing trouble for him because he didn't take her hints.

And this brings me to the time in which the novels are set - I have no idea when that is! There's that mobile phone, of course. In an early book, Mrs Amun-Ra, who runs the tea shop in Jim's village of Gurna finds a photo of Buzz Aldrin on the moon(1969).

 On the other hand, Gerald Perry Esquire, who's a sort of Marcus Brody character, says he remembers an incident that happened in 1912! He's not a young man, but he couldn't be that old. And the novels have that 1930s/40s flavour, with the dance band and mentions of  Dorothy Lamour, who was around in the fifties, with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in the Road movies and a character being excited to find a radio in his hotel room. 

I've given up trying to date them and just enjoy them for what they are. I think the author simply picks up the best bits of every era and throws them into the mix.

The series is delightfully clever and often laugh-out-loud funny.  The characters are over the top, such as Captain Neptune Flannelbottom Bone, the villainous ex archaeologist who is now into looting and has his own animal companion, a fleabitten raven called Desdemona. Jim's two companions are Doris the macaw and Brenda the wonder camel, who reads westerns and makes telepathic suggestions, although Jim doesn't realise this.

Children won't pick up that Gurna was the name of a village whose inhabitants made a living out of tomb robbing, but I did - and laughed. Probably they won't have heard of Dorothy Lamour, let alone the Champions, but that won't stop them from enjoying.

Funny as the books are, there's a serious message under all the jokes: that we shouldn't  be looting the heritage of other people's countries. Funny as Neptune Bone is, he is only a representative of the real world looters who have helped themselves to ancient treasures over the years and refused to return them. Both Jim and Jocelyn believe firmly that these things should be returned and so does the author.

But you're not hit over the head with it. There's a delicious silliness about the whole series that lets you enjoy while you get the message.

Think I'll go and reread the lot!

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