What happened 300 days ago?
It was the 22nd of May 2019.
The world celebrated the 19th annual International Day of Biodiversity.
And I last posted on this website.
Yes, after a 300-day hiatus, I’m back! I know, I know, it was unforgivable, and I’m sorry. For a while I considered changing my Twitter handle (@reviewsbyjordi) to something else, because I hadn’t reviewed anything in a long time! But now I’m back to it, and hopefully you won’t have to wait as long as that ever again.
As people who read this website may know, my dad is author Jon Blake. He’s written over 60 books, and two of them are extra important to me: the Thimble books. They feature the series’ disabled narrator Jams Cogan (loosely based on me), his dad, failed author Douglas Dawson (not based on my dad), Jams’ mum and Douglas’ partner Nora, and madcap monkey Thimble. The first book, Thimble Monkey Superstar (released in 2016), details Thimble’s arrival with Jams and his family, and Douglas’ numerous attempts to get rid of him, which result in some hiliarious scenes! Eventually, Thimble becomes part of the family. You can buy the book here. It was shortlisted for the 2017 Lollies (Laugh Out Loud Awards).
In the second book, Thimble Holiday Havoc (released in 2017), Thimble and company go on a home swap holiday to France. Being in another family’s house makes it doubly important that nothing should go wrong. This of course inspires Thimble to even wackier exploits, leaving Jams, Douglas and Nora to pick up the pieces! You can get the book here.
And now the third book, Thimble Wonga Bonkers, the subject of this review. It was released in March 2020, ending a 28-month Thimble hiatus. In this book, Nora goes away on a spa week with her friends, leaving Thimble, Jams and Dad at home with nothing but £30 for shopping, plus the money in the petty cash box. This goes awry when Thimble spends the £30 on bananas and swallows the key to the cash box, leaving the trio in a frantic scramble for money! Along the way they rack up significant debt, and leaves Dad facing a difficult question: would he really do anything for money? The third book is perhaps the best Thimble story yet; the scenes are even more side-splittingly funny than before, the characters develop well, Thimble is more lovable than ever, and it is stunningly illustrated by Martin Chatterton, who also illustrated Thimble Monkey Superstar and Thimble Holiday Havoc.
Overall I would recommend the book for 7+, but it could be read to a younger child. It’s a great family novel, and kids will most likely love Thimble the crazy monkey. If you need to find a book to read to your child, I advise you to try this one.
That’s all from me, but I will leave you with an extract to give you a taste for the story.
What you are about to read is a never-before seen exclusive: the entirety of Chapter Six from an earlier draft of Thimble Wonga Bonkers. The whole of the chapter was cut during the final draft, so there are no spoilers. Though it didn’t make it into the book, it should give you a fair idea of what to expect.
Resigned to the fact they have lost the key to the cash box, Jams and Douglas turn to other plans…
Please note, Dad never uses speech marks, the editors do that for him.
Chapter Six: In which Thimble becomes Darth – sorry, wrong franchise.
Let’s look at the positives, I said.
There are no positives, said Dad.
There is one positive, I replied. I don’t have to look for the sixpence in the Christmas pudding.
You call that a positive? said Dad. I call that a big fat negative, because it means we’ve lost the key!
We do have the meatballs, I said.
And how long are they going to last? Dad looked down at his ankle, where the bag of frozen meatballs were resting.
How’s the swelling, Dad?
Going down, thankfully.
There’s a positive.
Yes, I’ll soon be able to walk to jail, which is where I’m heading.
Nonsense, Dad. We’ll find a way of making some money. Is there anything we can sell?
At this point Thimble walked in.
Hmm, said Dad. There is one thing.
I wouldn’t sell Thimble for a million pounds, I replied.
A tenner would do for me, said Dad.
Wait a moment. I’ve just had a thought. We could hire him out!
Good luck with that.
Seriously, Dad! A day out with Thimble Monkey Superstar! People will be queuing up! All I need to do is to make an ad!
And how will we pay for that? It costs two quid to put a card in the Post Office window.
There’s this thing called the internet, Dad, and this site called FreeAds, and guess what, it’s free.
I don’t trust the internet.
I know Dad. You also think that websites are campsites for spiders. Luckily I know better.
Making an ad with Thimble was brilliant fun. First, we thought up all the things that Thimble was good at: sign language, acrobatics, juggling, chopping things up, charades, and annoying Dad. Then Thimble did all these things while I filmed him. I added the voiceover, Thimble added the signover, and finally I did that very fast talking bit at the end:
Normal terms and conditions apply 24 hour contract the value of your monkey could go up or down texts to Thimble cost £1 plus your standard network rate remember when the fun stops stop
With growing excitement I uploaded the vid to FreeAds and awaited our first response. It wasn’t long coming:
Dear Mr Cogan
I am interested in your offer of a day with ‘Thimble Monkey Superstar’ for the ‘bargain price’ of £100. Is it still possible to hire him today? And is it possible to pay the fee by bank transfer, rather than in ‘used fivers in a plain brown envelope’?
Amber Stonewall (Mrs)
We’re in business Thimble! I cried, and ran to tell Dad, who received the good news without a smile. This was probably because the ad wasn’t his idea, except for the bit about the used fivers. But he wasn’t going to turn down a hundred pounds, and once he’d made sure we’d got the money, lent me his third-best toothbrush so I could clean Thimble’s teeth. I was determined that Thimble would look his best for his first booking. After all, if it went well, there might be plenty more, and that would mean mountains of dosh.
Now remember, Thimble, I said, you must be on your very best behaviour. No putting random items in the microwave, no sawing up the furniture, and absolutely no drilling holes in the swimming pool!
Thimble nodded thoughtfully, but couldn’t prevent a little snigger escaping.
Hmm, I thought. Is this actually such a good idea?
Too late. The doorbell rang, we hurried to answer it, and were faced by a stern woman in a stiff blue skirt suit accompanied by the glummest girl I had ever seen.
Ah, said Amber Stonewall (Mrs). This must be Tumble.
Thimble, I replied.
I wanted a fairy, said the girl.
Joy, said Mrs Stonewall, I’ve told you a hundred times, I cannot get you a fairy.
I wanted a fairy, repeated the girl.
Well, you’ve got a lovely monkey.
It’s not lovely. It’s ugly.
Joy, that is very rude! We may think the monkey’s ugly, darling, but we do not say it!
Thimble’s hand snaked round my arm and took a firm grip.
It’s ok, Thimble, I said quietly. I’ll be with you.
Oh, said Mrs Stonewall. I didn’t realise that was part of the deal.
You need me to translate, I said.
I thought he did sign language, said the woman.
Yes, I replied, but in Welsh.
Mrs Stonewall viewed me doubtfully. Edwina will be very crowded, she said.
Who’s Edwina? I asked.
You will soon find out, replied Mrs Stonewall. Er. . .what is your name?
Jams, I replied.
Is that an odd accent, or actually your name?
It is my name.
Oh dear. Did your parents not know how to spell?
There was a loud throat-clearing from behind me. Actually, said Dad, his father is an author.
Mrs Stonewall viewed Dad without enthusiasm. I could tell she was about to say that thing that people say to Dad, that thing that drives him totally mad.
And have you had anything published?
Small snorts of steam issued from Dad’s nose and the edges of his ears turned deep crimson. Would I call myself an author, he snapped, if I had not had anything published?
Mrs Stonewall’s lips tightened against her teeth. She had not taken to Dad. Come on, Joy, she said. Let’s introduce the monkey to Edwina.
Thimble was not keen to leave Dawson Castle, and I was no less nervous. It came as some relief to discover that Edwina was actually Mrs Stonewall’s car.
But not just any car. Edwina was a 1960s Austin Mini Cooper, better known as a Mini, and mini it certainly was. You’d have struggled to fit four teddy bears into it, let alone three people and a monkey. On the other hand it was as shiny and spotless as if it had been built yesterday. The roof was covered by a union jack while the rest was bright metallic blue, except for two broad white stripes running down the bonnet. Four gleaming foglamps sat across the radiator grille and the hubcaps shone like diamonds.
I’m so sorry, Edwina, said Mrs Stonewall. You’ve got rather a lot to carry today.
Mrs Stonewall and Joy climbed into the front seats. Thimble and I clambered into the back. I felt like Alice In Wonderland after she’d eaten the mushroom which made her grow.
This was my mother’s car, said Mrs Stonewall, and woe betide anyone who leaves the tiniest speck on the upholstery!
I wasn’t sure what woe betide meant, or upholstery for that matter, but I got her general drift: don’t breathe till we get out of the car. Which had now started, rather slowly, and very noisily.
I bet we’re going somewhere boring, said Joy.
Well you’re wrong, said Mrs Stonewall. We’re going to the fairground.
With a monkey? I don’t want a monkey coming on the rides.
He won’t be.
Good. He can hold my things.
He can indeed, darling.
I still wish he was a fairy.
A fairy couldn’t hold your things, darling.
Luckily Thimble wasn’t taking any notice of this conversation. For some reason he was totally fascinated by this car. He watched every move Mrs Stonewall made, from turning the ignition key to checking the mirror and changing gear. Edwina was so different to Mum’s car, and the taxi, and those four chairs Dad sometimes set up when he pretended to drive us to the beach.
Mrs Stonewall was certainly in no hurry. She drove as slowly as an old caretaker pushing a broom and peeped her horn every time another car came within ten metres of us. I’m sure she’d have been happier with a police escort. Or maybe to have all other cars banned so that Edwina could cruise along threatened by nothing but bird poop. Come to that, wouldn’t it have been best to get the skies cleared as well?
Thankfully we got there in the end. Mrs Stonewall parked Edwina in the middle of three empty spaces and put warning triangles in the spaces either side. A thorough inspection of the vehicle followed. Out came Mrs Stonewall’s hankie, to wipe away the remains of a fly which had thoughtlessly headbutted the windscreen.
Don’t fret, Edwina, she said. Mummy will be back soon.
Thimble seemed quite reluctant to leave the tiny car, but the moment he saw the fairground his eyes widened. What kind of monkey paradise was this? Roller coaster! Helter skelter! Ferris wheel! Drop tower! Waltzers, dodgems, log flumes, candyfloss!
Er. . .don’t get too excited Thimble, I said.
Give the monkey your rucksack, Joy, said Mrs Stonewall, and your umbrella.
Thimble received these unexpected gifts with a baffled expression. They were followed by Mrs Stonewall’s handbag, a massive shiny leather affair which almost dragged Thimble down to the ground.
That’s a good monkey, said Mrs Stonewall. Now follow.
Mrs Stonewall led the way, pointing out the sights to Joy, who was still not very joyful. Now what would you like to go on? she said. I think the carousel would be a good idea, don’t you dear?
Hook-a-duck, mumbled Joy.
That’s not very exciting! And everyone knows the prizes are worth less than the cost of playing!
Oh, very well. It is your birthday, so I suppose you must do what you want. But I shall be deciding what we do next.
We stopped at the stall. Thimble knew all about hook-a-duck, had actually hooked quite a few ducks himself, and was obviously keen to hook a few more, but I had to disappoint him.
Not today, Thimble, I said. I thought of trying to explain what it meant to be a hired monkey, but I knew he wouldn’t understand. There are no hired monkeys in the jungle.
There’s something wrong with these ducks! moaned Joy. She was hopeless at it. I could have hooked a dozen by the time she finally managed one.
Well done, Joy! cried Mrs Stonewall. Look, you’ve won a plastic machine gun!
The monkey can carry it, said Joy.
The plastic machine gun was added to the rucksack, the umbrella and the massively heavy handbag.
Mrs Stonewall now decided it was time for Joy to go on the carousel, even though Joy didn’t want to go on the carousel, and the horses made her hot, which meant that Thimble had to carry her jumper.
The carousel was followed by the spinning cups-and-saucers, followed by the helter-skelter, followed by the log flume, by which time Thimble was literally hopping with frustration.
I decided it was time to say something:
Mrs Stonewall, couldn’t Thimble go on a ride?
I was met by a blank stare. I don’t believe that was in the contract, said Mrs Stonewall.
He’s getting frustrated, I replied.
Well I’m very sorry, said Mrs Stonewall, without sounding the least bit sorry.
He’s not used to being a servant.
For goodness sake! Animals have been our servants since the dawn of time! Horses pull carts, camels carry baggage, dogs herd sheep! I suggest the only problem with your monkey is that he’s been spoilt rotten and doesn’t know the meaning of a hard day’s work!
I bit my tongue. Mrs Stonewall didn’t look like she’d done a day’s work in her life, unless you counted giving orders.
Now, Joy, she said, what would you like to do next?
Dodgems, said Joy.
Excellent choice, said Mrs Stonewall. In my day they called them bumper cars, but silly people were doing too much bumping and not enough dodging.
No-one better bump me.
I shall give them a piece of my mind if they do.
Can’t you come with me?
I’d never fit, darling.
Joy was now looking decidedly doubtful, and by the time we reached the dodgems had completely changed her mind. That didn’t stop Mrs Stonewall from lifting her into the nearest vehicle and explaining the controls even though it was obvious she was no longer listening.
The music started, the dodgems went live, and WHAM! Joy was belted from behind before she’d even set off.
Things were about to get even worse. The two big boys who’d belted Joy saw they’d got a hopeless victim and came at her again. And again. Joy was as helpless as a mouse in the claws of a cat. Each whack sent her jolting forward in her seat until she could stand no more. Covering her face with her hands, she sat and cried.
Stop that, you monsters! yelled Mrs Stonewall, but the boys took no notice. As far as they were concerned, Joy was fair game. Wham! They thumped her again.
Suddenly something flashed past my ear.
Was it a bird?
Was it a plane?
No, it was Thimble Monkey Superstar!
Thimble was on a mission. In a few speedy lollops he had reached Joy, squeezed himself alongside her and seized the controls. It is a strict rule in dodgems that everyone goes round in the same direction, but Thimble was never one for rules, especially strict ones, and set off like a heat-seeking missile for the big boys. The shock of seeing a monkey in a dodgem was bad enough, but the shock of being rammed side-on at full speed was even worse. Suddenly the big boys weren’t looking so cocky. Another six rams from Thimble and they were literally begging for the ride to stop.
It shouldn’t be allowed! they cried, as the music stopped and the torture mercifully ended.
Thimble gave them a little salute.
Good going, Thims! I cried, as Thimble returned in triumph.
I ought to tell you off for dropping the bags, said Mrs Stonewall, but on this occasion I shall forgive you. You have saved Joy from a very bad experience.
Thimble did not respond.
Does he understand? said Mrs Stonewall.
Oh yes, I replied.
Then why is he looking at me like that?
He’s hoping for a reward.
Does he like candyfloss?
I’m sure he will.
We’d never given Thimble candyfloss, seeing as it was nothing but sugar, but predictably he gobbled it down, or at least tried to, as half of it got stuck to his nose and ears. So his day had ended happily after all, except, as I was about to discover, it wasn’t quite over yet.
Now Joy, said Mrs Stonewall, when one falls off a bike, one must get back straight back on and ride it again.
Not the dodgems again! protested Joy.
No, replied Mrs Stonewall. Something scarier.
The ghost train.
I’ll come with you this time. And if you get round without screaming, I’ll give you a book token.
Can Thimble go on? I asked, hopefully.
Thimble’s had his reward, snapped Mrs Stonewall. So saying, she dragged a reluctant Joy off in the direction of the said ghost train, leaving me to pick up the bags, the jumper and the plastic machine gun, and return them to Thimble.
Except. . .Mrs Stonewall’s bag was missing!
And so was Thimble!
This was it. The even-more-ultimate nightmare. Thimble at large in a fairground, on a sugar high, with Attila the Hun’s handbag!
What’s the worst that could happen? I asked myself.
Then I heard the commotion.
It was coming from the direction of the car park.
I hurried with all the speed I could muster. Something told me the commotion was connected to Thimble and I was not wrong. Somehow the manic monkey had got himself into Edwina and was now driving her at furious speed around the car park, forwards, backwards, sideways, thumping and bumping every car in sight.
Stop, Thimble! I cried. It’s not a dodgem! It’s NOT A DODGEM!
My words were in vain. Thimble continued on his mad mission, THUMP, BANG, CRASH, till precious Edwina was so badly stoved in the wheels were stuck fast.
At this point I heard the voice of Mrs Stonewall behind me.
I’m sorry, Joy, she said, but there will be no book token. You screamed three times.
I couldn’t help it, replied Joy.
I don’t see why not, said Mrs Stonewall. I’ve never screamed in my life. Ah, there’s Jams.
Hello, Mrs Stonewall, I said. I’m afraid there’s been a little bit of an accident.
Mrs Stonewall followed my gaze, to where Thimble was climbing out of the pile of mangled metal that used to be a vintage Mini Cooper.
Jordi Blake, March 2020.