A funny thing happened on the way to the post office…

toilet cabin
Stefan Jakubowski
Once Upon A Tyme
Zygmunt Stanley 2009

It’s Tom Tyme’s sixty-fifth birthday and after he has been down to the village post office – while it’s still there – to collect his pension he’s going to become a Time Traveller.
But he doesn’t know that yet.

Doctor Who has his Tardis, Tom Tyme has his … Portaloo. No, this isn’t a Cornish seaside resort — though we do get to visit Tintagel — but a machine for travelling in time and space. Unlike the Tardis, however, there’s not much space inside it and the flush doesn’t do what you’d want it to.

And that’s just for starters in this inventive comic novel, which involves a talking moggie, King Arthur’s sword Excalibur and mistaken identities — from which you’ll gather it’s absolutely pointless giving a plot summary. My copy of the book, by the way, was inscribed by the author himself with the legend “Beware the grannies!” Too late, I’m afraid, as I’m married to one, but luckily she in no way resembles the extremely dangerous clones of Monty Python’s Hell’s Grannies that pop up here from time to time.

Occasionally Once Upon A Tyme reminded me of Tom Holt’s The Portable Door, with which it shares some themes as well as humour, though it isn’t as well written as Holt’s novel. As in many comic novels with strong fantasy flavourings there is some rather twisted logic which it doesn’t pay to examine too closely, plus dialogue and description with lashings of sarcasm and understatement, all of which may or may not be to your taste. After a slowish start hampered by adjectival indigestion the action picks up, with sufficient twists and turns aided by short jumpcut chapters to keep the reader interested. There’s even a sequel, Tyme and Time Again, if you want more of the same.

The finished product could have done with some decent editing, excising typos and overuse of ‘mayhap’, but after all’s said and done the dedication says it all: “For Fun”. At least nothing like this happened on my sixty-fifth birthday — these days you don’t have to go in person down to the post office as it’s all done electronically.

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