There are many things in life that do not go according to plan. Kerr’s books are about what you do nextby Ella Risbridger / May 24, 2019 / Leave a comment
There is a picture I have been thinking about for almost a quarter of a century. It is to me the picture of perfect happiness. In some ways, it is the picture around which I have shaped my whole adult life.
Aged maybe four, I saw this picture and wanted to live somewhere with cafés, and streetlights, and rain. I wanted to live somewhere with a doorbell; where I wouldn’t always know who was coming in. I wanted to live in such a way that I could, if necessary, go out for chips late at night.
The picture I mean is, of course, the last double-page spread in Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came To Tea. You know the one, if you know the book: streetlights pooling their reflections on wet streets, and a coat over your nightie. A café with steamed up windows that serves chips and a sense of unexpected freedom.
Not just freedom, though, but the sense too of something extraordinary: the sense that life as you know it might be upended at any minute by a tiger, or indeed any other change of plans. A sense that all the rules—bedtime, for instance, or what we wear outside, or where we go when it’s dark—are mutable, given the right circumstances.
Kerr, who died this week aged 95, made a world where the ordinary and the extraordinary went hand in hand: where the matter-of-fact-ness of the strange (Tiger Food!) and the precise and loving details of the domestic (“all Daddy’s beer”) are equally important. Ordinary life is extraordinary, and worth noticing. And yet extraordinary things happen to ordinary people all the time.
The world, per Kerr, is a staggering place full of exciting things. Sometimes those things are tigers and sometimes they are cafés in the dark, sometimes they are fleeing your home, and sometimes they are fireworks on Bastille Day or learning to speak French or fragments of bombed-out glass shimmering beautifully and sparklingly on the pavement. You never know who will be at the door: the list of possibilities—even before the tiger comes into play—is thrilling. So many people! So many options! And then the option you didn’t even know you had!
It isn’t that there is nothing…