Me and My Million by Clive King ~ 1976. This edition: Kestrel (Penguin) 1979. Ex-lib hardcover. ISBN: 0-7226-5185-6. 133 pages.
My rating: 9/10.
From the front flyleaf:
Ringo knew he was carrying more in his laundry bag than just old socks. Whatever it was, his part in the job was a cinch – his brother Elvis had told him to leave it at the laundrette at the end of the 41 bus route. So how come Ringo found himself on the other side of London with a million pound picture in his bag and not so much as 10p in his pocket? Lost, broke, stuck on the pitch-black underground platform for the night – and scared witless by Angel Jim, all hairy and hippy, padding up beside him. Ringo’s troubles were just beginning…
Angel Jim took him home to his squat in the fire-station – all peace-loving and sharing. But sharing meant they wanted their cut of the million pound picture. And so did Uncle, the big dealer, and his chauffeur Eugene, and Glasses and his gang, not to mention Elvis! It looked like Ringo was cornered – until he fooled an old lady into holding onto the goods, and slithered down her drain-pipe to the canal – right onto Big Van’s barge – and what does he find? Big Van’s got the million pound picture, or one exactly like it. Big Van was just about to explain, when a copper knocks at the barge door. Ringo’s troubles were beginning again…
Cheerfully unrepentant young delinquent Ringo tells of his part in the gone-wrong art heist master-minded by his junior-criminal brother Elvis. (Regretfully, we never get to meet the rest of their family.)
“Well, Elvis, he’s only half my brother really. So he’s half at home and half somewhere else. He’s old, more than twenty. They gave him this soppy name after some old pop star… Ringo, that’s what they call me. I think it’s some other old pop star that my mum liked…”
Clive King must have had a good time writing this fast-paced adventure story. Young Ringo, from the first sentence onward, never breaks character for an instant. Though we’d best not trust him alone for a minute with anything valuable around, his heart is nonetheless good deep down.
We willingly surrender our disbelief early on, when Elvis and his cohort Shane manage somehow to steal a valuable painting from a museum; Ringo is drafted as the receiver of the goods, and manages to totally mess up the hand-off to the next member of his brother’s gang. Ringo’s downfall is his obvious dyslexia – he struggles to read the simplest words, and numbers turn themselves around in his mind – hence his initial mistake in getting on the 14 bus versus the 41.
“It’s like this… It’s along of those figures and letters and words. I mean, like the buses. Elvis says forty-one and I get on a fourteen. But a forty-one coming towards you, and a fourteen going away, they look the same!”
Luckily Ringo’s mix-ups save his skin more than once as he careens through London bouncing off the most eclectic bunch of characters – a group of more-than-mellow peace-and-love hippies, a wealthy “picture collector” with less-than-legal connections, an artist-turned-(somewhat)-art-forger living on a canal boat, and a sinister group of animal liberationists with a dark agenda.
Happily everything turns up okay in the end. Ringo saves the day, and – water off a duck’s back – gets on with his life, which would appear to have taken a turn in a decidedly more positive (and distinctly more legal) direction due to his lively adventures and new acquaintances.
What a cheerfully loopy story this is! While it was written for a young(ish) audience, it is such a strong portrait of a certain kind of person at a certain point in time in a certain place that I suspect a young reader today would be rather at sea as to what’s going on and why the funny bits are so funny. The hippies in particular are such a period piece, gleefully and sympathetically portrayed by King. Or maybe there’d be no problem. My own offspring often surprise me by how sophisticated their understanding of the past sometimes is. And those of us who were young in the 1960s and 70s will “get it” completely. This book’s humour reminds me strongly of the classic 1969 British crime-and-car-chase movie The Italian Job, starring Michael Caine; Charlie Croker could have been Elvis’s role model!
Definitely share Me and My Million with your kids – it’s a neat little diversion of a book – but try it for yourself too. Enjoyable quick read.
Read-Aloud: I would say probably a “yes”, I’m thinking for 8 years old or so & up. Definitely worth a try. 14 shortish chapters; fast paced. I think once you figured out a narrative “voice” it would be great fun to do, though we never tackled this one as a read-aloud ourselves.
Read-Alone: Probably 10 & up, and well into the teens. Depends on the individual reader and how good they are at catching inferences and figuring things out from prior knowledge; written in a bit of a challenging style; the reader has to fill in the blanks.