Auntie Phyllis gave me A. A. Milne's The House at Pooh Corner for Christmas 1941, and the thing is that it's as entrancing and funny in 2015 as it was when I was nine. It is, after all, the best children's book ever written - and pretty nearly the best book for adults. It radiates humour - good humour - and joy, and captures childhood on the page as no other book does - and re-reading it rejuvenates the oldest reader. Much of the delight of course is in the characters: the ultimate pessimist, Eeyore, the simple, charming Alan Bennett-like Piglet, the brash, bouncy Tigger, the Wise Owl, Wol, and of course Pooh himself, the resident Bear with a poem for every occasion: (sometimes dropping into vers libre):
'I could spend a happy morning
And I couldn't spend a happy morning
Not seeing Piglet.
And it doesn't seem to matter
If I don't see Owl and Eeyore (or any of the others),
And I'm not going to see Owl or Eeyore (or any of the others)
Or Christopher Robin.'
Scene after scene is etched in the memory - Pooh's encounter with the Horrible Heffalump was the first piece of prose which, read to me, reduced me to helpless hysterical laughing. But every scene in the book has its own laughter, as when Eeyor first encounters Tigger:
'Hallo, Eeyore,' said Pooh. 'This is Tigger.'
'What is?' said Eeyore.
'This,' said Pooh and Pioglet together, and Tigger smiled his happiest smile and said nothing.
Eeyore walked all round Tigger one way, and then turned and walked all around him the other way.
'What did you say it was?' he asked.
'Ah!' said Eeyore.
'He's just come,' explained Piglet.
'Ah!' said Eeyore again.
He thought for a long time and then said:
'When is he going?'
I don't think I could love anyone who doesn't love The House at Poor Corner.