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Aunt they wonderful?

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Eva Ibbotson loved them. Enid Blyton confined them to the kitchen. Roald Dahl had it in for them (Spiker and Sponge were squished by James’s giant peach, and I’m sure Matilda’s Miss Trunchbull had nephews and nieces). Fairy tales aren’t keen on them, and history has condemned many to the woods as witches.

But I think aunts are the cream of characters – wild and free, travelling the world with Graham Greene or bringing cool presents to Ramona and Beezus. With their sharp eyes – beady or twinkly, depending on their morality – aunts make brilliant spies, detectives, fairy godmothers, angels and sweetie suppliers. They can be mysterious, bossy, subversive and super-kind. They can wear tweeds or flowers in their hair, smell of turnips or roses, and do scary things with handbags. They can be older siblings to your mum or dad, bossing around your own bossers, or those strange things called in-laws, connected enough by marriage to be interesting, but unrelated by blood so their nutty genes don’t infect your own. They can be great or agony, maiden or poor Aunt Sally (a person who’s the butt of criticism). Most of all, they are NOT PARENTS.

Why not invent your own? There simply aunt limits.

My all-time number one: Aunt Fidget Wonkham-Strong from How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen by Russell Hoban (a brilliant story and guide for anyone who wants to be completely baffled by English public school games).

Illustration by Quentin Blake

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