I was somewhat surprised this morning to receive a parcel through Amazon, containing four rolls of black tape. The reasons for the mysterious delivery were eventually explained to me four hours or so later, but my only immediate thought at the time when I opened the package was "I seem to be having Baxter's Bad Day."
I left the tape on the sofa for my brother to find when he came in from work, and sure enough, as soon as I came downstairs at lunchtime, he immediately asked "Are you re-enacting Baxter's Bad Day?"
Does everybody else think of that when they unexpectedly see black gaffer tape? Or do you have to be of a very specific generation and background? I mean, this is actually the only time I've received unexpected black tape in the post, and it's been well over thirty years since I read or thought about the book in question, but it's obviously one of those things that sticks permanently in one's mind.
A Read-and-Play Storybook, published in 1983. American, and very conspicuously and strangely foreign to a young British reader in the 1980s, it was written by Jean Marzollo and drawn by Shelley Thornton. We must have acquired it through one of the primary school book clubs, or something like that. It was a great work! The important thing is that it came with push-out figures of the characters in it, and a series of clothes to dress them up in. There may even have been a stage you could assemble, with multiple backgrounds and slots to slide the characters into, so you could stage the entire story at home! As best I can recall, this is how the story went:
Baxter, the bear on the cover, is having a bad day. I forget exactly what series of things made it bad - from the cover, it's obvious that it was raining on his way to school, but there were other things that happened to him too. Maybe someone had thrown a heavy object at him and broken four of his ribs, or possibly I'm mixing it up with our father's copy of Dr Fegg's Encyclopaedia of ALL World Knowledge, which I also enjoyed reading at around the same time.
Anyway, after a great deal of badness one way or another (did one of the other things relate to his packed lunch being in some way deficient?) Baxter and his four classmates, who may also have been bears but might possibly have been other animals, are told that they are each to pull an item out of a bag and create some kind of costume and performance based on that random prop. The other classmates all pull good things like a magic wand out of the bag, but Baxter is left to last and ends up with a roll of black tape.
He continues to lament his bad luck overnight, but then has some kind of inspiration involving a bee, and creates himself a bee costume using the black tape and probably his yellow raincoat as seen on the cover. The following day, he gives a spectacular performance, and although it's one of those everyone-gets-a-prize competitions, Baxter doesn't have to be contented with 'funniest' or the ribbons his classmates get; his accolade is 'best of all'. He concludes that it turned out not to be such a bad day after all - so maybe the book's action didn't actually cover two days, and he created the costume during school hours; I don't know.
Anyway, the gaping plot hole that everybody who read the book always felt ruined the whole suspension of disbelief came near the end, when the teacher apologised for Baxter getting a roll of tape, saying it wasn't supposed to be in the bag, and must have fallen in there accidentally or something. And yet when Baxter pulled the tape out, it was explicitly said to be the only thing left in the bag! If the tape just accidentally fell into the bag, what happened to the fifth prop that should have been in there? This, along with the peculiar Americanness of the whole thing, led a whole generation of primary school children to conclude that the writer had no idea how to write a coherent story!
Despite this, it was a great book. And maybe I'll use any leftover black tape to create a bee costume of my own!