Monday, 16 April 2018

Hamilton Hug You




I know you're all very interested in the Senior Bear here at The House of Stories, so here he is in conversation with Much the Gnome. These days his fur is thinning so he usually wears a sweater or one of his very smart waistcoats.

Hamilton came to live with us one Christmas many years ago. The local supermarket were selling bears with very sweet feet over Chritmas, and for the first time we had a little leeway in the budget. Just a little, mind. Not enough to buy a bear just because you like the look of it. Then after Christmas the remaining bears were on special offer, so they were all special bears, and we bought the one who was hiding behind the coffee jars so that nobody could find him but us. My magazine serial had just been published, and the name 'Hamilton' came from that.

Hamilton proved to be very cuddly and also amazingly acrobatic. That first night he explained that he didn't want to live upstairs in somebody's bedroom, he wanted to be a downstairs bear at the heart of the family. He has been at the heart of the family ever since, and mentors the newer bears. He runs an underground railway for the rescuing of distressed bears who have been abandoned or ill-treated. I have it on good authority that he can fly. He likes football, but only if he can watch it in company. He looks after my hats, comes with us on holiday, has a starring role in important family events, carried the rings at Daughter's wedding, reads, and has been known to roll over thumping the floor laughing and jump out from behind doors. He is a consoling bear. At twenty years old, he has no plans to retire.

He is as snowy white as the day he came to us. Anybody who thinks he's a bit grey and worn is... well, that gets either a hard stare or a roll on the floor laughing, depending on his frame of mind.

BTW, I know those of you from Over The Pond rely on this blog to find out what's happening in Ambridge. It turns out that it was the late Nic Grundy who hit Matt Crawford. It was an accident, and when she went back she couldn't find him. She probably assumed he'd crawled under a stone somewhere. Shula has left Alistair because she doesn't love him any more. No, I wasn't convinced either. Jill Archer's cross. Emma's on default grumpy setting. Brian's family forced him to step down from running the farm, so he's got more time to wind everyone up. Oh, and Alice was drunk at Nic's funeral. I hope that's all clear.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

A Bear of Very Little Brain

If you think Pooh Bear is a small podgy American in a red top that doesn't fit him, you are sadly misled. He was originally called Edward Bear, but he wanted 'an exciting name all to himself' so he became Winnie-the-Pooh. Winnie was after a bear in London Zoo, and Pooh was something you could say to your favourite swan if he was ignoring you. He is soft enough to take to bed and stout enough to get stuck in Rabbit's doorway. He's not afraid of Heffalumps or Expotitions as long as Christopher Robin is with him. He is a faithful friend to Piglet and has very good manners, which makes it awkward if you think it's time for a Little Something but you don't like to ask.

Piglet understands about Pooh. When Piglet is surrounded by water in the floods, he wishes he had Pooh there. 'Pooh hasn't much Brain, but he never comes to any harm. He does silly things and they turn out right.' And in this crisis, Pooh has quite brilliant ideas. He floats away on a boat to find Christopher Robin. The boat is a jam jar - 'Sometimes it's a Boat and sometimes it's more of an Accident. It all depends.' 'Depends on what?' asks Christopher Robin. 'On whether I'm on top of it or underneath it.' He also has the quite wonderful idea of turning Christopher Robin's umbrella into a boat, and they float off together to rescue Piglet.

He is also a poet, tiddly pom. 'It's a very funny thought that, if Bears were Bees/They'd build their nests at the bottom of trees/And that being so (if the Bees were Bears)/We shouldn't have to climb up all those stairs.' That's a Complaining Song, because it's not easy for a short and stout person to climb a tree all the way to a bees' nest in search of hunny.

He is the Bear of the Moment. He was Christopher Robin's Bear, and so in his stories he is exactly what Christopher Robin needs him to be. One of my vicar friends once told me that he hopes God looks at him and says 'Silly Old Bear'. Me too. A Silly Old Bear is a good thing to be.

Orl cwotashuns are from Winnie-the-Pooh by A A Milne.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Back to the House of Stories. With Bears

I am still alive. Hello.

I didn't get to spend much time at The House of Stories earlier this year, what with family stuff. (I have a new grandson. If he were any cuter he'd be a kitten.) Then I gave up social media for Lent so I thought the blog may as well go into hibernation, too, and I didn't know whether to wake it up. The new book is Fifteen Things Not To Do With A Puppy and is doing very well, but you knew that, didn't you?

Then, yesterday, we - that's Tony, Hamilton Bear and I - were watching some quiz programmes. Hamilton's favourite is University Challenge, and after it he commented that there weren't enough questions about bears on there. The bear has a point. So Hamilton and I are going to do a bit of Bear Blogging. (For all those of you who just said 'Bare Blogging' and thought it was hilarious, Hamilton is giving you a hard stare. And in this weather?)

Let's start with that Bear of Bears, Paddington. Michael Bond saw a lonely little bear on a shelf on Christmas Eve, bought it for his wife and found that there was a story in this bear. It was eleven years after the end of the war, when it was quite usual to see children with suitcases and labels round their necks on London stations. The British ones were evaccuees, the others were refugees, all needed the kindness of strangers like the welcoming Brown family. Paddington waits quietly for someone to look after this bear, confident that someone would. Michael Bond would say later that Paddington wasn't a teddy bear, he was a bear. He had, he said, 'the naivety of a child and the sophistication of an adult'. To me, he has a kind of holy innocence that protects him in spite of whatever comes his way.

What's so great about Paddington, I mean, apart from the hat, the coat, the wellies, the marmalade sandwiches? He believes that everything can be dealt with using good manners and the only weapon he ever uses is the Hard Stare. He raises his hat. He gets into all sorts of difficulties to do with buns, hot baths, and trips to the theatre, but he keeps calm and carries on. Come to think of it, Paddington Bear is a role model. Be More Paddington.

Friday, 22 December 2017

2017

OK, 2017, thank you for giving me a new grandchild-in-waiting, a new FIFTEEN THINGS book - 15 Things Not to Do With a Puppy - delightfully illustrated by Holly Sterling, who is very good at drawing puppies. Speaking of puppies, welcome to Tide who lives with The Sunshines and is an absolute star. Thank you for all the times we've seen our little Welsh chap. Thank you for Greenbelt 2017, friends, family, learning something new, and going with The Golden Child and her mum to see The Royal Ballet dance The Nutcracker. We all came out of that feeling sparkly.

You took Mum, which was a kind and timely thing. You also took three lovely friends - Cecilia, Alan, Alistair, who all still had so much living to do. You very nearly took my sister, and left her so badly injured she was in hospital for over six weeks. In return, you gave me flu and bronchitis. I really don't know how to thank you. Oh, and a cool wet summer.

You also gave me the reliable cycle of times and seasons, the church festivals, new babies at the toddler group and older ones growing up. The reliable Tony, too, who drove thousands of miles helping my family out and kept things turning over when I've been ill.

In Scotland and Northern England we have the tradition of the Firstfoot, the first person to come into the house at New Year. It should be a dark man, and he is supposed to bring luck. In practice this usually means throwing one of the menfolk out just before midnight and letting him in again after the chimes. Last year, it was LOS. LOS, are you reading this? You're not doing it this year. I'll ask Hamilton to be first paw.

As for The Archers, they are completely out of control. Justin and Lillian's wedding is back on if he doesn't get arrested first. Freddie is permanently spaced, Pip is expecting a little accident, Emma's whingeing again, Linda insists on putting rhyming couplets into the pantomine, the vicar just exploded, Peggy's cat needs to be restrained under the Dangerous Animals Act, and Shula is going to Norway leaving Kenton to run things. Kenton can't run a bath. Never mind, he'll probably be eaten by Peggy's cat.

Happy Christmas! xxxxxxx

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Posada

The House of Stories has been the House of Plague for two weeks. Any small animals in the vicinity are wearing masks, except for the squirrels who are hiding under their beds in case Apple comes round with her cordial. One of my dad's old jokes was that flu is the result of leaving the window open, as in 'I opened the window and in flew enza', but it ain't funny when you're whimpering quietly under the duvet.

However, I'm back, thanks be to God, today I was back at church for the first time in two weeks, and it's Advent Sunday, the first Sunday of the watching, waiting and waking up time. One of my favourite Sundays, and the church's New Year. For the first time, we had a Posada.

In case you're not familiar with this, the Posada is a set of figures - Mary, Joseph, and the donkey - who need a place to stay in the nights leading up to Christmas, and families take turns to welcome them into their homes for a night. The figures have their own ministry, as they help us to think about hospitality, and homelessness, and recognising God when he turns up on our doorsteps. Our rector talked a bit about each of the characters, and we all had tea lights. We could light our tea lights for Joseph - the man who wanted to get out of this situation, but stayed - Mary, who had so many preparations to think of - or the donkey, faithfully carrying other people and their problems.

When the rector said that the donkey is the one who carries us when we need help, Tony and I decided that we are each other's donkeys, which may be one of the nicest things we've ever called each other. But the reason I lit a candle for the donkey is because the donkey plods on and does what it has to do, even though it doesn't have a clue what's going on. I totally identify with that donkey.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Fiddler's Green

I want to talk to you about this man, here -


Thank you John Wraith and Gillian Blamire for these beautiful photographs.

I grew up with the North Sea to the east of me and the River Tyne to the south. North Shields Fish Quay was where my grandfather used to go in the early decades of the twentieth century to buy fish fresh from the boats. It was also where his sister famously hit him across the face with a haddock. There were always bright little boats, and wooden crates piled with shining fish and ice. There were screaming gulls, men in oilskins, and, after the middle of the morning, the smell of disinfectant when everything had been scrubbed down.


Fishing is one of the most dangerous occupations going, and the harshest. Imagine ice in the marrow of your bones and your hands too cold to feel, sleet spray in your face with teeth that bite to your heart, and the unrelenting, muscle-wrenching graft. The ganzies (sweaters) those men were had to be knitted with the thickest wool on the thinnest needles, an almost impossible task, to make them as dense and warm as possible. The other thing about the ganzies is that the different fishing villages had their own designs. if a man was lost at sea and washed up on the coast, the locals could find out where he came from by the design on his sweater. Tough as hawsers, those men.

It happens rarely these days, but it happens, that a boat comes back without a full crew. Every fishing town and village has its stories about fishermen lost at sea.

A year or two back, some inspired people in North shields and thereabouts decided that there should be a memorial to the fishermen lost at sea, a tribute to them and a focus point for those whose men never came home. This year, Fiddler's Green was unveiled. 'Fiddlers Green', they say, is the place where fishermen go when they die, a kind of fishermen's heaven.

So here he is, sitting on the Fish Quay be the Tune with his boots, his ganzy, his cap, and a ciggie in his mouth. His face is weathered. He is part of our story.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Now the dark nights are here

You can tell the clocks have gone back. Assorted monsters, ghouls and things with white faces turned up on the doorstep on Tuesday night. Yesterday I was in Newcastle, where my friend Mary and I got together to see Northern Ballet dance their beautiful, lyrical Little Mermaid. Walking back to the bus station, we tried hard not to look at Christmas trees. Yes, it's November, Halloween is over, so the shop windows are full of Christmas trees and sparkly things. We looked ahead of us, walking briskly, talking about the ballet with its lovely underwater scenes and the little red seahorse. No, we are not looking at Christmas yet. We are sort of thinking about it, as in what our children will be doing and what presents to give, but that's the secret workings of Christmas. Not the shop window.

The changing of the clocks seems to have made dear old Ambridge kick off. Sit up and take notice, it's time for The Archers. Lately, I could take or leave it. Kate's daughter is turning into mini-Kate (there's a surprise) and they deserve each other. There is a battle for a place on the Council, young Emma up against Mr Boring, who is being bullied into it by his wife. Roy is pretty boring, too, as he hovers nervously round Lexie. Pip is getting back together with useless Toby. Lilian, the seventy-year old gin-soaked man eater, was happy with her new chap and they were planning their wedding when Sleazy Matt turned up again. Matt is Lilian's previous. He is also a nasty manipulative piece of work, but hey, they had some good times before he took all her money and scarpered to South America, didn't they? He has tried to win her back and came so close to succeeding that the nation held its breath.

NB Meetings and social events start at 7.30 sharp. Waiting to hear the end of The Archers is no good reason for being late, unless you tell us all what happened. Will she, won't she?

Anyway, to cut a long story short, when everybody who is anybody was at the Jolly Old Hunt Ball, Matt wandered drunkenly across the road and got knocked down by a car that didn't stop. He is recovering, Lilian is always at his bedside, and there is much speculation on who was behind the wheel. If I were a betting woman I'd put a tenner on the ghost of Grace Archer or young Freddie out of his head on magic mushrooms. But Matt should have taken more care. This is Ambridge. Soapland. It's dangerous out there.

Grace Archer died in a fire, Polly Perks in a car crash. Mark Hebden? Also a car. Both those sisters were widowed young. Pat and Tony's son John died when a tractor fell on him, Nigel famously fell off the roof (and it's never been so much fun since). Put on your high vis jackets, everyone, and your stab vests. And no climbing on roofs. This is Ambridge.