Monday, 29 December 2014

Best so far

Christmas is a season, not a day, so Christmas is continuing. Best moments so far in The House of Stories

The Crib Service on Christmas Eve

Midnight Eucharist with all the beautiful music, carols, happiness, and lights shining in darkness

Tony got it spot-on right. A book I wanted, Sunshine on Leith on DVD (yes!!) and chocolate

Poorly Daughter getting better (though obviously we'd rather she hadn't been ill in the first place)

Six of us round the table and helpless laughter over the party popper game

The Patrick Stewart Christmas Carol

Music

The old story that gets brighter and more beautiful every year



And best moments in your house?

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Here

It comes at the same time every year, and we always end up rushing about to get ready for it. Christmas always arrives on 25 December whether or not we're ready for it, just as babies arrive when they feel like it, and the fact that mother is a long way from home with nowhere to stay is neither here nor there.

Not just babies. Bad backs come when they're most inconvenient, but I still managed to do all that really needed doing. Viruses turn up uninvited and poor Daughter was floored by one yesterday, but she was well this morning. The important things are still there.

Christ comes. Often surprisingly, often unrecognised. Ready or not, he comes.

Happy Christmas. xxx

Friday, 19 December 2014

stick

My back is definitely crocked. I toddle around a bit, do what I need to do, then sit down with a story to write or a book to read. (At this time of year, I'm reading Terry Pratchett's Hogfather again. Can recommend.) Much tells me that now I know what it's like to have a back made of blooming stone. Hamilton Bear has soft squishy stuffing to hold him up, and says it's much more sensible than a tower of bones going all the way from your head to your bottom. He may be right.

I can do most of what I normally do, but very slowly and with care. The first few steps after getting out of a chair are extremely unpredictable, so on Wednesday, when I was really struggling to get about, I bought a stick. I love it.

In a small, friendly town like this people notice if you have a stick. They are very patient with you at market stalls. They wait in their cars while you hirple across the road. (Hirple, BTW, is a Scots word for 'hobble' or 'limp'.) And they sort of melt away as I approach. Whether this is to give the poor limping lady room or to get out of the way of an eccentric biddy who might whack you with her stick, I don't know. But I suggest it's an indication that most people are really kind and considerate at heart.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

At last

Seven years, seven months, and a little bit more ago, small god-daughter was born. I determined then that I would take her to see The Nutcracker in London when she was old enough to last through it and young enough to find it magical.

I had hopes of taking her last year, but the tickets vanished like snow off a wall. This year I got in early, and booked months ago. The tickets were for Saturday, 13 December.

We couldn't have known that my back would start ouching towards the end of the week. We couldn't have known that Little Moppet would have all the energy knocked out of her by a virus. The whole thing was beginning to look precarious.

However, on Friday morning I could walk. I had difficulty getting up out of a chair, but once up, I was OK. Off I went to London to a very nice hotel and an evening of sitting by a window on the world, watching London go by while I drank coffee served by people who called me 'Madam'. On Saturday morning I got a call from Little Moppet's father. She was right as a trivet and ready to go.

We did it. We met up at Waterloo and went to the theatre in a real London cab driven by a real London cabbie. There was time before the theatre to go to Trafalgar Square and admire the Christmas tree sent by the people of Norway. We looked at the lovely sculpture of the newborn Jesus outside St Martin-in-the-Fields, watched street entertainers, and even nipped into the National Gallery. Then we were in our seats at the theatre, and the magic began.

We gasped at the snow effects and laughed at the naughty boys. We clung together as the Mouse King attacked the Nutcracker Prince, loved the whirling snowflakes, gasped at the Spanish and Russian dancers, and gazed spellbound at the beautiful pas de deux. When we finally left the theatre, we were full of sparkle. We will remember it always.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

More round the tree

Samantha suggests a musical instrument for Sepia, various baking things for Crackle, and foreign healing herbs for Cedar. I will ask Daughter about a suitable flute or piccolo for a squirrel.

Perhaps Crackle would like the cutters to make a gingerbread house. I'm afraid she was a bit sniffy about the idea of almond paste, as she always makes her own from almonds gathered on the south side of the island. I don't know how we're going to get the foreign herbs to Cedar but I'm sure we could get her a bay tree, and I'll see about some cuttings of rosemary and fennel from my garden.

Filbert would like slippers. He enjoys a quiet evening by the fire with Apple. Juniper says he doesn't want anything, but Needle and Myrtle are making him some warm tunics for the winter. Needle knows that he's never been completely well since his journey to Whitewings.

And Princess Almondflower thought very hard and finally looked out of the window and said she would like a sledge. And snow, please. And suddenly every animal on the island, from the king and queen to the smallest of Corr's many relations, want to go sledging. Crackle has locked the tea trays in a cupboard and sleeps with the key under her pillow.

I would like a new back, one which doesn't start hurting just when I have exciting plans for the next few days. Or perhaps Cedar could make me up some kind of potion, or I could find out what sort of liniment they use on elephants. That should sort it.

Now, about The Archers. They should re-name it The Aliens, as it bears less and less resemblance to itself and I suspect Ambridge is being colonised by Planet Furglesplott. David and Ruth are talking about selling the farm to Mr Moneybags, who will almost certainly knock it down and build a theme park, a prison, or a centre for testing industrial explosives. Tony Archer is still in hospital following an argument with a bull. Alice is on bad terms with Linda, Tom is on bad terms with Rob (but isn't everyone?) and Jennifer suspects Mrs Tregorran of doing in Mr Tregorran. Wee George now has a pet turkey. See what I mean? Furglesplott.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

The Mistmantle Tree

They don't have Christmas on Mistmantle, but they do know how to celebrate the Heart in winter. I've been Christmas shopping lately, which means that I may as well take a sleeping bag to the bookshop and move in. It got me thinking about what the animals on Mistmantle would like for Christmas.

Needle might like some green velvet and gold thread to make herself a really gorgeous cloak. Feathers might be nice around the hood. Perhaps I could have a word with a swan. She suggested that Urchin might like a complete set of the symbols for the Threadings Code to decorate his rooms at the Spring Gate, but he'd be quite happy with a bowl of walnuts and a basket or two of apple logs for the fire.

Speaking of Apple, she'd love a new mixing bowl. She left the cordial to ferment in her old one and it ate a hole right through.

Crispin and Padra are building a slide for the small animals. Last I heard, it started on Watchtop Hill and stopped somewhere just short of the tower.

And for Hope, who has wonderful new glasses, I'd like a telescope so he can see the stars.

If anybody else has any ideas for presents under the Mistmantle Tree, please tell us.



Monday, 1 December 2014

Much

It's no good, I can still 'ear 'er. 'Er took up the piano when 'er was well old enough to know better, and 'er is rubbish at it. Sorry, but there's no other way to put it. There's the conservatory and the sitting room between me and that blooming piano and I can still 'ear it.

The thing is, 'er knows 'er's rubbish at her piano but 'er works on the basis that if she keeps whacking out Silent Night, sooner or later, it'll be programmed into 'er. It's called muscle memory. 'Er muscles have got amnesia. You could surprise a cat and get a better noise than that. Call it Silent blooming Night? How did 'er come to 'ave a daughter like Daughter? Daughter could play them carols upside down and blindfold.

Apart from that, it's pretty good 'ere. Them little birdies still flit about the garden. There's still berries and suchlike out there for 'em, and if they want a chat there's me, Dodger and Oliver. One of 'em's done something on Dodger's 'ead, but 'e 'asn't noticed so I ain't told 'im. (Oliver and Dodger are the boy and 'is dog beside the apple tree, they were 'ere before us.) I 'aven't seen the 'edge'og for a while, so I reckon 'e's asleep. Dodger says 'e can 'ear 'im snoring, but Dodger would say that.

First day of December and all that. 'Er leaves it late to put 'er decorations up, just about a week or ten days before Christmas. Which set me thinking, I wouldn't mind a bit of decoration out 'ere. There's battery lights and stuff. And I wouldn't mind a bit of greenery meself. An ivy scarf would do me very nice. Perhaps one of you could tell 'er?

Saturday, 29 November 2014

advent wreath

More years ago than I will tell you, but well over thirty, Tony and I moved from the hole in the ground where we'd been living into a sweet little flat in a happy corner of Bristol. He was doing ministerial training, I was doing a secretarial job in the education offices, and we'd been married three months. When Advent began, I was determined that we'd have an advent wreath.

This was easier said than done as (a) we were trying to pull our home together around us (b) we were penniless and (c) I didn't know how to make one. I contrived something with four candles and the lid of a sellotape box. But it was important to me to have an advent wreath at home, so year after year I managed to make some sort of wobbly edifice with candles and holly. Remarkably, the house never caught fire and neither did I. Then, thirty years ago when we were again living near a German friend, I asked her to show me how to make a proper advent wreath.

Being a person who always goes the extra mile, she went one better. She made me a red wooden stand with a star-shaped base so that I could make a hanging wreath in the true German fashion, and we sat together on the Saturday before Christmas, making Advent wreaths. She had asked her mum in Germany to send the candle holders that you can't get over here. And every year since then I've made the advent wreath with red ribbons and green branches, the way she taught me.

It's there now, hanging from the stand she made, all ready to light tomorrow, waiting for its thirtieth Advent and telling me something. It's telling me how much I have to be thankful for over those years.

Monday, 24 November 2014

gift

Sunday was a day of gift. Firstly, I managed to get to church, which was an achievement after the last couple of weeks. Then in the afternoon, I had very special visitors. A friend brought her daughter, who looks a bit like a pixie, to see the Dolls' House.

Pixie and the house simply recognised each other like old friends. She hardly needed introducing to the family of dolls, and methodically sorted them all out, made up their beds, put the best china on the dresser, and set out their tea on the table. The baby is in the cot that Daughter made many years ago. A little doll who is now called Alice is looking after another baby and the cat, and Mr Christmas is having a lie down. She and the house were delighted with each other, and it was a gift to watch them.

There was another gift, too. Pixie had made me a loom band! And she's coming back before Christmas to put up their decorations. I'm looking forward to it so much.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Flop and Sleep

Yesterday I was out all morning, for the first time since I've been ill. By the time I came home, all I could do was flop and sleep. That isn't a very interesting thing to tell you

unless

Flop and Sleep. They are characters. They may be

The two laziest servants in the castle

A couple of dogs who never want to go for walkies

The two zookeepers who let the animals do what they like because they're hardly ever awake - and then when they do wake up they find the animals all partying up a tree, or in the hippo pool, or something

Over to you.

It reminds me of a town in West Yorkshire, which, wonderfully, is called 'Idle'. It's home to the Idle Methodists, the Idle Mothers' Union, and, my favourite, The Idle Working Men's Club.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Creak and Coventry

I'm back. Or some of me is. My feet are still not sure where the floor is and don't even ask what my head is doing, but I can tupe, I mean typp.

So what can I tell you about? The Cahooties (Lovely Younger Son and The Lassie) were away in Coventry this weekend, which is where the Lassie comes from. I know that a lot of you live far away and might not know about Coventry, so I'll tell you a bit.

It's a city in the English Midlands and goes back a long long way, and later became the home of the British car industry and a lot of engineering. It had a beautiful mediaeval cathedral until the Second World War. Because of all the engineering works in Coventry the city was heavily bombed, much of the city was wrecked in a firestorm, and the cathedral was destroyed. There's nothing left of the old building now but the ruins.

After the war, the time came to build again. What arose from the ashes was a modern and beautiful building, full of light. There are rainbows filtering through blocks of stained glass, soaring angels etched on windows and, over the main door, St Michael beating down the devil. Above all, it is dedicated to the cause of peace and reconciliation. Everywhere, you are reminded of it. And in the ruins of the old church there is still an altar. On it stands a cross made out of two pieces of debris rescued from the ruins. On it is the inscription 'Father, Forgive.'

Treat yourself and look at www.coventrycathedral.org.uk

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

The right kind of help. please...

No, Mistress Apple, that doesn't mean cordial. No, especially the extra-special cordial. I think you should save that for another time.

The problem is that the Lovely Lady is poorly. She says her head is spinning, her legs have gone wobbly, and her tummy is doing flip-flops and somersaults. She thinks she might rent herself out as a circus act, but I said she might need too many safety nets. Yes, Mistress Apple, I'm sure your cordial is fantastic for most things, but it might not be the right thing for this thing. When it takes all day to eat the piece of toast you had for breakfast, I think cordial might just complicate things. If your tummy is doing flop-flops and somersaults it needs to be able to land back on its feet. Actually, I've never thought before about whether tummies have feet, but they must have something to land on, so whatever tummies have for feet, that's the thing that cordial might just bamboozlify. Oh, yes, I've seen people well and truly cordially bamboozlified. Not good. Especially when the flip-flops come.

So, the Hairy Bloke is doing his best. We think she just needs a few days of rest and recovery. Cups of tea are more gentle than flagons of cordial, and the British have always known that a cup of tea is a Good Thing. So I make the tea, and make sure there's toast if it's wanted. The Lovely Lady asked me if I'd do the blog for her, just to let you all know what's going on, and as soon as she's well enough to do it herself, Margi will be back in your company. She's already looking a bit better than she was yesterday - so, to make her feel better, and let her smile at us the way she does when she's well, here's a picture taken a few weeks ago, when she was having a lovely time on a sunny day in the Lake District.

Get well soon, Lovely Lady. All the folk of Mistmantle, and all the folk who are friends of Mistmantle, want you to be sunny and smiling again.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Feral

Thanks to Daughter for telling me about Westgate Ark in Newcastle, which works with Cats Protection to rescue and rehome cats. At present, some areas are being invaded by feral cats.

Feral cats are unwanted cats who live wherever they can. Some are abandoned, or strays that haven't been neutered. An unneutered cat can produce litter after litter after litter, so these kittens have no experience of living in a house and before long they are old enough to breed. However much you like cats, swarms of them are a problem. The cats don't have much fun either, living on the street, scavenging for food, and having to fight for their place in the pecking order.

A heroic lady called Linda has been rescuing feral cats and kittens and taking them to Westgate Ark. The aim is to find them homes, but before this can happen they have to get used to being handled, and what it's like to live in a human environment. They have to feel safe with people. Not easy with adult cats, and probably not always possible, but the chances are better with kittens. Westgate Ark depends heavily on volunteers to do the immense work of feeding and cleaning, but now they also need volunteers to just be with the kittens, talk to them and handle them, in order to socialise them.

Yes. They need volunteers to cuddle kittens. It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Much

'Er's not safe with a pair of secateurs. Never was, mind, but 'er's getting worse.

'Er's taken up flower arranging. Flower arranging, yeah. Blooming 'eck. 'Er's rubbish at anything like that. Can't even hang the washing straight. 'Er likes sewing but 'er ain't no good at it, and 'er can't draw a thing. Now, even at this time of year, 'er's off round the garden snipping stuff and saying 'this'll come in'. Spiky stuff, 'alf dead stuff, whatever, it's not safe from 'er. Must be costing 'er the earth, too, buying flowers and stuff. Why blooming flower arranging?

Cos it doesn't matter, she says. Cos it'll be fun, and the class is only ten minutes walk away, and I think I'll like it. I'd like to make beautiful flower arrangements, says 'er, and if they go wrong it don't matter. If I can't get a book right, it don't get published and I don't get paid and I'll 'ave to go out and get a proper job and get up early in the mornings. I'm a mum, she says, if you're a mum you 'ave to be an OK one at least. I like to get together with me old Mum and Dad, and there's all that kids' stuff that I do, I have to do it proper and not let anyone down.

But flower arranging? Who cares if I mess it up? You can see 'er point. Nobody's going to be let down if 'er sticks a dahlia in upside down, are they? Won't hurt anyone if her ferns flop. Worst 'er can do is poke herself in the eye with a lupin, and give us all a laugh. And she came 'ome last night with her arrangement (some sort of chrysanthemum thing with pointy bits poking out of it) and weren't she pleased with 'erself. To be honest, it didn't look bad.

Story readers, I have been neglecting you. How long is it since I told you about the Archers, and it's so exciting! Listen up -

David and Ruth Archer are going to sell up at Brookfield and move to Northumberland! Now, you and I know they couldn't go anywhere better, but excuse me? David and Ruth belong at Brookfield and Brookfield belongs to them. Of course, we know it won't really happen.

The whole Roy and Elizabeth thing ended in tears. I'm not saying I told you so, but I'm thinking it.

They all had a wonderful Bonfire Night. Kenton Archer set something on fire and the Guy was wearing Joe Grundy's old long johns.

The pheasants flew away. That's what they do. The people who'd paid to shoot at them weren't pleased.

Did the pheasants flying away have anything to do with Joe Grundy's old long johns? I wouldn't be surprised.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Massive

On Thursday morning, Tony and the Red-Headed Laddie sat down with cameras and computers and looked at all the photographs they took on our Roman Wall day. The RHL enjoyed looking at pictures of himself with shield, sword, etc, (other way, sweetie), but there was something he was looking forward to more. 'Next one... is it the next one...' and finally, 'WOW!' And he just stared again at the view that had taken his breath away the day before.

The picture he'd been waiting for wasn't one of himself, or his family, or of an English Heritage worker dressed up as a Roman Officer.

It was one of these (if I've uploaded them successfully). It reminds me of something we all need to know about children - they need wonder. They need something bigger than they are, bigger than a screen, bigger than four walls. They need big, breathy spaces. They need to see something massive. Something that makes them say 'WOW'!

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Red-headed Roman

This is half term week, and there were Small People in The House of Stories. The Golden Child, now aged four, was here with her mum and her big brother, the Red-headed Laddie. They are both as bright as buttons and twice as alive as any normal human. The Golden Child throws herself into every new thing like a puppy off the lead, and the Red-Headed Laddie soaks up knowledge as if he would starve for the lack off it.

The RHL is learning about the Romans at school. The New House of Stories is very close to Hadrian's Wall country, in fact we're quite blase about Romans here. You can soon get Romanned-out. As a culture I don't care for them much, and every Northumbrian school child, sooner or later, will get sick to death of them because they're always being dragged off to educational projects on the Wall, usually when it's freezing cold and the wind is blowing a hooley. In order to get a good view of the surrounding countryside, the Romans built that wall on the highest and most exposed site in the north of England.

In spite of the risk of hypothermia, the Roman sites do their best to attract visitors and Chesters Roman Fort had a programme of events for children this week. We stitched ourselves into our thermal everythings and off we went. Those guys doing the presentation were on form. The kids all got to handle replica objects - dolls, manicure tools, wax writing tablets, purses, and sponges on sticks. I won't tell you what they used the sponges on sticks for, but the children found it hilarious. This was followed by half an hour of Roman drill with shields, spears, swords, helmets, and worried parents. There was one very small legionary in the ranks who hadn't quite sorted out her sinister from her dexter, so the orders, shouted in Latin, were generally followed by 'Other way, sweetie'. The glee on the face of the Golden Child as she charged forward with her stabbing sword makes me feel I've failed as a godmother.

Finally we drove home, seeing all the way what the legions would have seen - the rise and fall of the landscape under the misting light and the dazzle of winter sunlight in the west. Sometimes, perhaps the legionaries forgot the cold, the wind, the drill and the Picts, and just stared.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Elephant

I was thinking about that word game I told you of last week. Perhaps, I thought, I should demonstrate it. So I took a glance at what's come in on e-mail today and chose the following three words.

Elephant

Library

Painting

Every morning the elephant went down to the library, trumpetty-trumping with happiness because she loved books so much. Each day she would take out three books, and because she was a very quick reader she'd finished them all by bedtime. That meant that in the morning she'd go and change them for another three.

One Tuesday in spring, the elephant packed her books in her trunk and skipped all the way to the library. There was a big sign on the door.

CLOSED FOR DECORATION said the sign.

Poor elephant! Her ears drooped. A big tear rolled down her face and dropped from the end of her trunk. She sat down on the library steps and cried.

Along came a kind orang-utan. "Hello, little elephant!" he said. "What's the matter?"

"They've closed the library for decorating," sobbed little elephant. "And I don't know why, because it looks very nice the way it is."

"I suppose they mean they're painting it," said the orang-utan. "They'll open it again when it's ready."

The little elephant's ears twitched up. "Why didn't they say they meant painting!" she said. "I know about painting! I read about it in a library book!"

Off went little elephant and orang utan to find some beautiful purple paint. Orang-utan was very good at climbing, so...

OK, I'm a bit stuck now. It's something to do with the orang-utan climbing on to the roof and sliding down the chimney to sweep it and the elephant filling her trunk with paint and blowing it down after him, but I haven't figured out how to get the elephant on to the roof. And there you have one of the problems of plotting a book. Just when you think you've cracked it, you haven't.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Sing

We have just had a few amazing days, shuttling back and forwards between here and West Yorkshire to help the Sunshines move house. After years of renting they now have a place of their own, and it's delightful.

On Monday I sang happily round their old house as I packed boxes. There's a lovely spiritual called 'Down to the River' that I couldn't get out of my head, so I sang it on and off all day. And there is another reason for singing in that house.

There's no lock on the bathroom door, which makes it what I call a 'singing loo'. It reminds me of Girl Guide camps when the height of sophistication was a chemical toilet in a tent. So as not to be interrupted you sing while you're in there, and the default song was always 'Lloyd George Knew My Father' to the tune of 'Onward, Christian Soldiers'. (It works to Land of Hope and Glory, too.) For the benefit of any of you who haven't known this song from the cradle, the words are

Lloyd George knew my father
Father knew Lloyd George
Lloyd George knew my father
Father knew Lloyd George.
Lloyd George knew my father... etc, etc

So my Girl Guide training came into good use whenever I answered the call. Before long, singing becomes second nature. I'd sing in the loo even if there was nobody else in the house.

After we got home that night, there was a text from LOS. 'Our neighbour said he enjoyed your singing. He said it made him feel very peaceful.'

I felt quite honoured. So my rendering of that beautiful spiritual had touched somebody's heart. Then it turned out that he heard me through the bathroom window.

Oh, and he's deaf. Now, there's a voice that sounds really great when heard by a deaf man through a plate glass window.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Wibbly-wobbly wordy-gurdies

It was most satisfying to write my letter sending Noxious Fogg off the premises. A number of people have shared it on their facebook accounts and I hope that it has helped other people to kick him off the premises. Result!

Today has been an exceptionally warm autumn day. Tony took the camera for a walk down to the river, where the salmon are leaping upstream over the weir. Sometimes you just have to swim against the current, don't you? I went outside and dug over one of the borders while Much looked on and told me how to do it, though I doubt he's ever handled a spade in his life. And I read something about advice for writers in getting the creativity going, which included some word games.

I don't use them much myself these days, but perhaps it's time I went back to them, if only for fun. When I was doing short stories and teaching creative writing I always had three envelopes on the go, each full of little cards. One envelope was characters, one was places, one was situations. Something like -

Science teacher, wizard, inventor, doctor, spoilt child, great-grandmother, footballer, ballet dancer, office cleaner, pony

Castle, park, ship, hospital, hovel, railway station, university, Houses of Parliament, mountain

birthday party, exam, trial, battle, wedding, Christmas shopping trip, losing your keys, training a puppy

except that I'd have at least twenty in each envelope. You shut your eyes and take a card from each (or place them face down and shuffle them about). Then for five minutes you write furiously about a footballer training a puppy in the Houses of Parliament, or whatever you've picked up. You can have an envelope for objects, too, if you like. Or do the same thing with pictures. The important thing is to KEEP WRITING, not thinking too much about it, for five minutes. Then sit back and see what you've got. It may go somewhere. It may not, but it will have woken your brain up.

A new one to me is writing a simple sentence and changing a word or two. Then do it again, as in

The sheep are in the field
The sheep are on the bus
The sheep are driving the bus
The alligators are driving the bus
The alligators have crashed the bus.
The alligators have crashed the speed record.

You won't get a novel, but it'll tickle your creative cells.

have fun!

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Away You Go!

A few weeks ago I was visited by somebody I don't like. I know very well that I don't like him because I've met him before - in fact, sometimes he's hung around for quite a while. But every time he comes calling I get better at seeing him off, and this time I thought I'd write him a letter. I decided to share the letter with you, in case he makes a nuisance of himself to you too.

Dear Mr Depression

When I call you 'dear' I don't mean that you're dear to me at all. You are only dear as in 'expensive', which you certainly are. You soak up energy like blotting paper. That's only one of the reasons why I'm not at home to you, Mr D, or, to use another of your names, Noxious Fogg.

I know you're there, I can smell your breath half a mile away. The doors are locked and barred against you, so you've ben lurking around looking for any open window or a a gap where a cold draught can creep in. You wait until I open the door to a friend so you can slip in with them and bring a foul damp draught, Noxious Fogg. But you've overplayed your scrubby grubby hand. We've had a few bouts, and I know your tactics.

You tell me lies about myself, about life, and about the world. You're clever enough to take a pinch of truth and stir it into your lie to make it convincing, and you lay a trail to send me down narrow alleys until I smack into a moudly grey wall. But not any more, because I can smell you coming and see the traps you set for me.

You wag your fingers at me and nag me for every decision I ever took and every mistake I ever made. Excuse me, but what is the point of that when all those decisions are in the past and we can't do a thing about them? And what a surprise! It's turned out pretty OK so far. So you listen to me for a change.

You want to move in with me again? Oh, but you wouldn't like it here. Don't you know that Somebody Good lives here? Lots of good people are in my life, they fill me up with love, and it grows like bindweed. This place is full of good stuff. You have no idea how much love there is here, and every time you go for me they gather round me and love comes rushing in. This too is real.

So let's say that you could be right, Mr Slimy Grimy Noxious Fogg. I may be a catastrophe who should never have been born. I may have messed up the lives of the people I love. But the funny thing is that they still love me, they make me laugh and bring out the best in me. Do what you like, there are roses in my garden, the sun rises, music sounds sweet and oranges taste of sunshine. Cats chase their tails. All this is real, and a sight more real than you, Mr Slimy Grimy Scrubby Grubby for-somebody-so-unimportant-you-don't-half-smell-bad Noxious Depression.

Oh, have you gone?

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Much and the Cat

There's one less visitor to The House of Stories. We won't be seeing my mate Jack no more.

We never did see 'im all that often because he were a well-mannered gentleman what didn't impose 'is company on anyone, but he'd pop in now and again just to say 'ello and see 'ow I were settling in. 'E introduced me to any 'edgehogs what were about, and the birds, too, 'cause 'e didn't go chasing after 'em like most cats would. Jet black with a shiny coat, was old Jack. Missus were always saying what a nice cat he were. Didn't make a fuss, but didn't run off either if you stopped to say 'ello. 'E used to like a bit of a sprawl in the sunshine, and don't we all.

Poor old Jack went out on the prowl on Saturday night and they found 'im on the road, Sunday morning. Bloomin' cars! If we all rode around on snails we wouldn't 'ave this problem. Never 'eard of no-one getting run over by a gnome on a snail, do you? But poor old Jack. 'Er doesn't 'alf miss 'im.

'Er even said something about getting a rescue cat. Dunno what 'er's thinking, 'er can't get 'er act together as it is, without some blooming moggy waiting round the corner to trip 'er up and doing its business on 'er garden. I says to 'er, not all cats are as nice as old Jack, and what would you do when you and Tony are away from 'ome? Can't expect me to feed it, I says. Jack was all very well but he belonged to the folks across the road, they were the ones what were always 'aving to feed him and wash 'is dishes and let him out and in again. And what about the birds? And what, I asked her, what do you think Hamilton would have to say about it?

So, if you're visiting The House of Stories, keep shtum. Don't mention cats, and with any luck she'll forget all about it.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Holly

Books come all at one, like buses. (Have we had this conversation before?) At the beginning of next year, out will come

The Summer Lion (it's not quite like Mistmantle but I suspect that if you like Mistmantle you'll like this book)

Stories of the Saints

and

Fifteen Things Not to Do With a Baby,

my first pre-school book, with illustrations by Holly Sterling who is young, talented, and a delightful person to have lunch with. We met today at a farm shop near Corbridge and talked about the new book, and launching it, and what we want to do next. You will see more of Holly's work in years to come, so remember, you heard it first from the House of Stories.

We're still having warm autumn days, so after Holly and I had sorted out the future of children's publishing I walked into Corbridge to catch a bus home, along a verge of sandy gold seed heads and brambles turning fiery. A tractor was ploughing steadily up a down a field, turning it over, putting the stubble back into the soil and preparing, I suppose, for the winter wheat. A rabbit said 'can't stop!' and ran across in front of me and into a hedge. Coming into Corbridge I caught a whiff of bonfire smoke, and then, and then, I remembered.

Long ago, we used to live in Corbridge. The house on the front of the blog was the manse in those days, and the little dog wagging his tail is Daniel. And this afternoon I found myself walking along the lane where I walked Daniel, or he walked me. First thing very morning when I opened our bedroom door, Daniel would scamper out and go to each of the children in turn to wake them up, then he'd take me for a walk up that lane. It was a sweet memory, but it hurt a bit too.

At this point, I should mention that Tony, the team at Wordpool and I are considering a revamp of the website. At the minute I don't quite know what will appear on it, but I'd like to keep Daniel. If you have any suggestions I will be happy to consider them, but I will have to run them by Much. And probably the Circle, too.

Meantime, look out for Holly.














Friday, 3 October 2014

Squash

Squash. I don't mean the kind of squash that you drink, or squash as in standing on a rotten apple, I don't mean squash as in thirty people in a normal sitting room. I mean, the squash that you eat.

Years ago when I was nine or ten and read LITTLE WOMEN I realised that a squash was something you ate, but I had no idea what sort of something, or whether I'd like it. We didn't have them in the UK then. We had marrows, which are a bit similar but by no means the same. As for pumpkins, they were only in storybooks. We made lanterns by chiselling the inside out of a swede (that's swede with a small 's', you notice) and believe me, it was like hacking through marble.

It's only in the last, say, ten or fifteen years that squashes have become popular here, and what a range of them! They come in colour from yellow to orange to deep green and I wouldn't be surprised to meet a purple one, and in size from a cricket ball to a hot air balloon. I know people who do wonderful things with squashes. Lady Sunshine is a complete genius of the squash. I bought one today - I forgot what kind it is, but it's dark green and about the size of a mango. I think I'm supposed to cook it whole, scoop its insides out and serve it with butter. If in doubt, I can paint it orange and tell it it's a mango. Or plant it and see what happens. Or hollow it out and make a lantern. Or ask Lady Sunshine. Come to think of it, I should do that first. And do it quickly, before Apple puts in in her revolting cordial. She's got that focused look about her.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Lakes

Even the names in the Lake District seem to grow out of the landscape - Blencathra, Watendlath, Ullswater Grasmere, Helvellyn, Stock Ghyll. Mountains rear up into the sky over long clear lakes. Acres of beech, birch and oak make a home for deer, red squirrels, and whole colonies of birds. Dry stone walls mark the hillsides. Farmhouses are stone and slate, clothed with lichen and look as if they grew.

We were there on Saturday, starting at Sawrey to pay homage to Beatrix Potter's house. Yes, you can visit Hill Top where so many of her stories were based. You can see the garden where Jemima laid her eggs, the landing where Anna Maria ran away with the rolling pin, and the Dolls House where Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca wreaked havoc. A log fire burns in the hearth and the house is exactly the way it was when Beatrix Potter Heelis lived in it.

We stopped in Ambleside for lunch and went on to Wray Castle. The National Trust has only just started work on the castle, so it's not full of Do-Not-Touch furniture. Instead it's got dressing up rooms, microscopes so you can look at what they've found, and an outdoor/indoor room where you can build a dry stone wall. It's not really a castle at all, it was built by rich Victorians, but they wanted it to look like a real castle complete with falling-down bits (which fell down.) The best things, though,are outside.

The trees are turning golden brown and we walked on beech husks. A path led down to Lake Windermere where a jetty led out across the water and a swan sailed by. It was a perfect afternoon, warm and soft and the air tasted clean and fresh. All too soon, we had to leave, but w can't wait to go back. in the meantime I can make the pictures in my head, with Urchin and Sepia looking down from the trees. Hope, Needle and Crackle are picking blackberries. Tipp and Todd skim stones across the still blue water.

Splash. Hello, Fingal. I knew you wouldn't be far away.


Thursday, 25 September 2014

Little Reds

It's a while now since I last saw a red squirrel and they are just the loveliest animal in the world. I need to go to Scotland again. The Sunshines were there last week, in Perthshire, and called in to see us on their way home.

"Did you say many critters?" I asked.

"Lots!" said LYS. They'd seen six red squirrels, busily running up trees and across the forest floor, putting away nice scrummy nuts for the winter. Lady Sunshine has observed that the squirrels near the Loch of the Lowes, which has a bird hide and is very animal friendly, fatten up more quickly than the others. She suspects there are squirrels so overloaded that they go into nut coma and drop out of their trees.

They do sometimes shut their eyes while eating, as if they are just transported with joy. Or maybe it's because they know they're being watched, so they shut their eyes because 'If I can't see you, you can't see me.' Lady Sunshine's favourite squirrel of the week was one with a creamy tail, and they saw another when they were driving home. It was running by the side of the road, so they beeped to explain to it that it was in the wrong place. There used to be a road safety programme for children called 'The Tufty Club', based on a little red squirrel. This one wasn't listening.

When I wrote FAWN I wrote it about fallow deer, which are the commonest in England. In Perthshire they saw fallow, roe and red deer. They needed a road safety talk, too.

"There were three of them," explained LOS. "The one in front stopped, looked along the road, saw the traffic, and said 'Good! Follow me!' It could have turned a bit nasty. But fortunately no deer were injured in this incident. Neither were the Sunshines, I'm glad to say.


Saturday, 20 September 2014

This and that

My ancestors came from all over the British Isles, and for all I know some of my Scottish and English forebears might have killed each other at the Battle of Culloden. Scotland is a place I have been in and out of all my life, and some of my happiest holidays have been there. I can understand them wanting to cut loose from the United Kingdom, but I'm so glad they didn't.

And now, I'm thinking about names. I'm turning over ideas for a new book, and more and more I like to play with names.

In the book which is coming out next year - The Summer Lion - I really went to town on names. I used a character that Tony and I made up years ago, The Honourable Mrs Veronica Thumping-Jolly. I took a middle name each from my mum and Tony's mum and made Elizabeth Andrina, known as Drina. She was going to be a Jones, but then I remembered what sort of book this is and called her Elizabeth Andrina Snapdragon. Her favourite cousins are Taffeta Fiddlestep and Billy Will-Do Fiddlestep, and if you want to know why he's Billy Will-Do you'll have to read it when it comes out. And now, again, I'm playing with names and not playing safe.

I want names that stay in your head. I want names like Venetia Scraggins, Septimus Mumblegoffin, Lord Snaffleworth. Charles Dickens was brilliant at this sort of thing. He invented Nicodemus Boffin, Mulberry Hawke, Ebenezer Scrooge and Wackford Squeers. Those are great names. I can't remember the first name of Mr Snodgrass in Pickwick Papers, but it must have been good, as I said to Lentilla Prettyboots this morning.

For all of you who try to write, have a go at this. Make up a character with an outrageous name. Then ask him/her a few questions. With any luck, you'll get answers.

And now, I know you're dying to hear about The Archers. Well - the Roy and Elizabeth thing has ended in tears, but we knew that would happen, didn't we? Hayley is being wonderful about it, but she's not thrilled, especially what with Mike and Vicky and little Bethany moving away. Ridiculous. Mike is a real straw-chewing, muddy boots, wading through cow poo son of the soil, and he's going to live in Birmingham. Good luck with that, as they say.

You remember drippy James and Leonie? They've had a wet little baby boy and called him Mungo. If you think that's bad, it was going to be Mowgli. In honour of the occasion, his step-granny's garden flooded.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Frog

Much has been making remarks about having a pond, or at least getting the water feature sorted. I suppose, after all those years by a river, he misses the sound of running water. Mr Next Door turning the hose on the roses doesn't quite cut it. And you never know - we might even get frogs.

I forget why we were talking about frogs at Toddlers this morning, but we all agreed on how cute they are. I may have told you about the Halloween when a lot of girls in witch costumes arrived with one very little brother dressed as a frog. There he was, holding his sister's hand on the doorstep, looking up at me. Froggily. I melted. I wanted to tell them, 'take all the sweets you like, just leave me the frog'. Frogs are ugly and cute at the same time, like me.

One of the songs on the playlist at the wedding was 'Rupert and the Frog Song'. Do you know it? Suddenly everyone was smiling and swaying and singing it, and I was remembering when LYS was born and that song seemed to be on all the time. It was always on the TV in the ward, and it was such a happy, warm, innocent song for a ward full of little babies. Some people find it irritating. I completely love it. Give it a Google. It's on YouTube - the version I found, it was about six minutes into a thirteen minute film. Frogful of happiness.

Go on, then!

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Apples

- 'Ello, do you want me? Were you wanting some cordial?

I didn't mean Mistress Apple, I meant apples, but she's here now, so let's hope I get through this blog in one piece. Thank you, Mistress Apple, but I still have a bottle of your cordial in a cupboard. The metal one. Yes, the one with a lock. We wouldn't want anyone to steal it, would we?

After the wedding I had a brief stay in London meeting nice people who make books, and now the pieces are in place for the work I have to do this autumn. It is definitely getting quite autumnal now. Leaves are turning, the beech hedge has been trimmed, I treated myself yesterday to a little wander and a bit of blackberry-picking. And our apple tree is being very generous. Within a day or two I need a long session of cutting up apples and putting them in the freezer. The very small ones go to Helen's horse.

- I can tell you my recipe, if you like.

Thank you Apple, but I already know it, and how could I ever forget? But the harvesting of apples just reminded me of a time very long ago when Tony and I were first married.

It took us a while to find a decent place that we could afford, so for three months we rented a pretty squalid little furnished basement flat. After I'd given it a good scrub it looked less like a dungeon, just like something out of Dickens. There was a rickety little cooker that took hours to do anything, in a kitchen the size of a small cupboard. The house would have been grand once, just off Whiteladies Road in Clifton, but now it was divided into as many flats as it could contain. Some of the larger apartments were quite respectable. A more hazardous one belonged to a guy called Larry, who did odds and ends of work on farms. He and his wife had a cat, and about the time we were there Mrs Cat had a family of kittens.

Larry was impressed when I rescued one of the kittens, which had become stuck behind a tea chest. He was even more impressed when I offered a bit of chicken for the cats. My mum always used to cook up the chicken giblets for our cat, so when I cooked a chicken I did the same for Larry's cats. He was so appreciative, you'd think I'd given him an income for life.

It was round about harvest time, and some lovely people from the church where Tony was doing a placement gave us a generous gift of fruit and veg. There were just the two of us, and we only ate together in the evening, so a the fruit and veg took a bit of getting through. We didn't have a freezer. I made a lot of rather strange jam. Then Larry came back from one of his farm days and gave us a bag of apples and a marrow the size of an aeroplane.

Larry, bless him, continued generous. So did the church. It got to the point when I bit my lip and froced a nervous smile whenever I saw Larry coming with a carrier bag and a big smile. I made marrow jam and gave it away to the unwary. I planned the Fifty Things to do with a Marrow cookery book. Anyone who visited us was sent home with apples and vegetables. There is only so much apple pie two people can eat, and in that cooker it took all day to make it.

It reminded me of Miss Read, who wrote some funny and touching books about the life of a country school teacher. The locals gave her produce so generously that sometimes she was forced to bury it secretly in the garden at night. But we didn't have a garden. If we hadn't moved after three months, the marrows would have taken over.


Friday, 5 September 2014

Surprise!

Yes, I have been away for a long time, haven't I? Sorry to neglect you but it's all been a bit much and I haven't been at The House of Stories very much at all lately. Mostly because of this -

Now, if the computer is doing what it's supposed to do it should show you some lovely pictures from Daughter's Wedding to Her Chap. The Hobbits. There's one with me and Tony, one with her brothers LOS and LYS, and on the other one there's me, Lady Sunshine, The Lassie, and Claire. So now all my children are married and as happily as I could possibly wish. I will share memories with you as we go along, but standing out vividly are the music from the choir they both sing with, and the Guard of Honour with stars from the Christmas production where they first met. And all of us saying 'We do' to 'give her away', though I don't like that expression. Hamilton was a Page Bear and a very good one. Tony did the rings and blessing. They had asked me to do a reading from Mistmantle, so I adapted the blessing over Catkin from The Heir of Mistmantle.

All this reminds me that I haven't yet shown you a picture of the wedding of LYS and The Lassie in May, so here we are -


Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Much and the Bucket

So the latest human craze going around the big wide world is chucking buckets of icy water over each other. If you want to give money to charity, just give it away, why don't yer? On a boiling 'ot day it might be a good idea, but now? It's cooler than it ought ter be 'ere, and they're 'aving winter temperatures in Scotland, so Mavis tells me. Throw iced water about in Aberfeldy and you'll be carted off to 'ospital with per-new-monia. If this goes on they'll be calling August 'Pleurisy Month'. 'Er's a fair weather gardener, so 'er ain't bothering with the garden much just now. 'Er comes tripping down to pick a bit of mint and chives, 'as a word with the roses, and flits back in again.

Still, I aint short of company. There's Dodger and Oliver, the otters, the tortoise, and me snail. I asked Captain Padra what he thought about all this chucking about of iced water, him being a water chap and fond of a wetting. Now, he's a sensible chap and he's got a brain in there, but I had to explain it three times and 'e still couldn't get 'is whiskers around it.

'On Mistmantle, if somebody needs help, we help,' he says. 'It's more complicated here, isn't it?'

I fancy a bit of 'oliday on Mistmantle.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Much

Call this summer? Call this August? Wind and rain and autumn temperatures, that's what we're getting just now. Rubbish, this is. Them apples are blowing off the tree, blooming 'edge'og nearly got concussed. Is it always this cold up 'ere, I asked 'er? Not necessarily, she says, we're just 'aving a cold August, she says, pity about that. Then 'er starts on about when 'er was a girl living on the north-east coast and learning to swim in the North Sea, and 'ow the tide always brought the mist in with it. Didn't make 'er tough, though, did it? One cold breeze and 'er's indoors with the fire on. Never mind, there's plenty of vegetation around to keep me warm, if I felt the cold, which I don't.

'Er's got a frozen shoulder. Not blooming surprised, I said, this weather. But it means her shoulder don't move like it should. She's seeing some Irish woman called Fizzy O'Terrapin or Terrorpist or summat, to get it going again. what's the matter with a bit of WD40? 'Er is at a great disadvantage if 'er needs to reach up high, which was a bit dicey as the curtains needed 'anging up again. They still look a bit skew-wiff to me but at least 'er can open 'em now without anything falling off the rail. Including 'er.

There's owls round 'ere. Wise old owls, they call 'em. Wise? Too stupid to go to bed at night. Middle of the night they're all hoo-hooing, making a racket and looking for their dinner. Any field mouse could hear 'em a mile off. For a sensible animal, give me a snail any day. Quiet, slow, and goes to sleep all winter. If it goes on like this, me snail may as well settle down for a kip next week.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Tradition

The old country shows still go on, though they are all smaller than they use to be. By 'country show' I mean the annual village show. It's all quite competitive, and involves a lot of judging. Locals bring their sheep, their cows, their dogs, their home grown flowers and vegetables, their home baking and flower arranging, their arts and crafts, all to be displayed, admired, and judged. There are demonstrations of wood carving, herding, archery, and all sorts of competitions. A tea tent and a beer tent at a suitable distance from each other. Sometimes there's fell racing. (Running up and down mountains.) And there's the weather.

Some of them are massive events, but the one we went to this weekend was a wee village show where Helen swept the board with the flower arranging once again. The field was on a high exposed moorland with the wind blowing a hooly, so that letting go of Tony's arm meant flying over the hills like Mary Poppins in wellies. But I kept the hair out of my eyes long enough to see what I really wanted to see, which was the dog classes.

It's not Crufts, you know. What I really wanted to see was the Dog With the Waggiest Tail. It was a hard call between the first and second places, and personally I thought the big happy black and tan mongrel should have won it. You could have tied a flag to that tail. I missed the judging for The Dog The Judge Would Most Like To take Home, but I'd already chosen my favourite - a gentle, smooth haired golden brown bitch with a tail that curled all the way round in a circle and met itself coming back. Then there were the terrier races.

What happens is that the terriers are all in boxes called 'traps' with fronts that lift up. There is a sort of fur thing on the end of a string for them to chase, and a man at the other end reeling it in. In case you're wondering, no, the dogs aren't hurt, traumatised or bullied into taking part. Have you ever tried to get the better of a terrier? They love it. We watched them going into the traps and I began to wonder.

That one, and that one, and that one, I thought - those are terriers all right. But that thing with the floppy ears? More spaniel than anything else. And the smooth coated thing with the rounded sort of face, that's never a terrier. Helen must have read my mind.

"The definition of a terrier," she said, "is anything with four legs and a tail that can fit into the box."

So that was all right. In fact, as soon as the traps were opened you could tell which ones were the terriers. They were the ones that flew down that track leaving scorch marks behind them and mowed down the judge. Of the others, one was doing all right until he saw his mum in the crowd, changed his mind and went to say hello. The other one ran round the trap and proceeded in the wrong direction.

And a good time was had by all.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Time

Where did the week go? I can't believe it's that long since I sent anything out from The House of Stories. It's been a bit strange this week. Time flew, or as Tony would say, that's the trouble with tempus, it fugits.

There have been two days when I had to work my socks off. (Then I had to put my socks back on, but you shouldn't really put socks back on because they get smelly, so I put them in the wash and put some clean ones on, and then of course I had to do the washing. BTW, I have some socks with kittens on that Daughter gave me because she's like that.)

Now, the middle of this week was our wedding anniversary, and believe me, anyone who can put up with me for all those years deserves a treat. Anyone who can put up with him for all those years deserves the George Cross. We had been thinking about driving off to the Lake District and finding a Bed and Breakfast somewhere, but that was all put on hold because a friend of ours from Mytholmroyd had died, a delightful lady, who passed too young and too suddenly. Her funeral was on Wednesday, so we went over to Yorkshire for a bittersweet two days. We stayed overnight with The Sunshines, then made that lovely drive through hills and moors to celebrate and mourn a bright shining life and be part of that community again, one of the happiest, strongest communities I have ever belonged to.

Yesterday we scooped up my parents and went for a tour of some favourite places from long ago - Blanchland, and the Derwent Reservoir where Dad used to fish. Blanchland is a hidden secret. It used to be an abbey - the name is said to come from the white robes worn by the monks - and the houses are almost all made out of the old abbey buildings. There are cottages in what used to be the cloister. The reservoir is a place of big skies, trees, and fishermen. Children rode about on their bikes, knowing they were in a safe place. Dad looked out over the water. There was peace. For the first time this week, time stood still for us.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Warmed

The New House of Stories is well and truly warmed. The Cahooties arrived on Friday evening. They are working all the hours God sends and getting their wee house in order and had just driven up from Yorkshire and looked exhausted, so it was a delight to pack them off to a cosy bedroom for the night and let them sleep as long as they wanted in the morning. No hassle, there wasn't much to do for the party.

If you love cooking you might really enjoy all that stove and oven glove lark getting ready for a party, but I suspect even the dedicated find it a bit stressy. Our party catering was -

whizz round shop for little snacky things that will keep for ages if they don't get used, and a variety of drinks

count glasses and supplement with plastic ones

buy bubbles for children

cut up cheese

hull strawberries

slice peppers, carrots, etc, because it's healthy and colourful

put stuff in bowls

put drinks on tables

blow up balloons

sit and chat to the Lassie and see if anyone's going to turn up. And suddenly they did, and more and more of them, the house filled up, people who hadn't met for ages got together, people who'd never met before had great conversations, there was laughter, the sun shone, guests spilled out into the garden, children blew bubbles, food and drinks were enjoyed, and suddenly it was five thirty, then seven, then eight, and the last people left shortly before nine. It seemed like no time at all. Tiredness hit me as if I'd walked into a wall, but there wasn't much clearing up to do.

And the New House of Stories gave a sigh of delight.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Much and the House Warming

'Ouse Warming. They've been 'ere a blooming year and now they're 'aving a 'ouse warming, I ask yer! This weekend, better late than never, eh? Shoulda done it winter, that's when 'ouses need warming. Mind you, 'er's talking about Open 'Ouse, so just as well it's 'appening in summer if they want to leave doors open all over the place. What did 'er ever do without me to look after 'er, eh?

Mind, it'll be nice to 'ave some visitors, specially now them cornflowers are dying off and I can see where I'm going. Me snail can't, but I can. It's getting lively round 'ere, what with the 'edgehog, and the odd field mouse running over me foot, and them peacock butterflies, and me other stone mates. We've got some early windfall apples, and if young Oliver doesn't stop chucking 'em at the shed I'll clip 'is ears for 'im. Nice 'edgehog, that. 'Edgehogs generally eat snails, but he won't bother mine because stone snails don't agree with 'edgies. Not good for the teeth.

'Er can't come into 'er garden without talking to plants. You should 'ear 'er. 'Hello, how are you today? Aren't you pretty? Who needs water this morning?' Don't know what the neighbours think, if they can 'ear all that. They'll all be round at her bloomin' 'ouse warming to see if 'er's as balmy as 'er sounds. Believe you me, they won't be disappointed.

You haven't had an Archers Update for some time. It's all a bit fragmented, really, but I'll try. Here we go -

Elizabeth Pargeter should be slapped. I know Nigel fell off the roof, but that's no excuse for what she got up to.

Shula's son Dan joined the army and went to Sandhurst.

Charlie is a bully and a meanie. How dare he talk to Adam Macy like that!

Ed blocked the combine harvester and bought Emma a new dress.

Jennifer has invited the entire village, if not the county, to a party to admire her new fitted kitchen. That's Jennifer for you.

Linda has found rare butterflies on the land where the council want to make a road, and is having it declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest. (The land, not the council.) That way they won't be able to put the road through the middle of Brookfield Farm, which as you know is farmed by David and Ruth Archer, and has been in the family for at least three generations.

Tony Archer is getting very excited about cows, the policeman who likes Fallon is singing in a band with Jolene, and Lilian didn't really knit the cardigan for the baby, Peggy did because Lilian can't knit. Oh, and Pat Archer went to see Richard who is now calling himself John, which he should, because that's his real name after his father, who was... but it's a long story.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Prickles and points

Claire and Nick came over yesterday, all the way from Sheffield. Nick came to do the pointing (repairing the bits that hold the bricks in the back wall together) and Claire so that we could go on inventing new ways of changing the world while having fun and laughing a lot. We've been doing that for well over forty years, and boy, are we good at it. In the evening lovely hedgehog came to see what was going on and escaped again, if you'll pardon the expression, sharpish. It's shy. Perhaps I need to give it a little cat food to encourage it.

We spent this evening at my sister's. The rain has been slooshing down so it's cooler than of late and she had the fire blazing away in the stove. She too has a garden hedgehog, or possibly two, in her cottage garden. (You wait for years for a hedgehog, then they all turn up at once.) In spite of the lure of a little dish of something, the cottage hedgehog didn't appear in its usual spot.

I apologise to her cats. I took some bubbles to blow, thinking that the cats would enjoy chasing them. Cats watched with mild interest. 'Move a bit closer', said Helen. So I did, and the cats were out of there like ferrets up a drainpipe. Was it the smell of soap that put them off?

After a delightful evening, we opened the back door to leave. Snuggled by the fence was the sweetest little hedgehog. Result!

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

More Happy

Last Friday, late at night, Tony reported strange snuffling noises from the beech hedge that runs down the side of the garden. It wasn't me. It's been hot, so next day I put down water bowls in strategic places.

Monday night, after dark, I was outside bringing in the washing when I heard rustling from the very back of the garden, where the compost bin is. I couldn't see anything, and by the time I'd gone indoors and found a torch that worked I couldn't hear anything, either. I was hoping for a hedgehog, but I was also a bit worried that I might find some creature that I really didn't want to meet, especially not in my garden.

Tonight, I went out just before it became dark. Definite rustling round the shed. This wasn't a subtle animal, it was something that bumbled about and made a noise about it.

Run into the house. Torch. At last. back outside. Listen. Something near the apple tree.

Stand very still. Wait.

And there he was! With a noisy cracking of twigs and brushing of branches, out came a little snout, and the humped, prickly body of a large hedgehog. How blessed are we? A garden, roses, an apple tree, a hedgehog. Welcome, hedgehog, we are very glad of your company.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Happy!

I was walking to church this morning, through the park. Sunday is a good morning for walkies, so I always meet a few dogs and their people on the way through. (In case you're wondering, the local dog owners are very, very good at carrying little plastic bags round with them, so everyone can enjoy a walk in the park.)

There was a smallish dog, mostly spaniel, tearing about on the hill. From the ears I think he was part spaniel, and he was having such a wonderful time that I wanted to join in. After a week of baking hot weather, we finally had rain last night and the air pressure dropped. When the air pressure falls the insects fly low, and so do the swifts who hunt them. The swifts were wheeling and swerving, almost touching the ground, and the dog - oh boy, the dog couldn't get enough of it. There were three or four of them, but I suspect he thought it was always the same one, and just as it soared out of reach - hey, look! - there it is again! and there! ooh, and look, mum, there!

He didn't have a hope of catching one, but that joy was in the chase. If his owner threw a stick he'd go after that instead, and with more success. But who needs sticks? Look! There it is again!

It's been a good week and I've seen a lot of happiness in it, but nothing compared to that dog.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Safe

I learned to swim in the North Sea. If you lived five minutes walk from it, that's what you did. It's gey cold and for that reason it took me a long time to do more than paddle, but in time, like every other kid in the village, I could swim. You wade in, count to three, and get your shoulders under. For about half a minute it's freezing, then you acclimatise and it doesn't feel cold any more.

There were a few rules, like not swimming out beyond the piers and never going in when the warning flag was up to tell you that the weather was too rough. Another one was never to swim alone, which was frustrating on a hot day when there was nobody around to act as minder. But it was a sensible rule. Getting cramp when you're out of your depth is more than a bit hazardous.

Most children learn to swim in swimming pools where the deep end is always the same because a swimming pool doesn't have high and low tides. They don't have hidden currents either, and if you do get into difficulties there are always lifeguards ready to pull you out. So children do learn to be water safe, but they don't know about tides, currents, jellyfish, things that get caught around your foot and pull you down, and other hazards of natural waters.

Time and again during this hot summer there have been stories in the press about people getting into difficulties in rivers. Some of them survived.

Many years ago a very lovely little boy - a child I knew and loved - died after he fell into a canal on holiday. It only takes seconds for a child to fall, and those are seconds you never get back.

You may be able to swim, but natural waters and man-made waterways aren't the same as swimming pools. Never go alone. If there are warning signs, they are there for a reason. If I sound like a nagging mum, I really don't care. Just stay safe, and keep the small people safe.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Excuse me

People who visit The House of Stories probably don't need to read this story. But perhaps you can pass it on to those who do. (I may have told it before, but it's worth repeating.)

That grande dame of story, a writer's writer, Rumer Godden, grew up in India where her father was something important in the civil service. They had lots of servants, so at a very early age - I think about seven - Rumer was used to giving orders. But she didn't always get her own way.

One day she asked an Indian servant for something that she wasn't allowed. He knew the rules, and refused. She tried all the techniques that any child will use to get its own way. She pleaded, she begged, she flattered, she cried, and none of it worked, so she stormed. She stamped and screamed. She was the Sahib's daughter and he had to do as she said. It still didn't work, and by this stage it wasn't just about what she wanted. She was furious at this man for opposing her and wanted to upset him, so she used all the bad language she knew. It still had no effect, so she swore at him using the name of the god he worshipped.

Now, this did upset him. It upset him so much that he spoke to her father, and little Rumer found herself on the carpet of his study while he told her this -

'Never do that again. Never, ever misuse the name of somebody else's deity. It may not mean anything to you, but to that person it is sacred. You may not personally have any respect for that name, but respect the person who honours it'.

I wish all our schools taught that.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Cahoots

LOS and his wife have always been the Sunshines, largely because years ago in the early days I found that she was a person who seemed to bring the Sunshine with her.

Daughter and her Chap are the Hobbits. If you see a round door in a hillside, knock on the door. It may well be opened by a redhead with a flute.

But I didn't know what to call LYS and the Lassie. Nothing sprung to mind. We saw them the other day - we took a few days in Yorkshire, went to see them in their tiny, happy little house and watched the wedding DVD. Before that, I'd been looking at the pictures again. As usual, I looked at those two together and thought 'those two are in cahoots'.

Are you familiar with that expression? To be in 'cahoots' is to be fellow conspirators, or the sharers of a secret or a private joke. Those two always look as if they're sharing a secret joke.

So they have a name now. They are the Cahooties. 'Have you met my son and his wife, the Cahooties?' 'Mr and Mrs Cahoots?'

We went back to our room in the Bar Convent, stayed yesterday morning for a chat with Sister Cecilia, and got home last night to a garden in need of watering. Cecilia, by the way, is one of the most remarkable people I know, and half an hour with her is better than a day at a health spa. She and God are definitely in cahoots.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Weekend

Why is it that, whenever I go to Cardiff, something big is happening? And no, it's nothing to do with me. I've just been there for girly time with Daughter and friends.

I blame Cardiff Millenium Stadium, which is the grand new-ish sporting venue, but they use it for all sorts of big events too. When the new Wembley Stadium was being built, and took a lot longer than it should have done, the big football matches took place at the Millenium Stadium instead. (This led to a few embarrassed English officials and a lot of Welshmen laughing themselves helpless.) Cardiff is doing its best to attract cultural events, too, and turning out to be pretty good at it.

Well, they didn't ask me, did they? I was there this weekend and it turned out it was Speedway weekend. Don't ask me what that means, I haven't a clue - except it means streets being closed to traffic, flags everywhere, and those horrible vuvuzelas in the street. And NOISE! It also means that you can't get a decent hotel room at a reasonable price. Not the first time this has happened to me. A few years ago, for example, I was in Cardiff to hear Daughter play the flute. The rest of the world was there to hear some mega-band play at the Stadium. It's enough to turn me into a grumpy old bat. Oops, I already am.

Note to Daughter and her Chap - whatever your career plans are, abandon them now and run a quiet little B and B on the outskirts of Cardiff. It must have a garden, because I hardly saw a blade of grass for two days and I was getting withdrawal symptoms. You will charge reasonable rates and only take sweet young families, quiet polite people, grumpy old bats, and nuns. Thank you, or as they say in Welsh, diolch.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Where?

Today I was thinking about my favourite places. I mean, other then my soft cosy bed in the morning.

I've told you before about Harlow Carr Garden near Harrogate, where the primulas spring up like pompoms over the stream and the scented garden makes you breathe so deeply you could pass out. Have I mentioned Alnmouth beach in Northumberland? I must have done. There's nothing there, that's what's so lovely about it. Just expanses of sand, sea and sky and the fresh clean air.

When we first moved to West Yorkshire I hated it. This time last year we were preparing to leave Mytholmroyd, and I left a part of my heart there. If you ever go there, stand on the bridge (the one by the church) look down, and see if there are any ducks. Say hello to St Michael's, and I can recommend Milly's for coffee and cake or lunch.

Finding beautiful places in North Yorkshire, well, that's shooting fish in a barrel. One of my favourites is Lastingham, which looks as if it's in a fairy tale but it isn't. It's grounded in solid realities. If you visit the church you can go down to the plain little Saxon crypt where the sense of holiness stuns and overawes you.

The Scottish Highlands are sort of shooting fish in a barrel too, but it's disrespectful to talk about shooting fish in Scotland. Loch Goil, where the light on the mountains changes all the time. Kingussie, where the red squirrels are as common as sparrows. Galloway. Iona with its white sand and clear waters.

In Wales, Snowdonia, and a particular favourite view that looks down over Conwy castle.

And my own back garden. Sometimes it's easy to be thankful.

What are your favourite places?



Saturday, 5 July 2014

Le Tour, Much

It's the thing everyone is talking about just now. The Grand Depart - the starter for the Tour de France - is presently hurtling round Yorkshire. It's going through the village where we used to live, and very near to where The Sunshines live, too.

Everyone's talking about it, but not necessarily politely. Over the next couple of days, roads are being closed and traffic delayed over two counties at least, but even so, Yorkshire is taking Le Tour to its heart. Yellow bicycles are hung from high buildings and painted on roads and hillsides. Yellow jerseys (for the leader) are everywhere. The Tour also has a red and white spotty jersey which I think is for The King of The Mountains and a green one and I can't remember who's supposed to wear that one or whether his granny knitted it or not. Would you believe, farmers have been painting their sheep in these colours?

The village has been making bunting. They have, in fact, succeeded in their world record attempt at making the longest bunting in the world. (Go, Mytholmroyd!) That's to encourage the cyclists because the steepest continual incline in the UK goes from the main street, past the church and the school, and up over the moors. You feel your ears pop on the way up. The thought of riding a bike up there is unspeakable, but some people like that sort of thing.

What does Much think of it all?

Bloomin' bikes! The more I hear about them bikes, the more I'm glad I moved north. Disturbing the peace, that's what it'll come to, there'll be crowds in the streets and wheels flying off, probably cyclists flying off too, going at that pace. Did you ever see a gnome in a jersey, on a bike? No, and I'll tell you why. It's because we've got more sense, that's why. We don't get much traffic through the back garden, except I made the acquaintance of a field mouse t'other day. Still can't see over the blooming lavender, though. Not unless I stand up on me snail. Who wants to rush about on a bike, eh, when there's a perfectly good snail around ?

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Famous

We've just had a trip to London. What fun! A party for authors!

My wonderful agent had a do on Tuesday evening for her authors and illustrator. Being an author, especially if you're not in London or Oxford, is a lonely business where you crouch over a messy desk in a garret and mutter to yourself. These days we don't use quill pens and mostly the roofs don't leak, but it's still isolated. So we're all very grateful when an agent or publisher lets us all go out to play together. We talked about books, about the fun, exciting places where we lived, and about our families. I was a bit over-awed. There were some seriously good writers in there.

Kaye Umansky was there, the author of, among other things, Pongwiffy. When Lady Sunshine was a little girl she LOVED Pongwiffy, and I told Kaye so. Kaye is a warm, big-hearted, funny lady and a joy to be with. And I met Deborah, who long ago was Deborah Robinson.

When I was a little girl, one of the series I was brought up on was Teddy Robinson, by Joan G Robinson. Teddy belonged to a little girl called Deborah. He had all sorts of adventures and a very good opinion of himself. So there I was, talking to the original Deborah, and am happy to tell you that Teddy Robinson is alive and well and has many young friends. I must read those books again, soon.

We were staying very near to another writer you might have heard of, Charles Dickens. I know, he's been dead a long time, but we were staying near to his house so that counts, yes? The Dickens home in Doughty Street is now a museum, so I put on my bonnet and shawl, made sure I had my housekeeping keys in a little basket at my waist and fluttered down there. The house has been cleverly furnished to look much as it would have been when the Dickens family lived there, but without too much clutter, if you know what I mean. There are some exhibitions, simply and clearly done, and some of Dickens own furniture. Poor old Boz - he was so perceptive in so many ways, but he didn't have a clue about women.

Then a quick meeting with lovely editor Zoe before meeting up with Tony at the British Museum. By this point we were hungry, so we got something for lunch at the cafe and were sitting at a table when Tony said, 'we're in illustrious company. There's Michael Wood.'

Reader, I fainted. No I didn't, but it would have been understandable if I had. Michael Wood first came to notice as an implausibly young, good-looking, and enthusiastic TV history presenter thirty years ago or so. He appeared on the screen with a boyish grin of delight, grabbed you by the hand, and took you for a whizz round the 'Dark Ages'. As Tony and I were into Anglo-Saxon already, we loved it. Since then he's done history and travel programmes on Troy, India, Shakespeare, Alexander the Great, can't remember what else. He's like a small boy dragging you off to see what he's found. He explains lucidly and always with infectious enthusiasm.

He had a film crew with him at the Brit yesterday, so hopefully there will be another Michael Wood programme soon. He has changed very little over the years, and I suspect he keeps his portrait in the attic. About ten years ago he was launching his book and TV series about Shakespeare by doing a lecture tour, and Tony and I went to hear him at York. I queued for a long time to get his book signed, and he apologised for the wait. Michael Wood apologised to me.

Yesterday he never appeared to notice me, but reader, I know he remembered me. He was sitting with his salad and his camera crew thinking - on the next table is the incredibly beautiful, poised and charming women who was last in the queue to get her book signed at York. I hear she's a famous author now, but she won't remember me.

Being over-awed and not wanting to stare, I didn't look at him much. Of course he felt the same about me. :)



Saturday, 28 June 2014

Tardis

If you watch Dr Who, or even if you just know a little bit about Dr Who, you will understand this.

I just read something that appealed to me enormously. It's about books.

A book looks very plain and simple. You could walk past one and not notice it. A book can take you anywhere in time and space.

A book is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

A book is a Tardis! I've written Tardisses! Or is it Tardii? This is so exciting!

If you don't know about Dr Who, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? In the meantime,if you're Who-less, let me just tell you that Rafa Nadal played a storming match at Wimbledon today, Much can't see over the lavender, Dodger is chasing pigeons, Tony's going to paint the front door red, and The Archers is beginning to look like the Wars of the Roses. maybe they've all been in a Tardis too.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

First World

Last Monday, a few of us were getting together. One lady e-mailed to say that she wouldn't make it. She was having a new kitchen fitted and the company had delivered the wrong units, so she had to sort that out. 'It's annoying', she said, 'but after all, it's what they call a First World Problem'. Have you heard that expression before?

Walking all day carrying a sick child to hospital and then having to join the queue, that's a problem. Making the decision whether to stay in the community you know and love and where your work is, or getting out before the rebels or the government get to you, that's a problem. Children not going to school because they haven't got shoes, going hungry all day and still doing hard manual work, watching your family become dangerously ill because the sanitation is rubbish, living in a war zone, knowing that your survival depends on this year's crops and whether the rain comes, those are problems.

That doesn't mean there are no real problems in the first world. Far from it. If everything here was hunkydory Tony wouldn't have spent this morning helping the food bank, and there'd be no children having to go into care, and no crime, nobody ill and nobody afraid of having their home repossessed.

By defining it as a 'first world problem' my friend put her missing kitchen and cancelled evening out into proportion. I've got a few first world problems just now - how to fit a lot of appointments and commitments into a short time is a first world problem. So is choosing how to decorate the dining room, putting up blinds in the attic, arranging things for the ARCHIE'S WAR launch and wondering what to get Somebody for a present but I can't discuss that in case Somebody's reading. Not problems at all, really. Just inconveniences. Nuisances. Something that might become a bit of a story one day. Or even a blog.




Saturday, 21 June 2014

Padra

There is nowhere better to be on Midsummer Night than here on the shore by Mistmantle Tower. The sky's still light, just turning violet with traces of red to tell us it'll be fine again tomorrow. The sea is as gentle as a cradle and some of the animals have built fires to cook fish or roast acorns. Fingal's taken the boat out. Moles don't care for swimming, but they do love a trip in a boat. Sepia, Crackle, Scatter and all that lot are putting lamps on bark boats and floating them across the sea. There's Catkin, going to join them. Tide and Swanfeather are having a wonderful time splashing about. So was Ffion but she's exhausted now, and last I saw her she was falling asleep on Needle's shoulder.

A few hedgehog fiddle players are out, so animals are up and dancing. There's Urchin and Juniper coming to join in - last I saw them they were playing squirrelly games to do with running up trees and jumping up and down on branches. Tipp and Todd made a sort of summer shelter for Crispin and Cedar - not that they need it, but they appreciated it so they're sitting there watching Almondflower playing dares with the waves. Hello, Whittle! Urchin was asking where you were.

Hello, Hope! Thank you, but I couldn't eat another berry. Tell you what, though - there's a little hedgehog there, her name's Popple, and I think she'd love to dance. She might, if you asked her. Good evening, Mistress Tay! Do have a fish. All right then,don't. Fingal will eat it if he gets back without capsizing. Oops, there's a mole in the water. Not to worry, there are half a dozen otters all swimming to the rescue.

Crispin's got that thoughtful look on his face, as he does when he gazes out at the mists. There aren't many animals who know what lies beyond them. I'll nudge Catkin to get him up to dance.

Look at them all, the young creatures of Mistmantle! I wonder what's going to become of them, and what adventures they'll have?

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Bara Brith and Painkillers

Bara Brith is a Welsh tea bread. Ideally it's a bit squidgy with lots of raisins. I'm very happy to say you can get it in Northumberland.

This morning was a first airing for ARCHIE'S WAR because I was reading an excerpt from it for Tynedale Talking Newspaper for the Blind. There was a World War One theme for this edition, and I read a piece from early in the book when the staff at Ashlings Hall in Yorkshire learn that war has been declared. Tony wrote and read something about the bombing of the North-East coast of England.

By the time we'd finished I realised that my migraine tablets needed a bit of help, so I nipped into town to buy some top-up painkillers. Last time I tried Nurofen they worked rather well, so I pottled into Boots to buy some of those. The lass at the counter explained to me that these should be taken with food, either just before or just after a meal.

Well, I thought, I really could do with taking these now, in fact I could do with taking them half an hour ago. By the time I get home and sort out something to eat...

Help was at hand. So was the cafe opposite the park, the one where Tony and LYS and I went on Saturday. I could pop in there for a coffee and something to eat. The free biscuits are very tiny, not enough for two militant painkillers to land on, but not to worry. They do Bara Brith, and it must be the best outside Wales. You never know, I might find myself outside the Cedar Tree with a headache again one day.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The Dog Ate My Homework

What is your excuse for not writing your blog, Mrs McAllister?

Um, well, I had shopping to do...

Not good enough

And we took my Mum and Dad out for the day...

The you should have written about it

And I've been doing up the attic...

Hmmmm

And then LOS came to stay, and then it all got exciting because he was on his way here and Lady Sunshine had locked her keys in the house and couldn't get in and Tony was going to drive to Yorkshire with LOS's keys so LOS wouldn't have to but then LYS and The Lassie who is now Mrs LYS said she could stay in their house, so...

And this prevented you from writing the blog?

Yes, because in the morning we went in to town and had coffee at that little place with the window seats and the free biscuits...

I can see that must have been very important

Yes, well it was, because it was family time. And Claire texted to say she had an unexpected day off and what about meeting in York, so we did, so that's where I've been all day, and I did lots of work on the train, so that's all right.

Not good enough. Write out one hundred times -

The launch party for ARCHIE'S WAR will be at Cogito Books, Hexham, on 3 July, 6.00 pm - 7.30 pm and you are all very welcome

The launch party for ARCHIE'S WAR will be at..............

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

He Aint Heavy

I saw this story in the newspaper this morning and have to share it with you.

Hunter Gandee is a fourteen year old American boy with a little brother, Braden, who is seven. Braden has cerebral palsy and needs artificial aids to walk. Lately, though, he got a lift.

Hunter has just completed a forty mile - yes, that's forty mile - walk through Michigan with 22 kg Braden on his back. He did it to raise awareness of cerebral palsy. Awareness, not money. People who wanted to give money were directing to the University of Michigan's Cerebral Palsy Research Consortium. Hunter did some weight training for the 'Cerebral Palsy Swagger', but he had to cope with heat, rain, exhaustion and pain on the way. Afterwards, tired and sore, having pushed through his levels of pain and endurance, he said of his kid brother,

"I can't even describe to you how special he is to me. I can't put it into words... he's awesome. He's always there for me. I really just wanted to give back to him in some way."



Sunday, 8 June 2014

At last

At last, I have pinged the send button and the book I have been struggling with has whizzed off to the publisher. I feel I can breathe out now. And.. relax. It's like taking tight shoes off.

Freedom! I have moved things around in the attic. I've removed dust from floors. This doesn't sound much fun, but when you've been dying to get on with these things and you can't because you're chained to a book, it really is fun to flit about sorting stuff, sweeping floors, putting things in boxes. Tony has just built a bookshelf. I can put books on shelves. What a happy little bunny I am.

When the sun has been out I've pitter-pattered round the garden popping in bedding plants and heaving out anything that wasn't serving its purpose. Anything allowed space in my garden has to look good, smell good, or be edible.

- EXCUSE ME!

Sorry, Much, I didn't mean you. Or your new friends Dodger and Oliver, or the stone tortoise which has also been here longer than we have and doesn't yet have a name. Anyway, you do look good. All of you.

- I knew that. Surprised you can even see me, with all them bloomin' cornflowers.

- Stop grumbling, Much. Do you want to know what's been happening in The Archers or don't you?

- Oh, go on then.

It's now about a month since Tom didn't marry Kirsty, and both of them have left Ambridge with Kirsty vowing she'd never come back. If I'd been stuck in such a ridiculous plot line I'd be on the first train out, too. Lilian's wet son James and Lynda's drippy stepdaughter Leonie are having a baby, which I suspect will be born with fins, so the two grandmothers to be are having a who-can-do-the-best-handmade-present competition. I suspect it needs a set of waterproofs, but Lynda made it a blanket out of her her own homespun llama wool from, yes, her very own llamas. Lilian was last seen knitting a - well, not even she knows what it is but if she drops any more stitches she's be arrested for littering. (By the new copper, who fancies Fallon.)

Friday, 6 June 2014

Thirty years

The following may shock you, but before we go on, I want to tell you -

My uncles killed people.

Next month, I have a new book out. It's ARCHIE'S WAR, about a boy and a dog at the beginning of the First World War. Archie has to grow up quickly. Children do, in warm time. The dog in this book is already up there along my special favourites. I'd love a dog like Star. he laughs at you from the cover.

That's set in 1914, when young men left their villages, their work, their families, their sweethearts, the cricket and footie and the pub, to be massacred in the mud and bloodbaths of the front line. When that war had finally slaughtered itself out, the victors got together to sort out the mess it had left behind.

They made a hopeless job of it. It took barely a generation before Europe was at war again and the ripples spread throughout the world.

Thirty years. Thirty years is just about, but not exactly, the life of my LYS. More or less the life of Christ. Thirty years after the swords were first drawn, and seventy years ago today, the next generation of young men piled on to the beaches of Normandy. Young chaps from all over the free world, from professional soldiers to labourers to lawyers, volunteers and call-ups, hurling themselves into appalling danger to make an end of the horror of fascism. Thank God, it worked. It worked at a terrible cost on both sides. These were men who never wanted to kill each other, and the survivors had to live with it afterwards. Men like my uncles. Two weeks after the death of their father, they were on the Normandy beaches.

Those who lived to be old are gathering today on the beaches. Let's honour them. And let's think -

What have we learned?

How can we stop war before it starts?

What can we do to ensure another thirty years of peace?

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Tiny

I would like to show you St Margaret's Parish Church. I warn you, unless you are very tiny you will have to duck.

There are two ways in, but both are narrow. One is www.teebylo.com which will take you to Tee Bylo's blog and an overview of all her 1/12 scale miniature worlds. There you can visit a Small House, or go to Lord Byron's home. (But that might not be a good idea - he was said to be mad, bad and dangerous to know.) If you want to avoid disreputable Romantic poets, you can go direct to St Margaret's at www.miniature church.com.

There you will see little St Margaret's church. Be aware that it changes with the seasons. It may have the Lent Cross, or the Easter decorations. In Advent, it's filled with candles. There is the usual clutter of old flower stands and lost umbrellas in the vestry, and you can usually find a hymn book. The flower ladies are excellent and the noticeboards indicate a thriving community.

Tee's miniatures are so exquisite, so perfect in every detail, so lovingly made, that I could cry when I see them. iwish I had neat paws, like Needle, so I could fashion such things, but the next best thing is gazing at Tee Bylo's work. Do have a look and be astonished.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Walnut bread and baked beans

For everybody, there is a food that hits the spot. Not so much comfort food, but the sort of food that tells you you're home even if you're not.

In Mistmantle, for Urchin and Crispin it's walnut bread. Padra's not that fussed, as long as it's fish. Hope likes berries the way his mum does them. Brother Fir's sweetest memories are linked with Kingsmantle Cake and Filbert likes the kind of cordial that brings tears to his eyes. Sepia is very quiet about what she likes, but hazelnuts are a favourite.

For most of my family, the classic Sunday roast dinner is 'home'. Pasta with some veg and cheese works for me, and is what we're probably having tonight, Tony, if you're reading this. Fish and chips, of course, but it has to taste the way it used to, eaten with the fingers on Bonfire Night. And you can't beat buttered toast, especially with a good book. (Don't eat the book.)

For Dr Who, famously, it was fish fingers and custard.

Any advance?