Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Where's the dragon when you need it?

When my children were small we had an invisible dragon. His name was Chrysoganus, and on wild, windy, stormy or just freezing cold days, we'd climb on his back and ride him to and from school. When your school is right on the north-east coast within falling in distance of the North Sea, you really need something to hold on to.

We had a bit of a family get-together in Wales this weekend, in Cardiff. For us, it was torrential rain both ways and the sort of traffic queues where you begin to doubt whether you ever existed before this. Whenever we stopped at a service station, Tony parked as near to the door as possible without breaking the glass and we ran for it. For some of our fellow travellers it all got dramatic from the moment a coach in a train at Huddersfield caught fire. After that it was three different trains, a bus, a taxi, a lot of mutterings about the train companies and a frustratingly late arrival. The children found it quite an adventure. (Their parents didn't). Coming back wasn't easy either, as there's flooding in the South-West and nobody thought to bring a boat, a swimming cossie or a surfboard for getting up the motorway.

I'm beginning to think that these journeys are easier in the company of a small child. You can always sail an imaginary boat, and as long as you can keep warm and fed, it's exciting. And for best results, find a dragon. Off the wild Northumbrian coast on this stormy night a dragon is circling Coquet Island, hoping for another little family to carry to school.

Thursday, 17 November 2016


Now, there was an inspirational lady. She was born in the seventh century, a niece of the king of Northumbria. When he was killed she went into exile with her Auntie Ethelburgha, the queen, who founded a nunnery. This seemed like a good idea to devout, brainy, sensible Hilda, who in turn became the Abbess of Whitby.

She presided over a double monastery, ie, with monks and nuns, living simply in the Celtic, sharing way. Kings and leaders came to her for advice. She was an organiser, a motivator, a teacher and a woman of prayer, and if the legend is true she was pretty good at getting rid of snakes. She encouraged the first English poet, Caedmon. It is said that the birds flying inland dip their wings in honour of St Hilda (OK, that's a bit far-fetched, but a nice story).

This lady, who was born to privilege and used her education and influence to spread grace, love and wisdom, went to heaven on 17 November. Women's colleges are often named after her. Happy St Hilda's Day.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Sad, and what else...

I am sad this week because of what has happened in America. I can't quite believe it, to be honest. So all of us at The House of Stories, and all our visitors, let's keep living for thanksgiving and love, compassion and joy. Let's make a difference. Let's make life as good as we can for as long as we can for as many as we can.

So, what has been happy this week?

The toddler group on Wednesday morning and the lovely team I work with

Writing stuff

The dogs in the park

An afternoon at the ballet with an old friend - (Northern ballet Beauty and the Beast, very good)

The window at Fenwick's department store in Newcastle - they're doing Beatrix Potter this year

The sun still rises

Love. Love. Love.

And, as a vicar friend used to say, 'Let's Do Praying'.

Friday, 4 November 2016

It's all going terribly well

Here at the House of Stories we are lurching from one exciting episode to the next. Various relations are crocked. We had actors from the wonderful Riding Lights Theatre Company to stay last week - if you're in the UK and get a chance to see Simeon's Watch, do go. A thoughtful, wise, moving and funny play about dementia, with faith themes woven in and out of it and a nod towards Christmas. They were lovely house guests, too.

There was just time to change the beds before The Golden Child and her family came to stay. I think the highlight of the visit was a bit of exploited child labour when we let them climb The Tree and it took them about twenty minutes to harvest their body weight in apples. All this with late autumn sunshine, and I'm sure our little garden was full of angels.

On Saturday we had Hexham Abbey full of children. The extraordinary people who organise these things felt that instead of being disapproving and 'the church doesn't do Halloween', we'd offer something that took Halloween back to its Christian roots and made it possible to talk honestly about death and sadness. We did skeleton building and made candle boats, and talked about remembering the people we love. In the first hour we had about twenty children through. Nice steady pace. And then they flooded in, queuing up in their costumes, all the little Draculas and witches holding their mummies hands, and we were raiding cupboards so we didn't run out of stuff. And they LOVED it. Result.

A beautiful Sunday autumn afternoon in the garden, gentle weather for putting the garden to bed, and I burned garden rubbish in the little outdoor stove that Tony gave me a few years ago. The smell of woodsmoke hung around me and came into the house, and was perfect.

On Tuesday, a very beautiful service of remembrance, with people who've been bereaved in the last year gathering in the Abbey. My friend Wendy and I were on duty doing tea and coffee afterwards, and were surprised at how many people stayed for a cup of tea (not coffee). As my mother once said to me, never turn your nose up at people who make a pot of tea in a crisis. Sometimes it's exactly what's needed.

And at last, yesterday I was at the bank sorting out a new account which I would have done weeks ago if not for family upheavals. Very nice young woman with a computer got it sorted, except that every time she was about to put everything through, the computer went down. Fortunately we both laughed about it, instead of unplugging the thing and banging it against the wall even though we had more crashes than the Grand Prix. By the time I left it was raining, but never mind - I popped into a charity shop and bought a Terry Pratchett, which redeemed the day.

It's all going terribly well.