Friday, 19 May 2017

Sad

Yes, it has been a long time, hasn't it? There are very good reasons for that.

In May last year, we were all waiting for a birth as my grandchild dithered as to whether he could be bothered to be born. Eventually the decision was taken out of his little hands because he was a Caesarean baby.

This year, we were waiting for a death. My ninety-three year old mother was slipping gently away, and I wanted to be there at the end. There is too much and not enough to say about a woman who as well as daughter, sister, wife, mother and great-grandmother was nursery nurse, carer, nurturer, homemaker, indefatigable cook, needlewoman, encourager, grafter, and a friend and confidant to so many. She could be funny, she could be terrifying. Above all, I think, she was a welcomer and thrived on offering hospitality.

We were prepared for that. We weren't prepared for what happened next day, when my sister was in a road accident so severe that we didn't know whether she'd see the next morning, or whether she'd ever be the same person again. A lot of prayer happened. To cut a long story short, she is now recovering from multiple injuries but they are mostly broken bones and will mend. Her brain is as sharp as ever. The care she is receiving is world class, and yet again I treasure the NHS. I will be grateful all my life to the off duty doctor and nurse who helped at the scene, the paramedics, and the air ambulance team.

At The House of Stories, we are all so thankful. The Sunshines, Hobbits and Cahooties have been so wonderful that I want to cry just thinking about it. I love this family. And I am so glad that my sister and I are daughters of a tough wee woman.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Hope the Hedgehog

Hope may be a small hedgehog, but he's a big favourite with readers of The Mistmantle Chronicles. I was telling him about my sister, who looks after five rescue hedgehogs, and he was very interested in that. He also wanted to know about May Day, and I told him it was a bit like Spring Festival but with different dances. Then I had to explain.

Morris dancing, I said, is usually done by men in white shirts, dark trousers, long socks, and big noisy clogs on their feet. They wear bells, too, so they have music wherever they go. And hats with flowers on. And they wave white hankies, or, in some cases, swords.

"Isn't that dangerous?" asked Hope.

"It depends on the Morris Men," I said. "Mostly the ones with swords are the rapper bands. The rappers are sort of bendy swords and they weave them together to make a star."

"Then do they all go to hospital?" asked Hope.

"Not usually," I said, and, seeing that Hope was getting a bit worried about this, I moved on. I told him all about Maypole dancing, which, if you've never seen it done, features a tall pole with coloured ribbons attached and the dancers weave in and out so that the ribbons wrap very prettily around the Maypole. Then I had to explain it all again, because he was very interested. Next, he asked if I could very kindly lend him a bit of bamboo cane and some ribbons, and where exactly does my sister live?

So Hope is off to my sister's garden to teach Maypole dancing. If you live in Northumberland and find a bunch of hedgehogs rolling about trying to pull the ribbons off each other's prickles, please stop and help them. Carefully. At least it's safer than clogs and rappers.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Good Things

Away from the island, good things are happening. We've just come back from a weekend with Lovely Older Son and Lady Sunshine and Lovely Younger Son and The Lassie. Sunshine, blossom on the trees, and lovely Yorkshire landscapes to explore. LOS and Lady Sunshine were dog-sitting, so we were accompanied by a dog who loved people but wasn't so keen on other dogs. There was a lot of steering him round trees and up hills to avoid him meeting anyone he might want to attack. (I wonder if it would work on some of our world leaders?)

The garden is happy. It is also a mess, because I haven't had time to attend to it lately. Yesterday I had a substantial piece of work to finish, so I decided to cut the grass afterwards. It was a mild, sunny morning, with washing blowing merrily on the line. In the afternoon, hailstones were stotting (a Northumbrian word, means exactly what it sounds like) off the pavements. Then I had a migraine so I curled up on my bed for three hours, and when I woke up, I'd missed the snow. Yes, we get weird weather in the north.

Good news - Newcastle United have won their promotion back to the Premier League. To this part of the world, that's the equivalent of winning a war, a marathon, Wimbledon and the lottery all at the same time.

My sister is now fostering five hedgehogs, which are doing extremely well.

And Why Haven't I Read It Before? I'm reading Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, one of those books I've always heard about but never read. It's one of the funniest things I have ever read and a great bit of escapism too. I find myself muttering to myself - 'I mun scranlet they turnips, I mun milk they dumb beasts, tes all accursed and flying in the face of nature...'. Just read it.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Sepia

Hello! I haven't blog posted anything for a while because (a) there's been a lot going on, and (b) I wasn't sure if anyone was reading it much these days. Is there anybody out there? However, I just heard about somebody who would like to know what Sepia has been doing, so I went to the Tower, but she wasn't there. She wasn't in her Song Cave, either. Finally I found her in curled up in a tree, and she asked me to tell you -

I had a tickle in my throat yesterday, so I took some honey and thyme and rested my voice, but it didn't do any good and today I can hardly speak, let alone sing. If I take a deep breath I just cough. I'm supposed to be teaching the choir a new song today, but I asked Needle to sort it out and she's asked Juniper to teach them, so that's all right. I'd quite like to go out for some fresh air, but it might not be a good idea.

Back in the winter I had a sore throat just before the festival. I couldn't go from here to the Tower without animals stopping me and fussing and offering me all kinds of strange medicines and advice. Some of them said I should wear two scarves and a pair of slippers. Some said I needed to rest, and some said I should take a brisk run through the trees, and of course Apple sent a bottle of her cordial which made my eyes water as soon as I took the top off. (I didn't drink it. Please don't tell her.) So this time, I 'm staying in my nest, keeping quiet, and hoping nobody notices that I'm not around. Urchin promised not to tell Apple. Later, Needle and Crackle will come round with all the news of the Tower and some honey biscuits, and it'll be fine so long as I try not to cough over them. I will rest myself better. That's all I need.

I must tell Needle not to make me laugh. I'd have a coughing fit.


Poor Sepia! I'm sure she'll be well soon. In the meantime, I feel so sorry for those of you in far flung places who can't hear The Archers, so here's your update. Tom isn't speaking to David and Ruth isn't speaking to Pip.
Justin and Lilian are getting married. Emma's working three nights a week in a chicken factory to pay for the kids' birthday presents and Ed is a Grumpy Grundy. Elizabeth is planning a party for her fiftieth, which should be fun with all the family falling out.

People are still speaking to Josh. I can't think why.

Friday, 24 March 2017

A Lot Of It About

A lot of the visitors to The House of Stories are American. If you're from the US, you may have heard that the British are always talking about the weather. It's true, we do that. We have to. There's a lot of it about.

Tony and I had two wonderful days on Holy Island at the weekend. If you don't know about it, it's a tidal island off the coast of Northumberland, cut off by the tide twice in every twenty-four hours. It's also wild and windswept, a haven of wildlife, and the cradle of British Christianity, and none of this begins to describe it. It's often called a 'thin' place, where there's little to separate earth and heaven. The wind sweeps across the North Sea, and the North Sea changes colour constantly. We walked for miles, with the wind or against it.

We came home on the first official day of spring, which coincided with a cold snap. On Wednesday morning, we woke up to three inches of snow which had flattened the daffodils. By the time I went out it was slithery slush, and today was warm enough for Tony to sit outside with a book. Now do you understand why we go on about the weather?

And isn't it a long time since I told you about The Archers? I know some of you are dying to know what Pip did next. She's still with Useless Toby. If you want to slap the pair of them, you'll have to join the queue. Eddie and Clarrie are doing B and B, Linda declared war, Justin proposed to Lillian and Lillian had a fit of the vapours. David and Ruth's cows caught Wobbly Hereford Disease or something and have been given the vaccine. If they've got any left they could give Toby a shot.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Selkie

Today I've been thinking about seals. The breeding season hasn't started yet, but soon they will be rolling about on the shores of remote islands, and not so remote ones too. There will be boat trips to the Farne Islands to watch for them. You might like this -

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/farne-islands

You know how you feel when you've overeaten? (Serves you right.) That's what seals look like on land. Stuffed. Unable to do anything but flop solidly on to the nearest horizontal space while gazing out from those big brown eyes. But in water they are fast, they are graceful, they are sure.

In parts of Scotland there are all sorts of stories about the Selkies, or Silkies. They are seals who arrive on land and take human form, usually the form of a beautiful woman. in some cases they have to fold up their sealskins and keep them safe so that they can return to the water. The usual tale is that a man falls in love with a selkie woman and marries her, but in time she yearns for the sea and nothing he can say or do will make her stay. She takes her sealskin, runs to the shore, and returns to her life in the sea. If you're a seal, you're a seal, and it's no good trying to be anything else.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Fingal

We haven't heard from the island for a while, so I thought I'd have a little potter about and see what's happening. There was Fingal, and I wondered what had happened to his tail.


Oh, don't worry, that'll grow out. I was doing a bit of maintenance work on the boat, some paint and a new sail. Ffion came along and watched for a bit and of course she wanted to help. Oh yes, she had a frog with her. They seem to follow her around. I'm surprised she hasn't eaten one yet. Anyway, the big paintbrush was too heavy for her, so she tried dipping my tail in the paint, but a full grown otter's tail is not a good paintbrush and it didn't go well. So then she tried using her own tail, which is smaller and neater but not quite within her line of sight unless she rolled over on her back. That worked reasonably well, and there wasn't much paint left in the pot when she knocked it over.

Of course it doesn't wash off, it's boat paint, it's not supposed to! It doesn't look too conspicuous, though, because she got so much sand stuck to it. And she doesn't mind. It'll grow out, as I explained to Padra and Arran. Padra fell off his rock laughing and Arran rolled her eyes up but she didn't really mind.

Did I say Ffion had sand stuck to her tail? Yes, and some few very pretty shells. And seaweed. And a surprised frog, but we set that free by trimming her fur a bit. It's the only frog on the island with otter fur slippers.