Thursday, 7 September 2017


For the first time since I can't remember when, I have a whole day at home. The end of August took us to Greenbelt Festival, which you'll find here

and it was like this -

and this


and Hamilton was such a Greenbelt Bear

It's about faith, arts, and justice. The sun poured down on us through beautiful music, incisive and inspiring talks, performances, crafts and worship. Lucy Grace gave a moving and funny one woman show about her hunt for Lucy Barfield, C S Lewis's goddaughter to whom he dedicated The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Katherine Welby-Roberts talked with great clarity, humour and honesty about mental health problems. The Nine Beats Collective, who take the Beatitudes as their principle for life, did compelling real life stories and loud music. John Bell of the Iona Community talked about Brexit and Trump, and absolutely nailed it.

My head was still spinning when we came home and Daughter, Daughter's Chap and Frodo came to stay, then LOS and Lady Sunshine arrived. Much hugging, splashing and blowing of bubbles. Then there were some very busy days to do with church stuff. And now I'm back at the computer, with the air outside turning autumnal, the apple tree heavy, and blackberries in the garden. Time for a change of pace, and to process all that I learned and experienced at Greenbelt so that I carry it into the new season.

Thursday, 17 August 2017


On Sunday afternoon I was in puppy heaven. We visited a ruined castle on the Welsh Borders and found that it was a magnet for families with young children and dogs, all of them impressively well behaved. I met so many puppies! The kids were delightful too, but PUPPIES!!!! A teeny beagle and a teenier Yorkie running around like an animated toothbrush. A St Bernard with a coat so thick and soft you could have lost a small child in there. Some sort of poodle cross looking for things to bark at. I'm very much looking forward to meeting somebody's new spaniel puppy soon.

All these, apart from the poodle thing, were pedigrees. I'm not. I'm a mongrel. I like mongrels. They tend to be tough. I have a friend who can trace her family back to ancient Norsemen via Alfred the Great. There was some serious nobility in her family, but, as she says, the nobles didn't get there by being nice.

Various people have climbed into the branches of my family tree. They either fell out or got dive bombed by puffins. We know that the Scottish branch goes back to a place near Glasgow where there were so many McAllisters it becomes impossible to find out which one was which. Grandma's lot were Londoners/South Coast and somebody reckoned that they were descended from the Bourbon kings, but to be honest the Bourbon kings weren't that particular and I suspect a lot of us are descended from them. As for Mum's family, it seems that for generations they wandered around England to wherever the work was. However, I have reddish hair, pale skin and blue eyes, so that means I have real ancient Pictish ancestors. They're just mixed up with a lot of other things, bits of Saxon, Viking, Norman, and, for all I know, refugees from anywhere in Europe that was going into meltdown.

None of us, or very few, are pedigrees. In the UK, unless all sides of your family have occupied the same few Celtic counties for hundreds of years, you're a mongrel. In the States, unless you're pure Native American, you are descended from immigrants.

Whatever you believe your race to be, we are all mongrels.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017


Dear Sunshine

If we have said or done anything to upset you this August, we in the north of England are truly sorry. We didn't mean it. We love you very much. And we miss you. We've hardly seen you for weeks and weeks. Please come back. We promise you ice cream and sun cream, t-shirts and tea in the garden, beaches and peaches. We will wear shades and drink Pimms in your honour. If you want water fights, you can have them. Pour into our gardens shine through our windows, and stay as long as you like.

Last week Tony and I read the weather forecast and went to Harlow Carr anyway. All those gardens! As well as the walks, the borders, the ponds and the stream there are plenty of places to take shelter - little wooden sheds, the exhibition, the funny little alpine house and the summer house. It didn't matter that the rain starting pelting down soon after we got there because we were in Betty's, ho-ho, having lunch. By the time we'd finished the 'I really really shouldn't' and swigged the coffee, the sky was clear.

We'd wandered the woodland and had a pleasant chat with the moorhens when the rain began again and bucketed down for twenty minutes while we took shelter. Then the sun came out and we walked up between the flower borders. Raindrops shone on leaves, lay on petals, and hung on to the delicate grasses. Sunshine made them sparkle. We walked through fields of diamonds.

The next day brought another kind of diamond. I attended a Quiet Garden Retreat Day. A local lady, kind, wise and experienced in spirituality, opened her home and garden for retreatants. She gave us some thoughts and readings to be going on with and let us read, draw, pray, meditate, and enjoy the garden. I made friends with a cat. I thought about treasure. I came away with more diamonds.

Monday, 24 July 2017


A mess tends to get worse before it gets better. It is important to remember that. This week I tried to do some sorting out of all the knitting, sewing and crafting stuff that has gathered round me over the years. Yes, I do mean 'gathered around me'. I don't deliberately acquire it. It tangles me up. It follows me home. Beads, needles and ribbons are sociable creatures and gather together. They collect each other, as teddy bears do. That's why they don't stay in their own bundles, they cuddle each other, they twist up together and tie themselves in knots. Me too, if they get the chance. I fought off several metres of organza ribbon. half a mile of pink bias binding nearly choked me, and don't get me started on bead wire. That was an encounter I'd rather forget, but they don't call it Memory Wire for nothing.

I blame the daughters-in-law. (The Daughter is Innocent in this.) A few years ago we went to the Knitting and Stitching Show, and did they try to stop me? Did they drag me away from the special offers? No, they stood and smiled, that's what they did. And last Monday when we were staying with the Sunshines, I happened to say something to Lady Sunshine about knitting. She TOOK ME TO A WOOL SHOP. WHAT HAVE I EVER DONE TO HER? A real wool shop, one of those teeny weeny Tardis places down a little side street. When I walked through the door I would have fainted if there'd been anywhere to fall over, but the stands of haberdashery held me up. To get a good look at the wool meant thrashing a way through the jungle. I left without buying anything in there, but only because I was overwhelmed and you can't handle cash when you're shaking.

Recently I also acquired all of Mum's knitting and sewing stuff. The plan now is to get the daughters-in-law here, pile up all the craft stuff and let them help themselves. They can go and cram boxes of it in their own houses. Except the reindeer ribbon, of course, I really like that. And the oddment of coloured silk, I'm sure I'll use that one day. And everything in the shoebox.

Yesterday I knitted a butterfly.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Wimble Much

It's Wimbledon, and this is really not bad weather for it. It's sunny in London and cool here with a fair bit of rain, so there's an excuse for staying in and watching the tennis instead of gardening. However, Much and Oliver are both made of stone and the weather doesn't bother them a bit. In fact, Wimbers is about the only time Much can be persuaded to get off his snail.

Oliver has been into tennis all his life, but Much only learned it after he moved here. Oliver's very patient, especially as Much's first idea about tennis was to hang on to his racquet with both hands and wallop the ball into the next county. However, he's getting the idea now and it's a long time since any sheep were concussed. Dodger runs about being the Ball Dog, and doesn't necessarily bring it back.

Our garden community has been joined by the sweetest little black cat, a very smooth, small black one with bat ears. I've given him the talk about birds, and he doesn't chase anything bigger than insects and the wavy tops of grasses. I'm looking forward to seeing him watch the tennis. (No, they don't make racquets out of you know what any more.) So our garden is dripping wet but it is a glory of roses, lavender, gooseberries and stone people playing tennis.

Somebody asked me if there were fairies in my garden. Don't be so silly!

Wednesday, 28 June 2017


I've always been a fidget. A wriggler, a hair-twister. I can't sit in a meeting without a notebook in front of me. It's supposed to be for making notes, but by twenty minutes in I'm drawing flowers and little houses. I can't sit in front of the television without something to knit, sew, cut out, or puzzle at. Other people sit quietly in the garden with a drink. I have to pull out the weeds and pinch the dead heads off the pansies.

I also fidget write. I have to have some little piece of work going on, if only to play with. At present I'm in the rare position of doing one book at a time, which rarely happens. And my one book is at the stage where I have to leave it to get cold before I can go back, re-read and revise. I'm twitching for some fidget writing.

Maybe a picture book text. What hasn't been done? What would I like to do? A penguin story? A polar bear? An elephant?

A re-telling of a fairy tale? Or a legend?

Something that's never been done before? So what would that be?

Whatever I might come up with, I will never, ever, write anything so incomparably perfect and lovely as Paddington Bear. Thank you, Michael Bond, who died today at the age of 91, for giving us Paddington. The world of children's books just now looks for excitement, danger, adventure, thrills, pace. Perhaps we're all missing something. We're missing the fact that generations of readers have warmed to the stories of a gentle and sensible bear who doesn't storm about, do anything stupidly dangerous, or even fidget. He gets on with things, speaks politely, and raises his hat, and the world is better for him.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

To explain

It's been quiet at The House of Stories lately, so I thought nobody was calling any more. But a few visiting cards have dropped through the door, so perhaps I should catch up and explain what's been going on. Writery things are going on, but nothing that's at the discussable stage yet.

My sister is home! A senior nurse at the hospital said she'd never seen a recovery like it! She is still using a frame to walk and taking a lot of painkillers, but she will get there. The cat was standoffish for a few hours then said, 'oh, go on then,' and curled up on her mummy's very comfortable bed.

Over the month or so when I was in and out of care homes and hospitals, the garden thought I'd moved out. But I'm giving it all the t and c I can now, and the roses are so happy I can see them dancing about and giggling when they think I'm not looking. I've just thinned out the cornflowers because Much couldn't see a thing, and now he's chatting away to a wild rabbit who comes in now and again and eats the dandelions. We'll have gooseberries soon. The blackcurrants haven't done a thing, but fortunately next door's are growing through the fence.

And for all of you Over The Pond who are dying to know about what's really happening over here, let me explain about (1) The General Election and (2) The Archers.

The Prime Minister said she wasn't going to call a General Election, and called a General Election. Everyone said that Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, was unelectable, largely because he was an old-fashioned leftie who cares about people, grows things on an allotment, and makes jam. It turns out that people, especially young people, like old-fashioned lefties who care about them. And jam. Anyway, Jeremy Corbyn did brilliantly well, won a lot of seats, and lost, except, in another sense, he kind of won. The PM lost a lot of seats and won, but no longer has enough seats to ride roughshod over the rest of the country and is frantically swapping marbles in the playground with any party who will prop her up. She has not yet approached the Monster Raving Newport Pagnell Liberation Front, but give her time.

Proportionately, Labour won and the Liberal Democrats did really well, but we don't do proportionate. So that's all clear and simple, then. And countries all over Europe are weeping with laughter and holding each other up.

And the thing you really want to know about - Justin Elliot wants to buy some land from Tony Archer to build houses. No, Susan, not a multi-storey mega pig rearing unit, houses. Freddie Pargeter bunked off an exam to go to a music festival with Johnnie and came home with a dodgy looking tattoo and a big smile. His mum Elizabeth is livid, and will probably shove him into an ancestral cannon and fire him into the middle of next week. Toby and Pip have split up. James and Leonie, who between them are wetter than a swimming pool in the monsoon season, had a very public hissy spat and stalked off in opposite directions, so Lillian and Linda are having a mud-slinging match. All's well in dear old rural England, my merry morris dancers.