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.

Friday, 19 May 2017


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


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.