Wednesday, 25 February 2009


A very different sort of day today. Ash Wednesday, the beginning of a whole life spring-clean through Lent. It's also a day that my husband has managed to take off, and we went to one of our favourite places, the RHS garden at Harlow Carr, which always makes me feel glad, thankful, and renewed. I came home to find that my copies of HAMMY THE WONDER HAMSTER were waiting for me. Publication date Thursday - this is not just any hamster - this is HAMILTON!

It's also the day when we heard of the death of David and Samantha Cameron's beautiful son, Ivan. What can anyone say? Perhaps that we live in a world which is beginning to realise how precious such children are, and what a terrible gap is left with the death of any child. Perhaps it's only possible to stand before God without words, mindful of the child, his family, and especially his brother and sister, who have never known life without him.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

wilberforce mcgregor

I first met Wilberforce McGregor when he was delivered to my house on a winter's night in a bin bag. I learned soon afterwards that he had been delivered by motorbike, but, as nobody was home, he was deposited, in said bin bag, over the garden fence. This was not a great surprise as I had been expecting him.

WIlberforce was a present from friends who had found him abandoned in a tree in the grounds of a hospital where they worked. (By the way, did I say he's a teddy bear?) They took him in, washed him, and gave him cuddle therapy, but he was pining for a house with children, so they brought him to us. He may not look like the sort of bear who climbs trees and rides a motorbike, but you can't always tell, can you, with bears.

He had many happy years of being climbed on, fallen off, slept on and snuggled into, but sadly, for at least a decade he has been gathering dust and leaking. Either his head was empty or his feet, depending on which way up you held him, and his white bits were grey. So last night I washed him and today I returned him to his former glory with love and stuffing.

No bears were harmed in this project. The operation was carried out under hypnosis. He is now plump andclean and only heeds minor surgery on one eye, which is falling out.

I'm now looking for ribbon in McGregor tartan.

Friday, 20 February 2009

the five legged camel

Today just got quieter. The lassie who stays with us has a few days off and has gone to see a friend, and my husband is away overnight. God-daughter has been handed over to her family. (I said I'd take payment in used American dollars or gold, but husband thought sheep might be a safer investment, if harder to get into a briefcase.) Suddenly it was so quiet. I sorted out five different heaps of things that needed writing, revising, replying to or just thinking about, and worked until I couldn't concentrate any more (apart for a break for a meal while watching the Simpsons with my younger son. When husband's at home, we watch the news. When he's not, we watch The Simpsons.)

The lassie and I are knitting a Noah's Ark, so I finished off knitting the camels, or so I thought. I ended up with two humps, two heads, two necks, four ears, but only seven legs. This was a bit dispiriting, as I thought it was all over bar the stuffing. A search failed to bring the missing camel leg to light, so I knitted another one. I just know the original is still around somewhere. SAhame to waste it, if it turns up. Five legged camel.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

crinolines and screwdrivers

A fun day at York Castle Museum yesterday when god-daughter and I went to the costume demonstration and were laced into corsets and crinolines. The corset was surprisingly comfortable, but probably because it was too big for me. I loved the crinoline. We looked like wedding cakes, and it was like walking around in a protective bubble. Nobody could jostle you in the street if you wore one of those. Nobody could push past you in a doorway, and on a cold day you'd have room for two pairs of big knickers and a warm petticoat.

An item of not-so-Victorian advice I passed on to god-daughter this week - every woman needs her own set of screwdrivers. Always know where they are, and never lend them. It leads to a sense of self-reliance and a degree of independence. It also means you can mend the wobbly hinge on the loo seat and take the batteries out of anything that annoys you.

Monday, 16 February 2009

that hamster

It is time to stop teasing you and tell you about that hamster. The book is Hammy the Wonder Hamster because 'Hamilton' won't fit on the cover. His name is Hamilton, and he's very proud of it, having chosen it himself. This is no ordinary hamster. He does crosswords, Sudoko, and Bethany's maths homework. How is he so clever? Read his story and find out. Hammy the Wonder Hamster is published under the name Poppy Harris (but it's me), and comes out on 5 March.

This Hamster has attitude. He has courage. He knows world history, languages, and how to use a screwdriver. Look out for him.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

as I didn't say

I should have mentioned yesterday - The site for Riding Lights is - the site, like the company, comes highly recommended. This has been the quietest day I've had in ages, and I might even finish 'A Prayer for Owen Meany' before the end of it. It would almost be treacherous to put it down now. I am aware of the dozens of e-mails and letters to answer tomorrow, quite apart from actually writing what I'm supposed to be writing - but for now, it's still Sunday, and a day of - as far as possible - rest.

I've just looked at the clock. It's Monday. But as far as I'm concerned, while I'm still awake, it's Sunday.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

riding lights

I've just come back from a members' day with Riding Lights Theatre Company, which has been doing wonderful stuff on a shoestring, or sandal string, for thirty-one years now. With an inspiring love for God, love for theatre, and love for the world about them they have produced consistently excellent theatre year after year. I know that I can take anyone to a Riding Lights production and they won't be disappointed. For me, they are the only company I would put up there with the RSC, and this is with a tiny budget, a theatre like the Tardis, and amazing ingenuity. The energy and originality of RLTC is breathtaking. And it isn't just about theatre in theatres. Their touring company, Roughshod, is a small band of hard-working young actors who perform in churches, prisons, school, or wherever they're invited. Their educaion wing works with local kids, and they have a first rate youth company.

They're doing some work with film, now, too, but at the heart of it is live theatre, powerful, exciting, and accessible. As RLTC say - 'Getting Theatre Everywhere'.

Monday, 9 February 2009

sloppy kisses

A young man made my day yesterday. A very young man. I'd just given him a book for his third birthday (one by the incomparable Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler team) and he came up to me with his arms out, said 'cuddle' and gave me a bit wet sloppy kiss. I don't usually like big wet sloppy kisses, by the way, but that one was a high point of my day.

This evening has ben raw cold again. The snowman thawed enough for his carrot nose and mouth to fall off, then solidiifed into ice. In these extreme conditions another of my small friends came to the door (with his wind-up torch and his mum) to personally deliver a thank you letter for his fifth birthday present. I felt he was ready for the bear from darkest Peru, and he loves Mrs Bird because she looks after Paddington.

When I looked out half an hour later, the face was back on the snowman. Readers, in this village we are rearing the next generation of gentlemen.

Saturday, 7 February 2009


I had to be in York on Thursday, and arranged to stay overnight because I wasn't sure about what the snow might do to the last train home. There wasn't much snow in the city - that makes it easier underfoot, but it was a bit of a disappointment because the Minster is breathtaking in it.

One of my favourite places is Betty's, and I treated myself. Sipping hot mulled wine,looking out across St Helen's Square, I could see an old-fashioned lamp-post, and a broad street ending with an elegant Georgian house (or is it Queen Anne? not sure). It was so like being in the past - then it hit me that it isn't, it's the persent, and it's real. It's something preserved, and worth preserving, from the past, so that people like me, and all the other 21st century people in Betty's that day, can sit in that elegant tea room, cross that square by the light of the lamp-post, and walk down towards that house, the art gallery, the theatre, and the Minster. York never loses its magic.

On a very different note, I am already starting to think about Comic Relief on 13 March. I've bought noses for all the family, and one for the car, and a bouncy thing that laughs (no, not a baby.) I'm trying to come up with original ideas for events - red knees day? I think my after school club might like something very wobbly to do with jelly. Yuck.

Monday, 2 February 2009


Snow is so watchable. It's almost impossible not to stop work and stare out of the window. The view changes all the time, and the light goes from a haze of pale grey to a vast white hillside throwing back the light to the sky.

The schools have closed. Children are swooshing down the hill, throwing snowballs, building snowmen. I lent our sledge to the lassie next door so I'll have to slide down the garden on a tea tray and hope I stop before crashing through the fence into the river and disturbing the ducks.

You're never too old to sledge on a tea tray. You're never too old to build a snowman. He has a carrot nose and a bendy carrot mouth, button eyes, a hat and a scarf. I haven't made a snow angel yet, but I'll do that tomorrow. I want a Campaign for Real Weather.

All writers seem to end up writing about snow (apart from the ones who never see any). It's something to do with wanting to catch it, keep it, and get it out again to look at it and remember how stunning it was. Or maybe it just comes from gazing out of windows watching it on days like today.