Friday, 31 December 2010

seven swans and an otter


The sight of seven swans gliding down the river left Much speechless, so I'll do the blogging for him today. Prince Crown decided to bring his brothers and sisters, so they sailed past this morning before flying back to Swan Isle. Tide was awestruck, but of course Swanfeather had to jump in there with them.

For any of you who are waiting to hear from She of the Stories in person, she's just taking a bit of time out for Christmas and New Year and spending a bit of time with family, godfamilies, and friends. I happen to know that she is pinging to start writing again.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

six geese a laying

That lot indoors went off today to see her folks. More blooming birds! And only me here to shoo 'em all off the garden and chase 'em down to the river.They can lay all the eggs they like, we don't want 'em. And goslings may be very cute but they grow up stroppy and hissy. The only one around here that wants a goose is Younger Son. He was pecked by one in a park when he were little, and he's wanted to eat one ever since.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

five gold rings

Five gold rings? Now yer talking. Just wait till Lady Sunshine and the Lassie get 'ere, there'll be two pairs of earrings before you can say bling. And as for the fifth one, well, Lady Sunshine's gonner need one come the summer, in't she?

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

twelve days of Christmas according to Much

Lots of blooming birds. Why anyone would want to put a partridge up a pear tree is beyond me. Them turtle doves makes a right racket, I don't know what them French hens are talking about but it don't sound polite, and as for them calling birds. Four of 'em, at the corners of the garden, all yelling at each other 'over 'ere!' and 'oi!' and 'what?'. I told 'em, you can all sit in a tree and talk to each other quiet or I'm calling the cat. That fettled 'em.

So what's tomorrer?

Thursday, 23 December 2010

from all at the house of stories


All is ready for the festival. The year is turning, and the light coming, even though it doesn't feel like it when it's dark in the middle of the afternoon and every tree in Anemone Wood is coated with frost. So beautiful, and so bitter for the animals venturing out in it. They stay safe and warm in their homes as far as might be.

Everyone has the day off today, so the kitchen animals are sliding down from the Tower on tea trays. The Threading Makers are building snow hedgehogs, Sepia's choir are having a snowball fight, and Catkin... oh, now where has she got to...?



That Stephen wot does the garden, 'e come in 'ere on Tuesday when it were six degrees below freezing. 'Er Ladyship takes 'im a mug of coffee, stops for a blether, and they see this big funny looking duck bobbing down the river.

'I think it's a goosander, but I'm not sure' sez Stephen. 'Er didn't know, so she goes indoors, picks up the bird book and checks it. Sure enough, it's a goosander, and she goes out with the book to show him. The whole thing takes four minutes, by which time he's drunk his coffee and left the mug on a stone step. She tries to pick it up and she can't. It's frozen solid.

Laugh! I nearly fell off me snail.


From Tony, Margi, Wonderful Daughter, Lovely Older Son, Lady Sunshine, Lovely Younger Son, Hamilton Bear, the Mistmantle Animals, Hammy the Wonder Hamster, and all at the snowy, icy House of Stories beside the frozen river, we hope you have a wonderful Christmas and a Good New Year.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010


Had you guessed? So my best friend's family wanted to give her a special holiday as a birthday present, and decided that she needed someone to accompany her to Vienna, to chaperone/entertain/get lost in the snow with/drive her round the bend/speak bad German, whatever.

There isn't room to tell you all about the elegant houses, the gluhwein, the Lipizzaner horses, the ride in a fiacre, and the Christmas markets. Or even the snow, which drifted down all Tuesday and was so soft it blew around our feet and looked like mist. Oh, and we went to Mozart's house. He wasn't in, but we were able to wander through the rooms where he composed.

Oh, and the breakfasts. The Viennese do take food seriously. And I learned the sad story of lovely Empress Sissi.

And I remembered how good it is to get home and sleep in my own bed.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Away we go

My friend and I are going on a very special wee trip this weekend. Not telling you where, but we're hoping for snow (surprisingly, as we should be sick to death of it by now. But holiday snow is different.) See if you can guess it without any further clues. Tell you all about it when we get back. And, no, it isn't Lapland. I'm not that fond of snow.

The washing machine is working now, so I no longer need a crew of otters to swish it around in the bath. They can go and play in the river, which has changed colour since the thaw started. And I'll pack - which Terry Pratchett book will I take? Nobody else makes me laugh so much.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010


Them folks must be filthy. Or fussy, I dunno. They're always washing. They wash themselves, they wash their clothes, they have a bloke with a ladder to clean the windows, they clean indoors, blimey, 'er even washes the floor, dunno why, it's there to be walked on. Me, I wait for it to rain, and I don't smell. Neither does me snail.

So, yesterday, they're both working downstairs when something in the kitchen went bang and the lights went out. Music on the radio stopped. Computer shut up. Now, I dunno what a trip switch is, but something tripped. Not surprised, if they leave it lying around, anyone might fall over it. Anyway, 'e tripped it back o again and everything was still working except the washing machine. Must have been the washer what went bang.

Now, if this were 'er Mistmantle island there'd be a load of animals and a washtub, and all them little critters would be jumping up and down on the clothes, making a great game of it. As it, 'er's packed him off to the laundery-ette. Reckon they'll be in there a lot this week.

Friday, 3 December 2010


Snow all around, as far as the eye can see, only that isn't very far when it's coming down so fast that you can't see the hills. All the plant pots have tall sparkling bonnets. There are powder puffs on the fence posts and any car that stays put for a day is snuggled under a snow duvet. Temperatures rarely rise above freezing. There are icicles hanging from the traffic lights.

Roads are dangerous, schools are closing, public transport is disrupted, and for two days there was no bread in the shops because the supplies weren't getting through. On Wednesday, a journey that should have taken Lovely Older Son half an hour lasted from eleven until well after three. People have been sleeping overnight in cars, trains, and lorries because nothing could move. Somewhere near Sheffield, the local Methodists have opened their church to provide shelter, food, sleeping accommodation, etc to all who need it and about seventy lorry drivers stayed there until they could move on.

It's only about six inches here, but in parts of Yorkshire, Northumberland and Scotland it's far worse. My sister in Northumberland now has waist deep snow. The forecast is for a slushy weekend, then more snow and ice.

It's dangerous, wet, freezing, and so, so beautiful. And the children will never tire of it.

Saturday, 27 November 2010


My paws are tired. I've had a great day, but a very tiring one.

She of the stories went to a Knitting and Stitching Show today, so I tagged along. Getting lost in Harrogate on a snowy day is quite pleasant for a while, but my legs are much shorter than hers, and I am very close to the ground. However, the exhibitions of work were simply spine-quivering. There was Miss Havisham's wedding dress, and the stopped clock, and the wedding shoe. The Narnia wardrobe and the lamppost. A felted swallow's nest with three little chicks. The beading, the felting, the embroidery, the...

oh, all right, if you're a man or a very annoying otter, go away. I know you're not interested.

I bought some beautiful yarns and beads for the Threadings, and learned a new way of making braids for the edges. She bought a bead loom for Lady Sunshine who has already made half a mile of beaded cord and is now making bracelets for the nation.

She bought a lot of stuff for herself, too. It's the old story. She'll start off with her yarn or her beads or whatever it is, get in a tangle, and need me to sort it out for her. But before anything else, I need to soak my paws. It's been a long day. Fingal, I told you to go away...

oh, bless him. He's brought me sea water to soak my paws in. Just the thing.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Padra, Much and me


First real frost last night. I went to look in on Margi of the Stories, as her home seems to slip in and out of Mistmantle. I don't want her losing her footing on a frozen patch whens he goes down to gather the holly for the Advent wreaths, she's still not right yet. The berries are still on the holly trees, so the birds aren't that desperate yet. Nice crisp cold swim before breakfast, and a good roll on the grass to get warm and dry again.


Nice chap, that otter. Stopped for a chat after 'is swim. Swim! You wouldn't get me in there, nor me snail neither. Looks grand from 'ere, frost on the rooftops, and I don't feel the cold, being stone. I said to that otter, 'er can put some salt on them steps if 'er wants to break up the frost. So long as she don't get no salt near me snail. All right, e's a stone snail, it won't do 'im no harm, but that ain't the point. It's not polite, is it?


Just back from two days in Cardiff with Daughter. We went to a very happy Shoebox service at her church (people handing in their Christmas Child boxes for children living in extreme poverty. I think these ones were destined for Romania.) We spent a happy evening with Daughter's Cardiff family including the adorable dogs and an unusually affectionate cat. (One day I will kidnap that wee dog and keep him as a footwarmer.)

In the afternoon we went with Daughter's young man to St Fagan's Museum of Welsh Life, one of those outdoor museums with reconstructed houses from different periods of history. It's a wonderful place and well worth a visit. Enlightening. Those houses are lovely from the outside, but they're dark, cramped and cold. Have no illusions about the good old days!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

busy busy busy busy busy busy

First I did lots of work on Monday because I was going away on Tuesday and I got the train and went to my parents and then went to see our old friend John and in the morning popped in on a friend and came back to my parents to meet some cousins who I hadn't seen for years and then slipped into town to buy a present and a hat and get my hair done and got the train home

and did toddler group today

and caught up with e-mails and what I'm writing

and was supposed to be in York tonight but the trains were running late so I'm home, so I have time now to

get on with the next book, do the washing and ironing, play the piano, do the sums, tidy a bit

and then I'm going to see Daughter,

and when I come home, I will

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz all day.


Saturday, 13 November 2010


Ooh, what a surprise we had, me and Filbert, what a lovely party, ooh, we 'ad no idea, nobody told us a thing, it were all secret. Needle and Thripple comes to find me and Filbert, and they say, we've got some new cloaks we think might look good on you, and some ribbons for your hat, do you want to come and try on? So there we were in the tower workrooms, trying on these very nice cloaks, made us look right important, and Needle says,

'I don't know. Let's see what Urchin thinks, he's in 'ere', and she takes us down the hall to this room, and ooh, it were like stepping into the sky! All blue and clouds and stars and music, ooh, I thought, this is what it must feel like to fly on them swans, ooh it were lovely, and Filbert's turning round gazing about - we had music and ooh, the food were just perfect, and we danced, it were like dancing in the sky.

They'd invited our friends from the wood, and of course our Urchin and all his friends were their, Fingal, ooh, Fingal makes me laugh, and Captain Padra turned up, and, ooh, even royalty.

Afterwards I asked Urchin why they'd done it, and he just said, ''cos we love you'. They'd even got us a comfy bedroom in the Tower, with flowers in there and everything. Just as well, we was too tired to go home, but mind, I like our little home in the woods better than anywhere.

I've got my home, and my Filbert, and I never thought I'd be so happy and have someone like him beside the fire with me. And I've seen our Urchin do well. I wouldn't change places with the Queen of Mistmantle. Come to think of it, it aint easy being the Queen of Mistmantle, is it?

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

back to school

Yesterday, while Much sat on his snail and told the gardener how to do his gardening, I went out to do a school visit. I arrived at last, after getting lost twice and nearly being blown away like Mary Poppins by the scouring wind howling round the town. Two classes of delightful children asked me questions about writing, and how to make stories. and - what everyone asks - where the ideas come from. Great kids, lovely school.

I had few odds and ends to do in town after that. I finally got home later than I'd meant to, tired, wet, and cold.

And what was waiting for me on the doormat?

Not Much, and certainly not the gardener.

Not a squirrel, a hamster, a Viking, a football playing dog, Hawk Jankin, or anyone else from my books.

It was my new passport. And I am looking forward so much to using it.

More soon!

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Fireworks Night

Or, Fireworks Weekend, as there are still lots of Bonfire Parties going on tonight. We saw beautiful sparkly things exploding in the sky just by standing in the street or at a window. Lovely older son did jacket potatoes for us all and he and Lady Sunshine have been playing with sparklers in the garden.

Much loves Fireworks Night. He calls it a bloomin' racket, and says 'couldn't them idiots find a faster way of wasting money?' but he loves it really. Leans back on his snail all night watching the sky.

This has got me thinking. Would the animals of Mistmantle have the means to make fireworks? If so, they'd keep them for very special occasions, but they'd have a great time with them. You know how they love to party.

What do you think?

Monday, 1 November 2010

urchin 2

Sorry about that. I've mopped it up (I think it's rotting the mop) and opened the shutters to let out the smell of vinegar. We're laying on a surprise party for Apple and Filbert. Sepia now has a Music Chamber in the tower and we all decorated it with blue draperies left over from the Threadings. We painted the floorboards dark blue (Fingal likes painting), and some little hedgehogs have been cutting out stars and putting them on the floor, too, and we've put tables together in a more or less moon shape so it looks as if we're having a party in the sky.

Needle found silver and gold cloaks for Apple and Filbert, and a sort of starry thing for Apple to put on her head. We're having all their favourite things - roasted hazelnuts, walnuts with sunflower seeds, and apple and berry tart - and they can drink their cordial if they like, so long as the rest of us don't have to.

There will be music from the choir, of course, and dancing. And we've arranged a room in the tower for them that night, as I think they'll be too tired to trundle off back home to Anemone Wood. Now, how do you get blue paint off an otter?


Every squirrel on the island is buzzing about collecting nuts, up and down trees, over the forest floor. Apple is sitting on a rock by the beach telling her her tales to the youngsters and holding her hat on. Every now and again she takes her paws off her hat and a gust of wind whisks it away, pursued by every young squirrel on the island.

Really, they're keeping her out of the way because Sepia and I are planning a surprise. More very soon. I just have to - oh, plague! I've just knocked over a bottle of her cordial and my eyes are watering already.

Saturday, 30 October 2010


'Er brung them kids to see me yesterday. They were up and down them steps like a cat at a mouse party, and I suppose I don't mind meeting 'em, but the thing is, they don't show proper respect to an old gnome and 'is snail. The little lad just wanted to run about and point at the trees and stuff, and the little girl still thinks there are fairies at the bottom of the garden. There's a broken down fence and a great big river at the bottom of ours, I says, but she ain't listening.

They've gone 'ome now and she's cleared up the fall-out area and settled down to answer 'er letters and stuff. She might even tidy up the heap in the study. Good thing the clocks go back tonight.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010


Sorry, all you people of the House of Stories, but all things have been coming at me at once. To put it briefly, one of our windows was badly cracked in the early hours of Saturday morning, then Tony, who was away at a conference, fell while trying to get a photograph and gashed his hand really very severely, needing treatment. Our friends the godfamily have been camping nearby and we had all sorts of great ideas about what we'd do and where we'd go, then a quick trip to the supermarket with my friend finished with Very Small Goddaughter being violently sick in the back of the car.

Friend (as above) suddenly had crippling headaches yesterday and was whizzed into A and E. Lovely older son and Lady Sunshine went to look after the children until their dad came back from the hospital. Today, Tony and I gathered them all up until their mum was given massive quantities of medication and discharged.

Oh, and I didn't mention that above husband went with Lovely Older Son on a four hour round trip on Sunday because Tony still couldn't drive, so they could bring back Tony, his passengers, and the car.

This, too, is a story. It's a story about how people help each other through crises. We have kept eldest goddaughter as a memento. Or a hostage.

Tomorrow, perhaps we'll be back to normal. Then again...

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

story time

When I do school visits, talks, interviews and so on, one of the most frequently asked questions is 'where do you get your ideas from?' As I say on the website, they come from all over the place. You just have to recognise a story when it waves at you. The next thing is to say, 'what if?'

Shall we try a BRAND NEW FEATURE on the blog?

It's a Story Spin. Now and again, I'll give you an idea, and you can decide if you want to make a story from it. If you like, give it a special notebook and illustrations, but it's best to whizz down your ideas and put a draft on scrap paper first. Pop a few words in the comment box if you want to tell us how it's going on.

So, for the first Story Spin -

A girl goes to the piano to do her music practise, but as she plays, she finds she is playing a tune she has never heard before. It's very beautiful, and it's as if the piano knows it and needs to play it.

Over to you now. By the way, I started with a girl, but it can be a boy if you prefer.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

e-mails, trees, and a nonagenarian

Firstly, a word to all of you who e-mail me and are waiting for replies - Our e-mail is playing silly whatnots just now. If you're waiting for a reply, it is trying to reach you. Leave a comment on the blog if you're waiting for a reply and wondering where it's got to. A mole with a screwdriver would be good.

Well! Yesterday was my dad's 91st birthday, so Tony and I made the long trip to Rothbury in Northumberland where we met Mum, Dad, my sister and her husband, for a pub lunch. Then we took ourselves off to Cragside.

If you feed 'Cragside, Northumberland' into a search engine you should find a bizarre house on a hill with gardens, grounds, woods and water all round it. Woods and water were what we had in mind, and it was a perfect dry, crisp autumn day, with the trees in full autumn glory. An iron bridge over the burn has been opened, and Dad was keen to do the walk over the iron bridge and to the power house. (Cragside was built by an inventor and engineer who used water power from the estate to work electricity and hydraulic lifts in the house.)

We did it. It sounds very simple, but with aged parents, my dodgy back and the weather forecast, it might not have happened. As it was, everything about it - the leaves and cones on the forest floor, moss, trees, water, riverbanks, was so beautiful. The air tasted of autumn. Amazingly, my back didn't give a bit of bother, and I was able to help Mum over the steep bits.

We stopped at my sister's cottage for birthday cake. She had bought two large candles, a 9 and 1, so depending on what went which way round and which way up he could be 61, 19, or 16 if he felt like it. Finally a drive home through some of the loveliest views in the world.


Monday, 11 October 2010


Firstly - if anyone is waiting for an e-mail reply from me, the e-mail here is being a bit sulky just now. It just folded its arms and pretended not to see me. I'll reply as soon as I can.

Now, the Pearlies. In the nineteenth century the costermongers, who were street traders, were a hard bitten lot who looked after their own. They'd have a whip round (money collection) to support any of their community who were too ill to work, widows and orphans, etc. Henry -um - Yorke, I think his name was, who had grown up in an orphanage and then went to work as a street cleaner in the London markets, made friends with the costermongers and took their work a step further. He raised money for various charities benefiting the poor, especially orphans, and adopted the costermonger tradition of decorating his clothes with pearl buttons.

To this day, every London borough has a Pearly King and Queen, who wear the most amazing pearl button suits, some decorated with symbols and designs, some 'smother' suits covered with buttons, and raise money for charity. We had the great joy of meeting the Pearly King of Walthamstow and the Pearly Queen of Tower Hamlets last week when they were at St Martin's for their Harvest Festival. The Pearly Princes and Princesses were there in their best, too. Great to see you around, Pearlies.

The chiropractor says I mustn't sit at a keyboard for more than half an hour absolutely top max. I'll have to type faster.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

st martin's

The church of St Martin's in the Fields isn't in the fields at all, it's slap-bang in the centre of London on Trafalgar Square. It's been famous for a long time for the work they do there for the homeless and other people generally down on their luck, and every year there's a radio appeal from the vicar of St Martin's which never fails to raise thousands of pounds. They do a lot of simple, sensible stuff, like making grants to families who urgently need to replace something - maybe a cooker - but have completely run out the money to do so.

It's wonderful, what they do. It's a disgrace to our welfare system that they have to do so much of it.

They have lots going on there. We went there for lunch in the Crypt cafe on Sunday, and it was packed. Clearly a popular place to be. There were at least five services there that day, including one in Cantonese and another foreign language one, I can't remember what that was. Also in the crypt was an art exhibition, and a chance to look at the latest possible exhibits for the fourth plinth. (For US readers - there are three plinths in Trafalgar Square with statues on, and a fourth which used to be empty. Now and again they put something new on it.)

And there's a little shop where I bought some very beautiful advent calenders. And the Pearlies arrived - I'll tell you about them soon.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010


We've got a nice chap doing the garden just now. Knows what 'e's doing, which is a sight more than 'er ladyship does. He does his job, and lets me do mine. 'E clears away the ivy and I tell 'im when he's missed a bit. This weekend was entertaining, the blooming river came through the fence. Flattened a few weeds, an' all.

Those two weren't 'ere, they were off to London so he could get his sirtifikerat or summit and a big black dress thing, scare the daylights out of them ducks, that will. 'Im and 'er been talking about the Nashunal Gallery, apparently it's full of paintings. What d'you want paintings for? You've got a river, an' a garden, and me and me snail to look at. You got weeds and dickie birds an'all. Anyway, they seem to have had a great time with them paintings. They said you have to choose which bit yer want to look at, and take yer time. I ask you, 'ow long does it take to look at a painting of a few old geezers or some bloomin' water lilies?

The other thing 'er likes about the Nashunal Gallery is the cakes. 'Er reckons it's one of the best cake places in London, and blimey, 'er should know. 'Er says 'er can't walk far just now. Funny 'er ran out of steam just outside the Nashunal, innit?

Monday, 4 October 2010


Because I like to protect my family's privacy I don't usually name them on the blog, but I can't go on about Tony at length and still keep calling him The Husband. At present he is an acknowledged cleverclogs and I want to show him off.

This weekend we went to London where he was to be awarded his Master of Theology cum laude. He worked long and hard for this, wowed the examiners, and was also awarded the Vice-Chancellor's award, which was only announced on the day. He now has a new set of robes, a rather fetching hood, and a very proud missus.

I still can't walk very far, so we spent much of the time in and around Trafalgar Square and Strand, and further posts will hopefully tell you about the National Gallery, St Martin-in-the-Fields, (which isn't in the fields, but it was once) and Pearlies. Now we are both back to work, I haven't finished unpacking, there is a joiner replacing the ceiling in the shower, and the engineer has just repaired the boiler so we can have heating without losing the hot water. And Cleverclogs M Th is at a staff meeting, so I'm making builder's tea for the joiner. Back to earth.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010


Now that the schools are back, everybody's catching colds. Lady Sunshine was sneezing last week and I didn't want to catch it, so I hid behind the settee. At present, if I sneeze, my back hurts.

This makes me wonder about something. In the UK, most people of my generation upwards were taught that you shouldn't stay off work/school unless you have two broken limbs and pneumonia. Across all the generations, it seems to be normal that if you have a cold you take some powders and potions, struggle into work or school, and get on with it.

I think somebody once told me that it's different in the US. Apparently, there it's considered anti-social to go into work snuffling and sneezing and spreading your germs around. You're supposed to stay home till you're better. This sounds much more sensible to me, but is it true? Can anyone from the US advise me?

Today is the Festival of St Michael and All Angels. Happy Angel Day, everyone.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

lying in wait

We now have a gardener, and he is doing an amazing job. He has cleared out several tons of jungle, removed the ivy which threatened to wreck the steps, and generally sorted it. We haven't yet told him about Much, hidden amid the ferns.

What do you think? Should we warn Stephen, or should we wait until he pulls out a handful of weeds and finds a grinning chap on a snail? Much isn't scary, so he might be a pleasant surprise.

Captai Padra sits outside, too, overlooking the river. He was once by a pond in the garden of my much-loved Uncle Gordon, and after he died Padra came home with me. He stands overlooking the river and generally keeping an eye on things in his usual way - easy-going, but never missing a thing.

Friday, 17 September 2010

oh, what a shower

Sorry I've neglected you. My back, which was improving, suddenly got a lot worse. This was very frustrating, just when I was looking forward to being normal again. Now I do everything very slowly and can't sit at a computer for long, so the blog has suffered.

I could have asked someone from Mistmantle to help, but autumn is a very busy time on the island and I don't like to bother them. Hamilton hamster is busy inventing a hamster-friendly bicycle and Much - well, I now have a gardener and if Much starts off on this subject I'll never shut him up.

Before I was crocked I was looking for a new raincoat, a mac to replace the wee showerproof jacket I've had for at least ten years. Can anyone tell me why macs usually tie around the middle? It might look very elegant on a leggy model, but I'm five foot three and anything that ties round the middle makes me look like something in a field with straw hair and a post holding me up. All I want is a longish swingy coat with a hood, a subtle colour, and a reasonable price tag.

In the meantime, I'll go out in the rain in my old jacket. Hang on, there's this post down the back...

Wednesday, 8 September 2010


I was telling a reader about Rosie today, and she suggested Rosie should do a blog. Rosie herself is extremely shy, but as I'm her adoptive mother I'll tell you about her.

Rosie is a very beautiful roe deer who was spotted by a member of the public with her leg caught in a fence. They very sensibly contacted those amazing people at Tiggywinkle's, who came out, rescued her, and took her back to St Tiggywinkle's Hospital to attend to her injured leg.

Rosie needed surgery, which was successful, so she still has the use of all four legs. However, she'll never be fast enough or strong enough to be released to the wild, so she has a new home in the safety of the deer paddock at Tiggywinkles, where I hope to visit her one day. And so I hope, will you.

As my foster-deer, she's a member of the House of Stories community. We are highly privileged to have her.

Monday, 6 September 2010


TOO COOL FOR SCHOOL, HAMMY THE WONDER HAMSTER! This is Hamilton Hamster, guest blogging for Poppy Harris or Margi or whatever she calls herself, to tell you about my most exciting adventure yet, and I'm so excited I can't run over the keys fast enough, to teellllllllllllllllllllllllllllllyyyyyyyyyyyybnm,./ oops I fell off the keyboard.

This is the book about when I met a trombone. I love trombones, even when they make rude noises, (and they make lots of those, especially when you're first learning). And there's a monster in the book, too. Honestly, I don't know why Bethany's mum lets it in the house.

Book comes out this week - get hold of it at once!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

new things

New month today! And a new season, but it doesn't look like autumn. It looks like high summer, with the sun shining beautifully and not a cloud in the sky, and, yes, the schools go back tomorrow. Grrrr.

New book. Too Cool for School, Hammy the Wonder Hamster, is released next week. My favourite Hammy book! Hammy will no doubt tell you all about it soon.

New friends! Lady Sunshine is in the process of moving house, so in the meantime her cuddly toys are at Hamilton's Holiday Home with our cuddly toys. Between them, they are taking over. There's a duck hiding under chair cushions so it quacks when anyone sits down. A large rabbit is draped over the back of the settee, the lemur usually ends up round my neck, and you can't get up the stairs for the bears. Should I pack up a picnic?

Daughter goes home today. Boo-hoo. It's been so good having her here. Drive safely, darling.

Friday, 27 August 2010

green revolution

One of the things about a bad back is watching the garden quietly take over. I swear if I open the back door it'll all swarm into the house, the hydrangea will barge past me, the fuchsia will go into the kitchen and put the kettle on, and the passionflower will make itself at home on the settee, pick up the remote, and put the TV on. Time to give lovely younger son a big hug and the shears.

I can still water it, but I can't carry a whole bucket of water. Squash bottle full, yes, but that's a lot of journeys to and from the tap. No wonder Much is rocking with laughter.

The new bear has overcome his shyness and intends to stay. He still doesn't have a name.

Sorry about the crash, that was Much falling off his snail.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Oh, no, not another one

On Saturday afternoon, husband had some free time. He was worried that, because of my ouching back, I hadn't been anywhere for days, so he suggested going out somewhere. I can now walk, albeit not very fast or far, and suggested a pleasant little market town that we're both fond of.

We arrived to see the village church looking very happy with stalls all around it. The church fete! It was three o'clock and they appeared to be ready to shut up shop, but we went for a wander round the stalls anyway. And there on a stall was a lady tidying away cuddly toys into a bin bag.

Most of them were uncomplicated little things who'd be quite happy to play in a bin bag. But there was one sitting on the edge of the table, a sad faced bear with sparkle in his fur, and with a fresh out of the box look as if he'd ever had a good hug in his life. He was as far away from that bin bag as he could get without falling off the table.

What would you have done?

What was I to do?

Bears are never any trouble, are they? They only want a tiny bit of space and a hug now and again.

I thought I was going there for an afternoon out. No, I was there because Hamilton had received a distress call and wanted me to rescue a bear, and we got there just in time.

He doesn't have a name yet, but we have found that he likes dancing (but you have to help him). He's a bit clingy, but I think he's settling in. Only, I suggested that he might like to go and live with one of the children in my life and he wasn't at all happy about that.

Friday, 20 August 2010


Every time I say 'ouch'. a very little and rather endearing hedgehog comes and curls up beside me. As I say 'ouch' a lot just now he is never far away, and he is learning to fold down his prickles so I don't get stabbed. (If you don't know about Ouch, you haven't read Urchin and the Rage Tide. Read it and meet him!)

I still hurt, but not as much as I did and I can do most things I used to do, but slowly. It takes me about half an hour to put the washing in and then I have to wait for somebody else to take it out again when it's done.

What is really touching is how good people have been. Family have helped me in and out of chairs, bed and bath. Lovely younger son and the lassie brought me chocolate coffee beans. Wonderful Daphne brought flowers, her own excellent company, and good conversation. Godchildren and their parents brought pain relief spray, flowers, chocolate, laughter, fun and very gentle hugs. The three year old blew me kisses from a safe distance.

Lovely older son had a day off yesterday, so Hairy Husband dropped us off at a pleasant cafe where we could sit outside for a drink in the sunshine. Little things become very valuable when you're crocked.

And many of you have send kind messages, too, which touch me and make me feel very cared about. Thank you.

And more than anything, this has made me think of my heroine the late Jane Tomlinson and all those people who face far worse than this, every day, and come through shining.

Monday, 16 August 2010


She of the Stories is a bit better than she was, she can walk without anyone to hold on to - very slow, though - and gets better as the day goes on, but she's still stiff and sore. The animals have sent her some lovely flowers, bless em, there was a vase of lilies on the table beside her when I wen to see her, ooh, her place is an a terrible state, it were always untidy, but just now she can't pick up anything off the floor, that's how she done it in the first place. I took her a lovely flask of cordial.

It must have done 'er some good. When I went back she'd finished every last drop and she was able to get out of bed by herself in less than half an hour. Did her more good than them lilies, they'd all wilted.

She says she'll sort out the messages for you all when she's able to. Whenever that is.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Anybody got any mendingmoss?

Never seen anything like it in all my stone-gnome life! I mean, 'e's been 'obblin' for weeks with 'is bad knee. Now 'er's proper crocked, by the look of it! Done 'er back, 'er said - pickin' up some box or other, an' it wasn't such an 'eavy one. Twang! Couldn't stand up straight. So there they were, 'im proppin' 'er up and 'er 'elpin' 'im to walk, staggerin' out to drive to the 'ospital. Them X-ray thingies must be somethin' special. They came back, went inside, an' I could 'ear 'em laughin' like anythin'. Odd lot, them indoors. Think I'll stay out 'ere in the garden.

That gnome does exaggerate - my knee is nothing like as bad as it was. Which is more than can be said for Margi's back. It's very sore, and she can only move a little bit at a time, and needs someone to hang on to if she wants to get anywhere. The X-rays showed no real damage, and the doctor said she should feel better in a few days. I hope so - it took almost as long to get her in and out of the car as it did to drive all the way to the hospital!

We did laugh a lot last night. Younger son has his lovely lassie to stay, and it's always fun when they're here. We watched a lovely DVD called 'Stardust' - worth seeing if you can get it, it's a sort of fairy-story with a lot of clever ideas and fun bits. We went to bed happy. Stiff and sore, but happy.

So now the Lovely Lady is laid low. I couldn't find any mendingmoss, but I've just taken her a cup of tea. Judging by the smile, that helps a lot.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Mistmantle, cake, and mysteries

Urchin and the Rage Tide seems to be going down well, judging from all the lovely e-mails I've received, so thank you all very much for all you've told me. Sorry to make you cry, but it's the right sort of crying, I hope.

Lady Sunshine is trying to fatten me up. I'm quite capable of doing that by myself, thank you, but this weekend she brought me cake. Then I was in York hiding and getting some work done, and meeting my friend Stephanie at Betty's in York. (Google 'Bah! to Cancer' and you'll find Stephanie, and be amazed.) If you can go to Betty's and not eat something cakey, squidgy, or just sweet, there is something seriously the matter with you. See a doctor (or Brother Juniper) at once.

The mystery is a nasty spotty rash, and not even the doctor knows what it is, but it was worrying enough for me to stay away from my parents in case it was anything infectious (and I was looking forward to going out with them for lunch. Never mind, I could still do dot-to-dot puzzles on my right leg.) It seems to be going away now. (The rash, not my right leg.)

Maybe I'm allergic to something? Definitely not cake.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010


They all seem to be reading about Urchin and all those adventures with the Rage Tide. It makes my prickles go funny just thinking about it, after all that happened with Sepia and everything. In the workrooms they're all very busy with making Threadings just now, you'll understand why when you read it. I can't see them very well, but the colours are ever so pretty.

She of the Stories went out with her friend Claire today to look at some amazing Threadings and robes and things in a collection. Now she's very tired and I think I should send her to bed with a nice hot cup of something.


Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Riding School

No, I haven't been trit-trotting on ponies, I've been on the annual Summer School with Riding Lights Theatre Company. (Google them). Every production I've ever seen them do has been excellent - sharp, strong and pacey - and the Summer School was the same. I was learning about how to write plays, and I did learn, lots.

We were taught by Nigel Forde (google him, too) and I was so in awe of him I avoided him in the dining room for the first two days because I was afraid of not knowing what to say, or - even worse -saying something stupid. However, as a good teacher he drew us all out, challenged and encouraged us, and I now have some beginnings of playscripts to think about.

Isn't my husband a good blogger? I love what he wrote when I was away. I'll get him to guest blog again next time I go on an adventure.

FINALLY - blow a trumpet! Open the fizz! Sing! Throw streamers!

Lovely older son and Lady Sunshine are engaged to be married! Yippee!

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Sunshine and boxes

Beautiful sunshine, streaming through the windows and making everything feel happy. The Lovely Lady's flowers in their pots reaching up for the sun, glistening with drips from the watering can. Even Much the Gnome looks contented - well, as near contented as he ever does.

(Muttering in the distance "Yeah, well, s'alright for 'im - I'm the one who sits out 'ere all night and keeps an eye on the garden while 'e snores 'is 'ead off, slugs crawling up me 'at an' all...")

He likes it really. It's his favourite spot, looking out over the river in the moonlight.

Then came the Man in the Van, with big boxes, full of stories from She of the Stories: "Urchin and the Rage Tide" has arrived at last. So tonight, when work is done, the Hairy Bloke will sit down with a glass of something nice, and Urchin, and go back into the stories of Mistmantle. Been waiting a long time to read this. So excited!

And the Lovely Lady is back home in just two more days. Can't wait...

Sunday, 25 July 2010

The Hairy Bloke

Bit of a grouch, that gnome. "er's got a bloke" - it's the Hairy Bloke who loves the Lovely Lady, and who has already done a bit of gardening. The plants in the tubs and pots all had a very nice drink, burped very politely, and said "Thank you very much." Well, that's what the gentle swish sounded like, and they all looked as if they were smiling. Gardens do, if you look at them the right way. Our garden is full of smiles - the otter has a very otter-like smile, the flowers wave happily in the breeze; it's just that gnome who never smiles. Sits there and grimaces at the river. Doesn't even smile when the ducklings go past. Not even when the snow tickles his ears as it falls.

Bit of a puzzle really - how do you cheer up a stone gnome? Will he smile when Margi comes back next weekend? I doubt it - it'll be "Oh, 'er's back - an' 'er'll be full o' bright ideas for writing plays and things... There'll be no peace, now."

Actually, I think that's what cheers him up - having something to grumble about. Only happy when he's miserable? Well, I've met plenty of folk like that - if it makes him happy, he can grouch all day. I'll just get on with doing things around him, looking after the house and garden for Margi until she gets back.

Can't wait...

Saturday, 24 July 2010


'Er's off this week to learn about writing plays. Blimey, there's enough drama round 'ere without that. In the meantime, 'er's got a bloke to do some blogging for 'er. Wouldn't like to do some gardening, too, would 'e?

Thought not.

Friday, 23 July 2010

The Hundred Aker Wood

Have you read Winnie-the Pooh? WHY NOT? I can't remember if I was sold on it as a child, but those books get wiser and funnier over the years. So I was most excited, on holiday, to discover that we were not far from Ashdown Forest - or the Hundred Aker Wood, as Pooh And Piglet(or Piglit) know it. So the three of us - me, him, and Hamilton Bear - walked down to the real live Poohsticks Bridge and played Poohsticks.

Hamilton has been breathless with excitement ever since.

Have I already told you this in a former blog? Excuse Me. I am an Author of Very Little Brain, and long blogs bother me.

If none of this makes any sense at all, look up A A Milne and Winnie-the Pooh on the Internet, but make sure you get the Real Thing, not the film version.

Time for a Little Something. Perhaps a smackerel of hunny.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

more squirrels

I never expected to see little red squirrels in the south east of England, but there they were in a Wildlife Centre on the Kent/Sussex border. Their enclosure was so big they didn't know it was an enclosure, big enough to share with a few deer and any visitors who were wandering around.

The wee reds are normally shy, but these ones were so used to people that they came within inches of me. They looked smoother coated and smaller-eared than the reds I've seen in Northumberland and Scotland - maybe they don't live in such cold wild places, and don't need to be sharp and well padded.

Any there were some Very Small Creatures I had never seen before. Harvest Mice.

They are tiny, with pointy faces and tails for swinging from grass stalks, and so light that they can run up a stem of grass without bending it. They tumble over each other and don't appear to notice. They build tennis ball nests out of grass, and one small and peckish harvest mouse was enjoying nibbling a bit of his front door as we watched. (A long grass stalk that gradually disappeared into the nest, and into the owner.)

If you want an uncomplicated life, be a harvest mouse.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Rage Tide

URCHIN AND THE RAGE TIDE is published today. Whoo, at last! Fanfare of otter-blown trumpets, squirrels doing somersaults, hedgehogs throwing peals into the air, moles whacking drums and tambourines. Declare a festival! Yes, please! says Fingal. Blooming fuss, says Todd, but he loves it really. Ooh, Mum! says Hope before stepping into a bowl of raspberries. Just eat them, Hope.

Juniper goes to see She of the Stories, and says

Are you all right?

Yes. I've been looking forward to them reading it.

It's the last one.

Finishing writing it was the hard part. Publishing it feels good. I just hope they love the story. Juniper, what about you? are you all right?

Oh, yes. You gave us a future. It just won't be in books. How about a cordial?

Have we got any elderflower? Heart keep you, Juniper.

Heart keep you, Margi. Look out for riding stars.

Prior to all this, I have just had a holiday in beautiful Kent, and will tell you about it as the week goes on. Think of moated manor houses, amazing gardens, dappled sunshine in leafy lanes, and moorhens.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

this week

A very full week, this one, writing furiously, but I can't yet tell you what about. I took Tuesday off to take my newly graduated godson to lunch in York. It could have started off catastrophically as I texted to suggest meeting by the flower stall York station. I got there first to discover that every trace of the flower stall has gone. Not a petal, not a leaf, not a black bucket or a bit of cellophane in sight. So then I texted him to say 'meet at WH Smith' forgetting that there are two of those. (Who needs two Smithses on a station?) However, we found each other and ate in the sunny garden of the Bar Convent cafe before a meander round the beautiful city. Having broken both legs at different times in the past, leaving him with a hole in one of them, it's very good to be able to meander anywhere with the lad.

I had a little phone chat with some of the younger godchildren today, concluding with the three year old. After some fascinating insights, I tried to round off the conversation -

- I'm going to make some tea now. Are you going to have some tea?

- I hungry.

- Then you'd better have some tea.

- My tummy's gone dark.

- Your tummy's gone dark! It must be very empty!

- (giggles)

- are you going to say bye-bye?

- Bye bye I love you! (giggles blows kisses can be heard in the distance requiring tea)

Bye bye from the house of stories and I hope your tummies haven't gone dark.

Sunday, 4 July 2010


Just a quick entry for a today to greet all American readers and wish you a very happy Independence Day, and may all the world's peoples be free.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Hamilton Crispin Me

Some of you like to hear from Hamilton the Hamster, some of you want to know what I've been doing, and there is always a clamour to hear from the creatures of Mistmantle. Lugg, Crispin, Fingal and Apple seem to have quite a following. So today we'll all have a say - or a txt from Hamilton, but I have rewritten it for you.


Always make sure your hamster, or any other animal, has fresh clean water in this weather. It's easy for a small creature to dehydrate in this weather. I have been working on the designs for a bicycle - I think I could build it if Bethany can bring me the parts - but it's too hot to even think about cycling just now. Running on a wheel is OK.


There is nothing like splashing about in the bay on a hot day. There's nothing like splashing about in the bay on any day, but when it's like this, you get warm sun on your fur and a splash of cold water in your face,just when you want it. I've repainted the boat and left it to dry in he sun, cos just now I'd rather be in the water than on it. I've been trying to teach a small hedgehog to swim, but he swims like a brick, so not much success, I'm afraid.


Another sunny week with a pretty garden and the strawberries ripening. A delightful day yesterday, with a baptism party in the afternoon and a get-together at a friends house in the evening. A garden. A warm dry evening. Great food and drink, and even better company. Beautiful. Thanks, Kath.

Monday, 28 June 2010


Blooming footie were rubbish. I've 'ad enough of watching that lot through the window and gone back to me snail. Took a bit of finding, mind, it's like a jungle down there. Her should have sorted it by now, she said she 'ad a my-grain, blimey, I don't care whose grain it is, she should leave it where it is and get down this blooming garden.

Mind you, them ferns and stuff are nice and shady and it's hot enough to fry eggs on me 'ead this weather. I could do with a kip, and 'er needs to get to work. Then again, there's tennis on the telly. Times like this 'er suddenly remembers 'er Scottish roots and shouts 'gie't laldy, Andy Murray!'

Whatever that means.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

one of those weeks

Lots of work to do this week. I should be writing constantly. And I am doing lots of writing, honestly, but -

the two 'days out' that I bought at a promises auction have both happened within the last week, so I've been to Harlow Carr gardens with Daphne and Skipton (wonderful Cornerstone bookshop) with Debbie.

The visit to Harlow Carr meant a lot more gardening to be done. As the weeds are taking over the world, it needs doing anyway.

Lots of mail arrived from Hyperion, some of which has been with them for a while, so that all needed to be answered.

Following the visit of a mouse to the toy cupboard at Toddler Group, all the toys have had to be taken out and washed.

WHile I'm not into football myself, it's a good idea to keep half an eye on it so I know if my sons are going to be traumatised.

And it's Wimbledon fortnight.

I did suggest to a certain royal person that I could do with a few hedgehogs to help in the garden and a secretary, a squirrel to take the post out, and a washer-otter to keep things going while I write/watch the tennis. 'Tennis?' he asked. 'What's that?' So now every able-bodied animal in Mistmantle is at it.

But I have been writing. : )

Thursday, 17 June 2010

puffins and squirrels

Thank you to Nels, who sent a swan to let me know that the post had arrived. Brightwing is now resting on the river and enjoying the sunshine before flying home. She is breathtaking, and the ducks are terrified.

I was in London this week for the Puffin party. Oh, how I love Puffin! I could never have imagined, in the days when I read The Jolly Postman to my children, that one day I would be in a posh London venue with a glass of champagne in my hand, listening to Alan Ahlberg make a speech about how great it is for all of us to work for Puffin. Me and Alan Ahlberg. Us Puffins.

The next day, I popped into the Victoria and Albert to find that they had a new exhibition of architecture for small spaces. On the lawn is a construction called Ratatosk. Hard to describe - see if you can find it on a website - but it's made of ash trees sculpted and made into sort of arched pavilion. It's beautiful, and not only are you free to walk into it and touch it, it even has footholds cut into it so children can climb on it.

I learned that Ratatosk is a squirrel from Northern mythology. He sits in an ash tree at the centre of the world and takes messages between earth and heaven and the underworld.

I always knew squirrels were at the centre of the universe!

Sunday, 13 June 2010


Strange! I wrote a blog entry on Friday, tried to post it, and it vanished. I'm deeply suspicious as to what will happen to this one.

Yesterday was all a bit strange. Pleasant sort of strange. I was in York for a study day, shared with excellent company in a beautiful environment. Nearby an order of nuns were having a big gathering day, and the younger and more able bodied were looking after the old, lame, and wheelchair bound, all of whom had that deeply joyous look that elderly nuns do have. A group of Geordie ladies were sitting at a table outside having morning coffee in the sun.

It was a race day, so lassies in in the sort of outfits you only wear for races or weddings were teetering up and down the street on scary heels, accompanied by cocky young men and swaggering older ones. And of course the streets were full of large and cheerful blokes in red and white shirts, curly wigs, face paint...

I don't mind the football, it's the tat I can't stand. Oh, and the noise.

If this post gets through, please send a swan over the mists to let me know.

Sunday, 6 June 2010


Can't hardly see out of me shrubs these days. What 'appens is, we get a few days of sunshine then a lot of rain, and before you can say snail the garden's shooting up like the blooming beanstalk. What with brackens and buttercups you could lose a small child or a dog in there. Come to think of it, 'er's five foot three and you could lose 'er in it.

Last night, she wanders out with a glass in her hand. Not a pair of shears, a glass. She settles herself down and says - isn't it lovely sitting out here on a summer evening! Scuse me, missus, isn't lovely sitting out here on a snail with a cotoneaster halfway up his shell and bracken on me 'ead! Like being in a blooming jungle.

If you see 'er, tell 'er to stop sitting around in the sun and get out and sort her garden. And I wouldn't mind a change of direction, neither.

Saturday, 29 May 2010


Why are they complaining about the rain? It's all water, and water is good! Bit cold, though, where She of the Stories lives, so she arrived in Mistmantle today. Funny how she can just do that. No swans, no tunnels, she just does it.

Apparently it's a bit freezing in Yorkshire today. I believe the white wreaths of mist look very pretty lifting off the hill. She bought summery fruit and veg today anyway, because she likes it, so they've been huddled around the fire eating summer quiche and little tomatoes. They're a funny lot. By the way, it's beautiful summer on Mistmantle, and we're already thinking about how to celebrate Midsummer. Definitely something to do with food. I can't understand why Urchin won't eat a nice bit of fish, can you?

Monday, 24 May 2010

noodles poodles apple strudels and other things that made me laugh

Yesterday, I was telling some small children about what happened at Pentecost, and said that the disciples all started speaking in languages they'd never learned, and saying words they'd never known, like bienvenu, guten morgen, bravissimo, apple strudel - at which they all fell about laughing, because apple strudel is one of those naturally funny words. I think I once told you that I love words that end in 'le' or sound as if they do. So when we went back into church I was thinking of noodles, poodles, and apple strudels.

I look forward to your thoughts about noodles, poodles, and apple strudels. Or fiddles, riddles, and taradiddles. (I believe taradiddles is a rhythm that drummers use.)

And later I had one of those 'I'm sorry, but it's so funny' moment. Delightful younger son just lent me another Terry Pratchett, 'Guards! Guards!'. I just started reading it in bed last night when husband was dozing off to sleep. There's a long exchange of passwords in the pouring rain, then the door opens - well, eventually, because 'the Door of Knowledge Through Which the Untutored May Not Pass sticks something wicked in the damp.'

So I lay awake giggling helplessly with my teeth clenched. Shaking. I hope I didn't wake him up, but I probably did.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

virtual dolphin

This morning I was riding a dolphin across the sea. Well, sort of. It was toddler group today, and the alternative to a delightful small boy falling off a low level seesaw was for me to sit at the other end. These things may be sturdy, but they're not built for anyone over thirty-six inches tall. Still, the seesaw was a dolphin, we rode across the sea, escaped from pirate ships, got caught in storms and whirlpools (that bit was hard work) and fell in. Then we did it all again. Imagination is a wonderful thing. Dignity - well, I never did have much of that.

Have you read Happy Holidays, Hammy the Wonder Hamster yet? Quick, before he has his next adventure.

Oh, my legs will hurt for a week after that seesaw.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

much and such

Everybody wants to be on the blog today, so

Bloomin' 'eck, 'ers been to the garden centre again, and we know what that means. 'Er and 'er friend went off on Wednesday and came back with them gro-bags and stuff, and summat to put in 'em. Tomaters and beans and stuff. Chances are the slugs'll have 'em, and them things are cheap in the shops anyway come summer. Mind, I saw some strawberry plants in there and I'm partial to a few strawberries. 'Er won't notice, not with all them 'olly'ocks and snapdragons and acky-leejy things to talk to.

Mistmantle seems to be all quiet just now, so I've hung up the Oakleaf Crown for the afternoon and gone out to see the island in spring. The blossom is still on the fruit trees, until a gust of wind sends a shower of petals over us. For some of the little ones it's their first spring, and all this is new to them. They've never seen bluebells before, or wriggly tadpoles. They're making daisy chains and planting out their own little gardens when they're not chasing each other up trees and down tunnels. Hide and seek is much more fun now that the trees are in leaf and everything's growing, and there are more places to hide. Fingal's repainting his boat, Urchin seems to spend a lot of time with Sepia just now, Oakleaf is learning to swim, and Catkin - oh, she's just Catkin.

Thank you, Your Majesty. And now, especially for the overseas readers - we now have a coalition government between the Conservatives and the Libdems. We have a Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, with five Libdem MPs in the Cabinet, including the Libdem leader as Deputy PM. To me, it's not the best possible outcome. But it's the one we've got, so let's hope good comes of it.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

strange times

For all of you - the garden is full of frilly tulips and dandelions, the bluebells are coming up and it's been as cold as Siberia for a week. Husband gave the grass its first cut last week but it doesn't look cut, it looks chopped. Hammy is winning new fans at a wheel-spinning rate, and the study looks like a bomb site. The laddie mended the cow clock, so for the first time in a while we have a clock with a terrifying cow that pops out and moos loudly at you on the hour.

For non UK readers, we have had our general election and don't have a clue about who's running the country. No party had a clear majority so Labour and Conservative are hurling themselves at the feet of the Liberal Democrats offering cabinet posts, everlasting love, free sweeties, and even electoral reform. This looks like very good news for the LibDems, but how do you make those decisions without selling your soul? The Prime Minister has offered his resignation.

Perhaps we should ask the queen to take over and do it herself. I'll help her, if she likes.

Where's Crispin of Mistmantle when you need him?

Tuesday, 4 May 2010


Oh, I've been so busy promoting my new book, I forgot what we called it! I've been telling you it was Ahoy There Hammy the Wonder Hamster, and it isn't, it's called HAPPY HOLIDAY, HAMMY THE WONDER HAMSTER! I made that mistake because it was going to be Ahoy There, but that's what you say when you're on a boat and I don't do boats, and besides, Happy Holidays is better, so it's Happy Holiday Hammy the Wonder Hamster, and it's so exciting, and there was that man in the boat and I'm not sure where the boat went, and...

Calm down, Hamilton. I do apologise for the confusion. It's Happy Holiday, Hammy the Wonder Hamster. When you have a hamster on a wheel going round in your head all day, you do get confused. He's looking forward to his new book being in the shops.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Vote Hamster!


Apart from a general election, that is. If you're eligible to vote, vote. If not, have a think about what's worth voting for. If you're too young to vote, make sure the adults around you (1)get off their bottoms and down to the polling station and (2) ORDER OR BUY 'AHOY THERE HAMMY THE WONDER HAMSTER' in which our hamster hero (with Bethany) goes to the seaside to stay with Bethany's grandparents. An exciting story of fur, flags, castles, gallant rescues and people getting wet. Don't you just love a hamster with attitude? Come to think of it,

He's clever, he's cute, he's loyal, he's brave, and he's great in a crisis. Brown, Cameron and Clegg, stand aside! HAMMY FOR DOWNING STREET!

Friday, 30 April 2010

oh, and that hamster

My name is Hamilton, my new book Ahoy There Hammy the Wonder Hamster is published in May it's by Poppy Harris who is really Margi, it's all about when I went on the beach please read all my stories I have such a exciting life oh whoops I think I'm about to fall off the compu...........

He's all right, just a bit over-excited. Too many sunflower seeds. Bethany is taking good care of him.

I had a working break this week, which meant two days at st deiniol's research library. Lots of reading and writing got done, and there was still time for long walks in the woods - huge trees with grainy, twisty roots, fallen tree giants, a ruined castle, hanging white blossom, butterflies, violets, anemones, finches, and such happy dogs! I met a little spaniel so like the late lamented Daniel that she made my heart turn over. She even put her paws up to me.

There have been lots of contacts from Mistmantle readers lately, many of them asking why I write about animals. It's hard to say exactly, but somehow it's so much more liberating than writing about people.

Saturday, 24 April 2010


The principles of Tiggywinkles at Haddenham are very simple.

If an injured or sick wild animal is brought to them, they will do their utmost best to bring it back to full health without giving it the idea that it belongs with humans, so that it can go back to the wild.

If it's not well enough to survive in the wild but can enjoy a good quality of life, it stays at Tiggywinkles in a natural environment with whatever care it needs.

If it's beyond hope of a decent future, they will euthanase. Remarkably, this is something they hardly ever have to do.

It's expensive to run, and depends on donations. The staff and volunteers are constantly working with animals who don't understand that they're being helped, and will scratch, bite, kick, and, of course, prickle. If you've ever looked after an animal, you know that there is a lot of cleaning of poo, bedding, and other things that you'd rather approach with rubber gloves and a nose peg. At Tiggywinkles they do all that because as far as they are concerned, the life of a hedgehog/deer/fox/badger/otter/blackbird/ is worth it.

Monday, 19 April 2010

thank you!

Thank you for your patience. I'm still not up to full strength, but considerably better than I was.

We had a few days away last week - already booked before I keeled over, so we went anyway, firstly to Cardiff to see daughter. She was in full singing, fluting and choir-directing mode, and we basked quietly in reflected glory. And in sunshine - we had lots of that. We also got together with the god-family. You can keep your hi-tech games, nothing beats an old-fashioned painted horses carousel, especially when you've got a three year old sitting in front of you and it's her first time on a roundabout.

Next stop was St Tiggywinkles. I'll tell you about Tiggywinkles later, but not now, because I want you to look at their site, and because St Tiggywinkles is a life-changing place that needs a post to itself. (With an owl sitting on it.) Google St Tiggywinkles. Now!

Saturday, 10 April 2010


Two little announcements today -

for all those who want to know what sort of book I'm going to do next - I can't possibly say a thing, because I never know what will work and what won't, and whether someone will actually publish it or not. So no new leads, I'm afraid.

And the other thing I should have said ages ago is that my three children are the best and most wonderful kids in the world and I love them to bits. (And their dad's a bit special, too.) I've not been too well lately, and they have been so supportive.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

much the gnome

'er didn't mean to repeat herself, she said, she just didn't know which blog had blogged and which blog had got lost somewhere and of course she needed sonny to sort it out for 'er. Don't know what she did when he weren't living at home.

She got 'er garden fire going, took her half a tree full of matches, I nearly split me sides laughing and I'm made of stone, so it would 'ave been serious. Managed to do it without calling out the fire engines. Went around smelling like a well-smoked kipper after that.

And Newcastle United have been promoted. As a Yorkshire gnome I can take or leave 'em, but this house is black and white, blimey, no wonder we've got a magpie's nest in the 'olly tree. (What sort of stupid bird builds in a 'olly tree, eh?) Would have been better if Newcastle hadn't gone down a league in the first place, but I don't like to say that in this house. Come to think of it, I live in a house full of Geordies and they're not doing badly, so haway the lads.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Happy Easter!

I tried to say Happy Easter to you yesterday, but the blog wouldn't post and I don't understand why not. A wonderful day yesterday, church was good, the sons were both here, so were Lady Sunshine and Lady Sunshine's housemate. We had a lovely lunch, though I shouldn't say so because I cooked it - though the greatest hit was something I didn't cook at all, it was Ben and Jerry's Phish Food ice cream which is Lady Sunshine's favourite. She'd given up sweet things for Lent, so it was a big success.

There's a flower festival in church, a duck race in town, and a heap of dead stuff in the garden (not you, Much), so I may burn the rubbish if it doesn't teem down with rain and if I can work out how to do it without setting the whole village on fire (and on a Bank Holiday too.) Oh, and the new dragon is called Samaranth. Thank you, Nels. She now gazes at herself in the mirror and murmurs 'Samaranth'. Get on and do some work, dragon, books don't write themselves.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Happy Easter

Happy Easter and all about it to everyone in blogland. This week's April Fool began on Wednesday when the computer went completely out to lunch due to problems with the server. It stayed AWOL until some time late on Friday, when a hundred and something messages came in at once.

And, by the way, it's been bitterly cold. But on this day of Resurrection, I went out and found green shoots in the garden. (First time in a week it's been warm enough to find anything in the garden, said Much.) A lot of my poor little plants didn't survive the winter and neither did a very dead mouse, or perhaps it fell foul of one of the neighbouring cats. Either way, I wish I could have rescued it.

However, the daffodils will soon be through and the sun will come out. I may have a garden bonfire tomorrow, if it doesn't rain and if I can do so without setting the house on fire or frightening the ducks. The new little writing dragon is to be called Samaranth (thank you, Nels) and is now looking in her mirror saying 'do I look like a Samaranth?' Stop it, girl, and do some work. Books don't write themselves.

And now the computer is refusing to post this blog. What is it with you this weekend?

By the way, while we're waiting for a computer to get out of a strop - what do you think of the new Dr Who?

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Wonderful Folly

This week, I had the most amazing day.

For those who don't live in the UK, Tunbridge Wells is generally seen as a place of money, elegance, big shiny cars and Buckingham Palace accents, so what was I doing there? Just a few miles out of Tunbridge Wells, hiding in the country, is Folly Wildlife Rescue. Have a look at their website at, but don't turn up on their doorstep, because you can only visit by appointment, and I feel most privileged that I was able to go there. I was ushered up to a quiet room where the amazing Annette was patiently bottle feeding fox cubs.

That's what they do at Folly. They take in sick, injured and abandoned wild animals and birds and help them to reach the stage where they can safely take their place in the wild again. That's why it isn't open to the public - they are focused on the animals, and sick animals don't want human noise around them. (Would you want to be gawped at if you were in hospital?) When I say 'they', Folly is run by a husband and wife team, two staff, and whole hosts of volunteers who are willing to spend an afternoon cleaning up animal poo just for the love of the creatures. They are on call 24/7. Please, please, look at the website and be inspired.

I asked Annette about important things to pass on. Respect the animals, she said. Of course. But respecting the animal doesn't just mean caring about it. I would suggest it means remembering that they are not here for our entertainment, and to remember that, ultimately, the animals know what's best for them.

And if you see an abandoned baby animal or bird, it probably isn't abandoned at all. Mother is almost certainly watching. Leave it alone. Keep an eye on it, but don't intervene unless you have reason to think that it's sick, injured or distressed. And don't try to deal with it yourself - take it to a vet or a wildlife rescue centre. You may even be lucky enough to live near somewhere like Folly.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Message, or messsge, or misssige

Here is a very important msssge or is mssige or ssmmge

Here is a very important announcement

Urchin and the Rage Tide comes out on 20 July 2010!!!

Your patience is to be rewarded at last. Oh, happy day. And if you think it looks like a long time, just think - it's nearly Easter, and after Easter the fun summery things start happening. Then, for all of you in the US, Independence Day. Then the end of term and Urchin. I'm looking forward to it too.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

the messsge mirror

At present the message mirror has something not very polite written on it. Nothing shocking or offensive, of course - not on my message mirror - but just not very polite.

The message mirror is in our hall, and is very useful for writing on. We keep some thick washable felt pens and some cleaning stuff beside it. Sometimes it just says things like 'buy flowers' or 'post parcel', or it might be 'Hello Claire' or whoever else might be coming to see us. It usually acknowledges birthdays, favourite saints days, and all other odd celebrations. Sometimes it reminds us to pray for people. At the beginning of each month, it usually has pictures of rabbits, because you should always say 'rabbits, rabbits rabbits' at the first of the month. (Or so I was told.) And various visiting friends and godfamily usually write on it too. Very Small Goddaughter has now sorted out the difference between the mirror and the wall, which is a big help.

Lovely younger son, 'the laddie', always sorts out the recycling and leaves it out for collection the night before its due. Last week he forgot, so on the message mirror I put a picture of a very angry fairy, and 'the recycling fairy is very cross'.

Another message has now appeared. I think I should clean it off before the recycling fairy sees it, and gets even crosser. And who knows what she might do?

Tuesday, 16 March 2010


Well, what a lot of critters I've met this weekend! On Saturday, husband and I visited a wildlife rescue centre (British Wildlife Rescue, near Stafford),and met all manner of things (from a safe distance). Owls, a kestrel, magpies, all manner of birds, rabbits, a cygnet, a clan or two of chipmunks, hedgehogs, ferrets, and polecats. The fox wasn't to be seen, but boy, we knew she was there. They're all rescue amimals, some brought by the police or the RSPCA, but mostly by members of the public. The people who work at these places are amazing - most are volunteers, and wildlife rescue places depend entirely on donations.

The polecats were having their enclosure cleaned out while we were there.


A young man in overalls and good humour brought a black bin bag for the rubbish...


Polecats have sharp teeth and don't mind using them, but they are playful, and a black bin bag is there to play in. That's why it was running about from one side of the enclosure to the other, rolling over and getting up again. It had a polecat inside it, and another one trying to find the way in. I thought maybe I should rescue the overall man and hand him in at reception, but they didn't bite him or harm him at all, only played around his feet and tried to trip him up.

No, don't go getting one as a pet. Think of those teeth. And all that polecat poo to clear up. But I can recommend visiting a wildlife centre.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010


Following the grumblings of Much the Gnome yesterday, may I explain that I work very hard, that the china is beautiful, and that any meandering around charity shops can be a potential source of inspiration. If I tell myself this often enough, I will come to believe it. I would be working very hard on notes for a story now, but the gas man is here doing something to the radiators in my attic study and I am keeping out of the way. (The radiators are making very rude noises, which I think is a good sign.)

American readers may like to know that the coming Sunday is Mothering Sunday here (don't you dare call it Mother's Day, it's Mothering Sunday in the House of Stories.) Our children's groups are going to make medals for mums, which is why I needed the ribbons.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010


Blooming woman went off today to see the dental High Jeanist. I'm a gnome, I ain't fussy, the Low Jeanest would do me and the Standard Jeanist's good enough for most folks, but 'er as to see the High Jeanist. Three hours later, she come 'ome. Bloomin 'eck, I thought, 'er teeth must be shocking. But 'er couldn't just go straight there and come 'ome, could 'er? No, 'er 'ad to buy bread, not from the supermarket, neither, from the shop at t'other end of the town what does the organanical rye bread. And 'er 'ad to get ribbons for them kids to play about with. And er 'as to 'ave a nosey round the charity shops and comes 'ome all excited about a bit of china . Wedgwood, 'er says. I don't care if it's Hollywood, I says, you want to get some work done.

I know, if 'er buys stuff at the little shops 'er's supporting small local businesses. If 'er buys stuff from the charity shops er's supporting good causes. And I told 'er if she don't get 'er 'ead down and do some work 'er won't be buying nothing. That sorted 'er out.

Saturday, 6 March 2010


The new dragon arrived yesterday!

The Glassblobbery at is one of our regular calling points in Wales, so we were there a week or two ago. I noticed that, though they had various sporting dragons and busy dragons, they didn't have a writing dragon.

No writing dragon, no problem. They do commissions, even little ones like a dragon with pen and paper, and offered to make one for me. Beautiful little dragon arrived safely yesterday and is red, about six inches tall, and waiting for a name. (I'm not sure if it's male or female, and don't like to ask. Well, you wouldn't, would you?) All suggestions welcome.

I note that, unlike me, it's left-handed. Maybe it's telling me to think in a different way about my next book? By the way, ideas are like seedlings - you cultivate lots of them, and choose the strongest.

Monday, 1 March 2010

st david's day

To all Welsh, Welsh-descendant and friends-of-Wales readers, Happy St David's Day. A week ago I was in North Wales watching the constant change of the light on the mountains. On Tuesday we drove up into those mountains, through the high passes where snow was still heaped on either side of the road and shimmering from the peaks, with icicle necklaces strung from every overhanging rock. And so cold, the air tasted of needles! The afternoon was for curling up by a roaring fire with a good book, something I hardly ever get to do these days. Snow fell again, enough to look stunning, but sadly not enough to compel us to stay for one more day. Before coming home, we took care to visit the Glassblobbery and made the acquaintance of some more of their beautiful, beautiful dragons.

I am still thinking about new stories. Several seeds have been planted, and I'm waiting to see which ones grow strongly. Sometimes stories seem to tease me, they appear and disappear again and then another one pops up and waves at me, and I end up like a puppy in a field full of rabbits, not knowing which one to chase.

Hamilton the Wonder Hamster just sent a text - Y DOES SHE WNT NEW STORIES? SHE CAN JUST WRITE ABT ME!

Thursday, 18 February 2010

once upon a time

Once upon a time, a storybook lady wanted to make a new story. She climbed the stairs to the High Chamber of Tales, took out the plain wooden treasure chest, and openend the lid to see what was inside.

There were animals, all kinds of animals, and there were dragons in there, too. There were people of now and people of long ago and people from lands you and I can never visit, except in stories. There were people laughing and crying, heroes, villains, the beautiful and the ugly, the loyal and the treacherous. Rainbows, magic, gardens. Foul weather, prisons, poisons. But however much the storybook lady searched through the box, she could not find the secret heart of a new story.

Somewhere in the treasure chest is a hidden drawer, and in that hidden drawer is the heart of a new story. And one day, perhaps when she is not looking for it, the storybook lady will find the key in her hand.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

why I skipped lectures

I was a student in Newcastle when President Jimmy Carter came to visit the UK. I think it was 1977, and he'd chosen to visit the North-East, where unemployment was high and morale wasn't. The Prime Minister , James Callaghan, came with him. Newcastle United were doing well that season, so everywhere there were black and white banners with 'Howay the Lads'. Employees from one of the engineering works had turned out too, with their placards demanding the contract for a new power station. And half the city had turned out, just because. The bus to college crawled in nose to tail traffic from two miles out of the city, so I decided I may as well get off and walk.

By the time I reached the Civic Centre I knew that (a) I'd be late for the first lecture anyway and (b) I didn't want to miss this. I stood in the throng, wide-eyed, like everyone else, at the armed security men with walkie-talkies at every corner and on every rooftop, and the television cameras trained on the high up podium at the Civic Centre. The motorcade glided past, and presently Jimmy Carter stepped on to the podium. There was wild whooping, cheering and applause, and finally an awed silence. Into that moment, with perfect delivery, the President of the USA stepped into our hearts with the most magic words he could have said -

'Howay the Lads'.

Friday, 5 February 2010

howay the lads

I've just been approached by some students from the University of Central Lancashire to write something about football for a charity anthology. It's to raise money for an organisation which helps some of the most disadvantaged children in the world to have access to sports, coaching, etc, as part of a normal healthy childhood. The idea is to launch it in time for the World Cup.

I never knew a thing about football until I had two boys. Football (soccer if you're reading this from the US) is sacred if you come from north of the River Tyne and south of Berwick, and I ended up writing two football books, The Doughnut Dilemma and The Jam Street Puzzle. I had a lot of help from the boys on the finer technical points, and Newcastle United was always at the back of my mind. That was a long time ago, but let's hope I can, as they say, get it in the back of the net.

If you don't understand the title of this entry, 'howay the lads' is the rallying cry of Newcastle United fans - or used to be, I don't think you hear it so much now. And I was there, on that memorable occasion, when President Jimmy Carter... but I'll tell you that next time.

Words the blog doesn't like - Berwick, doughnut, howay

Wednesday, 3 February 2010


Lovely elder son came home this weekend. He's starting a new job, which meant packing up the flat in Bangor and moving in with us until he can find a little place of his own. This means that we're seeing a lot more of Lady Sunshine these days, and the lassie came for the weekend, so we had a lovely houseful of young people. (By the way, one of the youngest people I know is now seventeen days old and I'll let you know when she has anything to say. Her name's Lucy.)

Yesterday was Candlemas, when we finally close the door on Christmas and recognise that the baby in the cradle grew up, lived, died, and changed things. In the Middle Ages it was also the day in which the churches brought their next year's supply of candles into church to be blessed. Finally, last night, the crib figures had to be put away, an so did a bit of sparkly stuff that we'd left up over the front door and forgotten about. We sort of stopped seeing it. It was removed by elder son standing on a chair, not by - as I'd expected - me sitting on the laddie's shoulder, which is how the fairy got on top of the Christmas tree.

More snow tonight. Not enough to do much with, but it looks pretty.

Monday, 25 January 2010

chilly mortal

I am what they call a chilly mortal, or thin-blooded, which means that I feel the cold. In the below zero days earlier this month I was wearing sweaters knitted by my mum for my two boys when they were teenagers going on winter scout camps or skiing trips to Voss. I'm impressed by the way animals grow their own winter warmth - I've seen spherical ponies at this time of year - and I asked Apple about it.

What it is, you know, my dear, what it is, is nobody eats proper warming food these days. You need a good hot stew with plenty of winter veg, doesn't matter if it's a bit old and ropey, you can't tell in a stew, or a good hot soup with a bit of bay leaf and spicy dumplings simmering in it, tastes better the longer you leave it and sticks to your ribs on the way down so you get a bit of extra padding. Now between you and me, I reckon Urchin's mum, I mean his real mum, I reckon she were under-nourishated, poor love, and that's why our Urchin turned out the colour he is, not that I'd have him any different, Heart love him, they call him a favoured squirrel in that whitewash place the queen come from. And a good hot winter cordial, I'll put a pan of that on the stove now... oh, you in a hurry?

Monday, 18 January 2010

spel chequer

I've never installed a spell checker on the blog, but it appears to arrive as part of the package. Bless it, it's firmly set in its ways. It knows the rules it was programmed to observe and it will stand by them or die, or even dye.

This said, I can't resist occasionally giving it a wee prod, tweaking its tail a little. For one thing, it doesn't like colour, favour, cheque, or anything else with a UK flavour rather than a US one. It won't honour any European spelling with a soupcon of recognition, and it's not at all at home with writers of fantasy. Let's really annoy it - Mistmantle, Padra, Huggen, Lugg, Archraven. You can't see it from your end, but this page is now marked by eleven red under-scorings where the spell checker is trying to tell me that THIS WORD DOES NOT EXIST OR IS WRONGLY SPELT! (Twelve) I think I should stop before it gets into a bit of a tizwaz(thirteen) and kaputs (fourteen) itself.

You may know of other perfectly acceptable words that catch it out and I'd love to hear about them, but to finish with, here's my favourite (fifteen) unknown to spell check word - it's -



Wednesday, 13 January 2010


Yesterday, we heard that Miep Gies had died, at a hundred years old. Miep was the Dutch woman who sheltered Anne Frank and her family, and saved Anne's diary. She hoped to return it to Anne after the war, but Anne died shortly before the camp she was in was liberated, and only her father survived the Holocaust. Miep returned the diary to him, he had it published, and Anne Frank still speaks to the world.

On the news yesterday she was being hailed as 'the woman who saved Anne Frank's diary', but she was more than that. She sheltered eight people at terrible risk to herself, and every day they spent in that room behind the office was another day of safety for them and danger for her. She was a true heroine, to be remembered with honour and respect.

One of the things about being married to a minister is that old people feel free to tell me their stories. They don't think of themselves as brave or heroic, they just 'got on with things', but there is heroism everywhere. If ever an old person starts telling you their stories, don't switch off or make an excuse to leave. You are being invited into a treasure house.

We can learn from the past, said Miep Gies.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

a week in wellies

Is anyone tired of the snow yet? Yes, round here, a lot of people are. Main roads are clear but it's hard to get in and out of the side roads. There haven't been any major snow falls for a few days, but the drifts are still there because the temperature's never above freezing for very long.

But it's beautiful. The children are still loving it, and when it's gone it's gone. Make the most of it.

Wellies are the accessory of choice. Schools have been closed, but a few brave mothers and their children cleared their way to toddlers and after school club this week. The lassie is here this weekend, much to the delight of lovely younger son, and that makes it Christmas again.

A good long talk ('blether' is the Scots word for it, and can't be bettered) with an old friend is one of life's great joys, and when the friend has also been a colleague in the writing world it can be quite inspirational, too. So highlights of this week have been a long phone blether with a dear friend, and making contact again with a delightful person I'd lost touch with.

Our electricity was off for a long time yesterday - after dark - so the three of us curled up round the gas fire with torches, candles, and books Power cuts are good for books. Not so good for having a bath, though.

Saturday, 2 January 2010


Me name is Much. As in ta very Much, Much of a muchness, it's all too Much, and Much the miller's son in the Robin Hood stories. Good Yorkshire name. I'm well pleased with that. Mostly, says 'er, it's from that well known old saying - 'you can always tell a Yorkshireman, but you can't tell him much'.

Blooming snow. I'm covered in the stuff now, me snail looks like a poodle.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Happy New Year

It was snowing lightly as we walked to our friends' home for their New Year party - great company, fun conversation, lovely food - then we all walked down to church together for the Watchnight service, about fifty of us squashed into the choir stalls with tall white candles everywhere. We all spilled outside in time for the clock to strike twelve - fireworks, snow, a full moon, and even one of those Chinese lanterns which looked like setting fire to one valiant lady and a tree, but managed to soar safely away into the clear night sky. After the ceremonial jumping up and down on the bridge we were invited back for champagne and cheese and things, and finally wandered home through the snow and fell into bed around 3.30. Now, that's how to do New Year. Many thanks to the providers of hospitality, and much love.

I had the weirdest dreams. An overwrought mind, or cheese at 2.00 am? It was still snowing lightly when I woke up - I mean, properly woke up - and I'm not telling you when that was.

Happy New Year, and bless you.