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.