Friday, 29 July 2011

two days in London

Two days in London started with meeting god-daughter from her train, and taking cards and flowers to the Norwegian Embassy. In th evening, we went to Les Miserables at the Queen's Theatre.

Years ago, I heard an excellent radio adaptation of the book. Later, I read it. It clearly comes from the days when people had time to read and write pages and pages and even more pages of description and lengthy back stories, but there is an immensely powerful story in there. The musical had to bring this all down to a three hour show with lots of pace.

I can see why it's still going after 25 years. It concentrates on the core of the story, it's powerful, and though other musicals have catchier songs, these are so listenable to. Every performance was powerful. The energy and strength had us spellbound. The only thing I didn't like was making Thenardier, who is a ruthless, evil crook, into a kind of pantomime figure - but then, you need light relief in a musical and the book doesn't do funny.

It was the most exciting night I'd had in the theatre for years. It's a long time since I've stood up at the end of a performance, but I was on my feet for this one, and I wasn't the first. Soon, the whole house was on its feet. God-daughter said 'Wow!' all the way back to the hotel.

Monday, 25 July 2011


Yesterday the children in my Sunday class made cards with white roses on them to send to the Norwegian Embassy. The way they carefully wrote their messages was deeply touching. Adults signed cards, too, but adults are funny things and don't sit round a table making their own pictures with tissue paper and felt pen. Wherever you are, find out the address of your country's Norwegian Embassy, and send them a card.

Yesterday, very small god-daughter came for a cuddle.

Yesterday was an Open Gardens event in the village. Tony put up warnings about the steep steps and the dragon hiding in the ferns (he's a very sweet cuddly Welsh Dragon), and I set out a teddy bears picnic. We had lots of visitors, including very young ones who found the dragon and played with the bears. Much peered out suspiciously from behind a fern and scowled a lot.

Yesterday I thought 'I love this village'.

Friday, 22 July 2011


I've been to Norway twice, and have friends there - family friends, who go back a long long way. I was sixteen when I first went there and was permanently tongue-tied, partly with teenage shyness but also because the beauty of the place is so inexpressible.

After I met Tony I wanted to share Norway with him, and when we were married we decided we'd ave a holiday in Norway before we had children because we wouldn't be able to afford it afterwards. We squandered the savings accordingly. Here are some of the things we learned -

- friends of friends will invite you over at a moment's notice and provide a smorgasbord and cake fit for the Queen

- you don't know anything about fresh fish until you go there

- the air is so clean and fresh it's exhausting

- the fjords look even better from a boat

- every moment on the fjord is more spectacular than the last

- Norwegians know how to have fun

- they are fond of their monarchy as well as being completely relaxed about it

- people living on the outskirts of Oslo left their cars unlocked

- visitors with UK numberplates didn't get parking tickets

- there may be some ugly buildings somewhere, but we didn't see any

- Norwegian people are not only lovely, they are also very 'sorted' and generally seem to have the balance of life right

- it is a place of peace

- I want to go back. Nothing will ever be quite like that first magical, fairyland cruise through the fjords when I was sixteen, but I still want more.

But Norway is not fairyland, and Oslo is in mourning tonight. Oslo, Norway, thank you for your welcoming spirit and the values of justice and freedom that you uphold. Thank you for your stories, and most of all for your people. Prayers for the grieving people of Norway are offered tonight.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

little friend

My little friend has not been at all well, and there was nothing more that could be done. Before you start to cry, let me explain. The little friend in question is/was my phone. I'd had it for six years and was quite fond of it, and they don't make those cosy wee clamshell designs any more. (WHY NOT?) So new little phone is accustoming itself to its new home and having a comforting charge up.

As I said before, I am a techinept. I chose my previous phone because it was the same as Daughter's, and she could show me how it worked without my having to read the instructions. This time, I'm on my own. I chose a very simple phone, but I fear I out-simple it. The man in the shop summed me up with a glance, put the SIM card in for me, and set the clock. In the next 24 hours I have to get on to speaking terms with it.

Up to now I haven't done voicemail, but perhaps I should.

'Hello, this is Margi's phone speaking. Shall I take a message for her? Please speak politely after the ding-dong'.

''ey-up. 'Er's not in. Much speaking. What you after? 'Urry up, I ain't got all day.'

'Good morning, afternoon or evening. Margi is not available. This is Hamilton falling off the settee'.

or the push button options -

For family and friends, press 1

For editors, agent, and all other work queries, press 2

For the phone company calling to tell me I've just topped up, I know that, thank you, so there's no need to press anything.

If you want to sell me anything, I don't care what you press SO LONG AS IT'S ON THE PHONE OF SOMEBODY WHO MIGHT ACTUALLY WANT IT

If you want to ask me a difficult question, press 39572947592795461197835683927593875, multiplied by 6.32% of Pi, add a lemon, and take away the number you first thought of.

Speak soon!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

good pud

Summer Pudding? First you butter a pudding basin and line it with slices of white bread, leaving no gaps. Take some summer fruits, the more different kinds, the better. Strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, and pitted cherries are all good, but put in whatever you've got. (Go easy on the blackcurrants, or they dominate.)

Put the berries in a saucepan and cook them very gently in just a little sugar, barely a dessertspoon, until the juices start to run. Taste to see if the sweetness is right. Taste again to make sure. STOP TASTING. Pour the berries into the bread, keeping back a little juice. Seal it in with a bread lid, put a weight on it to press it down, and leave it in the fridge overnight.

When you want to serve it, run a warm knife around the basin to loosen the bread, then turn it out on to a plate, using the reserved juice to pour on any patches of bread that have stayed white. It should retain its shape. It's just as likely to disintegrate, but who cares. It still tastes just as good. Serve with single cream.

In the unlikely event of there being any left over, it tastes even better next day.

With thanks to Crackle the pastrycook.

Friday, 15 July 2011



I am puzzled. I often get puzzled, so I don't mind. I drew something that I don't know what it was. Do you know?

I drew some animals. They weren't animals that are on our island. I think it's something to do with She of the Stories. There was a squirrel coloured thing with a big tail, but it wasn't a squirrel because it walked on all fours and had a pointy face and I didn't like it. There was a crawly thing, a jumpy thing, and a bird with a very long beak. And frogs, I knew about the frogs. Do you know anything about them?

I've been asking about the trumpet, too. Mistress Cott says she'll come to look at it. I think she knows something about it.

We bought strawberries, raspberries and cherries today, and picked gooseberries from the garden. I like it in the House of Stories. She says she should make a Summer Pudding one day, and then she said she had an American family to dinner once and they'd never heard of Summer Pudding before. Have you?

Tuesday, 12 July 2011


Just nipped out for a swim past the House of Stories. It's getting noisy around the tower.

Young Catkin found a chest of old odds and ends in a turret room. It was mostly music stuff, broken and damaged instruments, stuff that needed mending, that sort of thing. And in there was a silver trumpet, one of those long stylish ones that the royal heralds used to play, in perfect condition.

You can guess. You know what she's like. Fortunately, Crispin said that if she was going to play the trumpet she'd need a good teacher, so they brought Master Trumpen the hedgehog to teach her. Unfortunately, she has to practise. A lot. Far too much.

Tay says it's an unsuitable instrument for a princess and she should learn the harp. For once, I agree with her. You couldn't possibly get that racket out of a harp. Even Crispin and Cedar are looking strained. The queen looks as if she has a permanent headache, and Crispin occasionally puts his head round Catkin's door and says, 'it's a bit loud, sweetheart'. I think 'a bit loud' means 'I can still hear you'.

She of the Stories says it'll get better, and she should know. Apparently she used to have Daughter in one room learning the clarinet and LYS in another on the trombone, and it sounded like Vet's Visit at Jollity Farm. Then Daughter exchanged the clarinet for the flute and LYS gave up the trombone altogether.

So I float down the river listening to She of the Stories learning to play Scarborough Fair on the piano. Admittedly it's one of those pieces she has difficulty with. If she'd just relax she could play the tricky bit seamlessly, but she doesn't, she squares her shoulders, steps back, and takes a run at it. Never mind, try again. The left hand doesn't know what the right hand's doing.

Fur Elise is a bit dodgy, too. She gets to that twiddly bit, loses count, and doesn't know when to stop. I'll just swim on a bit. Let me know when she gets on to Greensleeves, she's all right with that one.

I wonder what the silver trumpet was doing there? Who might know?

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Much Ado


Blooming 'eck,she'll meet herself coming back one day. Just listen to 'er. 'I've just been off to the wedding, then I'm 'aving two days in London, I'm off to that Wales place to see the girl get a funny 'at.' All that moving about ain't natural. Why go anywhere? 'Er's got a nice 'ouse, a garden, even got a blooming great river, to say nothing of a wise old gnome with a snail. Well, we got loads o' them snails, but mine's the only stone one.

What it is, y'see, is that 'er knows 'er can rely on me. She might go running about the country, but me and my snail, we stay put and watch the garden for 'er. This rockery don't look after itself, y'know, and Stephen only come once a fortnight. And then 'e wants to fill up the spaces with greeny-yeller things and 'er wants white and mauve and pink. 'Er's always sneaking in another geranium and 'e keeps moving the ferns about.

'Er was in a grump today. Last thing at night, she said, she 'ad an idea for somebody to put in a book. But as it were a long way yon side of midnight she didn't write it down, and she's forgotten it already. So that's one less for the House of Stories, then.

Pity about that. 'Er memory must be rubbish. I can remember everything that's happened 'ere in this garden for decades, but nobody seems to want a book about watching a fern grow.

'Ere? 'Oo put that fern there?

Friday, 8 July 2011

Bright Day

On the face of it, it wasn't such a bright day in Cardiff. It rained on and off all morning, but most of that time we were in the very grand St David's Hall. Even when we were scurrying through the showers to get there, with one hat and one mortar board between the three of us, nothing dampened our spirits. As far as we were concerned, the young lady above made it a very bright day indeed.

I've been to graduations before, but never in Wales, and never at a specialist music and drama college. Quite a number of graduating musicians were in the brass band, and the actors all played to the gallery and threw their mortar boards in the air.

Wales is the Land of Song, and we finished with both the English and the Welsh National Anthems. The programme was bilingual and the Welsh anthem was, of course, sung in Welsh. Combine Welsh passionate patriotism with a room full of music students and natural performers, and you find that your heart takes flight and soars over a misty mountain somewhere in Snowdonia.

Daughter and I know we both have Scottish ancestry. I believe there's a strain of Welsh in us to. Oh, I hope so. And she is becoming naturalised. She is developing a lilt, and when we raised a glass and wished 'good health' we did it in Scots Gaelic (Slante) and she did it in Welsh (can't spell it.)

Another aspect of the Welsh is their tradition of poetry and storytelling. They can lay a powerful claim to King Arthur. I need to go there more often, for the sake of the country iteself as well as the young lady above. Isn't she happy? As the Welsh say, there's lovely.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011


It's been a bit busy for the last couple of days and Much was too busy giving orders to Stephen the gardener to write the blog for me. So a little treat for you today - go to, or if you can't get that link to work put Tess Cooling Calligraphy into a search engine. Then just enjoy. Some of her lovely work is here in The House of Stories

I can't remember if I've put in a link to Tess before. But if I have, some of you might not have been friends of the House of Stories at the time, and I wouldn't want you to miss out. Those who have seen Tess's work before will know that you can't get too much of it.

Monday, 4 July 2011

look at us!

I'm not very technically ept, in fact my ineptitude is impressive. But with a lot of patient help (thank you, Tony) I think I now know how to put photos on the blog. Above should be a picture of all of us at the wedding, including the Lassie on the end, but not including my sister. That's why we're all waving, to get her to come up. Now let's see if it worked.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

On the River

This blog may be subject to interruption. It's men's finals at Wimbledon and I will be popping in and out of the sitting room to check progress and roar encouragement to Rafa Nadal.

Coming home from church this morning I saw people standing on the bridge, looking over with great interest. "Oh look!" said a woman, "baby otters!"

I hadn't the heart to tell her COME ON, RAFA!! that they weren't baby otters, they were full grown mink. They're not supposed to be here, and they are vicious predators working their way through all the native wildlife. They can't help it. They are here due to human interference, as so often happens.

About a week ago I looked out from my favourite window in the House of Stories - the landing window beside my sky-high study - and saw something that made me dash down two flights of stairs and run to the garden. On the far side of the river a mallard duck, quacking loudly, was swimming upstream. Running parallel to her, on the bank, was a mink. Sometimes it slipped into the water and swam, then ran along the bank again. Soon, they were out of sight.

When the duck and the mink had disappeared upstream, there was a flicker of movement at the water's edge. Two, then three very tiny ducklings emerged and bobbed about, staying close to the edge. Presently mother duck swam back to them - I don't know what had happened to the mink, but there was no more sign of it. She gathered all her ducklings together, and shepherded them away.

Well done, you brave mum. If she could have dusted her hands down and put them on her hips, she would have done.

GO RAFA! I bet he owes a lot to his mum, too.

Friday, 1 July 2011


She always loved the magic of music. I knew that almost as soon as I became her mama, seeing the way she marked time to music with her little foot. I always managed to settle her down with Mozart. She was mad keen to sing, and her main ambition was to play the flute.

Masses of hard work over the years. Sometimes I worried that maybe she was making too much of it, but she's a determined little madam and I'd met my match. With a shake of that red-gold mane, she'd pick up her flute and march, or waltz, or gavotte on her way.

She phoned yesterday. She's made it. The way has been hard, sometimes the struggles have left her maimed and mangled, but she's mastered it. Really mastered it, as in Master of Arts in Flute Performance. MA as in Marvellous, Magnificent, Flute Queen, Daughter of a very admiring Margi.

Well done, dove.