Wednesday, 31 August 2011


This has been a woohoo! weekend. We've been to Greenbelt!

For those who don't know, Greenbelt is a mahoosive Christian Art Festival held every year at Cheltenham Racecourse over the August Bank Holiday weekend. Put 'Greenbelt Festival' into a search engine and you'll find it. One o the great things about GB is that it has room for everyone and everything, a hugely diverse range of people, lots of different ways of thinking, worshipping, and being. The music is everything from plainchant to Very Loud Rock, there is theatre, dance,circus stuff, comedy, challenging and thought provoking speakers, all sorts of alternative styles of worship, lots of creative stuff, family stuff, workshops, art exhibitions, a full programme for children and young people, and fun. The emphasis is on social responsibility, justice, and environment, so your lifestyle gets challenged, too.

There's no pressure to go to anything. In fact, the pressure is on choosing what to go to out of all the choices on offer at any time. And then there's the campsite (no, I didn't camp. I'm a wuss. I like hot and cold running water and a warm bed.) The stalls, the various food places. The Soul Space right t the top of a high building with fantastic views over the countryside. And the constant buzz as people of all ages, shapes and sizes, able bodied and not, some strangely dressed, weave their way from one venue to another among the stiltwalkers, jugglers, and people dressed up as bananas, monkeys, fairies... you have to be there.

These names may mean something to you - Milton Jones, Kate Rusby, the Unthanks, Rob Bell, John Bell, Oliver James, Jon Blake, Jo Enright, Adrian Plass, Paul Kerensa, Billy Bragg. They were all there. And so was I! Woohoo!

Oh, and I learned to play a hand drum.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011


I came down this morning to find a working party in my garden.

About a month ago, I heard the news that Stephen, our amazing gardener, had cut his hand badly while using a chain saw. It was only a few days later that I realised what a bad injury it was - lots of stitching, lifelong scarring, and physio to come. Within days of the accident, when he was still in hospital, his wife told me that he was arranging to contract work out, and I told her that the last thing they needed to think about was the House of Stories grass. In spite of this, one of our friends from church turned up a few days later and tackled the 'meadow'.

This morning, I heard the sound of a mower. Said friend and his son were there, trimming and tidying - and so was Stephen! With his hand still bandaged, he was doing as much as he could one-handed and as cheerful as a boy with a football.

I admire his courage, his spirit, and his delightful wife, who has taken all this calmly in her stride - but I don't think I'll ever be able to watch him with a saw again. They can't turn back the clock and stop the accident from happening, but they have a fantastic attitude to the present and the future.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The Trout

Trout is good, in my experience. There's trout cooked fresh from one of Dad's fishing expeditions, Schubert's 'Trout', and The Trout Trio, a celebrated group of flautists - Daughter used to play for them as First Reserve, so to speak, when she was in the sixth form. Padra and Arran absolutely love trout. (Urchin doesn't, but you know what he's like about fish. It's a squirrel thing.) And there's a thoroughly good Trout experience to be had at Wolvercote.

If you find yourself near Oxford, be sure to look for the Trout at Wolvercote. It looks like something out of a story, and that's just from the outside. It is a blend of old-fashioned country pub, restaurant, and riverside. To sit outside on a summer evening by the river, eating stone-baked pizza and drinking something chilled, is one of those joys that perfectly rounds off a holiday. Or starts it. Or happens in the middle of it. If you're into Inspector Morse, it turns up in the TV series.

I've just been talking to Daughter on the phone. She lives with a cat called Bu (short for Debussy) who thinks Daughter's bedroom is the nicest room in the house, which, of course, is true. She spent more time than usual in there lately. She's OK with the house dogs, but when a friend's puppy came to visit, poor Bu was most disconcerted and ran up to D's room to hide.

Poor Bu. I'm sure she'd feel better for a bit of poached trout.

Sunday, 21 August 2011


With a lot of the animals at Tiggywinkle's, you wouldn't know there was anything wrong. Then a hedgehog uncurls and waddles away and you see that one foot is damaged, or a duck tries to fly and remembers that it's only got one wing, or a deer turns round and you see it's only got three legs instead of the usual four. The point is, they may be imperfect but they are still - well - perfect, I suppose, in their own way. A different sort of perfect. Apart from a bit of a mishap in the past, there's nothing wrong with them. They just can't live in the wild, that's all, but they're OK at Tiggywinkle's. And none of is perfectly perfect. We are all different kinds of imperfect. So why do so many of us pretend to be perfect?

Just for the record, I don't drive, I'm rubbish at sports, and I haven't a clue about mathematics. But I still get places, beat Tony at Scrabble, and do basic arithmetic in my head before you can reach for the calculator. There you are. A different kind of perfect.

Friday, 19 August 2011

fables, frogs and foxes

Here at the House of Stories we are getting a bit excited. The next book is coming out in September, though it isn't strictly my book, as it's a retelling of some old stories. Those lovely people at Lion Hudson Publishing asked me to do some retellings of Aesop's Fables.

At first, I had my doubts. Aesop's stories always seemed a bit stern and preachy to me. And then I realised that this was exactly why I should retell them, because I don't do stern and preachy. The stories themselves would be strong enough to hold their ground while I danced around with them. So I wrote the collection, and Lion commissioned Amanda Hall to do the illustrations. They are breathtaking. She's especially good at animals. The frogs make me laugh, and the foxes have a real glint in their eyes. This is the most beautiful book I have ever been part of, and I'm greatly looking forward to you seeing it.

And I said I'd tell you more about the holiday. The new theatre at Stratford-on-Avon is a great achievement, and if you get the chance, go. (And if you have to cross the river to get there, go on the foot ferry, which is basically a platform with a chain underneath it and a chap turning a handle.) We saw a very original and funny production of Midsummer Night's Dream which never flagged, had some memorable performances, and still had us laughing as we left the theatre.

I won't tell you the name of the little Methodist chapel we attended the next morning. Bless! I think it was put under a spell fifty years ago and stayed there. I sat in the pew and thought - why do I have a handbag like a grown up lady? And grown up clothes? How come my feet touch the floor?

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Much the Gnome

We 'ad a garden full of kids today. Them two have got dozens of godchildren, we 'ad five of 'em 'ere today, and their mum and dad, and the dog. I ask you, a blooming god-dog! Mind, it were good to see the garden getting well used, that great stupid mutt bounding all over the place with them lads hurtling around after it.

Not the little ones, though. They were playing with the dolls' house, and when I say dolls' house, it aint no ordinary dolls' house. I can see it through the window from 'ere, nice bit of work is that, especially when you know how old it is. Father Christmas, with a great deal of help from 'er dad, made it when 'er was a little tot, and believe me, there's a lot of river gone under bridge since then. 'Er dad still give it a touch of paint now and again.

Then 'er come out with the littlies to cut some flowers for their mum. The little lad, 'e's only three year old, he stood with his hand out for the flowers, then when e'd got 'em all in a nice bunch 'e ran in to the house to give 'em to 'is mummy. Bless 'er, she thought he'd gone out there and helped himself, she nearly had a heart attack. Even me snail laughed.

Monday, 15 August 2011


Within a couple of minutes walk from our bedroom in Kent was the lily pond, all fringed and sheltered by the long grasses. When you get down to the edge you see the lily pads as big as dinner plates, and the floating water lilies. Late at night these fold their petals in and go to sleep, but during the broad daylight they open and spread their white petals to drink down the sunlight. In the middle of the pond, nobody can reach to pick them or prune them. All they have to do is to be water lilies.

They have company from the moorhens, which dash across the water from one lily pad to another as if they were running for a bus. We didn't see so many of those this year (maybe the bus had gone.) The frogs were keeping out of the way, too.

Today - hooray! the plumber comes to replace the hot tap on the bath and I will be able to have hot baths again! I know that showers are more economical and better for the environment, but I so love a hot bath. The Lassie just gave me some lovely bath stuff, too, and I'm looking forward to using it. All I need is a waterlily. And a moorhen. I'll pass on the frogs, thanks.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Book time

Sometimes on holiday you don't have to keep going places, especially if you're already staying in one of the loveliest places you know. Sometimes it's OK just to read. One of my holiday reading books was The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift, which is the most lyrical book ever. She weaves together the making of a garden, the medieval Books of Hours, the pattern of the year, the stories of her village, her family stories, and so much more, and it's seamless.

On a very hot day when we needed shade we found it in a little second hand bookshop in Kent. Then we somehow found ourselves in a charity shop in Abingdon (check out Helen and Douglas House, a children's hospice). We came out with so many books the bag was splitting by the time we got back to the car.

I also have a lot of recommendations (thank you!) from blog readers, which I want to follow up. I now need another holiday to read them all. Then anything I don't want to keep can go to another charity shop. And who knows what I might find there?

Friday, 12 August 2011

I'm back

Hi! As you may have guessed, I am now back from a holiday in sunny corners of Kent, Gloucestershire, and Oxfordshire. Tell you all about it - the water lilies, the theatre at Stratford, Tiggywinkles, the Trout at Wolvercote - as soon as I've wrestled the washing to the ground.

Yes, a new book idea did turn up, but it's very new and I can't tell you about it yet.

And today is our anniversary. What is there left to say? Thirty-three years married to a madman.