Sunday, 30 October 2011

Take a left, I said

Thinking about London theatres reminded me of this, when Tony and I visited New York for the launch of Mistmantle over there. We'd travelled to London the day before, stayed the night in a Heathrow hotel, got on the flight to NY, and were collected at Kennedy Airport. The publishers were fantastic, and put us up in a fantastic hotel in Central Manhattan with the friendliest staff ever.

Having arrived at about three o'clock NY time (eight o'clock in England) we decided to have a little wander and explore, and discovered to our delight that we were ten minutes walk from the internationally famous Carnegie Hall. (I noticed that there was a subway station just beside it, and thought how sensible that was, putting a station right beside the venue.) There was a choir festival concert on that night, and we saw that they were doing Faure's requiem, which we love.

Well, it will be very expensive, we said. We looked at the prices. It wasn't.

There won't be any seats left, we said. There were, lots.

So a few hours later we found ourselves in the amazing Carnegie Hall, listening to some stunningly beautiful music sung by world class choirs and occasionally pinching ourselves to make sure that this was really happening. Us, here, now. Never in our wildest dreams.

We were walking on air back to the hotel when an American lady stopped us to ask if we knew where the nearest subway was. Tony hesitated, but I - and by the way, I usually have to think twice about giving directions to my own home - said, 'straight along here, take a left at that light, and it's right beside Carnegie Hall.'

I'd been in NY for all of seven hours. How cool is that?

Friday, 28 October 2011

too much choice

I have a London trip coming up at the end of November and am already looking at websites regarding what to do with my spare evening. In London you're alway spoiled for choice regarding musicals, but I don't know if I want to go to a musical this time.

There's a much talked about play about the Duchess of Windsor (the one King Edward VIII abdicated for.) There are some top notch actresses in that. Or there's the Pitmen Painters, a play about a group of miners from North-East England who started going to an art class and became highly accomplished artists, depicting life in the coal mines and the mining community. But it seems a bit silly for me, a lass who grew up in the North-East, to go all the way to London to watch a play about it.

If there's any Shakespeare on anywhere, I'd give that serious consideration. I'm a moth to a candle with Shakespeare.

And the Royal Ballet are doing Sleeping Beauty at the Opera House. They've still got plenty of cheap seats!

Or it might seem cosier to go back to my comfy hotel room and sit in bed watching TV or reading.

What would you do?

Wednesday, 26 October 2011


A new duck, all alone, appeared in the river today. He (I think it was he, it wasn't one of our usual mallards) was having a wonderful time. He was enjoying a bath. Sometimes I could see his head, sometimes I could see his feet, and sometimes there was nothing to see at all but a splash and ripples. I snatched up a packet of out-of-date oatcakes and ran down to the bottom of the garden. By this time he'd sailed under the trees and I couldn't see him at all, but they usually respond to the sight of food flying through the air.

This was when I realised how dry it's been for the last few days, because the river was a long way down. From the fence, there was a lot of riverbank between me and the water. I threw as hard as I could - twice - and bits of oatcake dropped on the grass far out of eyeline of the duck (wherever he was by then. Probably underwater.)

I even tried bowling overarm. (By the way, do you know that bowling overarm in cricket was first done by a girl?) Closer, but it still landed with a flop, not a splash. Still, I hope his duckship comes back. He was fun.

I'm so worried about what's going on in The Archers. It's not that bad brother Clive has struck fear into everyone, or that there's a row about the Cider Club. No, it's because , at one time, families regularly happened by each other at the duckpond while the children were feeding the Ambridge ducks. Those kids never spoke, but they were always out there feeding those ducks. It's a long time since there was a good gossip around the duckpond.

What do I deduce? Does this mean those apple-cheeked country children are all stuck in front of TVs and computers, and the ducks are so hungry, they're reduced to raiding the pub?

Monday, 24 October 2011

cake and things

Last week I was at the most amazing poetry event for children. There's been a poetry festival nearby, and they'd invited a children's poet, Paul Cookson, who entertains, reads from his books, gets the kids joining in, and is simply a five star act. The children, who practically ate out of his hand, were from the local schools and had been invited to present some of their own poetry, too. And if that weren't enough, there was cake, too.

On Saturday morning I did some storytelling and told, among other things, The Lambton Worm. It's a well known story in the North East, where I come from, but most people at the south end of Yorkshire don't know it.

Then, this afternoon, Tony went out to visit a couple from one of our churches, and it just so happened that their little grand-daughter was visiting and was Baking Cakes with Granny. They gave Tony two buns fresh from the oven for tea time, one in a pink case, one in a blue one!

When my lot were small, it was bread, more than cakes, that we used to make together. Bread dough is a great thing to do with children, because it doesn't mind being squidged and it's very flexible. They'd make bread rolls shaped like the initials of whoever was coming to tea, and there was always a bit left over to make lardy cake, which is a kind of poor man's Chelsea Bun. It's light and sweet and utterly gorgeous and so bad for you that if you made it these days it would be impounded by the Health Police. But it's good. And the kids spent far more time running about than they did eating lardy cakes.

A theme is developing. Cake. There is a Scottish story about The Woman Who Baked for the Fairies, but I can't remember it quite well enough to tell it. Does anyone know it? I could do Storytelling and Cake sessions. That would go down a treat.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Us dooks

Listen oop.

You may call us ducks, and posh folk and southerners say it like 'dacks', but we're Yorkshire dooks. (It's not so much an 'oo' sound as somewhere between 'oo' and 'u'. You 'ave to 'ear it.) Trouble is, ever since missus at T' 'ouse of Stories got all particular about what to feed us dooks, the foowd's not so goowd as it were. We were 'appy with t'bread.

So lately us 'ave been 'anging around t'bridges and we eat what we're given. Still, we might give T 'ouse of Stories another visit. See what we get. Much the Gnome might be up for a chat, too. 'E's a grand chap, is Much. And seeing missus tramp down t'garden in t'rain in 'er coat and wellies always gives us something to laugh at.

NB from Margi - if you didn't understand a word of what those ducks were saying, never mind. Neither did I.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011


Following Dad's birthday, here's a picture of Dad, Mum, Tony and me outside Wallington Hall on a glorious October afternoon, and a picture of his favourite thing inside the stately home - a limewood carving by Thomas Kendall of Warwick, dated about 1870 ish. If you see the thing close to, you can even see the whiskers on the water rat.

Sunday, 16 October 2011



That's how old my dad is, as of yesterday. Tony and I drove north and met up with Mum, Dad, and my sister and brother-in-law to Wallington Hall in Northumberland. It belongs to the National Trust and has been a favourite family place since my sister and I were kids. You can find it on the National Trust site.

The day excelled itself. It was a perfect sunny autumn day, and they were having a Food and Craft Fair, which meant that Dad could watch a wood carver at work. We walked through the shady wood, past the lakes and the fallen tree where my children used to play, and through the walled garden which is a bit like walking into something from Alice in Wonderland. Father inspected all the gardens and greenhouses, got annoyed with himself because he couldn't remember the name of a particular flower (which I didn't know in the first place) and walked right to the end of the grounds. Walking all the way back might have been hard work, so my brother-in-law brought the car round. We rounded off with ice cream and birthday cake in the car park.

Mum and Dad had a wonderful day. Chatting to guides and the craft fair people, they let it drop that it was Dad's 92nd birthday, and people really cared about it. They were impressed, they were interested, they struck up a conversation. As the familiar accents made me feel at home, so did the warmth, that Northumbrian attitude of warmth, friendliness and welcome. I'd forgotten how good it is. Holy ground.

Friday, 14 October 2011


To all of you helped with my duck dilemma, thank you. They will now be the happiest and healthiest mallards in the county.

Unless you're an expert (or a duck) one duck looks much like another, so I only give names to the very conspicuous ones with unusual markings. We had Archie, Becky, Clive, Dora, Edwin, Florrie... then I got confused, and gave up at Kevin. But I do like naming things. As you may know, the laptop is Cottontail.

I meet lots of children, what with church things, school things, and friends. At present I keep meeting Marcuses, Ethans, Thomases, and Noahs. Among the girls, Eve, Ruby, and Lily are among the old-fashioned names making a comeback. Daisy, too, so we may be seeing a return to those lovely old flower names. My grandma was just plain Ethel, but her sisters were Rose, May, Lily, Ivy, Iris, Pansy, and Olive.

One fo the fun things about being an author is finding the right names for characters. It's a good sign when they turn up having chosen their names already. In The Octave of Angels, I had a little girl from the past called Myrrh, and a contemporary one called Berry. I thought that was ridiculous. You don't give children names like that. But they sort of swam out from somewhere at the back of my mind with their names already chosen. They knew who they were. And when I'd thought about them, and worked out their back stories, so did I.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Duck's DInner

As the rain pours down and the river fills up, the ducks are gathering just on the other side of the fence. A couple of blackcaps dart in and out of the hedge. The holly berries are turning red, and the mist in the valley makes me think of Mistmantle.

The ducks, however, are presenting me with a problem. I was firmly told by a child at the after school club that you shouldn't feed them bread, it's not good for them and it swells up in their stomachs. I've checked out the subject, and she's right, which means the kids and I must have done for a few of them over the years. To atone for this - and avoid sinking any more of them - I need to feed them the stuff they feed to chickens. So where do I find that? I have a couple of chicken keeping friends, but I always thought they fed the chickens on scraps. What do chickens like?

Besides, ducks are supposed to like fruit, which is good for them. Not these ducks. I threw them some left over pears once and they turned up their offended little beaks in disgust. I'd like to bet I could give them Best Hen Feed by Royal Appointment to Prince Charles's Chickens and they'd want Co-op white sliced instead.

And for all those of you longing to hear about the Archers - Susan's Bad Brother Clive is out of prison and living nearby. As Clive previously raided the village shop, gave Jack Woolley a heart attack, and one way or another managed to attack or terrorise the entire Archer clan, David is not pleased. Showdown time!

Monday, 10 October 2011

Margi with a g

After another weekend of people calling me Marji, please, let me explain. I'm not being growly or gruffy about this, I just want to make it clear as glass.

It's Margi with a hard 'g', as in grey, or gray, Margot, cargo, embargo, egg, beg, or peg leg Meg. It's Margi like Maggie or Scraggie old Aggie.

My name is NOT NOT NOT Marji, which makes me sound like a cheap alternative to butter. If I were Marji, then a zigzag would be zijzaj and a rag bag would be a rajbaj. You'd play jolf on a jolf course or jo to see a jame of rujby. Jorillas would live in the gunjle, horses would jallop along the jround and gump over jates, and all would be hijjledy pijjledy. So if you call me Marji I will be very anjry. Jot it?

Golly jood!

Saturday, 8 October 2011


I spent this afternoon signing, and reading from, 'Aesop's Fables' at my favourite kind of bookshop, an independent one in a small town. It was a lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon, with bright young listening faces and a few puppets to help things along. The Crow, which belongs to LOS and is old enough to have lost a wing, was a big hit with everyone.

At one point, during a lull about an hour before closing time, I looked up and, I mean, just looked. A shop full of beautifully displayed books. A lady browsing the shelves. At the other end, the counter with the bookshop man standing behind it and, beyond him, customers looking in through the big display window, pointing out the titles to each other. It could have been a scene from any century since bookshops began. Long may it continue!

On the shelves was a volume which the bookshop man and I thought was very funny, a sort of '1001 Tips for Perfect Housekeeping' book. I probably should have looked at it, though, as the Sunshines are having problem with mould in a few corners of their little house and LOS has been cleaning mildew off his shoes. Any reliable old remedies, anyone? It would be much appreciated. Thank you!

Thursday, 6 October 2011


Yesterday I had a great afternoon, meeting Claire and going to the theatre to see Othello - and a very good production it was. We parted on a pleasant autumn afternoon. Two hours later I got off the train to a dark evening with rain pounding down the valley. And, as I'd missed the local train by two minutes, I'd had to get the express, which stops about a mile from home and walk back. As there was a music practice this evening, it was a case of changing into dry clothes and going straight out again. By the way, I went out wearing a light raincoat. By the time I got into our street I knew from the damp feeling across the shoulders that it wasn't a raincoat at all, it was a shower coat. It is still drying as I speak. I went out to Music Group wearing the winter coat which has been hanging up since March.

This morning was Toddler Group, and a pleasant morning. Winter coat? Ridiculous. Light jacket. But coming home... oh, you guessed.

Somewhere in my life I must have really offended a Weather Pixie. It wasn't just valley rain sweeping down the road to meet me, it was hailstones, and a raging wind that nearly knocked me over as I turned through the gate. For the second time in less than 24 hours I was soaked to the skin. Never mind, dry clothes again, hot drink, lunch, back to work...

to write a scene about a boy who just had to swim across a lake fully dressed and then walk home dripping wet. Couldn't even write myself warm and dry.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Story Day

Today is St Francis Day, when we remember a man with a great love of nature and care for animals. Appropriately, I spent all day on animal stories.

Last night I packed my bag (mostly with puppets) and went to stay overnight at LOS and Lady Sunshine's little house. Sadly, Lady S was on night duty, but I'll see them both at the weekend. I was there because I had an Author in School day today at a primary school not far from them. (It's Book Week. Authors get busy this week.)

We started of with an Aesop story for the whole school (The Fox and the Crow), then I worked my way through the school for the rest of the day. We went from stories of a little bear on an adventure for the four year olds to flying horses for the nearly elevens. Lovely, helpful kids who escorted me around the school when I looked lost and carried armfuls of puppets and cuddly toys round for me. It is so rewarding to flick the switch on a child's imagination.

Someone should explain gently to Northern Rail that A Lot Of People Get On The 5.15 Train. They should know by now that they need extra carriages. However, I got back still breathing with my toes unsquashed. I haven't unpacked yet. I think if a small child had smuggled itself into my suitcase I would have heard it by now. But you never know...

Saturday, 1 October 2011


Bit of a sad day, but a good one too, in the Sunny House of Stories.

The July weather continues. Today I needed the summer clothes and sun block that barely saw daylight in August. I'm not complaining, but it is strange.

Today was the day our Lovely Younger Son went back to university. He graduated in Law four years ago, spent those years at the Civil Service, and wasn't satisfied. So today he returned to spend a year doing an MA in Human Rights. Pardon me, but I'm a bit proud of him, really. He wants to make a difference. He's made one to me, just being around for the last few years.

But what a difference from the days when he started uni for the first time, when I trailed round the shops with a reluctant son in tow, buying mugs and plates and cutlery, trying to instill first principles of laundry. Four years later, he's so sorted. All this week, I've found his washing on the line, his crockery packed, and bales of new bed linen. Today, he and Tony loaded up the car with several tons of law books (have you seen the size of those books?), his fencing kit, and his sword.

Just before leaving, he came to me with three Terry Pratchett books in his hand. These, he said, were the ones I had to read next, and he told me the right order.

So they crammed everything into the car, fitted themselves into the only remaining spaces, and set off. I went to join my friends from the vicarage to decorate the church for harvest - a lovely, traditional thing to do. When the altar and the chancel had enough fruit and flowers to look like an Gold Medal Winner at the Chelsea Flower Show, we put some greenery on the window sills.

Now, in order to reach one of the windowsills I had to wriggle past a music stand. It just had to be THAT music stand, the one with a row of gleaming metal chime bars on it. The chime bars made it badly balanced, and the tinkle-jingle-wallop as it hit the stone floor brought everyone to a standstill. The vicar's son beamed.

"That sounded like a crash-landing fairy!" he said.

Must tell that to LYS - oh, I can't. But he's only a phone call away. Anyway, even at the far end of the next county, he could have heard the crash landing fairy.