Saturday, 31 December 2011

seven ducks a-swimming

I know it's supposed to be seven swans, but bear with me.

The Lassie came over on Thursday. (In case anyone's new to the House of Stories, the Lassie came to stay with us when she was doing a placement in one of the local churches. Not only was she a joy to have around but she took Lovely Younger Son under her wing. There's a brave girl! BTW, some years earlier that placement was done by one Lady Sunshine, who is now Mrs Lovely Older Son.)

Anyway, according to the song, Thursday was the Fifth Day of Christmas, and my true love sent Five Gold Rings, but LYS told us it was Five Gold Ducks. He and the Lassie were looking at some Christmas street lights and the Lassie asked why, amongst the neon lit crackers and puddings, was there a Duck up a Tree? Apparently it was meant to be a Partridge in a Pear Tree, but the Lassie and LYS reckoned it was a duck.

When LYS gets an idea in his head, it stays there. We now have the Twelve Ducks of Christmas. A Duck in a Pear Tree, Two Turtle Ducks, Three French Ducks, all the way up to Twelve Ducks a-Piping, which is not a thing you see every day. So, to all of you little Ducks out there, remember, as you sing Auld Lang Syne and throw open the front door to let the New Year in, spare a thought for ducks guarding pear trees everywhere.

And please don't set off Chinese Lanterns. They look lovely in the sky (if they haven't set fire to a tree first) but in the end they're just bits of twisty metal that land in fields and streams and are dangerous to livestock. As we say in the UK, Lord-Love-a-Duck.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Four calling birds

This isn't really anything to do with four calling birds, but it's the fourth day of Christmas. Christmas doesn't always feel like Christmas, but this year, it does. The pieces came together. The worship on Christmas Eve was so REAL. Life was everywhere. At home, everybody helped in the kitchen, and in the afternoon we played silly games, then watched some seasonal television, and had time just to sit and read. Bliss.

Re - silly games. You are never too old for tiddlywinks. Or too sensible, and certainly not too educated.

Since then - good reads, good films, and some long walks. This morning I joined my great friend Nancy and her inexhaustible little terrier for a walk through the woods to a little National Trust tea room. Dog thought all his birthdays had come at once, and I've taught him to catch sticks. Or he's taught me to throw them. Either way, he's such a sweetie.

Over the next few days I will be gradually getting back to work, but I really like working when it's still Christmas. Working a story together surrounded by Christmas music, twinkly lights and holly, fuelled by chocolate, is a magical experience. Try it.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Nearly there!

For all of you, as you celebrate the heart this winter, Queen Cedar and I and all the creatures of Mistmantle greet you and wish you every blessing

Crispin the King


It's not bad here. The rain's been coming down all day and the valley looks like the bloomin' Lake District, but I've been 'ere a long time and it don't bother me. Got me friends, the spuggies and all them bluetits and what not, and me old snail. Daughter and LYS are 'ome for Christmas, and today Daughter and 'er went off to the Sunshines. Come back with a box full of mince pies Lady S made for us. Nice woman, that Lady S. 'Ave a good one.

There is still food to do, there are presents to wrap, a certain doll's wardrobe is still incomplete, and I have yet to work out the new coffee maker. But none of that needs to be a problem. May you know wonder and peace. A blessed and beautiful Christmas to all of you, from all at the Christmas House of Stories.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Out of the Blue

There it was, in the inbox, taking me completely by surprise. It was an email from somebody I was at school with who'd tracked me down via the internet. I haven't seen her since I was eighteen.

Of course, for the last two days we've exchanged emails about the past. Some of it would be embarrassing if it wasn't funny - how we were always writing plays and stories, and embroidering pictures, our obsession with Rudolf Nureyev, and later - sorry about this - Marc Bolan. Well, we were young and silly. There were many things at school that made me unhappy, so it was good to be reminded of the fun we had. She came with me and my family on holiday in Scotland one year, and reminded me of all the fish we caught, much to the amazement of the local big hairy-armed fishermen. She's made me think that perhaps I didn't waste quite as much time in my teens as I thought.

But what is much more exciting is catching up with where we are now. She is now doing vital work with children in need of help, and I'm doing the job I've always wanted to do. We both have families. Life has taken unexpected twists and turns for both of us, but now, we both love where we are. We're planning to meet up in the New Year. What a great feeling.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Fourth Sunday

The Fourth Sunday of Advent open to door to Christmas. As usual, we had the family service with the children's nativity in the morning, and the lessons and carols in the afternoon. Leaving home this morning I was just praying to get there without falling over and breaking something serious when wonderful Tricia drew up and offered me a lift.

The Golden Child, who starred as Baby Jesus when she was three weeks old, is now two, and very excited about being an angel. We popped a surplice over her head and couldn't find her hands. It was easier when we'd strapped on her very beautiful pink sparkly wings, because it gave us something to tuck her sleeves into. We had to pull up the length, too, so she didn't trip over it. The tinsel halo finished off the outfit, but that delighted smile was all her own. She was so gorgeous. AND I got lots of cuddles, from both the Golden Child and a very tiny shepherd. Oh, and from the Sunshines, because they came too.

This evening was THE Carol Service - the church lit with over eight hundred candles, clear and confident reading of the Great Story and stunning music. The standard of music we have in this village is astonishing. Blessed!

Friday, 16 December 2011

the best story

This week I have been re-telling the deepest, truest, loveliest story of all. The vicar and I told it to forty-seven unbelievably attentive toddlers at our toddler group Christmas Party on Thursday. Today, I told it again to the after school club. They'd just come out of the last day of school before Christmas and were hopping with excitement, but they, too, took in the story of the mother, the manger, the star, the angel. When I asked them what Jesus came to bring, there were shouts of 'love!' from a lot of loud and eager little people.

After that we all ate Very Bad For You Party Food, but they even did that nicely. Then the sugar kicked in, and we had to scrape them off the ceiling.

Meanwhile, the decorations are still on the floor, the tree is outside, less than half the presents are wrapped, and a heap of holly lies in wait for the unwary. We are helping with the annual Toy Appeal, so until yesterday the hall was full of spacehoppers.

I am supposed to be an author. Sometimes I think that's an illusion and I am really a Christmas Robot.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Deck the Halls

Christmas takes careful timing. Decorating too early is all wrong, but you don't want to be flying up stepladders at the last minute, either. Now is about the right time to start, or at least to haul the boxes out of their hiding places and sort out what we've got. Some of the garlandy stuff is a bit past it.

The holly will have to wait until Friday. Gathering holly is one of those things which is my job, not because Tony would be unwilling, but because he's extremely busy at this time of year, and besides, he wouldn't get it right. (The kids are different. I trained them in holly hunting. But none of them are at home just now.) You know how it is. It's not just a case of clipping holly, it's getting the right sort of holly, in the right quantities. It's a skill, made a lot easier because holly grows at the bottom of the garden. (Except it isn't so much a garden as a swamp today. Even the ducks wear wellies.)

Lovely Younger son was fascinated by the whole Christmas decorating thing when he was nearly two, and followed me around the house while I wobbled on ladders and whacked tacks into hidden corners of windowsills. "Mummy bang bang with a hammer!" he said. ALL DAY.

We've never let him forget it.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Sophie Jane

Even a cat has only nine lives, and my sister's cat Sophie has finally used up all of hers. According to my sister, Sophie went through most of them in the first six months, but she still survived to be nineteen.

Even at a great age she was capable of climbing on to the roof, falling off (nobody would have known if she hadn't fallen past the window), righting herself, and strolling into the house as if nothing had happened. Trying to knit anywhere near her was not on, unless you wanted chewed wool and a tangled cat. Quite recently, though she was growing thinner and her coat was beginning to look rough, she'd still go out for a spot of mousing.

For the last few weeks, she's mostly been sleeping by the fire, and her health was slowly failing. Now long winter for Sophie Jane this year. She died very peacefully and painlessly in her mummy's arms. It will be strange to go to the house and not see her there. She has been such a reliable little figure for so long.

Darling girl, there will be one corner of Northumberland that is forever Sophie's.

Friday, 9 December 2011

All Hail!

The Christmas tree in the village square is still standing. This is a minor miracle, as last night it was rocking like a ship in a gale and I expected to find it blocking the road or halfway down the river by morning. A bit of somebody's garden fence swept along on the river and landed just beyond the bottom of the garden. Sleet covered the car. Between the rain and sleet this afternoon, we had the mother and father of a hailstorm.

Mercifully there have been no fatalities, not even any serious injuries, but high winds and slippery roads have caused accidents over two counties - and that's just in the north of England. Scotland has been hammered.

(By the way, Scotland is now home to the 'MacPandas', two giant pandas given to the Scots by the Chinese in the hope that they will fall in love and have baby pandas. Um? I know Scotland is more romantic than China, but forty-eight hours of gale force winds and winter storms can't be good for anyone's love life.)

Back to the village. I was talking a few hours ago to one of our primary school teachers. This afternoon they had arranged for the children's choir to sing carols at a retirement home. It's only about ten minutes walk from school, but what a walk. I asked her if they were out during THAT hailstorm.

'We were out in EVERYTHING,' she said.

They breed 'em tough in Yorkshire.

Oh, just so you know - Helen Archer says she can't bear to meet Richard. Pat Archer (Helen's mum) can't bear not to meet Richard. Sharon (Richard's mum, the former Ambridge bad girl) isn't letting anyone meet Richard, and Elizabeth doesn't want to meet David. All systems normal, then.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Is it a bear? Is it a pony?

No, it's a dog.

The local news programme has just run one of those stories that puts a big smile on your face.

In the very beautiful Dalby Forest in North Yorkshire, Christmas trees are for sale. They are cut down, stacked, and delivered to the car park by the nicest team of lads and lasses you could hope to meet. They are Newfoundland dogs, each weighing anywhere from eight to thirteen stone, and looking, as I said, like a cross between a bear and a pony. They are powerful, pleasant chaps who make good working dogs and are quite happy to draw a cart. In this case, it is a little wicker cart with a Christmas tree in it. Honestly, they look like something out of a fairytale.

'I want one!' I shouted, before the lady on TV said that as well as having lovely natures, they dribble all the time, moult everywhere, and smell terrible when wet. And if you have a Newfoundland on the end of a lead, believe me, you're not the one who decides whether to go left, right, or into the river. As they love water, guess which it's likely to be. But you'd never be lonely with a Newfoundland. (You'd never be dry with a Newfoundland.) Ooh. Where have they been all my life?

The ducks are back, and hungry. The bird feeders go up tomorrow. Tony thinks I'm running a canteen.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Sheep and Sweater

Sheep in a Sweater! Sheep in a Sweater!

That's what was in my Advent Calendar today, so thank you, LOS and Lady Sunshine. (By the way, I realise that in my previous Advent Calendar post I put LYS instead of LOS. As faithful readers know, it's Lovely Older Son who is married to Lady Sunshine, and Lovely Younger Son who is with The Lassie. Woohoo, the Lassie's coming over tomorrow. WE MUST HAVE CAKE!)

To get back to the point - Tony and I were playing a game recently making up pub names. The Sheep and Sweater sounds pretty good to me.

For those across the Pond, British pubs are often called after royalty or local dignitaries - The Devonshire Arms, the Queen's Arms, The King's Head, etc. Then there are the traditional names, The Dog and Duck, The Pig and Whistle, The White Swan, the Black Bull. Occasionally you get something more original like The Dog and Ferret, or the Goat and Nightgown.

So there we were, making up silly but plausible pub names. The Pint and Poodle, the Ferret and Catapult, The Elephant and Mango. The Wilted Spinach. The Duke of Oxford's Elbow. The Weasel and Trombone. The Fallen Arches.

My favourite up to now? The Ruptured Hernia.

Your turn.

Friday, 2 December 2011

clockwork mouse! clockwork mouse!

Clockwork mouse! is what I put in a text to LYS yesterday. He texted me back,


so I explained.

As you may know, I love Advent Calendars, the old-fashioned kind with truly beautiful designs and a picture, not a toy, not a chocolate, just a picture behind every window. No garish Santas, no supersized grinning snowmen, but detailed scenes of villages, churches, children around trees, and, best of all, magic forests.

I give lots of people advent calendars, and on Monday I took one to LYS and Lady Sunshine. Much to my delight, they'd bought one for me. Now, I always treat myself to a calendar, or re-use a favourite one from another year, but there was something so exciting about being given one. It's a very simple and pretty house decorated for Christmas with a little dog outside pulling a sledge, and a snowman, and a decorated kennel. When I opened the first window yesterday and saw the clockwork mouse I was five years old again.

He texted me back - 'Christmas tree.' Today I have to tell him 'stocking'. I'm so enjoying this.

As I type this, The Archers is on the radio in the background. Clarrie is selling holly and mistletoe in the market, David Archer is disappointed because his prize Herefordshire didn't win the Fatstock Show, and Pat Archer is all of a doodah because she's just discovered there's a grandchild she didn't know about. (But is it really John's son?) I have to say I have been waiting for this storyline since John Archer died young after an unfortunate argument with a tractor.