Monday, 31 December 2012


This is our last Christmas and New Year in the present House of Stories. Next summer we are on the move, and I'll tell you more about that as the year goes on.

So this is the last time I will go to the Watch Night Service at the village church, the last time I'll have to stand well back while the churchwarden sets off fireworks, and the last New Year I'll join whoever else is jumping up and down on the bridge to make it wobble. (Yes, really.) Whoever lives in this house next winter, I hope they feed the ducks.

So, before I go out to see the Old Year out and the New Year in, what have been my best memories of 2012?

An exciting new project with a publisher I haven't worked with before, and they are great to be with. You'll hear all about it soon.

LYS's LLM and Daughter's engagement

The Chelsea Flower Show with Lady Sunshine

Getting back together with Helen, who I haven't seen since schooldays

Staying at Burrswood

The little West Scotland Bay where we stayed on holiday

Barter Books in Alnwick

Anglesey, my pearl and the red squirrels


Discovering new books, some of which have been recommended by you

Meeting ponies, more red squirrels and various hedgehogs

Oh, and buying a house. That was a bit exciting.

There have been some rubbish things this year, too - no summer, just torrential rain and flooding, friends moving away and the death of my great friend Sandie. Which brings me back to where I started, because Rev Sandie never did go to Watch Night Service. She was Scottish, and her family couldn't get their heads around the idea of spending Hogmanany in church. She'll be at a great party tonight.

How was your year?

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Thank God

I know exactly where I was twenty-eight years ago tonight.

I was in the Princess Mary Hospital in Newcastle. Outside in the frosty dark cars sped along the Great Norh Road as people came back from visiting their families, while I was hidden away in a high up room in that elegant old building. With the curtains drawn, I lay in bed and watched my beautiful new little miracle. He was fast asleep.

He'd had a busy day. He'd been born, for a start, and phtographed by his daddy, and then he'd met his brother and sister and grandparents, but I don't think he knew much about them. He knew that sleep, milk and cuddles were good things and that he needed lots of them. I know everybody thinks their own baby is the most beautiful baby ever, but in my case, I was right.

Like all babies, he brought a lot of love with him. And something strange happened, that first morning. Six hours after he was born, I was well enough to go and have a bath, and as I came out the sun was rising. I stopped at and watched through the window for a while, with my new baby in my heart, and something came to me very powerfully, without me thinking of it. It was the powerful sense, almost as if I'd heard it, that one day somebody would thank God for him.

And they already do. Especially me.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

the gifts

Good morning, all visitors to the House of Stories. I hope you're enjoy Christmas and Christmas is enjoying you. If it isn't working out well for you - is there anything you can change?

On Christmas morning Tony gave me the DVD of my favourite ever film, Local Hero, and the most beautiful little necklace of a ladybird on an autumn leaf because he'd seen me admiring it at a market stall. (You can see it if you put 'ladybird and leaf' or 'hedgerow designs shropshire' into a search engine). And chocolates! It can't get better than this, I thought, and how wrong I was.

Weeks ago, I told my children that I would like my presents from them to be

charity shop, or

home made, or

under a fiver (that's about nine dollars, I think)

When we'd been to church, done coffee with the Sunshines, and were sharing presents, I unwrapped the most beautiful little hedgehog. He is standing on his hind legs, looking up, and looks happy and trusting. He reminded me of somebody.

'He's just like Hope,' I said.

'He is Hope,' said LYS. Hope, the brave, sweet-natured little hedgehog from Mistmantle, and a great favourite with LYS. LYS had crafted him painstakingly for me and I never knew that he could do things like that. I don't think he did, either.

Every Christmas I transform a windowsill into an enchanted forest with Killiecrankie, the little rocking horse, galloping through it. It has holly and red ribbons, and now Hope is in there too, exchanging stories with Killiecrankie.

So now the House of Stories is also the House of Hope. He is such a treasure.

Thank you, sweetheart.

Monday, 24 December 2012


The love that draws heaven and earth together is being celebrated today. From Margi, Tony, and all of us at the House of Stories, including Hamilton Bear, Much, and the ducks at the bottom of the garden,

May your Christmas be happy and blessed, and may you have moments of quiet.

Sunday, 23 December 2012


They were Roman soldiers, angels, sheep, shepherds, and lots of other things as well as stars, but all the children in our Nativity Play this morning were stars. After yesterday's rehearsal I was on my knees with exhaustion and prayer. I don't mean devout and contemplative prayer, I mean 'please God do something aout this mess' prayer.

This morning they rose to the occasion magnificently. LYS pitched in and made sure all props were in the right hands at the right moment. Parents turned up with brilliant headbands and masks. The children were fantastic. You starry starry stars.

Now, I believe that a real celebratory occasion should be greeted with with party poppers, streamers and bubbles. When we got to the last verse of 'Hark the Herald', the children got to do all of that. I took some of them to an upper room where they could shower party poppers and streamers on to the congregation. A great start to Jesus's birthday celebrations.

My favourite pair of brothers (apart from my own LOS and LYS, of course) had a wonderful time, staying up there until the grown-ups were having coffee and several armfuls of streamers landed on my head. When they'd used up the party poppers and thrown the empties out as well, they were still up there, so I went up and locked the windows, because, what do you throw out when there's nothing else left? Your brother?

And this evening Daughter and Daughter's Chap arrived for Christmas. Hamilton Bear got very excited, especially when they asked him to be a page bear at their wedding.

I am surrounded by stars. Some of them are even in the sky.

Friday, 21 December 2012

The Riverbank

Today started amazingly. After days of rain, a few ducks were huddled on the riverbank at the bottom of the garden at the House of Stories. I left the back door open while I went down with a tub full of duck food. When I first squelched my way down there were five mallards and a little white Aylesbury, and by the time I'd finished they were beyond counting.

Back at the house, I found the postman had left today's post on the mat. It included a parcel from Amazon, which was puzzling, because I hadn't ordered anything.

I am so blessed! It was a completely out of the blue present from YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE, an enchantingly illustrated edition of one of my favourite books, The Wind in the Willows. I have marvelled at the illustrations, the producton, the familiar and perfectly written story, and the kindness of the giver. She is too far away to hug, but I keep hugging the book.

This evening I still have to finish decorating, cook cranberries, and prepare for the Nativity rehearsal tomorrow. Tomorrow I have to collect a cake, take rehearsal, prepare for church on Sunday, and make up some beds because - yippee! - Daughter and her Chap are coming on Sunday. But in between times you will find me curled up reading about the Wild Wood and Christmas at Mole End, and I might even tell the ducks about 'up tails all'.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012


Christmas is coming at me from all directions. On Saturday I was doing a storytelling performance as part of a village Christmas celebration. I had so much fun as the Christmas Fairy that this time I dressed up as Queen Christmas - red ballgown, green and red sparkly thing on my head - and held court. Three story sessions and a carol sing later, I was as happy as a spaniel puppy, and that's the happiest thing I know.

The tree is decorated and shining, and today I squelched round the garden cutting holly. There I was, with arms full of green shiny prickly branches and a robin hopped down and pottered about on the doorstep. You could have put us straight on to a Christmas card.

I was just having a word with the robin when the window cleaner arrived, but the window cleaner is a lovely guy who isn't at all phased by people who talk to robins. And I cut some extra holly so he could take some home, so everybody's happy. And scratched, probably.

Sunday, 16 December 2012


The rosebud that never flowers is still a rose. It is a perfect rosebud. It will never be anything else.

There is so much that I could tell you about from this weekend, and maybe will, later. Today, the shadows of New Town Connecticut are too long to let me write about anything else.

But there is nothing anyone can say about it. There is a shared revulsion and sorrow all round the world, but it doesn't come near the unimaginable pain of the families. The children and adults who won't come home. The children whose teachers died protecting them. The empty places. How can anyone bear it.

In March 1996, in the pleasant little Scottish town of Dunblane, a crazed man with a gun burst into the primary school, entered the hall and killed sixteen little children, their teacher, and himself. For days, all the UK was in a state of shock, trying and failing to imagine what it was like for the community.

Somehow, through horror and tragedy, we go on and find life again. We have to. But there is a demand on all of us to love, patiently, wisely, sacrificially and continuously, to feed on love, to give love and go on giving love, if we are to have sane and compassionate societies where the rosebuds can bloom.

Friday, 14 December 2012


At our after school club party today we made cocktails. Don't worry, they were only combinations of lemonade, blackcurrant, pineapple juice and peach squash, but we put sweeties in some of them to make them extra fizzy. Bebe, Martin and I drew up a mocktail menu. We invented the Bebe Bubbly, the Martinini and the Margirita, and we did it all properly with little bits of fruit and umbrellas and everything.

One of them was a Moquila Sunrise, or a Tecooler, I forget what we called it. Now, the reason why I would never drink tequila is because every bottle has a worm in it. Why? It's no good asking me. I don't think it enhances the quality of the tequila and it doesn't do the worm much good, either. You don't see the worm doing zumba in there, you see it lying at the bottom of the bottle in a dead condition. We put a strawberry shoelace in there instead.

One little girl finished her Moquila and couldn't find the strawberry bootlace. We'll never know where that went, then.

Monday, 10 December 2012

A Good Book and an Apple

Everyone, however busy, should be given time over Advent and Christmas to sit down with a good book and an apple. Or a chocolate mouse, a packet of crisps, a lollipop, whatever it is that makes your perfect accompaniment to a good story. I was thinking of going back to Charles Dickens over Christmas, but there are so many good Christmas books out there, and so little time.

It doesn't matter if it's for adults or for children. What matters is that it gives you that sense of a secret waiting to be told, and the chance to set foot into a realm that we can never find at any other time of year.

The Tailor of Gloucester (Beatrix Potter) is one of the most perfect Christmas books I know.

The Dean's Watch (Elizabeth Goudge) leads up to Christmas in an enchanting, mysterious way and is one of my favourite books ever ever.

The Twelve Days of Christmas (Jenny Overton). A great family read (as in, if the kids couldn't find it, I was reading it. If I couldn't find it, my Mum was reading it.)

A Christmas Carol (Dickens). We've all seen the films, and some of them are very good, but you know how it is with books.

If you're into Discworld, The Hogfather is clever, a great story, and roll-off-the-settee funny.

So, share your favourites. What do you recommend as the best Christmas books?

BTW, some people have difficulty getting logged in to the blog. You can always e-mail me using the address on the website, and I can put your recommended titles on here.

Saturday, 8 December 2012


The Christmas Fairy!


Today, our church hall was transformed into Santa's Grotto. Now, as you know, Santa needs a little helper. Sometimes it's been a teenager. Often it's somebody rather older than a teenager, so long as she's willing to dress up as an elf. Last year it was my friend Tracy, who told the organisers that she couldn't do it this year, but that Margi was dying to, which was true.

I've had very few chances to be a fairy. In sixth form I was the dancing doll in The Steadfast Tin Soldier, which we toured round the local infant schools. It was an occasion for pink tutu, pointe shoes, and cramp in the feet for me, but for those little children I was the real deal. Since then there haven't been a lot of fairy opportunities.

At my age one doesn't expect the chance to wave a wand, but our church is an Equal Opportunities Santa's Grotto, and my wedding dress comes in for all sorts of things. A bit of net makes a pair of wings. A bit of sparkly stuff on a hairband and a knitting needle, and this fairy was ready with her wand. Half the children from toddler group didn't recognise me. One little girl asked me all about what we do at Christmas at the North Pole. Amongst other things, I told her that I take off my fairy shoes and put on big fluffy slippers.

I'd forgotten how much I love dressing up. Next week is story-telling, and I think I'm going to be Queen Christmas, all in red and green.

Hopefully there will be a photo to show you soon, but the wand doesn' work on computers.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

monkey nuts

I've just come back from the North-East, and left the snow behind. We had a bit of everything, little light attempts at snow, big swirling flakes, and a sleet storm just waiting for me. At the bottom of the street my old schoolfriend Alan keeps a greengrocer's shop, and the smell of Christmas trees heaped up outside was enough to bring every good Christmas back to life.

When I was small, Mum and Dad would buy monkey nuts - peanuts in their shells - and we'd thread them on something like carpet thread, so we could hang them up for the birds. I can remember sitting at the kitchen table with my sister, making long strings of nuts and then watching at the window to see the bluetits swinging and pecking at them. So this week, I took some coarse bead thread and a packet of monkey nuts, found a biggish needle, and sat down to blissful nostalgia. The idea, of course, is to put the needle through the shells, not the nuts.

WHAT ARE THEY DOING TO PEANUTS THESE DAYS? It was like drilling through rock! And maybe the bead thread was the wrong kind, because even when I forced the things over the eye of the needle they sat there and refused to go down without a fight. I borrowed Mum's thimble. I tried impaling the peanuts on to the needle and pushing them down. It snapped. Peanuts one, needle nil. In the end the birds got two little chains about eight inches long because I didn't want to risk any more of Mum's veteran needles.

I was five years old when I first threaded peanuts and I didn't have this problem. Are these the wrong kind of peanuts?

Saturday, 1 December 2012


There's frost all through the valley today, and frost is a kitten. She's so beautiful and delicate that you gasp with delight when you see her - then she's under your feet when you didn't know it, tripping you up and making you cross, but you still love her because, after all, she is so delightful.

Frost is Cinderella' slipper, a delicate pretty thing, but strong enough to last when all the other magic is over, playing tricks on rich princes and ragged girls.

Frost is the hard breath of an ice-dragon from far above the sky.

Frost is the finest tracery of lace on a blade of grass.

Frost is all around The House of Stories, where three of us are warm and snug tonight.


Thursday, 29 November 2012

terribly, terribly

I am terribly, terribly ill.

My head aches. And this isn't a headache that can be chased away with a migraine pill, so I'll just have to suffer. Whatever I took first thing this morning wasn't much use. I probably have a brain tumour in there. Certainly I feel dizzy when I stand up. I might faint, fall downstairs, and sustain a critical head injury the way they do on television.

I am coughing. That's dangerous for authors, you now, especially around here. The Bronte sisters lived not far away, and what happened to them? They all coughed their way into early graves, that's what.

My throat hurts. I bravely struggled through toddler group this morning and gasped out a story for them. It may just be a sore throat but it could develop into something serious.

My mother always said that we come from a short-lived family. She's eighty-nine, and still saying it. So, just in case I am on my way out with a previously undiagnosed and untreatable disease, I love you all. Please keep buying the books so my children don't go barefoot.

Sunday, 25 November 2012


Thank you, Nels, for explaining about Thanksgiving. Clearly there's far more to it than I ever suspected.

After a long wait on a wet chilly station on Friday evening, a late train and a hundred yard sprint across Leeds station, I ended up cosy and warm at the House of the Sunshines. Biri acknowledged my existence and told me to rub her face, and by the morning she was talking to me.

I was staying with the Sunshines so that Lady Sunshine and I could go to The Knitting and Stitching Show in Harrogate on Saturday. If you think that's even less exciting than a late train to Leeds, let me explain. There were

Pictures made up with layer after layer of gauze and finished with unbelievably lifelike embroidered butterflies

Hand-knitted designer clothes

Embroidered, applique and collage pictures on a theme of coal-mining that shone with depth and mystery

the knitted village, complete with houses, church, fire station and engines, the children's playground, and gardens full of flowers and rows of vegetables, and a farm

graduates' final year display pieces

and stall after stall after stall of fleece, yarns, ribbons, felt, beads and buttons, fabrics, lace, thread, and everything you need for jewellery making, marbling, knitting, sewing, millinery, dressmaking, quilting, garlands - anything from a packet of pins to a tapestry for the wall, and I'm sure if you wanted to knit yourself a back garden and a puppy you'd find everything you needed. Lady Sunshine and I arrived about 11.15 and left at 5.30, and only then because it was kicking out time.

All day I was aware of a small figure somewhere around. No, not Biri. I had a feeling that Needle the hedgehog, Needle of the Threadings, Companion to the King, was with me, giving respect for crafstmen and women where it was due and turning up her nose at anything cheap and showy. She looked over my shoulder at the displays by the Embroiderer's Guild and the Royal Schools of Needlework. There were many times when even Needle gasped with admiration, and times when she gently steered me away from the things too difficult or too time consuming for me. I don't have neat paws, but I do like playing with fabrics.

Apart from anything else, it was a day when roly-poly Northern grannies and wild-haired art students mingled with a common purpose.

LOS came to meet us afterwards, and we went to the famous Betty's Tea Rooms. In front of us in the long queue was an American family with three lovely children of different ethnic origins, all beautifully behaved and wonderfully patient. Finally, we walked back to the car past the Christmas lights.

Absolutely lovely. Except that LOS had a few stressy moments regarding a car park, a payment machine and a time limit, but that might keep for another day.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Thanks Given!

I'm a bit puzzled today.

The daily newspaper in The House of Stories is the 'i', which is the condensed version of a broadsheet, The Independent. I read the editorial column today, and it made me stop, because it didn't make sense.

It was about Thanksgiving, and the editor said that as a celebration it was 'Christmas without the stress of presents or religion'.

There's a lot I find stressy about Christmas, especially when I get drawn into the whole commercial shopathon. I get stressed about shopping, and writing all the cards, and getting everything done in time. I get stressed about the queues in the shops and the cheesy songs. But going to a church full of people singing beautiful music? Prayers and candles? The sheer beauty and wonder of the story? Stress?

And the other thing about Thanksgiving being 'Christmas without the religion' made me think - well, who are they giving thanks to? Now, I really feel puzzled about this, and perhaps somebody out there can help me. Were the Pilgrim Fathers thanking God, or the Native Americans who helped them? Or both? Can somebody help this ignorant Brit to understand?

Whatever, every blessing to all of you celebrating Thanksgiving. It sounds such a lovely occasion. And today I give thanks for the children at toddler group, Tony coming home from a trip away, and for my attic study, and for having work that I love. Oh, and chocolate.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Albert's War

I couldn't think of what to tell you today, so I thought about for a story. This came to mind, it's a favourite one of Tony's. I don't normally write about guns, but this is an exception.

Tony's father was called Albert. When the war broke out, young Albert was keen to do his bit and reported to the recruiting office without waiting for the call-up. But Albert had a very weak right eye, and was dismissed as unfit for service. Being Albert, he tried a different recruiting office. He'd used up quite a few before he got a letter from the army telling him if he didn't stop wasting their time he'd be arrested.

He still wasn't discouraged. The government introduced the LDV, or 'Home Guard', local units of men too old, too young or too unfit for the army. Their role was, essentially, to keep watch for an invasion and fight if such a thing actually happened. LDV, by the way, stood for Local Defence Volunteers, but Albert always said it was Look, Duck and Vanish.

All LDVs were taught to use guns, which meant a lot of drilling with no ammunition at all or with blanks, because all the ammunition was needed for the troops. Finally, Albert's Army got their live ammo and were all taken to the firing range to practice the dangerous bit.

Now Albert, as I said, had a weak right eye, and maybe they should have taken this into account before giving him a rifle. He did explain, after all, but they still told him to sight along the rifle with his right eye. Bless him, he did his best, but he couldn't see a thing, so he angled the gun sideways a bit and looked down it with his left eye instead. He would have been OK if not for an officer who noticed him and strode across the rifle range bellowing,


Albert, who had been concentrating very hard, was not expecting this. He jumped. So did his trigger finger, and the kick from the gun knocked him clean on to his back. When he looked up the officer was glaring down at him with a face like thunder, and an empty space where his hat ought to be.

They took the rifle away from Albert after that, and gave him a Sten gun, which shoots from the hip. (ou can get more of your own officers that way.) By the way, later that day they found the officer's hat. It had a bullet hole all the way through.

Saturday, 17 November 2012


Please, m'lud, I am a serial murderer of trees and I ask for mercy.

I love trees. I love spring blossom and canopies of autumn gold. I love the way sunlight dapples through the leaves, and the textures of bark, and the birds pecking for berries and insects. Since we've been at the current House of Stories we've planted a mixed hedge of whitebeam, oak, hawthorn and whatever else Stephen could lay his hands on, an apple tree, and a witch hazel.

(By 'we' I mean Stephen. Gardener, mountain biking instructor, a man who thinks climbing up frozen waterfalls is the best fun in all the world.)

Anyway, I was clearing out my study today, I mean really clearing out, not just going through the heap to see what I haven't done. Six drafts of three books are now in the recycling. I probably could have chucked out a lot more, but you know how it is, when you think something might be useful one day. I kept the short story about the man who gets poisoned by the tavern wench (serves him right) and the poem about the hiccuping vicars, and a few other things that might be useful. There are still boxes and boxes of manuscripts and ideas up there. The box of scrap paper (old drafts for writing new stories on the back, and page proofs to take to after school club for drawing on) is overflowing.

I can do a lot of work on a computer screen, but there are stages where nothing but printed pages will do. It reads differently when it's printed. Mistakes are more conspicuous. There is something about the printed page that can never be replaced and never should be.

But, as a result, I am a serial murderer of trees. In mitigation, I buy recycled products whenever possible. And, like many authors, I put all my old drafts in the recycling box. So next time you buy recycled loo rolls, just think...

Thursday, 15 November 2012


Back from a few days getting under Mum and Dad's feet again. Dad likes watching the garden birds and can't work out why they aren't coming to the feeders in their garden. I suggested that, with the weather being mild, the birds get all they need from the wild food that's around. They've got beetles, worms, and seed-heads for pudding, and it's all fresh organic stuff.

I told him that here at The House of Stories the massive holly is covered in berries, but the birds are leaving it alone. They always wait until the first hard frost, then raid it so efficiently that there's hardly a dot of red anywhere except on the very lowest branches.

This afternoon I was back to work, and today I chose to write at the dining room table. I should have known better. I had a perfect view of the garden and the holly tree and it was the constant movement that alerted me and made me look up.

The weather is still mild. No frost. And yet there was a thrush, a perfectly elegant picture book thrush perched on the holly tree with a berry in its beak. Then I saw another, and a pair of blackbirds. A couple of bluetits hopped about, and then the big gaudy wood pigeons arrived, four of them in the top branches like big kids in the little kids' playground. But the holly tree is big enough for them all, and I don't suppose the bluetits downstairs were even aware of the pigeons on the top floor.

It was a joy to see them, and I thank God for whoever planted the holly tree in the first place. But why are the birds taking the berries now? Do they know something I don't?

Saturday, 10 November 2012


Biri loves The Sunshines. She loves them so much that she brought Lady Sunshine a present. Unfortunately it wasn't dead yet. Sometimes, I'm afraid, there's nothing to do but administer the coup de grace.

However, she's a great deal more civilised than Scruff, the cat we had when I was a girl. Her mother was a stray who was adopted by the curate's landlady and thanked her by having kittens. We've no idea who their father was but we think he must have been Abyssinian, or maybe a Yeti, because Scruff always looked as if she'd been blow-dried.

Scruff, as a clergy cat, should have had some standards. She did when she was very young - she'd follow us to church and parade past the choir like the Queen inspecting a regiment. Then the other cats in the street taught her bad habits.

She became calculating, cupboard loving, a thief and a ruthless murderess. More than once, we tried a collar with a bell. She'd disappear for two days and then come home without it. When she wasn't killing things she was sitting on the garden fence winding up the dog next door just by looking at it, so that the dog barked fit to waken the dead until its owner came out and hauled it into the house. Job done, thought Scruff as she primly walked away. You could almost see her dusting off her paws.

So Biri killed something. She's a cat. Compared to Scruff she has wings, a halo, and a little harp to play with her paws, if she hasn't chewed the strings off it yet.

Thursday, 8 November 2012


She was not a happy cat.

She hadn't had the chance to be a happy kitten for long. She was still quite young when she ended up in a rescue centre, where she waited patiently, washing her pretty white socks, hoping for a forever home.

She was adopted by a young woman who loved her and looked after her. But humans don't always have forever homes either, and Cat's new mummy had to move to somewhere else where she couldn't take Cat. She didn't want to put her in another rescue centre, so she asked her Mum to look after her instead.

Mum was fond of cats, and that was the problem. She already had two. They were rough tough cats, and they didn't like the new girl. They bullied her, and she had to hide. When a new young couple moved into the street, and were kind to her, Cat became very fond of them, but she was still shy.

Is there a happy ending? Oh, yes. Cat's Mum was very happy for Cat to go to a home where she'd be loved and safe, and the young couple were happy to have her. So Lovely Older Son and Lady Sunshine now have Biri, who is still shy, but settling in. There are no other cats to keep her away from the food or beat her up. She can find a warm place to lie down without anyone chasing her away, and she lies there washing her pretty white socks and looking adorable in her forever home.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012


Today I am utterly flabbergasted.

An envelope dropped through the letterbox today with a New York postmark. It was forwarding some readers' letters to me, but I think they must have been misplaced somewhere along the way because some of them were written quite a while ago. If any of you are waiting for a letter from me, I'm so sorry, but I only received yours today. I am typing like mad to catch up. If you know anybody who's complaining about That Nasty Englishwoman Who Never Answers Letters, please pass this on to them.

The most efficient way to contact me is through the e-mail address on the website. I do like e-mail. It's one of those wonderful inventions, like self-seal envelopes and microchips for dogs.

I write this at nearly 11.00 pm British time, very mindful of the great events in the US. Anybody staying up all night to watch the results?

Daughter, by the way, has lived in Wales so long now that she gets to vote in their elections too. This reminds me of the general election the summer after she and her twin brother were born, when I wheeled the double pram along to the polling station with my poll card tucked into the side of the mattress. By the time we got there, she'd eaten most of it.

It wasn't catastrophic, because you don't actually need your poll card to vote. Which is just as well, as what was left of it wasn't too pretty.

Sunday, 4 November 2012


It should be enough to have a house full of bears, but lately we seem to have adopted two large monkeys, I don't know how. One sits quietly at the table eating a banana and the other is swinging from a trapeze by the back door.

My friend Claire was here today and commented on the swinging monkey, and it put me in mind of a story about Hartlepool, on the north east coast, south of where I used to live. (Sad bit coming up...)

In the Napoleonic Wars, a French ship was wrecked off Hartlepool and the only survivor was the ship's monkey, which was dressed in a scaled down version of a uniform. The people of Hartlepool, it is said, didn't know what a Frenchman looked like, so they decided that this small creature chattering in a language they didn't understand must be one. Accordingly, they hanged it.

Now, before you protest in outrage, there is no historical proof of this story, and it was probably just invented as a joke about Hartlepool people by their near neighbours. (Did they really think a Frenchman had a tail?) But to this day, if you go to Hartlepool, don't ask,

'Who hung the monkey?' They still don't think it's funny.

All of you in the US, we'll be thinking and praying about the forthcoming election.

AND I only realised this today - it must be weeks since I told you about The Archers! I do apologise, I don't know how you can bear it.

Lilian is angry with Matt for his unscrupulous business practices, and she has got back in touch with a former flame, Paul. (Lilian must be pushing seventy, by the way.) Her useless son, James, has just broken his leg and is lying on her settee expecting to be waited on.

Josh has offered to help with Hayley's hens, probably because he fancies her step-daughter Phoebe, Kate's daughter. Eddie and Emma are desperately hard up, and Will (Ed's brother whom she was married to first), thinks that they must be neglecting George (her son with him). So that's all crystal clear.

Friday, 2 November 2012

The Master

It just keeps coming. Lovely Younger Son has just got his exam results and is now a Master of Law (LLM) with Merit. He specialised in stuff that I don't understand a bit but it's to do with Human Rights. Well done him. As his girlfriend, The Lassie, pointed out, he will now be insufferable.

The Daughter, who has been a responsible law-abiding good citizen all her life, now says she wants to do something bad because her little brother has mastered the law so she can't be prosecuted. (Note to her new fiance - you may be marrying a hooligan. Don't say I didn't warn you.)

But is he Master of All the Laws? What about the Law of Toast - if you drop the toast it will always land butter side down? Or the Law of Relaxation - the moment you sit down, the doorbell will ring? Or the Ancient Law of Cat - every door has a wrong side. To find out which it is, ask the cat.

The there's Author's Law. Whatever idea you think of, somebody else has already written it.

Monday, 29 October 2012


I go away for a few days, and what happens? Things pounce on me.

Tony and I spent a few days at Burrswood in Kent. It's a calming and lovely place, and on Saturday morning, already feeling soothed and renewed, we went to the British Wildlife Centre in East Grinstead.

Wrapped up against the cold we walked through, nodded good morning to the foxes, a harvest mouse, and a pine marten who was looking out at us fron a nest in what looked like an American mailbox. (Lying in bed on a cold morning watching the world go by. How can I get the pine marten's job?)

Then we walked through our favourite area, the copse, where red squirrels play and muntjac deer graze under the trees. Juniper was there, and another squirrel even darker than he was. By the stream the otters came to see us, the red and fallow deer kept their distance, and, as it grew colder, we walked back through the copse. There we met someone who looked very like Sepia. On reflection she might have been Crackle or Scatter, but Sepia came to mind.

She ran along a wooden rail to where we were standing. Sepia and I looked at each other. I stood still. She thought about me. Then with a spring she was on my shoulder, running across the back of my coat, and climbing down my shoulder bag. Then she jumped down, tasted the bag, and turned her attention to Tony. She put a paw on his shoe, bit the hem of his trousers, had another look at my bag just to check if I happened to have a few hazelnuts with me, then ran off to meet somebody else.

That alone would have made my year. And then the next thing that pounced on me was the news that Daughter's boyfriend had just proposed, and she (of course) had accepted. Those two are absolutely right together, and we are all delighted. (As are Daughter and Mr D.) So she has a ring on her finger and I - all too briefly - had a squirrel on my shoulder. It's almost too much happiness for one day. I'm all of a whatnot, and Apple is offering me a restorative cordial.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

the goalie

After a sad day yesterday, Nels reminded me that I had already told myself about difficult partings, by way of Mistmantle. Thank you to all of you who have helped me over the hump.

So, by way of light relief, here's something LYS told me about today.

When LYS was capain of a football team at his college at university, there was one guy on the team who was big enough to blot out sunlight and stop a moving train by looking at it. For a such a massive bloke he was very agile and of course LYS put him in goal, where he was fast enough to stop the ball assuming it hadn't already hit him in the chest and exploded.

One night after a game, they'd all gone out together to eat, and Goalie ordered a pizza. Bt he was really hungry, so he ordered a burger to eat while he waited for his pizza.

But he was really, really hungry. So he ordered some chips (fries) to eat while he was waiting for his burger. And, yes, he did finish it all.

Dear readers, this a true story, not a lifestyle plan. Don't try it.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012


Our great friends J and C moved away today, called to somewhere new. They have been great supportive friends, and as families we all got on well, and they're such fun! They will leave a big ragged gap in our lives.

This morning Tony and I went along there with the hoover, some dusters and a very silly cobweb brush to help them get turned around. Then, when the van was loaded, the carpets all hoovered and the cupboards cleaned and checked, it was nearly time to go. Only the last few things - washing up bowl, kitchen bin, and so on - still had to be put in the car.

At this point, loading mugs into the washing up bowl, I said, 'what am I doing this for? Why am I helping you go when I want you to stay?' But sometimes it has to be, doesn't it, and it isn't up to us. When the meters were read and the water turned off, it was time to lock up, say a prayer with them, and watch them go.

It's harder for them. We've lost J and C, but they have to start all over again in a new community, which is never easy. At least their children are grown up. Any organisations - companies, charities, churches - that require their staff to move frequently should think long and hard about what it means.

Go well and safely. The help and nurture, the welcome, and the sheer fun and happiness you have brought us is immeasurable. I hope they really appreciate you where you're going. If not, tell me and I shall fall upon them with my cobweb brush.

They're not going too far - near enough for us to arrange a get-together next month. But they have taken a shaft of sunlight with them. And what will we do now for a New Year Party?

Sunday, 21 October 2012


Oooh, what an autumn for hats! I been down that garden, there's all sorts, some of them semperviryusses got lovely red and orangey leaves just now. There's something growing through the fence, don't know what it is, but it's yellow, and leaves so big you could use them for an umbrella. That witch hazel, it's only a young one, but that's looking very nice.

I chatted to old Much, and he said, just wait till the cotoneastererer turns red, it'll be a rare sight. And there's berries all over 'er 'olly tree, but I don't take them for me hat, the birds need them in winter.

I see there's a thing running round that garden, it's not a proper squirrel, not like on Mistmantle, it's a grey thing with a tail. Got no manners, whatever it is. Never stops to share the time of day. If it digs up 'er tulip bulbs it'd better look out, she likes her tulips.

Squirrels don't do hibernating, and on Mistmantle not even the hedgehogs go to sleep in winter. There's too much going on, who wants to miss out? Not hedgehogs. But round 'ere you can't get no sense out of a hedgehog this time of year, all they want is to go to bed and sleep all winter. She of the Stories reckons it's not such a bad idea.

Thursday, 18 October 2012


It's been a long day. I did Toddler Group this morning, had a couple of hours at home to deal with e-mails from editors, and went out to Leeds for a lesson from Jane, my voice coach. (She's brilliant, by the way.) I did the shopping in Leeds (divided the journey there and back between reading and writing, trudged home, and dealt with yet more e-mails, and after this I'm going for a lovely hot bath.

I know, before you say it. I know that we're supposed to take showers, not baths. I try not to waste water. I put cooking water on the garden, and when it's dry in summer (some chance this year) I don't send all my bathwater swirling dsown the plughole, I take bucketsful out to water on the plants. They don't seem to mind if it takes soapy.

But a bath is not just to do with getting clean. A bath is to do with soaking, sinking back in kind hot water. Bathwater loves you! It knows when you've had a hard day. It wraps around you, warms you all the way through, and floats all your aches and tension away. It almost sings to you. Even while it's still pouring from the tap it's reminding you to have a fluffy towel ready, and some special soap/talc/body lotion/bath bombs/oil/plastic yellow ducks, whatever it is that blesses your bathtime.

When I'm in the bath, storylines sort themselves out and get unknotted. I can see what's gone wrong with a story, and where, and what to do about it. New ideas pop up like bath fizzers. I can't afford a weekend at a luxury health spa, but who cares, when I can be pampered and inspired by half an hour in a hot bath?

LYS shares my enthusasim for baths. I may have to queue.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Here Come the Girls

Lady Sunshine and The Lassie stayed over last night. Lady Sunshine is doing a counselling course on a Tuesday, and has less driving to do if she stays over with us on a Monday night. (LOS misses her, but it means that he can eat fish on Monday nights. Lady Sunshine can't stand even the smell of it. She must be more of a squirrel than an otter.)

The Lassie has just come back from a holiday in New York with her sister, and loved it, especially Central Park. I have fond memories of it myself, from when Tony and I were in New York for the launch of Mistmantle in the USA. The sweet girl brought us back some American chocolate, so we all sat around and ate Hershey's Kisses, which none of us had ever had before. They are delicious. It was an evening when the men were outnumbered 3-2, which doesn't often happen.

As often does happen when we all get together, we started discussing favourite animals. Following her visit to Central Park Zoo, The Lassie adores red pandas. The Sunshines recently went to Yorkshire Wildlife Park, and Lady Sunshine wants a ring-tailed lemur.

For me, it's still the red squirrel. You can't own one, you can just watch them in the wild and admire them.

And you? Faourite animal, anybody?

Sunday, 14 October 2012


When my Dad was born, Britain was still staggering to its feet after the First World War. This weekend, we had his big family birthday do. You know what it's like when you don't know what to buy for someone? Usually I'm like that about Dad, but this year inspiration struck, and we all chipped in to get him a telescope.

Now, there's a very happy man. Seeing him unwrapping it yesterday I just wish I'd thought of it years ago. Never mind - apparently it's never too late to start star-gazing and the prospect of seeing the stars so clearly delights him.

The stars have inspired dreams and imagination for thousands of years. They are part of our mythology, and the more we learn about them the more we understand the world we live in. They show us how vast the universe is, and how tiny we are. And the stars that shone on my Grandma and her baby are still shining on him now, and on me, and on you.

So tonight, or the next clear night, just go outside and look.

Thursday, 11 October 2012


An odd sort of day, with too many different elements. Have you ever tried using up all the leftovers in the fridge by mixing them together? And then you wonder why it tastes like - well, not like anything you've ever had? A bit like that.

Our much loved vicar is about to leave for a new parish and we are bereft. He is an exceptional priest - a great friend and pastor, and the sort of person you want to have at a party. His wife is a star, too, and we'll miss her. So the day began with his last Toddler Group, when we presented him with a banner the children made and LYS smuggled in a special, beautiful cake. It seems impossible that we'll go on without him, but we will.

Then I had to go by train to Manchester, and stood for ten minutes behind somebody who was booking tickets, but was extremely miffed, as we say in the UK, beause she couldn't get what she wanted. Engineering works on the line! What do you mean, I can go by a different route? I don't want to go that way! Replacement bus? But I don't want to... you get the picture.

A taxi took me much further across Manchester than I'd expected, to the Christian Resources Exhibition. Two hours later I was laden down with fliers for everything from Fairtrade Easter Eggs to made-to-order coffins. (They weren't doing much business at the coffin stand.)

But I was bothered. It's a long time since I went to CRE, and this one was smaller, and very different. Where were the people doing all the fantastic under-fives resources, puppets, and crafts? Where were the artists? Where were the music publishers? The makers of nativity figures, and wines and perfumes from The Holy Land? I wonder if they do eveything on-line now?

After that lot I wan't paying another taxi fare, so I found my way to the bus station, which - oh joy! took me through a branch of John Lewis. Friends in the US, you can have no idea what those words 'John Lewis' mean to a Brit who hasn't been able to go to one for about a year. A cup of tea, a scone, and a base for a Christmas wreath later, I was on my way to the bus.

The bus took me via parts of Manchester I would never have seen otherwise, and I'm glad I did. The combination of poverty and community left me with a lot to think about.

And finally a train home. Hot chocolate. Toast. Tired. Maybe, tomorrow, this fridge mix day will make sense.

Monday, 8 October 2012


Last night I couldn't find my little pot of moisturiser. I don't like going to bed without whacking it on first because as a face like this needs all the help it can get, so I hunted around, and eventually lay flat on the floor and looked under the bed.

It's one of those beds with drawers underneath, so there's not much room under there. I couldn't get my arm under, but I could see there was something in there, so I fished about with a wire coathanger. After a thorough scavenge I'd found

one pair of reading glasses
a packet of emery boards
a small teddy bear.

The teddy ber is called Little, because he is. He wears a tiny crocheted jacket and hat, and I bought him many years ago in Pickering so that Hamilton would have a a small bear friend. We soon found that Little, though he got on very well with Hamilton, would not be content to sit beside him all day. He was an adventurous bear. We kept finding him on the tops of bookshelves, on the mantelpiece, on the sideboard, and (frequently) down the back of the settee. He sometimes wears a mountaineering rope, or an Ewok costume.

So it wasn't surprising to find him under the bed. LYS did wonder why he wanted the emery boards. Perhaps he wanted to build bridges, or use them as snow shoes in case he had to cross a smooth surface. I don't have a clue about the glasses, LYS wondereed if he'd been using them as a sledge. Maybe he just thought they were exciting.

The moisturiser turned up in my handbag. Haven't a clue how it got there.

Saturday, 6 October 2012


Readers, I am ready for next week.

I need to e-mail some alterations of a book to the editor.
I must continue to write the new book.
I have to check some proofs.

Daughter needs a dress altering and it's complicated, so I'll take it to the dressmaker.
Some more autumn bulbs need planting in well-rotted compost.
I must scrape the moss off the lawn and poke holes in it for drainage.
I must do the toddler group and arrange a fun activity for after school club.
I must wrap a present for for my Dad's 93rd birthday.

So that's easy.

E-mail the complicated dressmaker to my Dad and proof Daughter.
Scrape the editor off the lawn and wrap up the toddler group.
Alter the bulbs and poke holes in the new book.
Wrap up the editor and plant after-school club in well rotted compost.

I must scrape Dad off the lawn, write a new dressmaker and poke holes in the after school club.
I must alter a check dress, wrap Daughter and e-mail moss to toddler.
I must present compost to editor, write well-rotted book, toddle to club and alter Daughter.

I must poke holes in dress, scrape moss off dressmaker, arrange 93rd fun birthday in well-rotted compost, write new drain, e-mail bulbs, toddler-proof the lawn, check complicated Daughter, present after school group maker to editor, then I can just sit in television, eat armchair, and watch toast.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Green Park

When I first went to London I was seven or eight years old and the thing I liked most was the parks. I was amazed at how much green there was in London. Over the years I moved on to all the usual tourist attractions, especially the historical ones (the Tower, Westminster Abbey, St Paul's, Greenwich) and more recently to the museums and galleries. And, of course the shops, especially the ones where I can't afford more than a cup of tea and half a yard of fabric out of the remnants box.

Yesterday was a lovely autumn day and I was in London to meet a publisher and look at illustrations. We were finished at four, so I had some town time before I had to go home. I said hello to the National Gallery, then stood in Trafalgar Square and asked myself what I really wanted.

The clock twirled backwards. I wanted to be outside, in a park.

I walked down through Whitehall, past the site where Charles I was executed, past the entrance to Downing Street, and down to Westminster where I said hello to the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, or the Queen ELizabeth Tower as we're supposed to call it now. Then, as I heard Big Ben striking six and knew that Tony was hearing it on the radio at home, I crossed over into Green Park.

The trees are turning, leaves are beginning to fall. Pelicans were sleeping on the islands in the lake, swans sailed, geese waddled about, and a duckling paddled confidently along. The light was beautiful. I even met a Cavalier Spaniel and a dachsund, and chatted to their owner. It was the right call.

Apparently it's called Green Park because Catherine of Braganza, the queen of Charles II, discovered that her husband had sent flowers to his latest lady-love. She had all the flowers in Green Park cut down to hit back at him. Imaginative, but not good for the view.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Cornwall, Cake, and Ch...

Funny sort of evening. I don't often do any baking, but I had a packet of dried fruit that needed using up so I made an old-fashioned 'cut and come again' fruit cake. It's one where you just boil up the fruit with almost everything else, then beat the flour in and put in the oven, so it takes no doing and makes the house smell like Christmas. Oh, no! I've said that word and it's only the first of October!

Then I thought I'd just have a quick look through at the photographs LOS sent us. They're mostly of the Sunshines' summer holiday in Cornwall. I got through the first five hundred or so and decided the rest can wait until tomorrow.

They'd been to the Eden Project, the gorgeous Lost Gardens of Heligan, Mevagissey, the Seal Sanctuary, and any number of beaches. If you want to see these places google Cornwall, but give yourself time to wallow in it. Tony and I have only been there once, and that was over thirty years ago, but seeing these pictures brings back how beautiful it is, and how unlike anywhere else. Artists love Cornwall because the light is so good.

So I think I should recommend LOS to the Cornish Tourist Board as he's doing such a good job for them. I think the only reason we haven't been back is because it's so far away, on the South West edge of the country (on a map it's the sticky out bit, bottom left.) These islands are small, but there's so much I haven't seen.

But it will have to wait until after Chr....

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Brother Fir

It was time for a visit to The House of Stories. It occurred to me that She of the Stories has been overwhelmed by all her comings and goings lately, and she's been up to her ears in stories. Hm. I took a bottle of spiced elderflower and pottered along there to see what she was up to today. Her Story Chamber is right at the top of the house, you know, which rather reminds me of my turret room on the island.

I was quite taken aback, I must admit, as she appeared to be throttling a dragon. The dragon was bellowing no end, but she seemed to be getting the better of it. When she saw me, she stamped on its head and it stopped the racket at once. Apparently it wasn't a dragon at all, it was something called a Heaver - is that right? for cleaning floors. She seemed to have a most impressive mastery of it. She sprinkles lavender on the carpets before heavering to make the room smell nice.

She tells me that the House of Stories has been most neglected of late, so she has been cleaning, sweeping, washing, heavering and knocking down cobwebs all day. What with all those tables and chairs, carpets on floors, wardrobes full of clothes, her house is so confusing! And complicated! And books, of course. On the island we keep our stories and knowledge in our heads or on the Threadings.

Never mind. That's the way she lives. Hm. But I am deeply contented with my turret room, my windowboxes, my little bed and few bits of furniture, and, of course, a fire. With apple logs in the grate, a cordial, and, now and again, someone to share it with.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Oh, dear

I don't often talk about current affairs, but apparently our Prime Minister, David Cameron, was on American TV yesterday and he couldn't give the meaning of 'Magna Carta'. Oh, really, PM!

He did go to Eton, didn't he? (Eton is one of our poshest and most expensive schools - the princes went there, as do most of the aristocratic and loaded.) They do Latin at schools like that. And, presumably, history.

(Magna Carter? I was at school with her.)

Not really. I was at the local state grammar school with my friend Helen, and we knew about Magna Carta, and that it means 'Great Charter'. Come to think of it, we knew that before we even went to High School at the age of eleven. Oh, David, David!

(Magnum Carte D'Or? Don't they make ice creams?)

And David, if you just hop on the tube at Westminster and get off at Euston or St Pancras you can walk into the British Library for nothing and take a good look at Magna Carta. It's more to do with restricting the powers of the king than anything else - not the Charter for Human Rights by a long way - but it was a start.

Anybody else - what are the historical occasions that everyone should know about and nobody should forget?

As one of our long ago comedians, Tony Hancock, said - 'Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?'

Monday, 24 September 2012

Raining Cats and Dogs

It's been pouring all day in Yorkshire. Have you read 'The Tailor of Gloucester?' It's one of my favourite Beatrix Potter books. There is an exquisite illustration of Simpkin the cat coming in from the rain wearing his big coat and carrying the shopping in his arms, and Simpkin hates rain. I remembered it when I came in today, cold and wet.

That expression 'raining cats and dogs' takes me back to a holiday in the days when we and some friends used to have holidays together. That particular year we had three five year olds whose favourite joke of the fortnight was

'What do you do when it's raining cats and dogs?'

'Take care not to step in a poodle!'

To five year olds it's still funny when you say it for the hundred and tenth time. For the rest of us - well, I still laughed, too, because to me there's just something very funny about the word 'poodle'. 'Oh my dear, what a little noodle of a poodle! Excuse me, madam, but your poodle did a doodle in the caboodle.'

In one of my Poppy Harris books about Hammy the Wonder Hamster, I had Hammy hearing that it was 'raining cats and dogs' and taking it, as he takes everything, literally. So he was unsurprised, but very worried, when he met a cat in the garden shed...

On the subject of cats and dogs, the Sunshines are seriously considering getting a dog. Or possibly two. LOS was brought up by a Cavalier King Charles paniel, so they may adopt one. I'll keep you informed.

And finally -

Dogma - the puppy's mother

Dogmatic - this dog is pre-programmed

Friday, 21 September 2012

About ice cream

I think it's in the family, because my dad loves ice cream, too. I've just found a new ice cream parlour near where they live, which promises a lot of happy tastings next summer. Autumn seems to be in to stay.

There's a great ice cream place at Morwick Mill near Alnmouth. I haven't been there yet, but my sons, Lady Sunshine, and The Lassie have, and they tell me it's the best ice cream ever, in the world, end of. When I first went to Stratford on Avon as a student I was wowed by the theatre, the surrounding countryside, and everything about it, but the American Ice Cream Parlour was an experience, too. How many flavours can you get through in a week? The secret is to go in with a couple of friends, order three different flavours, and try each other's.

(It's not there now. More time for the theatre, then.)

I think I should introduce ice-cream to Mistmantle. A party of moles could build an ice house, which is what big country houses had before fridges, and Crackle could make ice cream. The squirrels and hedgehogs would like it, I'm not sure if the others would.


Oh, you're back, Fingal! When you've stopped rolling over laughing about haddock ice cream, you can tell me what you've been doing.

So why am I thinking about ice cream today? Because we had some play traffic cones at after school club, and a small person (barely old enough to be there, but she was with her family) turned them upside down. As I'm sure you've worked out, an upside down traffic cone becomes either a hat (which falls off your head) or an ice cream cone (which doesn't). She generously dished up all sorts of pretend ice cream with strawberry sauce and sweets on top. I think I had four helpings.

Today, friends, I have eaten my body weight in calorie free ice cream. I may now go and help myself to the real thing.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The card

Needle mentioned to me about the hand-made card with a cross-stitch red squirrel on the front. It helped me to find Mistmantle.

If you look in the front, or 'prelim' pages of 'Urchin of the Riding Stars', you will see a dedication to Caroline Sheldon and 'with thanks to Jo Boardman for the squirrel.'

Jo used to come to a creative writing class which met at my house many years ago and one evening, when we were clearing up and people were getting ready to go home, the conversation turned to red squirrels. A few weeks later, my thoughts turned to putting red squirrels into a book.

I had been trying for a long time to write a book about a secret island, but I couldn't make it work. It was Caroline Sheldon, my agent, who urged me to write about animals because she liked my first book, 'A Friend for Rachel', which had mice in it. I didn't think I could do it, but perhaps, if I started with my favourite animal...

So on the train home from London King Cross to York that evening, I scribbled and thought and made notes about this possible red squirrel story. But I still wasn't sure. The compass point hadn't yet settled on True North. Perhaps it wasn't something I could do but only a wild goose chase, or even wild squirrel chase, that I shouldn't pursue.

One evening I was at a meeting at Jo's house about some church children's activities. Jo put her head round the door, saw me, and said,

"Oh! I didn't know you were here! Don't run away, I've got something for you!"

Presently she returned with a small envelope in her hand. Inside was the card that still lives in my writing desk. It's a hand stitched picture of a red squirrel in a tree, and inside, she had written,

"Don't you love red squirrels?"

And, in the surprise and delight at the gift, I knew what I had to do.

Sunday, 16 September 2012


Blimey O'Riley.

'Er's just got back from a conference, and 'er's that tired 'er'll never make it up the stairs to bed. And that 'edge'og, that Needle, she's still in 'Er Ladyship's sewing box, head down, rear end up, and she ain't got to the Saxon layer yet. She says she'll tell you the rest of 'er story when er's done. Well, I think that's what 'er said, it's hard to understand an 'edge'og with 'er mouth full of knicker elastic and 'er 'ead in a bag of stuffing.

So, 'oo do you think will do the blog? Oh, that'll be me, then.

C-WIG. That's what 'er's been to. What sort of a wig is that, then, I said, something fishies wear to keep their little 'eads warm? No, she says, it's part of the Society of Authors,it's the Children's Writers and Illustrators Group. So off they went on Friday, 'er and 'er author/illustrator friend Lynn Breeze, off to this blooming conferring. 'Er was navigating, it's a bloomin' miracle they got there yet, seeing as 'er can't find her way to the back door.

They didn't half keep 'em busy at that conference. They was all running from one session to the next with barely in time for a coffee, and of course 'er ends up with a cracking migraine, so instead of listening to the debate with all the posh folks on the panel 'er was taking her meds and curling up on a sofa. Now, don't you worry, she recovered in time for 'er lunch.

'Er's come 'ome laden down with books and every now and then er'll say 'Allan Ahlberg!' 'Celia Rees!' 'Gillian Cross!' and go all of a whatnot. So I suppose she's come 'ome with a few bright ideas, a bit of a clue as to what's going on (and that's more than 'er ever 'ad before), and some new friends.

Oh, and two freebie pens with 'Society of Authors' on 'em.

One of 'em doesn't work.

Thursday, 13 September 2012


From Needle of the Threadings

Companion to King Crispin

This is not the sort of thing I normally do. I leave it to other animals to do the wordy stuff. However, Fingal keeps saying I should have a go at this 'blopping'? 'blugging'?' talking to you sort of stuff, and you know what he's like. He won't shut up until I've done it. What do I have to tell you about?

At the Tower we are working on a Threading to do with Corr and - oh dear - I'm not allowed to tell you about that unless you don't know his story yet. But the Threading has a lot of sea in it and that makes your eyes go funny after a while, so I took a couple of days off and came to see She of the Stories.

Now, She of the Stories loves doing all sorts of sewing, but to be honest, she - let me put it like this. She's best with words, not craft. When I saw that work basket - more the size of a picnic hamper - I couldn't help staring. I dared to mention that it could do with a sorting out.

'Oh, please do!' she said. 'And help yourself if you want any wool. I've got lots of odds and ends that need a home. And ribbons, too.'

It was very exciting. There is fleece in there waiting to be spun, and all colours and textures of wool, some so thick you should knit it on tree trunks. Gold thread - to be honest, she's a bit of a magpie for anything shiny. The beads are all mixed up in their little boxes and there's some lovely ribbony stuff made from recycled sari fabric. I might use that for the new Threading, because it looks like the sea. It even sparkles! There are half-finished cushion covers and a pattern for a felt animal. (I think it's a rabbit, but I'm not at all sure. They're very rare where I come from.)

And on her desk is a rather pretty little card with a cross-stitch Threading of a squirrel. I asked her about it, and she told me that the words inside were 'don't you love red squirrels?'.

"Did somebody send you that when you wrote our stories?" I asked her.

"Oh no," she said. "This card helped me to find you all."

WIll she tell us more?

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Save the day

To all of you for whom this day is one of sorrow and terrible memories, my prayers and my thoughts are for you today.

It's hard to have good and bad memories on the same day. Tony and I have a nephew whose birthday is 11 September - he was born long before 2001, but now everybody thinks of that day as a day of mourning.

There is a day of mourning in Scottish history, too. On 13 March 1996, in the small Scottish town of Dunblane, a man who was clearly unbalanced burst into the hall of the little primary school armed with four guns. By the time he turned the gun on himself, sixteen children - all around six years old - and their teacher lay dead. For days, all of us in the UK went through the motions of normal life while shocked and horrified that such a thing could happen. And no compassion, no anger, could bring those little children and the teacher who died trying to save them back to their families.

For years, the mention of Dunblane was associated with 'massacre'.

In the school that day - one of the children who was in school, but not in the hall - was wee Jamie Murray, who grew up to be a tennis player. So did his little brother, Andy. And today I woke up to the news that Andy Murray has won the US Open Tennis Championship, the first British man to win a Grand Slam in over seventy years.

What a joy, what a celebration! Our brave lad, for some of us at leastyou have given this date a new resonance. It wil always have its sorrow, but it's your day today and a proud day for Scotland.

And now, when we hear of Dunblane, we don't just think of the massacre. We think, 'Andy Murray'.

Bring it home to Dunblane, bonny lad.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

ice lollies and storage bags

It has been gloriously sunny today, so I took my Sunday children to sit on the grass, where we ate ice lollies and had a story. It was the one about Jesus being in a foreign country when a local woman asks him to heal her daughter. His first response is to say he's only been sent to his own people, but she gives him a clever answer and her daughter is healed. He was exhausted and on holiday at this point, so no wonder he was a bit phased at first by the request.

We talked about what it's like to be excluded, and whether there are any people we exclude. Somehing we agreed on was that people with speech defects often don't have many friends, because it's hard to understand what they're saying. We decided that there's always room for a few more in God's kingdom. So having talked our way round all this and challenged each other to talk this week to somebody we wouldn't normally talk to, we played a game of 'how many cpeople can we get into a storage bag?' (Don't panic, we only put our feet in.)

At the end of the service, the children are always invited to the front to talk about what we've been doing. We explained, we demonstrated the storage bag game (yes, we did take our shoes off), and challenged them to talk to somebody new this week.

There's always a bit more room. There's a delightful poem about that called 'Mrs Malone', and I think it's by Elinor Farjeon, but I'd have to look it up.

Meeting new people can be challenging. But life gets boring if we don't.

PS Slappable characters -

I wouldn't slap Uncle Pumblechook in Great Expectations, I'd push him down the stairs.

Amelia in Vanity Fair. What a wet haddock.

Friday, 7 September 2012


Yesterday we hugged Daughter goodbye, as she returned to Cardiff. Pleased to say she got there in one piece, in spite of somebody driving into the side of her sweet little car while she and Chap were visiting relatives.

Tony and I were off in the other direction, and arrived at my parents' home in time to take them to lunch at a delightful little pub near Seaton Delaval called the Beehive. We had heard good things about it and weren't disappointed, and it's such a very English little stone built building, too. On the subject of bees, it's been a dismally poor year for them, and the health of all species depends on bees. If you're thinking about planting a bee-friendly garden, do it. We put in a buddleia last year, and they love it.

Today we buzzed off to the beautiful village of Corbridge on the North Tyne, where we lived for six years. Something about the Tyne rippling over stones under that bridge makes me ache and sigh for joy at the same time. One of the joys of going back to Corbridge is that we're always sure to bump into somebody we know, and today it was the redoubtable, funny, lovely, Audrey, who is also a writer, a village stalwart, and a Scotswoman. What more could you want?

I came home to a lovely e-mail from Helen, and a couple of candidates for 'literary characters who need a slap'. Anne from 'The Famous Five' - yes, I too ploughed my way through that series hoping that sooner or later the only girl who acknowledged being a girl would do something to justify her existence. The other was Dora in David Copperfield - but personally I wanted to slap David. He fell soppily in love with the airhead when there was a proper heroine just waiting to be asked.

Speaking of characters I want to slap, what is happening in Ambridge these days? I miss a few episodes of the Archers and come back to find the village needs sorting, good and proper. Adam Macy needs a slap, Matt needs a slap, and Pawel needs the next flight back to Poland before he can cause any more trouble.


Wednesday, 5 September 2012


I am not a violent person. But all the same...

I mentioned a post or two ago that Meg Harper and I were chatting at Greenbelt, festival of faith, arts, justice, ecology, and - this year - enough mud for a Worldwide Fellowship of Hippopotami. And their grannies. As we drank tea, ate yummy cake, and felt our wellies squelch further into the depths we talked about books. I don't know why Tess of the D'Urbervilles came up, but it did, and I remarked that I could merrily slap Angel Clare.

(If you haven't read it, I won't tell you why I want to slap him, because I don't want to give any spoilers. But I defy you to read it without wanting to turn the idiot upside down and shake him. Yes - Angel is a man. You don't often find anything angelic in Thomas Hardy.)

Meg agreed instantly and vehemently, and the conversation turned to 'Slappable Characters in Books'. Was it Meg, or somebody else since, who nominated Mr Rochester? Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park, anybody? In children's books, Eustace Scrubb (Narnia) is eminently slappable until he has a life-changing experience. More recently, the father - I forget the spineless toad's name - in 'The Memory Keeper's Daughter'.

Any ideas?

Monday, 3 September 2012

small people

I met two delightful small people last week. Tony and colleagues had a staff social do on Saturday, the kind which involves families and food. Daughter and Daughter's Chap came with us. The hosts at this do have a big garden with a croquet lawn, and the croquet set lay on the grass waiting for someone to play.

Daughter's Chap is the Real Thing where croquet is concerned. Lucky me, I was on his team, and we won, which is pretty good considering that I didn't even know how to play when I picked up the mallet. Also at the party was a six-ish year old who flitted about so happily that I think she was at least half-fairy.

For the next game, Daughter's Chap recruited the Fairy on to his team. At about the same time Mine Host asked her if she'd like to go and feed the fish in the pond. She multi-tasked. She'd take her turn (with a lot of guidance from The Chap), then sing 'fishies!' and dance away to the pool to see how they were getting on. She flitted and flew between croquet and fishies, then danced around the lawn blowing bubbles. You could see the wings.

And I met a delightful, bright-eyed young lady when visiting new friends. Bright Eyes greeted me, and her other new friends, with smiling warmth. Soon, she was demonstrating how to use the wonderful musical machines in front of her. She was curly-haired, beautiful, full of curiosity and laughter. She was delightful company, and it was hard to leave her.

She has cerebral palsy. She is blind.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

All together now...

Last night we managed to get all the family - that's Tony me, the Sunshines, LYS and the Lassie, Daughter and Daughter's Chap, all around the table together. This is a minor miracle, as it's hard to get everyone in one place and besides, that table's a tight squeeze for eight. If we'd opened the window, the Lassie would have fallen out backwards. There was a lot of laughter, and I wish I'd remembered to propose a toast. The Scottish toast 'Here's tae us! Whae's like us?' would have been good.

Daughter and her Chap have been doing a round of family and friends in the north, and I joined them for a couple of days, staying with my sister. In a summer of devastating rain and wind, her garden looks amazing. Mine doesn't and I should probably be seething with jealousy, but it was such a joy to see all that abundant colour and life.

And her cats approve of me. I know this because Holly Cat brought me a present. I'm glad to say it was dead, poor little shrew, and I hope it died quickly.

Finally - after ten days of family stuff, Greenbelt, and more family stuff - I slept in my own bed last night. Oooooh. Honestly, when I cuddled down under the duvet with a book in my hand I squeaked with happiness. And I'm not telling you what time I got up this morning.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Glorious Mud!

I've just come back from Greenbelt Festival. Every garment I've worn is splattered with mud, and you should see my wellies. (It is possible to do that now that I've chipped the last layer off them.) It was the wettest Greenbelt in at least fifteen years, we had thunderstorms and pouring rain, and if you want to look at the Greenbelt site you may find some pictures. Was it worth it?

Greenbelt is a festival about Christian faith, justice, music, arts and ecology. Since Friday I've been to some thoroughly stimulating and brilliant talks, especially by Prof Sir Diarmaid McCulloch (who was one of Tony's tutors at college, and has written the most thorough, enlightening and readable History of Christianity.) Diarmaid's talk was one of the highlights of my Greenbelt this year. So was a silversmithing workshop (I'm wearing the ring I made!) Tony singing in the choir, the Proclaimers on mainstage, the Taize service, a brilliantly funny, witty and thoughtful play called the God Particle, and meeting up with the godfamily. We danced, we sang, we prayed, we listened, we learned, we laughed, we were challenged. My wellies started letting in water.

The Golden Child was making new friends and having a wonderful time. Other small godchildren danced around the mud and fell in, and didn't mind a bit. By the time their big sister and I had sluiced them down and changed their clothes we had to unblock the sink.

Just when I thought all was drawing to an end I disovered that one of my author friends, the brilliant Meg Harper, was there, and we drank coffee and talked for over an hour while Bellowhead played the closing set and people danced in the lake that had formed in front of Mainstage.

Was it worth it?

Here's to Greenbelt 2013

Sunday, 19 August 2012


For them of you as 'asn't met me, I'm the stone gnome what lives in 'er garden. Strictly speaking it ain't 'er garden at all, it belongs to the church wot 'e works for, and I was 'ere riding me snail along the rockery for years before they turned up.

'Er asn't been round a lot this summer. The rain 'as been tipping down something shocking and 'er's always off places, visiting 'er folks, off to Anglesey, doing work stuff, blimey, some folk never stay in one place. With the weather being so rotten and nobody to talk to, me and me old snail have just dozed most of the summer. There weren't nothing worth waking up for.

Then all of a sudden this morning, there's a very small person running down the garden with a pot of bubbly stuff in her fist. Blimey, I thought, you don't get many humans that size. 'Er ladyship brought her along the rockery to be introduced to me, as is only right and proper, me being an ancient edifice around 'ere, and little Lucy was suitably impressed. She admired me snail, and another real live one what had crawled up his shell without me noticing. Even blew some bubbles for me. Sensible little girl, that Lucy, knows how to show respect to an old chap.

Then, because Lucy couldn't see me face very well (and I am a fellow worth looking at, though I say it meself), 'er ladyship picked me up to turn me round. 'I'd forgotten how heavy you were, Much,' says 'er. It's all right or 'er, she ain't made of granite. She tried again, still couldn't get me turned round. That's when she saw that we've been sat 'ere so long, there's a cotoneaster growing over me snail.

Better get down here with the clippers, missus, before I gets all overgrown like the Sleeping Blooming Beauty.

Friday, 17 August 2012


Sometimes it's all too much in one day.

After parting from our friends in York, Tony and I went to see the York Mystery Plays. In the Middle Ages the various town crafts and trades guilds performed the 'mysteries', which were episodes from the Bible performed on wagons. 'Mysteries' in this case refers, not to 'holy mysteries' but to the Guilds themselves, and different Guilds took responsibility for different Bible stories.

The Mysteries were revived in the twentieth century, and this year were performed in the ruins of St Mary's Abbey, using an adapted version of the medieval text. Production was done by the Theatre Royal and the extraodinary, exciting, inspiring Riding Lights Theatre Company. (We're very proud to be supporters of RLTC.) There was a cast of hundreds. Two of them were professional actors. The rest were all people from York taking part without pay, for the love of it.

The cast may not have been professional, but you wouldn't have known it. Brilliantly acted, staged, set, lit - the sound quality and all the organisation were spot on. A simple but towering set reached up to the heights of the abbey ruins. The seats are under a canopy, the stage isn't, and performances go on regardless.

One clever aspect of this was that the cast were all dressed in the style of the post-war years, a time of austerity and struggle. They had battered suitcases, hand-knitted cardigans, and ankle socks - all in contrast to the angels in the various colours of the rainbow. Adam and Eve in their innocence were portrayed by two children, and only appeared as adults when they'd eaten the apple. The Massacre of the Innocents and other scenes of oppression were terrifyingly modern. It was moving and inspiring, and visually glorious.

The children's afternoon yesterday was pretty glorious, too, largely because the weather was. Somebody lent us two paddling pools. Combined with warm water and washing up liquid, what more could anyone want? A lot of the water ended up outside of the pools instead of in, so we were using a white plastic bucket to top it up. At least, we were until somebody put a baby in the bucket. She LOVED it. And wonderful Jackie who runs the kitchen happily let us borrow whisks, bowls, a few teapots and anything else we wanted. She is a granny, and understands things like that.

Somewhere in all of this, with the sunshine, the happy mothers, and the children having the time of their lives, I think I head God splash.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Ten in August

A lot could have gone wrong.

Yesterday, ten of us were meeting in York. That's ten of us who used to go round together long long ago when hi-tech was a cassette player. Some of us were part of a theatre group that ran on a shoestring and made our stage lights out of coffee tins. Yesterday after some determined organisation (thanks, Ed,) we all got together for lunch at the Bar Convent, a river trip, and a coffee at the excellent Spurriergate centre. Oh, and we got wet. That wasn't the river, that was English summer rain.

And it worked, and didn't go wrong. All right, Tony was late because he had to fit in a meeeting first, but that's fine. I said I'd meet them in the Convent garden and Silke couldn't find it, but Judith knew where it was and came to find me. (That was in the sunny morning, not the wet afternoon.)

After our various struggles with work, relationships, health stuff, ups and downs, we seem to have come through all right. Some are on to second careers and loving it. And when we think about it, we didn't spend much time talking about old times. We talked about new times, because now is always new, and so much is going on.

Today some of us are back to work, one will be helping in a food bank, two or three will be preparing course work for next year's students, one or two will be doing various voluntary stuff. I'm writing, catching up on housework, and preparing a children's activity day for this afternoon. So, please excuse me.

Monday, 13 August 2012


S O S today is not a cry for help, it's a summary of an outstanding day.

Tony and I have just come back from two days on Anglesey, celebrating thirty-four years of putting up with each other without resorting to murder. We love the island for the coastline and the ancient Christian sites, and it's also one of the few places in the UK that still has red squirrels (though we'd never seen any there.)

Yesterday, after a delightfully quirky church service, we went on a wee boat around Puffin island. No puffins this time, but a few seals bobbed up or draped themselves over rocks for our entertainment. How anything can have that much body fat and still live defies all the rules of survival.

Then we fulfilled a little secret wish of mine. About two years ago one of the stones in my engagement ring dropped out, and its setting too, and we never found it, so I don't wear it any more. It looks like a mouth with a front tooth missing.

On Anglesey there is a Sea Zoo. On a place as beautiful as Anglesey you don't need Visitor Attractions unless it's teeming with rain, but I had my own reason for going there on a sunny day. By the way, it is the most brilliant sea life place I've ever been to (apart from the sea, of course), and I fell in love with a colony of tiny sea horses on the way round.

And at Anglesey Sea Zoo, they have a little tank of oysters. For £19.95, which I think is between thirty and forty dollars, you can choose any oyster and a member of staff will open it for you. They're all guaranteed to have a pearl inside.

I looked over the oysters and something inside me said 'that's the one'. The staff stopped what they were doing and gathered round to watch as a girl with plastic gloves and a sharp knife cut into the oyster for me, opened it out, and hunted inside it. At first I couldn't see a thing and thought it must be a very tiny one - then there it was. Everybody said 'ooh!'. It was a perfect sphere with a silvery pink gleam to it, about 3mm. Just the right size to have made into a ring, and the same shade as the pearls Tony brought me from Estonia some years ago. Oh, wow.

(It seems unworthy to mention that at a rule of thumb it's worth about three times what I paid. But I just thought I'd say, you know.)

Margaret means 'pearl'. And that's what I think I am - an irritating little grain of sand, but a grain of sand that has had infinite care and trouble taken over it.

Then we stopped at Plas Newydd for a walk in the gardens, and what should we see? Tony saw them first, when the branches rustled. Two little red squirrels chasing each other round a tree.

Seals. Oyster. Squirrels.

Surprise. Overwhelming. Sweet.

Friday, 10 August 2012


'Tiddly-pom' makes me think of Winnie-the Pooh, who used it in his Hums - 'Nobody knows, tiddly-pom, how cold my toes, tiddly-pom', and so forth. But a friend of ours sometimes referred to 'getting into a tiddly-pom' to mean 'being worked up, agitated, excited, anxious', that sort of thing.

You see, I just had to use six words to describe being in a 'tiddly-pom'. There isn't really a word for it, but there are lots of expressions meaning the same thing. 'In a spin' is probably the most usual one, but if something is literally spinning, and keeps spinning, its perfectly smooth and balanced, and not in a tiddly-pom at all.

The Scots talk about being in a 'stooshie'. I love that one. Then there's 'all of a doodah', which I often use when I'm all of a whatnot. 'Having a fit of the vapours' is good. I was having a wobble myself last night while we tried to work out how I can be in three places at once in a couple of weeks time. Oh, and there's Cockney rhyming slang. 'Two and eight' means two shillings and eight pence in old money, but it also means 'state'. So, if a Scot is in a stooshie, a Cockney is in a two and eight.

Any more? What do you say when you're all of a tiddly-pom?

Thursday, 9 August 2012

At last!

At last, I can speak! For the last week, the Blogger server, or something, has kept me out of my site. I couldn't get in to post, reply to comments, anything. Finally, Tony has spent half of a precious day's holiday chasing it round the internet and found a way in. Until now it had resisted all attempts, like the White Witch keeping summer out of Narnia.

But now we have sunshine on the valley and Margi in the blog. I don't know how long this will last, or even whether this will post, but we are still trying to persuade Blogland to get its ducks in a row. I haven't been able to tell you about our fantastic day out at Harlow Carr, or our evening with the Sunshines, or watching the Olympics on TV with LYS and The Lassie and cheering Andy Murray to the echo. So let's hope it all work now.

Normal Service, Tony says, will be resumed as soon as we can find the hammer.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012


LYS is coming here tomorrow for a few days, and the Lassie will arrive on Friday. The beds are made up, and Hamilton and all the cuddlies are very excited. The Bushbaby is on the landing, waiting with wide eyes. In fact, the bushbaby alway has wide eyes.

If you look at a cuddly toy in a shop, be it new or a charity shop toy, you have to take care. You should pick it up casually, as if it were a commodity like a tin of beans, turn it over, look at the label, put it back. Because if you love it, if you talk to it or cuddle it, it will wake up and think of you as mummy or daddy, just like a duckling when it hatches. Then it's a relationship. It loves you, and you have to buy it.

I know this. All our family know this. But a few years ago on a London trip, I was in the Natural History Museum (can't remember why) and I thought it would be good to take home some little something for Tony and LYS, who was living at home at the time. Nothing much, you know, just some small thing. A little onyx dolphin for Tony. Perfect. And then I was caught out by something with big eyes looking at me, and instead of turning away at once I made a beeline for it, picked it up, and said something like 'Aah!' or 'hello!'.

I tried putting it back on the shelf, but I could feel those round, hopeful eyes on my back. I came home on the train with a bushbaby in my bag, and LYS, who understands these things, took it to his heart - but not to his university, so it's still here just now, waiting eagerly for him. As are we all.

I'm normally wary of hot spicy food, but for this evening we had arranged a little treat for the two sixth formers who helped with after school club this year. The said treat involved an Indian restaurant, which turned out to be a buffet of about twenty-five different dishes. Roughly half of them were suitable for vegetarians, which is extremely good news if, like me, you're a veggie. One of these days we'll have to take LYS and the Lassie there. (But not the bushbaby. Never give spicy food to an animal who already has eyes like saucers, even if it's only a toy.)

And for all those of you who are desperate for news of The Archers - Adam has fallen out big time with Brian and Ian isn't too impressed either. Phoebe is home, Vicky's expecting, Mike is surprised, and Jenny is all of a doodah.

Monday, 30 July 2012


Mondays should not begin with Stephen the gardener arriving all bright eyed and bushy tailed before breakfast so that I felt really bad about getting up late.

Mondays should not include the computer refusing to do what I wanted it to do and hiding my work in places where I can't find it.

They should not include getting stuck with a story and not being able to find out what I need to know to make it work.

And they certainly shouldn't begin with a list so long I didn't know where to start.

They should not involve the doorbell ringing and making me jump out of my skin, only to find a stranger on the doorstep trying to sell me broadband.

They shoud not involve Tom Daley and his team-mate narrowly missing out on a medal for diving.

Never mind, at least this one included chocolate.

And now it's quarter past midnight.


Saturday, 28 July 2012


At nine o'clock last night I sat down to watch the Olympic Games launch. At 1.30 I fell into bed.

Do you know, it's a long time since I felt this good about being British. I loved the inventiveness, the excitement, the beauty, the energy, the quirkiness, and the fact that most of the people taking part were volunteers who had thrown themselves into the rehearsals, worked their socks off, and performed brilliantly.

We had big engineering and small children. Shakespeare, J M Barrie, and Harry Potter. Cricket, maypoles, and farm horses, through suffragettes, wars, and the Industrial Revolution. Enormous blue butterflies who were really cyclists. The lighting of the cauldron was breathtaking and moving, and if you haven't seen the Queen's role, find an i-player or something and take a look. Respect, Ma'am.

We could have done with less rap music, and I didn't see the point of including the Arctic Monkeys (that's a band, by the way) and Sir Paul Mac singing Hey Jude, badly. We don't have to wheel him out on every big occasion. But the scene with dancing nurses and children bouncing on the beds, which was a tribute to Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital and the National Health Service, was just wonderful.

I would have liked a bit more reference to the coast and the small islands of Britain. But that's me being picky.

Whoever designed those costumes should get a medal. To say nothing of whoever designed the cauldron with the two hundred flowers. Danny Boyle, the film director who masterminded the whole thing is being hailed as a hero and will no doubt be awarded some sort of an honour. Now, I'll let you in on a bit of inside information.

Everything about what would happen in the Olympic Launch was kept top secret, but one member of the team let out a teeny insight into the workings. Danny Boyle insisted that the rooms where they worked had a reading space. Yes, just that, a place with books and comfortable seats, so anyone working on the project could go and sit down with a book if they wanted to. Wonder why?

Because he knew it was important, I suppose.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Hello again!

I'm back! I hope you enjoyed reading Tony's blog. I did. It was fun to read my own blog and not know what it would say.

I've just tried something that might let me have my paragraphs back. Then again, it might take out all the punctuation and thoroughly mess me about, and the previews are not always reliable. We'll see.

Exhausted - my friend Edward used to be a horse.

Exhausted comes to mind because I was, by the time I got home last night. And there in the twilight was my weatherbeaten garden doing its very best, and the river making gentle music on the far side of the fence. Tony was just arriving home, too. There were pink roses on the table, and in my absence he had sorted out out a minor problem with an editor, kept up with my e-mails, written the blog, and kept me in touch with anything I needed to know about.

Yesterday - which feels like a long time ago - my sister and I took our parents to lunch at the hotel where Tony and I had our wedding reception nearly thirty-four years ago. I haven't been back since, and it's smartened up a lot since then. All those years ago, I walked into that dining room with the frothy white dress, bouquet, orange blossom circlet, all the works. Yesterday I was the lady in red, considerably more battle-scarred, with a handbag containing hand gel, glasses, mobile phone, pen, notebook, tissues, migraine pills, and a screwdriver. Boy, I've learnt a lot.

You may like to know that I can still get into the frothy white dress.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Anything for a quiet life...

Well, the computer is back from intensive care with whatever new bits have made it work again. That's good. Hundreds of emails have come flooding in, which have been queuing up for days waiting for the inbox to whistle, and in they dashed like excited puppies. Now they're sat there all a-quiver, tails wagging, panting "Go on! Read me! Read me!" We will, we will, but not yet. The Lovely Lady has gone Up North for a few days to see her Mum and Dad, and left the Hairy Bloke to mind the shop. And get the computer set up again. And look after all those excited emails (yes, I know - I'll read you all SOON...) Margi said to say hello, and she'll blog again when she gets back. Kaitlin - she's still thinking of new words. Clara - she's so happy that you've enjoyed the books so much, and even happier than you've found the blog. She'll write to you when she comes home again. Everyone - I think I actually saw a smile on Much's face this afternoon, because he was enjoying the sun. There was even a smile on the snail's face, and that's not something you see very often. All right, you lot - I'm coming. Heel! One at a time, or you'll confuse the inbox. Is there anything dafter than a bunch of excited emails...? Just as well we don't do Twitter! There's enough Twits around here to begin with. Good night!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012


The House of Stories became the House of Catastrophe this week. No, this is not Helen's previous definition of catastrophe, it's a technological melt down. New book already to go to publisher on Monday. Printer dies. Tony's computer siezes up and goes into coma. Computer in intensive care. Printer put to one side so kids at after school club can enjoy taking it apart and finding out what doesn't make it tick. Hammers will be provided. Book pinged off electronically to publisher via memory stick and laptop. Make notes re latest set of proofs, also to be sent by lap top and memory stick. Forget where I put memory stick. Blog via laptop. Cough violently. (Violently - by way of lentils) Before anything else can go wrong, goodnight.