Sunday, 29 April 2012


I nearly left for church this morning with a shepherd's crook this morning, but I thought better of it and left it at home.  Pity, really, I rather wish I'd taken it.  We were doing The Good Shepherd  in Sunday Club, and the kids might have liked to be rounded up with the crook.

It's never been used as a shepherd's crook, but it's shaped like one. Mostly it's a stick for long walks over moors, fells, and mountains, a 'third leg' as my dad would say.   It belongs to Tony, and lives in the study, and has its own story.

Some  years ago, when we were living in the house on the website, we were due to move on to another appointment.  We had invested our hearts in that beautiful corner of Northumberland, and leaving hurt.  That was when an elderly gentleman from one of Tony's churches offered him a very special farewell gift.  This man was a skilled maker of crooks and sticks, and his work was renowned and trerasured throughout the shire.  He made Tony a crook to measure, carving the handle out of rhododendron wood from one of our favourite walking places, varnishing it to a shine, and burning Tony's initials into it.  There is love, wisdom and craftsmanship in it, and it is a treasure.

Because it's a treasure, I decided not to take it today.  Tony had said it was OK, and we've used it before in various church contexts, but I simply didn't feel at ease about it.  I left it home and herded the kids with an umbrella instead.  (Yes, it's still umbrella weather here).

Just a few weeks ago, while I was back in the True North, I met the daughter of the woodcarver, and we're still in touch.  I was able to put her  in contact with Tony, and she knows how much he values the crook.  She tells me her father is well over ninety now.  He still carves sticks.  Good man.

Friday, 27 April 2012


LOS and Lady Sunshine are here, so I asked them what I should blog about.  Doughnuts, said LOS.  I don't often buy them - the last time I'd eaten a doughnut was shortly before their wedding, and that was last June.  But today, as they were coming, I bought doughnuts, and very nice they were, too.  But are they as nice as Sainsbury's/Krispy Kreme/Thomas's?  I may need to do some research.

We did doughnut research some years ago, in a World Cup year.  There is a mathematical mystery about bakery counters.  Most things come in packets of four or six, but doughnuts come in fives.  If anyone knows the reason for this, please tell me.  There were five of us, we all liked doughnuts, and they became a regular Friday treat.  

Anything that comes through the doors of The House of Stories risks being written into a plot.  That summer, as we watched the footie and ate doughnuts, I thought of a footballer who loves doughnuts but mustn't eat them because of his training regime, and he becomes obsessed with them.  That became 'The Doughnut Dilemma', and is still a popular Oxford Treetops title.   It all ends happily, and he does get to eat doughnuts at the end.

I remember a conversation from the Junior Common Room when I was at college, when we were all talking about the most boring jobs we'd ever done.  I'd spent one summer in a photographic lab, counting prints, pricing them, and putting them into packets.  All day, every day.  But I was outgunned by Tom, who spent twelve hours shifts making holes in doughnuts.  Yes, I thought he was teasing, but it turned out to be true.  He had a sort of biscuit cutter tool for punching out the holes in the doughnuts, which then got made into more doughnuts.  Sometimes they let him pack sandwiches for a change.

But who wants ring doughnuts anyway?  Give me a squidgy, jammy, sugar sparkly one, every time.  More jam, please.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Oh, they're queueing up...

Everybody wants to get on to the blog today.  Never mind me, I just staggered along in an April storm to go to a poetry group, what have I got to tell...

Ooh, I know, it were raining 'orizontal, when we have storms on the island we get proper storms, real stormy storms, not winter in springtime like this.  I said to Mistress Stories, I said you come in and get your paws dry by the fire, you need a drop of cordial, but no, she was already on the coffee by then.  Won't do 'er any good.

What's wrong with rain?  You should be an otter!  You could stand facing the current with your mouth open and let the trout swim in!


You'd wait a long time for a decent trout in that river.  There 'ave been sightings, mind, but you'd 'ave to get in before the 'eron.  Blooming birds.  If this rain doesn't stop me snail's going to grow fins.  I'll grow finds meself, come to that.   'Er's just 'ad a ee-mail from such chap in America who says it's sunny, 'er's dead jealous now.

And there's a blackbird on me 'ead.

I was going to say, I was invited to join a select group of ladies who meet about once a month and share poems - mostly not their own - on a given subject.  Today we talked about death, which sounds morbid, but wasn't.  It was valuable, especially to the newly bereaved, and brought things out into the open.  And we laughed.  I like the Irish benediction,

'May you be up and off to heaven half an hour before the devil knows you're gone.'

Finally, I thoroughly and humbly apologise for keeping you ignorant of The Archers for so long.  So much has happened, I hardly know where to begin.

Brian is not having it all his way about the Dairy Unit and everybody still hates him.  Linda's wet step-daughter Leonie and Lilian's wet son James have parted, or maybe they just drifted away from each other. Tom's quad bike was stolen amongst a spate of farm thefts, and David Archer is getting a bit vigilante about it.  Tom and Helen have met Richard, and all the family know about him now.   And there's a new cricket coach, and all the village girls are in love with him and turning up for nets.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Happy Birthday, WIll

Another wedding!  This time, it was just a case of putting my best coat on and walking down to the village church, where Georgie and Paul were making their vows.  And what a perfect order of service.

They wanted to observe St George's Day and Shakespeare's birthday, both of which are today.  In England we don't usually make a lot of this special day, so it was such a treat to do something about it.  We sang that lovely hymn about 'when a knight won his spurs in the stories of old', and one of the readings was my favourite Shakespearean sonnet - 'Let me not to the marriage of true minds...'.

If you're not familiar with these, or can't find a copy, let me know and I'll put the full texts on the blog.  And, of course we had 1 Corinthians 13 - 'if I have not love, I am nothing'.

And in answer to your questions, yes, she looked beautiful,  yes, there were a few tears from guests, yes, the flowers were very pretty, cream roses and anemones.  And the weather -

you can't have everything.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

I know where the years go

If you are under ten, you long for the day when you can have your freedom and run your own life. If your are nearer twenty, you wonder why it isn't happening yet. Then you get to thirty and think of all the things you could have done in your twenties. And then you think - am I grown up yet? Then before you know where you are, you suppose you must be grown up, even though you don't feel it, because you sort of know stuff that takes a long time to learn, and you get together with your old friends, and somebody will say, 'where do the years go? Well, I know the answer to that. Today we went to our oldest godson's wedding, which doesn't quite add up to 'embarrass your godson day', but it's a great opportunity, so we took two photographs of the dashing young bridegroom when he was just learning to walk, waddling along the beach and eating sand. We had some great holidays together - four adults, six kids, one dog. Sadly the dog now only wags his tail on the web pages, but the rest of us are OK. Which brings me to the point - I know where the years went. They poured into the children, turning them from tumbling climbing, chasing, shouting, crying, laughing, playing, exasperating, funny puppies into those three poised, clever, pleasant young men I met today, to say nothing of my own Daughter, LOS and LYS. A pretty good result, I think. Six pretty good results. Perhaps we did something good. And the years have asked something of me, too.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Fresh coffee is never wasted

LYS brought me such a lovely surprise. Used coffee grounds. No, I'm not being sarcastic, it really did come as a lovely surprise. A coffee chain (I think it's Starbucks) have started to package left over coffee grounds and give them away to be used as a garden fertiliser. Apparently things like roses, rhododendrons and azaleas love them.

A few days ago the weatherman told us that it would pour with rain all night, so in the evening I went out like a coffee guerrilla and liberally chucked the stuff over any plants in there that might enjoy it, so that the rain would soak it in. I told LYS when I'd finished, and in his laconic way he remarked, 'they'll be awake all night'.

And how. Much was not pleased.

Blooming woman and 'er blooming coffee, not to mention her blooming son with 'is bright ideas, sooner 'e gets back to 'is loony-versity, the better. Never mind them 'zaleas and rhodies and stuff being awake all night! EVERYONE was awake all night! The rhodies woke up and started pinging out buds left, right, and bloomin' centre, them azaleas never stopped talking and 'er precious roses were all for pulling up their roots and tearing round the garden like running for a bus.

Oh, it's all right for 'er. Coffee 'as no effect on 'er, no. 'Er could sleep for England, in fact, given 'er ancestry, she could do it for Wales and Scotland too. 'As she any idea of the effect a bit of carelessly flung coffee can 'ave on a stone snail? 'E shifted twelve inches in 'alf an hour. Now, that is a thing to which I am not accustomed to. I could 'ave fell off, and if I 'ad I would 'ave landed in more of 'er stinking coffee.

And 'er Lovely Younger Son. 'E only drinks it first thing in't morning before a lecture or when 'e's got an exam. He should look out. If he brings much more, me snail will catch up with him and tear him to...

'Ang on. Me snail ain't got no teeth.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The Bears

We went to Anglesey with two bears and came back with three. It was like this.

I always take a bear with me, a small one who can fit snugly into a suitcase, and this time I took Bobby. He likes travelling. He was a present from Daughter a few years ago. She said she wasn't going to get me a bear for my birthday because we did have quite a numbear of them already, but then she saw him, sitting with his arms up as if he wanted to be picked up,(that's all he can do,) and couldn't resist him. He really is a little sweetie, and we named him after Sir Bobby Robson, who was manager of Newcastle United at the time, and one of the best ever.

However, Hamilton thought that he'd like to come to Anglesey and see the boats, so he came, too, and they were good company for each other. All went well until we were packing to go home and I couldn't find Bobby anywhere. Now, as you may know, teddy bears think it's very funny to hide in the bedclothes. They don't realise that they're in danger of getting left behind, or worse, bundled up and sent to the laundry. I hunted everywhere for Bobby and couldn't find him at all until I lifted up Tony's holdall.

Reader, it was not a pleasant experience. Little Bobby looked as if he'd been run over by a steamroller. A flatter bear you have never seen. You could have used him as a bookmark. It took a good shake to get his shape back and three hours before he came out of shock.

After this we went to the bar so we could have a coffee and I could harangue Tony for squishing Bobby, and on the mantelpiece was a box of little key ring bears, on sale for the local hospice, so, of course, we bought one. (We think his name is Dafydd, but we're not sure.) Anyway, I told him that he'd meet Hamilton, who was in my tote bag at the time.

Perhaps I was too hasty. I thought that all bears knew about Hamilton - well, they do, but this bear thought that Hamilton was like Robin Hood or one of King Arthur's knights, or even a Narnian Bulgy Bear, not a bear you could actually meet. If I'd understood that, I would have explained, gently. As it was, I just held him up to meet Hamilton.

He fainted.

He is now recovered enough to tell us that he doesn't want to be a keyring any more. I'm not surprised. Would you?

Sunday, 15 April 2012


I'll tell you more about Anglesey soon, but just now I'm cross because the computer has the sulks. Not Cottontail, not my own little laptop Cottontail, who can be a bit slow but generally behaves. No, this one is the one Tony uses, and is big enough and old enough to know better. Just now she won't do anything the first time she's told, apart from sending e-mails. If I try to find a site, she tells me

- Can't contact the server

- Yes you can. Let's try again.

- Oh, if you must.

- That's better. Now let's go to this link

- can't contact the server

- we'll do that again, shall we?

- still can't contact the server

- All right, let's show the horse the jump from another direction. I'll google it for you

- I won't like it

- You weren't asked. That's better. Now we'll do the blog.

- Can't contact the server

- I don't think you heard me. This is my blog, as in my site. I pay for this site.

- I don't care if the Queen pays for it, I still can't contact - oh, there it is.

- Now all I have to do is sign in.

- Can't contact the server.

- I think I should tell all the people who read the blog about the wonderful new computers you can get these days. Brand new models, and very reasonably priced, too. They're faster than the speed of light and they know what you need before you've sat down. They order your breakfast online and have it delivered to your house. They book your holiday for you and surprise you with flowers in your room. They answer questions you haven't asked yet. Tony's thinking of getting one.


- can it contact the server?

Friday, 13 April 2012

secret island

It isn't really a secret island, and it isn't surrounded by, mists, either, but it does have red squirrels. Tony and I have just got back from a few beautiful, relaxing days on lovely Anglesey, just off the coast of Wales. On Anglesey you are never far from an ancient religious site, a vast expanse of beach, and the ever-changing colours of the sea. Perhaps I will tell you more one day about Lovers Island (which is really a peninsula, not an island), the ancient Christian site at St Siriol's Well, and the bird sanctuary at South Stack. It seems silly to talk about 'big skies', because of course the sky is big, but living in a valley makes me appreciate the vast clear skies above Anglesey.

Irish Cream Cheesecake. Honeycomb. Lavender. These are three flavours of ice cream I tried this week, and I can recommend them all. Beaumaris, right on the eastern edge of Anglesey, has so many wonderful eateries that four days was not enough, we'll have to go back for a fortnight. The lady at The Red Boat ice cream parlour tells me that they have 170 different ice cream recipes. At Simple Snacks the choice is more limited but the ice cream is superb. No, a fortnight wouldn't be long enough. How long would it take? I haven't tried the pear sorbet, the Turkish Delight, the Jelly Baby...

We didn't just sit around eating ice cream, of course. We walked for miles and miles in the fresh clean air, watching oyster catchers on the shore and seeing the sea change from blue to turquoise, and shimmering so brightly in the sun we could hardly look at it. The clouds looked as if they'd been cut out from a picture book. And the air as so fresh and clean I wanted to bring it home with me. Truly an Island of the Blessed.

Monday, 9 April 2012

The Timetable

Easter morning

12.15 am Drink First Coffee. Text Easter greetings to Daughter and LYS

1.00 am Bed

7.00 am exchange Easter eggs with Tony

7.15 am go back to sleep. Tony out to breakfast communion

Not telling you when , got up.

10.45 am about to leave for church

10.46 am LOS and Lady Sunshine arrive, so get a lift to church.

11.00 am Happy, joy-filled, music-filled, flower-filled Easter Eucharist. Give jelly beans to children. (NB Lucy likes the orange ones.)

12.30 ish to church hall. Give jelly beans to everyone else. Drink Second Coffee. Hug people. Clear up all Holy Week tables, prayer stations, etc, set out last week, as well as purple jelly beans under high chair. (NB Lucy doesn't like the purple ones.).

1.15 Home. Put potatoes on to boil. Drink Third Coffee. Exchange Easter eggs with Sunshines.

2.30 Lunch, followed by Fourth and Fifth Coffees. Knit, chat, discuss football with Hamilton, laugh a lot. Cold outside and rainy, so give happy countryside walk a miss and watch movie with Sixth Coffee. Tony out to evening service.

7.00 pm. Dish up bowl of hard-boiled eggs. Jarp them. (This is a Northumbrian term for bumping them end to end. Can explain in detail in a later post if you like. It took some explaining to Lady Sunshine, who comes from the south. All eat hard-boiled eggs with bread and butter and delicious Simnel Cake brought by Lady Sunshine. Couldn't face another coffee. Drink Tea.

Saturday, 7 April 2012


There is such an air of expectancy on Easter Saturday. The worst that Good Friday could do is over, and the bright new dawn is coming. In the morning we'll sing our hearts out in a church full of flowers. But not yet. Oh, did anyone mention chocolate? Never mind the chocolate, it's less than five hours to my Lent is Over coffee. If it keeps me awake, I don't care.

When the kids were small we used to have egg hunts, and it was nothing to do with any Easter Bunny. Where did the Easter Bunny come from? Excuse me? Eggs? Rabbit? Have I missed something? The only thing a rabbit ever left in my garden was little dark brown pellets and half eaten dandelions.

No, Tony and I used to have a lot of fun putting clues around the house. It started the year the twins learned to read, and we had signs up all over the place saying 'is it in here?' which was one of the phrases they knew, thanks to the Ginn reading scheme. We progressed to rhymed clues, and finally to the stage where the chocolate was all that mattered, not how you found it.

May your Easter be full of joy and celebration. Chocolate is good. Life in all its fullness is better. Much says a drop of rain would come in handy, too. And Hamilton is very excited because he'll see LOS and Lady Sunshine tomorrow.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

The everlasting story

This - if Tony and I can remember how to upload photos - is what I was doing today, telling the everlasting story - or part of it, because you can never tell all of an everlasting story - to forty or so children as part of our Easter workshops. This particular moment was about Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey (if you look carefully you will see Mabel the Donkey by my right hand, which is on the left as you look at the picture). If the photographer had caught me a few seconds earlier or later I might have been doing donkey ears.

Telling stories is such fun and instantly rewarding. And easy, if you're a bit of a show off and like that sort of thing. You can use your voice, you can move, you can slow down, speed up. You can stir up excitement or keep the audience breathless. But to write a story, what do you have? Something to write on. Something to write with. Words.

And imagination. A mind and a heart.

Tell them or write them, stories are our memories, our heritage, and our key to closed doors. The shortest distance between a human being and the truth is a story.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012


It's said that the British always talk about the weather, but that's because we have so much of it. A week ago it was all sunshine, getting outside as much as possible, T-shirts, sunglasses, smearing sun block down our arms, and chucking the washing up water on the garden because we haven't had rain for a month.

Today there are snowdrifts on the North York Moors, and in much of Scotland. No snow here in the valley, but the rain has been lashing down, the wind is blowing the daffodils horizontal, and walking home from the station I may as well have been dragging a sledge through the Antarctic. What I need is a dragon.

When the children were small, they were at a delightful little school right on the North-East coast where the wind comes straight from Siberia and gathers strength on the way over. Survive that, you can survive anything. On snowy days, I took them to and from school on the sledge, which was a great treat. When it was just cold/wet/windy/any combination of, we had the dragon. Chrisogenus was an imaginary dragon, of course, but flying on an imaginary dragon can make the journey home a lot easier.

When we'd just read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, it was the White With who sent the storm, but once we were in our house she couldn't get us. When we read The Children of Green Knowe, our house was the manor house with the moat around it, and we had to swim the moat to safety.

Perhaps I could have called up Chrisogenus the dragon today, to carry me home. Or perhaps stepping out of the cold to a warm house was enough, without any pretending.

Sunday, 1 April 2012


Corbridge in Northumberland is one of the most beautiful villages I know. We took the Lassie (LYS's girlfriend) there yesterday so she could see some of the places where he drove us round the twist when he was a little lad. Should you ever find yourself in this lovely place, I suggest you walk down to the bridge and look down on the shallow, quiet stretch of water. Walk back up to the market cross and go into the the parish church, which has survived through thirteen centuries of war, invasion, plague, wind, weather, and vicars. It's the place that inspired my first book, and I am eternally grateful to so many of my Corbridge friends.

By now, you need refreshment. You could buy something to eat from Grants, who make superlative bread and cakes, and Stobo's, the best greengrocers I've ever been to, and have a picnic by the river. Or you could pop into No 6 for something to eat. Either way, you won't be disappointed. Or you could go to the Larder. Or Tea and Tipple, which I haven't visited, but I'm told it's very good.

If you feel you've eaten too much, you can always walk it off with a stroll along the river. You may be exceptionally lucky and see a red squirrel. The home page of my website is the house where we lived, all those years ago, and that's Yo-yo running up and down the tree.

Speaking of red squirrels -

- to all of you who are on holiday for Easter (I think that's the right word for your Spring Festival) may you thoroughly enjoy it! Every good wish and the blessing of the Heart upon you from Crispin Swanrider and Cedar the Queen.