Sunday, 27 May 2012


Chelsea is known for buns, pensioners, and flowers.  Chelsea buns are heavenly, Chelsea pensioners are charming old heroes, and Chelsea Flower Show is where Lady Sunshine and I were on Thursday.   What a great joy to share it with her. I can't begin to describe it all, you'll just have to go the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) site and check it out.  But imagine -

walking through a clematis tunnel

sitting in a many coloured rose bower, with the scent all around and above you - some of those pink and apricot shades were so subtle, you just had to gaze at them

cascades and carpets of orchids

160 different kinds of tulips, all lovelier than the last

the children's gardens full of the fruit and veg they'd grown, and a profile of the queen in flowers, down to the last little saxifrage for her earring

rows and rows of old trainers hanging up with veg growing out of them (told you that would happen if you didn't clean them)

stained glass windows that aren't stained glass at all, they're patterns of vegetables

bronze irises against a wooden frame


floral chandeliers...

I could go on and on.  You can only go so long having your breath taken away before you suffocate, and have to sit in the shade with a glass of Pimms to recuperate.  The only problem was the heat, which was a bit much for wimpy little me.  Lady Sunshine is tougher than I am and once spent a few weeks helping at an AIDS clinic in Uganda, so she was brilliant, but I think even she wilted a bit.  And just when you find the heat stifling, you come across a display that's all green and white, and you feel cooler just looking at it.

To share Chelsea with you, I suggest you put Chelsea Flower Show 2012 into a search engine and see it for yourself.  The second thing I suggest is this - from the above, or from the website, chooseyour favourite thing.  It maybe a waterfall, the roses, or the orchids.  Then, when you go to bed tonight, create it in your imagination.  Feel the cool petals, smell the fragrance, see it.  Go to sleep tonight in your favourite garden.

Sweet dreams.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Home again!

I didn't mean to neglect the blog, but I've been away from the House of Stories for a few days.  Tony was going to blog for me, but he forgot the password.  Fortunately, I didn't, so I can tell you what I've been doing.

After a month of January in May, Britain has gone Mediterranean.  By the time I got to London on Tuesday afternoon, even the stone lions in Trafalgar Square were rolling over with their tongues out.  In Kensington Gardens, Prince Albert had climbed down off his monument, taken his robes off, and gone for a pint.  But those lovely people at Scholastic were still working, and I spent the afternoon there.

On Wednesday I had two landmark moments.  One was a Thanksgiving Service at St Martin in the Fields Church, to celebrate one hundred years since the miraculous healing of Dorothy Kerin, foundress of Burrswood.  (Google as required.)  The other is about the person I went with.

Helen and I were friends at school, then went our separate ways.  About six months ago, she got in touch and asked if I remembered her, and over a succession of e-mails we found that we were still on a wavelength.  We arranged to meet, go to the Thanksgiving together, and catch up.

The service ended at quarter to five and we finally parted company at abut half past seven, and only then because I had to get back to Kings Cross to meet Lady Sunshine from her train.  We talked and talked and listened and listened.  We sat talking at the National Gallery until it was closing time and they kicked us out, we talked our way down the Mall and into a park, and all the way back to the tube station.  About the past and the present, about all the things we'd done since we last saw each other, about people and places and struggles.

I was astonished at how much we've had in common.  We're both still night owls.  We're both passionate about the needs of children.  (She's professionally involved in the welfare of children).   We've both got kids that we're rightly proud of.  We both still love the north east.  We've both had slipped discs, and we both get migraine.  (And take the same thing for it.)  Neither of us drive.  We've both had work-related trips to New York.  Joyfully, thankfully, we're both with people we love, doing work we love.

If they could see us now!

Monday, 21 May 2012


Something strange is hovering the skies above the valley.   Well, knock me down with a garden gnome, it's the sun.  At last.  This is 21 May and I went out without a coat.

I was thinking about the author name game, and got all competitive.  So, I had to deliver some Michael Wood from Alexander Kent to the Isle of Joanne Harris.  It meant going via Barbara Taylor Bradford, over a Rupert Brooke and a Susan Hill, and stopping at the Isle of CS Lewis.

Anonymous - the rodent does not wish to be identified.

Nomad - this goblin is for sale.

And I think another word game is on the way, because I said something by accident yesterday.  I was talking about an 'annoying noise', but it came out as 'annoysing'.

Any more?

Saturday, 19 May 2012


This is about how you can be an author, have lots of lovely friends, and live in a beautiful place, and still be so clumsy you shouldn't be allowed out without adult supervision and a qualified first aider.  It was the end of playgroup on Thursday, time for all the toys to be packed in their boxes and put in the cupboard.

The cupboard, it should be said,  is nowhere near big enough, but when The Lassie helped with that group she worked out an amazing method for getting everything in.  If you do it her way, it works.  If not, you have to slam the doors hard and jam a table in front of them.  It was very brave of The Lassie to do it at all, as she's not good on spiders and that cupboard has tribes of them.

So, I just pushed a box into place, straightened up, and whacked my head on the shelf above.  No excuses.  The shelf has been there for years, it hasn't moved, it wasn't out to get me.  All through my after playgroup coffee I could feel the contours on my head changing...

I still have a colourful bump, but that was two days ago and I haven't had any danger signs - no blurred vision, dizziness, or purple dragons talking to me.  This week I won't be there, the next is half term - plenty of time for me to forget about the shelf and do it all over again when I get back.

I haven't told you about The Archers for a long time, and it's hotting up something smashing.  Adam regained consciousness after being run down by thieves stealing farm machinery, and has gone home.  Arrests have been made, but David has received threatening phone calls.  Lynda Snell is getting into a whatnot about Britain in Bloom, and urging Adam and Tom to smarten up their gardens.  As Adam is still unwell and  Tom is running at least two businesses, this is unwelcome.  Amy has fallen out with her stepmother (long story).

And there goes the purple dragon!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Going up

First, apologies, Sannie T - when I put in the bit about Burnett, I forgot that you'd already used that one.  Great minds think alike.  I am very J M-Barriessed about this and Will Shakespeare try not to do it any Hannah More.  (That last one is a bit of a cheat.  Hannah More was a social reformer and educationalist and I assume she wrote a book, but I'm not certain.  If she didn't, she should have.)

If you are new to the blog, the comments will explain what we're talking about.  Basically, it's getting as many author names into a sentence as you can.

It's Ascension Day today, so I called the blog post 'going up', and it was an uplifting evening, standing in the village square for a communion service with the green hills above us.  The birds think it's nearly summer - there was a skylark overhead, the house martins are about, and a dipper was having a bath in the river.  Or may they're just here to drop into the chemist's shop and get something for pleurisy.

I was on my way to the village centre yesterday when I saw something else that made my heart lift.  Four children in a tree. There are lots of new families living near us, and there they were, four of them, all perched in the branches like a flock of finches.  Brilliant, I thought.  You're not sitting in front of a screen, you're not slaving over homework, you're exactly where you should be at four o'clock on a May afternoon.  Up a tree.  The only thing better is up a tree with a book.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012


I am such a goody-goody.  On Sunday I cleared the outside drains.  I'd been putting it off a while because I couldn't face it, but I felt very proud of myself when it was done.  So proud, that, (sorry, I can't help saying this), flushed with success, I tried out my new state of the art loo brush and scrubbed the toilets.  Oh, the exciting life of an author.  I'm going after the cobwebs next.

When it all gets too much I call on my friend Jane, as she and her husband have just started their own cleaning business and are brilliant.  I used to take cleaning jobs when money was tight and I wanted work that would fit in with school hours, and long before that, when I was a student I did hotel work to make ends meet.  I tell you, I've cleaned some rough stuff in my time.

Have I blogged this before?  Well, it's worth saying again.  The people we really need, the ones we depend on, are cleaning hospitals, streets, offices, shops, public and private buildings, and in most cases, doing it for a pittance and with little thanks.  I can remember the last time the bin men went on strike, and it wasn't pretty.   Respect all cleaners!

On a lighter note, today we have had both sunshine and hail.  The honeysuckle is trying to gather up the courage to blossom, rather like me getting up in the mornings.  The roses haven't even peeped, they're so disgusted, and I found red lily beetle on the day lilies and committed insecticide.

Now, for all those doing the author challenge - today I made a Donna Tartt by JK Rowling out some pastry and putting it in the oven.  I managed to Frances Hodgson Burnett, but I scraped it up with a Tom Sharpe knife.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

And the winner is...

I'm not greatly into football, but you can't bring up two boys in the North-East without getting a bit keen, especially around now, at the end of a season when Newcastle have done well.  (And kept the same manager for a whole year, for a change.)  For those in the know, we are fifth in the Premiership.  For those not in the know, that's a good thing.

But what has Hamilton bouncing up and down in his chair with excitement is that Manchester United didn't win the league this year.  There is a footballing myth, believed in much of the world, that all English people love Man United.  We don't.  Enough said.  Hamilton refers to their manager as Drainface, though I do occasionally remind him that this shows a lack of respect.  It's Sir Alex Drainface to you, I tell him.   What makes it worse is that they were beaten to the top by their local rivals, Manchester City.  Poor old SAD.  (BTW, who taught Hamilton to call him that?  I wonder?)  I suppose there's just this British thing about always wanting David to beat Goliath.

I have been reminded that today is Mothers Day in the US, so to all US mothers - hope you're having a great day, and congratulations on surviving your children!

And finally, Sannie, one of our readers, has just started a new game about author names - keeping your kindling in the P G Woodhouse, decorating your plate with a Conan Doily, etc.   Let's see who can get the most author names into a sentence - I'm working on something about driving a Greene Austen Seven to Tonbridge Wells from London...

Friday, 11 May 2012

And another...

I finally completed the little cardigan I was knitting for the Golden Child, and took it round yesterday evening.  (In case you're worried, her big brother got a wee present too.)   She is adorable in it, but that's more to do with the Golden Child than with the cardi.  As it was nearly seven o'clock she was all ready for bed in her onesie (all in one pyjamas) and, God love her, she wanted me to put her to bed.

She's learning delaying tactics from her brother, making her bedtime milk last as long as possible, and then asking for another story.  And another.  When the stories stopped, we said 'Goodnight and God bless' rather more times than is absolutely necessary.

But who am I to argue?  I'm a night owl, and the worst offender for reading a little longer at bedtime.  Just up to the next chapter break.  And the next.  May as well read to the end of the chapter...   the Golden Child and I know that being snuggled up in bed having another story is one of the best feelings in the world.

Besides, it's my livelihood.  The House of Stories depends upon readers around the world wanting another story, and another.  And there is always another story.

Good night and God bless, as the Golden Child said.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012


Margi  was talking to Daughter on the phone tonight.  I am very fond of Daughter, who is kind and red-haired and knows how to talk to a bear.  Margi didn't know what to do for the blog, so Daughter told her - let Hamilton do it.  What a sensible person!

Daughter introduced some of my great friends to the House of Stories.  Little Bobby, who holds his arms up, was first spotted by Daughter, and so was Will, a Shakespearean bear from Stratford-on-Avon.  If we ever get bored, we can wake him up and he'll give us a bit of Romeo, or Henry the Fifth, or Touchstone if he wants to make us laugh, but there's rarely a dull moment in the House of Stories.  

You see, if you're a bear, and therefore a Different Sort of Person, you may well meet other Different Sorts of Persons floating around the House from time to time.  I refer, of course, to Characters, her Story Characters, who sort of overflow between her head and the page.  Urchin, Fingal and Crispin, and Needle are all jolly good fun.  The young princess can be a touch excitable, but we know how to handle that.  The most extreme villains - you know who I mean - don't worry us, because they can be dealt with by a hard Bear Stare.  But Aesop's Fables!  She  filled the house with lions, monkeys, foxes and peacocks, and we all opted to go to sleep until she'd finished those.

Speaking of sleep - blogging is so tiring....

(Finish - rather like a fish - Margi x)

Monday, 7 May 2012


Kailtlin has just revived the 'new definitions' game - see her comment from a few blogs back.   Once you start thinking of new definitions you see them everywhere, so the heading of this blog, 'unseasonal', means 'this soup is insipid.'.

After church yesterday morning (talking about vines and eating grapes), Tony, god-daughter and I went to the cinema to see 'The Pirates!  In an adventure with scientists!'.  It was brilliantly funny and clever, one of those films that you want to watch again because some of it was so fast paced and funny that you think you might have missed some visual gag when you blinked.  Queen Victoria and Charles Darwin must be spinning in their graves, though.

Sadly, today we had to our lovely god-daughter to the station and put her on the train home.  A couple of hours ago she texted to say that she was back safely, which is a relief, as today is a Bank Holiday here, and Bank Holiday trains come and go when they feel like it.  Just before we left, the lady on the radio said that today was 'colder than Christmas Day'.  Didn't I tell you!  Unseasonal!

But it's been fun at the House of Stories.  My small friend Lucy brought her mummy to tea, and Lucy had a lovely time sorting shapes, putting Daughter's baby doll to bed, and sharing her drink of juice with a puppet.  She gave Hamilton a growly voice and handed him to her mum.  At two and a half she's quite chatty and sings in tune.

As she was looking out at the garden and asking about it, Tony took her out there.   I think they lasted two minutes before he had to bring her back in.  That rain was like ice.  Did I tell you it was unsea....

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Music and the Moon

Somewhere I read that tonight the moon would appear closer to the earth than ever in squintillions of years or something.  I don't know, I don't understand anything higher in the sky than the top of a lamppost.  It meant that the moon would look big.

I've learned a lot about first aid over the last two days.  Don't worry, nobody's been carted off to hospital.  But eldest god-daughter is staying with us for the weekend and is a highly experienced first aider, so we've had a lot of conversations about concussion, head injuries, and what to do with a drunk.   None of this information has been needed in the House of Stories to date, but it's best to be prepared.

This evening we went out to a fantastic evening of gospel music and poetry.  Dave is an amazing singer, musician and choir leader who came to the valley a while ago ago to work for three years as part of Tony's team and stayed on when his contract was up because he was so involved with things here.  He's now preparing to go to Africa to work in education/church planting/Aids education, so we won't have him long.  What that man can do with his own voice is stunning, and that's before he even starts on the choir.  Lovely guy.

We set out to walk home, and there it was.  The moon, THAT moon, at just the perfect time to see it, pale gold with wispy clouds floating over it, looking so close it could touch the treetops.  In a shivery night, three of us stopped, gasped, and stared.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Polling Day

Today the nation went to vote.  At least, some of us did.  To those who didn't bother - YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO COMPLAIN ABOUT WHOEVER GETS ELECTED!

It wasn't a general election, where you vote for a government.  This was the local election, where you choose the town or parish councillors.  So I'm going to challenge myself to get as many election-related words into the blog as I can.

Our church hall was a polling station today, so we had voted to take the toddler group to a local soft play place instead.  They were very accommodating and laid on liberal amounts of toast and juice, and we all elected to go there again soon.  By the time we were finished there, the vicar and I had to ward off the pangs of hunger so we went to have lunch, and I called in at the polling station to vote on the way home.

There was just time for a bit of labouring over the computer before I had to go out again, this time for a charity fund-raising do at the Leeds franchise of L K Bennett. I went with The Lassie, LYS's girlfriend, who was the ideal candidate for a fun evening out, because she handed in her dissertation today and needed a celebration.  (I forget what the word count was, but believe me, it was a lot, even at a conservative estimate.)  We had a happy evening surrounded by beautiful clothes and you wouldn't believe how much money we saved by not buying shoes.  I did try to write a bit on the train home, but there were a lot of spoiled papers by the time I got off the train, was met by Tony, and gave him a big


Tuesday, 1 May 2012

May Day!

May Day holiday is celebrated on the first Monday in May, but there's something special about the first of May.  Cue choristers singing from towers in Oxford, morris dancers, and young maidens washing their faces in the dew.  As large areas of the country are now flooded, they could wash their faces in the the coffee-coloured tide swirling down the street.  We still officially have a drought, by the way.  Drought and flooding at the same time.  Couldn't we organise something with bucket chains?  It's the sort of thing they'd do on Mistmantle.

Lady Sunshine's mum is staying with the Sunshines this week, so Lady S brought her to us for lunch today.  She comes from the south west where it's at least three degrees warmer than this and the cold wind goes round you, not straight through, so the walk round the garden was a swift one.   Normally, as you know, I get effusive about the garden, but we went round at a lick today - that's a tulip, that's an azalea, that's Much, that's waterlogged, dunno what that is but it's dead, let's go and get warm, shall we?  The frilly tulips have valiantly stood their ground, so at least there was something to be proud of.

Later in the afternoon, I saw the heron fly past, a duck wash itself in the river, and somebody's cat doing something I'd rather it didn't on the grass.  If they were Mistmantle animals, Crispin would have given you all buckets by now.