Friday, 29 June 2012

tales and torches

Once more, for those in or near West Yorkshire this weekend, I'm Spinning Stories at Hebden Bridge Library on Sunday afternoon, 1 July, 3.00 - 3.45 for small people, 4.00 - 5.00 for everyone else, free for children £2.00 for adults.  For more about the Festival and the Fringe, try, which includes my entry on their blog, and/or google Hebden Bridge Arts Festival, which is going ahead despite last week's flooding.  It takes more than a bit of water to stop them.

And then there's Cockburn School in Leeds on Wednesday.  Watch this space.

I told you about the remarkable Chris Green, who carried the Olympic torch through Halifax the day after sorting out the flooding at his office.  Today he came to our after school club to talk to the children and,

yes, he wore the white tracksuit

yes, he brought the torch

yes, I got to hold it!  We all did!

There are in fact about 8000 Olympic torches, so every torchbearer has the option of keeping the one they carried.  (Though they have to pay for them, and the torches are de-activated so they can't set fire to anyone.)   Chris talked to the children about the Olympic ideals, which are


and we all repeated those words as we passed it around the circle.  Great words for children to hear and aspire to, and for adults, too, come to that.

And now, in case you're racking your brains, when Helen sent me that new definition of 'mantelpiece', she told me, 'it's what you write'.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

More cats

Following last week's story about the cat and the birds -

All cats, with barely an exception, chase birds.  (I should make special mention of Holly, who will look you in the eye and tell her that the little birdies just drop into her mouth when she yawns.  My sister will believe anything those cats tell her.)

I've just spent two days with my parents, and was given the lowdown on the local cats. Dad pretends that they're a nuisance and annoy him, but (a) he's a cat person and (b) they know it.  There's a gregarious black one that stalks along the tops of fences, and a rather sweet little white and tortoiseshell little thing with a tail like a ring tailed lemur and a love of attention.  And then there's the tortoiseshell Cattitude Cat.

I suspect Dad really admires the persistent and sheer feline cunning of the Cattitude Cat, but in a Cat-and-Birdie fight, he'll always be on the side of the underling.  He once saw Catt spring in one leap from the ground to the top of the bird box, crouch down and swipe a paw at the entrance hoping to catch something.  After that, Dad put a tray of water on top of the bird box. Catt only tried it once.

On Monday afternoon, I looked up to see something moving in the cherry tree, just at the point when a couple of blackbirds flew out.  Cattitude was hiding up there, leaping from branch to branch in all directions without a chance of catching anything.   I suspect the birds were pulling faces and going 'naa-na, na-naa-na, can't catch me for a penny cup of tea' behind its back, but a good time was had by all.

I came back to find the valley warm and sunny, the roses flowering happily by the front door, and the proofs of my next book on the dining room table. And your comments, which always get me excited - it's like getting a surprise letter in the post.  Good to be home.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Spinning Stories

Hebden Bridge Arts Festival is about to get underway!  Now, if you live in the UK you have probably been watching news reports of Hebden Bridge under several feet of water because the river burst its banks.   But that is a tough Pennine community, and the festival will go ahead.

So, if you find yourself anywhere within reach, please come and see me!  On Sunday 1 July I will be doing 'Spinning Stories', an afternoon of story-telling from 3.00 pm to 5.00 pm in Hebden Bridge Library as part of the Festival Fringe.  There will be 45 minutes for children up to seven and their parents, then an hour for older children and adults.  All dynamic, thrilling stuff.   £2.00 for adults, free for children, tickets from the box office or you might be able to pay on the door.  If you know anybody else who might like to come, please don't keep it to yourselves - tell them to get themselves along and enjoy a day out.  For anything more about the Festival, put Hebden Bridge Arts Festival into a search engine and see what it tells you.  

Did I ever tell you, I'm a member of the Society for Storytelling?  I'm very happy that such a thing exists.

Now, the important work of definitions.  I just came up with 'investments' - how the vicar dresses on Sundays, and Helen sent 'mushroom' - a place where you read sad stories and cry.  But she also sent one so brilliant that I'm not going to tell you how she defined it.  I want to see if anybody else thinks the same way.


Saturday, 23 June 2012

carrying the torch

The Olympic Torch is being carried through the British Isles with much cheering and celebration meeting it on its way.  The people chosen to run with it have been selected for various reasons, often to do with service to the community.  Tomorrow, our friend Chris is the torchbearer, taking it on its way through Halifax.

Now, if I tell you that Chris is God's gift to women, you might get the wrong impression and he'd be very embarrassed.  But it's like this.  Some years ago, Chris read about something called the White Ribbon Campaign, which I think began in Canada (?).  It's a campaign against male violence against women, and if you google White Ribbon Campaign you'll find out more about it.  He decided we should have White Ribbon in the UK, and we have now, because he set it up.  A particular aspect of their work is to reach out to the pubs and clubs and sporting community - blokey stuff.  Yes, there are other forms of dometic abuse and they don't condone those, either.  But White Ribon concentrates specifically on this issue.

Today, flooding in the area where White Ribbon is based meant that thousands pounds worth of material was lost.  Today, Chris was clearing out the boxes of soggy posters.  Tomorrow, he will run through town carrying the torch for this -

I will not commit, condone, or remain silent about violence against women.

Go Chris, I am honoured to know you.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

A story

A story happened on Monday, right in front of me.

I'd been into town and got on the bus to go home.  The bus was a bit early, so the driver was waiting at the stop until his time to go when suddenly there was a great squawking of birds that made everyone, on the bus and in the street, turn to look.  Flying low, screeching and circling by the park railings were a lot of furious birds, while on the edge of the pavement crouched a small and rather pretty cat.  She sprang up uselessly at them, made a couple of darts forward, then chose her moment and ran out into the traffic.

If it had been the main road she wouldn't had a chance, but this was in a thirty zone close to a traffic light, and the driver managed to stop with two inches to spare.  Fortunately the drivers behind him were all paying attention, so nobody bumped and puss cat ran across the road and into a garden pretending it was nothing to do with her.  But the traffic still didn't move.  Something else was happening.

On the pavement, near where the cat and the bird had been, was a tall young man with a skateboard under his arm and a bag on his back.  He put them both down, ran over to the still unmoving car, and lay on the ground to look underneath it. (By this time, there was quite an audience). I thought he might be looking for the cat, and wondered if anybody else had seen her sprint into the garden, because if not, I'd better tell him.  But he was already lying down looking under the next car in the queue, and this time he found what he was looking for.

It was a small bird.  I couldn't see what kind it was, but it may have been a young one.  Holding it gently, he took a good look at it to see if it was injured.  It wasn't harmed, just terrified, so cradling it in his hands he carried it back to the park, and, as the traffic began to moved again and the bus rolled away, he was finding some safe cover for it in the bushes.

If that had been a fairy story, the bird would have given him three wishes. As it was a real life Yorkshire town story, what happened was

the bird was safe
the man was happy because the bird was safe
people on the bus and in the street, and driving their cars felt uplifted and happy because they'd seen a kind action

It was the most life-giving part of my day.

And we hadn't even wished.

Sunday, 17 June 2012


Last week the Olympic Torch went near to my parents' house and through the area where Tony and I grew up.  Unfortunately it was a pelting wet day (there's a surprise) but people still turned out to see it and record the moment.

I don't know about the US, but it's Father's Day here today.  Tony has been well bedaddyed, in spite of having two services and a choir rehearsal to keep him busy today.  A very funny parcel arrived from Daughter, the Sunshines called in on their way home from North Yorkshire with a nice bottle of something, and LYS sent a Shakespeare DVD - Coriolanus - with a delightfully witty and well-expressed letter.  He finished this with two offerings for our word games -

Avocado - to give a car to a female deer

Wail - what Woger wides the twain on

Friday, 15 June 2012

Lady Waterford's Paintbrush

Before I say anything else -

I can tell you that harmony is the fee you get paid for making people laugh, or that 'socially' is the alternative to 'so shan't he?'  But I cannot compete with Kaitlin and her father's definitions for 'disembark', which made me laugh out loud.  To read them, view the comments.  The bar is suddenly very high.

Now, Louisa, Lady Waterford.  She was the daughter of a an upper class English family, her father was a diplomat, and she spent many years in France during her childhood.  What's more, she was a very talented amateur artist.  On her marriage to whatsisface Waterford (sorry, I don't have the biographical details in front of me), she moved to Ireland.  By the time he died she had left the local villages better off by a couple of schools and various projects to help the poor.

As a widow with no children she moved to one of her husband's other estates, Ford village in Northumberland.  The village had no school, so Lady Waterford did something about that, and the school she established is now the village hall, and well worth a visit.

Village schools at the time could be quite grim places, but not this one.  Lady Waterford was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite/Arts and Crafts painters, and set about painting the hall with murals of Biblical scenes, using the local people as her models.  As the murals were for a school, there are a lot of children in the pictures - Samuel as a child, young David, Miriam  - and, of course, women bringing their children to Jesus, with all the panels interspersed with flowers and vines.  If I'd gone to that school I might not have learned my tables, but I would have loved looking at the walls.  These were village children with not much access to books or pictures, and that schoolroom must have been a magic kingdom for them.

Lady Waterford was popular, kind, and active in leaving any community happier and healthier than she found it.   She should be an honorary citizen of Mistmantle.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Hello, Petal!

Helen has done it again.  She just sent, among others, 'personable - someone who can' and my favourite, 'catastrophe' - this cat has won an award in the Olympics.  The day she can get her computer to talk to my blog, look out.

In the North-East of England, a part of the world God made for himself, 'petal', is a term of endearment, as is 'flower'.  'Are you all right, flower?'  'How are you, petal?'.  I was reminded of that at the delightful village of Ford - it's so close to Etal that they're generally known as Ford and Etal.  That was where we found one of those shops that should have come out of a story.  Petals'n'Paper.  (I think the website is petals'n', but you'll find it on Google.

You walk through a lavish, thriving garden to a wee cottage with a welcoming door and a welcoming lady, Dorien Irving, and straight into Aladdin's cave.  Almost everything there is made by local craftspeople - cards (lots of them, mostly made by Dorien and her family), framed prints, jewellery, scarves, notebooks bound by hand, and all manner of wonderful things.  They take orders for calligraphy, and do notices and all sorts for the little local community.  Also in the village you can find Taylor and Green craftsmen made furniture, and I think I may have told you about the antique shop.

Another time I'll tell you about the redoubtable Lady Waterford, who had a lot to do with making the village what it is.  In the meantime, see you later, petal.

Archers Update - Ruth's worried, Linda's got hay fever, Amy's obsessed with her ex, Jamie's in a love triangle, Will and Nic want a baby, and Tracey fancies the cricket coach.

Monday, 11 June 2012

words to the wise

My friend Helen - the one I just got back in touch with - has raised the word game to a whole new level.

Paradise - gambling on salvation

to which I feebly reply

Remembrance - where did I leave Auntie?

I was reminded recently of one of those family sayings.  When my sister was about four years old, Dad was helping her to plant seeds in a flower bed.  A visitor arrived and Dad welcomed him into the garden, but said,
'Take care not to step on the soil there - that's where we just put my daughter' seeds'.

"Daddy!" she said, running over.  "Can I see the tortoise seeds?'

Saturday, 9 June 2012


'Dricht' is a hard word to explain, but if you're on your way home from a day out in North Northumberland and you can't see the drizzle ahead of you for the fog six inches in front, then it's dricht.  Fortunately, as we've just spent four days with my sister and brother-in-law, we were soon out of the dricht and into their snug stone cottage with log fires, hot coffee and two cats.

Yes, we have finally met the two ample cats.  They have slimmed down since Christmas, when they first arrived, but they are still very considerable cats.  Harvey sprawls across his Mum's lap to have his tummy tickled, and I've never before see a cat do that, have you?

Mercy, we thought last weekend was wet.  It was like driving home through a monsoon.  Camping and caravan sites in South Wales (where Daughter lives) and Cornwall (where the Sunshines spent their holiday a week or so ago) are flooded.  Any overseas readers planning a trip to UK in the coming week, bring a brolly.  If this goes on, I'm going to buy one for Much.

You need welly boots, too.  I'd lend you mine, but they've started to let in water.  I discovered that this morning, when my sister and I decided to wade across the stream...

Monday, 4 June 2012

Teeming on Thames

Well, that was - er -entertaining.

Here in the village it's been a great Jubilee weekend so far.  Special themed quiz on Friday (we won!  Award that woman the Order of the Corgi) and there was an afternoon tea for 140 people on Saturday.  They told me it was 140, but I washed up and I reckoned it was five hundred and they all used more than one teacup.

Yesterday we had a lovely morning services with hymns from every decade of The Queen's reign and thoughts about what the church in Britain has been doing over that time, and the direction it's going in now.   We followed this with a lunch and a party, all presided over by a cardboard cutout of ER II.  (You could stand behind her, stick your arm out, and do the wave.  Regrettably I capsized her while lifting down high chairs from the stage, but I picked her up, apologised, and curtsied, and nobody's put me in the Tower yet.)

In the afternoon we settled down to watch the Thames Pageant.  Some bright spark had decided that the way to do something magnificent for the Jubilee was to amass lots of little boats of all kinds and have a procession on the Thames.  The Royal Family were on this very beautiful boat thing, which pottled along the water and got saluted by everyone.

There were some nice things about this.  It was a homage to the little boats that rescued the British Army at Dunkirk, and some of those original little ships were there.  They had representations from all sorts of clubs, sports people, working boats, and so on.  The crowds turned out.

So did the rain.  It was a cold day and when the rain arrived, as it did in force, it hammered down.  The whole thing lasted something like four hours, and the commentators were running out of things to talk about.  Frankly there were few highlights, and the queen gave it her best as she always does, BUT she was on her feet all that time, and looked nithered with cold.  Did nobody consider what sort of a demand this was on a lady of 86?  Was this suppose to honour her, or make her wish herself home by the fire with a warm corgi?  God love her, I wanted somebody to bring her a cup of tea.

It was worse for the singers from the Royal College of Music, who stood bare-headed and soaked to the skin, but still smiled bravely as they belted out Land of Hope and Glory.   Paramedics were kept busy looking after those who were getting hypothermic, including some from the boats.

Ninety year old Prince Phil appeared to enjoy it a lot - he's a naval man after all - but today, he's not at the Buckingham Palace Party.  He's in hospital, suffering from a bladder infection.  The long afternoon standing by the Thames won't have caused it, I know.  But it can't have helped.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Oh deary, deary me

Oh deary, deary me, as Granny Weatherwax would say.  I have a few days holiday and come back to find a blog full of comments. What on earth has been happening in the House of Stories while I was away?

So, firstly, let's look at the latest word game, which is doing terribly well (see the comments if you want to catch up).  When Lovely Younger Son was about six, we visited the Chapel of King's College, Cambridge, the one that broadcasts the Nine Lessons and Carols every Christmas Eve.  It has a famous fan-vaulted ceiling, and the very thoughtful people who run it have installed mirrors and a neat little model to show how it's constructed.   LYS, being a child of a lively mind, loved this, and grabbed me by the hand to come and see it.

"Come and look at this!" he said.  "It's fantassinating!"

So, when this thread was launched, he texted me to claim 'fantassinating' by ancient right.  Another of his inventions is 'snickled' which is that tingle you get in your nose when you've been drinking something fizzy.

If you look at a map of Scotland and find the South-West, which is Galloway, there's a sticky-out bit on the end like a whale's tail.  We've just had a wee holiday on that sticky out bit, right on the coast.  A very amiable seal popped up one evening to say goodnight to us.  There were more birds than I knew the names of, a deer in the garden, a hare crossing the road in front of us, and pheasants so determined to get run over that it's a wonder they're not extinct.

We came back in time to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee in true village style.  Of which, more later.