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.