Tuesday, 31 December 2013

thirty-nine minutes

In the UK, it is 23.21, or twenty-one minutes past eleven. In about half an hour we'll push Daughter's Chap out at the front door, so we can let him in again at midnight. The first foot over the threshhold is supposed to be a man, preferable a dark haired one. He was traditionally supposed to bring a lump of coal for the fire. It's gas, so I don't know what we're going to do about that.

There's just time to wish you a Happy New Year before I go and spend a few minutes with God, giving thanks for the good things this year and getting focused for whatever's coming next. Apart from two weddings and a book I don't know what that will be. I can tell you that the book should be out in August, and will probably be called SAVING STAR. It's about a dog, a boy, and the 1914-18 war.

I hope that you give and receive love this year. I hope that whenever the news is grim you are able to see what is beautiful and true and say 'this too is real'. I hope the books you read nourish your heart. I hope you learn something new and teach something good. I hope you have people to laugh and cry with. Be blessed.

Sunday, 29 December 2013


I asked Daughter what to put on the blog. 'We're here,' she said. So there you are. Daughter and her Chap are here. Hamilton is beside himself with joy.

Daughter's Chap's Mum and Dad invited us to their party on Friday night. They live near to where we lived when the children were small, which meant there were familiar faces to meet again. One of them was a lady who made an enormous difference to my life.

Many years ago, when LYS had just started school, I saw an advert in the local paper for a Short Story Writing course, geared particularly to the magazine market. As somebody who'd written for years on and off and never got anywhere with it, I saw this and decided to give it one last try. One of the exercises was to take a newspaper article as the starting point for a story. This was just after Christmas, and there were two pieces in the paper that looked promising. One was about a very aged couple who were drunk and disorderly at New Year and the other concerned a courting couple and a stolen bottle of whisky. But the trouble with these stories was that they were already there. They were too ready made. Instead I turned to a very simple, rather cosy account of a Boxing Night Dance. It mentioned the food and the band and the dancing and I thought of all the things that could go wrong.

By the time I'd finished, revised, and polished The Boxing Night Dance, I decided that this was my very best and if I couldn't get that published I'd never get anything published. It became my first story in print and earned me all of £40.00 from My Weekly. Then there were more stories. Then a serial. Then my first book...

...and on Friday night I chatted with my teacher from that course. I'd kept her informed when my stories and my first book came out, and we had a long catching up chat talking about all the things writers do talk about when they get together. She still does short fiction and drama. I mentioned that I'd sometimes taught Creative Writing courses, and made my confession. Here it is. I'm a trained teacher. I know how to write. But I've never trained to teach Creative Writing.

It turned out that she hadn't either. Her courses were the model for mine, and we both had happy students!

Friday, 27 December 2013


Yesterday, we were eleven at table. Both the boys and Lady Sunshine were staying with us and for Boxing Day, Daughter and her Chap came over. (They are spending Christmas with his family and New Year with us, but joined us for the big family bash). My sister and her husband were here, and my parents. We showed off the fireplace, and everyone sat round it opening their presents and toasting their toes.

With a master feat of engineering we shoe-horned eleven of us into the dining room. A tablecloth went on top of the jigsaw and we brought in the little card table where Tony and the boys used to make models together in long ago days. Sister brought puddings. (And glasses, in case we ran out. In the course of three days we only broke one, and it wasn't one of hers.) I played carols badly with various cuddly toys banging on the keys helped by the boys. (We should never have given LOS a harmonica.) Then Daughter played them beautifully, and finally we sat down together to play a duet of Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer with me doing the easy bits and I still managed to come in late.

At some point we got to talking about the Dolls' House, and LOS brought it downstairs. Dad, who made it long ago with help from Father Christmas, was delighted. The furniture was duly inspected, possible updates were discussed, and we talked about its history. There was time to do what I first did fifty-something years ago, and play with my doll's house at Christmas.

In the evening when the others had gone, LYS, The Sunshines and I sat down to play LYS's new Terry Pratchett game. A great time was had by all even though we only understood half of the rules and LOS couldn't read them without laughing. A couple of hours ago they all left, and I feel a bit bereft now.

Time for a hot bath and a book. Not at the same time. The pages get soggy.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Big Hearts

Now. We have a fireplace! Christmas can come!

Then again, that's the point about Christmas. It comes whether we're ready or not, just as a baby comes when it comes, ready or not. Christmas and babies don't wait for everything to be perfect. Here comes Christmas, which in this family usually brings joy, love and a mess, and some precious times of quiet and nurturing. Just like a baby.

It's never like it is in the adverts. It's not meant to be. Sadly, the grim stuff still goes on. I know of a particular story happening just now - I can't discuss it, because it's somebody else's story - where a family Christmas will be sadly disrupted. For those of us who pray,there is a lot of praying to be done for families this Christmas.

Now, I don't get along terribly well with St Paul. When I get to heaven (and I have it on good authority that they'll let me in, in spite of...) I mean to drop-kick him into the duckpond. John Wesley's going in next, and his mother. But Paul did write something that struck home with me when I was having a very rough time. He said something on the lines of 'rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep'.

There's always somebody rejoicing. There's always somebody weeping. Christmas, which is a time of so much celebration, is doubly hard for those who are grieving. What it comes to, then, is that we have to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, both at the same time.

To do that, you need a big heart. May you feed your hearts this Christmas.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

And now...

Finally, I pinged off the new book to the editor yesterday. I am de-mob happy. There is still work on the go, but nothing I need to get into a whatnot about. I have started putting lights on windowsills and tinsel round the banister. The tree is in the conservatory. But we're not decorating the sitting room yet because in the morning the men are coming to knock a wall down.

Exciting! Ideally it would have been done long ago, but there seems to be a run on fireplaces. Instead of a grim grey modern fire set into the wall we are going to have a proper fireplace, the sort of thing this house would have had when it was built in the 1930s. The old fireplace will need to be opened up again, the chimney swept, and new pipes put under the floor. Hamilton thinks it's really funny, one lot of occupants ripping fireplaces out and another putting them in again. I think it's a nuisance. I confess that our fire will be gas, but it will look like the real thing. The real thing, but without the coal dust and graft.

If all goes well and smoothly we will have a lovely fireplace by the weekend, and a hearth and a mantelpiece and everything! If not, we will spend Christmas in a building site. I will keep you informed. The bears have been evacuated to our bedroom and it sounds like a good idea for me too.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Now light one thousand Christmas lights

The line at the heading of this post is from a lovely song the children used to sing at First School. The animals on Mistmantle love their winter festival with their lanterns and candles, and lights are one of the most beautiful images of Christmas. They redeem the grimness of 'darkness by four'.

When I first saw the lights in the West End of London one Christmas I was most disappointed. They were just garish. They said, 'we're Oxford Street, we've got a lot of money, look how much bling we can do'. All to do with spending and nothing to do with beauty. York lights are prettier, cleverer, and a lot more artistic.

In the little coastal town where we lived when the children were small the council didn't pay for the Christmas lights. The community did, with fund-raising all year round. Every shop and every pub had a collecting box. The result was two rows of coloured bulbs zig-zagging merrily across the main street and it was the prettiest thing. Just right. In the village where we lived until recently the local schoolchildren designed the Christmas lights. I am personally acquainted with the designer of the angel, and every year I looked forward to the reindeer with the lopsided nose.

Alnwick's not a very big town, but it punches above its weight. It has one of the most wonderful gardens in Europe complete with treehouses and a breathtaking castle associated with Harry Hotspur* and Harry Potter. The Christmas lights are dramatic, too. The council provides some and the local businesses do the rest. I suspect it's quite competitive.

The Estate Agents lights are Santa Claus with an igloo and a 'for sale' sign

The building contractor has a JCB

The newspaper office has Santa Claus reading the paper, turning his head from one side to the other

A pub called The Fleece has a sheep

There's a rather cute house with sparkly trees and reindeer

And my favourite is Air-Sea Rescue, who have Santa Claus arriving at the White Swan Hotel by helicopter. And the Three Kings ride their camels across the ancient stone Hotspur Tower.

But I think my favourites are the ones in the town where I live. They are so simple. White lights in the trees and on the Christmas tree in the square. that's all. It makes me look forward to the dark. And tomorrow - hopefully, and if I get the act together - there will be white lights in my windows, too. First Christmas in this house.

* I'll tell you about him another time

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The thingy

We had such a lovely day yesterday. My parents, my sister and her husband and an old family friend came to lunch and we had one of those warm, happy times that occurs when friends who go back a long way get together round a table. When pudding was cleared I went to make the coffee - and here I have to confess that it was instant. Very nice fair trade instant. I put the kettle on.

Then the thingy dropped off. You know, the thingy. With an electric kettle there's a switch to put down to make it boil, and it switches itself off when it's hot enough, yes? That thingy. It just fell off completely. Normally when something like that happens - 'when the doings drops oot' as we say in our family - we give to my Dad to fix. But this looked beyond hope. We heated the water in a saucepan and the kettle is awaiting its final journey. I bought a new one with a different sort of - you know - thingy.

This got me thinking. For somebody who works with words I talk a lot about the thingy, the doings, the whatnot, the thingummywhats, the doodah. (The remote control by the way, is the fedoofer). it's a lazy habit, I suppose, but some things don't seem to have a name. What's the word for the cover that goes over a keyhole? Or the fitting thing that holds a light to the wall? Or the bit on the top of a pen that you click up and down? Or that prickly feeling in your nose when you're about to sneeze? Do these things have names? Or do we have to make them up?

I think I'll call the thing on top of a pen 'the clicket'. Any more suggestions for names for unnamed objects are welcome. By the way, I love the Welsh word for a microwave. It's 'the poppety-ping'.

Excuse me. I need to write some thingies and put stamps on them so they can go in the doings tomorrow morning.

Monday, 9 December 2013


Being Senior Bear in this house gets quite demanding. On Friday we went all the way to Cardiff to see Daughter and Daughter's Chap and we all think it was worth every second of the six hour drive. (Even Tony thought so and he was the one who did all the driving.) If you're anywhere near Cardiff, go and see Nativity - The Story. Real live donkeys and everything.

Daughter was the first person to discover that I can fly. I don't normally do it when people are about but she came down one night and found me going for a zoom around the room. Quite a lot of bears can, you know. And when you spend a long time in a hotel room there's a lot of flying to be done and a lot of exploring, too. My Margi thinks she's the only one who plays with the complimentary soap and shampoo in the bathroom. It takes an effort to stay as snowy white as this.

What was most upsetting was that when the housemaid came to make up the bed she put me on the settee and LEFT ME THERE with nothing to read. Did she think I was a toy? And my Margi had left me sitting on a pillow with a good book, too. When we went to Kingussie the lady there used to talk to me when she came to do the room. At the hotel in Thornbury the girlie came to do the turndown and popped me into bed, which was just the nicest thing ever. Bears have feelings.

And I'm most excited about next year, when there will be two weddings in the family and two new waistcoats. We were discussing my page bear's outfit this weekend. And special occasion waistcoat that I wear for Christmas - is it time yet - when will it be time?

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Today's News

Today storms and rage tides hit the east coast of England and Scotland. The chancellor announced that the UK economy is improving, but he didn't tell us why more people than ever are going to food banks or having to choose between heating and eating, or why hard-working young professionals can't afford to buy their own homes. And later, as we talked about these troubles - one natural, one man-made - we learned that a great soul had gone to heaven.

I can't remember a time when I didn't know the name of Nelson Mandela. It seems astonishing to think that when I was a girl, there were loud voices shouting for him to be hanged. I remember very clearly watching him leave prison, all of us watching it on television. Sunday lunch happened very late that day. Now that he's passed everybody will tell you Mandela quotes and stories, so I'll tell you something else.

About ten years ago I was talking to a group of children at a church club and asked them who they thought should be in charge of the world. Who would make the best job of it? Several - probably the majority - said 'my mum' or 'my gran'. Very good answer. A few said 'Mother Theresa'. And quite a number, to my delight and surprise, said 'Nelson Mandela'.

How did they know about him? Because they'd been taught about him at school. God bless those teachers, who knew that the children needed food for their hearts as well as their brains. And that's another reason why we need to keep telling stories - because children need heroes of real stature, who persist for justice even though it takes decades, who work their way through natural and man-made suffering, through personal and public buffetings, and continue to walk that Long Road to Freedom, beating down the thorns so that the rest may follow.

Go with God, Madiba.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013


Our ancient church was full on Sunday night for an Advent service that hovered between earth and heaven. Everything was candlelit, the choir carried us along, and the season of hope and expectation opened before us. I walked home past winter trees shining with white lights, lit the fire, and kindled the Advent candle. Let's not rush too fast to Christmas. Let's enjoy this short and precious season.

In Advent I am re-reading 'Learning to Dance', an inspiring book by Michael Mayne about the patterns and seasons of life and of nature. He quotes widely, which makes it a good dip-into book if I'm too busy or too tired to work my way through the layers. And I have some other reading planned, too.

LYS lent me the latest Adrian Plass, which meant that I kept laughing out loud unexpectedly and alarming Tony. I have a little light book about motherhood on the waiting list, and then I intend to apply myself to seasonal reading and My Great Adventure.

Somebody commenting on the blog a while ago recommended The Legend of Holly Claus, so I bought it and kept it until now to read. I'm looking forward to that. And then, I have a plan. My Great Adventure. All writers have half an eye on the next book and the one after that, even when they don't have a clue what it will be. I have the feeling - and maybe this applies to all writers too - that there is a book inside me that I still don't know about, and it has to be written. Something that nobody else could write. So I'm going to re-read all my favourite books, children's and adults'. Perhaps, by re-reading my favourites, I will hear the call to whatever story in me is crying out to be told.

The interesting thing is that many of my favourite books are Christmas books - The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy Boston, The Thirteen Days of Christmas by Jenny Overton, The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter, and oh - perhaps my very favourite book in the world - The Dean's Watch by Elizabeth Goudge. So that will be my reading over Advent and well into the Christmas season too.

Oh, and Narnia. But you guessed that.

Sunday, 1 December 2013


t the end of the week it's going to be wintery, I don't care, I'm a stone dog, I don't feel the cold. The leaves will blow about the garden, I can chase them. I hope it snows, I can jump up and bite snowflakes. You've no idea what I get up to when missus isn't looking. Mind, she knows more about stone animals than she should. She talks to me. That's how I know. Excuse me while I have a good scratch...

There was that day with the wren. Missus came into the sitting room and thought 'that little wren looks as if it's in the conservatory'. Then she realised that the wren really was in the conservatory, so she and the chap with the beard went round opening doors and windows to let little Jenny out. Then afterwards they went round trying to work out how Jenny Wren got in there the first place.

Later, she came to me and Oliver and said, 'Oliver, Dodger, do you know anything about the wren getting into the conservatory?' Course we didn't? How could we? We're made of stone, so how could Oliver be giggling fit to burst the buttons off his jacket? And as for me, I always look innocent. That's my trouble, I look so innocent they wonder what I've been up to. Then she saw a weed that needed pulling up and forgot about it.

And she never did find out.

Friday, 29 November 2013


All I can say is, they could 'ave asked me first.

It's about this 'ouse, the Old 'ouse of Stories. It belonged to the church, but when missus and 'er chap moved out that church were trying to get its act together and sort out 'ow many staff they would 'ave and where they'd put 'em. Missus 'oped they'd keep the old 'ouse of Stories, 'er being so fond of it, but it's up for sale now. It 'as to be done, and it's nowt to do with 'er now anyway, but, like I say, 'er were fond of it, specially the garden with 'er gooseberry bushes and apple trees and that, and them ducks.

Now, 'er only lived 'ere for six year, but me, I've been 'ere so long I've got moss growing over me feet. I should 'ave been asked. And I've just set up me Old Gnome 'ome, too, for all the old gnome gadgees and geezers to sit around smoking pipes and talking about how much better it were in the old days. Well, we're staying. No matter 'oo comes 'ere, we were 'ere first and we're made of stone, so what they going to do about it?

Eeh, it's a grand 'ouse, is this. Nice big rooms, and you should see that attic. There's a little window on the attic stair with views across the valley, 'er used to like to sit there. Quiet street, but only ten minutes walk from wherever 'er needed to be. Good neighbours and all. And she loved our river. So now she's 'oping that some little family moves in and loves it as much as she did. Kids to play in our garden. So if you're thinking of a nice family house int Calder Valley, it's in Mytholmroyd.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013


I can't begin to describe Durham Cathedral. Think of an Oxford College or any cathedral with towers and imagine it as bigger, more grand, more perfectly proportioned, more intricately decorated, rising up over a river. Imagine pushing open the massive wooden door and finding a great wide, high space held up by massive round stone columns and resounding with prayer. Everywhere there are rows of arches in perfect geometric patterns. Sunlight falls through stained glass. Candles glow. The east window is glorious above the Chapel of the Nine Altars. And you still haven't seen it.

When I was a child we went to Durham a lot. I took it for granted, as you do. Over the years, I woke up to how beautiful it is. Many years ago, we'd had a family day there seeing the town and cathedral in all their Christmas glory, and Tony had taken the children back to the car while I finished the shopping and walked down to meet them. There was snow on the ground, and it fell again as I was walking down through the town in the dark at about half past four.

Through the narrow lane with its pretty stone terraces goes Mrs Woman with her shopping, and on down to the cobblestones. Prebend's Bridge is ahead of her. The snow falls on the trees at the riverside and around the lamppost with its soft glow. Mrs Woman gasps, and thinks that round the next bend she will meet a faun with an umbrella.

We were in Durham again today with Mum and Dad, and what a day. In the clear skies, the Cathedral looked at her best and Mum remembered her first visit there when she was tiny. We walked along the river from Prebend's Bridge and watched the rowing teams training. As we left, the Christmas lights were coming in and the skies above Durham rang with glory.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Gleaner and Crispin


If she must tell stories, I wish she'd get her facts right. I'm not saying that she tells lies, exactly, but she's said two things recently that aren't true. Firstly, Newcastle won that football match two-nil, not three-nil as she told you. And she wrote something about turning left out of Kings Cross station to go to all those places around Euston. If she turned left out of Kings Cross she'd be going the other way, wouldn't she? She'd no doubt end up in some grim little corner of north London, and serve her right.

Either careless, forgetful, or just plain deceitful. My lady was none of those things. And she's common. I don't know who that king was or what he was so cross about, but I'm sure it's not the sort of area for a refined squirrel like my Lady Aspen.


Frost again this morning. Urchin and I went to check Anemone Wood and make sure all the animals were snug for the winter. We can always provide a few more blankets and feathers for nests.

It's still another whole moon before the Winter Festival and we don't expect snow yet, but Oakleaf has the sledge ready. Everyone is busy making little presents and surprises for the Festival and hiding them away. Every time I go to say goodnight to the little ones I hear them whisk away under their beds, giggling, to hide something. Sepia is composing something new - you hear her twanging a few strings on the harp then singing it over to herself. And the kitchens! I was running down the wall outside the kitchen window yesterday and that waft of hot spices, raisins and oranges stopped me in my tracks.

Cedar's gone to discuss Threadings with Lady Thripple. Gleaner is muttering to herself about something, but I think she's all right. It's quiet now. If you look out you can see lights in the trees where animals live. Sensible animals are curling up in their nests, but you and I are still up. Not very sensible animals, are we? Would you care to join me for a cordial? Juniper and Hope will have the fire lit in the turret by now. Let's drink hot spiced blackcurrant juice and look down at the lights on Mistmantle.

Friday, 22 November 2013

They say you remember

They say you remember where you were when President Kennedy was shot. I was a child sitting on the floor watching the news on a small black and white television. I remember thinking it was strange that there was a TV camera there, because nobody knew what was going to happen. What I was watching, of course, was that little clip of home movie that has since been seen around the world.

It was around that time that I had a simply lovely young school teacher. We called her Miss Anderson but her real name was something Dutch. At the end of the year she left to get married and I think she was going back to Holland. At the end of every day, for storytime, she read to us from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I was spellbound. On those autumn afternoons she opened the wardrobe door to us all and I have been a citizen of Narnia every since. So are my children, and I've just bought a copy of Prince Caspian for the Golden Child's big brother.

On the day that President Kennedy died that great soul, C S Lewis, passed to heaven. As he died, maybe I was listening to, or thinking of, Narnia. I still do.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013


The post about Judith Kerr has sparked a conversation here. You've all made me think.

I've grown up with freedom, and I expect most of you have too. People have different ideas about freedom. There are those who complain because they're not free to get drunk in public places, use obscene language in any and every situation, or drive at fifty in a thirty zone. There is a much longer list, but you know what I mean. Perhaps when they've got over themselves they'll try to understand the difference between liberty and licence. Soldiers didn't die so that you could throw up in a bus stop.

I thank God for freedom, not often enough. Here we are in the House of Stories, free to read what we like and discuss what we like. I can go out without a curfew. I can go to church without being blacklisted. I can say what I think about the government without being arrested. (By the way, this is the UK in 2013. If they arrested everyone who has a go at the government they'd have to make prisons out of Wembley Stadium and the Royal Albert Hall.)

Shortly after Judith Kerr's family escaped from Germany, her father's books were publicly burned. There was a price on his head 'dead or alive'. He was most offended because he said it wasn't enough. You may like to read the books of Corrie ten Boom - she and her sister smuggled Dutch Jews out of Holland during the war, and were arrested. She, too, was a shining woman.

So we need to know our past. As Jonny said, those who forget their past are doomed to repeat it. We need to know how dearly our freedom was bought and how precious it is. As the Scots said in the Declaration of Arbroath (early 14th C)

'It is in truth not for glory nor riches nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom, for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself'.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Pink Rabbit

My latest book recommendation is 'When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit' by the remarkable Judith Kerr. She is now 91 years old, still sharp, still focussed, and still working as an author and illustrator for children. She comes over as the most impressive of English ladies, educated, articulate, and a great communicator with all ages. She is delightful. But 'Pink Rabbit', and the follow-up 'Bombs on Aunt Dahlia' begin when she was a nine-year-old German-Jewish child living a comfortable life in Berlin in 1933. Her father was a popular journalist and author and outspokenly anti-Nazi. Elections were to take place, and he had heard that he was at the top of the Nazi blacklist. They needed to get out of Germany, quickly. Within a week, the whole family were refugees.

It's a fascinating story and Judith's strong, humorous spirit shines through the telling. Children are encouraged to read Anne Frank - they should read this too. I learned a lot about London in the blitz that I never knew before.

When I go to London the train gets in at Kings Cross. If I'm going to the British Library, Scholastic Publishing, or one of the places where I sometimes stay I turn left and walk along Euston Road a bit. In future, I'll remember that I'm walking past the site of the Hotel Continental, which in the 1940s was crammed with European refugees until it was destroyed in the Blitz.

Not only London was bombed. That little bit of Tyneside where my family and Tony's came from was a vital place for engineering and shipbuilding, and that was pummelled night after night. Ah, but it wasn't really the engineering works Hitler was aiming for. It was my mum's Auntie Annie. She was bombed out of three different houses, so she reckoned that Hitler was after her and when he got her the war would stop.

He never did get that tough Geordie woman. Another grand lady who lived to tell the tale.

Friday, 15 November 2013

zebras at school

I was sorting out my desk in the attic today when I thought I heard thunder. Then it stopped being thunder and became drumming. I looked down at the school playground near our house. Along came the drummers, accompanied by tigers, zebras, a snow leopard, a banana and a lot of people in Newcastle United shirts.

No, it wasn't a dream. It was 'Children in Need'.

For the benefit of those of you overseas, Children in Need is a big fund-raising event in the UK every year. It's always on a Friday in November and all sorts of organisations go totally round the cuckoo tree to raise money. All the supermarkets and a lot of the shops have collections and the staff dress up. The mascot is Pudsey Bear, a yellow bear with a bandage over one eye, who pops up everywhere at this time of year. You can buy Pudsey mugs, Pudsey teatowels, Pudsey cupcakes, and, of course, small cuddly Pudsies. At the schools they usually have a dress down day which is really a dress up day (see above). They've been going to school in onesies, pyjamas, super-hero costumes - and that's only the teachers. At LYS's office, they had a Teddy Bear's Picnic. Turn any corner in town this evening and you found a children's choir or a steel band playing to raise money. Tony's choir sang. And there was face-painting, and a few brave souls getting their legs waxed for Children in Need. (Don't go there.)

Then there are the ones who get sponsored for walking, cycling, rowing (there's a lot of rowing round here) and (oh, pleeeease!) sponsored silences. Just give me a minute to think about that one. Mmmmm. Mental note for next year. What will they pay me to shut up?

Up to now, Children in Need has raised seven million, and it should be five or six times that at least when all the money's in. And it all goes in grants to local charities and needs. It provides funding for projects with children who have special needs of any kind, traumatised and disadvantaged children,young carers, children who've just fallen through the state's safety net and are in poverty. There are a lot of those. Believe me, the state safety net these days has holes you could drop an elephant through.

So today, let's all chip in for Children in Need. And tomorrow let's see what we can do about why they're in need in the first place.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Places and dreams

Every now and again I have a little daydream about places I really want to go. There are some I've visited before, but not enough, and want to go back to. Mostly they're in the UK - I've never been a globetrotter - but one or two more far flung.

So I'd love to go back to

The Setesdal in Norway

The New Forest (there's so much of it, and so much wildlife, and the villages around it are pretty)
Kingussie (red squirrels)
North Wales, and especially Anglesey (beaches, landscapes, historical Christian sites and more red squirrels)
Norfolk - people in the UK tend to make rude remarks about Norfolk. Yes, really. But we've only been there once, for Tony's ordination in Norwich, and we'd like to go back. The skies are big in Norfolk.
Wells. A fairytale city. The Bishop's Palace has a moat round it, with swans and ducks swimming about, and the Cathedral is stunning.

And I've never been to the Channel Islands or the Scillies, and that's on the list. I had a delightful letter recently from a reader on the Isle of Skye, and that would be good, too - I've been there once, just on a day trip when I was something-teen.


Brussels (by the way, Tony, are you reading this?)

And there are places I don't want to go to because it would be so sad if the reality wasn't up to what I'd imagined. Venice looks so lovely and romantic but I suspect it would disappoint. Paris, too.

This leaves me thinking about story landscapes. Where would I like to go? Apart from Mistmantle and Narnia, of course. I don't think I'd like Never-never-land. I'd love to live in Lucy Boston's 'Green Knowe'. What about you? Places and dreams?

Sunday, 10 November 2013


There is a leaf. I must chase. Got it!

As a stone garden dog I don't feel the cold and I don't mind if nobody feeds me. I like a good run, but I can get that by bounding around the garden when nobody's looking. Except Her. She doesn't count. The Sunshines were here this weekend (wowowowow!!) but they understand about stone dogs running around.

She was out in the garden yesterday with Lady Sunshine and she said she wanted to plant a tree. What sort of tree? I think she's planting a story tree.

That's where stories come from. You plant an idea. That's a story seed. Some of them don't come up. Some of them come up and go all thin and scrawny and die. Some of them come up quickly, but most of them take a while to grow strong, and get different branches and leaves, and finally you get a story. Usually she has to choose which branches to keep and which ones to cut off, to keep the story strong. She's growing a story tree just now and it grew really quickly, then it did something unexpected and now she has to think of which branches to keep. But she likes this story. It's got a dog in it, like me, except not a stone one.

People often ask her where her ideas come from. She doesn't like that question. Ideas don't come from anywhere, they are just there, around you, at the end of your nose, in your garden. What matters is whether your idea grows into a strong tree or not.

If you have a story tree with branches and you cut some off, they are no longer branches. They are sticks. What do we do with sticks? We chase them! Oh, wow!

Thursday, 7 November 2013


An eventful couple of days. Yesterday I was in Newcastle, shopping for a winter coat. I'd got the choice down to That One or That One and was on my way back to have another look at That One when I noticed a pleasant faced woman coming the other way and we'd smiled and nodded and almost passed each other before we looked twice. Within twenty minutes the coat was bought and I was having coffee with Stephanie.

It's a long story, but more than twenty years ago when we lived in a small coastal town and I was a young mother and she was a sixth form student, Stephanie was our babysitter. She was also a lifesaver, because there weren't many people around that I could discuss books and theatre with. Most babysitters go straight home when you come back. Stephanie used to put the kettle on and we'd chat for a while, mostly about books. The kids still reckon she was a brilliant babysitter. We kept in touch. A lot of water has passed under many bridges since then, but now I'm writing books for children and Stephanie has published 'How I said Bah! to Cancer' and 'Thrive', based on her experiences with cancer, and has a novel coming out next year. Funny to think of where we started from.

Today was another family day at my sister's, and we took Mum and Dad to see the tiny church at Chillingham. It's twelfth century, rough, plain, cold and battle-scarred, but it contains the most amazing ornate tomb for one of the Percy family and his wife. Their effigies are carved from alabaster in astonishing detail on a high stone tomb adorned with figures of saints and angels, and his helm and family crest are above him. It looks like the sort of thing that should be in Westminster Abbey, not a country chapel.

And it should be, too. A local guide came in when we were there and told us the story. Sir Henry Percy had ordered his tomb and was to be interred at Westminster. Unfortunately he fell out with the king, who withdrew permission for burial in the abbey. Oops.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013


Ahem. said Hamilton Bear, as if I had forgotten something important. Ahem.

Of course I hadn't forgotten, it had just slipped my mind for a little while. But when LYS and The Lassie were staying with us this weekend we talked a lot about weddings. We discussed colours for bridesmaids dresses, flowers, and table stationery, all of that, but we didn't discuss Hamilton's Waistcoat. There are two weddings next year, and Hamilton will need a new waistcoat for each of them. 'Ahem' in this case, meant 'Ahem, you haven't talked about what I'm going to be wearing'.

For The Sunshines' wedding he wore a very fetching deep red and gold waistcoat with gold lining, so whatever comes next has to be just as impressive. It also has to go with his red and green bow tie, which is a fixture. I did suggest snipping it off, but LYS wouldn't let me. Sunshine yellow might be nice, or midnight blue with stars on. At the wedding of Daughter and Her Chap he will be a page bear, so it's most important that he tones in with the bridesmaids. Should he have a flower in his buttonhole? I don't know much about wedding protocol for bears. I could ask my old Teddy, who was married to one of my dolls many years ago, but it wasn't a dignified occasion and I suspect he doesn't want to be reminded of it. If anybody knows about the etiquette of bears at weddings, do please let me know. That most famous of bears, Paddington, was once an usher at a wedding. He 'ushed everyone, and gave them hard stares.

Clara, who often comments on this blog, suggested that Much might like to gather his old chums around at The Old House of Stories. This sounds good to me. A Gnome Home for Grumpy Old Yorkshire Garden Furniture. I will keep you informed.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

All this

Clara suggested a Hone for Gnomes in Much's garden. I must give this some thought.

Today has been grey, wet and utterly happy. Happy, because Lovely Younger Son and the Lassie are here for the weekend and I can't tell you how great it is to see them. It was their first visit to the house since we moved in and they have made all the right noises about how nice it is. We went for a potter about, had lunch and did some wedding planning. I must write down our thoughts about flowers, colours, and the things I've volunteered my sister to do before I forget. The Lassie is a very good knitter and Lady Sunshine has just learned, so between us we can knit two rings, a choir, and a white Rolls-Royce.

Somewhere between pottering and lunch I thought about the book I'm doing and realised that I've just got something wrong and will have to rewrite most of what I've done this week. That's normal, if annoying. Sometimes you have to get it wrong before you can get it right, and I decided not to think about until Monday because I'm making the most of the family time. It will be Bonfire Night on Tuesday but the big town bonfire was this evening. Being uphill, we had a brilliant view from the street. Watching fireworks is one of those things which is more fun if you do it with other people and it gave me such a glow to watch the sky light up, just from sharing it with Tony, LYS and The Lassie. True, we all got wet, but on Bonfire Night you expect to get wet or cold or both.

Hamilton Bear has been most excited. He was sitting in the window last night, watching for them to arrive. One of his favourite things when the kids were at home was watching the football with the boys on Saturday nights. To our great delight (and pleasant surprise, I have to say) Newcastle beat Chelsea 3-0 at home today, and Hamilton sat tucked in between LYS and The Lassie to watch the highlights.

All this, and footie too.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Much and the Fairy

After I mentioned a fairy for the New House of Stories, I thought again. Perhaps I should just stick with books and bears. We could end up with another one like Mavis. Bless her. Her heart was in the right place, but her wings were more than a little skew-whiff by the time we met her.

Mavis was the Tooth Fairy when our children were small, and was getting on. She should have retired but she insisted on staying in spite of getting into such a stooshie with every Pick-Up she did. She couldn't find a tooth without help, even with her glasses on. "Can't find it anywhere, Missus'. 'That's the dog's bed, Mavis.' It was worse after we moved and she'd be so relieved to find the house that she forgot it wasn't the same layout as the old one. She'd fly in through the landing window, turn right, thud into the wall and wake everyone up. By that stage she always wore a crash helmet, which limited the damage but amplified the clang. Then I'd sit her down on the stairs and calm her down - she was getting deaf, too, so I'd be bellowing 'Don't try to get up Mavis. Deep breaths, now, deep breaths - shall I find the tooth for you?' while Tony got her a cup of tea, or a G and T, which always went down well. By that time the whole house was awake. Then we had to check that she'd got the tooth and left the money, and stand back so she had room for a running take off. I often wonder what happened to Mavis.


I was thinking today, it's been quiet since 'er went. I got me snail and there's a couple more old gnomes in the garden, but they ain't got personality like what I've got. Now and again I 'ave a chat with them birds or the ducks, and I get on very well with Stephen, but 'e don't come that often now the growing season's over. The 'olly looks very grand with its berries on, but 'ers not 'ere to go all excited about it. I was sitting 'ere watching them leaves dropping off the sycamore, and then I thought - that's not leaves - that's blooming fairies! Fairies with blooming parachutes!

Turns out that The Silver Wings Home for Mature Fairies was 'aving an outing, and they'd dropped by, as yer might say, in my garden. Blimey, they might have asked first. Still, it were nice to 'ave a chat. I got talking to one and it turned out 'er name were Mavis, and she used to be Tooth Fairy to the old missus's family. She should 'ave retired, she said, but she wanted to stay until LYS had got all his grown up teeth. Now she lives with all these old fairies and they 'ave a high old time, they still fly about but they need 'alf a stone of fairy dust to get going. All them will-o-the-wisps, they light the way with Glimmer Zimmers these days. Well, I never. Wonder where old gnomes go?

Tuesday, 29 October 2013


The curtains arrived today. Just two pairs,one for the landing and one for our bedroom, but it means so much to us. It's part of making this house the way we want it. They're a light William Morris pattern of leaves and berries with 'Love is Enough' printed across, green on white for the landing, blue on white for the bedroom. The old grey shiny curtains from the landing will go to a charity shop, or maybe a drama group could use them for costumes. The old ones from our room are past hope, I'm afraid. So then we got all of a whatnot hunting for curtain hooks and finding we hadn't got the right size, and Tony going out for more, and a lot of climbing on chairs, and finally, we have beautiful curtains.

Bedroom curtains are very important. When you wake up in the morning, what do you see? Probably it's your bedroom curtains. Then again it might be a teddy bear. In my case it's frequently a cup of tea, because Tony gets sorted out in the morning before I do. And many years ago it was our dog who woke us all up in turn, escorted me to the bathroom, and then took me for a walk. But what I mean is, bedroom curtains are an important part of the beginning and end of your day. I look forward to swooshing them shut tonight and open in the morning.

I'm thinking of inventing something else that goes swoosh - a fairy to live in the garden. It would give Dodger something to chase. Perhaps two fairies would be good, to keep each other company. But they'd better behave or they'll be uninvented, sharpish.

Just to keep you up to date - Kenton Archer and Jolene are getting married and his unbearable daughter is a bridesmaid. Ed's cows are dropping dead and David's sheep have been worried by dogs. I'm worried by Jill Archer, the wholesome and reliable matriarch, who has been driving so dangerously that Joe Grundy nearly had another injury. Put your glasses on, pet.

Sunday, 27 October 2013


A wild, wet and blowy day today. There are warnings of storms from the South of England to the southern edge of Yorkshire. All of you in the south, nail down the garden furniture, call the cat in, lock the windows and bar the doors. Then go to bed. Trains are being cancelled tomorrow morning, so don't even attempt to go to work first thing. Most of the schools are on half term anyway.

On my first teaching practice I found that the teachers hated windy days, and I soon discovered why. It gets into the children. If you're a child, you know how it is. When there's a gale blowing you can either struggle against it or run with it, and you, like a leaf, would rather be swept along. You come back into the classroom like Atlantic breakers, full of whoosh, and you know you can fly.

It gets into animals, too, especially cats. You can tell there's a storm brewing long before you see any sign of it because the cat's on top of the wardrobe, in the sink, under your feet, or chasing invisible imps up and down the hall. Here is a wild thing, thinks the cat. I will catch it. This time,this time, I will catch it.

As a small person, I have occasionally had to grab a handrail, a lamppost or somebody's arm to keep from being blown away. On the north-east coast sometimes it was all I could do to keep the baby buggy from flying off into orbit with my youngest child in it. At any second, I thought, poor little LYS will be waving down at me as he soars above the North Sea on a big baby adventure.

Last time there were storms in the Calder Valley, a vicar friend of ours forgot to bring in his daughter's trampoline. next morning, it turned up in the churchyard.

So snuggle down. Sleep tight. May all your storms blow over.

Friday, 25 October 2013


Wednesday turned out quite busy. After the Premier radio slot, we whizzed back home through rain as if the angels had left the sluice gates open. We were out again at about twelve because we were having lunch with our friend Brenda.

Brenda, like me, is vegetarian. Unlike me she is such a great cook I want to kidnap her and lock her in my kitchen. She is also one of the kindest and - I'm going to make up a word here - sensiblest people I know. She is also warm and charming, and has the gift of making everything around her beautiful and everyone around her at home. It got even better, because she'd invited another friend from way back, a warm and funny woman whose physical health is flaky and whose spirit is indomitable. We should put those two in charge of the world. Brenda served up a scrummy lunch and we talked for hours. Wow, we have some wonderful friends! Tony and I just had time to turn ourselves round and get out again for...

do you know about The Proclaimers? Two Scotsmen with a sound that goes straight to where you need it. We saw them live at Greenbelt 2012 and their signature barnstormer '500 miles' was possibly the high point of a great festival. There's a new film out called 'Sunshine on Leith' based on their music and set in Edinburgh. Sunshine on Leith is one of my favourite songs in all the world, so I only hoped that the film did it justice. (Leith, by the way, refers to a district of Edinburgh and the Water of Leith, the river that runs through it.)

What a beautiful, true, happy and sad, moving, funny film, and the set pieces make you want to get up and dance. I've been going round singing Proclaimers songs ever since, and this is still in my head -

While I'm worth my room on this earth
I will be with you

As long as the Chief puts sunshine on Leith
I'll thank him for his work, for your birth and my birth

Please, find it, listen, watch.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013


Firstly, thank you so much to Clara for that lovely blog spot. I feel most honoured, and all of a whatnot.

I don't do mornings. I'm not made that way. When I had to get to work or had children to get ready in the morning, I got on with it. It's amazing what you can do if you have to. But six in the morning doesn't like me and I don't like it. Midnight is fine! Bring it on! But today I was being interviewed on the breakfast show for Premier Radio, which meant getting out at seven and being at the studio for eight. (Yes, I know, lots of you do it every day, but my brain doesn't understand the concept of falling asleep before at least one in the morning.) I'd intended to go by train and taxi, which would have made it even earlier, but Tony offered to take me into town. Hero.

I was awake at six. I think I was probably awake at ten past and half past as well, but I've no idea what happened in between. At seven, we left the house. By 7.15 we were behind a big vehicle with caterpillar wheels and so big you could have transported a six bedroom house on the back and the garden and garage as well. Square wheels, my father would have said. It sort of lumbered, like a dinosaur on the prowl for small unwary animals. That stayed ahead of us all the way to Newcastle by which I didn't want to look at the clock any more. We got lost on the Quayside, Tony did a spectacular job of negotiating the one way system, we went to the wrong car park first, and stumbled into the studio gabbling apologies.

What followed was a stimulating and very enjoyable morning with John Pantry, the host. We talked about the importance of reading to children, and about bringing Bible stories to life, and all sorts of things. I hope I made sense. Tony, who was in the studio, said afterwards that I came over very well. I hope so. If I said anything really stupid, I'm going to blame sleep deprivation.

Sunday, 20 October 2013


Years ago, I wrote a book for the Oxford Treetops Series called 'My Guinea-Pig is Innocent'. It went down very well with children, teachers and reviewers and I found that people warmed to the title before they'd even started the book. Perhaps if I'd called it 'The Escaping Guinea-Pig', 'Guinea-Pig in Danger' or 'Guinea-Pig Adventure' they wouldn't even have opened it. Titles are very important. Just now I'm working on a book about a dog. The plot's all there, I have no problems with the characters, I'd love to adopt that dog and I'm enjoying the writing, but my editor and I are scratching our heads about the title. When we know, I'll tell you.

One of the books on my to-read pile is When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, by that Grand Old Lady of Literature, Judith Kerr. Now, there's a title, and from all I hear it's a powerful story, too. She was a little girl from a Jewish family in Germany in the 1930s, and they only just got out of Germany in time.

On a lighter note, there is a prize awarded every year, the Diagram Prize, for the oddest book title of the year. Some previous winners are -

How to Avoid Huge Ships

Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers

Highlights in the History of Concrete, and my favourite

Goblin-Proofing your Chicken Coop.

Goodnight from the New House of Stories, and don't let the goblins into your chicken coop.

Thursday, 17 October 2013


What glorious days! A big family get-together on a day that started off cold and drizzly and turned into a warm autumn afternoon, and we took Mum and Dad to one of their favourite hidden valleys. Then a whole day at Seven Stories in Newcastle, the utterly wonderful National Centre for Children's Books, with over twenty other children's authors. If you love books for children and you're ever anywhere Newcastle, it's a must. Perhaps I'll tell you more about it another time, but it's getting late and I have to be up in the morning.

Today was another of those afternoons, a golden day. I'd written all morning, so I went out and planted bulbs, and Tony cut the grass. Everything smelt of cut grass and freshly turned earth. Then we brought out the stepladder so that I could get to the top of the apple tree and pick the last of the fruit, turning my head because the late sun was so strong that it dazzled through the leaves and branches. And I thought - can this really be me? Here, doing this? How enchanted, how story book, is this?

Speaking of Apples -

Ooh, and then this evening 'er sister rang up and said, you know when you were at my house, well you left yer hat, shall I put it in the post? No, she says, I'll pick it up next time I'm there, say hello to it for me. Now, I happen to know that hat, it's a green one and dead plain, if you ask me it needs a bit of decorating. It's good squirrel country round where her sister lives, I'm sure we could spare a few nuts and elderberries, and plenty of feathers, ooh, feathers, them pheasants is everywhere Plenty of sheep wool, too, looks very nice when you've got the mucky bits out. I'll get to work.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013


What a proper autumn we got this year! They call this a 'mast year'. All them trees has done so well, they got more beech nuts and berries and seeds and whatnot that they don't know what to do with 'em all, so they're shedding them on the ground. Everywhere you go there's hedgerows like treasure chests. We was out this afternoon and ooh, there's elderberries, hips and haws, all bright as jewels and the trees just turning amber. I reckon I could make a nice drop of elderberry wine and rosehip syrup this year, as well as me famous cordial. You have to leave plenty for the birds, mind, but this year there's more than enough to go round.

And there's something else you can do with them berries, too. Can't wait to decorate me hat.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Well, do I?

On a certain social networking site, things come round time and again.

On this social networking site you are never far away from a kitten. Fair enough,they are rather cute.

There are words of wisdom on this site. There are things to make you laugh. There are invitations to join some game or other just in case you're not already wasting hours of your one and only life.

They have pictures of dinners. Why do people photograph their food? Or, why do I just not understand that?

Then there are things like this - 'do you have the most wonderful, beautiful, talented and precious children in the world? Would you die/kill for your children? Would you fight off flame-throwing psychopathic ninjas for them? Are you proud of them? Do you love them all the way to the moon and back, or what's more, to the other side of Leeds? Will you hold them in your heart forever? Do they mean the world to you? SHARE if you have wonderful children who mean the world to you!'

What a stupid question. Of course my children are exceptional and amazing and I love them to bits. The lady I was having lunch with on Thursday said that I must be proud of them. I said I wasn't so much proud as greatly surprised and relieved that they've turned out so well in spite of being mothered by a madwoman. I show off about them at every chance I get. But 'proud' would suggest that it's about me, and it isn't, it's about them. And I don't SHARE. It would seem a bit cheesy, to be honest. (Maybe I'm just being very British and reserved about this.) It would undervalue the way I feel about them. And it might embarrass the daylights out of them. They know that I love them even if I don't click the thing that says 'share if your children are so precious that you would sell your granny in a wheelbarrow to save them'.

I occasionally share the kittens.

Thursday, 10 October 2013


What a great day! I travelled to York to met up with a dear friend from our North Yorkshire days. She is warm, wise and humorous, a saint with style and sparkle, and I owe her a lot. We met at The Bar Convent (look it up if you ever want somewhere to stay in York, or just to eat.) We talked of this and that, and I asked her about her experiences working in child care in the 1950s and 60s.

In those days, when she was training with Dr Barnardo's, they were trying to break free from the huge institutions of the past. Children lived in a 'children's village' with a small group of children living in each house in the care of housemothers. Not the babies, though - they were all together in a baby unit, with rows of cots and prams. A shift started at six or seven, and you could be on duty until ten if the laundry wasn't finished.

She told me of one place where she worked which had two dormitories full of boys. This was a large house with a lot of children in it, and in the days of open hearth fires the matron was very keen on fire drills, which often took place during the night. The boys loved it, because it was the only time they got to use the fire escape. It was out of bounds at all other times. As soon as the alarm rang they would jump out of bed, open the fire door, run down the fire escape and assemble in the yard.

Unusually one day,there way a fire drill in the afternoon when the boys were all out in the yard to play. At once they swarmed back into the house and up to the dormitories, opened the fire door, ran down the fire escape and assembled in the yard.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013


Let's make a difference.

Let's buy the fair trade coffee, chocolate or fruit, not just the cheapest.

Let's hold the door for someone.

Let's help the young mother get the buggy up the stairs in the shop.

Let's make someone laugh.

Let's plant winter pansies where somebody will see them.

Let's throw the washing up water on the garden, go round the house switching off lights we don't need, and put on a sweater to delay turning the fire on for another half hour.

Let's say 'well done' to somebody who needs it.

Let's send a card to somebody who could do with a hug by post.

Let's give thanks.

Let's think 'who needs me to love them this week?'

Let's recommend a good book to someone.

Let's do it today.

Sunday, 6 October 2013


What a lovely Harvest Festival we had today. It was an informal, family friendly service with a lot of children taking part, including helping the curate to make beans on toast. The point of this is that lots of different people brought things (somebody just happened to come to church with a toaster, somebody else with a tin of beans, etc) and more people helped, which was a lot of fun. The point is, of course, that we are not meant to isolate ourselves. We are meant to live in community. The rector got the job of opening the beans, and the sight of a left handed rector with a right handed tin opener was quite endearing.

I'm not sure if anyone ate the beans on toast. I was glad the curate didn't because he was wearing his cassock alb, as white as an angel's tablecloth. And we didn't sing the trad Harvest hymns, which didn't bother me, but there are sure to be complaints.

Not long ago, Harvest Festival produce was largely fruit and veg and was taken to the old and infirm. This meant giving apples to old ladies without teeth and cabbage to old men with creaky digestions. By the time the fruit met the frail and infirm it had fallen off the altar steps twice and been juggled with by a choirboy. If you weren't frail and infirm to begin with...

This morning people brought fruit and veg, but mostly I think it was pasta, soup, biscuits, tea, things like that, piled up at the front of the church. They were to go to a food bank. The churches in the UK are doing a great job with food banks, providing food to people who are hard up and also offering friendship, support, a listening ear, guidance to the agencies who can help them. Great things are being done through food banks. But in the 21st century, in the UK, it's a scandal that they have to exist.

I was talking recently to a friend who lives in Sheffield. (That's a big city that thinks it's in the north, but it's as far south as you can go without nudging the Midlands.) I asked her if there was a food bank in Sheffield.

'There are seventeen' she said.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Tarka and Teasel

'Tarka and Teasel' sounds as if I've just bought two kittens. I haven't.

Tarka the Otter is one of those wildlife classic stories. It's the life story of an otter, and I think it was written in the 1930s. It's set in Devon, mostly on the river where Tarka fishes, mates, escapes from otter hounds (otter hunting was legal at the time) and survives the long harsh winters. No costumes, no talking. This isn't Mistmantle. This is the story of a real otter on a real Devon river. It's told in the third person, but all from Tarka's point of view. I read it when I was eleven and it wasn't always an easy read - it made me cry more than once - but a satisfying one that carries you down to the river and into the otter's world. In the winter I could feel Tarka's hunger and was desperate for him to find food. The author, Henry Williamson, developed some unpleasant political beliefs which may have led to his books going out of fashion. Pity, because his books are a lot better than his politics.

In his corner of Devon, around Bideford and Barnstaple, you can't ignore Tarka. There is a walking trail called the Tarka trail, and the local railway line is the Tarka line. By the way, it's also a very beautiful area.

When I write animal books they are mostly from the hero or heroine's point of view, but I try to put a window into the animal's mind, too. When I wrote A HOME FOR TEASEL I had to move into the mind of a pony. I had to see the world the way she would see it, the way she hates being put into confined spaces and her need for a place in a herd. It's as much Teasel's story as Gwen's, so we have to see with her mind.

The book I'm working on now has a little dog in it. He's a very confused little dog at times. The more I write him, the more I feel that human behaviour must be so bewildering to dogs that they can't make head nor tail of us, and come to that, we don't even have tails, and who can get through life without a tail to wag? I think it's very good of dogs to put up with us at all.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Black Cat

Across the road from the New House of Stories (or the House of Books and Bears, as I think it may become) lives a big black cat with green eyes. It is a very picture book cat of a cat. I don't know its name.

When we first moved in we saw it a lot, but then, when we first moved in Daughter was with us and I could swear that cats talk to her. They have an understanding, Daughter and cats. (Her grandfather is also a cat person. Her Aunt Helen is great with cats and has two, but Helen is happy with anything four-legged.) The day the removal men were hauling wardrobes out of the van, the black cat was arching its back under Daughter's hand and following her around.

Since she went home, nearly two months ago, we've hardly seen it. Then yesterday afternoon, when I was sitting working in the front room, Cat jumped on to the wall and from there to the top of the wheelie bin, where it curled up on sentry duty. (You can't fall asleep on a wheelie bin, they don't look comfortable. You'd slide off. This was a thinking cat.) It was there on the wall again today when I went out, and still there when I came back.

I say hello to it and tell it what a good cat it is, but it's a dignified cat, so I don't stroke it. I get the feeling it might turn around and walk away or scratch me if I did. Perhaps it doesn't feel that I know it well enough yet.

"You have not earned the right to touch me," thinks the cat. "Send me the Princess. She alone is worthy."

Sunday, 29 September 2013


Today is one of my favourite days in the year. Angel day, Michaelmas, the Festival of St Michael and All Angels. I am so glad of angels. My first book, 'A Friend for Rachel', later reissued as 'The Secret Mice', was a lot to do with angels. They are supportive friends, and we all need those. And because this year it fell on a Sunday and I'm going to a church that likes to keep the festivals, we had an angel themed morning service.

The church I used to go to in the Very Happy Village was called St Michael's. That's a bit strange, because usually churches called after the Archangel Michael are 'St Michael and All Angels'. Some years before we arrived there, a new vicar came to the village - James, who is one of our super-duper friends. James was surprised that this particular St Michael didn't have any angels. It didn't have a Toddler Group, either. He solved both problems at once by starting a Toddler Group and calling it 'Angels'.

I'm such a soft touch, I started off by helping with that playgroup and ended up running it. Does that make me an Honorary Angel?

Friday, 27 September 2013


More than a thousand years ago, when Christianity was a flickering light in England and Scotland, Oswald returned from exile to claim his kingdom of Northumbria in battle. He had been raised by Christian monks in Scotland, and asked them to send someone to help him spread the gospel in Northumbria. Aidan came, and established his ministry on the lonely, quiet tidal island of Lindisfarne. When Aidan died, a shepherd boy called Cuthbert had a vision of angels carrying a holy soul to heaven.

Years later, Cuthbert was put in charge of the community on Lindisfarne. He lived a simple life of prayer, teaching (largely by example) and fasting, and died in 687. He was soon recognised as one of Northumbria's great saints, and a later abbot of Lindisfarne made a book of the gospels, so beautifully written and decorated that it is almost unbearably lovely to look at.

It is now thirteen hundred years old and lives in the British Library. I often go in to have a peek at it when I'm in London, but this year it came to Durham Cathedral where Cuthbert is buried. On Wednesday Claire, Tony and I met at Durham, said a prayer at Cuthbert's tomb, and went to the Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition. It was very well done, with pages of the gospels projected on to the walls, and contemporary gospel books around it, as well as St Cuthbert's ring and the cross he wore. The book itself, in its glass case, was open at the beginning of St Matthew.

But it's no good me telling you about it. Put The Lindisfarne Gospels into a search engine and look.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Grey or Gray

Big hugs and thank you to Tony who did the blog for me at the weekend when I was wretchedly ill. I think a migraine and a virus met in the middle. Tony truly is a Master, not only of Theology, but of putting furniture together and looking after his poor ailing wife at the same time.

The English spelling is 'grey'. In the US it's 'gray'. For me, they suggest quite different things. I read once about a writer who used 'grey' in the sense of dismal, boring, rainy day, can't wash the dirt out grey. 'Gray' was for anything filmy, gauzy, mysterious. A raincoat is grey. Mist rising in the early morning is gray. That works for me. Also, if it's just in-betweenish grey, it's grey. If it's very pale or has a bit of blue or purple in it, it's gray.

I was thinking about grey (let's stick with that one for now) because there's a lot of it in this house, left by the people here before us. We don't particularly like grey, but there's no point in taking up perfectly good carpets so we're working around it. Pretty curtains have been ordered, for a start, and in the bathroom there is a grey blind. We talked about that and, as Tony is a rather good artist, are thinking of painting it. So, what will we have on our blind?

Green trees and flowers?

The sky - day or night?

A fjord? A loch? A river? An Alpine village?

The sea? A beach?

A bubble bath? Towels? Yellow ducks?



What do you think?

Sunday, 22 September 2013

I have a screwdriver, and I know how to use it.

The new House of Stories is a lovely house. Especially on days like today, when the sun is shining, and the garden and conservatory are warm and bright, and we can sit in the sun with a good book and enjoy it. Today was a good day to sit in the sun, enjoy the garden, and try to ignore the things that still need sorting out. That's the only thing with moving into a new house: it's new, and things are still in boxes, and there are piles of books stacked in different rooms waiting for somewhere to live. So we've been shopping for furniture, especially bookcases, and the Hairy Bloke has been busy putting them all together. There have been bookshelves for the study, and cabinets for the kitchen, and they've all come in bits packed in boxes, with instructions on how to put them all together.

Instructions. Sometimes it's like trying to understand a recipe for Apple's cordial. Or the mysteries of the Threadings, written in Chinese. There is a drawing, showing the bits (here is a long shelf, and here is a not so long shelf) and the bits required for putting them together (here are three screws and a funny-shaped thingy to go in that hole and fit those two bits together). Never mind - the Hairy Bloke was ready for the challenge (all those years building model aeroplanes were not wasted!). All the bits were spread out on the floor, the screwdrivers and hammer (just in case!) were placed ready, and the booklet of instructions was opened. There was a moment when it looked as if all those bits would never fit together to become that bookcase or kitchen cabinet, and the suspicion that the little plastic bag of screws and things would either not have enough screws or would be missing the one vital thingumajig, and it would all end in tears. But somehow, it all came together, step by step, stage by stage, and gradually the pieces of furniture took shape. Success!

There is one more to do. The cardboard box is lying downstairs, packed solid with bits. Some time in the next few days, the Hairy Bloke will take a deep breath, open the box, slide out all the parts, and think "There's far too many bits! How on earth will all that go together?" But there will be a book of instructions, and the diagrams will show the way. Bit by bit, step by step, it will all come together. One more set of bookshelves, so that some more of the boxes and heaps of books can be sorted and find their place.

That's important. This is the House of Stories, where the Lovely Lady writes her stories, but it's also a house full of books written by other people. Stories are for sharing, and reading again. Books are full of stories, to take you into other worlds, to make you laugh or help you to marvel and wonder. They are all very special - so it's worth a bit of time and work to make a few more bookshelves, so they can all come out of their boxes and find their places, and be ready to tell their tales all over again. So, where's that screwdriver...?

Friday, 20 September 2013


What is it about socks, I asked myself? Before we moved house I gave up on the One Sock Club, which met on a storage box in our bedroom. I binned them, every last heel, sole and holey toe of them. And yet, within six weeks I had another lonely sock club. Everything else that goes through the wash comes out at the other end. Why not socks? I considered the theories. Maybe pairs of socks

a) part company as soon as they can because they hate each other, or

b) love each other so much that they blend into one sock during the final spin.

Neither idea sounded convincing to me. I asked Hamilton Bear about it and he said it's nothing to do with him, but he had that look as if he knows more than he's saying. Hamilton and I have no secrets from each other, so he must be keeping somebody else's secret. So who is he covering for? This is what I think.

We have two cuddly dogs here. There's Rowlff, who sits on Tony's desk, and I think was a present from Daughter long ago, and Wolfgang von Luddendorf, who used to belong to Uncle Gordon and now lives with us. He lives beside the television and sort of lies down to attention as if he's guarding us all. Everybody knows that dogs like socks. Our Daniel used to love them, especially the dirty smelly ones. Now, Rowlff and Wolfgang are very well behaved dogs and keep still when you're watching them, but we all know that toys get up to all sorts of things when your back is turned. And there's Dodger in the garden. I suspect he nips in when we're not looking, lies in wait for a sock, and grabs one trying to climb out of the laundry bin.

It has been too long since I told you about The Archers, and I know you're dying to find out, but really, it's all too much just now. The place is going to bits.

Caroline and Oliver went on holiday, and Oliver recommended a temporary manager for Grey Gables, the hotel, but he turned out to be a charlatan and did a runner. Ian the chef is now scraping Caroline off the ceiling with a spatula. Not only that, but Joe Grundy was celebrating his ninety-somethingth birthday at Grey Gables and had a nasty accident to do with too much Margarita and a badly fitted carpet. Helen Archer is having a whatnot with a married man, not just any married man, but Rob who is in charge of the evil mega-dairy. Ever the devoted single mother, she dumps little Henry with her mum and pretends she's going to a jewellery making class.

Kenton and Jolene are getting married. And some cows had babies. Moo.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013


Ooh, you should see my hat. We're having such a good year this year, with the wet spring and the hot summer, the fruit crops are coming on a treat. I got plums and brambles on me hat this year, elderberries, too, it looks a treat and I can always have a nibble if I'm peckish. I heard Mrs saying 'that apple's gone bad, throw it out or it'll set all the rest off,' I was ready to be proper affronted until I realised she were talking about a cooking apple, not me, ooh, I did have a laugh. Mind, I have to hang on to me hat on a windy day or that little dog, that Dodger, would be after it.

This year's cordial should be extra good, I got plenty of vinegar stored up, there's mint in the garden, I got some clove oil to give it a bite. Ooh, she says, there's a maggot in the blackberries, and I says, is it alive? Because if them blackberries ain't harmed the maggot, they won't harm us. And if we get a bit of time at the weekend we can go and pick bilberries. Do you know about bilberries? Bit like blackcurrants, but sweeter, ooh, they're not quite like anything else. When you've tasted bilberries you won't be bothered about blueberries every again, they ain't nearly as nice.

I sometimes used to suspect that when my Urchin were little he didn't always drink his cordial when he were supposed to. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?

Monday, 16 September 2013


One of the things I do last thing every night is The List. It's the list of all the things I have to do the following day, including some that probably won't get done, but if they make their way to the list they stand a chance of being sorted out within a week. There are three things to remember about the list -

1 put down some things that you want to do as well as the ones you have to,

2 put in some really obvious ones, things you do every day anyway and don't take long. You get a sense of achievement crossing them off, and

3 where you put it.

I may as well put 'find list' at the top of mine. I can sometimes find it first thing in the morning, but at some point it always escapes. I must have wasted years of my life looking for the list. At the moment the lists are invariably written on squares of yellow paper, so I can usually find yesterday's list or one from the middle of last week. At present I haven't a clue where today's is. It may have taken refuge behind a cupboard with a lot of other lists on yellow squares. 'Phone Mum and Dad' was on it, and a trip to IKEA, and the next stage of the new book, I've done those, and I meant to phone a lady from a bookshop, oops, forgot that. And I know 'blog' was on there. What shall I blog about?

Saturday, 14 September 2013


Imagine all those times when you've been sitting in a hot, stuffy classroom on a beautiful summer day. The sun is beating mercilessly through a plate glass window, and your school uniform is uncomfortable. Just on the other side of that window you can see the school field, waiting for you to sprawl about on it and make daisy chains. The third years are supposed to be doing athletics, but the teacher can't be everywhere at once. The kids who are supposed to be practising long jump are mucking about in the sand pit. A few leggy girls saunter round the track and break into a trot when Miss is looking.

And there you are, hot, sticky, and bored, bored, so bored you want to scream. You don't care what the German word for potato salad is, if you ever do get to Germany you're not going there to eat potato salad. As for the grammar, you lost track of that two terms ago and you now do your homework by taking a calculated guess. There is sweat on the palms of your hands and all you can think of is a cold drink.

'Margaret McAllister, is there anything very fascinating out of that window?'

'No, Miss,' I say, because I daren't tell her the truth.

Tony, as most of you know, has just retired as a Methodist minister. All Methodist ministers are required to go twice a year to a huge general meeting called Synod. I've never been to a Synod, but I'm told that they have their inspiring moments. That's when somebody says or does something exciting, but it happens so rarely that the Chairman faints and has to be carried out on a stretcher and they talk about it for years afterwards. Like a scene in a nightmare, there's no way out of Synod. They say you can only get an exemption if you've died the previous week.

Retired ministers can still go to Synod, lucky old things. Tony, who would rather stand in the main road and juggle hand grenades, won't.

Retired ministers are SUPPOSED to go to Synod. And if they don't? At this point, I want to put my hands on my hips and my head on one side and say 'well. whatcha gonna do 'bout it?'

This morning, I was in enjoying the sun in the conservatory, reading the newspaper, when Tony came in. He looked out at the garden, remarked happily on what a lovely day it is, and went to make himself a coffee.

"You know what?" he said. "Today's Synod."

Wednesday, 11 September 2013


The Thing is a clothes airer. When I was a kid, in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth, we had a 'clothes horse'. It was wooden, and a bit like a gate that unfolded and stood in front of the fire or the stove with damp washing draped over it. It was also a tent, a castle, a house, or just a place to hide with a book and stay out of trouble.

I recently bought a modern heated version of the same thing, a metal and plastic thing that unfolds into a tower of platforms, considerably taller than I am. Yesterday, with the rain hammering down on the garden and a heap of damp washing sulking in the basket, I set it up. Given that we still have book mountains all over the floor, this may not have been wise.

'It'll go in the dining room for the time being', I said, and walked the Thing into place. Well, the Thing could get in there but then I couldn't, and I as I had the laptop set up in there it was the Thing or me.

'I'll put it in the hall.' But with the thing in the hall nobody could get anywhere, and I didn't feel like folding it up again and hauling it up to the attic, so I settled for the kitchen. Draped with everything that had just flopped out of the washing basket it fitted just too snugly between the cooker, the cupboard where the plates live, and the fridge. We calculated. To have lunch, we needed the fridge and the cupboard more than we needed the cooker. Move the Thing about eight inches south. When it was time to cook, I had to get everything out of the cupboard first and then jam the Thing against the door. That would have been all right until I needed access to the garage. Steered thing ninety degrees south-south-east. Thing now obstructing fridge again, and by the time I'd sorted out the garage I was ready for a cold drink. Steered the thing into dry dock. Opened fridge.

All is now done, the washing is aired and the thing is folded up in the utility room. I can't remember Mum having this trouble with the clothes horse.

Sunday, 8 September 2013


I always wanted a house with an apple tree. We planted two at the last house. When we bought this one we knew there was a big old tree in the garden, but we didn't know what it was. But it is my tree of dreams, an apple tree, and just now it's laden with shiny green fruit. Apple crumble, anyone? Apple pie, apple... well, apple anything really. By the way, in Yorkshire they serve Wensleydale cheese with apple pie, and with fruit cake, too. It's surprisingly nice.

Our friend Silke came to see us today, and we sat in the sun drinking tea in one of the habitable rooms before taking her for a tour, then I went outside to pick some apples for her to take home. It wasn't worth taking a stepladder out there, not when the tree is so climbable. How many years is it since I climbed a tree? Anyway, I did i, without breaking any limbs (mine or the tree's). I came down with quite a harvest.

My first ever published book was A FRIEND FOR RACHEL, then they renamed it THE SECRET MICE. It ended with two girls running off to climb the apple tree, and I thought of that today, when I climbed my very own apple tree.

Friday, 6 September 2013

On Bananas

The nice young lad in the shop handed over the fruit I'd just paid for, saying 'Your bananas'. 'No I'm not!' I said, then reflected that he was probably right. And a little while ago I saw an elderly-ish couple side by side, thoughtfully eating bananas.

This got me thinking about a story for small children, a story about a family who all eat bananas, they love them, they almost live on bananas, from the great-grandparents to the baby, even the hamster eats bananas. Then there are no more bananas in the shops, and they have to try to find them. They know nothing about where bananas come from.

So, what would they do? Plant bananas to see if they grow? Dig for a banana mine? Get in a boat and go banana fishing? Set traps and lie in wait for the bananas to fall in? And what do they eat in the meantime, and do they like it?

We could have a story coming on. You saw it here first.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013


Hello, I'm Dodger, I live in the garden, I'm Oliver's friend I'm Margi's friend, I'm everybody's friend, I chase things, I like playing, I like running after apples, I like... I like everything - BIRD! I'm Dodger, did I tell you - BUTTERFLY! that my name is Dodger, I...

I'm so sorry about that. He's very excitable, especially for a stone dog. Really his boy, Oliver, should control him, but Oliver just stands there with his hands in his pockets trying to look innocent. Oliver and Dodger are a work in progress and it might be slow progress, I'm afraid.

They live under the apple tree. One day Dodger will learn the difference between an apple and a tennis ball, but don't hold your breath.

Sunday, 1 September 2013


Bit quiet round 'ere, innit? 'Er's off. They're all off. Still, I've got me snail, me river, the rest of the garden, and the spuggies to chat to, so it's not so bad. And I 'ad a visitor this week. Stephen's back. The church what owns this house still 'as 'im looking after the garden. Decent chap, Stephen, only 'e's as mad as a bloomin' 'atter. 'E goes mountain biking, climbing up waterfalls, you name it, no wonder 'e lost two of 'is fingers. (Mind, 'e did that when 'e were gardening. Accident with a chain saw. makes me glad I'm made of stone.)

Anyway, I 'as it on very good authority that the New House of Stories comes with a little stone lad and 'is dog. Don't know the dog's name, but the lad's Oliver, and 'e looks like he's had a lot of patching up done over the years so I reckon he's a scamp. Looks like the picture of innocence, and I reckon that's the kind you have to look out for. The sort of lad that always has an apple, a football sticker, a toffee and a dead beetle or two in 'is pocket and doesn't do 'is 'omework until 'is mum glues 'im to the seat. Don't suppose 'e'll be bothered about writing a blog, then.

'Ere come the ducks. Evening, ducks. Missus misses you something rotten. If you want any duck food, ask Stephen's kids.

Friday, 30 August 2013


It's always a good idea to have something to aim for. I've been aiming for the dining room table.

I don't mean THAT sort of aim. I don't mean aim as in squinting along the barrel and taking a potshot while it's grazing because it's open season on dining room tables. In the weeks since we moved in, with half empty boxes and heaps of homeless books everywhere, a lot of stuff ended up in the dining room. The table and chairs were piled up like a bric-a-brac shop. That didn't matter, as Tony and I don't often eat at the dining room table anyway. It's more of Sunday and Special Days thing.

But today was one of those Special Days. The Sunshines arrived today for the weekend, and my aim was that we should all sit round the dining room table together. In between the writing, shopping, washing, and getting to grips with things that needed doing around the house, Tony and I sorted and stuck things in cupboards until we had an island in the middle of the mess. By the time The Sunshines arrived we had a table covered with a gleaming white cloth, four dining chairs and enough room for everyone to get to their places. For the first time in this house we gathered round the table to a family meal.

Daughter and her Chap, meanwhile, are on holiday in Paris, and when she texted she told me where they were having supper tonight. The Eiffel Tower. But what I want to know is, did they have a nice white tablecloth?

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

So far...

Thank you for your patience! On 7 August we moved in, helped by daughter and LOS who worked like Trojans on special rates for overtime. On the 9th we were supposed to get the internet sorted, but in fact that didn't happen until last Friday, when we were away at Greenbelt Festival. The e-mail is still a bit wrapped around the cuckoo tree, but we are getting there.

So - the kitchen is nearly sorted and we have a usable living room and - ooh! - a sunny conservatory. Suddenly I feel the need to be conserved. Our bedroom is sorted, I have half a study and the attic is being turned into a place of dreams. Tony has a study (though how everything is going to fit in here is beyond anyone without a sonic screwdriver and a Tardis.) I've just been heaving heaps of books off the spare beds so that the Sunshines will have somewhere to sleep when they next visit.

I didn't want to go to Greenbelt. I mean, I did, because Greenbelt - an annual Christian Arts Festival held at Cheltenham Racecourse - is such a great blend of music, worship, thought-provoking talks, challenges to more simple, eco-friendly and just lifestyles, calls to address the big problems of our time and to stand up to power, and that's before you start on the theatre/comedy/galleries/fair trade stalls/best coffee ever. Especially, this year, it was a chance to meet up with friends I won't see so much now we've moved. Meg Harper and I (we shared a publisher for a while) got together over tea and cake for a chat and talked non-stop for two hours. That should put the world of publishing right. And Christian Aid tackle the problems of poverty and hunger while dishing up delicious fair trade food.

The only reason I didn't want to go this year was that we've only just got our house, the first house that's belonged to us and not to the church! I didn't want to leave it in case it fell down or ran away or blew up or got invaded while we're away. But it's still here, safe and sound. There's much to be done, but we're in.

Monday, 19 August 2013

from here

My first post from the Land of Great Saints. It comes from an internet cafe. We've moved into the New House of Stories but the internet hasn't, so I am sitting here with a laptop and a view of the park. When the Internet Hamster has found the right wheel I will be blogging to you from home, but for now I'm just telling you that I'm alive and well and living in Northumberland again at last.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Twelve Hours

In twelve hours the removal men will be here.

In a little over thirty six hours we will lock the door of this beautiful House of Stories for the last time.

Then on Thursday morning we will wake up in our bright sunny house in lovely Northumberland and start unpacking.

There have been tears and there will be more. Goodbye, and thank you with much love, all you Crossleys and Allisons, Wrathalls and Cansdales and all the rest of you from Auriol to Zack, from tiny Jacob to time-honoured Jim. Goodbye to St Michael's church which has been such a home and family, to Millie's cafe and the ribbon shop. We'll come back and see you. River, Much, I'll miss you. I'll miss the voice of the river and the view of green hills. I can barely think of the garden.

To all of you in the big world, I will soon be writing to you from a happy market town in the land of Great Saints.

Friday, 2 August 2013

bear with...

Bear with me, we are in the middle of sorting everything out before the removal men come on Tuesday and it's all a bit wild here, but today was a day off so that we could spend some time with great friends in the beautiful Harlow Carr Gardens. Sunshine, amazing gardens, good friends and family and Betty's cafe. If that's not a good day, I don't know what is.

Yesterday, though I say it myself, I played a blinder. Within half an hour I'd arranged for some old furniture to go to one charity and surplus bedding to another. I also found an antique dealer who sells pre 1980 records, and I came out of that one twenty pounds up. Hey, I'm good at this. I'm not so good at the 'saying goodbye to people' bit. We've done a lot of moving house over time - this will be our ninth address in thirty five years. We're really good at the practicalities of moving. I could write the manual. But the partings get harder every time.

Much moved, too, yesterday. About ninety degrees. I looked out and saw daughter struggling with him (he's no lightweight) and he can now see across to the river. He looks pleased.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Kate (no, not that one)

Not a real blog post today, just something for you to enjoy -


Monday, 29 July 2013


It's been soggy the last two days. It started with the thunderstorms on Saturday night. I hadn't noticed the rain starting, and I was making such a lovely job of sorting out the remaining stuff in LYS's room and putting it all through the wash. There's still a soaked bath towel and a sodden Newcastle United rug flapping wetly on the washing line.

On Sunday was another big farewell do, when people said very nice things about us and cried. What was especially lovely was that all the family were together (except Daughter's Chap, who couldn't be there, but we gave him a mention). LOS and Daughter both contributed to the speeches which we hadn't expected, and it turned our hearts over. Daughter also sang that lovely Irish farewell song, The Parting Glass, and sang it beautifully.

They presented Tony with a cheque and a painting by a favourite artist, Kate Lycett, who can make grim wet Yorkshire streets look radiant. We've often looked at her paintings and wished we could own one. And for me there the most beautiful and enormous bouquet of white lilies and roses that scents the whole house. When I got it home I filled up the water reservoir and missed, so the carpet got wet. In fact, everything got wet. Never mind.

But today there have been more thunderstorms. Yet again, everyone is looking anxiously at the sky, the hills and the river, and putting sandbags against their front doors. We're safe here, but after the floods of last year everyone is nervous and there has been some flooding higher up the valley. I was supposed to be meeting a friend (Henrietta, another author) this evening, but we had to cancel because the road was closed.

Yet another flood makes it easier, in a way, for us to pack up and go away from this wild wet valley. But our hearts are with the ones who have to stay, and it seems unfair.

Saturday, 27 July 2013


Sorry, I've been quiet this week. I haven't been on holiday, I haven't been ill. But our move to Northumberland is getting closer, and there's so much to do.

There are obvious things, like sorting stuff out and packing books into boxes and running out of boxes and going to the shops to beg for even more boxes. Then are the really important things.

We have less than two weeks left in the village. I want to spend all the time I can with the people and places I'll leave behind.

On Monday, I went with two friends and a small child to Judith Wigley's excellent bookshop in Skipton so that when I've gone they'll know the best place in all of Yorkshire to find resources for children's work. (And funny stuff. And very good coffee and lunches, and by the way the scones are good too.) Tuesday was a sorting stuff out day, and in the evening I saw the funniest and most original piece of theatre I've seen in years, 'Inspector Norse', a two-woman show by Lip Service Theatre.

Wednesday, LYS and The Lassie arrived in her shiny new car, in the afternoon I went to the dentist for my 'check out and clean bill of health' appointment, and in the evening - at last, hoorah, hooray! - our new vicar was inducted, or authorised, or enthroned, or whatever it is. She is a star, and will be well loved here. Joy, music, food, the Church of England knows how to do big occasions.

On Thursday I was at a Society of Authors do at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate. Harrogate is an old-fashioned elegance sort of place, and the Old Swan has 1930's grandeur about it. It's famous for being the place that Agatha Christie disappeared to when she had some sort of breakdown, so crime writers flock to it. It's even got a library, but we didn't go in there so I never found out if there's a body in it.

Finally - yesterday was our farewell party. Too happy to be sad, so tears, for me, will come later. When you're leaving, everybody says nice things about you. Great company, a lot of fun, music, Bucks Fizz, and as it was a fine evening the beautiful children could run about outside if they felt like it. The Sunshines pitched in to help, and as they are sort of the Village Love Story, or at least the Church Love Story, they did what they always do and brought the sunshine with them.

Today, daughter arrives and I haven't made her bed yet. LYS and the Lassie are in Poland for a wedding but we'll see them tomorrow. At some point I will get on with clearing out and packing up, so if you stand still for five minutes you'll be put in a cardboard box and labelled.

So the prince is George, as we suspected he might be. I have to say that I was appalled by the baying and shrieking of the crowd when his parents first brought him out of the hospital. This is not what you do in the presence of a newborn baby who's never known anything but a quiet maternity suite. Ladies and Gentlemen of the press, and the people who pay for the newspapers and the TV channels, this is a baby, not your newest plaything.

Monday, 22 July 2013

A Prince!

We have a new prince! Should we make a Threading?

Now, everyone, what shall we call him?

Sunday, 21 July 2013


When the kids were small, they had a set amount of pocket money each week which they could supplement by doing odds and ends of jobs around the house and garden. It didn't include things like 'making your own bed and putting your dirty socks in the wash', but things that were over and above. I seem to remember hoovering came into it, but I can't remember what else.

After church this morning, some of us got into a conversation about how we used to earn extra holiday money. I said that my sister and I used to weed the garden, and I think threepence in old (pre-decimal) money for a wheelbarrow full was the going rate. It was a small wheelbarrow, so I think we came out of it pretty well. Daphne said she used to get threepence for a hundred dandelions, which I think is slave labour and definitely along way below the minimum wage. Then Geoffrey, who goes back a long way, told us a story about somebody from before his time.

Jackie was the youngest of thirteen children. A neighbour who kept rabbits paid him to bring dandelion leaves, so on Saturday mornings Jackie would go off looking for dandelions. The churchyard was a good place to find them, and one morning when he'd picked all he could carry he went home past the chapel.

"And there was me sister coming out," he said. "She'd just got wed that morning, and nobody had told me!"

I don't suppose he minded. Small boy. Wedding, or earning pennies for pulling leaves up?