Wednesday, 27 February 2013


That brave explorer Ranulph Fiennes has had to abandon his attempt to cross the Antarctic in winter because he got frostbite in his fingers. Now, I'm just a wee home body and I think the only thing that should be crossing the Antarctic in winter is a penguin, and then only if it really feels it must, but I admire Fiennes's courage. And I sympathise.

We had a music practice in church this evening. Church is a big grey Victorian building. Heating it costs half the national debt, so it doesn't get warmed up for music practices. I'm not sure if the heating 's working just now anyway, because one of the pipes started leaking - lots - and we've been having services in the lovely warm hall instead. Leaking pipes make the church damp, so it feels even colder. It was five degrees outside and I reckon about minus twenty within. We should have rehearsed in the car park.

I'm one of the lucky ones, I just have to sing a bit and whack a tambourine. The clever people who played things with strings were having a Ranulph Fiennes moment. Georgie turned white, then blue. Victoria's flute froze to the wall and had to be chipped off with an ice axe, and the guy with the violin lost all feeling in his fingers and couldn't tell if he was playing or not. We may have to amputate. No, I told them, I haven't brought castanets, that's my teeth.

It just proves what I've always known. The place to be on a winter evening is by the fire, with a good book.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Oscar Froth

Oscar Froth could be the name of a character, too. But he sounds a bit of a lightweight to me, not a strong personality. Perhaps he needs a philosopher's name in the middle - Oscar Socrates Froth. That gives him a bit of gravitas, don't you think?

But it isn't really a character name. I was reading something on-line about what all those famous people wore to the Oscars. Serious suits and frothy frocks. There were pictures of gorgeous gowns and ghastly gowns, some very beautiful and some that looked like a twelve year old's first dressmaking attempts or a bold attempt to recycle the dining room curtains. And then I thought - they're actors, aren't they? They're nominated because they played a part and dressed up. So for future Oscar ceremonies, I think they should all dress up. Pantomime themes would be good. Mother Goose. Cinderella and the Ugly Sisters. Jack and the Giant. The Ghost, and the two guys slapping wallpaper paste about.

I'm rather fond of dressing up. A few years ago I saw that one of our supermarkets had reduced their Easter Bunny stuff when the season was over. They were practically giving away the bunny ears, nose, and tail sets, and you never know when you might need one, so I bought one for me and one for Lady Sunshine (who looks adorable in hers). When our Toddler Group had a Fancy Dress day, I wore my Easter bunny accessories with a white top and trousers. At the end, when we'd packed up and all the children and parents had toddled off, I un-rabbitted myself, did a bit of shopping, then walked home. I put my bag in the kitchen then turned to say hello to Tony.

"You left your tail on," he said.

Saturday, 23 February 2013


It's been that day again, the day when Tony and I go to York for the Members Day of the wonderful Riding Lights Theatre Company. It's also the weekend of the York Viking Festival, when every other person you see is dressed in a cloak and carrying a battleaxe. They have Dragon Boats races on the river, so it's really not a good day to fall in.

There were long traffic queues on the way there, so I had plenty of time for my brain to go for a walk. I was thinking about choosing character names, and I don't mean names like Catherine Jenkinson or Patrick Webster. I mean bizarre names for bizarre characters. Something like this -

write down

a name you might give to a puppy

a place you've enjoyed visiting

a type of sweet,

and mix them up. So now I have Flossie Vienna Marshmallow and Fergus Clovelly Fudge. I can see them now, can't you?

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Somebody recently asked me what I like about the area where I live. To be honest, when I first came to this valley it was a big contrast from the pretty-pretty part of North Yorkshire where we lived before, and it took me a while to settle. Then we moved just a mile along the road, into this village.

I love living so near the river. It's a bit of a grubby, urban river, but it has its ducks and dippers and the heron, and it talks and sings as it wriggles over the stones. I can see green hills from every window. I have great friends in this village, warm, gifted, remarkable people who will be friends for ever.

It's five or ten minutes walk to the little shops, the churches, the health centre, my favourite wee cafe, the library, the primary school, the pub, the bus and the train. People get together to support village events, and to support each other, too. Local volunteers keep the station clean and smart, and plant up the tubs of flowers on the platform. The Christmas lights were designed by local children. For a tiny place we do well for artists. Yes, the rain sweeps down the valley, but without that it wouldn't be the same place. And there have to be some things about it that I don't like, otherwise leaving would break my heart.

Sunday, 17 February 2013


Bilmey, it's all romantic at the 'ouse of Stories this week, what with Lovely Younger Son and the Lassie getting engaged, and it were lovey-dovey day on Thursday. I don't go for all that Vallytines nonsense. Folks give each other roses, I ask you, roses, where do they get them in bloomin'February? And as for them soppy cards, you may as well wait untilthe weekend when they're selling 'em off cheap.

'Er weren't feeling romantic, Tony and 'er were on the way 'ome from Canterbury and getting stuck in traffic jams. Anyway, Tony give 'er a big chocolate heart with 'er name on it, and she give him a copy of an old movie called Arsenic and Old Lace. 'E's delighted with it! Apparently it's about two old ladies doing people in. Funny idea of romance, those two.

'Er were down 'ere today, as the weeds are starting to show, and we 'ad a little chat. That Himalayan Balsam's already starting to grow, she says, and it's a pernicious weed, I'm pulling 'em out as fast as they can put their little leaves up. You should try arsenic, I said. It worked for them two old ladies.

Friday, 15 February 2013


I have been off-blog for a few days because we had a much looked forward to trip to Canterbury last week. Unfortunately, a migraine came with me, a really vicious Richter Scale migraine. I don't like to over-use my little pink pills. I was so concerned not to over-use them that I took one much too late, and the migraine stormed along for days.

Pilgrims used to come to Canterbury to visit the tomb of St Thomas a Becket, which was supposed to be a good place for miracles. As he died from severe injuries to the skull he should be sympathetic to people with headaches, so maybe I should have asked him for a favour. But I don't know where he is just now. Nobody does!
Here's a very brief outline of the story.

Thomas a Becket was Archbishop of Canterbury in the reign of Henry II, 'Curtmantle'. They were both determined and powerful men, and were great friends apart from their clashes over Church and State. At the height of one of his rages one Christmas, Henry II shouted 'will no-one rid me of this turbulent priest?', and four knights took him at his word. They rode to Canterbury, burst into the cathedral, set on Thomas and killed him before the altar.

It was an act that brought horror on the country and shame on those four men. Henry himself was overcome with guilt, and made regular pilgrimages to Thomas's tomb. Soon, there were tales of prayers being granted and miracles occurring at Canterbury. Pilgrims swarmed there, and the tomb of St Thomas a Becket became one of the most famous sites in Christendom - until Henry VIII had his Great Tantrum and holy sites all over the country were destroyed. The shrine was broken up and the bones of Thomas Becket were reportedly burned.

To this day, there are those who doubt that this actually happened. Some say that the monks secretly hid the bones of their saint before the king's men arrived, and subsituted a skeleton from their own burial ground. So when you go to Canterbury today, you can stand at the place where he died. You can visit the first and second places where his tomb was placed. But his grave isn't there.

Or is it? Does he still lie in some hidden place in his cathedral? Or, as I like to think, are his ashes mixed with the earth around it?

Many years ago, when Tony had stood up to somebody who needed it, he was referred to as 'that turbulent young priest'. It was one of the proudest moments of my life.

Sunday, 10 February 2013


Oh frabjous day! shouts the father in 'Jabberwocky'. This has been quite a frabjous weekend as Lovely Younger Son and The Lassie have just got engaged. We are all bouncing about in joy and excitement. We so hoped that this would happen. So there we are, the Sunshines married, Daughter and Her Chap engaged, and now LYS and The Lassie. We first met her when she came to do a gap year working in one of our churches, and we hosted her. Very successfully, as it turns out. As with Lady Sunshine, I was struck from the beginning at what a remarkable, young lady she was - intelligent, sensible, caring, warm, fun to be with and not afraid of hard work. Tony and I consider ourselves SO blessed.

LYS and the Lassie have a number of friends and relations in heaven. I hope they're singing for joy tonight.

Saturday, 9 February 2013


It's a long time we did any new definitions on the blog. However, LYS's present to Tony at Christmas was a spin-off book from a radio series called 'I'm sorry I haven't a clue', or 'the antidote to panel games'. They usually have a round of definitions from the fictional Uxbridge English Dictionary, so from that reliable source I give you

Idiomatic - a foolproof dishwasher

Ladder - like a lad, but even moreso

Logarithm - lumberjack on drums

Candid - past tense of 'can do'

Vanish - similar to a van

Any more?

Oh, and LYS says that the big horse was Corrie. Glen was a stable mate. LYS's memory is more accurate, especially as he was the one with Corrie the Lorry breathing down his neck.

Stable mate - reliable friend

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Try Again. Numnah

I just pressed the wrong key and posted a blog with nothing on it. What I meant to say was -

'Numnah' is the pad that goes between a horse's saddle and its back, so the saddle doesn't hurt it. It was also the word in my head when I woke up this morning. I have just finished the final stages of work on a pony book, and my head is full of fetlocks and forelocks, traces, paces, feathers, leathers, shivers, withers and wothering wuthers, Carruthers. It reminded me of -

A freezing late afternoon in winter, many years ago, when LYS was, I think, six years old. We'd all gone to see my sister's horses and have a wee ride, and it was time to put the horses in their stables for the night, which means fresh straw, hay, buckets of water, etc. At the time there was an Anglo-Arab with an attitude problem, so my sister looked after him herself. Then there was Glen. I think his surname was Mammoth, honestly, you could have hidden a barn behind him. I don't know if the sun had gone down or Glen had stood in front of it.

I looked up across the field. There stood the tiny figure of my youngest son, perfectly still, calm and contented. He was holding a rope across both hands. Behind him at the end of the rope was Glen, also perfectly still, calm and contented. It seemed that LYS had taken on quiet responsibility for Glen, and Glen felt the same way about him.

I could imagine LYS turning up at our front door like that - 'he followed me home, can we keep him?' I think I would have said yes.


Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The Kitchen Fairy

I would love a kitchen fairy. Not just to cook, but to do the washing and load and unload the dishwasher, and do all the putting away. But I would have to leave her instructions -

The top right gas burner is the hottest, but it's too stiff to turn on unless you use two hands and a tea towel and it's even harder to turn off again

To open the fridge door take hold of the bit where the handle used to be

Having opened the fridge you will find that no light comes on. That's OK, the fridge still works

When loading the dishwasher, hold the runner on the top left hand side and don't let it come out, or it'll drop off the thingy

The jam jars are waiting to be taken to a jam maker

The thing behind the ironing board is a coffee maker I haven't worked out how to use yet

The medicines are in a cupboard so far up that you need to stand on a chair. If your problem is dizziness, get somebody else to do it. Anything higher up than the medicines cupboard is nothing to do with me.

The small fridge needs defrosting. Always. It's my blind spot.

There is a reason for the little blue teapot standing beside the small fridge. When I remember what it is, I'll tell you. Or you could even ask the little blue teapot.

And the kitchen fairy has to leave the fridge magnets alone. There are funny ones, church ones, pictures of our godchildren and our sponsored child, and an elephant.

P S Dear kitchen fairy, do not bang the fridge door. The elephant might drop off.

Sunday, 3 February 2013


I like all those weather sayings, and the folklore that goes alongside them. Yesterday was Candlemas Day, one my favourite festivals, when Jesus was brought to the Temple as a baby and proclaimed the Light of the World by two people who were old enough and wise enough to know what they were talking about. It's in Luke Chapter 2.) In the Middle Ages, it was the day when the churches received their whole year's supply of candles.

It was also a day to keep an eye on the weather, because

'If Candlemas Day be fair and clear
You'll have two winters in one year'.

In other words, if Candlemas was a fine day, there would be more winter to come. In fact, the same went for most of February because

'All the months of the year curse a fair Februar'.

Candlemas Day here was mixed - the sun shone, but it was a cold winter sun. Tony and I were up on the top of the moors and it was blowing a hooly up there. I was there again today, helping to lead worship in a church that looks like a medieval fortress. I suspect that it sucks in cold air and never lets it out again. By the time we were finished it took ninety minutes and two coffees before I could take my coat off. February's been rough up to now. Much says I'm a wuss, but it's all right for him, he's made of stone. He has a grin on his face today, possibly because we have snowdrops coming out as well as a little iris, a muscari, and half a crocus.

So if February is bright and sunny, look out. If it's four weeks of foul weather, cheer up, it means we might have a decent summer this year. And I just found out that February used to be called Feverill, which has such a nice sound that I might use it in a story one day, as the name for a place or a person.

Finally, I haven't told you about The Archers for a while. Lilian is behaving like a lovesick teenager. They should take her pension book away. Vicky has had her baby and called her Bethany. (Aah.) Pip's playing up, afer being such a nice girl for so long. But Pip was born an Archer woman, so she has to go through a few funny phases. They all do it. You have to earn your place in the plot lines if you're an Archer woman - look at her aunts Shula and Elizabeth, they were both widowed young, and Jenny's got quite a past. And as for Lilian - Pip, get thee to a nunnery. Fast.

Friday, 1 February 2013

First books

Somebody yesterday mentioned 'Janet and John'. Janet and John is a reading scheme used widely in the UK for decades. There was another one called 'Peter and Jane'. When Peter and Jonnet were related to Potter and Jane, I have no idea, butthey all spent hours playing in a garden watching their dog and saying 'see the dog. See the little dog run. Run dog run.' I suppose by the time they got to Book 91 the dog was a Chihuahua and the sentence continued 'run, dog, run, next door's Abyssinian cat is in the asparagus bed and you can chase it up the sycamore tree if you get a good start'.

My first school reader, as far as I recall, was about a big red lorry that went up the hill, shedding its load of pots and pans as it went. We were too young to read words like 'hazardous' and 'prosecuted', so we never found out if the driver of the big red lorry was nicked for driving with an unsecured load and sending pots and pans crashing about like Gordon Ramsay's kitchen. My children grew up with the Ginn Look and Say scheme. The first sentences were 'Look!' 'Look in here' 'Is it in here?' which was great, because we could organise treasure hunts.

Those were the first school readers, but the first books we knew were the ones read to us at bedtime. For me, it was Beatrix Potter. If you can remember your first books, please will you tell the rest of us? Now please excuse me. There is a very fluffy cat up the sycamore tree.