Saturday, 30 March 2013

Catch up

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday were a mixture of quiet reflective worship and sharing the Easter story with children - storytelling, music, decorating biscuits and some very messy crafts. Bebe and I reckoned we might get about fourteen children, and if there were over thirty we'd run away. There were twenty-eight, and I don't know if they went home exhausted but we did. Today is catch up.

I like to decorate an Easter candle with flowers, but there isn't a single open daffodil in the garden. Even Much has just stuck his head out of a snowdrift, muttered 'Blimey O'Riley' and gone to sleep. Heaven help any hedgehogs that wake up this week, the earthworms are all deep frozen and the beetles are wrapping themselves in duvets and huddling by a campfire.

There is a heap of stuff that needs tidying - I have a chronological filing system, which means that today's stuff is on the top. It's like archeology, the oldest stuff is on the bottom layer. I've been through it sort of recently, but you never know, there may be a fan letter from Queen Victoria in there. And there are some odds and ends of story things to tidy up.

And on a separate pile is the heap of 'new ideas'. Half written things, scribbled notes. Some of those tight little buds will never come to anything. But some of them have roots, and will grow and open, and suprise me. Like Easter.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Keep Calm

Keep calm, woman. So the oven just died. Well at least it didn't blow up, did it, or collapse on the floor, and you've still got a microwave that makes everything taste the same, and the grill doubles as an oven, admittedly a very small one, if you're not using it as a grill at the same time. And you've ordered a Remoska cooker which will be ever so useful when you work out how to use it.

Snow? What snow? You can see green on the hills today. There were only a few minor flurries today. The top of Much's head has appeared again, and some of the crocuses are still standing. The thrush can peck about without breaking its beak on the ice. There's nothing like a cold winter and a freezing spring for killing off the germs. And everything else.

Yes, it really is time we had some quotes from removal firms, isn't it? Never mind, dear, never mind. It gives you more time to get rid of all the stuff you don't need, and I'm sure somewhere there must be a charity shop that won't turn its nose up at the rubbish you've been hoarding all these years.

Behind with the new book, are we? You'll soon catch up. You're such a night owl, you know, and three o'clock in the morning is a lovely time to work because nobody wants to talk to you. Besides, the forecast for the Easter weekend is pretty dismal, so you won't want to go anywhere and have a day out. Oh, and while you're blogging, would you find out whether Americans have Hot Cross Buns at Easter?

I'm talking to myself now. It's a bad sign.

Monday, 25 March 2013


Dear little Biryani, the Sunshines' cat, went out one morning about two weeks ago and didn't come home for her tea. It had snowed in the afternoon, and they were very worried about her. Days went by. They put up posters, contacted cats' homes and did all the usual things, afraid that she might be hurt or lost somewhere. If she'd found a nice new cosy home they wouldn't have minded, so long as she was safe.

A few days ago they had a call from the council - I suppose they must have identified Biri from her microchip. She had been found dead on the road, knocked down by a car, the very morning she disappeared.

Sad as they are, the Sunshines are relieved to know what happened, and that she didn't suffer. She wouldn't have known a thing about it, and now, in the teeth of the fiercest weather Yorkshire has seen in years, Biri is not stalking things along wintry hedges. I hope she is a heavenly cat asking St Peter to open the gate and let her in. And out. And back in. Purrlease.

It seems very sad that, having finally found her happy forever home, she had such a short time in it. But cats are wise enough to enjoy the present moment, and her present moments with the Sunshines were extremely happy. When I was last staying there she was very affectionate, rubbing against my legs and escorting me to my room at night.

If Biri hadn't had a microchip, we might all still be wondering what had happened to her. The cat we had when I was a kid was a great one for wandering off, and as for Daniel the Spaniel, I'm convinced he looked forward to Wednesdays because there was a pretty good chance of the bin men leaving the gate open. In those days there weren't microchips, but there are now. If you have a pet, please get it microchipped. And think of Biryani.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Fawn in the Snow

My Grandma used to say 'Hail the Spring - and it haileth'.

If that were all. For two days Yorkshire has seen sleet, wind, snow, and freezing temperatures. The Snow Queen has swept mercilessly through Britain this week. All the bells on her sleigh are icicles, and needles of frost fly behind her.

Yesterday we woke to about four inches of snow, but that was nothing to what was to come. January was not like this. The snow fell and the wind blew, all last night and all today, and the wind chill is savage. The drifts must be a foot high. And today was the launch party for Fawn, just a village do, but one that promised to be exciting. All over the county events were being cancelled. Tony and I went along with boxes of books and bags of drinks, nibbles, colouring sheets and puzzles and resigned ourselves to the fact that we'd probably be talking to each other all afternoon. Lots of people who had said they were coming live high up in the hills, and the only way of them getting down to the valley was by parachute.

The wonderful and every reliable Graham and Daphne arrived early to help, and what a good thing they did. Suddenly, the room was full. The books on the table disappeared, and we put out another lot. Children sat around drawing, colouring, doing puzzles and, of course, reading their new books. Tony, Graham and Daphne swung into action - bowls of crisps and biscuits appeared, lemonade flowed like lemonade, and Daphne put the kettle on so there were hot drinks for these noble pilgrims who'd fought their way through the cold. Most of the after school club kids made it, and when it was time to go they all went out and played in the snow as if they were impervious to cold. What a community we live in.

It was so busy we didn't take a photo of the party, though somebody from the press did. But if I can get the attach thing to work, here is the village -

Thursday, 21 March 2013

stand up sit down

I do not like thee Dr Fell
I think you're rather weird
One day you fell into a pond
And everybody cheered

That came from one of my students last week. For US readers who may not know it, a 'pasty' is a kind of semi-circular pie, hence

I do not like thee Dr Fell
I think you're rather nasty
I think you want to chop me up
And put me in a pasty

Some of the children wanted him to eat a poison pasty. For more Dr Fells, please see the awesome blog comments.

The Methodist Churh has a quaint terminology. Ministers about to retire are required to ask the permission of Synod (ie big churchy meeting) to 'sit down', hence the question always asked at Synod at this time of year - 'will all those seeking to sit down please stand up'. (As far as I know, nobody has ever been refused permission to sit down, but there may be a poor old Reverend somewhere with very tired feet.) Tony stood up with the rest, and they all got the chance to say their piece.

Tony talked about what he'll miss about ministry, and what he really won't. There are aspects of ministry - caring, teaching - that he will be glad to continue. On the other hand, if anyone asked him to fill in another form he'd climb on the roof and try to hide head first down the chimney. (This would be a very silly idea because the standard sized Methodist minister is wider than the standard sized British chimney and most of him would be sticking out at the top.) After he'd finished his speech his colleagues all said nice things about him, which is lovely, but it will make it so hard to leave our friends in this valley.

However, he will continue to challenge injustice, lazy thinking, greed, and all destructive attitudes. Come August, he'll sit down. But he'll still be rocking the boat.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Dr Fell

A little exercise I gave the children to do - we began with an old rhyme which I think was written by Anon

I do not like thee, Dr Fell
The reason why I cannot tell
But this I know and know full well
I do not like thee, Dr Fell.

Shortly before the Gifted and Talented Day, I heard somebody talking on the radio with an unpleasantly oily voice. I instantly thought, 'I do not like thee, Dr Fell', and went on 'I think you're rather smarmy'. Before I knew where I was, I'd told him to run away and join the British Army.

So I introduced Dr Fell to the children. We had various openings -

I do not like thee, Dr Fell
I think you're rather creepy/

and we made up the next two lines.

Now it's your turn.

Friday, 15 March 2013


Thank you to those who submitted stunningly good offerings for 'silicone'. You might like to know that my basil plant is syllable put nearly dead, and a donation is on its way to Comic Relief.

Years ago, people used to say that very able children didn't need extra help because they always do well. That's daft. If they're not doing well, how do you know if they're very able or not? Lots of children hide their talents because they don't want to be conspicuous, or get teased about being teacher's pet.

Thankfully we now have provision for Gifted and Talented pupils, and I spent Thursday working with Gifted and Talented children in Thornaby-on-Tees. What a great day we had! The children were selected from six different schools in the area, and I had a whole day working with 37 keen, hard-working young writers. There was no need for them to hide their light - they were a like-minded group, which always helps, doesn't it? In the morning we played with descriptions, words, rhymes, poetry and characters. They came up with work which was sharp, funny, well expressed, and, especially, original. In the afternoon I let them loose on Cinderella.

What if? Always a good question for a writer. What if Cinderella doesn't like the prince? What if he doesn't like her? What if she isn't really the nice one at all? How do you want the story to turn out? What sort of story do you want to write - a fantasy, an adventure, an animal story, sci-fi, a murder mystery? Write your own Cinderella.

The originality was stunning. We had a strapping big footballing Cinderella, a llama Cinderella, a lion Cinderella, a Cinderella who worked in a chain store. We had confident, consistent style. We had that precious commodity, enthusiasm, and we had it by the ton. And we laughed a lot.

But before any of that could happen there were teachers and parents who encouraged these children to love reading, stories, books. Let's all do what we can for all the other children who could be keen readers and writers if only they found their way into the world of books.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013


This Friday will be Red Nose Day - Comic Relief. It's like Live Aid but funnier, raising money for people in need all over the world, including here. I don't think RND happens in the US, but here it's every other year, when a lot of inspired comedians, actors and presenters lead the way in doing 'something funny for money'. All over the country children go to school in their pyjamas and red curly wigs, sponsorship things happen at work, and there's a telethon. Put Red Nose Day into a search engine and see what you find.

Previously I've organised events for Comic Relief, but it's all a bit busy this year, and there are lots of other people doing things. But I went to bed yesterday thinking about silly things, like syllabub, which is a frothy pudding. Syllabus, as we all know, is a clumsy vehicle moving slowly.

OK, everyone, define 'silicone' and 'syllable'. I'll put a fiver in Comic Relief for the silliest.

If any of the children I'll be working with this week are reading this, you've got a head start.

Sunday, 10 March 2013


Not many days yet, and my new book FAWN will be in the bookshops. It is Book of the Week at Scholastic Book Club and is already getting good reviews. My head is now so big I have to wash my hair in the Leeds and District Hospitals Hydrotherapy Pool, which is a bit embarrassing if anyone's hydrotherapping in it at the time.

In the UK today it is Mothering Sunday, so all the ladies at church were given posies of daffodils. LYS and The Lassie were here and The Sunshines came over, so we all pitched in together to make lunch, and The Sunshines brought scones, jam, cream and cake, so we had a very English afternoon tea. Family, food teddy bears, flowers. The only thing we didn't have was spring weather, in fact it's just about at freezing point here and there's snow on the hills.

But a Sunday in spring is a Sunday in spring, and the sons ended up watching the football match on telly. (Hamilton watched it too, he likes watching footie with the boys and he finds Sir Alex Ferguson hilarious.) I glanced up at one point and saw that, while they were square eyed, Lady Sunshine, The Lassie and I were all curled up in armchairs reading books. Lady Sunshine was in the East End of London in the 1950s, The Lassie was in late nineteenth century Home Counties, and I was in medieval Wales. Reading really does open the world.

Friday, 8 March 2013


Ammerdown is a very beautiful retreat house ner Bath (Jane Austen country). Tony and I were there this week for his 'pre-retirement' course, and I was invited to go with him. Presumably this is in case he forgets how to retire and I have to tell him. A firm of consultants had been brought in to instruct, and boy, did they instruct. On the most beautiful spring day of the year so far, we were all made to sit down around tables and listen to somebody telling us the cost of nursing homes. Yes, really.

The next day the sun was exhausted from all that shining and went in again, while we spent the entire day learning about insurances, pensions and benefits. It was all very fast paced and there was barely time to down a coffee between one session and the next. Then we got to the session about 'what to do if you haven't got a house'. Thanks to you, my lovely readers, I don't have that problem, so I went for a wander round the lovely woodland instead, and met a very busy little wren. Really I was getting too over-excited after all those pensions, and needed to calm down. By the way, it was a case of no Wifi, no blog, and I could only send a text by pointing the phone out of the bedroom window.

On the other hand, the place itself is lovely and I asked the chef to adopt me. We'll be back.

AND - I turn my back on The Archers for a few days, and what happens? Chris Carter gets himself kicked in the chest by a horse, that's what, and now he's critically ill. He wasn't too thrilled before that because Alice, his missus, wanted them to move to Canada and had gone for an interview there. So now all the Carter, Archer and Aldridge women are gliding about and whispering anxiously, his mum just had a fit of the vapours, and Alice has flown home and was last heard sobbing at his bedside. Get a grip, woman. Pull yourself together and tell him to do the same.

Sunday, 3 March 2013


In answer to the quiz -

The thing you mustn't kill is a mockingbird (Harper Lee)

Owl can spell 'Tuesday' (A A Milne) congratulations to Mayerweien, who guessed Wednesday. Close enough (especially given the time difference between here and the US)

The man who dies rich dies disgaced (Andrew Carnegie)

And death shall have no dominion (Dylan Thomas)

Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi (Princess Leia, Star Wars). We had to have something a bit different, didn't we?

We had a lovely, child-centred service this morning, then my small friend Lucy brought her daddy here for lunch. Lucy knows that Margi's garden is a place for blowing bubbles and she had a brand new very big bubble blower today, so the ducks were entertained by Very Big Bubbles as Lucy twirled around. She took a liking to our stone Captain Padra, too, and blew bubbles all around him, which I think he found vastly entertaining. (If Fingal was watching, he'd find it hilarious.)

So having Bubbled the Captain, eaten lunch (well, some of it) and played with Hamilton Bear, she asked about the dolls and the cots, so we fetched them down from Daughter's Room. They are the doll's cot and the rocking cradle that my Dad made for daughter, and the dolls made for her by my godmother. The cradle still has the covers and drapes that Mum made for it when it was new.

Mum, Dad and Godmother probably didn't think about how long these beautifully made toys would last. They made them with time and skill, and gave them with love. But the results of that time, skill, and love are toys that are still being enjoyed over twenty years on and will be good for a lot longer. Perhaps next time Lucy might play with the dolls house Dad made for me when I was five. Bubbles are for an afternoon. Dolls houses are for life.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Dewi Sant

Dewi Sant is the Welsh form of St David, the patron saint of Wales, and today is his day. Dragons, daffodils and leeks are all important parts of Welsh culture and so we took a dragon (a cuddly red one) a bunch of daffodils and a leek with us to the quiz this evening. Tony and I were running it (the first time we've been the people in hhe front, so we gave it a Welsh theme. I was a bit nervous about starting it off - what if I held up my dragon, yelled 'Oggy! Oggy! Oggy!' and nobody responded? But they all yelled back 'Oi! Oi! Oi!' and we were off to a good start.

(For those who think I've just flipped, it's a Welsh rugby chant/rallying call, usually led by big hairy men in rugby shirts.)

We slipped in Welsh references here and there, but my favourite round was the 'missing words' (or 'missing word'). Here are a few of them..

Shoot all the jay birds you like if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill...............................

He respects Owl, because you can't help respecting anyone who can spell ........................

The man who dies............... dies disgraced.

And death shall have no .....................

Help me ............... You're my only hope

Don't worry if you can't get them. A lot of the village worthies didn't either. There's hopeless, isn't it now? Answers next time (if I haven't forgotten them). By the way, I have no idea what 'oggy oggy oggy' means, or whether it means anything at all, look you.

While we're in Wales, I recommend 'Under Milk Wood' by Dylan Thomas. One of the best things written in the twentieth century.