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?

Friday, 19 July 2013


We now have less than three weeks in this valley before we move back to Northumberland. This year we were due to move anyway, and to move back to such a lovely area is something we're looking forward to. Oh, but leaving here will be hard. We are at the stage now when we're doing the last of everything, starting on the round of goodbyes. People make speeches and say nice things about us and it's so lovely of them, but it makes it harder for us to go.

Yesterday I did my last todddler group. (It's called 'Angels'.) I knew they were planning something, but I hadn't expected my superb colleague Sam to come in with the most beautiful mauve clematis in a pot. It's an 'Angelique', and she's even drawn an angel on the container. They've ordered a rose for my new garden, too, and I realised they know me too well when they presented me with a teddy bear. What a cutie! He's big, fluffy and toffee-coloured wearing a hand-knitted red sweater with 'With Love From Angels' emrboidered on the front, and of course he's called Angel. He's settled in very quickly with a bit of help from Hamilton.)

This morning Tony did his final school assembly and came home with a tree, as you do. The school is called River Side, so they thought a willow tree would be appropriate. It'll have to live in a pot because willow roots are notorious for going where you don't want them to, but it will be a very fine tree as it grows up.

We expect our first few weeks in the new house to be pretty disrupted as we get the new fire put in, decorate, work out where all the furniture goes, and so on. But the garden will be fine. I'll be out there urging the willow to grow tall and strong and telling Angelique how beautiful she is, and thinking with love of my Angels.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013


The amount of stuff that's coming out of that house just now, it's like a blooming Tardis. There's four boxes of books waiting to go to a sale and five bags of stuff just got carted off to the Oxfam shop. Young LYS came over today and they filled up the car with 'is stuff and took it over to 'is new place. Them lizards'll 'ave to move over. The bin's full and 'er filled two more bin bags with rubbish today. The amount of paper going off for recycling, blimey, it'll keep the nation in loo rolls for a month.

It takes 'er hours to turn out a drawer. 'Er ends up sitting on 'er study floor sorting through all this stuff, papers, cards, dear knows what, then it's 'oh, I'd forgotten I had that!' and 'er's off on a sentimental journey into two Christmasses ago, or whatever er's found. The stuff that's in that attic! It's got 'er study at one end, Daughter's bedroom at t'other and a little sitting room in the middle, but you wouldn't call it a sitting room any more, it's like a blooming ware'ouse. It's a wonder the ceiling don't come down.

It's so 'ot just now, I'm glad of me bit of shade, so 'er don't cut back the branches too much. Plenty of company, too, what with folks sitting out in the garden, them little birdies 'opping about and a duck on the river with a late brood of littl'uns. In the 'ouse they keep windows open a lot just now. Sometimes a fly gets in, 'eaven 'elp it if 'er sees it. 'Er's a fast 'and with a swatter, 'er's always got last week's Radio Times at the ready. Or 'er sandal. 'Er goes around barefoot these days, I reckon 'er only keeps 'er shoes handy for walking on rough ground and whacking flies.

I get to 'ear The Archers, too. 'Er says you like to keep up to date, so 'ere goes -

Matt's 'ad enough of Lilian, so 'e's off. I 'ad enough of Lilian a long time ago. So has Brenda Tucker, er's gone abroad somewhere. (Sounds to me like an actress looking for a new job any time now.) Caroline ain't well. There's a creepy guy hanging around Helen Archer. Tony Archer's sold 'is cows and 'e sounds like 'e's about to cry, but 'er says 'e sounds like that all the time so I reckon 'e's all right. An' the old sheepdog died.

Monday, 15 July 2013

The Bergen Bear

Hamilton Bear had the most wonderful time in Norway. He chased trolls up trees and rode up and down on the mountain railway for hours. It's rare to meet a bear who doesn't know about Hamilton, but, to my surprise, we did encounter one in Bergen.

At Bergen harbour, beside the tourist info centre, is an enormous polar bear. A stuffed one, standing on its hind legs and looking like somebody you wouldn't argue with about the price of fish, or anything else. When we first met the Polar Bear Hamilton was resting at the hotel, but I did mention Hamilton in the Polar Bear's hearing. I will not repeat what the Polar Bear said but it was quite unnecessary and not at all polite about teddy bears.

The next day we were walking along the other side of the harbour admiring the wooden houses, and Hamilton was with us, looking out from my shopping bag. Suddenly I heard the low and humble voice of the Polar Bear.

"I'm sorry, sir," it said. "I didn't know."

And Hamilton, being Hamilton, was really good about it. That's the measure of the bear for you. Noblesse oblige.

Last week I was having lunch with Claire, who is looking forward to seeing a production of The Winter's Tale. I mentioned that it's the only Shakespearian play with the stage direction, 'Exit, pursued by a bear.'

Claire sighed. "Hamilton just doesn't know when to stop, does he?" she said.

Saturday, 13 July 2013


I'm sure you know about trolls, but did you know that they come from Norway? They live in the mountains and most of them avoid the daylight, because if the sun falls on them they turn into stone. I found that some of them turn into wood, too, because we found a lot of wooden trolls in the mountains. Hamilton Bear, who came with us, had to hard stare a few.

The Huldra must have found a way of coping with sunshine. They are female trolls who live high in the mountains, but they are rather keen on mortal young men. A Huldra girl beautifies herself, puts on a long dress to hide her tail, and flirts, sings and dances until some poor lad is captivated. Too late, he discovers that his beloved has a long tail and a habit of hiding in caves.

Leaving Ulvik to go the Balestrand, we travelled on the very popular funicular railway through the mountains, stopping at a, yes, how did you know, a waterfall, a real wild, roaring polar bear cub of a waterfall, no, it was more like a whole family of polar bear cubs rolling down the mountain. Then the singing started.

We heard a clear, female voice singing what sounded like a folk song. Then she appeared at a distance, with long blonde hair and a red dress, the Huldra girl, dancing beside the waterfall, beckoning the young men toward her. She disappeared, then we saw her again, walking along the broken down walls of a mountain. But romance is dead, and her charms didn't work on the men in the company. Perhaps something about a camera lens destroys her influence, or maybe Hamilton gave her a hard stare. But I held on tight to Tony, just in case.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013


For the first time in my life, I stood behind a waterfall.

On a long and very scenic journey through Norway from Voss to Ulvik, we had a five minute break near a waterfall, a real joyful, white and frothing bridal gown of a waterfall. A path led up to the point where it cascaded down over a ledge so that you could walk behind it and not get wet.

Normally if I see silver needles in front of my eyes it means I'm either sewing or getting a migraine. But yhese silver needles were droplets, delicate as wire, fast as flashes in the wild water. As you approach a waterfall it roars, but standing behind this one, it laughed uproariously.

Maybe there is a country behind the waterfall. Maybe there is a door there. Perhaps the trolls live behind the waterfall but I find that hard to believe. Trolls are clumpy and earthy, but what lives behind a waterfall? Unicorns?

Sunday, 7 July 2013


Today I should probably be telling you more about Norway, but


We watched the first set, which was on hour of two top rank players making impossible returns in sweltering heat, then we had to go out because The Sunshines were involved in a charity garden party where we were all very British, eating cake and drinking tea in a garden and sometimes eating cake and drinking tea in the sitting room because the television was on so we could watch the tennis and


and after a nerve-shredding second set we came home and got there in time to see him serve for the match, and nearly get broken, and it went to the wire time after time and then

ANDY MURRAY WON WIMBLEDON, and I swear the earth rocked as every Brit on the planet jumped up and down and cheered. Yes, for the first time in 77 years a British man won Wimbledon and, by the way, it was a Scot what done it. (Just saying, you know, Tony and I both have Scottish blood and Sottish connections. In the south of England they're all climbing up their family trees trying to find a great-great-great-granny from Arbroath.)

ANDY MURRAY WON WIMBLEDON and if you're not from these islands you can have no idea of the elation. The lad from Dunblane, God love him. And by all accounts a lovely guy.

I promise to tell you more about Norway. But today, Andy Murray won Wimbledon.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

It was

Norway. (Good try, Sam!) We spent three days beside the Hardanger Fjord, then three more by the Sognejord, never far from water.

If you've read 'The Voyage of the Dawn Treader' by C S Lewis, which is possibly my favourite Narnia book, you may remember that as they sail further and further east, nearer to Aslan's country, the water grows sweet and somebody says that it's like 'drinkable light'. The light is so strong and clear that if they weren't becoming accustomed to it, and drinking that water, it might be unbearable. I thought of that as I soaked up the light from the wide skies and the long stretches of water with the mountains reflected. At midnight, we had twilight. I think the sun sort of dipped down at about three in the morning and came straight up again.

The Norwegians are lovely people, practical and straightforward. Children living in the fjord villages have to know how to stay safe on the water, so from an early age they learn to swim and handle boats like a lot of little ducklings taking to the water. Because the country is big and the population is small, the houses have space around, room for children to play and maybe a bit of forest at the back. Most town dwellers have a wooden house in the mountains, and maybe a boat.

We've been to Oslo and Kristiansand before, long ago, but this time we wanted mountains and water. If you want a wild time on holiday don't go there, unless you mean wild as in 'up a mountain, being chased by an elk'. But if you want tranquility, quiet, clarity, and drinkable light, go to the fjords one day.

Thursday, 4 July 2013


Guess where I've just been.

Mountains. Water. Friendly people. The cleanest air I've ever breathed and the purest water I've ever tasted.

Deer. Porpoises.


Mountain railways to views that make you gasp. Boats to carry you through a magical landscape.

Going to bed when it's still daylight.