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.