Monday, 31 March 2014


It's been a busy weekend. In the UK it was Mothering Sunday yesterday. My day was filled with lovely thoughtful gifts and messages from my wonderful children, and lunch with my parents, sister and brother-in-law. A lot of laughter.

But the thing I want to tell you about is Friday, when Rachael, who is moving away, had a leaving do. Just up one of the old streets in town is one of those places where you can paint a plain item of china and have it glazed and fired. Rachael booked it for the evening, laid on drinks and puddings, and invited us all for a girly do. We all chose something, listened to the instructions, put on our white aprons, and settled down to paint, sponge, stamp and stencil. The choice of items to paint ranged from fridge magnets to vases, there were thirty-something colours of paint and all sorts of clever stuff to help people like me who can't draw. It was one of those occasions when you can be very creative and chatter nineteen to the dozen at the same time.

The stunning thing is the range of what was made, and the sheer talent. There will be the most beautiful stuff coming out of that kiln this week. I can't tell you what I made or it would spoil a Surprise for Someone, but the woman next to me did a jug decorated with bumblebees, somebody opposite drew a cartoon pig, there were spotted and flowered vases that looked thoroughly professional and WHEN CAN WE DO IT AGAIN? But my favourite thing was the big plate. Rachael painted it with hearts and it was carried round the room by the Lady in Charge for everyone to add a thumbprint. Beside each thumbprint a name was pencilled in, and hair and eye colour noted to be added later. So when the plate is finished each thumbprint will be turned into its owner's face.

If you wanted to make this into a story you could have a magic plate - a lost plate - a plate with one print missing - a plate that becomes evidence in a criminal case because it conceals a secret -

In the meantime I am so looking forward to collecting my...

Not going to tell you, not yet.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

oak tree farm

I met up for coffee today with the delightful Rosemary Straker. Her Oak Tree Farm stories have given happy, funny bedtime reading to any number of children and their parents and grandparents. I think it's, but if you put Rosemary's name and Oak Tree farm into a search engine you'll find them. Rosemary grew up on a farm and the stories ping with authenticity. Lambs have to be rescued from snowdrifts and warmed by the fire and Bertie the Bull sees a few burglars off the premises. All colourfully illustrated by Zoe Murphy. Those animals have character.

And Rosemary hasn't made a penny out of those books. She wrote them as a fund raiser for Tynedale Hospice. And that, as they say in 1066 and all that, is a Good Thing.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014


The latest edition of Tiggywinkle's newsletter arrived today. Tiggywinkle's, or St Tiggywinkle's, is the UK's first and leading wildlife hospital and whenever I need to do any wildlife research I go there to do my homework. Last time I went there to the remarkable Les Stocker, who has run the place from the beginning, he had a dressing on his hand. He'd been to pick up an injured badger and take it back to the hospital. Now, the dangerous thing about an injured animal is that it doesn't know you're trying to help, it just knows that it's hurting and vulnerable. For that reason Les was wearing thick protective gloves, but the badger had still managed to bite all the way through.

They must have gone through a lot of gloves this winter. The floods meant that animals were quite literally washed out of their homes, including a number of otter cubs. Two were found wandering along the road with no sign of a mother, and a third was clinging to a bridge in a swollen river.

However much the staff might want to cuddle these babies, it's important that the otters learn to behave like otters. Two of these otters had no problem with that. They chomped down fish like there's no tomorrow, they'd have chomped the nurses, too, given a chance. The other would only take milk from a bottle. She had sharp little teeth and wrecked a few bottles before she worked out that, actually, you know, fish is nice.

They now have their own little otter holt by the river, enclosed enough to be safe. Before long they should be back in the wild, but in the meantime they are in the best possible place. St Fingal's?

Sunday, 23 March 2014


- We all know what they should 'ave on that new quid. A gnome, that's what. A good old-fashioned English garden gnome.

Which is exactly what turned up at the New House of Stories yesterday. I last saw Much two weeks ago when LOS and I gnome-napped him from our old garden. To the best of my knowledge he spent the following two weeks in LOS's car boot. But LOS arrived yesterday and told me he'd found Much on the doorstep. It must have taken him two weeks to get from Yorkshire to the Tyne Valley by snail, LOS reckoned.

- Me? I'm saying nuffing 'ow I got 'ere. It ain't bad, you know. Nice to see Missus again. Not sure yet where I'm going to set up me corner. I spent last night outside the back door and this afternoon they moved me to some sort of a rockery, and it ain't a patch on the old one. And what 'appened, as soon as was in me new place? A blooming 'ailstorm, that's bloomin' what! So much for 'er wonderful Northumberland!

Missus needs to get some work done round 'ere. This rockery ain't got no traily things, and you need traily things on a rockery. There's a stone tortoise, seems like a decent sort of chap, at least he don't go running about like that blooming dog.

I miss me river. Sooner or later 'er should get that water feature working again, but I ain't holding me breath waiting. So, I might stay. If I don't like it, me and me snail can find our way back to Yorkshire.

That 'ailstorm's stopped. I might stay.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

A Quid

This morning my train of thought has gone steaming off very fast in too many different directions. A bit like the Manchester Victoria to Leeds service, but at least with this one you don't end up in Leeds.

(No offence to the people of Leeds. I just don't care much for the city.)

The train stopped at the new pound coin. I'm ancient enough to remember when a pound was a note, but now we have pound coins. They were introduced when Margaret Thatcher was PM, and some bright sparks said the new coin should be called a Maggie because 'it's hard, brassy and thinks it's a sovereign.' Many years on, they have decided that the pound coin is too easy to fake, so they've introduced a new design with twelve sides, like the threepenny bits we had when I was a little girl and we kept a dinosaur in the primeval back garden.

Like all British currency it will have The Queen's head on one side, but they haven't decided what to put on the other. There's going to be some design competition to decide it. So, what's thoroughly British that we could put on the new pound coin?

Plate of fish and chips?

A football? A cricket bat?

A teapot? (I really like that one.)

As a children's author, I'm very happy that I'm part of something we do well. Children's literature from the UK has done well around the world. So I think the reverse of the pound coin should show Pooh Bear, or Aslan, or the robin with the key in The Secret Garden. What do you think?

Here comes the train again. The Railway Children?

Monday, 17 March 2014


This has been a fantastic day. I've chased a cat up a fence, weed on all the rose bushes and woken up a slug. For a stone dog that is a lot of great adventures. The funny thing is, I didn't come to life until the Story Lady and her Tony came to live in the house. I'd been here all my life, but I didn't think about things very much. I stood here with moss growing over my back.

Cat! Wowowowowow!

And now we've got two captains, Padra and Arran, at the pond thing and roses growing where they never used to grow and I heard her say today she has plans for this garden. I heard her quite clerly, so did Oliver. not plants, plans. I haven't been alive long and I don't know what a plan is, but if it's made of stone it had better behave itself because me and Oliver, we were here

Blackbird! Wowowowowo!

first. If it's something you grow then she could put it in the back border or dig it a hole in the middle of the lawn, I don't mind, so long as she doesn't put it under my tree, because if she does I'll dig it up. What if

what if

what if it's fairies?


Thursday, 13 March 2014


Have I ever told you about Fountains?

Briefly, it started off with a few monks getting rained on in a corner of Yorkshire and became one of the biggest abbeys in the north of England. Then Henry VIII sent his thugs in, and everything was sold off or given to his cronies. The abbey became what it is today, a huge and impressive ruin. The land passed through a succession of wealthy families who added parkland, built a grand house, landscaped gardens, put in summerhouses and follies, and so on. It now belongs to the National Trust and is a great place for a day out if the weather is OK.

On Saturday the weather was very OK, and Fountains is not too far from where the Sunshines live. We spent all day there, and walked for miles and miles. I'd never been to the Deer Park before, but they had, and we went up there to watch the fallow deer. There was a red kite (that's a bird, not a thing that you fly) overhead, and swans with nearly grown-up cygnets, almost as big as their parents but still with grey-brown feathers. One of them was the troublemaker, and another one tried to wander off and was brought back by mum. That must be embarrassing, when you're trying to show off to the tourists and mum grabs you by the neck and winds you in. Even though it's early in the year the coots on the lake had two little chicks bobbing about on the water.

It was a good place for dogs, too. LYS made a lot of friends. And there were small children running about and doing all the things that small children should be doing. Fountains is good for a workout, too. The path from the car park is downhill on the way there and uphill (boy, is it uphill), coming back. We'd just got down there when I saw two young mothers with double buggies gearing up for the long push up through the wood. One of these buggies contained two children both about a year old, with 'Bro' and 'Sis' printed on the pram cover.

"Hello!" I said. "Boy and girl twins! That's exactly what I had, many years ago, and this,' indicating LYS 'is one of them!'.

"I bet it's easier getting him up the hill now," said the mum.

Monday, 10 March 2014


Blooming 'eck! I were sitting on me snail, minding me own business...

- well, I'm back! What a fantastic few days. I saw both my boys and their amazing ladies, and we...

Are you listening? On a sunny day, and all of a sudden...

- all went to the church quiz...

that's not the only place they went!

- and spent Saturday at Fountains Abbey in the sunshine with the Sunshines, then on Sunday...

suddenly 'er LOS grabs me by the 'ead without a by your leave, me and me snail!

- we saw our dear old friends at church in the village. The Old House of Stories is still empty, so we went back for a look at the garden, which, thanks to Stephen, still looks lovely. I dug up a cowslip in the hope that it'll take in the new garden...

and that's not all! And after much thought and discussion, I asked LOS to...


Tuesday, 4 March 2014

A Lindisfarne Story

March is packed full of saints' days. At the beginning of March we think about the Four Brothers of Lindisfarne.

Their names were Cedd, Cynebil, Celin, and Chad, and they were all educated at St Aidan's monastery on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne in Northumbria in the seventh century (that's about thirteen hundred years ago) and all became monks. Lindisfarne was very much a sending out place, and they were sent out throughout the land to establish new churches. Cedd was asked by the king to start a Christian place in part of North Yorkshire.

At this point, as a good Northumbrian, I have to point out that there is a pattern here. Northumberland sends missionaries to Yorkshire. Ever since Lindisfarne, Northumberland has sent missionaires to Yorkshire which Tony reckons is how we migrated from the Tyne Valley to the North York Moors, and then the Pennines. They didn't send us back, we returned of our own accord.

So there's Cedd, with a grant of land and money as a present from the king and an instruction to build an abbey church. No pressure, then. But before bringing in the bulldozers, he set out on a forty day vigil of fasting and prayer on the site so that it would be hallowed before they started to build. After thirty days he was called away urgently and Cynebil completed the vigil for him. In due course the brothers built the church and consecrated it, and Cedd continued as abbot. On his death, his brother Chad took over.

That little church in Lastingham is still there, in a tiny village that looks as if it should be in a fairytale. It was one of our favourite places to visit when we lived in that part of the world. Like all those tiny Saxon houses of worship it has been enlarged and added to, but Chad and Cedd's crypt is still there and still prayed in.

If ever you go to North Yorkshire, I recommend Lastingham. You can visit the church and walk down to the crypt, and you will probably do what most people do when they walk down there - become silent. Take a deep breath, stand still, and wonder what this is. You will probably walk slowly, or not move at all, while you experience the feel of the place. I was last there about two years ago after a long absence, and realised that I'd forgotten how good it felt. It breathes holiness.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Oscars and other awards

This has been a good weekend. I chatted with the Young Book Group at the Library on Friday, and had a wonderful time with a lot of eager, book-loving young people. One librarian has found time in her busy schedule to get this group together and they are a delight. On Saturday I chanced to meet the father of one of Daughter's old school friends. School friend is thriving, and travelling the world taking wonderful photographs. Tony has been away for a singing weekend and came back brimful of music and happiness. (And I didn't have to bother cooking all weekend. Result!) And it's Oscars night tonight.

I don't actually care who wins what, or who wears what, or whether they cry when they make a speech. It's good that people who do a job well are given some acclaim for it. These days there are awards for nurses, teachers and carers, too, but not quite on the scale of the Oscars.

This brings me to LOS when he was younger. Bright, but not top of the class, not a prizewinner. Loved sports, not bad at them, but not a prizewinner. Not bad at music, either ... you get the drift. He was also the one who -

would have a cup of tea waiting for me when I came in from the cold

walked our dog, his aunt's dog, and come to think of it anybody's dog, in all weathers

would see what needed doing and do it

could leave me helpless with laughter (still can)

while at college, put himself in danger to protect a stranger who was being beaten up

(Before anyone knits him a halo he could be a stroppy little beggar as well. His sister got the red hair, he got the attitude. And before they grumble at me, my other two children are amazing, charming and wonderful, too. I may be biased BUT I AM ALSO RIGHT. I'll tell you about them another time if they let me.)

These are things that don't win prizes, but they make the world a better place. So if you know anyone like that - good at the things that don't win prizes, but matter more than those that do, tell them how wonderful they are. Send a card, treat them, big them up. They are our heroes.

And that goes for you, you stroppy little beggar.