Wednesday, 30 July 2014

More Happy

Last Friday, late at night, Tony reported strange snuffling noises from the beech hedge that runs down the side of the garden. It wasn't me. It's been hot, so next day I put down water bowls in strategic places.

Monday night, after dark, I was outside bringing in the washing when I heard rustling from the very back of the garden, where the compost bin is. I couldn't see anything, and by the time I'd gone indoors and found a torch that worked I couldn't hear anything, either. I was hoping for a hedgehog, but I was also a bit worried that I might find some creature that I really didn't want to meet, especially not in my garden.

Tonight, I went out just before it became dark. Definite rustling round the shed. This wasn't a subtle animal, it was something that bumbled about and made a noise about it.

Run into the house. Torch. At last. back outside. Listen. Something near the apple tree.

Stand very still. Wait.

And there he was! With a noisy cracking of twigs and brushing of branches, out came a little snout, and the humped, prickly body of a large hedgehog. How blessed are we? A garden, roses, an apple tree, a hedgehog. Welcome, hedgehog, we are very glad of your company.

Sunday, 27 July 2014


I was walking to church this morning, through the park. Sunday is a good morning for walkies, so I always meet a few dogs and their people on the way through. (In case you're wondering, the local dog owners are very, very good at carrying little plastic bags round with them, so everyone can enjoy a walk in the park.)

There was a smallish dog, mostly spaniel, tearing about on the hill. From the ears I think he was part spaniel, and he was having such a wonderful time that I wanted to join in. After a week of baking hot weather, we finally had rain last night and the air pressure dropped. When the air pressure falls the insects fly low, and so do the swifts who hunt them. The swifts were wheeling and swerving, almost touching the ground, and the dog - oh boy, the dog couldn't get enough of it. There were three or four of them, but I suspect he thought it was always the same one, and just as it soared out of reach - hey, look! - there it is again! and there! ooh, and look, mum, there!

He didn't have a hope of catching one, but that joy was in the chase. If his owner threw a stick he'd go after that instead, and with more success. But who needs sticks? Look! There it is again!

It's been a good week and I've seen a lot of happiness in it, but nothing compared to that dog.

Friday, 25 July 2014


I learned to swim in the North Sea. If you lived five minutes walk from it, that's what you did. It's gey cold and for that reason it took me a long time to do more than paddle, but in time, like every other kid in the village, I could swim. You wade in, count to three, and get your shoulders under. For about half a minute it's freezing, then you acclimatise and it doesn't feel cold any more.

There were a few rules, like not swimming out beyond the piers and never going in when the warning flag was up to tell you that the weather was too rough. Another one was never to swim alone, which was frustrating on a hot day when there was nobody around to act as minder. But it was a sensible rule. Getting cramp when you're out of your depth is more than a bit hazardous.

Most children learn to swim in swimming pools where the deep end is always the same because a swimming pool doesn't have high and low tides. They don't have hidden currents either, and if you do get into difficulties there are always lifeguards ready to pull you out. So children do learn to be water safe, but they don't know about tides, currents, jellyfish, things that get caught around your foot and pull you down, and other hazards of natural waters.

Time and again during this hot summer there have been stories in the press about people getting into difficulties in rivers. Some of them survived.

Many years ago a very lovely little boy - a child I knew and loved - died after he fell into a canal on holiday. It only takes seconds for a child to fall, and those are seconds you never get back.

You may be able to swim, but natural waters and man-made waterways aren't the same as swimming pools. Never go alone. If there are warning signs, they are there for a reason. If I sound like a nagging mum, I really don't care. Just stay safe, and keep the small people safe.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Excuse me

People who visit The House of Stories probably don't need to read this story. But perhaps you can pass it on to those who do. (I may have told it before, but it's worth repeating.)

That grande dame of story, a writer's writer, Rumer Godden, grew up in India where her father was something important in the civil service. They had lots of servants, so at a very early age - I think about seven - Rumer was used to giving orders. But she didn't always get her own way.

One day she asked an Indian servant for something that she wasn't allowed. He knew the rules, and refused. She tried all the techniques that any child will use to get its own way. She pleaded, she begged, she flattered, she cried, and none of it worked, so she stormed. She stamped and screamed. She was the Sahib's daughter and he had to do as she said. It still didn't work, and by this stage it wasn't just about what she wanted. She was furious at this man for opposing her and wanted to upset him, so she used all the bad language she knew. It still had no effect, so she swore at him using the name of the god he worshipped.

Now, this did upset him. It upset him so much that he spoke to her father, and little Rumer found herself on the carpet of his study while he told her this -

'Never do that again. Never, ever misuse the name of somebody else's deity. It may not mean anything to you, but to that person it is sacred. You may not personally have any respect for that name, but respect the person who honours it'.

I wish all our schools taught that.

Friday, 18 July 2014


LOS and his wife have always been the Sunshines, largely because years ago in the early days I found that she was a person who seemed to bring the Sunshine with her.

Daughter and her Chap are the Hobbits. If you see a round door in a hillside, knock on the door. It may well be opened by a redhead with a flute.

But I didn't know what to call LYS and the Lassie. Nothing sprung to mind. We saw them the other day - we took a few days in Yorkshire, went to see them in their tiny, happy little house and watched the wedding DVD. Before that, I'd been looking at the pictures again. As usual, I looked at those two together and thought 'those two are in cahoots'.

Are you familiar with that expression? To be in 'cahoots' is to be fellow conspirators, or the sharers of a secret or a private joke. Those two always look as if they're sharing a secret joke.

So they have a name now. They are the Cahooties. 'Have you met my son and his wife, the Cahooties?' 'Mr and Mrs Cahoots?'

We went back to our room in the Bar Convent, stayed yesterday morning for a chat with Sister Cecilia, and got home last night to a garden in need of watering. Cecilia, by the way, is one of the most remarkable people I know, and half an hour with her is better than a day at a health spa. She and God are definitely in cahoots.

Monday, 14 July 2014


Why is it that, whenever I go to Cardiff, something big is happening? And no, it's nothing to do with me. I've just been there for girly time with Daughter and friends.

I blame Cardiff Millenium Stadium, which is the grand new-ish sporting venue, but they use it for all sorts of big events too. When the new Wembley Stadium was being built, and took a lot longer than it should have done, the big football matches took place at the Millenium Stadium instead. (This led to a few embarrassed English officials and a lot of Welshmen laughing themselves helpless.) Cardiff is doing its best to attract cultural events, too, and turning out to be pretty good at it.

Well, they didn't ask me, did they? I was there this weekend and it turned out it was Speedway weekend. Don't ask me what that means, I haven't a clue - except it means streets being closed to traffic, flags everywhere, and those horrible vuvuzelas in the street. And NOISE! It also means that you can't get a decent hotel room at a reasonable price. Not the first time this has happened to me. A few years ago, for example, I was in Cardiff to hear Daughter play the flute. The rest of the world was there to hear some mega-band play at the Stadium. It's enough to turn me into a grumpy old bat. Oops, I already am.

Note to Daughter and her Chap - whatever your career plans are, abandon them now and run a quiet little B and B on the outskirts of Cardiff. It must have a garden, because I hardly saw a blade of grass for two days and I was getting withdrawal symptoms. You will charge reasonable rates and only take sweet young families, quiet polite people, grumpy old bats, and nuns. Thank you, or as they say in Welsh, diolch.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014


Today I was thinking about my favourite places. I mean, other then my soft cosy bed in the morning.

I've told you before about Harlow Carr Garden near Harrogate, where the primulas spring up like pompoms over the stream and the scented garden makes you breathe so deeply you could pass out. Have I mentioned Alnmouth beach in Northumberland? I must have done. There's nothing there, that's what's so lovely about it. Just expanses of sand, sea and sky and the fresh clean air.

When we first moved to West Yorkshire I hated it. This time last year we were preparing to leave Mytholmroyd, and I left a part of my heart there. If you ever go there, stand on the bridge (the one by the church) look down, and see if there are any ducks. Say hello to St Michael's, and I can recommend Milly's for coffee and cake or lunch.

Finding beautiful places in North Yorkshire, well, that's shooting fish in a barrel. One of my favourites is Lastingham, which looks as if it's in a fairy tale but it isn't. It's grounded in solid realities. If you visit the church you can go down to the plain little Saxon crypt where the sense of holiness stuns and overawes you.

The Scottish Highlands are sort of shooting fish in a barrel too, but it's disrespectful to talk about shooting fish in Scotland. Loch Goil, where the light on the mountains changes all the time. Kingussie, where the red squirrels are as common as sparrows. Galloway. Iona with its white sand and clear waters.

In Wales, Snowdonia, and a particular favourite view that looks down over Conwy castle.

And my own back garden. Sometimes it's easy to be thankful.

What are your favourite places?

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Le Tour, Much

It's the thing everyone is talking about just now. The Grand Depart - the starter for the Tour de France - is presently hurtling round Yorkshire. It's going through the village where we used to live, and very near to where The Sunshines live, too.

Everyone's talking about it, but not necessarily politely. Over the next couple of days, roads are being closed and traffic delayed over two counties at least, but even so, Yorkshire is taking Le Tour to its heart. Yellow bicycles are hung from high buildings and painted on roads and hillsides. Yellow jerseys (for the leader) are everywhere. The Tour also has a red and white spotty jersey which I think is for The King of The Mountains and a green one and I can't remember who's supposed to wear that one or whether his granny knitted it or not. Would you believe, farmers have been painting their sheep in these colours?

The village has been making bunting. They have, in fact, succeeded in their world record attempt at making the longest bunting in the world. (Go, Mytholmroyd!) That's to encourage the cyclists because the steepest continual incline in the UK goes from the main street, past the church and the school, and up over the moors. You feel your ears pop on the way up. The thought of riding a bike up there is unspeakable, but some people like that sort of thing.

What does Much think of it all?

Bloomin' bikes! The more I hear about them bikes, the more I'm glad I moved north. Disturbing the peace, that's what it'll come to, there'll be crowds in the streets and wheels flying off, probably cyclists flying off too, going at that pace. Did you ever see a gnome in a jersey, on a bike? No, and I'll tell you why. It's because we've got more sense, that's why. We don't get much traffic through the back garden, except I made the acquaintance of a field mouse t'other day. Still can't see over the blooming lavender, though. Not unless I stand up on me snail. Who wants to rush about on a bike, eh, when there's a perfectly good snail around ?

Thursday, 3 July 2014


We've just had a trip to London. What fun! A party for authors!

My wonderful agent had a do on Tuesday evening for her authors and illustrator. Being an author, especially if you're not in London or Oxford, is a lonely business where you crouch over a messy desk in a garret and mutter to yourself. These days we don't use quill pens and mostly the roofs don't leak, but it's still isolated. So we're all very grateful when an agent or publisher lets us all go out to play together. We talked about books, about the fun, exciting places where we lived, and about our families. I was a bit over-awed. There were some seriously good writers in there.

Kaye Umansky was there, the author of, among other things, Pongwiffy. When Lady Sunshine was a little girl she LOVED Pongwiffy, and I told Kaye so. Kaye is a warm, big-hearted, funny lady and a joy to be with. And I met Deborah, who long ago was Deborah Robinson.

When I was a little girl, one of the series I was brought up on was Teddy Robinson, by Joan G Robinson. Teddy belonged to a little girl called Deborah. He had all sorts of adventures and a very good opinion of himself. So there I was, talking to the original Deborah, and am happy to tell you that Teddy Robinson is alive and well and has many young friends. I must read those books again, soon.

We were staying very near to another writer you might have heard of, Charles Dickens. I know, he's been dead a long time, but we were staying near to his house so that counts, yes? The Dickens home in Doughty Street is now a museum, so I put on my bonnet and shawl, made sure I had my housekeeping keys in a little basket at my waist and fluttered down there. The house has been cleverly furnished to look much as it would have been when the Dickens family lived there, but without too much clutter, if you know what I mean. There are some exhibitions, simply and clearly done, and some of Dickens own furniture. Poor old Boz - he was so perceptive in so many ways, but he didn't have a clue about women.

Then a quick meeting with lovely editor Zoe before meeting up with Tony at the British Museum. By this point we were hungry, so we got something for lunch at the cafe and were sitting at a table when Tony said, 'we're in illustrious company. There's Michael Wood.'

Reader, I fainted. No I didn't, but it would have been understandable if I had. Michael Wood first came to notice as an implausibly young, good-looking, and enthusiastic TV history presenter thirty years ago or so. He appeared on the screen with a boyish grin of delight, grabbed you by the hand, and took you for a whizz round the 'Dark Ages'. As Tony and I were into Anglo-Saxon already, we loved it. Since then he's done history and travel programmes on Troy, India, Shakespeare, Alexander the Great, can't remember what else. He's like a small boy dragging you off to see what he's found. He explains lucidly and always with infectious enthusiasm.

He had a film crew with him at the Brit yesterday, so hopefully there will be another Michael Wood programme soon. He has changed very little over the years, and I suspect he keeps his portrait in the attic. About ten years ago he was launching his book and TV series about Shakespeare by doing a lecture tour, and Tony and I went to hear him at York. I queued for a long time to get his book signed, and he apologised for the wait. Michael Wood apologised to me.

Yesterday he never appeared to notice me, but reader, I know he remembered me. He was sitting with his salad and his camera crew thinking - on the next table is the incredibly beautiful, poised and charming women who was last in the queue to get her book signed at York. I hear she's a famous author now, but she won't remember me.

Being over-awed and not wanting to stare, I didn't look at him much. Of course he felt the same about me. :)