Saturday, 29 November 2014

advent wreath

More years ago than I will tell you, but well over thirty, Tony and I moved from the hole in the ground where we'd been living into a sweet little flat in a happy corner of Bristol. He was doing ministerial training, I was doing a secretarial job in the education offices, and we'd been married three months. When Advent began, I was determined that we'd have an advent wreath.

This was easier said than done as (a) we were trying to pull our home together around us (b) we were penniless and (c) I didn't know how to make one. I contrived something with four candles and the lid of a sellotape box. But it was important to me to have an advent wreath at home, so year after year I managed to make some sort of wobbly edifice with candles and holly. Remarkably, the house never caught fire and neither did I. Then, thirty years ago when we were again living near a German friend, I asked her to show me how to make a proper advent wreath.

Being a person who always goes the extra mile, she went one better. She made me a red wooden stand with a star-shaped base so that I could make a hanging wreath in the true German fashion, and we sat together on the Saturday before Christmas, making Advent wreaths. She had asked her mum in Germany to send the candle holders that you can't get over here. And every year since then I've made the advent wreath with red ribbons and green branches, the way she taught me.

It's there now, hanging from the stand she made, all ready to light tomorrow, waiting for its thirtieth Advent and telling me something. It's telling me how much I have to be thankful for over those years.

Monday, 24 November 2014


Sunday was a day of gift. Firstly, I managed to get to church, which was an achievement after the last couple of weeks. Then in the afternoon, I had very special visitors. A friend brought her daughter, who looks a bit like a pixie, to see the Dolls' House.

Pixie and the house simply recognised each other like old friends. She hardly needed introducing to the family of dolls, and methodically sorted them all out, made up their beds, put the best china on the dresser, and set out their tea on the table. The baby is in the cot that Daughter made many years ago. A little doll who is now called Alice is looking after another baby and the cat, and Mr Christmas is having a lie down. She and the house were delighted with each other, and it was a gift to watch them.

There was another gift, too. Pixie had made me a loom band! And she's coming back before Christmas to put up their decorations. I'm looking forward to it so much.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Flop and Sleep

Yesterday I was out all morning, for the first time since I've been ill. By the time I came home, all I could do was flop and sleep. That isn't a very interesting thing to tell you


Flop and Sleep. They are characters. They may be

The two laziest servants in the castle

A couple of dogs who never want to go for walkies

The two zookeepers who let the animals do what they like because they're hardly ever awake - and then when they do wake up they find the animals all partying up a tree, or in the hippo pool, or something

Over to you.

It reminds me of a town in West Yorkshire, which, wonderfully, is called 'Idle'. It's home to the Idle Methodists, the Idle Mothers' Union, and, my favourite, The Idle Working Men's Club.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Creak and Coventry

I'm back. Or some of me is. My feet are still not sure where the floor is and don't even ask what my head is doing, but I can tupe, I mean typp.

So what can I tell you about? The Cahooties (Lovely Younger Son and The Lassie) were away in Coventry this weekend, which is where the Lassie comes from. I know that a lot of you live far away and might not know about Coventry, so I'll tell you a bit.

It's a city in the English Midlands and goes back a long long way, and later became the home of the British car industry and a lot of engineering. It had a beautiful mediaeval cathedral until the Second World War. Because of all the engineering works in Coventry the city was heavily bombed, much of the city was wrecked in a firestorm, and the cathedral was destroyed. There's nothing left of the old building now but the ruins.

After the war, the time came to build again. What arose from the ashes was a modern and beautiful building, full of light. There are rainbows filtering through blocks of stained glass, soaring angels etched on windows and, over the main door, St Michael beating down the devil. Above all, it is dedicated to the cause of peace and reconciliation. Everywhere, you are reminded of it. And in the ruins of the old church there is still an altar. On it stands a cross made out of two pieces of debris rescued from the ruins. On it is the inscription 'Father, Forgive.'

Treat yourself and look at

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

The right kind of help. please...

No, Mistress Apple, that doesn't mean cordial. No, especially the extra-special cordial. I think you should save that for another time.

The problem is that the Lovely Lady is poorly. She says her head is spinning, her legs have gone wobbly, and her tummy is doing flip-flops and somersaults. She thinks she might rent herself out as a circus act, but I said she might need too many safety nets. Yes, Mistress Apple, I'm sure your cordial is fantastic for most things, but it might not be the right thing for this thing. When it takes all day to eat the piece of toast you had for breakfast, I think cordial might just complicate things. If your tummy is doing flop-flops and somersaults it needs to be able to land back on its feet. Actually, I've never thought before about whether tummies have feet, but they must have something to land on, so whatever tummies have for feet, that's the thing that cordial might just bamboozlify. Oh, yes, I've seen people well and truly cordially bamboozlified. Not good. Especially when the flip-flops come.

So, the Hairy Bloke is doing his best. We think she just needs a few days of rest and recovery. Cups of tea are more gentle than flagons of cordial, and the British have always known that a cup of tea is a Good Thing. So I make the tea, and make sure there's toast if it's wanted. The Lovely Lady asked me if I'd do the blog for her, just to let you all know what's going on, and as soon as she's well enough to do it herself, Margi will be back in your company. She's already looking a bit better than she was yesterday - so, to make her feel better, and let her smile at us the way she does when she's well, here's a picture taken a few weeks ago, when she was having a lovely time on a sunny day in the Lake District.

Get well soon, Lovely Lady. All the folk of Mistmantle, and all the folk who are friends of Mistmantle, want you to be sunny and smiling again.

Saturday, 8 November 2014


Thanks to Daughter for telling me about Westgate Ark in Newcastle, which works with Cats Protection to rescue and rehome cats. At present, some areas are being invaded by feral cats.

Feral cats are unwanted cats who live wherever they can. Some are abandoned, or strays that haven't been neutered. An unneutered cat can produce litter after litter after litter, so these kittens have no experience of living in a house and before long they are old enough to breed. However much you like cats, swarms of them are a problem. The cats don't have much fun either, living on the street, scavenging for food, and having to fight for their place in the pecking order.

A heroic lady called Linda has been rescuing feral cats and kittens and taking them to Westgate Ark. The aim is to find them homes, but before this can happen they have to get used to being handled, and what it's like to live in a human environment. They have to feel safe with people. Not easy with adult cats, and probably not always possible, but the chances are better with kittens. Westgate Ark depends heavily on volunteers to do the immense work of feeding and cleaning, but now they also need volunteers to just be with the kittens, talk to them and handle them, in order to socialise them.

Yes. They need volunteers to cuddle kittens. It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it.

Thursday, 6 November 2014


'Er's not safe with a pair of secateurs. Never was, mind, but 'er's getting worse.

'Er's taken up flower arranging. Flower arranging, yeah. Blooming 'eck. 'Er's rubbish at anything like that. Can't even hang the washing straight. 'Er likes sewing but 'er ain't no good at it, and 'er can't draw a thing. Now, even at this time of year, 'er's off round the garden snipping stuff and saying 'this'll come in'. Spiky stuff, 'alf dead stuff, whatever, it's not safe from 'er. Must be costing 'er the earth, too, buying flowers and stuff. Why blooming flower arranging?

Cos it doesn't matter, she says. Cos it'll be fun, and the class is only ten minutes walk away, and I think I'll like it. I'd like to make beautiful flower arrangements, says 'er, and if they go wrong it don't matter. If I can't get a book right, it don't get published and I don't get paid and I'll 'ave to go out and get a proper job and get up early in the mornings. I'm a mum, she says, if you're a mum you 'ave to be an OK one at least. I like to get together with me old Mum and Dad, and there's all that kids' stuff that I do, I have to do it proper and not let anyone down.

But flower arranging? Who cares if I mess it up? You can see 'er point. Nobody's going to be let down if 'er sticks a dahlia in upside down, are they? Won't hurt anyone if her ferns flop. Worst 'er can do is poke herself in the eye with a lupin, and give us all a laugh. And she came 'ome last night with her arrangement (some sort of chrysanthemum thing with pointy bits poking out of it) and weren't she pleased with 'erself. To be honest, it didn't look bad.

Story readers, I have been neglecting you. How long is it since I told you about the Archers, and it's so exciting! Listen up -

David and Ruth Archer are going to sell up at Brookfield and move to Northumberland! Now, you and I know they couldn't go anywhere better, but excuse me? David and Ruth belong at Brookfield and Brookfield belongs to them. Of course, we know it won't really happen.

The whole Roy and Elizabeth thing ended in tears. I'm not saying I told you so, but I'm thinking it.

They all had a wonderful Bonfire Night. Kenton Archer set something on fire and the Guy was wearing Joe Grundy's old long johns.

The pheasants flew away. That's what they do. The people who'd paid to shoot at them weren't pleased.

Did the pheasants flying away have anything to do with Joe Grundy's old long johns? I wouldn't be surprised.

Monday, 3 November 2014


On Thursday morning, Tony and the Red-Headed Laddie sat down with cameras and computers and looked at all the photographs they took on our Roman Wall day. The RHL enjoyed looking at pictures of himself with shield, sword, etc, (other way, sweetie), but there was something he was looking forward to more. 'Next one... is it the next one...' and finally, 'WOW!' And he just stared again at the view that had taken his breath away the day before.

The picture he'd been waiting for wasn't one of himself, or his family, or of an English Heritage worker dressed up as a Roman Officer.

It was one of these (if I've uploaded them successfully). It reminds me of something we all need to know about children - they need wonder. They need something bigger than they are, bigger than a screen, bigger than four walls. They need big, breathy spaces. They need to see something massive. Something that makes them say 'WOW'!