Tuesday, 30 June 2015

And We Shall Eat The Bread Of Crumbliness

Earlier this year a very nice doctor stuck lots of needles into me for blood tests. She had to work through the following questions -

Does this patient have hobbit DNA? Yes

Is she anaemic? No more than usual

What is her platelet count? Patient is rubbish at maths. Her platelets can't count.

Is she an orang-utan? Probably

Is she in early stage of coeliac disease? Might be

They still don't know if I'm in the early stages of coeliac or not, because, if I am, it's early stages, so they still don't know... coeliac isn't a problem, it just means that you can't eat wheat or anything else with gluten in it. At present I'm halfway through six weeks of being gluten-free to see if anything happens. Up to now I haven't exploded or grown wings, but I have learned a few things about a gluten free diet. (If you're already coeliac you know this stuff better than I do.)

The pasta tastes just the same as ordinary pasta. This saves a lot of problems.

There are coeliacs out there who would kill for a gluten-free Yorkshire pudding.

There are some amazingly yummy gluten free cakes. Six weeks is too short.

You start reading labels on everything.

And then there's the bread. Oh, what a joy. Gluten free bread is shockingly expensive and I could save money by eating polystyrene, which has the same consistency. GF bread is also sweetish, which is no good in a cheese sandwich. When I come off this I am going to eat my body weight in toasties. I couldn't do toast this morning because the bread fell apart in my hands, so whatever we eat this evening, it'll have a breadcrumb topping. I could feed it to the birds, but I imagine their little beaks drooping in disappointment at the first peck, and I can't bear to do that to them. Oh well. At least I have bread.

Thursday, 25 June 2015


Did you know that we're ideally supposed to walk ten thousand steps a day? Six thousand is OK, but we're really supposed to do ten thousand. Having looked up some stuff on-line I find that, as a woman with little short legs I do about 2,500 steps to the mile. Home to the town centre/church is about a mile, so there and back I've done half my quota. Most of us do a surprising number of steps just pottering about the house, school or office, before we even start on the garden. I do twice as many as anyone else because I go into a room, forget what I went for, come out empty-handed, remember something different... you get the picture.

Our church being a bit historic and amazing, we get a lot of visitors, including school parties, and we do our best for them. On Monday I walked down to church ready to meet, greet and guide. We had a school party arriving at one o'clock, and divided them into five small groups so that they could move around five activities. (Did I mention the flagstone floors?) Five times I did the walk and talk and dressing up stuff. I pottered, pattered, pittered, and I was puttering out by the time they got back on the bus. Quick coffee. Home. Good day.

Later that evening I wondered why my legs hurt. I had been on my feet for four hours. That must be ten thousand steps and a head start on Tuesday.

Much says it's ridiculous. He says he never walks anywhere if he can go by snail, and his muscles are rock hard. Even his bulging stomach is solid, as are his idle little legs in their pixie boots. Yes, Much, but I'm not a gnome. Not even my legs are that short.

Monday, 22 June 2015


It were such a shock. I thought me time had come.

It were round about the time of evening when any sensible animal is eating its dinner or putting its little ones to sleep in their nests, bless 'em, and I'd taken a little walk to the shore. It had been a sunny day, and I wanted something new for me 'at, and I reckoned shells might be a nice change. There's some little curly wurly ones just now, ever so pretty, so off I went to the shore by way of Watchtop Hill, as I were dropping off some scones and cordial with my old hedgehog friend Winniple as she aint been very well. Winniple is very fond of my cordial, she says it's as good as her mother used to make, and I feel sorry for her, because, bless her, she's never 'ad no sense of smell since she fell down a mole tunnel and had a nasty landing. So we shared a glass or two and off I went through the wood, and as you know if you've been there, you get a good view of the bay from Watchtop Hill.

Well, my dears, I had the palpitations. Out there in the middle of water was Princess Almondflower, and she weren't swimming, she were standing up. True as I'm standing - sitting down - here, there she were, riding on the water like a ship in full sail, her arms out and a big smile on her face, and even as I watched she turned around, face towards the mists, and stood on one leg like a ballet dancer. Let me tell you, I ain't run that fast since our Urchin fell out of a tree when he was little, I didn't get there in time, but never mind, 'e landed right way up. I didn't stop till I got to the sand and she's still there, on the water, drifting in to the shore, on tiptoe on the waves. Oh my whiskers, I thought, there's magic happening or it's a wonder or I'm going peculiar, and I wondered if I'd put anything in that cordial that I shouldn't have.

And then there's some bubbles and a head pops up in front of her, and it's that Fingal, he's giving 'er rides on his back. Ooh, I come over all of a whatnot! When they got into the shallows she jumped off and paddled to the sand, and Fingal rolled over and over.

"Did you see me, Mistress Apple?" says Princess Almondflower, and she's beaming all over her face.

"I certainly did, and you had me worried," I says. I think Fingal were laughing, but you can't tell, can you, with Fingal.

"Don't tell!" she says. "I'm practising for the Summer Festival. Tide and Swanfeather are going to help, and there's me, and my friend Scrapple, and Pitter says she'll..."

There's going to be whole flotilla of 'em apparently. Squirrels riding on otters and dancing about and everything. If I were the young squirrel I used to was, I'd have a go myself. I couldn't do it now, no, not me. Fingal's a nice chap, it were 'im what rescued my hat in all that wild weather, and I wouldn't want to sink 'im.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Much and the Standing Stones

This coming weekend is Solstice. Midsummer. You could have fooled me. We got grey skies, north wind and intermittent rain. 'Er's just put 'er winter sweaters away, and had to go and get 'em all out again. We ain't seen any 'edge'ogs this year, and I reckon they've all gone back for another week or two of 'ibernating. And if the weather's in a foul mood, 'er's no better. Going about with a face like Grumpy Cat. 'Er wants to get away to somewhere down south where it's warm.

Stone'enge is down south, a long blooming way down south, and this weekend it'll be full of 'appy 'ippies celebrating the solstice. It were built about 4,500 year ago, and the mystery is that some of them stones don't come from round about there at all, they come from Wales. Archyolologists have been scratching their 'eads for centuries trying to work out how you get a five ton lump of stone from Wales to Wiltshire when you ain't got all your modern technerlogies. They're asking the wrong questions. They ask 'ow, when the question is 'oo?

Gnomes may be small but we're tougher than we look and we know about stone, seeing as it's what we're made of. Gnomes in the old days 'ad muscles like boat ropes. There's gnome lore from way back in time, but 'umans fon;t know it. You may hear stories of King Arthur and the Round Table, but nobody ever told you about King Arthur and the Fishing Rod Gnomes of 'is Garden Pond, did they? Merlin the Magician, where did 'e get the idea for 'is pointy 'at?

It were gnomes that got the contract for building Stone'enge, and they 'appened to know where to lay their 'ands on a nice bit of blue stone. It were epic, that were, two thousand gnomes moving them stones, log-rolling 'em, snail-dragging 'em, picking 'em up and carrying 'em, all that way. They say you couldn't see the gnomes, just a stone with 'undreds of little legs marching across the landscape. And when they got there, what did the Druids say? Oh, they said, we don't want them stones. We've already started building with the local sarsen, we don't want your blue ones, they won't match.

Well, we aint taking 'em all the way back, said the gnomes. They dumped them stones, got on their snails and rode off with trails of smoke be'ind them, because snails could set a cracking pace in them days, especially with an angry Druid be'ind them. And them stones is still there where they left 'em.

Sunday, 14 June 2015


There's still quite a bit of interest in the First World War - and so there should be. It's no longer the centenary of the outbreak of war, but a hundred years ago those poor young chaps were dying in the trenches.

Recently we watched a very good subtitled series called 1864, about a war between Denmark and Prussia that we'd never heard of before. It was excellent. The battle scenes were unsettling, but battle scenes should be. I had a bad dream after the last one.

And last Friday, my friend Claire and I met for a sunny day in beautiful York, had lunch in a secluded convent garden, wandered through the medieval streets, drank Pimms, and walked around the city walls. In one of the towers on York city walls is an exhibition about King Richard III (remember him? Wars of the Roses, curvature of the spine, car park in Leicester?). York has always been loyal to KR3. Claire is definitely a Ricardian, I give him the benefit of the doubt, and we both love history, so we were up for a KR3 exhibition. Part of it was about the Battle of Towton.

Towton was one of the bloodiest, bitterest battles ever fought in Britain, and the one that brought Richard's older brother Edward to the throne. A rout turned to a massacre.

ssentially, all of these - WW1, 1864, The Wars of the Roses - were the same. One or two people got a big idea. They were people of power and influence, so they were able to promote this idea and raise armies.

A lot of young men were killed. Farm boys, many of them. Children lost fathers, money was squandered, land was wasted, people got poorer, maimed soldiers lived out their days. There was a mess.

Most wars are the same. it's a repeating pattern and societies should have learned to recognise it by now, and do something different. Aren't we clever enough? We can invent ever-new ways of killing each other, can't we find a way of not wanting to?


AND YET - last Friday, Claire and I met for a sunny day in York... lunch... garden... Pimms...

so despite all the conflicts of the twentieth century and before, and despite that fact that, come to think of it, our ancestors might have tried to kill each other at the Battle of Culloden, Claire and I have grown up in a free world and so have our children, and there is joy. Lots of it, popping up like daisies. War bellows and screams, but at the end it does not have the last word.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015


I've just remembered that today is St Columba's Day - also known as Colmcille, 'dove of the church'.

Columba was a sixth century Irish nobleman. Christianity had been established in Ireland by St Patrick, and Columba became a monk, a scholar, and a thoroughly resourceful chap - but we are all flawed and damaged creatures, and Columba had an unfortunate tendency to get seriously annoyed if anyone crossed him. He borrowed a book from the abbot of another monastery. In those days books were rare and precious things. Now, they're only precious. Columba made a copy of the book before returning it. The other abbot wasn't pleased. He was so not pleased that he went to court over it, claiming that Columba had no right to reproduce the work and should hand over his copy. The court found against Columba and laid the foundation of international rules on copyright.

Columba protested. He protested so much that there was a pitched battle, with severe loss of life, not at all the sort of thing monks should be into. He had a falling out with a local ruler about sanctuary, too. Finally, repentant and acknowledging that he had been responsible for a lot of bloodshed, he went into exile with a few companions. Loving his homeland as he did, he committed himself to settling in a place where he could no longer see the coast of Ireland. It's said that he first arrived at a place called Southend, but went on to a tiny island. Iona.

Iona became one of the holiest sites in Christendom. From the tiny island with its clear green waters, white sand and rough weather, the Christian faith spread throughout Scotland. Young noblemen were nurtured there, and after Oswald Whiteblade of Northumbria regained his kingdom, he sent for monks from Iona to spread the faith. They, too, settled on an island, Lindisfarne. To this day, Iona and Lindisfarne are holy islands, the ongoing harvest of a transformed life.

Apparently, in Southend it has always been said that Thursday is an auspicious day because the major events in Columba's life happened on Thursdays. It's supposed to be a great blessing to be a Thursday's Child. This is probably the stuff of legend, but as a Thursday's Child I happily go along with it.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Fingal and Padra

This conversation between Padra and Fingal is not recorded in The Chronicles of Mistmantle. It took place before the first book starts and I'm glad to say it was not overheard.

Fingal, exactly what did you say to Mistress Tay?

Er - good morning, Mistress Tay?


I said it was a lovely day for laying down the law. Which it is. And I asked her to let me know if she wanted anyone arrested.

She's very angry.

I only...

Yes, I know what you only said. I know you only love get an only rise out of her, but you have to stop it.

But it's such fun! Anyway, you do it.

A lot more subtly, and with the authority of a captain. What I'm trying to tell you is, this island has changed lately. I don't like everything the king's doing, but in time he'll see sense. In the meantime, it doesn't do for a young otter to annoy animals like Tay.

There aren't any... all right, sorry.

This is what I suggest. There are colonies in the north west of the island where the young otters frankly don't have enough fun. They need someone who'll lead them, inspire them, befriend them, splash about in the water with them. I'd like you to go there for a while.

But my friends are here!

You'll make friends anywhere. Anyway, I'm not sending you into exile, I just think it's time you saw a bit more of the island, not just around the Tower and Anemone Wood. I patrol that way myself a lot, I'll still be around.

What about Crispin?

So will he.

Fine, when shall I go?

By the way, if Tay did ask you to arrest anyone, what would you do?

Tell them to scarper.

I thought so.