Thursday, 28 April 2016


Time for a happy post!

I have one husband, one daughter, and two sons. The kids are all over thirty, married and mortgaged, but the other one's still around. Family life means that over the years you do a lot of washing, and especially, you wash knickers. I was thinking of this as I sorted the washing the other day, and I found myself singing. Any tune will do.

Oh, the knickers are excited and the drawers are all delighted
Cos it's happy happy knicker washing day,
Sort the briefs from handkerchiefs, sort the boxers from the sockses,
And we'll have a lovely knicker washing day.

It's the day for happy panties, ask your aunties for their scanties,
It's the day they all go in the tub to play,
And if the weather's fine they can all go on the line
And the pants can dance on knicker washing day!

Oh, vicars' knickers!
Baby boomers' bloomers!
Granny Tilly's frillies, come along!
If you're pants with old elastic
We still think that you're fantastic,
Come and dance and play and sing the washing song,

Add detergent and press'on'.

Repeat first verse.

Sunday, 24 April 2016


'Gaslight' was an old film about a man who was gradually breaking down his wife's confidence and putting doubts into her mind until she thought she was going insane. All this meant that she wouldn't suspect what he was really up to, or if she did, nobody would believe her.

I sometimes add a few funny little notes about The Archers on here (largely for the benefit of those of you Across The Pond who have to live without it.) And there have been some amusing little odds and ends there, largely to do with Linda Snell's building plans and the Fairbrother hens. But a much darker thread has been spinning for the last two years and it's now being talked about all over the country. It's to do with 'gaslighting'.

It's about Helen Archer, single mother of little Henry, who is swept off her feet by the charming Rob Tichener who arrived in the village trailing the remnants of his previous marriage behind him. They married, another baby was soon on the way. But throughout their marriage, he has 'gaslighted' her. He's made mistakes at work so that they looked as if she made them, and of course, she couldn't remember anything about it. One minor little shunt in the car, and he stopped her from driving. In the gentlest, most reasonable way, he would criticise, argue about her choices, put her in the wrong. He came between Helen and her friends and family, all the while seeming to be a Jolly Nice Chap Devoted To His Wife. He dominated Henry while looking like the perfect stepfather. When Helen has challenged him, he's persuaded her that she's overwrought and her judgment is impaired or it's all a silly misunderstanding. Even her parents were taken in. Her best friend was the only one who saw what was going on.

Finally, Helen threatens to leave him, there is a terrible row, he puts a knife into her hand and tells her she should kill herself. Henry comes to see what the noise is about, Helen finally cracks, and Rob ends up in hospital with multiple stab wounds. (The nation rises to its feet and cheers.) But Helen is now in custody. Rob is telling his side of the story. We await developments.

I'm putting this on the blog because GASLIGHTING HAPPENS, and not just between partners. Parents can do it to their children, undermining their confidence, making them feel helpless. I've known teachers who did it. 'Haven't I had enough trouble with you, can't you even get THAT right?' Families can do it to each other, children sometimes do it to each other. They may not altogether realise what they're doing, or how destructive it can be. It's insidious.

So if you catch yourself gaslighting someone, recognise what you're doing and stop. If you see it being done, challenge it. Let's shine a true light on gaslighting.

Thursday, 21 April 2016


There are many things I could have blogged about today, but this one rose to the top of the agenda. Warnings you won't find it easy.

Some of my friends from the Yorkshire days are farmers. J is a woman I admire enormously - as well as the farm she puts in a few shifts at a supermarket. That tells you something about the income you get from farming, by the way. She is also a lovely mum and grandma and helps at the church toddler group. She's one of the most hard-working people I know. In fact between church, work and family I don't know how she ever finds time to sleep, but she responds to everything calmly and kindly. A lovely, gentle woman.

Yesterday morning her husband went out to 'look the sheep', as they say round here, to check up on them and feed them. They had twenty-five young sheep in a field near a local beauty spot.

He found carnage. A dog had been among the flock. Of the twenty-five, nine had been badly injured and one was missing. Of the injured ones, they were able to save only two. Apart from the suffering to the animals, who had been terrified as well as hurt, these good people have lost a large part of their livelihood and have to deal with the aftermath.

This doesn't need to happen. All anyone has to do is to keep their dog on a lead anywhere remotely near livestock. Never mind that it's well trained, obedient, wouldn't hurt a fly, any dog can become wildly excited and out of control about sheep, and the next thing is the sort of savagery that M and J had to face. So please, please, it's easy. Keep your dog on a lead near sheep. Tell your friends and family to keep their dog on a lead near sheep. And if you see a dog out of control around sheep, call the police and, if you can, get a message to the owner. The alternative doesn't bear thinking about, but J has had to think about it for the last two days.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Happy Birthdays

Two big celebrations are coming up this week. Thursday is The Queen's ninetieth. Saturday is Shakespeare's four hundredth and fifty second, and the four hundredth anniversary of his death. By Sunday there won't be a card left in the shops.

What do you give to a ninety year old monarch? How do you say 'thanks and congratulations' to a woman who has seen off wars, crises, Prime Ministers, presidents and tabloids, tragedies and terrors, reared children, has corgis and horses, and put up with Phil for nigh on seventy years? I'd like her to have exactly what she wants on her birthday. Her official party is in May, with pageants and all sorts of razzmatazz at Windsor Castle, but for her real ninetieth I hope she gets to do what she likes. If that means walking the dogs, going for a ride, watching reruns of Dad's Army with a gin and tonic and box of choccies, whatever. I wish her whatever she wishes herself. Happy Birthday, Ma'am.

And now, Shakespeare, who died on his birthday. I hope he'd opened his pressies, blown out his candles, and looked at his feet in embarrassment as they all sang 'Happy Birthday to Ye', but as he was not very well, the significance of the day may have passed him by. The story is that in the middle of April his old friend Ben Jonson came to visit and they went out, got roaring drunk, and came home in a thunderstorm, and he caught a cold which turned nasty. Other historians say that he'd been ill for weeks, which is why he'd revised and updated his will shortly before his death. (But that might have been because he fell out with his son-in-law).

What would he have wanted for his birthday? He'd had it all. He'd been the country boy, the man of the theatre, the acclaimed playwright. Then he left it all behind and went home as a wealthy man, to Stratford. He was a man of mystery, too. Was his marriage happy? Was he a secret Catholic? Did he really write the plays at all? There are many unanswered questions about him. As a father and grandfather, I suspect he just wanted one more birthday. I would give him that, if I could.

And I would tell him a few stories in case he wanted to revisit his theatre days and write something new. And a Tardis, so he could write 'The History of Queen ELizabeth II'. And even, 'The Trewe and Accurate History of William Shakspere'. Anything else you think he should write?

Monday, 11 April 2016

Pen Portrait

The supermarket had all their gardening stuff on display outside last week. Maybe that's why, as I put the trolley away and walked back to the car, I thought, 'galvanised bucket'.

Something happens when a galvanised bucket gets into the head of a writer. As I got into the car I was asking Tony what sort of a character Galvanised Bucket would be, and we both thought it was a hyphenated surname. Colonel Galvanised-Bucket. Mrs Justice Galvanised-Bucket. We were pretty certain that Montague Carmichael Galvanised-Bucket is a senior civil servant. Tall, probably with a moustache. Not a man to get on the wrong side of. He married Marigold Ffothering, one of the Derbyshire Ffotherings, and the marriage produced Caractacus and Primrose. Marigold spends most of the summer in Malaga with friends. One friend in particular.

I haven't yet completed my notes on the Galvanised-Buckets, but now it's your turn. There is a village in Yorkshire called Kettlesing. Pen portrait for Kettlesing Jones, anyone?

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Mopping Up

'Go not to those who need you, but to those who need you most.'

Who said that? Answer at the end.*

This quote reminds me of a time when the children were teeny. We were living in a part of the north of England where the thing to do, if you're having a hard time, is to pop in on a friend or neighbour and have a good cry. Dear Reader, it was Potty Training Season, and I was just thinking it was time to persuade two and a bit year old LOS to make an effort when the doorbell rang. The poor lady just made it as far as a chair before bursting into tears. LOS, who has always had a kind heart, was concerned. He stood watching her with his head a little on one side while absent-mindedly wetting the carpet. (1)

For a moment I looked from one to the other and wondered who to mop up first, then decided that the lady was old enough to sort herself out, so I left her a box of tissues while I whisked LOS away and made him socially acceptable again. By the time I got back downstairs the lady was looking and feeling a lot better and we had a wee cup of tea and a chat. The dog had been taking care of her, he was good at that. LOS played happily with his sister who had very sensibly ignored the whole proceeding.

No lasting damage was done to the carpet.

(1) this will not embarrass LOS. He's very proud of it.

* John Wesley

Saturday, 2 April 2016


Tony and I took a little time off last week to go to Pow Hill. We'd never been there before but it's near the Derwent Reservoir, not far from Blanchland just about on the borders of Northumberland and Durham. More to the point, it's a nature reserve. We had been tipped off that's a good place for seeing red squirrels, and I haven't seen any for a while, so off we went after lunch. We found a happy little woodland beside flat calm water, and the first creature we spotted was an affable Geordie bloke with a camera the size of a telescope. We asked him how he was doing, and he reckoned there was plenty of bird life about. But, he told us, two o'clock in the afternoon wasn't a good time for squirrels.

In the past I've met squirrels who were bright eyed and bushy tailed at pretty much any time of day, but the Pow Hill squirrels must like their siesta, because at two o'clock they all scurry back to their dreys for a zzzz. How do they know it's two o'clock? Do they squint up at the sky and work it out, or strain their tufty ears for the chimes of Blanchland church, or do they just check their phones? (Not the older squirrels, of course. They have proper wind-up watches on gold chains.) I suppose their body clocks tell them that any squirrel who has been stuffing its face since five o'clock in the morning absolutely needs to lie down before it explodes. Yes, apparently five o'clock in the morning is a very good time to see them. I don't do mornings, but those little sweeties are worth getting out of bed for. One of these days I might turn up at Pow Hill in the wee small hours. I might even be conscious.

I asked the Mistmantle squirrels what they thought about this afternoon sleep thing. Most of them said it was a silly idea. Crackle, who was grinding nuts to make frangipane, said rather sharply that chance would be a fine thing, but then Scatter came and helped her and they giggled together a lot. Apple said that Filbert always likes to rest his eyes in the afternoon, and Tay muttered that anything that made squirrels shut up for an hour or two must be a good idea, but Tay's always muttering to herself these days. I tried to ask Urchin, but he was at the top of a tree and didn't hear me. I asked Princess Almondflower if she thought she should go to sleep in the afternoons, and at last sight she was still rolling around laughing so much she had to bite her own tail to make herself stop. Squirrels!