Sunday, 24 July 2016

Happy Families

Firstly,a brief note. Some very strange comments have been popping up on this House of Stories report. They make no sense at all, and put up a link. These are nothing to do with me. I don't know where they are from and I delete them as soon as I see them. DO NOT click on the link. If any high-tech squirrels out there know how to prevent them, do let me know. I've always maintained that the House of Stories Blog is a place where anyone can pop by for a chat and a cordial, but trolls and hawkers are not welcome, especially when I'd just posted something following the death of a good and remarkable man who saved the lives of thousands of animals.

That's that. Today is a very happy one on Mistmantle, as Russet of the Circle and his wife Hawthorn had the naming ceremony for their younger son Swift, who screamed at the top of his little lungs until the singing started, and then he was mesmerised. Sepia's choir usually have that effect. After that he was fine until after his next feed when he was sick over Brother Juniper's tunic. Fortunately Juniper is used to this. Fingal is one of his heartguides, which is very like a godparent, and has already taught him to swim. He has been wonderful with Swift's big brother and sister, Curlew and Heron, who probably think they're otters.

Oh, if The Archers could have such Happy Families! Pat had to phone Rob, who answered in his chilling way, 'what can I do for you?' 'Drop dead' would be the right answer. However, as Pat's daughter Helen is in prison for knifing the creep when she couldn't bear it any longer and he has custody of wee Henry, Pat has to be careful. The insufferable Kate is raiding her mum's cupboards to furnish her yurts, Pip is being very silly with the Bad Brother, Lillian the Veteran Vamp is being even sillier with Jason, and war has broken out over the village fete. Fallon has attempted a coup and Linda Snell exploded. Take cover, everyone, Victoria Sandwich cakes are flying through the air.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Les Stocker

You wait a week for a blog post and three come along at once. But I wanted to tell you about somebody special.

Late last night I heard that Les Stocker had died. Les was a man who cared so thoroughly and deeply about wildlife that he and his family devoted their lives to the rescue of sick and injured wild animals. From rescuing a few wild birds and hedgehogs they set up the pioneering wildlife hospital and rescue centre, Tiggywinkles. For decades, animals at Tiggywinkles have been restored to health and returned to the wild or, if they weren't well enough to survive in the big wide world, given a safe place to live. (A deer can cope perfectly well on three legs, but not in the wild. A wealthy friend of Tiggywinkle's with a large estate adopted all the three-legged deer.)

Les led the way for having wildlife care taken seriously. He learned, and shared what he learned. Groundbreaking surgery was carried out and written up in their hospital. Les travelled the world speaking at conferences about what they did. Because of him, wildlife care was put on a professional footing and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons recognised him as an Honorary Member.

When you're writing books about talking animals, you go to your imagination with a bit of help from C S Lewis. When this makes you fascinated with wildlife, or when you're writing about real wild animals - FAWN, for example - you go to Tiggywinkles.

When you help an injured human, they generally know that you're trying to help. Animals don't, they just know that they're in pain and helpless, and they fight. The last time I met Les he had a hefty dressing on one hand. This was by no means his first rescue-related injury. He had been rescuing a trapped badger, and as an experienced animal handler he wore gauntlets. A badger's jaw is a powerful thing, though, and it still managed to bite him. Knowing how dangerous a badger bit can be, Les went to hospital for injections and a dressing, but the bite still got infected. Just an occupational hazard.

There is a guard of honour at the gates of heaven. It's made up of hedgehogs, deer, rabbits, foxes, and wild birds. There is a personal appearance by St Francis and wild applause from the angels as Les Stocker walks in.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016


Not so much a blog post, more of a warning. The weather is hot. DON'T leave your dog in the car. Don't leave any living thing in a hot car, or in a sunny conservatory or any room that might overheat. Even if you think you won't be long, don't take the risk. And if you see a dog suffering from exhaustion in a hot car. The RSPCA advice is here -

Monday, 18 July 2016


I am still here. I know there hasn't been much word from The House of Stories lately, but The House of Stories is still the House of Hobbling and there is far too much going on just now.

Some of you like to have news from Mistmantle, but just now it's pretty standard Mistmantle summer. Berry harvest, a lot of partying, and animals on the beach jumping in and out of the water. They're all right, Fingal and Tide keep an eye on them. I've no idea where Corr is off too these days. Scatter is making flower chains.

As you know, I love my garden, and especially roses. I have an angel corner in my garden, with clematis Angelique and Lichfield Angel rose. I bought Lichfield Angel largely for the name, but having said that, she is the most beautiful delicate rose and is at her best just now. Being concerned about some droopy stems - and we can't have droopy angels, can we? - I looked up Lichfield Angel on-line and, by accident, found out how she got her name. Great story.

Thirteen hundred years ago, the monastery on Lindisfarne was famous. Lindisfarne, also called Holy Island, is the tiny tidal island just off the Northumbrian coast which St Aidan used as his base. Most of the monks and teachers in the north of England were trained there, and sent out to do whatever needed doing. Among these monks were four brothers - Cedd, Cynebil, Caelin and Chad. Chad was sent to what we now call the Midlands, and built a church dedicated to St Mary. It is now Lichfield Angel.

About eight years ago some work was done on the floor of Lichfield Cathedral and in the course of this the archeolly-jollies found the Saxon foundation. We're talking between thirteen and fourteen hundred years ago, the original church built by St Chad, and among what was left of it they found a carved stone, which might have been part of a grave. It's beautiful. the figure of the Angel Gabriel, broken in two places but still perfectly clear because it's been safe from weathering for centuries. There are still traces of paint on it. That is the original Lichfield Angel, after which the rose was named. It may have been part of St Chad's grave.

From the seventh century to the twenty-first. From Northumberland to Lichfield went Chad. From a stone to a rose, and so back to Northumberland again. A weaving in and out like a Celtic knot, with no beginning nor end.

Monday, 11 July 2016


Before we go any further - ANDY MURRAY WON WIMBLEDON AGAIN! Cartwheels, congratulations, champagne, whisky, rousing choruses of Scottish songs. Like every other 'Mc' in the country, I am proclaiming my Scottish ancestry. Moving on...

Tony recently had an operation to replace his left knee joint. Try explaining that to Much the Gnome. 'I've been sat on my snail outside in all weathers for more years that I can rightly remember, and there's nowt the matter with my knees', he said. Much, I told him, if Tony had spent a decade or so perched on a stone snail I'm sure he wouldn't have arthritis, but as it is...

The operation was two weeks ago and he is now pootling about the house on just one crutch and having a little wander up and down the street now and again. We are adjusting to the fact that he can't yet drive, hoover, take the bins out or load and reload the dishwasher. (I really miss that bit.) There are still some things that he needs my help with, most importantly -


I think socks are rather sweet, often sweeter than the feet they look after. They are snuggly little foot mittens to keep your toes cosy. But not these socks. These are those tight surgical things that Tony has to wear for weeks after the operation so he doesn't get a thrombosis, or maybe it's to stop his legs dropping off, I'm not sure. Because of the angle of movement required to put them on he can't yet do this for himself. However sweetly I sleep, I wake to a nightmare. On with the socks. They are snug. They are meant to be. Never mind DVT, I'm pleasantly surprised that they haven't cut off his circulation.

First thing in the morning I seize a sock and grapple with it. Roll it up and give it a good stretching out sideways, then with teeth-gritting effort force it over the heel. It gets easier after that, especially as the socks have now been through the wash a few times and are losing the will to resist, but really, the first couple of times I did THE SOCKS it took me ten minutes a leg and I broke sweat.

For those of you who like me to blog about Mistmantle, I'm afraid they have very little understanding of socks because paws don't generally need them, but Mother Huggen puts little soft scratch mitts over the babies' paws. She sews them herself. And arthritis is very rare on the island. Tennis, now, that's something they understand.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016


Mistmantle is by its nature a sheltered island. Not many animals move there from other places - they can't get through the mists. Those that do are not always good news. (It took a long time to repair the damage after The Raven War.) But refugee squirrels and visiting swans are always made welcome.

Wales has just gone out of the Euros, (the football, not the currency) but that little nation punched well above its weight to be in the semi-finals and I am proud to be grandmother to a little Welshman. Andy Murray is through to the semis at Wimbledon. I can hold my head and claim Scottish ancestry. (At the age of twelve I'd hardly ever been south of York, but I knew Blairgowrie and St Andrews like the back of my hand.)

Amid all the shouts about immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, let's remember that most of the British are mongrels. The Scots and the Irish changed places, the Britons and Celts were taken by surprise by the Romans, then just as Romano-British life was settling down, the Romans went home and along came the Angles and Saxons. They'd no sooner Angle-Saxed than the Vikings spoiled it all. By the time we'd sorted that one out and the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings had learned to speak politely to each other, William the Conqueror did his conquering and the Normans took over. Now, that really was bad news. They wouldn't even let the Scots be Scots (or Irish) or the Welsh be Welsh, and if you didn't speak French you'd never be invited to the posh parties.

We weren't invaded again, but refugees came over whenever life in France got scary or the Reformation kicked off again. Come the Second World War, the doors were open to people from all over Europe, fleeing fascism. Polish airmen came over and flew with the RAF. Some of them married and stayed here. There were German prisoners of war who were moved by the kindness of the locals, and stayed.

Since the Brexit vote, there has been some extremely nasty racist and anti-immigrant behaviour around. Let's just remember - Britain is a mongrel nation. The US, too, has influences from almost every continent. We're part of a mix. We're all Breltanglevikians.

Monday, 4 July 2016


A young squirrel lay asleep in a boat, too exhausted to stay awake any longer. He was separated from his friends, and in danger. Readers of Mistmantle, you know this story. A couple of passing otters found him and helped him to where he needed to be, but he never knew that. Only you know that.

Ten days ago, a member of my family fell, was injured, and ended up in hospital. Fortunately the fall happened where passers-by would see him and a dog-walking stranger looked after him, sent for an ambulance, and waited until it arrived. The hospital in question isn't easy to get to for non-drivers, like me, so I got to the nearest station but there was no taxi rank, not even a phone number for a taxi. However, I could see a pub about five minutes walk away, so off I went and asked the barmaid/landlady if she had the phone number for a taxi firm. Yes, she said, and would you like me to call one for you?

I hadn't ordered a drink, and she hadn't asked me to. She just phoned me a taxi. She didn't even say 'would you like a drink while you're waiting?' but out of courtesy I ordered a tonic water.

The kindness of strangers. It changes the world. You can be the stranger.