Tuesday, 31 January 2012


It's one of my weaknesses.

I know we're supposed to save water by having showers instead of baths, but I so love a hot bath. It's not just about getting clean. It's about heat, and relaxation, and having nothing to do but sploosh around and wash. And think. Some of my best ideas sort themselves out while I'm in the bath, and I know that a lot of creative people have the same experience. (Not all in the same bath, you understand.)

In winter, when I get out of a shower, I dash for the nearest fire and huddle beside it, shivering. When I get out of a hot bath I'm centrally heated all the way through, so, you see, it saves on energy. If I knew a way to redirect the plumbing so that old bath water could be used to flush the loo, I would. As it is, I save bath water in summer for putting on the garden.

Yes, there are ducks - for when the small godchildren are here, you understand. And one of them is a duck with sentimental value, because it's Daughter's from a duck race.

It's bath time. Shall I sing?

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Success story

This comes from Folly Wildlife Centre, an animal rescue centre in Kent.

A woman noticed an injured badger in her garden. She was used to badgers snuffling about at dusk, looking for food, but this one was clearly not well and seemed to have something caught in her coat. When she got a good look at it, she saw that the badger seemed to be entangled in some sort of plastic packaging. Fortunately, Folly were within reach and came out to help.

Poor badger. She was very badly hurt. You know those tops that are used for holding six packs of drinks together? She'd got caught in one of those. She couldn't walk normally, because her paw was trapped, and she was very badly cut and scraped.

If you try to help an injured human, they generally know that you're trying to help. Animals don't, and an animals that's already in pain is frightened enough to begin with. It took a lot of attempts, great patience, and and some irresistible food, but finally they secured her and got her back to animal hospital. When they saw the extent of her injuries, they knew she couldn't have survived much longer outside.

That was at the beginning of this month. She recovered so well that she's just been released back into the wild.

Get the message out. Rubbish kills and maims. And thank God for Folly!

Friday, 27 January 2012

snow and weddings

The answer is - Tony's contribution began with 'especially when you're in it'. Well done if you guessed!

At after school club today, we were looking at the story of the Wedding Feast at Cana (the one where Jesus turned the water into wine, after a nudge from his mother). We made napkins and place cards, then dressed up and acted out a wedding. (It's important to ask the legal questions, like 'have you been married before? As the bridegroom was six years old it wasn't likely to be a problem). Then instead of just sitting down to blackcurrant juice and toast as usual, we had the wedding banquet with some spectacular drinks.

We had cocktails. Not alcoholic ones, I must add. We didn't even use Coke, as I didn't want anyone stuck to the ceiling. But we had almost any combination of blackcurrant, orange juice, raspberry fizz and lemonade, complete with fruit and straws. (But not cocktail sticks, just in case.) We gave out heart shaped jelly sweet and marshmallows, and the children had the brilliant idea of putting them on the sides of the glasses. And as we did all that, it began to snow.

Ooh! said the children and the dopey authoress. Oh no, said the mothers who had to get children home up wet and slippery hills. Tony came along like the knight in armour he is, and we managed to get everybody ferried off home safely.

Tonight we considered going to a storyelling event. But it's a bitter night out there. Remember what Tony said about staying by the fire?

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Could you tell?

Did you read Monday's blog? I ask because I was writing it before going out to an evening with my friends at the book-lined Hobbit Hole. There was just time to write it before my lift arrived. Then the phone rang, and the person on the other end wanted some information that I couldn't find - you know how it is - and I ended up at the last minute running upstairs to change my shoes and saying to Tony, 'will you finish the blog, please?' I had no idea what he'd write, or whether he'd tell you that it was him. He simply took up where I left off. Can you see the join?

The occupants of the Hobbit Hole, who are two of the most delightful people I know, have acquired a cat. She is a very pretty young lady, mostly white with a few black and brown patches round her shoulders, and she knows her own mind.

Now, this cat lives with Sarah, who is one of the most accomplished knitters I know.

Cat likes knitting.

We await developments.

Monday, 23 January 2012


Here in the valley, there are twenty different types of rain. It starts with light drizzle, it works its way up to sweeping in sheets across the valley, and ends up bucketing. Last week, it was stotting down.

Stotting isn't from Yorkshire, it's a Northumbrian word, and means, more or less, 'bouncing'. Tennis balls and ping pong balls stot about. If you drop a lot of dried peas on a hard floor, they stot, and I imagine it would work with ball bearings, too. I like that word because it sounds like exactly what it is. Especially when you're in it. Forget the umbrella. Never mind the anorak. The hat slows it down a bit, but it gets inside every defence. After a time, the sogginess gets everywhere, and a cold misery sinks in. The only other thing that might help is gills. Or a periscope. Working from home helps a bit - we can both do a lot without going outside into the monsoon. But that only lasts so long before we have to take a deep breath, and brave the storm.

So far, the river has stayed at the bottom of the garden. It has been almost up to the fence a few times, then gone down a bit, then come up a bit more. We've seen a few ducks whizzing past on their way downstream at high speed, wearing that special kind of baffled-duck expression they always have when the world won't stop going past as they paddle in the other direction. Just upstream there's a footbridge, and there was a very excited whirlpool just near it - we were sure if we stopped and watched, a duck would come by and do a few laps before being spat out the other side. But we were getting wet, and we wanted to get back home and put the kettle on.

There is one good thing about grey, wet, wintry monsooning horizontal rain stotting off the windows with the sound of soggy machine-guns. It makes you really enjoy curling up in front of the fire in the evening, with good music or TV, a good book and a steaming mug or glass of something nice. It feels as if you've earned the reward.

The forecast for tomorrow is horrible. But spring isn't far off, and after that will be summer. And the rain will be warmer. May your firesides all be cosy, and your soggy feet dry off nicely.

Saturday, 21 January 2012


This is going to be a brief post, because as soon as I've finished it I'm going to gulp down a migraine tablet. (I know you're there, you evil little migraine. You've just slipped in when nobody was looking. Now you're sitting in your favourite chair just above my right eye and you're going to start swinging your feet and tipping your seat back - but all it takes is one teeny tablet and you're nothing.)

Anyway, Tony and I went to see 'Hugo' at the local cinema today and it was so, so watchable. Magical, moving, exciting, funny, and full of love and charm. Above all, it was so beautifully filmed - every scene was a set piece in Paris of - I think - the late 1920s, give or take a year or two. If you haven't seen it, look out for it. I gather the book is stunning, too.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

And LOS said...

Papermate. That was the brand name of the pen in question, and I couldn't remember it when I was writing the blog the other day. He was impressed to know that it's still going.

I'm having a mahoosive declutter just now, and take a pride in how much stuff I can get rid of. The charity shops will love me. (The bin men won't). Yesterday I started on two cupboards that hadn't been done for some considerable time - the medicine cupboard and the cleaning cupboard.

I promise you, the meds were breeding in there. I threw away bucketloads of cough pastilles, migraine remedies that didn't work, and things for peculiar digestions. All were way past their date and some could have been donated to a folk museum. I'm very glad we didn't need them, but I'm mortified to think of the money I've spent on them over the years.

The cleaning cupboard was much more fun. I unearthed a few potions that I'd forgotten I had. I found the stuff that hides white ring marks on furniture and the little squishy thing that takes marks off wallpaper. I'm now crouched at the top of the stairs, with the white ring stuff in one hand and the little squishy thing in the other, waiting for somebody in grubby overalls to put down a hot coffee cup and lean against the wall.

Now, I don't know if the US readers are familiar with peddlers, or pedlars - they sell cleaning things door to door. It used to be a bit disreputable, but now they all have to be licensed, and many of them are working as peddlers because they don't have much else going for them. Normally if anyone tries to sell things at the door they get a bite on the ankles from Much, but I make an exception for peddlers. They always have something that'll come in useful.

I discovered that I have been a great customer of the peddlers. I found three chamois leathers, two ironing board covers, a pack of pan scourers, a washing line, and a thing to stop the fridge smelling onions. And I don't keep onions in the fridge.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012


Today, could have turned out very, very badly.

About sixteen years ago, I was a published writer of short fiction and making a hit and miss income out of it. My first book - which had been read to, and loved by, the children - had just been accepted, but Tony and I had decided not to tell the kids about that until everything was signed and sealed.

For about two weeks before Christmas LOS, who was newly a teenager, had been saying to me 'you're going to love what I've got you for Christmas'. He couldn't resist telling me, always with a big grin on his face. Of course, I resolved that whatever he gave me, even if it was a tea towel or a fluorescent green fluffy balaclava I would be overcome with joy.

As it was, I didn't have to act. I was genuinely thrilled and touched. He gave me a pen, a simple silver rollerball one. In those days I was always buying cheap biros which seemed to be eaten by something under the floorboards, so I could never find a pen when I wanted one. This, he said, was so that I'd always have a special pen of my own. There and then I told him I would write my next book with that pen.

I did. I've written nearly all my books with that pen, including the Mistmantle Chronicles - with the exception that I don't use it when I'm away from home. It never leaves the house. It would be too easy to lose it. I never give it to anyone to sign anything or jot things down, and the family know better than to touch it. It must have gone through hundreds of refills and about a year ago it lost its clip, but it still works.

Today - cold and frosty again - I was writing furiously and getting cold, so, with THE pen still in my hand, I went to turn up the gas fire. Somehow I lost hold of the pen and it slipped down the back of the fire surround.

At the back of my mind was a voice saying that I had lost it forever, but I chose to disregard that. Nearer the front of my mind was that THE PEN was coming out even if I had to pay for an engineer to come and dismantle the whole fireplace and put it together again, but instinct and determination overrode the mind altogether, because I had to get it out. I fished around with a ruler without results, then saw a silver point just poking out of the side of the framework. A little careful persuasion, a bit of a tug, and my pen was back in my hands where it belonged.

The outcome could have been very different. I still write notes, letters and so on with whatever battered old cheapie pen comes to hand. One day when I'm old and dignified (well, old), I might have a posh one. But for all my life this will be THE pen, and I will go on writing books with it until it drops from my gnarled and shaking hand.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Fierce Frost

This is how winter should be. Bright, sharp, clear mornings, with frost diamonds glittering and the grass turned to needles. All along the river bank the reeds, swept sideways by the river current, are crystallised and fragile, like the frozen paths of fireworks. It is fierce and beautiful.

Yesterday we should have been meeting up with friends, but their small children and large vehicle were unwell, so we postponed. With an unexpectedly free day, Tony and I arranged to meet up with The Sunshines in one of Yorkshire's stylish market towns. Lady Sunshine and I found a lovely wool shop and an art shop and the blokes talked about aeroplanes. We had planned on visiting one of the many excellent coffee places there but they were all crammed to the doors, so we went back to The House of Sunshine instead, which was lovely. I was home just in time for a quick cheese toastie before going out to babysit the Golden Child and her brother. (I suspect she is just learning to wind him up. Who's a clever girl, then?)

Another frosty morning today. I was teaching the younger of our children's groups, and as we brought them back from the hall to the church, one of the mothers said,

'I love mornings like his. You can taste the air.'

Yes. It tastes as clean as ice cold water.

Thursday, 12 January 2012


I had a really bizarre phone conversation with my sister yesterday. We were both multi-tasking. That is to say, I was lying on the floor doing my back exercises while watching a brilliant Dickens adaptation on television, and she was observing the two new roly-poly cats and occasionally talking to them. We'd be talking about houses, gardens, and general family stuff, and she'd suddenly say, 'Isn't she gorgeous, she's washing his ears!' Sometimes I didn't know if we were talking about the cats or the Sunshines. Then I sort of squeaked and she thought I'd put my back out again, but it was just because something unexpected had happened on television.

The TV adaptation was 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood'. Dickens died before it was finished, and he hadn't left any notes about how it was to go on. I read a 'finished' version of it years ago and wasn't convinced. But I loved this one. If Dickens hadn't intended this ending, he should have done. Brilliant.

Today's duck count included five mallards, three pochards, a little white duck which I think is an Aylesbury, a goosander, and a beautiful little mandarin. I should open a sanctuary, and Much can sell tickets.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012


There's things coming up in my rockery as didn't ought to. Them little green shoots got no business coming up this early. First 'ard frost of the year's sure to do 'em in. Why can't they be more like 'er? There's no getting 'er out of bed before 'er 'as to, blimey, that woman would 'ibernate if 'er 'ad the chance.

Quite right, too. Some of us are wired for daytime, and some of us are nocturnal like bats, badgers, hedgehogs, lemurs, and me. My brain (if I've got one) wakes up late. I've just beaten LYS at Scrabble and I wouldn't be able to do that in a morning. (I don't know, though. He's pretty nocturnal too.)

LYS goes back to Lancaster tomorrow. Ouch. I will miss his dry humour, his sense of fun, the razor sharp observances about politics and football, and his being such a warm, witty friend and good company. I won't miss his washing, but I do love having him around, socks and all.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Farewell Christmas tree, hello cats

Before I start, let me make it clear - the Christmas tree and the cats are not in the same house.

Here at the House of Stories we have been undecorating. The Lassie is staying this weekend, which gave me a chance to tell stories about the various ornaments I was taking off the tree. My own family have heard it all before. We have a bear and a ladybird that used to be on Dad's Christmas tree when he was a boy (and he's 92). There's the walnut shell cradle and the other toys he made for our children when they were little, and the glittery stars and stockings they made when they were at playgroup. We've bought home made decorations from church and school fairs. Years ago I saw very expensive decorations made from coriander seeds, and made one myself for almost nothing. That still hangs up every year, along with my beaded Santa Claus. There are several different nativity scenes, and a little woodland that catches the light if you turn the fairy lights just so. It's not a themed Christmas tree. It's us. And the little house always goes in the topmost branches.

As for the cats - following the death of darling Sophie, Holly and Harvey have come to live with my sister and brother-in-law. They're rescue cats, but I'm not sure who was being rescued. Harvey is the size of two normal cats and he's the small one.

Look out, mice. You'll get squashed.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Take a sleeping bag and move in

Sometimes I seem to spend half my life in the church hall. I was there today for after school club, which was bizarre. Two of the little girls had already fallen out before they got there, and one of our mums had her beautiful new baby boy with her. Now, the sixth form lad who makes the toast and coffee loves babies, and is brilliant with them. I found the mums at work in the kitchen and the the sixth former burping the baby.

Later, Tony, LYS and I went there for the Quiz Night. I'm not normally very competitive, but quizzes? Grr. We lost with honour, coming second by half a mark, and decided that we would have won if we'd only trusted our first answers instead of thinking twice. This may not always be a good plan for life, but it would have won us the quiz.

I tried to explain to Much about what a quiz is. I failed.

Finally, I haven't told you about The Archers for a long time. OK, Tony and Pat did get to see Richard but they weren't allowed to tell him they were his grandparents. Tom has been spitting carpet tacks ever since, but who cares? Will and Nic just got married, so Emma is being very crabby because she used to be married to Will but she left him for his younger brother Ed, having been in love with him all along. She is showing a marked preference for Ed's daughter Keira over Will's son George, who, of course, are half-siblings as well as cousins. And last I knew, David Archer's farm had drainage problems.

An everyday story of country folk, as they say. They should have a Quiz Night.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012


A little sad yesterday, as Daughter's holiday was over and she went back to Cardiff. It's been a good Christmas, but whenever she goes away I feel we haven't spend enough time together. And it wasn't a good day to travel, with the storm bullying her all the way to Cardiff.

'I'm fine,' she said calmly when she phoned later. 'Except it was raining so hard when I drove past the lake that I couldn't tell the lake from the road.'

It doesn't bear thinking about, does it? But now, because I know she's safe and because I'm writing the blog, I'm imagining it in a Mistmantle adventure - The Rage Tide, a resourceful small animal struggling against the storm, trying to get to safety and all the time staying calm and steady. I am very impressed by my determined little red squirrel.

We've had wild weather here, but it's nothing to what they've had in Scotland. There are pictures of the worst of it on the BBC website. And by the way, 'lang may your lum reek' means 'long may your chimney smoke'. It's a wish that you'll always have enough fuel for your fire.

May the good creatures of Mistmantle and all our sons and daughters, and the old and the frail, be warm this winter.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Nine ladies/ducks dancing

The ducks at the bottom of the garden weren't dancing today, just fighting over the food, and I wish they wouldn't. We now have three pochards on the river, (a duck with a gray back and an orange-brown head) but they flew away before I got there. They haven't learned what the other ducks know - that the woman in the wellies brings food.

Over the holidays I have read 'The Scent of Water' by Elizabeth Goudge, another simple yet profound tale and a good read. It's an American edition - sadly, like so many great British writers, she's out of print over here.

I have an idea for a story for quite young children, a picture book. Can't tell you much about it at this stage, but the idea kicked in about a month ago and grew stronger, and grew roots and branches, so I think it will work and I'll play with it today. But I've lost count of the ideas that don't grow roots and branches, that seem brilliant, but never grow into anything worth doing. Ideas are like seedlings. The strong ones thrive, the rest wither.

I suspect this applies to ideas in all areas, not just writing stories. Some of them turn out to be flashes of sunlight, some are lasting visions. Is that what you find?

A Happy New Year, and as the Scots say, 'Lang may yer lum reek.'. I can provide a translation in the next post if you like. I promise it isn't anything rude.