Friday, 31 May 2013


Being a writer isn't all writing. It's answering the e-mails and checking the proofs, and doing bookshop events. And all the ordinary stuff, like the hoovering and the washing and the forgetting to get any bread and having to stop at the Co-op on the way home.

Yesterday I was doing really well. I got everything done that needed doing, pushed a load of washing into the machine, and went out with Tony to a bookshop event. We were in the lovely market town of Skipton in North Yorkshire at Judith Wigley's excellent shop, Cornerstone. I read stories to brilliant children and signed books, then over coffee and cake Judith and I discussed the world of publishing, storytelling, and working with kids. What a great way to spend an afternoon. Then we came home over the moors (stopping at the Co-op to buy the bread, see above), and unloaded the washing machine.

Guess what fell out of it?

My memory stick.

The word 'oops' reverberated through the universe. Wherever you were, you felt the tremor.

Yes, I know, you should always check trouser pockets before you put them in the wash. But that's supposed to apply to other people's trouser pockets, not mine, because I would never be so silly as to leave anything in my pockets when putting clothes in the...

...anyway, I dried it off and left it on the table overnight to recover. In the morning we fed it to the computer and waited to see what came up.

Everything came up! Every file is intact. I haven't lost a single word!

The manufacturers of these things should put laundry labels on them - 'Machine washable at 40 degrees. Do not iron'.

(NB The tumble dryer might not be a good idea, either.)

Wednesday, 29 May 2013


Simply and without fuss, today a phase in my life came to an end.

Kids fly the nest, they go away and build their own nests, of course they do. I'd be worried if they didn't.

Daughter went to university just after her eighteenth birthday, did her degree, worked for a year in a boarding school at the far end of the country, then went to continue her studies in Cardiff. She's made Cardiff her home and is very happy there. That's where she met her Chap, and where they'll live. (But he has family in Northumberland. Good Man.)

LOS went to Newcastle to study, then worked from home for a little while before moving to North Wales. Then he took a job in Leeds, came home, married Lady Sunshine, and moved with her to a delightful Yorkshire village.

LYS studied in Lancaster, came home, worked in the Civil Service, went back to do his Master's Degree, and got a job in Leeds, still living at home, though it was a long journey to work and back. Besides, we're moving in August. So today he moved in with a couple of friends near Leeds. In a year's time, he and The Lassie will be married and settling into a place of their own.

So, you see, up to now the boys have come and gone. But this is it. This is for good, and I'm happy that they've all got their own lives and people to share them with. Apart from coming to visit, and maybe to stay, that's it. End of an era.

So now, who will tell me which Terry Pratchett to read next, and share the in-jokes with me? Who else is funny in the way that LYS is funny? I have conversations with LYS that I couldn't have with anyone else, on all sorts of subjects. He has inherited my love of words and my migraines. (Sorry about that, son, it wasn't intentional.) Who can Hamilton watch the football with? When we decorate the Christmas tree, LYS lifts me up so I can put the fairy on the top. All right, Tony can lift me up or I could climb a ladder, but it's sort of traditional now. He's going to wind me up about the blog when he reads this. He's very good at winding up.

And tonight is the night the bins and recycling go out. Tony, you're on your own.

Saturday, 25 May 2013


What is it about railways? Up in the attic we still have the wooden railway the children played with when they were small, and it gets played with when children come visiting. When my Dad was a kid, the boys in that family had a train set that occupied the entire attic. Thomas the Tank Engine is still a great hit with kids. It's only when you travel on a steam railway that you remember how dirty they were. I like that smell of steam and coal dust, but it leaves a sooty patina behind. Clergymen are very often railway lovers (not my particular clergyman, BTW. He's into aircraft.)

Ivor the Engine! It's a long time since that delightful little Welsh animation was on television. Please bring him back!

Yorkshire is home to a few distinguished railways. The National Rail Museum is in York, and if you go to Pickering (where we lived for six years) there's a famous little steam railway that chunters across the moors to Whitby and back. Pickering no longer has a REAL train service, it's the bus or nothing, but the tourist railway puffs up and down throughout the summer. It was used as Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter series.

Today was sunny, it was Tony's day off, and we escaped to a little National Trust place with gardens, a tea room and a pond. To get there we drove past one of the main Yorkshire tourist attractions, the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway. If you're into trains, it's a site of pilgrimage. If you're not, you may have seen it anyway because it was used in the film of The Railway Children. We have friends who simply can't understand how we've lived in the valley for so long and not ridden on the K and W V railway. If it was a dragon, now...

But then, there are other forms of transport I don't get on too well with. Did I ever tell you about the glider? Or the rollercoaster in the Tivoli Gardens?

Thursday, 23 May 2013


The title is from one of my favourite Dr Who quotes. It's 'wibbly wobbly timey-wimey.'

Time is more wobbly than we allow for. At present we're in British Summer Time, and if you believe that you'll believe anything. On the blog, a time always pops up to tell you when I posted it and it has nothing to do with reality at all. It may as well be half past Mickey Mouse for all the sense it makes.

I would love to be a lark, up with the sunrise, but as I may have said before, I'm a night owl, or maybe a hedgehog, and I'm writing this at 00.35. That's ridiculous, I know, but for those of you in the US it's only about twenty-five to eight, so that's all right then. And do you realise that when you're getting out of bed in the morning, I will have been up for hours? Europe is either one hour ahead or one hour behind, but I forget which.

Sometimes, when the children were little and I was up in the night, I would think about the quiet army of people who were up and about. Some, like me, with very small people who hadn't worked out the night/sleep equation yet. Some caring for the ill and dying at home or in hospital, some in the emergency services. Night shift workers, night porters, lorry drivers and fishermen. Students slogging away to get the essay finished. Insomniacs, people too troubled to sleep, Samaritans on helplines. Labourers of love, who stay up late or rise up early to finish making the toy, the dress, the cake. And writers who work late at night because it's the time when nobody interrupts or wants anything, and besides, it's surprising how many writers are like me, with the body clock back to front.

Then there's that whole thing about half an hour being a short time to chat with a friend in a summer garden and a long time to wait for a train in winter. So The Doctor was right, as usual, it's all down to wibbly-wobbly tiney-wimey, and on that note I think I should dedicate a whole blog entry to Dr Who one day. It is now 00.53. Bring that man some fish fingers and custard.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013


I think I've got it now. Let's see.

Not all houses are near water. I think that's how it went. Yes, that's definitely it. Not all houses have a river, or the sea, or even a pond or a lake near enough to drop into when you roll out of bed in the morning. The new House of Stories is one of those. Nearly a mile tot he nearest river. Can't quite visualise it.

Ideally, it would be good to put this house on wheels and take it off to the North Tyne Valley. Or Anglesey. Or Stratford-on-Avon, maybe, anywhere there's a nice stretch of water. (Not Alnmouth, though. She says Alnmouth beach is one of her favourite places in the world, but she's had enough winters on the north-east coast and doesn't want another one. Or another summer on the north-east coast. You can't always tell the difference.)

As it is, the new House of Stories is nowhere near water. 'But it's got a water feature' she said. Then she told me what a water feature is. I hope I didn't upset her but I couldn't help it honestly, I laughed so much I fell out of the river and back in again.

It's a thing that looks like a pond with a tap thing and pipes and the water goes round and round and you turn it on and off again. A bit like making your own rain. Then in the winter you turn everything off and in the spring you turn it back on and, look, we've got a pond again! Good thing there aren't any fish in there. I asked her, have you explained it to the frogs?

So I'm sorry, she said, I'm sorry, but there's no river at the new house. Never mind, I said. When the pond's switched off I can just go indoors and splash about in the bath. It's one of those funny shaped baths that goes into the floor, I can't wait to try it. She's got some of that frothy stuff that you put in. And ducks, She's got ducks. Yellow ones.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

This, that and Much

'Er come down the garden today, doing a bit tidying up, weed and feed, all that stuff, and kindly removed the bit cotoneaster as was sticking in me ribs. Then she stroked me 'at. I can't say anyone done that before. 'I'll miss you, Much,' she says. 'I'll miss you, missus', I says. It just come out without me thinking about it. I'm a gnome of few words, as you know. But it's nice to 'ave a missus as knows 'er gnomes.

Now, there's this big flowery show every year down south in Chelsea. 'Er ain't going this year but 'er sometimes does. 'Er went last year with Lady Sunshine, blimey, never stopped talking about it for weeks. Personally I don't approve. Why not? Because gnomes is banned at Chelsea, that's why not! What do they think we're going to do, eat the blooming lupins? However, this year it's the hundredth Chelsea Flower Show and they're allowing a few gnomes in. Only took them a hundred years to get their 'eads around that. Mind you it's not just any gnomes. Posh gnomes only. I thought we was all posh.

I realy will miss him. But he will have new company, and so will I.

It remains for me to tell you that Newcastle United have been pretty rubbish this season and have only just stayed in the Premiership. Must Try Harder.

And as for The Archers, well, it's all kicking off. Paul is throwing his toys out of the pram, or rather out of the car, while driving too fast, and Lilian has finally realised that she's got a wrong'un there. Matt is on to Paul and Lilian. I suspect she came home without her teeth in. Neil called the police about a dog-fighting ring and got accidentally shot, but not too seriously. The one who should be shot is Pip, who is being selfish, devious and unbearable, but all Archer girls go through an unbearable stage betweeen about sixteen and twenty-four. Pip's father gave her an ear-bending this week and I wanted to stand up and cheer. The theme of the village fete will be Highland Games. A llama died.

An everyday story of country folk.

Friday, 17 May 2013


Today is Norway's National Day, so let's give them a thought. I was last there thirty-two years ago, but it's not a place ever to be forgotten. It's also a place where Mistmantle goes down a storm, which gives me yet another reason to love Norwegians.

So it's a day to think about delicious cheese with the consistency of fudge, feather-light bobbles of fish (Inge Beate told me how to make them, but it didn't work for me), smorrebrod, (a kind of open sandwich) and light fluffy cakes layered with fresh cream and fruit. Let's celebrate steep fjords with clear still blue water and lights coming on in huts up and down the mountains at night so it looks like fairyland. Let's rave about those tall wooden stave churches with their neat little graveyards, and the wooden houses in the Setesdal with their carved and painted furnishings. Let's be amazed at the delicate silver jewellery and the warm hand-knitted sweaters with their neat black and white patterns and embroidered collars. Let's pretend to gulp down the clean mountain air of one of the most beautiful places I know. Above all, let's celebrate the practical, warm, fun-loving Norwegian people.

Back at home, the valley is finally greening. There is apple and cherry blossom everywhere, with a haze of bluebells in the woods. Time for a Spring Festival. Bring on the hedgehogs!

Wednesday, 15 May 2013


Upstairs in the attic are three dolls. There is Baby, Daughter's favourite doll from her childhood, then there's Julia, who was mine, and Valerie, who belonged to my sister. In their heyday, they had quite a wardrobe. Daughter's lifelike baby doll was clothed in little dresses from fund-raising sales. My sister ran up quite a stylish wardrobe for Valerie. I was given Julia for my seventh birthday, and the girl next door (who was very grown up, about eighteen) made her clothes. Lately they've had nothing but the clothes they lie around in, until now.

This evening I started sorting through the cavernous maw of the attic cupboard. Out from a zipped up storage bag, good as new, fell Julia's ball gown and Baby's pink dresses and woollies. As for Valerie - fur lined tartan coat with matching hat. Party frock. Blazer and red dress, which I think she arrived in. A cardigan which belonged to Daughter before the doll had it, and I can't believe she was ever that tiny.

Hoarding is a bad idea, but perhaps this isn't hoarding. Perhaps it's treasuring.

Monday, 13 May 2013


Now that I've asked you about what you'd save if the house was burning down, I find that I don't know. What's irreplaceable? If books, which ones? And do I know where to lay my hand on Evangeline Paterson's 'Through Stone', which is out of print and contains so many of my favourite poems?

Photograph albums, yes, but most of them live in the attic or on the attic landing. Perhaps I'd have time to dash up there and throw them out of the windows and myself after them. Some of the photos aren't in their albums at all, they're in packets, so they'd rain down and blow along the street and hopefully be returned by helpful neighbours. The problem with old photographs is that they can be a source of domestic differences. As the paramedics scraped me off the garden and wheeled me into the ambulance, Tony and I would be clutching windswept prints and having one of those conversations...

'It was the year we went to West Dean. That's the village where the sweet shop was...'

'No it isn't, it can't be, because she's wearing that top and she didn't have it until two years later...'

'I remember it, because you were looking for the smugglers' cottages...'

'no, we were looking for Civil War stuff because he was doing that for his A levels, and we were in Bristol, and that's the village near the Downs...'

and I would be right.

So I suppose I'd just grab Hamilton Bear and the framed photograph of Daniel the Spaniel and leg it. They're not only precious, they're pretty near the front door.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

And the answer is...

All the paraphernalia in the last blog is sitting in the hall waiting to be rehomed. First stop, church table top sale, second stop, charity shop.

When I say that we're selling the English Legal System, I mean LYS's books about it. In a small village I don't know that we stand much chance of finding a home for the legal books, and I suspect some of them are already out of date. We've had a change of government since he did his first degree, so I for one no longer know what's legal and what isn't. (That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.) As far as I know you can't be arrested for growing your own hats, driving a computer while under the influence of butterscotch chocolate, or delegating blogging rights to a garden gnome.

It makes me realise again how easy it is to hoard stuff. I found two boxes in the attic that hould have been in Tony's study. They've been up there for six years without being missed. We've made enough shredded paper to bed down a rhinocerous. It makes me wonder about that old question - if the house was burning down, assuming that all the people were out and there were no pets in the house, what would I try to save? The photo albums? Hamilton Bear? The insurance details?

What about you?

Thursday, 9 May 2013


Company Law
Twentieth-century novels
Toy parrot
Tort Law
International Law
Hot Water Bottle
Obsolete Word Processor
Criminal Law
Chair Cover
String Puppet
The English Legal System

What do they have in common?

And no, I have not used them all to decorate a hat.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013


On a beautiful sunny Bank Holiday Monday, we took my parents to the garden centre and then for a drive around South-West Northumberland. Chesters Roman Fort was en route, and Dad commented that he hadn't been there since he was a boy, so off we went to Chesters.

In that part of Northumberland you're never far from leftover bits of Roman Britain. The wall built by Hadrian to keep out the Scots runs through it, so there are settlements and forts all over the place. Not much left of them these days, but enough for to be able to see clearly where the stores, barracks and baths were, and whole museums full of everything from altars to hairpins. I stArted off worrying that Dad would find the ground hard going and ended up running to catch up with him (but that was because I stopped to say hello to a horse, and the horse wanted to know if there was anything to eat in my pocket and when there wasn't he tried to eat the pocket instead...)

What made it more fun was that the Romans really were present, or at least, a historical re-enactment society of Romans. They had set up their stalls, cooking, making weapons, and so on, and were about to stage a battle. All great fun, but we didn't stay for the battle.

I remembered a day twenty years ago at Chesters at just this sort of event. It was August Bank Holiday, and freezing.

I believe I've told you before of the Northern word for seriously cold weather. It is 'nithering'. Believe me, that day was nithering and as we stood to watch the exhibition of Romans fighting Britons it got nitheringer and nitheringer. The drizzle of rain began. At least the Romans were wearing tunics and armour, the poor Ancient Britons were in trousers and blue paint and spent a long time lying on the ground being dead. After ten minutes, they probably were. I was so nithered my feet were frozen to the ground. I had my coat wrapped round all three children and was hanging on to them so tightly I expected them to turn as blue as the Ancient Brits from either cold or suffocation. We couldn't move because we were at the front, and besides, we were frozen solid.

At last, the presenting Roman began to wind up the event. Soon, soon, I thought. Warm car. Home. Hot drinks. But they hadn't finished yet. He thought we might like to experience what it was like to face the terrifying charge of the Roman army, so he lined up his troops on a hill and ordered them to charge towards us. We were meant to be impressed.

So we stood our ground in the face of the Roman charge, but we couldn't have moved by then anyway, we were ice, and what was more, I didn't care. Bring it on. Mow us all down. I HAVE LOST THE WILL TO LIVE!

Friday, 3 May 2013

Blue Peter Hat

There is a very famous UK children's programme called Blue Peter. I haven't seen it for years, as my children are all growed up, but I grew up on Blue Peter and so did they. It's sort of a kids' magazine programme, very informative, animal friendly, with outgoing presenters and ways of getting children involved and interested in what's going on. One of the things BP was always famous for was the 'makes'.

Blue Peter presenters would show you how to make a dolls house out of shoeboxes and pipe cleaners, or a jungle from old tights and egg cartons. Those makes were great for recycling before recycling was thought of. No BP home ever threw out an empty washing up liquid bottle. My sister and I fought for those bottles. With one of those, an egg box, your old Christmas cards and some sticky-back plastic you could build your own internal combustion engine. When Thunderbirds was huge, BP showed the nation how to build Tracy Island out of papier mache.

After the previous post, I thought about Apple's hat with the bluebells, and I had the best idea ever. It out-Blue-Peters Blue Peter. It's Grow Your Own Hat. Plan well ahead, because it will take time to grow. To start with you need a wide brimmed hat, but you can buy these very cheaply from charity shops. Line the brim with old supermarket plastic carrier bags. Fill with compost, or you can just use soil out of the garden. If there are worms in it, all the better.

Plan your colour scheme and remember to be seasonal. Do you want an Easter bonnet or a hat for summer weddings? For Easter, plant primulas, daffodils and muscari. Nasturtiums are easy to grow and make a beautiful trailing effect, or you could train a honeysuckle or clematis over the crown. Cherry tomatoes are most effective and you've always got something to snack on. Remember to water your hat. And if you go out on a rainy day, no problem.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

At last!

The first day of May, and at last the climate in the north of England has come out of hibernation. Somebody in weatherland forgot to turn over the calendar so we had three months of February, and suddenly - yes! Tulips, anemones, daffodils and narcissi, blossom on the trees, alyssum and forget-me-not, and flowers on the gooseberry bushes. (I love gooseberries.) And a UFO. Hang on, that's the sun.

I spent today in York with a friend and we sat outside eating lunch in the garden at the Bar Convent. It's the first time this year that we've been able to eat anything outside without frostbite. Mrs Blackbird was bustling about and eating cake crumbs. She was very tame, which I suppose comes from living in a convent garden guarded by nuns and angels. I've never seen a cat anywhere near there. I came home to find Much with that grin he has on his face when all's well with his world.

Mayday is celebrated in the UK with all sorts of customs. In Oxford the choristers sing on Magdalen - or is it Christ Church? - tower at sunrise. In villages there might be morris or maypole dancing. But on Mistmantle, I imagine they're having a fantastic Spring Festival. Sepia and her choir are singing, Swanfeather has learned to juggle, Hope is enjoying a sticky berry pastry made specially for him by Crackle, and Mistress Apple has decorated her hat with bluebells.