Tuesday, 25 June 2013


I am becoming such a provincial home body. I know this because

I'm happy when the honeysuckle flowers

I'm ecstatic about the irises

but aove all, I am turning cartwheels (well, Iwould if I still could) about the gooseberries.

You can hardly buy them in the shops at all, goodness knows why not. They are so delicious and competely unlike anything else, and this year, for the first time, our gooseberry bushes are heavy with them. It's the story of my life, I get a garden they way I want it and then we move house. Decades ago gooseberry picking was a nasty job because they were prickly, but now you can get smooth varieties so when you pick them they don't fight back.

SO you fill a basket with them and they glow at you, with their delicate, Regency striped skin and the pips hiding inside. Show them a little heat, water an sugar and they burst into zinginess. You can crumble them, pie them, or completely fool the things with a bit of cream. And you can share them with your family and friends, who will be delighted, because, I said, you can't buy them in the shops these days. I asked a few friends what they thought.

- Gooseberries? I don't know why she's making a fuss. They're all over the island. I know some very good bushes in the Tangletwigs, but my Lady didn't like them. The taste was too sharp for her delicate nature, I suppose - Gleaner

- Ooh, I love goosegogs, me, I can tell you where to find 'em if you want some, but just you mind them thorns - Apple

- There are prickly thorns so you have to take care. I'm going to pick some for my Mum - Hope

- I cook them very lightly with a little sugar, maybe just a taste of vanilla, cool them and serve them in the thinnest pastry with a dusting of fine sugar. The Queen is very fond of them - Crackle

- Yes please. A gooseberry bush means something in the Threadings. Give me a minute and I'll remember what it is - Urchin

Thursday, 20 June 2013


I'd love to see an angel, but I think I'd die of fright.

In fact, I'm an honorary angel. Our toddler group is called 'Angels', which sounds like wishful thinking, but then again, Wordsworth said that we come into the world 'trailing clouds of glory' and sometimes the tinies really do seem to be trailing clouds of glory around with them. They might be trailing other things as well, usually a too-big dressing up outfit or the Andrex puppy, or they might be pedalling riotously about on a tricycle, but there is definitely something of the 'clouds of glory' about them.

I'm an Angel on another front, too - I'm delighted to be a Greenbelt Angel. Greenbelt is an annual Christian Arts festival with - well, everything, really. A big Faith and Justice agenda, all kinds of spirituality and music, exhibitions, performing arts, craft workshops, comedy, kids stuff, the works. Tony and I are Greenbelt Angels, which means we give them a little bit of money every month to help ensure that Greenbelt happens. On their latest mailing they quote one of my favourite writers, G K Chesterton -

Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.

Perhaps we'll have more from GKC one day. And in the meantime, check out Greenbelt.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013


Missus was saying this afternoon as er'd like to be sitting outside in the garden with a cold drink in 'er 'and. Well, I'm not stopping you, I says. I know, says 'er, but I got work to do and I need to use the laptop. Yeah, I says, laptop. You sit outside in the garden, you've got a lap, right? Then 'er says the sunlight on the screen means 'er can't see the words. What does 'er have to see 'em for? 'Er knows what they are, don't 'er? Anyway, 'er needs to get 'erself out 'ere tomorrer if 'er wants to enjoy the sun cos we're set for rain, thunder, the lot on Thursday.

We 'ad visitors on Monday and I reckon they're the folks what are coming 'ere after them two move out. He knows 'is gardens, the new chap, and 'er told 'em all about me. Later, 'amilton Bear comes for a little stroll around the rockery. I asked 'im, did 'e meet them new folks?

"Oh yes," says 'e. (He's a bit posh, our 'amilton, in a nice kind of way.) "They're very nice people. They said hello to me and my friend Radcliffe. They understand about bears."

Right, so they're OK with bears and gnomes. Sounds all right, dunnit? They seem willing to feed them ducks, too. They just need to make the acquaintance of me snail and we'll get along fine.

Sunday, 16 June 2013


Housework is dangerous. I'm still shaking.

It's not something I do a lot of, but yesterday I decided to remind the house that I live in it, and it needed a clean, especially after I'd changed the thingy in the hoover and it blew dust everywhere. Now, our old CD/radio thing died a while ago and Tony replaced it with a much smaller, neater and cleverer one with a digital radio. The only thing is that it's very sensitive and has little blue lights on the top that know things. Touch them, and it changes channels without a by your leave.

Now, that radio likes BBC Radio Four. I know it does, because I told it to. Tony's study is a Classical Music zone because that's his thing.

Knowing how delicate the new radio is I only showed it a cloth, but that was enough. One minute somebody on Radio 4 was talking about sleep, which is a favourite subject of mine and then a blast of sound knocked the living daylights out of me. One flick of a duster and it was blaring out Eric Coates, and if you don't know about Eric Coates he wrote loud jolly marches all about loud jolly people galumphing through London with names like Merrily down the Mall and Kensington Canter, and it came on at such a volume! Something like the Household Cavalry taking Piccadilly at a rising trot was careering round my sitting room and could I stop them? I turned it off, turned it on again, they were still there, wheeling round ready to take the jumps and then...

and then I found the right button, just in time before they could advance on Parliament. And what would they do there? The Members' Mayhem?

Friday, 14 June 2013

Auntie Annie

I was thinking recently of my mum's side of the family, many of whom died before I was born. It's time to introduce you to Auntie Annie.

Auntie Annie lived in North Shields, which is between Newcastle-on-Tyne and the sea. The older sister of my grandfather, she was a redoubtable little Northern lady who was widowed young with four sons to bring up, but still managed to be a very good aunt to Mum. Apparently if a grown-up son showed any lack of respect she'd respond with 'you're not too big to put over my knee and spank!', even though the lad in question was six feet tall and built like a bus.

Respect for parents was big on Auntie Annie's agenda. My grandfather ran a fish shop, so early in the morning he'd be buying on North Shields Fish Quay and sometimes she'd meet him down there. One morning he made some light remark which she felt showed a lack of respect to their mother, so she hit him across the face with a haddock. Then she grabbed her shawl and ran for her life.

You may know that London was bombed to bits during the war, but so were several other places, including Tyneside. The bombing was aimed at the heavy industry, the shipyards and armaments factories, or so we've been told. Auntie Annie knew better. When the house she lived in was bombed, she moved somewhere else, and that was bombed, too.

"It's me he's after," she'd say. "Hitler, it's me he wants. You'll see, when he gets me he'll stop the war."

But he never did get Auntie Annie.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Secret Garden

This morning I stood in the secluded garden of a very special house - the house we're moving into in two months time, with the garden in all its summer colour. I'd been thinking of the things I want to grow - lily of the valley, roses, hollyhocks, irises, peonies and fruit bushes. I'd been thinking, too, about the old tree in the garden, wondering whether it was healthy and whether it was a plum, a cherry or an apple, ornamental or the real thing.

Apple trees are important to me, not just for themselves, but for their symbolism. A tree can only grow up to the light if its roots reach down into the depths. There is a lovely carol 'Jesus Christ the Apple Tree' which is almost unbearably perfect. I've established two apple trees in this garden, and was hoping for another in the new one.

I walked round today with the gardener lady who'll be helping me. Vey experienced and knowledgeable she is, too, telling me the wheres and hows of establishing my roses and gooseberry bushes. I found lily of the valley by the little rockery, irises in one border, peonies in another, and even a hollyhock. (Lovely word, hollyhock.) I asked her about the tree.

"Apple, by the look of it," she said. We walked around it, inspecting the blossom. "It's too early to tell if the fruit's going to set - oh, yes, look at this, it's starting to set here. And it should be a good year for apples."

It should. Thank you, God.

Sunday, 9 June 2013


We are the box people.

When we leave here, the packing will be done by the removal men. Pre-packing is something we can't start too early. By pre-packing, I mean clearing out, sorting out, and putting things in boxes.

We're getting rid of so much stuff, the Oxfam shop will think it's having a birthday. We need boxes for books that are off to find a new life elsewhere, and for the ones we're bringing with us. We were in the supermarket yesterday when Tony suddenly disappeared towards the store of empty cartons which are free for re-use, and carried so many back to the car he couldn't see over the top. I was gardening this afternoon when he came to tell me he was just off to the Co-op bcause the man there had said he'd keep some boxes for us. Look out, greengrocers, bookshops, manufacturers of microwave ovens. The Box Man is about. Watch the wall, my darling, when the gentleman goes by. (Anybody recognise the quote?)

Then there's the question of what we do with the boxes when they're finished with, assuming that they remain intact. Offer them to the cats' home? A bit of catnip and a few cardboard boxes, those cats will think they've died and gone to heaven.

At a previous church where we used to do kids' activities, the Cardbord Box game was a great favourite. (I may have told you about it before.) You spend two weeks previously going round the shops asking for cardboard boxes, the bigger the better, until you've got hundreds of them. Then you put the kids in groups and tell them they can build anything they like with the boxes, preferably to do with the theme of the day, so long as they don't destroy them. After that you can go away and have a coffee because the kids sort themselves out, they build dens and tunnels and have a great time. And when the day is over, they can jump up and down on them because they're easier to take to the tip that way. (The boxes, not the children.)

A couple of boxes of this and that went to a church sale today. There are cuddly toys on the stairs whispering to each other.

'Look out, guys. The Andrex puppy's gone.'

Friday, 7 June 2013


It's been a bit busy lately.

On Wednesday I spent all day in London with my lovely eighteen-year-old god-daughter, yesterday morning I did playgroup, we had a visitor in the afternoon, and in the evening some of us from the children's work team got together to plan our next Big Happy Sunday. It will include music, surprises, and ice lollies. About midnight last night I revised the latest piece of work and found lots of mistakes in it. Told you I work better at night.

So, some of the highlights -

The street entertainers outside the National Gallery. There was a guy playing Fur Elise on glasses of water, and god-daughter wanted her photo taken with the Gold Man. She has a smartphone and it took me seven attempts to take a picture.

The original Monets and Van Goghs in the National Gallery.

Watching god-daughter rapt with the original Monets and Van Goghs. Van Gogh is her favourite artist, and it was such fun to watch her losing herself in the work. She tore herself away at last, saying that if she stayed any longer she wouldn't be able to resist touching.

Sharing a favourite painting with her, and she loved it, too.

Chelsea Buns and elderflower fizz. (Also at the National Gallery. BTW, the National Gallery is free, but you can leave a donation.)

Introducing her to the sculpture of the newborn baby outside St Martin-in-the-Fields.

Benji. The sweetest little Blenheim Cavvy spaniel was running about in Green Park, so we asked his owner if we could say hello to him, and she kindly let us make his acquaintance. (Our little Daniel was a Blenheim Cavalier, Blenheim being that reddish brown and white colour.) Typical Cavvy, sweet-natured, eager, pretty, with eyes for nobody but his mum as soon as she got the dog treats out.

Ice cream in one of the poshest places in London. Because we could.

Tony being there when I got off the train at 11.30, taking me home and bringing me a cup of tea.

Seeing playgroup children loving the toys we chose at the Resource Centre.


The garden.

My friends on the children's work tam, I will miss them so much.

And something bittersweet - one of the team bought a copy of my book 'Women of the Bible' for the children at church, and I signed it for them. In two months, we leave the village. Writing in that book was the first time I felt like crying.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013


I don't often watch daytime TV, but today was different. Today in Westminster Abbey there was a Service of Thanksgiving for the sixty years since the Queen was crowned there. At every opportunity the BBC has been rolling out the footage of the Coronation, a cold and rainy June day with a beautiful young queen riding in her golden coach. Soldiers in scarlet, horses, it's the sort of thing we Brits do very well. Today she arrived at the Abbey in a Rolls Royce and in sunshine. Seated along the front row during the service were The Queen, Phil, Charles, Prince William, The Duchess of Cambridge (that's Kate, Mrs Prince William) and Prince Harry.

All those royal generations, it was a bit like a set of Russian dolls. There's Her Maj, and her heir, and her heir's heir, and Katherine with her bump. The latest research is that pre-birth babies are more clued up than we give them credit for. So Baby HRH is swimming about there, perhaps sucking its thumb and thinking what nice music this is. S/he must have been the only person in the abbey not impressed by the occasion, and with no idea how eagerly we look forward to his/her arrival. Take your time, YRH Baby. The minute you come into this world it'll be twenty-one gun salutes and putting your name down for a posh school. They'll be forever playing the National Anthem (Great-Granny's Theme Tune to you), but you won't have to stand up for it just yet, and by the time you've found your feet you'll have your own pony. Keep kicking, Bump!

Sunday, 2 June 2013


I just been down the garden getting some flowers for me hat. Them roses looks a bit faded now, but she's got some beautiful japonnanonica and bluebells, just the thing for a hat. If you want to know why I'm decorating me hat, I'll tell you, it's sixty years today, sixty years, mind you, since their Queen Elizabeth got crowned, Heart bless her, she were that young and everything and what a weight that crown must have been on her little head. She's an old lady now, but what a lady, and still working, she still has to have tea with the Prime Minister every week, poor soul. So I did up me hat for the Diamond Queen.

Anyway, while I was doing me hat, She of the Stories and him, they went off in the car to see their Lovely Younger Son and take some of his stuff to his new place what he's sharing with his friends. She comes back and she says, Apple, that place is full of lizards. Funny friends he's got, I said. Turns out she's exaggerating. His friends are very keen on lizards, they've got them vivvy area things, like tanks for them lizards to live in. What do they do, them lizards, I said? Not much, she says. Well, one of them did something. Oh yes? I says. It blinked, she says.

Now, Padra and Arran's young Ffion, she's very fond of that little frog, I know that. But it does something. It does hopping and croaking. Dunno why you'd want a lizard. The things they feed them on, it don't bear thinking about. Lovely Younger Son likes it, he always wanted a Bearded Dragon when he were a little boy. Can't understand that meself. I blame the parents.