Friday, 29 November 2013


All I can say is, they could 'ave asked me first.

It's about this 'ouse, the Old 'ouse of Stories. It belonged to the church, but when missus and 'er chap moved out that church were trying to get its act together and sort out 'ow many staff they would 'ave and where they'd put 'em. Missus 'oped they'd keep the old 'ouse of Stories, 'er being so fond of it, but it's up for sale now. It 'as to be done, and it's nowt to do with 'er now anyway, but, like I say, 'er were fond of it, specially the garden with 'er gooseberry bushes and apple trees and that, and them ducks.

Now, 'er only lived 'ere for six year, but me, I've been 'ere so long I've got moss growing over me feet. I should 'ave been asked. And I've just set up me Old Gnome 'ome, too, for all the old gnome gadgees and geezers to sit around smoking pipes and talking about how much better it were in the old days. Well, we're staying. No matter 'oo comes 'ere, we were 'ere first and we're made of stone, so what they going to do about it?

Eeh, it's a grand 'ouse, is this. Nice big rooms, and you should see that attic. There's a little window on the attic stair with views across the valley, 'er used to like to sit there. Quiet street, but only ten minutes walk from wherever 'er needed to be. Good neighbours and all. And she loved our river. So now she's 'oping that some little family moves in and loves it as much as she did. Kids to play in our garden. So if you're thinking of a nice family house int Calder Valley, it's in Mytholmroyd.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013


I can't begin to describe Durham Cathedral. Think of an Oxford College or any cathedral with towers and imagine it as bigger, more grand, more perfectly proportioned, more intricately decorated, rising up over a river. Imagine pushing open the massive wooden door and finding a great wide, high space held up by massive round stone columns and resounding with prayer. Everywhere there are rows of arches in perfect geometric patterns. Sunlight falls through stained glass. Candles glow. The east window is glorious above the Chapel of the Nine Altars. And you still haven't seen it.

When I was a child we went to Durham a lot. I took it for granted, as you do. Over the years, I woke up to how beautiful it is. Many years ago, we'd had a family day there seeing the town and cathedral in all their Christmas glory, and Tony had taken the children back to the car while I finished the shopping and walked down to meet them. There was snow on the ground, and it fell again as I was walking down through the town in the dark at about half past four.

Through the narrow lane with its pretty stone terraces goes Mrs Woman with her shopping, and on down to the cobblestones. Prebend's Bridge is ahead of her. The snow falls on the trees at the riverside and around the lamppost with its soft glow. Mrs Woman gasps, and thinks that round the next bend she will meet a faun with an umbrella.

We were in Durham again today with Mum and Dad, and what a day. In the clear skies, the Cathedral looked at her best and Mum remembered her first visit there when she was tiny. We walked along the river from Prebend's Bridge and watched the rowing teams training. As we left, the Christmas lights were coming in and the skies above Durham rang with glory.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Gleaner and Crispin


If she must tell stories, I wish she'd get her facts right. I'm not saying that she tells lies, exactly, but she's said two things recently that aren't true. Firstly, Newcastle won that football match two-nil, not three-nil as she told you. And she wrote something about turning left out of Kings Cross station to go to all those places around Euston. If she turned left out of Kings Cross she'd be going the other way, wouldn't she? She'd no doubt end up in some grim little corner of north London, and serve her right.

Either careless, forgetful, or just plain deceitful. My lady was none of those things. And she's common. I don't know who that king was or what he was so cross about, but I'm sure it's not the sort of area for a refined squirrel like my Lady Aspen.


Frost again this morning. Urchin and I went to check Anemone Wood and make sure all the animals were snug for the winter. We can always provide a few more blankets and feathers for nests.

It's still another whole moon before the Winter Festival and we don't expect snow yet, but Oakleaf has the sledge ready. Everyone is busy making little presents and surprises for the Festival and hiding them away. Every time I go to say goodnight to the little ones I hear them whisk away under their beds, giggling, to hide something. Sepia is composing something new - you hear her twanging a few strings on the harp then singing it over to herself. And the kitchens! I was running down the wall outside the kitchen window yesterday and that waft of hot spices, raisins and oranges stopped me in my tracks.

Cedar's gone to discuss Threadings with Lady Thripple. Gleaner is muttering to herself about something, but I think she's all right. It's quiet now. If you look out you can see lights in the trees where animals live. Sensible animals are curling up in their nests, but you and I are still up. Not very sensible animals, are we? Would you care to join me for a cordial? Juniper and Hope will have the fire lit in the turret by now. Let's drink hot spiced blackcurrant juice and look down at the lights on Mistmantle.

Friday, 22 November 2013

They say you remember

They say you remember where you were when President Kennedy was shot. I was a child sitting on the floor watching the news on a small black and white television. I remember thinking it was strange that there was a TV camera there, because nobody knew what was going to happen. What I was watching, of course, was that little clip of home movie that has since been seen around the world.

It was around that time that I had a simply lovely young school teacher. We called her Miss Anderson but her real name was something Dutch. At the end of the year she left to get married and I think she was going back to Holland. At the end of every day, for storytime, she read to us from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I was spellbound. On those autumn afternoons she opened the wardrobe door to us all and I have been a citizen of Narnia every since. So are my children, and I've just bought a copy of Prince Caspian for the Golden Child's big brother.

On the day that President Kennedy died that great soul, C S Lewis, passed to heaven. As he died, maybe I was listening to, or thinking of, Narnia. I still do.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013


The post about Judith Kerr has sparked a conversation here. You've all made me think.

I've grown up with freedom, and I expect most of you have too. People have different ideas about freedom. There are those who complain because they're not free to get drunk in public places, use obscene language in any and every situation, or drive at fifty in a thirty zone. There is a much longer list, but you know what I mean. Perhaps when they've got over themselves they'll try to understand the difference between liberty and licence. Soldiers didn't die so that you could throw up in a bus stop.

I thank God for freedom, not often enough. Here we are in the House of Stories, free to read what we like and discuss what we like. I can go out without a curfew. I can go to church without being blacklisted. I can say what I think about the government without being arrested. (By the way, this is the UK in 2013. If they arrested everyone who has a go at the government they'd have to make prisons out of Wembley Stadium and the Royal Albert Hall.)

Shortly after Judith Kerr's family escaped from Germany, her father's books were publicly burned. There was a price on his head 'dead or alive'. He was most offended because he said it wasn't enough. You may like to read the books of Corrie ten Boom - she and her sister smuggled Dutch Jews out of Holland during the war, and were arrested. She, too, was a shining woman.

So we need to know our past. As Jonny said, those who forget their past are doomed to repeat it. We need to know how dearly our freedom was bought and how precious it is. As the Scots said in the Declaration of Arbroath (early 14th C)

'It is in truth not for glory nor riches nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom, for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself'.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Pink Rabbit

My latest book recommendation is 'When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit' by the remarkable Judith Kerr. She is now 91 years old, still sharp, still focussed, and still working as an author and illustrator for children. She comes over as the most impressive of English ladies, educated, articulate, and a great communicator with all ages. She is delightful. But 'Pink Rabbit', and the follow-up 'Bombs on Aunt Dahlia' begin when she was a nine-year-old German-Jewish child living a comfortable life in Berlin in 1933. Her father was a popular journalist and author and outspokenly anti-Nazi. Elections were to take place, and he had heard that he was at the top of the Nazi blacklist. They needed to get out of Germany, quickly. Within a week, the whole family were refugees.

It's a fascinating story and Judith's strong, humorous spirit shines through the telling. Children are encouraged to read Anne Frank - they should read this too. I learned a lot about London in the blitz that I never knew before.

When I go to London the train gets in at Kings Cross. If I'm going to the British Library, Scholastic Publishing, or one of the places where I sometimes stay I turn left and walk along Euston Road a bit. In future, I'll remember that I'm walking past the site of the Hotel Continental, which in the 1940s was crammed with European refugees until it was destroyed in the Blitz.

Not only London was bombed. That little bit of Tyneside where my family and Tony's came from was a vital place for engineering and shipbuilding, and that was pummelled night after night. Ah, but it wasn't really the engineering works Hitler was aiming for. It was my mum's Auntie Annie. She was bombed out of three different houses, so she reckoned that Hitler was after her and when he got her the war would stop.

He never did get that tough Geordie woman. Another grand lady who lived to tell the tale.

Friday, 15 November 2013

zebras at school

I was sorting out my desk in the attic today when I thought I heard thunder. Then it stopped being thunder and became drumming. I looked down at the school playground near our house. Along came the drummers, accompanied by tigers, zebras, a snow leopard, a banana and a lot of people in Newcastle United shirts.

No, it wasn't a dream. It was 'Children in Need'.

For the benefit of those of you overseas, Children in Need is a big fund-raising event in the UK every year. It's always on a Friday in November and all sorts of organisations go totally round the cuckoo tree to raise money. All the supermarkets and a lot of the shops have collections and the staff dress up. The mascot is Pudsey Bear, a yellow bear with a bandage over one eye, who pops up everywhere at this time of year. You can buy Pudsey mugs, Pudsey teatowels, Pudsey cupcakes, and, of course, small cuddly Pudsies. At the schools they usually have a dress down day which is really a dress up day (see above). They've been going to school in onesies, pyjamas, super-hero costumes - and that's only the teachers. At LYS's office, they had a Teddy Bear's Picnic. Turn any corner in town this evening and you found a children's choir or a steel band playing to raise money. Tony's choir sang. And there was face-painting, and a few brave souls getting their legs waxed for Children in Need. (Don't go there.)

Then there are the ones who get sponsored for walking, cycling, rowing (there's a lot of rowing round here) and (oh, pleeeease!) sponsored silences. Just give me a minute to think about that one. Mmmmm. Mental note for next year. What will they pay me to shut up?

Up to now, Children in Need has raised seven million, and it should be five or six times that at least when all the money's in. And it all goes in grants to local charities and needs. It provides funding for projects with children who have special needs of any kind, traumatised and disadvantaged children,young carers, children who've just fallen through the state's safety net and are in poverty. There are a lot of those. Believe me, the state safety net these days has holes you could drop an elephant through.

So today, let's all chip in for Children in Need. And tomorrow let's see what we can do about why they're in need in the first place.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Places and dreams

Every now and again I have a little daydream about places I really want to go. There are some I've visited before, but not enough, and want to go back to. Mostly they're in the UK - I've never been a globetrotter - but one or two more far flung.

So I'd love to go back to

The Setesdal in Norway

The New Forest (there's so much of it, and so much wildlife, and the villages around it are pretty)
Kingussie (red squirrels)
North Wales, and especially Anglesey (beaches, landscapes, historical Christian sites and more red squirrels)
Norfolk - people in the UK tend to make rude remarks about Norfolk. Yes, really. But we've only been there once, for Tony's ordination in Norwich, and we'd like to go back. The skies are big in Norfolk.
Wells. A fairytale city. The Bishop's Palace has a moat round it, with swans and ducks swimming about, and the Cathedral is stunning.

And I've never been to the Channel Islands or the Scillies, and that's on the list. I had a delightful letter recently from a reader on the Isle of Skye, and that would be good, too - I've been there once, just on a day trip when I was something-teen.


Brussels (by the way, Tony, are you reading this?)

And there are places I don't want to go to because it would be so sad if the reality wasn't up to what I'd imagined. Venice looks so lovely and romantic but I suspect it would disappoint. Paris, too.

This leaves me thinking about story landscapes. Where would I like to go? Apart from Mistmantle and Narnia, of course. I don't think I'd like Never-never-land. I'd love to live in Lucy Boston's 'Green Knowe'. What about you? Places and dreams?

Sunday, 10 November 2013


There is a leaf. I must chase. Got it!

As a stone garden dog I don't feel the cold and I don't mind if nobody feeds me. I like a good run, but I can get that by bounding around the garden when nobody's looking. Except Her. She doesn't count. The Sunshines were here this weekend (wowowowow!!) but they understand about stone dogs running around.

She was out in the garden yesterday with Lady Sunshine and she said she wanted to plant a tree. What sort of tree? I think she's planting a story tree.

That's where stories come from. You plant an idea. That's a story seed. Some of them don't come up. Some of them come up and go all thin and scrawny and die. Some of them come up quickly, but most of them take a while to grow strong, and get different branches and leaves, and finally you get a story. Usually she has to choose which branches to keep and which ones to cut off, to keep the story strong. She's growing a story tree just now and it grew really quickly, then it did something unexpected and now she has to think of which branches to keep. But she likes this story. It's got a dog in it, like me, except not a stone one.

People often ask her where her ideas come from. She doesn't like that question. Ideas don't come from anywhere, they are just there, around you, at the end of your nose, in your garden. What matters is whether your idea grows into a strong tree or not.

If you have a story tree with branches and you cut some off, they are no longer branches. They are sticks. What do we do with sticks? We chase them! Oh, wow!

Thursday, 7 November 2013


An eventful couple of days. Yesterday I was in Newcastle, shopping for a winter coat. I'd got the choice down to That One or That One and was on my way back to have another look at That One when I noticed a pleasant faced woman coming the other way and we'd smiled and nodded and almost passed each other before we looked twice. Within twenty minutes the coat was bought and I was having coffee with Stephanie.

It's a long story, but more than twenty years ago when we lived in a small coastal town and I was a young mother and she was a sixth form student, Stephanie was our babysitter. She was also a lifesaver, because there weren't many people around that I could discuss books and theatre with. Most babysitters go straight home when you come back. Stephanie used to put the kettle on and we'd chat for a while, mostly about books. The kids still reckon she was a brilliant babysitter. We kept in touch. A lot of water has passed under many bridges since then, but now I'm writing books for children and Stephanie has published 'How I said Bah! to Cancer' and 'Thrive', based on her experiences with cancer, and has a novel coming out next year. Funny to think of where we started from.

Today was another family day at my sister's, and we took Mum and Dad to see the tiny church at Chillingham. It's twelfth century, rough, plain, cold and battle-scarred, but it contains the most amazing ornate tomb for one of the Percy family and his wife. Their effigies are carved from alabaster in astonishing detail on a high stone tomb adorned with figures of saints and angels, and his helm and family crest are above him. It looks like the sort of thing that should be in Westminster Abbey, not a country chapel.

And it should be, too. A local guide came in when we were there and told us the story. Sir Henry Percy had ordered his tomb and was to be interred at Westminster. Unfortunately he fell out with the king, who withdrew permission for burial in the abbey. Oops.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013


Ahem. said Hamilton Bear, as if I had forgotten something important. Ahem.

Of course I hadn't forgotten, it had just slipped my mind for a little while. But when LYS and The Lassie were staying with us this weekend we talked a lot about weddings. We discussed colours for bridesmaids dresses, flowers, and table stationery, all of that, but we didn't discuss Hamilton's Waistcoat. There are two weddings next year, and Hamilton will need a new waistcoat for each of them. 'Ahem' in this case, meant 'Ahem, you haven't talked about what I'm going to be wearing'.

For The Sunshines' wedding he wore a very fetching deep red and gold waistcoat with gold lining, so whatever comes next has to be just as impressive. It also has to go with his red and green bow tie, which is a fixture. I did suggest snipping it off, but LYS wouldn't let me. Sunshine yellow might be nice, or midnight blue with stars on. At the wedding of Daughter and Her Chap he will be a page bear, so it's most important that he tones in with the bridesmaids. Should he have a flower in his buttonhole? I don't know much about wedding protocol for bears. I could ask my old Teddy, who was married to one of my dolls many years ago, but it wasn't a dignified occasion and I suspect he doesn't want to be reminded of it. If anybody knows about the etiquette of bears at weddings, do please let me know. That most famous of bears, Paddington, was once an usher at a wedding. He 'ushed everyone, and gave them hard stares.

Clara, who often comments on this blog, suggested that Much might like to gather his old chums around at The Old House of Stories. This sounds good to me. A Gnome Home for Grumpy Old Yorkshire Garden Furniture. I will keep you informed.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

All this

Clara suggested a Hone for Gnomes in Much's garden. I must give this some thought.

Today has been grey, wet and utterly happy. Happy, because Lovely Younger Son and the Lassie are here for the weekend and I can't tell you how great it is to see them. It was their first visit to the house since we moved in and they have made all the right noises about how nice it is. We went for a potter about, had lunch and did some wedding planning. I must write down our thoughts about flowers, colours, and the things I've volunteered my sister to do before I forget. The Lassie is a very good knitter and Lady Sunshine has just learned, so between us we can knit two rings, a choir, and a white Rolls-Royce.

Somewhere between pottering and lunch I thought about the book I'm doing and realised that I've just got something wrong and will have to rewrite most of what I've done this week. That's normal, if annoying. Sometimes you have to get it wrong before you can get it right, and I decided not to think about until Monday because I'm making the most of the family time. It will be Bonfire Night on Tuesday but the big town bonfire was this evening. Being uphill, we had a brilliant view from the street. Watching fireworks is one of those things which is more fun if you do it with other people and it gave me such a glow to watch the sky light up, just from sharing it with Tony, LYS and The Lassie. True, we all got wet, but on Bonfire Night you expect to get wet or cold or both.

Hamilton Bear has been most excited. He was sitting in the window last night, watching for them to arrive. One of his favourite things when the kids were at home was watching the football with the boys on Saturday nights. To our great delight (and pleasant surprise, I have to say) Newcastle beat Chelsea 3-0 at home today, and Hamilton sat tucked in between LYS and The Lassie to watch the highlights.

All this, and footie too.