Archive for December, 2011


Christmas Dinner

#1 Hairy Brat poses for a photo

OK, I love Christmas. I really do. This year I do, anyway, even though it’s been a bit disjointed. #1 hairy brat and I spent Christmas Day together watching silly TV and stuffing our faces with chocolate while #2 hairy brat ate lots with his step-family in the Netherlands.

I got some lovely presents and spent the whole day making presents for other people.

Home-made presents

Some of the presents I made for people

In fact, I spent the whole of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and the day after making presents. It was fun and rewarding, and I watched the first two seasons of Angel while I was at it. I think I like Angel more than Buffy, although the lack of Willow is a bit upsetting. I also watched the BBC production of The Borrowers, which was very good indeed. And some other stuff I can’t remember.



Ho Ho Ho

Ho Ho Ho - just up the road from Mum's cottage.


On the Wednesday after Christmas #2 hairy brat and I drove down to Dorset, where we were welcomed by this very Christmassy sight.

I love Dorset 🙂



We visited Lyme Regis on the Friday (New Year’s Eve Eve) where Blake met up with his girlfriend (aaaah bless!) and Mum and I explored, eventually discovering the most AMAZING bookshop in the whole country, if not the whole world. The Sanctuary Bookshop is literally crammed from cellar to attic with second-hand books of all types and ages and genres – it’s a treasure-trove, and it has two B&B rooms! I’m going to stay there for at least one night next time we’re down in Dorset.

Modern Typewriting and Manual of Office Procedure

Modern Typewriting and Manual of Office Procedure

This time I bought only one book, but what a book… I thought I might find an etymological dictionary, but somehow this caught my eye… it’s brilliant…



Today we went for a walk. I love Dorset.

Dorset countryside

Dorset countryside

This is Weston Farm. I don’t know what it’s like inside, but I don’t care. Just look at it! It is now my ambition to acquire it somehow and turn it into a writing retreat.

Weston Farm

Weston Farm

Sheep and Mother

A sheep watching my mother looking at the countryside

Mushroom and sheep shit

This mushroom caught my eye...


... and this drain...

Dead ivy clinging to a wall

... and this dead ivy still clinging to a wall

I didn’t take any pictures of the lane we walked up… but it was muddy. Having good grips on the bottom of my walking boots didn’t help much once they were clogged with clay. Good exercise, mind you!

Got to go and roll out some rough puff pastry for mince pies now.

Happy New Year! Hope everyone had a Christmas as nice as mine, and that 2012 is fun and prosperous and healthy and all that guff…


Read Full Post »

Proper Weather

I got cross yesterday when I heard a group of young women cursing the rain. Now, I like the sun. Especially in winter, when it’s cold and bright and doesn’t make me sweat like something that sweats an awful lot.* But at the same time, I don’t see why we should expect the weather to be kind to us every single day. When we’ve had one of the mildest and dryest Novembers on record, and December seems set to go the same way, it seems churlish to be upset when a bit of rain falls. It wasn’t even hammering down, not much more than a drizzle.

December 2010

December 2010

Last winter (you remember, when it was proper winter, like this ->) the lakes on University Park and Jubilee campuses froze over, so it wasn’t unusual for me to take pics of birds walking on the ice. A friend told me that earlier, when the lakes were just starting to freeze, it looked like the birds were walking on water. ‘Huh?’ I thought. Then I forgot it.

But yesterday’s weather – an overnight freeze followed by light rain – enabled me to get these pictures (see below). And because of that, I’m profoundly grateful for the rain and the cold. It’s winter, after all. This is the sort of weather we should expect.

* i.e. not a pig – while pigs can fly, they don’t sweat much, if at all. Actually, I think ‘sweating like a pig’ is a misprint. The original saying is ‘sweating like a Pip’.

Jesus Gull

Jesus reincarnated for the festive season as a gull



Just standing around

Just standing around

Lakeside can look good

Lakeside CAN look good - who knew?

Read Full Post »

A Princess Came to Our Town

A Princess Came To Our TownGuess what I read the other day…?

A Princess Came To Our Town by Rose Fyleman (yes, that Rose Fyleman, she of ‘The Rose Fyleman Fairy Book’). A kind person who didn’t realise Ross the Boss was being sarcastic when he talked about my love for all things fairy recommended the book to me. In my perverse way, I decided to investigate.

Dedication to Diana Margaret GarnierAmazon Marketplace duly delivered this small volume to me – a first edition, published in 1927 by Methuen. This one was given to Diana Margaret Garnier for Christmas in 1929. Wow… I want to know who she was, how old she was, whether she enjoyed the book (she certainly read it – or at least she coloured one of the pictures in). And who LKG was – a parent, an aunt or uncle, a grandparent? Or maybe a fairy godmother?

It isn’t a long and meaty read – I read it in the bath. But it is actually quite enjoyable. I love the chatty voice Fyleman uses, typical of Victorian children’s writers. It makes me feel as if someone’s reading the book aloud to me, and I can imagine some of the passages starting interesting conversations between a child and a reader.

Of course, I knew from the very first minute I saw her that Finestra wasn’t an ordinary person.

She didn’t look like an ordinary person, for one thing. It wasn’t just that she was so very beautiful – though she was, of course.

But you know what people look like in very, very nice pictures. Not quite like real people and yet with two eyes and a nose and a mouth and everything quite correct and ordinary in a way, only with a different look about them, all the same.

Well, she looked like that. If you think of the very nicest picture you know – your favourite picture, that will be sure to be like her.

‘But everyone’s favourite picture is different,’ you’ll say. I know. And yet they are all alike, really. Besides, after all, she was a fairy princess, you know, and that does alter things.

Out of a Fairy-tale Into Real Life

Out of a fairy-tale into Real Life

Finestra, a princess in a fairy tale, is bored. She knows she’s going to marry the handsome prince, but he’s always off having adventures. So she decides she wants to see what Real Life is like, and (with the help of her fairy godmother) persuades her parents to let her go. She meets the narrator in Market Square – this is Nottingham, although the name of the town is never stated – and stays with her until she has used all the magic objects she has brought with her. Finestra finds it hard to understand Real Life. She wants the postman to come and whistle to her while she eats her breakfast – ‘someone else’ will deliver the letters. She gives all the children at the swimming pool the ability to fly – and doesn’t understand why their mothers are upset. She decides to give out free ice-cream – and gets into trouble for blocking the road with the ensuing mob of happy children.

'Would your Majesty like to walk a little?'

'Would your Majesty like to walk a little?' I heard Finestra say.

Despite this, she has a lot of fun, and gives the narrator many memorable experiences. She decides to use one of her magic objects to bring the statue of Queen Victoria to life one night, and they take a stroll round town (helped by a mysterious policeman – yes, he is relevant).

Finestra was very glad she had put on her long blue velvet dress. The Queen told her that though she was so high up and couldn’t see the people on the ground at all well, she had had what she called “dreadful glimpses”.

‘Wasn’t it a good thing,’ Finestra said to me afterwards, ‘that there was no one about? I’m sure she’d have died of horror if she’d seen a grown-up girl with her frock to her knees.’

I was going to include a longer extract here, but I think I’ll leave it up to you to track the book down and read it for yourself. I’m not a great fan of Fyleman’s poetry, but I’m slowly falling in love with her fiction! (watch this space for my announcement that I’ve persuaded Ross the Boss to produce a new edition of ‘A Fairy Comes to Our Town’…!)

Read Full Post »

I went up to Springwell College again yesterday to work with the group of students I went to the museum with last week, and again I was awestruck by the brilliance of the kids, and didn’t want the session to end.

A pig butcher

A pig butcher. The kids think it's cute. I think it's creepy.

Before I burble a bit more about that, I must thank everyone who’s made it possible for me to work on this project. It was originally devised by Pamela Butler of the Chesterfield Borough Council Arts Development Project , who are providing half the funding. The aim was to engage young Chesterfield people with writing by inviting them to the museum storeroom to be inspired by the amazing collection of artefacts we have there. Pamela told me: “I think the storeroom is one of the most magical places I have ever seen and I feel it has such potential to excite and inspire young people – not least because you get to see all the things no one else does.” I would agree with that wholeheartedly. Writing East Midlands put up the rest of the money as part of the ongoing Lyric Lounge initiative, and Catherine Rogers kindly set up the opportunity for me to shadow Mark. Anne-Marie Knowles, the curator at Chesterfield Museum, has been full of enthusiasm and overflowing with knowledge, and very kindly put up with all my questions when I turned up early last week for the museum visit. So thank you all so much, and huge thanks to Mark Gwynne Jones, Mrs McCabe and Mrs F-J for letting me loose on the kids (or is it vice versa?).

Pattern for the White HorseSo, what we did yesterday was to play a guessing game. Mark put pictures up on the screen while one of the students sat with his/her back to it, and the rest of us had to make up riddles about the object until the student guessed what it was. This was excellent fun, particularly with the horse’s head. They came up with some fantastic lines – ‘blessed with a nose but cannot breathe’ and ‘lined with veins that carry no blood’ for example.

Is this really a TV?

'Miss! Is this really a TV?'

Mark scribbled the lines down on various white-boards we’d corralled together for the purpose (I swear one of them was alive) and then set the kids going, in pairs, writing poems starting ‘Upstairs in the Storeroom’. The horse was a popular theme – most of the poems started with the idea of a horse that dreams of being able to run free but is forced to stay still, shut away in a dark storeroom. I particularly liked a line which went something like ‘thoughts racing through a head of hollow wood’ – what a subtle and intelligent use of language. ‘Do you know about alliteration?’ I asked. ‘Yes, of course,’ was the answer. <big smiley face>

Another poem used repetition to great effect, and although almost all of the poems rhymed very few of the rhyming words felt forced. What a fantastic bunch of kids. Abso-bloody-lutely fantastic. I love them all!

Leech jar

Beautiful jar?

One artefact which the kids didn’t hear about while we were there was this rather lovely jar. Which, as it turns out, is that essential medicinal container, a leech jar! Yuckyuckyuck. And late in its life, apparently, someone decided to prettify it by painting an idyllic scene on the outside, but the holes in the lid give its original purpose away. I’m not sure I understand that, mind you. When my brother and I collected leeches at the local lake (back in the dawn of time when they were probably still in use for blood-letting) they quite happily crawled up the sides and across the underside of the top of the container we put them in. So I don’t think holes in the top of the jar are a good idea. But I’m not a doctor… Anyway, when I showed the picture to some of the kids and explained what it was all about, they were supremely unimpressed. I guess the idea of a doctor attaching leeches to you to suck your blood isn’t as horrifying to today’s youngsters. Maybe they think leeches are cute, like that creepy pig butcher.

Can’t wait for the next session! Merry Christmas to all involved with the project!

Previous ‘Behind the Scenes’ posts:
School Days
Behind the Scenes at the Museum

Read Full Post »

On Organisation

My new chest of drawersI found a chest of drawers in Sainsbury’s car park today, abandoned by the Oxfam books and music skip. It’s very nice – the chest of drawers, not the Oxfam skip – a bit battered, but perfectly functional. So I shoved it in the back of my car and drove off, feeling very virtuous. After all, if I’d left it there it would have quickly become wet and warped and useless. It’s now sitting in my living room. I am, therefore, organised.

err… no. The mess is still there…

The place where I sit

The place where I sit

Here is a handy key.

  1. The place where I sit
  2. My trusty laptop
  3. A card made by Eireann Lorsung which says ‘Yes you CAN’
  4. Christmas presents under construction
  5. Homework for the proofreading course I’m doing
  6. My ‘worktable’ for gluing and cutting and suchlike
  7. A box full of bookbinding bits and bobs
  8. Current issues of the Radio Times
  9. Input material for a typesetting project I’m working on
  10. Folders containing paperwork for various ongoing activities
  11. Unopened Amazon packages (Oliver Twist and Photoshop for Dummies)
  12. Materials from which Christmas presents will be constructed
  13. TV/Sky remote control
  14. A blankie wot I crocheted
  15. The tupperware container I ate my lunch from (Tuesday’s leftovers)

Why is it all still on the floor? I don’t understand…

Read Full Post »

Wednesday morning was amazing! Totally completely awesome!*


I recently blogged about my first visit to Chesterfield to work with the brilliant Mark Gwynne Jones and a group of inspiring Year 8 students from Springwell College. On Wednesday we took them to Chesterfield Museum and I spent the WHOLE MORNING in one of the museum’s storerooms. I’m not sure who was more excited, the students or me… no… I am totally sure. I was MUCH more excited.

Anne-Marie, the curator, was amazing. We shepherded the kids in, she gave a quick talk about the storeroom, then simply said, ‘Tell me what you’re interested in.’ As the students pointed at various objects, she would explain what the object was and how it worked or how it was used, and for every one she had an interesting story to tell. I wanted to take her hostage and find out the stories behind every single object in that room.

So… I thought I’d try and record some of those stories here.

Soyer Field Stove

Soyer Field Stove



This type of stove was developed by chef Alexis Soyer after advising on cooking for the army in the Crimean War so that soldiers could get a warm meal. They were in use until fairly recently – this one was last used by the WRVS to feed rescuers working at the Kegworth plane crash site in 1989. I remember that crash well – I was driving back from Wolverhampton along the A453 and we were directed away from the M1 junction by a very scared-looking WPC, who wouldn’t tell us what was happening.




Puzzle jugs

Puzzle jugs

There were quite a few of these little beauties. Apparently they were common during the 18th and 19th centuries, but I’d never come across them before (despite being at least two centuries old). The challenge is to drink out of them without spilling the beer… the secret is that the handle is hollow, and there is a built-in straw that ends at one of the sticking-out-bits, so you have to work out which of them to suck on to get to the booze.

1950s punk?

1950s punk?



Believe it or not, this was given as a prize to a lucky young person at a 1950s dance. I’m so envious – what a delightful item it is (can you smell the sarcasm?). The ‘hair’ consists of matches, the mouth is an ashtray, and the overall effect is totally creepy.







White Horse pattern

White Horse pattern




The wooden pattern for the metal horse head which can still be seen on the White Horse pub in Old Whittington (if you follow the link there’s a photo of the pub which shows the horse head). It’s stunningly detailed, you can even see the veins down the side of its face. And it’s a beautiful object in its own right.





Model of Staveley Chemical Works

Model of Staveley Chemical Works

This astoundingly detailed model of Staveley Chemical Works is a bit damaged, but still fascinating. It was used up until fairly recently by engineers when they needed to resolve a problem at the works – as Anne-Marie pointed out, it would have been an awful lot quicker to trace the pipes on an accurate model than on the ground. And, I reckon, it’d probably be an awful lot safer too, particularly if there was a leak of noxious or flammable chemicals…

There was lots more there. Enough for another blog post tomorrow, maybe. In the meantime I’ll leave you with this: Chesterfield Museum is awesome! Go visit! It’s free!



*many people have told me recently that I say ‘awesome’ a lot. I have taken this under consideration and decided I don’t care. So much of my life is truly awesome at the moment, and I fully intend to celebrate by saying ‘awesome’ as often as appropriate. So there.

Read Full Post »

What a weekend!

I had one of those all-too-rare weekends – you know the ones – where I never stopped doing things, but everything was amazing! Saturday had an overall religious theme. I’m an unrepentant atheist, but there was something wonderful about it all, which has given me an idea for a new project… and Sunday involved lots of sweetness.

Saturday part 1 – Veni, Veni, Emmanuel

Memorial in St Peter's Church

I sat just below this poignant memorial - click to see full size.

After spending a productive couple of hours working in Caffe Nero, I went to St Peter’s Church in Nottingham to hear the East of England Singers‘ selection of celebratory music. I didn’t get a programme, so I’m not sure what any of the pieces were, but it was a glorious event. Beautiful singing in a beautiful church – almost got me into the Christmas spirit!

Saturday part 2 – Hoorah for Five Leaves!

Ross the Faery

Ross the Faery Boss

After a lovely/quick lunch at Delilah it was off to St John’s Church in Carrington for the Five Leaves ‘not a Christmas’ party. What a fantastic event that was. I was on the book stall, and was kept very busy by the 70-odd (but not very odd) people who turned up to help us celebrate our busiest year ever. Thankfully, I sold two boxes worth of books, which meant I didn’t have to take quite so many boxes away with me. Ross the Boss lined up a great selection of readings, and a fine time was had by all.

Saturday part 3 – Come for Tea

In the evening I toddled off to the Royal Concert Hall to immerse myself in heavenly music – the Nottingham Harmonic with the Orchestra da Camera performing Handel’s Messiah. Oh wow. How amazing was that? Very, that’s how. By the end I was elated, awestruck, energised, blown away. I was taken aback at a couple of points though – when the singing started I could have sworn the bloke was saying ‘come for tea’… and then when they got to the Hallelujah Chorus everyone in the audience stood up. Goodness knows why. I asked the woman sitting next to me, she said, ‘I don’t know, we always do.’




I didn’t go to church on Sunday, having been twice on Saturday…

Spent the morning writing random rubbish in Belle & Jerome (this is how I spend many Sunday mornings these days – the Beeston Writers’ Group seems to have resurrected itself somehow). Then had a fun afternoon making cookies with friends. My house still smells of ginger and sugar and cinnamon and cloves.

I went to bed early. And slept very very well.

Read Full Post »

School days

Southwell Workhouse Schoolroom

The Good Old Days

Things have certainly changed since Victorian times… this is a photo of the schoolroom at Southwell Workhouse, which I visited last week. The children spent most of their days in this room, which has obscured windows so they couldn’t be distracted by the sight of their parents working in the yards. They were looked after by the schoolteacher, and were only allowed to see their parents on Sundays.

Their diet would have been something like this:

Bread, 4 ounces, and milk, 1/2 pint.
Or: Bread, 4 ounces; and milk-porridge, 1/2 pint, made with boiled milk, 1/2 pint; and oatmeal, 5 drachms.

The same as breakfast; except that cheese, 1 ounce, may be substituted for milk, or for milk-porridge, when milk cannot be procured.

Reverend John Becher

Reverend John Becher, who built the workhouse and specified this diet.

On Sunday: Boiled beef, without bone, 5.5 ounces; and potatoes, boiled and peeled, 1 pound.
On Monday: Bread, 4 ounces; and beef broth, 1 pint – thickened with flour, 2 drachms; and flavoured with leeks and parsley.
On Tuesday: Dumplings, 9.5 ounces – made with flour, 5 ounces, and barm; sauce made with treacle, flour, and water.
On Wednesday: Rice-milk, 1/2 pint – made with boiled milk 1/2 pint; rice, 1.5 ounces; and flour, 1 ounce.
On Thursday: the same as on Sunday.
On Friday: Pea soup, 1 pint – made with beef broth, 1 pint; peas, 2 ounces and 4 drachms; thickened with potatoes, boiled, peeled and mashed, 1 pound; seasoned with black pepper, and flavoured with onions.
On Saturday: Hasty-pudding, 1/2 quart – made with flour, 2 ounces and 4 drachms; milk, 1/2 pint; and water. Sauce made with treacle, flour, and water.

I’ll be leading a group of Humanities students in their individual research projects about the Workhouse next term – we’ll get our hands on the archives, and will be able to let our imaginations roam free – I can’t wait! I’m not sure the students are all that keen, as a rule they’re not up for unfettering their imaginations, but I’ve got seven weeks to batter them into submission. I’m determined to get them thinking creatively. Watch this space…

Back to the present

Yesterday I was privileged to meet a great bunch of Year 8 (12-year-old-ish) kids at Springwell College near Chesterfield. The irrepressible, brilliant and, quite frankly, barking mad Mark Gwynne Jones is leading a group of 20 youngsters in a Lyric Lounge project to use artefacts from Chesterfield Museum to generate performance poetry for next year’s Lyric Lounge in Chesterfield.

What’s not to like? How could I fail to be excited about the opportunity to shadow Mark on this project? (thank you, Writing East Midlands and Cathy Grindrod).

Children are scary

Children are scary

Actually, I was terrified. I’ve run workshops for adults, but apart from dragging two now-teenage (and almost-housetrained) boys into the world, I’ve had nothing to do with children.

What a pleasant surprise… the school is fantastic, the teachers are totally engaged, and the kids are absolutely delightful – not at all scary! Mark chucked me in at the deep end by involving me in the first exercise – something I used to do with my kids, we called it ‘story circle’ – you tell a story by taking it in turn to say words. We split into pairs or threes… all the stories were weird and wonderful, ours involved going for a run in a muddy field, jumping into a pond and meeting a smelly newt, then coming across a dragon who was cute but didn’t want a flower on its neck, so we went home.

Really really scary

Really really scary

Then Mark got everyone to write two stories about an object they’d brought in, one true and one made-up. While that was going on I took the opportunity to go round and meet most of the kids. What a great bunch they are, with amazing imaginations and the confidence and articulateness to put them to good use. We all told our pairs of stories, and had to guess which was the true story. Many of us managed to fool people into believing the made-up story… and the teachers did particularly badly!

I can’t wait till next week – we’re going to the museum, and we’ll get to rummage around in the storerooms. Superb! I think I’m going to love this project, and I feel very honoured to be a part of it.

Read Full Post »