Monthly Archives: December 2011

Going to the ball

It’s New Year’s Eve. Time for balls, for some. Especially in Vienna, but I’m beginning to suspect I’ll never make that Strauss waltz in a snowy Austria. Oh, well.


Edinburgh is big on New Year. Although I’m not there either. But it’s the origin of these crystal balls. Thirty years ago Mother-of-witch brought home the one on the right. She’d gone to Edinburgh for some kind of conference. She only went because it was in Edinburgh, giving her an excuse to go. And maybe the ball at the castle, I suppose.

PG SIEC ball

The Grandmother remembers seeing Swedes at the ball she attended at Edinburgh castle. Thirty years ago. That’s when the Grandfather received the ball on the right. The inscriptions on both balls say SIEC conference. (I think that might be this kind of thing.)

The bookwitch met the Resident IT Consultant the following year. It took us a bit longer to match up the crystal balls, but it’s clear the two balls at the castle were one and the same .

Are you keeping up with the balls so far?

Wolfgang the seal

Setting aside youthful dreams of Vienna waltzes, the only New Year’s ball we see these days is the one on Wolfgang’s nose in Sesame Street. It will fall at midnight. Until it does, the Count counts the seconds. Ahahah. Is it childish of us to watch the same episode of Sesame Street every year?

New Year, Sesame Street


A challenge too many

I don’t think I’ll do it again. At least not this way. My two challenges for 2011 went well, but were far too hard to stick with. I didn’t give up, and I suppose I knew I probably wouldn’t, since it’d make me look bad. It’s rather like announcing you’re going on a diet. You sort of have to avoid giving up.

The Ireland Reading Challenge, where I joined in with bloggers everywhere, and where my goal was to read six Irish books, seemed dead easy. It was. Or would have been, had it not been such a very busy year. I still have plenty of Irish books to read, but it was the fitting them in every two months that almost did it for me.

And I kept forgetting to link to my reviews and I kept forgetting how to link. So, it was fun to take part, but too prescriptive for me. I will continue to read Irish books because I love them. Not because I ‘went on a diet.’

Then there was my own Bookwitch Foreign Reading Challenge, which I started in a fit to counter-balance someone else’s British challenge. At least it was my own. I set the rules and I didn’t have to do complicated links. And I did feel that one foreign book a month was doable. There are always masses of books being ignored by me every month, so one more, to give room for a stranger, surely wouldn’t hurt.

The end of the month came by far too early in certain months. I’m not sure how that happened. But it wasn’t time that was my greatest obstacle. It was finding books to read. I began by drawing up a list of likely countries. I contacted publishers to see if they had anything coming during the year. A surprising number said they didn’t. (Hence a real need for foreign challenges.)

I was surprised to find at the end that I had read no Australian* book and nothing from France. I had counted on those. On the other hand, I had not expected a Japanese novel, nor a Flemish one, to come my way.

In some instances I ended up reading something I might have avoided, had it not been for the fact that I needed another book from somewhere different. But none were bad, and most were as enjoyable as novels chosen in a more conventional way.

As with the Irish books, I will endeavour to read more imports, but without the strict framework of a challenge. I just wish publishers would take on more translations. I also wish more people knew more about what there is to read. I don’t want to be told that the children of a country read Harry Potter. That’s not what I asked. And I was sad to hear that there is very little besides imports somewhere like South Africa. And with Finland and Iceland, it’s the lack of translated books that prevented me. Although, I realised belatedly that Tove Jansson would have qualified for my challenge.

My Scottish challenge, which has no structure or rules whatsoever, will hopefully continue as and when I find suitable books. It’s mainly that I really want to read more writing from Scotland.

Other than the challenges, 2011 offered plenty of wonderful reads. I’m still hoping to find strength of character to read only the best, and to ignore some ‘average’ reads. Life is too short.

And life is too short to look at stats for the past year. Do feel free to go through all of Bookwitch 2011 and count the books for me! I’m often tempted to keep accounts as and when things happen, but I seriously doubt I will do it in 2012.

No New Year’s resolution is a good New Year’s resolution.

Fabio Geda: 'Yay! It's the Bookwitch!'

Above is Fabio Geda, the great surprise of the year. Italian book. Very unusual. Probably also the best on Bookwitch in 2011. So is Fabio’s smile.


* No sooner had I written this, and thought about it, than I realised I did read Australian books. At the time I just forgot they would fit in with the challenge. I kept remembering this and forgetting it again, several times. Like you do in dreams…

Eric and Ella

This lovely couple who sound like they belong together, are actually two main characters in two new picture books. Picture books that I was all too ready to ignore, but then I read them, ‘just in case.’

Good thing I did. And because Thursday next week is worse than buses that come in threes, I have to start now. You’d have thought that publishers would have published so much before Christmas that they could take a break, but here they go again.

Ladies first, and Ella also happens to be a Cinderella Ladybird. Ella. Cinderella. Witty. And sweet. Also red and spotty, in the most beautiful way.

Alex T Smith, Ella

This Cinderella cooks and cleans, but she meets no prince. This time lover boy is an artist called Pierre, and the romantic setting is Paris. And as I said, Ella is spotty, and she wears glasses. But romance will always conquer.

Eric is an accidental hero. Or perhaps not. That would suggest he isn’t brave. People around him call him names and he feels worthless. But when the monster comes, it’s Eric who saves the day. He and the monster have quite a lot in common. Being a dummy or a dope or a dunce needn’t be bad.

We can all do with friends.

Chris Wormell, Eric the Hero

Ella, by Alex T Smith, and Eric the Hero, by Chris Wormell. Two nice books.


Caitlin is seeking closure. Her older brother has died and her Dad is upset all the time. She is missing her brother in a different way, but recognises that something needs to be done. When Caitlin hears about closure, she decides it’s what they need.

The problem is working out what closure is, exactly. 11-year-old Caitlin has Asperger Syndrome, which means that closure could be almost anything. But she starts working on it, despite her Dad not cooperating.

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine is not just an aspie book, it’s also a dead child book, with the added drama of the death being a school shooting. While wondering if this is putting too much into one novel, I do recognise that this could happen. Aspie children will definitely be as much at risk of deaths in the family as anyone else. School shootings probably less so. I suspect Kathryn opted for this because she needed more than one victim for her plot.

If it weren’t for the fact that Kathryn has personal experience of Asperger Syndrome, I would have said Caitlin is almost too much of a textbook aspie. We are all different, though, so it’s not for me to say. Whereas Caitlin has some support at school, I feel the adults surrounding her are a little too stupid and uninformed, with every conversation and classroom situation peppered with phrases waiting to be misinterpreted by Caitlin’s literal thinking.

But, she goes about trying to improve the situation at home without help, understanding that a change is vital for her and her Dad’s continued lives together. And it having been a school shooting, there are important ideas for what it’s like from the other side’s point of view.

Life is not easy. But it can be made better.

Out cold

Or as the (Norwegian, obviously) pilot (many years ago) announced on landing the plane twenty minutes early, that we should please remember this and use it as credit against any delays we might encounter some other time.

I am fairly certain there have been days with more than one blog post from me. I am cashing in some of my credit today. As on many Boxing Days in the past, I compensated for too much time spent slaving over the dishwasher, by flopping and doing nothing more than watch television.

So, we enjoyed The Clocks with the ever nicely padded David Suchet, after which I remembered that I’d intended to hang on for the Dolly Parton concert on BBC4. Unfortunately I don’t work Nine to Five, but I Will Always Love You. Within reason. Obviously.

Before couch-potatoing all evening I started reading Advent by James Treadwell, which is looking quite promising. I know it’s the end of December, and Advent is over, but I don’t think it’s that kind of Advent. Besides, the book hasn’t been published yet. Very nice cover, for a proof. For a ‘real’ book too.

In between the above dubious activities I mainly lectured the Resident IT Consultant in the art of using lemon and honey for his poor throat. That’s despite him looking at my present (A Wrinkle in Time), while sitting in my chair.


People have some strange ideas, but luckily we have Terry Pratchett to put them into perspective. So, here I was, only yesterday, saying we don’t need to believe in Father Christmas. And now, well, Terry seems to be saying we should believe. Not because it’s true, but because believing is good for us.

Death standing in for Discworld’s Hogfather isn’t as odd or ominous as it might first appear. They are close(ish) colleagues, and one does what one can to help out in an emergency. I was about to say that Death might give better presents, but I don’t actually know what Hogfather would have given under similar circumstances.

When faced with the big man himself, even the police are children first, and hardened professionals second. Very sweet.

(Yes I know they aren’t called policemen. But it sounds more serious this way.)

As for the criminals; many of them are perhaps only pursuing this misguided career because they were once scared little boys, and if a wardrobe seems threatening, you can’t help feeling afraid.

I’m not sure we know exactly what’s happened to Hogfather, but Death delivers in his place. Death’s granddaughter does her bit, and those clever wizards at the University play around with a sort of computer. Trust Terry Pratchett to have spot-on thoughts about computers so long ago (well, I feel fifteen years is a long time in the world of computing), and for those thoughts to be still valid today.

I would like to believe, but it might be too late for a hardened witch. Although, if I could sit on someone’s lap and have all my unspoken wishes come true…

Just remembered. I did dabble in the Tooth Fairy business some years ago, but am confident Offspring knew it was really me.

By ‘eck, it’s My Eck!

It simply didn’t occur to me that I could wish for an Eck. I mean, I did wish for one, but made no Christmas list mentioning the dear Eck.


So, how much lovelier to discover my very own little Eck (no. 72) in a parcel last night. I didn’t know how Daughter could be so sure I would like her present. Silly me. Some things are certain.

Cat 1

Cat 2

Whereas Son might now regret asking for a cat. He got two, but perhaps not quite of the type he’d prefer. Not that he’d be allowed the real thing.

The protocol about giving away proofs is quite clear, and I tend not to. But what is a bookwitch to do when a book Daughter would love turns up as a signed proof the day before Christmas? (You’re right. The witch wraps it and gives it away. It’s understood that a review will have to materialise in return.)

The lovely girl also provided me with A Wrinkle in Time. That was on my list. My very short list.

And Daughter was happy with this kind of thing,

Upsidedown book

but I really don’t see how three large volumes full of knowledge can be dragged back to her place of learning.

Tree with presents

Before the destruction, the tree looked reasonably tidy with their Guardian-wrapped parcels underneath. Speaking of which newspaper, Eck’s creator Meg Rosoff wrote about lying, pardon me, fibbing, to her daughter about Father Christmas. How could she? I had a similar discussion with Mrs Pendolino only this week, and it seems I’m on my own. It didn’t occur to me to lie. Fib. I knew he doesn’t exist, and I came to no harm.

Backbone, Meg, that’s what it is. Fib to children about something else instead.

A Christmas medley

It’s Christmas. I suppose there’s practically no one here, so let’s have some fun and relaxation with music.

I never imagined I’d even think of offering you the Smurfs singing Christmas songs in Danish. (I had a weak moment at Kastrup airport one December. In case you wondered.) But then I thought, you all love The Killing, and go round trying out those very Danish sounding Danish words and names. So you will adore the Smurfs. Won’t you?

Here are Smølferne with Så er det jul alle smølfer, aka Merry Christmas Everybody.

I went travelling at Christmas time again and bought a Swedish Christmas CD.  I especially liked one track. Still had no idea quite how fun it would be to actually see The Real Group sing, rather than just listen to them. And this is top quality singing. (Sorry about the Smurfs.)

Here you have The Real Group with their Christmas medley. Four of them sing a mix of hymns and lighter seasonal fare, while the fifth member of the group keeps trying to sing his song. The other four constantly interrupt him, until they finally give in…

God Jul! And Hej!

Kale and the outsider

First I spent years in the belief that kale soup is a traditional Christmas meal in the part of the world where Mother-of-witch grew up. We would have it on Christmas Day, followed by rice porridge. (No need to feel sorry for me. It’s delicious.)

Then I learned it’s not a widespread habit at all. I suppose it was my Grandmother who felt it made for a lighter and cheaper meal to have on the day after the big Christmas meal, and her daughters continued this lack of tradition.

So did her granddaughter, and my first Christmas in England saw me trawling The Lanes in Brighton for kale. ‘No dear, but we have some nice broccoli,’ was generally the reply to my question.


Once we arrived in the north it’s been easier to obtain kale. But then you have the casual conversations when people inquire what we eat for Christmas. They always feel sorry for me. Especially if they know what kale is. And then they tease me.

In the place where I grew up, people eat kale in a different way, but plenty of it, and always as part of the Christmas Eve ‘table.’ Basically, you boil it and then you fry it and then you smother it with butter and cream…

They want a lot of it, so drag home sackfuls of kale from the market in December.

Witnessing this, one newcomer to our area was totally taken aback. Where she came from they put a small sprig of kale on the table for decoration. She was impressed by the amount of table decorating her new neighbours must be getting involved in.

The one change I’ve made to the menu is that we skip the whole Christmas smörgåsbord and I now serve up the non-traditional kale soup on Christmas Eve, closely followed by the rice porridge. One Offspring likes it and the other hates it, so has tinned tomato soup instead. That’s also a tradition.

Go on. Pity me! Or them.

Christmas beans

The trainee witch once (almost twice) worked in a bookshop in the weeks leading up to Christmas. This was in the days of Christmas Eve getting the Saturday treatment, shop hour wise. So we closed at twelve, and I recall I had a Saturday bus to catch soon after, where I was the only passenger, on the last bus for a couple of days.

Where was I? Oh yes, in the bookshop, before the last bus. It was quite nice working on Christmas Eve (well, one had a Mother-of-witch doing the kitchen stuff at home…), and something I noticed was that the world is full of people who don’t shop until there are mere hours between the buying of and the opening of presents. It takes a cool and steady mind to be that late.

They come in and spend anything, just to get the deed done. And obviously they require wrapping and all that.

According to Son it seems the wellknown online bookshop can offer the same these days, as long as you live somewhere civilised. Order on Christmas Eve morning and have it delivered that afternoon. It will cost you, but as I said, the Christmas Eve shopper can afford it.

What I’m trying to say here, in a roundabout and waffley way is that you could still manage to buy Magic Beans. I’m truly sorry for being so late mentioning this perfect Christmas book, but I’ve been feeding the cake brandy. And various other minor things.

In Magic Beans you have absolutely the cream of children’s authors doing their thing with classic fairy tales. Adèle Geras retells the The Six Swan Brothers. It’s wonderful with such sibling love. But I wonder what happened to the old King and his witchy wife? It’s funny how Princes and Kings wander around finding themselves wives all over the place.

I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by Henrietta Branford before. Here she retells Hansel and Gretel, without too much gruesomeness. And why do witches and stepmothers get bad press all the time? Berlie Doherty’s The Snow Queen is icy and season appropriate. And below you can listen to Jacqueline Wilson talking about Rapunzel.

Other particpating authors are Anne Fine, Philip Pullman, Michael Morpurgo, Kit Wright, Alan Garner, Gillian Cross, Susan Gates, Malorie Blackman, Linda Newbery and Tony Mitton. And since it’s not only writers you get, every single fairy tale has been illustrated by some pretty creamy artists like Debi Gliori, Ian Beck, Lesley Harker, Nick Sharratt, Patrice Aggs, Peter Bailey, Nick Maland, James Mayhew, Siận Bailey, Ted Dewan, Michael Foreman, Sue Heap and Bee Willey.

By good fortune I have also just found out that some of these stories can be bought as ebooks, so if you’re really desperate…

Don’t say I haven’t provided a useful suggestion. And if you were to go for the old-fashioned dead tree version you get a nice, fat volume with pictures. I’ll even wrap it for you. If you come here, that is.