Monthly Archives: December 2014

Happy New Bear

We all – well, most of us – have, or have had, a bear in our lives.

In Something About a Bear Jackie Morris uses her customary fabulous art to tell the reader about bears. It’s not so much a picture book as art, really. (With a bit of reference on the side.)

On eight double spreads, Jackie introduces the reader to eight different wild bears, shown in what I take to be their natural habitats. And at the end of the book she has written eight short paragraphs of facts about these beautiful creatures.

But as she so rightly points out, we generally have a bear that is most special to us; our very own teddy bear. That is the best bear of all.

Jackie Morris, Something About a Bear


Ever younger kettles

Aunt Scarborough introduced the young Offspring to the Singing Kettle about twenty years ago. At that time they were mainly famous in Scotland, but filtered south to England during the period when we adored them the most. They were wonderful. And funny. Good all round entertainers, who took well known tunes and gave them new lyrics, or wrote their own, or simply used traditional songs for children, but in a fun way. Nothing boring about them at all. I would happily have listened to them with no child as an excuse.

Now they are stopping their Singing Kettling. The two main stars retired a while back, and with the audience age plummeting, they no longer have their ideal primary school aged children, but are performing funny songs to children perhaps too young to understand. (See my comments about this below. ‘Little Diddle’ didn’t even know his own name. But he was cute.)

But I simply had to treat Daughter to one more humiliation while she’s home for Christmas, and take her to see the farewell tour. (She enjoyed it, really.) It was good, but I can see that things are not what they were. Lots of things aren’t. The Singing Kettle have provided fun and intelligent songs for many, many children. And judging by comments from various astrophysicists on Daughter’s facebook page, and the fact that Dodo gave Son a Singing Kettle DVD for Christmas, I’d say that those primary age children may have got older, but they never forgot. That’s proof of quality.

Below is CultureWitch’s review of Monday morning’s concert at the Albert Halls.

“There was a slight disadvantage to sitting on row five when they used their large water ‘pistol’ from the stage. It reached. Very well, too. Although I didn’t do what many parents did, which was to hold their children in front of them as shields. Some parents they turned out to be!

The Singing Kettle at Stirling Albert Halls

I – on the other hand – was an exemplary parent and brought my baby girl to what has been advertised as the last tour for The Singing Kettle. She probably hadn’t been since the millennium concert at the Albert Halls in Stirling, which means it had been a 15 year gap. Contrary to what Daughter thought, you can actually go to these shows as an adult. Neither of us fell over, bumped our heads and cried, nor did we require help to go to the toilet.

It was good. Apart – possibly – from the water and the fact that The Singing Kettle will be no more. It was a tonic, on a Monday morning after Christmas, with plenty of grinning and laughing, not to mention singing. I did draw the line at rocking my poor head from left to right and forwards and back, going over the Irish Sea.

The Singing Kettle mug

Despite there being no Artie and Cilla anymore, Kevin and Anya did a great job, ably assisted by the still baby-faced Gary and his purple trombone. Anya is testament to the strength of the brand, having herself been one of the audience participants, being invited onto the stage. (She clearly never left, which was something I did think about as parents blithely let their offspring wander off with these strangers, in order to perform on stage with them. Did they see them again? ‘The tiniest ever’ Diddle in the first half was the smallest, cutest participant I have ever seen. A little confused maybe, but so keen, and later seen trying to return to the stage again.)

We knew some of the songs (because back then we were pros) and some not, as they were possibly using new material as well as recycling old songs forever. Daughter had forgotten Bunny Fou Fou, but not I. And you have to love Music Man (even without Cilla…).

The preparing and cooking (and subsequent burning) of the turkey made an impression on the younger part of the audience, especially cleaning it with a toilet brush. The snowman who sneezed all over and the galloping reindeer, not to mention the adorable yellow ducks (including tiny Diddle) helped make this a very visual show.

But we weren’t allowed to take pictures (if I’d been Diddle’s mother, I’d have taken a photo of him in his duck costume anyway!) so we don’t have much to show you. Daughter did hit the merchandise stall as soon as we arrived, however. It might be her last opportunity.

The Singing Kettle mug

There was some Hokey Cokey at the end, and a fitting finale of pushing Granny off the bus. (As if we would…)

If you’ve never seen The Singing Kettle live, I feel sorry for you. We used to travel across half the country for them, whereas now it was a mere walk away.”

One winter is as good as another

This time last year we were looking at houses for sale online. One I particularly liked was a bungalow near the motorway (I know…) with a larger than average garden. The house had been photographed on a clear and frosty day and everything looked rather nice.

It sold fast, that bungalow. I’m not surprised, considering what nice frost it had.

But you know what? Yesterday I discovered I live in a house with such a frosty, sunny garden (and the distance to the motorway is more favourable), and it felt Christmassy in an almost Scandi kind of way. (I find Scandi a most useful new adjective, btw.)

View from the Ice Cube

Here is the view from our Ice Cube, towards the end of this sunny winter’s day. The end, because the main fly in the ointment was a bad head, which didn’t totally appreciate the clear blue sky, except as an abstract concept.

And I suppose it would have been stupid to buy a house purely for the weather in which the photos had been taken.

Scream tea

The oven died. Or rather, the oven killed the electricity. So I abandoned all plans to bake a new cake for Saturday morning’s elevenses, and instead my lovely local author and family were fed old(er) cake. But that worked too. The bonus being that with the oven out of commission, all the other things worked. Kettle. Christmas tree lights. And so on.

My hurty neck/shoulder continued bad. Daughter and I practised movements for me before the guests arrived. We decided that those sudden screams I emitted were likely to be off-putting, so I dug out another chair to sit in that was virtually scream-free.

We talked books, which is a very nice thing to do. The men are so old and so local that they were able to converse about yeast in Menstrie in the olden days, and that sort of thing. Avalanches in the Ochils. Slide rules.

And I have been promised (I see it more as a threat, actually) a walk in a dark, disused railway tunnel.


This could be a still from a dystopian movie.


Or, it could be what it is; some sort of Icelandic tourist attraction. I’m afraid I’ve forgotten exactly what. Something that is hotter than it looks?

Ten years ago

Just over ten years ago I explained to Meg Rosoff that I am a witch. She seemed to think that was OK, and said she rather believed in what she called ‘minor witches,’ which I suppose is a fair description of my trade. I ‘knew’ she’d win the Guardian prize that autumn for How I Live Now. I just did.

I also knew she’d win the Whitbread. Or I did, until some odd instinct made me take out a copy of Not the End of the World by Geraldine McCaughrean from the library, to read over Christmas. Just in case. I’ve no idea whether what I sensed was Geraldine’s success in winning the Whitbread, or that the title suggested there really would be an end to the world for countless people.

It felt almost wrong to be reading about Noah’s Ark when all that water killed so many people in the tsunami on Boxing Day 2014.

Some of you may know I’m a Roger Whittaker fan. Earlier that year I’d felt an unexpected sense of unease when reading Mrs Whittaker’s annual newsletter to the fans. They would generally always have a family Christmas get-together. But in 2004 Roger had worked so very hard that they decided to spend Christmas away from the family, to relax. In Thailand.

I didn’t like it one bit, and wondered why. It’s not as if they had announced they wouldn’t be spending Christmas with me.

So when the news broke, I fished around in my mind for anyone I might know who was there, and realised that I did ‘know’ someone. Luckily the Whittakers were safe, and Roger went on to write a song about it, in aid of the victims.

But I do wonder how these premonitions work.


No pigs were harmed in the making of this Christmas blog post. Our pigs in blankets were all veggie, and pretty decent. The ham was pretend as well. Perhaps more ‘faux’ than pretend, as we did actually eat the ‘ham.’

Pig in hedge

The other evening the Resident IT Consultant encountered this little piggy sitting stock-still in the glare of our car head lights. Even in the bleak light of day some hours later the pig didn’t move. He appears to live in the hedge diagonally across the street from us.

He has been enhanced (by whom?) with both a golden crown and multicoloureed tinsel, and what more could a pig ask for? Not a blanket; that’s for sure. In that case he’d already be sausage.

This is weird, but rather charming.

It’s Christmas Eve

And isn’t it odd how once it would have made me really excited to know it’s Christmas Eve; now that I’m rather ancient it has – almost – lost its allure?

OK, it’s still quite nice. I just have to make the kale soup and we’ll be fine.

Christmas card2 2014

Wishing my lovely readers a Happy Christmas!


It’s a bit Famous Five meet Wuthering Heights, set on Sheriffmuir just above Stirling. I’d saved Alex Nye’s first novel Chill until now, as it’s set over the Christmas holidays, and her characters have been snowed in (and can’t get to school once term starts…) and find themselves embroiled in a ghostly past.

Samuel and his mother have moved from Edinburgh to a rented cottage at Dunadd, and their landlady is Mrs Morton in the ‘big house’ where she lives with her three children, after Mr Morton seemingly died of fright a few years earlier.

Alex Nye, Chill

There’s something strange going on; a weeping woman, and a female in a blue dress can be seen looking out one of the windows on occasion.

Samuel and Fiona Morton get on well and they try to find out what it all means, while Fiona’s two older brothers are pretty unfriendly, albeit for a reason. There might be a curse on the Mortons, and Fiona and Samuel want to find out why, and how to set things right, but have been forbidden by Mrs Morton to do anything of the kind.

Alex Nye used to live in that cottage, and she was there during the big freeze, so she’s got the snowed in on Sheriffmuir down perfectly. The cold and the snow feel most atmospheric, and go so well with the chilling memories from the past that refuse to go away.

Nice classic style children’s adventure, set somewhere interesting, if a bit cold.

Daisy Saves the Day

I would have liked to know how old Daisy is. At first I assumed maybe 14, but Shirley Hughes’s illustrations suggest someone much younger, so I suppose it’s my 21st century sensibilities that want Daisy to be older, so she can go out to work.

Shirley Hughes, Daisy Saves the Day

Let’s make a guess and say she is eleven and the whole story becomes much more heartrending. (And it was already rather sad.) Daisy lives with her mother and two brothers and they are poor. It’s the beginning of the 20th century and even though Daisy does well at school, she needs to go out to work, which in this case also means she has to leave home and go and live with two rich old women, and their surly servants.

Shirley Hughes, Daisy Saves the Day

She’s not good at housework, and she would love to have some fun in her life, like reading books and seeing the coronation of George V, along with everyone else. Her young age will explain how she offended her employers, which made her life harder still.

But Daisy is a heroine, after all, so a change is coming…