Monthly Archives: December 2015

Have a heart

We’re having a blue Christmas this year. So that’s why I’ve got a few of the bluer hearts made for me by Mother-of-witch. They are a standard tree adornment in the Nordic countries, but no matter how I try, I cannot make one.

Blue and white heart

So one year, quite a long time ago, I asked Mother-of-witch if she could make me a few hearts, and she did.

Luckily they have lasted all this time, and I handle them with the utmost care.

Although, it appears that Daughter has the knack. These things often skip a generation. So maybe she can be relied upon to make replacements if they are needed. If I can only lay my hands on the right kind of paper…


She was a star

Yesterday’s star used to belong to Offspring’s grandmother, aka Mother-of-witch. It was embroidered by her mother, aka Grandmother-of-witch.

Christmas star

I never met her, and sometimes it’s hard to be sure whether you miss someone you didn’t know, or not. I’m thinking she was probably a blend of her four daughters, all of whom I knew and loved. That makes it easier, I think.

Roundabout now we have mostly sorted out what to give to whom. Or so I hope. My unknown grandmother lived a long time ago, but I am certain she will have had similar thoughts. What to give. How to afford the gifts, and so on.

This star was a Christmas present from her to Mother-of-witch. It was also a Christmas present to my four aunts and uncle, because their loving mother embroidered a star for each of them.

Just think. I’d be hard pressed to find the time to embroider one in the run-up to Christmas, let alone five. Especially if secrecy was required. I’m assuming this was in the 1930s. She had five children (although, a few were getting on by then) and a home to run and meals to prepare. She also cooked for other people.

Wherever we went at Christmas, the star would be there. Because they all had their own star adorning a table. To me this star is Christmas. And I rather wish I could have met its maker.

Christmas, it’s almost here

Or when you witch upon a star.

Christmas star

Wishing you all A Very Happy Christmas!

What to call Father Christmas

Does Father Christmas have a first name? I suspect that depends on who you are, or which Father Christmas figure you subscribe to.

I read Tony Bradman’s glowing review of Matt Haig’s A Boy Called Christmas in the Guardian. Not having received a copy of the book, it wasn’t one I’d imagined I’d be reading. But I was pleased Tony liked it so much.

What struck me was the character in Matt’s book, who apparently is called Nikolas, and lives in Finland. It’s easy to see that the step to him becoming Saint Nicholas aka Santa Claus is a fairly short one. And I assume the name Nikolas was intended as a clue.

It would be to me now, as it probably will be to English language readers in general. But he isn’t always called Nick something. Not everywhere.

I have no idea what he is called in Finland; either in his Christmas role or in private. But in Sweden he doesn’t have a name. Or if he does, we don’t use it, and we wouldn’t call him Niklas, or even Klas.

He is Jultomten. So really Yule-something or other. I can never decide what tomte is best translated as. He’s a blend of all the little helpers you have around the home. Elf. Brownie. Those sort of creatures.

I could be wrong, but there is very little that’s religious about Jultomten. He simply gives us the things we wish for anyway. All in return for some porridge. No alcohol. No mince pie. After all, what is a mince pie?

It’s hard to work out that your norm is not someone else’s. That they might not have your norm at all, even in a lesser form. No Niklas. No pie. Not even a carrot for the reindeer.

What’s more, we don’t lie to our children. We/they know he’s not real, but that doesn’t stop the fun. The child knows, as much as a child can know these things, that the gift was from his/her parents, an aunt, a brother, a neighbour, or their best friend. That doesn’t make Christmas or Jultomten or the giving any less special.

Bookwitch bites #132

My timing is impeccable. Not only did it seem that my favourite book of the year was – belatedly – discovered in the press just as I got my own 2015 list ready, but that same day there were lists everywhere! Must have been something in the water to make us publish simultaneously.

The Irish Times splashed out on a top thirty books for all ages (children). Some of the suggestions I have read, and even agree with.

The Scotsman went the other way, and only picked five books, but that’s fine too.

And The Guardian asked lots of people; both authors and ‘ordinary’ readers for their favourites. It’s always interesting to see what people whose books you like, choose for their own enjoyment. Although with my usual careless reading, I was surprised to find that our children’s laureate, Chris Riddell, suggested ‘anything that isn’t by Chris Priestley’ which struck me as both unkind and unlikely. On looking again I saw that he actually recommends Chris Priestley’s book Anything That Isn’t This.

Barrington Stoke went political (their own words) this week over losing one of their members of staff. Publishing assistant Megan has been forced to leave her job and this country because she doesn’t earn enough money to be allowed to stay. There is something wrong about this.

Finally, it’s goodbye to a great children’s author, Peter Dickinson, who died on Wednesday, on his 88th birthday. As Lucy Coats says in her tribute to Peter on the ABBA blog, not everyone will know who he was. But he was a hero to those ‘in the business.’ There have been many lovely obituaries this week:

Publishers Weekly, Independent, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The New York Times.  I have a lot of catching up to do.

Home and dry

We needed a new dishwasher a few days ago. I surprised the Resident IT Consultant by picking the cheapest one in the white goods shop. That’s not like me at all. Generally my tastes are so good that I have to fall for the more expensive item, whatever I am buying.

Failing machines are a topic of woe on social media, and some people kill off more appliances than others. When an authoral (yes, I’m sure that’s a word) tumble dryer bit the dust during the busy run-up to Christmas, I suggested they consider the electrically heated airer we got last year from the shop where you just can’t not buy something, whether you visit the shop or look through their catalogue.

The author conceded it looked good, and then wondered if the family cats would simply lie down underneath it. (I’m sure they will.) The eldest teenager of the family is then reported to have said she’d probably sleep there too.

And the heat deprivation does not end there. One of our leading children’s books critics joined in, saying he/she would happily sleep next to one of these airers as well.

I foresee a crowd. It’s cold in the book world.

The Seal’s Fate

One way or another, Bobby, in Eoin Colfer’s re-issued story The Seal’s Fate for Barrington Stoke, won’t club the seal to death. You know this. But how will he avoid doing so?

Inspired by something Eoin’s father told him, this is set in an older Ireland, in a fishing village where things are not going well. There is less fish every time, and now they feel it’s the seals eating their catch that is the problem. And the solution is to offer the children money for every seal they kill.

But Bobby doesn’t feel like a seal killer. On the other hand, he can’t disappoint his fisherman father. His friends all seem far cooler about this clubbing of seals, too.

I couldn’t work out how Bobby was going to get out of it.

Eoin Colfer and Victor Ambrus, The Seal's Fate

(Wonderful illustrations by Victor Ambrus.)