Monthly Archives: December 2017

So that was 2017

There were tulips. The last ones to appear arrived three days ago and are doing the cheery-uppy work of January tulips. You know, what you need in order to deal with the loss of the Christmas tree and all the lights.

As Son and Dodo returned from Hong Kong this week, they needed assistance with staying awake. I’m quite pleased Son gets his madness from me, because otherwise why would he fly across the world just before Christmas in the year when he has worked three jobs and is now racing to finish writing his thesis before the deadline?

Anyway, Dodo made sure they both stayed up most of the day, and the following day – tulip day – we had guests at lunch. Partly because it was nice, and partly because I knew these guests would offer stimulating conversation to keep our travellers awake one more day. There was some indiscreet gossip about translations and other literary topics, and we also had explanations as to how one discovers exoplanets, when you can’t actually see them.

I told my – really bad – Norwegian joke, and convinced one of our guests to eat the thing she hates most in this world. I have a knack for picking the right wrong food.

We sat in the new room; the one that is still to be ‘finished’ after the sad case of the vanishing architect. It’s been a good room to have, and we have hosted many literary guests delivering tulips and great conversation in there. It’s where I forget to refill my guests’ empty tea-mugs, of which there have been many lovely new ones. Along with tulips.

As for the rest of 2017, I found it unusually easy to sum it up in the few Christmas letters I wrote. Thesis writing, Hong Kong, two trips to Chile, a new driver’s license, a PhD for Dodo, the cross-Scotland walk completed, building issues, and a bit of Bookwitching.

And writing this, I just remembered that someone had had the great idea that this year we should get a photograph of all of us. Together. Like everyone else has and sends out with their Christmas newsletters. It would appear that we forgot. A bit like the Christmas crackers.

It was a year in which I didn’t go to London once. Don’t know when that last happened. But at least this week we had a conversation about Saint Willibrord, whoever he might have been. There were tulips, both real and as art.

And now it’s time for the annual New Year’s Eve Indian feast.


The film of the book

Why do newspapers insist on illustrating an article about a book with a still from the film?

Is it because no one thinks about basics like book covers, or is it that much sexier to have a photo of one or several actors? Are readers (of the newspaper, not the book) deemed to be so shallow that they can only be interested in something straight out of Hollywood?

The second half of 2017 offered quite a few written pieces on the much awaited Book of Dust, and invariably I found myself staring at the film still of Lyra* on Yorek’s back. OK, a small girl riding an armoured bear is striking, but so are many of the book covers of the His Dark Materials books.

With Harry Potter you even have two covers for each original Potter book, adult and child version. And with seven books, that’s a good many choices. But you are offered countless film stills when you google Harry Potter, and if you try Hermione Granger it’s pure Emma Watson.

Even the seasonal The Railway Children offers film pictures before you finally come to a few book covers.

So I suppose it makes sense that someone needing an illustration for an article does a search for whatever it is and finds an attractive photo of real people, rather than a painted or drawn book cover.

And then of course, they put the film still on the book as a new fresh cover, and the movie aspect of the book just grows and grows.

J K Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

(Book cover by Thomas Taylor)

* I take this back. The Retired Children’s Librarian sent me a cutting from Expressen (Swedish tabloid). It was a review of La Belle Sauvage. This was illustrated by high-rise buildings under attack from massive waves, straight out of the film The Day After Tomorrow…

When history repeats itself

In the olden days whenever Mother-of-witch visited her sisters, or the other way round, she/they would slap a pile of magazines on the kitchen table. It was their regular exchange of crosswords. They all did them, and sooner or later they all got stuck, and that’s when they shared them with the others. What one couldn’t do, someone else was bound to manage, or to see where they’d gone wrong and start The Big Erasing.

I reckon this is what kept both Favourite Aunt and Aunt Motta going, and oiled the brain cells and all that. All three had a veritable battery of books to hand; most of them incredibly battered. And pencils, and erasers. Only a fool like your witch does crosswords in ink.

It was the accepted thing to sink down onto a chair and help yourself to the nearest crossword and start rearranging it. We could keep going for hours like that.

A few years ago when my trusted Vi magazine began offering an easy crossword, I had a go, thinking it’d be just the thing to exercise my tired brain cells. Because I can’t do English language crosswords. I just don’t get how they work. But while I do understand the Vi style of crosswords, I reluctantly came to the conclusion that I’ve wasted my brain powers on the wrong stuff, and also that I’ve been away for too long and no longer get the clues, unless pre-historic.

So these days I merely pull all the crosswords out and post them to the Retired Children’s Librarian for her to sigh over at her kitchen table.

And now, Daughter has returned home for Christmas, bearing a crossword book. And she sits there at breakfast wanting help with the clues. It’s more sociable than crocheting, but it requires me to think, and to visualise those Cross Words in my mind, having only partial access to the actual page. (Although it’s easier than doing it via Skype…)

Daughter feels it’s cheating to look things up, but I say that any way that helps you learn new words is a good way, and today all you need is a mobile phone, not piles of reference books, held together with cellotape.

Storm Cloud

Jenny Oldfield’s Storm Cloud is a horse book with a difference.

Jenny Oldfield, Storm Cloud

Well, first it’s a Barrington Stoke horse book, so that makes it more accessible. But it is also much more of a young girl’s Western than I remember from my own horse book reading days.

So Kami is spending the summer at her friend Macy’s ranch, and she gets to help with rounding up the cows, as Macy’s dad has been injured after falling off a horse. This sounds perfect to me, or would have done, back in the day of my – slight – horse interest.

There’s obviously trouble at the ranch, or there would be no story. Kami is disturbed by what’s being done to the colt they call Storm Cloud, and she feels she must do something. But what?

This would make great reading for horse-mad girls, and possibly even boys. After all, it’s a ranch and it’s cow-herding.

Fun on the radio

What you want to do now is to put your feet up and listen to the radio.

On Boxing Day (that was yesterday) there was a programme about [Badger] The Mystical Mutt on Radio Scotland. It was really about Lyn McNicol and Laura Jackson, who are the two slightly crazy women who are Badger, and who travel tirelessly around Scotland and beyond to bring their very large dog into schools to teach and entertain.

I’ve still to catch them in the act, but the books I’ve read have been fun, as are Lyn and Laura.

You have another four weeks during which you can listen to this online, or if you get up early on New Year’s Day you can hear the programme on the radio.

And today on the Today programme, you can hear Prince Harry interview Barack Obama. That could almost be worth getting up early for.

I’m not much of a radio listener, but I might take up my own suggestions here.

Poet on the runway!

Don’t take any notice of what I’m about to mention here.

My Swedish Bookwitch-sister recently blogged about Elsa Grave, a poet who lived ‘not too far away’ from where the younger Bookwitch used to live and work, whereas I see that it’s been quite a while since I wrote about Elsa on here.

A friend emailed me about her a while back, and it was when I mentioned this to the family that the Resident IT Consultant asked how important a poet she was. And I have absolutely no idea.

When someone is ‘famous’ locally, it could be that they are merely a big fish in a small pond, or it’s possible they are world famous, or at least a national treasure. So I don’t know. We looked Elsa up on Wikipedia, and she seems to have done a bit of everything.

Anyway, this post was caused by what my friend said. It seems her mother knew Elsa, whereas I never really stopped to think about even where she lived, despite my postal connection to Elsa’s cat and her pot plants. I knew her postman fed one and watered the others, but as to the where, well that seemed irrelevant.

Now I know, and I can quite see why Elsa did what she did, both from a geographical point of view, as well as how it fits in with her personality. When she wanted to go into town, she cycled. And the most direct route was along the runway of our small airfield/airport. Strictly not allowed, but apparently she knew the timetable…

Mind you, I’m sure this never happened.

That’s the question

How to explain the Carry On films to a young person? It didn’t go well. I’m just hoping it won’t be necessary to actually watch one in order to educate Daughter further. They are older even than those bands she thought were old and that the parents would know in the pub quiz book. (1980s pop…) As if.

On Christmas Eve morning we went out for elevenses. Or rather, Daughter drove her elderly people to somewhere nice – even if the place had run out of fruit loaf – yesterday morning, and the Resident IT Consultant discovered what it’s like to be a passenger with opinions on whether the driver has seen that other car over there, or not. You know, when you go ‘arghhhhhhh’ from the back seat. That’s never popular. (And she drove just fine.)

Back home again, whenever we had a quiet moment the quiz books came out. You learn a lot and you forget even more.

As you can’t ever have too many quizzes, we watched the Christmas University Challenge. This would have been easier had we known it was on over two hours earlier in Scotland… But what a great team Frank Cottrell Boyce was on! He wasn’t captain, but he seemed to know more than the rest. And they introduced him as a children’s author, which warmed my heart.

While we waited for Paxman & Co to turn up, we watched A Muppet Christmas Carol. It had been a long time. So long that Daughter was amazed that she didn’t freak out [more] in the past. It is a little scary in places, and I had not realised that the ghost of Christmas future was a dementor. Unless it’s the other way round.

As for the presents, I gave the Resident IT Consultant a nice book about railway stations which I really wanted to read. He gave me what I’d asked for, which was Philip Pullman on essay writing and an old Terry Pratchett novel. A Moomin mug and a Bookwitch mug completed the booky gifts.

There was a new mouse, too. This scares me somewhat.

A stone for Christmas Eve

The Resident IT Consultant rather surprised me. Back in the summer we wanted to have a few films to watch, and I asked him if there was anything he fancied getting. The response was immediate, and surprising. He wanted The Stone of Destiny.

For reasons I can’t easily explain here, he sees many more film trailers than I do. I assumed he’d come across it in the cinema during the last year or so. And then it turned out the film was almost ten years old. I was amazed he even remembered.

But of course he would, as it’s about Scottish history. We could see a trailer on YouTube, but then we hit a stone wall. In the end he sourced a Polish version online, with subtitles and everything. (If you’re really clever you can turn the subtitles off, but it was harder than it usually is.)

Ian Hamilton, Stone of Destiny

This is the true story of a group of young people from Scotland who go to London in 1950 to steal the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey. They do it on Christmas Eve (because that’s such a good time to commit a crime…). And they succeed.


It’s not an outstanding film or anything, but it’s fun and informative for rookie Scots. It’s got Robert Carlyle in it, and a group of relatively unknown actors (to me, anyway). I enjoyed it, and I could really feel the cold in that unheated B&B somewhere in London. The capital at Christmas looks very fine, if chilly, and then they drive north with the stone and it looks like summer near the Scottish border. That drive either took a long time, or the weather’s so much better up here. Or continuity forgot to lose the leaves on the trees.)

Stone of Destiny - film

It was not a forever triumph over the English, but it was good enough.

The film is worth seeing, especially without the subtitles. And the Resident IT Consultant got so fired up he [re]read Ian Hamilton’s book about his exploits as a young man, which we had on our Scottish shelves.


The 2017 Christmas card

Christmas card

Wishing you a Happy Christmas!

The Rainmaker Danced

Poems are always hard to review, and poems and I don’t always see eye to eye. But there is something about this collection of poems by John Agard that drew me in.

Illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura, there is much to see and think about. Some of the poems are literally sitting inside the pictures, or otherwise a part of one thing, instead of separate.

John Agard and Satoshi Kitamura, The Rainmaker Danced

I particularly liked the poem about whether or not you believe in Nessie, which was beautifully illustrated with our favourite Loch Ness monster.

And I like the fact that John uses such ordinary words in his poems. Nothing too grand, as can be seen in the sad story about the Sputnik dog; ‘soon Laika is a goner.’

I don’t know whether this is more for children to read themselves, or if you read the poems to them. Both, probably. Or either.