Category Archives: Christmas

The Glass of Lead & Gold

Cornelia Funke’s The Glass of Lead & Gold is that best of things, a beautiful, small volume consisting of a Christmas story that can be read at any time. Written in English and illustrated by Cornelia herself, it is set in her Reckless world.

In an alternate, past London, we meet Tabetha, an orphan trying to survive by searching for ‘treasure’ in the Thames mud. Just before Christmas she’s asked by a stranger to look for a sliver of glass. A specific sliver, for which he will pay well.

There is a ‘soup kitchen’ and a troll, as well as a one-armed waitress, and together they work some Christmas magic.

Cornelia Funke, The Glass of Lead & Gold

I reckon anyone would love to discover this in a stocking, or to have it to read in the months leading up to Christmas. It’s small and could lead to better things, just like the sliver of glass.


What about an actual bookshop?

The alternative to the scrunched-up but cheaper book arriving from Amazon, is to go to a bookshop, if you have one nearby.

I don’t often do this, but just before Christmas Daughter was seized by a sudden urge to give her dental nurse a book about planets, so we repaired to Waterstones. She found one that fitted the bill, and bought it. Meanwhile I rested my tired legs sitting in one of Waterstones’ armchairs, within eavesdrop distance of the till.

Thus I overheard three conversations with potential customers asking about various books they wanted, with all three being told that unfortunately they didn’t have it in stock but could order it for them.

This is both helpful, and not. You get to talk to a human and you get information, even if it’s negative. It’s a pleasant sort of place to be in, and as I said, they have armchairs. If you don’t mind coming back, and have time to do so (this was on December 21st), then having the book ordered for you can be useful.

Or you go home and order it online. I would only go to the shop to browse, or in the full expectation that I could get my book there and then. If not, online buying allows me to sit in my own armchair, and there is still a delay in obtaining the actual book.

What Waterstones did have on that day, was a lovely selection of books that you buy when it’s Christmas, but that no one needs or knew they wanted. Plus a bookish lot of jigsaw puzzles and other more gadgety gifts with a book theme.

This is nice, but it’s not really what I look for.

I hear of authors going into their local shop looking for their own books, and being told they can order them.

Physical shops are good for browsing and finding something you might not have known you wanted. But these authors’ books will not be browsed and bought by happy coincidence. You need to know from the outset that you want to buy, and decide whether to shop online, or to visit your local shop twice to make the purchase. The latter is a lot of work in order to ‘support bookshops’ that appear not to stock what you’re interested in.

I don’t know what the solution is.

Who to buy from

Where to get your books, once you’ve decided to buy?

Well, between us, in the autumn Daughter and I ordered two books – one each – from Amazon. She got a book for someone else, and I bought the Resident IT Consultant’s Christmas present.

Both books arrived damaged. I assume this is ‘unavoidable’ or ‘to be expected’ when robots pick the goods. I also assume that Amazon still save money on the combination of robots plus sending out replacement goods, making using human employees a more expensive alternative.

The main problem for the customer is having to go out to return the goods, after parcelling them up. I know it says to use the same packaging, but that does not always work. And if you bought last minute, you might not have time to wait for a replacement.

In both our cases the books were gifts, so you really don’t want to accept the robotic folded down cover (paperback) or the scrunched up dustwrapper (hardback).

The first book I returned (paperback) on Daughter’s behalf, was replaced with a new copy that arrived in perfect condition. I fondly believed they might get a human to pick a book someone had complained about.

Hah. The second replacement arrived slightly damaged as well. But I just couldn’t face sending back yet another one, so took the executive decision that the damage wasn’t too dreadful and the price was favourable compared to buying from a ‘real’ bookshop.

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.

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.

The 2017 Christmas card

Christmas card

Wishing you a Happy Christmas!

Midweek lull

Having successfully got rid of one of my favourite pieces of furniture, I have enjoyed being able to get in and out of the kitchen unhindered. We only blocked off access because we were under the impression someone would soon relieve us of this very versatile bookcase. And then it turned out to be too small for a collection of really large family bibles, but too big for most other people’s needs or homes.

But if at first you don’t succeed…

Yesterday I had a teenager sitting at my dining table, reading a book by that very scariest of men, John Ajvide Lindqvist. I approve, though. Both of the reading and the fact that she brought a Swedish book to my house, and I admire her courage. She finished it while here, and sighed deeply because she couldn’t immediately move on to the next book.

This is the disadvantage of translations. You have to wait for them to be made. I suggested a quick language course to solve her problems.

Ginger biscuits 2017

The reason she came here to read, was so her mother and I could eat ginger biscuits and talk about books, putting the publishing world to rights. Someone has to.

And I do like a woman who will quickly eat a few more biscuits as she gets ready to leave.