Category Archives: History

Green peace?

I’m pretty good at avoiding chuggers in town. I either ‘don’t see them’ or I get away from them as politely and quickly as possible. But with Amnesty International and Greenpeace it’s a little harder. I have been a member of both and support their work, but not to the extent that I will sign away my money in the street.

Their chuggers are generally nicer to chat to than others. That’s why last week I didn’t avoid the nice young man on the street corner, but said I only literally had a minute (dentist’s appointment), so if he could cut to the chase, please?

He tried. He really did. And he was lovely. But really, I don’t need an explanation of what Greenpeace do or be told about palm oil. If I did, I’d probably not want to give money anyway, and as I do know, we can save several minutes.

I suppose what gets to me is that I now look so old and stupid and unfashionably uncool, that I ‘need’ the explanation.

In the end I got away by promising to look their current project up online, and pointing out that I had been a member before he was born. (It’s like sex, isn’t it? The young always think they invented whatever it is, and that old people have no idea.) I even got the bath towels (no, not the t-shirt) with the rainbow lettering.

I thought of mentioning I was around when the Rainbow Warrior sunk. But that might have given the wrong impression.


I won’t even pretend to understand what’s going on in France, but it can’t be ignored.

Cartoons are something you tend to remember. Pictures stick in your mind longer than a novel might, and any accompanying words will stay with you longer as well. But generally you don’t need words.

There are old cartoons that I still ‘take out’ and think about every now and then. Like the (humorous) one of new Swedish prime minister Fälldin in 1976, greeting a surprised Fidel Castro. Or the one of the grounded Russian sub and its defecting sailors in the south Swedish archipelago in 1982.

And the heart-rending one by Steve Bell after Dunblane in 1996. It’s very hard to forget.

Below are a few I’ve seen on facebook this week, by Sarah McIntyre, Chris Riddell and Albert Uderzo.

Sarah McIntyre

Chris Riddell, Je suis Charlie

Albert Uderzo, Moi aussi je suis un Charlie

Katie and the Impressionists

I suspect Grandma. Too much funny business happens when Katie is with her. This time it’s her birthday, and Katie wants to find some flowers for Grandma. Where better than in a work of art?

James Mayhew, Katie and the Impressionists

I can’t think of a more fun way of introducing young readers to classical art than to show them James Mayhew’s books. They will learn without even realising.

In this book Katie jumps in and out of Impressionist paintings, covering quite a few famous works of art. I wish I’d known it was possible to do this, back when I used to return to the Courtauld Insititute every time I was in London. Those were the days!

It’s so interesting the way James can shape an actual story out of several paintings, making a coherent plot as Katie falls in and out of masterpieces. The last tiny picture is really very clever indeed.

Bookwitch – the apprentice

Ever since I found myself making mashed potato by mixing potato powder with water from the hot water tap I’ve been in favour of learning to do things properly. Yes, I know. It’s yuck. I had a holiday job as a teenager, making and selling hot dogs and mashed potato. The tap water recipe came from the owner of the establishment, and even then I knew it wasn’t a marvellous idea. I lasted a week before I left.

That’s why, when I needed/wanted a proper job after my first taste of university, I was pleased to be apprenticed to the Post Office. It wasn’t called that, but apprenticeship is what it was. (I realised this when reading about on-the-job training in the paper more recently.)

Borås 1

I spent ten months learning to do all that you do over the counter in a post office, from ‘licking’ stamps to advising on investing money. I have few skills, but one of them is counting money. Shame there aren’t bundles of banknotes in my possession now, for me to see how many I can count in ten minutes.

We had exams. Counting money (for the exam we used real money), using adding machines without looking (but I still can’t type). It might not have been the loveliest of jobs, but the security of knowing I knew what to do, including if bank robbers came calling, was wonderful.

Standing knee deep in money is always fun. Discovering you are a few million short two hours into the working day and needing to find someone honest looking to drive the van to the Bank of Sweden for you, is also fun. Sort of.

Posten i Arlöv

As a state employee you were safe, with a job for life. Or would have been, had I not emigrated. Actually wouldn’t have been, even if I hadn’t, since they have now abolished post offices.

But before they did, and before I emigrated, this seemingly low status job paid better than the proper career the Resident IT Consultant was enjoying in London.

And the only reason I’m boring you with all this is that quite a while ago I promised to tell you about it. It was set off by something in my comments one day, and if Seana or anyone else could please remember why I was going to enlighten you about my postal past, I’d be most grateful. There must have been a good reason?

These days I do as I like. I didn’t have to apprentice myself to anyone to become the Bookwitch. I trained myself, and set my own rules. That’s as liberating as knowing I could flip banknotes at the required speed, and that I had a shelf full of reference sheets for any single thing I might need to do from behind the postal counter. No, I lie. The time when one of my colleagues tickled me so I fell down on the floor was not part of training; either theirs or mine.

But even the tickling beats having to sell that mashed potato to customers. (I wonder what would have happened if I’d insisted on doing it properly?)

(It is hard to find suitable photos online. I appear to have forgotten to take pictures myself, at the time. I suppose you believe it’s always going to be there. The top photo is where I was an apprentice, in Borås. The second one is of people I’ve never met, but who look just like I could have worked with them. It’s a myth that us ‘post mistresses’ were strict and lacking a sense of humour. We were all lovely.)


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…

The Nights Before Christmas

This gorgeous, large volume of collected Christmas classics, illustrated by Tony Ross, contains 24 stories, poems and extracts from wellknown books. As anyone can work out from that – apart from me, initially – you have one thing to read for every night through December. In other words; the best kind of advent calendar.

Tony Ross, The Nights Before Christmas

There’s material you will already know, and hopefully brand new reads as well. I used to read The Little Match-Seller over and over as a child. It’s so very sad. And then there are things I didn’t know at all, like the fact that Christina Rossetti wrote In the Bleak Midwinter. That was a revelation.

You get extracts from Little Women and A Christmas Carol, and there are many tales about Christmas trees in various forms, and shoemakers seem to be big, too. The Bible and the hymn book both feature, as do Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain.

I believe I always say this about anthologies and collections, but I do hope it will lead today’s children to investigate some of the classics. There is more to Christmas than farting santas. This is a beautiful book, suitably ‘modernised’ by Tony’s pictures.

Next year I will begin reading on December 1st and I will enjoy every step of the way.