Category Archives: Travel

The 16th RED award

It was the Resident IT Consultant’s birthday, and as a special treat he was commanded out of bed and reminded he was giving me a lift to the RED book award 2022. (But it was a nice drive through the countryside, and I’m sure he didn’t mind.) We even got there before the coaches bearing children, so there was no dodging about in the car park.

I can’t tell you how great it was to be out and going to an event and to almost be back to a little normality! Well, actually, I can and I’m about to.

I swanned in as the seasoned Witch I am, spying Ross MacKenzie having a coffee. So I accosted him, since we’d never met before. He took it reasonably well. Before long we were joined by Manjeet Mann, who’d come all the way from Folkestone. Unfortunately neither Melinda Salisbury or Elle McNicoll were able to be there. Coughs are unfortunate, and I suppose weddings are allowed to happen too. But it was a shame.

The front row was waiting for me, and I had the most welcome aisle seat, where I could enjoy librarian boss Yvonne Manning dancing to ABBA as she entered. As usual the children got to introduce their authors, followed by digital presentations of the shortlisted books, two schools per book. I particularly liked Bowness Academy for Melinda Salisbury, and voted for that. But the others were all good too.

No Provost for me to sit next to, however.

Ross and Manjeet introduced themselves, with Ross rather too tall for the microphone, but Manjeet compensated by being a little shorter. So that worked out fine. This encouraged Yvonne to do a rap, so she jumped up on the stage and demanded meatballs. (On reflection, I believe it was something else. You know, the background beat that goes with rap?) As Yvonne rapped what sounded like Little Red Riding Hood, a boy – let’s call him ‘Rob’ – ran up to the aforementioned microphone and meatballed steadfastly through the whole thing. Apparently it was not pre-arranged. I like the Falkirk young readers who step up so well. The rest of the audience had to stand up every time Yvonne said ‘red’. Which was often.

Coffee came next, and after a while the authors were spirited away to sign books. And a boxing glove. I chatted a bit to Yvonne, and then discovered that not only were my clothes red, as per order, but even my emergency snack was red [grapes]. Totally accidentally.

And did you know, technology is now so advanced that my phone takes better pictures than my special witch camera?? (You even get people waving. But I’ve not quite understood this yet.)

Back to the theatre Yvonne had donned her act two red wig. That’s red as in really red. There was more dancing, before Yvonne led most of the 300 children in a sort of conga line round the whole place. Ross looked baffled as he stood in the doorway. I suspect not all book awards do this. But it does wake you up if you are flagging.

More presentations followed, and then we sang Happy Birthday. Twice. None of them for the Resident IT Consultant, but it does seem to be a popular day to be born. Manjeet and Ross were invited to sit on the temporary red sofas. (They are usually blue, but always sofas.) Questions were asked and answered, with the help of what I had taken to be rolled up socks. Turns out they were mobile microphones…

Prizes for alternative book endings, book cover art and redness of dress were all handed out.

And then it was time for the actual award. And you know the irritating way they pause in Eurovision before reading out the points? Well, Yvonne beat them hands down. She had left the red envelope in her car (!) and ran off to get it, telling the young ones to come up with something to say during the wait. Before one of them told a really bad joke – or it might have been a good one – the elegant looking woman sitting next to me, who was not the Provost, jumped up to assist with this unexpected interval. She was the hander-over of the award, so this made sense.

Yvonne ran back in, gave the envelope to the young announcer who never got to tell her joke, and the RED award went to Elle McNicoll! They had one of those ‘one we made earlier’ videos, where Elle coughed her way through heartfelt thanks, and said how much she loves Falkirk.

And that was mostly it. Anne Ngabia of the African libraries and patchwork quilts had made another one, featuring all sixteen winning books from over the years. ‘Us three photographers’ took more pictures, for you, for RED and for the Falkirk Herald.

The way to the station had not changed too much during the long hiatus of live awards, so I hobbled successfully to my train home, as did Manjeet – not hobbling, and also heading for the other platform. And luckily the Resident IT Consultant had followed instructions and bought himself a birthday cake. The one I had been too busy to bake. But there was no singing. Twice in one day is quite enough.

Oh, how good it felt to have been ‘normal’ again.

Mayhem and muffins

It was mayhem. Daughter and I had driven to Fallin to extricate Barbara Henderson from the school there, where she’s doing literary things with the Primary 5 pupils. That’s good, obviously, but you know, we’d overlooked how impossible it is to move near any school at home time, and especially in a smallish, cramped ex-mining village.

In the end Daughter opted for not running over any children and to sit patiently in the car until most of them had left for home with their grown-ups, and I’d got out and found our visitor, and then she did clever things in that small space and got us out of there again. Barbara was surprised we’d never been to Fallin before, but as I said, there’s never been a reason to.

Once back at Bookwitch Towers, there were muffins waiting for us. It’s about the only thing I trust myself to make these days, and I’d made several ‘flavours’ – but not mushroom – in case of issues. No issues, and ‘more than one’ muffin and coffee later, and much gossip, the Resident IT Consultant drove Barbara to her train home. It seems he hadn’t startled her too much by launching into a rant about zoo pens almost before introductions were made.

It was a real tonic spending time with a real person again. At home. With chat and so much laughter that Daughter who had withdrawn needed to know why we laughed so much. Apart from the horizontal wallpaper, I’m not sure. I forget so fast. Oh yes, there might have been a mention of Jacobite bullets.

Brown bear, pink bear

When I was a very small Bookwitch indeed, I travelled quite a lot. Mother-of-Witch travelled by train with me from when I was a week old.

At some point she got chatting to a kindly older lady who pointed out that she’d be much more comfortable if she didn’t drag my enormous brown bear with us. For travelling it’d be better to have a tiny bear, she said. Thus I became carer of a little pink bear, who was much more travel-appropriate.

I grew up with them both; the bigger brown bear and the travel-sized pink bear.

You will have gathered that I recently packed some of my belongings to come and join me at the current Bookwitch Towers. I told Daughter neither bear was coming. She was shocked. She said I should at least take pink bear. I decided I could do, and then I asked her to photograph the two bears together, one last time, to say goodbye.

When I looked at the photo I almost burst into tears. How could I do that to brown bear? He looked as if he’d understand, but still. It felt cruel. And separating them, too. Not kind.

So, well, instead of a picture of pink bear on his own, here they are, having travelled safely with The Hungarian.

Some things change

Others do not. It may have escaped your notice – or not – that the Bookwitch clan has travelled. Not much. Only out, and back again. Both were fraught with worryings, as things are these days.

He’d got no further than the gate at our local airport before the Resident IT Consultant was stopped. His arms waved. I caught up with him and asked the British Airways man at the gate if there was a problem. This is not something I regularly get to do, being a mere wife, and a foreigner to boot. Yes, he was not allowed to travel to his destination. ‘It’s all right’, I said, ‘ because I am. And he’s with me. Here’s the marriage certificate.’ (Never travel without it.)

And if we had been short of lorries at home, I can assure you they were all over there instead. In the dark, in the rain.

Very nearly the first thing we did was to go and see the optician. You will remember we like doing this. It was lovely, and thankfully the other two bought new glasses, which excused me from spending money while still letting me see him. On our last evening nearly three weeks later he came to the house to deliver Daughter’s sunglasses, because what is a twenty mile round trip in the dark for customers having come all the way from Scotland?

Son joined us briefly, and on his first day we went to a favourite spot to eat lunch al fresco, because Sweden in October is so right for that… Daughter even paddled in the sea afterwards and that is so not normal that clearly something had changed.

I had brought gin to reward the neighbours. I believe it’s all the rage. The gin, I mean. And it was a change from whisky. But seriously, would you mow my ‘lawn’ for two years in return for a bottle of gin? Admittedly there was shortbread too, but still. I have better neighbours than I deserve.

That nice view I discovered at my friends’ house last time? Well, it’s gone now. Thankfully they asked us over for soup in the evening, so it was too dark to see the view that can no longer be seen. Honestly, people build new roofs on houses they should have no right to build. At all.

This time when we went for Sunday lunch, the ‘salmon car park’ offered a magnificent toadstool. I’m trying to work out if that’s a change for the better compared to the large cars two years ago.

And then we went for Sunday lunch the next Sunday, too. Same place I mean. So no change.

And because it would have been a shame to break a good tradition we returned for a third salmon Sunday, before running out of Sundays.

In between that we had three lots of visitors who all offered to buy some salmon for us to eat, but I managed to persuade one of them not to.

Don’t be alarmed. We also ate a lot of take out pizza, and might just have eaten at Max a few times where they do a decent selection of vegan burgers. All this saved me from virtually any cooking of proper meals.

But at least one can now buy the ‘vinegary stuff’ you put on insect bites again. (And I believe I spy face masks on the left, even if no one seemed to wear them.)

The wool shop in town was gone. In its place the next door tea shop had expanded. That’s tea shop as in sells dry tea, not tea in cups. And Marimekko stuff. You can’t have too much Marimekko stuff. So we didn’t even go in, just to be on the safe side. At the library Daughter was in raptures over the 3D printer, and the chap running the library café looked jolly pleased to have taken a selfie with Prince Daniel.

Daughter wanted to look in the bookshop. Good thing she did, or we wouldn’t have discovered her favourite clothes shop had moved [before it was too late]. The surprise pharmacy that popped up in the bank’s old premises? Gone. As for the bank itself, we popped upstairs to talk to them before giving up. The staff were mostly on their lunch break, and so were the customers. Hence the ‘queue’.

You still need change, if only to put into the supermarket trolley. No change for the toilets, but credit cards will do. (It just feels a bit extravagant using credit to spend a penny!) Although, one of the public toilets had gone. As in gone gone.

The local bus company has mislaid £150 of my money. That’s anything but change.

Returning home we flew SAS, but rather regret doing so. They have changed, and not for the better. They also changed our seats. Often. Partly because of a change of aircraft, which was not for the better. But the thing is, if I pay good money for an aisle seat at the back and to not sit near the Resident IT Consultant, that should still be possible. There is a back to most plane types, and many of them have aisles. Most of them also have enough rows of seats that we can each have what we prefer when we fly. Which is not the same. Having said that, considering how cramped the plane was, I dare say it was a blessing that the man whose lap I almost sat on, was my own husband rather than someone else’s.

Maybe.

They let me back into the country. The only change I’ve discovered so far is that the neighbour has a larger greenhouse.

Van men

The moment the Hungarian arrived in Sweden last week I offered him some tea, on the basis that a UK-based man with a van would be suitably adjusted to tea. (We had packed the coffee.) He declined, but upon seeing the two coffee machines on the kitchen worktop, said he’d have a coffee.

Hmm. Using my initiative, I cobbled together two pods of café au lait into a large mug, not inquiring whether he wanted milk [non-lait not being an option] or sugar. He drank it.

Daughter found this Hungarian online a couple of years ago, and liked him well enough to ask for a repeat move last year. And now there was me.

I have a pleasing symmetry, using Hungarians help move my stuff away from the [same] house in Sweden. It felt as if it must have been meant.

I was impressed with his willingness to drive long distances to move some paltry belongings in this day and age of difficult border crossings. Not to mention the red tape. And when I said I could do with him turning up in the next two weeks, he turned up, although just back from Italy. Perhaps sensing some slight hysteria on my part, he emailed me saying ‘all will be well’.

So tea was the least I could offer the man (who said he had eaten on the ferry so was all right). Except it turned into weird coffee.

He carried and he talked, and then sat on the piano stool filling in forms before driving off again.

Today he phoned to say he was a few hours away from the Scottish Bookwitch Towers, so we quickly cleared a path through the house for our junk. I instructed the Resident IT Consultant to do the offering of coffee and to make it proper coffee this time.

Not surprisingly he required no coffee.

And, erm, it seems he’s Bulgarian. 😳

TTFN

I’ve been lucky. Or perhaps I should call it successful, if that’s not too big a word to use? Because I have achieved what I set out to do, fourteen and a half years ago.

I have done writing. And reading. I have travelled and I’ve met a lot of great people. I have been to fun events. Occasionally I was almost a little bit famous, in the right circles. Not too much, but still.

Giving this up is hard. So hard that I am going to take a little break first. This means there are few promises as to what will come, but I suspect I will find it impossible to stay away completely. Expect a trickle of witchy stuff for a while. Maybe.

But right now I have one or two things to do, and I need to attend to them without feeling I’ve not written today’s blog post yet.

There are some books outstanding. Some books are also outstanding. I imagine I will tell you about them. Later.

I wasn’t sure how to choose my ‘when’ moment, but after so long of no live events and no live meetings with authors, I feel Saturday’s Pitch Black Humour is a good one to finish with. After all, it featured a Finnish crime writer, a local[ish] author closely connected with Bloody Scotland, which in turn is set in my current home town, plus my favourite author from Fort William, who I’d never heard of before Bookwitch, and who now features big in our minds, here at Bookwitch Towers.

So, I’m pausing with a smile. A laugh, even.

Let’s stay, not stray

Where are you, when you have a staycation?

The word has become more fashionable than ever, but I feel people have misunderstood. Maybe it’s the brainfog that comes after Covid? My brain is certainly fogging worse than ever.

A long time ago, mostly pre-Offspring, the Resident IT Consultant and I occasionally staycationed. This was for financial reasons, not being anywhere near as rich (cough) as we are now. But also, we felt we could quite like visiting places near us. For the day.

Because that surely is what it is? You stay at home. The same place as all the other days and nights of the year. And whether you have a picnic in the garden, if you have a garden, or get the bus to a nearby attractive spot, you sleep in your own bed. Or you might visit friends or family, if you have people in your vicinity. (We didn’t.)

Now it appears to mean that you haven’t gone abroad. People have had holidays – not staycations – for decades, never leaving the country, but paying for travel and hotels and meals out. Those weren’t staycations. They were holidays. Just not in Spain.

And of course, I have been known to travel outside Britain, without it being a holiday. That’s also a thing. Leaving the country you are a resident of does not equal a holiday. Not even if it’s not for business. Nursing a very ill relative isn’t much fun. Nor is going to their funeral, regardless of where it takes place.

Those outings we made from our house in Brighton; they were good. Sometimes we had to work out if the money would stretch to both bus fare and a cream tea. But I would say such a day was no less fun than Spain (we’re not the nightclub type).

You can tell I’m just a bit irritated, can’t you?

Some EIBF thoughts at the end

It might not be the end, of course. For me and the book festival, I mean. There are events galore that I want to see, so will carry on when I can. I just didn’t feel up to more consorting with strangers on trains. That situation may well improve at some point.

Some people have been negative about the new ways. But in this instance ‘we’ have to try new ways to survive. One day they might feel like the old ways.

All the photos I’ve since seen from the Art College suggest that people came and they sat and they enjoyed. Maybe on a smaller scale. But they came. Some authors also came. It would have been nice to see more of them actually there, but the way it was done, the ‘menu’ had scope to be more exotic.

Perhaps the days of seeing Garth Nix in the flesh are over. (Just picking an Oz author at random here.) And if they are, then so be it. I had the opportunity of seeing him live live, and will be able to live on memories. Soon people will not have this kind of expectation when the new becomes the norm. A Garth on a screen is still a Garth.

The authors – and the audiences – have not been not travelling just because of Covid. It is also a greener thing to not travel, and the planet might last a little longer if we refrain from frying it too much. I’m sure some authors have enjoyed traversing the globe for events, but am equally sure some have hated it, or at least the accompanying exhaustion.

So here’s to a few more years of trialling the next ‘old ways’ of bookfesting. Garth on a screen, and Bookwitch at her desk. Both of us dreaming of the olden days. Or not.

Holey jacket

You know the old joke, ‘I recognised you by your dress’, suggesting someone hasn’t updated their wardrobe contents for a while?

Well, I suspect the same can be said about my black jacket. No matter how much I think I could/should vary my outfits more, it’s generally the black jacket for Edinburgh.

Back in 2008 Meg Rosoff – somewhat erroneously – suggested I had to dress up for the Puffin summer party. I bought a jacket. No, I bought two. The one I wanted and which I wore to the Tate Modern that time, and the other one, suggested by pushy saleswoman.

Never wore my choice again.

Have worn the other jacket a lot.

Happened to give it a good look just now. It’s got a hole in the back. Probably where my bag has rested all these years. It will need mending… So it will most likely not come with me to the remaining book festival 2021. (To protect it. Not because I am vain. I’d like both it and me to have another few years in us still.)

The jacket, ten years ago, hiding behind Theresa Breslin and Karen Campbell.

The first day

Today was the first day of the rest of its life, for the new Edinburgh International Book Festival. I had to be there. It’s now in the Edinburgh College of Art in Lauriston Place. It’s different, but not that different. As the Photographer and I dithered near the entrance, the first person we encountered was Ian Rankin. Rather like on our first ever EIBF in 2009. This was clearly a good omen.

The next thing for us was to find the press yurt, looking smaller than ever, but still our press yurt. It still had Frances Sutton and were it not for current circumstances we could have hugged her. We all agreed we had missed this very much; this getting together in the same place, especially with people who had not Zoomed endlessly during the last year and a bit.

The ducks were in situ, which was a relief for us and them. However, the badge for my Photographer was classier than mine. Just saying.

We saw one of the crew (I’m never quite sure what he does, but we’ve seen him every year), who still had Covid hair. Very fetching.

Walked around the courtyard of the college, getting our bearings. It’s smallish, and very green. It’s got a lot of decking, because although small, it’s ‘hilly’. Trees and tent coverings have my favourite little string lights. I’ll have to come back in the dark. There are picnic tables and several mobile bars serving stuff, as well as the college café which does hot food. Play tent for the young and first aid tent for the unfortunate.

Didn’t think much of the bookshop. Few books and looked more like the old signing tent.*

There is a large, but not too large, screen in the middle of all this. We arrived in time for the live event with Zoë Wicomb, talking to Stuart Kelly (another stalwart of the festival, who is always there), and this was something I liked. It was a free event to enjoy from wherever you might be sitting, resting, eating lunch, or whatever. Good quality picture and decent sound. I’d never heard of Zoë, and for that reason would never have bought a ticket to see her, but this was good. I dipped in and out of their chat, feeling it personified the general sentiment of the bookfest.

Saw two gentlemen wearing top hats and tails, and felt they looked a bit familiar. Decided they were Macastory, whose job it was to do live talks and walks on the Meadows. So there were a few familiar faces, at this new hybrid affair of books. Missed Daniel Hahn whose recorded event with Jenny Erpenbeck was done closer to [his] home than previously advertised. I only cried a little into my cups over that, but they were Moomin cups, so…

Having brought with us foreign food to eat, just in case, we then made the sacrifice of road testing the college café as well. Just to be sure. It was very pleasant. I could go back. (At least if the train journey wasn’t quite so hot and crowded.)

*That would be because it was the signing tent. As we left, turning the corner to go find a train home, we came across the real bookshop. It was bigger, with more books. And it has seating outside if you are overcome by some urge to read what you bought.