Category Archives: Travel

RED 10 Book Award 2015

As I was hinting earlier, I made it to Falkirk and its 10th book award, with badge and everything (And yes, I know it says 2015. They do these things out of sync.) I rather expected to just make my way in unnoticed, and having been before, I’d know where to go. But superwoman Yvonne Manning who runs this show, was there to welcome me, give me my badge and tell me I had to have a cup of tea. (Once she’d turned her back, I was able to ignore the tea.)

RED awards Falkirk, Keren David and Lari Don

I found all four shortlisted authors – Gill Arbuthnott, Keren David, Lari Don and Ria Frances – in the lounge part of fth, and chatted to Keren and Lari, who repeatedly checked with me whether I knew the other one. Introduced myself to Gill, and we decided we had actually spoken before. I even ended up talking to the Provost, who’s at the end of his second five year stint of provosting and attending book awards. Agents Lindsey Fraser and Kathryn Ross had braved Gertrude to be there for their authors.

When it was time, Yvonne started things off, wearing tartan tights and red skirt and a special RED 10 t-shirt. Red noses were found under chairs and prizes handed out and more prizes promised. Ten schools in nine other countries had been sent the shortlisted books to read, and some of their comments were read out.

RED awards Falkirk, Ria Frances

And then, it was time for the dramatised presentations of the books, by the schools who had taken part. This involved the accidental dropping of a baby on its head (it was ‘only’ a baby doll). Much hilarity ensued and later I witnessed the doll actually being autographed…

The prizes for the best reviews were handed out, the overall winner’s review was read aloud, Yvonne swirled round in her magic red coat and Provost Reid hitched up his trouser legs to show us his red socks. So it was all quite serious stuff.

RED awards Falkirk

We had a coffee break (you need this when the award takes all day to be awarded). We discussed lukewarm hot drinks (don’t ask!), I let Lari use my very tiny Swiss Army scissors, and I returned to my seat to find the school behind me having ‘spilled’ their drinks on my row of seats. I think we can assume a good time was being had by all.

RED awards Falkirk, Keren David

The authors’ turn to entertain came next. They each had three minutes to say something profound. Gill said she made her character Jess to act braver than she was. Keren mentioned that she’d had a completely different end in mind for Salvage. Ria’s book got written at night, when she suffered from insomnia, and she told us about Albert Göring, who was a better guy than his brother. Lari explained how surprised she was to find herself writing a YA book, which she’d never expected to do.

We had a second round of dramatised books, and I decided on the spot that the one for Mind Blind was by far the best, and it had a lovely cardboard van for kidnapping characters in. There was at least one flying potato and an amusing kelpie.

To celebrate the past nine winners of the RED award, some schools had made designs for a quilt, which was then practically singlehandedly sewn by Anne Ngabia from Grangemouth High. The very beautiful quilt was held up for us to see by two extremely unreliable stagehands,  while Anne told us about the batch of 3000 books she has just packaged up for Kenya, and how helpful we’d all been. (You’re welcome.)

RED awards Falkirk, Anne Ngabia

Lunch came next, and I managed to sit with and chat to Keren and the Provost, with Lari and her agents joining us after a bit. I believe Lindsey had a dog to walk first. I learned a lot about Falkirk, and politics, from Provost Reid who, while proud of his town, could understand why my first time (in 1973) I took one look at the place and left again.

RED awards Falkirk, Ria Frances

After they’d eaten, the authors had books to sign, with long queues snaking in front of them. Even the Provost queued up.

RED awards Falkirk, Gill Arbuthnott and Provost Reid

RED awards Falkirk, Gill Arbuthnott

More prizes. Prize for best dramatisation, prizes for best red clothes. Apparently someone even wore red contact lenses. My favourite was the boy in the red tutu, but the Cat in the Hat girl was very well turned out too.

RED awards Falkirk

RED awards Falkirk

Q&A followed, with a rapid pace for questions, very ably controlled by two teachers (I think) with a nice line in comments about the pupils. Gill wants her readers sleepless as they wonder how the characters will fare, and she couldn’t give up writing. It would be like giving up eating. Ria started her career with some early praise from a teacher at school, and Lari says she absolutely must edit what she’s written. Keren reckons the first draft has to be rubbish or it can’t be edited to become really good. The beginning matters more than the ending. As for weird questions from other readers, Gill said she wants to be a cat, while Ria once went dressed as a mermaid, and Keren got asked what hair products she uses…

Getting closer to the big moment, but first Yvonne had to be thanked, so she ran away. (She is a bit crazy like that.) Provost Reid entered in his official – Father Christmas style – outfit, red all over, and flowers had to be handed over to Barbara Davidson who made the prize, and the press photographer also got flowers, and as the Provost waved the large red envelope around, he thanked the ‘shy and retiring’ Yvonne for her hard work. Organised stamping from the audience.

And a bit more stamping. And the winner is: Lari Don, for Mind Blind. (Very worthy, if I may say so.)

RED awards Falkirk, Provost Reid, Lari Don, Gill Arbuthnott, Ria Frances and Keren David

Lari’s unprepared speech was admirably short and sweet, just the way we want it. Before the authors were spirited away, there was a lot of posing for photographs, with the prize, and the Provost, and the little red cardboard van.

RED awards Falkirk

I got on my broom and headed home.

Village character

Daughter should be on her way to a Harry Potter character. Or is that the Swiss village? You Google Grindelwald and you get the option of one, or the other. To be on the safe side, I went for both. I’m not enough of a nerd, either way.

It’s obvious that Grindelwald is a place name in the German-speaking world. You don’t have to know where. At this time of year it’s a fair guess that it will be snowy.

Because I am not all that Harry Potter-nerdy, I can’t say I remembered much about any character called Grindelwald either. In one ear and out the other, so to speak. Daughter thought it was amusing. That she was going there, not that I’m useless and forgetful.

But thanks to other Harry Potter fans it’s easy to find out. There is a whole wikia, where I assume you can look up anything at all, when you are as forgetful as I am. Which is good. I now know more about Gellert Grindelwald than I ever needed to, and what worries me is how many other characters I might have forgotten as they left the page.

I can’t help thinking how much fun J K must have had when naming her people. I have no book and no characters, but I have an urge to go through atlases and reference books to find outlandish sounding [Swiss] villages to name them after.

Mystery tour

My knee felt tense earlier in the day. I should have heeded this, especially when the Resident IT Consultant proposed he take me on a mystery tour somewhere, as it looked like the afternoon might be sunny.


Let me be clear on this. I never agree to unknown surprises! But I felt I could just about give in, this once. As I got ready, I quickly ran through possible places he might have in mind, and realised fairly soon what he must intend. I didn’t want to ruin his happiness, so didn’t say ‘it’s going to be Linlithgow, isn’t it?’

But it was. Obviously.


So 42 – and a half – years after I didn’t go to Linlithgow, I finally set foot in the place, so carefully avoided, in order to keep it mysterious.

I needed my daily walk, so hobbled round the outside of the Palace, which was nice, but with a bit too much downhill for my liking. Kneewise. My mind doesn’t object to downhill.


Then hobbled along the High Street as far as Far From the Madding Crowd, by which time my knee pointed out it would like to sit down. That’s a bookshop, by the way. Bookshop with crafts and stuff, fully in the spirit of an old-style Scottish town.

My knee didn’t linger, so it and I hobbled back the other direction, to the tearoom we’d noticed earlier, where I did what I do best; tea and scone.

The Resident IT Consultant was feeling in need of a bookshop, so abandoned me there and went to Oxfam, which supplied him with a new old poetry collection, to replace his falling-to-bits one.

The poetry collection

By then darkness was descending on Linlithgow, so we went home again.

Life will never be the same.

Travelling books

Is one book as good as another? Interchangeable, just like that?

I was surprised to find the answer to an online query from a Swede in the UK whether there’s anywhere they could order books from, which wouldn’t be quite as expensive as the standard online Swedish bookshops he’d used so far. My feeling is that you have to be ‘grateful’ they will send anything abroad at all.

Swedish companies have been pretty slow to embrace this internet thing and credit cards from foreign lands, and all that. You can’t really trust outsiders.

Anyway, the reply suggested that he could look in the local (Swedish owned) bars to see what they had in the way of books. That’s all very well if you are desperate for just one book to read in your own dear language. But anyone who is buying books online might have specific needs and wishes. Just not to pay a fortune for the pleasure.

Fortune (albeit a minor one) is what Daughter paid to shift her books to that abroad last week. For some reason she also wants to have certain, specific books to aid her in her current task, and being academice ones, they cost enough the first time round. Hence her willingness to pay for them to travel once more.

Travelling boxes

They have arrived, too, however damp they might look. And in a mere six days. On that internet thing, you can track your darlings, so we knew the boxes reached Dortmund in two days. Which isn’t bad. And they sat in the delivery vehicle by 05.45 yesterday morning, which could be why they are trying to dry out next to the radiator. Brrr.

And her credit card provider found the whole business so suspicious that they declined payment and then blocked her account. Yes, why would anyone try to pay a worldwide shipping company?


What is the world coming to? I know I’m succumbing to nimby-ism when I am more interested in what the Danes and the Swedes get up to along their shared border, rather than the more serious issues elsewhere in the world. But somehow abandoning ID-free travel between the Nordic countries feels wrong. It has been special; something to take for granted, because we are such nice and sensible people.

And then it turns out that some Swedes had the ‘wrong’ ID cards to be allowed* to travel back to Sweden. (Well, they didn’t. It was a case of careless list-making by the authorities.)

It makes me think of when the 15-year-old Mother-of-witch travelled to Norway in 1939. No passport-free crossings then. And she had no passport. The family didn’t have the money to travel that far, either.

What they did have was Grandfather-of-witch. He worked for the railway, in a most menial position. But they got free travel, so the family went all the way to the far north of Sweden for free, sleeping sitting up in third class, on wooden seats. And when they were there, they made a daytrip to Norway. My Grandfather simply told the border guards that he was a Swedish railwayman, and this was his family, and in they went.

I’m guessing that back then, being a railwayman was a pretty good and proper thing to be, and stating the fact was enough.

It was a different world back then. I do understand that. It’s the sense of honour in a man making a statement and being believed and being welcomed that makes me happy.

I once almost experienced something similar, travelling on the London tube. I needed to buy a ticket for Offspring and me, but for some reason we couldn’t get exactly what I’d had in mind, so 14-year-old Son needed to pay for an adult ticket as we didn’t have proof of age with us on our day trip. The rather scary West Indian ticketseller lady enquired if I was his mother. I said I was, and she said in that case she was satisfied.

So sometimes being a mother is as good as working for the railway. (Perhaps I should have mentioned my Grandfather to her.)

*Makes me think of the old Danish saying that a good deed for the day would be to accompany a Swede to the ferry [back to Sweden]. Just to get rid of one more tiresome drunk.

Daughters of Time

I was in the middle of the story by Celia Rees in the anthology Daughters of Time, when the captain on my plane made an announcement. I looked up. ‘She’s a woman!’ I thought. I know. Stupid thought to have, but I did, and she wasn’t even my first female pilot. Then I looked at what I was reading, which was about Emily Wilding Davison, and I told myself off for my reaction. I’m ashamed of myself.

After that came Anne Rooney’s story about Amy Johnson, so there we had the second woman pilot of the afternoon. And of course, it felt completely normal, because I knew she was female, if you are able to follow my train of thought. I just hoped my plane and ‘my’ captain wasn’t going to crash as spectacularly as Amy Johnson did. Preferably not crash at all.

Daughters of Time

This collection of stories about women, and girls, from various times in the past, written by women and edited by Mary Hoffman, was published last year, so I’m rather late. I knew I’d love it, though, and I did.

Arranged in chronological order the book begins with Queen Boudica and ends with the Greenham Common women, with girls/women like Lady Jane Grey and Mary Seacole and many others in between. The list of authors reads like a who’s who in young fiction, and I’m now wanting to read more on some of these history heroines.

With my rather sketchy knowledge of some British history, I have also learned lots of new facts. I had never really grasped who Lady Jane Grey was, and now I have a much better idea.

This is the kind of collection you wish there would be regular additions to. Maybe not one every year, but I can see plenty of scope for more stories.

The walking holiday

A working visit, really. But as I trudged once more along the road in Switzerland it struck me that it gave a whole new meaning to going on a Swiss walking holiday; your witch tramping up and down the same half mile along Lake Geneva, several times a day.

Mountain in Switzerland seen from road in Switzerland

Add to this tramping round IKEA, twice in three days. It took a while to find the shortcut between the entrance and the café, necessitating more walking. (And I know that sounds as if we did nothing but eat.) We mostly did not eat, but a witch and her accomplices do need a refuel once in a while. Which is more than can be said for the rental car. On the last day the Resident IT Consultant managed to squeeze just eight litres of diesel into the tank.

Then there was the lifting of the two million items purchased during those shopping expeditions. Out of car, into block of flats, into lift, up, out of lift, into flat. Small lift, but as the Resident IT Consultant remarked, it made a difference compared to the Scottish tenements he’s been carrying furniture in and out of during the last eight years or so.

I made tea and washed up and the Resident IT Consultant built furniture until he nearly broke. I made more tea. Then we walked down the hill to our beds. But not before placing the ‘encumbrances’ by the gate. In Switzerland you put your unwanted stuff out to be collected once a month. Very efficient. Out by seven a.m., and gone by eight.

And despite Daughter claiming she doesn’t have a lake view from her new flat, she does. In winter.