Tag Archives: Roger Whittaker

Order, order

I own an old cassette of Christmas songs, sung by Roger Whittaker. I love it. I loved it even more – at first – when I was able to buy the same album as a CD. I mean, I thought I did. Was. Same title, same songs, but fewer songs. Seems a plastic ribbon has more room on it than a shiny disc. But apart from the lack of certain songs, and they were – obviously – some of the ones I loved best, there was a lack of order. It was the wrong order, as far as I was concerned. I’d nearly worn the cassette out, so I knew how I liked my songs. And it was not the CD order of things.

Order matters.

Then I happened upon an article by Dan Brotzel in The Author about ‘working out the best sequence for your story collection’. It seems it’s really quite difficult. Dan mused about his own stories, and also looked at what others have done.

I had actually pondered this before. Whenever I pick up a collection of one author’s stories or read an anthology put together by someone, I wonder how they determined what comes first, what sits in the middle and how to end things. Unless Dan is particularly unskilled at this, it would appear that someone has agonised over this very thing each time I sit there wondering about the why or the what.

And as with Roger Whittaker, some results feel better than others.



It’s funny how, looking back, you don’t know what is to come. Spring 2009 I didn’t know the Grants; Helen and Michael. And no, they are not a couple. Helen has her Mr Grant, and Michael isn’t actually a Grant.

I connect both of them with Germany. Helen had lived in Germany for many years, and her first book – The Vanishing of Katharina Linden – was set there, in Bad Münstereifel; not too far from Köln and Bonn.

Because that’s where Daughter and I were heading, that weekend in March 2009, and I was reading Helen’s book on the plane, and I’d just got to the bit where one of the ‘innocent’ characters says ‘Scheisse.’ It made me giggle. Childish, I know. Anyway, it was good reading a book set in Germany when I was actually in Germany. I mean, above Germany.


When Daughter and I had done what we came for, which was to attend a Roger Whittaker concert in Köln, which was great, and made greater still by being preceeded by an interview with Roger, we went to visit an online friend near Bonn. I had a suitcase full of books for her, because you have to get rid of books somehow.

One of those books was Michael Grant’s Gone, the first in the Gone series. And I only gave it away, because I had been sent two copies. My friend liked the look of it so much that she read it almost there and then. Although, being a writer herself she went on to pick the plot to pieces and had opinons on almost every aspect. But that’s fine.

So, The Vanishing and Gone – both books about disappearing – were my first meetings with Helen and Michael.

And now, I’ve read so much more by them, and seen so much more of them, that they feel like old established friends. Helen lives relatively near me, and Michael is so successful that he’s over in Britain most years, and sometimes more than once.

But it began in that plane, with a Scheisse, and a spare book.

(The witchiness does not end there. The second, literally, that I typed Roger’s name, my Messenger pinged, with a question about him from a relative.)

Retired Roger

About eight years ago I wrote this blog for the Guardian Music. (Yes, imagine that. A Bookwitch on music…)

Roger Whittaker, blue light

‘He’s the greatest singer in the world, so why do so few people in Britain appreciate Roger Whittaker?

I still remember the New Year’s Eve party some years ago, where another guest inquired about my Christmas presents. She perked up when I mentioned a CD. “Which one?” “Roger Whittaker.” My friend was about to offer her condolences, when she suddenly pulled herself together and said, “Did you actually want it?” “Yes.” “Oh, well. I believe my parents-in-law like him.”

I have loved Roger’s voice since I was twelve. I used to feel that he’d get away with singing from the telephone directory, if necessary. Luckily he hasn’t had to resort to that.’

And here we leave the Guardian blog post, because it actually gets too confusing, with so many years in between. I just wanted to share him with you today, on his 80th birthday, when he is well and truly retired. No more concerts. Probably no more albums. There is a new one just out, but it’s 98% rehash of old hits; the German hits.

They are not the best, because all Roger has done has been ‘the best’ in my opinion, but the German stuff is good. Very good, as well as a bit different from the usual English language easy listening. Back to the Guardian post again:

‘The Germans really do know how to love their stars. Enormous, sold out venues, with people of all ages going mad, singing and dancing in the aisles. I took my teenagers along last year, and their reaction was simply that they needed a few more Roger Whittaker tracks for their iPods. Seriously uncool, but there’s nothing quite like Ein Bisschen Aroma, especially live.’

Roger Whittaker and CultureWitch

That was 2007. I went again with Daughter in 2009 and with Son in 2011, and then had to skip the very last farewell tour in 2013 because it clashed with something. On neither occasion did I have to twist any young arms to come with me.

Roger Whittaker concert

When I was twelve I thought Roger was dreadfully old (he was 32). Since then he’s just got younger, relatively speaking. Retiring at 77 was certainly not too early, and I hope he has many more years of ‘living happily in France’ as his agent put it to me a few weeks ago, with plenty of time to not fall over his dog (Roger’s been accident-prone over the years) or worry his wife too much (he had to go through with the last tour despite ill health, as he was too old to insure…).

Us fans still have the hundreds of albums Roger recorded over fifty years, and let me tell you, he’s not boring or purely parents-in-law material!

Right, that’s me done for today. As you were. Might be back to books tomorrow if you are lucky. I only have one favourite singer, after all.

Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd

Photos Helen Giles and Ian Giles

(And another thing; as I looked at the video link, I discovered a Facebook friend standing practically with his chin resting on the stage. It’s the RW universe.)

Ten years ago

Just over ten years ago I explained to Meg Rosoff that I am a witch. She seemed to think that was OK, and said she rather believed in what she called ‘minor witches,’ which I suppose is a fair description of my trade. I ‘knew’ she’d win the Guardian prize that autumn for How I Live Now. I just did.

I also knew she’d win the Whitbread. Or I did, until some odd instinct made me take out a copy of Not the End of the World by Geraldine McCaughrean from the library, to read over Christmas. Just in case. I’ve no idea whether what I sensed was Geraldine’s success in winning the Whitbread, or that the title suggested there really would be an end to the world for countless people.

It felt almost wrong to be reading about Noah’s Ark when all that water killed so many people in the tsunami on Boxing Day 2014.

Some of you may know I’m a Roger Whittaker fan. Earlier that year I’d felt an unexpected sense of unease when reading Mrs Whittaker’s annual newsletter to the fans. They would generally always have a family Christmas get-together. But in 2004 Roger had worked so very hard that they decided to spend Christmas away from the family, to relax. In Thailand.

I didn’t like it one bit, and wondered why. It’s not as if they had announced they wouldn’t be spending Christmas with me.

So when the news broke, I fished around in my mind for anyone I might know who was there, and realised that I did ‘know’ someone. Luckily the Whittakers were safe, and Roger went on to write a song about it, in aid of the victims.

But I do wonder how these premonitions work.

Starting fresh

‘Well, they couldn’t make a film of that!’ said the Resident IT Consultant as he came to the end of the book. That’s the same man who had exclaimed against authors who write their books as though they were films. ‘Don’t give it away!!’ I screamed, and he looked surprised. Had I not read it? No, I had not. Somehow this touring/visiting lark took all my energy and virtually no words were read. At all.

He went through two of my so hopefully packed books, while I… Well, eventually I read a couple of chapters of a book I first read a few years ago, but which has changed so needs my renewed attention.

School Friend suggested I read one of her ‘excellent’ real children’s books. I looked at them and came to the conclusion they wouldn’t save a non-reading travelling witch. Nor would the photo of a painted bookcase full of books which she offered me. Nice, but it was more art than literature. She also told me about, and showed me, the books she had read during her five weeks of holiday. And that made me feel so much better… (No, it didn’t. That was sarcasm.) As we said goodbye she was readying herself to finish the latest holiday book in the peace and quiet we hopefully restored by departing.

Anyway, all this visiting took a lot out of me, and I am now pretending to be normal, slowly getting re-started on things a Bookwitch ought to do. I’m already further on my re-reading of the changed book. I feel as though I’m back in the days when I was saved by Roger Whittaker and Ann Granger, 20 to 25 years ago. RW by singing so wonderfully that I slept better at night after Son’s birth. AG (lovely initials) for getting me reading again, a year or so after Daughter appeared on the scene.

Sorry about the sandwich yesterday. I am a mere prawn in a bigger game.

The Big Empty

I had intended that to mean the much emptier than usual four weeks I am looking ahead to. But there is that empty feeling you get when you realise – halfway up the M6 – that you have no clothes hangers. What you do have is five suitcases filled with clothes, which know nothing better than to hang.

And, when you have cameras and camera chargers, not to mention an iron you won’t need for a while and a hammer and a drill and you had to jettison the mop bucket and the feather dusters, it seems silly (some would say careless) not to have the little camera lead that would enable photos to jump from camera to laptop.

‘Not to worry,’ I thought, ‘I’ll borrow the Resident IT Consultant’s little camera.’ Except he is also missing the magic lead which allows pictures to jump across.

Oh, well.

This moving business offered nice symmetry, as usual. On moving to Stockport the Resident IT Consultant had cause to stay in the hotel later used by the Stockport Schools Book Award winners. On moving away, we ended up staying there again. So before leaving town I actually stayed where all these real live authors have slept!

Our many, many years in Stockport involved Roger Whittaker during the first few weeks. The last few weeks involved other Whittakers.

Sugar. It’s almost as easy to forget as clothes hangers and camera leads. I got the requisite mugs and kettle and milk and teabags and biscuits together for the removal men. I almost forgot the sugar. That was no first, either. For our wedding lunch I cooked food for a week and brought everything to the place where it was to be eaten. Just not the sugar for people’s coffee afterwards. (Weren’t our guests sweet enough, already?)

Speaking of food; we had some of that divine spinach and red lentil soup combo on moving day. By that I mean the spinach soup, and the lentil soup leftovers from the recently thawed freezer, which I threw together into pan and heated up, which we had for lunch, along with a piece of nan with melted cheese all over. I suspect I’ve not eaten anything as lovely since that cheese and tomato sandwich I had at Liverpool Street station in 1966.

Once we had limped along the M6 and the various M74s and 73s and whatever else they have up here, we were met by the Grandmother – whose spare room has temporarily replaced the full Bookwitch Towers – and a pile of post. Her postman doesn’t yet realise the force that has been unleashed on him.

One picture book arrived by other means, all on its own in an enormous cardboard box, which the Grandmother had to wait in specially to receive. Being surrounded by all these superfluous items desperately wanting to be re-housed, at least we we were able to find good use for the box, which is empty no more.

Bookwitch bites #104

Waterstones Children's Book Prize Winner Annabel Pitcher

When Jimmy Savile trumps US murderers, you know it’s a strange world. Very pleased for Annabel Pitcher who has gone and won something yet again. Her Ketchup Clouds won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize this week. ‘Unsettling’ story is how the press release described it. Then I read in the paper that Annabel had had a narrow escape, by abandoning plans to have her heroine write letters to Mr Savile. Death row prisoner is nowhere as awful.

El Mundo es Nuestro is about another world. Daughter and I went to see this Spanish film at Cornerhouse on Monday night, enjoying both it and the Q&A with the actors and the director and the producer that followed. The world the film is about is the [imagined] financial crisis in Spain (this was in 2009), and it is very funny. It’s been ignored by Spanish television, presumably because you don’t talk about stuff like this.

Alfonso Sánchez

The actors were relieved to find the Manchester audience laughed at the same things as they did. In fact, they have a facebook page where they were quite interested to see what the ‘English journalist’ thought of the film. (That’s me, btw…) What I think I’m trying to say here, is that we are more alike than we think. And it’s good to have learned languages, especially when visiting actors do their Q&A in Spanish. (Not to mention the DVD the week before that came sans subtitles. But ‘anyone’ can watch Spanish OAPs learn about sex…)

I did a book review over on CultureWitch yesterday. It felt more appropriate doing it there since it was the 1986 autobiography of Roger Whittaker, So far, so good, and it was Roger’s 77th birthday yesterday. I reflected on how much easier buying books from across the other side of the world is today, than back when I needed to find it (a local bookshop said they would, but failed).

On discovering Mr Decorator working down the road from Bookwitch Towers, I summoned him to come and relieve me of more books. The poor man staggered out of the house with another three bags of reading material. Not only am I trying to keep track of his children’s ages, but I’m targetting their cousins, too. Baad witch.

Lucy Hawking and Helen Giles

After a pretty lengthy delay* since she conducted her interview with Lucy Hawking, Daughter has now published their January chat. The additional wonderful news is that Lucy and her Dad are writing another two books about George. That’s the thing about trilogies. Some are longer than others.

And now Daughter’s off to chase more scientists in Edinburgh. The Science Festival begins today.

*Random House needed time to formalise all the Georgian plans before they were released.

Thanks, Dina

The Retired Children’s Librarian laughed with glee when I told her of our plans. That’s Son and me. We’re in Germany this weekend, and I’m trusting my baby boy to sprechen for me, as he ought to be less rusty than I am. At the height of his studies he also had got to be a lot better than the old witch.

Roger Whittaker and CultureWitch

Where was I? Oh yes, Germany. We are here for Roger Whittaker, as all you dear friends will have guessed. The best singer in the world is doing another last tour, and in case it is, here we are. And Son is not too cool for Roger. Or me.

So, Germany, where we are staying with someone I found on the internet. I do everything I tell others not to do. Roger is singing in Köln, and Bonn is close enough, so we have come laden with books for another book lover. I met L Lee Lowe over on Dina Rabinovitch’s blog. In those days Lee had another blog, but you can’t keep a good writer down, so she has moved on to somewhere she can publish her stuff (like real novels) online.

And isn’t that what’s so fantastic about the internet? It is very bad, or can be. But you can also meet like minded people who unfortunately don’t live next door to you or work in the same office or have children in the same school as yours.

It is now far too long since Dina died in 2007, but what an amazing thing she left behind! Neither Lee nor I met her in the flesh, but from that online presence something has grown. I found someone I could send my child to for a language booster, someone who actively seemed to want to entertain the Resident IT Consultant when he was in Germany on business, someone who introduced me to Nick Green and his marvellous books, and someone who will take some of my surplus off my hands. And still offer hospitality to a mad witch and her Son.


I’m forever grateful to Dina.

Who’s the best?

If Jacqueline Wilson, who has a few books behind her, and a million or two in the bank, and who is worshipped by thousands, can meet a blogger as an equal; why can’t her musical equivalents do so? How low do you have to go not to be too grand?

Are performers in music, film, television and the theatre worth more than a ‘mere author’? And how does one judge the greatness of either? Apart from how I may feel about them personally, I mean. Does this greatness automatically preclude any contact with lowly individuals such as bloggers? I can see that if you are Sinatra (and not dead) you need an agent or two between yourself and the fans and the journalists (those properly trained professionals). But at what level do you feel able to step down from those high horses, or whatever, and meet normal people?

I find the gap between people in the book world and the world of culture surprisingly wide. As a bit of a nobody I felt it was worth trying to get an interview with Roger Whittaker last year. I mean, you can always ask. RW may be a top level singer (well I think so), but I got my interview, very much to my surprise.

I keep trying it with other ‘grand’ people. The ones I like the best are those where at least you get a reply. The bizarre thing is that it’s often the promoters who are too grand and not the ones they work for.

Late one night some time ago I accidentally found myself in direct email contact with the ‘star’ I was after. Star was positive, but said it had to go via the promoter. The vibes from the office were very polite, but you sense how unimportant a blog is, compared with even the Smallsville Times. I was given a short telephone interview slot, but I turned it down. I was sent photos which I was then not allowed to use because I couldn’t guarantee that someone else wouldn’t ‘steal’ them off the blog. Anyone can steal any photo on the internet… To be fair, I suspect I was given the photos for free where someone like the Guardian would have had to pay. But neither of us can safeguard a photo put on the web.

My interviews continue getting hits long after the day I published them. If the interviewee can link to it, there will be even more interest. You can’t photograph someone over the phone, and if using official photos comes with impossible caveats, that means no pictures at all.

I’m a witch. I will continue to pester the great and the good. But to my mind they are not worth more than the people who write my favourite books.

(The rather badly done links in this post take you to older blog posts where the lack of professionalism at Witch Towers gets discussed. I ‘reviewed‘ a concert recently, but it seems I got all of it wrong. Which is unfortunate. And here is a link to some concert photos taken by Daughter. I’d love to publish many more. Except you’re not allowed to take pictures of ‘stars’. Despite being taken with a simple camera they are far better than the ones I was offered in the case above. As you can see there was such a scrum this time that nobody minded.)

That’s quite enough ranting for one day. Apologies for my unprofessional behaviour. I’ll go out now. Maybe do an interview. Or something.


It’s not easy, is it? And I shouldn’t laugh. Really. There is so much I can’t do. But it’s a relief to find amusement in the daily trials of others. I hope Arthur Dent really received proper translations through his fish, and that the six Hitchhiker books weren’t all based on comic intergalactic misunderstandings of what had been said.

Donna Moore finds interesting stuff in her searches for Scottish crime writers and their further adventures in Europe. There are blurbs and whatnot, originally written in German or Dutch or Spanish, and once processed by Donna through an online translator, the resulting reads are very funny indeed. (This is just one example, because I didn’t feel like searching through every post of hers, excellent though they are.)

There was a flurry of excitement, or worry, last week among Roger Whittaker fans, over some article in a German magazine. Everybody wanted to know what it said, but nobody could understand it. Überfans Vicky and Rory in Canada gave the article the babelfish treatment and the result was almost worse than the German original. With the exception of a couple of words I got the gist from the article itself and translated it. It was very bad, but not primarily because of what I did to it. Working it into normal English brought home quite how awful the German was. I know sensationalist magazines want to be exactly that, but can’t they put together complete sentences while lying about famous people?

And then I almost fell out with a fellow fan over the use of the word babelfish. He didn’t know it, and was afraid I was calling him something bad, when I was simply complaining about automated translations. Phew. That could easily have escalated into a Swedish/Norwegian incident.

The extremely brave and kind Debi Gliori ventured into these dangerous waters in a comment recently, in order to speak to me in my own language. The effect was similar to that which your beloved child might come up with when they try really hard, and you actually like the result better for all its imperfections. You won’t catch me doing it, though.

When the witch was ten she acquired an English penfriend and, with the help of mother-of-witch, wrote some seriously weird letters to this poor girl in Sidcup. (The girl was quite well off, as a matter of fact.) By eleven I got tired of waiting for the overworked mother-of-witch to help, so wrote the letters on my own, with brief glances at dictionaries. They must have been awful! Although, a few years on the letters got a lot better.

Practice makes – if not perfect – at least better. Someone in my German class at school was often late. The price for being allowed in late was to apologise in German. She had that phrase down to perfection in the end.

Undskyld! (It’s harder to say than it looks. And fyi it’s not German.)