Friday 31 December 2010

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all my followers and to those in the 32 countries who have visited my blog in 2010.

As you look into the future, may all your wishes come true.

Tuesday 28 December 2010

Just William

Today the BBC have shown the first of four episode of the new series of Just William. This reminded me of a piece I wrote for Yarm Writers Group recently.

Just Childhood

“I’ll thcream. I’ll thcream and thcream and thcream ‘till I’m thick,” was the threat of Violet Elizabeth Bott William’s spoilt neighbour.

Richmal Compton’s first book Just William was published in 1922, her last, William the Lawless, in 1970. Many of Compton’s best- selling books were written in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. I remember reading some but can’t remember which.

Just William followed the exploits of 11-year-old William Brown and his band of ‘outlaws’ Douglas, Ginger and Henry on adventures in the local woods. The foursome, sometimes reluctantly allowing Violet Elizabeth to accompany them, got up to all sorts of scrapes.

Of course you could also listen to their escapades on the radio way before the series appeared on TV with a young Dennis Waterman as the first actor to play William on the box. The BBC are to broadcast a new series later this year, or early next, but you can be sure that the ‘pc’ police will water down some of the controversial stories lines featured in the books. The RSPCA has already criticised William’s cruelty towards animals for painting his dog blue to become a circus act. The short story ‘William and the Nasties’ was removed from the later editions of the 1935 book William The Detective in which William and the outlaws tried to imitate Nazi storm troopers driving a Jewish shopkeeper out of business.

Still on the outlaw theme I remember vividly my primary school headmaster reading BB’s Brendon Chase to the oldest class. Denys Watkins-Pitchford’s novel was based on the Hensman brothers, Robin, John and Harold who ran away from their Aunt Ellen to fend for themselves; they spent eight months living as outlaws in the forest of Brendon Chase. The rifle and ammunition they took with them gave them the means to survive in the wild. It was the illness of an eccentric old charcoal burner, Smokoe Joe, whom they had befriended that led to the boys being run to ground.

I suppose I read about Robin Hood and his outlaws in Lincoln green in Sherwood Forest but I must admit I remember the antics of Errol Flynn as Robin much better. I know I read about Hereward the Wake but cannot trace the actual stories. I’ve recently downloaded the e-book Hereward; The Last of the English by Charles Kingsley but there is no way I would have read that book as a boy; it’s far too heavy a read.

I’ve vague recollections of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five but not their names. We do have a collection of her stories in my wife’s 1947 Christmas gift of The Second Holiday Book. The nearest I came to Blyton though was at university in the 1950s playing bridge with Imogen her daughter.

In 1949 I must have been into the books of Arthur Ransome. I know I read Amazons and Swallows; a copy of his Coot Club still has a place on our bookshelves – a school prize from the Michaelmas term - which tells of the adventures on the Norfolk Broads of Dick, Dorothea, Joe and the twins nicknamed Port and Starboard. Strange, I’ve always hated boats.

I also boast a copy of the illustrated edition of The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, which contains at least five ghost stories among which are The Bagman’s Story about the haunted chair and the Story of The Bagman’s Uncle and the ghosts of the Mail.

I don’t think I've ever read The Jungle Book but I do remember Kipling’s Just So Stories. These fascinating accounts of how various phenomena came about were first published in 1902. How the Whale got his Throat explains why the whale eats such small prey; and How the Camel Got His Hump tells how the idle camel was punished. I’ve discovered that the Just So Stories are available to download free from Project Gutenberg and that you may also obtain them in an audio-book and a version that may be listened to on any media player.

These days children’s books are available in a variety of forms. The Horrid Henry series appear as annuals, gift packs, activity books, joke books and in early reader formats. The books themselves usually contain four stories of Henry and his friends in the Purple Hand Gang, including Rude Ralph, the champion burper. His teacher is Miss Battle Axe and, harping back to Just William, there is a Lisping Lily and Vain Violet, a very rich vain girl.

I’m told that many adults have read the Harry Potter books by J K Rowling. I’ll confess that I never have. My grandsons have devoured every word. It’s murder if you ever have to watch a video or film of any of these in their company – they seem to know every word by heart and what’s coming next; they tell you before it does.

I know that Rowling has made millions from the Potter books and its spin-offs. Some may become worldwide favourites but one story always seems to top the list – the story of Scout, Jem and Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s one and only book. To Kill A Mocking Bird was ‘fifty’ this year. My daughter’s favourite book – she’s even named one of her dogs Scout – shame he’s not a girl.

Monday 27 December 2010

Bird Strike - Snipe?

This afternoon as I sat down to write a blog post my thoughts were interrupted by a loud thump. I knew immediately that a bird had hit the front window of our bungalow. The splash mark left of the window showed that it was quite a large bird.

This fellow obviously had a headache as he lay on the snow amongst the shrubs. It had been raining for a time and he looked a bit bedraggled with his brown/black plumage. The pictures below have been shot through the glass of the window so are not as clear as they might be. Two of the pictures show its long bill - pointing to the left and at least 4 inches long.

I believe the bird was a snipe or jack snipe it certainly flew like one when I went out to check it out. If anyone out there can identify it for me, please leave me a message in the comments.

Sunday 26 December 2010

Boxing Day Birds

Our garden is alive with birds this morning. I have resorted to trying to photograph them through a double glazed window. Here's two to share with you at this holiday time.



Thursday 23 December 2010

Sepia Saturday: Christmas Is Coming

Christmas is coming the geese are getting fat. But is there 'Anyone for Mock Goose?.

If you follow the link you can check out what life was like at  Christmas in 1940. As I was only 3 at the time I can't claim I remember it. Britain still had an Empire then so perhaps this gives a link to Sepia Saturday's Christmas.

More festive sepia at: Sepia Saturday 55: Seasonal Open House.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Friday 17 December 2010

Sepia Saturday: Connexions - The Durham Ox to Daffodils

The Durham Ox was bred in 1796 by the pioneering shorthorn breeder, Charles Colling of Ketton Hall, Bafferton, Nr Darlington in the North East of England. The beast became know as the Ketton Ox when it was exhibited in Darlington in 1799. 

Colling Brothers

 The Colling brothers and a man named Thomas Bates, who farmed at Kirklevington, have been given much credit for the development of the Durham Shorthorn breed of cattle.

Thomas Bates
 The Kirklevington estate in what is now North Yorkshire has been owned over the centuries by such aristocratic and royal landowners as William the Conqueror, Robert de Brus, The Percys, Henry IV and Henry V. It was finally divided and sold by the Earl of Strathmore to two wealthy business men one of whom was Henry Hutchinson who was mayor of Stockton-on-Tees for a time. His nephew, John, bred shorthorns at Stockton and named one of his bulls “Kirklevington.”

In their childhood John and his brothers and sisters became wards of Henry Hutchinson. In their early childhood before they were orphaned the Hutchinsons had been friends and neighbours of the Wordsworth family at Penrith. Mary Hutchinson had been born at Stockton-on-Tees and went to school there when she was sent to live with her Uncle Henry.

At twenty-four Mary announced she was going to marry William Wordsworth. Her uncle did not approve; he considered Wordsworth had no profession – he had changed his mind by the time Wordsworth had become Poet Laureate.

William and Mary

 William and Mary were married in 1802. William wrote a poem about his wife in 1803.
‘She was a Phantom of delight
When first she gleamed upon my sight;
A lovely Apparition, sent
To be a moment's ornament;’

But it was Mary who is said to have composed the last two lines of Wordsworth’s often quoted poem; he may have ‘wandered lonely as a cloud’ to see ‘A host of golden daffodils;’ but its Mary’s words at the end:
‘And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.’

So why is this my Sepia Saturday post?

I live in the village of Kirklevington less than a mile from the house which was once Thomas Bates farm and from the churchyard where his gravestone stands. 

 St Martin’s Church at Kirklevington also has a memorial window to him which incorporates a shorthorn beast.

Detail of memorial window

I happen to have been born in the village of Ketton in England’s smallest county of Rutland. Finally I may also be able to toast you all this Christmas in one of Yarm’s many pubs less than three miles away.

Which one?

The Ketton Ox, of course.

Monday 13 December 2010

North Yorkshire Village Dogs - Duncan & Cameron

When you meet these two Irish Setters it’s difficult to tell which one is Cameron and which is Duncan. Stroke them and talk to them and you will find out that both are friendly, but it’s Duncan that will lean his full weight against your leg in the hope of more attention. Cameron meanwhile is watching what is going on around him.

What the Irish Setters are doing with Scottish names we will never know. Duncan and Cameron came to the village from the Irish Setter Rescue at Lavenham in Suffolk via kennels at Huntingford Grey in Cambridgeshire when they were 9 and 8 years old. One of the conditions in their loan for life was that they were homed together. Also their names could not be changed.
Details of their pedigree are not known. Their original lady owner died after which her working daughter looked after them for 2 to 3 years before they went to the Rescue centre. Cameron, now 9, and Duncan, 10, have made themselves at home in the village in a house ruled by five cats.
When they arrived it took a while to find a brand of biscuits they would eat. It took a year to get them to eat chews and biscuits; eventually they settled on the Purina Beta dried brand. However once they started they became quite good at it and now eat a selection of biscuits and chews every night. Duncan also likes apple cores.
Neither is greatly interested in toys and games, not even in balls. Cameron will throw his squeaky chicken around occasionally. Duncan is a digger and favours the back of the compost bin although no-one’s quite sure what he is digging for. Cameron, for ever the opportunist, takes every chance to sneak off and snuggle down on the bed of the daughter of the house.
There is no doubt that Duncan hates horses. He will stand at the gate and bark at the horses from a riding school that go up and down the lane outside. Cameron can tell the difference between petrol and diesel cars; he dislikes diesels. Nevertheless both are keen to get into the car for a ride.

In the house both like you to make a fuss of them and look very comfortable resting on the settee (protected by a blanket – that’s the settee not the dogs.) The cats are the leaders of the pack; they tolerate one another with Cleo even curling up to rest on Cameron’s back. Duncan will not let her near him.

They have duvets and vet beds which they drag around in the utility area. Cameron still wears an Elizabethan collar at night, Both had lick granulomas when they first arrived after 6 months in the kennels. The granulomas took a long time to treat. Cameron’s bad patch on his hock required two operations. Although it has cleared up he would still lick the area at night without the collar.
One advantage of homing the dogs was that they didn’t need training when they arrived. However because of their age pet insurance was out of the question. Duncan’s joints are creaky and you can see that Cameron walks with one stiff leg, They are taken for walks in the village and in the local park; usually they are kept on the lead – Duncan has a tendency to wander off if not. It doesn’t seem that they had ever been used to long walks in the past.
Neither dog has been neutered so Duncan and Cameron retained other things than their names. Being left intact, names unchanged were two of the conditions of their re-homing. It is unusual condition of ‘ownership’ that the dogs are being fostered. If there is a problem they have to be returned to the Irish Setter Rescue Centre. That’s most unlikely; Duncan and Cameron have found their home and stride out with pride, their reds coats streaming out as they go.

Sunday 12 December 2010

Festive Ghosts

Christmas and New Year’s Eve vie with Halloween for ghosts.

Local legend in Dorset concerns a phantom donkey standing on Newton Heath, near Studland. Its owner was robbed and killed while travelling across the heath; the donkey disappeared without trace. The animal returns each year on 22 December in the hope of finding its master.

 Rochester Castle
 (photo by Stephen -

Famous ghosts are those immortalised in Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Dickens ghost walks through the gravestones in the graveyard at Rochester Castle on Christmas Eve. Dickens loved Rochester throughout his life and wanted to be buried there. In fact he lies in Westminster Abbey. His ghost is said to appear outside the Corn Exchange at midnight, winding the hands on his watch.

Hever Castle
(photo by Sarah Dawson -

On Christmas Eve a ghostly female, thought to be Anne Boleyn, glides across the bridge over the River Eden in the grounds of Hever Castle in Kent. She is also seen under the great oak where Henry VIII courted her.

December 24th is the time at which a ghost of a monk is to be seen wandering through the ruins of the old Cistercian abbey at Strata Florida, Ceredigion in the north-east of Tregaron.

There is more than one version of why the ghostly ringing of a sunken bell may be heard at Bomere Pool, near Shrewsbury, Shropshire on Christmas Eve. A village once existed where the pool is today.
One farmer persisted in cutting his corn on a Sunday; the whole village was punished for this infringement of the 10th Commandment by being sunk beneath the waves.
An alternative story says the people gave themselves to godless and riotous living; one year they refused to go to church on Christmas Eve. As a consequence the waters rose and drowned the village and its inhabitants.
Some people claim to hear the voices and cries of children and the church bells still toll in the watery world of Bomere Pool.

More bells but this time from the depths of a lake in Cheshire. Monks removed the bells from Combermere Abbey, near Nantwich when the original abbey was dissolved. The bells fell off the boat in which they were being transported. Now on 24th December the bells are sometimes heard, often accompanied by sightings of a ghostly monk.

The Tudor mansion, Madingley Hall in Cambridgeshire was built by Sir John Hynde in 1543. The ghost of Lady Ursula, his wife forever walks the Hall wringing her hands in despair. Lady Ursula was distressed at her son’s destruction of the local church of St Ethelreada in Histon to obtain building materials for the Hall. Each Christmas Eve she walks between the Hall and the church.

It was Prince Albert who introduced the Christmas tree to England when he had one set up at Windsor Castle. Albert bought Sandringham House for Queen Victoria and it remains a royal residence today.

Sandringham is known for its Christmas poltergeist. Noisy activity is seen and heard in the servants’ quarters on Christmas Eve and around the Christmas period. Cards are strewn around; footsteps heard and unpleasant presence felt. Staff have felt uneasy to be alone in the footman’s corridor.

Festive Ghosts will be continued with that of Thomas à Becket and the ghosts of New Year’s Eve in a later  post.

Friday 10 December 2010

Lucky Dog

Two years ago Kathy, the oldest member of Yarm Writers Group, was ninety . One week she read us a story about her visit to see her latest great grandson.

She told us that in addition to the baby there was a new dog in the house. Kathy is quite small. The dog was big and it greeted her by putting its paws on her shoulder and licking her face.

That week the topic for our writing piece was ‘Lucky or Unlucky.’ This gave me the idea, I hesitate to say inspired me to write a piece called ‘Lucky Dog.’ I jotted it down and read it out at the end of the meeting. It read:

“I wish I was a lucky dog.
If I were a lucky dog.
I would get the chance,
To lick Kathy all over her face.”

At the next meeting Kathy was waiting for me to arrive. I was commanded to, “Sit!” If I did she said I would not have to beg. I did as I was told. From behind her back she pulled a small bag with some treats for a dog.
Since then I have been, not only talking to dogs in the village but also ‘treating’ them.

Some weeks later I used Microsoft Publisher to create a copy of my story to present to her. I even added a picture of one of my daughter’s dogs.

When I gave her it she said I had made her day.

The only thing that worried me was her last comment, “This deserves something more than treats”

Thursday 9 December 2010

Match This: Sepia Saturday 53

It may be a coincidence but this is the inside of a Christmas card that I received today. 

 The lady in front of the shop is Doris Perley. Doris chairs the Yarm Writers’ Group of which I am a member. You may see more of Doris in later weeks, but today it’s the shop shown in the photo that provides this Sepia Saturday topic.

The shop John Walker Chemist & Druggist was established by John Walker in Stockton-on-Tees in 1819.

John Walker

 Walker invented the friction match using a mixture of potassium chlorate and antimony sulphide. He sold his first friction matches in April 1827. The  matches were made of cardboard but he soon switched  to  wooden splints. Walker never patented his matches despite being advised to do so by Michael Faraday. It was a Samuel Jones of London who copied his idea and marketed his “Lucifers” in 1829.

Doris is standing in front of the shop in the Victorian street of the Preston Hall Museum at Eaglescliffe. The ‘new’ shop was opened earlier this year to mark John Walker’s discovery of a process which changed history.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Drabble Day - Snow

 The Drabble Challenge here's how it works:
  • Read the prompt and find your angle.
  • Write a drabble (100 words story, give or take five words).
Today’s drabble prompt is : Snow!
Oh dear! It’s that time again. They’ve just taken me out of the box and removed the tissue paper. I suppose that means I have to be the Christmas Fairy once again.

It’s alright for that Barbie, she’s got all the fancy clothes. I can see her getting kitted up with boots and they’ve even waxed her skis. She’ll get to play out in the snow. I’d love to hit her with a snowball or stuff some down her neck.

It’s not fair! How would she like a prickly tree stuck up her skirt?

Saturday 4 December 2010

St George's Float : Amy's Sepia Saturday 52

I defy those who said last week that Amy's husband Bob looked like Stan Laurel to say the same this week

Bob is the man on the right with the string hanging down from his belt.

This picture was taken at an event (date unknown) in Broad Street, Stamford, Lincolnshire. I have sent this picture to the editor of the Stamford Mercury in the hope that his staff can identify the event, its date, and the people in the picture. I would love to know the identity of the gentleman in the 'ceremonial' robe.

The Rutland & Stamford Mercury is a weekly tabloid newspaper based in Stamford and sold across South Lincolnshire and Rutland. It was established in 1695 and claims to be the oldest newspaper in Britain (although Berrows Worcester Herald claims to predate it by five years).
The Mercury appears in three editions: one for Stamford and the Deepings, one for Rutland, and one for Bourne. All of them come out on Fridays. When I left Stamford in 1960the Mercury was a broadsheet.

For more sepia/old pictures see: Sepia Saturday

Friday 3 December 2010

Voices - an e-book by David Robinson


 Voices, an e-book by freelance writer and novelist David Robinson, is a tremendous read 

College lecturer Chris Deacon survives an attack, only to find his life plagued by demons and voices muttering in his head. To rid himself of them he follows a trail into the frightening world of a top secret military experiment from the Cold War, its malign progeny, a new breed of beings, still working for their freedom and their desire to dominate the world.

This e-book  is available from Smashwords

More about David and his writing may be seen at

Tuesday 30 November 2010

Glamis Castle Ghosts

Glamis Castle, said to be the most haunted castle in Scotland, is the family home of the Earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne. The lands were presented to them by King Robert II (Robert the Bruce) in 1372. The main keep of the Castle dates from the 14th century, the towers and turrets were added later. The Bowes-Lyons family, as the Earls of Strathmore, still own the Castle. The late Queen Mother, the daughter of the 14th Earl, and her daughter Princess Margaret were both born there.


It’s said that Shakespeare visited the Castle and that Glamis was the setting for Macbeth, the Scottish play. There the connection ends – the murder of King Malcolm occurred in the 11th century, Duncan was King from 1034 -1040, Macbeth from 1040 -1057. In the play Macbeth dies at Dunsinane; he actually died at Lumphanan. All these events theatrical or historical took place before the Castle existed

An infamous ghost at Glamis is that of Earl Beardie. In the15th century the First Earl Glamis and Lord Crawford, nicknamed Earl Beardie and Tiger Earl because of his straggly beard, were playing cards on a Saturday night. A servant interrupted them to warn them of the approaching Sabbath. They swore to finish their game; Earl Beardie, a compulsive gambler, who had been drinking and losing badly said he would play with the devil himself. Needless to say the devil appeared and took him up on the offer. Earl Beardie died a few days later and since then his strangled cries can be heard in the tower. Some people have even claimed to have seen a ghostly figure with a straggly beard.

The Ogilvys and Lindsays both took refuge in the Castle under the First Earl after a battle between their clans; neither of them knew of the presence of the other. The Earl took action to ensure it remained that way. He put the fugitives in different rooms and locked the doors. He forgot to unlock the Ogilvys’ room – they starved to death. Their skeletons were found when the room was unlocked years later. Since then loud knocking and the cries of starving men can be heard from the so-called Haunted Chamber.

Legend has it that the Grey Lady Ghost is that of the 6th Lady of Glamis, Janet Douglas, Accused of plotting to kill James V she was covered in pitch and burnt at the stake as a witch on Castle Hill, in Edinburgh in 1537. The Grey Lady haunts the chapel and is also said to appear in the Clock Tower.

The ghost of a young black boy ill treated in the 18th century haunts a stone seat outside the Queen Mother’s Sitting Room.

More gory is the Glamis Monster, the hideously deformed ghost of the handicapped son of the 11th Earl locked up at birth in the early part of the 19th century and hidden in the Castle until he died. His coffin was the bricked up in his secret room. The ghost is said to exercise along a rooftop walk known as the ‘Mad Earl’s Walk.’

Other ghosts associated with the Castle about which less is known include the figure known as Jack the Runner who haunts the grounds and runs across the grass on moonlit nights. More sinister is the ghost of a female servant of an early Earl who witnessed a brutal crime. To ensure her silence her tongue was cut out; she died of shock. Now her ghost runs about the grounds pointing to her bloody mouth.

With so many hauntings in mind it’s hardly surprising that Sir Walter Scott when he visited the Castle said, “I began to consider myself too far from the living and somewhat too near the dead.”

In 2009, the owners of the Castle wanted to put an end to the procession of ghost hunters and to attract a more discerning clientele. The general manager has been reported as saying, “There is absolutely no evidence whatever that there are any supernatural beings in the Castle.”

What next for Scotland? No monster in Loch Ness!

[NOTE: depending on the source used there are variations in the accounts of the ghosts at Glamis. The accounts used have been arranged in date sequence except for Jack the Runner and the maid with no tongue.]

Saturday 27 November 2010

Sidecars to Jaguars: Amy on Sepia Saturday 51

The origins of Jaguar go back to the seaside town of Blackpool. In 1922 Bill Lyons, a motorcycle enthusiast, and William Walmsley formed the Swallow Sidecar Company – Walmsley had previously been building sidecars and attaching them to reconditioned motorbikes.

In 1926/27 The Swallow Sidecar and Coachbuilding Company diversified taking existing cars and re-bodying them with more fashionable coachwork.

SS cars came in the 1930s when a chassis to Swallow’s design was fitted with engines from the Standard Motor Company. Later the SS name was altered to SS Jaguar. As a consequence of WWII the term SS had unwanted Nazi connotations and in April 1945 SS Cars became Jaguar Cars.

What’s this to do with Amy?

In September 1948 Jaguar announced the Jaguar Mark V, its first post war model.

 This week’s photo shows Amy with her husband Bob (the couple on the left), her sister Edna and Edna’s husband, Charles. They were on a trip to London in 1948 to see the Motor Show at Earls Court, the first after the war.

More Sepia Saturday at

Thursday 25 November 2010

Seven Stories

The Seven Stories, the Centre for Children’s Books were the co-sponsors for the Sixth Annual Fickling Lecture on Developments in Children’s Literature given by Roddy Doyle on 18 November at Newcastle University’s Curtis Auditorium.

Seven Stories, the first museum in the UK wholly dedicated to the art of British children’s books, is the only UK exhibition space solely celebrating British children’s literature.

Their exhibition programme is designed to spark the imaginations of children and adults, and inspire exciting new work. Activities give opportunities for dressing up, dramatic fun, creative writing and word play.

Story telling events are held for all the family. Author and illustrator events enable you to explore how they create their books. These events may be followed by book signings in the Bookshop which is one of the largest independent children’s bookshops in the country.

Seven Stories is located in the Ouseburn Valley close to Newcastle's quayside.

Fighting Words: the write to right.

The Sixth Fickling Lecture on Developments in Children’s Literature

  Fighting Words: the write to right

Thursday 18 November 2010 – Curtis Auditorium, Hershel Building, Newcastle University.

Fighting Words is the creative writing centre for children and young people opened in Dublin in 2009 by Roddy Doyle and Sean Love. The idea for the centre was inspired by 826 Valencia a creative writing centre in San Francisco founded by the American author, publisher and philanthropist Dave Eggers.

Fighting Words is the first European Member of the Once Upon a School movement established across deprived cities in America.

The deliberately misspelled slogan “The write to right” had the builders working on the exterior wanting to change the words and correct the spelling. “The write to right” has remained and this reinforces its invitation to children to: Write First, Worry Later.

It was a surprise when Roddy Doyle announced that he had never given a formal lecture before and that he would be reading from notes. This did not in any way distract from the message he put across to his audience.

What follows is taken from a few of my notes taken the time:

Roddy told of primary school children at Fighting Words, asked what was needed in a story, came up with ‘characters’ ‘things that are funny’ ‘full stops’. One 9 year waved her hand up and said ‘conflict and resolution’. It was obvious that it was bright bunch. After reflection Roddy found he was a bit depressed and that it was a pity that they knew the requirements for a story – before they had written anything.

As a 10 year old Roddy was asked to write a story. He was told by his teacher that what he was writing on his blotter was brilliant. Roddy reminded us that anything that isn’t brilliant in Ireland is disastrous. Nevertheless he never forgot being told he was brilliant.

Children need to be encouraged. Unfortunately the teaching of creative writing is not encouraging; although perhaps now it’s not encouraged in a more encouraging way. A child does not need to learn all the rules before beginning to write. If you give a child a ball he (or she) does not need to know the laws of association football before kicking it. Give the kid the ball the rules can come later. This football analogy applies to writing too. So give the kids the tools and let them get on with it.

Roddy explained how the Fighting Words centre operates. They have 400 volunteers and around 40 artists that are used to assist when a group of children attend. They sit on bean bags in front of a screen and are asked what they want to see in a story. A volunteer in front of the group puts up their suggestions on a screen, artists sketch their suggestions – sharks, three-eyed monsters whatever.

I hope these few notes give you a flavour of the lecture. I strongly recommend that you listen to it in full and the question and answer session at

Including the preamble and the introduction of Roddy Doyle by Kate Edwards the CEO of Seven Stories the recording lasts 1hr 35 minutes.

Monday 22 November 2010

The Voluptuous Witch

The Cutty Sark  posted by (Sheila) at A Postcard a Day  reminded me that I had written this for Yarm Writers Group in 2008

The Voluptuous Witch

"Every old woman with a wrinkled face, a furrowed brow, a hairy lip, a gobber tooth, a squint eye, a squeaking voice or scolding tongue, having a rugged coat on her back, a skull-cap on her head, a spindle in her hand and a dog or cat by her side, is not only suspect but pronounced for a witch."

So said John Gaule in his condemnation of Matthew Hopkins the infamous, self-styled "Witch-finder General" – who took his notorious business throughout East Anglia in the 1640's.

Nannie was not like that. She was winsome and walie; what we today would call voluptuous. She wore only a short shift made for her as a child from coarse Paisley linen and far too short to hide her modesty.

On a dark and stormy night after a day’s hard drinking a farmer left an inn on his faithful horse. The Scots would say he was fou or, perhaps you may prefer, he was three sheets into the wind. Along the way he came to an old churchyard just as the storm grew worse and lightning illuminated the scene. To the accompaniment of thunder the farmer saw that graves had opened up and coffins stood on end. Corpses held torches to light up the merriment that was taking place and which was presided over by the Devil.

Warlocks and witches danced hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys and reels. Amongst them, was the scantily clad Nannie, the voluptuous witch, lively and full of spirits. The bemused farmer watched her in awe and could not resist shouting out, “Well done.”

This was the cue for warlocks and witches, led by Nannie, to break off from their revelry and give chase to the farmer on his horse. Although initially rooted to the spot the farmer, fearing for his life, fled pursued by the horde. He urged his horse on towards a bridge over a river; he knew that if he could make it there the witches could not cross the running water and he would be safe.

He reached the bridge, but as he crossed Nannie reached out and grabbed his horse’s flowing tail. Fortunately for horse and man, the horse did not stop and Nannie was left holding the horse’s tail which she had pulled off.

The man lived on to farm and drink another day.

But what of Nannie? Her fame lives on in Scottish legend. In her short shift still holding the horse’s tail she became the inspiration for the figurehead of the fastest and most famous of all the world’s tea clippers.

Despite a disastrous fire in 2007 the clipper remains the only one surviving to this day. Its name is Cutty Sark.

The story of the farmer and Nannie in her cutty sark, the too short shift of coarse Paisley linen, was immortalized by Robert Burns in his famous poem Tam o’Shanter.

Sunday 21 November 2010

Fickling Lectures On Developments in Children's Literature

Fighting Words was the subject of the sixth Fickling lecture this year. Roddy Doyle was the speaker in the Curtis Auditorium, Herschel Building, Newcastle University on 18th November.

I'll post my notes on his talk in a later post. Meanwhile I hope you enjoy details of Nick Hornby's lecture from 2009:

Nick Hornby: Fifth Fickling Lecture

The Fickling Lectures on development in children’s literature were instigated with the support of David Fickling Books in response to the debate about the cultural importance of contemporary children’s literature. The inaugural lecture in 2005 was given by Philip Pullman; later lectures were delivered by Andrew Motion, James Naughtie, and Sandi Toksvig.

Nick Hornby’s lecture on 26 November 2009 was entitled “Why All Fiction should be Young Adult Fiction.”

“Books are more important than anything else,” was an early quote made by Nick Hornby in his look at young adult literature, the subject of reading and writing and the lessons for authors from books intended for a younger readership.

In 2006 a number of authors were asked to identify 10 books that all children should have read before they left school. Philip Pullman, J K Rowling were among those who made selections; many including Nick Hornby refused. Andrew Motion’s list was:

The Odyssey Homer
Don Quixote Miguel de Cervantes
Hamlet William Shakespeare
Paradise Lost John Milton
Lyrical Ballads Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth
Jane Eyre Charlotte Brontë
Great Expectations Charles Dickens
Portrait of a Lady Henry James
Ulysses James Joyce
The Waste Land TS Eliot

Hornby confessed that he had not read all these and though that such a list would put children off reading for life. He had abandoned reading Ulysses and recommended that if you were finding any book difficult to read you should do likewise. Books intended for you adults could be complex but should address situations reflecting life, even if fantasy or sci-fi. He made special reference to David Almond’s Skellig, which won the Carnegie Medal in 1998 and was the Whitbread Children’s Book of The Year. In 2007, judges for the CILIP Carnegie Medal for children’s literature considered Skellig to be one of the most important children’s novels of the last 70 years.

Children today have access to technology that didn’t exist in Nick’s youth so they will not necessarily pick up a book to read unless the content is interesting to them. In addition to Skellig He also mentioned M T Anderson’s Feed in which the story revolves around a teenage boy and his relationship with a girl with a vastly different world perspective. They live within a futuristic world where technology has merged electronics and telecommunications with the human mind.

I had not heard of the Alex Awards referred to by Nick; the Awards are made annually by the Young Adult Library Services Association and are given to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, selected from the previous year's publishing. Stephen King’s Just After Sunset was given an award this year. [The Alex Awards, first given annually in 1998, became an official American Library Association award in 2002. The Awards are named after Margaret A Edwards, known to her friends as ‘Alex,’ who pioneered young adult library services and who worked at the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore. See:]

Nick concluded that what was wanted for each person leaving school to be able to draw up list of 10 books that were their favourites; the content was not important. We want children to read for pleasure.

Interesting comments in the Q&A session that followed were that Nick regards writing as hard work and a job; reading is a pleasure. He also said that the average professional writer earned less than £5000 a year.

[You can listen to a recording of Nick Hornby’s lecture by following the link at

Friday 19 November 2010

Amy's Parents for Sepia Saturday

These may not be sepia photographs but they are old enough to be interesting. They show Amy's parents at the seaside - we don't know where. If someone can identify the deckchair owners (Greeves Bros) then we might be able to identify the location.

Mary Hannah and George Albert by the sea

George Albert and Mary Hannah
We believe this to be a photo by a seaside photographer - again we don't know where. Nor can we date it from the car or the gas lamp in the street.

Don't forget to check out again this week.

Saturday 13 November 2010

Amy on Sepia Saturday

I have just been looking at the The Daily Postcard blog and a post entitled 'To Amy from Paris.' This led me to hosted by Alan Burnett which invites you to post  any sepia photo you may wish to share.

Why have I added a picture? Well let me introduce you to Amy, my mother-in-law when she was young. I won't tell you her full name but  her family's name was Garside.

This photo is from the early 1900s. A beautiful picture of a girl who became a lovely woman remember by all who knew her.

Friday 12 November 2010

Are You In A Rut?

If so, you could have learnt about ‘rutways’ by attending the Books and Banter session, entitled ‘Saltburn’s Rutways, presented by Rachel Graham of Teesside Archaeology at Stockton Library this month last year..

Rutways were created as safe routes for horsedrawn carts transporting cargoes between the foreshore and ships beached at low tide; such journeys were often made in poor visibility or when the tide was flooding or receding.

In 1986 John Owen reported on 17 locations on the North East coast of Yorkshire where rutways could be traced. The rutway sites are found from Saltburn to south of Scarborough, with all but two north of Whitby.

Teesside Archaeology, in partnership with the Nautical Archaeology and the Teesside Archaeology Societies, has been surveying rutways in the Saltburn area since 2005. Work can only been done at those times of the year when the tides are at their lowest, usually during one week in the summer – they haven’t been brave enough to work in March, the other optimum time. On any one day tasks have to be completed within a five hour time period.

 Huntcliffe (Behind Saltburn pier)

Initially surveying has been conducted on the shore below Huntcliffe, just south of Saltburn. The majority of the rutways have a gauge width of 4ft 4ins, the size for Yorkshire carts. A simple width gauge assists in identifying the location of the rutways which will originally have been cut by hand as long ago as the 17th century. Erosion has worn them away over the years; their existence is not always easy to confirm and may be confused with cracks and faults in the rocky foreshore.

Square post holes have been located which may have been used as guide posts or to hold lamps to light the way in the dark. It is hoped to date the holes from the wood still left in one.

A row of round post holes, 7ins in diameter, leads out to sea with rows of 3.1/2in dia. on either side. It is believed these are more recent as they cut through the rutways; these may have been used to set out salmon nets.

The surveys completed have shown that the rutways ran round the base of Huntcliffe down towards Skinningrove to the south and can be traced to two inlets probably used for loading and unloading ships.

The concentration of rutways at Huntcliffe indicates substantial traffic with and up and down system akin to railway lines. Ships would have been able to beach on Saltburn’s sand and to be service by the carts using the rutways. {The picture in the gallery shows Huntcliffe in the background)

It is most likely that the rutways were used as part of the Yorkshire alum industry. They may also have been used to collect ironstone fallen out of the cliffs until around 1850 and the discovery of Cleveland’s main ironstone seam. Other uses could have been the collection of seaweed for the fertiliser industry or even the salvage of wrecked vessels (there are record of around 50 vessels lost at Saltburn and Huntcliffe.

A major ingredient for the alum industry is the shale found in this area. Alum works were in operation at Kettleness and Peak, near Ravenscar, north and south of Whitby. Shale, coal and seaweed are used to produce alum used as a mordant, or fixer, for dyes. The Archaeological team is monitoring a building being washed of the cliffs which is believed to be an alum house.

In 1790, when around 5000 tons of alum were produced, this would require 4450 tons of kelp, 35000 tons of coal and 56500 gallons of urine. For the 60 ton ships of the time the traffic on the rutways would have been considerable.

There are rutways at sites in Cornwall with those at Prussia Cove appearing on the first Ordnance Survey maps (1850s). These have the same 4ft 4in gauge but are up to 1ft deep. [If you Google Prussia Cove you may see pictures clearly showing the rutways]

Wednesday 10 November 2010

A Hero's Salute

A piece for Yarm Writers tomorrow 11th November, altered to include the photos.

Guests arriving at the St George Hotel cannot miss the larger-than-life bronze statue of an airman in WWII flying gear, standing at attention and holding a salute. If they check the memorial garden in front of the hotel, the wartime Officers’ Mess at Middleton-St-George, they will see a tribute to the Royal Canadian Air Force.

In 1944 Andrew Mynarski and Pat Brophy were members of the crew of a Lancaster bomber in the RCAF’s 419 “Moose” Squadron. Although Brophy was an officer the two became friends. Andrew would say. “Goodnight, sir,” and salute Brophy in a teasing way. Shortly before their 13th mission Andrew gave Pat Brophy a four-leaf clover for good luck.
On 11 June 1944 Mynarski was promoted to pilot officer. The next day the two friends left on that 13th mission on a bombing raid over the railway marshalling yards in Cambrai, France. Mynarski occupied the middle gun turret on top of the bomber’s fuselage, Brophy the tail-gun turret.
Later Brophy recalled that it was 12.13am on 13th June on his watch when the Lancaster was hit by cannon fire from a German fighter. With two engines on fire the captain ordered everyone to bail out. Brophy was trapped in the rear gun turret with the back of the plane in flames.
Mynarski, at the hatch ready to jump, saw that Brophy was trapped. By the time he had crawled to reach his friend, Mynarski’s clothes and parachute were alight. Mynarski’s efforts with an axe and his bare hands failed to release the rear gunner.
Brophy screamed at Mynarski to give up and to save himself. As Mynarski crawled back towards the hatch he never took his eyes off his friend. At the hatch he came to attention and saluted. Brophy knew that what Mynarski said before he jumped was, “Good night, sir.”
Andrew Mynarski died from his burns shortly after being found by French farmers. Incredibly Brophy, thrown out of the plane when it crashed, survived without a scratch – the four leaf clover still nestled in his flyer’s hat.
On 11th October 1946, four days before what would have been his 29th birthday, Mynarski was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, the Commonwealth’s highest honour for valour.
Andrew Mynarski is buried at Meharicourt Communal Cemetery near Cambrai, France. The bronze statue of him at the salute was dedicated in 2005 at the former RAF Middleton St George, 60 years after he lost his life. Fittingly it was Pat Brophy’s daughter who unveiled the memorial.
Mynarski was just one of the 55753 men of RAF Bomber Command who lost their lives in WWII and one of the twenty-three awarded the VC among who are the perhaps better known Leonard Cheshire and Guy Gibson.
Sixty-five years on from the end of the war there still is no memorial to those in Bomber Command who lost their lives. The memorial fund has not reached the £5.5m target required for its erection in London’s Green Park.
“The Few” have their national memorial on the white cliffs of Dover at Capel-le-Ferne. The Green Park memorial is in danger of being delayed until after the Olympics in 2012. What a shame it will be if there are no veterans left to honour their comrades when it is eventually erected. We should not forget what Churchill said at the time, “The fighters are our salvation, but the bombers alone provide the means of victory.”