Tuesday, 31 December 2013

"The Curious Incident . . . "

I remember reading Mark Haddon’s novel, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” when it was first published.  In fact I once wrote a review of it as part of a competition entry and was fortunate to be amongst the winners.
A story where the main character was a boy with learning difficulties, was a brave thing to attempt in 2003 and might well have been a complete disaster.  Instead it became a best seller and its followers are now flocking to see it live on stage. Had I been in London last week I might well have joined the 7000 people at the Apollo Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue.
Imagine the shock they must have felt when the ceiling cracked and rumbled and fell on top of them, covering everybody in dust and debris; injuring 70 people, with seven severely hurt. Amazingly there were no deaths but that audience will always remember Mark Haddon’s “Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.”
An extra if unexpected flood of publicity.

Friday, 20 December 2013

St Mary's Parish Church in Barnard Castle held a magical Christmas Tree Festival last weekend.
55 trees of every shape and size; decorated in ingenious ways by the town's businesses; organisations and schools, brought light to the shadowy interior of the building.
Mulled wine and warm mince pies added to the occasion.

A View from the Altar.

Friday, 6 December 2013


I am not a great lover of knitted dolls or the knitted scenes that have suddenly become very popular. However I do admire the skill of the knitters and I can imagine the pleasure they must get from choosing wools from the vast array of colours and types that are available in the shops these days.
Last weekend the Darlington Stitch Bombers crept into the town centre in the middle of one night and decorated the High Row with their wonderful work. Intricately-made dolls were everywhere; colourful bunting flew high and even the bollards had brightly coloured covers to add to the atmosphere of Christmas in these cold December days. 
But before I’d had a chance to see it, vandals had destroyed the whole display – nothing but a bit of bunting and two tiny knitted mice remained to show the hours of work that must have gone into that display.
And yet in the little Victorian town of Saltburn-by-the-Sea, the same type of knitting has decorated the pier for several years.  The work depicts local activities and even the Olympic Games and in contrast to Darlington, this attracts visitors, not vandals.

Olympic athletes with their gold medals.

It’s hard to imagine the senseless behaviour that led to the Darlington destruction.
Were they drunken louts or simply ordinary citizens with a grudge against knitting?

Monday, 11 November 2013

The 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month.

Once again the dead of the Great Wars have been honoured; first on Saturday evening with a ceremony in London’s Albert Hall where much of the emphasis was on children, with the Poppy Girls, a group of 5 charming little girls who sang together beautifully followed later by a young boy chorister and finally by a nine year old girl who spoke up in a loud and clear voice that could be heard all round the Hall while her 7 year old sister stood near by.

Armistice Day was celebrated at the Cenotaph in London yesterday; the Sunday closest to the 11th.November and it was remarkable that the Queen and Prince Philip were both well enough to lay wreaths followed by several other members of the Royal family and public dignitaries.

Now the government has decided that for every man who won the Victoria Cross, a golden paving stone will be laid outside his home, 100 years after it was awarded.

A wonderful and fitting tribute for all to see.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Children in the News

In a week when children have filled the news there has been both joy and sadness.
Joy when royal baby Prince George Alexander Louis was baptised  by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the historic Chapel Royal in St James’s Palace.  It was a quiet ceremony – photographs afterwards showed George to be remarkably like his father, Prince William and yet I caught a glimpse of the Queen’s determination in that small face.  He wore a christening gown of magnificent cream lace; a replica of one used by Queen Victoria and he was supported by seven godparents, carefully chosen to guide him through life.
The Queen and Prince Philip looked proudly on, as three male heirs to the throne ensure the continuity of the Royal Family and renewed popularity from the people.

In contrast the McCann family continue their six year search for Madeleine, with a photograph of her in a pink floppy sun hat that would melt the hardest of hearts.
The Portuguese police have re-opened the case while Scotland Yard also focuses on the abduction.

By co-incidence a little girl with blond hair and blue eyes was removed from a family of Greek gypsies and proved to belong to a Bulgarian family of a similar type.  Was she given away or was she sold?  Either way it is a sad start to her life and we can only imagine how mystified she must be feeling now.  No wonder her press photographs show her looking so forlorn.

Good luck to them all in the years to come.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Passing By.

A Harvest Moon Rises Above the Trees
in October

Welcome sightings from my windows.
October Again and a Magnificent Rainbow Lights the Sky
A Hot Air Balloon Sails Past in Spring

Monday, 7 October 2013

Dogs, Large and Small.

In a week when television has been full of programmes about animals and particularly about small dogs in designer clothes, I feel thankful that our family dog is a solid Shar Pei who would object strongly to being arrayed in special clothes, or any clothes at all.
Latest Shar Pei photograph.
One programme was beyond belief as an elderly couple organised a wedding for their two Norfolk terriers - lively little dogs who'd lived together happily for years. They were dressed as bride and groom with a bridesmaid and various doggy guests, all similarly attired and very well behaved. There was music and flowers and petals thrown over them and even a wedding service! I wonder if they will live together even more happily than before or if there'll be a doggy divorce some day.

Saturday, 5 October 2013


Who would have thought that a dripping shower in the bathroom could cause such chaos in the kitchen?
There was no dramatic flood or really obvious damage to the ceiling; only a small bulge that I might have ignored except for a sugar basin that had mysteriously filled with water.  And it all went wrong from there.
What seemed like a small repair job snowballed into a major operation when the artexed kitchen ceiling was found to contain asbestos.  ASBESTOS? Wasn’t that something to do with factories and industry and chest problems? Certainly not with my nice little house in a pleasant cul-de-sac
Nevertheless a few days later a convoy of white vans arrived; men in space suits and helmets sealed off every kitchen door and cupboard with what looked like black lino;  two ceiling-high tents blocked the way into the hall.
In the middle of the operation the apprentice fell off the back of the van and for a few minutes it seemed as though an ambulance would be added to the chaos, however a bag of frozen peas and a pain killer worked wonders and the operation continued. A notice pinned to the front door ordered “All Waste Materials This Way."                         
and the back door had weird pipes leading outside.  However, the whole operation was completed before lunch-time and I was left with rafters and wires and a promise that a new ceiling would be put up next day.
But somebody forgot to arrange that and I had to wait till the end of the week.
As for the shower – it is half mended and no longer drips but six weeks on, I'm hoping the job will be finished soon!!

Tuesday, 3 September 2013


Another month of unbelievable sunshine and restless nights when the temperatures refused to drop.
My own month has been a mixture of magical drives across the moors with the sun shimmering on distant horizons and heather beginning to turn purple at each side of the road; or to the sea, glorious blue skies over sea and sands, seen against golden cornfields creating a scene to remember when the days shorten and the temperatures drop.
Then there was that sudden impulse that sent me to the Edinburgh Festival and the Book Fair to absorb the special atmosphere of books and book-lovers; to have lunch in the Charlotte Bronte marquee and share a table with ladies who were ready to discuss their favourite authors. And afterwards to enjoy the street entertainers of the Fringe Festival; the gymnasts and the jugglers and the man who stood on his head to earn a living but that head was in a bucket!

On a wider scene there has been the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King’s
“I have a Dream” speech. Radio 4 interviewed a lady who’d been present that day as a 12 year old child.  She remembered being taken to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington by her mother who was a domestic worker for wealthy white families and often took the little girl with her.  She told how she was allowed to play with the children of those families but their dolls were white. Hers were black! Since then she’s felt that people ought to be known for what they are and not for the colour of their skin.

On August 30th came the unexpected death of Seamus Heaney, aged 74.  He was a Nobel prize-winner and said to be ‘The greatest Irish poet since W.B.Yeats. A giant of the literary world.’  ‘A poet to be grateful for; a generous and gentle person who wore his wisdom very lightly.’

And yesterday, September 1st , veteran broadcaster Sir David Frost died suddenly from a heart attack whilst holidaying on a cruise ship. He was also 74.

They were wonderful people who will be greatly missed. 

Monday, 5 August 2013


Middleton-in-Teesdale on the eve of its 50th Annual Carnival.
And the sun shone all weekend.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Wear Valley Writers Go Walking.

On the last Sunday in June some of the Wear Valley Writers met at Harehope Quarry near Frosterley for a literary walk that would offer inspiration for our writing. We were led by one of our own group. 
(See  below.)
On Sunday July 28  at 2pm, another of our members will lead us round Vinovium, the Roman site on the outskirts of Bishop Auckland. He is a volunteer there and very knowledgeable about the site, so we look forward to an informative afternoon.
If you are a writer and interested in this idea you are welcome to join us.

The following report recorded my impressions of the day.

A tangled mass of leaves - every shade and every shape - hide the gurgling stream that is Bollihope Burn so very far below.  The narrow river, brown as the earth, ripples peacefully between ancient stones for all the world as though it wasn’t hidden deep, deep down below the level of the path.
There is no sound from the nearby caravan park and the sun is behind a cloud. We are in a separate world where green hills surround us with remote farmhouses dotting their sides, stone-built and strong against the Weardale weather.
And so we start to walk, glad of our collars to pull up against the cold wind – uphill at first on an easy tarmac path then turning to a narrow track.  Wild flowers are everywhere; pink and white Clover; Vetch; Ladies Fingers; Marguerites and grasses; Thistles and Star of Bethlehem. May blossom is in the hedges with the gentle hum of bees all round it.  Silent sheep move in one field and brown and white cattle graze in another.
But it all changes as we clamber down uneven steps to a gorge and a dry-stone riverbed where the burn flows underneath the surface, appearing only in the harshest of winters.  It is the result of weathering of the limestone. There are potholes and caves and resurgent streams – Karst scenery an information board explains.
As if to compensate for this harshness a square block of Frosterley Marble sits beyond the bridge, its fossil-rich limestone is 310 million years old.  Sprinkle water on to it and see the mass of fish and strange creatures that are trapped inside.
From there we walk on to the viewing post and look out at the Quarry where men toiled their lives away in all weathers.  We see the twenty layers of Rock they worked on, each one named; The Yard Post; the Whalley; Thick Cockle Beds; Thin Cockle Beds; Elsie; Dun Kits Bastard and so on. Nowadays there is peace and silence and we gaze out at the burn, framed by green trees and flowing to the distant hills.
As we clamber back to the footpath the breeze is lighter, the path downhill and the sun is warming the stone of the farmhouses high on the distant hills.

Monday, 8 July 2013

King's Cross Station

 King’s Cross station has been modernised.  It is awe-inspiring and splendid.  It has a spectacular roof structure; shops and cafes on two levels with an elaborate balcony where people can look down on to the melee below. There’s a taxi rank that is fast and efficient and an Underground station that will be shared with St. Pancras station when it is finally completed.
This Way to the Underground Station

But I feel so nostalgic for the old King’s Cross. Even when I was a little girl I looked forward to the thrill of arriving in that dark, cavernous station where engines hissed and snarled and crowds queued to board the trains for the long journey back to Newcastle and Edinburgh and Aberdeen.  There used to be a flower-stall – a bright splash of colour and a perfume to remind you of the country. A few steps further and you were in the area edged by shops with W.H.Smith always open and food stalls with their variety of sandwiches and drinks or exotic soups in cardboard containers to take onto the train with you.  There were wooden seats – never enough, but with luck you might find one while you stared at the old Departure Board to discover which platform your train would leave from.  It was never far away.  Even the toilets were accessible if not always hygienic. They were not in the remotest corner as they are now, forcing passengers to drag heavy luggage; dodge people’s feet and avoid the crowds; even skirting a queue of people waiting to be photographed by a blank wall marked Platform Nine and Three-quarters.The striped scarf passed from one to another evidently making it more authentic.
I’ve no doubt the old station provided a haven for the homeless and undesirables – the new one is locked as soon as the last train leaves.

Across the road St Pancras station is also huge and modern and wonderful, but it somehow creates a more friendly atmosphere.  I had to laugh at the sight of an upright piano standing between the shops and marked   PLAY ME. I’M YOURS.
I hoped somebody would accept the invitation, but nobody did.  They were all too involved in their own plans for the day ahead.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Widecombe Fair.

Tom Pearce, Tom Pearce, lend me your grey mare
All along, down along, out along lee.
For I want to go down to Widecombe Fair
Wi’ Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,          
Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawk,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all                                                   
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

As a child I sang this song with gusto but never stopped to think about the words or wonder whether there was any truth behind its story. So it came as a surprise to find myself in the tiny village of Widecombe last week on one of the hottest days of the year.
Staying in Devon, I joined a coach tour across Dartmoor.  The views were stunning; ponies everywhere, their foals a delight to see. After stopping to climb High Tor and look down on other counties spread out below, we scrambled  back into the coach and descended the steepest of hills into a picturesque village – Widecombe.

A wide green, under a glorious copper Beech tree; stone cottages; quaint tea shops and tiny general stores. All in the care of the National Trust, it is the epitome of an English village.
The Cathedral-in-the-Moor
To one side of the green is the church of St Pancras with its solid square tower reaching towards the hills.  It's known as the Cathedral-in-the-Moor.
Walk inside and discover a large model of the Old Grey Mare; Uncle Tom Cobley and All, made by the late Harry Price and exhibited by the Widecombe History Group.
And on a board on the Green the 2013 Fair is advertised – after all these years it still goes on.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Strange Tastes

Have you ever sat in a café and glanced at the people round you?
It’s fascinating to see the things they eat and the way they behave;
so different from your own ways.

The elegant café at Bowes Museum a few days ago was so busy, that as I sat
with a friend I couldn’t help but watch my neighbours. I was amused to see that one little boy had toasted teacake and chips, while a small girl at another table ate strawberries with her sandwiches.

I wonder if these were simply childish trends or a new variation on the menu!



Monday, 13 May 2013

Shar Pei Dogs and Photography

Have you ever tried to get a professional photograph of a Shar Pei dog?

Believe me, it’s not easy and I speak from experience. After thinking I’d come up with the perfect birthday present for a man who has everything, I booked an appointment with a skilled young photographer in Barnard Castle.
As Shar Pei’s go, the dog behaved well but then they’re not known for their easy manner and quick response – they don’t leap after sticks and their ears are too small to prick up at the sound of a squeaky ball - which is obviously necessary for natural-looking photograhs.
For the first ten minutes Winston moved obediently from side to side, graciously accepting nibbles of cooked chicken and looking reasonably amenable.  After that, he lost interest and the poor photographer had to move from one position to another, even lying on her back to get better poses of him! 
By the end of the session I thought she might have a nervous breakdown and I did my best to reassure her that some of the pictures were certain to represent the Shar Pei breed; that is haughty and aloof.
It was probably a ridiculous idea of mine and next year I’ll buy Chocolates and After-Shave as usual, but I must say I await the results with interest.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Keswick in Springtime.

Memorial to John Ruskin 1900

A Saturday in April and the sun shone as it’s supposed to do in springtime. 
Keswick was its usual bustling self, although a strong wind still whipped around the lake making boats bob like corks. However, it was a perfect day for a short walk to Friar’s Crag, a promontory jutting into Derwentwater and described by Ruskin as one of the three most beautiful scenes in Europe.
From Friar's Crag

We almost resented the time we spent in the Theatre by the Lake, watching “Rogue Herries,” Walpole’s play set in Borrowdale at a time when men could sell their womenfolk  in the Keswick market. The large cast of professional and amateur actors portrayed the story well.                                                 

Looking Back Beyond Keswick.

In the interval we wandered out into the sunshine again and were brought back to the present day by the sight of a Rescue helicopter taking off from the grass immediately opposite the theatre doors. 

The Rescue Helicopter

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

A Coincidence.

On Sunday the weather was damp and dismal, but it didn't detract from the pleasure of visiting a spring garden around a solid town house in Bishop Auckland.  This was opened under the National Gardens Scheme.
Mauve and white crocuses filled one very big corner.  Bird boxes hung from every tree; Northumbrian pipers played gentle music from the summer house and water poured from the four faces of a fountain.
But the most interesting thing was my conversation  - over tea and cake - with the present owner, who said the house was built in 1856 by a prominent Bishop Auckland family and had changed hands only twice since then.  She was both surprised and delighted when I added that I owned a grandfather clock that had belonged to that first family.
It is very plain; possibly a kitchen clock and certainly not valuable any more, but I would never part with it.
When the first family came to an end, their furniture was auctioned; my mother went to the sale and she bought the clock for my first home.  It's been with me ever since.
So - a very special Sunday afternoon!

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Birthday Blog.

It is exactly a year since friends persuaded me to set up a Blog. At the time I had no definite theme to follow or special interest to write about, so I simply called it a notebook and that's what it has become. Whenever something attracts my attention I jot it down on the Blog and I've had so much pleasure and simple fun from doing this.
Occasionally somebody leaves a comment and I imagined these were the only people who looked at it until the day I discovered how to check "traffic" which shows the times and places when it is being viewed.
To my amazement my Blog has been viewed 1900 times in this country, 468 in the USA and 437 in Russia as well as in 15 other countries in the world as far afield as Japan, Belarus and the Ukraine; India, Canada and Sweden. Thank you to all of you!  I wish I knew who you were, but please keep visiting my Blog.
I think of you whenever I make an entry.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Wear Valley Writers Have a New Home

Bishop Auckland Town Hall.

In 1993 Wear Valley Writers moved from the branch library at Woodhouse Close to the main library at Bishop Auckland Town Hall.  Their leader was Wendy Robertson, local author and teacher.
The group met as the library closed for the day; the atmosphere was bright and cheerful and of course very conducive to writing as our tables were surrounded by shelves full of novels that we hoped to emulate.

Town Hall Library

Over the years some of us have achieved this and our books have been launched at ceremonies hosted by the friendly and supportive Town Hall staff where, for a long time, Gillian Wales was manager. Wine was both provided and served on every occasion.
However, in 2013 the Recession hit the country and the libraries were obliged to make a charge for their rooms. As Wear Valley Writers is now a smaller, self-help group we were not able to meet those charges.
Sadly we said goodbye to the Town Hall library and its wonderful staff and looked elsewhere for a suitable place to meet. 
Our New Home.

We found one in the most unlikely of places – Asda Store, in Bishop Auckland offered us free use of its Community Room every Wednesday evening.  Walk through the store; past the Fish Counter and through a green door in the corner and discover a world of offices, staircases and a canteen.
Our room is on the ground floor with an enormous oval table and comfortable blue chairs.  Of course we miss the splendour of the Town Hall library, but we are most grateful to Asda for making us welcome.
Our writing and our friendship continue to flourish.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Lighthouses and Literature

There’s something exciting about lighthouses. Withstanding the gales and the force of the seas they are a thrilling reminder of the lonely existence of the Keepers who used to be marooned there for weeks on end.
They are also an excellent setting for novels and Alison Moore has recently published hers – simply called “The Lighthouse.” I look forward to reading that as I read Jeanette Winterson’s novel “LighthouseKeeping"  a strange story of orphan Silver, adopted by Mr Pew the blind lighthouse keeper at Cape Wrath in Sutherland; Britain’s most north-westerly point. 

The Weathervane on Teignmouth Lighthouse.
In contrast to the wild rocks of that coast, Devon's danger comes from hidden currents and shifting sands.  At the point where the river Teign meets the open sea this causes many problems even for experienced pilots. The lighthouse there stands on Teignmouth promenade and is only 6 metres high with a simple weathervane on the top.   

Further south still and many miles from Cape Wrath is the Combiere lighthouse on the western tip of Jersey where it has stood tall since 1874.  It is 19 metres high with the lamp 36 metres to be seen above high water spring tides, warning ships away from the treacherous shore there.  How often I’ve walked across to it at low tide; admiring the great face that has formed on the stark rocks; passing signs recording the number of people drowned by ignoring the times of the tide.  I’ve also sailed behind it, appreciating the full splendour of that rocky coast line.
The island’s prison is in the same vicinity, a bleak place indeed.

I believe Jeanette Winterson also has a collection of short stories based on lighthouses and if anybody knows the title I’d be pleased to hear it.

Friday, 15 February 2013


Over the years I’ve used many recipes, but my favourite is an old one passed down through the family.
It doesn’t have an official date but it obviously belongs to the 1940s.
Lemon Curd is to be made in a double pan (which has also been passed down and is still intact)

2 Lemons
2 Tablespoonfuls of dried egg or 2 whole eggs.
8oz Sugar
3 oz Margarine.

Put margarine into a double pan.
Grate lemon peel finely on to the sugar. Squeeze juice from lemons.
Add these to margarine and allow all to dissolve.
Reconstitute the dried eggs (or beat whole eggs) and add,
stirring all the time until it thickens.
Pour into jars.

I often follow these instructions and the result is the best lemon curd I’ve ever tasted.

Thursday, 7 February 2013


This evocative little poem was written by my cousin, Rosy Machin -
a wonderful octogenarian, still writing and painting as she’s done all her life.

I waited
Under a threatening sky
In Churchill Square.
But you weren't there.
A pigeon with pink feet
Tottered across the street.
He didn’t care.
Another one passed by
"Why?" he said "Why?"

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Avril Joy - Costa Winner

Imagine my delight today to be watching the lunch time News and to see my writing friend, Avril Joy acclaimed winner of the Costa Short Story competition. From nearly 2000 entries 6 had been short-listed and Avril’s story beat them all!


Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Winter Splendour.

"What good is the warmth of summer without the cold of winter to give it sweetness."
                                               John Steinbeck.

An unexpected delight on a cold winter morning
to find this web hanging outside the bay window.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013


Another film well worth seeing is “Quartet.”
In absolute contrast to the noise and excitement of “The Life of Pi,” this is a gentle romance set in a Home for retired musicians.  Maggie Smith and Billy Connolly take the main parts supported by a very good cast; many of them musicians from prestigious orchestras and choirs.
The people may be elderly, but they retain their strong characters and individuality.
With beautiful settings and full of music, this is a film with a difference.