Snapper-jaws

Breachwood Green was a quiet village in the years following the second world war.  We hardly ever saw a car. There was a bus to take us to Hitchin or Luton, the nearest towns. There was a post office, next to a pub, The Red Lion, and beside that the forge where my grandfather, William Tripp, used to have his blacksmith’s workshop.  I never knew my grandfather. He died before I was born.

When I was old enough, I went to the Baptist Chapel on Sunday mornings. It wasn’t far from where we lived, and I walked there on my own. You could let five-year-olds do that in those days. I don’t remember the singing or the lessons, but I can remember very something I did one day. I brought home a hymn book. I don’t know why I did it. My mother was furious with me. I think she saw a life of criminality and theft ahead if it wasn’t stamped out there and then. She insisted that I went to the Sunday school teacher’s house, said sorry and gave the books back. She sent me off on my own, clutching the wretched book, a sense of terror rising with every step.

The Sunday school teacher lived at the end a very long drive, and she had a very snappy little Jack Russell dog, who guarded their property with something bordering on mania. I’d already had a bad experience with a dog, so I was filled with dread when I arrived at the gateway to find Snapper-jaws on duty. Tears slid my cheeks. I wanted to run and run and run and never go back. However, I didn’t dare go home with the Sunday school book still in my hand. It was a no-win situation.

I’ll tell you what I did, and it was very naughty of me. I threw the book into a ditch underneath a sprawling hedge. There, that was the end of that!

I don’t know what I said to my mother when I got home. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the truth. Sometimes when you’re grown up you have to forgive yourself for something you’re sorry about, something you may have done years ago. I’m sorry I threw the book under a bush. I’m sorry I told my mother a lie. Without Snapper-jaws on sentry duty, I might not have remembered this story so clearly.

I’m sure all my mother wanted was to teach me a lesson – that if you’ve done something bad, it’s right to be sorry. You should own up and apologise, and then you’ll have every chance of being forgiven. I know now that God is the greatest forgiver of all, which is a very good thing.

Anyway, whatever happens, you can always learn something from it.

Frog: (Nervously) Give me a statue any day.

 

Riding my bike

Breachwood Green, near Hitchin in Hertfordshire. Where I lived until I was seven in 1951. Today I’m stepping back in time and remembering what it was like in the nineteen forties.

The cottage looked as if it had been brought to life out of a picture book. It had a front door in the middle, and one sash window each side. There were three sash windows upstairs. Come inside with me and have a look round.

There was a narrow passage that led past a room on our left and a room on our right. There were two doors at the end of the passage. If you opened one, you’d be faced with the stairs. I expect it was there because the cottage had once been a small pub, and you wouldn’t want the visitors to wandering about in the bedrooms, would you? The second door led to the kitchen, which I remember best.

What I’m going to tell you next will come as a great surprise. We didn’t have any taps inside the cottage. There was one just outside the house next door, and my mum or dad had to go and fetch all our water in metal pails. Of course, there was no toilet indoors either. Outside in the back garden, there was what was called a privy. It was a sort of shed, but the sort where you keep garden forks and spades and rakes. If you peeped inside you would see something like a long wooden box, fixed against the wall, with a smooth plank on the top. There were two holes in the plank, one for grown up bottoms and one for a child’s bottom. No flush of any kind. I expect a lot of readers are now feeling rather nauseous. If yes, skip the next bit.

Every so often my dad had to dig out the, erm, stuff in the box part, and cart it up the garden and bury it in a hole, I suppose. It must have been rather pongy I think, especially in a hot summer.

Anyway, let’s turn to something a bit less disgusting!

Not only was there no running water, there was definitely no central heating. My mum had to light the range in the kitchen every day, and make sure she had enough wood to get the fire going in the morning. There was a big woodstore next to the house, and sometimes I’d watch my mum chopping the wood. I’ve never liked axes, and I think Mum may have warned me never to touch hers or even come close while she was chopping.

It must have been a hard life in many ways, but for a little girl of four, five or six, it was wonderful. In spring the countryside was full of birdsong, and I remember running along the lane to peep into a robin’s nest in the bank. My mum had shown it to me. You can guess how sad we were to find, one day, that it had been destroyed. Mum said that boys sometimes did that sort of thing. They’d probably taken the eggs for their collections.

When I was about six or seven, my mum and dad bought me a bike, second hand I expect. You have to understand that there wasn’t much traffic in those days, someone on a bicycle perhaps, the odd tractor. Mum took me out on fine days, and this is how she taught me to ride. She had one hand under my saddle to stop me falling off, and the other hand steadying my little brother, who was about two or three. I wobbled a lot at first, but my mum’s hand under the saddle held me firmly upright. One day I rode along, chatting away to my mum, yak, yak, yak. Then I asked her a question. Why didn’t she answer? I looked back and nearly fell into the road. She was a long way behind, seeing to my brother who had fallen over and hurt himself. I was riding my bike all by myself!

This is post office (left) and The Red Lion in Breachwood Green in1946, when I was two.

Madeleine La Croix

 

Madeleine La Croix could have reached up and put the ball into the goal mouth with very little effort.

Fortunately for me, a would-be ace shooter, she detested netball.

In assembly she bumped up and down, lifting her heels and replacing them without a sound. Don’t ask me why. She could see over all our heads. Poor girl was a prime target for Miss Ling, searching out misdemeanours—coughing un-necessarily, sneezing above a certain number of decibels, that kind of thing.

The day after I came back to school after the flu, I looked among the rows of neat girls, affirming my place among them. Madeleine wasn’t there.

‘Oh, she’s dead,’ my friend said in a matter-of-fact voice.

‘Dead? She was perfectly alright a week ago.’

‘Pneumonia. Didn’t you know? Oh, of course, you’ve been away.’

I thought of Madeleine’s big square face, her dark eyes, her hair, long and brown carefully tied back. The dark mole near her lip.

I didn’t know her very well, but I missed her.

Apparently she had been an only child.

 

MY BROTHER!

When I was young and pony-tailed

How long ago it seems!

A lovely little girl I was,

With schoolgirl hopes and dreams.

 

I lived my life in Luton town

With my father and my mother,

Life would have been fantastic

But for my pesky little brother.

He always started all the fights,

Are brothers all the same?

He would swack me, I would shout

Then I’d get all the blame!

 

He cheated at Monopoly,

He teased me all the time,

He stabbed me with his knuckles –

That was his biggest crime.

 

He didn’t have a teddy bear

He had a knitted pig,

A gift from our dear auntie

When he wasn’t very big.

My brother loved this pig to bits

Indeed twas often holey

Then Mum would patch it up again.

A pink wool roly poly.

 

 

 

Now one day when my dearest bruv

Some cruel blows had dealt,

I thought I’d like to punish him

So he’d know how I felt!

I crept into his bedroom,

I reached right down his bed;

I got that silly Piggy out

And stroked its little head.

 

And then I got a bit of string

Tied Piggy up real tight

I hung it from the lampshade

To give that boy a fright!

And then I went to find him,

And this is what I said,

‘You’d better go and see your pig –

I think he could be dead!’

 

I’m sure I really meant no harm,

But trouble was to come

Cos when he saw his Piggy

My brother called our Mum.

She told me  I was very cruel,

She gave me such a smack.

She said if I was kind to him,

He’d always be kind back.

 

It was only when we both grew up

I found out that was true,

If you are kind to someone else

Then they’ll be kind to you.

Frog: (Hopefully)

Well, mostly anyway. Only some of them have to be in a good mood!

And some of them can’t believe you’re trying to be nice.

Take my word for it.

And could somebody please get me out of here?

 

 

 

The Crawleys’ Dog

Until I was seven, I lived in a small village. One day, when I was about four years old, I watched as the hunt went by. There was a carpet of tails waving above a tightly packed carnival of hounds; a huntsman sitting straight-backed and high on his velvet horse. The drumming of paws; eager yelps; hooves clopping on the lane. The sights and sounds of a crisp morning. Excitement was in the air.

I felt safe behind the garden fence. Well, just about. You see, to me dogs were fearsome creatures. Their faces were a bit too close to mine. They had too many teeth. I can vaguely recall a bad experience with a Jack Russell, but I’ve squashed the details into a forgotten corner of my mind.

Anyway, now you know how I used to feel about dogs, I’d like to tell you a story. I was invited to Christine Crawley’s birthday party. She had a brother called Francis. My mother told me that was his name, but everyone in his family called him Boy. My mother thought it was dreadful, addressing a child in such a way. I didn’t mind. To me it was just another of those strange things adults did from time to time.

The Crawleys had a dog. I don’t think it was particularly big. A terrier perhaps. Any way, it was a proud guardian of its territory, that’s for sure.

‘It’s all right,’ said Mrs Crawley, ‘He won’t hurt you. Don’t be silly.’

I sat politely at the table fighting the urge to put my feet up onto my chair. I knew that would be rude. But at least it would be safe. Safer than sitting there with my ankles dangling awaiting the inevitable arrival of The Teeth. I bit my lip.

Another child arrived, one like me, suffering from acute dog-phobia. I saw the look of terror as the hairy canine advanced on him, tongue lolling, a jaunty look about him which meant he took no prisoners. The child clutched his mother. Dogs always know when you’re frightened, don’t they? They rise to the challenge. I wanted to help that frightened child.

‘It’s all right,’ I said, just like Mrs Crawley had. ‘He won’t hurt you.’

Of course the adults thought it was hilarious. Little Veronica, at that time one of the greatest sufferers of cynophobia in the whole world, telling someone else not to worry. They laughed and laughed. I’d have crawled under the table but for the you know what.

 

 

Hunting Act 2004
The Hunting Act 2004 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which bans the hunting of wild mammals with dogs in England and Wales.
Frog: (breezily):
Dogs? They don’t bother me in the least.
Not when I’m up here anyway!

We came from the sea

WE CAME FROM THE SEA

We came from the sea, sliding out of the mud, learning to use lungs to breathe the invisible air. Reggie knew all about that. The others didn’t seem to care.

In the Plymouth Aquarium, my class of five-year-olds leant over the rock pool, pointing at the starfish. They named the blennies and the anemones, eager to retell stories of their own. They stopped in front of the hippocampus tank and saw sea-horse tails curved around green stems; tiny eyes in modestly dipped faces. The children ran down passageways where we stared up at nurse sharks flicking their tails. They sat cross-legged and watch enormous rays with undulating gills. They gaped at the sharks, and when one child said their teeth were scary, several of my bolder characters insisted that they weren’t afraid, not one bit. Reggie said they would be if they were in the tank with them, and he received a scornful look. He re-established his kudos at the next stop, where he informed us that, ‘This is the biggest tank in the UK, and it holds two million litres of water.’

‘Did you know that, Miss?’ he asked me.

‘I read it before we came, in case anyone asked.’

Reggie grinned.

I wish I could have taken him when I did my preparatory visit, late one afternoon when all the families had gone home for tea. There was silence in the whole place, and I stood for a long time in front of a living display of tiny jellyfish, ocean drifters, almost transparent, their umbrella skirts pulsating. I remembered snorkelling in Mauritius, dipping my head underwater and finding a world I had heard about, had seen on television, but had never experienced before. It was a wake-up call to being responsible for all this unimaginable beauty. A bit like knowing God is real, rather than being told.

We went to the beach later in the summer term, my class and I. We took parents and carers, and our swimsuits and picnics. A few children were eager to start eating as soon as we arrived, but Reggie told them they’d be hungry later. They pulled a face at him, but closed their lunch-boxes anyway. There were rock pools to explore, and we had buckets and trays to display our finds – two hermit crabs, a pipe-fish, a blenny, various shellfish, fronds of seaweed, a cluster of yellow periwinkle shells. We returned all the living creatures to their homes before we left.

In the classroom we made a display showing how long various objects would take to rot away. The children brought plastic bottles and bits of old rope, bottle tops and drink cans. Reggie committed the whole list to memory.

Perhaps it’s easier for children who live by the sea, to learn to love it, to respect it, to honour it. God’s beautiful underwater world. The place from which we all came.Frog:(Haughtily)

I came from a pond.

A QUESTION OF TRUTH

  • Is there such a thing as truth?

Your immediate reaction may be like mine. ‘Of course there is.’

Then, in my wanderings around the Internet, I found a website which explains the basics of this philosophical question in simple language.  https://oxplore.org/question-detail/does-truth-exist#1082

This is the kind of thing it says:

‘Philosophy helps us deal with questions about what is and isn’t true by encouraging us to stand back and look at the broader picture.

It may not give us absolute truths but it helps us shine a light on how we think about what is and isn’t true. Why we might hold some beliefs and what the difference is between belief and evidence.

What do you think? How do you determine what is true and what you choose to believe as true?’

  • Do you think the best stories and myths have truth at their core?

My wanderings also took me to another fascinating website

https://proverbicals.com/truth

What do you think of these proverbs?

The wise man says, “I am looking for truth“; and the fool, “I have found truth.” ~ Russian Proverb

Do not seek the truth, only cease to cherish your opinions. ~ Zen Proverb

https://proverbicals.com is full of proverbs from all over the world. It seems as if everyone has something to say about truth.

Some of these proverbs could inspire whole stories. For example:

When one has one’s hand full of truth it is not always wise to open it. ~ French Proverb

Never does a woman lie in a more cunning way than when she tells the truth to someone who doesn’t believe her. ~ Chinese Proverb

It is good to know the truth and to speak the truth. It is even better to know the truth and speak about palm trees. ~ Arabian Proverb

Never show the truth naked — just in its shirt. ~ Spanish Proverb

If you want to hear the truth about yourself — offend your neighbour. ~ Czech Proverb

  • What truth can we find underlying the stories/novels we read?

There are only two ways to reach the truth — with literature and agriculture. ~ Chinese Proverb

Do you agree? Do truth and stories belong together?

I’ve started asking myself the following question:

What truths will readers find when they read my work?

What will they find when they read yours?

Oscar Wilde is having the last word today, courtesy of https://proverbicals.com

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. ~ Oscar Wilde

Do you agree?

FROG: (philosophically)

I’ll agree with anything that’s true.

How do you begin?

Do you start a story with the characters or the plot?

Sometimes one, sometimes the other?

Recently I sat down to create a monologue for a task set by my local writing group. A character from my work in progress seemed to look at me and ask what I was waiting for.

When I say a character, I mean ‘the villain’, though I hope she didn’t hear me say that.

I started by having her furious about something, and of course she was trying to hide her sense of outrage under the pretence of concern for her ‘friend’. (I use the term ‘friend’ loosely.)

At first it was fun, getting inside her head and poking around a bit. Then I started to understand what made her so nasty, and why she couldn’t escape from this part of her personality. I stopped feeling nervous around her, and I began to sense her need to change. She’s trapped in rudeness, no-one likes her, and she’s not happy. I feel as if I can’t change her unless she wants to change. (Yes, she’s very powerful and not putty in anyone’s hands!)

Some villains in books never change, do they? This particular lady is looking at me now, and I think she is asking for help.

It’s great being a writer.

We take what we know and what we understand, and we put these into stories.

Frog: (Hanging out in the garden)                                     

Ever get the feeling you don’t even understand yourself?

 

Exploring children’s books

I’ve been exploring the world of novels for children. There are so many wonderfully imaginative stories to choose from, and I am always adding to the list of my favourite children’s writers. I’ve been a fan of Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Morpurgo for a long time, but today I’d like to share with you a few of my more recent finds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ross Welford’s The Dog Who Saved the Word is about 11 year old Georgie and her friend Ramzy, and her smelly, eats-anything dog, Mr Mash.    They get to know an ancient and eccentric scientist and virtual games expert, and eventually save the planet from a deadly disease. I loved the characters and the humour. Short chapters. Easy to read.

The Nowhere Emporium is the very exciting and wildly imaginative tale of Daniel, an orphan, who escapes bullies and becomes the loyal apprentice to Mr Silver, owner of a pop-up shop with magical rooms. He becomes caught up in a fight between good and evil, personified by Mr Silver and his arch-enemy, Vindictus Sharpe.

There’s another orphan in Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson. Maia goes to live in Brazil with distant relatives, who turn out to be far removed from the kind and loving people she has imagined. A skilful plot, excellently drawn characters, and a heroine to cheer for.

It’s a joy to read adventure stories which inspire me to make my children’s book the very best it can possibly be.

If you can recommend other children’s authors, I’d love to hear from you.

Frog: (Seriously)

Specially if they have frogs as heroes.

Or tadpoles, of course.

 

 

 

Worst and best

What’s worst thing about lockdown?

Not seeing your family? Not chatting face to face with friends?

Or is it fear? The fear of contracting Covid19, of being very ill, of facing an early death?

Clapping the NHS is one thing. Working for the NHS is another. Or having a beloved relative working for the NHS.

It’s time to take stock, to look at the possibilities. What do I want from life? What can I do for other people?

What would an ideal world look like? How can I help to make that a  reality?

What’s the best thing about lockdown?

The quiet roads? The empty sky? Time with the children? Time to think? To make plans? Time to make the garden beautiful?

Has it been hard to settle down and write? Or is this a blessed release from meetings and the daily grind?

Whatever it has been, how can we carry the positives into the future? How can we become better people because of all we’ve been through?

This is the opportunity for a fresh start. Let’s grasp it and make it work.