Saturday, 20 December 2008

Saturday

Daughter and I are going to Olympia today with friends, hurrah, but this does of course mean that I will miss, oh sob, the Strictly Final. Just hope our video recorder, which is prone to fits of temperament, does the job. I am such a sad soul I actually spent time considering whether to get one of those DVD recorder machines. Once I'd seen how much they were, in view of the vast plumber's bill that just thudded through the door after what I hope is the last of our adventures with our anarchic water system, I rapidly gave up that idea.

Lisa to win - I love the way that girl has fought her way through.

Friday, 19 December 2008

A Christmas Carol

I love singing carols, but after a bit I start to long for something that isn't the same old round of O Little Town, The First Nowell and Silent Night, much though I love them. I think this is beautifully sung.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Hallelujah

My daughter has alas now stopped watching Strictly Come Dancing with me, as all her friends watch X Factor. So, after SCD had finished (I have my priorities right) I watched the X Factor final with her - not something I think I'll repeat. Is it obligatory for everyone to cry? And did no-one think it might have been kinder to point out to Eoghan that he had a few tuning issues? The whole experience felt quite unreal - I felt as though I was sitting in a swirling sea of souped up emotion. I did wonder quite why everything felt so hyper. Is it because the contestants are living the only dream that most of the audience have, in which case I can see why things were so fervid; though it's a dreadful comment on British society if the only thing most of our young have to look forward to is the dim possibility of appearing on X Factor - one which will rapidly recede as soon as they're past their mid twenties, and what then?

I do hope whoever made the decision to parade a freak show of the worst auditionees has been taken into a corner and quietly sacked. Tours of Bedlam obviously aren't as far away as they should be from our national psyche, alas.

I just hope that the final wasn't the best day of her life for the girl who won - one would hope life retains a few more good things for her, though as far as having a successful life as a singer goes, the omens aren't good. Most of the winners appear to have sunk without trace.

So, I feel bad about mentioning the campaign to get Jeff Buckley's version of Hallelujah as the Christmas number one, rather than Alexandra's. Poor child; I don't like to blight her dream, and it's hardly her fault that the show's producers have made her sing it, but the Jeff Buckley version is so far beyond hers. Here it is:


Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Food miles?

This is one of our eggs (actually to be entirely accurate it is one of Matilda's. She is our hybrid hen, and an excellent layer, unlike the bantams, who spend the winter glaring malevolently at weather they don't like - most of it - and not laying a thing.)



I shut the hens up just before the light goes; the time obviously moves, but for the past few weeks it's been at about a quarter to four. I go out and shut the hens up and then go and collect my infants from the station. I usually collect the daily egg at the same time. I have tried stowing it in various places before I go (top of the compost heap; inside the pig sty; nestling in the ivy on the gate post), but then always forget it. So, I shove it in my bag and off it goes to the station, and duly does the seven mile round trip. So far I've managed not to crush the egg in my bag, or let an incautious child sit on it.

I don't think it's quite what's meant by food miles. I prefer to think of it as a lightly travelled egg.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Christmas Recommendations

I'm sure that unlike me, you have already sorted out all your Christmas presents. I never have by this point of the year. I think though that I perform a useful social service, as everyone who asks me (and there are a lot of them) "Are you ready for Christmas yet?" can feel smug/superior/relieved/worried on my behalf/thankful they are not me. I'm sort of like the slovens in How Clean is Your House? However bad you are, you're not as bad as me.

Anyway, here is a quick round up of horse and pony books that I'd recommend for Christmas: all in print. There are other pony books I've enjoyed over the year, but these are the best of the best. The American author Jessie Haas had some wonderful books; not only are they beautifully written, they also come as hardbacks, with dustjackets, so make a rather more permanent gift than paperbacks. It's almost impossible now to find a British pony book which appears in hardback, so grab this:

The Jigsaw Pony
Aimed at newly confident readers. The Jigsaw Pony is the story of twins completely unable to agree on anything; and they carry right on disagreeing when they get a pony. It's a story with great charm, and beautifully observed.



With covers that will appeal to the younger reader at whom they're aimed, though not certainly to this parent, are Diana Kimpton's Pony Mad Princess series. This has the advantage of being a long series, so if your young like it there's plenty there to go for, but the thing that sold it to me is the humour. Princess Ellie is a determinedly unsparkly princess and the books are good stories; well told; without a hint of fantasy, and were I still at the bedtime reading stage, I'd head for these.



For the youngest readers, Jessie Haas has Sugaring, Appaloosa Zebra and Scamper and the Horse Show. All of these are again, hardbacks with dustjackets. Sugaring is a lovely one for winter: it has marvellous pictures of the horses in the snow collecting the maple syrup, and is a lovely gentle read to enjoy together. Appaloosa Zebra and Scamper both have plenty of pony content and are wonderfully observed. There's not a lot of competition out there for books for the young equine reader, but there doesn't really need to be with books as good as these.







For older readers (including teenagers though not alas my own horse-averse pair) there's Michael Morpurgo's War Horse and K M Peyton's Blind Beauty. War Horse is a marvellous evocation of the tragedy of war as seen through a horse's eyes. It is one of the best equine portraits I've read, and although it does not shy away from the tragedy of war, it is ultimately an uplifting read. Blind Beauty's heroine, Tessa, is not an easy character, but she is one of K M Peyton's best. K M Peyton succeeds in making you root entirely for Tessa, even when she produces acts of quite staggering rebellion. Tessa, at the start of the book, is vile, but there is just a little something there; a spark of fire, that makes you want her to succeed. Tessa's all-encompassing love for Buffoon, her horse: the one thing she has left to remind her of her feckless father, and her struggles against the storms that assail her, are entirely believable.




For younger teenage readers, and older primary, there is the wonderful, though alas hard to find here, Alyssa Brugman. Her books are obtainable only from Australia, and postage from the Aussie book sites to here is not cheap, but they are the best pony books for that age I've read in a long while. Shelby's ups and downs with her pony Blue explore what it is like to be a girl struggling with not enough money and the problems of teenagerdom.

Obtainable here, and a good traditional pony book read, is Victoria Eveleigh's Katy's Exmoor. No sparkles, fantasy or celebrity here: but a solid story with a thoroughly believable family, set on Exmoor, and featuring, of course, Exmoors.

There are, of course, books I wouldn't recommend that you put in your beloved's Christmas stocking. For lazy writing, avoid Jenny Oldfield's Magical Pony series; for being just not that good; Katie Price's, and for a not very successful attempt to mix shopping, school and ponies, Chestnut Hill.

Victoria Eveleigh:
Katy's Exmoor: £4.50
Jessie Haas:
Sugaring: £9.89
Jigsaw Pony: £8.15
Appaloosa Zebra: £9.89
Scamper and the Horse Show: £8.17
Diana Kimpton:
Princess Ellie to the Rescue: £3.59
Michael Morpurgo:
The War Horse £3.84
K M Peyton:
Blind Beauty: £4.49

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Nature? What's that?

Thanks to Juliet for her post on the stripping out of words from the Oxford Junior Dictionary - a horror which had passed me by. The humble primrose, along with allotment, catkin, blackberry, and even Gawd help us, dandelion and conker - two things you'd think would be familiar to even the most urban, have gone, along with many others.

I can't say I'm hugely surprised. I live in a rural-ish village, surrounded by fields, and with large woods a short walk away, and the ignorance our children have about the natural world astounds me. This summer I took our church youth group round the churchyard to see what flowers were growing, and once they'd got past buttercups and daisies they had not the remotest idea what anything was. They were very interested to learn, and amazed that I knew so many names (a childhood devoted to Enid Blyton's Nature Books saw to that, as well as the good old nature table at school).





Schools have to shoulder a fair amount of blame for opting out of teaching children about the natural world. It's tempting to blame parents, but they are, I think, fighting an uphill battle. My own daughter reaches hideous heights of scorn when I say "Oh look, there's a harebell," or whatever. "MUM - NO ONE'S interested in that anymore. The world's different NOW."

And alas, it appears she's right.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Oliver Postgate

RIP. Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin's creations were a huge part of my childhood. My sister and I can still talk Clanger (though my husband alas never has really appreciated the one I bought him a few Christmases ago, which when pressed in the tummy says "Ooh, uh uh, uh uh uh uh uh uh," which I heard on a programme about OP actually translated as "Oh, **** it, the bloody thing's broken again." Figures.) I still like it though, as does my daughter, and every now and then we release him from his cupboard and let him speak. The Clanger I mean, not my husband.

One of the very first things OH and I bought together was a Noggin the Nog video, which we still have, though it must be, gasp, at least 20 years old now. Gosh. The children loved it too. I can really appreciate now, watching it again, how masterful it was: the atmospheric music, and the effective and utterly unflashy animation, but most of all the story.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Frost

A cold and spiky world. Dog and I like not coming back covered with mud (particularly as the hole in my wellie is getting larger, not smaller.) Made the latest of a whole series of mental notes to go and get a new pair on the way back from the station.





Monday, 8 December 2008

Let's Not Fight This Christmas

Glow of quiet local pride here, as the choir is Masquerade, which is a wonderful children's choir local to us. Several of the my two's friends are in it, but the choir alas is so fleeting in the video we haven't managed to track them down yet....

I like this song (but then I always did like Squeeze).


Monday, 1 December 2008

Website news

My site has been a tad unreliable of late. It's a victim of its own success, as there are now far more people wanting to use it than my provider can cope with without charging me a fortune. So, I'm now changing webhosts to one which will give me unlimited bandwidth, in the hope that it will be able to cope with the ever-increasing traffic to the site. I've started the process (already spent a good long while on the phone with customer support...) but I'm told it can take up to 72 hours for the world's isps to recognise the change, so there might still be a bit of disruption here and there.

BUT - I hope the change will mean everyone can access the site, whenever they want. Fingers and everything else are crossed, as whenever I make any sort of IT change, something unexpected always, always happens. Maybe, this time, it will be good something.