Wombles of Wimbledon

I have to confess to turning on This Morning this morning. But it was worth it because there were the Wombles, beside the Thames, singing the classic Remember You’re a Womble. This iconic band, reformed and freshly back from performing at Glastonbury. Yes, Glastonbury. Now if anything could have lured me away from watching the tennis going on at their hometown to head to the mud of that festival, it would be the Wombles. But alas, I’m behind with the news and only just found out. I heard about Beyonce, U2, Coldplay and Morrissey but why did nobody bother to tell me about Orinoco, Tobermory, Great Uncle Bulgaria et al? And I bet they kept the rubbish down.


Blue Peter on the Move

Blue Peter: end of an era, start of a new one.

Today is the final broadcast of the longest-running children’s programme in the world. Not over for good, just from Shepherd’s Bush. It’s perhaps the show that is the most connected to the BBC television centre, not least because of the Blue Peter garden. But after the summer break  the programme will be based in Salford, with the new garden now on a roof terrace.


It’s very sad in some ways as this iconic show has always been there. I have such fond memories from my childhood and teenage years and from my own children’s viewing. (My oldest used to come out with amazing facts and I’d say ‘how do you know that?’ and he’d say ‘Blue Peter’.) I can’t imagine it continuing in a different studio, in a different space but then things change. In a way it’s good for such a flagship programme to be less London-centric and speaking as a West Country girl I applaud this. But I still can’t help feeling nostalgic.

Blue Peter plays an important part in my forthcoming novel The Generation Game, as one of the characters is obsessed with it and makes a time capsule. So I have been thinking about the show and all those best moments. From the pooing elephant, to John Noales skydiving. 

I’ve also been thinking about those presenters who became regulars in our living room. From Valerie through to my favourite Konnie. And from John and Peter to Simon Groom and his farm in Derbyshire.   

Not forgetting the pets: Petra, Shep, Jason, Patch, Freda, Goldie, Jack and Jill, Bonnie, George, Meg.



I wonder what Biddy Baxter makes of this?

Good Game, Good Game









I was delighted to see Sir Bruce at Wimbledon yesterday with his wife, Wilnelia. As he entered the Royal box, the Centre Court crowd gave him a standing ovation and he applauded them back. Later, at the start of the evening highlights programme, he said if Andy Murray wins the tournament he’ll be knighted … and then he gave that aside look and added ‘eventually’. He’s still got that perfect timing. Let’s hope Andy does too.

And go Laura Robson!



If you happen to be in or around Teignmouth keep an eye out for beautifully painted pebbles. In tree hollows, on walls, in gutters, on groynes. If you find one, check the back and if it says spymass.com, you can keep it. We have two. Now, everytime I set foot outside, I am on the look-out. And in looking, I see stuff I wouldn’t usually see. Which is a good thing for me as a writer. I’m noticing tiny details in the environment where I live and work.

I emailed Bryan Robinson, the artist of the pebbles who leaves them for people to find. He said he’s spoken to one person who has collected 50, so we have a long way to go to catch up. A lot of looking. Bryan exhibits his pebbles and his paintings in a gallery in Teignmouth and this is one way to get his work seen so that it will encourage visitors to the gallery.

But this goes further than advertising. It really touched me to find these small pieces of art. A kind of public art but that is at the same time very private. Our stones now live on the bookshelves in our study. But there are more out there waiting to be found to make their way into someone else’s home.

This concept reminded me of the phenomenom of leaving books in public places for others to find. Over the last decade or so people over the world have left books on benches, in phone boxes etc. Some are officially registered with bookcrossing.com and this way you can track the journey of your book and see how many other people have enjoyed it. You can also do book reviews. Book sharing has been a real success in Buenos Aires where they are keen to promote reading and literature. On the flyleaf of one novel was the hand-written inscription: “This book has not been lost. It has no owner; it is part of the Argentine Free Book Movement, and it was left in this place so that you would find it.”

And the concept has moved to sharing the Bible as part of the celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the St James.

And Christians will be encouraged to take their Bibles from their bookshelves and get them out there for new people to engage with this old book in a fresh way.

And then there’s guerilla gardening.

And flash mob singing – who can forget the Hallelujah Chorus in the shopping centre? 


And Banksy, of course.

It seems we have a hunger to share our creativity with the world and I for one am all for it. OK, so writers might not get the royalties for the books being shared, but then their books will be reaching new readers, readers who might go on to buy the book for themselves or other books by the same author.

There’s something magical about doing things for others that will surprise and please them – like the Elves and the Shoemaker – one of my favouite ever fairy tales.

Share something good today.

Alastair Campbell with an Axe

I am a member of Exeter Writers and as a spin-off,  a member of Exeter Writers Book Group. We met yesterday to discuss Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and for once we were all in agreement: it is a triumph of a book. Whatever your views on historical fiction – how far can the novelist go in characterisation, the blurring of fact and fiction, research versus imagination – this is a novel that brings alive this key period in the  Tudor dynasty, with freshness and surprise.

We came a bit late to the party, I know. Amongst many glittering prizes and shortlistings, Wolf Hall won the Man Booker in 2009. It was on my list of to-read books and so I was delighted when it was chosen by a member of our book group; I actually needed the motivation to read the 600 plus pages as I am a lightweight when it comes to novel length (if you see what I mean).

And yes, I got confused from time to time with the notorious ‘he’ thing but this did in effect slow me down, forcing me to go back over the text and gain something deeper. This novel works on so many levels but what I liked the most was Mantel’s use of viewpoint and tense. By having this very close third person narrator (the ‘he’ thing) and using the present tense, we are there in the thick of it, spinning and weaving and ducking and diving with Cromwell. We know as a modern reader how this will end; we have the benefit of history on our side. But none of the characters share our knowledge. Henry has no idea he will end up with six wives. Anne Boleyn does not know that her slim neck will be sliced from her once-adored body by a French swordsman. No one has the first inkling that Baby Elizabeth, with her tufts of red hair, will one day become an icon of English monarchs. Maybe only Cromwell suspects how his fate will pan out and makes hay while the sun shines.

Historian David Starkey has referred to Cromwell as ‘Alastair Campbell with an axe.’ Mantel sets out to show him in a more sympathetic light and succeeds as the reader can’t help but warm to him. His lowly violent childhood, his sense of humour, his love for his family and friends, his experience and memory, these traits all combine to make another portrait of Cromwell, one we have never been shown before. Thomas More has always been held up as the good one. Indeed, at my school, a convent, we had four houses, each named after a Catholic martyr. (I was in More.) In Mantel’s retelling, Thomas More comes across as sinister and stubborn and as the eternal enemy of Cromwell and the Reformation.

Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein

Now I’m looking forward to the next installment and will not be put off by the length of it. Not since Ray Winston’s cockney Henry VIII have I been so excited. Especially as Mantel has hinted that we may be in for a surpise. Though one thing’s for certain: Cromwell will come a cropper.

What goes up must go down.

Didn’t he do well?


Congratulations to the star of my childhood, teenage years and motherhood. 70 years in showbiz and he has earned that knighthood. The variety stars of yesteryear will be smiling down on him. Well done, Sir Brucie.

And only just over a month till my novel The Generation Game is published, an homage to Sir Bruce and all the influences of those Saturday night television programmes that pebble-dashed my youth. An homage to love and family.

The Tiger who came to Tea

The Tiger who Came to Tea is as old as me, published in the the year I was born. Strangely, I never knew the book as a child. It wasn’t until I was a teacher that I first discovered it and then, later, I bought it for my own children. It’s now a book I buy as a gift for new parents or very young children.

Judith Kerr who wrote and illustrated The Tiger who came to Tea, amongst other classics as the Mog books and the child’s-eye memoir When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, is now in her eighties and still working.

Kerr has had an astonishing life, escaping Nazi Germany as a child, where her father was a distinguised writer and had his books burned. She took up writing and illustrating children’s books when her own children were learning to read. (Her son is Matthew Kneale, author of acclaimed English Passengers, so it must have paid off.)  

And now The Tiger who came to Tea has been adapted for the stage by David Wood and is on a countrywide tour.

I hope it keeps the surreal and poignant quality of Kerr’s work.

This got me thinking about my Top Ten Children’s Picture Books. So here they are:

Not Now Bernard by David McKee

Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? by Eric Carle

Where’s Spot? by Eric Hill

A Balloon for Grandad by Jane Ray and Nigel Gray

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss

The Tale of Benjamin Bunny by Beatrix Potter

So many to choose from … didn’t even mention Tove Jansson’s Moomins or Ezra Jack Keats’ Whistle for Willie or The Paperbag Princess (Munsch/Martchenko) or Angry Arthur (Hiawyn Oram/Satoshi Kitamura) or Rod Campbell’s I went to the Zoo or Owl Babies (Waddell Benson) or LaurenChild…


As a family, we’ve followed our Devon lad, Tom Daley, for several years as he’s progressed with  his diving. What has been particularly touching to watch is his dad, Rob, who has never been afraid to show his emotions, especially his love for his wife and boys.

I also lost a dad, too soon, and so I feel for Tom and his brothers today as they mourn at their father’s funeral. But they have his legacy of support and encouragement on camera and film and I hope this inspires them as the London Olympics approach. I do hope some Devonians will make it there to see Tom dive for gold. We applied for loads of tickets and were facing a massive overdraft. But we needn’t have worried. We got nothing.

We’ll be with you in spirit though, Tom. As will your dad.


Go home Hef

As I’ve said before on this blog, I am a Feminist. I was full of hope when Michelle Obama took those school girls to Oxford to encourage them to have aspirations. But now my hope has been punctured as I hear that Playboy is making a return to London, thirty years after the club closed. Why? Why do we think this is acceptable in 2011? Forget all that nonsense about burlesque not being stripping, about Girl Power and Ladettes. Forget all that hot air about girls/women reclaiming their sexuality. It’s still about men having power. Oh yes, and money. 

But as the mother of a 12 year old girl, I am concerned for this age group. The wallpaper of their lives is pink and padded and primed by the media, global corporations and money money money. It needs to be stripped back to the bare bones, to a place where women are seen as equal. Different but equal.

In the 90s Clare Short tried to get our society to address this issue – long before it was as bad as this. She wanted to get lads mags (aka porn)  moved from WH Smiths. She wanted an end to the ridiculous Page 3 women. She wanted an end to female objectification and oppression. But what did she get in response to this brave stance? Vilification. 

And now a Mumsnet campaign has helped lead to the Bailey review which, amongst other things, wants top shelf mags to be covered up and out of the vision of young girls (and boys who will grow up to be men). I can only hope this is taken seriously by society. We need to look to the future.

It concerns us all. It’s not just the worry of girls caring more about how they look than how they think. Boys care too. I mean, why did Wayne Rooney think it necessary to get a hair job?

Do something good this week. Go into your local WH Smith and ask them to move any obvious dodgy mags to a less visible place.