Best Night of Christmas.
No pressure to be perfect, in fact the very opposite – the decorations are falling down, the chocolates that you thought would last until Easter have all been eaten, there’s a bit of cake left and half a ham and other less identifiable things in the fridge that need using up. Nobody has to give anyone any presents or put on party frocks or not be naughty and everyone can let their waist bands out and relax.
In the Christian calendar 12th Night falls on Epiphany which, back in the day was as important as Christmas Day. In fact one half of the Church, either the Eastern or Western orthodoxy (I would need to look up which but I have things to do, so I’ll leave the looking up to you), celebrated Epiphany rather than Christmas Day. Then they decided to meet in the middle, celebrate both events and the days in between. Well, it was winter and there wasn’t much else going on.
Anyway, enough of the history lesson. The upshot is that by the time I was a kid, 12th Night had become a thing that Shakespeare wrote about and, in the West Country where I grew up, a thing before you packed Christmas away for another year.
Not that we did much other than eat up the left overs, play games and get the decorations down because Mum said it was unlucky to have them up.
I can’t remember when Ian and I started having 12th Night parties. Probably when our children were small and I found a recipe for a Twelfth Cake. I read about the Lords and Ladies of Misrule and decided we’d have some of that. Twelfth Night, is all about turning things on their head: the youngest member of a cathedral choir becomes bishop for the day. Yes I know that’s done on another date in Advent somewhere but folk traditions evolve thanks to people like me not paying attention to historical evidence. The important thing is that the servant becomes the served.
This turvytopsing is randomised with the Twelfth Cake, which includes a dried bean and/or a pea. Whoever finds the bean and/or pea (hopefully without breaking their teeth) becomes lord and/or lady of misrule. I can’t remember the whole decree (it’s in the attic) but if you’re Lord/Lady of Misrule, you get to shout ‘Hear Ye, Hear Ye..’ in a very loud voice and command all locks be broken, especially those around the heart, and insist that everyone become as little children and have a jolly good time. I was Lady of Misrule for the Stroud Wassail once and I bloody loved it: strutting into all the pubs and round the streets with my retinue of mummers, wassailers and …others, demanding fun be had. The power.
Sadly, no public wassailing this year. And no 12th Night Party. But if we were having one, we would have gone to the local brewery and got a firkin of their finest, would have cooked the Twelfth Cake (mine’s a layer of shortcrust pastry, then almond paste, with bean and/or pea secreted, topped with puff pastry and decorated with crowns and is in fact called a King Cake and is French. We would have eaten all the Twelfth Cake already, because it’s what we now call a Christmas Cake).
We would have invited EVERYONE from near and far (finding beds, pitching tents and finding space for campervans round the village), put up tarps and lit firepits for the overflow of people, figured out how to feed everyone without plates (mail order pasties are just the best), told everyone to bring a party piece (musical instrument, joke, interesting talent), dug out my old Brunhilde helmet (no reason other than I like wearing it and the dress code is, ‘What You Will’- see that clever allusion to Shakespeare there?), and made some sort of playlist to fall back on.
From about midday, people would have started to arrive (mostly those from a long way who want first dibs on beds) and stuff would happen. Not sure what stuff, usually involved tapping the beer keg and baking potatoes and catching up with old friends I think.
Once most people had arrived, we would get the King Cake cut and the new Lord and/or Lady of Misrule, checked for broken teeth and then led to their throne and crowned. The decrees made, anyone that fancied entertaining the Lord and/or Lady of Misrule would do it, with songs and stories and displays of double jointed elbows and belly fluff as appropriate. Which all sounds rather orderly but it was not, because not everyone is into belly fluff. There’d be a whole lot of things going on in different rooms and bits of the garden. And every now and then wonderful things coming out of the kitchen or from the drinks shed. And the musicians would jam and there would be singing and dancing and re-enactments (St George and a dragon turned up once), other nonsense and, if there was room, games. Sadly we have never had enough room in this house for Slipper Olympics. Anyway, it would have all carried on until the last person fell down and then whoever made it to the morning would stabilize their stomach with a big bacon butty breakfast (veggie options available). And that would be our 12th Night.
This year will be quieter. Just us. Not much misruling then. But we do have the Obama Llamas game to play and several bottles of mead. And I’ve just had an epiphany: we will have enough room to hold a Slipper Olympics!
Kids hankering for the seaside? I expect a lot of us are. But can you remember the first time you ever saw the sea? Imagine what it was like a hundred or so years ago when going to the beach was not just a thing, it was a really big thing- new, exciting, I mean NEW.
Those lovely people at Showtown, the brilliant brand new museum about Blackpool (you do realise it is the most influential holiday resort ever, don’t you) are giving a whole gallery over to celebrate Blackpool’s seven miles of golden sand. I know, I can’t wait either. Which is why they are posting fun activities, snippets and stuff on social media (links below) to give you a taste of the fun things to come.
Judy on The Beach, a 15 minute story read by… me (I know!) is based on some of my favourite facts, discovered while I’ve been working with them. Haven’t I told you about that? Were you wondering where I’ve been? It’s fantastic, it’s ace, such a brilliant project – I’ll tell you all about it… another time. Back to the Beach- one hundred or so years ago and the train just chuffing into Blackpool Central.
You can watch Judy on the Beach on Twitter,Facebook , YouTube,Instagram – choose whichever is your favourite and I’ll see you there. Or rather you’ll see me. And discover the delights of The Penny Lick.
about the Internet – the dangers, the disasters. I know – I’ve been involved in the campaigns to improve online safety and privacy, leading up to the Digital Economy Act 2017 and beyond. And one of the things I’ve learned is that while politicians and vested interests move at glacial speed to make the digital world a safer place, our kids are growing up fast. So I was chuffed to bits when that brilliant BBC producer John Leagas gave me the opportunity to help children learn a few survival techniques.
And just so you don’t miss one, here they are individually-
Don’t worry, they’re not worthy, preachy or teachy – this is me writing them! Waggy dogs and lazy uncles… Globe-trotting grannies… And a cat who knows where it’s app. Have a listen and enjoy exploring the online world with your little ones in these
BBC Bitesize, Key Stage 1 History – Monarchs and Leaders is now available online. Commissioned by Fettle Animation, my brief was to write the potted BUT HIGHLY ACCURATE biographies of various historical figures AND MAKE THEM FUN. The characters chosen ranged from these monarchs and leaders to famous scientists, campaigners, and others that kids get to learn about at Key Stage 1.
Sharing writing duties with Rick Goodwin and produced by Kath Shackleton, high points of this project were learning about Mary Seacole, whom I only previously knew from a mural on the side of a Reading building many years ago; and that Stephen Hawking was a prankster. Oh, and knowing more about the English Reformation than an executive producer. Low points were knowing more about the English Reformation than an executive producer.
Oh how I laughed.
That’s the title of my episode broadcast this week 14th March 2019 on Cbeebies and, well what can I say? It is. The Best.
I was first involved with Tee and Mo way back when it was just a few games. The lovely people at Plug In Media asked me to help them develop it for TV. Writing pilot scripts and an interactive story for the CBeebies Storytime App along the way, I feel like a great aunt who has watched her little charge grow up. Glad to see the show is a success and also glad that my episode this Thursday is… The Best.
You might not have been aware that it was #refugeeawarenessweek recently. No matter, the terrible situations that some people find themselves in sadly haven’t gone away so here are stories I wrote for #CBeebiesRadio
With some minor adjustments to protect both the kids in the stories and the kids in the audience, each is a true story.
You might want to rant that such subject matter is entirely inappropriate for young children but young children are living through these things. Stories are there to help us understand and find ways to deal with what is going on around us. These stories celebrate the resilience, courage and love of young people and nobody is too young to celebrate love.
If you have read this far, then (oops I didn’t ask permission but as I wrote it… bad me) have this:
Everyone needs a safe place to live,
Like a bird’s nest lined with warm feathers:
Full of kindness and love, it’s the place we call home,
A refuge from the world and the weather.
But storms can sometimes blow nests from the trees
And winter brings frost, ice and snow.
Birds have to fly south or else they would freeze;
To survive until spring, they must go.
Their journey can last for thousands of miles,
It’s a daring and dangerous quest,
Flying across deserts and oceans and isles
With little food and no time to rest.
And people too must sometimes take flight,
Like birds they have to migrate
From the cruelty of rulers and armies that fight,
Blown by the ice winds of hate.
This journey can last for thousands of miles,
It’s a daring and dangerous quest,
Crossing countries and deserts and oceans and isles
With little food and no time to rest.
But unlike the birds, these people have names:
They’re not just a crowd on TV,
They love and they laugh and they work and play games:
They are people like you and like me.
There’s Farah and Birhan, Hivi, Rafiq
With sisters and aunties and mothers,
Serbest, Amez, Natania, Sadiq
With fathers, granddads and brothers.
Refugee children love stories and art,
They love chasing and shouting and play.
They’re sporty, they’re funny, thoughtful and smart
And dream of being grown up one day.
Their journey can last thousands of miles,
With little food and no time to rest.
Crossing deserts and oceans with hope and with smiles,
It’s a daring and dangerous quest.
Then after the winter, the birds fly away,
But not to wander or roam:
They fly back to rebuild the nests that they left,
To the safe places they once called home.
And refugees too love the land where they lived
And many hope to return there they say.
When summer brings the warm wind that forgives
There will be freedom and peace there, one day.
Now that is a journey of thousands of miles
And a daring and dangerous quest;
Bringing peace and forgiveness, laughter and smiles
But of all journeys, that one’s the best.
For everyone needs a safe place to live,
When we find it, there’s no need to roam.
There we can grow and learn and forgive,
Full of love, it’s the place we call home.
This week it’s all runny noses in my #allergies story. You can hear about Shaniqua’s #hayfever with #DrRanj at
Why doesn’t her twin sister get it?
And what’s the top tennis tip?
Is there a top tennis tip? You’ll have to listen to find out. Carefully or you’ll miss it.
You missed it didn’t you.
Never mind. The story isn’t aimed at you reading this – I suspect you are much older than six. All of these allergy podcasts are written to help younger children. Alongside the stories, children talk about their own allergies and Dr Ranj Singh gives helpful advice. I hope that your little ones find them useful and of course enjoyable.
Children and parents and, well anyone else, can listen to my story and find out what happens when a boy brings the school guinea pigs home in Bohdan’s Beastly Allergy . OK so the title has given away a bit about what happens but, look it’s got guinea pigs! And pigeons. And a little boy who desperately loves animals and cuddles. And did I mention guinea pigs?
This was possibly my favourite story in this series because the research involved guinea pigs and learning a new technical term: ‘pet dander’. Jayne’s top tip: if dander ain’t dandy, then keep tissues handy… Dr Ranj has proper top tips for sufferers of pet allergies at the end of the podcast. But they don’t rhyme.
Sporty Imogen refuses to let her asthma get in the way of her having fun in this story. https://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/radio/imogen-takes-the-plunge
This story draws on some of my experiences teaching kayaking to school children. There always seemed to be at least one child with an inhaler in the class and if they were not reticent about trying something that might make them out of breath and/or falling in the river, their teachers often were.
In this story, I wanted to show that, as long as the right precautions are taken, there is no reason why a child with asthma can’t do fun stuff or go on to make their dreams come true. I was greatly inspired by stories of Olympic athletes like Rebecca Adlington OBE and hope that children listening to this story will be too and will go on to do amazing things.
Oh and thanks to the great people at my local sports centre #Dursleypool for explaining why we should shower before rather than after swimming and why widdling in the pool is such a really bad idea…
#DrRanj reads my story Jamil’s Food Challenge and shares top tips on what to do if you or someone you know has a #foodallergy https://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/radio/jamils-food-challenge
It’s not much fun not being able to share the same food as your friends and it’s not much fun having to spend your birthday in the hospital allergy clinic. But when the usual allergy tests suggest his body can now cope with eggs, Jamil has to decide whether to stay safe and only eat the food he already trusts or, with the help of his specialist nurse, expand his diet. Knowing how poorly eggs have made him in the past, it is a scary notion and Jamil has to be very brave. But maybe, just maybe, this year he won’t have to blow out the candles on a pretend birthday cake made of cardboard but will be able to have his first ever ‘proper’ birthday cake, and share it with all his friends!
Having known children with very restrictive diets, I have been in awe of their patience and resilience. From a distance, it can be easy to condemn them as ‘picky’ and to think they’re just being difficult. But often these children are incredibly brave, having to guard themselves against things the rest of us take for granted.
My thanks to #CBeebiesRadio for helping with the child testimonies and medical research. In the spirit of good public service broadcasting, I was happy to undertake the necessary research into birthday cakes and bouncy castles.