THE GREAT MIGRATION
Twenty-two toads were crossing the road
To get to their ancestral pond;
Along came a berk, driving home from work,
And the twenty-two toads were all gone.
Stunned by the shockwaves of wheels whizzing by,
Squashed by rubber on road;
Stuck in the tread, it’s fair to say all were dead.
And in the pond not one tadpole or toad.
Twenty more toads were crossing the road
And in danger of The Great Beyond.
I don’t like to brag but I had a bucket, not bag,
And took all twenty toads to the pond.
Centuries of lies have given toads a bad press;
No one cares if they’re squished in the end.
Misunderstood, in fact toads are good:
Eating pests, they’re The Gardener’s Friend.
But with housing developments, habitat loss,
Fast motor cars and new roads:
The future’s not bright and it’s really not right
That we’re losing our once common toads.
So please watch for amphibians crossing your roads
(Creatures of which I’ve grown fond),
Help stem this loss; help them to cross
And bring Life back to field, garden and pond.
Toad Patrolling- quite frankly, there are probably better, certainly warmer, ways to spend a night in early spring but I can’t think of them. The silence that falls after the last blackbird has roosted, the sight of an owl, a badger…and then they start to appear: walking with purpose, sitting up on the look out… and then you hear them singing. Frogs croak but toads sing. And that, my friends, you need to experience for yourselves.
If you have a mind to help the UK’s declining amphibian population (toads, frogs, newts), Froglife is a fantastic organisation. They’ll put you in touch with your nearest patrols. Otherwise – I mean also!- please support the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust or -and I mean also!- your local Wildlife Trust
Wahey! I’m getting better at these update bloggery things – only six months has passed since the last post.
Is it too late to say Happy New Year?
We’ve already passed the Ides
Well I’m going to say it anyway
It’s my blog: I’m the one who decides.
And ‘Twenty Four” looks to be a peach,
At least in my world anyhoo:
With that museum opening, and Toad on TV,
I have lots to look forward to:
Like a new commission just starting
Full of laughter, fun and good cheer.
So I’m going to blog you blessings
And wish you a very Happy New Year.
There, I’ve said it. A whole year of tests, more tests, then- ooh tests. And trying not to worry, and trying not to feel glum. Which of course meant on top of being ill I got the glurries – which is when you worry that you’re feeling glum – and then I got the worms. Which is a different thing altogether.
But it all gave me time to slow up, slow down, and finally get that book written!
Actually it’s a series of books. Eight, maybe nine. Odd number I know but as it’s about things in the natural world, of which there are eight (plus a Christmas special), I can’t really augment reality.
They still don’t know what was wrong with me. The test results suggest my inner workings are all in tiptop condition. I paddled 60 miles down the River Severn in a coracle just to make sure. A GP friend told me there is a medical condition called ‘just one of those things’. I think that’s what I had.
OK. So maybe I can augment reality.
Since I last told anyone what I’d been up to? YES apparently so. I know it looks bad. Looks like I haven’t done anything and have melted away but it’s just that I’ve been TOO BUSY. In fact, I’ve had one of my busiest years EVER. Most of it has been taken up writing for Toniebox. That cute little smart speaker for young children. I’ve written original stories and poems, script edited a series of stories about Steiff Soft Cuddly Friends, abridged classic novels like The Wind In The Willows, Black Beauty and Five Children and It, retold fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk and Goldilocks, written twelve Christmas stories and one about the poor little Christmas tree in January.
Writing the spoken word rather than the screen has been a blast and I particularly liked writing for that young audience. So much so that I have been developing my own ideas for story series again. Young and funny and with a lot of love.
Which is how I’d describe the other work I’ve been doing. This time with the wonderful HoHo Entertainment folk. It’s not the right time for me to say too much about this fantastic new series yet, but IT IS VERY HARD KEEPING QUIET. I absolutely love it and think the audience will too. SOOOOOOO excited.
Some people live online, they breathe it, eat it, drink and for all I know, poop it. But that’s not me and about this time every year I realise it. Again. For this is the time of year when people like me prepare for the Children’s Media Conference in Sheffield (only its not in Sheffield, its online). People like me polish their pitches, check out what delegates they want to pitch to and make sure they have their business plans for what they’re going to pitch all ready. And of course they probably have a fantastic online presence: Instagram, maybe a YouTube channel and definitely they TikTok and tweet. I set up these things with the best intentions and then, well things happen. Things that I should tweet about and tell on TikTok but somehow talking about the things isn’t nearly as exciting as doing them and so suddenly its six months since I was here. Believe me, I have not been doing nothing.
I’ve written a novel. I’ve rewritten a novel. And that isn’t a writer’s way of saying they’ve been unemployed.
In between writing my novel and rewriting my novel, I have been writing for Toniebox. 10 minute stories for little ones to listen to about all sorts of wonderful things: springtime, going to sleep, big bad wolves and if you love Steiff bears, you’ll love their Soft Cuddly Friends.
I’d tell you more but I’m already onto the next thing – the Olympics and a tiny toad who takes on the world.
Maybe, one day I’ll remember to announce all these things in the moment they happen but until then, I have canoes and ducks and dragonflies to see to, oh and a snare drum that needs some attention. And of course, the novel needs some more work.
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.
I’ve just listened to today’s CBeebies Radio podcast. “Oh that’s a good story today,” I thought. “Did I write that?” YES I DID. I hope that you and your little ones enjoy it too. If you do, you’ll understand why I went and changed my socks and am now wearing purple.