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.
Oh this was fun to write! Have you seen Roy on CBBC? The cartoon boy in a real world. Well this is the prequel – Roy is five years old instead of ten. So it’s less about fitting in and more about finding out. He is a great character and the show is a lovely crossover from preschool to big kid content and I was very pleased to be involved.
This episode, Dr Roy, which involves bandages, biscuits and a ‘ba-doom ba-doom’ big hearted little boy, was broadcast a week or so back on CBeebies and of course I missed it. But hooray for catch up telly! If you would like to watch it, then here’s the web address: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08ffx89/little-roy-18-doctor-roy
The longer you put something off, the harder it is to do it, right? That’s how I felt in September when I saw that my last bit of news here was in July. I felt it again in November, even though by then I had had a book published, achieved my next canoeing qualification, got a new commission, successfully lobbied Government and I had much to tell. Then December came.
“I’ll send a Festive Newsletter!” I cried. But Christmas was just too merry to think about newsletters.
“I’ll send a New Year Newsletter!” I sang. But New Year was just too happy to think about newsletters.
Now it is January and for the life of me I can’t remember what happened last year. “Oh well done, Jayne.”
And I’m not likely to remember because where I live, it is now the Wassailing Season. Yes it can involve marching round orchards, sticking bits of toast in the trees but more than that, it’s about wishing your neighbours and friends good health for the coming year, “Waes Hael”, and sharing cakes and ale. And singing. And dancing. And, did I mention the cakes and ale? That has nothing to do with me forgetting whatever it was that happened in the latter half of 2016, nothing at all. It’s just that looking backward isn’t always the way forward. As January strokes its double beard, I will stroke mine and look to what’s ahead of me in 2017:
Having mentioned these, it would be unkind not to come back with more information so, by my January beard, I will endeavour to write more frequently and usefully. But in the meantime, Waes Hael!
My first radio interview will be broadcast tomorrow Tuesday 26th July, 1530hrs BBC Radio 4. What’s the aural equivalent of ‘blink and you’ll miss it’? Probably ‘poke your finger in your ear to scoop the wax out’. Although if your ears are fairly clean you won’t miss it all as my bit was going to be about five minutes long.
It came as a big surprise. That tremendous journalist, comic and role model Timandra Harkness got in touch to talk about how incongruous cinematic moments can throw us out of the film’s story world. We’ve all groaned at plot holes and continuity errors but what about when a filmmaker does this sort of thing deliberately? What’s going on and why? And why was the tremendous journalist, comic and role model Timandra Harkness asking me these sorts of questions?
The Human Zoo looks at current events through the lens of psychology. This episode is called News of An Atrocity, the Psychology of Rare Events and looks at why we are more attuned to the dangers of exceptional situations, such as acts of terrorism, than to more everyday threats such as a car crash.
Part of the programme looks at how we use stories to make sense of the world around us. How the patterns, rhythms and themes of a constructed world help us deal with the fears and uncertainties of real life and contribute to our well being. That was where I fitted in although I will have to listen to the programme myself to remember exactly what I said. I know there was talk about Doctor Who, and the importance of getting the right breed of cow in your costume drama and I may even have said “Verfremdungseffekt”. ‘m pretty sure I mentioned Gumball, Ned Stark’s death and David Lynch, although possibly not in that order.
And we came up with the title of my forthcoming Screenwriting manual: “Bury the Wizard.”
Thing is, I didn’t know I had a forthcoming screenwriting manual. Another example of how life is full of plot holes.
“Bufo Bufo” said the lusting toad
“I want some love action, I must cross the road”
“Bufo Bufo” said the toad, full of lust,
“To get to the love pond, cross the road I must.”
You’ve heard of the Great Migration across the plains of Africa? Well this is a little closer to home but no less magnificent given the scale of the creatures involved. Every year common toads come out from under the rocks, mud and compost heaps where they’ve spent the winter and take the long march to the Ancestral Pond. It might be only up the road or across a couple of fields to you and me but then we’re not 2-3 centimetres high.
Then a motorcar sped down the road
Heart full of desire, out stepped the toad
Out stepped the toad, heart full of desire,
“Glitch” went the toad, between tarmac and tyre.
Another toad crossing said “Oh bother and f**k it”
If only someone had a big plastic bucket.
If someone had a big plastic bucket
To the pond I’d go safely, find another toad and…
Thanks to the less than wintry weather here, the toads started moving very early this spring. January. We saw the first squashed one in January. As these animals are declining in numbers, our crack team of patrollers have been out every night to lift them to safety on the pond side of the road. Some nights are just too cold and only the hardiest, lustiest toads make a move. But other nights when the conditions are just right, warm and damp, we’ve been collecting them by the bucketful.
Ever wondered what 40 toads looks like?
The collective noun is a ‘knot’.
I like that.
The sun is just setting, I am waiting for the last blackbird to shut up and go to sleep and then I’m off again, armed with bucket and torch to zigzag my way up and down the lane so that fewer toads look like this:
And more look like this:
And just so’s you know: they don’t croak – frogs croak.
Well, if your instincts promised a pond full of passion, wouldn’t you?