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Unravelling the story I'm trying to tell

The misshapen perspective of a child.

books and reading

So yesterday’s Google UK doodle was for the author Diana Wynne-Jones. It was quite a lovely doodle and intrigued me, so I clicked on it.

She’s dead.

When I first saw she was dead I was worried she’d died tragically young. She was 76 when she died. She was born in 1934.

I’d expected her to be younger. I read Charmed Life when I must have been ten or so years old. It had a shiny new cover and I assumed it was a new book, written in the nineties for children like me.

So, on investigation I was surprised to find that the book was published in the seventies for children like the Father. It’s amazing how much we judge from a book’s cover, not only about the story, but about the author as well.

Of course, I’ve never had a problem reading old books. I devoured the Chalet School books by Elinor Brent-Dyer and the first of these were published in the 1920’s.

The Chalet School books I read are all owned by the Short Aunty and live in the Grandmother and Grandfather’s house above the my bed (incidentally previously the Short Aunty’s bedroom and where on occasion the Little Mermaid now sleeps). The bookshelf is conveniently located just above the bed, and beneath it is a reading light.

When I stayed there during the holidays, I read the chalet school books obsessively. I think I’ve done more night time reading at the Grandparents house than anywhere else. It was the only place I was allowed to lay in the following morning, and the only place you could reach the bookshelf for the next in the series without getting out of bed.

I read the Famous Five, Secret Seven and Biggles books in the same manner.

Sometimes I fear that I was a faster reader then than I am now.

I don’t particularly recall reading any Diana Wynne-Jones books, but I vividly recall the cover.

The orphan boy in Charmed Life is named Eric, but called Cat. I can’t remember thinking this was strange when I was younger, but now, for a girl also known as Cat this is unnerving, it’s like finding out that Cat Stevens is a man.

Why was Cat Stevens called Cat?

He’s now named Yussaf (Joseph), after the well-loved technicolour dreamcoat owner.

Who incidentally, according to the Qur’an, married Potiphar’s wife after Potiphar’s death.

Which gives a completely different perspective doesn’t it? She used to be the evil woman, associated with women like Cruella de Ville and Snow White’s stepmother.

I was already worried about Andrew Lloyd Webber’s identification of the Egyptian King as a Ramesses, of use of the title Pharaoh and that in my study of Ancient Egypt I’ve not yet come across a prison. (And I’ve got a book on laws and punishments of Ancient Egypt).

Maybe it was a Hyksos custom? Which wouldn’t make it all that Egyptian at all. More Palestinian like.


[This was the leading train of thought that took me through Saturday morning. It’s amazing how much time you can lose to Wikipedia.]

The battle wounded tribe: Handstands and cartwheels

doodle of jumping across tree stumps

  • One limp
  • One aching wrist
  • One sore shoulder
  • One nauseous stomach

I’m in a magical house, one where time seems manipulated. It’s full of peculiarities such as a frightening pink and grey bathroom, vast cellars, and a toilet happily stood next to the washing machine in the same room that leads to the garage, just to name a few.

Things are a little topsy-turvy—like the two back doors that open onto the front garden, and the front door that opens onto the lawn.

On the lawn is a wooden swing looking out over the small white fence that prevents small children falling into the stream. You often see ducks and a solitary goose paddling here. There’s rumoured to be a kingfisher, but I’ve not yet seen him. Across the stream is a field with roaming cows.

And there’s a steam train.

Steam train

Somewhat different you might say.

So there we were. A gathering of adults enjoying one another’s company, discussing computing, sport and books like perfectly normal people.

Before I knew it, the Boyfriend was running up the hill, as if he’d been cast in ‘the sound of music’, and all to see a train. The Midget and I were shoe-jousting on the swings. The Noph was leading circus tricks of handstands and cartwheels on the lawn and the Grump had his shirt off—apparently it got in the way when he was upside down.

The Dutch-Kiwi laughed at us as we wheelbarrow raced down the lawn. Not unexpectedly the Grump and the Boyfriend with their average height at 6’2.5’’ beat the Midget and I with our average height of 5’4.5’’.

Deep Thought folded his arms disapprovingly.

Back to handstands, and the men argued over technique in their insistent on perfecting the art. I cartwheeled across the lawn, satisfied that what I was doing was recognisable as a cartwheel. As always, the Noph was somewhat more elegant.

The Grump held the Boyfriend’s legs in the air so he could see if he could do a press-up from a handstand position. He could.

So could the Midget.

I put my arms out and span. The world turned into a blur.

“It will end badly,” the Boyfriend said.

And I fell over with a crunch.


Picnics and protests; explosions and emotions

Didcot Power Station

Protests for ubuntu in Gaza

Yesterday many people marched through London in protest at what is happening in Gaza. I wanted to cross the road and sit on the grass in the shade of a large tree in Hyde Park and chat with some of my tribe whilst eating an extensive picnic. Instead I stood and waited as the hurt and angry protesters marched past with their placards, chanting.

Dust, rubble and destruction in Didcot

At 5am this morning our local power station collapsed in on itself after 180 kg of explosives exploded. The Boyfriend, Deep Thought and I watched from a safe distance. We heard the boom first on the radio, and then louder as the sound wave hit us.

The enthusiastic radio reporter interviewed some of the people watching, and each time they stated how emotional an experience it was.

It was an impressive display of destructive power. I was glad we’d gone out to watch, even if it had meant sitting at the roadside from 3am desperately trying to stay awake (and from time to time failing). I felt that it was something that ought to be witnessed.  It’s a new perspective on buildings, a reminder of the throw-away attitude of today’s society.

Fear, anger and excitement, and nothing

Maybe it’s because I’ve only lived here for two months and the land isn’t really home, but the cooling towers disappearance in a cloud of thick dust wasn’t what I’d call emotional.

And maybe it’s because they’re not my family and friends that I’m not moved to act when it comes to Gaza?

Or maybe it’s because I don’t feel that there’s anything I can do?

Or maybe it’s that the world is so incredibly big, so overwhelming that I don’t know where I’d start if I did act on my beliefs on any scale?

Girl sitting above the clouds looking down on civilisation



The Writing of Clear English: A Book for Students of Science and Technology by F. W. Westaway

F. W. Westaway The Writing of Clear English

In a local charity shop I found a pocket-size blue book, printed in 1926, written by a man called Frederic William Westaway and entitled ‘The Writing of Clear English: A Book for Students of Science and Technology’. The book’s age and the subject, writing for science, immediately made me want it.

The story of my book

On 22 July 1931 my copy of the book was stamped with ‘Marlborough College’, ‘Second hand book department’ in green ink. On this occasion it was bought by a C. B. Grimaldi. On the 24 October 1932, the book was again stamped with a ‘Marlborough College’, ‘Second hand book department’ stamp. This time in pink ink. Who it was sold to is unknown, but it went for 4/8, whatever that should mean.

The book was also owned by a D. S. Robinson, his or her name is scrawled in blue in on the inside cover.

I know little of the author Frederic William Westaway, but that he was, at one point in his life, one of His Majesty’s Inspectors of Secondary Schools.

Grammar and style

Unlike many grammar books, Westaway doesn’t simply give a list of rules to follow. Rules do exist, and they are stated, but the wonder of the book is the use of examples.

The following is an example of careless stopping:

“Rule, Britannia; Britannia rules the waves”.

There should be a comma after the second Britannia, and the indicative should be replaced by another imperative.

[I believe the use of double quotation marks is of its time. My modern copy of Virginia Woolf’s Room of One’s Own, first published 1929, states in the introduction that quotation marks have been changed from the original double to single for clarity.]

Many more of Westaway’s examples come from academic papers, journals such as Nature, and daringly even other grammar books.

Each chapter begins with a couple of quotes about either writing or grammar – a number of which are from Shakespeare.

How to be a better writer

Anyway, Westaway’s advice on mastering the art of writing?

He who desires to write correctly must train himself to review with a critical eye what other people have written. To understand exactly what the different words in a sentence mean, what functions they discharge, what relation they bear to one another, and what the sentence as a whole signifies, all these things are indispensable.

To which end my suggestion would be Reading like a Writer by Francine Prose.



[The photograph shows my desk.]

Picnics, cobbles and the best of the world’s cyclists

Tour de France (in Yorkshire) – Day 2

no mass on sunday

Saturday was a practice. Sunday was serious business. So serious that God was cancelled.

Stereotypically the women in the family made sandwiches and wrapped up cake. I’m not sure what the men were doing. I shuffled fresh memory cards into my camera, poked the Boyfriend who was on the rocking chair and put on my boots. The hill up to our chosen spot was steep. I’m a little worried that when I take my bike up North in August that I’m not going to actually be able to get up it.

The Boyfriend and the Midget led the way, the Grandmother and I followed not far behind.

The team split, the Grandparents and the Father found somewhere for coffee, whilst the Midget, The Boyfriend, The Mother and I took our positions along the roadside at the perfect spot selected during Saturday evening’s reconnaissance mission.

And then we waited.

Ten minutes later I unwrapped my cake. Then the sandwiches. The cake was particularly excellent. I had two pieces, one baked by the Mother, the other baked by the Grandmother. I ate both greedily.

The caravan and the entertainment

Eventually the caravan passed, all except from the gigantic Fruit-shoot bottles and the Yorkshire Tea teapot. Presumably because it was a cobbled road and the incline steep. The Midget stood across the road from me. Every vehicle that drove past threw their goodies at her, much to the dismay of the young man (boy) sat in front of me. When after much grumbling a freebie was thrown at him he missed it. It bounced. Rolled under a car, and he spent the next five minutes hunting a driveway for a piece of plastic rubbish.

Once the caravan had passed, and we’d thoroughly cheered on police cars and advertisements, the entertainment started.

A man, bottom half fairy and top half sheep, who hobbled up and down the hill in his cycling shoes feeling almost as foolish as he looked.

The village idiot led a Mexican wave. He named those at the bottom of the hill Cambridge, ourselves in the middle Yorkshire, and those above Scotland. Then he danced up and down the hill shouting wildly, politely responding to all endeavours to move him off the road, but never actually moving. Occasionally Cambridge got it and the Mexican wave went from the top of the hill to the bottom.

Then the village idiot got his photo with the French attendant, whom he named Maurice, and with the fairy-sheep. The French attendant, responsible for keeping some semblance of order on our patch of the road, took the village idiot in his stride, unlike some of the other road guardians who were less impressed.

He probably had more fun that way.

The village idiot found a man who had recently had a birthday and the street burst out into a rendition of ‘happy birthday’.

Further up the street the Grandparents climbed on chairs to get a good view of the route. My suggestion had been to take walking sticks and behave like they were old and decrepit. Apparently they’re much too young for that.

Narrowly avoiding being run over by the bikes

When the time came I skipped across the road, and crouched with my camera on the curb.

Up the hill in Haworth - Tour de France (in Yorkshire)

Some journalist even took a picture of us.