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So the Hogwarts Letter Came. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

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Tickle tickle little pear – Maisie dreams of the Hogwarts kitchens

Aside from the minorly inconvenient points, like I’m in my late-20s, and the school is fictional. Fictional schools is they give us freedom to imagine, and anyway. You’ll always find a home at Hogwarts. I will, even when I’m old and grey. 

Like lots of Millennials, I’ve spent the past 20 years watching the doormat. And the fireplace, and the windows, but especially the doormat. Most of us have never got beyond the disappointment and the hope. What if it actually came? Ignoring the obvious, practical stuff, would you really be happy at Hogwarts?

Sounds like a no-brainer, but I’ve thought about it from the flip-side. Here are some of the things that could cause problems if I packed up my trunk and headed for Platform 9 3/4.breakbird

Cat or owl? I have two cats I am very fond of, but would I take them to Hogwarts? Aside from the fact the rest of the family would complain, I would never see the cats again. Willow would spend her days hunting in the Forbidden Forest, which carries all kinds of health and safety rules. Maisie would make her way to the kitchens, then never leave. Those house-elves seem obliging, and Maisie loves her food. Come to think of it, Willow would probably hunt the house-elves, too.

 

Stomach Ache – with the range of magical sweets available, and passages out of the school which lead straight to Honeydukes, I would have constant stomach ache. And toothache. Then again, Madam Pomfrey might leave me with a bottle of stomach solution. Imagine. All the sweets, none of the pain. I’d be Dudley-sized before the end of the first term.

 

How would I ever leave the library? Odds are, I never would. Some dangerous herbology book in the Restricted section would swallow me whole when I tried to take it without permission.

 

Following on from that thought, I’d lose too many house points to have friends. I would take issue at the idea of restricted books, and stage protests. Read-ins. Aside from the damage to other pupils, I would be very unpopular.

 

Peeves. If that poltergeist played a prank on me, I’d try to prank him back. He’d probably frame me for his activities for the rest of my student days.

 

Gryffindor or Ravenclaw. Always pleased to meet a fellow Gryffinclaw. I want to be a Ravenclaw. I’m an overthinker, and I’m bright, but I’m also impulse. Determined. I make decisions not on logic, but on what feels right and true. Online tests put me in Ravenclaw, but I always think they fail to find that Gryffindor streak. The trouble isn’t that I don’t know where I belong – the sorting hat would suss that out. The trouble is, I have an allegiance to both. How could I ever belong to one?

 

Sit in the Quidditch stands when there is warm fire in the common room? You do realise this is the Highlands? It’s a wonder the players aren’t blown off their broomsticks. My general attitude to sport is one game and I’ve seen it all.

 

Dumbledore would lose his pensive. I’m such an overthinker, it would probably be a school-wide benefit to leave it in my possession.

 

No Wi-Fi. An embargo on the non-magic world ever finding out about magic. OK, so you’ve got a world of magic at your fingertips, but how frustrating would it be not to share it on Twitter?

 

 

 

 

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Chat · Days Out

Winding Paths and Twisting Stairs – The Forbidden Corridor.

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Staycation round-up #4. There is no term to describe The Forbidden Corner, a place of wonders found in Leybern, Yorkshire. Tourist attraction? Yes, but it is also a garden, a folly, a work of art and one man’s dream. Welcome to a place of giants and devils, boars and mice and grave-stones of men who got on the wrong side of fairies. And water. Healthy amounts of water. Please note: this picture contains pictures of the attraction.

There is plenty more to see, but it you want it to be a surprise, look away. 

At the entrance, we weren’t given a map but a tick-list of some of the strange things we might see. There are no sign-posts within the park. This is part of the fun. It is like a giant maze, except some of it is in a castle, some of it underground, some of it in gardens, and some of it more like a traditional hedged-in maze. The first time we found a view-point, I suggested we could map the park, but the trees are planted to obscure the attractions from the view-points. A lot of thought has gone into the design. 

As a party of three adults, we realised this was a friendly attraction for all ages. Certainly the school kids were having great fun, but so were the seniors. It is possible to play in the towers, or to admire the gardens. The thing everyone had in common was a healthy imagination. 

 

One huge point to consider is access: there are areas which are hard to access if you have mobility issues. Several of my closest blogging friends have mobility or balance issues, and I would suggest phoning for information on how much is accessible, and visiting on a spring day when you can enjoy smaller amounts of the park while others in your party explore the castle.

We enjoyed the cafe – plenty of regional food, and a spacious area to sit. 

It was a lovely introduction to the Yorkshire Dales. The funniest thing was, having gone to see the attraction, we ended up having a long walk. It is set in the most beautiful countryside, and I would love to go back and explore the general area. The Forbidden Corner is like the best sort of book, full of hooks to keep you walking. What can I say? I walked through a giant’s mouth, stuck my tongue out at a water daemon, and searched a mouses’ layer for a giant cat. It was like the best sort of dream, and I’m reluctant to wake up.  

The Forbidden Corner
Tupgill Park Estate, Coverham, Leyburn DL8 4TJ, UK
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Work with the brain you’ve got, or 100 hours.

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A couple of weeks ago I posted this picture on Twitter, and it got a reasonable response. I thought people might be interested. Lots of people in my network write, or have a creative pass time. In the summer, I set myself the challenge of counting 100 hours writing. Not planning, not editing or … fussing … just words-on-the-page writing. That’s not to say those other things aren’t important, but I find it easy to distract myself with them, and forget the thing which matters most. The picture marks the moment I hit that target.

It took longer than I hoped, but in the two weeks since  I’ve almost done another 50 hours. Why? The challenge helped me build discipline. My projects have got longer, and I’m less self-critical in early drafts. This was my biggest problem. I was so frightened to be imperfect, I wouldn’t let myself get going. Having overcome that, I’m giving more time to each project, which means less planning time.

Another thing has changed. Through the first 100 hours, I felt guilty for colouring in half an hour at a time. To simplify:

  • a large square is 25 hours
  • a small square is therefore an hour
  • half a square is … you get the picture.

At first I was angry if I coloured in half a square. Three, maybe four squares. That was what I wanted. Except, I kept colouring in at the half-hour. Now I always colour half-squares. Not only that, but I set them up as time windows. I have a fidget, then settle down for another half-hour. I figure if short bursts of writing work, why fight it? 

 I would be a fraud if I offered writing advice. However, I think if my current experience has taught me anything, it is that. Work with the brain you’ve got. Learn your habits, and work with them. Don’t make excuses – you don’t need to do yoga, or sit at the finest chair, or build extension or wait for more time – but when you sit down to write, do work in the way which gets words on the page. 

Here’s to the next 100 hours, and the next. I don’t want to say too much at the moment, except that the words are on the page and I’m so happy. 

 

What do you reckon – motivation or distraction? Have you ever set a time challenge for a hobby?

Chat · Days Out

Staycation #3 – Beneath the Trees, Where Nobody Sees …

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Beneath the trees, where nobody sees … our third Staycation day was a visit to the other side of the Solway. When we planned the Staycation, we had two objectives: to take time to stare, and to see more of the wider region around our home in Cumbria. Staycation day 3 cost us the petrol, and the price of our picnic, but it gave us so much in terms of our objectives. 

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The trees? The wooden dude, who looks like the spirit of a dead tree come back to hunt img_2747the axe-man? We walked from Rockcliffe to Kipford. There are houses built on the cliffs. One of the gardens is populated with stange beings. Experincing it is like stepping into an Anthony Browne picture book. The more you look, the more you see, as some are hidden in the walls and trees. It is difficult to give this experince in photographs, but I have close-ups of some of the beings, including the masks which hang in the grotto. These sculptures and strange beings are out for the world to enjoy. There is no charge. It was lovely to see the land around someone’s house transformed by imagination. 

Along the way we heard woodpeckers, and various other birds. Birds have a huge presence on our side of the Solway. There are various sanctuaries, and the year is measured in swallows and migratory geese (who came back Spet 12th). The geese fly over the house twice a day – they feed in Scotland, but sleep in Cumbria.  Seeing them fly in is one of my favourite things.

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After a picnic, we headed to Sandyhills, then had a nose at Sweetheart Abbey. As Edward I once said, if this is Scotland, I want more of it. We have planned a return visit, to the Robert Burns trail around Sweetheart Abbey, and plan to set-up for the day at Sandyhills next spring. 

What is the strangest or most lovely thing you have seen on a walk? Let me know in the comments!

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We’re all Big Kids. 8 things which have been remarketed for adulthood.

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I’m a big kid. There’s no doubt about it. From bubbles (MY BUBBLES) to bouncy castles to Freddo bars, my pleasure lies in the small things in life. Everything I was told to outgrow by society is making a come-back. Anything goes, I say, but I find it interesting how we hide our interests behind new words to make them feel acceptable. Cosplay or just plain old dressing up? It’s like Harry Potter books with special adult covers. We can hide it behind whatever image we like, but we’re following no-one. Kids might enjoy the same thing, and guess what? That’s fine.

 People are cashing in on our repressed desire to lighten up. Here are 8 things society told me I had outgrown, which have been remarketed to an adult audience.

 

61cpxlc0dcl-_sx423_bo1204203200_Picture books: I’ve heard parent after parent tell children they are too old for the ‘baby books’ and I always want to ask whether their child is too old for visual literacy. Too many people think pictures are only there to help new readers visualise the text. 

Rant aside, too many people ‘outgrew’ picture books. Graphic novels? Coffee table books? Those are acceptable, even trendy. *rolls eyes, and goes back to Anthony Browne’s latest offering. * 

 

Soft-play: By eleven, I got strange looks when I turned up for a go on the indoor slides. It was packed away in the trunk of fond memories, but I knew it would make a come-back. As I type, there is an oversized soft-play world touring the country. As well as family sessions, it opens to adults. There’s a special-needs play park in London which raises money by hosting an annual adult fun day, cos guess what? Adults will pay good money to have a go on  swings.

 

Bubbles: Yep, we’ve established I’m crazy about bubble mix, and yep we’ve done the 4124400890_415214559d_bfish-thing (MY BUBBLES!) Let me guess, you’re much too old for a little bottle of bubble mix, but a festival with a bubble machine? A giant bubble wand? Bubble art? That’s different, right? If we all outgrew bubbles, we wouldn’t keep reinventing them.

 

Stationery: Let’s face it. We’re too old for the back to school shop. But wait a sec, Paperchase sent a discount voucher, and there’s a cute new range. We’re all stationery addicts, and never more so than late summer/early autumn, when nostalgia and the high street marketing wizards prompt us to stock up.

 

Petting Zoos: Last time you went to a petting zoo? Unless you took children, (which may or may not be cheating. Depends on your motives, and how much you hogged the bag ofDSCN2064 feed,) I’m guessing you were about six-and-a-half. OK. Last time you went Alpaca trekking? Guinea Pig Fishing? To see the reindeer at Winter Wonderland? Oh, yeah. Hang on a sec. Same hobby, different price-tag.

 

 

Playground crazes: Not since Pokemon cards? So you’ve never stalked Primark for an impractically-cup-shaped-purse, because everyone else has one?

 

Which leads neatly into …

 

Character PJs: Remember when Disney PJs only came in sizes measurable by age? Heck to that.

 

Claire’s Accessorises: We totally got over that when our acne broke out. Yeah. We moved three doors down to Accessorize, which is a different thing altogether.

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Lego: I’m betting you’ve done one of four things:

  • Invested heavily in Lego, and used the special adulthood tactic of MIAWA (Making it acceptable with acronyms.) You’re an AFOL (adult fan of Lego. That’s a thing.) You don’t play Lego, you construct MOCs (my own creations) using techniques like SNOT (studs not on top). Which is not remotely childish.

 

  • You outgrew Lego at a respectable age, but that Architecutre range? It’s made for adults.

 

  • Explored a treasured childhood collection ‘for nostalgia’.

 

  • Helped the kids. I saw a lot of this during my stint in the Lego store. ‘He really wants the Death Star.’ Yeah. He’s 18 months old, but hey. You’re there to help.

 

Can you think of anything which had been rebranded as fit for adulthood? Do let me know in the comments below.

 

 

Chat · Days Out · Uncategorized

September Staycation #2 – Sweet-toothed Trail

You’ve heard of Grasmere Gingerbread and Kendal Mint Cake. Maybe you’ve heard of Cartmel sticky toffee pudding. I live in a region of sweet-toothed treats, which is apposite. I am Queen Sweet-Tooth. It’s a wonder they’re not rotten! Anyway, what you didn’t know is that Kendal Mint Cake is just the tip of the sugary ice-berg, and that actually, it’s not only the Lake District which produces famously fantastic treats. It’s not only Cumbria. It’s the entire border reigon. 

When we lived in London, me and my parents would spend a week’s holiday in a barn outside of Appleby. Our holidays were planned around food and walks – a convenient balance was achieved, and we ate everything from pub food to giant meringues and three-scoop ice-creams.

For our second staycation day, we chose to revisit some old holiday favourites. I was also on a mission to choose some treats for the top of my birthday cake next month. 

First stop was Appleby Bakery. You’ve seen Appleby-in-Westmoreland on the news. It’s that-place-with-the-horse-fair, except it is so much more. I love Appleby, and I especially love the Appleby bakery, with it’s pies and regional cheeses, and tray bakes. Most of all it’s tray bakes. Today I chose a picnic slice, which is basically a Hagrid-sized florentine. 

Ask nicely and I’ll share.

We moved from cake, into chocolate and ice-cream. Kennedy’s chocolate shop in Orton is a gem. Housed in an old school-house, you can see the chocolate being mixed and shaped in moulds behind the shop, and from windows in the cafe. 

The shop itself stocks every flavoured bar under the sun, all made on site. Selection IMG_2608boxes are family celebration staples – my favourite flavours are from the dessert range – butter fudge cream and Mississippi mud pie. You can get an idea of the selection here. Kennedy’s deliver through the post, and I can tell you from experience that the chocolates arrive safely. 

Savoury food as well as is sweet is available in the cafe, and there is a good range of food, including a menu of daily specials. It was nice to see local produce used, such as Lancashire cheese. 

Ice-Cream is also made on premises, and we enjoyed our ice-cream sundaes. I was particularly taken with the idea of serving in long, thin bowls. This enabled me to try different flavours together. As any serious sweet-tooth knows, ice-cream sundaes served in a cup tend to end up looking like poster paint mixed by a four year-old. 

Complimentary chocolate flowers came with the receipt; a cute touch, but if you haven’t come in for chocolate, I defy you to walk out without. One taste and I was sold. Peeking into the factory while lunch was being prepared was lovely. The opening to the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film? It’s not far off. They actually have sinks full of pure chocolate. Good job they keep the public separate. Full of sugar I might have been, but I would happily have stuck my head under and drunk it all up. 

IMG_2677The birthday cake mission was a success: great plans are afoot, and I’ll keep you updated. It’s not until October 13th, but one thing is certain. This year is going to be a very happy birthday. 

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Days of Mystery and Myth. Six Reasons why I love autumn.

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(Quote from Wintersmith album by Steeleye Span. Based on work by Terry Pratchett.)

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Spring is over-hyped. It is more fun now we live in the countryside, and actually see the swallows arriving and the lambsies skipping around the fields. Growing up in London, Spring was a wash-out. Every year, we were promised blossom and wooly lambs and little Easter chicklets. What did we get? Some sad blossom which hung around for half-a-day, and a whole lot of rain which made the blossom stick to the pavement like treacherously slippy confetti.

Meanwhile, we had to listen to the same boring stories about life beginning and the bloke who rode into town on a donkey. Great.

Never mind the renewal of life. Autumn meant conkers. Autumn meant new pencil cases, and pencils which weren’t covered in cruddy pencil dust, (and might never be! You never know!). Most importantly, autumn meant my birthday, while spring meant my sister’s. Which was fun and all that, but mine was the most exciting.

I still love early autumn. The colours are more striking, the food more filling and there is a hint of magic in the air, which spring just fails to deliver. Spring is the sappy season, which vies for your attention with the obvious. Autumn is the wilder, bolder season who throws out all the surprises and still wins.

 

Six Reasons I love autumn:

 

Conkers: Holding a conker is like holding the season in your hand, all the glossy, firey colours bound tighty into one nut. There is also the satisfaction of opening a horse chestnut shell. How can something so spikey be so smooth and delicate? Conkers are collectable. Don’t be fooled by people who say conker collections are for children. Adults are at it too. They collect twice as many, then pass it off as natural decoration, or seasonal garlands.

 

All the colours of the season: Sounds like a sad cliché. You’ve got to be out in it to appreciate. Cumbria in the autumn may be the most beautiful place on earth. We live near the Solway. The local moss (peat bog – bear with me, it’s spectacular), looked as if it had been set on fire and left to simmer down to embers. I’m quite certain it is home to goblins, or maybe there are people waiting to rise from the murk. You don’t get that in spring.

Food: Homemade jam. Blackberry and apple crumble. Nuts and berries and root vegetables. On October 1st, Hommity Pie comes back to Cranstons ( regional food supplier, and purveyor of great-pies-which-make-a-quick-meal.) Hommity Pie is a great option for veggies, and goes beautifully with the nut and leek salad. Well. The extra fat will keep me insulated.

Pumpkin soup: I love carving pumpkins, and was gaining a reputation back in London. I’m not quite at work-of-art level, but I like to do something more than the standard eyes-DSC_0529and-a-mouth. Over the Atlantic, pumpkin carving is HUGE, and it is something the internet has gifted me.

Pumpkin carving means pumpkin soup. We have this once a year, usually because I’ve wrecked at least one pumpkin and it seems a crime to waste so  much fruit.  Creamy soup and crusty bread. Need I say more?

 

Snow Queen. Wintersmith. Samhain: The dark nights and seasonal splendour  have brought out the best in our imagination since the dawn of time. Winter was when warrior tribes huddled around the fire and told stories. The only story about spring with the same bite is the story of Persephone in the Underworld. Even then, it’s the months in the underworld which make the story magical.

 These boots were made for walking: and stomping, and jumping in puddles, and walking around lakes. Sandals are made for looking pretty in, and that is a boring pastime. Not that I don’t have sandals I love, but I’m always happier in a pair of walking books, and as for those fleecy-lined boots I wear into town … they are like a hug for my toesies, and I’m so glad to see them back in action.

 

What is your favourite season? Tell me why it is magical in the comments below.