Wednesday 31 December 2014

What's this Hogmanay thing?

Happy Hogmanay to you!

Happy New Years Eve just doesn't have the same ring to it, I don't think, but what about you?

The origin of the word 'Hogmanay' can not be certain but it’s a word that has been used in Scotland to describe the 31st December, New Year’s Eve, for centuries. A popular meaning given to Hogmanay is that of it being ‘a gift’ and especially ‘a gift of good luck’.

Gregor Lamb, an Orcadian, has done years of research into the word Hogmanay and has produced a book named ‘The Amazing Journey of the Word Hogmanay’. In his book, he concludes that ‘Hogmanay’ was originally a greeting to herald in the New Year but that it referred specifically to the gift that was traditionally tendered when entering someone’s home.
This use of the word, in various guises, has been used in parts of mainland Europe since medieval times- in 13th century Catalan as ‘guinaldo’. That sounds nothing like Hogmanay to me, but that word refers to the same traditions being enacted. In Spain, the ‘aguinaldo’ has its counterpart in France in the word ‘aguillanneuf’, the latter word having being taken to Britain with the Norman invasion. At this point Gregor lamb states that the word had acquired an ‘h’ at the beginning, the word evolving over the next centuries to the one we know of as Hogmanay.

In St. Hilaire de Chaleons, near Nantes in France the ceremony known as Courir la Guillanneuf is currently being revived, though in recent years the practice had almost faded into obscurity.
Other possible derivations of the word Hogmanay include the Flemish ‘hoog min dag’ meaning ‘a day of great love’, and the Anglo-Saxon ‘haleg monath’ meaning ‘holy month’. Since many Doric words of north east Scotland, and Laland Scots of the Central Lowlands have some comparison with those of Flemish and Dutch origin I personally favour the Dutch one which sounds fairly similar.

Whether or not you agree with Gregor’s conclusions regarding the etymology of the word Hogmanay, or with Dutch or Flemish origins of the word, the traditions on New Year’s Eve go back in millennia rather than centuries.

The bearing of a gift for good luck to the household visited was common in pagan societies. Pagan winter celebrations, especially around the winter solstice, included the gift of fire making. A log was carried over the threshold symbolising the return of the sun after the darkest days had passed- i.e. after the winter solstice. The Vikings brought their Yule traditions which featured the bearing of a log over the threshold, and maybe it was them who brought the notion that fire wards off evil spirits who dwell in the darkness.  
When I was growing up in Glasgow, Hogmanay was a time of great frenzy. New Year’s Day was THE official holiday in Scotland, Christmas Day being an unofficial one till the early 1970s when its status as a statuary holiday changed. New Year’s Day meant a lot more to the Scots I grew up with though different households kept slightly different variations of the tradition.
First footing in my youth was when the first visitor of the New Year stepped over the doorstep sometime after the stroke of midnight. The hope was that it was a tall, dark and handsome stranger who came bearing gifts among which was a piece of coal, to bring good luck for the coming year. The use of coal had supplanted the log at some point after coal became the widely used form of heat production from the hearth. The dark hair was commonly preferred because a blond haired guest was thought to be unlucky, probably harkening back to the blond Viking raider that no-one wanted entering their house at any time, far less New Year! A small bite to eat usually accompanied the gift of coal to signify good wishes for the household to be healthy and wealthy enough to afford to eat during the coming year.

Fruitcake, shortbread and black bun are the general foods to offer guests, and for the first footers to give to their hosts. In Scotland, the drink toasted and shared is, of course, whisky - that fiery drink which warms the belly and some may say ‘cures all ills’ when administered as in a hot toddy for a cold! The children, in my young days, toasted the New Year with ginger or blackcurrant wine.

In my youth, any fire ceremonies took place in other parts of Scotland but not in Glasgow, as far as I know and remember.

Nowadays fire plays a major part in Hogmanay celebrations, with torchlight processions and bonfires in specific and organised locations. Fireworks are now also a popular activity, sometimes let off from back gardens or viewed at organised displays.

In Stonehaven, in North East Scotland, there is a long-standing tradition of making giant fireballs from rags doused in paraffin, swung on poles and paraded through the town's streets. At around 10 kilos weight, the bearer has to be very careful of how they wield that ‘almost weapon’. To be one of the fireball bearers in Stonehaven is a very well sought after ‘gift’ indeed - those chosen being incredibly proud of the opportunity.

There are many internet sites which can describe the street parties that are organised in the major Scottish cities which take place on Hogmanay and run over ‘The Bells’ at midnight and into the brand New Year. I encourage you also to read about the various places where people do a ‘Loony Dook’ for fun or for charity. In warmer climes running into the sea isn’t a major event but running into the North Sea, or a beach off the west coast if Scotland, is definitely a MAJOR event- it being an extremely freezing cold dip.

In Scotland, and indeed world – wide, the most iconic celebration around the New Year is to herald ‘The Bells’ with the singing of Robert Burn’s poem Auld Lang Syne sung to the traditional melody he used at the time of writing.

Whatever you do on Hogmanay I know what I’m now about to embark on. In my mother’s house, there was a frenzy of cleaning. The floors were vacuumed, the surfaces dusted and polished. The front doorstep was whitewashed and the stairs around our flat in the tenement block were washed. The windows were washed and the rooms tidied. The beds were stripped and were made up with fresh linen. The dirty washing was done and dried as quickly as possible- which with no tumble dryer at that time was a major feat. Needless to say, the coal fire was roaring away but often blocked with damp and drying washing. The cherry and fruit cake was made as well as many other tasty morsels. I’ve blogged on this site before about my mother’s baking sprees.

Any projects started i.e. knitting, sewing, house painting as in decorating, or in artwork were expected to have been completed so that the New Year saw a fresh start to EVERYTHING.  

By very late evening, no later than 11.30 p.m. we all aimed to have our faces washed and clean clothes on. The kitchen bin was emptied and the dish towels generally the last things to be washed.
Seated pre-midnight, before The Bells, was obligatory so that we were ready to sing and toast the New Year (and as it happened- it was also my mother’s birthday).
You can read about my exploits from that point on - mignight and The Bells already rung - in a previous post.
I've also blogged elsewhere about my Hogmanay exploits and a google search might find them!

Well, this blog has taken a while to write so I’ve got a lot of Hogmanay cleaning to catch up with. I don’t think I’ll manage to complete my latest round of edits but if I try really hard… we’ll see!

Cheers till later…

Tuesday 30 December 2014

#Sale ends today!


I'm sure you don't need any new reminders but the Crooked Cat Sale only runs till the end of the 30th December and that's today.

Since I've been bogged down in a myriad of household chores the newest thing to share is ...another SALE poster that I rustled up this morning.

I quite like hiding away and potttering about with backgrounds and images- though it doesn't get the final editing done before the end of this year of 2014.

Which poster do you like best?


Monday 29 December 2014

#SALE for 1 more day!

The Crooked Cat Books Sale continues... but not for long. 

I made a new poster today whilst dandling my grandson on my knee this morning. It may not have the best style, but it was the best I could do when sometimes one-handed. 

What do you think? 


Amazon UK author page
Amazon US author page

Sunday 28 December 2014

#SALE time again on Amazon

Crooked Cat Publishing have announced a new end of December SALE! 

The sale runs from 28th -30th December so you need to be quick to get in there and fill up your kindle, or e-reader,  with fantastic bargains. 

I've not read every single book that Crooked Cat have published ( not yet :-)  ) but I certainly can (and already have) recommended a whole load of them.

This is a great time to get my novels at around 77p/ 99c so, if you haven't yet read my Award Finalist mystery thriller
or my Celtic Fervour Series
you can pick them up at a snip!

Happy reading. I'm off to fill up my kindle. 


Saturday 27 December 2014

Play it cool

December 27th

It's another morning of hard frost. I'm not quick enough to catch the magpie that's flitting about outside on the frozen grass and perching in the evergreen holly and I'm afraid I don't fancy waiting outside for ages in sub-zero temperatures to get a great photo.

The days have flown past since my last blog post. In effect, it's been more like long nights into late mornign rises, and bits seem to have been sandwiched together.

Santa Claus didn't forget to visit our household. He left a huge red Santa sack and a huge blue Santa sack. Neither of those had my name on them, but my grandkids had a fabulous time ripping off the paper to see what was underneath. I'm heartened to find that Santa's great at remembering to leave lots of lovely entertaining toys and games but he's also been very thoughtful at leaving very useful clothing for two little kiddies!

After a hearty brunch on Christmas Day, with some in-laws already in situ and all of the immediate family gathered, our 'under the tree presents' took a bit of time to unwrap. I've got some magical gifts to savour and some to play with. 

The gift vouchers that my hubbie and I received for dining out at fine restaurants around Aberdeen will be much appreciated. I'm looking forward to eating at the establishment of famous chef - Nick Nairn - and our visit to eat at Castle Fraser will be a fantastic event , too. 
Castle Fraser

I'm already appreciating my lovely new owl cushion behind me as I type and there may be more later about my semi- robotic vacuum cleaner. That's on a charage just now. I'm not intending to clean the house today in any big way but lots of people eating sometimes means lots of crumbs under the highchair. Since my daughter's lovely dogs have gone home their 'hoovering' capabilities have to be replaced by technology.

We're still in holiday mode in this house but I need to get back to doing a little of my editing and new writing tasks - today - sometime today.

Happy whatevers -  for what your're doing today.


Sunday 21 December 2014

It's a foursome!

Sunday Solutions...

Having spent a good chunk of yesterday completing my short story writing, and getting it on this blog, I had to pay the piper today. The Christmas cake that was baked in November still awaited some decoration.

It was big decision time. In former years, the Christmas cake has occasionally been a bit dried out by the time we get to the end of it in January when it's been one large cake. A few years ago, I diverted from the usual and made the square cake become 2 rectangular cakes. Things being as they were, that particular year, I gave away both of those cakes as gifts to my daughters.

Although I like to try out new recipes for a heavy fruit cake, it isn't generally eaten on Christmas day. That is the day we reserve for my husband's Christmas pudding. He makes double quantities bienially and stores the unused one for the following year.

My Christmas cake is made for Boxing Day or for that 'fly cup' when relatives or friends call in during the holiday fortnight.

This year I excelled myself and made four. Well, that's not strictly true - I made four small cakes.

So what was the process like this year? This isn't a cooking blog, so I'm going to condense the whole affair into a photo shoot. No recipe will be printed here because I decided to use a very traditional heavy fruit cake recipe from an old book that graces my kitchen bookshelves.

 It's an old 'Good Housekeeping' one from the 1950s (last edition 1954 as stated in the front matter) - the 'compendium' of 3 cookery books having belonged to my mother-in-law.

The aims of the book were to provide everyday recipes but I have to say that the rich fruit cake recipe that I used, and countless millions before me used, is not an everyday recipe.

Some of the cooking ideas in the book were very 'swanky' for the1950s!  The book is a treasure, though, and I'll never throw it away. I think the processes of some of the recipes contained in it ( not the cake, but other sauces and meat dishes) are only 'basic' if someone has taught you some ins-and-outs, as my own mother did, because she was an excellent baker.

I started with tons of fruit. Since most packages were from 'Fairtrade' packages, I've done fairly well with the acquisition of fruit.

Mix a whole bundle of things with the fruit. My mother swore by 'Be-Ro' flour so I tend to also use it for my special baking recipes but... I'm a cheapskate and Tesco/ Asda is used for everyday stuff!

I'm purposely making this image larger because I want you to see that I'm using my mother's earthenware baking bowl. This was her medium sized bowl but I also inherited her large one. Large really does mean large. Pity is that I can hardly lift the thing because it weights a ton. I'd need to be a Sumo wrestler to lift it when filled with ingredients.

Pop the well mixed 'gunge' into a baking tin and bake for a long time. Approximately 2 and a half hours but my oven is a bit 'iffy' so I need to check regulary to see if it's cooked/burning.

This is the fun bit!
After around a half an hour after the cake is cooked ( a slim knife coming out 'clean' when poked down the middle of the cake), or when the cake has cooled in the tin, I pricked it with a slim tined-fork before I poured over 4 tablespoons of brandy.

(NB.I may have diverged a bit from the original recipe at this point  :-)  )

This baking was done in mid -November.

A week later, I opened the wrappings and re-did the brandy soak.

Unfortunately, I'm about to blame the grandkids for distracting me (maybe it was and maybe it wasn't them - maybe it was the extra brandy in the bottle) but I forgot at this point to cling-film the cake. The greaseproof paper it was cooked in was refolded over it and the tinfoil also folded. This sadly wasn't enough since I think the cake has dried out too much over the last four weeks in storage. I'm now wrapping my knuckles because I'm remembering what my mother would have done in the 1950s. Cling film wasn't invented, and though tin foil was available, it was expensive. My mother would have used the greaseproof paper but would have put a muslin layer over that and would have tied it really tight. Since the kitchen was like a fridge in the house I grew up in, the drying out of the cake wouldn't have been such an issue!

Back to today (21st December).

In past years, I've done the decorating of the cakes at least a week before Christmas, but this year has been manic. All is not lost, though, since Christmas Day is still 4 days away.

Since the cake maybe isn't as moist as I'd  like- though it should be sozzled enough - I decided that 4 small cakes would be best.

The marzipan went on, though I made it a thinner layer than usual. One of my sons-in-law is alergic to strawberries and guess what? I only had strawberry jam so I ad-libbed yet again. To make the marzipan 'stick' to the cake I used some honey. I have never ever done this before so it might be interesting. Again belatedly, I remembered that my mother might have used egg white for this 'sticking' process. 

 My older daughter, currently resident in my house with her family (another story for another blog), had leftover sugar paste icing from my granddaughter's 3rd birthday this past September. Instead of buying new icing the plan for me was to use up what I could from her extras that hadn't dried up in the interim.

I searched the net- actually easy since I went to Pinterest - and found ideas that had the colours available to me for decorating.

The first layer went on each of the four cakes. Two completely white. One completely red and one half and half.

Then the decorating started! Yipee. This is the bit I like. My completed cakes are never perfect but they are a challenge and fun to do.

The roast beef for our Sunday dinner was now in the oven and my husband - the cook - likes the kitchen table set in advance. That meant my cake decorating was on a 'bake-off' time limit.

A simple tree was first.

Next came the prezzie.

Then came Rudolf.

And then Santa.

So, my four cakes look like this. Who needs a Christmas Cake? Who will get one of my experimental cakes?

That's the next question!


Saturday 20 December 2014

Not so...great expectations.

Happy 'December 20th' Saturday to you all!

This week has been a busy one. My preparations for Christmas continue and are almost completed.
I've bought and wrapped my gifts.
I've organised my bits of the Christmas Day menu and the food for the days around it. The shopping is done apart from the fresh goodies - etc. veggies and meats. I've done some of my second edits to 'the Taexali Game' though what remains won't take me long.

What I've also spent time on recently is writing two short stories.
One story has been for the 'Christmas with the Crooked Cats' Facebook group extravaganza of FREE stories. (See my blog post HERE for that story)
The second story I started for my every-second-Saturday post at the Writing Wranglers and Warriors Blog but at over 5 thousand words it's a little too long. Though I've posted the beginning of it on the Wranglers blog, I'm sharing the whole story here today.

Anticipation of new stories is a theme of this short story. For me, it's a delve into my past but as an author of fiction there may be some parts I haven't quite remembered correctly. Maybe some of my old school friends will tell me what's real and what's fiction about it?

Not so… great expectations

Friday, 23rd December, 1960

Sometimes it was really difficult to go home. Even harder than leaving to go to school in the morning.

‘Enjoy your Monday off school next week and remember what Christmas Day is all about.” Mrs Locky never wasted unnecessary breath when the class was all lined up and ready to go home.

At precisely four o’clock, on the ring of the huge brass hand bell, Wee Missy forged her way out through the throngs as she exited Broadholm Primary School Annexe where there were a couple of overspill classrooms. Her class was one of the unfortunate ones in that it was housed in a decrepit and ancient old building, the school roll being too large for all of the pupils to be housed in the new school building. However, there was nothing to be done but suffer the situation for a whole school year.

‘In the bleak mid-winter…’ The words of the Christmas Carol they’d sung that afternoon refused to go away as Wee Missy said a fast farewell to some of her classmates. She felt utterly bleak about it but she couldn’t avoid going home. Sunday was Christmas Day but she knew that it wasn’t going to be a cheerful one for her. The events of last week were going to catch up with her come Christmas Day. She stifled the tears as she waved goodbye to her best friend June.

She’d been too ashamed to share her secret with anyone but keeping silent about it was so awful as well.

‘Frosty winds made moan…’ It was far too glacial to hang about as she scurried further into her scarf and tucked down her chin, the sky a dull leaden grey that heralded more snow.

‘Earth stood hard as iron…’ Her present classroom only had the narrowest casement window imaginable with two bare electric bulbs dangling on a long electric cable from the ceiling for illumination. She coped well enough with the miserable light but the damp smell of mouldy wood seeped right up her nose and filled her head to the point where she eventually forgot about it every day. The lack of heating was a much worse problem. There were a few clanking radiators in the room, but it was only the one right beside the teacher’s desk that blasted out any heat and she wasn’t ever going to be naughty enough to share that space. 

Nancy Jardine at middle marked with a cross, Mrs Locky (Lachowski) at back right

Thank goodness that Mrs. Locky didn’t know what she’d done or she’d be at the front of the class for the rest of the school session!

She tugged her thick black blazer lapels up under her tied over scarf to stop the wind whistling into the tiny space at her parched throat that was full of dry tears. Her school blazer was the only thing she had to wrap around her legs and toes to warm them up during lessons and keep out the freezing draughts. Good thing it was made of wool except it scratched her bare legs, her short socks leaving a lot of cold leg to be warmed below her grey pleated skirt that just reached her knees. Of course, the heating problem near Christmas time wasn’t only in her school annexe: her own house was sometimes just as cold when she arrived home.

‘Water like a stone…’ The Christmas carol, written by someone famous called Christina Rossetti - according to her teacher - repeated itself in her head as she purposely slid down the icy pavement, some kind children having created the perfect glassy walkway on the hardened icy snow that had been intermittently falling since the previous Wednesday.

‘Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow…’ Always a dreamer. As she speed walked past the proper new Broadholm Primary School Building, the janitor having cleared a small space outside the school gates, she imagined herself back in there the following Christmas.

‘In the bleak mid-winter, Long ago.’ Only built a few years ago, the main school had really good radiators that made hardly any noise at all. She was sure she’d be back there in the warmth the next year because it was only a couple of classes who had to use the annexe. When the other new Primary school was built, in a different part of her newly built housing estate in Glasgow, nobody would ever need to use the annexe again.

Next Christmas would definitely be very different because she vowed she would make sure that she wouldn’t ever feel so bad about going home again.

‘Enough for Him, whom cherubim, Worship night and day…’ The teacher had explained all the difficult words but some of the old fashioned Victorian Christmas Carol was still hard to understand so she skipped bits, in her head, as she wended her way home.

Being the Primary Five exile class was also hard to understand. For her and her classmates, there was no playing outside at break times in the tarmac playground areas that wrapped around the big rectangular senior school block of the new school. The boys kicked a ball about on one side and called it their football park. The girls strung themselves out and played ball games at the gable wall. A tennis, or bouncy rubber, ball in each hand they sang songs like “I’m Shirley Temple and I’ve got curly hair, I’m Betty Grable and my legs are up to here…” Sometimes she didn’t remember all the words of the songs but she just made them up to fit the tune, anyway. Or the girls played with their skipping ropes and sang other songs as the two children holding the ends of the double ropes ‘cawed’ in new kids to jump up and avoid snagging the circling ropes. The new school was also great because it had lots of wall to do hand stands up against it. There were empty bits of tarmac where they could play hopscotch with chalk drawn ‘beds’ using an old shoe polish tin filled with sand for a peever that they nudged along with a foot as they skipped from one chalk-drawn square to another. When the grassy areas around the school weren’t too muddy, or full of piled up snow, they sometimes played a game of rounders, as well.

The annexe didn’t have a proper playground at all. There were only small stone chips around the building and you slipped on them too easily. Of course, the boys still tried to play football and got in the girls’ way as they stood in huddles nattering to each other.

‘A breastful of milk, And a mangerful of hay..’ The school dinners were better in the new school as well since they were cooked in the fancy new school kitchens and served hot to the tables in the dining area. It was a bit strange calling them school ‘dinners’ because they were served around midday, but Wee Missy didn’t care what they called them- she was lucky because she always had two hot meals every school day. One she ate at school and the other at home because her dad only ate a sandwich around midday and needed a hot meal in the evening.

‘Enough for Him, whom angels Fall down before, The ox and ass and camel Which adore…’  
In the Primary Five annexe, they had to sit their school lunch plates on their cleared desks and that was tricky because the slope of the desktop meant you had to keep the plate steady while still using your knife and fork. The food served from huge metal canisters and metal boxes was already cooling down by the time it was dished out- even though the distance to the annexe wasn’t all that far. She hated her dinner getting cold because the two-course school dinners were fantastic to eat, much better than her mum’s cooking. Wee Missy loved all the food at school, her especial favourite dessert being caramel flan and custard.  

The only thing on the school menu that made her gag was the kidney in the steak and kidney pudding but she’d learned to force it down. You had to eat everything on the plate or suffer the consequences of Mrs. Locky’s wrath because she wanted no scrap food to deal with! Wee Missy even relished the tapioca, the ‘frogspawn’ that most of her friends refused to put past their lips. For them, it was just as well that there was generally more than one desert choice because nearly everyone avoided the tapioca and jam. For Wee Missy that was great, because she always got an overflowing plate of tapioca, and sometimes even seconds as well.   

‘Angels and archangels May have gathered there…’ Having passed by all the twinkling classroom lights, darkness swiftly descending now, she thought of another thing she looked forward to next Christmas. The lovely new light wooden desks in the main building were absolutely perfect to sit at. She could lift the lid and store her pencil case inside, with loads of room left for her biggest library book, and her hat, gloves and even her scarf.

Oh, no! The thought of her library books made her feel really guilty again. Why on earth had she done such a stupid thing?

She looked despairingly up at the tenement blocks of houses as she by passed them, some of which had twinkling Christmas trees in the windows. Her own tree wouldn’t go up till that night or maybe tomorrow if her mum was too tired. Her dad had already checked the fairy lights and had replaced the bulbs that weren’t working properly so they were ready and waiting for the tree box to be opened. She looked up again at the last ‘close’ of houses at the end of the street. The Christmas lights were lovely against the darkened brickwork of the buildings She’d bet there were lots of excited children living in those houses who couldn’t wait for Santa to come and give them unexpected presents.

Those good children – unlike she was.

Deliberately setting aside her dismal thoughts, she backtracked to visualising her classroom. Presently, all she had was a scratched and ancient two pupil desk - the kind which was only a top with two holes cut out for ink bottles to sit in. There was nowhere to stash away anything underneath. That meant her woolly hat and other things had to be stored at her wet feet and they never dried out properly. 

The only good thing about the double desk situation in the old annexe was that the combination of kids in the back row changed according to the results of the weekly tests, so she regularly had a new neighbour.

‘Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air..’ Her teacher read out the results and efficiently reorganised the pecking order in the class room after lunch on Friday afternoon. Wee Missy was always in the back row, one of the top ten of the class and well away from the teacher’s hugely long blackboard pointer that slammed down on those idle fingers in the front rows. Her teacher liked to keep the naughty boys and girls close by her.

But she was just as naughty as them!

As she turned into Kinclaven Avenue, she watched one of her front row classmates head down the hill to her house in Southdeen Road. Wee Missy’s mother would have a fit if she was ever sitting next to that poor girl again, the girl whose parents had to be a lot poorer than hers were because Ellen was a bit smelly and was constantly lice and nit ridden.

‘But only His mother, In her maiden bliss, Worshipped the Beloved, With a kiss.’ Earlier in the school session, Wee Missy had been sent to the front of the class for talking during the lesson. Only one afternoon of sitting beside Ellen and she’d gone scratching home with more than her shame. Her mother had scrubbed the black Derbac soap into her scalp even more ferociously than usual and used the bone fine-tooth comb so hard that she’d almost gone bald. She never ever wanted nits again. The kids at the back of the class were nit and lice free - as far as she could tell - and she wanted to be sure she stayed that way forever.

She occasionally stamped at the razed frozen ice in the puddles – proof that someone else had nipped along the route home even faster than she was covering it. The mile and a half hike from school to her home was unexciting except when she stopped at the Kinclaven play park, but even with gloves on it was cold enough to freeze her fingers to the metal chains on the swings in seconds and she was neither that daft nor that bored to attempt such an idiotic diversion close to Christmas. Her school blazer and home-knitted grey hat, scarf, and gloves weren’t enough to keep Jack Frost and his many icy friends from biting her all over- just like the wooden seat would be permanently stuck to her bottom if she sat on it. She needed to get to her house as quick as possible to be out of the frozen wasteland around her but she also dreaded it. The really big problem that had been making her sick for days now would be worse when she stepped in her front door.

Feeling guilty was so horrible.

‘What can I give Him, Poor as I am?’ As she skidded her way down another pavement slide, she had to admit that exhaling puffy white clouds was actually quite funny…till it seemed to freeze the hairs in her nostrils. She’d read about how her nose worked quite recently in an encyclopaedia that her much older cousin had given to her.
She preferred the Enid Blyton books, and even the Biggles Adventures that her cousin John had no use for any more, but when she’d no new stories to read she propped up the encyclopaedia behind her pillow and read that. It had some pictures and diagrams in it, but she’d have liked even more since some of the information was quite difficult to understand, though she knew it was intended for children.  

‘If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb…’ She rewrapped her scarf right up over her nose and smothered the next lines. She didn’t want to think about them at all. ‘If I were a wise man, I would do my part…’ She hadn’t been wise at all. Not at all. And that was why going home was so difficult.

‘Yet what I can I give Him, Give my heart.’ Her mother had done that but she’d messed it all up.

As she hurried past the Church of Scotland, other Christmas carols that Mrs Locky had made her practise in class replayed in her head like her dad’s scratched vinyl records.

‘Hark! the herald angels sing Glory to the newborn King Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!’ Her Nana would say that she had sinned something terrible because of what she’d done last week. Now she felt really disgusted but she only had herself to blame for that.

‘Joyful, all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies, with the angelic host proclaim...’ Even though it was the last school day before Christmas, there hadn’t been much joy in class. It hadn’t been much different from any other Friday except that the carol singing had been for a whole hour rather than the usual Friday half hour hymn singing. The teachers at school never talked about Santa coming down the chimney, or about going to visit him in his grotto in Lewis’ shop in Glasgow City Centre and there was never any mention of anyone ever going to the pantomime at the Alhambra or the Pavilion Theatres, either. Christmas tree talk only went on in the playground. Usual lessons went on in the classroom.

Everybody knew Mrs. Locky wasn’t really her teacher’s name but most of the kids in her class couldn’t spell Lachowski. Wee Missy liked Mrs. Locky most of the time but although her teacher might look round and cuddly, the woman could wield her belt as well as the headmaster if anyone got less than nine correct out of ten in the Friday Spelling Test. She’d tasted Mrs. Locky’s tawse a time or two too many at the beginning of Primary Five, but it had been an effective salutary lesson. Rote learning her spelling to perfection was a challenge she never failed at now. Lachowski would never be spelled wrongly either. Her times tables were faultless as well, though she still had a lot of work to do to get the other bits as easy to reel off. To get to twenty-two yards is equal to one chain wasn’t so bad  but the next things about furlongs and miles were harder to remember.

‘Silent night, holy night…’ Wee Missy’s absolute all time favourite was reading. She loved all the reading that was done in class - even the Road Safety advice that was on the back of the school jotters that Glasgow Corporation provided - but she liked it even better when she zoomed home to read the books she’d borrowed from the public library and her weekly batch of comics. Her dad liked to read as well, which was brilliant because every Tuesday evening they walked the two miles to the local Public Library to change their books and walked even faster on the return trip. On those occasions, her feet felt like they barely hit the pavement because her dad was a really fast walker. He’d been a member of a harriers club as a younger man and he did such a fast walk/run that she had to jog to keep up with him on her much shorter legs. It was just as well that he usually carried her books along with his own in his old army knapsack that bounced against his back when they hurried home.

The thought of reaching home to read had her skipping up the hill on Tallant Road at a spanking pace but as she approached the shops near Carolside Avenue, her mood darkened again.

She’d hardly anything new to read. Even worse than that, next week was going to be so horrible!

A cold shudder passed through her, even colder than the seriously icy atmosphere around her.

‘We three kings of orient are, bearing gifts we traverse afar’  Christmas Day was supposed to be so nice: happy and cheerful, filled with lots of lovely new surprises to open but that wasn’t going to happen to her! She pretended that the sting at her eyes was just because the arctic chill was gluing her eyelashes together.

Though at eight going on nine years old, she knew better.

'Oh, star of wonder...' It was only Friday, but she’d already devoured the two thinner ones of the three library books that she was allowed to borrow each Tuesday. The big fat Enid Blyton Ship of Adventure Series book she’d vowed to save for her Saturday reading. Those stories absorbed her for hours and sent her places she could only dream of. She wasn’t going to start it when she got home, she wasn’t! ‘I’m not. I’m not’ accompanied her till she passed the Newsagents shop close to her home on Rozelle Avenue. A sort-of-a-smile almost broke free when she saw the Christmas advert for her favourite comic in the window. The Bunty had produced a special Christmas edition that week with an extra story in it! That would mean an even longer time could be spent savouring her comics. 

She got The Bunty; The Judy; The June and School Friend, and The Diana every week.

She mostly hated her older sister- the four year gap meaning almost no reason to like her sibling who was now only interested in boys, especially the one who lived in a house opposite the Co-Operative Shop she’d just passed. Meggie had always been a tomboy so it was difficult to understand the girl who now went to bed every night with rollers in her hair that she claimed would create a perfect style in the morning. The problem with Moody Meggie was that her hair was totally straight and sleeping on uncomfortable jaggy rollers didn’t make a bit of difference. Meggie’s hair was still straight in the morning and didn’t do that curling under thing it was supposed to.

The best thing about Meggie was that her comics were still ordered even though she wasn’t really much of a reader. Being a tomboy meant that Meggie got The Beano; The Dandy; The Beezer; and The Topper. Mean Meggie pretended to read them all  and took till about Wednesday night before she’d pass them on to her but that was good because there was always something new to read on Thursday after school. 

‘Guide us to thy perfect light…’ As Wee Missy rounded the corner which led to her house on Jedworth Avenue, she thought about the comics for this week that were going to be such a treat to look forward to- the only drawback being that they wouldn’t be delivered by the ‘paper boy’ till after five o’clock that evening. Sometimes the package, rolled up tight in elastic bands, didn’t pop through the letter box till nearer half past five and when that happened it was a really ghastly wait.

What was she going to read till they were delivered? Guilt made her last steps even harder to take.

Wee Missy approached the short flight of stairs which led up to her block of flats and let out a deep sigh, sending a cloud of icy vapour around her. She wanted to be in her house and out of the biting cold, yet she could hardly bear it. Remorse sat even more heavily on her shoulder, a burden that she’d repressed for more than a week, but she’d been brought up to face up to consequences so she knew she just had to get on with it.

‘We wish you a Merry Christmas…’ Knocking on Mrs. Irvine’s door, she summoned a chapped lipped smile. Her neighbour across the landing was the keeper of her door key because there was no one in her own house when she got home after school. At eight and three quarter years old, she wasn’t regarded as being responsible enough for that job- it would have been a disaster if she lost one of the only two house keys that the family had.

“Hullo, hen. Was school good the day? Huv you seen oor Thomas?”

'Good tidings we bring...' Her neighbour’s questions always came thick and fast and Wee Missy’s answers rarely varied as she shook her head. Thomas was nearly the same age as she was but was in a different class at school. He was nearly always home later than she was because he mucked about with his mates on the way home - even on freezing cold days. Michael Irvine was a couple of years younger and was already home, eating biscuits and drinking milk like she’d just been offered by Mrs. Irvine.

“Here’s your key, love. If you need any help, remember to just chap.” Mrs. Irvine’s smile was always cheery as the key was handed over.

'To you and your kin...' It had only been two months since Wee Missy’s mother had started in her temporary seasonal job at the huge Woolworth’s Department store in the city centre of Glasgow. Her mum had never been anything except a housewife since her mother and father had got married, so the new job was taking a bit of getting used to. They were all out early to catch a bus - her mum, Dad and sister - well before she had to go to school. In the evening, her sister was supposed to be home before her dad at five- thirty but Meggie rarely was. It was nearly half past six before her mum returned. It wasn’t the loneliness that bothered Wee Missy when she unlocked the door and went in to her house. Being alone was great.

She loved lots of peace and quiet but that was what was now giving her guilty bad dreams!

‘We wish you a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.’ Her heart sank even further as she dumped her school satchel on the floor at the coat cupboard. She took off her almost solid frozen school blazer, the wool so matted with frost it looked white instead of black. She struggled to hang it up since her fingers had no blood at the tips. Her hat, scarf and gloves had fared little better and stood up in solid heaps when she dropped them, too.

Bypassing her parents’ bedroom was horrible since the door was wide open. She couldn’t miss seeing the huge wardrobe that filled the space alongside the window: that solid, dark wooden wardrobe with its generous shelf at the top.

What had made her do it? The house was as cold as her conscience.

The clock on the mantelpiece read twenty past four. That meant ages to wait for something new to read. Chores needed doing, but her hands were too cold. There wouldn’t be any hot water from the taps till the immersion heater was switched on but she was allowed to boil the electric kettle to make herself a cup of hot cocoa. Till the electric kettle boiled, she hugged her cold fingers under her oxters to warm them up. When the sound changed to that almost boiling splutter, she scooped out two spoons of drinking chocolate powder into her cup and added some milk. Once it was mixed to a paste she shakily added the boiling water and then stirred it furiously to mix it in. The rest of the kettle of hot water went into the basin in the sink. Some cold water added, she immersed her freezing fingers till they thawed out, yelping as the blood warmed through to her fingertips.

'Oh, come all ye faithful...' Able now to wrap her hands around her cup, she took it into her bedroom. Staring at her piles of already read books and comics brought forth none of her usual excitement but she had to read something, or do something else. She couldn’t just do nothing.

Straightening up the covers on her bed was easy but she wasn’t climbing up to the top bunk to do her sister’s. She’d given up on tidying her siblings mess ages ago. Slurping down the last of her cocoa, she felt she’d almost thawed out.

'Joyful and triumphant...' She wasn’t allowed to light the coal fires that were in the living room and bedrooms but she knew from the last few weeks that her lazy sister wasn’t going to be home in time to set them. Having dumped her cup in the water she’d used to warm her hands,  she washed the few other things from the morning – cereal bowls, a couple of cups and some cutlery. She wasn’t great at peeling potatoes but she knew it would help get the dinner ready more quickly if she got on with it.

And it would help to atone a little bit for her sad misdeeds of the previous week.

‘Peace on earth, Goodwill to men…’ One look was all it took for her to feel ill again. The kitchen was opposite her mum’s bedroom, and that wardrobe just wasn’t going to go away. Blocking out the sight of it with her hand she made her way into the living room.

Her dad always made sure to leave ready some kindling for the fire and the coal bucket was half full. She’d learned how to roll the newspaper into spills so she set to work. It took a while but by almost five o’clock, she had the fire set in the grate.

Wee Slavey in her Bunty comic was always setting the fires and doing the menial chores in the big manor house so it was a just enough punishment for her. How could she have been so stupid as to drag that chair over to the top shelf of her mum’s wardrobe?

She wished so much that she hadn’t overheard her mum telling her dad that she’d stashed away some things up on the shelf for the girls.

They didn’t have a cat but her curiosity now almost killed her.

The stash of unwrapped presents on the shelf included the Annual Editions of her favourite comics. They were meant to be opened on Christmas Day but she had devoured them the previous week- every single word. Even the last page which wasn’t a story but about the people who had helped make the books.

Now she had no new reading to look forward to! Tears dripped from her chin. She was so disappointed in herself for taking away the excitement of Christmas.  
'We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New year...'


Sunday, 25th December, 1960

Weak daylight crept through the curtain. Wee Missy wanted to sleep all day long-even though it was Christmas Day. Pretending was going to be so horrible. She’d managed to keep her awful guilty secret during Christmas Eve but the day of reckoning had now arrived. 

In previous years, Santa Claus hadn’t brought all that much since her parents didn’t have the money for lots of gifts, but it had still been very exciting to investigate the contents of the white pillow case that had been left hanging at the end of her bed. There had usually been a new doll, maybe a few jig-saws, some chocolate, hard boiled sweets and some fruit- usually a tangerine, and if she was very lucky an exotic pomegranate. Of course, the most important contents of her Christmas pillow case had been the Annuals.

She could hear her mum in the kitchen making breakfast and her dad would be off soon for his Sunday walk- even though it was Christmas Day.

“Are you two awake?” her dad shouted as his knuckles rapped at the door. “Merry Christmas! Has Santa brought you anything this year? ”

Jumping out of bed she pretended to be excited as she opened the door to him. “I don’t know yet.” She’d learned the previous Christmas about the Santa and her parents’ secret but it was nice to keep up that pretence.

“Well, hurry up then. See what’s in that big stuffed pillowcase.”

As Wee Missy delved into the bulging white sack her sister’s head hung down from the top bunk, the rollers falling out of her hair.

“Thanks, Dad,” Meggie said as Dad passed up her pillow case.

Wee Missy’s dread turned to squeals of absolute delight as her fingers rummaged around. There were so many presents in her pillow case. She had a gorgeous new doll with the kind of nylon hair that could be combed. More new jig-saws that she loved to put together and plenty of chocolate and sweeties. The already read annuals were there….but there were also lots of brand new books as well!

Enid Blyton books and

some of the Chalet School Series that she’d just started to read. How could her mother have afforded such a lot of presents?

Such a lot of books she didn’t deserve.

Tears dripping down her chin she hugged her dad really tight and then ran to her mum who’d just come into the room.

“Thank you. Thank you!”

Never, absolutely never, would she ever sneak a look at her presents before Christmas again. She’d learned a very salutary lesson. She had to be the luckiest girl in Glasgow.

Christmas was for surprises! 
ps. She did wonder where her mother had hidden the books she'd not read!


Wednesday 17 December 2014

The Christmas newsletter.

Wednesday 17th December...Really?

I had a great 'Prezzie drop' visit to my sister & sister-in-law Monday into Tuesday, the gifts being for my great nieces and great nephews.

The advantage of driving over 300 miles, rather than posting the gifts, is that I got to see some of the kids who were getting the presents. Not seeing them all that often over the course of a year means they grow so much in between. As they grow older, the catch up conversations are brilliant. Because of the timing of the trip, I was able to spend a little time with one of my great-nieces who has just turned eight. She's such a lovely kid and it's great for me since I don't often come into contact with anyone of that age these days.

I'm delighted to say that the great nieces and nephews that I didn't see in person, I saw in updated photos since my sister is so very good at displaying all of her grandchildren around her walls. They are all fantastic kids! XXX  :-)

Today, I'll do a little bit of grandchildminding and a lot of catching up of last minute card writing- the last day for posting before Christmas now having arrived.

Has my husband done the 'Jardine' Christmas newsletter that we have ususally done each year for a couple of decades? ER...m . NO. Have I? Er...m . NO.

There's a priority!

What goes into our newsletter? Any major changes that happens to our work lives is usually covered. That won't be a problem since that's almost unchanged. Any holidays we've spent? Yes - I can relate them. Any major birthdays, or weddings or funerals? Yes, we've had some of all of those. New grandchildren born? Yes- we do have a new addition.

Mundane information to some, but for those contacts we no longer meet up with, it's nice to have a reciprocal update from them.

Do you write a newsletter to add to your greetings cards?

Of course, I also need to make sure that there are updates to my author newsletter as well, since I have some news for 2015 to tell my readers... AND...
when my cards are done and posted, I've got some more great editing suggestions for last minute tidy ups to 'The Taexali Game'. Nothing major, but needing to be done since the edits are 'Fresh' back from Jeff, my editor.

Have a lovely Wednesday.


Sunday 14 December 2014

Differing Interpretations...Need a little laugh?

Some Sunday diversions...
The following questions and answers were passed on to me via email. I hope the originator won't mind a sharing - I'd thank you in person but your name is unclear. The answers are classic and I'm sure I've seen some of them before, but in one sense, they are absolutely correct. 
Interpretation is the key because not everyone 'reads' a question in the same way.  Just as not everyone reads a novel in the same way. 

Apart from wrapping some Christmas gifts today, I'll be spending some time doing the edits on The Taexali Game that my editor - Jeff Gardiner- has sent back for me to decide on. His suggestions for a few changes to the content are spot on, and that's because , through his editor's lens, his interpretation is different from mine. He has spotted a few weaknesses that definitely need to be addressed. My thanks go to Jeff for that...
even though it's more work for me! (*insert smiley face here*) 

Hopefully at least one of these will generate a smile for you!

Q1.. In which battle did Napoleon die?
* his last battle
Q2.. Where was the Declaration of Independence signed?
* at the bottom of the page
Q3.. River Ravi flows in which state?
* liquid
Q4.. What is the main reason for divorce?
* marriage
Q5.. What is the main reason for failure?
* exams
Q6.. What can you never eat for breakfast?
* Lunch & dinner
Q7.. What looks like half an apple?
* The other half
Q8.. If you throw a red stone into the blue sea what it will become?
* Wet
Q9.. How can a man go eight days without sleeping ?
* No problem, he sleeps at night.
Q10. How can you lift an elephant with one hand?
*   You will never find an elephant that has one hand.
Q11. If you had three apples and four oranges in one hand and four apples and three oranges in other hand, what would you have?
* Very large hands
Q12. If it took eight men ten hours to build a wall, how long would it take four men to build it?
*No time at all, the wall is already built.
Q13. How can u drop a raw egg onto a concrete floor without cracking it?
*Any way you want, concrete floors are very hard to crack.
What would your answers have been? And would they have made someone laugh like these made me chuckle?  
ps. I'll be doing that totting up of how many paperback copies that I've sold between September and December of my Crooked Cat novels - the ones sold at the Craft Fairs I've been attending. Update on that later.