A Vigorous & Colourful Personality : a Blog for Mothering Sunday

Vigorous & Colourful, late 1980s

Hi Mom,

It’s that time, again, Mothering Sunday. Mother’s Day, in American, though the latter is in May, not March. I remember how I used to buy a card for you, in March, then post it in time for Mother’s Day. It was a good plan, those years when I actually remembered where I’d put the flippin’ card. Those forgetful years, you received a card with no verse: often, with a cat on the cover.

Here’s a photo of our latest, by the way. I know you’d love him, if you met him. If you still rang every week, the first thing you’d say, after hello, would be, “How is the cat?”

The latest grand-cat, Al “the Pal”

I was listening to Sinatra a few minutes ago. I remember you telling me, several times over the years, about the time you & your friend Christie went to see him, in New York, when you were in your early 20s. Apparently, you stayed in your seats after the first concert, so you could see him again. It’s the only time I know of that you (sort of) broke the law.

This is the Sinatra song I’m told Dad played at your funeral. I remember the album, which one of us would have had to play for you, on account of you never figuring out how to work the stereo. How did you manage to play all those lovely old singles you bought, in your teens, and pre-marriage 20s? The ones you lugged along through at least two house moves: not just Sinatra, but also Gershwin, including “Rhapsody in Blue?”

I don’t remember you ever saying which one was your favourite song. I know Dad liked “Set ’em Up Joe”. I liked this one. It appealed to my angst-ridden, teenaged soul.

This is the fourth time I’ve written to you, via my blog, and God(s), on Mothering Sunday. One year, adrift on a sea of nostalgia,I wrote it on Mother’s Day, instead.

That first blog-letter to you was also the very first blog I wrote, back in 2014. It’s kind of a tradition, now, for to write to you once a year, and note the passing of another blog year, as well.

Your birthday is coming up soon: you would have been 90. I try to imagine you at that age. Sadly, the mental pictures I get reflect what you were like those last two years, when Alzheimer’s combined with Myasthenia Gravis to blot out your “vigorous and colourful personality”.

The phrase is a quote from a book blurb describing Baroness Ocrzy, author of the “Scarlet Pimpernel” books. “Pimpernel” was one of the paperbacks in my sister’s desk drawers. I think it was assigned for a high school class. Later, while at Wayne, I read some of the sequels in the main Detroit library, when I should have been studying, instead.

You loved that library, and the time you spent working there. Hell, you loved all libraries.

The magnificence that is Detroit Public Library

Writing this has helped calm me down. I’ve been a bit hypomanic of late: chatty, struggling at times to keep my conversations from turning into downloads, and a bit loud with it, too. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not too extreme, and the energy is great. Still, I have to watch it. I remember how, that first time I was in hospital, you drove to Fairlane, just to get me a lovely cat jumper, and some cat socks.

Summed it up, really

It’s a shame my version of your “vigorous & colourful personality” is bipolar-flavoured, but we can’t have it all, eh? If we could, you would never have developed Alzheimer’s. It’s a cruel disease, especially so for someone who lived to read, and think, and express her often Thatcher-esque opinions.

I like to think you understand why I destroyed those last few photos of you: the ones where your light was gone, and only a frail framework remained. I cannot imagine, had you still been able to express an opinion, you would have ever wanted to be photographed on such outstandingly bad hair days. You, the woman who always put on lipstick before she went out, even to the supermarket. Still, it gave Dad comfort to still be able to take your picture, I guess.

This is how I prefer to think of you: pretty in pink, bursting with pride at your son’s wedding. My vigorous, bookish, colourful mother.



Mom, aka Mum, late 1980s

Posted in Cancer, Holiday!, Nostalgia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Just Another Book Porn Wednesday

Tom the tomato contemplates books, whilst Rodin's Thinker contemplates Tom.

Tom the tomato contemplates books, whilst Rodin’s Thinker contemplates Tom.

” Books are a uniquely portable magic” – Stephen King

If you’re reading this because you’re hoping for smut, you’re out of luck. Book porn is about beautiful bindings, not bodacious boobies.

Bindings! Original dust jackets! Gilt-edged pages! Art work!

Up until recently, I was a utilitarian book buyer: paperbacks, unless there was a hardback version, & I really could not wait to read it.  If I bought an old book, it was because I wanted to read it, not display it.

Now, due in part to a lovely retro & vintage Doncaster shop called “Rewind”, I’ve discovered book porn. Yes, it’s about bindings, and the gleam of those lovely gilt-edged pages, but oh, so much more. Like the inscription on my latest “Rewind” purchase: a collection of the works of John Greenleaf (1) Whittier.

“A distressing accident”

I love this: it sets the wheels going in my writer’s mind. What was the kindness? What was the accident, and why was it “distressing”? What, if any, was Mrs Brown’s relationship with C Dawson, or did they meet for the first time due to the accident?

I also like this, found on the inside cover of a collection of Longfellow’s poetry:

Well done!

A book doesn’t have to be old to qualify as book porn. I bought this gorgeous little hardback at last year’s “Turn the Page” festival, purely for that wonderfully evocative drawing on the book’s dust jacket.

The ideal hideaway for walkers who are also writers, and writers who are also walkers.

Old hardbacks can even supply a few laughs, such as this one my husband bought me, also from Rewind:

I bet he wears socks with his sandals.

I know Sir Percy Blakney is a fop, and a dandy, but really? The last time I saw dress sense that bad, I was watching a DVD of Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor. (2)

Notebooks can also be a form of book porn. I am a pushover for a nice notebook, and often buy them to commemorate special events, such as successfully surviving my breast cancer op last year, or returning to work after a period of illness. Here’s one I purchased earlier this year. Can you see why I couldn’t resist it?

A thing of beauty, indeed

I love this notebook, & hope to put it to use writing my next Sherlock Jones story, “The Adventure of the Cooper Leeches”. Meanwhile, there’s still work to be done before I bring out my next collection of humoruos “cozy crime” stories. Titled “A Yorkshireman in Ohio”, it includes the long short story, “Sherlock Jones and the Geek Interventionist”. Set mainly at the Doncaster Cosplay Convention, it once again features Sherlock “Sherl” Jones, a writer with a line in detection, and his crossword-loving friend, Bozzie Badger.

Happy reading!

Boswell “Bozzie” Badger, cosplaying the 4th Doctor. Art by Tom Brown.

(1) The clear winner in the category “Best Middle Name Ever Had by a Poet”
(2) Sorry, Mr Baker: I know it wasn’t your fault your costume was so awful.

Posted in Art, Books, Poetry, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“With Extra Points for Neatness”


“Hello from the other side”

Some February fiction for you …

With Extra Points for Neatness

by Sheila North

Margaret Pennyworth was nothing if not direct.

“I’ve decided to deactivate you. I am sorry.”

Her parents had been big on superficial politeness, so the phrase, “I am sorry” was only to be expected. They both knew she didn’t mean it.

“Will you please stop looking at me like that? It’s extremely off putting.”

Margaret shuffled through the paperwork, which she had shoved into the bread bin, the day it arrived. There was no bread in the bin, hadn’t been since Colin died in their marital bed: his beautiful eyes gradually becoming as cold as the rest of his body. Bread was fattening, or so the beings who ran Planet Diet said. On those rare occasions when Margaret reflected on things, she wondered how an alien life form which existed entirely on the waste products of others could know so much about carbs, or, indeed, food.

A small pile of paperwork was rapidly accumulating on the otherwise spotless kitchen floor. Inwardly, Margaret Pennyworth sighed. It really was an excellent housekeeper – and bookkeeper, and cook, and bottle washer. But even the best products have their flaws, and Margaret had had enough.

Item 99462M was everything The Houseboy Company (TM) had claimed: well, almost everything. It was the expression: that fixed smile; even worse, those marble blue eyes. They’d been so different those first 38 years of their 40 year relationship. What had she been thinking of – besides a tidy home – paying for her late husband’s neat-freak mind to be lodged in that metal body, and behind those eyes, oh, those eyes!

“Shall I dust and vac the master bedroom, first?” the flat voice asked, its eyes as cold, and unblinking, as ever.


What do you do with some drunken Cybermen?

Posted in Story time, Writing | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Books v Kebab Boxes

Book worms rule okay!

Book worms rule okay!

I was quite glad I hoovered the carpet, the day before we had three paramedics in our bedroom. They weren’t there for any kind of hi-jinks: my idea of a good time doesn’t involve having three ECGs in the course of two hours.

Both the first paramedic, who arrived by himself in a car; and the other two, who came by ambulance, remarked on the number of books we have.

Lots of books? Don't know whatcha mean, mate.

Lots of books? Don’t know whatcha mean, mate.

The first paramedic mentioned the books in passing. The other two said how nice it was, seeing all those books. You didn’t think it was too excessive? I asked, with a sigh of relief that no one had tripped over the book piles that march their way up our steep, ca-1890s staircase.

Oh, no, one of the paramedics replied. It’s much better than loads of empty kebab boxes. Do you see those a lot, or just with people who have suspected heart problems? I asked. I wasn’t terribly surprised when they said the latter.

Don’t look at me like that: I didn’t ring 999 for an ambulance because I thought I was having a heart attack. Those nice folks at 111, “NHS Direct” made the call.

As previously stated in this blog, I am not medically trained. However, I thought alternating pains in my stomach, sternum area, and lower jaw merited a 111 call. The words “heart attack” did cross my mind, but, all save the jaw pain was so mild, it barely merited the description “pain”. Plus, I didn’t have pains down my left arm, or what one of my first aid instructors memorably described as “a feeling of impending doom“. (1)

Ironically, whilst I know that feelings of anxiety can sometimes be mistaken for a heart attack, I was feeling pretty laid back that morning, after weeks and weeks of that old wheeze, depression and extreme – and I do mean extreme – anxiety. But that was then: that morning, I was feeling quite mellow. Well, as mellow as someone who’s mid-way through several loads of laundry can be.

Al the Cat, who supports his catnip habit by giving lessons in relaxation, and Mindfulness.

Al the Cat, who supports his catnip habit by giving lessons in relaxation, and Mindfulness.

It was jaw pain which led to my ringing 111, and agreeing to wait for an ambulance. The pain was pretty bad, and I couldn’t think of anything which could explain it. I stayed calm, right up to when the paramedic on the other end of the line said to sit down: no, don’t get up to look for the ambulance, or to get your coat, or even to pee.


My heart is fine. It took six hours from feeling that first twinge, to finally leaving hospital: three ECGs, and one x-ray later. I don’t begrudge the time: if that’s what it took to put my mind at rest, fair enough. So, a great big THANK YOU! to the NHS, for stepping up to the plate. And an equally big BOOO! to the saddo who wasted no time in taking Obamacare away from his less fortunate fellow Americans.

I’ve now used the NHS for three different things – cancer, mental health, and a suspected heart attack – in one year. I’m hoping that – aided by regular Mindfulness practice – I don’t need its help for more than a year. Make that a decade. Scratch that, make it a lifetime.

I’m also grateful that I turned veggie before I thought to try a kebab. After all, three out of three paramedics say reading is much better for you.

Or is it the empty boxes that are the real problem?

Thank heavens they didn't mention sweet wrappers!

Thank heavens they didn’t mention sweet wrappers!

(1) Once heard, a phrase that is never forgotten.

Posted in Bipolar, Book It!, Books, mental health, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Double Act, & the Crown

Hang on, said the unicorn, what're you guys doing with that there crown?

What’re you guys doing with that crown? asked the unicorn.

Some short fiction for you, while you’re waiting for the turkey to defrost

I didn’t ask for this, you know. Charging all around town, fighting a lion, for a crown. A crown, I ask you! What’s a self-respecting unicorn want with a bit of a jewellry for a hat?

I already had plenty of street cred: magical horn; hanging out with beautiful young women; promoted from the minors of rhinohood, and narwhalness, to a beautiful white equine, with a hipster beard, eternal life, and, of course, that wondrous horn. What more could any mythical beast want?

No, I am not a dog. Yes, my Spockin' nose itches. Now leave me alone.

The eternal opponent: York, Nr Yorkshire

Of course, I did get something from my long-standing disagreement with a puss who’s too big for his boots. My image is displayed on every law court in the land, as well as lots of other public buildings, including quite a few palaces. Mine is one of the best known faces, and bodies, in this United Kingdom.

Sure, I have to share my glory with a big, dumb feline, but hey, every one loves a double act: Morecambe and Wise; Laurel and Hardy, cheese and pickle: we outshine them all.

Despair? Indigestion? Forgot to put the Lottery numbers on? Chatsworth.

Cheese sarnies, again? Bring me a pastrami on rye with Russian dressing, & make it snappy

It’s me who writes all our scripts: have done, for centuries. His paws are too clumsy, but I have the perfect pen, right on my head. It took a bit of working out, at first: how to dip my horn into an inkwell. It was the lion’s suggestion that I use birch bark for my first drafts, and calf, or pig skin, for the final one. As a life-long vegetarian, I found this rather distasteful, but he can’t help being a carnivore. Besides, it’s just another form of recycling.

We didn’t prepare the skins ourselves, or the bark, for that matter. We entered into an agreement with a tanner, and a woodsman. It was a symbiotic relationship: they prepared out paper, and skins, and we promised not to gore them, or eat them.

Morning sun: late December, 2015

Are these the trees which launch a thousand scripts? Winter, 2015

In the beginning, it was a rough, knockabout sort of act. We’d chase around a bit, then, “Give me that crown!” I’d neigh, in a way which was nicely nuanced between the noble, and the supernatural. “It’s mine, you horny son of a mare!” he’d shout back. Then, we’d charge about the marketplace a bit; stop; catch our breath – or, rather, Percy would, he’s not built for distance running – and then go through our lines all over again.

It seemed to tickle the peasants who lived in the town near our magical glade, although Tom the Tanner said they weren’t amused, just terrified.

Percy? Oh, that’s the lion. His full name is Richard William Percival Coeur de Lion, but after over 400 years together, I just call him Percy. He’s not such a bad sort, when you get to know him.

Yes, it’s the same lion. Is he mythical? Hard to say, but if he’s not immortal, he’s certainly had a good innings, with no sign of leaving the pitch anytime soon.

Alternative feline career: Sheffield, 2016

Alternative magical feline career: Sheffield, 2016

These days, as well as our double act, we both do solo gigs. Percy’s a regular in films, usually about some chap called Aslan, or in musicals, chiefly, “The Wizard of Oz”, “Wicked”, and “The Lion King”. I tend to do life modelling for tapestries, and paintings, though I’ve branched out a bit more, over the years: fantasy novels, and films, plus some merchandising. It can get a bit twee: cuddly toys, snowstorm paperweights, that sort of thing. I’ve got a new line coming out soon, called “My Little Unicorn”.

Not another lion! cried the unicorn: London, 2016

Another flippin’ lion! cried the unicorn: London, 2016

Anyway, by the time a couple of centuries had gone by, our quick and crude comedies had become a bit boring: to us, and our audiences. Percy said we needed to up our game, become more of a brand, and appeal to a more cultured, sophisticated clientele. That last bit makes Percy out to be a bit more literate than he really is. He learned words like “sophisticated” and “clientele” from me.

Percy may be more brawn, than brains, but we both wanted to move with the times. By the time the late 19th century came along, I’d moved from using more horn like a quill, to being a one-horn typist. A century or so later, I was one of the first magical beings in the country to try out a ZX Spectrum, as well as the Commodore 64. Percy’s no comedy genius, but he helped in his own way. Over the decades, he’s terrorized more people into building and painting scenery, and making props, than I can shake a horn at.

He does have a gift for sniffing out media opportunities. partly because he’s spent an awful lot of the late 20th and early 21st centuries going to the pictures, and watching the box. He’s a great cinema companion: he can empty a theatre really quickly. Percy loves action pictures, and horror, while I prefer rom-coms, and fantasy.

Did you know we were the first double act to appear on Channel 5? Or that we were extras in an upcoming production of “The Lion in Winter”? Unfortunately, we ended up on the cutting room floor. Which is a shame, as the location filming was nearly the death of poor Percy. He’s not really built for winter.

A field in winter: December 2014

A field in winter: December 2014

I didn’t ask for this crown business, but like a lot of things we don’t want, or go looking for, it’s turned out ok. We eat well, these days: no more black bread, or brown. It’s steak for him, and the finest vegetarian option, for me. At The Ivy, no less.

A unicorn, at last: drawing by Tom Brown, from “Koi Carpe Diem

Talk about the high life: we’re appearing at the Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium next year. As Percy says, we’re bound to be a rip-roaring success.

Wishing everyone in America a happy, & peaceful, Thanksgiving Day.

Posted in Holiday!, Story time, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment