Adventure is waiting

bbIt’s been an incredible tough few months not being able to excitedly jump on a train or plane (like Betsy here on the left!) every month to go and see my kids over in Germany. I was just about getting use to them moving over there back last August when this pandemic struck in March here in the UK. So whilst I’ve cautiously booked a trip next month i’m still getting through the days. Still there have been some special moments – sending typewritten letters to each other, telephone calls, silly postcards, fun little parcels, skype calls and I’m now recording a book on cd I hope to finish next week to send accross to them. It’s a Betsy Byars novel Craacker Jackson, and I’ve loved recording it so much it’s made me realize just how fortunate I was to discover this fantastic author back when I was 12. If 16 is the perfect age to read Catcher in the Rye, then 12 must be the perfect age to read Betsy!
I was lucky enough to not just have a bookshop at my school, but also to have my parents put in fen pounds every term onto my account there – easily enough for a choose your own adventure book and a Garfield comic which was pretty much all I got. Still, once in a while I’d try something different. I think I just thought this Betsy Byars book Cracker Jackson had a cool cover with a kid on a bike, and I thought the author had a cool name too. Those days it didn’t take much to impress me. The book itself blew me away, I’d never read anything like that before – it was nbb2ot just that it was funny and story was believable and exciting, but the way she wrote! Wow, it blew me away. I’d never read anyone writing about people like me, kids whose parents were divorced, who felt like a loser and had a kind of odd family, and who felt always slightly out of the loop with the cool kids but who worried about being cool and funny a little too much. Her dialogue is spot on, and even now reading it for the first time in 30 years it feels as fresh and real as ever.
My school bookshop didn’t have any other Betsy Byars books, for all I know I got the only copy. But over the next couple of years I got a few more – at libraries and birthday and Christmas presents –  The burning questions of Bingo Brown. The TV Kid. The Computer Nut.  The cool thing is that no matter what the subject was about – you knew it was going to a fantastic read because it was a Betsy Byars book. I remember ripping open The Computer Nut on Christmas day “Oh cool, a Betsy Byars book!” and I always experienced that same adrenaline rush opening the book and reading the first few paragraphs.
We never read anything like Betsy at school in my pre-teen years. We read things like Day of the Triffids and Animal Farm, which whilst enjoyable to a degree never really got my heart racing. I was always suspicious of anything we had to read at school for it meant you’dbb3 not only have to read it out loud in turns in class, but write some essay about it too. Betsy was someone I could read – or even better persuade my mum to read to me – and it was like reading about people I might know and hang out with.

I was just doing a bit of research for this blog, and I found out Betsy died in Feb at the age of 91. I had no idea she was still around and writing books. She seemed a tad eccentric, living in a cabin on an airstrip so she could just fly off on her plane whenever she felt like it. I guess that’s cool, even if it sounds a little crazy! Anyway, she was a very rare writer, not many can actually write for the pre-teen market with such style and wit. Literary critics say she is one of the best children’s writers of all time. So, go and check out her books now, read them now or give ’em to your kids. Let’s keep her books in print, for recording this book for my kids now I tell you the books haven’t dated at all – those themes of vulnerability and confusion on the cusp of teenage life will never fade no matter what the world looks like these days, and kids today need her as much as I did back at the end of the last Century 😉

lockdown love

Well, last time I wrote this in January I said it’s been the strangest year I’d ever known, so seems likely this one will easily top that! Before all this craziness I was about to start a new blog about my little life here looking after three wild kids under five, and my trips to Germany to see my other two slightly bigger but just as wild kids. So that kind of got scrapped, because nobody – and I mean nobody – wants to read a weekly blog with some jaded guy going on about missing his kids in Germany, and listening to a scratch Larry Norman “I wish we’d all been ready” every day crying into his burnt porridge….

So instead, I’ll just stick with wordsandguitars , but yes it’s absolutely heart-breaking to lose hopping on the train (boo to nasty airplane pollution!) pretty much every month to spend a glorious few days with my kids across the channel. Every day when I wake up it’s the very first thought in my mind. I can’t even write a throw-away poem about feeling sad because I just don’t have the focus. So…with that in mind :-

I cherish the simplicity of life here now. Having nowhere to go. No plans. No work. We are lucky to live in an extraordinary secluded little spot, surrounded by countryside on our doorstep. Writing this looking out from the bedroom window at the rolling hills, it calms me and thrills me. Spending all day with three little children is intense but I’ve never seen them so happy.

Here are my highlights, in no order

Tblog1he cool quranatine – this is a ridiculously long radio show put together by the always-entertaining Henry Rollins. It’s pretty much 4 hours of stories and rare gems and music by little punk bands I’ve never heard of. You can dip in and out of it whenever you feel like, I tend to put it on when I’m baking yet another batch of peanut cookies!

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newspapers – I no longer bother to really listen to the news, like I use to in the “old days”. I’d go crazy if every hour I was reading the latest updates. I tend to listen to a bit of the one o clock radio news but that’s about it . However 3 days a week we get a a delivery of either The Guardian or The Times. The newspaper girl drops it off into our letter box as the morning birds start singing, and what could be better than starting your day with a cup of coffee and flicking through the paper. Of course I don’t get to actually read it properly until the kids are asleep…

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Letters – sure sure, I use skype and facetime and all that to chat away to friends and the kids in Germany, I also love using the landline telephone but nothing quite beats a written letter. Most of the time I use the typewriter, and the post being a bit slower these days somehow just makes the whole experience that much enjoyable. Somebody says “hey, I wrote you a letter and posted it today” and then for the next week or so you’re checking the post to see if it’s arrived. Simple pleasures.

Reading – so many great books around, at the moment I’m reading the swirling “around the world in 80 trains” by the awesome Monisha Rajesh, Anne Tyler’s latest “redhead by the side of the road”, peanuts comics, and Carrie Brownstein’s (sleater kinney) “hunger makes me a modern girl” All well worth checking out this spring.

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Baking/Cooking – In the good old days, just weeks ago, I tended to do a bit of baking ever so often with my little 3 year old who always loves baking but these days it’s become pretty much part of the daily routine. I guess we go to the supermarket so infrequently we don’t really have biscuits and cakes in the house anymore from the shop, so we are just baking them. Making our way through the be-ro cook book. We get a lot of vegetables too from a nearby farm, so always cooking something healthy too.

blog5Games – when the kids are tucked away, and dreaming of little bear or star wars it’s time for scrabble and music quizes with a candle flicking away by the board, and a record spinning in the background and if you’re lucky a cup of filter coffee and some organic chocolate.

Stay safe and do the right thing.

Peace xoxo