Mystery stories

Blogging challenges

A single image to tell a whole story. That’s what Ann Christine, in her Lens-Artists Challenge asks us to post this week. Many bloggers have already played along, and many have also told the story that goes with the picture. I’m made of meaner stuff. I’ll give you four photos. You provide four stories. Is that a deal? Your tales may not get much further than your head, but if you want to share them, I’d love to read them.

The featured image seems to be the aftermath of – well – perhaps you know?

And why is there a clock on a hedge in a country lane? Perhaps Alice in Wonderland’s White Rabbit knows?

We saw this scene in Málaga, but never found out more about this apparently appalling crime.

My last photo was also my last of the month, so qualifies for Brian aka Bushboy’s Last on the Card challenge. I don’t know whether there’s a story here, but judging by the racket coming down from the tree, there were plenty of stories being told.

One picture – four pictures – many stories.

Loving Libraries, from Surbiton to Ripon

Books and reading

How times have changed. Back in 1966, I’d just left school, and was planning to work as an au pair in Italy before going off to university. For a bookish teenager, becoming a library assistant at Surbiton Library seemed just the job to allow me to save up for my trip. And it was – £10 a week was a fortune, allowing me to give my mother board money, save, and still have enough left over to have fun. It was of course a very different experience from the just-a-few-hours-a-week job I have now, as a volunteer assistant at Ripon Library.

Surbiton Library now. Then, the counters were left and right beyond the pillars, and there was not a pink or blue seat in sight. Image courtesy of the Surrey Comet.

Then, we stood behind a somewhat forbidding counter, rifling through neatly organised columns of book identity cards to release the library ticket(s) to the reader so they could go off and choose more books. When they’d made their choices, we’d open their books and date-stamp, with a satisfying ‘thunk‘, the page pasted in the flyleaf.

Image courtesy of Wales Online

Now, readers (Oops, sorry, ‘customers’) have it all to do, checking books in and out themselves courtesy of a space age bar-code reader, which accepts fines and reservation payments too.

Still, then as now, we build relationships with regular readers, like the ones who lean over confidentially and ask you if there are any new nice romances in, by which they mean Mills & Boon. Or the ones who need their personal details changing because they’ve moved. Then? Write out new cardboard tickets. Now? Change their details on the database. Or the ones who need help using the catalogue. Then? A large chest filled with drawers and drawers of card-indexes. Now? Yes, the computer database. Then? Books. Now – books of course, but also DVDs, audio books, large-print editions, jigsaws and a range of services on line such as e-books and magazines.

Card-index courtesy of University of Toronto Library.

Then, the library was largely a silent place, with necessary conversations carried out in a low murmur. A couple of hard chairs I seem to think, maybe a table or so, but otherwise, little furniture apart from the bookcases. Now, when you come into the library, there may be a children’s story time in progress, with a circle of children sitting on the carpet at the feet of a cheerful soul leading a spirited rendition of ‘Old MacDonald’. Or adults and teenagers occupying one of the many computers as they do their admin. or homework. Or a coding club. Or a book group. Lots of squashy chairs. A coffee machine.

Ripon Library

Some things never change. All those returned books need to be replaced in the right place on the shelves. Then, we prided ourselves on ranging a neat line of 12 or more books along the length of our left arm, and plucking the one on top to shelve as we reached the right spot. Now (Health and Safety) we have trolleys to trundle the books round on.

One thing we never have to do in Ripon is prepare new books for issue. In Surbiton in 1966, the library closed every Thursday afternoon. Not so we could have time off, but so that we could all go to the work room, and encase the covers of new books in those paper-and plastic sleeves, enter their reference numbers, and paste date-stamp sheets and identity pockets on. Tatty books would be mended with the right kind of sticky tape, and any stains removed. We loved it. It was a chance to sit down and talk as we worked.

I don’t remember ever looking for books for inter-library loans, or returning books to other branches, but surely we must have done. I don’t remember ever being entrusted to do a display: marketing our stock to the reading public didn’t seem necessary. I don’t remember a book-delivery service for the housebound, or handing out community information such as a bus timetable or the phone number for Citizens’ Advice, all of which come as standard now.

And of course – staff. Then there was a qualified librarian, and a team of paid library assistants like me. Now the paid qualified staff have been most severely pruned, and the assistants are all volunteers prepared to offer a few hours a week. It’s a congenial voluntary occupation, and we’re well trained and supported. But how has local government come to this, that core services cannot continue without bands of volunteers? That other services, such as Home Care, have been squeezed and squeezed … I shan’t go on. This is neither the time nor the place.

What have I been reading this month?

Lana del ReyViolet Bent Backwards over the Grass.⭐⭐

Lucy Newlyn: The Craft of Poetry.⭐⭐⭐⭐

Janice Hallett: The Appeal⭐⭐⭐

Frances Brody: A Murder Inside⭐⭐

Edith Wharton: Ethan Frome⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Mercè Rodoreda: In Diamond Square⭐⭐⭐

Javier Cercas: Lord of all the Dead⭐⭐⭐⭐

Ralf Rothman: To Die in Spring⭐⭐⭐⭐

Gail Honeyman: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine⭐⭐

Currently Reading

Robin Ince: The Importance of Being Interested

Sophie Divry: Madam Bovary of the Suburbs

Mini-review service will be resumed next month, but at least four of these books will find themselves in my Six Degrees of Separation this month.

Posted for Bookish Beck’s Love your Library.

A Flashback to the Orange Man

Ariège, Food & Cooking, Spain

Here’s a blast from the past: from November 2012 in fact, when we were hunkering down for winter in France. It was round about now that The Orange Man arrived …


Winter has arrived.  How do I know?  Although the nights are cold, the afternoons are still for going walking or tidying up the garden wearing a tee-shirt, beneath a duck-egg blue sky. So until the other day, I thought we were clinging on to autumn.

But on Thursday, the Orange Man arrived.  This is exciting enough news for it to be worth phoning a friend.  Every year, once winter kicks in and the orange harvest is well under way in southern Spain, a huge container lorry arrives in Lavelanet. It parks up at a disused petrol station on the main road into town and becomes an impromptu shop.

The man with the lorry, the Orange Man,  speaks only Spanish, and sells only oranges.  Not singly or by the half-dozen, but in large 10 kilo boxes.  10 kilos, 10 euros.  What a bargain.  These oranges, though sometimes a little knobbly and in irregular sizes, are the juiciest and tastiest you’ll ever eat, and it’s no wonder that whenever you pass, you’ll see someone pulling up their car and opening the boot for a case or two.  Our Spanish friend won’t have to stay long.  In a few days the entire container-load will be sold, he’ll return to Spain …. only to return when he’s loaded up again.

When he departs for the last time at the end of the season, we’ll know for sure that spring has arrived.

For Fandango’s Flashback Friday: a chance to go down Memory Lane and give an older post an airing.

A morning walk with the rangers at Studley Royal

Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, Heritage, National Trust, North Yorkshire, Walking

It’s 7.45. Here’s the sunrise on our way to Studley Royal.

And having met the rangers and our fellow walkers – volunteers on the site, here’s who we’d come to see.

Red deer, but ancient trees too. Cherry trees aren’t meant to last 400 years, but somehow this one is clinging on. Whereas the oak nearby is thought to be more than 800 years old, and dating from the days when the monastic community was at its height in nearby Fountains Abbey.

Come with us as we walk past the entrance to the park, framing the view down towards Ripon Cathedral, before we climb uphill to less frequented parts of the parkland, where deer usually roam free and we could enjoy open views across to Ripon and the North York Moors beyond.

And by 10.00, the rest of the day’s our own.

For Jo’s Monday Walk, because I know Jo would love this walk too.

Monday Portraits: Herons


The river down the track from us is a favourite fishing ground for herons. I love to watch them as they patiently watch too, for fish. And I love it too that wherever we travel, we’re likely to see local herons about their business. The one in the featured photo lives on the Guadalquivir in Córdoba, but his routines seem just the same as those of our Yorkshire birds.

This one lives in Kew Gardens, and the heavy rain makes him look a little out of focus:

Here are a few more:

 Elke of Pictures Imperfect demonstrates that the black-and-greyness of these birds makes them ideal for Jude’s Life in Colour challenge, as she’s seeking shots that are black and grey this month.

Tomorrow’s Stir Up Sunday. Get cooking

Food & Cooking

I blame the Church of England. Tomorrow is Stir Up Sunday, the day when all right-thinking people in Britain will dig out their dried fruits and candied peels, their sticky, treacly dark sugars, eggs, butter, spices, zesty lemons, brandy, weigh them out and mix them all together. They’ll bring the family into the kitchen, get everyone to stir the mixture, making a wish as they do so.

And why? Because as they kneel at their devotions in church at Morning Service, those Good Ladies of the Parish will hear the priest intone the Collect for the Sunday Next Before Advent ….

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people….

‘Stir up? Stir up? I haven’t made the pudding yet! Best go home and make the Christmas pudding’

You might not be a Good Lady of the Parish. You might not even be a Good Lady. But you’d better get on with making that pudding tomorrow. I’m telling you today so you can nip out and buy anything you might not have to hand. Go to. Stir Up Sunday is the day. Your Christmas depends on it.

For Debbie at Travel with Intent’s Six Word Saturday