Doleful delights with a dash of grim humour…

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Welcome to The Woebegone Blog of Aunt Grizelda, a sarcophagus of delights for those of a Gothic disposition.

Drawing on my experience as children’s writer, book reviewer in The Sunday Tombs Culture supplement, and life style commentator in Haunted Homes, I’ll be bringing you:

  • interviews with authors from the Middle Ages onwards
  • tips on each new season’s vamp fashions
  • reviews of fiction, poetry and Norse sagas
  • child rearing advice (including for changelings)
  • grim warnings for reckless children
  • news on all things Aunt Grizelda, from sneaky previews of forthcoming books to upcoming public appearances

Fashion Comebacks: the Crinoline

The crinoline skirt is a garment set to make a comeback, and not before time. Teamed with roller skates or skateboard beneath its capacious flare, a woman can glide across a room with all the elegance of a ghost.

Bring back, bring back the crinoline!

So much that can be hid within:

A skateboard on which you can ride,

Some flowers from the countryside,

A cage of birds, a herd of sheep,

Some chocolate bars, an army jeep,

A soccer ball, electric bass,

A silk top hat, a doctor’s case,

Some bicycles, performing rats,

A pack of gum, some acrobats,

The London Eye, a mastodon,

The list goes on, and on and on…

Just think, you’d never ever be alone

Inside that garment’s cage of bone

So think about what you’d put in

The space inside a crinoline.

If you can’t find a full crinoline cage, this hoop is a reasonable alternative, although not on a windy day.

A Room with an Interview Part One: William Shakespeare.

There are few writers who inspire the kind of awe and adulation playwright William Shakespeare does, so it was with some trepidation I knocked on his chamber door in his lodgings in Silver Street to quiz him about the furore his play Titus Andronicus is causing.

It was reassuring to discover my reputation as a critic of incisive integrity had preceded me: “Loved thy piece on Robert Greene,” quoth he, guiding me to a window seat. “How didst thou describe his romance Pandosto? Let me think on. Ah yes! No. No, sorry ’tis gone. But t’was a sharp and witty profile that did sketch that smirking villain in his true colours, and I thank thee for thy stiletto sharp observations. Drink, madam?”

And so saying the great bard furnished me with a goodly tankard of porter. However, I am not one to succumb to the honeyed flattery dispensed by oleaginous theatrical types, and so moved swiftly on. “Mr Shakespeare, or may I call you Will?” I began.

“I would fain thou wouldst call me Will, for Will I am,” he replied with a bardic twinkle in his eye.

“If that is your will, Will you shall be,” I retorted, a remark which I parried. “But to the purpose of this interview: your play Titus Andronicus has been widely loathed by the critics, who accuse you of bringing gratuitous violence to the stage. What would you say in your defence?”

“I sayeth thus: bums on seats. A theatrical company cannot live on royal favour alone. And (this be off the record) Her Majesty, our good Queen Bess, hath but little inclination to dispense with so much as a farthing if that she can avoid it, so royal performances bring not the guineas one might think. The simple, workaday man desireth not entertainment based on lofty subjects. He hath not the wit to consider such riddles as, “to be or not to be?”

“So, you believe the groundlings find delight in gore, gore and more gore?”

“Verily, our ticket receipts prove it. Compareth thou September’s returns for As You Like It, with October’s for Titus Andronicus. Titus wins. And for why? There be more graphic injury, slaughter and blood than even that upstart crow, Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs doth display. Gadzooks! Violence be most bloody and most vile, but ‘tis most profitable and as thou knowest, the arts gaineth little these days in support from government patronage.”

“But is the cannibalism truly necessary?” I asked, “And in such savage manner? The action of Titus serving up the queen’s sons to her baked in a pie is sufficient to make all pastry comestibles most disagreeable to many people, and may even have a negative impact on outlets such as Greggs.”

“I do but reflect society, I do not create it,” he answered. “More porter?”

Weird Words from the Tyke County

A gloomily gothic spirit runs deep in the moorland hills of Yorkshire, and in the veins of its natives too, which might explain why the county’s dialect has an uncommonly wide vocabulary for bad weather – from the damp and dreary to the wild and stormy.

Let us imagine you draw back your curtains on a misty morning: how might you describe it? Probably with, “Ooh, it’s rather misty.” However, if you were a dyed in the wool Tyke, you might be more likely to remark, “By ‘eck, it’s dowly out there.” Alternatively, if the mist is not as much a feature as the brooding sky, you might observe, “Nah then, it’s a bit mokythis morning,” meaning cloudy and overcast. A further possibility could be, “Eh up, get thi brolly, it’s mizzling,” which refers to a mixture of mist and drizzle.

A stormy onslaught finds Yorkshire natives turning to yet more strange words. Wuthering, for example, a great favourite of mine, refers to a blustery wind. And if the wind is accompanied by rain, it’s clashy; while if the rain is heavy, someone is like to remark “It’s siling down.” A particularly odd phrase that refers to the possibility of rain is, “It’s looking a bit black o’er Bill’s mother’s.”

“And what of snow?” I guess you’re wondering. A snow storm goes by the compound noun of snow-stoor. And if it’s very cold, indeed frozzing, you might find shogglings hanging from eaves and branches and you may need to watch your footing because it will be slapeunderfoot. The cold of winter might force you to complain you are cold, but a Tyke would expect you to describe your discomfort as being starved or nithered, and would doubtless dismiss your mithering with the insulting suggestion you are nesh.

A dowly morning

World Book Day

Today is a celebration of all things bookish, and a time for us to celebrate their impact on the world. Indeed, were it up to me, I would bestow a sainthood on William Caxton, the father of printing, for without the published word we would still be reading things scratched onto rocks and stones – which would have made tomes such as War and Peace, decidedly hard to read and write. Tolstoy would probably have required a mountain range at the very least. Then again, I imagine it would have been handy for outdoor types, who could have combined their love of climbing with a good read.

As a book addict, for me there is no greater delight than browsing a book shop. The combination of images, smells and the anticipation of a gripping new novel transport me to a kind of paradise. But of equal appeal is the second hand book emporium. Here one may wander through multi -coloured, towering stacks of books from bygone eras, and while they might not boast the enticing dust jacket designs of today, inside them the curious reader may discover a festival of fiction, fact and poetry.

So, to this end I was inspired to write the following:

Book Lives

The book looks so tattered,

So ancient and tired;

In a second hand shop,

On a shelf, unadmired:

But inside its grey pages

What gems I uncover!

Which shows you must not

Judge a book by its cover.

My own writing desk.


Poetry Live

Nowadays there are numerous poetry evenings (aka open mic nights) at hostelries and arts centres throughout the country, where poets and devotees of poetry meet to listen to poems read aloud. I myself have participated in a number of these events to some acclaim. However, there is one recurring problem: audiences are often slow to recognise the end of a poem. This results is something akin to an awkward silence, because by the time the audience has registered the poem has in fact concluded, the poet has given up all hope of applause and begun the next one.
Fortunately, a dear relative of mine came up with a simple and effective device for signifying a poem is over : the Clare Dooley Poetic Device for Inviting Applause.

The Clare Dooley Poetic Device. Testimonials given above.

Weird Scottish Words


For your delectation and delight today, I have a couple of weird words from north of the border. I expect that like myself, many of you can only listen in gawping amazement at the exuberant gloominess of many Scottish words. They hold a drama all of their own. So…
Withershins or widdershins. This is an adverb and describes things moving in a contrary direction to the course of the sun, so by association can be applied to anything moving the wrong or unnatural way. It could be applied to many current governments, or civilization in general. Its antonym is deasil, which is of course much more difficult to use.
Wanchancy is an adjective meaning unlucky, dangerous or uncanny. Again, lots of opportunities to use it: as the Scottish character Private Frazer in Dad’s Army was fond of reminding us, “We’re all doomed!” He could have easily have said, “Aye, it’s wanchancy times we’re living in.”

Fashion Week in Edinburgh circa 1700s.