Aunt Grizelda’s Fairy Tales of the Unexpected.

I’m delighted to announce the second book in the Aunt Grizelda series is now printed. Here’s a sneak preview of one of the illustrations (by Natallia Pavaliayeva) and an extract.

Cinders in domestic servitude

Once upon a time there was

A girl called Cinderella,

Whose wicked sisters made her sleep

On straw down in the cellar.

They played games on their smart phones  

While they made her cook and clean,

And called her lots of horrid names –

Good gracious, they were mean!

What is your favourite fairy tale? Let me know, and if it’s in the collection, I’ll print an extract.

Manners. Gum: To Chew or Not to Chew?

Illustration by NatalliaPavaliayeva

Gum – bubble or chewing – can lead to dramatic accidents. The following recounts what happened to one young boy…

The Bubble Gum Tragedy

Bobby blew a bubble out of bubble gum one day,

And it was such a giant one it carried him away.

He sailed above the rooftops like a helium balloon.

His mother cried, “Come back at once, it’s time for dinner soon.”

But sadly, Bobby could not heed this order from his mum,

Because his lips were stuck fast to the bright pink bubble gum.

The neighbours rushed into the street and pointed in dismay,

As Bobby shrank into a dot and drifted far away.

And further yet and further, up up into the blue,

He drifted to such dizzy heights he vanished clear from view.

For weeks they sent up spaceships – on board were rescue men,

But Bobby and his bubble gum were never seen again.

So if you must chew bubble gum, be careful or you may

Come to a very sticky end as Bobby did that day.

To avoid gum mishaps, follow The Gum Code.

Do not chew dramatically in public: you are not the manager of a professional football team. And even if you are, don’t do it.

Do not chew at ANY sad or tragic or important event: it looks as if you don’t care, and even if that’s the case, some of the people attending the sad/tragic/important event do care and won’t thank you.

Dispose of your gum carefully: your sister’s hair is not a suitable place and neither is beneath your desk or bed. Bin it.

A Short History of Manners

A fall in standards resulted in exclusion from polite society

Manners makyth man was the motto of William Wykeham, a man who lived in the 14th century, and although that period isn’t a shining example of civilized behaviour, what with its beheadings, floggings, dungeons, brawls and general brutishness, his motto drew attention to a politer way to live.

Although people’s behaviour continued to be violent, it was at least accompanied by please and thank you, due to William. The aristocracy in particular began to abide by rules of etiquette and would often present a wonderfully formal banquet to the king, before stabbing him to death. And instead of a prisoner being told, “Get yer head on that block,” a much pleasanter, “If you could just lay your head down on that block, please,” made proceedings much more courteous.

By Victorian times genteel behaviour had got out of hand: people required an encyclopaedic knowledge of cutlery items and how to use them, not to mention knowing when and where certain garments should be worn and how often they should be changed. The slightest deviation from the social code could spell disaster. Decorum was everything. I include, below, an excerpt from the poem, “The Lady Languishes,” as an illustration.

The Lady Languishes (an excerpt)

While others trip the polka gay

She grips her throat in anguish,

And calls a footman to prepare

A couch on which to languish.

The party strikes a merry note,

The host is gaily feted,

While she in desperation seeks

Oil that is camphorated.

Ah! What pale lily gilds her cheek?

Her breathing rattles so!

Alas, she has no handkerchief

On which her nose to blow.

And out her dainty nostril drips

A liquid pale as water –

Her heart beats fast and so she grasps

Something she didn’t oughta.

The fine white tablecloth she takes,

And bows her head down close…

And thinking no one sees the sin,

She quickly wipes her nose.

Those of you familiar with the poem will know she is spotted committing the faux pas and is exiled from polite society for the rest of her days.

Today, thankfully, manners have moved on, and polite society is less burdened with dos and don’ts, but it is still useful to know a few basics to ensure smooth social interactions. And this is why my next series of articles will be a guide to modern etiquette.

A Rash Decision…

Wild animals are called wild for a reason – approach them at your peril. Alas, Jim thought he knew better.

Jim initially at a safe distance.

The Bear Facts

While wandering in the woods one day,

Young Jim observed a bear at play.          

Against a tree it scratched its back,

And looked too sleepy to attack –

Although a sign made danger clear:


But reckless Jim did not think twice,

And heedless of that good advice,

Set out towards the grizzly bear,

Regardless of the danger there.

The details of what next befell

Are far too grim for me to tell,                 

But yes, the bear enjoyed a snack –

And foolish Jim did not come back.

Problem Hair

Let’s be honest, do you know anyone who doesn’t have problem hair? Of course not, and that’s because hair has a will of its own. To get tresses that are manageable, you need to start being very firm with them at the soonest opportunity, otherwise they’ll take advantage of you, as they did with Bill.

Scary Hair

Bill was a boy with reckless hair,

That sprang out here and sprang out there.

It leapt and lunged, it streaked and swooped,

It coiled and curled and looped the loop.

It grew so thick, so long and wide,

That little creatures lived inside.

Bill’s hair providing a home for mouse and snake.

With tangled strands, wild as a bush,

It taunted every comb and brush

To try and tame it, make it neat –

The brushes soon declared defeat;

The combs’ attempts were also brief –

More than a dozen lost their teeth.

Its wayward mood rudely defied

Whatever products were applied,

And barbers wept that there should be

Defiant hair, so wild and free.

One barber cried, “Impudent mop!

You are not welcome in my shop!”

Poor Bill felt it was most unfair

To have such rowdy, wicked hair.

He threatened it and called it names,

He said it ought to feel ashamed.

But did it listen? Not a tad!

It carried on behaving mad,

And grew and grew like some deep wood,

Until Bill’s face was lost for good.

His arms were next and then his hands,

All hidden by the hair’s thick strands.

And further still the tresses grew,

Till legs and feet were lost from view,

And nothing could be seen at all

Except a boy sized, hairy ball.

His mum at last, out of despair,

Went running to the cellar where

She took a large electric saw,

And cut for several hours or more –

But not a trace was found of Bill;

And to this day, he’s missing still.

The lesson of this tale I’ve told

 Is keep your hair under control;

And thus ensure your crowning glory

Doesn’t turn to horror story.

Matrimonial Customs of Yorkshire: Part 1

The first thing that comes to mind for most brides-to-be planning their wedding is the dress. While the shape, length and material change with the fashions of the day, traditionally, white and cream are the favoured shades. Except, that is, if you hail from the quaint Yorkshire village of Ludderley Bridge. Here, an ancient rhyme predicts the type of married life the couple will experience, based on the colour of the bridal gown.

Conjugal Colour Considerations

Marry in green, no joy will be seen.

Marry in red, you’ll wish yourself dead.

Marry in pink, your fortunes will sink.

Marry in grey, you’ll both rue the day.

Marry in blue, your fears will come true.

Marry in gold, despair will unfold.

Marry in yellow, you’ll shout and he’ll bellow.

Marry in white, you’ll bicker and fight.

Marry in cream, you’ll live a bad dream.

Marry in black, bad luck will attack.

The rhyme is believed to be the last verse penned by ten times married poet, Zebediah Platt (1729- 1778). Zebediah met a rather unfortunate and curious end when he was sewn into a tapestry at Fiddleston Hall, by the bridal dressmaker to Lady Marylla Dunnit.

It is believed he was attempting to spy on the dress-fitting from behind the tapestry to check the chosen colour augured well for his 11th marriage, but the ladies noticed him, and Lady Marylla was so annoyed, she ordered the dressmaker to sneakily sew him into his hiding place.

Although the action was not meant to occasion any lasting harm, the thick tapestry fabric suffocated him, thus proving the old adage: Curiosity killed the Platt, (and inspiring the board game, Who Dunnit?)

Even today, local belief in the rhyme’s prophetic accuracy is so strong that Ludderly Bridge is the one place in the country where purple or orange gowns are more popular than white or cream.

Do you know of any unusual matrimonial customs from your part of the world? If so, I would love to hear about them.

Cautionary Advice to Children on Giving Smart Replies in Class

When I was a young witchling, schoolrooms were strict places. Teachers demanded respect from their pupils, and if this was not clearly forthcoming, their punishments could be a little on the harsh side. Although teachers are less likely to feed offenders to dragons these days, it is still wise for children to think twice before giving unorthodox answers in class, as these may be taken the wrong way. The following poem should be memorised by all school children.

On Giving Smart Replies

Some teachers like to criticise

The child who offers smart replies,

And though your words weren’t meanly meant

Will calculate there’s bad intent.

And if your comment was a jest,

Will claim that no one was impressed.

Or worse, may take it as a cue

To show who’s boss and punish you.

So when in class you feel inclined

To answer with a cheeky line

Remember, and best make it quick,

That no one likes a clever dick.

Remembering some former teachers…