October means Hallowe’en • means Story Time

I wrote this one for my sister Esme who was a midwife and told me about a ghost who used to comfort the babies where she worked.


Just Doing Her Job

by Oonah V Joslin

I’m already worn out,” I told the ward Sister Bridget at midnight break. “Four times up them bloomin’ stairs for nothing. Just as I get to the door, the baby stops crying. I checked all the cots. Only one baby was awake and he was beaming up at me, making gurgling noises.”

Well” she said, “I never go unless they keep on crying,” said Sister. “Matron usually gets there first.”


We think she must have been Matron at one time. Dear knows when.”

What on earth do you mean?”

Did nobody tell you? The nursery is haunted.”

I nearly choked.

Oh don’t fret about it! She calms the babies down. If there’s something really needs seeing to, they keep on crying and she leaves it to us. I don’t think she can actually change nappies or anything. Sometimes babies just cry. Newborns don’t see well. They only want a bit of attention, a friendly presence. She can do that.”

So have you seen her?”

Seen? No. But I‘ve heard her singing to them and once, when a baby died, there was a very faint scent of lavender in the air by that cot. Another nurse told me she saw a figure, like a tall, grey mist, she said it was, moving slowly away, cradling something.” Sister Clarke looked far away for a moment. “We liked to think she was taking its soul to heaven. But if a baby dies – which is very rare by the way, that spritz of lavender is always in the air.” Sister smiled. “So you see there’s really nothing to worry about, Nurse Smyth. It’s just Matron – doing her job.”

Call me a worrier but I wondered exactly what her job was. I was appalled by the notion of babies being comforted by a ghost.

That was decades ago now. I went visiting there the other day. It’s a nursing home now and Bridget was sitting in a chair in what used to be the old nursery. She looked up like she recognised me for a change. “Brought you some nice flowers,” I said. “How are you today?”

These babies keep on crying.”

There aren’t any babies here now, Bridget.”

Who are you? Where’s Matron?”

Nurse Smyth. Jeanie. We worked together. Remember?”

I went to speak to the Charge. “Bridget’s very agitated.”

Yes. Babies and Matron? She’s had her medication. We hoped your visit might calm her down.”

Just then I caught a faint scent of lavender on the air and turned. Bridget’s wrinkled face was beaming in recognition but not of me. Then her expression changed and she relaxed. A gathering greyness surrounded her and I knew immediately what was happening.

Don’t worry,” I told the charge. “It’s just Matron — doing her job.”

September Staycation • A Field Too Far

1513 and King Henry VIII is in France fighting over the Pas de Calais. Now the french don’t really want Henry there and so they call in a favour on the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France. Basically if the Scottish King James IV will create a diversion on his border area with England, Henry will have to divert some troops, maybe even rush home to deal with the situation and the French will win back their territory and place the Scottish King on the English throne. James complies. He rides down and takes a few of the Northern Castles, Norham, Chillingham, Berwick. He’s doing well!

But Henry isn’t stupid and he’s not quite that desperate either. He knows how to delegate. He sends the Earl of Surrey (who is quite elderly) up through England to recruit and train men along the way. Surrey succeeds getting most of his troops from Yorkshire. There are many poor farmer’s lads who’ll take the King’s shilling. He marches up and outflanks the Scots near Flodden. James has the high ground at this point but is forced down to Branxton Hill — still a good defensive position. Had James made the English bring the fight to him, things might have been different — who knows? Maybe he was already feeling a bit too pleased with his little self — what with the castles and all. Anyway he attacked. The Scottish had heavy guns but were fighting with unwieldy 18ft pikes. The English mostly fought with bill hooks. (I don’t like to think about that for too long!) The ground between was boggy and the field runs down to a brook called Pallinsburn about a mile away. At the end of the day the field and Pallinsburn was decribed as a ‘river of blood’. 14,000 souls died that day. 10 thousand were Scottish. Flodden was a field too far. It’s a sad place.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Bluebell Inn where we stayed is one mile downhill from Flodden — at Pallinsburn, Crookham. I didn’t like to think too much about that either. But I didn’t let it put me off my dinner!

If you want a more indoor and up to date experience of warfare, just 12 miles away in Berwick upon Tweed you will find the hone of the King’s Own Border Regiment.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Now I’ve been to a few military museums in my time and I liked this one. It has something for everyone — good history, good tableaux, regimental silverware including a Faberge Emu egg! Uniforms old and new, weaponry, an Um Paul pipe carved in South Africa and Sooty 🙂 YEAH! I am so glad Sooty survived Burma aren’t you?! Go visit it. After that you can have lunch and walk the town walls which is a lovely thing to do and affords spectacular scenery — two castles in one shot at low tide — quite a view.

To the right on the headland, Bamburgh Castle and from there along the spit of sand that is covered twice a day by the tide, Lindisfarne Castle as seen from Berwick’s Walls.

Can’t think of a better place to Staycation.

September Staycation • Ford and Lady Waterford

Waterford is in Eire and Ford is a tiny village in Northumberland so what was Lady Waterford doing in Northumberland?

Well this tiny village has a socking great castle in its back yard (not uncommon in these parts because we have a violent history in the borders). Now don’t get too excited — you can’t actually go inside this one. These days Ford Castle is a Residential Activities Centre for school children. However Northumberland has a castle every mile or three so we can afford to give up one! It used to be the property of the Marquis of Waterford who left it to his wife, Louisa Marchioness of Waterford. He was an out and out rake — the original ‘painted the town red’ man. She was a deeply religious woman. Chalk and cheese! Nobody could work out why she married him — but she was besotted by him. After his death the Waterford estates passed to a male heir. She, being childless, had to move out, and so she came to occupy a huge and neglected castle in the small village of Ford. She found the local people living in hovels in abject poverty so Louisa took it upon herself to improve their lot. She provided houses, (the chocolate box village that is now Ford,) work, medical care and a school for the children. This is the Hall. And she spent the rest of her life decorating its walls with scenes from the Bible, in the pre raphaelite style, so that the children would always remember the stories. And she was good! There’s a short film inside the hall that tells you more, an informative guide and some very nice locally made quilting for sale. Louisa would have definitely approved of the current use of Ford Castle. She rests under an ornate stone in the local churchyard which commands incredible views of the high borderlands of Northumbria and Scotland. It’s worth the short diversion to see that! Hope you enjoy my wee slideshow. Go there. Do that.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you want to yomp around the countryside, there are plenty of walks around Ford and Etal and between the two villages too as well as a light railway which is FUN!. Oh Etal (3 miles away) has a castle too. I already told you about that one! ETAL

September • Staycation Northumberland • Duddo

Sometimes you just want a break but you don’t want to go far and honestly, when you live with ‘spectacular’ on your doorstep, why fly? Last September we were in Yorkshire with James. This September James is no longer with us but I know he’d have loved our choice of holiday.

Just an hour’s drive from home there were some places we wanted to revisit. It’s strange how when you’re working you don’t get round to these things. 25 years ago we went to The Duddo Stones in summer and couldn’t get across the field to see them because there was a crop. We’d also gone to the site of the Battle of Flodden Field which is not at Flodden but at Branxton. It was a bit muddy and there was no designated path, so although we saw the monument on the brow of the ridge, we didn’t go up. Now there is a proper path. Although we’d been to Berwick upon Tweed many times we’d never visited the Regimental Museum of the Borderers. We planned to go there and to walk the town walls again. Lady Waterford Hall was a place we’d never heard of until this May when we visited Etal but we didn’t get over to Ford Village so that was also on our list of things to do. Now we could of course have done these on day trips from home but that would have environmentally unfriendly and we happened to have stayed at a very nice Inn called The Bluebell, at Crookham, which is within easy distance of all these places. 12 miles to Berwick. 3 to Duddo. 4 to Ford. 1 to Branxton Hill.  It also happens to have a rather extensive menu of good food and wonderful desserts, vast breakfasts served until 9:30, a variety of ales, gins and a nice Cote du Rhone. Hardly any travelling? No dishes? Win — Win!

So let me begin with The Duddo Stones.

They are roughly 4000 yrs old and situated on a hill that commands 360 degree views yet they are not visible from the road. In fact they are quite difficult to find. The vast landscape here just swallows them as you’ll see by the slideshow, and the network of tiny roads crisscrossing North Northumberland is such that a wrong turn can take miles to correct.  But there are lots of signposts to the Stones. The only marker is a small white notice by a gate at the edge of farmland and one has to park on the grass verge. We were lucky. Two cars were already there (and their owners were on their way back — we chatted). The other thing you need to know is that it takes at least an hour to walk to the stones and back on permissive footpaths along the field margins. It took us nearly and hour and a half but we did stop a while at the stones to savour the atmosphere and we went farther down the field to see the information board. When you begin to cross the first field (there are three) you see the stones very distant on the ridge. It looks daunting! But don’t be put off. We had our sticks with us and wore sturdy shoes but it’s not a steep walk, nor a hard walk, at least when it’s dry. We  had ideal weather! The stones reward you with spectacular views and close up they are impressive and strangely beautiful. Ready?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And then we had to walk the whole way back.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I am glad James was able to explore some of our favourite gardens with us in April and I couldn’t help thinking this week — James would have loved the Duddo Stones. You don’t have to go very far if you travel in time. Just Dud-Do it!

The Linnet’s Wings Moon Issue • and other Places of poetry

Delighted to announce the launch of our Moon Issue with lots of good poetry, fiction and art, including a lovely Moon painting by my sister Esme. I have some ‘moon’ poems in there too and there is plenty of great writing and artwork. Thanks to everyone who entrusted their work to us. It was a pleasure to choose from so many great poems. Marie Fitzpatrick has done another fantastic job this year despite bereavements and ill health and my hat is off to her.
This issue is dedicated to Peter Gilkes.

You can read it online HERE

or BUY HERE at Amazon UK

On the Places of Poetry project Map I have pinned 4 poems. You have to go to the side at the top where there are three lines and click and put in a search for the places:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

and they will show up. I am sorry I can’t seem to do a direct link but please give them a LIKE. And do search for places you know on the map too. It’s FUN 🙂

My own recent work has been Memories of a Raindrop in BwS — Harrison Ford has not responded yet.

and two pieces in Writing in a woman’s Voice Clothes Maketh the Girl

Living a Lie which won the 39th Moon Prize

July • MoonahManiaHaHa

The header to this post is a detail from a painting by my sister Esme Kyle.

I just found out today — I won a second Moon Prize from Writing in a Woman’s Voice for my micro-story Living a Lie

Wow thanks Beate! I am now officially Over the Moon!

The Moon has played an important role in my life. I was born on a Monday, have a pale moonshiney face and a moonish name. My first favourite thing to read was The Cat and The Moon by W B Yeats. The Moon landing first caught my attention and Star Trek which came to British TV that autumn captured my imagination. I loved The Sky at Night. I’d fallen in love — with Space. My universe expanded.

July 1969.

Yes — embarrassing!

At 15 I was wearing some of the same clothes the character Janine wears in The Dish (that box-pleat brick coloured, miniskirt, the fluffy patterned jumper, the pink dress she’s got on when Glen asks her out Friday night)? Interrogative intonation seems appropriate to an Aussie film 🙂 Oh — and they didn’t look anything like that on my dumpy little self! As I said in:

Clothes Maketh the Girl

My oldest sister had a set of those very oyster-shell glass cups. She even had one of Maisie’s dresses — the flock frock? If you’ve never seen this film, do. Script, costume, music, casting, cinematography — utterly spot on! It’s also very funny! And somehow the music just takes me straight back. Still can’t resist this one!

Classical Gas.

However, on July 20th 1969 the Murphys had landed at our house The Murphys, my mother’s aunt Sarah and her two daughters, Annie and Sissy lived in Belfast but used to show up (we didn’t have a telephone in the house back then let alone one in our pocket. I think our first telephone landed in 1970.) one Sunday every July and stay for their tea. They were always welcome but there was a degree of panic involved, though mammy had always baked buns on the Saturday night and there was usually some ham about. Still, one had to be on one’s best behaviour! The food was strictly guests first. When we were little, Great Aunt Sarah used to hand out silver sixpences, bright as a full moon, in exchange for a kiss on the cheek and that offset the inconvenience of having to put on airs, but she used to call me Jimmy which I hated, because I looked so much like her son. (I did!) 😦 I think I considered it rather an imposition that they should show up on that particular day!

That day the Moon landing was paramount in my thoughts. It was exciting and ‘other’ and scary and would they get back? or would God smite them? or us? Oh, make no mistake, there was plenty of that about! I had been following all the TV coverage prior to the launch avidly. I’d even earned the nickname (one of many) Loonahr surface, I was so keen. I wonder did anyone ever just call me Oonah? Anyway…

Now for the strange bit. I don’t remember watching the actual landing! My sister assures me I did. Maybe it was the Murphy’s threw me. Maybe I was overawed. More likely it’s just my rather unique memory (lack of) playing its usual tricks. I remember the Murphys leaving and us all at the front of the house waving goodbye. Everybody went back in and I looked up and saw the the moon hanging there above the Rowan tree, already bright berried, but of course it was a different moon now, and always would be. I turned to Esme and said, as I am sure many other thousands did,
“Strange to think there are two men up there tonight.”

Song to the Moon — Dvorak

Alas I am no adventurer. I don’t even like holidays much. Hate to fly!!! Not  sure I am all that keen on taking the bus 😉 and I was never going to join Star Fleet!
I just love my own little patch of Earth and being at home. Nowt wrong wi’ that! But I am grateful to the Moon landings for extending me beyond myself and my narrow limits, to the men who did that exploration for us all and the teams and machines that continue the work today. I watch Brian Cox’s programs. He often expresses the belief in space exploration as something that gives us meaning. It does. But in the great scheme of things I believe that there is more to us than that. I think that we are, as all things seem to be, greater than the sum of our parts and that our consciousness is just passing through this fermion flow of matter. I say so in Three Pounds of Cells. which is all about consciousness. One day I hope to explore the universe from the outside ‘like a fish that knows water is wet’

March 2015 eclipse photo by Oonah

In JFK’s ‘Go to the Moon’ speech in 1960, he said:
‘new hopes for knowledge and peace lie there.’

More political bravado in that than anything, though it was a ‘world event’. But there has since been international co-operation because of the space program. Notably the ISS.
60 years on, we have real and pressing problems here on this planet, and we need to resolve them. I have followed Voyager 1 & 2, Cassini-Huygens, Juno, Pioneer, Galileo, Mariner, Opportunity into space. We can learn so much about the universe. Surely if we can do all this, we can arrest our hurtle towards destruction?
I am concerned though that after half century one sees online, yes — on this wonderful new world wide web of ours, headlines like:
‘The Chinese may get to Mars first’ OMGiddy aunt! 
Seems the human race still favours competition over co-operation, and we need co-operation above all at this juncture in history, and a renewed appreciation of all the life on Earth, microbial to whale. We must learn to live in harmony with each other and balance our numbers so that other species can survive too. I’d like to have faith in human nature but if we don’t change that key attitude, the race may be a race to our own extinction. That eclipses everything! We need leaders who will say We choose to reverse Global Warming in this decade. I see no evidence of any emerging who will do this.

Nonetheless, I am avidly watching all things Moon for the next week like I am 15 again.

I am looking forward to The Linnet’s Wings Moon Issue in which we celebrate and explore in words and artwork the legacy of that landing 50 years ago and The Moon in all her glory. We have a beautiful set of poems I think you will treasure. And The Linnet’s Wings is all part of that legacy. I’ll put up a link when we have BLASTOFF. Without the development of computer technology from that era on, none of this would exist.

In the meantime some of my Space related writings for you to enjoy:

series of 6 poems Armchair Observatory

Goodbye Cassini

Snoll and Books

Boldly Going Nowhere an homage to the writers of Star Trek.

and you can of course browse or buy: The Linnet’s Wings Book Archive

June • A nice, normal Summer

After all our visitors we’re back to normal. Come to think of it we were never away from normal — it’s just we had another person there to share it. Nice.

And what do I mean by a nice normal Summer? Temperatures in the high teens Centigrade or 60s Fahrenheit in old money. Today was 18ish and glorious for our normal walk in Belsay.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There were some Canadians in the garden today. And we chatted to another retired couple down by the castle. They were lovely. Both had spent their careers caring for others. Noel chatted to him and I chatted to her. It’s interesting to have a good long conversation with complete strangers. It gives you a bit of hope and faith in human nature.  Like this meeting did too:

This is Keira, a rescued polecat. She’s about 7 months and a bit nervous but she really loves her new mummy who, instead of finding her a new home, has decided to keep her. Her mummy is very experienced in looking after small mammals and has 7 others, so Keira is a very lucky little animal. She’s quite cute too as you see. We had an interesting chat with her mum. Lovely to meet them both. Have a great life, Keira!

And there was the laburnum! By any standards WOW. It hasn’t looked as good as this for 5 years because it had to be pruned, but now it’s back to its old self. Here is a poem I wrote in 2014.

The Loudest Tree by Far

Down near the castle in deep rock rooted
where snowdrops dripped and daffodils have played;
where blue rang a peel of bells in May
to celebrate blossom’s birth in leafy shade;

captured now in poison’s golden chains,
sudden summer quickens the air
with heady disinfectant honey tones.
An inflorescence of racemes appears;

counterpoint and harmony
to the blackbird’s song;
feathery, flighty, shiny,
and not to be outshone,
animated in a gusty shower
Laburnum sings along.

   Oonah V Joslin 2014

Meanwhile another old friend, a 200 year old beech near the entrance to the Quarry Garden is currently being assessed.
Some branches have already come down and the lower path is closed, a diversion in place, so that essential work can take place. It may be that that this tree has come to the end of its life. It reminds us that the garden is always a work in progress and that the work the gardeners and tree surgeons do is vital to maintaining a beautiful and safe garden that all Belsay’s visitors can enjoy

May • in North Northumberland

Please follow the links in red below for more info.

It is a shame that the attractions north of Alnwick are not better signposted and better known. From Morpeth north, there are many CASTLES and Alnwick is just one of them.

Belsay, Morpeth, Warkworth, Norham, Dunstanburgh, Etal, Ford, Chillngham and Lindisfarne are equally worth visiting! We even have a castle at Bothal near where I live… Northumberland is supersaturated with castles due to the troubled history of the Scottish borderlands. We’d never really visited either Ford, or Etal Castle until this year and we didn’t have time to see all there is to see but we’ll be back to see the rest.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This is Etal Castle, which has a little information centre dedicated to the Battle of Flodden Field — a particularly bloody incident in border history (10,000 Scots slaughtered in a matter of hours). The battle site itself is not far away. I have been there too, and it exudes that silent sadness that is common to such places.

Etal is a pretty village which also features the only thatched pub in Northumberland, The Black Bull. Chef Stefano, makes black pudding bonbons to die for!!! Nice chap too. Came out and chatted. The thrice cooked chips are great as well and the beer is very good. It’s a must for the thirsty visitor.

We parked at HEATHERSLAW MILL which itself makes an interesting place to visit (we did last year) and again I bought some of their wonderful stone ground flour. The next day was my sister’s birthday and I found the perfect present in the Mill Shop. She wore it on Holy Island because hey, Northumberland is a beautiful county but the Bahamas it ain ‘t!!! and Lindisfarne off the North Sea coast can be about as cold and windy as it gets. Sometimes a woolly scarf is just the ticket!

There are several other gift shops too. We took the Light Railway from Heatherslaw on the 4 mile trip along the banks of the River Till, one of the cleanest waterways in England. The countryside is beautiful with views of the Cheviot Hills and the steam railway is FUN trip!!!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And so to our evening at The Bluebell in Crookham.
a well earned pint, an excellent meal, a cosy room and a fantabulous breakfast! Life doesn’t (in my opinion) get better! Esme had this cherry and meringue pudding that was huge and decadent! As soon as she sends me a photo of it I will enlighten you as to just how decadent is was. She did somehow manage to eat it all though. Brave lass!!!

So onto Holy Island to visit our friend of 25yrs, Dorothy, and celebrate Esme’s Birthday with an evening meal at The Ship. This is a regular haunt of ours and the Lamb Tagine is particularly good.


There’s no such thing as a bad picture on Lindisfarne

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Like all tourist destinations, don’t expect the impossible. There’s plenty to see but if your family wants rides and a Macdonalds — there are none. This is an island, not a theme park and God forbid it should ever become one. I heard one man as he turned away at the abbey gate, say to his partner: There’s nothing much here! Just as in Paris you have to bring your own romance, so on Holy Island you need to bring your curiosity with you, your appreciation of history and your own peace. It’s busy when the causeway is open. It’s remote when it’s closed. If you want lots of shops and a great selection of restaurants this is probably not the place for you. There are few eateries on the island and be aware that you’ll need to book somewhere if you want an evening meal.

It’s crucial to know the tide times. Please check HERE.

I hope this has whetted your appetite for a visit to the grim North, the most castellated region in England. The natives are, for the most part, friendly and there’s lots to see and do under the big skies. Just — bring a warm coat!

May • Bluebells be with you • Four Northumberland gardens

Bluebells are my sister’s favourite flowers and why not? They are a delight. I think I prefer lilies of the valley, for their scent, but I can’t grow them myself despite others telling me they are a weed. And I seldom see any growing these days. Anyway it’s always great when Esme comes and we go gallivanting to our favourite gardens. So here a few highlights of this year’s fortnight in May.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This year we went back to Belsay for the biannual quilting display. We always enjoy this event. Here is a tiny sample of why:

WOW right?


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.