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In the fairytale the seven league boots will take you, in one step, a distance of seven leagues. Actually let’s rephrase that, the sort of step you must make should probably be a bound or a leap since this is mythic territory that we are traversing. I am, as I have often mentioned, a child of the 70s and therefore I am mostly metric. This means I weigh and measure in pounds and miles but at school I was taught the metric system. All this is by way of explaining that I have not the foggiest idea how far seven leagues is.  I just know I like the sound of it.

I’m assuming that a pair of Jimmy Choos are not going to get you that sort of distance. In fact I doubt such footwear would get me from the sofa to the mirror in the shoe shop. I’ve never been a fan of high heels. You would think that, as a shorter style person, that I might fancy a stacked heel or a platform to give myself a better chance of reaching the Dorset Cereals Honey Granola on the top shelf at Tesco. Far from it. I am most happy in a pair of chunky soled boots.

So if Sigmund Freud were to have a strokey chin moment here and consider the evidence I think it is quite likely that the Seven League Boots have a lot to do with this preference. I have long been a fan of the Doc Marten and have a few pairs. They all look raggedy and wartorn and one pair were in fact chewed by a rat (that’s another blog, more bloodthirsty and involving drains) But I also own a pair of supremely comfy Blundstones. I am not, as you can tell, a glass slipper sort of girl.  I like boots you can outrun stuff in; bears, wolves, dragons. It’s quite wild here in Wiltshire.

I always felt that the glass slippers looked very beautiful but, although they might wink with starlight, they looked uncomfortable. Surely glass is a bit skiddy underfoot and possibly rather sweaty? It is no surprise to me that Cinderella threw a shoe as she attempted the four minute mile out of the Ball, the real magic is how she made it that far without aggravating a bunion or abrading a corn.

I have actually seen the ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz. They are on display in the Smithsonian in Washington DC and on a trip, long ago, my husband and I were quite surprised to see them.  It was something of an Oz moment too as, frankly, they weren’t all that sparkly due to lack of special effects.

Which brings us to the Red Shoes. (I think I managed that without anyone noticing) These dark beauties have a different appeal. Whilst there was never any chance of my becoming a ballet dancer due to my overabundance of left feet, I did hanker after certain bits of the gear. The black tulle dress would be my costume of choice to go down to the Post Office if truth be told. The shoes have always attracted, it is the ribbon but it is also the power of the feet within them, the agility and grace. The broken toes.

Here the fairytale darkness seeps in. The Red Shoes are glamorous but costly and you are warned off wearing them. But they are daring and different and impractical. Perhaps you can just try them on in the safety of the magic shoeshop? Is that a red and white spotty sofa you’re sitting on to peel off your trainers? Or is it a toadstool? Ooh, look how scarlet the silk is and how the moonlight plays off the ribbons as they flitter and flutter as if they’re alive. It’s rather uncomfortable the way they snake and strangle round your ankles.  But, they are the perfect footwear for a foray into Fairyland surely? Powerful enough to get you home, if you just remember to keep that handful of rowan berries in your pocket.

Or, better yet, throw off the shoes and walk barefoot out of the Sidhe, earth to skin, sole to soul. Or, as Kate Bush advises, take off your shoes, throw them in the lake and be two steps on the water.

 

It turns out, according to a Radio 4 astrophysicist, that of all the planets, Venus is the most like Earth and is often referred to as our ‘sister’ planet. Venus sounds lovely, the name suggestive of sultry Greek resorts, green sea, blue sky and food that is redolent with olive oil. Then, the idyll is shattered by the information that the surface of Venus runs at about 800degrees Fahrenheit, roughly the temperature of commercial pizza oven.

Yes. Very Earthlike. I remember the heatwave of ’76 (yes, we’re harking back there again). Even in Lancashire we were forced to unzip our cagoules. I can’t help thinking that, had we been on Venus, the zips would have been welded shut.

So there’s a lot of temperature and not a lot of magnetic fields on Venus. Are you too imagining a field filled with those horseshoe magnets from schooldays? No?  Well anyway, there isn’t one on Venus so the solar winds just whip across the surface of the planet, so it’s likely that your umbrella will blow inside out. And melt.

My son, a fully paid up BSc Physicist and my husband, a BSc Applied Mathematician, feel that I lack a proper enthusiasm for space travel, a subject which the recent return of Tim Peake to British Airspace and the successful Juno orbit has brought to the fore.

I don’t care about travelling in space. I do not think it is a priority, or, in fact, an adventure. To me, the regular updates from Tim Peake seemed grim; high definition images of a man trying to remain cheerful whilst trapped in a sardine can.

I’ve spent many years watching Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica and every other space opera known to civilised man and none of these epics have persuaded me that space travel is great. Star Trek is a stressful journey through endless star spotted darkness. Along the way they meet nothing but trouble, some with tentacles. At least this might enliven the boredom, I suppose, of being on board the Enterprise whereas in the real world of space there is just endless star-spotted darkness. Cold. Dark. Even colder. Even darker. That galaxy is really really far far away.

My husband has always wanted to travel on a space mission to Jupiter. He’s quite enthusiastic. Two years to get there in a lovely shiny space ship, two years on the planet, well, not actually on it but based in some sort of space station and then two more years travelling home. Wouldn’t it be great?

No.

My reaction was based, I am told, on my ‘emotions’ rather than ‘scientific methodology’.

No.

My reaction is based on the fact that there is no air in space. The atmosphere on Jupiter is probably (the Carlsberg Lager school of Astronomy here) 90% hydrogen and 10% helium. This is a great mix if you want to scream in a really high comedy voice as you explode.

Whilst my own personal Boffins enthuse about life on Mars for instance, I maintain that I do not want to go to a place whose chief attraction is its lack of oxygen. I can imagine the review I might post on Trip Advisor after a few weeks on Mars. This would be a few weeks spent on something resembling the set of Space 1999 (a series from the 70s!) only not quite as luxurious. This would be post a diet of food that can be reconstituted or rehydrated or forced into and out of a variety of toothpaste style tubes and zapped in a microwave. Perhaps Jamie Oliver might want to tackle the Space Dinners, we can only hope.

I suppose though that you could give Mars or Jupiter a lot of stars. Ha. Do you see what I did there? Stars? You know? Space. Geddit?

Geddit is one of the killer robots that is on my Mars space mission by the way. He’s made of titanium and his brain is so complex it is like one of those mazes that scientists are so keen for mice to find their way around. In the end, dressed in my pants and Bruce Willis’s old vest, I kill Geddit with the assistance of Algernon, the last surviving mouse from the onboard lab. Did you notice that I said ‘one’ of the killer robots? Hey. It’s going to be a long mission. And maybe a franchise.

 

“You can’t wear hats.” my son said to me the other day. “You just think you can.” This is what I have found out about offspring, they grow up, up, up a bit higher until they can pat you on the head, then, they tell you what you can’t do.

I can wear a hat. Watch me. Admittedly, due to my diminutive stature I cannot in all honesty wear one of the massive cartwheel kind found in such classic films as The Wicked Lady or Gone With the Wind. No. Well not in public at any rate. I do draw the line somewhere and I appreciate that with such a millinery delight on my head I would look like a field mushroom. But I can wear a hat. I pick up the hat and I put it on my head. Simple as.

I love hats. I know that there’s a distinct anti-hat lobby in the fashion and trend fields but since fashion and trends have given us colour block shift dresses and slit knee jeans I don’t really care what they think.  Somewhere there is a committee of fashion designers sitting at a table chewing their pencils and saying ‘what idiotic thing can we make them all wear this season?’ See? I have all the jargon. Season. Trend. I also have some hats.

I have recently had to rescue my ‘summer hat’. This is an ancient article woven from some sort of plastic that looks like straw. It is a Kangol make and it has a floppy element of cloche to it in a muddy brown. I bought it one year when we were heading to Brittany so there was a threat of some actual sun. This hat has served me well. After it was duly rescued and refurbed with a darning needle, a bit of brown thread and quite a lot of swearing I tried it on. Pinned up the brim with a kilt pin and hey presto it looks stylish.

“You look like the Wicked Witch of the West” said my son. Ever the fashion critic.

I do not. Well, only when I wear the hat and I’m on my bike and the basket is attached. To the bike. Not the hat. This hat is multi-purpose as its less than natural material means it does the job as a rain hat too, the brim doubles as guttering.

Then there is my Fedora. This is grey felt with a black grosgrain band and it is a man’s size because, did I mention? I’ve got a giant head. Ladies hats don’t fit me. Ever. They teeter on the top of my skull like little doll hats. My Fedora is a lovely fit, except in a high wind. Like that time at Hengistbury Head when Stephen had to chase it down the cliff.

“What a shame he caught it.” was my daughter’s comment.

I also have a top hat. Tall and black and, well, top. This was an eBay purchase and I sometimes put it on to think in. I have to do this when no one is in the house because, as you might surmise, the ruling from the Brats is,

“You are NOT wearing that top hat.”

However, when I did last wear it to the Dunge Cheese Show, I won a dressage competition that I hadn’t even entered. I was just at the sidelines enjoying a handmade spinach and feta sausage roll when I was handed a rosette and asked to do a lap of the arena. I am still working my way through the prize oats.

All this hat nonsense has been brought up by the imminent opening of the Winchester Hat Fair. I received a flyer inviting me to the delights of this event (1-3rd July in Winchester rather fittingly) and naturally I started to consider my current hat collection and which might be appropriate to wear. I considered my little green felt one with the large plume of pheasant feathers. Yes. I just used the word ‘plume’. Then there is also my green velvet medieval style cap with the gold swirly embroidery, a standby for any civic events involving cats and people named Whittington. There is also the longstanding temptation of that twisty crowned witches hat that I have earmarked on Etsy, felted and concertinaed which is the hat of my very wildest dreams. Or what about heading to the British Hatter in Bath for a new purchase? Something sweeping and wide brimmed? Trimmed with a stuffed duck and a dotty veil perhaps?

I was aboard the top deck of the 265 and part way through Bradford on Avon when I realised that the Winchester Hat Fair has nothing to do with hats or millinery of any kind. It’s an arts festival! Fringe and Comedy and Street theatre of all kinds in the glorious city. Winchester has that historic twitch to it, streets that horses have gallopped to battle along. A wrecked bit of castle. King Arthur’s Round Table hanging in the Great Hall.

Ah ha. Change of attire required. I will whip off my wimple and pull on my raven feather cloak, unless it’s raining this weekend of course, in which case I’ll also take my sun hat.

 

You may have heard that my book, The Ice King, has just been published.  It’s a sneak peek into my new Witch Ways series, and you can get a copy to read for free here.

 

 
 

‘a highly original talent’ – Beryl Bainbridge

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I’d like to send you a book for free – you just need to tell me where to send it.

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