Ian Whybrow

…coming soon…

31st Oct . Whoo! I sing of America….

October 31, 2012 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

Phew! Tax forms in the post. Our Lucy’s birthday today. I had forgotten that I borrowed it once for one of my Facebook pages and was moved this morning to receive felicitations. One of the comments was, I have to say, of the raised eyebrow category.

Still no word from Paul and Sue from Long Island. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that they’re safe and well. My mind goes back to the Halloween of the year we met them. We were living in Bellerose Village and Paul was teaching History out in Huntington, at Walt Whitman High where I was an exchange English teacher. Paul advised me to ignore the dark warnings of wicked spoilsports handing out apples stuffed with razor blades to trick-or-treaters, but it was with some trepidation that we allowed Lucy and Suzannah to trail round the neighbourhood in their cute little witchy outfits with a dozen other kids. Our fears were ungrounded, of course, and they came back with baskets piled high with enough candy to open a small branch of Woollies. Forget the razor blades: sugar- and tartrazine-overload was the Bellerose way. And both our darlings, including today’s birthday girl survived, thank the Lord.

Oct 30th Moon struck

October 30, 2012 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

The moon is making a spectacle of itself this morning, showing off to the dull chestnut outside my window.


Meanwhile, Cyclone Sandy is battering our friends Paul and Sue on Long Island among with millions of others along the Eastern seaboard. Hard to believe it’s the same moon that’s tugging wildly high tides and putting out the lights from NY to the Carolinas. Five million without power so far… thirteen dead and the toll rising… the Syrian air force bombing its own people…

Need to clear my head for a phone-interview in connection with an event at Sandown Park in early December and to plan for my trip to the Sharjah festival. OK. Nice chat with a chap called Tom from Time and Leisure Magazine. I’ve booked myself cars for next month’s Emirates trip, so now I can crack on.

Enter the Person wanting to know the way to Porlock. Well, OK, it’s Ann, really. Never mind; I’m always up for being interrupted. Off we go to take advantage of the sun over Chorleywood Common – so I suspend my story about the tea-leaf turned football-star.


Great! Nobody around. And the traffic on the M25 could be just waves breaking in the distance. That was good. Restorative.

It led to a delicious lunch. Not this one.


Actually we came home via Waitrose and ate in the kitchen. Ham-on-the-bone, leaves, olive bread and a spoonful of Coronation Coleslaw. Lovely.

29th Oct. Moithering

October 29, 2012 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

Pirsig, thou shouldst be living at this hour, I am saying to myself. And blow me down, he is. I just checked him out on Practical Wikkering. Well, well.

Moithering is what Herefordians hate. It’s not quite fretting. It’s lying in bed churning things over while you lack the motor-control actually to lever yourself out of bed. And the clocks having been bent over backwards last night, I lay moithering from 5.05 a.m.

It wasn’t just theexcitement of the concert on Saturday that did it; nor the visit to Southend yesterday. Nor the warm and lively family lunch to celebrate the almost concurrent birthdays of my son-in-law’s mother and her partner. (Mon- and- Parton-in-law?) The sand-eel starter was a surprise-delight and the dexter beef… delish. It wasn’t just the pleasure of being with the kids – so funny, so let-me-show-you and in your lap.

No, it was the visits after lunch that had my mind churning in the wee small hours of this Monday morning. First to the in-laws for cake and coffee, there to encounter Peter’s incredible sheds. This man knows about everything. Computers, kites, model planes, bicycles, kayaks – he’s made the lot. DESIGNED AND MADE them. And then to old chums – to Philip and Annie’s. They’re the same! Even lying semi-prone in his sick-bed, Philip is nonetheless able to give me an on-screen virtual tour (including pipework and electronics) of his Grand Design for the palace into which, over a period of three years, he transformed what was just a bungalow on a corner plot. I am awed by this expertise. I could as soon flex my fingertips in imitation of Vladimir Ashkenazy as achieve these stratospheric feats of practical genius. So what am I to DO with all this stimulation? Night school? Pottery classes? Spread-sheet training?

Put the news on. Blimey! Hell in a hand-cart stuff. New York braced for freak storm! Penguin merges with Random House! Clattenberg accused of racist slur…!

Save the self-improvement till later, maybe?

Oct 27th. Great Columns of Fire!

October 29, 2012 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

Rose up speedily, a bit like the glory of the Lord in Elijah Part 2. Simon, our conductor likes us to beef up the “GL” on glory and then open wide into a sort of GLURRY for the purposes of the drama. But ‘tis a portmanteau-word to put one in mind of glue and slurry; a tad too much for me at this time of the morning. I decide to save myself for the final rehearsal. I slump for an hour or so on the sofa in the chilly dimness, answering mail and Silas-Marnering my way through late royalty statements. Following that, I retire hurt to bed to recover until driven forth like a fiery chariot in the direction of my wholesome breakfast.

Pause to check whether the sticky-up corners of my dress shirt have been ironed into the horizontal position.

Plashed hurriedly after lunch with Ann through piles of fallen plane leaves along Harrow High Street to Speech Room. I am consigned, to the crushing, outer dimness of the high choir stalls at the back of the stage. Here, beside the organ pipes, under the plaques for Old Harrovian prime ministers, churchmen and VCs, it should be sobering, but this is a schoolboy fight for one’s allotted 0.5m of bottom-room and an opportunity, since the organ has begun to sound like a fire alarm, to wonder none-too quietly how much this vast orchestra straggling on to the stage below is going to cost us. All this plus five soloists and Bernard on the organ! The ticket sales alone will never cover it! The subs will be going up again!

Never mind these piffling considerations; fine sounds rise from the assembled instruments; the soloists fill the vast space and the bass (whose showcase this is) turns out to be a sonorous wonder. We B2s are impressed. I’m sitting next to Peter Barker, an ex-BBC Radio 3 announcer whose own famously tobacco-toned windpipes are in rumblingly good order. Peter has announced the best, remember, so when he gives the soloists the nod there’s the tin lid on that one. My own grasp of some of the madder bits of this oratorio are shaky, so I am rather glad to be protected by two sturdy pillars: Peter on my right, and the cylindrical maroon job thoughtfully provided by Burges the architect to obscure me for long periods from most of Simon and his baton. Thus, I can commit with impunity the cardinal sin of the far-flung bass: viz and to wit, I can keep my head stuck in my copy when things get testing.

Ann is less fortuitously parked with the A2s – out in the open but right at the end of the row and above the tymps – so that her experience in the actual performance of the wholeness of the piece and her sense of the alto line is not quite what rehearsal led her to expect. Still she has practised far harder than I have and familiarity with her part tugs her through various storms. And what an experience! Where else could you get a giggle (“The Lord from the North hath rais-ed one” ; “We heard it with our ears”, etc ) brush up on your Old Testament; get the lowdown on the likes of the imposter Baal, the sins of Jeraboam and those wicked prophets who feasted at Jezabel’s table? And where else could you find a choral piece so generous to growlers like me? Is there one with a more prominent role for a Bass soloist? And now that we have been on familiar terms for so long, I say thanks, Felix, for the lovely mellow bits and the uplifting jaggy gallops (BRRReak- in-pieces-the –rocks!) I love a rousing march (Thanks-be-to-God-left-right-left-right!) and a good high shout (A WHIRRRRLwind! A WHIRRRRLWIND!). I am humbly grateful for those swinging arpeggios those flashy, growly, operatic underlinings towards the end. Cheers, Mendel, me old ssohn; it’s been a pleasure to work with you. Amen, AA-AA-men, AAAAAAAA- MEN.

Oct 26th. The Bongs, the Bongs

October 29, 2012 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

Have Autumn tints ever been more dazzling? Driving across Essex and into Suffolk was never more like fireworks.

An overnight sojourn in Long Melford to celebrate my mother-in-law’s 91st with a pampering cream tea at the Swan at Lavenham and a family lunch today. Though it has remained silent for ages until now, Joan’s grandfather clock (well mine, actually, but it suits her hall particularly nicely) has taken it upon itself to bong loudly in celebration. I am bonged out of bed at 6.45 and take a run down Liston Lane to the beautiful little brick and flint church a mile away. It’s dark in the lane and the river barely mirrors a dull sky. At Liston Mill it roars something about the recent rains. No birdsong yet, unless you count the alarm calls of scattering coots and the creak of pheasants in the fields. 40 degrees seems warmish till the wind gets up.

Hard of hearing herself, Joan has remained oblivious to the small miracle of the clock’s vocal renaissance, though it roused Ann and me hourly throughout the night. “I have got a bit of a cold,” she explains at breakfast and then, by way of a demonstration that sympathy is unnecessary, she bends effortlessly and touches her toes.

The rainbow trout, delivered to the table for lunch by Rog, my brother- in- law, having been wrested by him from some riparian Welsh idyll, has evolved beyond mere rainbow to supertrout splendour. I was so moved I felt compelled to photograph it and tweet about it before tucking in. And here it is again.


Oct 25th. “He watching over Israel slumbers not nor sleeps.” (Mendelssohn and others)

October 25, 2012 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

Plagued by this haunting snippet from last night’s Elijah rehearsal, I slept fitfully and thought I heard Marie padding overhead. It struck me suddenly and forcefully that her old cat Thomas might have died.

His epitaph formed in my head and circled before it settled. Thus.

Poor Marie has lost her cat.

He was mean and he was fat;

Yet she would have none of that.

Poor Marie.

She’s lost.

Her cat!

Made even more restless by the fear that this might not have been a dream, I was soon afterwards pestered by a small brute from Frettnin Forest in Beastshire who kept on at me with this:

Two Dollys

By L Wolf

Here is a short riddel

To test yore brany skills.

One goes baa and one sings songs

Plus they make you think of hills.

Dear oh dear. No doubt he’ll be tweeting it later @LittleWolfBooks.

Oct 24th Water, water everywhere

October 24, 2012 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

Membranes on mah mahnd this misty morning. To keep the water out of the cellar. Whence cometh our help? That and gathering the final figures for Mr P the accountant. Then off to Puffin to talk about Harry. Thence to the penultimate rehearsal for “Elijah” with the Harrow Choral. Up the second basses!

Mandy liked my Meerkat-pic-book tweaks but tells me that the text is too long again. She’s about it now … like Lady Macbeth, only with her blue pencil – or possible with a knife and fork.

Oct 23rd Nice puff for the Christmas Meerkat story.

October 23, 2012 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

The cellar continues to flood. Meeting tonight to decide whether to tank it or carry on pumping. A small boating lake perhaps. Come in Number 3.

Meanwhile: on with the admin and the new Books for Boys. Too knackered to do either enthusiastically or effectively.

Matt Gribble from Cambridge U ( Dept of Zoology) spent months in Africa working on the Cambridge Meerkat Project. While I was researching “Merry Meerkat Madness” for HarperCollins, he was kind enough to impart lots of low-down on what it’s like in the Kalahari at Christmas time. He has now gone way beyond the call of duty and actually read the book. And though I feared that he might find it beneath him to read a children’s story – or perhaps unscientific or at very least inauthentic – he has just send me this charming puff by email:

“I was delighted to find that you had included the drongos, and that ‘Fledgie’ was given a starring role in the story. I think you were hugely successful in capturing the true nature and character of the birds, whilst also remaining mindful of the science. I very much enjoyed the story itself, and felt you did a marvelous job in portraying the Kalahari during the festive period. I have to admit to being very impressed with how you managed to link the general feel and air of excitement that descends around Christmas with the ecology of the animals, and the changes in the landscape that occur during the period.

I have read extracts to my niece (who is now an avid follower of the series) over the phone and she very much enjoyed hearing more tales of the Uncle Fearless and the rest of the mob.”

Pretty good, what-what!

Oct 22nd. Southampton: its Ibises, its Bookfest, its battling librarians …

October 23, 2012 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

Slightly spooky walk from Southampton station last night around 9.00 pm among the silent neon-lit redoubts of Toys R Us and Babies R Us and the massed car parks of various emporia, past the Hopperish glow of a MacDonalds to the recumbant Ibis. I’m hoping I’m not in booked into the Ibis Budget that I first encounter (Rooms from £24. Uh-oh) and am relieved to find that they are expecting me at what Waitrose would call Ibis Essential. They’re a nice lot here, the staff, though my room smells like an old mop. Michael gives me a cheery welcome and lends me his personal charger- lead so that I can carry on reading “Bring Out the Bodies” on a Kindle that disappointingly expired after a short illness soon after Basingstoke. Later he offers me a wee taste of several varieties of New World Merlot before pouring me a dashing Australian number to sooth me through the tail-end of Downton Abbey and into Match of the Day 2, neither of which raise the pulse.

At breakfast, someone has had the brilliantly cost-cutting idea of dispensing with pretty well every kind of service. One is simply pointed to where hot stuff and cold is waiting in a series of compartments and plastic packages and automated machinery. I’ve had worse soss, scrambled egg, bacon and beans, I have to say – but seeing it lying there, unmanned, makes you feel that you are part of some investigative programme (Code Name Hansel and Gretel) in which hidden cameras record how piggish and bad-mannered people can be when left unsupervised . Actually, a very nice lady did appear at one point to ask if it was my coffee waiting under the tap. I owned up and wondered aloud why pressing the “white coffee” button resulted only in a squirt of black . The answer was that I had not followed instructions about placing the cup correctly and that my allotted portion of milk was now in the tray.

Collected after breakfast by Anita, my very nice minder, and driven to Lordshill library (thoughtfully sited next to the Bingo Hall for cultural- spread purposes) where her boss, Chris Thomas, Head of Children’s Library Services was already on her knees tackling a recalcitrant projector. After all the admin, these events are heavy work for the library staff with a huge amount of furniture and shelving to be shunted about to make room for the 300 or so local children plus adults who are crocodiled in at intervals throughout the day to hear about books and in many cases, to buy one. Thanks to Hayling Island Bookshop, sales went swimmingly. Satisfaction on all book-fronts. Phew.

Hooray! A boy among the winners of the Bookfest Draw a Dino competition.


Home by 5.00; quick zizz and off to grueling choir rehearsal (only two to go!) for Mendelssohn’s Elijah. The rousing chorus “Hear Us Baal! Hear Mighty Baal!” might have come in handy for the Tottenham crowd on Saturday. Chelsea would never have been so rampant with Gareth Baal on the wing doing a few charging runs.

21st Oct. Christmas Stamps: will they raise my profile? Well I’ll be cultivated, grown on a vine and eaten grape by grape by a girl in her teens! (William Saroyan)

October 21, 2012 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

Very chuffed to receive a message from the Post Office alerting me to the fact that two characters from a book I wrote with Axel Scheffler many a moon ago are to be represented on Christmas stamps. How will anyone know that they’re not just ANY old reindeer and Father Christmas, though? And will I get a discount?




Off to Southampton today. What the French call Soot-ong-tong. This is almost as much fun as Oh-ee-yo for Ohio. Due to do an event tomorrow at Lordshill Library for the Book Festival. This requires a night at the Ibis , or, if you prefer it, ze ee-bees. Luckshuree, eh?

Emailed my re-tweaked meerkat pic book text to Mandy last night. I think it’s getting there now, but you never know… tough times, mate; bookshops closing all over; Amazon squeezing the margins and the throats of the publishing conglomerates. All that.