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Monday, 31 March 2014

When I was a driving instructor..............

I spent twenty years working as a driving instructor in the Cambridge area of the UK.  I used to love it at one time, but as I got older I found the sense of humour diminishing and that is something one really needs in that job.  It left me completely the day a lady from Algiers got in my car and asked, very seriously, if it would be all right for her to drive on the right!

Of course, we drive on the left in the UK and my first response was to tell her she should not be allowed out on foot, never mind behind the wheel of a car!

After a couple of weeks, she asked me who looked after my dogs when I was out.  I told her they were fine on their own, to which she replied:  "Oh, are you allowed to do that here?"
"Do what?  Leave dogs on their own?  Of course you are."
"So," she says, "if I have a baby I won't have to give my job up, it will be all right on its own!"

Yeah, that'll be fine.  Social Services will come and take it away.

So you can see where the patience went out of the window with the sense of humour, can't you?

One lesson with a teenaged boy ended with us being stopped by the police and my pupil being dragged out of the car and handcuffed.  Apparently they had been looking for us for two hours;  he had beaten his mother up, assaulted a police woman who tried to arrest him, then got in my car and carried on with his driving lesson.

Two police cars crept up behind us and I was just wondering why they didn't either go past or put their stop sign on, when the first one shot past, pulled in and stopped and the second one boxed us in.  It was very cleverly done.

I mentioned to the police officer that we would have been home in a minute and was informed that they didn't want him to get in the house because it took the armed force to get him out last time!

It got even funnier when his mother rang six months later wanting to book him some more lessons!
When I taught manual (stick shift to my US readers) I would explain the gears by telling people what gear they needed, generally speaking, for what speed.  So I was sitting at the traffic lights in Cambridge one day, and about 20 feet in front of us was a 40 mph speed limit sign.  When the lights turned green, she put the car into fourth gear.  I asked her why we were in fourth gear, because we were not going anywhere in fourth gear, and she said "that sign says 40;  you told me I needed fourth gear for 40".  So then I realised why, when going along windy little country lanes not suitable for more than 20 mph, she would put it into fifth gear - because the road sign said national speed limit (which is 60 in England on single carriageway roads).

Amazing and not so Amazing Facts

I thought I would put together a few facts that I have heard about, and I would welcome input from anyone who wants to join in.

Did all British people know that they are breaking the law every 25th December when they celebrate Christmas?  Christmas was made illegal by Oliver Cromwell and the law was never repealed, just ignored.

In London, black cab drivers are obliged to carry a bale of hay to feed their horses.  That law was also never repealed.

In some states of the USA it is illegal to have sexual intercourse with a virgin.  So, no spending your honeymoon there then!

Saturday, 8 March 2014

My New Novel - The Scent of Roses entitled this novel The Scent of Roses, because it is set amid the Black Death of the fourteenth century.  The plague has associations with roses because of the rose-like rash of the sufferer as well as being the origin of the nursery rhyme. It concerns a noblewoman, Lady Felice Sutton, the daughter of an impoverished earl.  He is about to lose everything and their only hope of escaping penury is for Felice to marry advantageously.  Lord Christopher is well known for his ruthless and violent nature, but when he offers to rescue her father in return for her hand in marriage, she agrees willingly.  She is grateful and vows to make him a good wife, but his temperament and his distrust of women make it much more difficult than she had imagined to keep that vow.  She wants to know why his first wife lies buried in a pauper's grave and why he still continues his affair with a peasant woman who has his children.  This is a story of a woman trying desperately to find some goodness in a man who appears to have none to find.
You may or may not know, but the nursery rhyme "ring a ring of roses" was derived from the black death, as the disease began with a rose shaped rash, followed by sneezing as well as other more horrific symptoms such as gangrene causing the skin to turn black, white fur on the tongue of the victim and other things I do not wish to discuss!
It was also believed that holding a posy of flowers to ones nose would prevent contagion, hence 'a pocket full of posies' and 'all fall down' refers, of course, to the death.  The black death arrived in England in 1348, having already decimated half of Europe.  It killed over 2million people and was believed to have been spread by the fleas on black rats, which came to England on the trade ships.
ring a ring of roses,
A pocketful of posies
Atishoo, atishoo,
We all fall down

The great plague of London in 1665 has always been attributed to bubonic plague, which is the same disease, but there has been a lot of speculation over recent years and to whether the two plagues were, in fact, the same disease.
There were three forms of the plague - bubonic, which produced round, hard swellings in the groin and armpits, pneumonic, which affected the lungs and killed very quickly and septicaemic, which was arguably the worst as it had few symptoms, poisoning the blood surreptitiously.
Altogether a horrible disease, for which we thankfully today have a cure.  Do not run away with the idea that it is strictly confined to the past though.  When flying out of Mexico in 1989, there was a huge sign at Heathrow Airport warning travellers from India to consult their doctors immediately because of an outbreak of bubonic plague. 
This is the first chapter of the book, which will be called The Scent of Roses.  I hope you enjoy it.

"I am promised to Lord Christopher," Felice repeated for the third time. She was growing impatient now, having spent the last hour or so going over the same ground, repeating the same argument.  "It matters not how many times you declare your disapproval, how many unlikely schemes you invent to lure me away.  The promises our fathers made can no longer be honoured.  You have to accept that, Thomas, and wish me well."

Viscount Lindsay frowned and shook his head slowly, still reluctant to accept the inevitable.

"But you love me," he insisted.

"I have never said that I love you," she argued with an impatient sigh. 

"We were pledged to each other from the cradle," he said.  "We have grown up knowing that one day we would marry.  Does that mean nothing?"

"It does not mean that I love you," she said.  "It means that at the time a prospective marriage between our two families was advantageous.  Things have changed since then; your father broke the betrothal because I no longer have a dowry and you do not have the means to save my father from his own folly.  Lord Christopher does and he will keep his word. It would disgrace him to see his wife's family degraded, or do you doubt that he is a man of his word?"

"No," said Thomas reluctantly. "I have heard that he is, in fact.  But he has other reputations which are not so noble.  I am also suspicious as to why he would part with so much of his wealth to marry you."

Felice stared at him in astonishment.  It was hard to believe that all her life she had been content with the idea of marrying this man, when he could make such a remark.  He had gone down in her estimation this evening, to come here with his meaningless schemes to persuade her to renege on her promise to marry a wealthy and powerful man, when he had nothing better or even equal to offer in return.  If she had loved him, as he seemed to believe, he would be causing her pain, but that did not seem to have occurred to him.

"I am sure you did not intend to insult me with that remark," Felice commented archly.  "Is it so unbelievable that a man might give a fortune to win my hand?"

"Another man might; I most certainly might, but not him, not Lord Christopher.  He is incapable of love."  Thomas paused for a moment, looking hopefully at her, while she studied his face carefully, wondering if he really believed that.  "His first wife died in childbirth and he did not respect her enough to give her a proper burial.  She lies in a pauper's grave in the village churchyard, no memorial stone, nothing to mark her passing but a rough, wooden cross."

Felice felt her heart sink, not only at this new tale but that Thomas would tell her such a thing, especially if it should prove to be true.  Surely she was better off not knowing.

"Did you come here tonight deliberately to frighten me?"  She asked him.

"I came in the hope of persuading you to run away with me.  I can give you a comfortable life."

"But you cannot pay my father's debts, you cannot restore my family's reputation," she argued.  "My father's creditors have been kept at bay with the promise of this marriage, a promise made to them by Lord Christopher himself.  You are asking me to force him to break his word, which I have heard he holds in high regard.  How do you expect he will react to that?"

Thomas seemed reluctant to answer that question.  She thought it likely that he, too, was afraid of her future husband, along with many others, although he would never admit it.

"Were it any other man, I would not be so concerned," Thomas persisted. "Besides, they are your father's creditors, not yours,"

She shook her head in dismay.

"My father is dear to me," she said firmly, "as is my family's good name.  You are not dear to me."

"I was dear enough before," he muttered.

Her eyes held his for a moment, while she cursed him for coming here and unsettling her like this, for bringing her tales of her bridegroom of which she would rather have remained in ignorance. 

"I was content with my marriage plans before tonight," she said sadly.  "I was even happy to be marrying a man who was kind enough to help us.  Indeed, I was looking forward to making him a good wife, then you came here with tales to frighten me.  Now I know not what to expect, now I am dreading what tomorrow may hold.  I trust that satisfies you."

Certainly His Lordship had the reputation of being callous and uncaring, but that could not deter Felice.  Her alternative was to marry Thomas with no dowry to support her should he die, and to leave her father to rot in debtor's prison. Lord Christopher was all that stood between her family and ruin and she was only grateful that he had noticed her in time to save them.

It was growing dark in the small porch outside the house, and the autumn damp was closing in.  She glanced down at the frayed hem of her brocade gown and she pulled her fur lined cloak about her shoulders; only she knew how worn and thin was the fur inside.  This cloak had belonged to her mother and she had died ten years ago.  Felice had but one wish, and that was for Thomas to go home and leave her in peace.

"You know no more of him than I do," she said. "He is powerful and wealthy; that is all either of us know about him.  Anything else is mere rumour."

   "His wife's poor grave in the village churchyard is not rumour," he replied.  "Go, see for yourself.  Her name was Sonia and she should be resting in the family vault with her predecessors, while instead she has the grave of the poorest peasant.  And he is reputed to be a violent man, controlled by his temper."

   She had heard that herself and people hereabouts did seem to fear him, but whatever his temperament or his character, she had no choice.  If she did not marry him, her father would lose everything.

   "Reputations are not always justified," she remarked hopefully.

   "He is also reputed to keep a peasant woman who has his children.  I hope you do not expect him to be faithful."

   She looked sharply at Thomas, not sure whether he was now inventing tales of his own.  She had heard nothing of this peasant woman, but the news came as no surprise and made no difference to her plans.  Nothing could make a difference to her plans.

   "I do not expect any man to be faithful, Thomas," she said calmly.  "It is not in their nature."

   "I would be faithful to you," Thomas insisted.  "I love you. You should not be bartering yourself for your father's sake.  Let him sort out his own problems."

   She stared at him with contempt.  How could anybody be so ignorant as to make such a stupid remark?  Whatever Lord Christopher's character might be, she was rather glad she would not be marrying Viscount Lindsay.

"If I thought for one moment that you really did love me, I would feel sympathy for you.  But you are only annoyed that you have lost a possession, like a small child with his favourite toy.  My father's problems are my problems," she said firmly.  "Lord Christopher will save him from debtor's prison and by so doing will save the good name of my family.  That is well worth bartering myself for, as you so elegantly put it."

"I will not give up.  I have spent my life expecting you to be my bride."

"And tomorrow I will be Lord Christopher's bride and you must look elsewhere.  I am sorry, Thomas, but this is the way it has to be."

She got to her feet to indicate that the meeting was at an end, then turned to face him.

"Please leave me alone now, Thomas.  Tomorrow I will be the Countess of Waterford, and I intend to make Lord Christopher a good and faithful wife.  I shall be grateful if you will respect that and leave me alone."

"I never realised how cold you could be, Felice," he persisted.  "You do not even know this man, you have never once spoken to him, but you accept that you will be his wife without a qualm.  You will spend tomorrow night in his bed. It is no accident that half the countryside fear him; he must have done something to earn that reputation."

Felice hardly needed him to tell her that.  She knew very well that he was a formidable and powerful man who struck terror into the hearts of many, but all she could do was to be as good a wife as she could, and hope he was not violent for violence sake.  If he were, she was strong enough to live with it, strong enough to find ways to appease him.

"If what you say about him is true, it would not be safe for you to be seen with me."

"I am not afraid."

So typical.  Thinking of himself as always.  She knew nothing about the man she was to wed, nothing whatever.  All she knew were rumours, usually spread by his enemies of which he seemed to have many.  She should be afraid to marry such a man, but she feared penury more. As she walked back to the door of her father's manor house, she knew a little spark of gratitude for His Lordship.  He was not only rescuing her father, he was rescuing her from a marriage with a weak and selfish man who would put her safety at risk to get his own way.

She turned back to face him as she reached the door.

"What do you suppose he will do to me if you continue to pursue me?" She said after a few minutes thought. "Or does that not matter?"




When the servants brought the rose scented bathwater into her bedchamber in the morning, she realised that this would be the last time she would awake in these familiar surroundings.  This bedchamber had been hers since she was a small child and she had never slept anywhere else.  Tonight she would sleep in Waterford castle, the home of Lord Christopher; she would be his Countess and she could only hope that he would treat her fairly.  Thomas' tale about his first wife and her pauper's grave made her shiver, but she could not afford to believe it.

Being married was a frightening idea.  She had never spoken to Lord Christopher, only seen him from across a crowded marketplace and for a few minutes when he came to arrange the marriage with her father.  She had never spoken to him, had no idea what manner of man he was, but tonight she was expected to share his bed and what else she did not know.  She was fairly sure that babies were not made simply by sharing a bed with a man, but she could not imagine what else one had to do.  

Of course he would want babies, sons.  Why else would a man like him marry?  She still had no idea why he had chosen her, but perhaps it was some perverse need to control her father, Earl Sutton, who had squandered his fortune at the  gaming tables and would face criminal charges were it not for this earl who would pay off his debts and help him to begin earning income from his estate once more.  All that in return for the hand in marriage of his daughter.

Lord Christopher could have any of the fine ladies who were available; he was an important man who had the choice of many, so just why he had chosen Felice she could not imagine.

She had made no attempt to refuse this marriage.  She had agreed willingly when her father had told her of the offer and she had agreed with a sigh of relief that they would not be turned out in the street after all.

Felice was a proud woman, young though she was.  She knew her place in the world should be privileged and she could not avoid a certain disappointment in her father for degrading her in the eyes of the world, as well as in her own eyes.  She was a person who would always be true to herself, no matter what the world threw at her, and she had made a pledge to herself that she would do her best to make Lord Christopher a good wife.  She would endure anything to do so, if the need arose, but she would prefer to win him over, to elicit some affection from him, if that were possible.

This day her blonde hair shone and she smelled of roses, her favour perfume.  There was a time when her father would send for the flowers from Europe when they was out of season here in England, but no more.  Now he could not afford such luxuries and she had not seen a fresh rose since the summer.  The bathwater this morning had taken the last of the dried flowers she had saved from then. She so wanted a bouquet of roses for her wedding, but that was an extravagance too far.

Once dry, her hair was brushed and dried before the fire and her servants proceeded to dress her in the embroidered Chemise and white satin kirtle that Lord Christopher had provided for her to wear.  She tried to resist the need to feel the cloth, to run her fingers over the fine fabric, smell its newness after all this time of wearing patched up, tattered cloth, but the temptation was too great.  The satin was smooth and soft to her touch, the chemise embroidered with delicate little pink roses especially for her.

Over the kirtle was a see through gown of cloth of gold which shimmered in the sunlight from the window opening.  Her father could not even afford to provide her wedding clothes, and for that she was ashamed.  But she bore no malice toward him. He had always done his best for her, even after her mother's death when he failed to tell her of the mess he was getting himself into.  He had educated her, taught her to read, which was not something most people could do, especially females.  

If anything, on closer scrutiny of Viscount Lindsay, she was grateful that she had the opportunity to wed another man, even though she knew nothing about him.  What she did know for certain was that men did not get reputations like Lord Christopher's for being weak and cowardly.

"You look beautiful, My Lady," said the one maidservant they still kept.  She had no wages, only her bed and board, and she stayed out of loyalty to Felice.  Without her there would be no one.  The servants who had brought her bath and helped with her hair and dress had been sent by Lord Christopher, another shameful gift.

"Thank you Lisa," she said softly. "You know I would really like you to come with me.  I shall ask Lord Christopher at the first opportunity."

Lisa shivered as though she felt a sudden chill.

"It is very good of you, My Lady, but your father needs me."

"And?"  Felice asked.  "There is more.  Come; you can tell me."

"I wish you every happiness with Lord Christopher, My Lady," Lisa replied pertly, "but I am glad it is you who will share his bed tonight and not me."

Felice laughed.  So the rumours had found their way into the servants' ears.  It mattered not.  She was grateful, tremendously grateful.  She loved her father too much to be anything else and she was only pleased she could do something to help him.  She would never show her father anything but joy over this marriage.

Felice had known about Lord Christopher all her life, had seen him once across a market place and thought him handsome.  She had heard tales of him, but she had never thought to think long about them.  After all, he was nothing to her, just a local earl and one who had more land and more power than her father.  When she had been told of his offer of marriage, she had been shocked at first recalling the rumours about him, but when she had given it some thought, she had been delighted.  Ruthless he may be but he was offering to save her family, her father and she would always thank him for that.

She felt a lump in her throat as she thought of the things that her bridegroom had provided, things that should have been provided by her father.  She could hardly wait to get to the church, to take her vows before God and put her life of poverty behind her.  She could hardly wait to restore her father's pride and give him back his rightful place in the world.

There came a gentle knock on the door and Lord Sutton stepped through.  He wore a smile but she could see behind it, see that he was holding on to a lump in his own throat.

"You are beautiful," he whispered.  "You look just like your dear mother on our wedding day.........except that she wore the Sutton necklace which I no longer possess.  You are the only possession I have left to give away, and I wish more than anything I could give you to a worthier man."

"What on earth do you mean?"  She protested.  "Lord Christopher is a worthy man.  He will make me a fine husband and you will not have to worry any more."

She held out her hand to him and he kissed it, then held on to it.

"I am so sorry, Felice," he said ashamedly.  "I wanted to give you so much but you have been forced to break your betrothal to the Viscount and marry this fearsome stranger to keep me from the punishment I am owed."

"Father," she said, taking his arm, "I cannot tell what the future will hold for me now, but if there is one thing about this arrangement for which I am grateful, it is that I no longer have to marry Viscount Lindsay."

Earl Sutton looked in surprise at his daughter.

"I thought you were fond of him," he commented.

"So did I," she answered, "until last night, when he showed his true colours.  Do not fret about me, Father.  I am sure I will be perfectly content with my new husband and my new home."  She paused thoughtfully for a moment before going on:  "I can only hope that he is perfectly content with his new wife."

"If he is anything of a man, he will love you."

She took his arm and they descended the stairs to the carriage that awaited, the carriage sent by Lord Christopher.  As her father opened the door, she saw on the seat a beautiful bouquet of white roses, wrapped up in cloth of gold, with a note from her bridegroom.  "Lovely though these flowers may be, they cannot overshadow the beauty of my bride."

She gasped and took up the flowers.  Her eyes met her father's to see that he was once more ashamed that he had not been able to provide them, that it had been left to this stranger who was about to own them both.

"You must have told him," she said softly.  "He could not have known about the roses unless you told him."

He looked shamefaced again.

"He asked me if you had a particular jewel you preferred.  I thought you would prefer the roses," he said.  "Was I right?"

She put her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek.

"Of course you were, Father.  Thank you."

"Thank Lord Christopher," he replied.  "I did not think he believed me."

Felice spent the short journey to the village church with a little smile on her lovely face as she buried her face in the sweet and half forgotten scent of the roses.




There were a lot of people inside the church, all standing and watching her arrive, watching her father lead her to the altar to be given to this handsome man who was to be her husband.  He was so tall, Felice barely came up to his chest, and he was resplendent in embroidered gold satin, with a matching ermine lined hat covering his dark hair and a neatly trimmed dark beard.

Her heart fluttered a little as reality presented itself at last.  She seemed to have been in a little trance since Lord Christopher had made his offer, not really believing that it would come to pass.  But here she was and as her eyes met his, he gave her a smile that warmed her heart.

"Thank you for the roses, My Lord," she whispered as the priest appeared before them.  He gave a little bow of his head then the ceremony proceeded.  She understood no Latin, but neither did anyone else in the church, yet she knew she was married at the end just the same.

As the newly married couple walked slowly through the churchyard to the lychgate, to Lord Christopher's waiting carriage, Felice gave a surreptitious glance to the edge of the churchyard where the poor had their final resting places.  There she saw a pile of earth covered with grass and a wooden cross with only the words Sonia and her child.

So it was true.  Her new husband, her very wealthy and important new husband, had buried his first wife in a pauper's grave with no respect and no remorse.  Her heart sank.  What was the story behind Sonia's untimely death that her husband had done that to her, with no respect for her memory, not even a thought for the opinions of his peers?  Felice could not even imagine what crime she had committed, but she hoped it was not because she had failed to give him a healthy son and had not survived to try again.  That would be callous in the extreme, but from what she had heard, he was quite capable of such an act.

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Friday, 7 March 2014

Writing Groups - are they worth the effort?

Many years ago before Kindle, before the internet, I belonged to a local writers circle which was good fun.  There were a few reporters, the editor of the local paper, and even.....wait for it...........Geoff McQueen who went on to write The Bill and named the police station Sun Hill after a well known street in Royston, where we all lived.

I recall a new author giving a talk and showing off about her one published short story in a magazine and how she had found an agent, who had found her a publisher, who wanted a specific book written.  Cheating or what?  She declared that she did not want to do an historical, which is what she was asked to do.  Having met her, obviously I had to read the book, and I can tell you all now that she did not do a historical.  She did a contemporary novel, with contemporary ideas and attitudes, picked it up and shoved it into World War I.

In other words, if you are going to write a historical, you have to get into the mind of a historical character.  Read Gone with the Wind for an example of the mindset of a spoilt southern belle before the American Civil War.  I have read reviews on Amazon of this most famous novel calling the author racist.  She could hardly have got into the mind of Scarlett O'Hara without coming across as racist.

Another good author to read for that historical mindset is Jane Austen who, of course wrote as a contemporary.  This is one reason I love Jane Austen, because it is like reading a chronicle of the time.  I love chronicles and diaries, like Pepys Diary, the Anglo Saxon Chronicles, stuff like that.

When I moved out to the wilds of Suffolk, I found a writers group mentioned in the library.  It was in a small village not too far away so I emailed and asked to join.  Guess what?  I was told that I couldn't join as they had enough female members and were only taking male ones!  Wow!  I thought it was a writers circle, not a dating agency.  I told them that it was illegal to refuse membership on grounds of gender and if the only reason I couldn't join was because I didn't have a willy, then they could shove it.

Just wait till I get famous!

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Countdown offer this week US only

So this week I have a countdown deal of the remarkable journal of my father-in-law's father, who was a prisoner of war in Germany during WWI.

The Journal of William Brazear covers the life of this remarkable man from the death of his father in the late nineteenth century, leaving himself and many brothers and sisters to be raised by their mother, Johanna, who could not cope.

It tells how he walked with a friend from London to Wales because he heard there was work to be had.  They two of them walked all that way with nothing, begging leftovers from factory workers as they left work.

It was written I presume for his own satisfaction at the time and was passed down through the family, handwritten and very difficult to read.  I transcribed it and added some photographs, but apart from that it is all his own own.

 Starting price is .99 cents, today only.

Thoughts - you can't change history, so why do these producers keep trying?

So I was getting my Robin Hood fix on tv this morning and I got annoyed.  Why?  Because I cannot stand it when books, films or anything else messes about with history.

I could have a chuckle at Maid Marianne's polyester tops and even her machine knitted cardigan, but talking about the pestilence (the Black Death) in the twelve century, when it made its first appearance in England in 1348, fourteenth century, just seriously peed me off.

It is a shame, but I shall keep watching in the hope that they get the rest of their facts right.

So last week we had the Black Death 150 years before it appeared anywhere in the world and this week we had Archbishop Thomas Cranmer's marriage ceremony 400 years before Cranmer was born.  That is the one that is still used today in Anglican churches, and Robin and Marianne even went one further and left out the obey bit.  Of course, with the current craze for writing one's own vows, Cranmer will be obsolete eventually.  I find the whole writing our own vows bit as embarrassing as couples renewing their wedding vows.  I mean, it's not as though the contract has run out is it?  A pity really that the marriage contract doesn't have an expiry date;  think how much you would save in divorce costs.

Update to historical disasters:  A lifesize waxwork figure of King Richard I in the twelve century, 500 years before Madame Tussaud invented the technique during the French Revolution in order to take death masks from guillotined aristocrats.

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