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Lot 34 (Unexpected Auctions)

‘Lot 34, what am I bid, gentlemen, what am I bid? Very nice piece of classicism here, highly sought after, a sound investment – wide-sweeping vistas, possibly crumbling a little at the edges, but plenty of wear left in it yet,  never mind the quality shall we say, feel the breadth, ha,ha, – what am I bid? Thank you sir, you won’t regret it – any more? Come, gentlemen, a wide range of assets here, own in-built infrastructure, huge returns, no effort required; well, very little, anyway, minimal maintenance necessary as free service is included – won’t let you down, – unless you turn a little tyrannical, eh? Ha,ha, sorry – what am I bid? My, but we are all eager, aren’t we  – hardly surprising: the elegance, opulence, the sheer size and scale are unequalled. A growing concern, constantly expanding, new annexes all the time… Admittedly not the original Greek version, but as is often pointed out, a fair copy nonetheless, I think we are all agreed – thank you, sir – any more? And going, going, – GONE! Sold to the gentleman in the toga at the back there: one Roman Empire to …Senator Didius – Julianus, wasn’t it?’

No, it probably wasn’t quite like that, but tempting to imagine even so. Old Marcus Aurelius got into the habit of auctioning goods to get out of debt, and with a rather generous commodity in slaves and unwed females, auctions were the norm. Still, to end up auctioning a whole Empire. That takes some seriously bad housekeeping. But then, by 193 A.D., things were perhaps getting a little crumbly around the edges: conspiracies, messy murders and war have a way of leaving moth holes in the furniture, so to speak.  The result was the Praetorian Guard who, having relieved Emperor Pertinax of his position (and life), offered the Empire up for auction – and Julianus rose to the bait.

Auctions can be such emotive things. Drama, comedy, tragedy – it is an extension of theatre, filled with emotion and excitement, tension and hypocrisy, plots and paranoia, acts of pernicity coupled with acts of generosity. Witness the dramatic candle auction in Moonfleet, or the pathos of Dobbin secretly buying Amelia’s harpsichord in Vanity Fair. In the case of the Empire, it did at least kick some of the provincial commanders into action, and Severus marched on Rome to pull it back into shape. The Praetorians were sent into the corner for being such naughty schoolboys, and poor old Julianus was executed. Let that be a warning to greedy bidders: you never know what you might be buying into. Which leads me neatly (or probably not) onto the opening scene of the second Julia Warren Mystery (Of Soul Sincere) where a house with a past is auctioned off to the highest bidder: in this case, another politician. He too, didn’t know what he was buying into …

 

1791

 A catalogue of household furniture, one piano-forte, a capital eight-day clock, plate, silver, ornamental china, a few pictures and drawings and numerous curious articles, the property of the late Geoffrey Bosquith, Esq, deceased; which will be sold by auction by Mess. Cardew & Penn, on Friday the 10th, and Saturday the 11th of June, 1791, at eleven o’clock, on the premises, at Bower House, South Lambeth, by order of the executors.

Bower House, an elegant building completed in 1762, property of Geoffrey Bosquith, Esq. deceased, will be sold by auction, also by Mess. Cardew & Penn, on Monday the 13th of June, 1791, on the premises, by order of the executors. …

‘GONE!’ The auctioneer’s gavel lands heavily, with a resounding bang! and the auctioneer wipes at his perspiring face with a piece of cambric. A last minute bid. No one had challenged. The bid had stayed. One of their more favoured clients, too. Henry Paglar Esq. Member of Parliament. No question of Queer Street with HIM—money fairly pouring out of his pockets in musical fountains. The auctioneer bows, smiles, extends his hand towards the register. The auction house clerk scurries across, hair tied back in a knot, with limp cravat and worn coat two sizes too large for him, holding quill and inkpot.

The auctioneer bows again. Henry Paglar Esq. (Member of Parliament) leans over the book, holding out his hand for the quill. It is dipped in the ink for him, and proffered with due reverence. He takes it and scratches his name in the ledger. The deed is done. There are bills of exchange and terms and contracts to be drawn up; the executors are even at this moment in the house, through there, dear sir, preparing the papers. The Member of Parliament is escorted to the next room and the business is concluded.

Only a few members of the audience remain to act as chorus to the whole scene; the rumour that sped through the air moments before hovers yet around them.

‘But is it true then? And that gentleman has gone and bought it even so?’

‘I would not live in such a place, not if you was to pay me for it—why, even just standing here, in full light of day, makes me shiver.’

‘And where was it they found him?’

‘Up the stairs, hanging, from the stairwell.’

‘Was it… was it murder then?’

‘No,’ and here the voices lower still more. ‘By his own hand, they say…’

A short pause. Then: ‘Shall we go and see?’

Almost on tiptoe, the little group wanders out into the hallway, to gaze with ghoulish relish up at the sun-filled stairway and landing.

‘Aye,’ murmurs one of them at last, ‘he’ll not rest easy, that one.’

‘Well, I do not know about such things,’ blusters one of the party, sticking his chest out, ‘but I should say the Honourable Member made a sharp bargain, and if he ain’t concerned about suicides and unquiet graves, why then, he is welcome to it. And I, for one, say well done for catching a bargain before it can wriggle away.’ With that, he declared himself ready to partake of a pint of ale and a pork pie at the White Horse down the road, and set his hat firmly upon his head.”

 (Opening from ‘Of Soul Sincere’)

It is odd. I wouldn’t have made the comparison, but for stumbling upon this historical footnote re Ancient Rome, yet in a way, the thread is similar. The House is bought, and becomes the nucleus for the same family all through the rest of the 18th century, the whole of the 19th century, to reach the year 1928 – when Julia arrives on its doorstep, to begin unravelling its secrets. In the same way that the Empire was sold, bought, and stayed with the same family, enduring the usual untidy asides of plots, murder and strife. Well, that’s families for you. Another coincidence: two of the female members of the Severus line were called Julia. Disconcertingly, both ruthless poisoners and political intriguers by all accounts.

I have a pet wish to set a whole series of stories in and around an auction house; most likely in the 18th century – they somehow belong there. It was when the big auction houses took off: Christies, followed by Sothebys, and perhaps some not so big, such as Cardew and Penn…

 

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It is summer, 1928.

When invited by her publisher to assist a well-respected M.P. write his memoirs, Julia Warren is at first reluctant to concentrate on anything other than her next novel; however, circumstances(involving among other things unexpected plumbing) conspire to change her mind and she finds herself at once guest and employee at the great man’s rather bohemian household.

Almost immediately she encounters memories from the past, of a rather unsettling nature …

 

Of Soul Sincere, coming April 2 2016, published by Grey Cells Press 


A Question of Binoculars…

Rehearsals have been in progress- broken up over the week, the time available necessarily making these short, frequent and concentrated. A week also to source props – the essential ones. Once the script was run through a few times, the essentials were narrowed down to barely three items; one of which stands out for being woven into the text, and without which the piece might actually lose a sense of place and time.
Simply put, we need binoculars. These happen to play a fairly important part in the piece throughout.
Well, not binoculars perhaps – immediately an image is conjured up of hefty field glasses. We need something a little more delicate, something you could hold in one hand (there’s a bit of business involving some snatching, physical banter so to speak); and a little bit vintage (the characters are in 20s -30s get up) so, … ah. Opera glasses. Now there’s a thought. Yes, they might do.
Head for Google. Websites. Not many, in fact. The same website for props in London pops up repeatedly, followed by vintage wedding supplies. The website that actually has opera glasses does not however indicate any price. My immediate reaction is to move away, just as I would from a beautiful window display, following the old adage: if the price isn’t showing, you probably can’t afford it.
Can I make them from scratch? Possibly. Can I make them in less than two days? Perhaps, had I the basic materials to hand (I start calculating what would be needed: small pastic bottles, tape, paint, glue, additional bits and bobs to finish off and realise this not a viable option). Can I adapt one?
Ho for home supplies, where I spot a simple black plastic little item for ₤6.00 or so. The basic shape is there. Otherwise they look hopelessly modern. I consider how long it would take to get them, and to find suitable materials to convert them into the kind of thing required. Too long.
The local hospice? I have on occasion seen the odd costume (mermaid, to be precise) but it’s a long shot as to whether they have a spare pair of opera glasses kicking about, and I don’t want to risk wasting time on it to no purpose.
It is now evening, and dress rehearsals due the next afternoon.
One more try online – a last resort, I did not expect to find anything now, yet within seconds I had an image on screen of a smart set of ‘generic horse race and opera glasses’ in wine red and chrome: they looked the part, didn’t cost much at all and offered next day delivery. Bingo! I clicked the button and arrived at rehearsals with only a slight delay, proudly bearing the prop. It feels like something of a triumph. It now only remains to source a couple of sandwiches (yes, these are props too, although how long they will last is moot point as I haven’t had any lunch yet….)

 

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No U-Turn runs Sunday 17th at the Pleasance Theatre.

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A Special Humility

It’s been rather crowded recently – people, theatre, words, more people, more theatre, more words – on paper, in the air, in that dusty attic posing as my brain. Characters that had previously inhabited the relative comfort of notebooks, sleeping between the pages, are at present being made ready to be brought to life. Dusting off their wigs, hats and coats; now a little fard, a little rouge and powder; polish those shoe buckles, and they are standing in the wings, ready to leap out into the spotlight. Nothing huge, mind, in the way of actual stage-work; just a little conversation here and there – only with unexpected results. It has been an ongoing creative process, with more to come: something else I had previously written to no end has now been taken on board by another set of creatives who are actually enthusiastic to bring it to life; and all of this happening all at the same time. A little whirlwind made up of other people’s imagination, energy and perception is making its way across the pages; words, lines, dialogues, whole scenes have life breathed into them, and the transition from paper to that unreal reality of theatre is made, almost without you realising it. The magic has begun – thought processes start to whir, kickstarting a series of added details, gestures, inflections and more; some of these will be kept, others discarded, there is a constant moulding and re-modelling until the piece of art that is an imaginary character stands up on stage and takes command of itself.
The bubbly enthusiasm and creative energy brought to the rehearsal space by the actors themselves speeds up that process.

Watching someone take on board your ideas, thoughts, words and characters and invest their energy, creative, physical and even psychic, in something you have written could be a challenging experience – horror stories abound of writers turned homicidal after the perceived mangling of their work by negligible directors and/or actors; so far I can only say how pleasurable it has been, and how curious I remain to see what happens next, how those same characters will develop on stage. It is all part of the huge ongoing creative process called acting – and when you are fortunate enough to find those who can jump in, focussed, and pick up the shreds and patches we offer them, it is a magical thing indeed.

It takes a particular kind of humility to submerge one’s own ego in another’s; it is what drives many very fine actors (whom we may never actually see on the big screen), and a quality which makes such actors very special people indeed.

 

No U-Turn will be at the Pleasance Theatre Islington, on Sunday 17th: www.directorscuttheatre.co.uk/nouturn

No U-Turn at the Pleasance Theatre

 

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A Night at the Theatre…

The other day I spent the afternoon and evening in the company of Mr Goya and Mr Foote – and a good time was had by all: Mr Goya as irrepressible as ever, his tone a little less acerbic than in his ‘Disasters of War’; his sitters treated with sympathy for their intellect and made approachable. Here he shows his other side, that of the court painter, analyst, friend and colleague – there is no sense of status quo, only of Goya’s striving to grasp the essence of his subject.

He proceeds to fling and slap and dash loosely at his subject; he glares up at us briefly from his easel, eyebrows  inquiring as to what, exactly, we are doing there – can’t we see he is busy?

Occasionally his stare is more abstract; concentrating on some study he hasn’t quite resolved – and later, his expression is the stark, tragic one of the deaf-smitten. Only recently appointed as Director of Painting at the Royal Academy of San Fernando, he was forced to resign owing to this disability, brought on by a mysterious illness in 1792-3.

The portraits follow his development in style, and to a degree, his life, among friends, patrons and (legitimate) family until finally we are allowed to sit at his bedside, while he is administered to by his brilliant friend, Doctor Arrieta. Behind the two men shadowy figures hover, in distant conversation – are they alive or imaginary?

I made my excuses and hurried on, anxious to visit Dona Isobel de Porcel, who had been given a whole wing to herself some distance away. She had been the main draw of the show for me, yet was not included in the main exhibition. The simplicity of her portrait is misleading. The verve and zest of the artist is in very lightness of touch – her black lace veil, wound carelessly about one arm, barely covering her bronze hair, is but a few hasty brush strokes, yet convince utterly in their loose deftness. All the portraits, drawn together from collections across the globe, demonstrate his in-depth study of character, his mastery of technique; all share a play on light and shade, and a radiance of the skin. Eyes bright, their skin luminous, they glow from within the shadowy framework of the canvass he places them in.

I left Mr Goya and company reluctantly, and wandered down from the National to Regent Street; on turning a corner I bumped into Mr Foote, showing off his other leg at the Haymarket, like the brazen hussy he was. On an impulse, I allowed him to usher me in to witness the story of his life, though swift scene shifts and quick, lively banter enriched by occasional visits from Mr Franklin expounding the theory of electricity, and Prince George himself. Mr Garrick was there too, along with Miss Woffingham, and of course Mr Foote’s servant Francis Barber (on loan from Dr Johnson). All of the company gathered there were bustled through backstage, upstage, dressing rooms and wings of the theatre as Mr Foote trod the high and low.

The action is fast and merry, the whole piece is a vigorous theatrical tour-de-force, with scenes reminiscent of a Gilray or Rowlandson brought to life (the sorry incident of his leg being removed by Doctor Hunter is a prime example) – visually, the colours, lighting and period detail are atmospheric and well-studied; candle light and shadows play against walls, ceilings and floors, (for we rarely leave the theatre, save in the dark) adding drama, terror and warmth to this most engaging of plays.

Both Mr Goya and Mr Foote share a ferocious vitality, a splendid disregard for convention and status, as well as surviving life-threatening situations : Goya’s illness resulting in the loss of his hearing, Mr Foote’s ill-timed wager resulting in the loss of a leg. Both satirize, challenge and explore; both lived through turbulent times and both made enormous contributions in very different ways to our ideas on perception and cultural development.

 

Mr Foote’s Other Leg runs until 23rd January at the Haymarket.

Goya The Portraits runs until 10th January at the National Gallery.

 


A Night at the Theatre: The Wonderful World of Dissocia at Questors, Ealing

Impressive space, amazingly well supplied with comfy bar and very relaxing cafe/lounge area upstairs….

AuthorsAnon

The trailer is up and the rehearsals are winding down – or up – to the big night: Anthony Neilson’s The Wonderful World of Dissocia, which opens 22nd May at The Questors Theatre in Ealing.

The play won the 2004-05 Critics’ Award for Theatre in Scotland for Best New Play and made its London debut at the Royal Court Theatre in March 2007; it was also included in The List’s Best of a Decade in 2009. But as for what to expect when you go to see it, that is perhaps best left to the wonderful words of the director, David Emmet and stage manager Cathy Swift:

 A Wonderful World Awaits

 What’s the most frequent conversation you’ve had over the last year? Mine goes like this:

Member or friend: Hello David. What’s your next production?

Me: The Wonderful World of Dissocia.

Member or Friend: Oh. I’ve never…

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A Night at the Theatre: Animals at 503 (Latchmere), Batteresea

Arsenic and Old Lace meets George Orwell in this dystopian comedy noire; admittedly, we are missing mad uncle Teddy and murderous brother Jonathan with his creepy alcoholic surgeon Dr Einstein – still, the spirit is there and continues unabated throughout, almost as madcap and surreal, threaded through with a social consciousness of how close humanity can trip over the edge in the hands of … bureaucracy. And not just any bureaucracy. Orwell was disturbingly prophetic in many ways, and the one conjured up in Adams’ play has already spiralled out of control, making gods and demons out of the characters that live it: farce, blackmail and something nasty in the woodshed combine to make this a pleasantly chilling and surreal mystery.
It is the Future. Arguably, a not too distant one, with thinly disguised policies of the present done up as a meritocratic system: those who can still pass ‘Utility’ tests (to prove they are functioning, ‘useful’ human beings) keep Green or Amber Permits and are permitted to live while those who don’t…are not. A lethal injection of air is promptly administered to those considered ‘useless’.
Enter Norma in her reclining armchair (which Joy her cohort is not allowed to sit in for fear of spoiling the warranty), getting by on a forged Amber Permit and a spider’s web of intrigue and blackmail. She is waiting for neighbour Helen (fighting fit on Amber) to finish the crossword before the 5 o’clock post – it might almost be the beginning of an Agatha Christie. The fun has only just begun however: the usual Utility Inspector (or Exterminator, depending on how you look at it) who so far has been able to help cover up for her, as been replaced (the term redundancy taking on a whole new sinister meaning here) and the new one is shortly expected on the estate where Norma lives.
Enter the new Utility Inspector: go-getting, zero-hours contracted Noah, who is keen, enthusiastic and under a lot of pressure to give his daughter Maya a ‘Fun’ day so she can pass her birthday test tomorrow, or else risk becoming a mere Comfort Girl.
Enter Maya. Maya has a pink balloon. Maya loves her pink balloon. Maya wants to have fun. Maya is nearly 18 and challenged – and continues to be so: first by Daddy, who has to go off and ‘assess’ the inhabitants of the estate (‘Stay in the van, Maya,’ which she doesn’t), next by losing her balloon, and then by getting lost. She is found by Joy (out on an errand) – and discovery of her father’s important position as Utility Inspector can mean only one thing: Joy takes Maya back to Norma’s house. Now the plot begins to thicken. Maya is both deliverance and tumbling block to the ladies’ conspiracy – the question is, who will come out top?
The dystopia unfolds piece by piece against Norma’s web of deception and secrets, a web that stops at nothing in the business of survival.
There are enthusiastic and sympathetic performances from al the cast,and excellent character acting: Marlene Sidaway as Norma is the jewel in the crown – on stage from start to finish, spewing intelligent cunning and indomitable spirit in equal measure, she is a force to be reckoned with.
The whole piece is played with good-humoured menace and classic comedic delivery, against a set reminiscent of a ruined French chateau or Italian palace, down to the broken wallpaper on the wall echoing an unfinished landscape by Boucher or Tiepolo in a rococo frame; the wall itself is cunningly back-lit at crucial moments to display the room beyond – where the larder is…

Ultimately this is a play about secrets, survival and what actually makes murderers of us all. It will also bring laughter even to the jaded theatre-goer weary of contemporary themes.
Just don’t eat the sandwiches. You’ll wish you hadn’t.

Animals runs until 2nd May at 503 Theatre, Battersea

The Rapid Write Response (on Sunday and Monday) offered variety and invention in reply to Animals – all held together with the common theme of horror, each ten-minute sketch holding at least a pinch of it in the palm of its text: survivalism, the evaluation of life (human and animal), murder and its definition, even Maya’s Pink Balloon turned up in Pop! and offered the exuberant message of seizing the moment and letting things go – there were also themes of memories and coping with them, the sub-culture and influence of reality TV, and dystopian futures.

A special mention for actors Jill Riddiford and Keith Hill in Deadlock,  who showed intelligent acting and such ability to actually listen to each other on stage – a skill not always evident even in the best run West End shows …


A Handful of … Words.

I went to see a play the other afternoon; I had been waiting to see it ever since I spied a line about its intriguing title on Twitter in September: Fear in a Handful of Dust.

Then I saw it was set during the First World War. More, it was set in the trenches. Not much else was said at the time, but it was enough to whet my curiosity, so when last week I saw it was on – and further, that there was a writing opportunity involved, I stuffed my note-and sketch-books into the Black Hole that serves as a bag, and set off.

Had I been there before, I might have made a better choice of bus; next time I shall be more prepared. I arrived at CogArtSpace, lunch-less and virtually breakfast-less, in time for one very welcome mug of tea which they kindly allowed me to take upstairs to the theatre. I did my best not to slurp. I suppose I should have been drinking it out of a billy-can, in keeping with the setting of the play.  I relinquished it fairly quickly in favour of my note-books, however. I would have sketched (I generally try to when I go to the theatre unless the charcoal makes too much noise during the quiet bits), but the ideas, once they started coming, didn’t really allow me to do other than scribble.

The action evolves in a trench in early September 1916 – the audience becomes part of that trench, listening in on two soldiers, battling their way through fear, hope, despair and contrasts – contrasts in their backgrounds, culture and beliefs, struggling towards an uneven camaraderie, ultimately attempting to save each other’s lives.

The atmosphere is faultless as is the acting – well-chosen, well-placed and well-delivered, they convince, involve and empathize.

The size of the theatre naturally makes it an immersive experience – yet the trench itself takes on a larger presence as the play goes on, until it becomes one of the players; in turn sheltering, challenging and intimidating until the final challenge is set and accepted.

What I found particularly engaging, aside from the striving of humanity against all odds, was the theme of India: until now there has been little Western coverage of the Indian Army in the trenches of WWI – yet its men did help shorten the war  (1914sikhs.org) and battles like Gallipoli might have had a very different outcome had more of them been deployed.

Happily the focus is gradually changing from general unawareness to acute appreciation, and the poignant images of wounded Sikh soldiers at Brighton Pavilion Hospital, the poetry of their letters home, the dauntless courage shown in the face of a seemingly implacable enemy and more will, I hope, take their true place in the annals of history alongside the Owens, Sassoons and Graves of the Western Front. It was with this in mind that I wrote my pennyworth of response, and while there was a great deal more I wished to put in, there is only so much anyone can fit into fifteen minutes of stage. Yet from this I hope something more may come. (And now to find some actors …)

Meanwhile I close with an example of the Indian Army’s own particular brand of bravery in the following anecdote from the interview with Gordon Corrigan on 1914sikhs.org:

“…There is the story of Rifleman Gane Gurung, 2/3rd Gurkha Rifles, at Neuve Chapelle. A British advance was held up by a house in the middle of the village which was fortified and strongly held by German infantry. Without orders, and in an example of suicidal stupidity (and bravery), Gane alone ran across the square and burst through the front door. Everyone assumed he would shortly be dead.

There was much shooting and shouting, then silence. The front door opened and out came a file of seven large Germans, hands in the air, followed by a 5ft, 2 inches Gane with rifle and bayonet. The village was captured shortly afterwards.”

"Hodsons Horse France 1917 IWM Q 2061" by Brooks, Ernest (Lt) - This is photograph Q 2061 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hodsons_Horse_France_1917_IWM_Q_2061.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Hodsons_Horse_France_1917_IWM_Q_2061.jpg

“Hodsons Horse France 1917 IWM Q 2061” by Brooks, Ernest (Lt) – From the collections of the Imperial War Museums. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Fear In A Handful of Dust by Sevan K.Greene will run through December until January 9th at Cog ArtSpace

Fearful Response, 5 writers’ responses to Fear in a Handful of Dust, will be directed and performed at Cog ArtSpace on the 16th of December

Admission free


Coffin Hop Giveaways …

Starting on the 29th and ending on the 30th, there will be a Giveaway of ghost novella, Ungentle Sleep – set in 1930, a house party has gathered, in part to celebrate the recent engagement of the daughter of the house. But there is. apparently, an uninvited guest .. inadvertently let out, to wreak mild havoc and insanity on the Maydews and their guests. That nasty incident involving Eleanor, followed by unpleasantness over Penny’s dress, and what is it Aubrey can hear, on the outer edge of his dreams?

Hysteria, missed cocktails, and something nasty in the attic.

Snrrip, snrrip. Snip, snap.

Even the rats run away.

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This will be followed by another Giveaway straight after, starting on the 30th and ending on the 1st November: a free copy is to be won of Cass McMain’s Watch, an alternative take on vampirism (great review here on Alibi) –

Before he knew about the bruises, he knew about the cheating. And before he knew about the cheating, he knew about the blood. He’d seen Edgar with blood on his hands before, after all. But there had been more and more of it – and  Edgar had seemed less and less concerned about hiding it…”

Watch is published by Holland House Books, and is about really scary people …

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Happy Spooking !


Return of the Green Man …

This stone carving of a Green Man from Dore Ab...

From Dore Abbey, Herefordshire, England(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Is there a cathedral where you live? If so, chances are it will be an old one … just how old, would you say? And when you crane your head up to look at the ceiling, its arches lost in shadows, what else do you see? You might need binoculars, though – but the older the cathedral, the more likely you are to find, nestling atop of corbels and capitals, a singular face with leaves and branches climbing out of its mouth; sometimes fierce, sometimes cheerful, mostly a trifle wild … this sculpted entity has been with us far longer than the cathedrals, and long before the Normans who built them, with a name that has only regained resonance in quite recent times: The Green Man.

Theories abound concerning his origins, both etymological and geographical; he turns up in a variety of guises, from Rome(Bacchus and Dionysius) to Mesopotamia and Egypt, (green-faced Osiris); he is Jack in the Green, Cernunnos, Pan, Silvanus, he can be found in Sumerian, Hindu, Aztec cultures – he exists  everywhere, a source of life and natural force . Occasionally neglected, his image however has survived in nooks and crannies, a constant reminder of man’s reliance on his natural environment and of man’s constant struggle with the elements. Another of his many names is Robin – but is he Robin Goodfellow, the mischievous imp – or Robin Hood, woodlander and defender of the poor? Apparently both and more: a guardian, a powerful god, an impish spirit, a playful invoker of spring and sprouting seedlings; at once venerated and feared:  for crops can fail too if you cause him displeasure … the corn dollies and harvest festivals are vestiges of something more than a ritual – they entreat the return of sun after winter, of growth after hibernation, they are offerings of supplication and penitence brought by children to their volatile father.

How has he fared with time, this father, this god of fertility and vitality? I mentioned he has gone through periods of comparative neglect, as when the Industrial Revolution stampeded across the countryside, bringing steam, iron roads and coal, blinding the people with its smoke, weakening his memory and perhaps also his strength and yet, something has struggled through, some collective memory perhaps, clinging onto the notion of one protective entity that will defend the very source of our food and means of survival. It is this protective aspect and this comparative neglect that I have focussed on in my mystery novel, Greenwood Tree. Here, the presence of the Green Man is hovering on the outer edges of dreams, occasionally manifesting himself (in more than one form) to warn and defend, his strength weakened by the frail memory of humanity. In addition he acts as the main linking figure in a multi-genre mystery, where detection meets mythology, in that foreign country called the past. In my mystery he has retreated, and his home is under threat, perhaps an indirect comment on his rather tenuous place in the cultural and social upheaval of the 1920s. I also tend to think of him as one of many Green Men, for to my mind there is something in the Ancient Greek idea that every tree contained its Dryad, every river and stream its Naiad : together unstoppable – but individually, vulnerable. In a similar way, the countryside from the time of the railway has been under constant, if gradual, threat, mirrored by England’s own very uncertain, susceptible condition in the aftermath of World War One. When Nature is attacked however, she has a way of fighting back, sometimes in unexpected ways.

The Green Man, in my treatment of him, thus becomes a metaphor for this vulnerable, while green and pleasant land. Disturb him at your peril.

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 (First posted as the Green Man Cometh on Dean’s Den)


Greenwood Tree Giveaway

I may have mentioned this before (like, nearly every day for the past few weeks or so) – Greenwood Tree is on Tour – a Mystery Tour, no less. Guess whodunnit, win a prize or two (full description here).

As part of the Tour, we have craftily devised a new giveaway, which is on its way (the 20th), via Grey Cells Press : you can enter by visiting the Tour, liking a couple of pages, following some grog-swilling, Remington-bashing characters on Twitter …. easy.  That is, if you’re looking for a chance to win some free mystery cozy reading (i.e. Greenwood Tree).

GWT book cover

If you’re not looking  for anything of the kind, then forget I spoke. I’ll just sit in the corner, drawing bears and minding my own business.  Kind of dusty in here – who took my crayons?  Hello ?


Favourite Quote

Thank you Lynn!

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Here’s one of my favourite quotes from B.Lloyd’s Greenwood Tree:

‘It may well be that being unused to country living my temper has in some way been affected; I almost hesitate to describe the feelings of horror I have experienced since my arrival in this place, which have grown upon me increasingly over the last few days – this feeling was hardly alleviated by our visit to the clearing, and might explain the distinct impression I had of being observed by some person or persons unseen. This impression grew so strong that I was almost convinced I saw the figure of a man in green slipping away between the trees on the opposite side of the glade …’

Atmospheric,eh?

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Rosalie Duthé, Original Dumb Blonde

Interesting – am particularly taken with the pose in the portrait by Danloux; an unsual, active painting – almost a narrative – what is the painitng she is hanging up (or taking down)? Such a very casual , yet intent painting ; is she meant to represent a Muse…? (However unjustified …)

Making History Tart & Titillating

Rosalie Duthe by Drouais 1768Rosalie Duthé by Francois-Hubert Drouais, (1768)

When I was a towheaded girl, having to humor more than my fair share of dumb blonde jokes, I would have liked to know the name of Rosalie Duthé.  The scandalous lady who inspired gibes that would endure well past her 250th anniversary, marking their favor in bottle blondes like Marilyn Monroe and Pamela Anderson, has been an unknown pain in my ass since I can remember.  As an experiment in my teenage years, I dyed my hair auburn and guess what happened?  Science.  Men generally acted politer and the endless spate of jokes withered in people’s heads.  Ultimately, maintaining a brownish hue when nature has bestowed you with fair hair is a futile and expensive endeavor.  I gave it up within six months and have since rejoined the ranks of women, dyed or otherwise, who (allegedly) have more fun.  In the eye…

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The Lady in the Punchbowl

Making History Tart & Titillating

Lady Diana was an heiress worth £30,000 and a renowned Elizabethan beauty. She married firstly Henry de Vere, 18th Earl of Oxford, who died within a year of their nuptials following a fever after a battle.  She later joined with with the 1st Earl of Elgin, ancestor of Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl Elgin, and acquirer of the eponymous Elgin marbles.

Below is Lady Diana painted in typical William Larkin fashion.  Ever present Larkin curtains notwithstanding, I like the portrait, especially the gathered/Elizabethan-version-of-lasered details on the front on her gown.  I haven’t a clue what the technique is actually called, but it looks like she got in a creative sword-fight  on her way to the portrait being painted.  Maybe that offers at least one possibility for her expression. Frankly, it’s better than this  (very nice embroidery, btw) or this (they say).

lady diana, countess of Elgin by William LarkinLady Diana Cecil by William Larkin, (1614-18) (Ranger’s House, Suffolk Collection)

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Save-a-word-Saturday 10

 
 
save  a word Saturday image
 

(Full rules here : The Feather & the Rose)
1. Create a lovely blog post that links back to this one.

2. Pick an old word you want to save from extinction to feature in your blog post. Luciferous Logolepsy is a great database of lovely old words.

3. Provide a definition of your word. Use your word in a sentence (or even a short paragraph) vaguely related to the theme chosen for the week.

4. Add your post to the linky list below (it’s down there somewhere). Then hop to as many other blogs as you can in search of as many wonderful words as possible!

5. Use as many of the words as you can on the people in your life.

 
Cripes, nearly missed this week’s again ! Got in by the skin of me teeth ….
 
                                                                                                                                                Theme: Scarf-a-Scone Saturday
                                                                                                                                       Chosen words: madefy (verb) : to wet
                                                                                                                                                                           magirology(noun):  art of cookery
 
 
 
The bear stomped into the kitchen,  sniffing out honey pots and teabags.‘Tea,’ he growled, as the wind outside blew its cracked cheeks, ‘tea and scones….’The oven required a certain amount of work with the bellows, and the flour was rather furry – however, he was not to be done out of his required sustenance, and half an hour later, a steaming bear sat before the fire,  stretching his madefied toes towards a healthy, roaring fire,  slurping his tea and stuffing his face with magirological delights.Who can beat  a scone, eh….
(Now off to hunt for some …)
 
hmmm… jammy ones… he’ll like those ….

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Queen Henrietta Maria & Lord Minimus

Making History Tart & Titillating

In case you’re in need of a refresher or an introduction, the queen’s abbreviated bio is this:

Unpopular consort of King Charles I, youngest daughter of King Henri IV of France, catholic, subject of several Anthony Van Dyck’s paintings, and woman with “a strong penchant for private theatricals.” Also, keeper of Lord Minimus.

Who was Lord Minimus, you ask? Scroll to the Van Dyck with Henrietta Maria and the male figure who I, upon first glance, believed was a child. As far as records go, he was consistently described as a miraculously well-proportioned dwarf, which accounts for my momentary blunder.

But first a few lavish pictures of Henrietta Maria with her tight curls and early to mid 17th century get-ups.

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by Van Dyck (1632)

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Miniature by John Hoskins (1632)

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by Van Dyck (1638)

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With Sir Geoffrey Hudson (1633).

Comically known as Lord Minimus, Sir Hudson was the queen’s official court…

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Save a Word Saturday 9

save  a word Saturday image

(Full rules here : The Feather & the Rose)
1. Create a lovely blog post that links back to this one.

2. Pick an old word you want to save from extinction to feature in your blog post. Luciferous Logolepsy is a great database of lovely old words.

3. Provide a definition of your word. Use your word in a sentence (or even a short paragraph) vaguely related to the theme chosen for the week.

4. Add your post to the linky list below (it’s down there somewhere). Then hop to as many other blogs as you can in search of as many wonderful words as possible!

5. Use as many of the words as you can on the people in your life.

My chosen word:

accolent

adj. –  neighbouring

The theme : Roses

A low afternoon light flooded the library and picked out the cracks in the book spines, the odd cobweb in a forgotten corner, and the outline of a grand male presence in well-filled waistcoat and elegant breeches, perusing a volume while standing at the window.

‘Mr Portentous!’

Startled, he slaps the book shut; a lady in cream muslin crosses the floor, intent upon the book he holds.

‘Mr Portentous! A quote! A quote!’

Dreaded words. He bows his head however, unable to refuse and re-opens at the page he had been reading. ‘And she was fair as is the rose in May…’

‘Enough!’ she squawks by way of reply: ‘It is not May; and I am not fair. Choose another !’

He walks over to the shelves and hunts about a bit. He pulls out another volume and opens at random : ‘Gather the rose of love whilst yet is time?’

‘Another ! That one makes me feel even more ancient than I am !’

Finally, he tugs at a fairly thick tome bound in leather, with fading lettering on the side, barely legible: Sh..k..re and reading again at random: ‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose – By any other word would smell as sweet.

‘Humph,’ she replies, ‘never could make much sense of that, but it will do, for now – come, before the sun is quite gone, I wish to amble amongst the flower beds and choose which blooms shall go into my bouquet.’

And so they amble out, arm in arm, a literary pair of suitors; she indicating with her parasol this one and that, he with his stick pointing out his choice of fine specimens; they then move on to the accolent beds that harbour carnations, tiger lilies, and more ….

Rose-picking in the Rose valley near the town ...

Rose-picking in the Rose valley near the town of Kazanlak in Bulgaria, 1870s, engraving by an Austro-Hungarian traveller Felix Philipp Kanitz.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Save A Word Saturday 8

save  a word Saturday image

(Full rules here : The Feather & the Rose)
1. Create a lovely blog post that links back to this one.

2. Pick an old word you want to save from extinction to feature in your blog post. Luciferous Logolepsy is a great database of lovely old words.

3. Provide a definition of your word. Use your word in a sentence (or even a short paragraph) vaguely related to the theme chosen for the week.

4. Add your post to the linky list below (it’s down there somewhere). Then hop to as many other blogs as you can in search of as many wonderful words as possible!

5. Use as many of the words as you can on the people in your life.

My chosen words:

babag
n. – an argument

labefy: vto weaken

The theme was Exhaustion

An Evening Out : 

There was a howl, a quick staggering lurch, and next, across the glade rolled what looked like a cartwheel wrapped in a large furcoat.

Some struggling, heaving and gnashing of teeth later, the wheel split apart: two wolves, baying at each other, face to face, circling in the low evening light.  Their babag continued, but more vocally now, growl with growl, snarl with snarl, gradually turning to a whining that was almost comprehensible. Indeed, became words. Rather gravelly ones, but distinct, nevertheless.

‘Well? Have you decided?’ said the one to the other, his voice hoarse, labefied with all the arguing.

‘I have. We go to the river.’

They stood up on hind legs. Limbs straightened into human arms, thighs and feet, and the two werewolves padded off into the shadows, still snapping at each other. ‘It won’t wash off the smell, you know.’ ‘I say it will.’ ‘I told you to leave that garlic alone…’ And so on.

English: Possible representation of the Werewo...

English: Possible representation of the Werewolf Español: Representación de un Hombre lobo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The moon rose high and three bats floated across the glade.

Sniff,sniff went one of them. ‘Can you smell that?’

‘Ugh, someone’s been eating garlic. Come away dear, we’ll look elsewhere for our snack…’ Mrs Drack flapped her wings a little harder and led the way across the sky, her husband complaining as they went : ‘Must we fly much further ? Only I am beginning to feel quite worn out … I am convinced I have an attack of nervous exhaustion coming on….’

British bats

British bats (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Save a Word Saturday 7

save  a word Saturday image

(Full rules here : The Feather & the Rose)
1. Create a lovely blog post that links back to this one.

2. Pick an old word you want to save from extinction to feature in your blog post. Luciferous Logolepsy is a great database of lovely old words.

3. Provide a definition of your word. Use your word in a sentence (or even a short paragraph) vaguely related to the theme chosen for the week.

4. Add your post to the linky list below (it’s down there somewhere). Then hop to as many other blogs as you can in search of as many wonderful words as possible!

5. Use as many of the words as you can on the people in your life.

Drat – I left it too late again… and cannot find next week’s page yet. Never mind, I have posted even so… couldn’t resist the scorpion theme …

My chosen words:

obdormition
n. – numbness or ‘going to sleep’ of a limb, etc.

objurgationn. a rebuke

The theme was Scorpions

A couple sat by the hearth, he was reading, she was sewing. A boy in purple pyjamas was hopping from one foot to the other, peering through a long narrow window at the night sky. Every so often he let out a tiny squeak.

‘Windy tonight,’ remarked Mrs Drack.

‘Hmmm,’ replied her husband, deeply absorbed in his book.

‘Jack got into trouble today,’ said her son, peering through the narrow window.

‘What was he doing?’

‘Eating scorpions.’

His father nodded his head sagely. ‘Ruinous for digestion. Why not stick to mice and frogs?’

‘Said he wanted to try something different. Can I have a spider?’

‘Another spider? The child will burst his buttons – you had plenty at dinner,’ said his mother.

The boy rubbed his tummy. ‘Not any of the big ones. I like the big ones. If I can’t have a spider, then I shall go and eat a scorpion –‘ His mother raised her hands in protest. ‘Didn’t you hear what your father just said about digestion?’

‘But –‘

‘Silence, infant!’ bellowed his father, ‘and go and polish your fangs!’

‘Yes, indeed, dear, it is long past bedtime,’ added his mother.

Ignoring their objurgations, the boy wrinkled his nose and stared out through the window. He squeaked again. His mother sighed and looked at his father. ‘Well?’

‘Well?’ he replied.

‘I suppose a late snack won’t do too much harm… as long as we let it go down first…’

Mr Drack got up, then winced. ‘I sense a certain obdormition in my  left leg; comes of sitting too long. Very well, let us be off.’

A few minutes later three bats flew out of the turret via the long, narrow window.

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No Longer a Bumpy Ride! The 1762 Westminster Paving Act…

Every Woman Dreams...

MaltonCHIn doing research for my newest release, THE MYSTERIIOUS DEATH OF MR. DARCY, which is set in Dorset, I came across the Purbek marble, a fossiliferous limestone found on the Isle of Purbeck, a peninsula in southeast Dorset, England. That discovery led to one thing and then another, and finally, I came across the Westminster Paving Act of 1762, a dramatic step forward on behalf of London’s dwellers.

 

The Westminster Paving Act removed the responsibility of paving the streets from the individuals to a governmental type commission. Before the act, occupants were responsible for paving and cleaning a specified area before their residences.

From John Wood’s Description of Bath (1749), we discover:

But previous to the Duty of these Officers, every Housekeeper, inhabiting and residing within the City, Liberties, and Precincts thereof, is enjoined, Thrice in every Week at the least, that is to say, on Tuesday, Thursday, and…

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Celebrating The Green Man

Love the photos in this one – thanks for sharing, Lynn !

ljclayton

green%20mangm3gm2gm1

B. Lloyd’s mystery Greenwood Tree has sent me on a Green Man search. Here a a few from Beverley Minster in Yorkshire – only a few, the place is full of them.

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Save a Word Saturday 3

save  a word Saturday image

The rules run thusly:

1. Create a lovely blog post that links back to this one. The easiest way to do that would be to grab the code under our pretty Save-a-Word Saturday button. Just copy and paste it into the HTML part of your blog.

2. Pick an old word you want to save from extinction to feature in your blog post. It really must be an old word, not just a big one. We are trying to save lovely archaisms, not ugly giants (for example, “Dihydrogen Monoxide” is not an acceptable choice). Luciferous Logolepsy is a great database of lovely words if you’re having trouble coming up with something on your own.

3. Provide a definition of your word. Use your word in a sentence (or even a short paragraph) vaguely related to the theme we have chosen this week. You may also add visual or musical interpretations of your word or your sentence. In fact, add anything that moves your creative spirit.

4. Add your post to the linky list below (it’s down there somewhere). Then hop to as many other blogs as you can in search of as many wonderful words as possible!

5. Use as many of the words as you can on the people in your life. Do leave us a note or add something to your own post to let us all know what wonderful old word you whipped out to befuddle your friends and relations.

I am still behind the trail – beginning to catch up … my word this time is halfpace: n. – dais; small landing on staircase & the theme this time was: 

Footsteps….

Tip,tap, tip.

Shuffle shuffle shuffle.

Flup, flip, flup, flip…

Tip, tap, tip

Footsteps echoing through the chambers. Pacing up and down, now fast, now slow.

The new king, so recently a jester, now has no mirth, no joke to make about these sounds. He has been king barely a few weeks, and already his head rests uneasy.

Toss and turn, turn and toss. Call for the guard, for the sorry servant who sleeps at night at the foot of the  door to his majesty’s chamber, demand what can those sounds be ? Who is there, pacing up and down, up and down? Answer comes there none – neither guard nor servant have heard anything.

The jester king, once so merry, turns away, back to his grand, opulent bed all covered with velvet and cushions, yet sleep comes not.

Tip,tap, tip.

Shuffle shuffle shuffle.

Flup, flip, flup, flip…

Tip, tap, tip

Are you haunted, merry jester? Are you ? And do you know why ?

It seems he does not, for he moans and whimpers ‘Why, why, why? Why dost thou torment me thus, oh witless spirit, who or what art thou ?’

And answer comes there none.

Has he gone mad ? Has the weight of kingship already proved too much to bear ?

Tip,tap, tip.

Shuffle shuffle shuffle.

Flup, flip, flup, flip…

Tip, tap, tip

Now across the hall, next upon the stairs, now the half-pace, and now … outside his bedchamber … and now …about his very bed …

‘Mercy on us –‘ he shrieks – ‘cannot you hear that?’

They rush to his bedside, and peer in the shadows; the guard is joined by another, and another, and together they poke at the tapestries with their halberds without finding anything.

Oh monstrous vision indeed – if it could be seen.

knights tapestry crop

He creeps beneath his pillow and hides. Tapers and rushes are lit, and vigil-like, the guards sit about his bed.

‘Hark!’ says one to the other, after more than an hour has passed – ‘did you hear something ? ‘

‘Nothing – it was an owl, that’s all,’ says another.

They listen intently. A soft flip, flup, flip, flup of wings comes again, louder, closer. In sweeps a night-owl, circling the room… and flies out again with a mocking ‘hooooo-oooooo’….

‘She-devil!’ comes the awful scream from the bed – and the jester king points a trembling finger after the departing intruder.

He sleeps no more that night … nor the next…

Uneasy indeed lies the head that wears a crown.

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Previously: Laughter & Castles


Join the Pride & Prejudice 200th Anniversary Party Hop

Main blog hop list here : Pride and Prejudice Blog Hop

Stiletto Storytime

PandPPartyHop1

Can you believe it? In exactly two weeks or as Jane would say “in only a fortnight”, our beloved Pride & Prejudice is about to turn 200 years old! How can you let an event like that pass without a celebration of enormous proportions amongst all Janeites and even those who only have a passing relationship with the classic…the answer is….you can’t. That’s why when the very talented Jane Austen inspired author Alyssa Goodnight approached me about doing a 200th Anniversary Party Blog Hop, I simply couldn’t resist. 200 Austen lovers getting together to celebrate 200 years of Pride & Prejudice is our goal. That’s right 200 of you…I know that’s quite a large number but what can I say we’re optimists and this is a very big milestone indeed. How often does this type of anniversary come around after all?

So you want to be a part of…

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Save a Word Saturday (Late)

save  a word Saturday image

Well, I was too late to join in the linky thing – but I was so taken with the theme and the words I had found, I went ahead and posted anyway …so, to start from the beginning :

The rules run thusly (as taken from the Feather&Rose blog) :

1. Create a lovely blog post that links back to this one. The easiest way to do that would be to grab the code under our pretty Save-a-Word Saturday button. Just copy and paste it into the HTML part of your blog.

2. Pick an old word you want to save from extinction to feature in your blog post. It really must be an old word, not just a big one. We are trying to save lovely archaisms, not ugly giants (for example, “Dihydrogen Monoxide” is not an acceptable choice). Luciferous Logolepsy is a great database of lovely words if you’re having trouble coming up with something on your own.

3. Provide a definition of your word. Use your word in a sentence (or even a short paragraph) vaguely related to the theme we have chosen this week. You may also add visual or musical interpretations of your word or your sentence. In fact, add anything that moves your creative spirit.

4. Add your post to the linky list below (it’s down there somewhere). Then hop to as many other blogs as you can in search of as many wonderful words as possible! (Drat – I was too late to join this time around – but I am joining in anyway !)

5. Use as many of the words as you can on the people in your life. Do leave us a note or add something to your own post to let us all know what wonderful old word you whipped out to befuddle your friends and relations.

This week’s theme is:

Castles

And my chosen words are :

Edacious:  jocular, gluttonous, pertaining to eating

 Ebrious:  drunk

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High up, atop a craggy mount, lies the castle – and at its heart, beyond those stern, thick walls, stands a banqueting hall – decked out in white cloth, hung with tapestries, and made magnificent with music from the gallery –and with food …

Peaches and apricots, grapes and strawberries, bursting at the seams, overweight with their own succulence, spilling over the rims of fruit baskets and painted porcelain plates, a cacophony of colour, dribbling, drooling, dazzling in the occasional patches of sunlight pouring through long narrow windows.

It is a feast fit for a king – so where is he ? Seated at the head of the table, surely, indulging in thick red, thick, red, warming wine, with ebrious delight ?

Seated – no. Standing, yes. A fine white linen cloth over one arm. Here’s a novelty. Whom does he wait upon ?  A man in brightly coloured clothes, with cheerful jibe and uncurbed tongue – he is the king’s jester by day, and honoured guest this night, as he tucks into his meal edaciously…. And why this reward ? Why?

Quite simply – today, he bestowed upon the king that most precious of commodities; the gift of laughter – made his Majesty fairly weep with it, he did. And a costly battle was averted.

A wise king knows how to treat his therapist.

The Hunt of the Unicorn Tapestry


News From Westerby

In 1833, a Frenchman named Eugène François Vidocq founded an organisation that was, in effect, the world’s first freelance detective agency. Presumably acting on the principle of “set a thief to catch a thief,” Vidocq’s “Bureau of Universal Information” (Le Bureau des Renseignements Universels pour le Commerce et l’Industrie) was staffed almost entirely by ex-convicts. The Bureau had excellent results, especially in apprehending fraudsters and con-men, but its success did not impress the police force — not least because the Bureau had a habit of not always following the letter of the law itself. The police were determined to put an end to Vidocq’s Bureau.

After ten years of successful operation, they finally believed that they had succeeded when Vidocq himself was arrested and charged with taking money on false pretenses and unlawful imprisonment. Although he was initially sentenced to five years in prison, Vidocq appealed and won…

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