Friday, 20 December 2013

A CRACKING YEAR FOR CRIME



Lucan, the drama based on the mystery of the disappearing 7th Earl of Bingham following the brutal murder of his children's nanny Sandra Rivett in 1974, ended a cracking year of TV crime dramas.

Lady Lucan disagrees that it was an accurate portrayal, and I suppose she should know better than most, but it certainly reflected and expertly dramatised the facts as we have come to accept them over four decades. However, whether Lord Lucan killed the nanny is not a matter of fact but allegation that has never been tested in a court of law.

The inquest jury into the nanny's death named him as the culprit but that in itself led to a change in law and the role inquests could play in determining who was thought to be responsible for a death. Thanks to the Lucan case, inquests now have only one purpose - to identify the deceased, and how, where and when they died - and no longer can an inquest accusation lead to presumption of guilt before criminal trial.

The mystery of what happened to Lucan will no doubt be a matter of speculation long after our generation has gone. 100 years from now they'll still be talking about it, writing books about it, and making films about it, in the same way we still talk about Jack the Ripper and who it might have been.

We've always generally believed that Lucan either committed suicide or lived in anonymous exile in Africa after the murder and I was genuinely taken aback by the third possibility - that his powerful friends had him executed to save them further embarrassment. The thought literally made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on edge and a chill shuddered through me. It's certainly feasible but whether it's true or not will never, and can never, be known.

Rory Kinnear in the starring role is brilliant as usual. That stiff British upper lip appears to be a natural characteristic of his and despite it, he still allows silent emotion in any scene to break through with sublime subtlety. He's a great actor and has never stood in the shadow of his father Roy - who died after he fell from a horse while making The Return of the Musketeers.

It's been a great year for the younger Kinnear and I'm sure he has many ahead as he's now embedded as a national treasure as his father was before him.

Other TV dramas, with both well known and lesser known actors, have really given TV audiences something to look forward to after a hard day's work this last year. We had edge of the seat stuff, complex mysteries, original screenplays and satisfying conclusions - well almost.

I sat and watched The Fall avidly but felt cheated at the end when nothing was really resolved. In fact, such was my disappointment that I won't be watching it again if it comes back because what's the point? Perhaps it will just end up the same - a step closer but still miles away from stopping a vile killer that you want to see get brought down.

I wasn't too keen on the Top of the Lake NZ drama either which irritated the hell out of me. One episode was enough to bore the pants off me and thereafter, I was happy to find another favourite series to watch on iPlayer instead. Who Do You Think You Are is not crime but tells really heartwarming stories of celebrities' ancestors which are common to us all.

A list of this year's greatest dramas can be found in detail over at the Crime Time Preview Blog and that includes some of my favourites including Peaky Blinders which, for me, was the best this year.

I also loved Ripper St, Montalbano, both young and older, Endeavour, Life of Crime, Broadchurch, Secret State, Death in Paradise, Southcliffe, Foyle's War, Jack Taylor, What Remains and The Fear.

The new characters in New Tricks spiced up the series of the old dog detectives and I'm looking forward to the new series next year. I also watched Whitechapel, despite it's rather gory and unrealistic plot lines, but I was happy to suspend my disbelief in the name of fiction even though I had to stretch my reality check factor quite a bit. I think, ultimately, it's just not quite my cup of tea.

The last episode of the final Poirot ever made sealed the whole long standing series as a classic to be enjoyed by many generations. It was a brutally fantastic end for the great detective who ultimately was not quite all he appeared to be in his quest for justice above all else.

In addition to being this year's best and most original drama, Peaky Blinders also enjoyed the best theme tune - Red Right Hand by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. I'll raise my glass of Christmas mulled wine to it and hope that it to returns for a second series in the new year.



2014 is going to be great. I wish all my readers the best Christmas ever and hope the new year to come allows you to follow your own hopes and dreams as I intend to follow mine - but more about that as the new year unfolds.

Friday, 13 September 2013

PEAKY - WHAT A BLINDER



Image from here

Not everyone enjoyed last night's new and undoubtedly original BBC2 crime drama but I loved it and it appears to have gone down well with others too.

I was hooked from the moment the haunting face of actor Cillian Murphy came into view as he sat bareback astride a magnificent black horse. He rode through those dark, grimy post World War One Birmingham streets full of drunks and paupers to meet a Chinese woman who put a magic spell on the animal to make it win a race. In reality, it was probably an early form of drug doping to give that competitive edge.

The programme had all the authenticity of the day with a bit of modern relevance thrown in for today's audience. The music, for example, was very much of our age and the drugs. We might have seen old fashioned men committing old fashioned crimes, but the menace of opium addiction and the reasons for it were made all too clear as Murphy in the role of Tommy Shelby battled with his demons following life after his near death trench experiences in Flanders fields.

Nicknamed The Brummie Sopranos, this was the English version of mafia-type mob violence and organised crime with a very British name. The term ‘Peaky Blinders’ was, apparently really used back in the day to describe gang members in the least glamorous setting of a big urban Midlands town.

These criminals did exist which is why the West Midlands Police Force dug into its archives to give us a peek at the real faces and the type of crimes committed by those early mobsters who went back to lives of crime after they came home very different and changed men.

The character Danny Whizzbang suffers shell shock and soon gets into trouble with two Italian gangsters who demand justice is done after their brother is stabbed to death by Whizzbang during one of his manic bouts. The Italians may have been based on the Sabini Brothers of London who saw off competition from the Brummie Boys who moved into the capital city led by Billy "Bookmaker" Kimber.

Whizzbang's impending end was all very amicable as Tommy explained why he had to "dispatch" his friend to stop gang warfare between the two tribes breaking out. It hit home that those poor men in reality were taken from the battlefield and its horrors and dropped back into their lives where they were expected to just carry on as before. There was no counselling, no understanding of trauma, no compassion or sympathy for those who came back mental cripples. I was pleased it ended up as it did for the character but he's now been sent on that mission to London that can only end in a mess because of his unpredictable condition.

I don't care that the women in it are kept in their place. That's how it was. Awful, I know, but true. Some of the new feministas would like to see women in less traditional roles in such a ground-breaking new drama but history is what it is and shows us how far we have come. A nice girl working in a rough working man's club might have faced the prospect of being raped which is why, generally, nice girls didn't work in such places. Bad girls may have told secrets they should have kept which is why their brothers and fathers wouldn't want them mixing with nice boys like Ada Shelby does with the communist worker Freddie Thorne.

Mention of how the women ran the gang in the men's absence could have been ignored by the writers but it wasn't. The first world war gave many women a new found freedom and aided the cause of the suffragettes and I'll bet women married to crime lords did their bit in their husband's absence too. Maybe as the six part series progresses we'll see some of the everyday trauma the women went through. They were tough and they had to be.

Some girls found themselves on the receiving end of the most terrible violence. In one case, a 15-year-old thug knifed his girlfriend in the back simply because she refused to go out one evening. She was lucky to survive. A far worse fate visited 18-year-old Emily Pimm, who once broke a jug over her boyfriend James Harper's head during a row. Harper knocked her to the ground, and then kicked and stamped on her face with heavy army boots with metal tips on the heels and toes. The assault killed her.

According to police files before the war, Birmingham was infested with gangs. Most favoured fighting pitched battles in the middle of the slums. No mercy was shown to anyone in the way, and women and children were often badly injured in the fracas. However, it seems that in reality the gangs were little more than groups of semi-organised thugs who loved a good scrap and the way they looked. The Peaky Blinders wore heavy metal-tipped boots, skin-tight moleskin or corduroy trousers and silk scarves around their necks. They wore bowler hats with brims that came to a point worn on one side to ensure their natty quiffs stuck out on the other.

The TV series producers clearly did their homework as we saw those trademark clothes worn by the cast. The police also released the charge sheets of some of the criminals, which gives an illustration of the types of crimes these young men, and boys, would have committed.

Harry Fowler, 19, for example, had been charged with the relatively minor crime of bicycle theft, while Stephen McHickie, 25, had been arrested for breaking into a draper’s shop. Thomas Gilbert, a comparatively old man at the age of 38, had been charged with ‘false pretences’ which sounds like the equivalent of the modern crime of fraud.

In March 1890, a young man called George Eastwood stopped at the Rainbow pub one Saturday night. A teetotaller, he ordered himself a ginger beer. Unfortunately for Eastwood, his request was overheard by some gang members. ‘What do you drink that tack for?’ asked the gang’s leader, Thomas Mucklow. ‘Mind your own business,’ replied Eastwood. After Eastwood left the pub, he was followed by the gang. When he reached a quiet spot, Mucklow shouted: ‘Now boys! Give it him hot!’ Eastwood was savagely beaten. He managed to escape and hid in a house. When he got himself to hospital, he was diagnosed with a fractured skull and was operated upon. Such attacks were so common, that there was little the Birmingham police could do to deter or to detect them. They themselves were considered fair game by the gangs.

On one occasion, a policeman tried to stop a fight between a drunken gang member and his girlfriend. The policeman and the thug soon ended up having a vicious brawl on the pavement. Two passers-by grabbed the policeman’s whistle to summon help. However, it attracted more gang members, who set upon the policeman and the two passers-by and almost beat them to death.

Only a copper in the fictional guise of C I Chester Campbell, played by actor Sam Neill, could match their ruthlessness and gain the upper hand in bringing some form or law and order to those wild cobbled streets and murderous canal sides.

However, he is there for one purpose - to find the guns stolen from the BSA factory by order of the then Home Secretary Winston Churchill. Tommy has them but has ignored the family matriarch's advice. Aunt Polly, played by Helen McCrory, urges him to dump them where the police can find them but Tommy has other plans.

The series continues next Thursday at 9pm and is one definitely not to be missed.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

THE WEA - MORE RELEVANT NOW THAN EVER AND STILL FUN




Image from here

WEA tutors and those who wanted to enrol on one or more of a myriad of adult educational courses met last week at the Friends Meeting House in Lincoln.

My courses in creative writing and crime and mystery literature begin next week in Gainsborough and Boston and I can't wait. Summer has been long, glorious and fun, but the joy doesn't end with the holidays when you work for the WEA. It is a delightful organisation with a long and prestigious history in educating people who may be unable to access learning elsewhere - or cannot afford to do so.

An educational charity founded in 1903, it aimed to bring learning and some form of equality to the poor working classes at a time when not everyone went to school. Children left education early to become breadwinners in disadvantaged households who didn't see the value in schooling when going down mines, working on railways or in factories, at least put money on the table at the time it was much needed.

Today, as students can still be in a learning environment into adulthood, the WEA is not only just as relevant to the cause of educational equality as it ever was, but more so as cuts bite into the social fabric of modern society and further and higher educational institutions become businesses with high fees limited to students who can afford to study or can afford to get into debt.

Former chair of the Trustees of the WEA, (Workers' Educational Association) Richard Taylor, has written an in depth piece about the modern role of the charity HERE and it is well worth a read.

He says : "As our society becomes more unequal so it is also apparent that the WEA's social purpose ethos is more relevant and important than ever. There are now increasing numbers of people trapped in cycles of deprivation. Government cuts to local authorities, the voluntary sector and social services are severely exacerbating these problems. The WEA provides a valuable and very varied programme of targeted work with some of these communities.

"Lastly, it is increasingly important for the WEA to preserve and advocate the voluntarist ethic. Education is being increasingly bureaucratised and structured (and in recent years imbued with neoliberal ideology and practice). The WEA's voluntarism bucks the trend and sets an example for others to follow.

"As much as at any time in its history, the WEA has a central, vital role to play. Its educational provision and ethos are unique; and it has potentially an important role to play in buttressing and developing a truly democratic society."


In short, the WEA teaches people to embrace and enjoy learning, to think and analyse for themselves, and to take up as many opportunities as they can to further their interests or ambitions. Certainly my adult students come to courses because they enjoy it, they like to think and analyse, it gives them new skills and helps to develop existing ones, and they leave feeling more empowered, and I hope enthused, by what they have learned and the journey we take each session over our 10 weeks per term.

Anyone who wants more information about the local courses put on by the Lincolnshire WEA can find the brochure at this link. More news about the WEA generally can be found HERE

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

NATURE'S SALVATION




I am lucky enough to live in an old village that hasn't been developed to death. It's a place surrounded by countryside and behind my house we have acres and acres of open wheat and crop fields.

That gorgeous view was slightly hidden as a wild lilac tree at the back of our low dry-stone wall had rooted and grown to become quite a monster. But now the landscape has been opened up to reveal it's breath taking glory as the farmer who lives up the road, and who keeps the land, clipped his hedgerows and felled the tree on request from one of our neighbours.

The problem was that once it had gone then our garden was hit by lots of extra sunlight and it suddenly looked a bit of an overgrown mess. We had a couple of days of hard graft tidying it all up, pulling out weeds, digging the flower beds, pulling up the last of the potatoes, and pruning the honeysuckle bush that had also got a bit wild and out of control. My husband wasn't best pleased initially that the lilac tree had gone because he makes wine with the flowers every year. However, as we are not big drinkers then what we have in stock will surely last until the tree grows back - or we can forage for it elsewhere.

As I pulled out some plants that grow under my poorly greengage plum tree, which we have also made wine from in its healthier days, I spotted many hairy yellow and black creepy crawlies like that pictured above.

The insect turned out to be the Lady Bird larvae which is a great friend of gardeners. It might just save our tree which has been horribly attacked by aphids for a few years now. We had decided to chop it down this year but Nature's Salvation in sending us her ready made army of pest control means that it might just get a reprieve until next year when I hope it will be in better shape.

Ladybird larvae eat 1,200 aphids each in their lifetime. The beetle parents lay millions of eggs so I guess there is a good chance that the tree will recover. It's been in our garden longer than us or our neighbours can remember so it would be an awful shame if it had to go.

One thing that did strike me, though, as I searched the web to find out what these insects were, was how we would manage today without Google and what we did before it made finding anything suddenly easy.

I think I would have looked in a few general reference books and hoped to have found it. But as I don't have any in my library specifically about insects, then I would probably have shown it to my neighbours - if they were about at the time I found it - or asked my friends who are not insect experts either.

More than likely, I would have done as the short cartoon below illustrates, cut down my tree and forgotten all about it.

Monday, 9 September 2013

THE YOUNG MONTALBANO




Inspector Montalbano is back - well sort of but as a new younger version of himself in The Young Montalbano which began last Saturday evening on BBC 4 and continues for another five weeks.

I missed actor Luca Zingeretti in the role that he has made his own and it was hard to imagine that within 20 years, the actor who plays the comissario's younger self, Michele Riondino (pictured above) will transform into the older man he becomes. However, the character traits are consistent and it didn't take long for me to put aside the physicality of the outward appearance and warm to the humble beginnings of this great literary and screen detective created by writer Andrea Camilleri.

The new series begins with Montalbano in a mountain village which is cold and too far from the sun and sea for his liking. However, he is soon promoted and transferred to his own home town of Vigata.

He leaves for his new role before the case of a man murdered with hobnail boots is concluded but a chance sale of the same boots in the local market in Vigata has him heading skywards again to tie up the loose ends of that case before returning to the seaside town to deal with a vulnerable young girl who appears to have been sent to murder a judge by a Mafia lover.

All is not what it seems, however, and Montalbano resolves to find the true reason using unofficial means which could put him at odds with the Italian law system and end his career before it even gets off the ground.

As we see a young Montalbano so we also see an older Fazio in the shape of the young Fazio's father who, like his son with the older detective, acts as Montalbano's conscience in aiming to keep his investigations on the straight and narrow.

And it is was with great delight that I saw Caterella come back too - slightly taller and slimmer than the original but with those OCD character traits and zealousness to please intact, despite getting much largely wrong, that lend so much of the comedy to the series.

Will the womanising narcissist Augello also come back as a younger version of himself as the series progresses? I guess we'll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, I'll be tuning in again next week for a slice of Italian sun, sea, culture, food and a mystery like nothing else we'll see on TV this year.

Friday, 16 August 2013

LOVE IS A SICKNESS




In my gushing enthusiasm about Raymond Chandler in a previous post I was proably a bit harsh on Umberto Eco and his great literary crime fiction The Name of the Rose.

It wasn't a book I would consider reading if it weren't for the fact that I have to study it, and it was hard going when I first picked it up, but I must admit as I've read further into it, I find I am enjoying it a lot and reading it just as much for pleasure as edification.

I particularly like the way Eco describes love as a human condition and a sickness that can be cured. If left untreated, says Eco, it can cause death:

"... the sincere lover, when denied the sight of the beloved object, must fall into a wasting state that often reaches the point of confining him to bed, and sometimes the malady overpowers the brain, and the subject loses his mind and raves... if the illness worsens, death can ensue..."

But we have no need to fear because, according to Eco, there is salvation. Love can be cured by marrying the object of your desires, or by sleeping with as many other people as possible to drive the demon of the loved one from your soul, or to find someone willing to denigrate your lover so that you are put off them. Apparently, old women are more expert at this than men.

The other interesting aspect of this book, apart from the murders themselves and who dun'em, which has me riveted, is the theological discussions on such things as whether Christ laughed or owned property such as the clothes on his back. As a born and bred Catholic myself, but not one who practises, I must admit they are not aspects I ever considered before.

I've got about 150 pages left to read and, like the work of Chandler, I find The Name of the Rose impossible to put down. I'm sure I have seen the 1986 film with Sean Connery in the role of William of Baskerville - after all, I can hear his voice in Eco's book - but I can barely remember it. When I've finished reading this great work I'll see if I can get the film on DVD. It will be interesting to see how it compares.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

TEARS FOR A LOST PAST




Oh how I wept last night as the drama of actress Lesley Sharp's geneology background unfolded before my tear soaked eyes as the incredible Who Do You Think You Are? family history series continued.

I've been a fan since the programme began in 2004. It doesn't matter which celebrity is featured, or whether I'm a fan or a critic, there is usually something so sad in their stories that they have me reaching for the tissues.

But Sharp's had me in tears all the way through from the moment she began to talk and describe her adoption as a five week old baby, the little knitted booties she showed off that her real mum kept for years as the only thing left to remember her by, the difficult relationship Sharp had with her adoptive mum, and the love she has for her adoptive father who in every sense of the word, except for biologically, was her real dad - the one who loved, cared and nurtured her into the person she is today.

Her biological mum had an affair with an older married man with two kids of his own. When she fell pregnant with Lesley - who was named Karen at birth - it was a sign of the times that a working class single pregnant woman's only choice was to give her away because "it would be best for the baby." That was a sentiment that was repeated often as Sharp spoke to her mother's sisters. The actress traced her real mum, now deceased, in 1990. But you sensed the tragedy of an illegitimate birth and the wrench of a new baby from a family that wanted to love her but couldn't because of the moral judgment of the society of the day. The aunts cried tears of loss, regret and shame as they told Sharp as much as they could about her biological dad who never told his own grown up children about her.

Unlike others in the series who want to follow their biological pedigree as far back as possible and learn something of the characters in their family background, Sharp just wanted to learn something about her blood and where she came from. She found someone she could respect in her great great grandfather Charles Patient who not only took on a woman who had a child that wasn't his two days after the birth, but a man who lived a full life up to the age of 85 taking in orphaned Barnado's children in his great old age with a new wife who he apparently married after the death of his first.

What was even more poignant about this episode for me was that Sharp chose not to follow her biological father's blood line back any further but instead went to Canada to find out what happened to an unrelated orphan sent there after Charles's death. She clearly felt more affinity with a lost and unwanted child who was loved and cared for by an adoptive family than the roots that made her.

She saw a wretched photo of a scruffy, dirty unloved toddler whose own mother died in childbirth. He clung close to his slightly older sister as his older brother stood next to them. The programme didn't say what happened to them but I hope they ended up as happy as the boy who was given a chance in life because of Sharp's ancestor's kindness and commitment to making a child feel part of a family that wasn't his own. The photo taken of him after his years with Charles showed a very different child - happy, clean and with the confidence and assurance that comes only from a child encouraged and loved.

Those who didn't watch it can see the full story HERE on BBC iPlayer but make sure the tissues are handy. Crying is cathartic but I've had no reason to weep for a long time so last night's emotional roller coaster on the back of this incredible story must have done me some good.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

PERFECT LINCOLN




I have no idea what LipDub is but this video that features my home city has been doing the rounds.

It's really good and shows the city in a very good light - probably helped by the sunnny weather - but as I am a realist, I wonder why they couldn't have shown at least one beggar under the Stonebow or at the very least the Big Issue seller on the High Street. After all aren't these people also part of Lincoln life?

It just seems wrong to me to brush problems under the carpet (or the paving slabs) and pretend they don't exist but then I imagine this was made to promote tourism and who wants to think that a lovely city like ours has beggars and vagabonds walking about before they visit?

Other than that, and the fact it shows cars driving where they're forbidden which mere mortals like the rest of us would be fined heavily if we did it, there are some faces I recognise including Paul Weller. I recall he has some connection to Lincoln but I can't remember exactly what.

I also wonder how they managed to get the High Street and Steep Hill cleared of people to make the video. I suppose it's a good job I didn't go to town that day.

Anyway, despite my gripes, enjoy the video and marvel at my lovely city which is part of old Roman England. I'm not surprised, therefore, that recent excavations of our great castle has discovered a Roman townhouse beneath it's walls.

For anyone interested in Lincoln - Lindum Colonia as the Romans named it - follow all things Lincoln at the It's About Lincoln blog. They are far more positive and informative over there about my home city than I am.

THE GREAT CHANDLER STILL LIVES




It's 125 years since my favourite crime novelist was born. Raymond Chandler took crime from the polite and cozy living room and sleepy communities of Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to the rough and sleazy streets of LA. In doing so he created a new genre that has influenced crime writers and excited readers for decades.

No one does it like Chandler. Such is the strength of his work that even today we can see characters based on his creation Philip Marlowe.

When I first started writing my crime novel it was very Chandleresque without me even realising how much I'd been influenced by him. However, my main character was slated by my academic writing group as being "too cliché." My detective in this very early draft was called Jack with similar characteristics - but without the Irish twist - to the sleuth created by Ken Bruen who wrote the Jack Taylor novels. Now my "Jack" is a women called "Lou" but Chandler as an influence is still there.

I'd never read any Chandler books before and it had been years since I'd seen the old Bogart films such as The Big Sleep but I clearly wasn't overtly aware of how much impact they had on me.

His writing is literary art. It's easy to read, fast paced, and compelling. But when you have openings like : "...I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars..." then you are immediately hooked.

I'm currently studying a more academic crime novel In The Name of the Rose and I'm finding it quite hard going - not least because of all the Latin references. It's a bit too clever for itself and not a book I'm enjoying but rather one I'm reading because I have to and I'm finding excuses to put it down and do something else. Suffice to say it is very slow going.

Chandler's work, however, has me so gripped that I'll happily prop up my eyes with matchsticks when I'm tired just to ensure I keep on reading because I genuinely want to know what is going to happen next. He is a writer whose work I just can't put down.

No wonder we're still talking about him more than 50 years after he died and I feel sure he'll still be the subject of conversation another 125 years from now.

UPDATE

And did the world's biggest search engine actually take it's name from something Chandler wrote? I wonder when reading this letter to his agent written in 1953 when he mentions "Google" in relation to sci-fi writing.



Monday, 8 July 2013

DANCING FOR THE SOUL




Apparently in Shamanic societies when people complained of being depressed the medicine men would ask four questions :

When did you stop dancing?

When did you stop singing?

When did you stop being enchanted by stories?

When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?

I'm not depressed but yesterday as I sat in the garden blissfully happy and drenched in sunshine with earphones in listening to some damn fine music, toes tapping and head banging, those Shamanic words came to me and I suddenly asked myself when did I last dance as if my soul depended on it?

Then the song above came on and I could contain myself no longer so I just went for it. I danced barefoot on the lawn like it was the last day on earth and enjoyed every single minute of it. When the song ended, I looked up to see my other half watching me with a curious look on his face that seemed to question whether I'd gone stark raving mad but he was soon assured that I was, simply, just enjoying myself.

Earphones over the weekend were necessary to help stop the noise of planes flying overhead at the RAF Waddington International Air Show. I live in the area so get to see it for free and there were some wonderful displays but the continual noise, including the day before it started when they were practising, gets a bit too much unless you're an enthusiast, which I'm not.

My writing is on course but nothing was done yesterday because Grand daughter No 1 came to stay. She wanted to watch the planes from Granny's garden but soon ran inside crying when the Avro Vulcan roared into the sky. It was too noisy for her little ears so Granny's lesson this week was how to stick your fingers in your ears, or earphones with your favourite music blasting through, to keep the worst of the noise out.

Years ago, when there was a very active campaign to get it back into the skies, I wrote a piece for my local paper and found out that it is called the Avro Vulcan because of it's connection to the old A V Roe factory up the road in Bracebridge Heath.

It was after we'd dropped the grand daughter back home that my lunatic dancing took over my soul - OK, the red wine helped a lot with that too- and I resolved that I must do it again next time she comes to stay and teach her the old Shamanic ways of enjoying life.

Meanwhile, for the aviation enthusiasts, here is the great Avro Vulcan coming in to land at RAF Waddington at a display enjoyed by thousands of people during what has been a weekend of weather sent to lift the soul of both those who are happy and those who are depressed.



Friday, 5 July 2013

WRITING AND READING






I know the only way to get my crime novel written is to write but sadly I usually look for any distraction to avoid it and then beat myself up for not writing. So today I donned that hair shirt and forced myself to sit at the computer and pick it up from where I left off.

The only way to finish it is to write the words that will be the foundation stones and bricks that build the story. After a good productive three hours I'm finally back to making progress and now I feel a reward is due.

Today is a beautiful day, the sun is shining and the garden looks wonderful so I think the time has come for me to sit out there and enjoy it while it lasts and read the two books that my WEA crime and mystery class will be studying next term.

My students again chose the books they wanted to study as they did last time and both share the religious crime and mystery theme.

My only dilemma is whether I choose to read The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco first or Dissolution by CJ Sansom. Either way, it's going to be a good week of writing and reading.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

WHAT A NIGHT



Forest - the Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco - really knows how to throw a good party. Anyone who is anyone would rather be there than square and miss out on one of the consumer right's group's events which are known for supporting the serious business of having fun.

Speakers included King of Spin in Margaret Thatcher's era Lord Bell who gave a rip roaring speech that wasn't really directed at our current PM but the belief in Downing St, whoever occupies it, that the state has the right to control what legitimate products we buy when it only has a duty to inform us of what risks they may carry to our health.

Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs Mark Littlewood spoke of how dubious "quack science" is used to blow any health issue out of proportion no matter how small the possibility of harm when the very art of living and life itself carries inevitable risk.

He ended his humorous and thought provoking speech to resounding applause. Without risk life is boring. I guess that's true whether we smoke, drink, ride horses or climb mountains.

Before and after the speeches we all indulged ourselves in fine food, wine, cigars and whiskey. The latter two are not pleasures I usually enjoy but Boisdales of Canary Wharf provides such high quality goods that both tasted sublime to me. I won't be consuming either for another year so I assessed for myself that both were risks worth taking.

It was a great night, much fun, laughter and intellectual conversation was had, and I met some fantastic people who intend to live their lives to the full in the belief that it isn't how long you live but how well you live that matters. Some of those were into old age - including Lord Bell himself and inventor Trevor Baylis who had in common with younger guests the belief that a little bit of what you fancy does you good but to deny yourself the things that give you pleasure makes for a long and miserable life.

Now the party's over it's back to reality for me and the donning of my hair shirt to ensure that the workload I have ahead is met.

For more photos of the Forest do taken by photographer Dan Donovan then see HERE It was certainly a great night and I hope the event is held again. I enjoyed it as much this time as I did last year when it began.

UPDATE : Director of Forest Simon Clark has written about it HERE

Monday, 1 July 2013

PARTY TIME



Solstice weekend at Badger Farm, Asterby, Louth was amazing fun. It is the time of year when the hosts hold the EcoFest festival but it sadly ended last year after 20 years and so we crew were invited for a small gathering to party, camp and just have fun and a catch up with people we don't often see at any other time of year.

The weather wasn't too bad. The sun came out a lot but there was a bit of rain - hence the beautiful rainbow - and it was quite a furious wind which flapped the tent so hard it wrestled with itself against the elements to stay up.

We had a big camp fire and were treated to a visit from Claudio Kron Do Brazil who had me dancing in the moonlight. An example of his style can be seen and heard in the video below. Amazing is all I have to say about it.



And then there was a couple of musicians from one of my favourite festival bands The Bad Apples who came along to jam in the moonlight. There was an almost pagan feel to the evening as a woman danced in the glow of the fire as they played folk music.

The moon was huge and I got the best shot of it that I could. At times like that I wish I was a real photographer rather than just someone able to point a camera, shoot and hope for the best. I guess it didn't turn out too badly.



It was such a friendly chilled out atmosphere a million miles away from busy life that I hated to come home but reality always strikes. It was a shame that I couldn't make the Funny as Folk Festival last weekend but maybe next year.

To me winter is for working hard but summer because it is so short and we don't get a lot of hot days in England is for fun.

My next big summer party will be the Forest bash at Boisdales of Canary Wharf which is on tomorrow night. I'm really looking forward to it.

And then in a couple of weeks I'm going on a girlie friends boat trip to Rotterdam. I just hope the weather will be kind but if not I am sure we can find a warm and welcome place to spend time until the boat takes us home again.

I suppose my last summer event will be Small World the second festival from the Wolds Collective at Badger Farm. It really is worth the cost for anyone who fancies time in the gorgeous Louth Wolds countryside. Booking is available at the link.

Meanwhile, some of the acts on offer are mentioned in this poster.



Thursday, 20 June 2013

A LOVELY SURPRISE






My WEA fiction writing classes have ended for this term and I was really touched to be given the wonderful card above from my students, along with a gift voucher which made me feel really appreciated.

They are a such talented bunch of writers. I think I learned as much from them as they learned from me and I have enjoyed reading every one of their poems, short stories and novel chapters submitted for crit each week. I think I might now get withdrawal symptoms until the course starts again in September.

However, I do have plans to become engrossed in my own writing during the gap. I do still have that first draft of my crime novel to finish and I need to brush up and perfect my shorthand skills because I will be teaching that next year for the first time at university as part of the journalism teaching I do.

I also have other creative writing courses starting from September. It looks like I'm going to be very busy once summer ends so I'd better make the most of the time I have got.

If my lovely students read this blog, then thank you for the wonderful card, your kind comments, and for all the work you have done this year. Keep writing and never ever stop.

A FRIEND MISSED




Sad news broke today that Sopranos actor James Gandolfini has died aged 51 in Italy.

Sudden death has to be hardest thing for a person's family, friends and colleagues and this great actor's demise reminded me that this time last year we lost a friend in similar circumstances at the festival we visit each year.

Jane Beetrootz, as she was known, was found dead in her van at the end of the event. She was a big woman, with a big heart and there is still a huge gap that can never be filled for us and many of the festie friends at this time of year.

A talented percussionist, she banged her bongos all weekend long, held workshops to teach kids how to play drums and created the beat and rhythm backdrop to the festival which helped to create its unique atmosphere. When she wasn't playing she would drop into our tents and vans for a cuppa and a chat. Everyone loved to see her because she was one of the most popular festival goers there.



Jane also hosted the festival's disco raffle held in aid of the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust and she was at the first ever Eco Fest as it was called when it began in 1996. It marked the end of an era when the last one was held last year and it was at the end of the end of the festival that Jane was found. She had been reading as she lay in bed, and found book laid across her chest as if she was sleeping. If only she had been.

The couple who organise the festival each year gave Jane a lovely send off for her friends at the event they also hold each year in September, Small World. The photo above shows the other percussionists playing and singing as Jane's ashes were buried in her favourite spot and a memorial space was created for her.



The festival is not on this year and sadly a new Afro-Brazillian drum and dance workshop event was cancelled but we crew who meet up year after year are still going camping at the spot in the rolling hills of the Louth Wolds. No doubt a drink or two or three or five will be had in memory of Jane.

She may not have been as famous as James Gandolfini but she will be just as missed by those who knew her, loved her and were honoured to be counted as one of her friends.

Her memorial event last year also marked a sun-drenched festival. This year, the weather will not be as kind but we are a hardy bunch. I guess the most important thing to remember is the wellies - and hopefully someone will bring a drum and the spirit of Jane with them in every beat.

Or maybe her spirit will be found over a rainbow like this one.



Saturday, 15 June 2013

DEAR READER



It was an exhausting but inspiring day at the Woman's Weekly fiction workshop where a collection of writers and wannabe writers gathered to learn tips and theories and practice the creation and development of characters and plots that would be of use and value to the magazine which is clearly a hungry animal.

With a regular fiction special out 12 times a year that features 20 - 25 stories and three or four every week, it needs lots of feeding so the aim of the workshop was to show those who write for it, or who want to write for it, the sort of standard required from submissions.

Those who have written for the publication before are in a better position than those of us who have not. They can approach the editor with ideas by email that go to the top of the pile for consideration while those of us who have not must take our chances with about 1,000 other people submitting stories each week by snail mail post. With such a huge volume of talent to chose from it's no wonder that it takes four months to get an answer about whether your story is one for them. No response after four months clearly means your story is not one that the magazine can use.

I had hoped to feel closer to my goals of swapping real life features for fiction features but strangely felt even further away by the end of the day. However, it has given me a new focus to aim for and a new style to adapt to. No one ever said earning a living as a writer would be easy and anyone who thinks it is is a misguided fool.

One author who does have features used regularly is Suzanne Ahern. She gave lots of useful tips and advice for those wanting to try their hand at the art of serial writing. These can include stories as long as 8,000 words. Each one clearly needs to end on a cliff hanger to ensure the reader will return. In some ways serials are said to be easier to write than the one page stories of 1,000 words which leave little room for character development and plot twist.

Another speaker was agent Laura Longrigg I had my chance to pitch my crime novel to her in an exercise where we had two sentences to describe a piece a work we are working on or from another author we admire but I flunked. I just didn't quite get it out before it got to my turn so at this stage, rather than embarrass myself, I passed and threw my pen down in defeat.

However, she did mention the Harry Bowling Prize and that work with a strong urban theme was desired. I mentioned my crime novel because the setting is the strongest thing about it and she was very encouraging. If I came away at the end of the day motivated to do anything it was to ensure that I finish at least that first draft by the end of this summer.

As far as submitting to Woman's Weekly, then I think it's time to revisit the works in progress on my fiction page to see how they can be tailored to the story requirements of the magazine. At present, I guess they fall into the nice story but where is it going category.

The event was held at the Blue Finn building in Southwark where we had access to the staff restaurant/café. I had the nicest cup of tea I've ever had there served by a friendly chap who clearly loved his job - judging by the wide smile spread across his face as he worked.

The viewtop terrace outside afforded panoramic views of the City and I grabbed a few shots with my mobile phone. The one below is probably one of the best and shows that London is currently like a large building site with cranes hovering over towers in the middle of or nearing the end construction.



The magazine's next Fiction Workshop in London is on July 19th and another event is due to be held in Manchester from September 12 - 14th called Woman's Weekly Live where fiction writing is also on the schedule.

You would need to book in advance by emailing wwlive@ipcmedia.com

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

SUMMER FUN - WITH A SERIOUS MESSAGE




The video above was filmed last year at an event to hammer home the message that freedom of choice, tolerance and consideration are important cultural aspects of modern British life and principles we should all support whatever our views on smoking or smokers.

I am honoured to be invited for a second year, not least because I love Boisdales where it is held but also because I believe passionately in free choice for both sides of the debate and I support adult tobacco consumer's rights' group Forest - The Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco.

Last year's guest speakers included Libertarians James Delingpole and Claire Fox plus Gen Sir Mike Jackson and this year's line up on July 2 is just as impressive. Lord Bell, former political advisor to Thatcher and Reagan, will make the keynote speech and I'm sure he will have something of value to say.

Tickets cost £90 a head but the food, the company, the live music, the glittering setting at Canary Wharf, and the subject matter are worth it. Tickets can be booked HERE for anyone who wants to come along and I guarantee you won't be disappointed.



I rather fancy the Forest free boat party next week on June 18th too but I can't make it due to having work commitments on that day. Others still have a last chance to register their interest via this link.

The other reason I'll miss the boat party is because I am in London four days earlier for a fiction event which I'm really looking forward to. Full feedback and report will be posted here sometime after I return on Friday evening.

Fun, music, and a serious and important message at both Forest functions are guaranteed unlike the great British weather but fingers crossed. We can but hope.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

NO MORE ARNE DAHL NIGHT




Saturday nights just won't be the same now that crime noir drama Arne Dahl has ended. I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as the other excellent Scandinavian dramas The Killing or Borgen but it managed to keep me hooked as the series just got better and better each episode as it hurtled towards the end of it's 10 parts.

Named after it's author, the series has been edgy, fast-paced, intriguing and engaging. I've really got into the characters' lives but so much has been left unresolved there surely has to be another series in future - perhaps next year?

I want to know if Cilla really is going to divorce Paul? Will Chavez be able to persuade new wife, and former online child porn detective, Sara to have children that he so desperately wants? Will Kerstin cope now that she has been given custody of her son and will Viggo, the Viking Battle Man, have good news regarding his baby daughter's health? How will Aarto's wife react to her husband returning his £3 million Kroner inheritance from a Nazi uncle who made it killing and torturing Jews? And who will boss Jenny get rid of after being told by her superiors that she must cut three from the team?

And what role, exactly, does that weird cleaner have in the series? His occasional magic trick and omniscient knowledge of all that is going on in the characters' minds and lives made me wonder if I really saw what I had seen. In the first episode he wipes the detectives board clean, and then with the swipe of a cloth reinstates it, he spat in a bin and from that a helium balloon rose and put a smile on Viggo's face at a time he had been rejected by his girlfriend who wouldn't let him see his baby, he easily removed the troublesome ring stuck on Kerstin's finger, even though sheer bloody determination and grease wouldn't shift it, and he knew all about the trouble Aarto had in trying to decide if he should buy a outrageously priced property to keep his wife happy.

I thought for a while back there that it was going to be a sort Life On Mars/Ashes to Ashes scenario where maybe they were all dead in reality and the cleaner was the clue that all is not as it seems. After all, they have all been close to death - Viggo crucified, Aarto shot, Chavez shot, Gunnar shot, Kerstin beaten, Paul trying to disarm an asylum seeker in the very first episode, and then later blown up within an inch of his life. However, if such a twist was planned there is no sign of it yet.

It also reminded me slightly of New Tricks due to the way the team was brought together for it's special skills and individual instinct among the Swedish detectives. A couple of them could be the old-school type brought out of retirement, as portrayed by Dennis Waterman and his co-stars in the English cop show, but the others are too young, too sharp, too energetic, and still serving officers at the time of their transfer.

For sure Arne Dahl is a very European drama shown in the various languages used and portraying English as the common speak between various nation states. As the elderly Italian Mafia man tells Aarto, who is sent to Tuscany to investigate links to the murder of a former Jewish concentration camp inmate, five Eastern European prostitutes and one pimp : "Let's speak English, Your Italian isn't that good."

The show is the latest in a series of foreign language dramas on BBC Four on Saturday evenings at 9pm which I first started watching when I stumbled upon Inspector Montalbano. There's no news on whether that is set to return, or to be repeated, but I wait to see what is on next week in place of Arne Dahl.

Meanwhile, I am avidly watching The Fall on BBC 2 on Mondays at 9pm which I've written reviews on so far for Robin Jarossi's Crime Time Preview blog.

UPDATE - 11/06/13

My review of the final episode of The Fall can be read HERE. Suffice to say great series - great shame about the ending.

Friday, 7 June 2013

OUR SECRET IS OUT




A couple of years ago, after 20 years of living together and bringing up four children, my other half and I got married which was something we didn't really want to do but were forced into thanks to the Govt removing our long standing common law rights.

We are not religious and neither do we believe that the state should have right to approve a loving relationship between two people whether gay or straight, but to ensure next of kin rights that were taken from us when civil partnerships were created, and from which we were excluded, we had to get married just to get back what had been legally ours before the law changed.

We didn't tell anyone because as two oldies we were a bit embarrassed and we wondered what our children would think of us so we just picked the next available date after our initial enquiry to the local register office. This was close to Christmas 2011. We asked a couple of acquaintances if they would be our witnesses. They were sworn to secrecy and they didn't let us down. They said nothing to anyone until today - the day we finally told all our relatives and our friends and let the cat out of the bag and into the public domain.

We've never been big believers in the traditional sort of marriage. I'd been married before but it didn't work out and so I wasn't keen to do it again. The natural law of love, dedication and commitment was worth far more to both of us than a union granted by God or the Prime Minister. A civil partnership isn't really an alternative either for people like us but at least it would have allowed us to choose another way to secure joint rights to the lives we have both built up over two decades without betraying our principles.

After our secret wedding, we had a quick drink with our witnesses to say thanks and then it was home to get changed and then get back to work.

After we had done the deed, we both resolved to keep it secret and the longer the weeks, months, years went on it became harder and harder to tell our children what we'd done. My other half told his mum at the time his dad had died and that meant the race was then on to ensure everyone in the family knew.

We planned to tell them at my father-in-law's funeral but then it wasn't really appropriate to put ourselves at the centre of such a sombre occasion held to honour the life of a very good man who passed away. The next opportunity came when daughter No 2 told me she was getting married - but then I didn't want to steal her thunder or impact upon her good news. Another chance came when daughter No 1 had her second baby a week or two ago. We almost told her then - but again it would have detracted from her celebrations, her news, her family's special occasion and we didn't want to impose.

We finally told them yesterday, girded our loins in anticipation of perhaps angry kids who felt excluded from something they might have liked to celebrate with us or possibly upset that we had this secret for so long, but they were all as pleased as punch for us.

So now it's done, both the wedding and the informing of relatives was no where near as traumatic as I'd expected and I hope me and my other half get to live many more years happily together with our children and our five grandchildren.

Who says romance is dead.

Friday, 24 May 2013

VIRTUAL HOLIDAY




Spring has been miserable as far as the weather is concerned and I am in desperate need of sunshine. I have a dream to throw tent and camping gear in the back of our car and travel around the coast of Italy this summer to ensure I find some warmth somewhere but, alas, it isn't going to happen this year so I've enjoyed a virtual tour instead thanks to the I Love Italy page on Facebook.



Tuscany I know quite well because that's where my mother comes from but I've never heard of places like Alberobello (pictured above) which looks absolutely enchanting and a town that's definitely on my bucket "to visit" list - hopefully next year because it will take me at least that long to inspire the same enthusiasm in my other half for this mega trip. After all, he will be the one driving. As I often get left and right mixed up, I think he would be safer on roads in countries where cars travel on the wrong side.



The little narrow rustic streets like that pictured above in Orvieto just beg to be explored. Many of the old towns and villages in Italy have many streets like these. I found myself enchanted by Palaia a couple of years ago when we visited in a bid to try and track down some of my relatives from my aunt Marcella's side of the family.



Lake D'Orta is another beauty. When I showed my other half the picture above his response was simply "There doesn't look as if there's much parking there." You can see what I'm up against.



And then there is Sorrento. A place that is a must see when travelling in search of beauty, colour, culture and sunshine.



I also have a hankering to visit Pompeii one day so if my dream camping and travelling trip around Italy ever becomes an actual reality, then time must be made to visit as I'd like to visit perhaps lesser known ghost towns like Faraone too.

I've been hinting at my other half, posting copious amounts of I Love Italy's photos on my own Facebook page in a bid to wear his resistance down but it hasn't worked so far. However, I have twisted his arm so far up his back about this that he promises next year will be the year when we do it. I can't wait so until then I'll just enjoy the virtual tour, close my eyes, put ear plugs in and pretend that outside is not thundering winds that fell trees, lashing rain with grey skies, and bitter cold that makes wearing two thick jumpers a necessity.

Roll on summer.

Friday, 10 May 2013

A DIFFERENT APPROACH




It was a couple of years ago that I first came up with the idea for my novel which involves the kidnapping and long term captivity of a young woman but I wonder if the idea, in a fictional sense, is becoming cliché already.

In reality such events are rare and few had given the idea much thought until Josef Frizl horrified the world when his secret family was freed from his home made dungeon, traumatised and rubbed out as people in their own right.

There have been more of that type of case than I thought, however unique they are, and now another terrible story has emerged of the three women freed from hell in Cleveland, Ohio but the shock factor, although still great, is not as raw as when we first heard about this type of case.

Since Fritzl, more and more writers are using the captivity scenario in novels and screen plays. I've seen it in the CSI series and other cop and forensic shows and I wonder if the reader or viewer is becoming desensitised enough to the awful idea to see it as becoming old hat in fiction writing.

But then there are only, apparently, Seven Basic Plots that make up just about every story ever written so the key must be the originality of the writer in how they present that plot - in this case, The Monster.

My story does have a twist, and there are other factors in it to raise interest and suspense for the reader. I have seven chapters written but reading back over them, I wonder if the captivity plot is really a necessary part and if all my characters are pulling together or apart as they should.

I often tell my students that if they are struggling with their story then it would be a good idea to take their characters out of it, stand them up on their own, write a few pages about their normal day, their usual traits and ticks, and then put them back into the story and see how they cope and react to the situation they've been dropped into. I also need to write a timeline to frame the events which should act as rough guide and set the pace of the story.

That is going to be the next thing on my agenda as I have quite a few characters now that I really need to get to know better before I can go back to the captivity aspect and ensure it is as original as I can make it. My "monster" at present certainly needs more work and it will be a good place to start again.

Summer is coming and I will have time on my hands to dedicate to this project but the initial June deadline I set myself to have that first clumsy draft written was probably ambitious. September now seems more likely and realistic but I really can't wait to get my teeth back into it.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

THE SAINT RETURNS




It looks like the hit 1960's series The Saint is coming back to our TV screens and I await it with both anticipation and trepidation.

The promo trailer looks very Americanised for this stiff upper lip quintessential British icon created in the 1920s by Leslie Charteris but at least Templar keeps his English accent and the original actor Roger Moore has a role and did, indeed, produce this new venture.

I expect the new Saint won't be sexist like his 1960s counterpart which I find highly amusing these days, nor will he smoke and he will probably be very nuovo glamorous in a show with lots of actions, bangs, explosions and bullets that, for me, often distracts from the main storyline and seems included for the sake of inclusion. I am not, clearly, a fan of the action genre although my other half will probably love it.

I don't know what channel it will be on, apparently it's still in development, but if it isn't on terrestrial TV then I'll miss it. I don't have Sky or Virgin or a satellite dish but the simple free digi box. Until the BBC stops charging us a licence fee to watch TV then I see no point in paying more to watch something I feel I'm already paying for.

Ah well, I'll just have to wait and see when the time comes and if it isn't generally available to all then I'll happily keep watching the reruns of the old Saint programmes on ITV player.

THE LINCOLN KANGAROOS

Geoffrey Morey with his pet kangaroo Pinto

A chat with a friend on Twitter The Angry Exile about his roo icon reminded me of the Lincoln Kangaroos owned by former local surgeon and amateur naturalist Geoffrey Morey who kept them as pets. The story I'd written about them was on another blog that I used to keep but have since deleted to concentrate on this one.

I guess it was Morey's interest in wildlife that made him jump at the chance of owning two Kangaroos as pets back in 1962. They were brought to London by a young Australian man who had been offered free transport by the ship's captain.

The young man thought it would be a gesture of admiration to present them to the Queen on his arrival in London but unfortunately for him, as he was living in a London hotel with the two animals much to the consternation of the management, Her Majesty declined the gift, and he had to get rid of them elsewhere sharpish.

When Morey heard about his plight he thought he could help solve the problem by taking the marsupials off the young man's hands.

The surgeon ripped out the back seats of his car and covered the floor with straw. He was just about to set off for London to pick the kangaroos up when he heard they'd been snapped up by an Australian born City of London dignitary.

Morey was so pissed off about it he went to the press. The story reached Australia where a nurse who used to work with him when he was a medical student in Adelaide read about it and put him in touch with two families in a rural area who had kangaroos they wanted rid of.


The kangaroos were shoved into crates on a ship bound for Liverpool where Morey picked them up. They were lifted into the adapted back of his car and apparently sat there happily with their heads sticking out of the window, probably in shock, as he drove them home to his big house and garden in a posh part of Lincoln in the middle of a perishing winter.

Named Nardo and Pinto, the two kangaroos settled in well and began to breed quite quickly. Morey was one of few people at that time to have witnessed a joey coming out of it's mother's pouch. In 10 years, the Morey family had up to five male and female kangaroos living in the garden, the house and a specially made kennel although three joeys died before they reached adulthood.




Nardoo tried to escape a few days after her arrival and broke her leg. Morey called for help from his medical friends at Lincoln County Hospital. The orthopedic surgeon and his registrar, general surgeons, physicians, anesthetists, radiologists and four Lincoln vets volunteered and the surgery was carried out at Morey's house.



The kangaroos did get out of Morey's high walled garden eventually while he was travelling in Africa. He heard news while in Nairobi of how the city police had to call out 20 officers in the early hours of the morning to join those on foot and in cars already on duty to round them up.

After three hours of chasing them up and down Lincoln High Street the police got the kangaroos home and warned Morey that more escapes would lead to them applying for his removal from the city.

Morey also found out how aggressive male kangaroos could be. One named after the original Pinto, who died after eating too much of a poisonous yew hedge in the garden, changed almost overnight after the birth of a male joey. He grabbed Morey in a tight hug unexpectedly one day that left him breathless. The doctor managed to break free after a fierce wrestling match.

As Pinto the Second became more aggressive and unreliable Morey packed him off to a zoo. When people found out that one of the famous kangaroos was leaving the pack offers flooded in which included a family that knew nothing about kangaroos but wanted one as a pet, and a circus owner who wanted one to box for entertainment.

The story of The Lincoln Kangaroos ends with Morey's book published in 1962. I've asked around locally and no one can remember him except one friend who recalls as a child looking over the wall from the top of an open top bus. Kids, apparently, tried to climb the walls for a glimpse of the animals.

Another friend tells me there used to be what she called "Washingborough Wallabies" in a field in a village near Lincoln but they've been gone a long time and whether they were kangaroos and not wallabies and related to Morey's originals is desperate speculation.

Maybe someone who knows more than I do about what happened to Geoffrey Morey and his kangaroos almost 60 years ago will stumble across this post as it floats around the internet and enlighten us all as to how the family's story ended.

RATCATCHER JACK




I recently became aware of a new blog called It's All About Lincoln which I've added to my blog list so I can keep updated with new posts. It reminds me of when I used to write nostalgia features for my local paper's long standing Gossiper column and brought to mind the above photograph which one reader gave to me because, he said, it was so horrible he didn't want it back after I'd used it.

It's been such a long time since this came into my possession that I've actually forgotten the details of it. All I remember is that it was a local ratcatcher called Jack (something) with his industrious terriers. He lived in a house in St Martin's Square at the bottom of the hill between Steep Hill on the right and Spring Hill on the left.

The scrawl on the back of the photo, presumably in Jack's own hand, tells me that he caught 33 rats that day from the Naafi which is now gone of course like much of old Lincoln which did, at one time, have a huge problem with such vermin in many residential and commercial areas of the city. I suppose today they just use poison to get rid of the blighters and Jack's type, like the old rag and bone men, have simply disappeared.

Perhaps It's All About Lincoln or some of the site's readers can tell me more about him. Jack certainly seems to be one of the many characters that used to be around Lincoln and the like of which we never see anymore.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

A CRAP POET




One of my creative writing students presented a lovely poem in class the other day and it reminded me that I once wrote a book of poetry which I decided to dig out. Oh dear. Perhaps I shouldn't have done. It wasn't as good as I remembered it but then it was written 30 years ago. Make your own mind up after reading this effort - the only one in the book that actually rhymed.

POOR NELLIE

Poor Nellie
From a family of ten,
Tried hard to find someone,
But failed again.

She first got married
To a kind gentle hood,
But Nellie was bored and wanted excitement
However she could.

She found it with Sonny
Oh what a mistake,
Her mother did warn her.
She said : “You’ll be sorry.”

He battered and bruised her
And broke her two arms
Smashed a bottle on her head
Was this his charm?

The ambulance came
And took Nellie away
To hospital
For a very long stay.

They mended her arms
And stitched up her head
But that was no good
Because to Sonny she’s wed.

They took him to prison
And gave her some money
Nellie’s life at last
Looked rosy and sunny.

Then she met a rich man
With a business his own
He fell madly in love
And left his wife at home.

They have a young boy
Nellie's own pride and joy.
A spiteful child
Left alone to run wild.

Ten years later
The man still calls around
On a Saturday night
With his duty £10.

She waits for the weekend
To see him again
She says she will end it
But she doesn’t know when.

She still has her dreams
And exciting schemes
And doesn’t see why
Her life has passed by.

Gone is her beauty
And soft golden hair
It’s hard to believe
That she once made men stare.

Now her face is all wrinkles
And her hair’s harshly permed
She’s older than years
And feels quite disturbed.

Poor Nellie.

CRIME CLASSICS



Victorian crime drama The Suspicions of Mr Whicher is back on TV this Sunday which falls just right following my WEA group's study of the book by author Kate Summerscale, who wrote and researched material about Britain's first detective for her book recalling the Murder at Road Hill House.

It is Whicher's failure to secure the conviction of the main suspect in that case that caused him to be shunned and avoided by the newly set up Detective Branch which led to him becoming a private investigator. His reputation was later restored, and due credit given to his detective skills, when the nice middle class girl from an upstanding 19th century family, Constance Kent, later confessed that she had, indeed, murdered her little half brother as Whicher surmised.

That is probably the cloud he left the force under which he refers to in the new TV adaptation that looks set to be another cracker of a programme well worth watching. Paddy Considine again plays the role.

Whicher inspired so many authors in his day from Charles Dickens to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Henry James whose weird little novella The Turn of the Screw was inspired by the Road Hill case. It seems obvious now, having read both books, that the children in James' story were based on Constance and her brother William - the governess who claims their house is haunted is possibly based on the second Mrs Kent, their wicked stepmother.

My crime literature group has now broken up for summer and won't be back until mid September. That will give me plenty of time to read the two books we'll be studying next term - In the Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco and Dissolution by C J Sansom.

Meanwhile, my WEA creative writing course continues in Gainsborough and is so far going really well. Some of my students tell me that I inspire them and I know that they inspire me. Whether their genre is poetry, short stories, scripts or novels, they really are a talented and dedicated bunch who could also teach me a thing or two. I'm itching to get back to my crime novel which has been sadly abandoned as paid work has taken precedence but soon the summer holidays will be here, all my university journalism marking will be done, and I'll have nothing to stand between me and my protagonist Lou Weekes.

Thanks to a press release I sent out that was picked up by the Boston Standard and the Boston Target we now have enough interest to start another writing course in Fydell House next term.

Anyone who lives in the area is welcome to come along. You could also join the crime literature group, if you fancy getting your teeth into crime classics, where new students are always welcome.