Friday, 7 December 2012

The Duchess of Drury Lane by Freda Lightfoot

This novel about Mrs. Jordan, the long-term mistress of the Duke of Clarence ingeniously weaves fact with fiction.  As very little is known about Dora Jordan’s early life Lightfoot has created a plausible early story.

As a very successful actress Jordan earned enough money not just to support her family but also to pay for some of Clarence’s extravagances.  Her family consisted of sisters and brothers as well as her many children, most of whom were fathered by Clarence.

Jordan’s life fell apart once Clarence became heir to George IV and it became necessary for him to produce a legitimate heir which meant marrying a suitable candidate.  He subsequently became William IV and, ironically, Queen Adelaide was unable to produce children.

The Duchess of Drury Lane was what the ‘press’ of the time called Dora Jordan and, yes, the public could be vicious as well as adoring.  Nothing changes!

This book is well researched and, as with all of Lightfoot’s books, is eminently readable.  I reckon she deserves a gold star.

 Freda Lightfoot

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Stephen Foster - America's First Pop Song Composer

The Suwannee River at White Springs, Florida

The name Swannee immediately brings Al Jolson to mind. But there is another song which also refers to this river: "Way Down Upon the Swannee River", better known as "The Old Folks at Home", by Stephen Foster who never saw the Suwannee River.

Stephen Foster was born in 1826 in Pittsburgh, on a most appropriate date for an American who was to become known for his all-American songs - July 4th.  The family was prominent in local politics, commerce and the social life. Stephen's father, William, was a member of the Pennsylvania State Legislature and mayor of Allegheny City (a suburb of Pittsburgh). William and Eliza Foster had eleven children and, following the death of the youngest, Stephen was then the cherished youngest child.

The whole family was interested in music, art and literature and it didn't take much encouragement for the baby of the family to acquire his interest in those arts.  Although Stephen showed that music was his first love, his family merely thought of it as an interesting hobby. What he learned about music was through his own efforts and not from serious study. Most of his early boyhood was spent in or near Pittsburgh with occasional visits to Ohio. In fact, he spent most of his life in Pittsburgh, wrote most of his best songs there, and is buried there.

At school he was a rebel. Unable to adapt to discipline and routine he preferred to study only subjects which interested him. Unfortunately, music had little place in the curriculum.  When he was fourteen and attending the Athens Academy (in Pittsburgh), he wrote his first musical work: The Tioga Waltz. His inspiration for this was Tioga Point, a local beauty spot. The waltz was arranged for flutes and presented in a school programme at the Presbyterian Church in Athens in 1841. Stephen played one of the flutes. Although he had the satisfaction of being enthusiastically applauded, The Tioga Waltz was not his first published work. It wasn't published until many years after his death.

His education continued, mostly with private teachers from whom he learned French, German and painting. He also worked occasionally in an office or a warehouse. His leisure hours were devoted to music. His father is quoted as saying, "he possesses a strange talent". An understatement if ever there was one!

In 1843 he found some verses in a magazine and set them to music. This was published in 1844 - "Open Thy Lattice, Love". As he probably didn't earn anything from this, his family felt that music did not hold out much promise of a life's work. 

When he was nineteen he formed an all-male singing group which met twice a week at the Foster home. Usually they sang the popular songs of the day, then Stephen began to compose for them. Two were to make him famous: "Old Uncle Ned" and "Oh! Susannah".  But not for a few years yet.

Eventually Stephen shared his family's concern about his future and thought he might try a career in the army. Fortunately, in 1846, he learned that his application for West Point had been rejected. With his family's encouragement he moved to Cincinnati to become a bookkeeper in a steamboat agency on the Ohio River. He was there for three years and they were among the happiest and most formative of his life.

From his office window he could see the activity on the river. Passenger boats, freight boats, southern planters, river men, gold-seekers bound for California. It was no wonder that he began to write songs and subsequently abandoned a business career to become a professional composer.

He gave copies of "Old Uncle Ned" and "Oh! Susannah" (as well as other songs) to several of his acquaintances. The minstrels sang them, the public loved them, and the minstrels took them all over the country. And they were published, but without his consent so he earned nothing. Because he had overlooked the possibility of financial gain, he had failed to protect his own interests through copyright or contracts with the publishers.

He eventually decided that it was time to profit from his writing and contracted with the New York firm of Firth, Pond & Co.

Now that he was devoting himself to music, he returned to Pittsburgh and became very ambitious. He worked hard and achieved immediate and spectacular success. The next six years were the most successful of his entire life. He wrote over 160 works - songs, compositions, arrangements and translations.  But he was also composing songs which would never die.  Songs such as "Camptown Races", "Old Folks at Home", "Massa's in de Cold Ground", "My Old Kentucky Home", "Old Dog Tray", "Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair".

At about the time of his return to Pittsburgh, Stephen Foster contacted the leader of the Christy Minstrels - Edwin P. Christy. The most famous minstrel band performing in the United States at that time. At Stephen's suggestion, the Christy Minstrels were to be the first to sing his new songs and the title pages of those songs would bear the legend, "As Sung by the Christy Minstrels".

Oh yes, Christy did pay for this - but only a small sum. Had Stephen Foster been a better businessman there is no doubt that he could have made a more advantageous bargain.
He also made another bad mistake. In 1851, "Old Folks at Home" was published. The title page read: "As Sung by Christy's Minstrels - Written and Composed by E.P. Christy". For the sum of a miserly $15.00 Stephen Foster had sold the right to claim authorship to Christy. And that was Stephen's idea! A year later when he realised his mistake - this song was among his best and extremely popular in the United States and Europe - he asked Christy to cancel the transaction. Naturally, Christy refused. The mistake wasn't rectified until 1879, fifteen years after Stephen Foster's death, when the song was re-copyrighted and given the correct accreditation.

Fortunately, although the song was originally credited to Christy, the royalties of the sales went to Foster. During his lifetime he received $1,647.46. After it was re-copyrighted, his heirs received nearly $2,000. A most profitable work.

The years from 1853 to 1860 were dark days for Stephen Foster. His marriage was rocky, his expenses high and he began to drink. But, in 1860 he wrote another great work. "Old Black Joe", a song of intense emotion. Was he singing about his own problems? Probably. It isn't known whether he was paid cash for this song or whether he received royalties.

After this he moved to New York but the only song he wrote during his last four years which we remember is "Beautiful Dreamer". His career wasn't helped by the Civil War which broke out in 1861. It destroyed the market for his songs.

Stephen Foster was seriously injured when he fell in his room in the Bowery and, although he was taken to hospital and died three days later. Aged thirty-seven.

The Stephen Foster Memorial in White Springs, FL.
At the beginning I said that Stephen Foster never saw the Suwannee River. So, why write a song about it? The nearest he came to the river was New Orleans, in 1852, some months after "The Old Folks at Home" was written.  In 1851 he was working on a new song for the Christy Minstrels. According to the first draft, the opening words were, "Way down upon de Pedee ribber...".  Stephen had the Pedee River of South Carolina in mind. Not satisfied with the name he asked his brother Morrison for advice. Yazoo River?  Not romantic enough. They opened a map of the United States and looked for a southern river with a romantic sounding name. It was Morrison who pointed to the Suwannee River in Florida. Except that Stephen shortened it to Swannee to fit the music.

Friday, 2 November 2012

River Douro Cruise

If you would like to read about this super cruise which I took in September go to Aunties Travels.  Aunties Travels

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Pearly Kings and Queens of London

The Pearly Kings and Queens are a charitable group of Londoners.  All cockneys and great fun to be around.  They date back to 1875 when a young man called Henry Croft was looking for an idea to bring attention to his charity work.

Henry was an orphan and at age thirteen was working as a road sweeper in north London.  He also worked in a market and was drawn to the Costermongers (market traders) whom he found to be generous people.  He was fascinated with their clothes which were decorated with pearl buttons that were stitched onto the seams of their bellbottom trousers, jackets, waistcoats and caps.  This was to show their status in the market.  Henry also learned that they looked after one another during times of sickness or need.

So impressed was he that Henry decided he would like to help people less fortunate than himself.  Whenever he was sweeping up around the market he often found pearl buttons that had fallen off so he collected them up.  Gradually he sewed them onto a suit of his own until it was totally covered.  This is what is now called a “smother suit”.  The ones with fewer buttons stitched in various designs are called skeleton suits.

Henry became so successful at raising money, not only for the orphanage where he grew up, but also for hospitals and workhouses, that he needed help.  That is when he turned to the Costermongers, many of whom became the first Pearly Families.  There were twenty-eight families, one for each of the London Boroughs, one for the City of Westminster and one for the City of London.

Most of today’s Pearly Kings and Queens are direct descendents of those Costermongers.

The Pearly Suits
All of the suits are of dark fabric, preferably velvet.  The pattern is laid out and the pearl buttons gradually, slowly and lovingly stitched on.
There are many designs for the suits, which usually reflect the owner’s particular interests.  For example:
·                                Bells – for Bow Bells
·                                Horseshoes – for luck
·                                Doves – for peace
·                                Hearts – for charity
·                                Anchors – for hope
·                                Crosses – for faith
·                                Wheel – for the circle of life
·                                Playing cards – life is a gamble!
·                                Flower pots  and donkey carts – costermongers

The outfits have tens of thousands of buttons on them and can weigh as much as 66lbs. 

The Pearly Guild
Almost every area of London has its own “royal” family within the Pearly Guild.  A prince or princess can only graduate to the status of King or Queen once their elders are sure of their maturity, have knowledge of the group’s history and have a strong commitment to the job of collecting for charity.  And, of course, they can only become a pearly king or queen if there is a vacancy.  Mostly the title goes to a descendent of the family but sometimes a family dies out or moves away. 

The Pearlies take every opportunity to dress up and collect for charity.  They can be seen in parades, at Bank Holiday Fairs such as on Hampstead Heath and even travel outside of London when requested.  The one day in the year when they all try to gather for a parade is for the Lord Mayor’s Show which occurs early in November (on a Saturday when the City is ‘closed for business’) and wends its way through the City of London from the Mansion House taking a circular tour and back to the Mansion House..

To learn more about the Pearlies, visit their web site at

Photos provided by the Pearly Guild.

Monday, 24 September 2012


I have no problem with recycling - I was brought up to do it.  Rather like taking your rubbish home with you after a picnic (or whatever).  I religiously re-cycle everything I possibly can, taking it to one of the local charity shops or, if it isn't reusable, finding the appropriate skip.  And, like everyone else, I keep a bag beside the front door for all that junk mail!

Unfortunately I recently had a big problem.  When taking my junk mail and other appropriate bits and pieces to the skip I discovered that someone had dumped about 200 books (paper and hard backs) into the four skips.  I managed to retrieve about 100 but couldn't reach the others.  I left a note for the maintenance man and the next morning he managed to retrieve the rest of the undamaged books.  In total we saved about 200 books which are now stored in his shed.  Why stored there?  Because I cannot find a charity shop willing to come and collect them.

I'm still wondering what part of "Can you collect them?" they don't understand.  The popular reply is "Could you bring them?"  On one occasion I ironically replied, "Two at a time?"  "That would be fine," she responded.  I don't think so.  Think how many journeys that would be and I wouldn't do them all in one day and not necessarily more than one trip a week.

Forgive me for my naivety, but charity shops are operated by volunteers some of whom have cars.  What is the point of volunteering to help if you can't go and collect at least a few of the books?

Plastic bags:
So Europe is trying to dictate again on the subject of plastic shopping bags and saying that shops should charge us for them.  Bearing in mind that most of us use them as bin bags instead of wasting money on buying bin bags, that seems counter productive unless....
those politicians have shares in the companies that make plastic bags, of course.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Louis Comfort Tiffany - an American Genius

A Wisteria Lamp.*
Tiffany - a magic word.  Who can forget the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”?  Tiffany was a company founded in the 19th century making and selling fine jewellery and retailing other luxury items.  And, of course, it is still selling expensive jewellery.

But it was not founded by Louis Comfort Tiffany (LCT).  It was his father, Charles Lewis Tiffany who opened the business and who expected his son to follow in his footsteps.  LCT had other ideas.  He wanted to be a painter but unfortunately - or perhaps fortunately - his paintings weren’t that great.

This redhead from New York City - with the temper to match - was frequently in trouble with his parents so they sent him to the Eagleswood Military Academy in Perth Amboy, NJ.  He stayed there for three years leaving when he was seventeen.  He then travelled about Europe to learn about art and the various cultures. 

Following his first European tour he attended art school in New York and met other people who influenced his forward thinking.  He made a second trip to Europe in 1868 and, with a friend (Samuel Colman), went to Northern Africa where he saw the use of bright colours.  He also saw the way medieval stained-glass windows literally glow and was particularly impressed with the windows at Chartres Cathedral.

Nine of his paintings were exhibited in 1876 at the Philadelphia Exposition but he was more interested in the Arts and Crafts interiors that were on show.  Subsequently, together with his friend Candace Wheeler (an embroidery expert) they founded the Society of Decorative Arts where classes were held in needlework, tile painting, pottery, wood carving and other crafts.

In 1879 he and some friends formed Louis C. Tiffany and Associated Artists and their first commission was to design a drop curtain for the Madison Square Theater.  Subsequently the company decorated rooms in the 5th Avenue mansion of pharmaceutical tycoon George Kemp, quickly followed by more commissions for Tiffany decorated rooms.  The Tiffany style was created by covering almost every surface with exotic patterns that were influenced by his time spent overseas.

During the 1880s the company increased their fame.  In 1881 Mark Twain had them decorate his home in Hartford, Connecticut.  That was quickly followed by a request from the White House.  President Arthur (who had succeeded the assassinated President Garfield) needed some of the rooms to be redecorated - the East Room, the State Dining room, the Red and Blue Parlors and a corridor.  And he needed that work done within seven weeks. 

Eventually LCT became fed up with the demands of his clients - no matter how wealthy or important.  Throughout the 1870s and 1880s he had been experimenting with glass and using it in some of the interiors.  But more importantly, he began designing stained glass windows for the new post-Civil War churches.  Until LCT (and John La Farge), the manufacturing technique had remained the same since the Middle Ages.  LCT’s wonderful innovation was a form of opalescent glass with a milky rainbow form of iridescence when the light shone through it.  He acquired the patent in 1881.

Stained Glass Windows at Flagler College, St. Augustine, FL
Over the years Tiffany produced stained glass windows for schools, public buildings, shops, homes, hotels, theatres and churches - to name but a few.  The company also exhibited a great deal.  As well as the windows, there were the famous lamps with all sorts of motifs such as poppies, dragonflies, fruit and almost anything else you can think of.

The Tiffany Chapel *.
Two other areas that interested Tiffany were the exotic vases and mosaic.  The best example of his mosaic and stained-glass windows can be seen at the Morse Museum in Winter Park in Florida.  In here is the fabulous Tiffany Chapel that began life at the Chicago Exposition of 1893.  Also in the museum are examples of other glassware including Favrile and lava glass.  My personal favourite shape of Tiffany vases is the Jack-in-the-pulpit with its narrow stem and opened out round top looking like a delicate opened flower.  They come in all mixes of colours.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit Vase *
LCT retired in 1919 and by 1924 the company began to disintegrate.  In 1932 the Tiffany Studios went into bankruptcy.  Tiffany died in 1933 and in 1934 all of the assets were auctioned.  By then Art Nouveau was out of fashion, it had given way to the rigid lines and unfussy designs of Art Deco.

That all changed after the World War II when artists began to recognise the beauty of Tiffany’s designs.  By the 1950s museums were acquiring pieces of Tiffany ware and exhibitions were held.

LCT’s homes on 5th Avenue, New York and Laurelton Hall on Long Island are no longer.  The mansions of 5th Avenue made way for skyscrapers and Laurelton succumbed to a fire in 1957, after which Mrs. Comfort Gilder, one of LCT’s daughters, offered what was left of her father’s work to the Morse Museum where years of painstaking work have recreated the Tiffany Chapel, some of the rooms of Laurelton Hall including the famous Daffodil Terrace.
The restored Dining Room from Laurelton Hall *

If you are in Florida - around the Orlando area - do go along to the museum for a very special ‘experience’.  Breathtaking!

* Copyright - Morse Museum, Winter Park.
A Tiffany Chapel

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Coffee - the Essential Caffeine Boost.

A good cup of black coffee.

“Is that black enough for you?” a new colleague asked as she placed a mug of dark brown coffee down on the desk.
I tried to diplomatically explain that black coffee is coffee without milk.  And gave up.  As they say, if you want anything done…
But this episode did have me thinking.  Almost anywhere in Europe if you ask for coffee it automatically comes black.  In the UK ask for coffee and it comes with milk.

Little did our ancestors realise when coffee was introduced to Europe that it would become such a popular beverage and be responsible for the start of so many businesses.
England’s connection with coffee is well documented, from the Warehouses to Coffee Houses – especially in the City of London.  The first coffee house to appear was opened in 1652.
These coffee houses are responsible for much in our life which we now take for granted.  Not only did gentlemen gather to drink coffee, they did business.  And from that sprang Lloyds of London and insurance houses, financial institutions and importers of various commodities.  Stockbrokers moved from the Royal Exchange into Garraway’s Coffee House which is why attendants at the Stock Exchange are still called waiters.
And, of course, artists and writers would gather to exchange ideas.

It isn’t known exactly when and where coffee was first cultivated.  Some think it started in Arabia near the Red Sea in about AD 675.
The first coffee drinkers are reported as having experienced sensations ranging from exhilaration to religious ecstasy. 
It wasn’t until the 15th and 16th centuries that the trees were planted in the Yemen in any large degree. With the increase in coffee consumption in Europe in the 17th century the Dutch began to cultivate it in their colonies – especially Java.
In 1714 the French took a live cutting to Martinique.  This was the founding plant for the coffee plantations of Latin America.
Nowadays coffee comes from around the globe – Latin America, the West Indies, the Africas, Indonesia, Hawaii, Papua New Guinea and – India.  Yes, they produce coffee as well as tea.

The coffee tree is a member of the tropical Madder family.  Other members include quinine and ipecac.  There are also some temperate members, namely rock plants and the gardenia.
Coffee 'cherries'
The trees reach a height of 15-20ft. with fragrant white blossoms that last only a few days and several months later the small green fruit develops.  These gradually ripen into the deep crimson “cherries” which are carefully harvested.
There are three basic species – Arabian, Robusta and Liberian.  The main commercial varieties being Arabian and Robusta.  Even these are broken down into yet more varieties.  In the Western Hemisphere the Arabicas are divided into Brazils and milds.  Robustas are only cultivated in the Eastern Hemisphere.
The Brazils are mostly Santos, Parana and Rio (named for the ports from which they are shipped).
Milds, Robustas and other Arabicas get their names from the countries and districts where they grow.

The production of coffee beans is by heating them in rotating horizontal drums.  The varieties depend on the temperatures at which they are roasted.  Light at 193c., medium at 205c. and dark at 218c.
An important person in the production of good coffee is the Blender.  He needs a good “nose” to produce the required flavour from a blend of different coffee beans.
The beans are either packaged as is, ground and sealed in vacuum packs, or made into other types of coffee such as instants and decaffeinated.
This last originated in Germany.  Ludwig Roselius, a coffee merchant of Bremen, is responsible for the invention called Kaffee Haag.  (Now for a plug.... I have an article about Bremen on

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Work and Relaxation

Life has been rather busy lately between finishing ‘Dirty Deeds in Downdene’, posting it to Amazon and Smashwords and giving talks on electronic publishing.  Now my time is being taken up with dealing with the publicity angle.  Sorry for the book plug, but without print copies to go and sign.....

Enough of work.  I am so happy that summer has now decided to put in an appearance.  I - and everyone else in the UK - have been fed up with wearing winter clothes.  To celebrate, one day this week I took a trip to Bognor Regis and strolled along the promenade.  To be exact, I strolled and sat to relax and read my Kindle - such a useful item!

The quieter beach at Bognor.
Bognor acquired the ‘Regis’ following a stay there in 1929 by King George V who, apparently, didn’t like the town.  Looking at the number of people enjoying themselves I think he was in the minority.

As well as the beaches (one family oriented and the other more peaceful) and shops, Bognor has the Alexandra Theatre where many well know people perform and at Christmastime there is always a pantomime.  Oh dear, summer is late this year and here I am talking about the winter.

Now that we are having a typical British summer - a few nice days, then some cloudy/showery ones - I hope there will be lots of hot days so that I can make more visits to Bognor on the West Sussex coast.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

The New Forest in Hampshire

Mother and Baby

One of my favourite places in England is the New Forest so it is hardly surprising that I set one of my books there (Homicide in Hampshire).

Whether you walk, cycle or horse-ride through the forest it is a wonderful experience.  There are woods and moorlands to discover and plenty of animals.  Probably the most famous are the New Forest ponies, followed by the sheep and donkeys.  An important do not do is feed these animals.  Nor should you pet them.  And, of course, when driving through the forest, always be alert because these animals have a tendency to crop the grass on the verges and to amble across the road.

Beaulieu House
There are several small towns for those who need shops, bars and restaurants and for those who enjoy show gardens and historic houses, there are several to visit.  The gardens at Exbury are gorgeous at any time of the year and there is a novel way of getting around - steam train.  A model one of course.  In Beaulieu there is the historic House and the National Motor Museum and on the banks of the Beaulieu River is Bucklers' Hard.  This is an 18th century shipbuilding village where they built ships for Nelson's Navy and the Battle of Trafalgar.

Among other things to see and do are the New Forest Wildlife Park and several Nature Reserves, Paultons Park and Breamore House.

For more information about the National Forest log onto their web site:
There is also a blog now available:

Homicide in Hampshire

Cleo Marjoribanks lives in a village (fictitious of course!) in the New Forest and one evening comes home from London to find that her housekeeper has apparently drowned in the swimming pool and the housekeeper's husband is missing.  A couple of days later his body turns up on a beach.  He had been shot.  Later in the book the village gossip is found dead - in Cleo's garden.  She was, fortunately, away at the time.

Near the end of the book is a very strange car chase - four cars which keep to the speed limits and obey the traffic lights when driving through towns. 

The Detective Chief Inspector in charge of the case is 'Steaming' Kettle who went to school with Cleo.  They haven't seen each other since then so it is quite a reunion.  And, yes, they do get very friendly!!!!!!

Homicide in Hampshire is available at $2.99/£2.00 on Amazon,, Kobo, Apple I-Pad, Sony, Barnes & Noble (Nook), Diesel, Baker-Taylor.

Monday, 25 June 2012

My Edinburgh Experience

Princes Street from Calton Hill
Yes, it is June and supposedly summer although, as everyone in the UK agrees, wind and rain is not summer weather.  But for my few days in Edinburgh the weather was benign.  A few light showers on one day but otherwise pleasant for walking.  There are hop-on-hop-off tours available for those with mobility problems or with limited time and making their first trip to Scotland's capital. The rest of us wear out our shoe leather.

My first time in Edinburgh was in the late 1960s when I lived there for a short time.  In those days traffic was not a problem.  You could drive from home to the office and park the car for free!  Now traffic in Edinburgh is the same as any large city - far too much of it. 

To ease congestion between Waverley Station and the airport a tram system is being installed. Obviously residents and shopkeepers are unhappy with the road works that this entails, but tourists take it in their stride.  Once the work is complete and the trams glide along Princes Street everyone will be happy.

But, back to 'what I did on my holiday' - to paraphrase the teachers' favourite post-summer holiday essay subject.
The National Monument on Calton Hill.

I didn't go to Edinburgh Castle or Holyroodhouse Palace as I know them well.  This time it was an occasion to visit old haunts and do something I had never before done but always promised myself I would.  I climbed Calton Hill, once (like the hill where the castle is located) a volcano and where the monuments are.  Actually it isn't as bad as it sounds as, after climbing the first few steps off Waterloo Place, I then followed the gently sloping path that winds its way around the hill.

From the north side are fantastic views of the Firth of Forth across to Fife.  In other directions can be seen the castle, Princes Street, Holyroodhouse Palace and Arthur's Seat (another volcanic hill).  On Calton Hill are the Nelson Monument, the National Monument (in honour of the soldiers killed in the Napoleonic wars), Rock House (home of the 19th century photographer David Octavius Hill) and the former City Observatory.

My old haunts included the Royal Botanic Gardens and the street called Grassmarket.  My memories of the latter were of a large open space with pubs and a few shops. Now there are several restaurants and, in the centre, is an area set aside for open air dining, seats for relaxation and plenty of trees.  A definite improvement.

I will write some articles to post on  ( - a case of 'watch that space'!  There are already some articles on the site about Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Yacht Britannia (moored at Leith docks) and the Queen Mum Memorial Garden (plus other garden areas of Edinburgh).

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Door Slammers

Don't you just love them?  Those fellow hotel guests who seem unable to close their door quietly?  Especially annoying when they come in late at night - after you are asleep - and proceed to wake up everyone in the corridor.
Years ago when I lived in Spain one of the other problems was stone floors and ladies in high-heels.  Then, of course, along came the clogs.  As a hotel rep I heard many complaints about noisy floors and doors.  It still surprises me that anyone managed to get any sleep.  Perhaps that was why they fell asleep in the sun and got badly sunburnt!
If, like me, you live in a flat you also know of other noise problems such as loud radios/TVs/music.  
 But the biggest bugbear - as in hotels - is door slamming.  I can understand the click when people go out, but when they come in?  All doors have knobs of one sort or another so it isn't difficult to close the front door quietly rather than push it to behind you.
My most unfavourite noise problem?  People who don't close the bathroom door.  Think about it.
Now a please from all of us who experience door slamming - please, please, DON'T slam that door.  Just 'Shut that Door' quietly - as I'm sure the lovely late Larry Grayson would have expected.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Memories of a Coronation

The Fabulous Coronation Coach
Oh dear, how typical in this country that the weather forecast for the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations is cool and showery.  Exactly the same as on Coronation Day (3rd July 1953).  Then people camped out along the route for several days beforehand - the weather didn't put them off.

In the early 1950s only people who could afford it had television.  When it was announced that the Coronation would be televised sales rocketed.  Our next door neighbours bought one and on Coronation Day the room was filled with people on chairs of all types - a case of bring your own.  We children sat on the floor in front of the grown ups.

The set?  It was a small square screen in a large wooden cabinet.  It wouldn't have been possible to see the picture without the huge square glass bubble over it - the magnifier.

Until now the only moving pictures of the Royal Family that most of us had seen were Newsreels at the cinema.  A few of us had been lucky enough to see King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) when they had either visited our town or driven through en route to another destination.

On Coronation Day we settled down to watch the most momentous post-war occasion in our lives.  The Crowning of our Queen, a beautiful young woman married to a handsome prince.

And it was the first time us children had ever seen the great Coronation Coach - albeit in black and white.  As it drew out of the Buckingham Palace forecourt and we got a glimpse of Her Majesty wearing a gorgeous diadem a shiver ran down my spine.

The cavalcade of carriages carrying royalty, presidents and other high ranking personages from around the world was interspersed with soldiers, sailors and airmen from the Commonwealth (as it was to become known) and, of course, there were mounted soldiers and bands.

Watching the Crowning was breathtaking.  And, of course, The Queen wore a crown for the long, slow return journey to Buckingham Palace.  It wasn't the one that she had been crowned with - the 1661 St. Edward's Crown which weights 2.23 kg. - but the lighter Imperial State Crown.

Apart from the Coronation Coach probably the most memorable one was the open Landau carrying the stately Queen Salote of Tonga and a smaller gentleman.  It didn't matter that it was raining, Queen Salote had a ball waving to the crowds, pointing to various placards held by members of the crowd and laughing.  A very jolly lady.  What an ambassador for her Country.  One that, until that time, very few of us had even heard of!

The Coronation, was well as being the epitome of British Pageantry was also a great learning experience.  Not just for the Service but also it brought the world to London and taught us children that there is a lot more than Europe out there to be visited.

Maybe that was the basis of my desire to travel!

I did once make it to Buckingham Palace for a Balcony Scene.  It was the 50th Anniversary of VE Day (9th May 1995).  I was at the railings by 6.00 a.m. and later saw Their Majesties, Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and HRH the Princess Margaret on the balcony.  And they joined in the sing-song being led by Dame Vera Lynn, Sir Harry Secombe, Sir Cliff Richard and introduced by Bob Holness.  It was a morning that I will cherish all my life.  

HM The Queen during a visit to Croydon, Surrey
I do have an article about the Royal Carriages on

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The Acceptable Face of Electronic Publishing

It has taken a long time but electronic publishing is now considered acceptable.  Except by a few die-hards.
There is nothing - and never will be - anything to replace the joy of printed books.  They are easy to read and, in bed before going to sleep, are comforting to hold.
There are many reasons why people enjoy e-readers, be it Kindle, I-Pad, Kobo or one of several others now on the market.
1.      They are very portable, which makes them useful for commuters and travellers.  Having a small, slim and lightweight e-reader means you don't have to pack a load of books when going on holiday.  Think of the weight you save - especially when flying.
2.      If you read a lot and rely on the library, e-readers are invaluable.  With small local libraries closing or reducing their hours and stock, more people will have to rely on e-readers.  Especially if they don't own a car and so cannot reach another library.
 3.     Many bookworms either don't have room to keep more than a few books - which can make for boring reading after the third or fourth time - or cannot afford to buy books, even from a charity shop.
4.      E-readers are also very good for the disabled.  Apart from the convenience of not having to keep going to the library or bookshop, as they are lightweight they are easy to manage.
          This I know from personal experience.  I have RSI which affects my hand, arm and shoulder.  When they are particularly painful holding a book and turning the pages can be very difficult.  My Kindle is a blessing.

E-Publishing for Writers.
At one time if anyone e-published their books - without it being previously in print - it was assumed they weren't really writers.  Or, as one newspaper editor said to me, "Anyone can publish a book whether it is any good or not."
What doesn't seem to be realised is that books do get vetted.
From the author's point of view, e-publishing is easy but selling the books can be difficult.  As you don't have books to sign you cannot go and meet your fans.  So you have to create your own publicity.
The good news for self-published authors is that publishers are now e-publishing their clients' books so, once you have, say, three e-published books you have begun to create your portfolio.  This proves to agents and publishers that you can produce more than one book!
My books are available on Amazon, I-Pad, Kobo, Diesel and Others.