In Flanders Fields

One hundred years ago in Sunday the guns fell silent.

They say there is hardly a family in Britain, France or Germany which did not have at least one casualty of war, be it a close relative or  more distant one. My grandfather lost a dearly loved brother at Arras and my grandmother lost her eldest brother in The Somme. Neither of them has a known grave, the mud took them and they are what Brooke called “some part of a foreign field”

But they are not forgotten, every year I plant my poppy crosses in the turf at our local memorial and I write their names on each back of each one…Sidney Raymond Harris and John Henry Lester.

How long will they be remembered?

I don’t know, it is not as if their names will be fresh remembered to the ending of the world, to paraphrase Shakespeare, but as long as I live and my children and maybe my grandchildren, I like to think that every 11th November, someone who shares their lost genes will plant a little cross with a red poppy in their name.

Was their sacrifice worth it? Did it solve anything? Who knows, it is probably still to soon to say, but when their country thought it would and asked them to go and be soldiers, they went. If we recognise anything it should be that sense of duty and we should be grateful to them and all the others who went with them.

 

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The Occult Detective Quarterly

Hi everyone, sorry I haven’t been around for a while, but here we are again.

There are in this wicked old world some publications with the most delicious names, but few can match the delightfully named “Occult Detective Quarterly”.  This journal makes no attempt to hide its content, it does exactly what it says on the cover.

To quote its own web site

OCCULT DETECTIVE QUARTERLY MAGAZINE is devoted to those intrepid investigators who investigate the weird, exotic and bizarre. These are the people who explore the darkness, both within and beyond, often to their own peril and the expense of their very lives and sanity.”

As some of you know, when not writing scific/fantasy novels packed with soldiers and young heroes of dubious morality, I like to indulge in writing short stories of the weird and wild and wicked, some of you will remember the man who had sex with his garden pond and the one about the mushrooms.

If you also feel the need to have fingers crawl up your spine and to check behind the curtains every time a draft makes them move, I’m sure the contents of the quarterly will be just the thing to interfere with your sleep pattern.

If you are interested, may I direct you to John Linwood Grant’s excellent blog where he talks about the OCD and about his beloved long dogs (lurchers). There are links to were to obtain copies of The ODQ as well.

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So far I’ve not had the honour of being published in the journal, but I am to have the privilege of being part of their first anthology.

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There I am, first on the list 🙂

I’ve mentioned before my occult detective, Mrs Lillicrop, and this will be her first outing. I hope it won’t be her last. The story is set in the 1930s and Mrs. Lillicrop may or may not be, a war widow. She lives in Chelsea and it is important to note that she doesn’t knit.

 

 

 

Running in the Family

My great grandfather, Alfred Harris was a story teller. He was very good at it, and while never sinking as low as fabrication (unlike his great granddaughter) , he could take a small nugget of fact and spin it like a politician with an election to win. These stories have become Harris family legends, believed implicitly by several generations and handed down as “hand on heart, it’s true as I live and breathe” truths, never to be questioned.

I’m a story teller. I make no pretensions to literature, I know what I am, a spinner and a weaver of whimsy, one step away from the old men and women who sat by the fire in the cave and told tales to keep the night away and stop the kids making a nuisance of themselves. Over the years I’ve sat in warm kitchens and back parlours and listened as the old people drank tea, smoked endless cigarettes and remembered. I’ve heard all Alfred’s stories told by his children and his grandchildren and I’ve given up on the “pinch of salt” where they are concerned and substituted a fist full instead.

Having said that, I have to give Alfred his due, he may have being stretching the truth until it pinged, but sometimes, there was a grain of truth in what he said, a much abused grain, but it was there. Like how the family once lived in Jerusalem…he was right, we did once live in an area of a small Surrey town which was colloquially and ironically know as “Jerusalem” on account of its undesirable reputation. This part of the tale was, of course, omitted and the impression of sand, heat and holiness allowed to grow and grow. I swear there were times when I could smell the gefilte fish and hear the muezzin call from The Dome of the Rock.

The one about us being descended from Spanish Gypsies makes me very suspicious, but one the other hand, genealogical research as proved a direct ancestor was born at sea in about 1800. There is no more information so far, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out  Spain is involved some where. I have strong doubts about the gypsies, if there is anything in it, it will probably involve a cargo of something very dull and a delayed voyage.

One of the other favourite family stories was how a Harris, back in the good old days, fought Tom Cribb, the famous bare knuckle boxer whose fight with Molineaux is a legend in pugilistic circles and familiar to any reader of Georgette Heyer.  My grandfather, Alfred’s youngest son, was very fond of this one and would tell it the second boxing was mentioned.

Pinch of salt? Please…pass the cruet.

However, on my genealogical travels down the branches of the family tree, I discovered that Alfred’s mother-in-law (deceased long, long before he met her daughter) was the child of a stonemason and came from a little town in Herefordshire called Fownhope.

One day in 2009 The Military Historian and I happened to be on our way to somewhere in Wales the long way round and we chanced to see a sign pointing to Fownhope and on the spur of the moment we decided to go and have a look.

It is a charming village and has two pubs, The New Inn and The Green Man. We decided to have lunch in The Green Man and on the wall is a large notice telling all about a former resident of the town and the pub …wait for this…was a former famous bare knuckle fighter called, not Tom Cribb, but Tom Winter. Not only that, but later research showed my ancestor lived in the old mews behind the pub and had several brothers. What are the chances of a couple of small boys not taking the opportunity to beg for a chance to spar with the great man?

Look Tom Winter up, my long ago ancestors didn’t get to take a swing at Tom Cribb, but he did.

The story of fighting with a famous boxer had obviously been told to Alfred’s wife by her mother and she in turn told it to her husband and great-grandfather couldn’t resist adopting and embellishing the story and making it a Harris legend.

Is there a moral to all this? Well yes, a couple – the first being don’t take family stories as gospel. I hear a lot of them at genealogical fairs, all too often preceded by the words “you’ll be interested in this”, which, believe me is very rarely the case and I can’t help wondering just how much truth there is in them. Are they “Jerusalem” stories or is there some truth underneath?

The other thing, and this is the one I like best, is never let a good tale go untold.  After all, there’s Granny’s Crown Derby Tea Service to be explained, and the day Aunt Grace’s husband came looking for her with the gun, and who exactly was George Clement Smith?

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“The Root of Earth”

Human beings aren’t supposed to be alone. I know there are some individuals who like their own company and don’t need others, but they are few and far between, taken as a whole humans need other humans. Withholding social contact is one of the unkindest things you can do to another person, but it is so very easy to do it without malice, some people are very easy to over look.

Loneliness has been occupying my thoughts for awhile now, worrying me and bothering me. Not for myself, I am surrounded by a crowd of loud self-opinionated extroverts who wouldn’t allow anyone to be alone no matter how hard they begged, and I have my lovely sewing friends as well, but I am concerned for others and as always happens with me, a story began to form in my head., so after a period of inactivity, my oddly wired brain has dragged me away from the sewing machine and back to the key board.

I have begun a new book with the working title “The Root of Earth“…kudos to anyone who can tell me where I have nicked that from. If all goes to the plan which is scribbled on the back of half a dozen receipts and in the posh notebook The Military Historian bought me for the purpose of note taking and which I keep forgetting, it will be a sci-fic story about a colony ship.

I can almost hear the groans of “Oh god, not another one“, but I think I may have found a bit of a twist on this well trodden path. The first one being the ship gets to its destination which I notice rarely happens in most colonisation stories, so often they get lost, have a mutiny or find someone else got there first causing endless problems – none of this will happen here, I promise. The story is more about what happens when you land a lot of people on a place they are now going to have to call home whether they like it or not, because there is no return ticket if you change your mind. This is not the situation best suited to loners, loners won’t survive.

Next…my main cast of characters has no men, not one. I have a woman and four girls and a gender neutral computer. This is a complete change of direction for me,  I have on several occasions been criticised for “not having a positive role model for women” in my work. My argument has always been that surely the fact the books are written by a woman should be enough to show I am positive. There will be make characters of course, but I don’t think many of them will be taking centre stage. I could be wrong, characters have a habit of demanding a part of the action despite a writers best intentions.

Changing the subject, the nameless military tart in my last blog has been named by a contributor as “Gordon Pasha Tart” after General Gordon who was killed at Khartoum. Since then another recipe experiment has gone extremely well and “Younghusband Tart” will be shared here in due course. We are still going down the Victorian soldier route and as this one has mountains of nut brittle, Younghusband got the honour.

I am working on a very decadent idea involving chocolate, hazel nuts and butter and if it works it will be “Charles Napier Tart” because it will be a sinful pleasure.

I will add the recipes soon.

 

 

 

Banana, Banana!

Sometime back in the 1960’s my grandparents went on holiday to the Canary Islands. Back then this was a real adventure, especially for two people born before World War One and for whom flying was still something amazing.

One of the things they brought home was a bottle of banana liqueur. It was one of those things tourist did bring back, it was in a very exciting shaped bottle and the most improbable golden yellow in colour.

My gran never drank and my grandfather was very abstemious, so this bottle was never opened. I suspect they never really had any intention of opening it, it sat in their cocktail cabinet a glowing golden addition to the a status symbol my grandfather was very proud of , it cemented his image as the successful, self made business man he was.

In time the cocktail cabinet and the bottle passed to my mother. She also is/was no drinker and her really hated that cocktail cabinet. Resourceful woman that she is, she found homes for both, the cabinet to a cousin who admired it and the bottle to the Military Historian and me.

Neither of us is adverse to the odd glass of something, but there was something about this jaundice liquid in its bulbous bottle which did not tempt. So we did what any sensible person would do, we put it in the back of a dark cupboard and ignored it. When we moved we thought about chucking it out, but what with one thing and another, it came with us to the new house and went into a new dark cupboard.

Then we moved again and so did the bottle, to yet another cupboard. Then I had a new kitchen and it spent a while in the cellar. Then we needed to clear the cellar, so it found itself in one of the new kitchen cabinets…luxury, it was only semi-dark in there.

Then comes last night. I’ve made pots and pots of apple butter from the bags and bags of windfalls which keep appearing. It is delicious and it needs a home, so we decide to make some space in the kitchen. There in all its yellowness is the now sixty year old bottle of banana liqueur. The time has come, its day is done, the bottle is quirky, so we might keep it, but the contents is going down the sink. Let’s face it, by now it will be yucky beyond belief.

I’m about to pour when the Military Historian says “dare you to try it”. Well, I’ve not been married to the British Army for more years than I care to remember for nothing! A challenge is a challenge and not something to be turned down. So I pour some into a spoon and try it.

Then I had another spoonful to make sure my taste buds hadn’t been deceived. It is DELICIOUS! Sweet, mellow and tasting of banana, but not in a bad artificial way, but the way a perfectly ripe organic banana does. It is obviously not something for dwarfish quaffing, but it is very drinkable. I have no idea if it always tasted like this or whether time has been the agent, maybe by the end of the bottle I will have worked it out.

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