Here, here! or Hear, hear!?

I am always in a dilemma about the spelling of the phrase meaning ‘I agree’ or ‘I second that’ – should it be ‘here, here!’ or hear, hear!’? I hope I will resolve my dilemma by writing about it.

I have had a little research and have found that the original phrase was something like ‘hear him’, perhaps like the town crier’s cry of ‘oyez! oyez! oyez’ comes from the French meaning to give ear to something. Oyez – always called or shouted three times is used these days to call a court to order.

Apparently, there should be a comma between the two ‘hears’ and it is a complete sentence, not a phrase. As well as showing agreement, it can also mean a sort of ‘hurrah!’ It’s often spelt as ‘here, here’, and I confess I may have done that! In fact it is so often misspelt that it’s almost accepted as an alternative spelling… but ‘hear’ is correct, and was first defined in that way as far back as the 1600’s.

Student days take 2

You know the phrase about returning to one’s childhood, well, I think we are returning to our student-hood. For some reason we hadn’t anything in particular for dinner tonight, so we peered into the freezer, found three random plastic boxes of stuff, mixed them together and had them with pasta… to be honest, they did compliment each other – vegetable soup, pasta with tomatoes and chorizo and four lonely meatballs with new potatoes.

However… when I say we are returning to student-hood, I definitely don’t mean we’re returning to live in the way we had to live when we were doing our degrees. Our student days were very different from those our children experience now; we had no halls or residence or student accommodation, we lived in dire bedsits and so called flats, in the worst areas. These places were unheated, with old falling to bits furnishings, filthy carpets, the most basic of kitchens often with only a Baby Belling for a cooker, and no fridges let alone freezers! There were shared bathrooms (honestly, my kids would just refuse!) often dirty despite our best 18 year-old efforts, vermin ridden (fleas, mice, rats for example…) We tried hard to keep the places we lived in clean, using a dustpan and brush because there was no hoover or cleaner, we took our clothes to the launderette each week and ironed them on the table (we bought an iron but couldn’t afford an ironing board) we used bleach everywhere (there weren’t the array of super-cleaning materials there are now) and we did our best…

… but you know what student life is like… papers everywhere, open books upon open books,piles of texts (books not mobile phone messages!) forgotten coffee mugs, things put down and then forgotten…Looking round my workroom now there are several piles of different papers beside me, a folder of things about Anglo-Saxon on the floor, a folder of an old story i’m thinking about rewriting, booklets of English exercises I’ve written for my English conversation classes, and two mugs i have forgotten to take downstairs… oh and a cookery book, a register, some archaeology magazines…


Family chronicles…

Several years ago, I moved away from my usual type of novel which is something with a mystery, a puzzle with,  I hope, a surprise ending, to the story of a family. I suppose an Aga-saga, if they still call them that! The action takes over the two years of the life of an extended family of cousins, six men from four families, whose ages range from early forties to mid fifties. The inspiration came from my interest in music (to listen, follow and dance to, not to play myself!) and how bands from any genre can be incredibly close, like brothers or sisters, but who have huge rows, splits, fallings-out. Real families do this too – often triggered by an event which one would have thought would have made them closer, an accident, a disaster, a death… With my own family I am so fortunate that awful things which have happened have brought us very much closer… however, I only have to look back to other generations, in far off times, to a different branch of the family to see how an argument, careless words, unkind comments can split a family so they are riven for generations…

So… this story has become tremendously long, because it is really five stories, pulled together by the death of grandma, who held the cousins together:

  • Antoine, the oldest: his beloved brother Eduardo died when he was only twenty and Antoine has never really got over the loss. He made a disastrous marriage to Shane who is a woman with a formidable personality and who definitely has ‘issues’. they have three sons
  • Garry and James: the black sheep of the family – Garry lives in Spain, and probably has a very dodgy past and present life-style. He was married to Ruby, who has become an ‘adopted’ member of the rest of the family; abandoned by Garry she brought up their fours sons, alone but supported by the cousins. James is unmarried and has had a series of girlfriends all of whom the family have thought ‘unsuitable’… until he meets up with Ismene who everyone loves and hopes will make something of hopeless James!
  • Nick and Tyrone: the twins, who are between Garry and James in age. Tyrone has three rather troublesome daughters with Carla, Nick has been married twice,and is currently with the exotic Zofia, who keeps her past concealed.
  • Alex: the youngest; his parents died when he was little more than a toddler and he was brought up by grandma. He has been married three times, and with his present wife has three little girls; however, when he was only fifteen he got the Spanish exchange student at his school pregnant, and was left with a son, Noah.

This is not just the interminable chronicling of the different relationships of the characters… there is action too. Ismene is being harassed and stalked by her ex-husband and after he is hospitalised in a failed bid to kidnap Ismene, his unbalanced sister Francine takes over the harassment. James has been pulled into the clutches of an eastern European criminal gang who traffic people and smuggle anything else including drugs and weapons. Tyrone leaves his family to go on a pilgrimage, one daughter is alone and pregnant, one daughter is struggling with eating issues, the third has been drawn into the same gang James is involved with and has been imprisoned by them in a house with other young girls…

I did think of writing this as several different stories, but then there wouldn’t be the same tension and double plot lines running parallel to intrigue the reader (I hope!)

Goodness knows how Dickens and Tolstoy wrote their novels – mine is nowhere near the scope or range of theirs, and I’m writing on a PC not with a fountain pen on paper! It is really  hard to juggle all the characters and story-lines, and as usual in the first draft I have massively over written – this story is about three times the length of my ordinary novel. I am sure when I go through it properly (once I have finished the basic spell-check) I will lose a third of it, maybe even a half… but it will still be very long!

So back to the story, provisional entitled Lucky Portbraddon – which is the name of the family, Portbraddon – and which reminds me, I must explain why the title is ‘Lucky‘ Portbraddon!

If you haven’t read any of my novels, here is a link:


Have I got the right one?

I love genealogical research, whether it’s my own family, or whether I’m using it to explore pattens of movement of people in former times to make the actions of my characters in my novels realistic and believable. A couple of days ago, I shared a sonnet by Canadian born scientist and poet George John Romanes; he was born in Ontario in 1848. His parents who were both Scottish left Canada when he was only a baby, and the family appear on the 1851 census:

  • George Romanes, 1807, 44, Scotland, Presbyterian Minister, MA, Edinburgh
  • Isabella Romanes, 1813, 38, Scotland
  • James Romanes, 1837, 14, Canada
  • Georgiana Romanes, 1843, 8, Canada
  • George Romanes, 1849, 2, Canada
  • Isabella Stewart, 1813, 38, Ireland, Servant
  • Maria Terrey, 1835, 16, England, Servant
  • Grace Urquhart, 1828, 23, Scotland, Servant

They were living in Brompton Square, Kensington, and obviously were a family of substance with their three servants. I can’t find the family in the 1961 census… sometimes that happens… a census is not completed, or has been lost or destroyed in the war, or the family were abroad… whatever the reason, I can’t find them; however I do find a George and his sisters Georgiana and Charlotte in 1871. There is no mention of their parents, but they are described as ‘son’ and ‘daughters’ so maybe their mother and father were travelling somewhere. They are at home with a friend of George’s, Charles Lister, and I guess the two men must have met at University as they are both described as ‘graduate in natural science; they are looked after by a female servant and a young page, aged thirteen… But is he the right George? I have a feeling he may not be… the difficulties of genealogical research! how easy it is to muddle to people of the same name, even an unusual name!

I had never heard the name Romanes before I came across George; now that I am looking through archive material there seem to be quite a few, and quite a few George Romanes’… have I found the right one? Are the others of the same name related to him? I may have to do some more research… all that I have found might be the details of the wrong person!

Here is another sonnet he definitely did write:

Scientific Research

Why should I chafe and fret myself to find
Some pebble still untouched upon the beach,
Where struggling wavelets follow each on each
Upon the tide-mark of advancing Mind?
If, one with them and urged by those behind,
My utmost energy at last should reach
A stone unwetted by a bubble’s breach,
What gain were it to me or to my kind?

Though I should fail that further inch to go,
Some other soon will creep its rugged floor,
While, resting on the conquered strand below,
I calmly watch the rivalry before,
Rejoicing at the steady onward flow,
But at my new-found peace rejoicing more.


A process of elimination…

Murder stories, films, TV shows nearly all work on the same premise – there is a victim, there are suspects, by a process of elimination the detective/cop/sleuth and sometimes the reader/viewer discovers who committed the crime. To make it an interesting puzzle the writers have to muddy the waters – but not unfairly, they have to mislead – but not annoyingly or untruthfully, and in the best stories, subtle clues should be given so the resolution/denouement/show down makes sense, and possibly even could have been guessed at.

Among the characters and suspects is the person ‘who done it’ but the characters must all be properly described and understood by the audience – or at least the lead characters who will become the inner ring of people who really could have done it, really had a motive, really had an opportunity…

Part of my next Radwinter novel is a puzzle set for the main character Thomas Radwinter; his client’s mother was a teenager at school in 1931, and she told her son when he was an adult that someone had been murdered at the school… he wants Thomas to find out not only who the murderess was (hoping it wasn’t the mother) and to find out which of her school friends was murdered and who did it! A tall order to go back over eighty years and some a crime that no-one else knew was committed! Thomas doesn’t travel back in time, there are no scenes set in the past, it is all Thomas’s research and genealogical tracking which I hope will bring him to a solution satisfactory to his client, but also, more importantly to my readers!

img046Here they are, the twelve girls… another has died in an accident…. or was it? The girl top left is Tomas’s client’s mother, so we presume she was not the one responsible…

These girls superficially look similar, and I think it would be impossible for the reader to imagine twelve characters, so Thomas attaches an adjective to each of them,

  1. Cheeky
  2. Anxious
  3. Steady
  4. Snooty
  5. Unhappy
  6. Confused
  7. Determined
  8. Steadfast
  9. Lonely
  10. Very sad
  11. Disappointed
  12. Ready
  13. Frightened

They have names, of course, and then Thomas discovers that they made little clubs for themselves, Golden Dragons, Blue Lions, Silver Wings so there is something else for them to be associated with. I won’t explain what else I have done to try and make them into individuals, I don’t want to spoil anything should you read the book, however I hope that all will be clear, and when Thomas finds the truth, it is believable and more than that – understandable!

Some of the girls are “eliminated” quite early on, so before long there are just a manageable few “suspects”! By the way, my featured picture is of Cynthia Rhymes, the mother of Thomas’s client. You might wonder why she has an English name… all will be explained in my book!

More ideas for party time!

Spiller’s, the flour manufacturers, produced its own little cookery book, the ‘Spillers Party Cook Book’, probably in the late 1950’s early 1960’s. Much of the advice seems quaint and charming, but there are plenty of recipes which sound delicious at any time, but especially for entertaining, cheese butterflies/straws/puffs, pork and orange,Breton pears. There are some recipes which I don’t think anyone would serve at a dinner party, however tasty, unless they had a very modern make-over, toad in the hole, liver and apple casserole, fidget pie (sausage, onion and apple filling) or plum and rice gateau.

As well as food, the hostess (always the hostess… the husband is just a helper who serves the drinks!!) is given advice on how to organize a buffet, seating plans for dinners, menus – (… for the more adventurous woman who works all day and dashes home at night leaving half an hour to plan a dinner, here is a formula which has been tried and tested many times. The menu, of necessity is simple, but well balanced: grapefruit or soup (powdered, tinned or homemade) steak and kidney pie or casserole or moussaka served with vegetables, cheese and biscuits or ice cream with chocolate sauce…) – wine, children’s games, quick tricks… in fact everything anyone could need to give a splendid retro party!

We have a couple of important celebrations coming up in the autumn, so if we decide to have a dinner party then i shall certainly consult this little booklet on how to properly lay my table:

An attractively laid table is the best complement that good food can have. It is not essential to have silver, lace cloths and the finest glass. A simple seersucker cloth, with gay pottery plates and red candles can prove a fine setting for a simple meal.
The essentials are – a spotless cloth, sparkling glass and silver ware. The rest is up to you.
When setting your table, make sure your guests will have adequate room. the cover – a name given to the individual setting at table – should be about 22 inches wide, more if you have the room.
If using mats, which may be of polished wood, glass or wicker-work, place them about 1 inch from the table edge, lay forks to the left and knives to the right. You can see from our plan how to set them out. A general guide is to place utensils for the first course on the outside and work inwards. Dessert spoons or forks may be laid across the top of the cover and the bread knife can, if you wish, be laid across the side plate. water and wine glasses are placed at the top and slightly to the right of the knives.
When placing salt, mustard and pepper pots, try to supply enough to avoid your guests having to hand them round.

This may seem very basic, but it was a time of great social change and many people were moving in different circles from what they were used to; it was s till a time of great snobbery and class distinction, so I guess for many ordinary people these ‘handy hints’ were really, really useful. These days we have a different sort of etiquette, we are much more casual and accepting of different ways of doing things.

The advice continues:

With bread, cut it as it is wanted to keep it as fresh as possible. water too can be supplied on demand.
people are often uncertain what to do about bottled sauces. A general rule is to keep them in their bottle or jars if they are branded names and to put them into a dish if they are home made. A point to remember, in the days of supermarts, is to see that the bottle is not stamped with the price.

Oh, the days of the supermart!

When I look back upon my childish years

George John Romanes died young, he was only forty-six when he died in Oxford, having been born in Ontario in 1848; he was an extraordinary man, a friend of Darwin, and actually invented the term neo-Darwinism,  he spoke German and Italian fluently, and was a published scientific writer. Although a Christian when young, as demonstrated in this sonnet, he later became an agnostic as his scientific work progressed.

When I look back upon my childish years,
And think how little then I thought at all,
Sometimes to me it now almost appears,
So great the change has been, ’twere but a small
Increase of change that might transform a man
Into a spirit, standing at the throne
Of God, to see in full the mighty plan
Divine, and know as also he is known.
For why should thus so vast a growth have been,
Which all but tops the verge of earthly skies,
If, at the end, all that a man hath seen
Be blotted out before his closing eyes?
So were it better still a child to be,
And shout young laughter through a world of glee.