Jenny Kane: Coffee, cupcakes, chocolate and contemporary fiction / Jennifer Ash: Medieval crime with hints of Ellis Peters and Robin Hood

Tag: 2017

Here begins 2017

It’s that time again! The end of the month mean a visit from Nell Peters!

Over to you Nell…

Yo folks, and welcome to my first monthly guest spot of 2017 on Jenny’s blog – grab a cup of something tasty, pull up a sock and chill out with us for a few moments. You know you want to.

On this day in 1606, Guy (Guido) Fawkes was executed for the part he played in the plot to blow up Parliament the previous November. The conspirators’ trial began on 27th January, so there was no hanging around (so sorry!) after an unsurprising ‘guilty’ verdict was returned by the jury. GF had, after all, been caught loitering with intent around several kegs of gunpowder in the cellars.

The Lord Chief Justice found all the accused culpable of high treason and they were sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered, or in the Attorney General’s words, ‘put to death halfway between heaven and earth as unworthy of both’. I will use great restraint here and refrain from mentioning anything about a suspended sentence. Genitals were to be cut off (double ouch!) and burned, then their bowels and hearts removed – decapitation to follow for good measure, and the dismembered parts of their bodies displayed, so that they would become ‘prey for the fowls of the air’. Slight case of overkill perhaps? Anyone would think they’d seriously hacked someone off …

Fawkes was the last to die – as he began to climb the ladder to the noose, he managed to avoid the agonies of the more gory part of his dispatch by breaking his neck when jumping to his death from the scaffold. Nevertheless, his corpse was quartered and his body parts distributed to ‘the four corners of the kingdom’, to be displayed as a warning to other would-be traitors. I’m guessing by that stage he didn’t really care too much.

A.A. Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh, died less spectacularly on this day in 1956. Last Christmas, we gave each of the (three) granddaughters a small silver pendant inscribed with a Milne quote; ‘you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.’ I hope they all remember that, when I’m not around to remind them and nag them into pursuing and attaining their goals, whatever they might be. Hold onto your hats as we travel forward in time sixty years, to when the death of broadcaster Sir Terry Wogan hit the news in 2016 – at the end of a month that had already seen the demise of David Bowie and Alan Rickman. Little did we know then what a year for ‘celebrity’ deaths it would turn out to be! I read somewhere that the score was eighty-two, but don’t quote me on that.

Hopping centuries, long before the wee leader of the SNP was a twinkle in her ol’  grand pappy’s eye, on Friday 31 January 1919 – thereafter known as Bloody Friday – more than sixty thousand demonstrators gathered in George Square, Glasgow (know it well!) in support of a strike demanding reduction of the working week to 40 hours. While a deputation from the Clyde Workers’ Committee was in City Chambers to hear the Lord Provost’s reply to their petition, police mounted an unprovoked attack on protesters, felling unarmed men and women with their batons. How rude! Inspector Jim Taggart (he of ‘there’s been a muurrrrda’ fame) would never have behaved so outrageously – although it could have been so much worse if they’d revved up the bagpipes … Not about to give in, the demonstrators, with ex-servicemen fresh from WWI to the fore, retaliated with fists, iron railings and broken bottles, forcing the police to retreat – which sadly sounds a lot like your average Saturday night in many UK cities nowadays. Strike leaders rushed outside to restore order, but one, David Kirkwood, was clobbered with a truncheon, and along with William Gallacher, arrested – a ‘why did I bother getting out of bed?’ moment, if ever there was one. English troops arrived later with machine guns, tanks and a 4.5” Howitzer – unless you were certifiably insane, you wouldn’t argue with that lot.

On 10th February the strike was called off by the Joint Committee – whilst not achieving their goal of 40 hours, workers from the engineering and shipbuilding industries did return to work clutching an agreement that guaranteed a 47 hour week, seven hours less than they worked previously, although their morning haggis break went down the Swanee minus a paddle. What part-timers! Most writers would give their right arms – and possibly legs – to have their noses to the screen for a mere fifty-four hours a week!

Many others still work very long hours in their chosen professions – junior doctors come swiftly to mind, especially med students on clinical placements. I did a stint in A&E (which does not stand for Anything and Everything, although a high percentage of visitors don’t appear to realise that!) with a name badge declaring me ‘Dr’, even though I was a million miles away from being one. That is not to boost the student’s ego, but to give the poor patients faith in their attending’s ability to patch them up and send them on their way in a healthier state than when they arrived. It was a very scary place to be – imagine a scatty, skinny young thing who looked about twelve (thereby instilling confidence in absolutely no one, staff or patients), let loose on whoever walked, or was carried, through the door in search of a miracle cure. If you had any sense at all, you’d run a mile wouldn’t you, no matter what was wrong with you? Trying to project an air of professional confidence, but in reality barely knowing my gluteus maximus from my humerus, I wandered lonely as a cloud, knowing I’d made the wrong career choice. All this typically on a couple of hours sleep snatched during the last seventy-two. It’s a wonder anyone ever escapes from the department alive – a bit of Darwin’s survival of the fittest thing going on there.

Last autumn, the OH and I had a taste of just how green the average A&E medic is, when my father was taken there by ambulance. He was suffering from a prolapsed bowel, which was obviously causing him ongoing pain, and because Dad has vascular dementia and is basically away with the fairies, the doc spoke directly with us, ignoring his patient. After I gave a potted history of the problem, he looked at me pityingly and told me in all seriousness there was no such thing as a prolapsed bowel, only a prolapsed womb. I could hardly contain myself! However, after a spluttered ‘What?!’ I felt a sharp kick to my ankle, courtesy the OH, and didn’t continue with ‘have you actually passed any of those pesky exams they make you sit/perhaps it’s time for you to hit Gray’s Anatomy; the book, not the TV series/have you considered an alternative career as a road sweeper, where you can’t do actual physical harm to others’/all of the above. I believe it was after that we drove off with a sandwich and banana on the car roof …

Like many stressful work environments, there’s a lot of graveyard humour flying around A&E, including the shorthand used in patients’ notes – most of it in very bad taste. For example, WWI – walking while intoxicated (fell over); DTS – danger to shipping (fat); VAC – vultures are circling (on last legs); PAAF – pissed as a fart; Organ recital – hypochondriac’s medical notes; NQRITH – not quite right in the head; AALFD – another a***hole looking for drugs; AHF – acute hissy fit; BMW – bitch, moan and whine; JIC – Jesus is calling; LLS: looks like sh*t; KFO – knock the f*cker out (obnoxious patient); LMC – low marble count (dumb); FFDIG – found face down in gutter; HIVI – husband is village idiot; GRAFOB – grim reaper at foot of bed; FLP – funny looking parents (of child patient); DUB – damn ugly baby; Doughnut of death – CT scan; DIFFC – dropped in for friendly chat (nothing wrong); CBT – chronic burger toxicity (obese); MGM syndrome – faker putting on a good show; TSL – too stupid to live. Enough! There are zillions …


On a slightly – very slightly – more sophisticated note, two ageing punk rockers celebrate 31/1 birthdays as Aquarians. One, American Michael John Burkett, aka Fat Mike, aka Cokie the Clown, clocks up fifty years today. Not heard of him? Me neither, but John Joseph Lydon (61) might ring a few bells as ‘legend’ (seriously?) Johnny Rotten, of Sex Pistols fame. Living abroad, I missed the heyday of punk culture, for want of a better term, with its anti-establishment dialogue expressed mainly through shouty song lyrics and anarchic behaviour, all accessorised by enough safety pins to hold the Brighton Pavilion together. How bizarre that anyone could launch a whole career based on being loudly obnoxious, confrontational and nihilistic toward societal norms and values.

In January 2004, Lydon appeared in the jungle on I’m a Sleb and demonstrated that he had perfected the art of never evolving (or indeed growing up), by using obscene language during a live TV broadcast (surprise, surprise!), prompting a slew of complaints from outraged viewers. Mission Look At Me (or CFA in A&E speak – cry for attention) accomplished. What did producers expect from someone quoted as saying, ‘I’m not here for your amusement; you’re here for mine’? Possibly a few ego issues going on there, Johnny, old chap. Most bizarre of all, came an advertising campaign in 2008 for Country Life butter, with Lydon portraying a toff, as opposed to social activist – intellectual irony? I couldn’t possibly comment.

We can only hope that actresses Minnie Driver (47 today) and Portia de Rossi (44), as well as singer Justin Timberlake (36) are slightly more typical of the water carrier air sign, which encompasses those born between January 20th and February 18th. Characteristically, they are progressive, original, independent and humanitarian, but they also avoid emotional expression, are temperamental, uncompromising and aloof. My mother will be ninety on 2/2 and she has made an art form of those last four. Aquarians are shy and quiet, but can be eccentric and energetic – they tend to be deep thinkers and highly intellectual folk who love helping others and are able to assess both sides of a situation without prejudice, making them great at solving problems. OK, The Mater def has her DoB wrong …

Because I wrote my NYE blog long before Christmas Day, I wasn’t able to mention two of my favourite gifts received – a little porcelain chicken from GD Daisy and another, larger, sculpted metal beauty to keep cockerel Vladimir company in the garden, from GSs Alfred and Sidney! They are called Valentina and Raisa respectively – and no beastly cat or other predator is ever going to cause them harm. Raisa has turned out to be most aptly named; we’ve had some strong winds lately and because – unlike Vladimir – she is a two-sided fowl with a hollow belly, she’s been blown over a few times. So, I have to raise her and stand her back on her feet! Boom, boom!

Probably time to disappear, hanging my head in shame … but before I do, just thought I’d mention there are only 334 days left until we get to party again on NYE 2017!

I’m gone … toodles!



Another brilliant blog!! Thanks so much hun.

Happy reading,

Jenny x

Where Did 2016 Go?

It’s that time again- not just another New Year’s Eve- but the end of the month blog from Nell Peters is here!!

Buckle up folks- and pass the whisky!

Over to you Nell…

New Year’s Eve! Where did 2016 go? But suffice to say, I for one am glad it’s now slithering its way into the archives!

Let’s start with the birthday line-up – on the starting blocks we have such luminaries as Donald Trump Jnr (OMG, there’s more than one?), football bod Sir Alex Ferguson, actors Sir Anthony Hopkins, Sir Ben Kingsley and Val Kilmer (no knighthood, Val? Well, if you will be born in the US …), late singers John Denver and Donna Summer, explorer (not watchmaker) Jacques Cartier (my ancient Firebird once broke down while I was driving over his rotten bridge in Montreal) and painter Henri Matisse.


Most important of all, our lovely niece Francesca Cerulli celebrates her 26th birthday today – her dad has Italian genes (the name gives a wee bit of a clue) and she has benefitted in spades in the looks department, lucky girl. Not too good at cooking pasta, though … Just kidding, Fran!


Right, before you get too involved in dragging the sparkly Doc Martens from the back of the closet, and preening in preparation to party, let’s see what has happened historically on this day, shall we? On the eve of the new twenty-first century, just as the London Eye was cranking into action for its debut circuit, Boris Yeltsin resigned as the first President of the Russian Federation, leaving the PM, one Vladimir Putin, to mind the shop – cheers for that, Boris, old chap. A zillion bare-chested, macho-man poses later, mostly accessorised by horses and firearms …


I normally shy away from making any even vaguely political statements on social media, but the thought that after Trump’s inauguration in January, the world will have the Vlad and Donnie Show in positions of unassailable power, their fat fingers hovering over the ultimate button, frankly scares the bejesus out of me. Even the likes of Michael Gove, Ed Miliband and Nigel Farage don’t look too bad, compared to that not-so-much-dream-as-nightmare team.


Moving on; NYE in 1857, Queen Victoria chose Ottawa as the capital of Canada (she wasn’t amused by Victoria in British Columbia?) The city name derives from the Algonquin (Native American) word Odawa – which, incidentally, is exactly how Canadians (or Canajuns) pronounce it, just as they drop the ‘t’ in Montreal and the second ‘t’ in Toronto – meaning ‘to trade’. Assuming HRH didn’t just stick a pin in a map, its selection was strategic as a border stronghold. Ottawa is probably the most British city in Canada in terms of embracing the influence, (though it’s still of necessity bilingual) and surprisingly small for a capital, but it’s full of superb Victorian architecture and brilliant museums. They even have Changing of the Guard (yes, all dressed in red tunics, with bearskins!) on Parliament Hill – but sadly, only from June to August, for tourists.


In 1892, across the border in New York, Ellis Island opened its doors as the official immigration processing centre for those in search of the American Dream. (By the time it closed in 1954, 15m people had passed through – that’s an average of 220,589 a year.) How immensely brave folk were to sail off literally into the unknown, many with hardly more than the clothes they wore. Scientists believe that Homo sapiens first arrived in the US via the Bering Straits about 20,000 years ago, and these were the forebears of the many Native American cultures which would people the landscape for thousands of years.


Next came the Vikings – though not in huge numbers, so maybe not too much raping and pillaging – and eventually the great European migration began. (Just saying, but Donald Trump’s mother and father were of Scottish and German descent respectively – if only the ancestors of Border Control had been a little more on the ball regarding who made it through …) All of this long before the Statue of Liberty was in place nearby, to declare (courtesy Emma Lazarus – I’m absolutely not going to mention anything about her taking up her bed to walk!):

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Crossing the Atlantic for early settlers meant two to three months of seasickness, overcrowding, limited food rations, and disease. Eew – not exactly luxury cruising, but better than a ticket for passage on the Titanic, I suppose. However, the prospect of yours-for-the-asking land parcels and the hope of political and religious freedoms were pretty persuasive arguments. Among the early British settlers were indentured servants willing to trade four to seven years of unpaid labour for a one-way ticket to the colonies and the promise of land. Sounds like a slightly one-sided agreement to me? After seven long years of being a freebie skivvy, I’d expect to be gifted California, minimum.  There were also convicts among the newcomers – many thousands transported from English jails. And we always think of Australia as our go-to penal colony.


The merging of Europeans and Native Americans was not always peaceful (I’ve seen those John Wayne cowboy movies – wagons ho, or there’ll be heap big trouble and a few unscheduled haircuts) and cultures clashed, leading to violence and the spread of new pathogens. Whole tribes were decimated by diseases like small pox, measles, and the plague. And don’t forget how badly these usurpers behaved generally, riding roughshod over tradition, beliefs and land tenure. How rude! When I lived in Montreal, a friend’s old bat of a mother-in-law was slagging off the indigenous race as leeches on the economy, plus a whole lot of other things bad – and when I ventured to disagree (quite bravely, as she was one big momma with a viper’s tongue) she looked down her nose at me and said imperiously, ‘Well, you know, they are allowed to live on Reservations!’ Be still my heart …  This is someone born and bred in the second most French city in Quebec Province, where the official language has been French since 1974, but who never actually bothered to learn the lingo.


OK, enough New World ramblings – Marie Curie (the scientist, not the cancer care organisation that bears her name) accepted her second Nobel Prize on this day in 1911 for Chemistry, having shared the prize for Physics in 1903. She was the first woman to win a Nobel, and the first person/only woman to win twice. Kind of puts Bob Dylan into perspective, doesn’t it? Born Maria Sklodowska in 1867 in Warsaw, she was the youngest of five children of poor school teachers. After her mother died and her father could no longer support her, she became a governess, reading and studying in her own time. Becoming a teacher – the only route which would allow her independence – was never an option, because lack of money prevented her from formal higher education.

However, when her sister came up trumps (sorry!) and offered her lodgings in Paris so she could go to university, she moved to France in 1891. She enrolled at the Sorbonne (when I was a young and foolish student, I once spent the night there, sleeping in the mortuary on a dissection table – don’t ask!) where she read physics and mathematics. It was in Paris, in 1894, that she met Pierre Curie – a scientist working in the city – whom she married a year later and adopted the French spelling of her name, Marie. Her achievements included the development of the theory of radioactivity (a term that she coined), techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes, and the discovery of two elements, polonium and radium. Yeah, Bob, nice lyrics – AND Marie Curie turned up to accept the award.


So, who is going to make a New Year resolution? There will be the usual suspects, like giving up junk food and/or dieting/eating more healthily; stop smoking/drinking too much; embark upon a regular exercise regime (that’ll last until 3rd January at least); stop wasting money on fripperies, yada, yada. I looked online and found a list of 100 resolutions – apart from the obvious, there was, stop twerking (7 – or start, in my case); quit farting so much (16 – I’m saying nothing!); stop playing Candy Crush Saga (28 – please note, those FB friends who keep sending me requests which I steadfastly ignore!); don’t buy the latest iPhone (32 – fine by me, as my mobile is a five year-old, basic Nokia); find Nirvana (38 – far out, man!); become more cultured (45 – that’s after you quit farting so much, presumably); drink more water (46 – why, when there’s still wine in Tesco?); quit picking your nose (62 – see 45); get a tattoo (66 – why?); keep a cleaner house (73 – again, why?); write more (76 – what’s this, chopped liver?); read more (97 – I wish!); become an expert at something (100 – like composing dumb lists?) I’ll leave it to you to extract the bones out of that lot.

Traditionally, on the stroke of midnight on 31st December, the English would open the back door to let the old year out, and ask the first dark-haired man they saw to come through the front door carrying bread, salt and coal. (Did he have to patrol the streets carrying that lot, in the hope of being invited in somewhere?) Symbolically, that meant that for the following year everyone in the house would have enough to eat (bread), enough money (salt), and be warm (coal). Nowadays, those of us who don’t venture out to lurk – freezing our socks off – in Trafalgar Square or similar to see in the New Year, or pay exorbitant prices to attend a formal function, slum it sitting round the TV watching Jools Holland and his cronies cavorting around the studio to present the annual hootenanny. There is a countdown to midnight, courtesy Big Ben’s bongs (nice alliteration!), followed by a rendition of Auld Lang Syne, often with the Pipes and Drums of the Scots Guards. All a bit naff, when you consider it’s pre-recorded.


The Scots celebrate Hogmanay, the name taken from an oat cake that used to be given to children on New Year’s Eve – I imagine they’d rather have had a chocolate bar. In Edinburgh there’s a huge ticket-only party from Prince’s Street to the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle – the only year we were there, it was cancelled due to foul weather. In Scotland? Surely not! Those who stay home observe the tradition of first-footing at the stroke of twelve – ie the first person to set foot in a house is thought to affect the fortunes of everyone who lives there for the coming year. Strangers are supposed to bring good luck – except when they fill their swag bags and abscond with the family silver, of course.

New Year’s Eve is Nos Galan in Welsh, and whilst they also believe in letting out the old year and ushering in the new, if the first visitor after midnight is a woman and a man opens the door, it’s considered bad luck. Uh-oh! Plus, if the first man to cross the threshold has red hair, that’s bad luck too. I guess gingers don’t get too many invitations to parties, just in case they time their arrival badly. The Welsh believe you should pay off all debts before the New Year begins, or you’ll spend the whole of the next year in the red – maybe there’s some tenuous connection with those poor carrot-topped chaps being so unpopular? On New Year’s Day (Dydd Calan) Welsh children get up early to visit their neighbours and sing songs. They are given coins, mince pies, apples and sweets for singing – or, more likely, to go away. Shrill little voices warbling on the doorstep is not really what you need first thing, if you’re nursing a hangover from the night before. Whatever, this fizzles out by midday.

My job here is done. Thank you for having me again, Jenny.


Happy New Year! Or A Guid New Year! Or Dydd Calan Hapus!



PS. I have mentioned before that Jen and I share a birthday, but we also share an editor, lovely Greg Rees at Accent Press. Since I wrote this blog – well in advance, as usual – Accent Press have reorganised, and Greg left in mid-December. I have so enjoyed working with him (he even appreciates my dodgy sense of humour!) and wish him every success and happiness, as he moves on to pastures new. I will miss him a lot, as I’m sure will all his authors. Yep, 2016 has been one rubbish year …

Sé feliz, Greg, y cuídate! x

(I second the above – Greg, you’ll be hugely missed J x)

Many many thanks once again to Nell for a fabulous blogs this year. And thank you to all of you, my lovely readers.

Happy new Year everyone.

Jenny x


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