Jenny Kane & Jennifer Ash

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

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End of the Month: From Harry Corbett to MASH via David Nivan

I’m never sure why, seeing as it’s only two or three days shorter than the other months of the year, but February goes to fast. It always feels at least a week shorter than all the other months.

The plus side of this, is that Nell Peters is back already with her latest End of the Month blog.

Over to you Nell…

Hello, and top of the morning to y’all. Come on in out of the cold and grab a hot beverage to warm your cockles, so to speak.

The actor, Harry Corbett was born in Burma on this day in 1925, the youngest of seven children. His father, George, was serving with the British army as part of the Colonial defence forces, but the boy was sent back to England aged just eighteen months to be brought up by his aunt, after his mother died of dysentery. As an adult, Corbett enlisted in the Royal Marines during World War II, serving on the heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire. Is there such a thing as a light cruiser, I wonder? In 1945, he was posted to the Far East, and reportedly killed two Japanese soldiers while engaged in hand-to-hand fighting. Yikes.

Back in Blighty, after a spot of desertion, he trained as a radiographer before moving into acting, initially in repertory – it was then he added the middle initial H to his name, to avoid confusion with the guy who found fame with his hand stuck up Sooty’s bottom. If asked, he would claim that the H stood for ‘hennyfink’. What a wag. Although acknowledged as an accomplished Shakespearean actor, Corbett was best known for his role as Harold Steptoe, a rag and bone man who lived with his irascible father, Albert (played by Wilfrid Brambell, who was actually only thirteen years older than Harry) in a dilapidated house, attached to their junkyard and stabling for the cart horse, Hercules. The series ran from 1962 until the Christmas special in 1974.

Must have been interesting on set, as Corbett smoked sixty fags a day (until his first heart attack in 1979, when he cut down to twenty), and Brambell was an alcoholic and gay – at a time when homosexual acts were against the law (decriminalised 1967). It was a second heart attack that killed Harry H in March 1982, aged fifty-seven – he was survived by his second wife, a son and daughter, Susannah, who played Ellie, Peter Pascoe’s wife in Dalziel and Pascoe. Outliving Corbett by almost three years, Brambell died of cancer aged seventy-two, in January 1985.

Over in the Soviet Union, it was on 28th February 1953 that Joseph Stalin had a pow-wow with Beria, Bulganin, Khrushchev & Malenkov – it must have been quite a knees-up because the very next day Stalin suffered a massive stroke, which killed him four days later. Perhaps they were celebrating the births of American wrestler Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat, (real name Richard Blood); Ingo Hoffmann, Brazilian racing driver; and Paul Krugman, American economist and New York Times columnist, who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2008?

Mention deoxyribonucleic acid – the molecule that contains the genetic blueprint for cell reproduction – more commonly known as DNA, and most of us could excavate the names Watson and Crick from the memory bank. Officially, it was on this day in Cambridge, also in 1953, that the two scientists were credited with the discovery of the chemical structure of DNA. However, it was at King’s College London, that Rosalind Franklin obtained an image of DNA using X-ray crystallography (the science of determining the arrangement of atoms in crystalline solids), an idea first broached by Maurice Wilkins.

Franklin’s image, known as Photograph 51, was taken by Raymond Gosling in May 1952, when he was working as a PhD student under her supervision. It provided critical evidence in identifying the structure of DNA and was thus a vital contribution to James Watson and Francis Crick’s creation of their famous two-strand, or double-helix, model. There is some doubt that Franklin gave her permission for the image to be used. Of the four main players – Watson, Crick, Wilkins and Rosalind herself, she was the only one with a background in chemistry, and the only one who did not share the Nobel Prize (Physiology/Medicine) in 1962. She died far too young of ovarian cancer on 16th April 1958 – my sister’s first birthday.

Raymond Massey

Had he not died in 1995, Sir Stephen Harold Spender CBE would be loading his birthday cake with a whopping one hundred and ten candles today. He was an English poet, novelist, critic and essayist who highlighted themes of social injustice and the class struggle in his work, which came to prominence during the 1930s. He was big pals with WH Auden and Cecil Day-Lewis – they met as Oxford undergraduates, even though Auden and Spender had both been pupils at Gresham’s School in Norfolk – and along with Christopher Isherwood and Louis MacNeice, they were sometimes referred to as the Oxford Poets. Right now, I am getting nowhere fast with this and I can relate to a line in one of Spender’s poems: As I sit staring out of my window…

Who can remember the coronation ceremony of Liu Bang as Emperor Gaozu of Han on the last day of Feb 202BC, which initiated four centuries of the Han Dynasty’s rule over China? No takers? OK, what about the first boat load of gold rush prospectors arriving in San Francisco from the east coast in 1849 – the very same day that jockey Tom Cunningham won the eleventh Grand National riding a horse called Peter Simple? Still no? I’ll make it easy-peasy then – we all know that when he was sworn in, in 1952 (Charles) Vincent Massey became the first Canadian-born person to serve as Canada’s Governor General since the Canadian Confederation, eight days after his sixty-fifth birthday. We do, don’t we? He was the eighteenth GG, by the way.

Vincent’s younger brother, Raymond Hart Massey, also briefly dabbled on the sidelines of politics when he appeared in a 1964 television advertisement in support of Republican presidential nominee, Barry Goldwater. Massey denounced incumbent US President Lyndon B Johnson’s strategies during the Vietnam War, suggesting that Goldwater had the nous to win the war quickly. Johnson won a landslide victory and the war trundled on until 30th April 1975, when Saigon fell. Taking the hint, perhaps, Raymond went into acting, becoming a US citizen along the way. His film appearances were many and varied and he was no stranger to the TV screen during the 1950s and 60s, most notably playing Dr Gillespie to Richard Chamberlain’s eponymous role as Dr Kildare.

Massey married three times. His high-profile estrangement and divorce from second wife, actress Adrianne Allen, was the inspiration for Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin’s script for the film Adam’s Rib (1949), starring Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. In a You Couldn’t Make It Up scenario, Massey went on to marry the lawyer who represented him in court, Dorothy Whitney, while his by then former wife, Allen, married the opposing lawyer, William Dwight Whitney. But before they fell out, Massey and Allen produced two children, actors Anna and Daniel Massey.

Like his father, Daniel married three times – first, actress Adrienne Corri (only slightly spooky to pick someone almost sharing his mother’s name); second, actress Penelope Wilton (Calendar Girls (2003), Shaun of the Dead (2004), Pride & Prejudice (2005), The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012), The BFG (2016) and all six series of Downton Abbey – to name but a few); and third wife, Linda Wilton, who is one of Penelope’s two sisters. I’m not saying a word.

Incidentally, Raymond Massey died of pneumonia in Los Angeles, California on July 29th 1983, just shy of his eighty-seventh birthday and on the same day as David Niven, with whom he had co-starred in The Prisoner of Zenda (1937) and A Matter of Life and Death (1946). Niven would have been one hundred and nine years old tomorrow.

On the home front, the sale of the family house completed on time – never thought #2 and I would manage it, but it was handed over duly stripped of all furniture etc and decades of accumulated ‘stuff’. There was so much paperwork to go through, I had to ship quite a lot back to Norfolk, as it was far too time consuming to do it all on site with the deadline looming. Luckily, we have a few spare bedrooms here and I have been able to stash it out of sight for the time being – can’t put it off forever, though.

However, sorting out utility bills and cancelling the many, many insurances – any eventuality/act of God was covered, sometimes in duplicate or triplicate I suspect – had to take precedence. As usual, a Power of Attorney complicates matters and there are extra hoops to jump through before anyone will actually deign to talk to you, but I think I can see the teeniest chink of light at the end of the very long tunnel now. The biggest relief was waking up on the Monday morning following completion, and realising I didn’t have to whiz off to the station to embark upon the four hour journey to Twickenham, where I would stay until Friday.

On 28th February 1983, the final (2.5 hour, 256th) episode of M*A*S*H aired in the US. It was entitled, Goodbye, Farewell and Amen – I think I’ll borrow that and add a cheeky Toodles.

Thanks, Jenny – maybe see you in March?

NP

***

Huge thanks Nell. Another corking blog.

See you next time!

Jenny xx

 

End of March madness from Nell Peters

It’s that time again…I’m handing over to Nell Peters for her end of the month round up. Hope you’ve got a cuppa on standby…

Over to you Nell…

Oh hi! It’s you again! Nothing better to do? Well, you’d better come in, I suppose – but you’ll have to make your own tea, because I’m involved in matters of national importance. Not all of that is true …

So, did March come in like a lion, go out like a lamb? Rather depends upon where you live, I imagine. The saying is obviously based on northern hemisphere weather variance at this time of year, originating from times when the land dominated peoples’ lives and bad weather could trigger food shortages, putting whole communities at risk. It was believed that bad spirits could affect the weather adversely, and so everyone watched their Ps and Qs, trying not to upset the little devils.

March can be a changeable month, in which we experience a huge range of temperatures and conditions, but it’s also a month that hints at spring turning to summer and better weather to come. I’m always thrilled to see daffs in Tesco, with at least the promise of those and other bulbs’ brave green shoots raising their tips above the parapet of soil, where they’ve snoozed over winter. Lambs frolic in lush green fields (cue ooh-ah sounds, or maybe ooh-baa?) and baby birds hatch in their nests, beaks ever-open demanding food from their poor overworked/underpaid mothers. All in all, a hopeful time of year, especially after the vernal (spring) equinox – Monday 20th in 2017. Apart from lion/lamb lore, lesser-known predictions are: Dry March and a wet May? Fill barns and bays with corn and hay. Or: As it rains in March so it rains in June. Then we have: March winds and April showers? Bring forth May flowers. Genius.

There are two saints’ days in March; David (1st) and Patrick (17th), plus Mothering Sunday/Mother’s Day (26th in the UK 2017, the fourth Sunday in Lent) – and, occasionally, Easter; but not this year. Far more interesting though are National Peanut Butter Day and National Pig Day (perhaps referring to those who scoff more than their fair share of peanut butter?), celebrated on March 1st in the USA – where else? – and they follow that up with National Crème Pie Day (3rd), National Peanut Cluster Day (8th), National Crab Meat Day and National Meatball Day (9th), then National Blueberry Popover Day on the 10th. After that, there’s a bit of a digestion-resting lull, when any self-respecting American books on SAS (Scandinavian Airlines, not the scary military lot) and nips over to Sweden for Waffle Day on the 25th.  Then it’s back home to wash down all that junk food on the 27th, National Whiskey Day. Good grief, I have enough trouble keeping up with all the family birthdays, let alone anything else!

Apart from being the third month of the year in both Julian (who he?) and Gregorian calendars, March is a Fenland market town and civil parish in the Isle of Ely area of Cambridgeshire, situated on the old course of the River Nene. It was the county town of the Isle of Ely (which was a separate administrative county from 1889 to 1965) and is now the administrative centre of Fenland District Council. Don’t say I don’t tell you everything you need to know to get on in life.

In the nineteenth century, March grew through becoming an important railway centre and like many Fenland towns, it was once a Billy-no-mates island, surrounded by marshes – the second largest in the Great Level. As the land drained, the town prospered as a minor port, a trading and religious centre – but now it’s a market town, administrative and railway centre and a popular port of call for those messing about on the river in pleasure boats.

This day in 1596, René Descartes was born in La Haye en Touraine – now Descartes, Indre-et-Loire, France – how neat to have the town where you were born re-named after you! (I wonder if Wimbledon would do the same for me?) Though every schoolboy could probably quote Descartes’ observation, ‘Cogito ergo sum’ – ‘I think, therefore I am’ – the ‘Father of Modern Philosophy’ also said: ‘It is not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to use it well.’ Plus: ‘The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries.’ And: ‘If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.’ Descartes was certainly no slacker in the fields of mathematics and science, either – a real Smarty Pants.

Sharing his birthday, we have German composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685), the eighth and youngest child born into a musical family, as was Austrian, Franz Joseph Haydn (1732). Quite a few composers were born on this day, but since Feb’s blog leant heavily into the musical side of things, let’s move on to a couple of chemists. First up, German Robert Wilhelm Eberhard von Bunsen (1811) – absolutely no prizes for guessing he invented the Bunsen burner – and sporran-wearer Archibald Scott Couper in 1831. Archie came up with an early theory of chemical structure and bonding, clever chap.

American actor (George) Richard Chamberlain (1934) appeared in Dr Kildare (which even I would struggle to remember), mini-series Shogun in 1980 and The Thorn Birds in 1983. I wonder if he met Japanese actor Dokumamushi Sandayu (1936, and don’t ask me what he’s been in!) while filming Shogun, assuming at least some of it was shot on location. Another American, Christopher Walken, was Ronald Christopher Walken at his birth in 1943, and is perhaps best known for blowing his brains out while playing Russian roulette in the film The Deer Hunter. Don’t try that at home.

Fans of the Partridge Family may recognise the name of actress/singer Shirley Jones, who is eighty-three today. In the musical sitcom, she played David Cassidy’s mother and is in real life his stepmother, having been the second wife of actor/singer/director, the late Jack Cassidy. Cassidy Snr was bipolar (manic depressive), an alcoholic and bisexual – quite a combination. He sadly died aged only forty-nine, when he nodded off on a sofa after a boozy night out and set light to it with a cigarette.

David C has had his own, well-documented trials with alcoholism and more than one trip to rehab. But before that and the more recent shocking revelation that he is suffering from dementia, he spent many years, first as a teen idol and then a popular singer/actor who managed to evolve from child star to adult entertainer. I was never a fan of the young DC, but a friend, author/journo Allison Pearson most certainly was – with bells on. Her second novel, I Think I Love You (I wonder where she got the title from?)  is written in two parts, the first about two young girls, Petra and Sharon, living in 1970s South Wales. Their lives revolve around their shared crush, David Cassidy, and so to a certain extent the story is autobiographical.

The book – I believe the only one ever printed with my (real) name included in the Acknowledgements – was launched in June 2010 and the OH and I toddled along to Cambridge for a lavish party, to join a huge number of people gathered under the marquee to be fed, watered and entertained – I rather doubt I could fill the garden shed. But the road to finished MS was a very rocky one for Allison (and everyone who knew her!) Amongst other things, Miramax threatened to sue over delayed delivery (it was due in 2005, which is impressively late in anyone’s book!) and her agent, Pat Kavanagh, tragically died of a brain tumour. Incidentally, since we’re a bit low in the unusual names department this month, can I just mention that Allison was born Judith Allison Lobbett … Pearson comes from her ex-husband, Simon Pearson.

Right. What else? Anyone interested in knowing that on this day in 1996 actor and director Clinton (aka Clint) Eastwood (then 65) married news anchor Dina Ruiz (30) in Las Vegas – that’s what you call an age gap! The marriage lasted until 2014 – eons by Hollywood standards. Clint was named after his father – imagine the senior version being asked his name, ‘Clint Eastwood.’ ‘Yeah right, very funny buddy – now what’s your real name?’

Nipping forward to 2011, Italian Canadian singer Michael Bublé (my auto-correct keeps insisting that should be Bubble – I do see its point) aged 35, tied the knot with actress and model Luisana Lopilato (23) in Buenos Aires. Not such a happy day one year before though, when Dawson’s Creek actor, James Van Der Beek (32) and actress Heather Ann McComb (33) divorced after almost seven years – an almost-itch. At least we’ve collected a few more contenders for the dodgy name competition – my money is on Ms Lopilato so far. Has a nice ring to it.

Historically on 31st March, in 1657 English Parliament made the Humble Petition to Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell and offered him the crown, which he declined. Gold not his colour, perhaps. Quebec and Montreal were incorporated (1831), and keeping a tenuous French connection, in 1889 the Eiffel Tower – designed by engineer and architect Gustave Eiffel – officially opened in Paris. It was built as a gateway to the Exposition Universelle, and at 300m high retained the record for the tallest man-made structure for 41 years. The tower usurped the Washington Monument for the title and was itself knocked from the perch when the Chrysler Building in New York City was finished in 1930.

In 1903, a dude called Richard Pearse flew a monoplane several hundred yards in Waitohi, New Zealand. The plane resembled a modern-day micro light and witness accounts controversially suggested he flew before the Wright brothers took off into the wide blue yonder – claims which were subsequently discounted. Fast forward eleven years and the bi-planes flown in WWI were not a great deal more substantial than these pioneering aircraft.

My paternal great grandmother, Rose, was born in Kingston upon Thames workhouse in 1876 – as was her mother (also Rose) before her. It’s almost impossible to comprehend the levels of poverty and deprivation they would have endured in those dark, patriarchal days of extreme inequality during the Victorian era. (There is a point here, loosely connecting Richard Pearse and my ancestors – I promise. Bear with me. Or bare with me, if you prefer; I won’t look.) Younger Rose must have been made of pretty stern stuff, because she pulled herself up by the bootstraps and married a wealthy landowner – way da go, Rose! That level of social mobility was almost unheard of then. One of their sons, my grandfather Wilfred, lied about his age to join up as a pilot with the Royal Flying Corps, twenty days before his seventeenth birthday in August 1914. (Got there in the end!)

There are quite a few anecdotes surrounding Wilfred’s flying career – one of my favourites is when he formed the airborne escort for the King of Belgium. Inevitably, they came under attack from German aircraft and once Wilfred had run out of ammo, he soared above the enemy plane and threw his toolbox down on the poor pilot, who – if he didn’t die of heart failure – may have had a bit of a headache thereafter. Apparently, there was no official recognition of his quick-witted act of bravery – not even a new toolbox. My grandmother once told me that when Wilfred asked her out before the war, she turned him down flat because he looked too young. It seems that his service years aged him a little (unsurprisingly!) because they got together immediately upon his return. Lucky for me.

Now it’s time for me to fly (so sorry!) Thanks once again for having me, Jenny – now stop eating those hot cross buns! A moment on the lips …

Toodles.

NP

Author.to/NellPeters

***

Another triumph Nell – thank you so much!!

(As if I’d over eat Hot Cross Buns…hides crumbs quickly…)

Happy reading everyone,

Jenny x 

Festival-ing: Tiverton Literary Festival 8-12th June

Hello my lovely friends.

You may have noticed a dip in the number of blogs appearing on my site over the last couple of weeks. There is a very good reason for this. I’ve been neck deep in organising- with my two lovely colleagues- this year’s Tiverton Literary Festival!

Only a week away now, the last minute rushing around and sorting out things to make sure the festival runs smoothly is in full flow! It’s amazing how many tiny tasks are involved in event organising, and I take my hat off to anyone who does it for a living.

The line up really does offer something for everyone. We have poetry, romance, crime, writing workshops, a writer’s market, a children’s story trail, historical research, journalism, and even a tiny touch of erotica.

To make the week extra special, we’d love to see you there too!

Tiv Lit 2016 - main poster

Tickets for the events can be purchased online from www.tivlitfest.co.uk, or (if you are local enough) from Reapers on Bampton Street, and Tiverton Library.

Happy reading everyone!

Jenny xx

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