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

Tag: facts

End of the Month:There Goes July!

Surely not? Surely we can’t be saying goodbye to July already?

Yet, Nell Peters is here, so it must be time to see out another month.

Other to you Nell…

Good day, one and all. You may have to bear with me for a while, as I battle with my new- fangled laptop and Windows 10. I say ‘new’ although I have in fact had the cursed machine for roughly a year and hardly opened it, but was shamed into doing so because #3 son (the nomadic one) was due home for a week and I knew he would nag me mercilessly unless I got to grips with the darned thing and all its foibles PDQ. Also, if he saw me hitting this shiny new keyboard with aplomb, I figured he might overlook the snazzy new iPad Pro (new earlier this year) that is languishing somewhere in one of my desk drawers gathering biscuit crumbs. Any suggestions that I am a Luddite are … well, probably true.

Enough of my technical hitches; are you still awake and sitting comfortably? Then let us begin.

Andrew Marr – he of the interesting aural formation – was born in Glasgow on 31st July 1959, and so will need sixty candles for his celebration cake. A journalist, television presenter and political commentator, he started work on The Scotsman after graduating from Cambridge with a First in English, and from then on became a ubiquitous media presence, writing for various newspapers and popping up all over BBC radio and TV.

Politically, he was formerly a Maoist and a member of the Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory group, now known as the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. At Cambridge, Marr admits he was a ‘raving leftie’, and so well known for handing out copies of Mao’s Little Red Book that he was referred to as Red Andy. On BBC TV recently, controversial windbag, George Galloway said, ‘I knew Andrew Marr when he was a Trotskyite, selling …’ (ergo, embracing capitalism?) ‘…Trotskyite newspapers to bewildered railwaymen outside King’s Cross Station.’ Marr now lives in not-very-Trotskyite Primrose Hill, London, with his wife, political journalist Jackie Ashley of The Guardian, and their three nippers.

Sharing Marr’s date of birth are another English journalist and author, Kim James Newman, and Stanley Jordan, an American jazz guitarist whose playing technique involves tapping his fingers on the fretboard of the guitar with both hands. A frustrated bongo drum player, perhaps? Last but not least, we have the sporty contingent represented by Mike Bielecki, baseball pitcher for the Atlanta Braves, born in Baltimore, Maryland and Australian golfer, Peter Senior, born in Singapore, Malaysia. Happy birthday, y’all.

Speaking of Stanley Jordan and his bongo-style guitar playing – even if it exists only within my fetid imagination – it was also sixty years ago today that the first exhibit of bongos opened at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. Fancy that! The zoo now occupies one hundred and eighty-three acres in Ohio and is divided into several areas: Australian Adventure; African Savanna; Northern Wilderness Trek; The Primate, Cat & Aquatics Building; Waterfowl Lake and The Rain Forest, plus the newly added Asian Highlands. The exhibit opened on the same day that Harry Rodger Webb, aka the evergreen Wimbledon-in-the-rain warbler, Cliff Richard, and his backing band, The Shadows (anyone know if their drummer also played the bongos?), had their first No. 1 hit single, Living’ Doll – the biggest British single of 1959.

Fast forward five years to 31 July 1964 when the Rolling Stones played their first ever dates in Ireland – the first in Dublin, and the second on their way home via Belfast International Airport, in Ballymena, although the latter finished early because of violence in the audience. While all this was going on, after six unsuccessful missions the US unmanned Ranger 7 spacecraft was busy snapping the first close-ups of the surface of the Moon, and sending as many pics as possible back to Earth before the craft was destroyed upon impact with the lunar surface.

Wags at NASA referred to the programme as ‘shoot and hope’ – which is pretty much the same way I take photographs.

But unlike my masterpieces, the Ranger 7 images were one thousand times clearer than anything ever seen from earth-based telescopic equipment. Amazing to think it was just five years later, on 20 July 1969, that Apollo 11 astronauts, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong – while Michael Collins stayed in orbit aboard the command module – landed the Eagle without mishap and walked on the Moon. Incidentally, and in keeping with his political moniker, Michael Collins briefly served under Richard Nixon as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. Back to the Apollo programme; on this day in 1971 Apollo 15 astronauts became the first to ride in a lunar rover (aka a Moon buggy), a space exploration vehicle specifically designed to negotiate the tricky terrain.

While the old saying goes that bad things happen in threes, I think #4 might argue that should be four. On the Friday that he attended the funeral of his friend Michael, who died of cancer at a ridiculously young age leaving a young family, an outing was planned to an open air cinema in the evening. The Greatest Showman is our six-year-old middle granddaughter’s favourite film (so far) and she was super-thrilled at the prospect of seeing it again, as was her younger sister. So, after dinner by the coast en route, the family headed off to the magnificent grounds of Holkham Hall in Norfolk, armed with blankets and huge sweaters. #3 was in charge of organising the tickets and obviously got carried away, opting for the VIP package – though they were indeed excellent seats. As the curtain rose, so to speak, there was yet more excitement, at least until the equipment threw a wobbly seconds later – whether a dodgy connection or someone forgetting to put a coin in the meter we’ll never know, just that there was nothing to be done and it was time to leave. Tears, of course, and even the solemn promise to buy the DVD as soon as was humanly possible didn’t console completely – but at least the complimentary first drinks had been consumed.

When he went into work the next morning, #4 was made redundant out of the blue, along with everyone else – they were given a cheque in lieu and shown the door without ceremony. The founder of the business died just after my dad a couple of years ago and apparently his widow decided, practically overnight, to pull the plug. Bit of a shock to all. As he made his way home on foot, two drunks (bearing in mind this was roughly 10.00 am!) tried to mug him. Fortunately, their inebriated state hindered them considerably in their pursuit of extra beer money and his long legs (he’s 6’3”) facilitated his escape, practically unscathed.

The following weekend was rather more successful, when the OH and sons #3 and 4 went on their annual pilgrimage to Goodwood – the Festival of Speed, not horseracing. While there, they torture themselves by ogling the sort of high-end vehicles none of them will ever be able to afford and take a helicopter ride, imagining for just a short while that they are magnificent men in their flying machine. Yeah right. The birds are actually for sale, with zillion quid price tags, and are typically snapped up early on. I am definitely in the wrong job!

Jenny and I are both a year older since we last chewed the fat (gross expression!) We celebrated our birthdays on 13th July, along with Patrick Stewart (Star Trek), Ian Hislop (Private Eye), Ernö Rubik (cube man), Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones), Chris White (Dire Straits) and Julius Caesar (et tu?) – although there is speculation he might have been born on 12/7 and there doesn’t appear to be anyone around still to verify.

Some slebs have chosen the 13th to get married; DH Lawrence (1914), Walt Disney (1925), José Ferrer (1953), Halle Berry (2013) and Jimmy Kimmel (also 2013, the day that Glee star Cory Monteith died of an overdose, and eighteen people were killed, with forty injured when a gravel truck collided with a bus in Podolsk, Russia).

While Jen did a bunk on her hols, for me it was a lovely family BBQ day at home. The early morning rain cleared and the sun came out, so a great time was had by all in the garden. I actually dusted off the iPad and had a Facetime conversation (my first, and possibly last) with #3, who was dodging monsoon conditions in Mumbai. In the latest move in the campaign to drag old fogey Mum into the 21st century, #2 gave me an Amazon Fire TV stick as a gift – more technology angst! We’ve always refused to have Sky, or anything else – much to the boys’ annoyance when they were at home, because ‘everyone else has it!’ We simply don’t watch that much TV, and apart from the OH’s spasmodic grumbles at the absence of Sky Sports when he can’t watch the rugby, we’ve never missed it. At least the remote for this newest gizmo doesn’t appear to have too many confusing options …

As I write this in advance, we don’t yet know who will be the UK’s new PM from 24/7 – just that it will either be Boris Johnson (why would someone whose first name is Alexander, want to call themselves Boris?) or Jeremy Hunt. I know little about Hunt, except that you have to be quite careful how you pronounce his name – to call him a Runt would be very rude after all, but a friend was at Eton with Bojo, David Cameron, George Osborne and I forget who else. He says Johnson has always appeared to be a bit of a buffoon and sometimes plays on it, but in reality he is very savvy – it’s just that his tongue can’t keep up with his stream of consciousness, as it hurtles toward his lips in a bid for freedom. Whoever gets the keys to No 10 and assumes guardianship of Larry the cat, let’s hope they can find the brakes on the handcart that is taking the country to hell.

To wind up, an update of sorts on the Apollo 11 Moon landing. James Burke covered the momentous event for the BBC in 1969, as their science correspondent, but when interviewed this month he said, ‘Fifty years on: was it worth it? Not for the new science and technology. Not even for the view of a vulnerable planet Earth from space …

However, the project was a part of the weapons race that would eventually bankrupt the USSR. And Apollo certainly advanced the art of management and organisation … for the majority of the population it’s only history. Been there, done that. As is, to an extent, everything ‘space’ since. Talk of interplanetary derring-do remains back-burner material, given our present focus on earthly matters such as pollution, climate change, starvation and resource depletion.’

Strange sentiments from someone who devised and presented the excellent TV programme, Tomorrow’s World and who was once described by The Washington Post as ‘one of the most intriguing minds in the Western world’. Without the Apollo series and other exploratory missions, we might not have the ISS hovering above us and met its most popular inhabitant, Tim Peake, who engaged young and old alike with his antics and inclusivity – there wasn’t much ‘been there, done that’ when he ran the London Marathon in real time on a treadmill, for instance. But perhaps I missed Burke’s point entirely as sadly, I don’t have an intriguing mind. In any event, I prefer to believe that the success of Apollo 11 was indeed ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’

I am now clambering down from my soap box to say Toodles. Thanks, as always, to Jenny for having me. Hopefully see you in September.



Check out one of Nell’s novel’s- A Hostile Witness- 

A huge pleasure as ever Nell. I hope you enjoyed your birthday as much as I enjoyed mine.

Happy reading everyone,

Jenny xx

End of the Month Blog: Day 151…

Hang on a minute- wasn’t it February just now? 

I’m delighted to welcome Nell Peters back with her regular (now bi-monthly) blog round up of the last 31 days.

Over to you Anne…

By ‘eck! Time flies, doesn’t it? Here we are at the end of May already – the one hundred and fifty-first day of the year, no less. That means there’s just another two hundred and fourteen to go until the end of 2019.

Irish actor, Colin James Farrell, was born in Castleknock, Dublin forty-three years ago today. His father, Eamon, ran a health food shop and played footie for the delightfully named, Shamrock Rovers FC – as did his uncle, Tommy. While he was still at senior school – Gormanston College in County Meath – Colin unsuccessfully auditioned for the group, Boyzone, after which he enrolled in Drama College, inspired by Henry Thomas’ performance as Elliot in the movie ET.

When #4 son was born on Christmas Eve, 1992, we hadn’t decided upon a name for either girl or boy, but we had a short list for both, including Elliot for a boy (obviously!) On Christmas morning, I declined the invitation to venture downstairs to take part in the traditional TV broadcast of carols from Queen Charlotte’s Hospital, London, as I eagerly awaited our carriage – or beaten up BMW, if I remember correctly – to whisk us to Twickenham, where everyone and their dog was gathered at my parents’ house. Nothing to do with the new baby just the normal extended family Christmas bash.

One of the questions everyone asks when checking out a new arrival is what they are to be called – and lo, the after-dinner entertainment that year became I Can Name That Child in Eighty-Five Ghastly Suggestions. Fortunately, the more seasonal offerings like Gabriel (with apologies to any Gabriel/Gabrielles who may be lurking hereabouts), found little favour amongst those gathered – and when someone said that the baby’s wrinkly neck looked like ET’s, I mentioned that Elliot was on our list, which immediately got the thumbs up all round. So, we called #4 John – just kidding!

Where was I? Oh yes, Colin Farrell was studying drama – he didn’t stay the course, however, as he was offered the part of Danny Byrne in the BBC series, Ballykissangel in 1996, aged nineteen.

He was pretty lucky to have the opportunity, after being arrested for attempted murder in Sydney, Australia the previous year. The police sketch of their suspect looked uncannily like him and he had admitted to remembering nothing of the evening in question – but fortunately for him, his friend had kept a journal which crucially described the two of them partying across town that night, taking MDMA (Ecstasy). Who remembers enough to keep a journal of when they are high as a kite?

Despite an impressive award-winning career, not everything has run smoothly for the poor chap. In December 2005, Farrell checked into rehab for addiction to recreational drugs and painkillers. He later described the effects of the drugs thus; ‘An energy that was created, a character that was created, that no doubt benefited me. And then there was a stage where it all began to crumble around me.’ He also picked up a stalker along the way and an ex-girlfriend threatened to publicise a sex tape unless he paid her $5M. Yikes. Let’s hope his birthday passes without incident.

Since I was last here, there has been a lot of family stuff going on, starting 2nd April, which would have been my dad’s ninety-fourth birthday. He shared his date of birth (1925) with George MacDonald Fraser, British poet, author (Flashman) and scriptwriter (Octopussy, The Four Musketeers), who was born in Carlisle, UK, as well as Hard Boiled Haggerty (whose rather more boring real name was Don Stansauk), American professional wrestler and actor (The Incredible Hulk), who filled his first diaper in Los Angeles, California.

They died in 2008 and 2004 respectively, while my dad made it to 2017 and can therefore claim the prize for longevity. 2nd April 1925 was also the day upon which lawyer and future Nazi war criminal/Hitler’s personal legal advisor, Hans Frank, aged twenty-four, married secretary, Brigitte Herbst, aged twenty-nine, in Munich, Germany. In 2019, it was the day of my ex-husband’s funeral – he dropped dead from cardiac arrest in March, a few days after his sixtieth birthday.

Nipping forward, there were the Easter hols and the traditional Easter Egg Hunt for the Grands in our garden. A little different to most years, however, as the loot had to be placed in shaded areas so that chocolate didn’t melt in the heat – and the children were running around in their swimming cosies, diving in the pool to cool off. Bizarre, but brilliant.

We don’t like to give the children too much chocolate, and so the hunt typically includes toys and craft stuff plus this time, named dinosaur t-shirts for the younger ones. At eleven, I didn’t think the oldest GD would appreciate a dinosaur splashed across her chest and so got her an apron, as worn by sleb contestants on the Stand up to Cancer Bake Off programme – I’ve never seen it but she’s a big fan and loves to cook, especially cakes. She so doesn’t take after me! The (pretty hideous) pinny was designed by Ted Baker (who else?)

It was a lot cooler just one week later, when our middle GD celebrated her 6th birthday with a ten pin bowling party – an action replay of last year – joined by a host of school friends, including one little boy who wasn’t even invited! Being terribly British, none of the adults said a word, or even batted an eyelid. Everything was well organised by the venue staff, who supervised the little dears, did the catering and even cut up the cake provided by the parents.

Then it was back to our house for present opening and a Harry Potter-themed dinner, overseen by a huge unicorn balloon, which had nearly launched me into outer space the previous (very windy) day when I was carrying it through town. GD cannot decide between unicorns and Harry P, so we hedged our bets.

On the day she was born (26 April 2013), thirty people were killed when a bus crashed following a Taliban attack in southern Afghanistan. Over in the good ol’ US of A, country musician, George Jones aged eighty-one, (Golden Rings, Oh Lonesome Me), died from hypoxic respiratory failure. That’s when the usual exchange between oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs fails and as a result, not enough oxygen can reach the heart, brain, etc. Curtains. Sharing his date of death aged eighty-two, was film, stage and TV actress, Jacqueline Brookes. Amongst many other roles, she played Beatrice Gordon in US TV soap, Another World – although not for the entirety of its thirty-five year run.

This was also the day upon which my friend, Simon – fellow uni student when I read for my last degree – finally made an honest woman of his beautiful, long-suffering partner, Lydia. She got a smattering of revenge by leaving him waiting at the altar for almost an hour (it was a Friday, so presumably not too many happy couples lining up to tie the knot), during which time he was ‘bricking it’, to use his quaint expression.

Returning to the other side of the pond, Canadian actor and musician, Cory Monteith (Glee), emerged from a drug rehabilitation facility on that day, no doubt full of hope for the future. Tragically, he died of an overdose just weeks later in Vancouver on 13th July – the day upon which both Jenny and I get to blow out our birthday candles.

A dear friend was sixty at the beginning of May and her husband/family arranged a surprise party for her. On the day she was born – 1st May 1959 – West Germany introduced a five day working week and Floyd Patterson scored an eleventh round KO of Englishman Brian London in Indianapolis. This was the fourth time Floyd had successfully defended his World Heavyweight Boxing title.

Back to the party – the birthday girl had been told she was going to someone else’s party and so was somewhat surprised to see the OH and I scrape through the door of the venue just ahead of them (our taxi was late), as we don’t know that other person. It was a fab night and lovely to catch up with some people we hadn’t seen for far too long. Of course, a party meant I had to smarten up from my usual tramp gear of skinny jeans and hoodie – it was from the very shallow pocket of a jacket that my phone plunged into the loo, after we got home. Pre-use of the facilities, I hasten to add.

#2 son was staying and immediately tried resuscitation via the rice trick, but after a good few hours it became obvious that the situation was terminal. Damn; it was but a few months old. I am obviously a slow learner, as this was the same jacket I wore to my dad’s funeral, when another phone tried to swim. We were about to leave the house and so I was closing windows, including the upstairs loo – reached over the bowl … join own dots. #3 son was drying it with a hairdryer, as everyone else piled into cars on the drive. On that occasion, the phone lived to ring another day.

The day my new phone arrived, so did #3 from Bangkok – he hadn’t been back for five months. He spent a day sorting out his Thai work visa and then six of us flew to Dublin for a couple of nights to celebrate his thirtieth birthday, a few days early.

#4 son and his OH had never been to Dublin – or indeed anywhere in Ireland – and so we did the touristy things like boarding an open-topped bus to be blown to bits and buying a drink in the Temple Bar pub in Temple Bar, for which you need to take out a second mortgage. I also scoured the many souvenir shops for sparkly shamrock head boppers, as seen being worn by several hen parties about town.

Mission not accomplished, I gave up and decided to order from Amazon when home. While the rest of us returned to the humdrum of everyday routine, #3 flew off to Antigua for ten days to spend his birthday proper in style, lucky thing. I can’t actually remember what I did for my thirtieth, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t compare too favourably with his jolly.

OK, this is 31st May, so let me stop rambling and we’ll have a look at what has happened historically on this day. The Battle of Jutland in 1916 was the last major battle fought mainly by battleships and the most important naval battle of World War I, with the British navy blockading the German fleet in the North Sea off Denmark. Over the course of the battle, thousands of lives and many ships were lost, but despite British losses far outnumbering those of the Germans, their commander, Reinhard Scheer realised their fleet had been contained. Drat. The Germans never put to sea in ships again during WWI and turned instead to submarine warfare – one of the primary reasons that the United States entered the war in April 1917.

So, what do we think of the name given to their son by the D&D of Sussex? Unlike when #4 was born, I suspect they didn’t have all their relatives and friends sitting around making dodgy suggestions. My lips are sealed, except to mention that on this day in 1943, the comic strip, Archie, was first broadcast on radio in the US.

The character Archibald ‘Archie’ Andrews was originally created as a syndicated comic strip in 1941 by publisher John L Goldwater and artist Bob Montana, in collaboration with writer Vic Bloom. He was the main character featured in the Archie Comics franchise, which evolved to include the long-running radio series.

Finally, who remembers what substance Colin Farrell and his mate were taking in Sydney? A sticky bun for anyone who answered MDMA, or to give it its proper handle, Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (no wonder it’s known as Ecstasy for short!) On this day in 1985 the DEA (US Drug Enforcement Agency) declared an emergency ban on MDMA, placing it on the list of Schedule I drugs – substances with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. MDMA has remained a Schedule I substance since then, with the exception of a brief period between 1987 and 1988. Bad Colin.

Now I’m out of here. Thanks to Jenny for having me over and to anyone else who has taken the time to read this – appreciated.




Huge thanks to Nell as ever for another fabulous blog!

See you in July, Nell!

Happy reading everyone.

Jenny xx





End of the Month: Nell Peters is thinking April

Hang on a minute…no one asked my permission for time to pass so quickly! I am sure I should have finished this years novel by now. I obviously spend too much time reading Nell Peters’ blogs!

Why not procrastinate with me and enjoy this months fabulous end of the month special.

Over to you Nell…


Another month gone! Toodles, April 2018 – it’s been …

Anyone planning to watch the Eurovision Song Contest in May, coming from Portugal? I have to confess I haven’t bothered with it for many, many years – my bad.

I didn’t know that Canadian, Celine Dion won the contest in Dublin on 30th April 1988 for Switzerland (how does that work?), beating the UK entry by just one point. Yikes, that’s thirty years ago! She sang Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi (don’t leave without me) in the Simmonscourt Pavilion of the Royal Dublin Society, which was normally used for agricultural and horse shows. I just know a joke lurks there, but sadly it eludes me. Maybe just as well.

The same venue hosted the 1981 contest, but when the performers lined up to take part in the 39th sing-off in 1994, also on 30th April, it was held at the Point Theatre, Dublin. Perhaps having the psychological advantage of being on home ground helped, because Ireland won for the third consecutive year, when Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan warbled a number called Rock ‘N Roll Kids, composed by Brendan Graham.

That doesn’t ring even a vague bell for me, but the interval entertainment certainly does – the first ever performance of the Irish dancing spectacular Riverdance, featuring the Lord of the Dance himself, Michael Flatley, and Jean Butler. They are both American, although Flatley has duel US/Irish citizenship. He hung up his tap shoes at the end of 2015, after an incredible forty-six years of performing and suffering a whole range of orthopaedic problems over the course of his career – he’ll be sixty in July.

The last day of April features randomly in Dutch history, starting in 1804 when The New Hague Theatre opened. The Hague (Den Haag) is on the western coast of the Netherlands and nowadays is the capital of South Holland province; with a metropolitan population of more than a million, it is the third-largest Dutch city, after the capital Amsterdam and Rotterdam. The Hague is home to the Cabinet, States General, Supreme Court, and the Council of State, most foreign embassies and the International Court of Justice, plus the International Criminal Court. It is also one of the host cities to the United Nations.

In 1905 on this day Holland played Belgium at soccer in the first of what would become a twice-yearly match, known as a Lowlands Derby.

The Netherlands won the International Friendly 4-1, but the next time the teams played on 30th April – in 1975, the Belgians were victorious, scoring the only goal of the game. According to statistics published in 2016, the Netherlands had won a total of fifty-six games, Belgium forty-one and thirty matches ended in a draw.

Moving along, wee Juliana Louise Emma Marie Wilhelmina was born on 30 April 1909, at Noordeinde Palace in The Hague to the reigning Dutch monarch, Queen Wilhelmina, and her husband Duke Henry of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. She was the first Dutch royal baby since Wilhelmina herself was born in 1880 and as an only child, remained heir presumptive from birth. On her eighteenth birthday in 1927, Princess Juliana officially came of age and was entitled to assume the royal prerogative; two days later her mother installed her in the Council of State (Raad van State.) She reigned as queen from September 1948 until abdicating in favour of her first-born daughter (of four) Beatrix, on her seventy-first birthday in 1980 – the same day that the Iranian Embassy siege began in London.

Celebrations of the national holiday, Queen’s Day (Koninginnedag) on 30th April 2009 turned mighty sour when 38-year-old Dutch national Karst Roeland Tates, drove his car at high speed into a parade which included Queen Beatrix, her son and heir Prince Willem-Alexander and other royals at Apeldoorn. Narrowly missing the royal family, the vehicle ploughed through people lining the street before colliding with a monument, killing eight (including the driver) and causing multiple injuries. It was the first attack on the Dutch royal family in modern times and happened on the same day that the UK formally ended combat operations in Iraq. Exactly four years later in 2013, Beatrix abdicated in favour of her son, who became the first male monarch in one hundred and twenty-three years.

Cloris Leachman

One year before (the then) Princess Juliana’s eighteenth birthday, American actress and comedienne Cloris Leachman was born in Des Moines, Iowa – she’s celebrating her ninety-second birthday today. A former beauty queen, award-winning Leachman’s stage and screen credits are numerous, including Lassie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Rawhide, The Last Picture Show, Malcolm in the Middle, Young Frankenstein and The Muppets. Living in Canada, I watched US TV and remember her from The Mary Tyler Moore Show and her character’s spin-off sitcom, Phyllis – very funny lady, IMO.

Judy Garland

Somewhere along the line, she managed to have four sons and a daughter with her now ex-husband, director and screenwriter George Englund – best pal of Marlon Brando. During the 1960s, the Englunds were Bel Air neighbours of Judy Garland, her third husband Sid Luft, and their children, Lorna and Joey, (their half-sister being Liza Minelli.) Lorna Luft wrote in her 1998 memoir Me and My Shadow: A Family Memoir, that Leachman was ‘the kind of mom I’d only seen on TV’. Knowing of the turmoil at the Garland home but never mentioning it, Leachman prepared meals for the Luft children and made them feel welcome whenever they needed a place to stay. Awesome …

Rather younger than Cloris at thirty-six, American/German actress Kirsten Dunst also celebrates her birthday today, as does Canadian actor, singer and dancer Andrew Michael Edgar (Drew) Seeley who shares Kirsten’s date of birth. Could have been worse; I share my date of birth with Texan serial killer Genene Jones, who is currently serving a ninety-nine year prison sentence for multiple child murder. Bringing up the rear, today UK comedian Leigh Francis (better known as Keith Lemon) will have forty-five candles on his cake – a lemon sponge, perhaps? So sorry.

Drifting slightly off-piste, on 30th April 1988, the first Californian condor conceived in captivity was hatched at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. The avian celebrity was called Moloko, being the Northern Maidu Indian word for condor, thus acknowledging their respect for the birds. It was an immensely expensive project to save the condor from extinction, running to millions of dollars. Might I suggest this was the Day of the Condor? You’re right – I won’t do any such thing.

In July 1993, British forensic scientists announced that they had positively identified the remains of Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II, along with his wife, Tsarina Alexandra and three of their daughters. The team used mitochondria DNA fingerprinting to identify the bones, excavated from a mass grave near Yekaterinburg in 1991. It was on the night of July 17 1918 – almost a hundred years ago – that three centuries of the Romanov dynasty came to an end when Bolshevik troops executed Nicholas and his family, plus servants, almost certainly on the orders of Lenin – the details of the execution, along with the location of their final resting place remained a Soviet secret for more than six decades.

To prove the identity of Alexandra and her children, scientists took blood from Prince Philip, her grand nephew. Because they all share a common maternal ancestor, they would also share mitochondria DNA, which is passed almost unchanged from mother to child. The Tsar was identified by exhuming and testing the remains of his brother, Grand Duke George. That left Crown Prince Alexei and one Romanov daughter, Anastasia, unaccounted for – apparently it wasn’t her cavorting with Christian Grey in Fifty Shades.

Anna Anderson

Nor was it Anna Anderson, a Polish woman who persistently claimed (amongst others less convincing) to be the Grand Duchess. She moved to Virginia, USA and died there in 1984, still maintaining her spurious heritage. On 30 April 2008, Russian forensic scientists confirmed that DNA from remains they’d tested belonged to Alexei and his sister Anastasia. This followed the discovery in August 2007 of two burned, partial skeletons at a site near Yekaterinburg. Archaeologists identified the bones as from a boy roughly between ten and thirteen at the time of his death and a young woman aged between eighteen and twenty-three years old. Alexei and Anastasia were thirteen and seventeen years respectively, when they were killed.


Incidentally, Alexei had inherited haemophilia B from his mother Alexandra, a condition that could be traced back to her maternal grandmother, Queen Victoria. He had to be careful not to injure himself because he lacked factor IX, one of the proteins necessary for blood to clot. It was so severe that trivial injuries like a bruise, nosebleed or tiny cut were potentially life-threatening and two naval officers were assigned to supervise him to help prevent injuries.  They also carried him around when he was unable to walk. As well as being a source of constant worry to his parents, the recurring episodes of poor health and recovery significantly interfered with the boy’s education. According to his French tutor Pierre Gilliard, the nature of his illness was kept a state secret.

Disgustingly healthy #2 GD was five on 26/4 (which doesn’t seem possible!) and her birthday party was held on Saturday – she discovered ten pin bowling when we took her during the Christmas holidays and asked to have her party there. #3 son specifically timed his periodic trip home from foreign parts so that he could attend, in his capacity as everyone’s favourite uncle. Must say it was quite painless, as staff organised invitations, food, party bags etc – all the parents had to do was herd the guests from shoe swap to lanes and back again, on to the restaurant, provide a cake and pay the bill. Oh, and make sure none of the little dears sustained injury when heaving too-heavy balls around – plus it’s advisable to have at least one adult stationed to the rear of lanes requisitioned for party use, primed to dive in and rescue any child who gets their fingers caught in the holes and ends up gliding majestically toward skittles and machinery.

Tomorrow, of course, hails the beginning of May and for us the most horrendous month for family and friends’ birthdays! I’m off now to empty my money box …

Thanks again for having me, Jen – and toodles y’all!



Many thanks as ever Nell!!

Happy reading everyone. 

(Note to self- work faster, it’s nearly June!!!)

Jen xx

End of the Month: March Madness with Nell Peters

It’s that time again! What wonders does Nell Peters have to share with us this month?

Grab that cuppa and get cosy!

Over to you Nell…

Morning all – and happy Easter Eve, on the ninetieth day of the year! I was going to say Easter Saturday, but apparently that’s the one that follows Easter Sunday. Not a lot of people know that, or maybe it’s just me. I don’t imagine too many folk will be around today, so who shall we be rude about? Perish the thought … although a few candidates spring to mind.

Anyone heard of the Bangorian Controversy? I confess I hadn’t. It all began when the Bishop of Bangor, one Benjamin Hoadly, delivered a sermon on 31st March 1717 to King George I. His focus was The Nature of the Kingdom of Christ, taken from John 18:36; ‘My kingdom is not of this world’. Hoadly’s interpretation was that there’s no justification in the scriptures for church government in any form, because Christ did not delegate His authority to any representatives. There are a few church bods who should perhaps take note? Whatever, obviously this was a pretty contentious viewpoint, hence the controversy bit – one of the main objectors being a chap called Thomas Sherlock (Dean of Chichester), whose name naturally appealed to my pathetic sense of humour.

The Bangor in question is the one in Wales, as opposed to County Down, Northern Ireland, which is why the item attracted my attention in the first place. If I had a quid for every time I’d passed through the station there, I could buy you all a slice of Welsh rarebit. This was while sons #1 and 2 were boarders at Indefatigable School, Bangor being the nearest train stop to the school’s location in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, although there is still a disused station there where tourists pose for pics in front of the sign. From Bangor it was a taxi ride over the Menai Suspension Bridge (Thomas Telford, 1826) to Anglesey and the seat of learning, housed in what used to be the Marquis of Anglesey’s sprawling estate. All very beautiful in the summer, but slightly grim during winter months. Llanfair PG (local shorthand) translates as ‘Saint Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio of the red cave’. Fancy that.

The one hundred and forty-two pupil establishment was run strictly in the naval tradition, with all boys and some staff wearing appropriate uniforms, and areas of the school referred to in nautical terms – most obviously the kitchens as the galley. All this was in homage to the original school being aboard a ship called Indefatigable, moored on the Mersey in Liverpool from 1864. In those days the ethos was to offer poor boys a home and education to equip them for a life in the Merchant Navy. Incidentally, it was on this day in 1972 that the rum ration in the Royal Canadian Navy was discontinued, and in the UK the official Beatles fan club (if I mention Yellow Submarine that’s a link to the sea-faring theme, right?) was closed – just thought I’d toss in those facts for good measure.

Where was I, ah yes – dry land Indefatigable sleeping quarters were called dorms (as opposed to cabins or similar) and there was a nocturnal fire in Raleigh House during #1’s residence. Try as he might, the Housemaster couldn’t rouse the boy as flames licked around ancient timbers, and ended up physically dragging him from his bunk (no hammocks!) Miraculously, no one was hurt and damage was contained. Said heroic Housemaster, Chris Holliday, was Head of English; he is now retired and enjoying a comparatively stress-free life in northern France with his dog, Einstein – we chat every now and again on FB. Chris and I that is, Einstein being more into Snapchat.

With grounds stretching down to the shores of the Menai Strait (Afon Menai), water sports and seamanship skills featured strongly in the curriculum, along with more mundane academic subjects. While #1 did well, became deputy head boy and left with a slew of impressive results en route for uni, #2 decided to buck the system and rebel. His biggest claim to fame – definitely one of his less bright ideas – was to lead a bid for freedom at the dead of night. Picture several thirteen year-old boys on foot traipsing down narrow, largely unlit, winding country lanes and over the bridge to Bangor, in a haphazard crocodile formation; those tiny roads are scary enough driving in daylight! When the intrepid ones reached Boots’ car park, inspiration deserted them and eventually a member of the public alerted the school – presumably, one of the lads was daft enough to wear part of the school uniform for ease of identification. The Great Escape that never was; I think I prefer the Steve McQueen version.

Coincidentally, some years before the sons’ time at the school, Super Blogger Anne Williams was studying at Bangor Grammar School for Girls, whose pupils used to be invited to Indefatigable school discos to trip the light fantastic with the older boys. What a weeny world this is, forsooth. The school is now occupied by the MoD, after it closed unexpectedly during the summer of the year we moved from London to Norfolk – and so after hasty negotiations, #2 went from being a pupil living several hour’s travel and hundreds of miles away from his school, to literally being over the road.

#3 was home for ten days at the beginning of March, catching up with his boss at the company’s UK base, as he does every now and again. He flew out of Bangkok in temperatures of 34 degrees C and landed at Heathrow early next morning in -1C and snow – nine minutes early after a thirteen hour flight.

Not too shabby, although he was with Thai Air and it was a dry flight because of Buddhist’s Day – something he learned to his horror only when he checked in and went off in search of his customary pre-flight pint of Guinness. From Heathrow, he then had a three hour drive back to Norfolk in scary conditions. The same day, a friend’s son flew from Germany to Heathrow en route for Edinburgh and his stag do. Alas, the guys were all stranded in London. Seriously? Air Canada pilots regularly land on six feet of solid ice!

While home, #3 did the usual rounds of brothers, plus nieces and nephews in his capacity as everyone’s favourite uncle – he spoils them rotten and lets them get away with murder. #4 had moved house since his big brother was last home and so received much gratis advice on interior redecoration; I didn’t notice anything as practical or exhausting as a paintbrush being wielded, though.

11th March was Mother’s Day in the UK and as has become a tradition, #4 arranged (for want of a better word!) my flowers in a lime green plastic jug thingy from Ikea, that the OH bought many years ago because he thought I’d like the shape. Shape is OK – hate the colour. When #4 was thirteen, he got his first pay packet from his paper round the day before MD, raided Tesco on his way home and put the flowers he’d bought into the Ikea jug. It was the first thing he saw as he charged through the kitchen en route for his room – where the flowers remained overnight, with his window wide open so they remained fresh. As if this house isn’t cold enough!

Our nomad (he’s getting far too much publicity in this blog!) flew back to Bangkok on 11/3, leaving at crazy o’clock in the morning. So, my celebration actually stretched from Friday night dinner, through Saturday lunch and on into Sunday, with various sons and their families appearing whenever they could, combining MD with saying adios to their brother. It was a brilliant weekend! Because he isn’t home for Easter (holiday in Sri Lanka, if you please!) I have had to warn him that the bunny may not have enough petrol in the Eggmobile to deliver his chocs. However, the annual Easter Egg Hunt will take place here, the Grands searching for spoils in what GD #2 refers to as ‘the dark forest’ – in reality a rather more mundane area of perhaps fifteen tall trees.

The Grand National has been run several times on 31st March, starting in 1905 (the 67th race) when it was won by Frank Mason riding Kirkland. The 116th race in 1962 was won by Fred Winter on Kilmore; 127th by Brian Fletcher on Red Rum in 1973; 133rd by Maurice Barnes on Rubstic in 1979, and in 1984 the 138th race was won by Neale Doughty on Hallo Dandy. Since 1839 the Grand National – a National Hunt horse race – has been run annually at Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool, with the exception of war years 1916-18 and 1941-45, when the land was requisitioned for military use.

It is a handicap steeplechase run over 6.907 km with horses jumping 30 fences over two laps and is the most valuable jump race in Europe, with a prize fund of £1 million in 2017 – note to self: learn how to ride a horse, although at 5’9” I may be a little tall to be a jockey.

I know nothing about horse racing, but even I’ve heard of Red Rum (and Shergar, who disappeared in February, 1983!), the horse that holds the record number of Grand National wins – in 1973, 1974 and 1977, coming second in 1975 and 1976. Plus for sixteen years he held the record for completing the course in the fastest time of 9 minutes and 1.9 seconds. The race is notoriously difficult and has been described as ‘the ultimate test of a horse’s courage’, but Red Rum’s jumping prowess was legendary; not one tumble in a hundred races. He was retired before the 1978 National after suffering a hairline fracture the day before the race.

However, he had already become a national celebrity, opening supermarkets and leading the Grand National parade for many years. He even switched on the Blackpool Illuminations in 1977 – no mean feat with cumbersome hooves, I imagine.

When the horse died on 18 October 1995 (aged 30) it was announced in the national press and he was subsequently buried at the Aintree winning post, with an epitaph that reads, ‘Respect this place / this hallowed ground / a legend here / his rest has found / his feet would fly / our spirits soar / he earned our love for evermore’.

Multi award winning actor and Scot, Ewan McGregor celebrates his forty-seventh birthday today, although it may be a slightly subdued affair since he filed for divorce earlier this year after twenty-two years of marriage and four daughters, only to be unceremoniously dumped by his new love interest. Hey-ho. His film, TV and theatre credits are impressive, including Trainspotting, The Ghost Writer and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, plus later versions of Star Wars, to name very few. His maternal uncle, Denis Lawson appeared in the original Star Wars. McGregor is heavily involved in charity work, including UNICEF, visiting some of their projects during the motor bike documentaries he made with mate Charley Boorman.

Another actor born today is American Gabriel (Gabe) Kaplan – he’s seventy-three. In Montreal, I remember watching him in an American TV series called Welcome Back Kotter – he played the eponymous role of Gabe (no chance of forgetting his character’s name) Kotter, a teacher who returned to his alma mater in New York to teach a remedial class of loafers, called Sweathogs. As a member of the original group of Sweathogs, Kotter befriended the current bunch and over time got his unruly pupils to realise their potential. The Sweathogs’ unofficial leader was Vinnie Barbarino, a cocky Italian-American, fan of Star Trek and resident heartthrob of the group. The part was played by one John Travolta (pre Saturday Night Fever and Grease etc), who was in real life a high school dropout.

Our third and final thespian birthday is another American, Rhea Perlman, who is seventy. She is separated from husband Danny DeVito with whom she has two daughters and a son. At 5’0” she’d probably stand more chance than me of riding in the Grand National – and DDV is even shorter, although a tad overweight. Perlman’s career began off-Broadway in tiny parts until her first notable TV (recurring) part as Zena, the girlfriend of Louie De Palma (played by DeVito), in Taxi. But her most memorable role has to be that of wisecracking Carla Tortelli, waitress in a sitcom set in ex-baseball player Sam Malone’s Boston bar. And that’s my last word on the subject – Cheers!

Thanks for having me, Jen – not too many Easter eggs, now.




Huge thanks Nell- as ever. 

As if I’d eat too many eggs….wipes chocolate from chin…

Happy reading,

Jenny x


End of the Month Blog: Farewell February

Another month has whizzed by with lightening speed – and a few coughs and colds (and a broken foot in my case)

Let’s see what the lovely Nell Peters has to say for herself this month…

Over to you Nell…

Hi y’all! Good to see you again, on this last day of February – 28th, as it’s not a Leap Year (just in case you hadn’t noticed). The proposals will have to wait, ladies.

Let’s dive straight in, shall we? Looking at a web site listing those with birthdays today, I noticed quite a few of them described as YouTube or Instagram stars – seriously? Needless to say, they’re all very young, mostly American, and I’ve never heard of any of them. Best of all, however, has to be Australian Kai Saunders, seventeen today, whose slightly iffy claim to fame is that he’s a Scooter Rider. My first thought was that the older Grands are scooter riders also – even I can ride a scooter, though it’s been a while – but I hope their achievements later in life will be a little more worthy and substantial. Kai’s mini bio includes the info that he rides for Phoenix Pro Scooters who competed at the Auckland Street Jam in 2017. Now we know.

I wonder if TV chef Ainsley Harriott will be baking his own birthday cake today – he’ll need sixty-one candles. Born in London of Jamaican heritage, as well as training and working as a chef, he dabbled in comedy and singing and formed the duo Calypso Twins with old school friend, Paul Boross. They released a hit record in the early 1990s and went on to be regular performers at the Comedy Store, before crossing the pond to appear on American TV and radio shows. It was via radio that his prolific UK TV career was launched. And he never seems to stop smiling that brilliant smile.

Celebrating his seventy-eighth birthday today is Barry Fantoni, whom I knew very briefly eons ago. As a gangly late teen, I was at St Martin’s Art College (I had a few false starts before I decided what I wanted to do) when Gary Withers, as editor of the college mag, took advantage of students and Private Eye bods frequenting the same Soho pub (St M’s was then in Charing Cross Road) to approach BF bar side and request an interview. Gary couldn’t keep the appointment and asked me to go instead, as chez Fantoni wasn’t a million miles away from where I lived, a smallish detour on the way home.

I duly presented myself at the door of the Clapham Common basement flat, pad and pen poised for action and absolutely no idea what I was doing, as I seldom read the publication let alone contributed to it. It went surprisingly well, as I recall, and for someone very much in the public eye at that time, he came across as super-friendly and refreshingly modest. I learned later that he had a bit of a dodgy reputation for female conquests, but I have to say he was a perfect gentleman while I perched on his uncomfortable sofa. I sent him a copy of the piece I’d written for approval and we stayed in touch for a while. I once met cartoonist/artist/writer Ralph Steadman at the flat – which impressed the OH last Christmas when I revealed that snippet from my shady past, rather more than the Steadman coffee table book his mother gifted us. It wasn’t great.

For those sweet young things amongst you who have no idea who Barry Fantoni is, meet the London-born author, satirist, cartoonist, TV/radio presenter and jazz musician of Italian and Jewish descent, who was in many ways the epitome of Swinging Sixties cool. Already writing scripts for That Was the Week that Was (from 1962) and cartoonist for Private Eye (from 1963), his TV break came after he was asked to design a Pop Art backdrop for Ready, Steady, Go – the rock music programme that kicked off the weekend on Friday evenings for a whole generation – which he also sometimes presented.

From there he went on to have his own show, A Whole Scene Going On (named after the Bob Dylan track) which went out live, had sixteen million viewers and earned Fantoni the 1966 award for TV Personality of the Year, ahead of Cliff Richard, Tom Jones and Mick Jagger. The Daily Mirror wrote of him in 1967, ‘Barry doesn’t so much know what is in – he decides it.’ Strangely enough, like me he now churns out crime novels, only his desk is in Calais.

And what of the aforementioned Gary Withers? While I shamefully never used the qualification I earned at St M’s (now Central Saint Martin’s) and wandered off elsewhere, he was driven by an overwhelming need to succeed, coming from a single parent home in a rundown area of London. And succeed he most certainly did – he is now the zillionaire head of a global design company, The Imagination Group Ltd, which he founded while still at college. The boy done good – hats very much off to you Gary, old chap.

On this day in 1646, one Roger Scott was tried and punished for nodding off in church in Massachusetts – judging by some of the soporific sermons we had to sit through during monthly Girl Guide church parades, he would be neither the first nor last; talk about a captive audience. Massachusetts (who has the Bee Gee’s song bouncing around their head now? You’re welcome!) was probably not the best place to grab forty winks during worship, with its wall-to-wall devout Puritans, rabid intolerance of heretics, and (albeit forty-odd years later) the Salem witch trials.

Roger was roused from his nap when a tithingman – a powerful officer of the church – whacked him over the head with his trusty staff. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Roger hit back and it was decided he should receive a whipping as punishment, as well as have his card marked as ‘a common sleeper at the publick exercise.’ Oh the shame …

Staying in Mass – the US state, not the religious rite – 1704 was a Leap Year and it was on 29th February that the Deerfield Massacre took place during the Queen Anne’s War. The French and their Native American allies fought many tit-for-tat battles against the English between 1702 and 1713, in an effort to gain control of the continent (shouldn’t that have been the birthright of the indigenous Red Indian tribes anyway? Just a random thought …) Under the command of Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville, the English frontier settlement at Deerfield was attacked before dawn, and much of the town burned to the ground, killing forty-seven. The colonial outpost was a traditional New England farming community, the majority of settlers being young families with wives and mothers who had moved west in search of land – the labour  that these women provided was essential to the survival of the settlement and its male inhabitants.

You might think that earned the women and their descendants an automatic right to absolute equality? Nope – in the US, much like the UK, from the mid 1800s several generations of women had to fight for the right to vote and although concessions varied from state to state, it wasn’t until the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in August 1920 that all women were given those rights. In practice though, the same restrictions that hindered non-white men’s right to vote now also applied to non-white women – that took rather longer to sort out. In Canada, the enfranchisement of women timetable happened according to Province, starting in 1916 with Manitoba and good old (French Canadian) Quebec coming very much up the rear in 1940.

This month in the UK, we celebrated the centenary of suffrage for (some) women. Under the 1918 Representation of the People Act; women over the age of thirty who either owned land themselves or were married to men with property, or who were graduates, were able to put their cross in the box. The same act also dropped the voting age for men from thirty to twenty-one – so, not exactly on a level pegging. It was another whole decade until the 1928 Equal Franchise Act granted women in the UK truly equal voting rights, almost doubling the number of eligible females. That doesn’t really compare too favourably with democratic New Zealand, where all women were given the vote in 1893.

I mentioned the Girl Guides several paragraphs back: I so looked forward to meetings on a Friday evening (pre the Ready, Steady, Go years) and the two best hours of the week when I was free to let my hair down and actually have fun. We were exposed to all sorts of activities most of us would never have dreamed of or encountered otherwise – I can still recognise the star constellations I learned, but might struggle to tie a round turn and two half hitches knot – and we went away to an annual (usually wet, cold and muddy) camp for a week. Heaven – burned bangers, leaky tents, stinky latrines and all!

This was before Health and Safety turned the sensible world upside down, which was just as well, as our means of transport was a huge home removals van with our luggage (kit bags) thrown in, followed by perhaps thirty Guides and their leaders who simply piled in the back on top of one another. Not a seat belt (no seats!) between us, just bodies diving in to make themselves as comfy as possible for the duration. Scariest of all, the back was left open so that we could actually see – as far as I remember, we didn’t ever lose anyone overboard.

And now I’m going to pinch the opening line of all Barry Fantoni’s rhyming obits to the famous in Private Eye, written under the by-line of E J Thribb; So. Farewell then …

Thanks, Jen – and toodles!



Another smashing blog! Who knew our Nell knew Barry Fantoni!? (Who I have to admit I have never heard of until now…ummm….xxx)

Have a smashing March everyone,

Happy reading,

Jenny x

End of the month: January’s End

I don’t know about you, but I am very glad to see January coming to an end. It seems to have been a very long, dark, wet, dismal month. What better way to cheer us up than to read Nell Peter’s end of the month round up?

Time for a cuppa and five minutes with m feet up I think.

Over to you Nell…

Hello! How’s it going, old fruits? Broken all those New Year resolutions yet? That’s the bulldog clip spirit.

A fair bit of that there spirit was required on NYE for anyone attending the London Eye fireworks. As I mentioned in my Dec 31st blog, the OH and I met up with three sons and a GF (#3 made it from Bangkok/Heathrow in good time!) to watch the display and stay over in Docklands. Next year, we will just do the hotel thing and watch the fireworks on TV – much safer!

We knew something was definitely amiss as we walked toward our entry point and met masses of people who were determinedly heading in the other direction. Never a good sign … They had the right idea, because very soon we hit the huge tailback to the entrance bottleneck, where people were waiting for literally hours to make it through security and ticket verification. A zillion crushed bodies were being pushed in whatever direction those behind chose. Felt sorry for the GF, who is only 5’3” and spent rather too long with her nose stuck in the back of whoever was in front of her – and none of us could see kerbs up or down, or the various Road Closed signs strategically placed in order to inflict maximum injury. Then there were the lethal baby buggies, despite the web site clearly stating that the event was unsuitable for children.

We made it through to our allotted area on Embankment with just a few minutes to spare before the whizzes and bangs started, and in no time had to rejoin the crush to make it out again, herded by marshals who had closed off a ridiculous number of exit roads, apparently on a whim. One hundred thousand tickets were sold at a tenner each, so that’s £1M – I think a few quid of that could be spared for better organisation? We used to take the boys before it became a ticketed event and it was all very civilised and secure, with a much better and relaxed atmosphere. #4 son was particularly disillusioned, because he so fondly remembered our visits when he was a young’un and wanted to recapture the experience.

Been chilly enough for you? Yours truly’s timbers have most definitely been shivering. I feel the cold really badly – in summer I always wear several layers more than everyone else, and from September through to May I do a pretty nifty impression of Michelin Man, even indoors.

Readers as ancient as me will remember the infamous winter of 1962-3, aka the Big Freeze. The beginning of that December was very foggy, with London encased in its last real smog before the Clean Air Act (1956) and the decline in coal fires had a real impact. These were the pea-soupers that Hollywood directors still appear to think are a typical and atmospheric part of London living, especially if Jack the Ripper happens to be lurking around the corner.

Snow fell over the UK on 12/13th December 1962, and an anticyclone formed over Scandinavia on 22nd, drawing cold continental winds from Russia. Over the Christmas period, although the Scandinavian high collapsed, a new one formed near Iceland, bringing northerly winds and significant snowfall to southern England late on 26 December and into 27th. I remember my elderly maternal grandparents were staying and wisely made no attempt to return home to Wimbledon (from Twickenham); in fact, they were still with us several weeks later, as the treacherous conditions were extended by further heavy snowfalls and freezing temperatures until March 6th.


But elsewhere, the bulldog clip spirit was snapping very much into action – the beginning of January meant a return to school, a bus trip or one stop on the train for me. We’d never heard of Snow Days – as declared nowadays at the drop of a regulation brown velour school hat; perish the thought!

No wellies allowed, we slipped and slid our way hither and thither in regulation outdoor shoes – dreadful clumpy brown lace-ups with leather soles that held no purchase whatsoever, our spindly legs encased only in white knee length socks. Brrrr! PE and Games carried on as normal – we gels jogging up and down the frozen hockey pitch in ridiculously thin culottes, trying to restore blood flow to our extremities, whilst the games mistress stood on the sidelines, barking orders and blowing her whistle, clad in a huge sheepskin coat and fur-lined boots. ‘Tis a wonder any of us survived – no ChildLine then to come to our rescue.

Incidentally, the hideous brown-on-brown uniform didn’t improve much during the summer months, when gymslips were replaced by cotton dresses in a luminous flame colour so bright it was guaranteed to sear the retina, and could be easily spotted from outer space. And don’t get me started on the straw boaters …

On this day in 1597, John Francis Regis, French priest and saint was born – interesting occupation to have listed in your passport, if that were still a requirement (hasn’t been since 1982). John F died in 1640, thirty three years before another French priest and saint was born on 31st Jan – Louis de Montfort (died 1716). Say what you like, the French seem to have cornered the priest/saint market.

Having run out of French deities, let’s nip forward in time to the births of some people we may actually have heard of, starting with American Constance (Connie) Booth, writer, actress, comedienne and since she gave up acting in 1995, psychotherapist. Born in 1944, she has seventy-four candles on her cake today.

Connie was married to John Cleese for a decade from 1968 – she appeared in various Monty Python productions and both co-wrote and played the part of Polly the waitress/chambermaid in Fawlty Towers. Away from comedy, she starred in the title role of The Story of Ruth (1981), portraying the schizophrenic daughter of an abusive father – a performance for which she received critical acclaim. Maybe that sparked her interest in psychotherapy … maybe not.

Actor Anthony LaPaglia was born in 1959, although not as you might expect in the US, but Adelaide, South Australia – the inverse of Mel Gibson, who was born in New York, but sounds Australian, after his family relocated there when he was twelve … or is that just me?

Back to Anthony – a keen amateur goalie (Association Football), to earn a crust he has been in many series, including Murder One and Without a Trace, but was unable to take up the role of Tony Soprano due to other commitments. His younger brother, Jonathan, did appear in an episode of the Sopranos however as Michael the Cleaver – possibly not someone you’d want to meet in a dark alley. Jonathan followed his brother to the US and into acting, because he felt ‘restricted’ as an emergency room doctor. Go figure.

A year after Justin Timberlake was born on 31st January 1981, 1982 produced a bumper crop of bonny babies who all have one thing in common – I’ve never heard of any of them. In no particular order, they are Maret Ani, Estonian tennis player; Yuniesky Betancourt, Cuban baseball player; Jānis Sprukts, Latvian ice hockey player; Yukimi Nagano, Swedish singer-songwriter; Brad Thompson, American baseball player; and a trio of footballers, Andreas Görlitz (Germany), Salvatore Masiello (Italy), and Allan McGregor (Scotland). Phew!

Moving along, broadcaster Terry Wogan died two years ago today, four years after the magnificently-named Tristram Potter Coffin, who didn’t quite make it to his ninetieth birthday on 13th February. His older sister was called Trelsie Coffin Buffum Lucas (1918–1987) – you don’t get many of those to the pound, I’m guessing. Through his father, TPC was a direct descendant of the Tristram Coffyn who was one of the original permanent settlers on Nantucket Island in 1660. Arriving in Massachusetts from Brixham, Devon, in 1659, he led a group of investors who bought Nantucket from Thomas Mayhew for thirty pounds and two beaver hats. Brilliant! He became a prominent citizen in the settlement and a number of his descendants established their importance in North American society, even without inheriting those all-important furry hats.

For example, Sir Isaac Coffin (1759–1839) served during the American Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and became an admiral in the British Royal Navy. Descendant Charles A Coffin (1844–1926) was co-founder and first President of the General Electric Corporation, and then a member of the ninth generation, one Robert P T Coffin (1892–1955), was an American poet who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1936 for his book of collected works, called Strange Holiness. Quite a dynasty. And the Coffin I started off with was no slacker – he was a folklorist and leading scholar of ballad texts in the 20th century. He spent much of his career at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was a professor of English and a co-founder of the Folklore Department. He published twenty books as well as more than a hundred scholarly articles and reviews. Way da go, Tris!

This day in 2000, GP Dr Harold Shipman was found guilty of murdering fifteen of his patients, making him Britain’s most prolific convicted serial killer – in reality, he is thought to have killed somewhere around two hundred and fifty people (the majority women) aged between forty-one and ninety-three, over a period of twenty-four years. Born the middle child of a working class family in 1946, Harold was known by his middle name Fred(erick), and was the favourite child of a domineering mother, Vera. She instilled in him a sense of superiority that tainted most of his later relationships, leaving him an isolated adolescent with few friends.

When his mother was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, he willingly oversaw her care as she declined, fascinated by the positive effect that the administration of morphine had on her suffering – in terms of his future method of dispatch, the die was cast. Mum succumbed to her illness in June 1963 (just after the Big Freeze thawed!) Devastated by her death, he was determined to go to medical school, and was admitted to Leeds University for training two years later, having failed his entrance exams at the first attempt.

By 1974 Harold had joined a practice in Todmorden, Yorkshire, where he initially thrived as a family practitioner, before becoming addicted to the painkiller Pethidine. He forged prescriptions for large amounts of the drug, and was forced to leave the practice and enter a drug rehab programme, when caught out by his colleagues a year later. An inquiry led to a fine and a conviction for forgery, but he wasn’t struck off by the General Medical Council – they merely wrapped his knuckles in a stiff warning letter. Big mistake.

I imagine Connie Booth would agree that in many ways Shipman is an analyst’s dream – middle child syndrome; overbearing mother; egocentric; lack of compassion for his victims; lack of conscience etc. etc. He obviously thought he was invincible, as he worked his way through his mostly elderly case list, eventually coming to grief only when the lawyer daughter of one of his victims smelled a big fat juicy rat because a second will emerged, leaving everything to Shipman. She had always handled her wealthy mother’s affairs, so alerted authorities and the investigative ball was set in motion.

The doctor hung himself in his cell on the eve of his fifty-eighth birthday, ensuring that his wife Primrose (who had quite possibly parachuted into the domineering female role vacated by his mother) received the maximum pension payout, since he died before he was sixty. Morally questionable? I couldn’t possibly comment.

As Franklin D Roosevelt’s Vice President, another Harold – well Harry, actually, as in Harry S Truman, (OK, a bit of a stretch there!) had been inaugurated into the post of chief banana when FDR died suddenly. This day in 1950, as 33rd (Democrat) President of the US he publicly announced support for the development of a hydrogen bomb. Scary. But perhaps he’d been consulting his crystal ball, as in June that year, the North Korean army under Kim Il-sung (are they all called Kim?) invaded South Korea, starting the Korean War; plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.


With that stunning demonstration of linguistic ability, I’ll bid you adios, amigo.

Thanks for having me, Jen!




Thanks Nell! So glad to have this month ticked off the list! Let’s hope February gives us the chance to warm up and put the umbrella’s away for a while!

Happy reading,

Jenny xx

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