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

Tag: May

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 Round Up: May Madness

YEAH!!! A whole year of end of month blogs from the brilliant Nell Peters – and she hasn’t run away to hide yet!

Go grab a cuppa and come and see what Nell has found out for us this month.

Over to you Nell…

Hello! Thanks Jenny, and Happy First Anniversary! That’s paper in marriage terms, so appropriate-ish I guess.

A whole year ago, I wrote my inaugural last-day-of-the-month guest blog for Jenny and so I thought I’d better take a look to check what I was waffling on about, so as not to repeat myself and betray creeping senility. This was my opening paragraph:

‘Hi everyone; I’m thrilled that Jenny has asked me to do a regular (monthly) spot on her illustrious blog – though I can’t help thinking she has me confused with someone else … Case of mistaken identity notwithstanding, this is my opening shot and I will try my best not to get the sack on my first day.’ Guess what? Jen still hasn’t sussed and I’m still here! *Sniggers like over-acting pantomime baddie into sweaty palm*

My subject matter for May ’16 was almost exclusively Pavlova the chicken – aah, dear Pavlova. I still miss her and her antics, when I’m wandering round the garden. That was, of course, before Svetlana arrived on the scene in July, courtesy #4 son. Funnily enough, Svetlana Alexievich, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2015 (the year before … erm … Bob Dylan), and after whom my second chicken was named, was born on this day in 1948.

Svet the fowl was totally different to Pav (not nearly so bossy and a very friendly chook) but was with us just two weeks before they were both killed – we think by Killer Kat. I still have chickens in the garden, but Vladimir (OK, he’s a cockerel – well spotted) and Raisa, given to me by various sons, are sculpted in metal and as such are impervious to feline (or any other) attack.

OK, let’s get this show on the road. Today, the oldest GS is eight, bringing to an end a month bursting with both family and friends’ birthdays. Phew! To wildly paraphrase the song lyrics written by George Harrison, my bank balance not-so-gently weeps – it’s gone through two dozen boxes of tissues during the last few weeks.

George Harrison

Sharing celebrations on the 151st day of the year (only 214 to go, folks – did I mention I’m a mathematical genius?) are a large number of sports personalities, most of whom I don’t know from Adam or Eve. They are Gemini, ruled by Uranus, which provides these folk with intelligence and a vivid imagination. They like to give the impression that they have a badass streak, but this is mostly an act and generally they follow a conventional lifestyle.

May 31st-ers live life in the present, giving little thought to the past or future – they will make life-altering decisions without considering the consequences, but are fortunately adaptable and will easily work through any problems encountered. Not quite sure how that fits with a sporting lifestyle, but #2 son’s birthday was two days ago and that profile sums him up pretty accurately. #3 was born on 14th May so he’s Taurus, and shares his actual date of birth with an American football player, Rob Gronkowski and Belarusian hurdler, Alina Talay – seems May generally spawns sporty folk.

Who else have we got? There’s actor Clint Eastwood, who was mentioned here a couple of months ago for getting married on 31st March (needs the publicity, poor lamb) – he was born 31st May 1930 and other actors followed his lead (!); Colin Farrell (1976), Brooke Shields (1965), Israeli, Yael Grobglas (1984) and German, Sebastian Koch (1962).

Brooke Shields

Sharing a date of birth with aforementioned Svetlana Alexievich, was John Bonham, drummer in the Led Zeppelin rock band, who died in 1980 aged thirty-two and (hopefully) climbed his own Stairway to Heaven. So sorry! Bonham reportedly imbibed forty (yes, four-zero) shots of vodka, vomited and asphyxiated whilst asleep. Thereafter, surviving band members Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Robert Plant pulled the plug on the group, although they have since collaborated sporadically in reunion performances – in 2007, Jason Bonham took his father’s place, wielding the drum sticks. Coincidentally, on this day in 1915, there was an air raid on London by an LZ-38 Zeppelin.

Sticking with the musical theme for a bit longer, in 1969, Stevie (no longer little) Wonder released My Cherie Amour on the same day that John Lennon and Yoko (Japanese for Ocean Child) Ono recorded Give Peace a Chance, a couple of months after they married in Gibraltar. Lennon was either her third or fourth husband, depending how you look at it – she married her second, American film producer and art promoter Anthony Cox, in 1962 and the marriage was annulled in 1963. However, they remarried the same year – the annulment was necessary because she had neglected to finalise her divorce from husband number one, as you do – and remained so until she and Lennon got hitched. Ono’s profile gives her occupation as peace activist, singer, feminist (that’s an occupation?), songwriter and conceptual artist – Ono (sorry again!), there isn’t another phrase in the English language that can send icy shivers roller skating down my spine quite so quickly as ‘conceptual art/artist’! Any emperors out there need new clothes?

Other historic events on this day include Sir Francis Bacon being locked up in the Tower of London for one night (1621) – he probably decamped for a Holiday Inn, hoping the beds would be more comfy; Samuel Pepys hung up his quill pen after making the final entry in his eponymous diary, because his eyesight was failing (1669) – I’m going to refrain from making a bad joke about his peepers. In 1879, Madison Square Gardens in New York opened, named after 4th President, James Madison; British troops occupied Johannesburg (1900) and exactly two years later the Boer War ended. In Belfast, 1911, RMS Titanic was launched and hailed as unsinkable – try telling that to the passengers on her maiden voyage less than a year later, when the ship argued with an iceberg and lost.

Think the public transport system is grim now? In 1955, Great Britain declared a state of emergency due to a national rail strike. I’m guessing car ownership wasn’t universal then and people were left without many alternatives (only so many passengers can board a number 99 bus at one time, after all), unless they emulated Norman Tebbit’s dad and got on their bikes.

Six years later, the Union of South Africa became a republic and left the ever-depleting Commonwealth – this was a little over a year before Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. I wonder what scary Winnie is doing now … One of the best placards I’ve ever seen read, ‘Free Nelson Mandela! Jail Winnie!’ Amused me, anyway.

Nelson and Winnie Mandela

Talking about prisoners (howzat!), the film of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was released to a cinema near you in 2004, four years before Usain Bolt, erm, bolted for all he was worth and claimed the world record for the 100m sprint. This was prior to his supplementary career, popping up all over our TV screens advertising the likes of Virgin and Quorn. Finally, who remembers that loony Psy’s Gangnam Style? It became the first video to clock up two billion views on YouTube in 2014 and was replicated countless times – my favourite being a gang (get it?) of Eton pupils and their tutors, who did an excellent job, if a little tongue-in-cheek.

I had a (completely mad) lecturer who used to award an extra mark if you could include a certain word in essay assignments – once it was ‘birthday’, the due date being his birthday, and worst of all, ‘trombone’. As I recall, I included the spurious information that Karl Marx shared a birthday (May 5th) with philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, and for trombone I gave a presentation on Women and Crime, based on the hypothesis that Jack the Ripper was in fact a woman – and when she was a young girl, the family were so impoverished they couldn’t afford her trombone lessons. Seriously! I got away with it and was awarded the extra mark, but goodness knows what the second markers at Cambridge thought! ‘Beagle’ was another challenge and I managed that by somehow mentioning Charles Darwin sailing off into the wide blue yonder on the ship of that name, completely out of context. Which brings us nicely (if by a slightly convoluted route) to the fact that way back in 1836, HMS Beagle anchored in Simons Bay, Cape of Good Hope on May 31st.

Naturalist Charles survival-of-the-fittest Darwin was born in 1809, in Shrewsbury, the second youngest of six children. The family were wealthy – his father a medical doctor, his grandfather a renowned botanist. In 1825, he enrolled at Edinburgh University and two years later, became a student at Christ’s College, Cambridge. It was expected that Charles would follow his father into medicine but an inconvenient aversion to the sight of blood rather put paid to that idea. As an alternative, his father suggested he study to become a parson (irony lives!), but Darwin was more inclined toward natural history.

Whilst he was at Christ’s, botany professor John Stevens Henslow became Darwin’s mentor and folloing graduation in 1831, he recommended his protégé for a naturalist’s post aboard HMS Beagle on a five year survey trip around the world. That’s a long time to suffer from seasickness – which he did. The voyage was the opportunity of a lifetime for a keen young environmentalist to study the principles of botany, geology and zoology and collect natural specimens, including birds, plants and fossils. The Pacific Islands, Galapagos Archipelago and South America were of particular interest to Darwin. Through experimentation and observation he concluded that species survived through a process of natural selection, where those that successfully adapted to meet the changing environment of their natural habitat thrived, whereas those that failed to evolve and reproduce died off.

In 1858, after years of further scientific investigation, Darwin publically introduced his revolutionary theory of evolution in a letter read at a meeting of the Linnean Society, dedicated to the study and dissemination of information concerning natural history and taxonomy (classification). The following year he published a detailed explanation of his beliefs in his best-known work, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.

Keeping it in the family, in 1883 Sir Francis Galton (although then still plain Mr), a respected British scholar and cousin of Darwin, first used the term eugenics, meaning well-born. Galton felt the human race could help direct its future by selectively breeding individuals who had ‘desired’ traits, based on his study of upper class Britain (I’m guessing he missed out on meeting members of the Bullingdon Club?) Galton posited that an elite position in society was due to a good genetic makeup – all immensely scary stuff and very much open to sickening abuse, as more recent history demonstrates.

Francis Galton

Surprisingly for someone so heavily into genetics, Darwin himself married another cousin, Emma Wedgwood (at least they would never be short of plates) after deducing from the pros-cons of marriage list he made, that a wife would be ‘better than a dog’ – what a silver-tongued smoothie! Nevertheless, they had ten children, only seven of whom survived to adulthood.

Emma Wedgewood

I wonder what Darwin and Galton would have made of the likes of Lily Savage and Danny la Rue? Whilst Lily looks a whole lot more like Paul O’Grady nowadays presenting animal programmes, Daniel Patrick Carroll swapped his diamante frocks for a pair of wings, when he died on this day in 2009, aged eighty-one.

Danny la Rue

Just one last piece of trivia (groan!) In 2010, Chris Haney – Canadian journo (worked on the Montreal Gazette; dreadful rag) and co-creator (with Scott Abbott) of the board game, Trivial Pursuit, followed suit (groan again) and died, aged fifty-nine. The photo I saw of him reminded me quite a lot of singer-turned-politician, husband-of-four-including-Cher, Sonny Bono – also deceased after a skiing accident at the appropriately-named Heavenly Ski Resort in 1998. Bono’s epitaph reads, And The Beat Goes On. Not sure if I’d have been able to resist the mega bad-taste alternative, I Got Yew, Babe, since he collided with a tree.

Right – I’m done! Don’t all cheer at once!




Many thanks once again Nell. I can’t believe a whole year has passed. Seems only yesterday you were introducing us to the star struck Pavlova.

Roll on next month.

Jenny x

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