A Light, Enjoyable Series

Over the Christmas holidays I discovered a new series and have been reading through them one after the other. This is the Markham Sisters series by Diana Xarissa, who also does the Aunt Bessie (An Isle of Man Cozy Mystery) series.

The Markham sisters are two retired teachers who spend their little inheritance windfall on a bed & breakfast in what they think will be a calm little English village. Which it is, for the most part; the locals do their best to make the sisters welcome. The constable drops in often just to check on them—and is easily persuaded to stay for a bite to eat, seeing what a great cook Joan is.

Owning a bed & breakfast has been Joan’s dream since she was young, and since she’s the older, she’s persuaded younger sister Janet to go along with the plan. But running a business and dealing with customers sometimes proves intriguing. Joan has a stronger sense of propriety — which means “no snooping.” It’s Janet who gets quite curious about people who are acting suspiciously or whose stories don’t add up. Joan tells her to mind her own business, but Janet can’t resist doing some investigating.

This series is quite tame, more along the lines of Nancy Drew mysteries. Just what I like: no dead bodies discovered, but smaller crimes like art fraud, an odd shortage of narcotics at the drug store, counterfeit money being passed, and people who aren’t who they claim to be. The novel “cases” are named alphabetically and each book is a short, easy read.

There are ordinary day-to-day details some might find rather boring, but I enjoy the setting and characters. I’d take away one star, though, for the way the sisters interact sometimes. They are in their 60s but Joan is still bossing Janet like a teen older sister — at times this seems overplayed. And Janet, when she’s miffed, still sticks her tongue out behind Joan’s back. I’d think if they’ve lived together all their lives they’d have developed more of a respect for each other, show more of an accepting, “live-and-let-live” attitude. (Mind you, I’ve never lived with a sister for years, so I can’t say what roles they might fall into.)

There is a certain “ghost” angle written into these tales that, for my part, could have been left out. In the stories I’ve read so far it’s only been references to sounds Janet hears and occasionally a strange wind slamming a door.

Anyway, I’d give this series four stars. I read each book separately, but I see the author has published collections now, available free to those of you who have Kindle Unlimited. Here are first four cases:

A Markham Sisters Collection - ABCD by [Xarissa, Diana]

 

Wars, Words and Testy Judges

Back in the mists of ancient history a Norman army from France crossed the English Channel and battled the Anglo kings at Hastings.

Back then the Brits lacked a BBC and a Winston Churchill to rally the troops with:
“We’ll fight them at sea and we’ll fight them on land; we’ll fight them in the fields and we’ll fight them in the ditches…etc. We will never surrender.” In those days of poor communications one doubts there was any kind of significant country-wide clarion call of “Rally the troops!

Consequently the Normans took control of England. Lacking a successful counter attack and rout by the inhabitants, they claimed everything, grabbed all the castles, fortresses and whatever other good stuff they spied— as invaders are wont to do. They settled down to enjoy the spoils and make the Anglo-Saxons work for them.

They brought with them many weapons of war — and their language. There began at this point a steady trickle of French into the Saxonized English of the day:
“Non, non, stupide anglaise chef! Quelle offence! Such ignorance. This is NOT a spitted cow. This is a roti de BOEUF. And this is NOT pig. Non, non, this is PORC. We do not have zee PIG to feed us at our table!”

The phlegmatic cook, having sprung from an old English “Farmer in the dell” lineage, hadn’t adopted the Saxon swine yet — which was just as well. She didn’t do so well with roti de boeuf, either, and slurred it to roast beef. She was pleased, though, to be elevated from cook to chef. (Wouldn’t you be?)

Fast forward almost a millennium, to where a Yank calling himself Fandango gives us the word prompt: PENDING.

Thus today we’re prompt-writing about this word, originally forced onto the French by the Roman conquerors of Gaul, then delivered via the sword and the trickle to the Brits. As Norman rule was suspendu over Britain, this word slowly wormed its way into the emerging English language. By now it’s established itself in oodles of English subdivisions — much like Norman DNA in general. And from there it’s crossed the Atlantic.

Definitions given by my Collins Canadian Dictionary, First Edition:

Pending:
– while waiting for
– not yet decided or settled
– imminent

Impending:
something (esp something bad) about to happen

Suspend:
– hang (something) from a high place
– cause something to remain floating or hanging
– cause to stop temporarily
– to remove (someone) temporarily from a job or position, usually as a punishment

Depend:
– to put trust in; rely on
– to be influenced or determined (by)
– to rely (on) for income

Expend:
– to spend or use up (something)

Real Life Uses:

Judge Smith was motoring sedately along the highway, expending serious thought on the impending decision over custody of the Watkins’ dog. Considering the vicious ongoing battle for ownership, she’d suspended all visiting rights pending a dog psychologist’s report on the dog’s behaviour in the presence of its master and its mistress.

Little did Judge Smith know that Sam Slatter had expended a lot of energy intoxicating himself on a suspension of fermented barley and hops, and was heading toward a STOP sign to her left.

The county had suspended a flashing red light above the intersection to doubly warn motorists that they MUST, MUST come to a complete stop at the white line. How well Sam perceived this sign and/or light was dependent on how clear his vision was. And it wasn’t. Sad to say, his befuddled brain’s reaction time was as impaired as the rest of him.

The impending arrival of Sam’s vehicle was not noticed by the judge, distracted as her thoughts were. She only caught a glimpse of the oncoming vehicle on her left periphery and the question flashed through her mind, “Will it stop?”

Sam made a brave attempt to brake when the Judge’s vehicle swept in front of him, but the momentum of his vehicle couldn’t be checked. There was a dull crunch as he clipped the tail lights and rear fender of the Judge’s car.

Several days later Sam’s fog had mercilessly left him to his fate. Worse, he could see clearly now that the person whose car he had damaged was sitting in the judgement seat above him. What could he say? What could he do but sniffle as his license was suspended indefinitely, pending a police report on his past behaviour behind the wheel.

The Watkins’ case came up next. Worse luck for them, Judge Smith was in no mood to be patient. The dog was awarded to the husband’s aged uncle and all visiting rights were denied.

Had He Only Known!

A Belisha beacon was an amber-coloured globe lamp atop a tall black and white pole, marking pedestrian crossings of roads in the United Kingdom, Ireland and in other countries historically influenced by Britain. The flashing light warned motorists that this was a pedestrian crossing.

It was named after Leslie Hore-Belisha, the Minister of Transport who in 1934 added beacons to pedestrian crossings, marked by large metal studs in the road surface. The first one became operational on July 4, 1935.

These crossings were later painted in black and white stripes, thus are known as zebra crossings. Legally pedestrians have priority (over wheeled traffic) on such crossings. (I believe they’ve been replaced over the years by WALK signals for pedestrians.)

This little incident apparently happened not long after Belisha beacons were set up in London. The King and his Queen were enjoying a pleasant drive through the city in the royal limousine when they passed an intersection where one of these lights had been installed.

“Pull over up ahead,” King Edward instructed their chauffeur. Then his said to his wife, “I want to try walking across at one of these crossings and see how it actually works.”

The chauffeur stopped the car and the King got out. He walked back up the street to the crossing and about five minutes later he returned.

As he climbed back into the car he was chuckling. The Queen looked at him curiously and asked, “What’s so amusing?”

He grinned at her. “One of my loyal subjects just called me a doddering old fool.”

It pays to use kind words. 🙂

This is my response to today’s Ragtag prompt: UNAWARE

Of Downfalls and Updrafts

The young woman rushed along the street in a fit of desperate emotion. Life was over for her! What dreadful future predictions played out in her mind as she headed for the Clifton bridge? Was the weather as dismal as Sarah’s spirits that day? Surely you wouldn’t start out in the bright sunshine to fling yourself off a bridge?

Yet that’s exactly what Sarah was about to do. She’d just received a letter from her fiancé breaking their engagement. She’d never hold her head up again. Back in 1885 this rejection would have seemed like the end of the world to the heart-broken young miss and she was going to end it all. Leave all the heartaches of Earth behind.

A nagging voice in her head — we all know it, that voice of “all hope lost” — drove her on. “Love is lost forever. There’s nothing ahead for you but a long and dreary spinsterhood. You can’t live without him. And the shame! Jump, by all means. Jump.”

Sarah walked onto the bridge and looked down through her tears to where the river wound through the gorge 245 feet below. Another wave of despair swept over her and she climbed over the railings and onto the parapet. One last sob and she leaped into the emptiness.

But air isn’t empty. And in this case a draft of wind, coupled with her volumnious petticoats, considerably impeded her descent. To Sarah, the fall must have felt like slow motion, as the wind caught and swelled her wide skirt and crinoline. Down she drifted, not into the water below, but onto the riverbank where she sank deep into the soft mud that prevented her serious injury.

Astounded watchers below rushed to the spot and pulled her out, shocked but unharmed.

Sarah later married and lived to be 85.

Wikki tells us:

Sarah Ann Henley was a barmaid from Easton, Bristol, who became famous in 1885 for surviving an attempted suicide by jumping from the Clifton Suspension Bridge, a fall of almost 75 metres.

And poet William E. Heasell wrote a verse about the event:

An Early Parachute Descent in Bristol

Once in Victoria’s golden age
When crinolines were all the rage
A dame in fashionable attire
Would change her life for one up higher
So up to Clifton Bridge she went
And made a parachute descent
But though, ’twas not the lady’s wish
A boatman hooked her like a fish
And thus a slave to fashion’s laws
Was snatched from out of Death’s hungry jaws
This story’s true I’d have you know
And thus it only goes to show.

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My response to today’s writing prompts:

Fandango: LEAVE
Word of the Day: DISMAL
Ragtag Daily Prompt: WALK

When Cloud Banks Come Together

June 30, 1912

Citizens of Regina, Saskatchewan, a growing city on the Canadian prairie, sweltered in the sultry 100̊ F afternoon. The flags on display for the Dominion Day celebrations the next day hung limp on their poles. Folks sat on porches fanning themselves, longing for some ripple of breeze.

Some young folks and couples were spending the Sunday afternoon in Wascana park, or padding canoes on Wascana Lake a few blocks south of Regina’s business district. A flock of faithful Anglicans were gathered at St Paul’s Church listening to sermons by their local Bishop and Canon Hicks from London, England. Some women fainted because of the intense heat and humidity in the auditorium.

By mid afternoon storm clouds appeared in the south. Folks watched the cloud banks rolling toward each other, one system coming from the southeast and another from the southwest. At 4:30 pm the clouds were moving rapidly toward a collision. Folks began hearing rumbles of thunder; the sky took on a strange green glow; blue and red lighting bolts flashed along the ground. This phenomena was something prairie folks had never seen before. They had no idea what was coming.

The storm systems crashed into each other over the Saskatchewan Legislative Building beside Wascana Lake. There was a roar like two freight trains overhead and a colossal smoke-colored funnel dropped from the clouds. Packing a 500 mile-an-hour wind, skipping around crazily, the twister plowed a six-block-wide swath of destruction right through town, including the business district.

Reading in the book Great Canadian Disasters, © 1961 by Frank Rasky, one particular paragraph in the “aftermath” caught my eye:
Survivors today, with their varied memories, differ strongly on just about every aspect of the tornado’s aftermath: the degree of the onslaught, whether the government was generous (to victims), …the precise number of people wiped out by the catastrophe.

So true of any major event. Our own experience, our perspective on the scene, our general world-view, our position in society — all these make a lot of difference in how we process what’s going on, and later describe what happened, what helped, what hindered.

I’ve sometimes liken the Women’s Movement forming in the late 1800s to the two storm systems coming together over Regina. They came from different angles, when they united they formed a powerful force, and that force blew apart a lot of the status quo of their day. For better or for worse? Witnesses and historians don’t all agree.

I’d call one group the fore-mothers of the feminist movement as I knew it in the 1960s. Their agenda: universal suffrage; equal rights for women, including equal job opportunities and equal pay.

A lot of these women had graduated from women’s colleges in the Eastern States. They were sick and tired of the taboos of their day and did their best to prove these ideas false. I’ve lost my notes on this, but I recall that a number of these ladies met in Buffalo, NY in the late 1890s to form a group, establish their goals, and decide on a course of action.

Some of the misconceptions of their day were rather ludicrous. When trains were first invented some people raise the objections that women could never ride on a train because if women were to travel at speeds over 30 mph they would go insane, or mad with lust. Some “experts” of their day claimed girls’ educations should be limited to the basics because delicate female minds would shatter if forced to handle difficult mathematic equations. (I’m almost sad we lost that one — I’ve never been that good at math. 🙂 )

Some said physical training for girls was out because strenuous exercise would ruin their bodies and especially affect their ability to bear children. (That group should have rather taken a good look at the long term effect of wearing corsets.)

When you start setting up theories that can be so easily proven wrong, you can count on it that someone’s going to want to knock them down.

The other merging ‘cloud system’ was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. As I’ve already written, this group sprang mainly from a Protestant Evangelical base. They had embraced the ‘Social Gospel’, which basically translates as ‘How Christians should fix the world.’ Their agenda: stable homes; healthy, happy families; reduction of crime; no more war. Each and every one a worthy goal.

As these ladies looked at their society, they concluded that laws were needed to ensure these goals. Thus voters were needed so political pressure could be put on to get those laws passed. Which meant their launching point was getting women the right to vote.

Meanwhile, over in merry old England, feminist suffragettes took a more dramatic approach. Up against a more rigid and long-established social structure, their struggle for the right to vote was long and bitter. They chained themselves to posts, went on hunger strikes, were force-fed.

They also adopted what they referred to as the politics of the broken window pane. Genteel-looking ladies would appear on business streets during a busy afternoon and station themselves in front of store windows. At a given signal they’d pull hammers from large handbags and start swinging. The damage was done before anyone could react and the ladies would make themselves scarce, leaving merchants sobbing.

I don’t know how much the WCTU influenced the women’s movement in Britain but I rather doubt Prohibition was ever a serious goal. In Europe and Britain so many women accepted social drinking and drank socially themselves. Also Protestant Evangelism was never as large or powerful in Europe as it was in North America.

To be continued.

Photo-Tour of Dover

I’ve discovered another new blogger I’d like to introduce you to this morning. She blogs as Sojerden and has posted a pictorial Guide to several historic English cities. So if a quick tour of  Dover interests you this morning, hop on over to her latest post via Air Internet and see the sights with her.

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And now for a chuckle at the expense of some confused tourists:

All Hail Neil!

One day some years back a guide was leading a group of American tourists around the British Houses of Parliament and explaining this and that, when he saw the House Speaker crossing the corridor ahead of them, decked in his flowing robes.

The two men were friends so the tour guide called out, “Neil!” and they exchanged a friendly wave. Then the guide turned back to the American tourists — and found them all on their knees.

🙂