Search This Blog

Monday, September 25, 2023

Phew! The streets of London, 14th-century style. Plus an excerpt from my London-based novella, "Mistress Angel".

Recently, I watched a BBC2 programme about medieval London and its sanitation problems. Dan Snow's vivid and interactive account - there was a small scratch-card, supplied by the Radio Times, which I sniffed at the right moment - told me much I already knew but it was overwhelming seeing and smelling it all at once. By the 14th century, London was a city of over 100,000, a teeming, dark, filthy smelling and sewerage-filled place. I was fascinated by the platform shoes medieval Londoners wore to try to wade through the sloppy streets and also by the work of the gong farmers - cleaners armed with rakes and shovels, working at night, trying to clean the streets.

This was a gruesome account at times, especially when Dan spoke of the medieval butchers and tanners, and then the horrors of the Black Death, which raged in London for two years (1348-50) but I shall be watching again, when the series recreates the stench of pre-revolution Paris.

For my medieval romances, I do not dwell on the stink of London (not very romantic!) but I do mention it, and the filth of the streets, in my novella, "Mistress Angel."

 My sweet to sensual Medieval Historical Romance "Mistress Angel" can be read for free with Kindle Unlimited and found at these places:

Amazon Com

Amazon Co UK

You can read an excerpt below

Historical Note.

The scene where Isabella is inside a golden cage suspended over the cobbled streets of London is based on a real event.  In May 1357 Prince Edward, whom we now call The Black Prince, escorted the captured king of France through London in a glittering victory procession. Londoners flocked to see this and the London guilds vied with each other to add to the spectacle. The London goldsmiths placed twelve maidens in golden cages above the route where the princes would pass.  In my novella, I make Isabella one of the maidens.

Child betrothals and child brides were a part of the Middle Ages. One of the most famous is Margaret Beaufort, who was married at just twelve and who became pregnant just before her thirteenth birthday. After a long and difficult labor she gave birth to a son who as Henry Tudor would become King of England and Wales. Even at the time the early consummation of her marriage was remarked on with some censure.  Margaret later was keen to ensure that her granddaughter was not sent to her betrothed the king of Scotland too young in case the king consummated the marriage at once and so injured her.


Chapter 1

London, May 1357

     Isabella was reading a scolding letter from her mother when Sir William's man-servant John stepped into the workshop and jerked his head to the outside, holding the door open for her.

     She tucked the scrap of parchment into her belt and hurried into the back yard, lifting her skirts clear of the cloying mud. It was raining still, a light spring drizzle that had lasted for days and stirred up the usual offal and dung stink of London. She wrinkled her nose and covered her mouth with her hand.

     “Hurry!” John urged. “The master does not like to be kept waiting.”

     Isabella picked her way round a deep cart track and made for the stand of cherry and apple trees against the back boundary wall of her husband's family house. The tall, portly figure waiting beneath these trees was unmistakable, as was his goldsmith's livery, worn by most guild members only on festivals and holy days but as a regular costume by him. She bowed her head.

     Sir William waved his servant away. “You are too brown,” he grumbled as Isabella approached. “Are you a washer-wench, to be so brown? That will not do.”

     Naturally I am tanned, through outdoor work. She had been instructed by her husband's family to weed the garden plot and gather greens daily, all work beneath her, but Isabella knew better than to protest.

“My son?” she asked quickly.

     Sir William dismissed her anxious question with a sharp shake of his head. “Later,” he snapped. “When you prove your worth to us.”

     Isabella fixed her eyes on the golden tips of Sir William's gilt-edged shoes and strove to appear calm. She had been hearing variations of this and other complaints for years, and they held no sting for her. The absence of her son was altogether different. When may I see my child? It has been months since Richard took him from me and his family still keep us apart. Had I the means I would go to law, for in this household no one listens to me. How does my son fare? Does Matthew think of me? She longed to ask all of these things.

     “How long have you been with us, Isabella?”

     “For six years, since I wed your nephew.”

     She had been married to Richard at twelve, made pregnant two years later and widowed three years after that, following a long and bitter apprenticeship of wedlock. I have been a widow for six months and I do not miss a moment of my marriage.

     She sensed Sir William staring at her, stroking first his squirrel-fur cloak, then his neatly-trimmed beard. She resisted the impulse to shudder.

     “You are much improved in looks of late,” he remarked.

     Yes, not being beaten nightly by a drunken brute improves a woman's appearance. Isabella raised her head. “May I see Matthew?”

     Sir William frowned at the second mention of her son. “Did I not say later? Have you a better gown?”

     Accustomed to his abrupt manner, Isabella said nothing. Sir William need only check the household accounts to realize she had three dresses. One was her bridal gown, a tiny, wrinkled dress, worn with such hopes when she was still only a child. She could scarcely bear to look at it now.

     “We must have you robed in brighter colors,” Sir William continued. “And you must stay indoors. Wash your face in whatever women use to whiten skin. You must shine like a jewel.”

     When she was first married, Isabella had been full of questions, until Richard's ready fists had silenced her. She nodded to show she understood and waited to be told more. Perhaps I am to be married again, she thought, and hoped this time the man would be kind. Please let him bring my son Matthew back from wherever he is living and safe into our home. If my new husband does that, I will love him forever.

     Sir William picked a spray of cherry blossom and held it alongside her face. “Yes, you shall do very well,” he rumbled. “Your dowry is gone, you failed in your marriage task, you have no great skills, but we can put that beauty of yours to work.”

     Abruptly, he seized the front of her bodice and yanked on the loose cloth, half-exposing her breasts. Isabella covered herself with an arm but did not resist or utter a sound. If feigning acquiescence brought her news of her son she would be as still and silent as a grave.

     “Good, good.” Sir William strolled around her, pinching her flanks, muttering, “She needs a touch more flesh here, but her breasts are still ripe, for all her nursing of that pup.”

     Surely he would tell me if Matthew is dead? She had not set eyes on her son for seven months, since Richard had spitefully sent him off to another household, somewhere in Kent. My husband did that just before he was killed, murdered in a blood-feud not of my making but for which I am still blamed. When will it end?

     “You will oblige me,” Sir William went on, and he took her roughly by her shoulder and half-turned her, back to the house. “There, look at your son now. Not one word.”

     Isabella blinked the drizzle from her eyes and stared at the small, thin figure standing with his back to her in the open doorway to the workshop.

     It was Matthew, clothed in the belted blue cloak and cap she had made for him last winter, his fair, curling hair a little longer and more sun-bleached than when she had last seen him. He was growing and carried himself very straight, she thought proudly. She took a step forward, closer to him. He was no more than a baby when Richard ripped him from me. Now he is a little boy of  four years old, just four.

     “No nearer,” warned Sir William. “That is enough.”

     He gestured to someone at the house and the door closed, cutting Isabella off from that too-brief glimpse. Heart-scalded, she swung round. “Please, let me speak to Matthew,” she begged. Let me hold him, embrace him, smell him, hug him. Relief that he was alive washed through her, making her weak when she had to be strong.

     “To business,” Sir William remarked dryly, watching her fumbling with her gown strings, his eyes bright, with the pitiless interest of a bird. “You have seen the boy, now heed my terms.”

     Isabella chewed on the inside of her cheek to stop a rising cry, glad that the rain hid her tears. She nodded in silence, bracing herself.

     Even now, Matthew must not know I am here. Surely if he did he would come to me? And will I see him again? How long will he stay?

     Sir William smiled. “You will do much, make great efforts to see your son again?” He did not wait for an answer. “This family needs to make good alliances, and you are available. Stephen Fletcher I thought. He is armourer to Duke Henry himself, and widowed.”

     His smile widened and his hard dark eyes sparkled with open malice. “I understand he is like you, the offspring of a commoner. Some would call him a blacksmith. You should do well with him.”

     Isabella felt her face flush with anger. “And how, pray, will I meet him?”

     “Use what wit you have, girl, and find out!” He pinched her cheek, hard, and moved away, tossing her final orders as he strolled off. “I shall expect strong progress in your suit, Isabella. Win him within the month, become his mistress, extract rich gifts and favors from him, or you shall not see your son again. I will adopt Matthew as my own.”

     He went inside, out of the rain, and slammed the door in her face.


     Isabella ran after him, but Matthew was already gone. Her heart aching inside her chest and desperate to escape the ready complaints of her mother-in-law, she claimed that Sir William asked her to collect a parcel of herbs from the apothecary's. Outside again in the rain, she stumbled by way of the back lanes to the house and shop of her friend, Amice the Spicer. 

     Amice took one look at her and drew Isabella behind the curtain at the back of her shop, where she had a bed she slept in when guarding a fresh batch of cinnamon from burglars.

     “Get under the covers and warm up,” she said, in her brisk, managing way. “As you see, the shop is quiet now, so we can talk. Have you received another letter from that prating mother of yours, blaming you for a feud not of your making? I presume your own flesh-and-blood have not welcomed you back?”

     “No, they have not.” Isabella shook as she stumbled into the bed. I do not think they will ever do so. Like Amice she knew that, according to custom, she might have returned to her own family, now that Richard was dead. Her parents however had cast her off. Her mother still wrote letters, but only to instruct her and to complain. To my parents I am one of the Martintons now. It was a terrifying thought, one she dared not dwell on.

     “Is your mother-in-law expecting you to spin gold from straw or some other foolishness?”

     Amice’s ironic question returned her to the present. A present even harder than my past. “I saw Matthew,” Isabella burst out through chattering lips. “They would not let me speak to him. He did not even know I was behind him.”

     “Ah, that old cruelty.”

     The sympathy in Amice’s warm voice brought Isabella to tears. She shuddered violently as her friend swept the warm, coarse blankets up to her ears.

     “Rest first, then tell me everything.” Amice bustled out into the shop again, closed the shutters and returned to light a brazier. “What did you say to get out of that wretched den?”

     “That my uncle needs herbs.”

     “I have those. I shall give you a bundle when you leave.”

     Isabella closed her eyes for a moment, willing herself not to cry. Away from her reluctant family-by-wedlock and the thunderstorm tension of the household, she felt her constant headache begin to clear. It was marvelous, too, to be safe at Amice's, snug and warm in a low-gabled shop perfumed with spices. She sighed, sitting up with a pillow behind her head as her friend brought her a cup of warmed wine. “Thank you.”

     “None needed.” Amice batted aside her gratitude. “We both know what you did for me. It is my pleasure to help you in return, in any way I can.”

     Isabella knew she meant it. They shared the cup between them, Amice telling of a Flemish merchant in the shop that morning, seeking pepper and saffron. Her black, strong-featured, full-lipped face was animated as she mimicked the accent of the Fleming, kicking her long legs against the wall as she reached the climax of her tale.

     “Paid me a good fistful of gold and unclipped coins for a few threads of saffron and one of my kisses. The man seemed to think I was an Ethiope out of Egypt and said my mouth was a lucky charm. I kissed him once, on the cheek, and did not tell him I come from the back end of Cheapside.”

     She chortled, finished the wine and put her dark, handsome head to one side. “You smell calm again,” she announced. Amice was a believer in the scent of things. “Will you have more wine? I have peppermint to disguise your breath from your mother-in-law.”

     Isabella smiled and shook her head. Reaching inside her gown, beneath the drawstrings Sir William had so roughly parted, she found the three gold rings strung on a cord and handed the rings and ribbon to Amice.

     “Sell or pawn?” Amice asked.

     “Sell,” Isabella said firmly. These rings were the last of her dowry, hidden away by her and forgotten by Sir William, Richard's mother and her parents. “I need a good price.”

     Swiftly she explained why. “I have only weeks to secure this Stephen Fletcher, and through him my son,” she concluded.

     “A harsh undertaking,” Amice remarked. “They are unkind people, your husband’s kin.”

     Isabella could not disagree but, thinking of the seemingly impossible task, she began to feel a coil of hope.

     “The goldsmiths' guild is planning a great spectacle when Prince Edward brings the French king back with him to London. I need to bribe my way into it.”

     “A good place to see and be seen, for sure. And Sir William swore you would have new gowns for this?” Amice held a ring set with a huge square sapphire close to the twisting flames of the brazier and gave a small grunt of satisfaction. “This is fine.”

     “Sir William promises many things, but I find they do not happen.”

     Amice's keen eyes glittered. “Then you are blamed.”

     Isabella shrugged. “I cannot afford to wait to see if he grants me fresh gowns. I have my son to consider.” Matthew! How I wish I could have talked to you today, held you, kept you by me.

     “I will go today, before curfew.” Amice rattled the rings in her palm. “Is any of this work Richard's? Let me avoid questions, if I can.”

     “Have no fear on that score. I have and hold nothing of his.” Which is why his kindred keep Matthew, as the only hold they have over me.

    She flinched as Amice brushed her wrist. “I will bring the money tomorrow,” her friend said.

     “Thank you,” Isabella murmured, wishing she could stay where she was until Amice returned. Knowing she must leave before she was missed in the workshop, she flung back the covers and scrambled to her feet. “I do not know where I will be tomorrow. Sometimes my mother-in-law keeps me at home.”

     “I will find you.”


     The following day it was raining harder and foggy, a thick gray miasma coating the city roofs and towers. Isabella fretted about Amice having to visit her in this dismal murk, but her mother-in-law found an excuse to dispatch her into it.

     “I have a fancy for oysters and malmsey,” Margery instructed, counting a few pennies into Isabella's hand. “You must go, girl, I can spare no other. Take the spit-boy with you as guide, though you do not really need one, do you? Not with your parents living so close by the docks.”

     “Honored mother.” Knowing Margery would be irritated by that form of address, Isabella followed it up with a bow and stalked out into the pouring rain. She and the spit-boy scowled at each other until the end of the street, marched around a corner, shook hands and parted ways. Nigel was her ally, although both knew he was meant to spy on her for the family. Now they were free for an hour or so and Isabella intended to make full use of the time.

     She called on Amice first, but her friend was also out and Amice’s limping apprentice had no idea where she could be found. Resigned to seeing Amice as God willed it, Isabella drew her molting fur cloak tightly about her shoulders and trod nimbly beneath the dripping jetties.

     She loved being out in the city, part of its vivid heart. She was always excited to be in London, even in the dreadful year of pestilence when Richard had taken Matthew and, with his kin, fled the city for their holding in East Ham. She and the prentices had been left in the workshop and it had been hard. When she did not dread the boils and bloody coughing she feared fire, or looters, but they had all come through—London had not failed her, even then. Now, slipping and sliding through the muddy alleys, avoiding shadowed corners, flicking a small coin to a beggar camped beneath a jetty, she heard a hundred different voices in the fog and a dozen different tongues and knew she was home.

     Matthew should be with me, learning these streets.

     She did not make for the docks. Oyster and wine sellers thronged the city, so she wasted no effort on the wharves where wine barrels were unloaded. She had no desire to encounter her father, although he had lately grown so rich as a vintner that he might not trouble to be out on such a day.

     Reflected in the pallid fog, a moving, closing shadow shimmered against the wattle wall of the house opposite. Frustrated by her small, female state, Isabella hunched into a doorway and waited until the creeping footpad vanished along another narrow lane. Amice stalked these alleys like a warrior but Amice was tall and knew how to fight with a knife. Shorter by half a head and allowed no decent blades, Isabella was constantly reminded of how easily she could be mauled. Had Richard not proved that, night after night?

     Hearing the bells of great Saint Paul's thundering above her, watching the hop-and-skip of folk darting in and out of the rain, she waited until she could make out the raucous calls of the street sellers again. Moving on, she turned off the house-step—straight into the path of a man leading a bay horse and eating a pie.

     “Hold there!”

     The stranger tossed his pie to a shivering urchin and caught Isabella as she slithered back, his grip firm but not cruel. “If you would be a cut-purse, girl, you need to be quieter.” He stared down at her while his horse chewed on a slither of hanging roof-thatch and a water-seller shouldered past them both, muttering curses.

     “Forgive me, sir.” Isabella did not recognize the man but she was keen to be on her way. He was taller than Amice and almost as dark, with a tanned, clean-shaven face and penetrating eyes. Green-gray eyes, she realized with a jolt, as he plucked her off the step and up onto the saddle of his mount with the same ease as she might lift a toddler.

     “Unhand me!”

     “Where are you going?” he asked, ignoring her protest. She began to slide off the back of the glossy bay but he anticipated that move and stopped her simply by catching her foot.


     “This is neither the weather nor the place for a decent maid,” he went on, his green-gray eyes sparkling with amusement as she glowered at him. “Let me take you where you need to be.”

     Isabella knew she looked like a servant. “Why would you do that?”

     He grinned and released her foot. “Even beggars deserve kindness now and then. Besides, you did not get those good teeth and fine accents on any midden heap. Now, where should I carry you away to?”

     They were moving, Isabella realized, the horse piling through a vast puddle with the man splashing carelessly alongside. Another moment and they would be within sight of the grand houses and palaces of the river, and, to the north, the goldsmiths' new guildhall, still being built.

     It would not do for him to escort her there with so many wagging tongues eager to take the news to Sir William. If need be, I shall tell my own gossip and, please God, be rewarded for it with a visit to or from my son.

     “Here,” she called, pointing to a small glover's shop tucked around the corner of a crooked alley. “This is my place.”

     The stranger reined in at once. Before Isabella could stir he swept her off his horse and lightly onto the cobbles, nodding to the wide-eyed glover. “I will see you safe within.”

     “There is no need.” Conscious of his height and breadth and easy strength, Isabella felt heat tiding into her face. She prayed she was not blushing. “Thank you for your help, Sir…?”

     He smiled, his eyes still bright with amusement, and answered readily, “Stephen Fletcher, at your service, Mistress Angel.”

     Isabella automatically gasped. The very man I have to win! All calculation deserted her as they stared at each other. What will it be like to be in Stephen’s arms? What will his kisses be like?

     Heedless of the prickling rain, Stephen studied her for a long moment, his eyes narrowing as if he guessed her thoughts. Isabella forced herself to bow her head, her breath threatening to stop as she waited, crucified by his silence. What now? Should I say more, do more?

     She felt a gentle touch, softer than rain, brush against her cheek.

     “I pass this way tomorrow,” he said softly. “I need new gloves.”

     “I shall be here.” Why did I say that? ‘Tis madness to promise anything!

     “Until tomorrow, Mistress Angel.” Stroking another raindrop from her flushed face and raising a hand in farewell, Stephen mounted his bay and cantered off in the direction of the river.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023


I know you are wondering. Mondegreen is a word that means the mishearing of a popular phrase or song lyric. (BOY, have I been there many times!)

I found this information and a wonderful list of Mondegreens on Dr. Michael Barber’s link on the web. Here’s what he has to say about the origin of the word Mondegreen.

The word Mondegreen, meaning a mishearing of a popular phrase or song lyric, was coined by the writer Sylvia Wright.

As a child she had heard the Scottish ballad “The Bonny Earl of Murray” and had believed that one stanza went like this:

Ye Highlands and Ye Lowlands Oh where hae you been? They hae slay the Earl of Murray, And Lady Mondegreen.

Poor Lady Mondegreen, thought Sylvia Wright. A tragic heroine dying with her liege; how poetic. When it turned out, some years later, that what they had actually done was slay the Earl of Murray and lay him on the green, Wright was so distraught by the sudden disappearance of her heroine that she memorialized her with a neologism.

I have never heard of a Mondegreen before just about three days ago, and then, in the space of those three days, I saw it used twice in internet postings. I had to find out exactly what it was.

We’ve all done this, haven’t we? We want to sing along but we aren’t sure of the lyrics so we just…sing what it sounds like, even though it might not make the best sense. Later, we find out what we were singing was, well, not right, and didn’t make the best sense, as we’d always thought!

I’ll go first. When I was about 8, the James Bond movie Thunderball came out. The theme song was by Tom Jones. Here’s the verse I always sang wrong:

He knows the meaning of success, his needs are more so he gives less, they call him the winner who takes all, and he strikes like Thunderball.

Well, in my defense, I was 8 years old and what I actually sang made sense to ME: Instead of “they call him the winner who takes all” I sang, “the cold in the winter who takes all”—see? Perfect sense! Summer days were gone.

When Garth Brooks’ song Shameless came out, my sister and I happened to be talking on the phone one day about music and she said, “There is one song I don’t get. That song by Garth Brooks… “SHAVING”—why is he singing about shaving?” I thought she was putting me on, but no. She really thought he was singing SHAVING instead of SHAMELESS.

My mom told me one time that when she was young, she and her sisters would go buy a Hit Parade magazine and gather round the radio listening to the “hits”, hoping they were in their magazine. They’d find it quickly in the magazine and try to memorize the lyrics along with the music. But there was one song that had some Spanish words in it and they just had to try to mimic the sounds, because none of them had a clue about Spanish, and I’m guessing that even if that song was included in the magazine, there would have been very little chance they’d have figured out the pronunciation on their own. I said, “Weren’t you embarrassed to be singing the wrong words?” She said, “No, because no one else could do any better.” HA! I have laughed and laughed about that through the years. The problem with a Mondegreen in another language is there are so many possibilities of what you might accidentally be singing about.

Here is a fun partial list of some Mondegreens you might recognize. For the full list, go to Dr. Barber’s page here:

The artist is Elton John (Rocket Man), the Mondegreen is: Rocket man, burning all the trees off every lawn. The actual words are: Rocket man, burning out his fuse up here alone.

The artist is Don Henley (Boys of Summer). The Mondegreen is: after the poison summer has gone. The actual words are: after the boys of summer have gone.

How about Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”? Mondegreen is: when the rainbow shaves you clean you’ll know. Actual words are: when the rain washes you clean you’ll know.

And here’s a good one too, from Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising. The Mondegreen is a choice this time, with: There’s a bathroom on the right, OR There’s a baboon on the rise. Of course, it’s actually There’s a bad moon on the rise.

What about you? Do you have a Mondegreen to share with us today? I really do love these!

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Dance Scenes in Historically-Set Movies – September – Mask of Zorro #prairierosepubs #moviedancescenes

Join me here for a year of movie trivia fun as I post dance scenes from movies set in historical time periods. I will give a brief summary of the movie’s plot and an equally brief set-up to the scene.

Each month on the second Wednesday, I will post a movie clip and link back to previous movie scene articles here on the blog.

This is the criteria by which I’m choosing movie scenes:

           In a non-musical movie, the dance scene is important to the storyline and not just visual and auditory filler.

           In a musical drama, the characters in the dance scene don’t sing to each other.

           In a musical drama, the dance scene is important to the storyline and not just visual and auditory filler.

           The historical cut-off is 1960, because that date works for me. ;-)

Side note:  The article “Classic Literature is Not Necessarily Historical Fiction” on the BookRiot website offers an interesting explanation on what constitutes historical fiction and where various historical date lines are drawn.

 Movies to this point:

January – Cat Ballou
February – The King and I
March – Easy Virtue
April – Shakespeare in Love
May – Chocolat
June – Beauty and the Beast
July – Dirty Dancing
August – Cinderella

The September  movie dance scene is from the 1998 swashbuckler-type movie The Mask of Zorro. While this is Number 4 in my Top 5 Countdown to December, numbers 2 through 5 are interchangeable as for which one I like more than the others. My Number 1 dance scene, which I will reveal in December, is definitely my favorite. ;-)

Name of Movie: Mask of Zorro
Historical Time Period: 1821 – 1841
Location: Pre statehood California
Occasion/Purpose: Party at Don Rafael Montero's hacienda /  Distraction tactic
Type of Dance: Spanish Tango

Movie Still - Fair Use

Movie Summary:

This movie is a retelling of the Zorro legend. We begin with the original Zorro, Diego de la Vega, being captured by the evil Don Rafael Montero, who claims Zorro’s daughter, Elena, as his own. Fast forward 20 years, and we meet the grown up Elena and the soon-to-be-transformed into the new Zorro, Alejandro Murrieta.

 Set-up to the dance scene:

Young Zorro (Antonio Banderas) is trained by Old Zorro (Anthony Hopkins) who assumes the role of Young Zorro’s mute manservant. They attend the still-evil Don Rafael Montero’s big party at his hacienda. Alejandro cuts in on Elena dancing with Captain Love. Capt. Love is a truly dislikable character. The banter between Capt. Love and Alejandro is quite witty.

Alejandro and Elena dance the last few moments of a waltz, and it is perfectly respectable with appropriate distance between their bodies and their hands and arms are where they should modestly be in public.

At 1:15 in the YouTube clip below, the manservant catches Alejandro’s eye and indicates that a distracting intervention must occur to prevent Don Rafael and the other Dons (landowners) from leaving the party.

Alejandro challenges Elena. “Would you care to try something more robust, or do you feel unequal to the task?”

Elena responds, “No. On the contrary, Don Alejandro. I think only of your distaste for perspiration.”

At 1:36, Alejandro requests a song.

Nice lead in. We’re hooked. We can’t wait to see this dance. And oh what a dance it is. Visually, we are mesmerized. Aurally, we are delighted.

They waste no time whatsoever getting to the point of the dance. Alejandro sweeps Elena into his arms and bends her back. She puts her arm around his shoulder, and we are rocketed into a Spanish Tango

As the music and tempo intensify, so does the physical interaction heat up between Elena and Alejandro. They maintain eye contact. They maintain body contact. There is passion and desire fairly flying off the screen at us. Their steamy dancing fogs our glasses. They are completely consumed with each other. The world around them ceases to exist clear up to the end of the dance.

Their almost-kiss is interrupted when the crowd cheers and claps. Elena comes back from where she had lost herself so completely in the dancing, that it actually takes her several moments to realize the public, and quite unladylike, spectacle she has made of herself .

Captain Love is not impressed with what he sees on the dance floor. Don Rafael is mortified.

The scene is so well crafted that we ask ourselves if Elena and Alejandro are dancing or fencing for the way they advance, parry, step back, and move in again for the ‘kill’.

Through dance, this scene shows us just how ‘hot blooded’ they are. It also hints at the social mores of the time, while offering us the visual of the costuming of the era.

The scene’s ending with Alejandro saying to Elena’s evil ‘father’ Don Rafael, “This is the way they are dancing in Madrid these days…Excuse me, Don Rafael, I need to catch my breath. Your daughter is a very spirited dancer.”

Don Rafael says, “Spirited. Thank you for putting it so delicately.”

Elena shoots daggers from her eyes at Alejandro. It’s an absolutely marvelous dance scene. If we had any doubts up to this dance scene that Elena and Alejandro were in love, we don’t now.

Until next time,
Kaye Spencer
Lasterday Stories
writing through history one romance upon a time

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Jam and Jerusalem - The Lasting Legacy of the Women's Institute

Jam and Jerusalem - The Lasting Legacy of the Women's Institute 

By C. A. Asbrey

Madge Roberston Watt

On September the 11th, in Cardiff, Wales, a woman called Madge Robertson Watt started a woman's group. The humble origins gave no indication of the potent force for change it was to become even though she was a deep believer in the potential of women working together. Her leadership harnessed the power of women to deal with the ravages of war, but went on to address many other social matters impacting ordinary families. It was an exclusively female organisation, with only Admiral Richard Greville Arthur Wellington Stapleton-Cotton and his dog, Tinker, being the only fully paid-up male members. They were instrumental in the setting up of the first meeting in 1915. The admiral was in a wheelchair, but Tinker's role is unclear.  

Members of the WI in a Performance of Aladdin in 1939

Madge was an immigrant from Canada. An important point, as Canada already had a Women's Institute, founded by Adelaide Hoodless. Adelaide had been inspired to start the Canadian Women's Institute after the death of her fourteen-month-old son. The official cause was given as meningitis, but talk of a 'summer ailment' or contaminated milk persisted for a long time. Whatever the cause, the tragic death spurred her to start the movement in Canada to ensure that new mothers had knowledge, support, and information to prevent further tragedies. Madge Watt had similar aims when she worked with a few like-minded ladies to start a movement in the UK.

WW1 had started in 1914 for the UK. The war took men away from their families and workplaces, causing women to step up in the national interest. They worked in factories, farms, railways, lorries and busses. The women's institute campaigned for the first female police officers who appeared during WW1 due to a shortage of men to fill posts, the first arresting a man on her way to her way to work. Madge saw that rural women needed to make a concerted effort to counteract the food shortages caused by blockades and the sinking of supply vessels to the UK. She was eloquent and driven, and the first institute started in the beautifully Welsh named Llanfairpwllgwyngyll. Google the pronunciation. You won't be disappointed.

You may not be aware that the shortages became so acute in the UK that the government brought in rationing, with even the king and queen being issued with ration books in 1918. The Women's Institute spread quickly, and rural women maximised food production by raising productivity from thirty-five percent to sixty percent.

But producing it was only half the story. Preserving it and producing recipes that stretched food as far as possible became a specialty of the Women's Institute. By the end of the war in 1918, there were over a hundred institutes, and Madge was Chief Organiser under the Board of Agriculture. They made an enormous impact on feeding the country, but she didn't stop there just because the war had ended. She started the Women's Institute School in Sussex in 1918, with the aim of ensuring that women maximised their own skills and talents. She was quoted in a famous speech as saying, "I always tell them, in getting out a programme, to remember these points: Something to hear. Something to see. Something to do. This provides for everyone. I explain the glorious unity of the Women's Institute Organization, and then how the home is the beginning of all that the country will be."

The school not only taught women how to share recipes, home tips, enjoy arts and crafts, and enjoy new hobbies, it also trained women to be lead administrators in an ever-growing organisation, to network, to work together to advance a common cause in a way that was new to women at that time. They learned how to do accounts, and circumvented the British class system in recognising the merit over status. By the end of WW2 the demand for courses outstretched the accommodation and facilities. The aim was always based around women using their abilities to help their families, their communities, and their country. And after WW1 they set to work to do exactly that.

Their first major venture into politics was a campaign for decent, sanitary housing for men returning from the war. The slogan, "Homes fit for heroes" became a byword for the national housing crisis. Most housing stock for the working classes consisted of cheap Victorian houses thrown up during the industrial revolution. They were shoddily-built, most had little or no sanitation, and were over-crowded. Prime Minister Lloyd George promised a better standard of living for all, and the Women's Institute organised to ensure he stood by his word.

But that was not their only movement. The Pankhursts, the very scions of the female suffrage movement in the UK, spoke regularly to groups. The way women stepped up to fill male roles in WW1, and provided much-needed food, weapons, and expertise made it hard to resist calls to allow women the vote. The institute was not the only road to suffrage by any means, but they were another brick in the wall, as well as a way of reaching recruits who would never have previously attended a political meeting. Women gained a vocabulary to articulate their wants, and husbands came to appreciate the need for their wives to have a vote. The 1920s were also the point at which the hymn 'Jerusalem' became associated with the Women's Institute, and that had also been adopted by the Suffragettes in the UK, sung at all meetings. It gave us the saying 'Jam and Jerusalem' for the Women's Institute, as they were famous for both. Women in the UK were granted the vote in 1928. They also worked to get women on juries, and to run for parish and locals councils to influence the spending of public money on things that the communities needed.

In the forties and fifties the Women's institute was instrumental in powering Britain's war effort. Britain has been reliant on food imports since the eighteenth century, so by the early twentieth century people were in serious danger of being starved out of fighting the Nazis unless momentous efforts could be made. With food supplies once again cut off, the Women's Institute helped in rationing, food production in home gardens and public spaces. They explored recipes to make use of literally every scrap, on ways to grow food in unexpected places, and on how to preserve food to prevent wastage. Foraging became huge and the Women's Institute produced guides and lessons on how to do almost everything to do with make-do-and-mend. They sorted housing and food for refugees, the bombed-out, children evacuated from cities, and were omnipresent with tea and sympathy throughout the blitz for the emergency workers. Sugar was extremely scarce, with the ration only allowing people eight ounces a week, but the Women's Institute convinced the government to allow their members access to fourteen-thousand tons of sugar to preserve the sixteen-thousand tons of berries picked from hedgerows from rotting. It was a vital extra food source, at a time of great need. All the extra produce was sent to depots to be fairly distributed. And that was all on top of the normal rotas women had in taking turns in first aid, hospitals, and schools. They went the extra mile for their families and society, and once the war was over, they were respected for it.

After WW2 they continued sharing recipes, presenting women with new book groups, hobbies, and crafts, but they did not become less socially active. In the 1940s the Women's Institute demanded equal pay; something that didn't come to fruition until the Equal Pay Acy of 1970 which only addressed certain elements of the disparity. That fight continues.

They aligned with many groups that improved life in the local community, Help the Aged, the anti-litter group Keep Britain Tidy, Freedom from Hunger, adult literacy, anti-pollution groups, recycling, food banks, AIDS, mental health, and even formed groups inside prisons to give incarcerated women skills, comradeship, support, and a way to move forward.

Public health was one of their founding principles. They have shops and volunteers in almost all hospitals, campaigned against smoking in public places, lobbied the government to have every woman in the country regularly screened for cervical cancer, were active in HIV and AIDS awareness, worked to increase the numbers of midwives in the UK, for people with mental health problems to be in proper care rather than custody, and acted against human trafficking.

The organisation now has groups in almost every town and village in the country, with famous members including Queen Elizabeth II, and the present Queen Camilla. Camilla joined after the organisation was highlighted in the film, Calendar girls, which was based on a real group in the Yorkshire Dales who organised a charity calendar after the death of one of their member's husband. They started a craze for novelty nude calendars, but their was the first, and raised over three-million pounds for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research (now Blood Cancer UK), the UK's leading blood cancer charity. The Princess of Wales attends meetings in Anmer. Historian Lucy Worsley is also a member and said, "One hundred years old this September, the WI has managed to be both part of the establishment, and, at the same time, a deeply subversive organisation."

The women's institute is typical of many female organisations; cosy and mundane on the outside, but quietly creating a revolution against anything that hurts the weakest in society. Prime Minister Tony Blair found that out to his cost when he thought he was going to get cake and an easy ride when he addressed the national conference in 2000. At first he got a warm welcome, but the audience soon heckled, booed, and slow-clapped when he tried to treat the speech as a party political broadcast—despite being warned not to do so. They weren't having any of it, and refused to be used by any politician for his own ends. Blair described the women's institute as "the most terrifying audience I have seen." It was a doubly stupid act, considering the institute's spokeswoman, Sangeeta Haindl said, "Our chair warned that if he tried to make it political he would get short shrift." 

And if that shrift had been any shorter, they'd have been throwing things.

The membership may have been dented slightly by second wave feminism in the 70s, but the original aim was to give women a voice, so it could be posited that they were victims of their own success. The story of the women's institute is very much part of the story of feminism in the UK, and they were successful. The membership may be down from the glory years, but with the success of Calendar Girls and a presence at high profile political meetings they are still a force to be reckoned with.

Lucy Worsley with the Shoreditch WI

Sunday, September 3, 2023

THE TALL MAN - as the journey continues

Post by Doris McCraw

aka Angela Raines

Photo (C) Doris McCraw

This post on my journey through the old westerns on TV is about "The Tall Man". While this show is not one I watch much it is worth it for me just to see Clu Gulager in action.

For those who would like to look at the other shows in this series, they will be listed at the end of this post.

Image of the real Pat Garrett
from Wikipedia

The show ran from September 1960 to September 1962. There were 75 episodes of this NBC series. The show is set when Pat Garrett, the tall man, was friends with Billy the Kid. The show starred Barry Sullivan as Garrett and Clu Gulager as Billy. Like many shows of that period, you will see many faces you would recognize today as stars of the Western Genre.

Actor Barry Sullivan
from Wikipedia

The show's star, Barry Sullivan, born in New York in 1912, was 6'2". Although his performance in this show was panned by some critics it didn't stop him from having a decent career in the business. 

Clu Gulager, born William Martin Gulager in Holdenville, OK in 1928, was Billy. Gulager went on to have a successful career, primarily in television. He passed away just over a year ago in early August 2022. What some may not know: His father had been an actor before having a career as an attorney in Muskogee, OK. His father's mother was the sister of humorist Will Rogers' mother. He was also a member of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma. 

Actor Clu Gulager
from IMDb

The show was created and produced by Samual Peeples. Peeples moved from being a novelist to scriptwriter and producer after being given an assignment by Frank Gruber. Most of his novels, a number in the Western Genre, were written under the pen name Brad Ward.

Here is episode 6 from the first season: A Bounty for Billy (watch for the surprise actor in this one)

The Adventures of Jim Bowie

"Overland Trail" - YouTube

Trackdown - Self-Defense

Cimarron City

Whispering Smith

Until Next Time: Stay safe, Stay happy, and Stay healthy.