Information for UK Readers

In case you don’t already know, everyone in Britain should submit an electricity reading to their energy supplier on or before the first of October.

Prices go up next week, and if you do not submit a current reading, they will ‘estimate’your usage and your new bill may be much higher than it needs to be.

This can be done online with most suppliers, or on the telephone by calling customer services. It might save you a lot of money!

(We don’t have mains gas in Beetley, but I am sure this also applies to customers of gas companies.)

I hope this information helps someone. I have submitted my reading, and received an online confirmation that it is on their records.

Victorian Street Life In Photos: 1873-1877

Scottish photographer John Thomson toured London during this four-year period. He was taking photos to illustrate a book, ‘Street Life In London’, which he published in 1877. That left us with many fascinating photos of everyday life during that period, and I found some online today.

(The larger photos can be further enlarged for detail by clicking on them.)

Men selling plants at Covent Garden Market.

A Hansom Cab plying for trade.

A chimney sweep and his boy assistant. The child would have been expected to crawl up chimneys to dislodge blockages.

An ‘Infection Control’ team, dealing with an outbreak of Smallpox.

A child street musician, playing his harp. The older man with him had to carry it around for him.

A man selling cheap fancy ornaments to working-class customers who wanted to brighten up their homes.

A street trader selling shellfish. He would have sold Oysters, Cockles, and Mussels.

A photographer working on Clapham Common, South London. People could not afford cameras, so would pay him to take their photograph.

Clapham Common again, a man offering rides on his donkey for a small charge.

Pub customers enjoying good weather by sitting outside the pub.

A rag shop in Lambeth, South London. Rags were stripped, and turned back into material to be sold cheaply.

This old lady is a street babysitter. A working mother would pay her to look after her baby in the street while she was at work.

This is part of a parade celebrating Guy Fawke’s Night, or Firework Night. A traditional event in England, celebrated every year on the 5th of November.

A woman and her son selling cherries. You can see the scales on her donkey cart, used to weigh the fruit. She would likely have sung the 16th century song ‘Cherry Ripe’ to advertise her wares.
“Cherry ripe, cherry ripe,
Ripe I cry,
Full and fair ones
Come and buy.
Cherry ripe, cherry ripe,
Ripe I cry,
Full and fair ones
Come and buy”.

A street-seller of matches, and other items. He also trades as a shoe-shine man, ensuring some custom during his day on the streets.

Four Lives: Part Three

This is the third part of a fiction serial, in 882 words.

Lyndsey.

Heading for the pub on the corner after leaving the Crown Court, Lyndsey had a large gin and tonic in her sights. Yet again, the witness statement had been withdrawn at the last minute, and the victim had refused to give evidence. She wondered what the point was any longer. All those years of training to become a barrister, and half the cases she specialised in never got to court in the first place. Even when they did, the accused either got the benefit of the doubt, or the victim failed to show up.

Small wonder that the police were so cynical.

The defence barrister had shrugged, then smiled. To make her feel better, he had offered to buy her a drink, but she had shaken her head. She couldn’t stand the oily bastard, and she had put her head in her hands when she heard he was defending.

After ordering her drink and a ploughman’s lunch at the bar, she sat alone at a table at the back. The others at chambers would no doubt make the right noises when she saw them, but she knew they all pretty much regarded her to be a failure. If the partners kept her on next year, it would be a miracle.

Tom Alfriston had never been that happy about her taking on so many domestic abuse prosecutions in the first place. He liked his team to defend. Then you could string out the cases by questioning witnesses’ authenticity, and the quality of evidence. More days in court, more extra money on the brief.

Tom couldn’t care less whether or not they had actually committed the crime.

After eating the tired-looking ploughman’s, she had another large gin to finish off the tonic and decided not to bother to go back into the city that afternoon. Better to go home and look through the papers on the case she was prosecuting next week. Crown v Fowler, in St Albans.

Denise Fowler had been badly beaten by her husband, Lee. And not for the first time. As it had been outside a pub in Hatfield, there were some witnesses. And Denise must have finally had enough, as she had made a statement and agreed to give evidence. Ex-soldier Lee Fowler had been dishonourably discharged from the army after beating up a prostitute in Germany. He served time for that in Military Prison before being thrown out of his regiment. Returning to Hatfield, he had taken up with his former girlfriend Denise, and found work as a security guard. They married the following year, when she was pregnant with their daughter, Daisy.

After that, he had come to notice on many occasions. A driving ban for drink-drive, emergency calls to the house after Denise had been punched and kicked. But it was always the same outcome. She either refused to make a statement, or retracted one before the case proceeded. This time, he had put her in hospital for three days, as she had to have her broken jaw wired. The Magistrate’s Court had sent him for trial because they considered he needed a custodial sentence. He had gone back to live with his mother, and been told not to approach his wife, or any of the witnesses.

Lyndsey already had a sinking feeling. The defence would undoubtedly try for PTSD, considering his service in Afghanistan. But that could only be in mitigation, as four witnesses to the attack on his wife would make the assault irrefutable. It all depended on Denise holding firm, and actually showing up. During the meeting with her at the solicitor’s Lyndsey had been hard on her. Anyone who had retracted five previous accusations could not be relied upon. And she had been worried about Lee’s family. He had three brothers who had something of a reputation in the town. If they got to work on the witnesses from the local pub, it could all fall apart.

And just as she feared, that was more or less what happened. The CCTV of the pub car park showing the attack failed to adequately cover the corner where the incident took place, and the two main witnesses who had previously been certain that they saw him punching her had now decided that she may have fallen against a concrete post, and Lee was probably trying to help her up and calm her down. The worn-out looking casualty doctor who treated her said she told him she had been punched by her husband, but the judge threw that out.

Admittedly, Denise stood up well though. Until the defence questioned her morals by suggesting a sexual affair that had never happened, and asked her about money she spent on scratchcards instead of buying adequate food for the family. Lee was portrayed as a caring father who had contacted social services with worries over her treatment of Daisy, and she had to admit he had done that. Then it all went downhill when she admitted that she had left Daisy with a casual friend so she could go out drinking with Lee. When pressed, she admitted to being very drunk that evening, but she was adamant that she had been punched, not fallen over.

A majority verdict of ten to two had got the bastard off. Not guilty.

Again.

Four Lives: Part Two

This is the second part of a fiction serial, in 935 words.

Rosalind.

Being the youngest of three used to mean you got spoiled, at one time. But Ros had a lot to live up to. An older brother who was a military hero, killed in Afghanistan. His photos were everywhere around the house, and she could hardly remember what he was like.

Then there was the older sister. Not that much older, but enough to have done so well at university when she was still struggling with poor results in her ‘O’-levels. Her parents were proud of their dead son, equally proud of their academic daughter, but not so proud of the one who couldn’t concentrate at school, and wanted to spend time around boys when she was too young.

So they came down hard on her, making her take a weekend job, and stopping her coming home late after school. By the time she turned seventeen, she had started to feel old before her time. However, she had to admit that working in the shoe shop at the shopping mall in Watford had turned out okay. She seemed to have a flair for convincing people to buy shoes, and even the full-time older staff liked her being around.

Exam results were worse than expected, even by her standards. It wasn’t that she didn’t get a pass grade in any of them, just that the grades were the lowest acceptable for a pass. Most of the teachers didn’t even try to encourage her to stay on at school, so when the shoe shop offered her a full-time position, she decided to leave school that summer, and start the job in September.

Hoping to make the post of the summer break, she soon discovered mum and dad were not going to let that happen. They were so pissed off that she wasn’t going to university, they said she might as well start her job straight away.

Ros walked out of school on that Friday, and was working full-time the following Monday.

At least Marian didn’t judge her, and she didn’t seem to resent that she was better-looking, either. Besides, she was doing so well in her finance job at the insurance company, putting her Maths degree to good use. But as Ros started her new job, Marian moved out of the family home, leaving her alone to face the moans of her parents. Then there was talk of her marrying Steve, the strange guy she had been with since she was fifteen. Ros understood. When you looked like someone had hit you with the ugly stick, you took the first solid offer.

Over the next few years, Ros drifted further away from her parents, and hardly spoke at home. Then when the company asked her if she wanted to take over as manager of the shop at Hatfield Galleria, she jumped at the chance. That would mean moving away, but rents near Hatfield were just about affordable, and she relished the prospect of living alone.

At the age of twenty-three, and with no current boyfriend, she signed an agreement to rent a smart one-bed furnished, pleased that the bus stop she needed for work was right outside on the street. Mum and dad helped her move, seemingly keen to get rid of her.

They sneered at the flat of course. Dad said it was “On a busy road”. Mum sniffed at the sight of a mixed-race neighbour and said, “I don’t like the look of the others living here”.

The freedom was wonderful though, and the icing on the cake was that she took to her managerial role like a duck to water, her young team of staff all warming to her immediately. Meanwhile, things were not going so good for Marian, who always looked depressed and fed up whenever they met. “Steve doesn’t want kids, apparently. First I knew about that. And I will be thirty soon. Might just as well try for the promotion in my job, if I’m never going to be a mother”.

She always saw the same guy on the bus on her way to work. Ros knew he was a security guard by his uniform, and he was already on the bus when it got to her stop. He used to chat her up, get flirty with her. Tell her she looked sexy, and he liked her hair. The first time he asked her for a date, Ros checked his ring finger. No wedding ring, but he seemed to be a lot older, maybe forty. She said no thanks, but that didn’t put him off.

Being honest with herself, she did find him attractive, but the age diference worried her. Then one day when she was shopping in town, someone called out to her as she left a supermarket. It was Lee, the bus guy. “Want a lift?” He was standing next to a big car, electric blue in colour. Ros smiled back. “Okay”.

On the way back to her flat, he asked her out again. She was cagey. “You married, Lee?” He grinned. “Was once, not now”. As she got out of the car, she said yes to the date.

It was okay, as dates go. A nice burger place, followed by drinks in the pub. But Ros didn’t feel a spark, and when he tried to kiss her in the car, she ducked away. “Thanks, Lee. I had a nice time, but I don’t think I want to take it any further, or see you again”. He had mumbled “Your loss”, then driven off as she closed the door. And she hadn’t seen him again.

Not until last night.

An Early End To The Shorts Season

Regular readers will no doubt remember that I wear shorts for most of the year. Shorts-wearing season traditionally begins for me in mid-March, and ends on the first of October, much later if the weather stays fair. I have been known to still be wearing shorts in November.

(Not the same pair of course, before anyone asks. 🙂 )

This year was no exception, as my shorts were on by the 12th of March, and they remained my choice of attire right through the unusually hot summer, including our recent week away in early September.

But this week, the winds changed. They were coming directly from the north, from the Arctic. Overnight, the temperatures fell from 18C (64.5) to just 6C. (43)

It was a shock to feel so cold at this stage in autumn, when the usual temperature should have been at least 16C. (61) The cold gusty winds and occasional heavy showers didn’t help, so by Tuesday I was really feeling cold on the dog walk.

Yesterday, I woke up to a very ‘fresh’ morning, and a check on the predicted weather showed it was unlikley to exceed 8C (46) until the late afternoon.

There was nothing for it, I had to admit defeat. The shorts went back into their drawer in the wardrobe. Out came the warm jogging trousers, and they went on with some thick walking socks.

(No jogging was intended, that is just what they are called here.)

My season had to end three days early. But after such a hot summer, I can’t really complain.

Four Lives: Part One

This is the first part of a fiction serial, in 823 words.

Marian.

It was pouring all the way home, and the walk from the bus stop had soaked her feet. All she could think about was getting in, and putting on some cosy pyjamas. There was half a bottle of Chablis left in the fridge, and the Brie would have to do for dinner, with some of those nice sesame seed crackers.

Leaving a wet footprint on the pile of post behind the door she flipped off her shoes without bothering to bend, and took her wet tights off before she had even removed her coat. Her umbrella went into the bath to dry off, and she had the wine open less than three minutes after closing the door.

Once she was in the panda pyjamas and fluffy socks, Marian stretched out on the sofa and thumbed through the post as she sipped her wine. Credit card bill, phone bill, and a reminder to book a cervical smear test. She kept forgetting to go online and arrange paperless bills, and as for the smear test, that would have to wait. Work was much too busy, and the clinic didn’t do tests at weekends.

Feeling the dent in her finger where her wedding and engagement rings had sat for so long, she wondered for a second what Steve was doing at that moment.

Just for that second though. No point dwelling too long on the past.

The wine was going down too easily, and she knew that it was time to put another bottle in the fridge for later. It always had to be as cold as possible, for her to enjoy it. The cheese and crackers could wait though, as she wasn’t very hungry yet. The chicken pesto panini she had for lunch was repeating on her, but she knew that would calm down soon. The bottle of Chablis in the wine rack was her last one, so she stuck a post-it note on the fridge to remind her to buy more.

Forget switching on the TV, she had been looking at screens all day. But one screen was calling, and that was on her mobile phone.

No matches on the dating app, and nothing much going on with Facebook, except everyone complaining about the rain in London that evening. Just as well she didn’t take the tube, as some stations were closed because of flooding. She put the phone on charge, and rested her head back against the far too expensive cushion that had tempted her. It wasn’t even seven, and she was contemplating a very early night.

Her legs needed shaving, but she knew that was never going to happen tonight. She would wear her pinstripe trouser suit tomorrow, and nobody would be any the wiser about leg hair.

Music might help, and she had the new Ed Sheeran CD in the machine. Pressing play, she drifted away to his voice. Steve had never liked him, not even at the beginning of his fame when everyone thought he was great. He stuck to his shitty rock stuff, and she would watch TV in the bedroom when he played AC/DC and Def Leppard.

Sometimes, Marian wondered how they had ever got together. They didn’t like any of the same things, whether music, films, TV, or even food. He hated foreign food, and she detested fish and chips, his favourite. But when you had been school sweethearts people expected you to get engaged, then marry eventually.

Marian had gone along with it. Dad walked her down the aisle, and they had the full deal. A white Rolls-Royce, the huge reception at a nice hotel, and a honeymoon in Las Vegas so Steve could play on the machines while she sat bored watching him. By the time they got back from America, she knew it had all been a terrible mistake. But she stuck with it for the sake of both families, and because she felt she owed it to her dad after he had spent most of his redundancy money on the wedding.

And because you did all that, when you were a woman. You just did.

Perhaps it was the third glass of wine from the second bottle, or because she hadn’t eaten anything since lunch, but she was out cold on the sofa when the door buzzer sounded.It took her a while to come round, and her head was fuzzy. One good thing about her rented flat, it had a camera on the entryphone.

She could make out her younger sister, Ros. She wasn’t dressed for the rain and was soaked to the skin. If she had come from home, it would have taken her the best part of two hours. She was looking into the camera, her eyes swollen, hair lank from the rain, and a huge bruise visible on her cheek. Her loud voice on the intercom made Marian jump.

“Let me in, Mal. For christ’s sake, please let me in!”

Adjusting To Change

In less than twelve years, my life has changed completely. As well as moving away from London for the first time, I also developed a love of daily routine that changed my entire outlook on life. Recently, I was thinking of some examples that illustrate those changes.

Me, previously.
“It’s not even midnight yet. I’m sure we could find a club still open somewhere. Then we can walk home over Waterloo Bridge and watch the sunrise”.

Me now.
It’s nearly midnight? I can’t believe I have stayed up so late! Time I was tucked up in bed”.

Me, previously.
“Let’s go for a drive somewhere. Doesn’t matter where, just head for the south coast and see where we end up. Maybe go to Rye, or down to Bexhill”.

Me now.
“Out for a drive? Nah. Parking will be a nightmare when we get anywhere, and I might have to drive home after dark”.

Me, previously.
“We could go into the city. Have a look at the sights, then have a nice meal out later”.

Me now.
“The City? Too crowded, and too much hassle to get buses back late in the evening”.

Me, previously.
“I can’t go out to eat without wearing a suit and tie. I don’t care about everyone else, I like to look smart on social occasions”.

Me now.
“I’m not dressing up to eat out in Dereham. Nobody does, and I will look stupid if I do”.

Me, previously.
“I have to go and see that new film. I’ll walk down to Leicester Square tomorrow and catch the late afternoon showing”.

Me now.
“The local cinema will never be showing that, and I can’t be bothered to trek into Norwich. I’ll wait until the DVD comes out”.

Me, previously.
“Let’s try that new coffee place that has opened in Covent Garden. We can get a table outside if we are lucky”.

Me now.
“No way am I going to pay almost four quid for a cup of coffee when I can have one at home for nothing”.

Me, previously.
“Let’s do a weekend away. Maybe a nice village in the Cotswolds, or a hotel by the beach in Sussex”.

Me now.
“No need to go and stay in a village when you already live in one. Besides, who will look after Ollie?”

And many more…

Victorian London In Photos: 1861-1899

I found some very early photos of London online. The photographers were not credited, but there were some explanatory captions.

Working sailing barges on the River Thames in the centre of London. 1862.

A factory making boilers for steamships. This was taken in South London, in 1863. The factory owner was John Penn. He is to the centre-right of the photo wearing a top hat, and you can tell him by darker trousers and watch-chain.

Lower Fore Street, Lambeth. This was a poor district by the shore of the River Thames in South London. The photo was taken in 1865, by which time almost 300,000 people were living crammed into the shoreline area there.

The construction of the London Underground Railway at Paddington, 1866.

A Punch and Judy show attracting crowds in Waterloo Place, Central London.It is believed to have been taken some time in 1865.

Leather Tanners working on skins in Bermondsey, South London. That was the leather tanning district of London, and also happens to be where I am from originally. The photo was taken in 1861, just 91 years before I was born.

St John’s Gate, Clerkenwell. This photo was taken some time during 1865.

A view of The Strand, Central London. The photo was taken in 1889, and many of those buildings still remain today.

Gray’s Inn Lane. This is the part of London known for housing the offices of lawyers and barristers. The photo was taken in 1885, and four years later, the houses shown were demolished to make the road wider.

London Bridge packed with traffic and pedestrians, 1875.

Boat builders working on the southern shoreline of the River Thames at Lambeth. This is an early photo, believed to have been taken in 1861. The same year as the outbreak of the American Civil War.

Slum Living In Glasgow: 1969-1971

More photos commissioned by the homeless charity, Shelter. This time they show life in the slums of the Scottish city of Glasgow, in relatively modern times. Once again, it is the total lack of hope in the faces of the people that affected me so much. They break my heart, and make me ashamed to be British.

This small boy is tough, and that can be seen in his face and his attitude. He is playing in the streets, unsupervised. 1969.

The view from a tenement window, 1970. Although this is a colour photograph, the surroundings are so drab, it appears to have been photoshopped.

A family living in one room, 1971.

A young mother and her baby living in awful conditions, 1971.

This young couple seem to have given up. 1970.

Another family in one room, 1971.

Tenement living in the Gorbals district, 1970.

This young schoolgirl appears to be in total despair. 1971.

Children playing in abandoned tenements, 1971.

This child was waiting for his parents to come home from work, 1971.

Two sisters share the only chair in their tenement flat. 1971.

This glum-looking family living in one room, 1971.

Unsupervised small children playing while their parents were at work, 1971.

What worries me most about these photos is that if our current right-wing government has its way, we will be seeing many similar images during 2023.

“Let them eat cake”.