Sunday Musings At The End Of November

Another very quiet week. It’s that time of year. Colder weather, dark before 4pm. People are counting down the days until Christmas Day. I went to the restaurant to pay the deposit for our Christmas Dinner on the 25th. Like everything this year it has increased in price, but they always serve a very nice meal, with good portions.

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Ollie was shaking his head a lot yesterday, and we feared he was going to get another ear infection just in time for Christmas. But he stopped after a while, and hasn’t done it since. Fingers crossed he just had something in his ear that he managed to dislodge.

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Julie has finished buying the gifts for family and friends. I have also bought her gifts, and I am awaiting delivery of one that is supposed to arrive in December. With the postal workers striking on various days, parcels and mail are going to be delayed. But I support their cause, so will not be upset if things don’t arrive on time.

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I tried reading a book in bed this week, but only managed two pages. I have not been able to complete a book for so long now, I don’t even remember the last one I read all the way through. Something happened to me during the pandemic period, and I just stopped being able to concentrate on books. I have tried on a few occasions during the last two years, with no success.

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My Shingles vaccination is scheduled for tomorrow morning. Julie will be on reception duty at the doctor’s, so will probably be the one who books me in when I arrive.

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Wherever you are, and whatever you are doing, I hope that you have a happy Sunday.

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The Four Musketeers: Part Two

This is the second part of a fiction serial, in 783 words.

Keith was undoubtedly the brainiest of the group. He found school-work easy, and once we were in Secondary School it was obvious he would outclass the rest of us. He helped us with our home-work, and though he tried to show us how to work things out for ourselves, we ususally ended up copying his answers without really understanding them. His parents were a bit older than mine, and his older sister Susan still lived at home. Susan was the main reason I used to like hanging around at his house. Seventeen years old and great to look at, the fact that she thought of us as kids was a real bonus.

That meant we got to be around her when she was completely relaxed. Sprawled on the sofa watching telly, completely unaware that I was looking up her skirt, or sitting close to smell her perfume. Susan was choosy too. Despite being asked out by almost every older boy who lived nearby, she never wanted to have a boyfriend. Keith said she was waiting for the right man. Someone to take her away to the suburbs, and get her out of her boring job in the typing pool at the local jam factory.

I remember the day Keith said he was going to go to university. We laughed at first, then realised he was serious. Kids from our area never went to university. You took the basic exams, and then got out of school to get a job. It was expected of you, and you were prepared for that at a young age.

Johnny was going to work with his dad on the street markets. Georgie Simpson had three stalls selling leather goods, and Johnny had been helping out on them during the holidays and at weekends since he was old enough to count money. My future was similarly cast in stone. Mum was obsessed with me having a ‘clean job’, working in an office. She had asked around some family friends, and one had promised to give me a start where he worked, in a big insurance company. I could get a bus there easily, and as long as I passed in Maths and English, it was guaranteed.

As for Terry, his dad was a plumber. So Terry would help him once he left school, and study for his trade qualification at night school. Terry’s dad was likeable, but always said the same things. Things like, “People always need toilets, son. Learn to fix them and you will always be in work”. Because Terry had a much younger brother, his mum Alice didn’t work. She stayed at home to look after little Tony, and seemed to love being a housewife.

A natural choice for a market trader, Johnny was full of chat, had the gift of the gab, and acted much older than he was. The customers on the stalls loved his cheeky banter, and he could sell a handbag by telling some dowdy lady that it made her look beautiful just holding it. Though he had an older brother, nobody ever talked much about Graham. Johnny said that Graham didn’t get on with his dad.

He had wanted to be a painter, a real one, like portraits and landscapes. So had left to go to Art School when we were much younger, and now lived in Brighton, on the coast. According to Johnny, he shared a flat there with another bloke who had been his best friend at college.

We didn’t know what that meant back then, but I found out later.

Not talking about an older brother was something I was also used to. My older brother was only a vague memory. Someone I shared a room with when I was too young to really work out who he was. A tall young man lifting me up until my head touched the lampshade. My last memory of him was when he came home on leave wearing his army uniform. He was being posted to Germany, I found out later. Not that there was a war then of course, just a barracks at a place called Paderborn.

My mum cried for two days after the men came to tell her that Kevin had been killed in an accident. His army lorry had turned over in icy weather. I had to go to the funeral when they brought him home. Mum bought me a suit for the occasion, and everyone was crying. Later on, they put a big framed photo of him over the mantlepiece, smiling in his uniform and beret. After that, we never talked about him at all.

But I was always aware that I lived in his shadow.

Gay Love In Victorian England: 1885-1901

In late Victorian England, the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, outlawing sexual relations between men (but not between women) is given Royal Assent by Queen Victoria. Despite the passing of that law, many gay men continued to flout it of course, and some posed for photos with their lovers and friends. Like most societal rules in Victorian times, that law was hypocritical. At a time when child prostitution (female and male) was rife, and cross-dressing was popular in upper-class society, the law was rarely enforced.

Cross-dressing aristocrats posing with their lovers.

A nobleman with his younger lovers.

Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas, his young lover. Wilde was famously imprisoned for Sodomy, and that ruined his life.

Mature gay men, happy to record their love on a photo.

Two gay lovers having a photo taken as a memoir.

Two more doing the same.

Lesbians were not considered to actually exist in Victorian society, and the word was never used to describe them at the time. Women were presumed to have ‘companions’, or ‘close friends’. Although they could not be prosecuted, gossip could ruin them socially, and most were under great pressure from their families to marry a man. But that did not stop many of them recording their love by having photographs taken.

Some dressed as men for the photos, and perhaps did the same in private.

It would not be until 1967 when homosexuality was decriminalised in England, when it was legalised between consenting adults in private.

As of July 2020, the following countries still have laws that can prescribe the death penalty for homosexuality:

Afghanistan
Brunei
Iran
Mauritania
Nigeria
Saudi Arabia
Somalia
United Arab Emirates

The Four Musketeers: Part One

This is the first part of a fiction serial, in 740 words.

We had all read the novel at school. The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas. But there were four of us, so we called ourselves the four musketeers. Childhood friendships don’t necessarily last a lifetime, but in our case they lasted until we became adults. Living in the same district, going to the same junior school. Always in each other’s houses, swapping toys and books, lending each other comics.

Despite the different living conditions, we formed a bond that endured.

If one of us had money for sweets, we all got sweets to eat. Our parents tolerated having all of us around in some kind of informal rota. We shared bottles of lemonade, went to see the kid’s films together, and played out in the local park, or rode around the streets on our bikes. Our four sets of initials were carved in the bark of the biggest tree at the park, and older boys left us alone, knowing we would defend each other, win or lose.

Each of our mums was like another mum to the rest. Cleaning up scraped knees and small cuts, giving us dinner if we were in the house at dinnertime. It was like each of them had another three unofficial sons.

So, who were we?

Me of course, Danny Wellman. Average height and build, sandy hair, and blue eyes. Not good looking like an actor or a film star, but attractive enough to some.
Keith Rainsford. A bit serious, lanky, skinny, and had to wear glasses from childhood.
Terry Wright. Always slightly overweight, a mop of brown hair, and the comedian of the group.
Then there was Johnny Simpson. He was the coolest one. Always wore the right clothes, even when he was 10. His dark hair was thick and cropped, and he had an easy confidence well beyond his years. Despite his very English name, he looked like an Italian, and was the popular one.

Unlike most groups of boys at the time, we didn’t have a natural leader. None of us were into fighting, and we couldn’t be bothered about being good at sport. There were occasional arguments of course, but we always worked things out. Keith and Terry spent the most time together outside of school. Keith thought Terry was hilarious, and even laughed at his worst jokes. And they lived on the same street, four doors apart.

When the four us us were not together, rare ocasions during the school holidays, I was usually at Johnny’s house. Truth be told, I liked to be around him, and hoped that some of his confidence and wide appeal would rub off on me. I watched him, and I learned from him. I might even have had a bit of a crush on him, if I am being honest. Keith and Terry were lost causes by the time we hit our teens, but we never let them down. They were always welcome in our company, even though they didn’t seem to understand that we had to grow up.

Looking back now, it was girls that changed everything. That is no surprise of course, but it was at the time. By the time we were fourteen, Johnny already had a girlfriend. Janice was sixteen, and seemed so much older. She had already left school, and Johnny took advantage of being told that she fancied him. So he had snogged a girl and felt her up, while the rest of us were still looking at some girlie mags we had bought under the counter from the man in the corner shop.

Was I jealous? You bet I was. The others didn’t seem to care. They were both afraid of girls anyway, and Terry put them off with a combination of his chubbiness, and his constant bad jokes. As for Keith, he looked like he would drop dead with fright if a girl even spoke to him. I asked Johnny if Janice had a friend who I could go out with. He was brutally honest, grinning at me as he replied.

“You will have to get better clothes, look older, and have more about you, Danny. All of her friends are sixteen or older, and they don’t want to be seen out with someone who looks like a schoolkid”.

That’s when I started to hate him.

But I didn’t let on. Not then. I would bide my time.

Bookbird: an Amazing Resource for Writers

Great tips and links from Nicholas for authors and writers. .

Nicholas C. Rossis

Bookbird Amazon KDP guides | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

I came across Bookbird when I was hired by Yves Lummer to work on the website’s content. Bookbird is rapidly becoming a top resource for authors looking for help with writing and self-publishing, with tons of excellent advice covering everything from name generators to calculating your KDP royalty.

So far, I have written 4 guides for him, with at least as many scheduled for December.

Bookbird | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

Yves has also published a large number of amazing guides that all Indies should check out, such as Amazon KDP: The Definitive Beginner Guide For Authors (2022), How to Price Your Book, and Amazon Book Categories: The Secret Visibility Booster.

Its main offering, though, is its Amazon KDP Book Interior Templates. Perfect for low-content books such as activity, coloring, and even no-content books (think journals, notebooks…

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Poor Children In Industrial England: 1881-1901

In the last two decades of the reign of Queen Victoria, large sections of the population of England still lived in abject poverty. This was especially true of the industrialised north of the country, where the increase in the population following people seeking work in factories caused overcrowding. This left orphaned children roaming the streets, and others left to fend for themselves by working parents.

Reformers, mostly wealthy people with social consciences, tried to do something about this and set up organised Chidren’s Homes and Care Homes For Children. They also employed photographers to document the condition of the children taken into care, and those still out on the streets. Most of the following photos were taken over a twenty-year period in and around the city of Liverpool. Some of the images are heartbreaking.

Young working girls at a cotton mill. Look at the expressions on their faces. No hope.

Three children taken into a home after being found wandering on the streets.

A girl found living alone in a loft in a deserted house. She had some kind of development issue, and had likely been abandoned.

A young girl singing and dancing on a pub table to earn money.

This child has malnutrition, and was close to death.

This boy was taken in a home after being constantly beaten by his parents.

Boys playing cricket in a main square in the city. They drew a crowd for their game.

Two brothers found living on the streets. They were taken into care.

Happier children posing on a large fountain in the city.

This girl was taken into care, and had to had her head shaved because the hair was crawling with lice.

Five children from the same family. The water in their home was unfit to drink, so they had been drinking Gin, and were all found drunk. They were taken away from their alcoholic mother and put in a home.

Children helping to sell all their family possessions in a street market.

A ‘Street Nursery’. Working women would pay the older girls to look after their children while they worked in factories. The girls had nowhere to take them, so they looked after them on the streets until their mothers collected them.

Children gather on the street to listen to a sermon from a religious missionary. They were hoping to be givem food after hearing what he had to say.

A group of children wearing the rudimentary ‘uniform’ of a Children’s Home. They had all been found alone on the streets.

An Alphabet Of My Life: Z

Z=Zealous

Zealous is usually a word associated with religion these days, as in ‘Religious Zealots’. A rather old-fashioned word that has changed its meaning over time in society. In the past, ‘Zeal’ was a good thing. It made me think of brave soldiers, hard-working inventors, and charitable people who helped the unfortunate.

As far as this final word in the alphabet of my life is concerned, it is connected to ‘P’. I was very zealous in my political ideals when I was younger. Determined, committed, and keen to argue my side. On some occasions, this zeal on my part upset people. It made me enemies, and affected my jobs.

But I was undaunted, and continued to be politically zealous for the greater part of my life.

An Alphabet Of My Life: Y

Y=Yearning.

I looked up this word to make sure I was using it correctly. I was.

yearning
/ˈjəːnɪŋ/
noun
a feeling of intense longing for something.
“he felt a yearning for the mountains”

I have definitely yearned for many things in my life. But nothing comes close to how much I discovered yearning when my mum got her Winter shopping catalogue from the Catalogue Lady who lived nearby. The catalogue was bigger than a telephone directory, and so heavy I could hardly lift it. It was like a Bible of consumerism, lavishly illustrated with photos, and containing everything a family might ever want to purchase.

The most popular companies in 1960 were Freemans and Littlewoods, both competing for an eager market of shoppers who wanted to have everything in the post war boom. And they could, because those companies offered credit with a simple and affordable system. Each item had a price next to it of course. If you could afford it, you could pay the catalogue agent outright when it was delivered. But there was also an easy payments system that went something like this.

Say you spent £50 on an assortment of items. (£50 was a lot of money then, my dad earned less than £20 a week at the time.) You could pay just £1 a week for those items, over a set period. That was usually 60 weeks, so ensured the company received £8 in interest. The Catalogue Lady would call at your house each week, take the £1 payment, and mark it off on your payment card. You could see the debt decreasing, and you were also able to order more items if you so wished, the card being altered accordingly.

Yes, this was something of a ‘Debt Trap’ for working people before the age of credit cards, and when bank loans were hard to get for anyone on a weekly wage. But working-class people no longer had to save up to buy something. From a new tea-set to a girdle, a vacuum cleaner to a pair of slippers, they could have what they wanted or needed, and it almost always cost just £1 a week.

The catalogues included toys, and the Winter edition included dozens of pages of toys, usually at the back of the catalogue. As soon as I was left alone with the catalogue, I immediately turned to that section, and began yearning for many of the toys shown in the photos.

It was real yearning, believe me.

Not allowed to mark the items on the page using a pen or pencil, I would turn down the corners of the pages I was interested in, then add scraps of paper sticking up from those pages with the stock number of the toy I liked best on that page. Then I left the catalogue for my mum to look through, and yearned.

Waiting for Christmas morning to open my presents and see if the intense research had worked.

Most years, it had.

Day Brightener – “Who Is Shaking The Jar”

This tends to sum up the ‘human situation’. Thanks, Loren.

Loren Berg's Blog

I first recieved the following quote as a video featuring Mark Twain, while Twain may have penned this comment, it appears that it is more likely from Shera Starr. It also appeared in something from Sir David Attenborough. Regardless of the origin and regardless of your political leanings, this should resonate.

“If you catch 100 red fire ants as well as 100 large black ants, and put them in a jar, at first, nothing will happen. However, if you violently shake the jar and dump them back on the ground the ants will fight until they eventually kill each other. The thing is, the red ants think the black ants are the enemy and vice versa, when in reality, the real enemy is the person who shook the jar. This is exactly what’s happening in society today. Liberal vs. Conservative. Black vs. White. Pro Mask vs. Anti-Mask. Vax vs. Anti-vax…

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