Friendly Racism

We live in a world where racism is being addressed and challenged like never before. Black Lives Matter, debates on slavery and removal of statues, equal opportunities in education, job discrimination, positive discrimination by having quotas of non-whites in TV advertising and films, as well as in some industries.

And much more, even extending to the censorship and banning of some books.

Then we saw the now-famous Oscar ceremony ‘slap’. Two black men having a dispute in front of a mainly white audience, seen by a worldwide television audience of tens of millions, with some 17 million watching in America alone. That dispute, which started over a joke made in bad taste, ended in violence. Arguments have bandied back and forth since about it being a bad example to others. Maybe Will Smith should have his Oscar taken away, maybe not. I have no firm opinion either way, but I do know that if it had not been a popular millionaire actor delivering that slap, the chances are the offender would have been arrested, whatever his/her colour.

That got me thinking about my past, in working-class London in the 1950s and 1960s.

Until I went to secondary school in 1963 at the age of 11, I didn’t know any black people. I had never spoken to one, nor socialised with any. There were some around the dockside area where we lived: mostly sailors from the ships in port, national servicemen on leave, or workmen fixing up the bomb-damaged houses. But only a few.

My dad had served in India during WW2. He had a high opinion of Sikhs, who he spoke of with respect as ‘brave fighters’. He also loved to listen to black singers and musicians, like Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Paul Robeson, and Count Basie.

Yet he called black people ‘Spades’ or ‘Schvartzers’ in everyday conversation. My mum, who was a very kind lady, referred to black babies as ‘cute piccanninies’. And she meant that as a compliment. People of mixed race -also a rarity where we lived- were referred to as a ‘half-chat’, or ‘Chalky’. When considering the need to sound polite, my parents upgraded this term to ‘Half-caste’, a saying my dad had picked up during his time in India.

I was too young to know any different. And even if I had been old enough to challenge all this as racist, I am sure they would have been shocked. They both considered themselves to be completely tolerant to all races.

Other races were not spared. Anyone from SE Asia, Japan, or China, was called a ‘chink’, or ‘chinky’.
(Even Prince Philip, as recently as 2017, referred to Chinese people as ‘slitty-eyed’. )

When many Indian-owned restaurants and corner shops began to appear on the streets of Britain, my mum referred to them as ‘Pakkies’, even if the owner was from India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, or Uganda and had no connection with Pakistan whatsoever.

But my mum would have been mortified to ever have been called racist. She was a member of The Labour Party all her life, and described herself as a Socialist. Yet when she was older, she would think nothing of saying something like “That bus driver was very nice, considering he was an African”. She had smiled at the man, and made what she regarded to be a compliment in his hearing. She was friendly to him, and thanked him as she got off the bus. In her way of thinking, she couldn’t have been anything like a racist.

When more African families moved into Peckham, the part of London where she lived, she became annoyed at the way the shops were changing. They began to sell things like Yams and Plantain, Salt Fish, and ‘exotic fruit’. The world she knew was changing fast, and she could no longer find what she needed in the shops she had once known well. She telephoned me, asking me to drive over and take her a couple of miles to a large supermarket.

“I can’t get what I need in Peckham anymore. All they sell now is foreign muck, and I can’t bear to even smell it or look at it. And all those fat-arsed black women are so big, I can hardly walk down the pavement with me shopping trolly”.

Meanwhile, my own experience couldn’t have been more different. I had met black pupils at secondary school, and become close friends with one West Indian girl in my class. When I left school and started work, I made a new group of friends, including one mixed race guy with an afro the size of a small country. Then I joined the Ambulance Service and had a crewmate who was originally from Barbados. I worked with him for almost eight years, met his family and friends, and enjoyed learning about West Indian food and culture. My next door neighbours in Wimbledon were a young couple from India who were delightful as neighbours and as friends.

Then my mum became old and infirm. She needed the services of home carers, all of whom in that area were foreign, and predominantly black. One of those was Vilma, a West Indian lady who went on from being a carer to becoming a real family friend. When mum needed that care increased, she became increasingly frustrated with not being able to understand the accents of the carers, and begrudged having to be undressed and washed by them too. She finally asked me to speak to Vilma, and ask her to become the only carer, paid for by us.

I remember saying to my mum, “But Vilma is black too, mum. And she has an accent”. My mum just shook her head and replied. “But she’s a good one, I like her”.

‘Friendly racism’ is what I call that.

World Maps: A Different View

I always enjoy finding unusual maps online. Here are some I discovered this morning.
(Click on image to enlarge)

Our world around 250,000,000 years ago, before the continents formed. It is known as Pangea.

Which brands originated in which US state?

Ginger hair? Who has the most redheads in Europe?

What’s your surname? The most common surnames in European countries.

Alcohol consumption in Europe. Russia takes the prize, which is only to be expected. Britain is just behind Germany.
(I’m doing my bit to help us catch up!)

More Sunday stuff: Family

A dull start to the day here has got me thinking about things, family in particular.

There is an old saying that ‘You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family’. That’s right of course, as from the moment we are born, we are stuck with the family that surrounds us, good or bad.

There is not only your mum and dad to consider. Grandparents, uncles and aunts; cousins, close or distant. And the families of their wives or husbands too. Before you know it, that family that once seemed so small has become very large indeed, and it is hard to get your head around who is who, and where they fit in.

As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, there were other adults called aunt or uncle. But they were not relatives, just friends or neighbours that had become so familiar, they were accepted into your wider family. Then there were their children, and their brothers and sisters too.

By the time I was ten years old, I was hardly able to keep track of everyone who was actually in my family, or attached to it in some way. But on the plus side, with two exceptions, they all lived within walking distance then, so would be seen all the time. With that familiarity came a level of understanding of where they fitted in.

But that was only my mum’s family. I still had another one to get to grips with.

My dad’s family lived some distance away, but car ownership and regular weekend visits meant that I could get a handle on who they were too. More aunts and uncles, more cousins, more wives and husbands. It didn’t take me long to realise that any meeting of both families, perhaps at a wedding or funeral, was going to involve trying to remember a great many names and faces. As I was paraded in front of adults who remarked how big I was getting, or how much I looked like my mum’s brother, I scanned my brain to try to recall who they were, and even what side of my family they came from.

I once estimated, that including the families of the men and women married to my aunts and uncles, and some great aunts and uncles who seemed very ancient to me, we could probably muster almost two hundred people, in the same room. Fortunately, that never happened, as there were always a few who couldn’t make it to a particular occasion. Had everyone actually turned up at once, my young brain would never have been able to cope.

The modern world has given us the Internet, and with it the facility to research family trees, and compile them as a document. But this doesn’t allow for the many who were not actually related by blood, but were just as important, and still are. Back then, all we had were photo albums. Baby photos, holiday snaps, and pictures of weddings, mostly taken by professionals at the time. Huge groups of well-dressed people smiling at the camera, many of them completely unknown to me. My mum would sit me down and go through them. Her finger traced the faces as she told me who they were, and how they were related, if at all.

I thought it was all sinking in, but as I look at them more than fifty years later, I am alarmed to discover how few of their names I can still remember, and even less how they were related to me. Some families are huge, and even though I was an only child, I was in one of those huge families.

Now I am so much older, many of those people in the photos are long dead. I have become the oldest male member of that extended family, and many of my younger relatives are no doubt looking at photos that include me, and wondering who I am.

It strikes me that not that much has changed.

Spam: New Proxy Lists

For the last few weeks, I have been notified of an increasing number of Spam comments on my main blog. I noticed that despite various names and website addresses, they all had the words ‘new proxy lists’ attached to the text.

I looked that up, and discovered that there are numerous companies offering this service, in countries all around the world. The main purpose appears to be to hide the IP address of anyone sending out all this junk, so they cannot be blocked by the recipient, or investigated by the providers.

It goes without saying that none of us should ever click onto one of those links, and also be vigilant in clearing out our Spam Folders.

On a lighter note, many of the made-up names used by these companies are simply hilarious. They remind me of the invented names of characters in pulp romance novels, or sci-fi books. So as a service to budding authors who may want to use some of those names, I present a selection here.

Madison Migl

Emerita Yurko

Eldridge Hoerl

Sterling Larousse

Elenora Kapnick

Jerrica Woodby

A Common Name

My surname is the tenth most common name in Britain, according to available information. Johnson is a simple enough name, but I have spent my life having to spell it to people. Because there are other spellings, such as Jonson, or Johnston and Johnstone, both very popular in Scotland, I always have to say “No ‘T’, no ‘E’ “. But my first name, Peter, is now actually quite rare. It is very much of its time, and to anyone who knows about such things, gives a good indication of when I was born. You would be hard-pressed to find many boys called Peter these days. I suspect most of us with that name are at least fifty, or much older. Times have changed, and now the most popular names for boys are Oliver, Jacob, Freddie, Henry, Leo, and Muhammad.
So at least my dog has the number one name.

When I was at school, one of my best friends was also called Peter. Many of the teachers, all around ten years older than us then, also had that name. Years later, I started working at a small ambulance station that had only fourteen staff. Five of us were called Peter. But despite eventually meeting a huge number of colleagues over the years, I only met one other Johnson. A long time after that, I received a letter in the post. It was on headed notepaper, from The Peter Johnson Gallery, with an address in fashionable Sloane Street, London. It was an invitation to attend a ‘Peter Johnson Party’, arranged to promote the launch of this new art gallery and sale room. I was in the phone book at the time, so easily found. My first reaction was that it was a joke. Perhaps a carefully-contrived prank by some friends, to lure me into something that would embarrass me.

I decided to phone the number anyway, and play along. A serious young lady assured me that it was genuine. They had come up with the promotional idea to launch both the gallery, and the new collection it was featuring. Newspapers and local TV stations had been informed, and the guest list only contained men named Peter Johnson, (plus one partner) which was also the genuine name of the gallery owner. There would be some light food served, and drinks, all free. We could peruse the art on display, without any need to feel pressured into buying anything. She was adamant that this was all for the benefit of publicity, and added that it might be very interesting for me to meet many other men with the same name. It was quirky enough to attract me, so we went on the evening shown on the invitation. On arrival, a young lady asked our occupations, then drew a design on a large white sticker we had to wear. As I was an EMT, she drew a big red cross, and stuck it to my jacket. With everyone having exactly the same name, we would have no need of introductions. It was a pleasant enough couple of hours, but we all learned that just having the same name doesn’t mean you have anything else in common. And it didn’t make the TV news.

When I was diagnosed with Glaucoma, I had to attend the eye clinic at the huge University College Hospital, in London. As this was only a short walk from where I lived in Camden Town, I was on time for the afternoon appointment. The waiting room was huge, and full to the brim, with no free seats. When an elderly lady was called in, I slipped in to her vacant seat, and waited. After a wait of almost thirty minutes, a nurse appeared in a doorway, holding a file. In a loud voice, she called out, “Peter Johnson please. Peter Johnson”. I stood up, and was surprised to see that three other men had stood up too. We looked at each other. All around the same age, and all white men. The nurse checked the file again. “OK, born in 1952 please”. We all remained standing. By now, a couple of us were smiling too. She looked again, her expression one of exasperation. “March 1952 please”. Only one man sat down. Shaking her head, she looked at us as if we were teasing her. “Just the one born on the 16th of March then”. She turned back into the room as she said that. But only one other man had sat down. Moments later, she came back out, her arms folded. “Do either of you have any middle names?” We both shook our heads. She pointed at the taller man to my left, and said, “OK then, you first”.

In that one clinic, on one afternoon, I encountered four men with the same name. They were the same age exactly, having been born in the same year. And one of them was born on the same day.

Ever since, I have been very careful to make sure they are talking to the right person.

Literature: The names of characters

Some of you may have read my two-part story, ‘Southern Belle’. This was inspired by some of the outlandish names that are turning up as the names of characters in book reviews lately. Indeed, some authors are choosing pen names that are equally ridiculous, and the gradual increase in such cartoonish names is fast becoming an avalanche. To be honest, a silly name for a character, especially the main protagonist, is guaranteed to put me off any book, and why they choose to do this is just beyond my comprehension.

As I have said recently, I have almost stopped reading novels, slowing down to little more than a crawl where books are concerned. The Internet has made countless millions of new books available, from crime thrillers, to cosy mysteries, and steamy romances. I agree that this is mostly a good thing, but some authors are taking the opportunity to get very lazy when it comes to naming their characters, believe me. Most of us only know people with ‘normal’ names. Names like William, Susan, James, or Catherine. I appreciate that trends in naming children have changed, so expect to see the occasional Kylie, Chantelle, Skye, or Brandon. Then there are the ‘fantasy’ names, like Flash Gordon, Xena-Warrior Princess, and so on. In the genres of Fantasy and Science Fiction, such names are of course acceptable. But novels set in contemporary Britain or America should not be using the kind of names that are cropping up, on a daily basis.

When I wrote the two-part story, Southern Belle, it was intended to be humorous, and featured many of the names I have come across, which I write down in a notebook. I am repeating some of them here, and adding a few new ones, so you can see how ludicrous they seem, at least to me. By all means let me know what you think, in the comments. They have all appeared in recently reviewed novels, I shit you not! 🙂

Dalton Kipper
The Eighth Baron Of Wickshire
Blythe Sol
Lola Dodge
Dax Janner
Bastian Urso
Hatcher McGee
Matt Brio
Venus Black
Harlowe Brisbane
Talon Steel
Timothee De Fombelle
Robert Le Donjon
Andee Trakes
Nick Gorgeous
Rouen Rivroche
Misty Mount

And many more…
Read ’em, and weep. Come on, if those books were any good, the characters could have names like William Brown and Amanda Fitzgerald and still be worth reading.
Does anyone really believe in someone called Dax Janner?
Has anyone ever actually been named Nick Gorgeous?
This isn’t even Pulp Fiction, just bad fiction.

Rant over, notebook closed. (For today…)

Southern Belle: Part Two. A Story For Dani concludes

This is a fictional story, with some regular readers in mind. It is inspired by the ludicrous names that many authors choose for their characters, and written especially for this blogger, Dani. Though hard to believe, all the character names used in this story are actual names used in novels, and in some cases, the names of the authors too. If you intend reading it, you might first want to read part one.

There were so many cars in the driveway leading up to the De Vere mansion, Dani and Blythe decided to pay off the cabby, and walk the rest of the way. It was obvious everyone who was anyone was going to be inside, they could tell that from the expensive limousines queuing bumper-to-bumper. As they got close to the door, a pencil-thin young woman emerged from one of cars, draped in a dress with a long trail, that made her look like a mermaid. As she spotted Blythe, she let out an ear-piercing squeal of delight, and the whiteness of her teeth shone in the fading light. After lightly hugging Blythe, so as not to spoil her coiffure, she glanced over at Dani, raising her eyebrows. Blythe grinned, and made the introductions. “Misty, this my my old friend, and first love, Dani. Dani, meet Misty Mount, she’s one of the best-known southern belles in Charleston”.

Misty grinned, not knowing what to say. Finally, she extended a hand. “First love, why how quaint, I’m sure.” Misty turned in the direction of the door. Looking back over her shoulder, she added, “Maybe see you inside later, I must rush. I’m meeting my beau. Do you know the fabulous Timothee De Fombelle? He’s so rich, darling, he even has more money than my daddy”. Inside the house, Dani and Blythe helped themselves to some champagne, served in the finest crystal glasses by flunky-dressed waiters. Blythe turned to Dani and kissed her softly. “Come on honey, let’s explore”. Even in such a large house, the rooms felt crowded; people milling around making small talk, quietly criticising each other’s clothes, and muttering about who had put on weight, or who was too thin. Dani heard a booming voice behind, as they made for the conservatory. “Why Blythe Sol, can that really be you?” The girls turned, to be confronted by a hulking figure of a man, someone who took going to the gym to the next level, undoubtedly. He ran his hand through thick straw-coloured hair, and thrust his brick-like chin forward as he smiled. Blythe recognised him immediately. ” Hi Nick. Dani, this is Nick Gorgeous. Nick, meet Dani, my partner, at least for tonight”. That stopped the big man in his tracks. “My pleasure ma’am, and great to see you again, Blythe”. With that, he glanced around the room. “Oh my, there’s Robert Le Donjon, I must ask him something, sorry ladies”. He headed off, leaving Dani stifling a fit of giggles. “Is that really his name?”, she asked her friend. Blythe grinned. “I know, unbelievable, but that is his real name.”

Dalton Kipper reluctantly hauled his bulk from the car. It was no good, he would have to get closer to get a good photograph, long lens or not. He decided that he would stand around close to the conservatory, pretend to be a guest, if challenged. “At least I will get myself a nice look-see at some of those pretty girls”, he mumbled to himself between laboured breaths. In the ballroom, Baron Wickshire, (who is really the famous international con-man, Bastian Urso) wondered why he couldn’t lay eyes on Lola Dodge. After all, she was the reason he had set the whole thing up, hoping to swindle her out of her fortune, by getting her to invest in a property scam. He caught the eye of Talon Steel, who was standing on the other side of the throng. Steel had his arms around two local gold-diggers, Andee Trakes, and Rouen Rivroche. Those sexy young tramps had no idea what was going on, and Steel had just brought them along as eye candy. Steel was a famous star of porn movies, and his rippling torso and huge manhood were well-known in all fifty states. But that was just a sideline. His real job was as a mob enforcer, and he had been loaned out to protect Urso, who had promised a big cut to The Family.

Bastian furrowed his brow, and Talon shook his head in reply. It was clear he didn’t know where Lola was, either.

Blythe leaned in close, and whispered to Dani. “You look so hot, I must have you now. Let’s lose this crowd, and find a bedroom”. Dani nodded her agreement, and they headed up the back stairs to the first floor. Blythe tried the first door, surprised to see Lola Dodge sitting on the huge bed, with Dax Janner standing next to her, holding his phone. “Get out! Room occupied” Lola shouted, and Blythe closed the door quickly. She looked at Dani, and held a finger up to her lips, indicating silence. With that, she leaned in hard against the door to listen, and Dani followed her example. They could hear Dax’s conversation clearly, though they had no idea who he was talking to. “That’s right, he’s here. But be careful, he has protection. Some mob tough guy, Talon Steel. Yes that’s right, you can guarantee he will have a gun. As agreed, the price is a hundred grand for me to point him out to your guys. Leave the money in the post box of Lola Dodge, at the Dodge Mansion, Wisteria Drive. How long before they get here? OK ten minutes then.” Dax had obviously hung up. “It’s on, Lola darling. We have to get back down to the party, ready to point him out.”

Dani grabbed Blythe’s hand, and whispered close to her ear. “No time for sex now honey, I’ve had an idea.” The girls went back down the stairs, and left the house at the side, close to the conservatory. They passed a fat, crumpled-looking man, trying in vain to conceal a large camera. “Evening ladies”, he wheezed, as they hurried past. Blythe walked over to one of the parking valets, standing next to some keys hung on a stand. She smiled and said, “Do you have some tape of something? I think the hem of my dress is going to drop”. As she spoke, she raised her dress almost level with her groin, flashing her thighs, and the lacy edge of her panties. The young valet’s eyes goggled at the sight, and he didn’t even notice Dani, as she quietly retrieved a set of keys from the stand. She was careful to take one with a maker’s fob, clearly marked Porsche. It was easy enough to find the parked car by pressing the fob button and seeing which car had the familiar flicker of lights, and clunking sound as the doors unlocked. Blythe joined her in the parking area, the hapless valet still inside somewhere, searching for tape. As Dani drove off at top speed, she almost collided with two black vans that were heading for the house.

The two vans came to a halt outside, and six tough-looking men emerged from the back of each one. They were wearing black clothes, and carrying automatic weapons. The young valet emerged smiling, clutching a roll of Scotch tape. He was just about to say, “Sorry gentlemen, you can’t park there” as a hail of bullets cut him down, and he fell back against the steps. The twelve men rushed into the house, ignoring all the women who were now screaming, just looking around at the men. Outside at the back, Dalton Kipper perked up. He knew the sound of gunfire when he heard it, and he switched on the camera, to be ready. In the ballroom, there was blind panic. Well-dressed women kicked off their heels to be able to run, and some hid under tables, knocking over trays of drinks and snacks. Instinctively, Talon Steel grabbed the pistol inside his coat, but already knew it was too late. One of the Russians emptied a magazine of bullets at him, catching the screaming Andee Trakes and Rouen Rivroche in the same burst that killed Talon.

Nick Gorgeous had rolled under a side table as son as the firing started. He pulled the cloth cover down to conceal his presence, and held his breath. Robert Le Donjon, who had been talking to Nick, walked toward the men, holding his hands up, and smiling. “Gentlemen, please. There must be some mista…”. He never finished his sentence, and stared down at the holes that had appeared in his chest.
Bastian Urso made a run for the conservatory, his only chance of escape. Seeing him go, Dax Janner, who was shielding Lola with his body, called to the men. “I’m your guy, Dax. There he goes”. Dax pointed to the back of Urso’s head as the sprinting man made it through the open doors of the conservatory. Unfortunately for Dax, the men he spoke to didn’t understand English, and just carried on firing. Their bullets went through the surprised Dax, and on into Lola. They both fell dead to the floor. One of the Russians had got the idea though, and shouted to the others, who joined him in a chase through the gardens. Urso was out of breath, and tried to hide under the rim of a huge fountain. But his panting gave him away. A big man pressed the hot barrel of an assault rifle against his head, and grinned. He growled, “Mr Kamarov says hello” as he fired.

Dalton Kipper was pressed as flat to the wall as his bulk would allow. Fortunately, the black-dressed men ignored him, as they ran back to the waiting vans. He puffed his way into the conservatory, and let his eyes wander around the scene. Bodies lay all over the place, and there was blood spattered up the walls too. A dazed-looking man with straw-coloured hair rolled out from under a table, screaming “Don’t shoot” as he clapped eyes on Kipper. Dalton clicked away, his camera on motor-drive. He wasn’t going to get his payday for fingering Urso, but he could make a pretty penny from selling photos of this carnage, he reckoned.

In Wisteria Drive, the stolen Porsche pulled up outside the grand gates leading to the home of Lola Dodge. “You go to the post box, while I turn the car round”. Dani suggested. Blythe jumped from the car, and ran across to the box. Dani saw her in the headlights, as she retrieved a bulky package from the box, and turned smiling, giving a thumbs-up. Her smile evaporated as Dani stepped on the gas, driving over Blythe without hesitation. Before getting out of the car, Dani reversed it slowly over her former lover, just to make sure, hearing the satisfying sound as her skull cracked under the weight. The package was intact, and did indeed feel like it contained $100,000.

Dani leaned forward, looking into Blythe’s dead eyes as she spoke.
“Bye Honey. You were good, but not that good. And you should have kept in touch.”

Southern Belle: A story for Dani

This is a fictional short story with just a few readers in mind. Anyone who knows about Dani’s book blog will be aware of the interaction in the comments there, and how the names of some characters in modern novels never fail to make me crack up laughing.

I promised a story based around some of those, and here it is.

For everyone else, it is probably best to skip this, and read something else instead.

Dalton Kipper was something of a caricature, even he would admit that. A private eye of the old school, the sort that once only appeared in black and white films, and generally got the girl. But Dalton was long past getting any girls. His paunch connected to the steering wheel, and years of bad food and heavy drinking had made it hard for him to walk more than a few steps. It was hot in the car, but he didn’t want to run the engine to use the air-conditioning, and attract any unwanted attention. So he lit another cigarette, and tolerated the sweat pouring down his face from his round and very bald head.

The linen suit was crumpled from the hours sat in the car, and looked more like an old dish-rag than the once smart outfit it had been. Dalton raised the new camera, peering into the telephoto lens. He had the back windows of the big house in range, so would easily get the shots he required.

Dani had made her own dress. It had taken some time, but if she said so herself, she looked like a princess, with the perfect make-up, and hair just so. She didn’t go out so much these days, especially in the heat of a South Carolina summer, but this big social occasion was just too good to miss. Some English aristocrat had rented the old De Vere plantation for the summer, and had announced a big party, an old-fashioned good old Southern Ball. The Eighth Baron of Wickshire was known to be a real ladies’ man, and was reputed to be very rich, as well as handsome. Dani had been invited by her old flame, Blythe Sol, her big girl-crush from High School, who she hadn’t seen in years. Two young women arriving as a couple was sure to cause a stir, and Dani was excited by that prospect. The creaky air-conditioner in her bedroom was just about keeping the room cool, and she decided to wait in there until the cab arrived, still fanning herself with grandma’s old ivory fan, to stop her make-up running.

Lola Dodge was the epitome of a southern belle. Part of the landed gentry of the area, she could trace her family back to old Septimus Dodge, the famous Confederate general, and before that too. When her parents had died in a mysterious boating accident near Myrtle Beach, young Lola became a rich heiress, and the toast of Charleston society too. The word was that Baron Wickshire had set his cap on her, and organised the party just to get to know her. But Dani knew Lola’s secret, her passionate relationship with former jail-bird and all round bad boy, Dax Janner. Dax was a bad as he was handsome, and didn’t care who knew. Some said he was a drug dealer, others marked him down as an armed robber, but all the women who had ever met him had found themselves falling for his ice-blue eyes, and square jaw. Nobody really had any idea what he actually did. His reputation had followed him from his days in juvenile prison, mainly for fighting and busting up bars.

Kipper mopped his face with a soiled handkerchief, and took a big swallow from his hip-flask. Cheap bourbon was the best, as far he was concerned. No need to pay for famous names. Old Dalton knew a lot more than those saps arriving in their limousines for the party. This limey Baron was nothing of the kind. He was a grifter, a shill, a con-man of the highest order. His real name was Bastian Urso, and he hailed from some place in Europe with a name that Dalton couldn’t even pronounce. He was wanted all over, but managed to elude police forces everywhere he went. He was that good, at least he thought so.

But he had upset one man too many, and there was now a contract out on him from some Russian guy. Dalton had heard the word, and decided to do some digging. If he got a photo of the so-called Baron, he would get a great payday from the Russian, once he gave them the address of the old De Vere plantation house where they could find him.

But Dalton didn’t know everything. Dax had also heard about the reward on Urso, and had his own suspicions about the phony Baron. If he could get the guy alone, he would make the call, and get the payoff. He knew he could get into the party easy enough, as Lola was besotted with him, and wouldn’t dream of asking anyone else to be her plus one. She had even bought Dax a smart new tuxedo, and got her driver to collect him in the limousine. All he had to do was wait for the right moment, and the Russians would send some guys to do the deed, and pay him the cash. Besides, if this foreigner thought he could pull the wool over Lola’s eyes, he was very wrong indeed. She was no easy mark, just ask her parents.

The cabbie tooted his horn outside Dani’s house. She grabbed her evening bag, and scampered down the porch steps, eager to get out of the heat, and into the air-conditioned taxi. Once inside, she snuggled up to Blythe on the back seat. They held hands like the old days, and giggled together. All those years apart just melted away, and it was just like High School again. Dani could hardly contain herself.

It was going to be an interesting night…

The Lakes: The Naming of Parts

(With apologies to Henry Reed)

One thing that soon struck me about the area we visited is that some of the place names are confusing.
For example, Ambleside borders a large lake, but that lake is not called Lake Ambleside, or even Amble Lake. Either of these names would make more sense to me than the actual name of the lake, which is Rydal Water. There is a village called Rydal, so perhaps it was named after that village before Ambleside grew into a town. Time for a change then.

Keswick is built next to a lake too. Not Keswick Lake, or Lake Keswick, but Derwent Water. This is named after the River Derwent, which actually flows into Bassenthwaite Lake, on its way west into the Irish Sea.

Ullswater is situated next to the village of Glenridding. It could be called Lake Glenridding, or perhaps even Helvellyn Lake, from the large hill that overlooks it. But it is not. It is confusingly called Ullswater. Research tells me that the derivation is possibly from a Viking word for wolves, and that the area was once known for its large population of those carnivores. Well the Vikings are long gone, and so are native wolves.

Some lakes in the area are supposedly not lakes at all. They are called ‘Tarns’. This denotes that the lake is contained on a hillside, or mountain, and has no shoreline. That’s all very well, but Red Lake is easier to imagine than Red Tarn. Or is it just me?

Another one on the list is Buttermere, a very attractive and peaceful lake. I am told that the nearby village of Buttermere took its name from the lake, and not the other way around. So how did it get the name Buttermere? Just above Buttermere is Crummock Water. There is no place called Crummock, the name deriving from the old-English for crooked, added to the local preference for calling lakes ‘Water’, instead of ‘Lake’.

I hope you see my confusion.

I have a suggestion to offer to the National Parks Service, and the county of Cumbria. Have a think about standardising the names up there. I will supply a list of ‘new’ names, free of charge.

And while I am at it, let’s have a think about the names of the hills too.

Cat Bells. Well, they look nothing like a cat, and not a bit like a bell. Catstyecam is a hill that looks like a small mountain. It does not resemble a cat, or a cat’s eye. And cats are not kept in a Sty, they are for pigs. It is also known as a ‘Fell’, the local name for hills that also has nothing to do with falling, or having fallen. Then there is Haystacks, which looks nothing at all like a haystack. I could go on, but I will not.

I have a simple solution for renaming the hills to make sense for the confused tourist. Using the standard sizes of bra cups, they could refer to their size by ascending order in this fashion. ‘B Cup Hill’, ‘C Cup Hill’, ‘Double D Cup Hill’, ‘Bullet Bra Peak’, and so on.

Easier to remember than Catsteycam, surely?