Category Archives: History

Soaking up Shakespeare

Earlier this year we were invited to attend a formal dinner in Stratford upon Avon and decided to make a long weekend of it. Of course, being Shakespeare’s birthplace, almost everything is geared to a celebration of the Bard of Avon.

We started by taking a leisurely walk around the lovely Warwickshire market town. Beautiful old buildings-many of which would have been familiar to Shakespeare himself since the town dates back more than eight hundred years-exist alongside modern structures which, on the whole, blend in well. As you can see, many of these old buildings have been utilised for present-day needs.Police station

Of course, the most  photographed building in Stratford has to be where Shakespeare was born in 1564.  Some people say the house itself was built in the fifteenth century, while others say it was built around the time of Shakespeare’s actual birth. Regardless of when it was built, it is still a pretty impressive structure. Shakespeare's BirthplaceApparently, the Bard lived here until he was a young man, and even spent the first years of his marriage to Anne Hathaway in this house.

A short walk along the high street is a rather fun bronze statue of The Jester. It was created by Anthony Bird and features a character from As You Like it. Around the stone plinth on which it stands are quotations from other Shakespeare plays, such as ‘Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun. It shines everywhere‘ from Twelfth Night.The Jester

After all that culture, we were ready for afternoon tea. Being in Stratford, we just had to choose a really special tea shoppe. Where else than Hathaways Tea Rooms? Housed in a building dating from around 1610, the property has a chequered past. It has been an eighteenth-century Inn, a booksellers, an apothecary, a boot and shoe store, until in 1931 it became Hathaways Tea Rooms.Hathaways Tea Rooms

Alas, we didn’t have time for a trip to the theatre to see a Shakespearean play, but that was sort of remedied for me when I got home and a friend managed to get tickets for a much sought-after live screening of Benedict Cumberbatch playing Hamlet at London’s Barbican theatre. So, October was Shakespeare month for me, and now I feel so bathed in culture, I’m sure it will keep me going for a good few months to come.

 

Dude, Where’s My Mom?

Hobbes here. On the prowl for Dude. My human mom, Jillian, went missing the week of September 21st and I heard a rumor (and even saw photographic evidence) that she was hanging out with Laurie’s cat, Dude.

the evidence

the evidence

This did not make me happy. I was kind of glad to hear when Laurie and Lavada took Mom (a/k/a the can opener) to the Space Needle and the fish market that Dude had to stay home. Too bad, so sad, Dudester, no fish for you. 011

Hey, wait one second. You know what? She didn’t bring me back any either. Hmmm. I may have to go claw a piece of furniture over that slight.

I also heard no cats got to make the trip to Mount Rainier. Mom said it was gorgeous and I sure would have liked a chance to loll in front of the fireplace in the lodge there. But at least Dude didn’t get to either, right?061

I’m sure when Mom, Laurie and Laurie’s wicked cool husband visited Lavada’s house, they would’ve had to sneak Dude past the home owners association – his fur is probably the wrong color, right? My black and white color scheme would surely pass approval. Poor Dude. He’s pretty but you know how those associations can be.

Mom says the state Capitol building was beautiful and the old houses were really nice. She really liked downtown Olympia and dining near the falls. In fact, she was fed pretty nicely the whole trip. Bet she never thought of poor ole me starving to death at home. The man who lives here isn’t such a softie when it comes to me needing a snack.089

Mom had a great time on her trip but I can’t help but think it would’ve been better for her to stay here and make sure I had enough to eat. Dude and I have that in common. We don’t like it when the can openers leave town.IMG_20150926_050352075

Mom told me that despite my opinion to the contrary, I  am NOT the boss of her and she will go wherever and whenever she pleases.

We’ll just see about that. Won’t we?

Hobbes out!

The trio

The trio

Old Houses

H-1-Schmidt-HouseI love old houses and having one was, and note the ‘was’, on my life to-do list. They call them bucket lists now. The first book I wrote, I titled “This Old House” and my publisher changed it to “This Old House Love Comes Home”. A reader commented that the house was like one of the characters. That house was as close as I’ll get to having one of my own.

I enjoy touring historic homes but have found that there is only a portion open to the public most of the times. Not so last week. I had the privilege of touring the Schmidt Mansion in Tumwater Washington. It was the home of the founder of the Olympia Brewery. Maybe you remember the slogan “It’s The Water.”

It was an experience of a lifetime as the caretaker that started work there at seventeen, led the tour. He had wonderful nostalgic stories, even a ghost one. And, we saw the whole house. Some of the rooms are used as archives, some have offices, but he told us what they had originally been with such vivid detail that we could step back in time.

I took the picture of the front porch and the caretaker who conducted our tour is on the left. The house and family was a career and from his stories, there was never a dull moment. image-29

There’s a virtual tour and history of the house and family on the website. image-30

Rockin’ and Rollin’

I know we don’t usually chat about our writing over here but that’s what I’ve been spending time on lately. And I mean like a maniac.  I started writing a Regency story that’s probably really late Georgian not too long ago and it’s one of those stories that is practically writing itself. The ideas are coming faster than I can type so I’ve been crazy getting it down.  I love it when this kind of thing happens but it’s also tough because I become so focused on the story that I get obsessive. Lol. But at least it keeps me off the streets, right?

I stumbled upon a little known fact (unknown to me, that is- lol) about the Grimaldi family when researching a plot point for my story and while it wasn’t what I was looking for initially, it’s going to make my story even better than the idea I had and I love the serendipity of that.  Did you know that one of the wives of a Grimaldi prince (House of Monaco) was one of the last people executed in the Reign of Terror? And yes, I am working that into my story. Peripherally.

Hoping August treats you all well.  It’s 104 Fahrenheit here in the shade so I’m working on keeping cool!

In Search of Dracula

The Joneses have been away on their travels again. In our quest to see as much of the UK as possible we booked a trip to Whitby, a seaside fishing town on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors.20150608_144051This is a very historical town, with the founding of its iconic Abbey dating back to 657AD. It was once one of the busiest ship building ports, and produced ships that sailed the high seas under the command of Captain James Cook. The harbour is now filled with privately owned craft, and a bell sounds on the half hour to signal the opening of the swing bridge to allow boats to pass through.

Whitby also has an association with Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Ever since as a teenager I snuck a copy of Dracula beneath the sheets and all but frightened myself silly reading it, I’ve been fascinated by the paranormal. So on hearing that Stoker spent several months in Whitby, where he got many of his ideas for the story, I have wanted to visit the town. It’s taken me…ahem, quite a few years to get up there, but this year I was determined to make it.

So, during one of the most glorious weeks of the year so far, we set off. After a night’s stay in Derbyshire, we travelled onward and eventually made it to the edge of the Yorkshire Moors. We took several stops along the way for coffee and cake, as you do, and eventually glimpsed Whitby. It’s hard to miss, with ruins of its Gothic Abbey sitting atop a cliff and beckoning the visitor ever closer to the quaint and picturesque town.20150610_124241

We stayed in a lovely guest house, and our hosts knew all the places to see both in Whitby and its surroundings, but there was only one thing I really wanted to do and that was go in search of Bram Stoker’s inspiration for his seminal work. Being a writer, I’m always fascinated by the way fellow writers are inspired to write plot, character and use setting. So, following the directions in the little pink book of the same name, we set off on The Dracula Trail.

20150610_110942We started at the memorial bench, then headed up the 199 steps to the Abbey, the steps that Stoker had the ill-fated heroine of his novel ascending in the dead of night beckoned by the dreaded Count. The Abbey ruins are stunning and very atmospheric. Once a Benedictine abbey, it fell into ruins after the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry V111 in 1540. 20150610_111049

We also took a trip down to the old harbour which inspired Stoker to use the bones of a true story for the scene in his novel where the ship Dementer, carrying wooden boxes filled with earth from Dracula’s homeland in which he could rest, was shipwrecked. The old cobbled streets are still very similar to the way Stoker would have seen them and the whole area is incredibly atmospheric.

To end the trail we visited the Dracula Experience, which was a sort of wax museum which told the story from start to finish. No sooner had we entered the darkened building when I knew it wasn’t such a good idea. Now, I love to be scared but this took it to a whole new level. The wax models were far too realistic for my liking and at one stage, deep into the museum when all the lights went out, I actually screamed. Clinging to AJ for dear life, he told me not to look down. Of course I did, only to see hundreds of holographic spiders skittering across the floor. It was my worst nightmare come to life. So, with AJ pulled so tight to me that we could barely shuffle along (and not helped when he thought it would be fun to nibble at my neck) I hurried him through to the much-welcomed exit sign.

Our last day was spent in a more sedate manner and we took the old steam train onto the moor. Since we both love trains, we were in our element. The journey took about an hour and a bit, and we passed through Goathsmead station which became Hogsmead Station in the Harry Potter films. Great fun. Excuse the tilted photo, but I was hanging out the window at the time.20150611_105326

We had such a great time in Whitby, that we’ve put it on our places to revisit at some time in the future. So far the decision to explore the UK and see more of our own country has proved extremely fruitful, and as far as Whitby goes, I’m so glad I got to visit even if it took me more years that I care to admit to make it happen.

My Day in Court

Last month, while on holiday in Cornwall, I got to do jury service. But it was a case with a difference. It was for a real murder that took place over 160 years ago on Bodmin Moor. Here’s the blurb from the visitor booklet, The Courtroom Experience:

In 1844 on the windswept slopes of Bodmin Moor, the body of a local girl, Charlotte Dymond was found. Matthew Weeks, her boyfriend was arrested and charged with her murder. But was he guilty? Who do you think was the guilty party?

Come and act as a member of the jury in a re-enactment of Matthew’s trial in the very building in which the trial took place. Guilty or not guilty, you must decide!

SAM_0720Well this sounded too intriguing to miss. So we, along with ten other visitors, became the jury for an hour while the evidence was given via moving wax figures (spooky in itself) and recorded summaries of evidence given at the time. During the trial, I found myself getting more and more angry for poor Matthew Weeks. If ever a boy was set up, it was this poor lad. Even on Charlotte’s death certificate the coroner had recorded that she was murdered…by Matthew Weeks! Can you imagine that happening today? The only real evidence was that Matthew was seen chatting to Charlotte on the morning of her murder. The rest was pure speculation.SAM_0721 (Apologies for the poor quality of the photo of the death certificate.)

Both Matthew and Charlotte worked as farm servants at Penhale Farm on the north west of the moor, and Charlotte was said to be very attractive and flirted with quite a number of would-be suitors. In fact, I had very strong suspicions that one of these suitors was the actual murderer, as all avenues of investigation seemed to lead back to him. But the verdict passed in 1844 was that Matthew was guilty and he was subsequently hanged for murder.

At the end of the trial, we were asked to press a button to indicate whether we thought Matthew was guilty or not guilty. Moments later, we were told that we’d passed a unanimous verdict of not guilty and much debate followed from that. Part of me hoped poor Matthew somehow knew that all these years later people were passionately defending him, and showing their fury at such blatant use of a young boy as scapegoat.

SAM_0716After the trial, we were taken down to the holding cells. It was here Matthew would have been held awaiting trial. In the photo you can see the individual cells along the sides where people were held for hours, sometimes days, at a time (the space at the top was the lavatory). We were invited to experience the incredibly cramped space, where with arms held at our sides we couldn’t move, and it was virtually impossible to turn around. As you can imagine, we couldn’t wait to get out of there. It was very sobering, especially when we heard tales of women being held there for days awaiting trial for having stolen a piece of cheese to feed their children.

There might be a lot wrong with our world today, but I’d like to think that most people get a fair trial. This was certainly not Matthew’s experience. I was compelled to find Matthew’s grave and put some flowers there, but apparently the spot where public hangings took place has long been developed. All I can hope is that he rests in peace. Which, if rumours are to be believed, is not the case for Charlotte. Her unhappy ghost is said to haunt the moor, and many people tell of strange and disturbing encounters with her near the place she was murdered. Hmm. Interesting.

What secret is troubling Charlotte’s ghost? Was an innocent man hanged? Did the murdered escape detection? Only Charlotte knows the answers to these questions and she took them with her to her restless grave.” (from The Charlotte Dymond Murder Trial)

Landscapes, Legends and Literature

Earlier this month, we took a trip down to Cornwall in south west England. This was partly because we made a decision to start exploring parts of the UK we have never visited before, but mostly because I’m writing a new paranormal series based in the area and wanted to get a real feel for the place.

SAM_0736We’d visited Cornwall once before when we were much younger, but I’d never really appreciated it then and this time I was stunned by the beauty of the area. We based ourselves in Bodmin, a town on the edge of the hauntingly beautiful Bodmin Moor. Having expected a largely barren vista, I was surprised that the moor’s landscape is so diverse. At eighty square miles, we only scraped the surface. For starters, we decided to follow The Copper Trail, a sixty mile circular walk along footpaths and tracks which take you through the remains of the hard rock mining industry and 5000 year old prehistoric monuments.

SAM_0728We began by driving to Golitha Falls, a nature reserve on the southern edge of the moor which is home to otters, great spotted woodpeckers and grey wagtails. So lush, and incredibly peaceful. Just the sound of birds, water and our gasps of awe at the beauty to be found there. Moving onward, we visited the Minions, an area dotted with old copper mine engine houses and tors, which are weathered granite rock towers. Then onto the Bronze Age monument, The Hurlers, a group of three great stone circles. The name derives from a legend in which men were playing a Cornish game called ‘hurling’ on a Sunday. As punishment they were magically transformed into stones. SAM_0747

On our way home, which took us straight through the middle of the moor, we made a stop off for morning coffee at Jamaica Inn, the place where Daphne du Maurier set her famous novel. She is said to have been riding on the moor and sought refuge at the inn when a thick fog set in. While she was there, she was entertained with smuggling tales and ghost stories, which obviously provided much inspiration for her novel. Built in 1750, Jamaica Inn was originally a coaching inn and a staging post for changing horses. It is said to be one of the UKs most haunted places, and during the year several ghost hunting weekends take place there.SAM_0757

SAM_0759We had a really great time during our first trip to Bodmin, and are already planning a return trip this summer. There is so much to explore. Oh, and Daphne du Maurier wasn’t the only one inspired to write while on Bodmin Moor. I came back with ideas buzzing, not only for the current series I’m writing but a future one too. I can’t imagine anyone visiting this beautifully eerie, rugged and intriguing place without having their imagination fired.

Showing Your True Colors by Valerie J. Patterson

I’m certain we’ve all heard the saying, “She’s showing her true colors“.  And I’m also certain we all know that it means to show one’s true self.  But did you know that this saying originally referred to ships in the heat of battle?  Warships would often fly multiple flags, each a different color, hoping to confuse their enemies.  However, rules of wartime dictated that prior to firing, the ship had to hoist its real country flag, hence showing its true colors.

I was thinking about the phrases and sayings we have grown up with and how each generation–it seems–has their own sayings, but that there are phrases that remain regardless of the passage of time.  I decided to look into the origins of some of the sayings and phrases I have always heard, and I was shocked by some, grossed out by others, and somewhat surprised to realize that I knew more about some than I would have thought.  Not sure what that says, but…here are some sayings and their origins.  Enjoy!

Spill the beans–of course, this means to tell a secret.  In ancient Greece, voting for candidates was conducted by depositing either a white bean (voting yes) or a black bean (voting no) into a container.  The candidate never knew who voted which way nor did they know the outcome until the beans were counted.  Occasionally, a clumsy voter would knock the container over and reveal the votes to the candidate, thus spilling the beans.

Waking up on the wrong side of the bed–of course this is often said of a grumpy person.  However, in “old times” the left side of the body and anything dealing with the left side was considered evil.  In order to ward off evil spirits, innkeepers would push the left side of the bed against a wall, giving guests only one option: to wake up on the right side of the bed!  As a left-handed person, I find this idea offensive! (wink)

No spring chicken–refers to someone past their prime, but it actually does refer to old chickens.  New England farmers got more money for chicks born in the spring rather than those born in the wintertime.  When times were lean, they attempted to pass wintertime chicks off as spring chicks and the wise buyer would reply, “That is no spring chicken!”.

Here’s one that surprised me:  Rule of Thumb–this means a benchmark, a go by.  It is said to have originated in England when 17th century judge, Sir Francis Buller ruled that husbands could beat their wives with a stick providing the stick were no wider than his thumb!  [Someone should have beat Sir Buller!]

Go the whole 9 yards–means to give it your best, your all, and try your hardest.  Fighter pilots of WWII were issued a 9-yard ammunition chain.  When a pilot used the entire chain on one target, he was said to have given it the whole 9 yards.

Here’s one that simply grossed me out: Cat got your tongue–obviously this means someone is at a loss for words.  But it actually originated from the practice of cutting out the tongues of liars and feeding them to cats!  Yick!!!!

So as not to leave you with that image, here’s one more.  I just found this one very odd:  Butter someone up–we take this to mean flattery, but it’s actually an ancient Indian custom of throwing balls of clarified butter at statues of gods to gain their favor.

I don’t know about you, but I doubt I will ever use the phrase cat got your tongue again!

Until next time, have a great weekend, and may your blessings always be more than you can shake a stick at!!!!

Happy President’s Day in the USA, Valentine’s Day, AND Mardi Gras

Today is President’s Day here in the USA- a day where we honor our presidents. When I was in elementary school, we had two holidays out of school in the early part of the new year – one was George Washington’s Birthday and one was Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. I always thought it was cool that “Honest Abe” and “Cannot Tell a Lie George” were celebrated so close together.

When Martin Luther King day came along, the powers that be combined George and Abe’s birthdays into one day- kind of like two kids having to share a birthday cake, huh? As the years went on, it seemed more and more companies didn’t take this day off any longer. I still take the day and allow my office to be closed. These men did a lot for our country- not least of which was one serving as the general in chief in the fight to establish this country and the other actually saving the young union when it was torn asunder by the Civil War. I, for one, honor them on this day and every day.

This past weekend was Valentines Day and I would be remiss as a romance writer if I didn’t wish that you all had a wonderful day. Tomorrow is Fat Tuesday, otherwise known as Mardi Gras. It’s the last day of feasting before Lent so if you give up something for Lent, better eat your fill today and tomorrow.

Happy various holidays this week! Enjoy!

Memories of Robbie’s Night

As you likely know, last Sunday was Burns’ Night, celebrating the life and work of the Scots icon, Robert Burns. Born in Alloway, Scotland on 25 January 1759, Burns wrote many poems but I didn’t know that he also wrote Auld Lang Syne. Well, you learn something new every day 🙂

The night always brings back happy memories. In the mid 1980s, AJ’s job meant that we had to move to Warwickshire (Shakespeare Country). We lived in a beautiful town not far from Stratford-upon-Avon and in the two years we lived there we had a very active and happy social life. We made wonderful friends, many of whom are still friends today, and were always out and about enjoying ourselves. We went to so many formal occasions – Masonic ladies’ nights, police balls, civic functions – that I splashed out on a really gorgeous evening gown. I still have the dress although, alas, I fear I could no longer fit into it. Nevertheless, just looking at it brings back a multitude of good memories and happy times.

One of the happiest occasions during our sojourn in Warwickshire was a Burns’ Night organized by a Scottish friend, Alec. It was a pretty raucous occasion and great fun. We still talk about it today. We stood by our seats at long tables while the haggis was piped in (I love the sound of bagpipes), followed by Alec reading the Address to the Haggis, the ode that Robbie Burns wrote for the dish. Back in those days I wasn’t yet a vegetarian, but remember not especially liking haggis.

During and after the meal, there were toasts to Robbie Burns and readings of his work. It wasn’t an especially serious affair and at one stage Alec, suitably dressed in his family tartan kilt, placed one foot on the table and made a toast. A little the worse for one too many whiskeys, he came dangerously close to revealing the answer to that age old question 🙂

It was a really fun evening, surrounded by good friends, good food (unless you count the haggis) and much laughter. I can never let the 25 January pass by without a toast to those happy times and wonderful friends.