City of Conspiracy Tour


Last night, after she’d cooked a lovely Italian meal, a friend and I went on a guided walking tour in London. I didn’t book it through one of the companies I usually use for these things; I’d booked it through Groupon.  It was called City of Conspiracy, which I’ve since discovered has its own website and Twitter account:

The tour started at 8pm at Covent Garden Tube Station, and we walked along Long Acre until we reached the Freemasons’ Hall at the corner of Great Queen Street.  I’m going to confess right now, I worked around the corner from here for three years and I have never been inside.  Not yet anyway, I plan to change that very soon.  It is a pretty magnificent building, and our tour guide explained in detail the significance of various pieces of architecture.



From here, having stopped by a couple of shops that sell Masonic regalia, we made our way along to Lincolns’ Inn Fields, which is the largest public square in London.  Incidentally, apparently, although the shops won’t sell anything to non-Masons, you can go into these shops and they will tell you all about the things they sell.  Seems as though they’d be interesting places to visit alone.  The first place of interest in Lincolns’ Inn Fields was number 66 – Powis House, where the charter of the Bank of England was signed in 1694. The Bank of England started its life as a private company that loaned the government money, because it was boracic lint (no change there, then).

Further along in Lincolns’ Inn Fields is Sir John Soane’s house – what is now a museum. Sir John was a very wealthy man, and also a Freemason, hence the link with the City of Conspiracy Tour.

From there, we made our way along to Aleister Crowley’s house, another Freemason.  Of course I’d heard of Aleister Crowley before, but he’s not someone I’ve ever really felt the need to research too much, and to be honest, nothing about that has changed since last night. Suffice it to say that I don’t think he’d have been one of my drinking partners.

I didn’t take a note of the name of the road, but it was adjacent to Fleet Street.  We walked down to Fleet Street, where it junctions with The Strand. It’s at this point here, at the site of the Temple Bar, is where Westminster stops and the City of London starts. There’s a lot of history in this area: The Temple Church, built by the Knights Templar, the Royal Courts of Justice, The Old Bank of England pub (which is on the site of the Law Courts branch of the Bank of England. No, I didn’t know that there had been one there either.)  It’s also the home of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.  Was he a real person? Who knows?  Official records of the time don’t seem to support the story though.

Alleyway leading to Dr Johnson's House
Alleyway leading to Dr Johnson’s House

Moving on from here, we walked up near to St Paul’s, to Stationer’s Hall, home of the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers.  This is one of the old City trade associations; there are a number of them that still exist . Apparently, to become Lord Mayor of London or a City Alderman, you have to be a member of one of these companies. That was where the tour ended.

Stationer's Livery Hall
Stationer’s Livery Hall

It was an interesting tour and our guide was so knowledgeable, he even did a little rap for us! If you get the chance to go on this, do so, it wasn’t expensive and well worth it.

© Susan Shirley 2014


The Hedgehog Lady of London Colney

When I spoke to my brother the other day, he told me about something that had happened when he was on his way home. As usual, he’d parked his car at the back of the house, and stopped to chat to a neighbour on the way in.  His neighbour said,

“What’s that there? Is it a hedgehog?”



Bro and neighbour investigated, and it was indeed a hedgehog, a little baby one, a hoglet, as I now know they are called. The neighbour, who has cats (sensible lady), got some cat food and they fed the little hoglet. Bro picked her up and took her (they didn’t know at the time, but found out later that she was a she) into his back garden where they had a pot that they’d left in case any little animals wanted to nest in it. They placed the little hedgehog there and left her for a while. The next day, my sister-in-law went out to check on the hoglet and found that she had curled up outside of the pot by the bamboo that was growing at the bottom of the garden. Alison said that she’d see a fly buzzing around and she had one of those gut feelings that all was not well. Worried that the little hoglet wouldn’t survive if the weather got cold, they started ringing round for advice, and a new home for the little one. To cut a long story short, they eventually came across the Hedgehog Lady of London Colney, whose Face book page is here:

(I’m having trouble with that Facebook link, I think you will need to copy and paste it into your browser.)

The Hedgehog Lady - London Colney Hedgehog Rescue

Bro and Ali took the little hoglet to the Hedgehog Lady who proceeded to examine the little one, now named Emily. Emily was curled tight in a little ball and it took a little while for Esther (the Hedgehog Lady) to uncurl her. It’s a good job she persevered because the fly had laid its eggs in little Emily’s skin. Ugh! Esther duly scraped the eggs out and administered other treatment to Emily. She explained to Bro and Ali that lots of these little ones have various types of worm – round worm, thread worm, all the stuff that our cats and dogs can get if we don’t flea and worm them regularly, so no real surprises.

Bro ‘phoned me to tell me about their week, and this was part of the conversation, and when we’d finished on the ‘phone, I looked up the Face book page. Emily got a mention, but Esther had asked Bro to ring her if he read it. It transpired that Emily had been very poorly and was infested with fluke as well as roundworm, and it had just been too much for her poor little body to cope with.

My previous experience of hedgehogs was limited to one night, some years back, when I was living at home with my Mum, and my dog, Gemma, was out in the back garden. It was a summer’s night, and we had a fairly big garden, but my Dad had set up a series of lights out there. All of a sudden, Gemma (who was a collie retriever cross) started alternating between yelping and barking. Mum and I looked at each other and I went out into the kitchen to turn the outside lights on and went to see what the commotion was.


And there, halfway down the garden was my darling dog trying to pick up a fully grown hedgehog! She was yelping when she got her mouth around it and barking when she didn’t. Mum had to come out with the yard broom to move the hedgehog off, whilst I held onto to Gemma.

Some facts you may not know about hedgehogs:

*They are nocturnal,

*They have thick, spiny coats and curl up into a ball if they feel threatened, so that they can protect their stomachs,

*They have about 5000 spines, each of which lasts about a year, when it drops out, and a replacement grows,

*There may be 500 fleas on a hedgehog at any one time.

The Hedgehog Lady is a non-profit making organisation (actually, I think it’s just her and her partner) so they are grateful for donations to help them with their work. Esther has taken in more than 60 hedgehogs this year, has lost four, put two to sleep, and one died under anaesthetic. She told me that in the autumn, it is far harder to save the juveniles because they are heavily burdened with worms, which they get from eating all the slugs and snails (the fact that they eat these is a really good reason to protect hedgehogs, if you needed one!). They also suffer from hypothermia if they haven’t got somewhere safe to hibernate.

Esther took a course at the Vale Wildlife Hospital in Tewkesbury so that she could administer treatment to hedgehogs she recovers. She also works closely with her local vet and the Wildlife Hospital at Trent Park in Enfield.

Esther loves what she does, but it’s hard work. She gets up at 5am every day to clean out the hedgehogs and check that they are ok, and then she goes to her full-time job. She also has a part-time job that she does a couple of times a week to help cover the costs of food, meds, vet bills etc. In the evenings, she feeds them all and administers the meds. Some of the more poorly ones have to be syringe fed. Esther would love to convert her garage into a proper treatment centre and home for the hedgehogs, but that’s a long way off. She currently has 18 hedgehogs with her, and expects them to be with her for another six months. So, you’ve got the Face book page now, it’s up to you.

And finally…

If you, like me, like bright and shiny things, take a look at this:

It’s the Face book page of my friend Lynn’s soon to be daughter-in-law. I can tell you that these glasses are fabulous, Lynn has some (and so will I soon). A set of six festive glasses are only £20, gift wrapping is (a bit) extra.

Photo: Facebook is telling me that only a handful of people have seen this so let's have another go... Set of six festive coloured glasses. Ready now only £20!!

© Susan Shirley 2014

The Writers’ Guild and Ghost Writing

I start planning my new blog as soon as the last one is published. Yes, I know, amazing, isn’t it, that planning actually goes into this, but it does. I always have one or two ideas in my back pocket, just in case I get a busy week. I’d even started writing this week’s post before today, but changed my mind about the subject after last night….

There are a few associations and unions specifically for writers in the UK, and back in September, I chose to join the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain. Why this one? Well, the membership requirements of some of the others are very strict (as in you can’t just join because you’ve thought about writing a book, you actually have to have something published) and the costs are greater. After careful consideration, and much time spent on the telephone with Ellie, a lady whom I met face-to-face last night, the WGGB clinched it for me, and I am now a fully paid up member.

The WGGB emailed me a few weeks back and invited me to attend a reception for new-ish members – new-ish extends to people who have joined within the last year. I thought it would be a good opportunity to meet some fellow writers and do a bit of networking, so I thought I’d pop along. Writing is, by definition, a pretty solitary profession.

The venue was a little theatre club in Charing Cross Road, the Phoenix Artist Club, so was easy for me to get to from work, and to get home from. All these little bonuses help, because when one is getting a touch of the last-minute-seconds and looking for a reason not to go, it wipes out two pretty major ones straight away. As an aside, I must find out whether this a member’s only club, because it was actually a very good venue.

I was fortunate enough to start talking to a lady named Sarah, who works at the Writers’ Guild, but she was obviously there to circulate, so I couldn’t monopolise her all night, but she is trained as a journalist., and was very interesting to talk to. Particularly as I have just finished an Introduction to Journalism course with Future Learn. When Sarah went off to circulate, I got chatting to a few other writers, and other members of the Guild, include Ellie, who was actually the lady to whom I spoke on the telephone the day I actually joined up. I would commend anyone who intends to write in any of the conventional media to join, they do a great job at helping screen writers, etc get a decent rate of pay.
Writers are very inquisitive people you know, and the same question was asked of everyone: what do you write? What are you writing at the moment? I admitted that one of my projects is ghost writing, and that I was finding it very enjoyable, when one of the organisers said,
“Oh, you need to speak to that lady over there, she’s a ghost too! A very successful one.”
I made my way over to this lady, after a bit of a detour and she said to me,

“Are you the ghost?”

“Might be,” I answered. Everyone laughed.

Then she and I started to have a proper conversation. Successful is the right word for it. This lady commands at least £10k per book (which is far more than I am being paid at the moment, I can tell you, but then, she’s been doing it for longer than I have). What I did find interesting, though, was that she and I agreed on so many things about that side of the business, and she gets all her clients by word of mouth. Which may mean that ghost writing is where my future lies…

And finally…..

Bloggers are generally a very friendly lot, and I virtually met a lovely blogger who’s recently come over from the States to study her PhD – Gianni W. She has just awarded me the Liebster Award. What, I hear you ask, is the Liebster Award?

Basically, it’s an award given by a blogger to another blogger who has fewer than 200 followers (sadly I fall into that category).

What you have to do is to link back to the nominator, but you can’t nominate them, which is the easy bit; here you go:

You also have to answer the 10 questions and then nominate some other blogs.  These are the questions that I have to answer, so here goes:

1. What is your spirit animal?  Mm, good question.  A wolf, I think, because they are friendly and intelligent.

2. What one item do you have to have with you every day?  So I’m confined to one then? Mobile ‘phone and lipstick.

3. What song makes you happy every single time you hear it, no matter the circumstance?  I think I’m going to say Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” but not for the obvious reason. I’ve been doing a few NLP courses this year and this is the song that they always play after the breaks, so that you know you need to be back in your seat, ready for the next session. I associate with those sessions now and they make me feel really good.

4. If you could play anyone in a film or on stage, who would it be?  Elizabeth I. I can just see myself with a ginger wig and one of those big old frocks and a ruff!

5. What’s your least favorite word (in any language you choose)?  Why?  Hmm, that’s a difficult one. There are some wonderful words that I like, in a number of languages. But words I don’t like…. There is a word that I believe is derived from the Middle English (although I’m prepared to be corrected) word for wedge. That’s as far as I’m prepared to go here.

6. How do you think a stranger who observed a day in your life would describe you?  I think they’d think I was busy, fun to be around (most of the time), energetic and quite upbeat.

7. What place you’ve never visited do you think you’d enjoy the most? Why?  There are lots of places that I haven’t visited that I’d like to get to see, but I suppose, because this is what I’m planning for my next big trip, I’d have to say New Orleans and San Francisco. New Orleans because I love the jazz, and it’s redolent of “The Big Easy” for me. San Francisco – well that’s Bullitt, but it looks fab, and I really want to go to Alcatraz.

8. What nickname would you give yourself?  Ha ha! I was given a nickname years ago, which, in certain circles, has stuck – Scarybird. That’ll do.

9. If you could choose any famous building/monument to live in, which would it be?  This is a tricky one, because it would have to be in London. I was rather taken with Leighton House when I went there, because it’s such an eclectic mix, but would I want to live there? Hertford House is lovely; I love the staircase there, as well as the art. I think I’ll go for Hertford House.

10. What’s your favorite late night snack?  I’m not a late night snacker. To be honest, if it’s too late, even if I’m hungry, it’s very rare that I eat.

And now for my nominations:

Anne Germain (although I have no idea how many followers she has)

My questions:

1. What’s your favourite film and why?

2. How would you spend your favourite day?

3. Who is your role model and why?

4.  What is your favourite holiday destination and why?

5.  Least favourite holiday destination and why?

6.  If you could choose one superpower what would it be and why?

7.  Least favourite food?

8.  If money and qualifications were no object, what would be your chosen profession and why?

9.  If you were a chat show host, whom would you most like to interview and why?

10. Which uninhabited desert island would you like to be stranded on?


© Susan Shirley 2014

Cat Relief

Remember I wrote about London Poppy Day last week? Lieutenant Victoria Kneale, who was in charge of our collection e-mailed us to tell us that one person had paid over £1000 for a pair of cufflinks, and someone else paid £600 for a poppy!

Remember the homeless man who came up with a bag of coins? There was about £4 in that bag, and to quote Lieutenant Kneale,

“…but the best £4 we made all day!!!!”

That makes me think of the biblical story of the Widow’s Mite. The people of London are amazing!

My girls seem to be doing ok too. After a bit of a scare because Telesto’s blood test results didn’t come back quite as expected, so the vet then checked for FIV (the virus that causes cat AIDS). I was quite worried while I awaited the outcome of those tests, but, fortunately, she doesn’t have it (that would have brought its own set of problems!), so the vet thinks it’s just an infection so she is currently on antibiotics.

I’ve never had to give Telesto any kind of tablets before, but the girl just munches on through that food, no matter what is mixed in with it. She feels very special though, when she gets wet food in the evenings as well. I fear there will be tears when this stops in a week’s time, although the others will be happy. The green eyed monster is alive and kicking in our house!


I do try to make sure that if one has something, they all have it, food-wise, but, now that it looks as though little Rhea just has an allergy to something in the wet food. Although Peter (the vet) thought she might have to go onto a hypoallergenic diet. It just so happens that I had some James Wellbeloved at home, which is a hypoallergenic cat food. Rhea loved it before she realised that was all she was getting for breakfast. I solved the jealousy problem this morning by giving her some cat treats whilst the others were necking their wet food. We may just survive this! Still, it’s been a very expensive few weeks, but the vets have sent the insurance claim off now, so hopefully I will get most of the money back.

Having spent so much time in the vets recently, I’ve learned an awful lot about pets and their allergies – one dog is allergic to being outside, another cat is allergic to all other cats… It’s quite amazing.

I did a bit of research on cats for this post, and found out that there is a protein (an allergen) in cat saliva that causes the biggest problem for human allergy sufferers (and, presumably, for that poor little cat who was allergic to other cats). This protein is called Fel D1, and what happens is, when a cat licks itself, the saliva (containing this little beasty, although that’s a wholly incorrect way of describing it) dries and becomes airborne, and we poor unsuspecting humans (and other cats) give it is nice warm home in our sinuses.

Male cats produce more of this than female cats, and entire males (hmm hmm) produce more than neutered males, and dark coloured cats more than light coloured cats. And, probably as you would expect, kittens less than adults.


There are seven breeds of cat that are less likely to cause allergic reactions in humans…these are the Balinese (very pretty, looks a bit like a long haired Siamese), Oriental Shorthair (very strange looking creatures, in my opinion, big ears), the Javanese (a bit like a Siamese with bigger ears, but quite attractive), the Devon Rex (they put me in mind of a creature from a Sci-Fi film, but I can’t for the life of me remember the name. I find them strangely cute and attractive.), the Cornish Rex (the same as the Devon Rex but with a broader West Country accent), the Sphynx (the poor little thing has no hair!) and the Siberian (hairy and rather gorgeous).

Oriental Shorthair
Oriental Shorthair

I hate to be cruel to any living animal, but I really struggle with the poor little hairless one. What is that about? Yes, I know that when you have four, like me, you need to keep on top of the vacuuming otherwise it looks like an old fashioned Western with the hair acting like Tumbleweed (Suzette, anytime you feel the need to provide a chamber maid service, please feel free) but the poor little Sphynx is not going to do too well in an English winter, is it?

Anyway, I couldn’t find any royalty free photos for most of these, except for the Oriental Shorthair, so I’ve just gone for cute images and a link to Allposters, where you can find some of them.

© Susan Shirley 2014

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