I believe I have perfected the facial expression that says,

“You are an utter idiot and I fail to understand how you have survived to adulthood.”

I have had plenty of practice, and I have become rather adept at  delivering those withering glances to those who believe they are superior to me or think they might like to talk down to me. It is on these occasions that I wish I could use Skype to talk over the telephone. I have had quite a lot of “those” conversations recently.  However, I made a promise to myself when I started this blog that I would not become personally critical towards anyone.  Organisations, yes, individuals no; despite my patience being tried to the nth degree at the moment, not so much on a daily basis, more on an hour by hour basis.

I can tell now that everyone who knows me is thinking

“Does she mean so and so?”

Well, to put you out of your misery, yes, actually, I do.  All of those people.  I admit it, i do not suffer fools gladly.

Delivering such glances set me on a train of thought about non verbal communication.  How did we humans become so good at understanding a look?  Actually,  I seriously doubt that some people are good at it, because I were on the receiving end of that type of look, I’d have to do something about my behaviour but I’m going off the point again.

Apparently, humans make 21 different facial expressions as a matter of course, happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, surprise, to name but a few.


In evolutionary terms, the smile is a new addition to the human facial expression repertoire. Other mammals don’t smile as such, even though as pet owners we may choose to believe otherwise.  (Believe me, if you have ever been on the receiving end of one of those looks from a cat when you have misbehaved, you will know that they can certainly scowl!)

Smiling is our nicest facial expression and is believed to have evolved from what is known as a “fear grin,” when primates bare their teeth to show predators that they are not a threat to them.


The smile is a pretty much universal expression, people from all cultures and backgrounds do it but it doesn’t signify the same thing in all cultures. In the west, it is seen as a welcoming gesture, a sign of happiness or pleasure. It is also an attractive signal in females towards heterosexual males, although the reverse is not necessarily the case. In Japan, the smile may signify anger or confusion, and in other parts of Asia, it may be a sign of embarrassment.

There are genuine (Duchenne) smiles and non-genuine smiles, sometimes known as botox smiles. A true smile, a Duchenne smile, named after a French neurologist, is the one where the orbicularis oculi muscles are involved and where the corners of the mouth turn up. The orbicularis oculi raises the cheeks and forms the crow’s feet around the eyes (never mind!) The Botox smile is the one people use when they are not genuine or maybe just being polite. Or politicians. They use this one a lot.

It actually takes fewer muscles to smile than it does to frown, which is probably a good reason to smile more. It’s been proven that by changing our physiology, we can improve our mood, so there are lots of benefits to smiling. And there is something about a little baby and their smiles and laughter that, for me, makes it impossible for me not to smile too. In fact, seeing a baby smile and laugh usually makes me laugh too. It really is infectious. Laughing is good too, there are reports that it can help to improve our health.

Talking of laughter, a couple of weeks ago, I tried get my two little ones into the cat carriers to take them for their bi-annual check. I am not big on selfies but I wish I could actually have got to the camera in time. Little Rhea wrapped herself around my neck like a fur collar. I know it is immensely stressful for them (and there is usually blood drawn. Mine.) but it really made me laugh out loud. Cats may not be able to smile but they can surely leap a long way when they are trying to avoid being put in a pet carrier.

And finally, a huge reason to smile…. I’ve written about my dear friends, Kate and Geoff, and granddaughter Hari who was going to run the Rome Marathon in aid of leukaemia research…. Hari achieved it in 4 hours 13 minutes, and has raised £1648.47, 109% of her target. Well done Hari, I know how proud of you Kate and Grandad are. And good luck for the Great North Run.


© Susan Shirley 2015

Forensics at the Wellcome Organisation

The Wellcome Collection is based at 183 Euston Road, London, NW1 2BE. It’s probably not correct to call it a museum, I don’t think it’s big enough for that, but there is always something going on there, and it has the most amazing library. It’s always worth a visit if you are close by.

There is currently an exhibition on, until 21 June, called “Forensics, The Anatomy of Crime.” I visited today with Bro and Ali. (Message to the two Paul’s – happy to visit again with you, if we can fit in a suitable date.)

The website describes the exhibition as:

‘Forensics: the anatomy of crime’ explores the history, science and art of forensic medicine. It travels from crime scene to courtroom, across centuries and continents, exploring the specialisms of those involved in the delicate processes of collecting, analysing and presenting medical evidence. It draws out the stories of victims, suspects and investigators of violent crimes, and our enduring cultural fascination with death and detection.’

The exhibition starts with ‘The Crime Scene.’ It shows how mock ups of crime scenes are used to train detectives how to investigate crimes, and has various photographs and artefacts of crime scenes. Naturally, there are exhibits relating to Jack the Ripper, amongst others.

Next is ‘The Morgue.’ This has a video recording of a mortician – there is another name but I can’t remember what it is – who assists the pathologist.   In fact, the mortician informed us that she does a lot of the jobs that we see the pathologist doing on NCIS or CSI or whatever. This section contains other exhibits as well, all related to death and pathology. One of the things I found really interesting was that the NHS monitors the way people die in the UK so that identify where NHS resources need to be focussed. Makes sense, I’d just never realised that before.

The third section is “The Laboratory.” The first true police crime laboratory was founded by Edmond Locard in Lyon, France in 1910. It was Locard who established the principle, “Every contact leaves a trace.” There are recorded interviews of some eminent forensic scientists, which are really interesting to listen to.


Fourth is “The Search” which gives details of how some crimes were reconstructed, starting with the disappearance of Isabella Ruxton and Mary Rogerson in 1935. It was fascinating how, when the remains were found, the identification process was carried out. The murderer had removed all identifying features such as teeth, so existing photographs were superimposed on x-rays of the remains, indicating that they were one and the same. More recent cases included identification of bodies from the war in Bosnia and political prisoners in Chile. In Chile, people were searching for the remains of their loved ones for years. What I found most upsetting was a woman who had found her brother’s foot and she took it home with her, whilst it was still in the sock and shoe, and she cuddled it all night. I can’t begin to imagine how I’d feel or behave in those circumstances.

The final section in the exhibition is called “The Courtroom.” It does what it says on the tin; and included excerpts from various TV series or films which related to court scenes. I didn’t know that our modern system is based on the ancient Roman system. Reference was made in here to Dr Crippen and his conviction for the murder of his wife. What I hadn’t realised until I went to the exhibition was that there are doubts about whether Crippen actually did murder his wife. In fact, evidence found in 2007 proves that remains found beneath Crippen’s house were not those of his wife. It wouldn’t be the first time that there was a miscarriage of justice, would it? Ali told me as we were going around the exhibition that the third most common reason for someone being wrongly convicted is police incompetence. I don’t know whether that is the case with Dr Crippen but it is sad that someone was hanged for something they didn’t do.

The Royal Courts of Justice
The Royal Courts of Justice

To lighten the mood a bit, after we’d finished in the exhibition, we went for lunch in the restaurant on the second floor, known as the Wellcome Kitchen. I may have said before that I don’t eat wheat or gluten, and I have other food allergies, so we always have to check before we go anywhere that I will be ok. Nor do I eat red meat, which makes me a bit fussy, I suppose. What I liked was that when I asked for the bread to be removed from my chosen meal, there was absolutely no drama. (Believe me, some places do make a fuss about it, although probably fewer nowadays.)

The Wellcome Kitchen offered a two course meal for £12 and a three course meal for £17. Ali only wanted a main course; I opted for two and Bro went for three. Bro had soup to start – Broccoli and Feta cheese; I had a smoked duck salad. The soup was better when stirred, my salad was lovely.

Main courses: Ali had fish finger sandwiches with chips. “Sandwiches” is a slight misnomer; the fish fingers were in ciabatta. The tartar sauce was home made. Bro had a chicken burger with chips – the “burger” was a fillet of chicken. Me – I had halloumi with hummus, salad and chips. (Yes, we were all pigging out on chips today.) I was pretty impressed with the meal, with a bottle of wine; the total was about £60. Maybe a bit expensive for lunch, but I don’t normally have wine and a two course meal for lunch. I thought that was ok.

We all needed to get a few more steps in so we walked down to Kings Cross and popped into the Renaissance St Pancras on the way. The Renaissance was previously the Midland Grand Hotel (when it closed in 1935, it was used as railway offices). It re-opened as a hotel in 2011. One of the people working there advised us to go to see the red staircase, so we did.

The Red Staircase at the Renaissance St Pancras
The Red Staircase at the Renaissance St Pancras

Then we popped into St Pancras to have a chat to Sir John Betjeman.

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© Susan Shirley



Jack the Ripper Charnowalk

Sheena and I met up today, the first time this year. We went on David Charnick’s Jack the Ripper walk and then down to Brick Lane for a curry.

David’s walk was not a big- standard Ripper walk, I think it is reasonable to say it included, and perhaps, focussed on, a social commentary on life at the time. Particularly life for poorer women.

Life was hard for women of all classes back in the nineteenth century, I’ve written about this before:

Life was particularly hard for the poor and ill – educated.  It was often a hand-to-mouth existence and prostitution was a common means of making enough money to survive. (I not sure that this doesn’t still happen but it was certainly prevalent back then.) Apparently, there were professional prostitutes and casual prostitutes. Again, I’m not sure much has changed. I’ve known a few working girls over the years, and, if I’m honest, can’t say I haven’t thought about it myself, when times have been hard. I didn’t do it, because I’ve been lucky enough to have other ways of earning money, but I can understand why women would do this. I need to remember that next time I’m having a bad day.

David didn’t try to take us to the same places that some Ripper tours do, although that is no criticism of other tours – as he rightly said, most of the actual murder sites are gone now, through redevelopment.  I was pleased that we didn’t go to them all, because although you can get close to some of the murder sites, I think there is only one where you can really get a feel for what it was like to live in those days.

We started at Whitechapel station, where David made it clear to us that it would not be a gore-fest, nor one that suggested a number of possible suspects. David made it clear that he would not propose a theory as to who had committed the crimes, which is a really interesting take on these walks. I have done a couple before, where they do, and find it frustrating because none of us can prove or disprove the theories, and there are many of them. David was true to his word, this was no gore-fest, but a tour of historical interest.

This was originally a hostel, now student accommodation.
This was originally a hostel, now student accommodation.

So how many victims were there? It is generally accepted that there were five victims, although back in the day, the scandal rags newspapers tried to increase that number to eight. Personally, I’m not sold on the fifth, although I do understand how serial killers can escalate in their violence.

The generally accepted victims are:

Mary Ann Nichols, died 31 August 1888

Annie Chapman, died 8 September 1888

Elizabeth Stride (Long Liz), died 30 September 1888

Catherine Eddowes, died 30 September 1888

Mary Jane Kelly, died 9 November 1888

The reason I’m not sold on Mary Jane Kelly being a victim is because she was found in her home, not out on the streets like the others. As I’ve said, I know serial killers escalate, I’ve watched Criminal Minds, and I’ve also been to a couple of lectures by FBI analysts, so maybe I’m wrong, maybe she is a true victim. I think London back in those days was pretty violent, so I think it’s important not to get hooked into the general violence of the day.

The fact is that whoever tries to reconstruct the crime now, we will never know the exact number if his victims (four, five or eight or more) and we will never know for sure who committed the crimes.


This restaurant was the site of Ye Frying Pan, one of the pubs known to have been frequented by some of the Ripper victims.
This restaurant was the site of Ye Frying Pan, one of the pubs known to have been frequented by some of the Ripper victims.

When the walk finished, we went for an early dinner at “our” Aladin  in Brick Lane.  We had the regulatory papadoms to start, then Sheena had chicken naga with garlic rice and I have chicken balti vindaloo with peas rice.  We had onion bhaji as a side. I’ve never had the balti vindaloo before and honestly, didn’t notice much of a difference between that and the usual, but it was still very good. I think I’ve said before that the Aladin is not licensed so we Prosecco in Tesco after the walk. As usual, if was a good meal, freshly cooked and very tasty.


Our feast at the Aladin
Our feast at the Aladin

I was pleased that Sheena enjoyed this walk as it was her first with David. I doubt it will be her last, and I’m glad that we had a good meal. They are so sweet in that restaurant. We were nursing our wine and they had to ask us to leave because they needed the table. If it was in a restaurant where I was paying for the wine, I would not have been crazy about leaving, but in the circumstances, we couldn’t really complain. We will be going back there again before too much longer, I have no doubt.


© Susan Shirley 2015

The White Horse, Chedgrave


I had a flying visit up to Norfolk at the weekend. My friend Geoff was 75 years young and he had a party on Saturday, at the White Horse in Chedgrave.


The White Horse is a lovely old country pub, in the heart of the Norfolk Broads, and in the summer (it was a trifle too chilly for this on Saturday) there is garden right by the river, which is absolutely beautiful. Simon Peck has owned it since 2008 and really makes people feel welcome there. Kate had chosen the White Horse for the party as it’s a fairly central location for most of the people they were going to invite, and the food is good.

Geoff had invited about 24 people, so the three of us (Geoff, his wife, Kate and I) got to the pub soon after 11.30 so that Kate and Geoff could be there to meet and greet and I could do the photography. (I ended up taking 75 photographs.)

People started turning up from about midday onwards, some I knew; some I didn’t, but got to know as the day progressed. We had drinks in the bar for an hour or so and went through for lunch at about 1.30, and what a fabulous buffet it was!

There were chicken drumsticks, freshly cooked ham, a whole fresh salmon, hot buttered new potatoes, two different quiches (one was quiche Lorraine and the other, I think, had sun dried tomatoes), home made coleslaw (which was to die for) and a fresh salad. There were heaps of freshly made bread and gluten free bread for the likes of me. It was fab and I think I made it to third helpings (well, I couldn’t let that all that food go to waste!) Kate and Geoff love this pub, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who goes up to that part of Norfolk. As a Londoner, I thought the drinks were pretty well priced too (I think a bottle of Pinot cost £13.95) and a pint of Guinness was £4.00.

Kate’s hairdresser, Justine, made the cakes. You will see in the photograph of the big cake that she had decorated it with Geoff’s beloved Seething Tower. The photographs don’t do it justice, there is so much detail on it, and those who ate the cake said it was delicious. Justine also made four wheat free cup cakes for me – I’m not a big cake eater, but they were absolutely delicious. Justine, they were fantastic, thank you.



Geoff was so pleased that so many of the people he wanted around him were able to make it, some of them are not in the best of health but they pulled out all the stops to be there. Jim and his wife, Tony and his wife, Jack and Louise, Kate’s uncle John and his wife Dorothy, Geoff’s daughter Linda, Ron and Anne, to name but a few.

And you remember I wrote a few weeks back about Geoff’s grand-daughter Hari running in the Rome Marathon for Leukaemia research? Geoff didn’t know it, but she managed a flying visit up too. And she went for a run when she left the party! Amazingly dedicated, well done Hari.

Birthday Boy
Lovers...  Kate and Geoff
Lovers… Kate and Geoff

Hari has raised over £1100 pounds so far (her target is £1500) and a huge thank you to everyone who has contributed and to all those who gave money at the party. There is still time to donate if you haven’t done so thus far. Hari is working so hard for this; she really deserves to do well. She’s done a number of other races, including the Great North Run.

And thank you Geoff and Kate, your great friends, I love you lots.



© Susan Shirley 2015