Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know


“Man’s love is of man’s life a part; it is a woman’s whole existence. In her first passion, a woman loses her lover, in all others all she loses is love.”

Don Juan by Lord Byron.

I suppose the title of this post could describe a number of the men I’ve known, but in this instance, it refers to one of the great romantic poets of the 18th and 19th centuries, George Gordon Noel, aka Lord Byron. I’m not a great fan of poetry but there is something about Byron that has always fascinated me and made me want to learn more about him.

Byron’s mother was his father’s second wife; his father already had a daughter from his first marriage. Dad fled England whilst Byron was still young and died in France at the age of 36. Byron grew up in Scotland, with his mother, but when he was aged 10, his great uncle died and he inherited the title Baron Byron of Rochdale, and he and his mother moved to Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire, the ancestral home. However, it was in such need of repair that his mother couldn’t afford the upkeep, so she leased it to the 19th Baron Grey de Ruthyn. Byron and de Ruthyn became friends and when Byron was grown, they lived at the Abbey together for a number of years. Eventually, their friendship ended. The exact cause of the break down of their relationship is not known, but it is suspected that they had been lovers – Byron was eclectic in his sexual tastes.

Byron was born with a clubbed right foot, which was to be a contributory source of the discord between him and his mother – she would often make fun of his disability, and he in return would make fun of the fact that she was short and fat. Maybe it was just the usual mother : child bickering that happens, and has been elaborated over the years. Whatever, there is no doubt that they loved each other deeply. Byron’s mother was what I would call a funny woman – she seemed to waver between being very affectionate and having a fierce temper towards him. I think the poor child would never have known whether he was coming or going. I don’t think she was unique in this behaviour though.

In 1801 Byron went to Harrow Boys School. There is no doubt that he formed close relationships with other boys, probably sexual relationships. Certainly, by the time he attended Cambridge, he was having relationships with men as well as women. Risky behaviour at a time when homosexuality was illegal, and punishable by hanging.

During his school and college days, Byron started to write poetry, with his first book Fugitive Pieces being published. Almost immediately, it was recalled and burned, because some of the verses were a little racy, to say the least. More books were published, and one included some of the poems that had been in the original book.


Some of Byron’s work received such severe criticism that he retaliated in writing, and was, as a consequence, challenged to a duel by some of his critics! Eventually though, to be on the receiving end of Byron’s backlash became considered to be quite prestigious.

Like so many young noblemen of his day, Byron amassed a lot of debts, but, as was the norm, he still went on the Grand Tour. The Napoleonic Wars prevented him from going to a number of places in Europe, so he ended up travelling around the Med and went to Portugal, Albania, Spain, Gibraltar, Malta and Greece instead of the usual places.

He returned to England in July 1811, but did not make it home to his mother before she died. He was bereft. He said, “I had but one friend in the world and she is gone.”

Byron started to pick up the pieces of his life and took up his seat in the House of Lords again. He made his first speech February 1812, but it was the publication of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage in March that brought celebrity to Byron’s door. He was lauded by society and he began a series of affairs with a number of rich and famous ladies of the day, including Lady Caroline Lamb. Actually, to say a series of affairs is not strictly correct. Some he conducted concurrently although his relationship with Caro (as he dubbed Lady Caroline) lasted only a few months, it almost destroyed her in the process. It seems that these affairs did not completely satisfy Byron though, and he sought solace in marriage – he married Annabella Millbanke in January 1815. That wasn’t his best move ever. By the end of the year, his wife had given birth to a daughter and had left Byron.  Byron was one of those men who enjoyed the chase, and once he’d caught the lady, he’d lose interest.

When Byron and his wife split up, he left England, never to return alive. He made his way to Switzerland, and made his home near to Lake Geneva, in the Villa Diodati. Byron’s personal physician, John William Polidori, travelled with him. Whilst in Switzerland, Byron became friendly with Percy Bysshe Shelley and his soon-to-be wife, Mary Godwin. Mary’s sister, Claire Clairmont, with whom Bryon had already had an affair in London and who was already pregnant by him, was also there.

The weather that summer was not great. It rained almost incessantly for three days (and this was Switzerland, not England!). It was during these three days that the writers produced some of their best known works including the book that became Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and The Vampyre by John William Polidori. (Polidori is attributed with starting the whole Vampire trend.)

At the end of that summer, the Shelleys returned to England; Byron went to Italy. Unsurprisingly, he had a couple of affairs whilst in Italy; and, of course they were true love. (They probably were at the time, for him.) By 1818, he had sold Newstead Abbey, which paid most of his debts and provided him with a means of financial support but he was still restless and dissatisfied. When Shelley and other old friends visited him again, they reported back that he had put on weight, his hair was greying, and he looked older than his years.

Byron started to write Don Juan and, by chance, met Countess Teresa Guicciolo, eleven years his junior. She was already married to a man almost three times her age, although the fact that she was married didn’t seem to bother either her or Byron. Byron fell head over heels in love with her. The two of them spent the next four years together, he following her around as her servant in public and her lover in private.

Byron and Teresa’s father had a good relationship, as he did with her brothers, and they introduced him into the secret society, the Carbonari, which essentially had the aim of establishing a unified Italy.



Claire, the mother of Byron’s daughter Allegra, had sent her to live with Byron in 1818, when the child was about 18 months old, poor little dot. He agreed to take her on the understanding that her mother had limited contact with her. Allegra, or Alba as she was known, bore a remarkable resemblance to her father, both physically and in her temperament, which pleased Byron, presumably because the child didn’t remind him of her mother. When he and Teresa’s family were forced to move to Pisa (where Percy Shelley had rented somewhere for him to live) he left his daughter behind, in a convent, where she was supposed to be educated. Although he had made provision for her in her adult life, it was a non-issue: she died a year later at the age of five. It’s not absolutely clear what caused her death – it’s been described as typhus, or a recurrence of malarial type fevers from which she had suffered six months earlier. Whatever the cause, it didn’t stop the poor child’s mother from accusing Byron of murdering her.

In July 1822, a little after the death of Allegra, Shelley died in a boating accident, which must have been a blow to Byron, and it wasn’t long before he moved to Genoa, although Mary Shelley and her household also moved at around the same time. It wasn’t long before Byron started to get restless again. There’s a pattern emerging here, he doesn’t seem to have been the kind of man who could stay satisfied with domestic bliss for long, so it was probably fortuitous when he was contacted by the London Greek Committee in April 1823. They wanted him to act for them in the Greek war of independence from Turkey. Naturally, in the circumstances, Byron agreed, and he left Italy to arrive in Cephalonia in August 1823. He personally funded the Greek navy to the tune of £4,000, which is in the region of £168,000 in today’s money.

In February 1824, Byron became ill, having had some sort of fits, it’s not clear whether they were epileptic or something else. Of course, in those days, doctors thought the best remedy was to bleed their patients, ie either to literally cut the patient and allow (or force) the blood out of their bodies, or to use leeches to have a similar effect, which, as we now know, is just about the worst thing you can do to a sick patient. Byron made a recovery of sorts, but he was still weak in the spring, during which time it rained a lot. He was caught in a rainstorm, soaked to the skin and caught a severe cold. Again, the doctors bled him. Byron went into a coma and died on 19 April 1824.

Understandably, he became a national hero in Greece. His body was embalmed and his heart removed and sent to Missolonghi, in Western Greece, a town which had been significant in the war for independence. The rest of his body was returned to England and buried near Newstead as his burial at Westminster Abbey was refused. In 1969, a memorial to him was placed on the floor of the Abbey, in Poets’ Corner.

© Susan Shirley 2015


Lady Caroline Lamb

The love affair between Lady Caroline Lamb and Lord Byron has long fascinated me. I don’t generally read romance novels, but real life love stories interest me, especially those that have disastrous consequences for one or more of the parties. Is that a bit like rubber necking? Maybe, or maybe it’s just an interest in other human beings.

Although she was a novelist in her own right, it is this affair for which Caroline is probably best known, there was even a film made about it. And what an affair it was! Tumultuous, and damaging for her and to her, and not just for her reputation in London Society. And in those days, a lady’s reputation was everything. Make no mistake, the affair, although short-lived (it only lasted from March until August 1812) was scandalous. Caroline never really got over it.

Born the Honorable Caroline Ponsonby, daughter of the 3rd Earl of Bessborough and Henrietta Ponsonby, niece of the Duchess of Devonshire, Caroline acquired the title “Lady” when her father inherited his title. By all accounts, she was a temperamental child, subject to mood swings. Her parents’ marriage was not a happy one which may not have helped with her temperament.

She married William Lamb in 1805, when she was 20, both of them expecting that he would inherit his father’s estate and with it, a title and substantial riches; unfortunately that didn’t materialise in Caroline’s lifetime. William and Caroline’s marriage was a love match, they’d met when she was 16 and married when she was 19. They were happy for a while, but their first child, born after about two years of marriage, a boy, Augustus, was not fully fit.

It’s difficult to be sure now exactly what the problem was, but it may have been some form of autism, he certainly had learning difficulties. Some writers have said that Augustus was mentally subnormal and suffered from epilepsy (I don’t know, autism and being mentally subnormal seem worlds apart to me). In those days, the stigma attached to a child like this would have been immense, but Caroline and William decided that they would look after him at home, rather than “put him away” somewhere in the country, as was the common practice at the time. Even though William was deeply embarrassed by his son, he lived at home until he died, several years after the death of his mother. However, there is no doubt that looking after a child with a severe disability would have put an immense strain on their marriage. It would be difficult today, but back then…

Two years after the birth of her son, Caroline was pregnant again, and this time gave birth to a daughter, but sadly, she died shortly after birth. Caroline took a long time to recover from both pregnancies, physically, and probably emotionally too. This must have added to the strain already on Caroline and William’s marriage, particularly as William was said to be quite promiscuous. He doesn’t sound like the kind of man who would have been too tolerant of either his wife’s lack of desire or physical inability to satisfy his needs and no doubt started to seek solace elsewhere. It isn’t fair to blame the marital difficulties all on Caroline though. William was a politician, a profession that has its own set of challenges, and there was their son’s health. All of these things would have conspired against all but the very strongest of marriages. Having said all that, there are commentators who say that William overindulged his wife, forgiving her affairs to often when he should have administered corporal punishment (wives were just chattels in those days, remember).

It rather seems that whatever else they did (or whoever else they did), Caroline and William truly did love each other all their lives. Perhaps another factor in their marital difficulties were William’s eclectic sexual tastes. Caroline was never explicit, at least not in writing, as to what William demanded or desired, but she initially felt it was wicked, but that over time, she had come to lack morality as much as he had. We can only guess at what these things were, but they certainly had an impact on Caroline over time. I suppose all of us would be changed in some way, and who knows how until we are in that position? Maybe this background helps to explain the effect Byron had on Caroline, and she on him. Byron’s club foot doesn’t seem to have stopped his attraction to women, may have felt inferior in some way and was quite insecure. However, he does seem to me to be the archetypical womaniser: it was all about the chase and once the prey was caught, he tended to lose interest.

Caroline was 27 when she met Byron, he was 24. She had been lent his poem Childe Harold and, having read it, was determined to meet him. I guess that was the writer in her, wanting to meet a hero. It was she who pursued him at the start, although the tables soon turned, and he wanted her to admit that she loved him more than she loved her husband, something she was reluctant to do. He even planned to run off with her at one point. And then he lost interest. Byron wrote to Caroline to tell her their relationship was over, which, in my opinion, is cowardly, even if he knew how she would react.

Caroline did not handle the split well. She bordered on insanity, and even visited his home on her own, which was unthinkable in those days. They met at a ball and she made a public scene, which was just about the final straw. Caroline’s reputation was in shatters and she was shunned by London society. As her behaviour became more and more erratic and unpredictable, William threatened to send her to Ireland. Despite everything, she published her first novel, Glenarvon. Although it was published anonymously, everyone knew it was written by Caroline, which just added fuel to the already well stocked fire, and it seemed that she would never regain her place in society. Apart from a few friends she was an outcast.

When she learned of Byron’s death in April 1824 she became hysterical. She met his funeral procession by accident and collapsed when she found out it was his. Her mood swings became even more erratic and she started to use laudanum and brandy. She had never been a big woman so the lack of structure in her life and abuse of drugs and alcohol started to take its toll. By October 1827, she was seriously ill with dropsy (we would call this oedema nowadays). She died in January 1828, at the age of 42, less than four years after Byron. William never married again. Did the affair with Byron and the way he treated her accelerate her death? Doubtless, although I suspect if it hadn’t been him it would have been someone else.

Caroline seems to have had a different take on the world from most people. I’m sure she’d have been better suited to life nowadays where she could have been her own woman and thrown herself into some good cause or other, to take her mind off of that Mad, Bad and Dangerous to know man.

© Susan Shirley 2016

The Umbrella

The Umbrella.  L’ombrello.  La parapluie.  I have had a love-hate relationship with the umbrella for many a year now, but it’s only since I bought myself a Parka-style coat, with a hood, that I have come to realise exactly how inconsiderate many umbrella users are.

Courtesy of Photobucket
Courtesy of Photobucket

I have always tried to be very considerate of other road users, with or without an umbrella, but today, when I was marching up to Oxford Street from Charing Cross (yes, I was marching.  I have no desire to be out in the rain longer than necessary, with or without my hood) I nearly lost an eye on more than one occasion.

Are people always this bad?One chap, who crossed the road towards me when the lights were still green in favour of oncoming traffic said, to his girlfriend, as he nearly blinded me with his umbrella,

“You just have to be brave sometimes.”

Brave yes, inconsiderate, no.  Don’t just barge into me and expect me to move.  I do, of course, but it’s just plain rude.

Courtesy of Photbucket
Courtesy of Photbucket

Another woman had no idea that people were coming towards her in the opposite direction.  She just wasn’t paying attention.  I swerved to avoid the spoke of her umbrella, managing to do so without stepping in front of a taxi and without hitting any other poor, unsuspecting individuals.

Many people carrying umbrellas (yes, of course, I am generalising) are totally oblivious of any world going on around them.  I suspect many of them are like this all the time though.  Particularly when they are trying to text and walk.  That’s the best thing about umbrellas, the people holding them don’t have a free hand so they have to put their mobile ‘phones in the bags or pockets.  It’s the first time in ages that I haven’t had to manoeuvre around texters.

History of the umbrella

The true details of the beginning of the umbrella aren’t known.  According to Fox’s Umbrellas, it probably evolved from some shelter of leaves long before there were formal civilisations.

In China, the history of the umbrella goes back to about 2000 years BC.  In China, Japan and India, umbrellas became a symbol of rank.  In these countries, they were frequently used as a sort of sunshade.

It seems the umbrellas made their way to Europe via Turkey, and to England with the Normans.  Although umbrellas are mentioned in magazines in England as far back as 1709, the first man credited with carrying an umbrella regularly was Jonas Hanway in around 1750.  In those days there were three main forms of transport:

Shank’s pony for the poor (ie walking)

Sedan chairs (for the well to do)

Private coaches (also for the well to do)

Hanway was pelted with rotten fruit and so on by the coachmen and chairmen – they believed that if the umbrella caught on, they’d be out of business.  (Hanway was famous for other things, not the least being that he founded the Marine Society in 1756.)

Courtesy of Photbucket
Courtesy of Photbucket

Do they always turn inside out?

My biggest problems with my own umbrellas are (a) leaving them on trains etc, and (b) they turn inside out at the first sign of wind.  I’ve tried loads of different ones, expensive, cheap, in between prices.  One year I was going through an umbrella a week!

There is an umbrella out there that has been designed to withstand winds of force 10 (70 mph) without turning inside out, on sale in the UK as the Senz umbrella.  If they are as good as they claim to be, they are remarkably inexpensive and I may just give it a try.  Another that is supposed to be excellent is the Davek, but that’s considerably more expensive (to the extent that I’d cry if I left that on a train!)

Courtesy of Photobucket
Courtesy of Photobucket

And finally, National umbrella day is held on 10 February every year.


© Susan Shirley 2016


If you are anything like me, you are totally hooked on the BBC1 series Dickensian.  It’s a 20-parter which brings together a number of characters from various books by Dickens…  So most of these characters would never have met in “real” life.

Courtesy of Photobucket


The Story So Far

The short version of the plot that we know so far is that Joseph Marley (of A Christmas Carol fame) is murdered, and investigated by Inspector Bucket (Bleak House)Amelia Haversham (or Miss Haversham, as we know her from Great Expectations) appears as a young woman, and inherits most of her father’s estate.  Her charming brother, who is unhappy at being almost disinherited, fits her up with Meriwether Compeyson.   His advances are [wisely, in my opinion] rejected by Amelia.  Meriwether vows to ruin Amelia financially.  And probably emotionally too.  Running alongside this plot are the financial problems of the Barbarys and the Cratchits.

Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens – courtesy of Photobucket

I’m not great at paying full attention to what I’m watching on television, it’s more a background noise while I’m doing something else.  It doesn’t matter when you are watching something fairly simple but Dickensian does take a bit of concentration, it just doesn’t make sense if you don’t keep up.


I think it’s a pretty good representation Dickens’ work and Victorian London, and there are some great actors in it.  The wonderful Omid DJalili plays the taxidermist, Mr Venus (Our Mutual Friend), who seems to be venturing into early forensic pathology in Dickensian. 

Stephen Rea – courtesy of Photobucket

Stephen Rea plays Inspector Bucket (Bleak House)– a far cry from The Crying Game, but he plays the part well; one of the “new” detective branch officers.  Apparently, though, he only appears in eight episodes, which only makes me wonder how the whole story is going to pan out.  I thought it was going to be a Victorian detective story through and through…

Caroline Quentin, always fabulous, plays Mrs Bumble (Oliver Twist).  I don’t remember Mrs B having a huge part in the book, and only appears in seven episodes in Dickensian.  And then there is Pauline Collins who plays Mrs Gamp (Martin Chuzzlewit).

Dickens himself had to leave school early to get a job to help the family finances – his father got into financial difficulties.  He worked long hours for little pay in a blacking-warehouse near to Charing Cross station – it later moved to Chandos Street.  I believe that you can still see the remains of the warehouse there.  Cutting a long story short, Dickens’ father ended up in a debtors’ prison, so even though Dickensian wasn’t written by Dickens, I have no doubt it will be dark and thorny right through to the end.


© Susan Shirley 2016



The End of 2015

Organo Gold Susan Shirley

The End of 2015

An eventful year for me.  I’ve been through such huge changes in my life, but I’m looking forward to the end of 2015 and the start of a New Year.  It always feels shiny and bright.

Susan Shirley

So here we are at the start of 2016.  I started 2015 thinking I’d have my teeth whitened and I’m ending the year hoping that I only lose one.  The aggressive gum disease with which I was diagnosed in the middle of the year is showing no signs of making a dramatic improvement.  Is it genetic or is it because I took a couple of whacks as a teenager?   Who knows?  Hey ho.  We are where we are.

Susan Shirley


Career Change

I took voluntary redundancy from my long-term career at the end of August.  I’d wanted that for some time, and I still think it was the right decision.  A bit scary, and I’ve been busier in the last few months than I have been for a long time, but, actually, I’m loving it.  It’s a massive learning curve, doing all the things I’m trying to do, but it’s amazing.

Susan Shirley
Courtesy of Pixabay

I love writing and I’d love to make my living from that, but I’m not there yet.  However, I can do it alongside all the other things I’m doing.  I have a novel and a few non-fiction books on the go.  The plan is to get at least one published in the next few months.

Susan Shirley

I started a life coaching course in September, as well as an NLP practitioners course.  I am so glad I did, because these have both inspired me to move ahead with all sorts of things in my life.  Things that I have been trying to move on with and just haven’t been able to.

I’ve set up my own business – an HR Consultancy – and the coaching will fit in nicely with that when I qualify in the first half of 2016.

Sad Things

My dear friend Kate’s mum passed away in October.  Such a huge loss for her, and me too.   I can’t say much more about that.  That was compounded by the loss of Kate’s cat, dear little Tigger, earlier in the year.  Poor Kate and Geoff have had more than their share of bereavements this year, as has my friend whom you know affectionately as Hot Chocolate.  Rest in peace Shaq and Lorna.
Susan Shirley

I’ve had dreadful problems with my two-year-old boiler – to the point that I am so grateful it hasn’t been cold because I’ve had no central heating.  And a problem with my conservatory – water seeping up through the floor – which is in danger of becoming litigious.  I can’t say more about either of those at the moment, in case I do end up in court.

So that’s the end of 2015 in a nutshell.  I’m excited about 2016, and wish everybody the very best for the new year!


© Susan Shirley 2015