Skittles – One – Catherine Walters

A few weeks ago, my brother, his wife and I went on an organised London Walk, led by a tour guide.  We all like walking, and I am interested in history, so it ticked a few boxes and was actually good fun, so I’ll be doing more of those.

Whilst on the walk, we passed the house where a woman known as Skittles used to live.  Skittles, aka Catherine Walters, who was one of the last great courtesans of the Victorian Era.

Maybe it’s because I’ve met a few over the years, but I find the whole prostitution thing quite interesting.  I don’t mean the ones who are sold into slavery and forced to perform, or the drug addicts that sell their bodies as a means to fund their habit.  No, not them, I mean the ones, like Skittles, who made money and kept it.

Skittles herself (believed to have been given that nickname because she once worked in a bowling alley) moved to London just before she was 20.  By all accounts, she was great beauty, and a skilled horsewoman – Sir Edwin Landseer’s painting The Shrew Tamed depicts her lying down with a horse.

Catherine counted among her lovers the Prince of Wales (who went on to become Edward VII), Napoleon III, the 8th Duke of Devonshire (although he didn’t have this title at the time, he was the Marquess of Huntingdon) and Achille Fould (the French Finance Minister).  She was rumoured to be involved with a number of wealthy men, but she would never confirm or deny the rumours, but, because she would never confirm or deny, her “currency” as a courtesan increased.

Skittles retired from society in 1890, a wealthy woman, and she died at the grand old age of 81.  Not bad for a girl who was one of five children, born in Liverpool, daughter of a customs official!

©Susan Shirley 2013

Languages

I didn’t write my blog last week, and I apologise for that.  I didn’t plan it that way, but I’d had a tough week at work, had guests staying and it just didn’t happen.  I hate missing deadlines, even self-imposed ones; I think it’s sloppy.  So I really do apologise, but onwards and upwards.

I have a friend who is Italian.  She was born in the UK, has lived here all her life, but her parents are Italian and she is fluent in both English and Italian.  (She also speaks French, which is giving me cause to hate her, quite frankly.  I can get by in French, but am by no means fluent, although it’s been on my “to-do” list for some time.)  Anyway, I digress…

My friend and I were out having a meal the other day, and we got onto the subject of languages.  Probably because we were in an Italian restaurant.  To cut a long story short, she has persuaded me that I should learn Italian.

To be fair, I didn’t need much persuading.  I think it sounds wonderful when to hear people speak Italian, and French, and I really hate being one of those English people who doesn’t speak any of the language when I go abroad.  I want to perfect my French, because I already know quite a lot, but I would like to be able to converse with my friend, and her mother, in Italian.  Besides, I think learning one of those Latin languages helps with the others.  The problem is, I didn’t want to start anything else until I had finished my writing course (which, hopefully, will be June of next year.  I have to finish it by September anyway.)  I have done this before and ended up paying for courses twice because I’ve got “hooked in” to something else.

But start I have.  Only vocabulary at the moment because I downloaded three vocabulary books when I first got my Kindle – French, Italian and Spanish – but hadn’t used them.  So, of course, as I’ve got three books, so I have to learn the same word in all three languages.  The books have all the same words, in the same order.  They start with animals, and then move onto fruit, vegetables, parts of the human body, colours and numbers.

So far, I’ve only had to learn one new French word (all that school-girl French came flooding back), I knew all the others.  I’m only learning one or two words a day, and then I’ll go back and learn some of the phrases in the books in two or three month’s time when I’ve learned all the words.  (That may prove more difficult, although the word in each chapter is the same in all three languages but the phrases are sometimes different…)

Interestingly, my friend and I both said that, when we learned English at school, we didn’t really learn all the grammar in the same way that you are taught it when you learn a foreign language; so hopefully, learning Italian and French will improve my English too.  (I think it’s pretty good, but there is always room for improvement…)

So, for the next year, it will be me reading and learning on my own, until I am ready to knuckle down properly and start in earnest.  How long will it take for me to become fluent in Italian, and French?  Absolutely no idea, so wish me luck, I’m not very patient.

Love and light

xx

©Susan Shirley 2013

The Secret Life of Cats

The BBC is screening “The Secret Life of Cats” tonight on BBC2.  The scientists doing the research say that we know more about the big cats than we do our domestic cats, although it seems, from the trailers, that some of the cat owners don’t agree with that.  One owner says he can tell what his cat wants from the purr.

I have four cats and I think I know a bit about them, so it comes as no surprise to me to learn that they are opportunistic, manipulative, devious thieves.  And adorable.   Don’t forget adorable.  I’ve owned dogs as well as cats, and I love them both, but they are very, very different.  Cats aren’t necessarily less loving, they just don’t need the same kind of approbation that dogs do.  (But they do need love and attention, and my four are testament to that.  More jealousy than in a sophomore’s dorm.)  They are far more self-sufficient than dogs, and don’t ever want anyone to think they make a mistake.

Only today, my little Telesto was playing Mad Hatters (that’s the game when she chases some imaginary creature and then kills it), and then caught herself up in the duvet as I was trying to change the bed linen.  She ended up falling off the bed, still caught up in the duvet and scared herself half to death because she struggled to get out.  She ran and hid for hours after that little turn out.

Then, because my friend Kate had come to stay, she and her sister showed off and wouldn’t come into the house for several hours – and several treats.  Well, why not manipulate the situation a bit more?  Funny how once the food came out, they were over us like a rash.

They all have their own little characters, and their own funny little ways, but never doubt that they want love and affection because they do, and it isn’t all cupboard love.  I’m sure they do line up a second home in case they need to move out – actually, I don’t blame them for that.  I’ve done the same myself in the past.  They are special little creatures who have their own particular needs, and if we humans can’t fulfil them, they’ll go elsewhere.

I’d love to get my girls wearing those mice-cams, but I know they’d only last a couple of hours.  I might not be able to follow them everywhere, but I do know a bit about the way they live their lives, and how they know exactly which side their bread is buttered.

 

©Susan Shirley 2013

Turn and Face the Change…Changes

I’ve been thinking a lot about things that have changed since I was a child.  We couldn’t have grown without change.   As a child, I remember that, on a Sunday, there were only the so-called religious programmes (Christian, in those days). Daytime television was non-existent.  But, as time went by, we got daytime TV and, in the last 10 years or so, satellite TV.  Nowadays, I’ll be honest, I couldn’t live without it.

Then there is the telephone.  A novelty when I was a child, and I remember that, when we lived way out in the country, our telephone number was three digits, plus the exchange name.   Nowadays, most of us have at least one mobile telephone, as well as a landline.

And then there these modern, new-fangled things called laptops, Ultra books and tablets.  (Isn’t that something I take when I have a headache?) I am no Spring Chicken (and if you don’t understand that phrase, it will indicate clearly how much older than you I am) but I love and embrace technology.  To the extent that I have to have my Smartphone surgically removed when I go to bed.  You think I jest, but no.  I left it at work one day, in error and had to do the two hour round trip to retrieve it…  Not to mention the paroxysms of anxiety when I realise that I had “cooked” my battery and I might just be out of contact for ten minutes or so…

All of this “change” is one part of all the changes that affect me, and – probably – you.  I will come back to this topic in due course.

Love and Light xx

 

©Susan Shirley 2013

 

 

In Praise of Jammie Dodgers

The other day, one of the ladies in my office said that her father had told her that he had invented the nozzle that filled the Jammie Dodger with jam.  She said that she didn’t know whether it was true or not, but that’s what he had told her.  That statement started a whole conversation about these little biscuits – two of us (anoraks) immediately started doing internet searches to see what we could find.

Jammie Dodgers are made by Burtons and have been around for fifty years, although they were re-launched earlier this year with new flavours – Banana and Toffee & Jam and Custard, as well as the original.  They also started to make chocolate dodgers.  It all seems to me to miss the point of Jammie Dodgers to me.  They are meant to be filled with jam, in my opinion.  Tell me now, as a child, who didn’t remove the top half of the original so they could just lick off the raspberry jam from the bottom?  The biscuit is shortcake, so they really are good enough to eat separately.  It was a favourite pastime of mine as a kid.

Anyway, I found, doing my research for this blog, that Jammie Dodgers have something of a cult following – apart from having their own website, they feature heavily on a number of other websites, including one relating to Doctor Who.  I’m a Doctor Who fan, but I didn’t realise that the 11th Doctor Who (Matt Smith) fooled the Daleks into thinking a Jammie Dodger was the self-destruct button for the Tardis.

There are numerous other Jammie Dodger references on websites relating to the Matt Smith Doctor Who, including one where the Doctor apparently ate a whole tin of them without the lid being removed.  And the different sites with recipes for Jammie Dodgers are almost too many to count.  You could try out a different recipe every day for a month, probably.

But I still couldn’t find the name of the inventor of the filling nozzle.

 

©Susan Shirley 2013jamm

 

“I could give up chocolate but I’m not a quitter.”

I was looking for birthday cards this week and the title above was all that was written on one of them.  It got me thinking.  About chocolate, not quitting.

As a small child, the only chocolate I knew about was Cadbury’s.  My Dad was a Whole Nut fan, while Mum loved Fruit and Nut.  They both contained nuts, so I was happy – I loved the contrast of flavours as hard nut mixed with the smoothness of the chocolate.  If we children were very good, we might be given a couple of cubes, but bars of chocolate stayed in the house for a week, at least, rather than being consumed in one go. (I am sure that there is a law against that somewhere!)   We did have Nestle︠ Milky Bar (“The Milky Bars are on me”) too, but it was called “Nestles” in those days.  It couldn’t appear too foreign.

As I grew older, I became aware of Galaxy… Oh, of course, I tried it, and I quite liked it, as it melted on my tongue, filling my mouth with a chocolaty smoothness I had never before encountered, but I kept going back to Cadbury’s.  Only milk chocolate, mind you, but not that bitter tasting dark stuff that people dared to give my Mum as a present – Black Magic and such like.  And those nasty liqueur chocolates!  Why give those as presents?  I didn’t like them!

And then I heard someone mention Belgian chocolate.

“What’s that then?” I asked.

“It’s gorgeous.  Haven’t you ever had it?”

“Er, no.”

Suddenly I felt deprived. There was a whole world of chocolate out there about which I knew nothing.

I think that is when the search began.  Before the Internet, the only way to get information was to go to the library or physically seek out purveyors of chocolate.  But where to start?  I’m good at talking to people so that was where my search began – it’s easy to get people to talk about chocolate.

I learned about those fresh, ripe strawberries dipped in chocolate, preferably accompanied by very chilled champagne.  Mmmm.  The smoothness of the chocolate and the bubbles of the champagne mingled to cause a fizzy smoothness on my tongue.  I discovered Thorntons and its long history of chocolate making.  It took quite a while to work my way through all of its range.  Now, years later, I don’t remember the names of some of those fine chocolatiers, but I do remember the ecstasy of trying different makes and types: cherries dipped in chocolate, with only the stalk naked, chocolate covered almonds… I was even given a recipe for Chocolate Chicken (now that, you have to try!!!).  I learned that the seed of the cacao tree has to be fermented in order for its flavour to develop and then dried and roasted in order for it to develop into the brown magic that I love.

As time went by, my palate evolved and I developed a taste for dark chocolate… I discovered the joys of Green and Blacks Organic Chocolate (the range of flavours is indecent).  Later came Hotel Chocolat and its divine range of soft, smooth truffles; sweet, soft caramels, nutty pralines, and yes, even liqueur chocolates.  And of course, Thorntons.  Who knew that they’ve been in business for over a hundred years?  I did try Belgian chocolate too, reputed to be the best chocolate in the world, but, aside from the pralines, I’ll be honest, I can take it or leave it.  It seems sweeter than good old fashioned English chocolate to me, more cloying clinging to my teeth like cat climbing curtains.  But I’m prepared to keep trying.  Oh no, I am definitely not a quitter.

Love and Light

xx

 

©Susan Shirley 2013

Pen and Paper vs Technology

I am a technophile.  I have a notebook and two netbooks, a tablet and a couple of Smartphones.  I use apps to make my life easier, so I can record notes and memos.  I save my files to a cloud based solution, as well as a portable hard drive, so I don’t need to worry about losing my memory stick or my computer.  I have ‘phone reminders for virtually everything.  And yet, I still always carry and pen and notebook with me.  Why?

Well, for one thing, a pen and paper doesn’t freeze or crash (yes, the pen can run out of ink, but I usually have more than one.  And a pencil.)  It’s lighter to carry and I can buy notebooks in a variety of different sizes, depending on the size of the handbag I’m using.  I don’t have to worry about logging back in if I’ve closed the cover on it.  The battery doesn’t run out.

And yet, it is far quicker for me to type on a computer than it is to write longhand (especially as I touch type, and am quite fast).  Editing is easier on a computer – those paper pages can get very messy with the repeated crossings out.  And, actually, reading back what’s been written is easier on a computer – my handwriting isn’t neat at the best of times, and when I’m on a train, it’s very hard to make it look beautiful.  Anyway, I’m not trying to write in copper-plate when I just want to get ideas down on paper.

I will confess, though, I’ve never got the hang of voice notes.  I don’t like the idea of being out in public and saying “Jennifer” out loud to get someone’s telephone number, and I like the idea of recording my thoughts out loud even less.  I’m not quite sure why.

So pen and paper or technology?  It’s like the difference between wearing a skirt or trousers.  Wearing red lipstick or pink.  Eating chicken or fish.  All perfectly reasonable choices, at different times.  So, for me, there is no contest.  None at all.  They both have their place with me.

 

©Susan Shirley 2013

Chasing the Heron

After last week’s fiasco with the heron (more correctly, my failure to photograph the bird when it was close to me) I decided to take my camera into work and see if I could get my own photograph of him.  Friday was such a beautiful day, it was ideal for a stroll around the park.

We walked around to where I’d seen the heron previously.  He was there, but soon flew into the lake to pick up a fish.  Which he did successfully.  I’ve never seen a heron eat a fish before.  Clearly his mother didn’t teach him to chew his food.  Anyway, I waited for about ten minutes and got a few snaps of him, but really struggled with sun on the viewfinder.  When I got back to the office, I found I’d taken some interesting good photographs…  Not what I’d hoped for but interesting nonetheless, and if I hadn’t been so fixated on the heron, I’d probably be blogging about them.

PS I am actually rather pleased with this photograph! xx

Image

©Susan Shirley 2013

To Photograph or Not to Photograph

I was walking around St James’ Park the other day with a friend.  We do this walk sometimes, to get some exercise, and it gives us a chance to catch up with what’s going on in the other’s life, although this was actually the first time we’d been able to meet up for a couple of months.

As we were walking, my friend said to me,

“Is that a heron?”

I turned and looked, and it was.  I even said to him,

“I really should take a photograph.”

But I didn’t.  Why not?  My photographer friends will kill me when they read this.

As non-fiction writers, conventional magazines (and some e-zines) often ask us to provide photographs to go with our articles; and, of course, it is much less expensive to take your own photographs than to (a) pay someone else, or (b) buy them from somewhere.   (It’s also cheaper to get them developed yourself, rather than have to take copies of photographs people have lent you, as I know to my cost.  You can’t always be sure that you will get them back from magazines so it’s best to have copies you can return to whoever was kind enough to lend the photographs to you.)  It’s also quicker to take your own photographs than have to ask someone else to send you theirs.

So why didn’t I take the photograph?  I didn’t have my camera with me, but I do have a reasonable camera on my Smartphone, so I could have used that.  I wasn’t specifically thinking of writing an article or a blog about the park when I saw the heron, it’s true, but the fact that he is featuring in this blog proves a point:  if you see something of interest, take a photograph.

My writing course features a whole module about taking photographs and which type of camera to use.  And since studying that, I really have tried to improve.

One of my work colleagues has even made me a crib card with the centre cut-out (to resemble the viewfinder on a camera) giving me prompts as to what to consider when taking a photograph: foreground interest, leading lines, rule of three, diagonal lines.  I can’t remember the others.  I’ve even downloaded a book on my e-reader to help me improve my photography.  (I’ve actually downloaded about a year’s worth of books, and keep downloading more, so it’s no great surprise that I haven’t read that one yet.)  So am actually keen to try to develop this skill.

I regret not taking the photograph of the heron.  I suppose am just not confident with a camera yet.  I will keep on trying and someday soon, you’ll see photographs included in my blogs.  And I’m going back to the park to see if I can see that heron again…

Love and Light xx

Post Script

Another colleague took this photograph for me, but it’s not as close as when I saw him…Image

©Susan Shirley 2013

Hello Everybody!! First Writer’s Blog

Welcome to my first blog!  And thank you for visiting!  I hope you will enjoy reading this, and those that follow (I would really appreciated feedback at susanshirley2009@gmail.com).  Please do check back regularly.

So, a bit about me… I am over 21, and, right now, that’s the best you are going to get.  I am female and I live with four cats.  More correctly, I live with them, to do their bidding.  (Cat owners will understand.)   I am also a qualified HR Professional (FCIPD for those in that world) and a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute.  My full-time job (I still have one at the moment) is in that world.  I have also dabbled in (and when I say “dabbled,” I mean “qualified in” – it was a moment in time – ) some beauty courses and complementary therapies.  (Well,  a girl’s got to try to make a bit of extra money somehow!)  Which means that I can read my book and paint your toenails while giving you Reiki.  (Joke!  I may be a woman but I am REALLY bad at multi-tasking.)

I have always had a passion for reading.  I got it from my father, he was a great reader.  (Strangely, my Mum didn’t read a book until she was 40.  Honestly!)

So, I like reading and I love the whole process of writing.  As an undergraduate student, I wrote so many notes, I must have felled all the Norwegian coniferous forests single-handed.  But writing student notes only satisfied the parts of me that physically wrote, there was no creativity.  Although it did help me recall details for the exams.

I didn’t ever think of myself as creative, but when I discovered the internet and learned how to “surf,” I found a number of creative writing courses.  One day, I must have requested information, because one of the companies started writing to me, and, one day, I signed up for the course.  The rest, as they say, is history.

I  am still studying my course, and loving it.  My goal is to write books and articles and blogs that everyone will love.  The blogs won’t all be about me, this is just an intro.  Let’s see where the music takes us…

Love and light

xx

 

©Susan Shirley 2013