Friday 21 December 2012

Crime in the Big City

Another bit of my ongoing eighteenth century novel. Coming soon; reviews on Pat Roger's 'Grub Street', Gulliver's Travels and stuff about Kit Smart and 'Jubilate Agno'

          Sidney considered the problem of breaking into Mr Steele's Office. He thought about the layout of the building as he knew it, its position in the middle of the street, the possiblity of using tunnels or rooftops to enter. He considered the security that could well be guarding the building, of Gentleman Jack and his big mouth or of Nag Fisted Ned and his horseshoe fists, which caused him to considere all the diversions, distractions and red herrings he knew. He thought of all the castles he had stormed with his Mother's fancies, all the Roman military campaigns he had gone on with his Father's books. He thought tactics and strategy and probability. He considered it all, brewed it together with the yeast of his unfettered imagination and took a bite out of his stale bread as he did so. Finally, bread swallowed and plan formulated, he looked at Jemmy who had a look of expectant excitement and mild hunger that any dog owner would recognise.
   'I have it. You pick the lock of the front door while I look out, then you pick the safe while I look out, then we run away.'
   'I'm impressed,' Jemmy said, stealing a piece of Sidney's cheese. 'You are the ultimate proof that this city corrupts. You've been here one day and you are already a criminal mastermind.'

Saturday 8 December 2012

Another Snippet from 'Odes to the Big City'

Here is another part of the book I am writing set in Eighteenth Century London. This segment talks about the perfect venison pasty. I'm mainly posting this bit to see if I get as many bizarre non-sequitor comments from bakers as I got from bloody locksmiths.

Now, the making of a pasty is a delicate thing, for the pastry is not the kindest of taskmasters. The consistency has to be exact, the levels and the mixing and kneading must all be done in the correct way to stop the pastry from being being as tough as a brick. This care must also be taken to the meat filling of the pasty; the meat must be hung right, tenderised correctly and stewed perfectly or the meat will either be a stringy mess or unchewable lumps of charcoal. The ingredients of a venison pasty are also of vital importance, it is advisable that the cook creating the pasty should find the best pieces of venison that can be afforded and when the source of that meat is scarce they should perhaps extend the venison with a firm meat like beef. A really fine venison pasty tends not to be filled with the meat of a rat.

Saturday 1 December 2012

Goodbye to a Furry Friend

I grew a moustache and today it is gone.

For something that took so much hard work and straining to grow, it was off in four strokes of a straight razor. 



I almost miss the little blighter. I have such a large, flat face and so few features it was almost nice to have something else there to look at, but everyone said it was truly hideous and it was also tremendously itchy, so bye bye 'tache.

Like any other human being I had to have a little look at myself with a Hitler moustache, here is the dubious result.

So, from me and my 'tache, it's goodbye.


Snuff’s the Stuff

Snuff was a very popular recreational drug of the eighteenth century. Everyone was snuffing, from royalty down. Gay, Pope and the Scriblerans all took snuff, as did Horace Walpole, Fielding dabbled and Joshua Reynolds took such much when he was painting he had to brush it off the canvas afterwards. Goldsmith said of him,

“When they talked of their Raphaels, Corregios and stuff, He shifted his trumpet, and only took snuff.”

I imagine Goldsmith had a grand snuffbox that he used with an attempt of great ceremony, Samuel Johnson used to keep his loose in his jacket pockets and pinch out of there.

As someone with a passing interest in the eighteenth century, I thought it might be worth trying some to see what all these people were on about.

First I did a little research. Snuff is finely ground tobacco that has been cooked and milled and is often soaked in various perfumes and flavours. The standard stuff is called SP and it has larger grains than the posh sort called Irish Toast. There were huge ranges of snuff in the eighteenth century, with various mixes, especially floral. A rose flavoured snuff is still given out to MPs in parliament due to a smoking ban in the building in the seventeenth century. There is also mentholated snuff but my paltry research has not been able find out when they were first created. 

So, in the mood of practical research I bought some snuff and tried it. 

Disclaimer: Snuff is a tobacco product and The Grub Street Lodger promotes all responsible behaviour even if he finds it hard to do. (I explained to a friend what I was trying and she said that if I wanted to try eighteenth century experiences so much, I ought to catch syphilis also).

I picked a variety of flavours from a company called ‘Wilson’s of Sharrow’ because they are a business that have been in the same family since 1737 and that they use a watermill. I also got one tin from a subsidiary company because it was called ‘Doctor Johnson’ and another from Fribourg and Treyer as they were a blender formed in 1720 with a fantastic label boasting of selling to ‘The Kings of Hanover and Belgium and their royal highnesses, The Dukes of Sussex, Cambridge and the Duchess of Kent.’

One thing that delighted me about snuff is how cheap it is due to the fact that the UK government do not tax it and I’ve got to try quite a few flavours for a tidy tenner.

How to take snuff:
There are two main methods. The first is to pinch a bit and sniff it up each nostril. The second is to put a small pile on the back of the hand and sniff. The pinch was the easiest method for me.

I must warn that my nasal acuity is only slight and someone with a better nose may have different opinions. That said, here are my reviews.

Best SP:
This was the standard type of snuff and the first I tried. It is a light powder of a similar consistency as flour, brown and very pleasant smelling, almost like fresh tea. For someone who is not used to tobacco I found it quite astringent at first, but when I had another try I began to warm. It gives a slight tingling and warmth in the nose, a pleasant head rush. There is a slight fresh feeling that lingers in the nose afterwards.

I had trouble opening the little tin at first, having to bash it with a hammer to loosen it. It smells wonderful when you open it, of a similar consistency as the SP. On sniffing it is rather sickly, a little like shoving an old lady’s perfume up your schnozz. However, the smell lingers in a really pleasant way for almost fifteen minutes. Some people have rose-tinted lenses but I had rose-tinted nostrils, it was quite wonderful and worth the overpowering quality of the actual sniff.

Irish DH Toast, No 20:
This one was much finer and drier than the previous ones. It has a sort of loose tea aroma and when I sniffed reminded me of the SP. The main difference was where SP was like a nice loose black tea, Irish toast had a slight lapsang souchong element. It is delicate and very slight and the smell goes quickly, leaving a fresh feeling.

Lemon Toast:
Even finer ground and drier than the previous toast, I spilt it everywhere on first opening as the little pots are rather tricky with my clumsy hands. The smell really comes out of it strongly and again the smell reminds me of tea (though this might be because I have had much more experience of tea, having worked at a loose leaf tea shop). However, the feeling and ‘taste’ of lemon toast was almost exactly the same as a really good peaty single malt whisky, like a Laphroig or Llagavullin. More than the others, it even tasted in my mouth and felt wonderfully luxurious.

Chocolate Orange:
This one is the moistest, largest grained and driest of the snuffs so far. There was no whiff of chocolate or orange when I opened the pot, but there was a lovely deep smell. On sniffing I was disappointed at the lack of chocolate or orangeyness. However, I did find it quite pleasant as it was less astringent than any of the previous snuffs and the lingering smell, although not chocolate, was a very nice one.

Dean Swift’s Dr Johnson:
I picked this for the name and was very surprised at it being mentholated. Fine but moist, it is almost completely like inhaling one of them Vicks-up-your-nose things but a little sweeter. It certainly cleared the system and woke me up. I can’t imagine my Sammy J inhaling it though. Maybe he might now he’s living at my house.

Fribourg and Treyer, Bordeaux:
The darkest, moistest and largest grained snuff I tried, the smell was extremely strong and reminded me of a Jamaican rum cake. It had the same sort of sweetness but not a light sweetness, a rich one. On sniffing, it was certainly the least astringent, it was warm and homey and the experience was so very much the same sort of comforting experience that you get with a well made fruit cake. It was my most favourite.

Well, I certainly found my foray into snuff to be more enjoyable than syphilis. It allowed my nose to give me much greater pleasure than it usually does and all the different smells and textures really excite my curiosity and urge to try things as well as making my world smell nicer for a while. I also enjoyed the buzz it gives, though would have wished for snuff not to be tobacco based. 

I can see why the eighteenth century thought it to be beneficial to health. In terms of experience, it does feel like a jolt of something good and fresh and certainly less noxious than a cigarette. That said, there is a huge down side to snuff, that it makes your nose run a little more and worst of all that it gives you brown bogies. Brown bogies are bad.

With that lovely image I leave you to go and shave off my reviled ‘tash.


Monday 26 November 2012

November -n- That

This month I have had three large restrictions to my usually free and easy lifestyle.

The first, is that I have been giving myself a bit of a diet in an effort to slim myself down a little and also because I have been finding very easy to have ready in the fridge.

I have also been impeded in my facial beauty due to the growth of this rather unpleasant 'tache...

Finally, I have been taken part in NaNoWriMo, an attempt to write 50,000 words of a novel in a month.

First thing's first, I 'won' and completed my words and have the certificate to prove it.

Although 50,000 words is not the whole of Odes to the Big City, it's looking like it's going to be something as a doorstop (as I suppose a book inspired by Tom Jones ought to be). However, it is a big chunk bitten out of it and more than I tend to write in a year.

My lack of productivity has always been my greatest weakness as a writer. My first completed novel took three years, my second, 'Death of a Dreamonger' took four but at NaNo speed I could knock out a first draft in four months.

Nano gave me the excuse to dedicate a month to work on my book but also the desire to see the little bargraph go up motivated me to work hard and keep at it. This in itself gave my writing a wonderful life of it's own and I have never enjoyed writing anything quite so much (with the possible exception of the Suicide Bridge scene in 'Dreamonger'). Also, my need for detailed information to ground the rest of the action powered a frenzy of excited and exciting research.

I also learnt to keep a post it nod pad by my computer as I wrote so I could write words that might not fit into the eighteenth century and look them up later, my sense for whether a word is contemporary or not had become quite acute. I also learnt about coaching routes, how to book one and where they go. Not only this, I have learnt all sorts about ornamental hermits, eighteenth century lockpicking and intricate travels through maps of old London.

I also learnt numbers of ways to improve the effectiveness of my writing time. I have learnt that short focused burst of no more than 45 minutes each work better than my traditional 'sit around, staring at a blank screen and twiddling my thumbs' method. I also learnt that writing faster did not promise a drop in quality, as the writing has a momentum that keeps itself going.

The month of writing culminated in the 'London Literary Lock-in' where 60+ people were crammed into a small bookshop to write from 7PM to AM, with a few games, cakes and cups of peppermint tea thrown in. One tweeter described it as 'a creative battery farm' and the sound of 60-odd laptops clacking away was an eery sound, a little like a kind of mechanical rain.

The real joy of the night for me though, as well as writing close to 10,000 words, was that I won the raffle and was able to get this book.

Which is the best tribute to Ian Dury in book form there probably ever could be.

However, talking to people at the event and reading my new book the next day and finally finishing my 50,000 word onto the screen has convinced me to not do NaNo again.

When we were there people talked about how writing anything and reaching the desired number was worth something in itself. When I got the link to my certificate and a recorded cheer from the NaNo organisers, I realised that I was getting this cheer, and receiving the encouragement for the purely mechanical act of typing words. Anybody can put words on a page or screen, it's the job of a writer to try and put them in a way they fit most enjoyably or pleasingly. It's the difference between a typical moon/june/croon lyric and an Ian Dury one (who has many but one of my favourites goes 'cruising down carnality canal in my canoe, can I canoodle?)

So I have a lot to thank for NaNo for kicking me up the backside and seeing how enjoyable a more fully committed writing life can be, but I will respectfully decline joining again.

All yours

Monday 19 November 2012

A Writer in the Family.

I am not the only Scribbler in the family. My Mum is a keen reader, my sister has a top notch degree in English Language and Journalism and my Dad has written a book.

He is a minister in the URC and it is a book called 'The Healing Beyond the Miracle' and it uses reader-response criticism and the notion of reading as a two way street between text and reader to enliven and deepen the healing miracles of Jesus.

I'm not really a believer myself but I can recommend the book as a thought-provoking and entertaining read nonetheless. There are quite a few subtle (and less subtle) jokes and the man knows how to tell a good story. He also makes interesting points on healing and the Bible as a text, especially on focussing on the human experience described in the Bible and how it affects those at the edge of the scenes and crowds.

So, definitely a recommended read to Christians and an interesting one for non-believers.

Either way, the important point is that the more you buy, the better my Christmas presents will be.

Link to the book website here.

A chuffed Dad and books.

All yours

Sunday 18 November 2012

London Street Scene

A pretty typical scene in eighteenth century London, and in the book 'Odes to the Big City'.


Sidney decided to leave the area of the Butchers and carried on walking past a tidy church, marvelling at the clean, white stone amongst the sturdy houses. He didn't notice the filth on the floor, the rats scurrying through the kennels, the stench of butchered animals. To him, everything looked grand, impressive, a fair city such as the one birthed by Romulus and Remus, or even the seat of Athena herself. To him, the oyster nan’s shriek of ‘Oysters Fresh!’ was music and the behatted dog dancing a jig to a penny whistle was entertainment. He had seen nothing like the dog jigging on his hind legs in all his days and he stopped to watch it, laughing at the way the little pom-pom on the dog's hat bounced with every movement on the dog. Every time the dog tired and rested back on all fours, the man stopped playing his penny whistle, growled an angry 'dance Cromwell' and hit the dog sharply with it until the dog forced itself back up again dancing. 
    While Sidney observed the comedy of the dog, there was a scuffle and the small crowd that had been watching with him pushed about. One of them cried out,
   'Stop Thief!' The call summoned more, people appeared from shop doors and alleyways, some even ran out their houses in a state of undress. Like a flock of geese they all honked 'Stop Thief' together and ran up the road after a young scampering figure. Sidney watched them, as he watched the dog, as one of the crowd caught up with the thief and searched his clothing for the stolen item. When it had been found, there was a cheer of pleasure, as one of crowd then proceeded to pick up the young rogue, which was easy to do as he could not have been much older than seven. They then threw the rascal to each other, like children playing a game, some of them caught him and some didn't. When someone didn't, the boy was hauled by one of the others and thrown into the air again. After a while the crowd grew bored of their game and set the child down, where he sat dazed and grizzling, before being shooed off in the other direction. Sidney wanted to applaud, thanking the crowd for putting on such an entertaining show, but as quickly as the crowd had formed, it had disbursed, each member returning to whatever errand had got them out of bed that morning.