Wednesday, August 17, 2022

The Body In The Well Beside Me--Ep. 5



Chapter five

After running down five flights of stairs, I exited Happenstance Hospital through a side door that opened onto a parking lot. If followed its perimeter, I would arrive at the front of the building. But I stopped where I was and viewed the hospital entrance from a distance, hoping to catch sight of Dr. Muscat. 

I practically jumped out of my skin as something vibrated against my thigh. Jesus. It was the phone. The screen had lit up and was showing a number with an area code I’d never seen. I put the phone to my ear but heard nothing. I looked at the face of the phone again and thought, maybe I have to turn it on first? I stabbed some of the illuminated buttons,  and after a moment, I heard a voice say hello from the phone’s small speaker. 

    “Yes?” I said hesitantly as I brought the phone back to my ear.

    “It’s Aaron--Dr. Muscat. Where are you now? Are you safe?

    “Yes. I’m where all the cars are parked--kind of like the side of the building.

    “Okay, I can’t come down right now,” Muscat said, "because the detective doesn’t want me to leave. You’ll need a place to stay for tonight. There’s no point getting in touch with Percival now--it’s too late.

    “Where should I go?

    “Look to your left along the main road. You see the red, lit-up letters, ‘Motel’?

    I turned to my left. “Yes, I do.”

    “I’ve reserved a room there for you to stay tonight. In the morning, call Percival to set up an appointment with him as soon as possible. It’s important you use the exact words, ‘Muscat sent me,’ as soon as someone answers the phone. He might pick up the call, but more likely, it will be his wife.

    “Okay, Doc.

    “By the way, I’ve pinned some cash into the left back pocket of your scrubs."

     I checked. It was small, flat envelope. "I can’t tell you how much I appreciate what you’re doing for me, Doctor,” I said. Muscat could be in danger of being accused of aiding and abetting the escape of a suspect.

    “Not a problem,” he said. "Good luck.


Ferguson had joined Muscat in the TV lounge, and just as the psychiatrist began explaining his broad findings concerning Mr. Price when the hospital PA system went off, “CODE YELLOW--5B, CODE YELLOW 5-B.” 

    Ferguson frowned. “That means 'patient missing,' right?

    Muscat nodded and stood up. “And it’s from this ward.

    Ferguson on his heels, Muscat went to the nurses’ station. “Who’s missing?”

    “Male patient,” the charge nurse said. “Name’s Marcus Price.

    “Marcus has disappeared?” Muscat asked in feigned astonishment. “But I saw him just a little while ago!"

    “What?” Ferguson thundered at the charge nurse. “Disappeared where, how? How do you let something like that happen?”

    The charge nurse knew Ferguson. “I’m sorry, Detective,” she said. “Unfortunately we’re a brand new shift and Mr. Price’s room was empty when we went in to give him his medication. So he had to have left sometime during the previous shift.

    “And no one saw anything?” Ferguson said in disbelief. “I need to speak to every nurse on that shift.

    “What, now?” 

    “Yes, now, please." 

   “What’s going on?” the charge nurse asked.

    “Marcus Price is now a suspect in a murder case,” Ferguson replied.

      The nursing staff gasped in unison. 

     “He’s not in a bathroom somewhere?” Muscat said. 

    “We’ve looked everywhere,” the charge nurse replied.

    Ferguson was on the phone asking Dispatch to send a couple of patrol units to case the area around the hospital. “Hopefully he hasn’t gotten far,” he muttered as he hung up. He turned to Muscat. “When I saw you as I was coming out of the elevator, had you just finished seeing Mr. Price in his room?”

    Muscat nodded. “Yes. I thought he was doing well from the psychiatric perspective.

    Ferguson gave him a one-sided, crafty smile. “You didn’t happen to discharge him from the hospital or anything like that, did you, Doctor?

    Muscat regarded the detective with a neutral expression. “I couldn’t do that even if I’d wanted to. I’m a consultant physician on the case. Only the primary or the hospitalist physician is allowed to discharge a patient.

    “I see,”  Ferguson said, but Muscat could detect the tiniest ember of doubt glowing in the detective's eyes. 

    “The man you were with,” Ferguson continued. “That was who? Another doctor?

    “Oh, yes,” Muscat said. “He’s an extern from another institution rotating through our Psychiatry department.

    “Okay,” Ferguson said tentatively. “Just that he had the same kind of build and skin color as Mr. Price.” 

    “Not really,” Muscat said lightly. “Side by side, the men appear quite unlike each other."

      “Uh-huh,” Ferguson said dully. “And you and this, um, extern had both just been in to see Mr. Price?”


      “How long was the visit?"    

       “We didn’t stay more than about fifteen minutes.

        “Did he say anything to you? Did he talk about any plans to run away?


        “Anything in particular you discussed?” Ferguson asked.

        Muscat’s stony stare was the only response.

        “Doctor-patient relationship,” Ferguson conceded. “Okay. Forget I asked.”

        “Will you be needing anything else, Detective?

        “That should be it. If need you, I’ll give you a call.


In the morning, I called Percival Sellers. A woman answered, and I presumed it was Mrs. Sellers, as Muscat had suggested. 

        “Mr. Sellers isn’t taking any new consultations,” she said in a flat, raspy voice. “Goodbye."

        “Muscat sent me,” I said hurriedly.

        Long pause. “All right, but you must come immediately before Mr. Sellers takes his mid-morning nap. Otherwise you’ll need to make another appointment.

        She hung up.

        I hailed a taxi. As we drove through the town, I stared at cars I’d never seen before. We reached the outskirts of Happenstance where the landscape became progressively less populated the farther we went. After a while, the taxi slowed down to make a right onto a dirt road nearly swamped by vegetation. Before long, the road narrowed to a path.

        The driver stopped. “Sorry, I don’t think I can go beyond this point,” he said. “The car’s gonna get snarled in all this bush.

        “Oh,” I said. “But is this the right place?

        The driver shrugged. “That’s what the GPS says.

        “The what?

        “Sir, you gonna get down here, or not?

         “I’ll get down,” I said hurriedly.

          I walked along the path for about five minutes until a house appeared in a clearing. Is this the place? The olive-green house was oddly shaped such that if you stared at it for a little while, the perspective seemed to change, like one of those drawings where you can see two different alternative images. I walked up to the solid cherry-wood door and pressed the bell beside it. 

        After a moment, Mrs. Sellers’s voice of came out of nowhere. “Who is it?”

        I looked around for a loudspeaker somewhere, but didn’t spot one. “Marcus,” I stammered. "Marcus Price. We spoke on--

        There was a loud buzz and I pushed the door open to find myself in a gloomy foyer. A gray-haired woman appeared. 

        “Mrs. Sellers?” I asked tentatively.

        “Yes. Come this way,” she said, without ceremony.

        I followed her through a hall full of odd, gargoyle-like statues. What the hell is this? I thought, with a shiver.

        When we had passed out of the hall into a considerably nicer, sunlit living room, Mrs. Sellers said, “Wait here, please.

        She went into another room through a door in one corner, emerging a few moments later. “He can see you now,” she said, holding open the door.

        “Thank you, Ma’am,” I said.

        I entered, and the door shut behind me. My jaw dropped. The musty room was packed with chaotic piles of books, papers, folders, magazines, boxes, newspapers, and pieces of old furniture. The only living being I saw was an orange cat sitting on a stack of books. It eyed me with detached interest.

        “Mr. Sellers?” I called out. “Are you here?

        There was no reply, but soon, I heard the shuffling of feet and a man materialized. “Are you Mr. Price?” he asked.

        “Yes,” I said, swallowing hard at his appearance. Percival Sellers was an old, unkempt man with black, piercing eyes and a shaggy, gray beard. His ragged hair spilled onto his deeply furrowed face like a tangled web of dry, desert brush. I shuddered. My impulse was to get the hell out of there.

        “Come this way,” he said.

        As I followed Sellers's bowed, craggy figure, I wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into. I didn’t have a good feeling about it.

*Image: Laura Kneedler, Shutterstock











Tuesday, August 16, 2022

A Kind of Ghost Story?

Ovidia--Every other Tuesday

The Hungry Ghost festival is still on here in Singapore (and will be until 26th August when the Gates of Hell close for another year). We're celebrating with gusto this year, given the last two years of Covid Restrictions didn't allow live getai performances to entertain the visiting dead and us not-yet-deads. 

'Getai', literally song-stage, are often boisterous, risque performances with fights sometimes breaking out between audience members with difference tastes. (Something I suspect visiting ghosts might find more interesting than the usual song and dance routines!)

But I've got a different story today.

On Saturday evening I went to the Choa Chu Kang cemetery area to attend a wake for an old classmate's mother. The lady was in her 90's so I was wearing a dark red shirt. (Mourners can wear pink or red to show happiness for a long life once the person who passed is over 80 years old). 

If you saw my last post here you'll know red is one of the taboo colours during Ghost Month--not because the ghosts don't like it, but because they're attracted to it. 

I didn't think much of it. After all it was a bright afternoon and I was in the Christian part of the cemetery... 

I stayed and talked with my friend longer than I'd planned--in addition to being classmates for ten years since the age of six, my father and hers had been drinking buddies in the old days, so there were lots of old memories.

Anyway, I'd planned to call for a taxi or Grab ride home from there. But my attempts were futile--clearly our drivers aren't willing to do cemetery pick ups in the evening. I've heard stories from more than one driver about passengers picked up at night in this area who vanished after getting into their cabs. And in Singlish, the word 'ulu' (from  'remote' in Malay) refers to areas where taxi drivers won't respond to calls!

Anyway the Choa Chu Kang Cemetery was definitely an 'Ulu' zone.

But I wasn't worried.

After all there's a very convenient bus out of the cemetery area--No. 172. 


It's the only service along this route and serves mainly to get people like me out of there. Bus 172 goes down the length of Jalan Bahar, with the Chinese cemetery on one side of it and the Muslim cemetery on the other. Beyond, the Bahai plots and the Christian plots and beyond that plant farms and nurseries and military training areas.

I knew that I could take Bus 172 twelve or so stops towards the city, then cross over to the opposite side of the road and take either a 174 or a 157 right back to my doorstep.

When Bus 172 came it was practically empty, apart from a lady right at the back of the bus in a green kurta and pants staring out of the window and her curly headed toddler in an orange dress in a pushchair .

The kid reached out to me so I waved to it--you know, the way you do to keep them entertained enough to not cry but without inviting them to come closer. The child was holding onto a little red plastic flower and I remember thinking I hope she doesn't drop and lose it.

Anyway, I got off at my stop and took the overhead crossing to the other side of Jalan Bahar. I knew I was safely back in civilisation because from the top of the overhead bridge, I could see the lights of Jurong Point, one of the largest malls in the Western part of Singapore. 

Once on my bus I was (I thought) safely on my way home. So like I usually do, I took out my kobo and started to read (Velvet Was The Night by Silvia Morena-Garcia--great book).

Only after about 20 minutes I looked up and realised that far from being almost home, I was back, deeper than before, on the cemetery grounds. I realised I must have got on the Bus 172 going in the opposite direction rather than the Bus 174 that would've made a right turn and got off the Jalan Bahar route.

No problem though--once more I hopped off the bus, crossed the road and waited for the next Bus 172 to get me out of there. That's the beauty of being over 60 years old here, once you get your Silver pass, public transport is really cheap.

And yes, I had no problem getting on the next Bus 172. Again it was almost empty.

What was unsettling was--again, there was a slim Indian lady in a green kurta and pants staring out the window, with a young child in a pushchair at the back of the bus. This time the child (wearing something orange) was crying.

I wished I'd paid more attention on my first Bus 172, but I hadn't, so couldn't tell if it was the same woman and child.  

Don't be ridiculous, I told myself--of course it couldn't be the same pair. The woman and child I'd seen had still been on the bus when I'd got off, they would be well towards Boon Lay by now. And this bus I was now on had come from the opposite direction. 

Still, I couldn't help staring. Quite rude, I know. Especially if they weren't ghosts. (If they were ghosts then I'm not sure of the correct etiquette).

And I saw it--the red plastic flower on the floor of the bus, by the wheel of the pushchair.

What would you have done? The woman continued to look out of the window (it was dark outside by now so she couldn't be seeing much of anything from the lighted inside of the bus). She ignored the crying child. The child continued to cry.

I picked the flower off the floor of the bus. It was a red plastic hibiscus with a yellow stamen that looked like it had broken off a hair pin. I offered it to the child--then worried about germs, but too late. The child took it and stopped crying. It stared at me. It reached out towards me (or to my damned red shirt?). The mother continued staring out the window.

And I got off the bus. This time I was very very very careful to get on the right bus after crossing Jalan Bahar yet again. And this time I tracked our route with my phone app, no more reading.

I wonder who they were--both women and both children--coming out of the cemetery alone in the darkness. 

And I wish them well. 



Monday, August 15, 2022

Frances Perkins, Heroine of Working Families

Annamaria on Monday 

I am writing this on August 14, the anniversary of passage of the Social Security Act in the United States. Until today, I had known of only the men of  Franklin Roosevelt's administration. Was I misinformed! Heather Cox Richardson, whose newsletter has become my daily must-read, set me straight.

In fact, the Social Security Act owes most of its existence Frances Perkins, the woman I am introducing today.  With permission I am using the words of Heather Cox Richardson to do so.  And, if you want a cogent, brief summary of things political in the USA, I suggest you subscribe to her free newsletter.  She is brilliant! See below for a link.  But first, here's Frances, as reported by Heather.

…August 14, and on this day in 1935, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law. While FDR’s New Deal had put in place new measures to regulate business and banking and had provided temporary work relief to combat the Depression, this law permanently changed the nature of the American government.

The Social Security Act is known for its payments to older Americans, but it did far more than that. It established unemployment insurance; aid to homeless, dependent, and neglected children; funds to promote maternal and child welfare; and public health services. It was a sweeping reworking of the relationship between the government and its citizens, using the power of taxation to pool funds to provide a basic social safety net.

The driving force behind the law was FDR’s Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins. She was the first woman to hold a position in the U.S. Cabinet and still holds the record for having the longest tenure in that job: she lasted from 1933 to 1945.

She brought to the position a vision of government very different from that of the Republicans who had run it in the 1920s. While men like President Herbert Hoover had harped on the idea of a “rugged individualism” in which men worked their way up, providing for their families on their own, Perkins recognized that people in communities had always supported each other. The vision of a hardworking man supporting his wife and children was more myth than reality: her own husband suffered from bipolar disorder, making her the family’s primary support.

As a child, Perkins spent summers with her grandmother, with whom she was very close, in the small town of Newcastle, Maine, where the old-fashioned, close-knit community supported those in need. In college, at Mount Holyoke, she majored in chemistry and physics, but after a professor required students to tour a factory to observe working conditions, Perkins became committed to improving the lives of those trapped in industrial jobs. After college, Perkins became a social worker and, in 1910, earned a masters degree in economics and sociology from Columbia University. She became the head of the New York office of the National Consumers League, urging consumers to use their buying power to demand better conditions and wages for the workers who made the products they were buying.

The next year, in 1911, she witnessed the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in which 146 workers, mostly women and girls, died. They were trapped in the building when the fire broke out because the factory owner had ordered the doors to the stairwells and exits locked to make sure no one slipped outside for a break. Unable to escape the smoke and fire in the factory, the workers—some of them on fire—leaped from the 8th, 9th, and 10th floors of the building, dying on the pavement.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire turned Perkins away from voluntary organizations to improve workers’ lives and toward using the government to adjust the harsh conditions of industrialization. She began to work with the Democratic politicians at Tammany Hall, who presided over communities in the city that mirrored rural towns and who exercised a form of social welfare for their voters, making sure they had jobs, food, and shelter and that wives and children had a support network if a husband and father died. In that system, the voices of women like Perkins were valuable, for their work in the immigrant wards of the city meant that they were the ones who knew what working families needed to survive.

The overwhelming unemployment, hunger, and suffering caused by the Great Depression made Perkins realize that state governments alone could not adjust the conditions of the modern world to create a safe, supportive community for ordinary people. She came to believe, as she said: “The people are what matter to government, and a government should aim to give all the people under its jurisdiction the best possible life.”

Through her Tammany connections, Perkins met FDR, and when he asked her to be his Secretary of Labor, she told him that she wanted the federal government to provide unemployment insurance, health insurance, and old-age insurance. She later recalled: “I remember he looked so startled, and he said, ‘Well, do you think it can be done?’”

Creating federal unemployment insurance became her primary concern. Congressmen had little interest in passing such legislation. They said they worried that unemployment insurance and federal aid to dependent families would undermine a man’s willingness to work. But Perkins recognized that those displaced by the Depression had added new pressure to the idea of old-age insurance.

In Long Beach, California, Dr. Francis Townsend had looked out of his window one day to see elderly women rooting through garbage cans for food. Appalled, he came up with a plan to help the elderly and stimulate the economy at the same time. Townsend proposed that the government provide every retired person over 60 years old with $200 a month, on the condition that they spend it within 30 days, a condition designed to stimulate the economy.

Townsend’s plan was wildly popular. More than that, though, it sparked people across the country to start coming up with their own plans for protecting the elderly and the nation’s social fabric, and together, they began to change the public conversation about social welfare policies.

They spurred Congress to action. Perkins recalled that Townsend “startled the Congress of the United States because the aged have votes. The wandering boys didn't have any votes; the evicted women and their children had very few votes. If the unemployed didn't stay long enough in any one place, they didn't have a vote. But the aged people lived in one place and they had votes, so every Congressman had heard from the Townsend Plan people.”

FDR put together a committee to come up with a plan to create a basic social safety net, but committee members could not make up their minds how to move forward. Perkins continued to hammer on the idea they must come up with a final plan, and finally locked the members of the committee in a room. As she recalled: “Well, we locked the door and we had a lot of talk. I laid out a couple of bottles of something or other to cheer their lagging spirits. Anyhow, we stayed in session until about 2 a.m. We then voted finally, having taken our solemn oath that this was the end; we were never going to review it again.”

By the time the bill came to a vote in Congress, it was hugely popular. The vote was 371 to 33 in the House and 77 to 6 in the Senate.

When asked to describe the origins of the Social Security Act, Perkins mused that its roots came from the very beginnings of the nation. When Alexis de Tocqueville wrote Democracy in America in 1835, she noted, he thought Americans were uniquely “so generous, so kind, so charitably disposed.” “Well, I don't know anything about the times in which De Tocqueville visited America,” she said, but “I do know that at the time I came into the field of social work, these feelings were real.”

I believe those values still outweigh the selfish ones on display in all those ugly, blaring news broadcasts.  If you want to read the entire newsletter you can find it and you can subscribe here:

Letters from An American   

Saturday, August 13, 2022

A Greek's View on Where His Country's Brand is Headed



Sixteen or so years ago, when I wrote (but had not yet published) the first of my dozen Greece-based novels, I raised what I saw as existential threats to much of what I treasure about Greece.   Those same concerns have played a part in each of my novels no matter the locales in which I place them, for those threats have only grown––and in the process spawned new and more insidious risks to this glorious country


This week an opinion piece appeared in EKATHIMERINI, Greece’s newspaper of record, written by its editor, Alexis Papachelas, speaking out against many of those same threats and more. Whether his words will lead to much overdue action, or simply more benign, political neglect, will determine much about where this unique and precious nation is headed.


Here’s Mr. Papachelas’s article, titled “The party has started again.”  It’s generated a lot of chatter on social media.


Every Greek is happy that tourism will do so well this year and that foreigners – mainly – are constantly buying land and houses on the islands. But at the risk of sounding grumpy at the time of the “big party,” one must ask questions that demand answers. On the one hand, we have a surge of visitors and buyers; on the other, we have an obvious lack of infrastructure and planning.


Where to begin? From the traffic that becomes unbearable during peak season when a distance that once took 15 minutes to cover now takes an hour and a half? The method of collecting and processing garbage that is still from the middle of the 20th century? The lack of water and sewage networks? The ports, whose capacity is for the 1970s? Or from the issues with water?


Beyond these issues, however, there is also the bigger picture. It has to do with what each island can withstand, in terms of construction. Many islands, especially in the Cyclades, witnessed years of a building frenzy that turned large areas into urban landscapes. The economic crisis came and construction halted. But now the “party” has started again, and it doesn’t seem like anyone is capable of setting conditions and restrictions.


Municipal authorities feel overwhelmed by challenges and pressures from small and larger interests. They compromise, remain idle and collect votes for the next municipal election. The state does nothing because the political cost will be great. People who fought for many years against those mentalities are starting to give up as they get older and see they are losing the fight.


My fear is that, in the end, the culture of indifference could boomerang on the country’s tourism brand. This is already the case with some of the most visited islands that cannot solve basic problems, such as security and garbage collection and management. It’s crazy for one to spend millions on a house and then realize that the infrastructure around one’s investment is Third World; or paying 1,000 euros for a room and then getting stuck in endless traffic, or seeing dirty cobblestone streets.


A well-traveled friend predicts that, eventually, “salvation” will come from foreigners who buy properties here and will at some point begin to demand infrastructure and services commensurate with the value of their investments. It may be so, but this makes me very angry because it shows that we cannot protect our heritage, our property, our brand by ourselves. And the damage done will be difficult to reverse if there is no planning, restrictions and strict enforcement of terms and rules.


Well said, Mr. Papachelas.




Jeff’s Upcoming Events


Bouchercon 2022   Minneapolis, MN

Thursday, September 8th  11:30-12:15 

"Odd Jobs: Writers Write What They Know."

Alan Gordon AKA Allison Montclair (Moderator), Julie Holmes, Donna Andrews, Linda O. Johnston/Lark O. Jensen, Annelise Ryan, Jeffrey M. Siger

Friday, August 12, 2022

Musical Youth

The Seekers - Morningtown Ride (HQ Stereo, 1964/'68) - Bing video

Last week saw the passing of Judy Durham, the lead singer of the Seekers.

Not to be confused with the New Seekers who  had one more voice but were more of an Antipodean, Scots, English mix. 

Judy always had a very distinctive vocal sound, perfect clarity and diction. But as she was born with a lung condition,  I don’t think she ever had the ability to belt it out; she just sang beautifully with a very restrained power. 

In the early 60s  world of Twiggies and Shrimps, she was a very normal looking young woman who struggled with her weight a bit. She was five feet two in her socks. Her rather frumpy frocks became as much of the image of the group as Athol Guy's dark rimmed glasses and double bass.  In the video above, they stroll through the trees, up to a large house,  like a hit squad from Little House On The Prairie.

During the week we’ve been chatting about her passing, folks  favourite seekers song, and how many of their hits Ricky Springfield wrote (Dusty’s brother). 

And in some cases a right good argument ensues about whose version was best; ie Island of Dreams.  Feel free to vote here!

For people my age, their best known song is probably Morningtown Ride, it was the theme music for a kiddies show on the radio in the late 60s, early 70s when we didn’t have a telly and busy mums sat their kids round the wireless to get some peace and quiet.

Most people either sang that song to somebody, or had someone sing it to them. Some people still sing it to their grandchildren today. One patient said that her dad used to stick his head through the curtains of the bed recess and sing it while her 7 brothers and sisters did all the actions. So that would be ten human beings living in the same room. The two adults would have a double bed sized hole in the wall, closed off by a curtain and the kids would be dispersed on every available surface. The baby would be in the bed with the adults, the toddler would be in a bottom drawer somewhere. 

Bed recesses were good places to play hide and seek and the bed could sometimes double for a stage.

Morningtown Ride brought back a long forgotten memory for me. My gran and grandad lived in Priesthill which was a rather 'interesting part' of Glasgow. I use the word interesting as in people cheered when it was knocked down as part of the slum clearances. There was a sign on the way out that said 'Well done on surviving but we'll get you next  time.'

The neighbourhood there was 'lively'.

Billy Connolly talks about the parties in the tenements in those days, folk with a 'carry out' (some cans of lager) would just walk the streets listening. If they heard loud music and the sounds of laughter, they’d be up the close and chap on the door. The phrase "Jimmy said it was okay" was the golden ticket for entry. Those parties would have been raucous and alcohol fuelled. 

Not so in our family. Our parties consisted of cups of tea, egg sandwiches and pancakes – Scottish pancakes - I think they are known as drop scones in some parts of the world, but they are small, like a flat scone.

Anyway, our 'parties' were a musical event, no TV in those days. The wireless was back in its box.  My gran was playing the accordian or the piano, there was another accordian that my dad usually played. It now sits in my writing room. I can't play it. To be honest, I can't even lift the thing up.

My mum played the lute harp, Uncle Gordon was on the spoons with Uncle Lesley ( if he was behaving himself) would be on the saw and fruitbox. And if I was behaving myself, I would have the washing board and thimbles. Bearing in mind I’d be about 4 at the time.

I think my sister turned the pages of the sheet music, and cousin Stuart was on paper comb.  Granddad  had a harmonica.

 Uncle Robert was the clever one and made sure he was always busy and elsewhere on those nights. Infact it makes you wonder, we didn’t have any phones in those days, so these spontaneous get togethers must have been put in the diary weeks ahead. 

From what I can remember, the music of the night went a bit like this;

Morningtown ride obviously.

Daddy’s taking us to the zoo tomorrow. We'd all do the impersonations and then my dad would say rabbit and you couldn’t sing that bit because no one knew what noise a rabbit made. 

The quartermaster's store ; clean version

The Wild Rover; shouting loudly at the 'no nah never' bit.

The Killiecrankie song; killiecrankie is a place, not a disease. Here's a wee clip from the 60's!

The Corries Killiecrankie 1966 - Bing video

Somewhere in amongst all that was The Lord's My Shepherd sung to either Crimond or Amazing Grace both of which my dad played in waltz time.

Sometimes I think its amazing I grew up as normal as I did.


Thursday, August 11, 2022

Poor old Mercator!

 Stanley - Thursday

Poor old Gerardus Mercator.

We, of course, know him for his maps that most kids in the world have used in their geography classes. They are all something like this.

Map of the world - Mercator projection

Today, however, he is being criticised for being Eurocentric and racist because the projection distorts parts of the globe, minimising the size, for example, of Africa. If you look at the map above, Greenland looks to be about half of the size of Africa. In reality, Africa is fourteen times the size of Greenland. Similarly, Russia looks bigger than Africa, except it is actually just over half the size (17.1 million sq. km. versus  30.37 million sq. km. ).

Most readers will have seen the graphic below, which shows all the countries that could fit inside Africa.

The reality is that Mercator developed the projection for the sole purpose of helping ships navigate using only a compass. And in doing so distorted the sizes of countries - making those farthest from the equator relatively bigger and those closer to the equator relatively smaller. Doing this allowed ships to follow a constant bearing from one place to another. This is called a rhumb line.

You may be asking why he had to distort the map in the first place? The answer is that it is impossible to create a flat map of earth that maintains both size and shape.

If you were to put circles of equal size on a globe, then project them onto a flat surface using Mercator's projection, the circles would look like this.

That's why Africa looks so small and Greenland so big.

While the Mercator project distorts the size of countries, it does preserve their shape (which isn't particularly useful for maritime navigation!).

About fifty years ago, some people started questioning the implications of the Mercator projection from a social perspective. Why are the European countries so big relative to African countries? Big is usually associated with power and strength, so doesn't distorting countries this way give kids an incorrect perception of the power, both military and political, of these countries?

Why are Western countries at the top of the map? Doesn't that give observers a feeling of that the top ones are superior and those at the bottom of the map inferior?

I think these are reasonable questions to ask. However, to accuse Mercator of pushing a social agenda with his map is ridiculous.

One of the people pushing this perspective was German film maker, Arno Peters. He developed a projection that generally maintained the size of countries but not their shape.

This is a map using the Peters projection of equal-sized circles. You can see clearly the differences in distortion compared to Mercator.

On a normal map, it looks like this.

In fact, Peters' projection had been developed over a hundred years earlier by the Rev. James Gall in Scotland. The projection is now known as the Gall-Peters projection.

A lot of people have taken Peter's (and others') arguments seriously, and now the Mercator projection is banned in in a number of school districts in the USA and by UNESCO. In its place is the Gall-Peters projection.

(What maps are used in countries outside the USA? Readers please chime in.)

The reality is that it is impossible to project a globe onto a plane without distortion. This is a useful short video that explains these problems.

There are actually hundreds of different map projections, each useful for a specific purpose - accurate for that purpose, and inaccurate for most others.

Even when i was young, I had a problem with globes.

If you take a close look at a globe, it is obvious that most of the land mass is in what we call the northern hemisphere.

How is that possible? With the earth spinning, you would think it would be at the equator.

Sixty or so years ago when I first noticed this, I had no social implications in my head. My concern was more practical. 

Dirt and rocks are heavier than water. Right? So, since there is obviously more dirt and rocks in the northern hemisphere, it has to be heavier than the southern hemisphere. Right? And since heavier things sink to the bottom, what we call the northern hemisphere should be at the bottom of the globe. Right? So why is it at the top?

As I became more socially aware, I began to resent the fact that South Africa was at the bottom of all maps. That, together with the weight issue, made me look around. And this is what I found.

Much better - even though it has distortions. I like this perspective.

And here is a different focus. It has a very different feel to it.

You may have noticed that Google Maps, for example, still uses the Mercator projection even though country sizes are wrong. Why is this?

It boils down to the fact that when using a GPS, you are looking at a minute part of a country - so small, in fact, that the distortion is irrelevant. And since the country shape is preserved, the map on the GPS is so close to reality to be not worth worrying about.

So, to get back where I started, I feel sympathy for Gerardus Mercator, unfairly blamed for all sorts of social crimes. However, his maps have caused reasonable questions to be raised. They deserve a debate.

During my research for this article, I found many videos of interest.

This one is a pretty good one about map projections and their problems.

And this one, despite a few errors, is an entertaining one from West Wing.


September events:


Launch of A Deadly Covenant


Wednesday, 7. 4:30 – 5:30 pm 

Totally Criminal Cocktail Hour at Valley Bookstore

The Zephyr Theatre, 601 N Main St, StillwaterMN 55082

Find out more about the event HERE.


Friday, 9, 1:45 – 2:30 pm 


The Mystery of Multiple Points of View and Multiple Timelines (Writers use dual perspectives/multiple narrators and alternating timelines to tell their stories.)

Marty Ambrose; William Boyle; Mary R. Davidsaver; B.A. Shapiro; Julie Carrick Dalton; Stanley Trollip (Moderator)

Saturday, 10, 11:30 -12:15 pm 


Under the Sun or Below Zero (You’ve heard of “setting as a character.” Well … what about the weather?  These authors’ works represent a dichotomy of climates where rising temps or bone-chilling cold are just as effective as any villain.)

Alexander McCall Smith; Stan Trollip (Michael Stanley); Catriona McPherson; Jo Nesbø ; Matthew Goldman (Moderator); Caro Ramsay

Thursday, 15, 12:30 – 1:00 pm (UK time) 

Virtual event at the International Agatha Christie Festival

Agatha in Africa

Michael, Stanley and Zimbabwe author Bryony Rheam discuss Agatha Christie’s trip to South Africa and Southern Rhodesia and its connection with her mystery thriller The Man in the Brown Suit.


Monday 19, 6:00 pm 

Nokomis Library event

5100 S 34th Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55417 Phone: 612-543-6800


Wednesday 21, 6:00 pm 

Thomas St. Angelo Public Library of Cumberland event

1305 2nd Ave, Cumberland, WI 54829. Phone: 715-822-2767


Thursday 22, 6:30 pm 

Spooner Library event

421 High St, Spooner, WI 54801 Phone. 715-635-2792


Saturday 24, 1200

The Bookstore at Fitger’s

600 East Superior Street, Duluth MN 55802

Tuesday, 27, 6:00 pm 

Launch of A Deadly Covenant at Once Upon A Crime

604 W. 26th Street, MinneapolisMN 5540 Phone: 612.870.3785 Email:

With Mary Ann Grossman

October events:


Saturday 1, 9:00 am – 3:00 pm

Meet us at the Deep Valley Book Festival

Mankato, MN

Free book festival. We’ll be there from 9am to 3pm. The event takes place at the WOW! Zone, conveniently located at 2030 Adams Street in Mankato, just off Highway 14.


Thursday 6, 7:00 pm

Barnes and Noble HarMar

2100 Snelling Ave N, Roseville, MN 55113


Saturday 8. 

The Poisoned Pen Bookstore

4014 N Goldwater Blvd #101, Scottsdale, AZ 85251 Phone:(480) 947-2974 Toll Free: (888) 560-9919 Email:

Stanley joins Barbara Peters on Saturday afternoon to chat about A Deadly Covenant.


Friday, 14, 10 am 

Lake Country Booksellers event

4766 Washington Ave, White Bear Lake, MN 55110 Phone: 651-426-0918


Saturday, 15, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm 

Twin Cities Book Festival

Minnesota State Fairgrounds, Saint Paul, Minnesota