Sunday, June 30, 2019

Ladies' Football -- then and now

First off—confession time. I’m not a football fan. In fact, I can think of many things I’d rather do than sit and watch football. And the list of things I’d rather do than be compelled to actually play the game probably includes cleaning the oven. Or the drains.

The closest I ever got was playing rugby in a friend’s back garden when I was about seven. A particularly enthusiastic tackle brought the side of my head into close contact with a concrete clothes post, resulting in the yellow top I was wearing turning a glossy shade of red down half the front and most of one sleeve.

It did not inspire me to take up the game.

But, on the plus side, it gave me an early insight into how much minor head wounds bleed, which has since proved very useful research.

I can appreciate any kind of physical skill, however, and the fact that the England Lioness team have done so well in recent years has not been lost on me. Finding a picture of the current squad was no easy task, it has to be said. I did a quick search to see if I had as much difficulty finding a pic of the current men’s team. A pageful popped up right away.

the 2019 England Women's Football Team
I understand that the women’s team has only recently begun to attract decent sponsorship. Most of the capped players still have day jobs. And I don’t mean as ‘brand ambassadors’ or promoting the latest instalment of their autobiography.

It is certainly only within the last twelve months, at a guess, that the women’s game has started to feature with any regularity on the nightly news—in the sports segment, that is, rather than the man-bites-dog, leave-’em-laughing bit at the end of the bulletin.

If women’s football is finally getting the recognition it deserves, then it’s about bloody time.

Things kicked off (see what I did there?) in 1917. The First World War had been going for three years by this point. Women were the workforce of the country. Conscription, introduced in 1916, ended whatever grumbling there might have been about women doing men’s jobs.

Working in munitions factories was hard, dirty, and dangerous. As a respite from the conditions, women began to kick a ball around whenever they had the chance. The bosses, seeing an opportunity to raise morale and keep the workforce healthy, encouraged them.

On Christmas Day 1917, at the Preston North End football ground, two teams of ‘Munitionettes’ held a match to raise funds for wounded soldiers. One was from Coulthard’s Foundry. The other was the Dick, Kerr Ladies FC from Preston.

Dick, Kerr Ladies won 4-0. The game was attended by an amazing 10,000 spectators and raised the equivalent of £50,000 in today’s money. Obviously, there was a huge demand for such events. Before long, Dick, Kerr Ladies were playing two charity games a week across the country. (And yes, they still held down their twelve-hour-shift day jobs.)

After the war, the ladies’ football teams were expected to disband with the return of the menfolk. Not so, Dick, Kerr Ladies. Instead, they managed to borrow anti-aircraft searchlights from the War Office so they could play evening games and completed a tour of France in 1920 from which they returned unbeaten. The same year, they drew a capacity crowd of 53,000 at Goodison Park in Liverpool, with more than 10,000 would-be spectators turned away.

Dick, Kerr Ladies FC, with Lily Parr holding the ball
But the popularity of the women’s game did not please the Football Association. In 1921—the year that Dick, Kerr Ladies played 67 games watched by a total of 900,000 fans and centre-forward Florrie Redford scored 170 goals—the FA banned women’s teams from using league grounds. Florrie Redford, who had also scored one of the four goals in that first game against Coulthard’s, may well have seen the writing on the wall. She was invited to join a French club in 1920 and spent much of her football career playing in France.

Florrie Redford

Various reasons were given for the FA’s ban. It was argued by some doctors that it posed a physical risk to women’s bodies. Many thought it vulgar and unfeminine. Rumours circulated that not enough of the money raised actually went to charity. The most probable reason, however, was the worry by the FA that the women’s game would take away spectators—and therefore gate money—from the men’s game.

Many of the women’s teams fell by the wayside after the ban but Dick, Kerr Ladies kept going. They fielded such players as Lily Parr, who scored over 1000 goals during her thirty-year career and was the first woman to be inducted into the Football Museum Hall of Fame, although—tellingly, perhaps—not until 2002. This year, a bronze statue is planned of Lily outside the National Football Museum in Manchester.

Lily Parr
The ban on women playing on FA league grounds was not lifted until the mid-1960s but at that time it had done its job and women players were the forgotten side of the game. Indeed, when a women’s team known as the British Independents went to Mexico for the World Cup against the home side in 1971, no British fans attended. Instead, more than 90,000 Mexican spectators roared for the underdogs, who lost the game and received more than a few serious injuries, but won the hearts of the crowd.

the 1971 British Independent team in Mexico

And now, nearly fifty years later, the women’s game is finally getting back in the news. It almost makes me want to go and watch them play…

This week’s Word of the Week is pasquinade, meaning a lampoon pasted in a public place. It comes from the statue of a male torso unearthed in Rome in the early 1500s, which was displayed near the Piazza Navona. It was nicknamed 'Pasquino' by the locals, who used to dress it up on certain festival days. Local academics would attach Latin verses to the statue, which gradually gave way to satire. By the mid-17th century, these postings had become known as pasquinades in English.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

What's in a Name, Greek Style


Ahh, what a grand time we’re having over here in Greece. The skies are bright blue and sunny, the weather warm to hot—but not hot to frying as it is in much of northern Europe—the seas manageable, and tourist season not yet into its irreconcilable madness.  

Against that background looms Sunday, July 7th. No, that’s not a national holiday, nor even an extended national holiday weekend day as it will be this year for many Americans celebrating the 4th of July.  It is Greece’s parliamentary election day, when Greeks will vote for those members of parliament running under the banner of the party whose leader the voters wish to be prime minister.

Most agree it’s down to a battle between two men for the position, the current Prime Minister and party leader of left-wing SYRIZA, and the head of right-of-center and one-time ruling party New Democracy.

For those of you wondering what’s at stake, let’s just say this:  The clashing passions among Greeks are as hot and heavy as they are in the UK among pro- and anti-Brexiteers, and in the US among Republicans and Democrats. If you haven’t heard about any of that it’s likely because everything’s happening in Greek.  In other words, be thankful if you don’t understand the language.

Having said that, permit me to offer you a brief description of the two leading candidates, plus a third name who might just garner more votes than both the official candidates combined—if he were on the ballot.

For those interested in more details about these men, I’ve included a link to the articles from which I shamelessly lifted much of the info used in the following descriptions.  Here’s hoping this helps you to get a better handle on Greece/Greeks.

ALEXIS TSIPRAS  (courtesy of The Greek Reporter)

He is Greece’s youngest prime minister ever, born on July 28, 1974 —just five days after the fall of Greece’s seven-year military junta. He comes from a well-off family, as his father, Pavlos Tsipras, was a contractor of big public works projects even during the Junta’s rule. In high school he became a very active member of Greece’s Communist Party Youth, and during a high school occupation led by him in protest of unpopular education reforms, he met his common law wife with whom he has two children. After high school he entered the National Technical University of Athens to study civil engineering.

Recent notable quote:  “I am the prime minister who took the country out of the memorandums they [other political parties] put it in. I succeeded where they failed.”

KYRIAKOS MITSOTAKIS  (courtesy of the Wall Street Journal)

He hails from one of the country’s three famous political families—Papandreou, Karamanlis and Mitsotakis—whose members have been prime minister twenty-seven of the forty-five years since the restoration of Greek democracy in 1974. He has an M.B.A. from Harvard, where he did his undergraduate studies, and another master’s degree from Stanford; he worked for Chase Manhattan Bank and McKinsey & Co. before running venture-capital funds in Greece. 

Recent notable quote:  “We will come as a bulldozer and demolish the barriers that keep business captive.”  

GIANNIS ANTETOKOUMNPO (courtesy of The New York Times)

He is known as the Greek Freak, a basketball player of such transcendent ability that he has become celebrated as the face of the country of his birth. Yet for most of his life growing up in Greece, Giannis Antetokounmpo was considered a foreigner. As the son of African immigrants, he was perpetually vulnerable to attacks by racist militants, and to threats of deportation to Nigeria, a country he had never visited.

Recent notable quote: Last Monday night, when Antetokounmpo won the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award for his play as a forward for the Milwaukee Bucks, he offered an explanation for why he’d not been able to keep his vow to his family that he wouldn’t cry. “When you hear your name up there on the stage and then you realize these years of hard work, what you did in the past, then you start getting emotional.”

Okay folks, here comes the hard part. Not who you’d vote for. That’s obvious. What I want to know is whose name are you likely to remember?


Friday, June 28, 2019

A sunny day !

Scotland is basking in a glorious heatwave.

It has not rained for 48 hours and that alone is some kind of record.

I have three books published this month.

The reprint of The Suffering Of Strangers with the new publisher.



The paperback version of  The Sideman.


And the brand new standalone called Mosaic in hardback.


To tell you the truth I have no idea where I am  or who I am.

The new PR person is putting in a lot of spadework, but  I had to turn down the last radio interview as I would be airborne ( in a plane) or waiting in a queue. She wants me to do all kinds of pieces to camera.

And the launches have been busy but all elsewhere, seems strange not to have a Glasgow Launch ( there will be Dundee/ London etc).

Here's the last picture of the Grand Day Oot, more about that later!
We are on the beach at St Andrews, right in front of the Royal And Ancient Club House.
We have crossed the entire country in one day for charity!
Note that Scottish people are naturally blue and they turn white in the sun.

Oh, sorry that was not the last picture.
 This is the last picture.
This was us having a water pistol fight.

These 'play type' pics  will not play as a video- you can get that later.
So the new PR  person wanted me to go out and film bits of the country that appear in books.  So here I am taking nonsense about that view, which is just before Glen Coe. Behind the cameraman were 45 German motorbikers and a bus load of Japanese filming me filming that.

here is the car park at the Glen Coe ski centre. In the book I am writing, the snow gates have closed, and the detective duo are passed from one Police Land Rover to another.
And then they get snowed in the Glen creating, I hope, a tense locked room mystery.

And this is part of the West Highland way- about 5  days of walking.... very often women walking on their own, with no mobile phone signal
and with nobody having a clue where they actually are.. 

Here is the west highland way itself, you can just make out a few figures on the path.
 The police and ambulance were busy picking up  walkers suffering from heatstroke.

This is back up at Glen Etive, where the next book is set.
It's the Skyfall location I told you about a while ago.
 I am standing  at the head of the Glen,  that road runs for miles to the head of the loch, after that it's water only all the way to the sea.

I saw this last time I was up the Glen, and a hillwalker friend told me that it's a coffin bridge.

 There are very few ways to cross the River Etive, well one proper bridge and the Coffin Bridge.
If you want to cross, you pull the box across on the pulley, get in, and pulley yourself back over.

The glen is pretty steep at this point.

Down at the river going for a relaxing pose with book and dog.
I was pining the latter to the ground as she's useless at staying still. 

Aiming for a wee bit to camera with my faithful researcher, Mathilda. 

The Ski lift was busy. Very busy, with folk going up carrying bikes and then cycling down the side of the mountain.
The air ambulance was busy with that as well.

A much less dangerous occupation, coffee, cake and the new book.
This is the  standalone book with the unreliable narrator, or is she a misunderstood reliable narrator. 
So far, all the reviews have been good.

then a hang glider appeared from no where, with the moon just behind it.
 it would be a better pic if I had taken my super duper camera.
 but this was with my phone...

I have no idea what that snorkel thing is!

The aftermath of a forest fire that was about ten years ago.... I thought it might be useful  in a future book as there's no way you can go across that without leaving tell tale footprints....

This is the lochan of the lost sword. I had to talk about it as I put a body in there  at the start of The Sideman.
It is on the West Highland Way so behind me were four very tired Dutch walkers who listened with interest as I did my piece to camera.  They seemed to be very keen on what I was saying.
 As we left, they stopped us and asked ' How far to the campsite?' and explained they had ran out of coffee.

Here's a picture of the dog's back end.
And a bridge at Tyndrum, which I am going to use in the next novel but I need the bridge about twenty miles further up the glen, so I shall just move it.

'He' is not here to  move the videos onto youtube so you will advised
 when they are ready!

Caro Ramsay

Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Okavango delta

Michael - Thursday

The Okavango delta is a UNESCO world heritage site, and has been declared one of the seven natural wonders of Africa. I’m not sure who came up with the list, but the Okavango certainly deserves a place on it as far as I’m concerned. Each year heavy rains on the Bie Plateau of Angola flood down the Okavango River into the Kalahari. The water spreads out over between 2,000 and 6,000 square miles and then goes … nowhere. The Kalahari is hot; a lot of the water evaporates. Some leaches slowly through the sand and clear water settles over the area attracting a plethora of wildlife from the richer vegetation to the north and from within the area itself. It’s a paradise for water birds. Many years ago, Stan and I spent a day on a boat on the river where it flows into the delta suffering from bird overload. We didn’t know where to look first. Rows of herons and egrets literally lined up along the river, took a fish, and made way for others. Every tree was crowded with fish eagles. That was a special experience in a special situation and I’ve never seen it that way again, but the area always offers magnificent bird sightings.

Channels run through the area. At the height of the flood, all will be covered except the small islands
The area has a scattering of islands that are never flooded. Most are originally formed by termite hills and then built with deposits from the water, including a lot of salt. The local palms are able to survive that, but not much else. However, around the delta is plenty of land with good vegetation and wonderful wildlife. We chose Bushman Plains camp on the north eastern side.

Our tent overlooked the plain with a waterhole
The tents have comfortable beds, toilets and showers. I understand the meaning of 'glamping' now.

We were celebrating Pat’s 70th birthday with the trip to Botswana last month and this was to be the highlight. We weren't disappointed.

A couple of ostriches welcomed us at the airstrip
He was pretty relaxed but getting peckish in the evening

Not happy about the disturbance
A good place to relax

Huge treat. Wild dog pups at the den

Something completely different
One of the wonderful things about the delta is being able to canoe out on the water in mokoros - traditionally carved-out tree trunks. 

And watch the sun set...

Monday, June 24, 2019

Historical Novel Society Conference 2019

Annamaria on Monday

The biennial Historical Novel Society Conference was held this past weekend at National Harbor, Maryland, a complex of shorefront restaurants and stores.  It also includes the Gaylord  Resort and Convention Center, a building roughly the size of San Francisco International Airport.

That's the hotel and conference center in the distance.
It's so big that 1. It looks close in this picture, and
2. It is impossible to photograph the whole thing.

The evidence of its size: In every elevator bank there is
this sign, offering a navigation app to lost guests.
Unlike the mystery conventions that we MIErs are used to, authors cannot just sign up for this event and expect to be put on a panel.  With HNS, a few authors working together or a single individual must submit a detailed proposal on what they want to present.  A jury decides whether or not to accept.  I have teamed up with other mystery writers in the past and not made the cut, but this year four of us made it onto the crowded schedule.

Sujata, Michael Cooper (who has guest blogged here a few times), and I teamed up to talk about colonialism, with mystery/thriller writer Nancy Bilyeau was our moderator.  Here is what our proposal said:

   A panel of mystery/thriller authors with novels set in India, Africa, and the Middle East—where imperial powers dislocated indigenous life. Some of the most dramatic and compelling stories of history take place at the intersection of these forces. This panel will have wide appeal to historical novel readers interested in settings outside of Europe or the US, settings at the flashpoints of empire and intrigue, the crossroads of history. And novelists at all stages of their careers will be intrigued by the notion that their books can find an audience outside the crowded fields of Tudor and Victorian England and Renaissance Italy.

A happy crew who've just finished their presentation
It was a privilege to be part of the discussion, which was lively and elicited a bunch of good questions--always a sign of successful presentation.

Lunches and one dinner are included for conference attendees, and they are communal, giving us multiple opportunities to sit together at table and meet up with new people.

Our dining room during the final banquet.  There were about 400 in attendance.

Book signings were scheduled all at once on Saturday afternoon.  Fans were invited to come free for the signing.  There was music.  People dressed as historic figures of the local area.  It was a bit of a carnival, but in terms of sales - for me any way - was not that much different than signing at Malice or Left Coast Crime.  It was festive, which was nice.

HNS separates signing authors into what period they write
 about, because fans usually have a time in history that interests them.
This and Victorian are by far the largest categories.

Your reporter was at the end of this table.  I think it was where they put the
writers an ordinary person would call "miscellaneous," or "obscure."
The fans waiting to come in.  Most of them headed straight for the Tudor
and Victorian tables.
 As with the Left Coast Crime conference this past March in Vancouver, the location offered some benefits most conferences do not.  It was delightful to be able to walk out and, in five minutes, find sights worth seeing along the water and and good places to eat.

What a delightful design for a playground.
So cute!