Sunday, February 28, 2021

Making History . . . One Day at a Time

 -- Susan, every other Sunday

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that I love history. I love to learn about how other people have lived, loved, fought, slept, dreamed, and engaged with one another and the world around them. I find the topic endlessly fascinating--which is good, because depending on how deeply you dive and how specifically you investigate, there's a nearly-endless supply of fascinating topics to go around.

For the most part, I view "history" as things that happened in the past. (Again, no surprise: the dictionary defines the term as "the study of past events, particularly with regard to human affairs.") However, things get fuzzy when you start to ask how far in the past you need to go to consider something "history"--and the rabbit hole gets deeper still when you turn the lens around and look at the way your own life and times may contribute to history as the days and years go by.

Case in point: COVID-19.

Never before has the entire world experienced a connected event on this scale in real time. There have been pandemics--including some on a global (or nearly global) scale, but 2020/2021 marks the first time that we could all experience these events together (if apart). We are living history alone together--separated, and yet connected by the technology that now binds us. 

Meguro River, Tokyo, February 28, 2021

This thought came home to me with particular clarity this afternoon, as I took my daily walk in Meguro--one of Tokyo's southern wards, which I call home. The sun was shining, and although the wind was cold, it was a delightful day to get outside for some exercise. Everyone along the river wore a mask--an unusual sight, and one I will remember long after this difficult time in our lives passes into history.

The halfway point - 3 miles from home

As I stepped out the door to walk, I picked up the phone and called my dear friend, Annamaria Alfieri, in New York City. It was almost noon on Sunday in Tokyo, and just about 10pm on Saturday night in NYC. We talked as I walked by the river, catching up on life, writing, and all of the other little details that friends share with one another--all the history we've lived since last we spoke.  

In another month, this cherry tree will bloom.

I walked down the bank of the Meguro River, as I often do. This early in the year, the cherry trees that line the banks are bare, but pushing buds that, in another month, will burst into glorious bloom. These trees, too, are living history. For centuries, Japanese painters, poets, and calligraphers have praised and admired the delicate blooms, which die almost the moment they reach their peak. 

To see them bloom is to experience history also.

One more month, and the river will both reflect and be covered in pale pink petals.

Each moment of our lives is one we will never live again. Each experience, one that will someday become history--joining a deep, never-ending flow of human events and experiences that run through time as the river runs through Meguro.

The Meguro river from one of the many bridges that line the path.

It's easy to discount our personal, lived experiences as "unworthy" of being called history. For most of us, most of the time, life consists of "merely living"--the messy, dirty parts of life that don't feel as if they deserve more than a footnote in our personal memoirs, let alone the grand tome of human events.

The Hotel Emperor, Meguro. Looks like a castle. I've no idea why--but I like it.

As I walked home this afternoon after my talk with Annamaria, it occurred to me that most of the people who made history probably felt the same. The Napoleon Bonapartes and George Washingtons of the world no doubt had an inkling (she said, tongue firmly in cheek) that their actions would be written about, and spoken of, for centuries to come. But what of the person who made George Washington's breakfast, or the soldiers who marched under Napoleon's command? What about the person who cleaned the stalls where the horses slept, or sewed the blankets that sat beneath their saddles?

Those people lived history too--and although we may not know their names or read about them in history books, their lives and their experiences are no less a part of history for that omission.

Ume (plum) blossoms: traditional harbingers of spring in Japan

Neither is Annamaria's. Or mine.

Or yours.

Sidewalk art on the Meguro River Walk

All of us around the world are struggling through history, making our way through an unprecedented period day by day--each of us alone and all of us, alone together. The realization that we are living history does very little to make it better--the days are still difficult, even though each one remains a beautiful, precious gift.

When the call connected, Annamaria asked how I was doing. I barely paused before answering "my life is wonderful"--because, despite everything, I realize that is true. It's also messy, difficult, and challenging--but at the end of the day, life--like history itself--isn't about avoiding challenges. It's about doing the best we can with what we have at any given time.

"Coffee Stand - Stay Safe, Stay Sane"

I'm signing off with the sign above, which stood at the edge of the path by the Meguro River, pointing the way to a nearby coffee stand. The words beneath the arrow read: "Stay Safe, Stay Sane"--which is just about the best advice, and the very best wish, I can offer you.

Stay safe, stay sane, and keep living your history . . . one day at a time.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Thank you, Mikegyver


For as long as I can remember, every weekday at one in the morning, my father got up to go to work, and didn’t return home before one in the afternoon. The kids on my working-class neighborhood street knew not to make a lot of noise in the mid-afternoon, because they’d “wake Mister Siger.”


On the other hand, my mother never seemed to sleep. I only remember her wide-awake, doing one task after another aimed at taking care of her husband and three boys. Both my mother and father gained their work ethic from their immigrant parents: my mother’s father a tailor, my father’s father a house painter turned grocer, and my parents’ mothers each relentless homemakers of old world intensity.


Like so many first-generation sons and daughters, the Depression drastically altered my father’s plans, forcing him to drop out of college to help support his family. That undoubtedly explains what brought my father to the one point in his life when he refused to openly discuss my plans for my future. 


I came home one day from grade school (8th grade to be precise, when I was 13) and announced that after meeting with a career counselor, I’d decided to go to trade school rather than on to academic high school. The world was far too competitive for me to expect to make a living off of an academic curriculum, and I’d be far more secure as a plumber, electrician, or carpenter.


My father calmly informed me that was not an option. I was going to college. Period, end of story.  With that resolved, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me that when I won a national art award for sculpture during my freshman year in high school, he also pointed out that a career in the arts was not likely to yield financial rewards sufficient to support a family.


I owe a lot to my Dad’s wisdom. Decades later, when I finally decided to pursue a career in the arts--albeit with a pen rather than a chisel--I had done well enough in another career to sustain myself while reaping the personal rewards of the new one. 


 But most importantly, the world owes my father an unwavering thank you for forbidding me from going to trade school, because I’d have made a lousy electrician, plumber, or carpenter. And let’s not even think about auto mechanic, welder, or machinist.


I like to think we’re coming around to recognizing that without those possessing the skills necessary to build, repair, and care for things we acquire through the value of our own particular skill sets, all those things would be rendered useless.


Those folks possess real-life skills of the sort that far too many fail to appreciate until the power grid goes down, the pipes in the attic burst, the ceilings begin to collapse, a tree takes out your snow plow, or the car won’t start.   


Or in my case, the gutter on the back of your house collapses under the weight of built-up ice dams.


At times like that, we all need a Mikegyver, an improvising fixer of all problems big or small. Mine’s standing on the ladder in this photo.

So, thanks, Dad and Mom, for instilling in me a deep respect for hard work…be it mine or another’s…and thank you, Mikegyver, for answering the call to spare my house from becoming the latest bit of proof of why trade school was never for me.


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Barbara Fradkin - Getting down in the dirt

Barbara Fradkin
Barbara Fradkin is a retired psychologist and multiple award-winning Canadian mystery writer with an affinity for the dark side. Her gritty, psychological novels have been nominated four times for the Crime Writers of Canada Award of Excellence for Best Novel (formerly Arthur Ellis) and have won the award twice. 

Not only do Barbara's books revolve around intriguing mysteries, but they give the reader a wonderful sense of the Canadian wilderness. I had the pleasure of meeting her a few years ago at a book convention, and have enjoyed several of her books since then, including the first of her new series Fire in the Stars. The Amanda Doucette novels have even more sense of place because... Well, I'll let Barbara tell you more about that herself.

A big thank you to Michael for offering me the chance to talk about my latest work. After writing ten Inspector Green mysteries set in Ottawa, where I live, I was getting restless for adventure. I was itching to explore new horizons and get to know new characters, so I developed the Amanda Doucette series. Amanda is a passionate, adventurous, thirty-something foreign aid worker who has come home to Canada to recover from a traumatic attack in Africa, but her impulse to help people and fix the world always seems to lead her into trouble. She can be single-minded, even reckless, and rushes in where angels fear to tread.

There are currently four books in this series, with a fifth in the works, and murder is, quite literally, everywhere. Canada has a reputation as a law-abiding but bland backwater full of bears, earnest people, and vast swaths of snow. Far from it! Stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic Oceans, it’s so big that even Canadians have little idea of its varied, stunning landscape, let alone the colourful cultures that landscape has spawned.

Kayaking on Georgian Bay

I decided to explore this diversity by taking Amanda on a cross-country charity tour and setting each book in a unique, iconic wilderness location. The first in the series, Fire in the Stars, takes place amid the rugged cliffs and remote fishing villages of Newfoundland and the second in the snowy mountains of Quebec’s Laurentians. From there I move west to the pink granite islands of Georgian Bay in the Great Lakes, and The Ancient Dead, hot off the press last month, is set in the badlands of Alberta’s renowned dinosaur country.

Winter camping in the Cloche mountains

Naturally, in the interests of art and authenticity, I have to travel to see them. No amount of internet research and imagination can bring a setting or scene to life as vividly as getting down into the grit and dust of a place and walking in the shoes of the characters. With all five senses attuned, you notice sounds and sights you might never have imagined. The roar and hiss of the surf, the feel of the hot, dry wind tugging at your hair, the crisp squeak of snowshoes tramping across an open lake. Or the sweltering heat inside a tent when it’s -30 degrees Celsius outside.

Walking the cliffs of Newfoundland

So for each book, I spent several weeks in the area, sometimes more than once, and tried to do all the activities and visit all the places that might show up in the book. I walked Newfoundland’s ocean cliffs, hiked through the swampy spruce forests, and took a whale-watching boat. I endured a wilderness winter camping trip so I would know how it felt to slog through the cold and sleep on pine boughs in a tent. I rented a kayak in Georgian Bay to explore the deceptively beautiful but dangerous island channels. In Alberta, I rode horseback through the remote coulees in search of the perfect place to bury bones. 

Searching for bones in the remote badlands

Point Riche lighthouse 
Throughout this, I took thousands of photos, some of which I have included here, took notes, and recorded my impressions. Everywhere I travelled, I tried to learn not only about the landscape but also about the people, their history, and their culture. In Newfoundland I prowled the docks to pester shrimp fishers and fish plant workers, and I tapped my toe at a classic Newfoundland kitchen party. I attended local theatre, visited museums, and eavesdropped on conversations in local haunts. In Alberta, I visited local museums wherever I went, walked the open range, went on dinosaur prospecting tours, spoke to a local Indigenous elder in Milk River, and quizzed my Alberta friends and family.

Talking to a hoodoo in the Alberta badlands

Because Amanda is a foreign aid worker who’d worked to confront inequity and injustice overseas, she is quick to plunge in when she encounters similar problems in Canada. So running through each book is an underlying global human rights theme with a uniquely Canadian twist. In the Newfoundland story, the theme is Syrian refugees being smuggled by boat across the North Atlantic. In the Quebec book, I explore the homegrown radicalization of Quebec youth. The exploitation of domestic foreign workers is the perfect theme for the wealthy mansions tucked away on the remote islands of Georgian Bay, and echoes of the “me too” movement can be heard in the secrets of The Ancient Dead.

Meeting moose in Newfoundland

I am currently just beginning to research and write the fifth Amanda book, set on the outer coast of Vancouver Island. The pandemic is messing up my travel plans to this spectacular part of the country, but I hope that by this summer the vaccine will have made sufficient inroads that I will be able to go. Photographs and books will not be enough; I need to stand in the surf, hike the ancient forests, and kayak through the islands that dot the coast. I may even take a surfing lesson.

Researching this series has been a thrill and an adventure worth it all on its own, and I hope that by sharing these unique glimpses of Canada, I take the reader on a journey of discovery as well. And make them yearn for more.

You can learn more about Barbara and her work at:


Mithan Lam, a Powerful Advocate for India's Women

Sujata Massey with Parinaz Madan 

The barrister Mithan Jamshed Lam

True tales of women breaking barriers to forbidden places, and bettering the lives of others, are inspiring. Mithan Jamshed Lam is one of these legendary women. Recently I chatted about this illustrious lady (who passed away in 1981) with another woman who is doing important civil rights work in contemporary India, the Mumbai solicitor Parinaz Madan. In an interesting twist, Parinaz is married to Dinyar Patel, a professor and author of Naoroji: Pioneer of Indian Nationalism


I was fortunate enough to meet Parinaz and Dinyar in real life last January at the Royal Bombay Yacht Club in Mumbai. We dined on a delicious biryani and many other dishes as we discussed the history of the city and the freedom movement. They are both Parsis and have been kind enough to also answer my questions about the minutiae of the community's cultural life. Their assistance was key in creating realistic social situations in my forthcoming novel, The Bombay Prince.


Last year, Parinaz and Dinyar wrote an article for BBC News about Bombay’s first woman barrister, Mithan Ardeshir Tata, known after her marriage as Mithan Jamshed Lam. In 1924, Mithan became the first woman advocate permitted to argue cases at Bombay’s High Court. Mithan’s education, family background, and relentless struggle for women’s rights were influential in the development of my series protagonist, Perveen Mistry.


It was much harder for me to find scholarly material about Mithan than Cornelia Sorabji. In 2016, I bought a reprint of her autobiography, Autumn Leaves, at the K.R. Cama Oriental Institute, a center for Parsi scholarship. The autobiography is dominated by the stories of Mithan’s world travels. I wanted to know specifics about her life in India, so I’ve put some questions to Parinaz about her. 



Were Mithan’s parents encouraging of her career choice as a lawyer? Were there any other events in her youth that pushed her toward the field?


Mithan’s autobiography lends the impression that her family had very progressive leanings. 


She describes her father Ardeshir as a man of “liberal views” who wholeheartedly backed her academic pursuits. In fact, her father spurred his studious wife Herabai to complete her B.A. degree, by employing a number of tutors for her. 


Mithan also seems to have shared a very close and almost sororal bond with her mother, which is not surprising, considering that they were separated by only seventeen years in age! 


As a teenager, Mithan was clearly inspired by her mother’s social activism and commitment to securing equal voting rights for women and that likely set the stage for her active participation in the female suffragist movement subsequently. She was all of 21 when she was chosen, alongside her mother, to deliver evidence on the necessity of female suffrage in India to the British Parliament.


Mithan had a stellar academic track record even before studying law: she obtained her B.A. from Elphinstone College, Bombay and was the first woman to be awarded the Cobden Club Medal for securing the highest marks in Economics. She then went on to pursue an M.Sc. degree from the London School of Economics, while her mother was studying for a Social Service course at the same university.


Since Mithan’s childhood and early life were steeped in political and social activism, law may have seemed to be the most natural career choice for her. She probably recognised the potential of a legal career to create lasting and meaningful reform in areas that she deeply cared about, such as women and children rights, and was ably supported by her parents along the way.

Mithan, standing by her mother, Herabai, in 1919



Cornelia Sorabji is arguably the most renowned female lawyer from colonial India. Her career was divided between private practice in a firm with her brother in Allahabad, and many more years working throughout India as a legal investigator for the Indian Civil Service. She was almost 31 years older than Mithan, but was called to the Bar in Britain (i.e. admitted to practice in courts) after Mithan. Could you explain why that happened? 


Yes, Cornelia was the first woman to study law at Oxford in 1889 (nearly a decade before Mithan was even born). However, she could not be called to the Bar after finishing her law exams because women were prohibited from practicing law in Britain, until the passage of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, 1919. 


This Act which opened the doors for women to be admitted to the Bar in the United Kingdom was passed only in 1919. Mithan who was fortuitously in London at the time was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn in 1920, followed by Cornelia who returned from India to Britain two years later. Mithan became the first woman to be called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn in January 1923 when she was 24. Cornelia was actually called to the Bar a few months later than Mithan in June, when she was 55. 


Providentially, the Indian government also abolished restrictions on women to practice law in 1923: the same year that Mithan set sail to India after finishing her studies in London. This enabled her to kickstart her legal career as the first female lawyer in the Bombay High Court in 1924. I think she sums all this up quite aptly in her autobiography: “I must have been born under a lucky star, for I always found myself in the right place at the right time”.


What was Mithan's life like when she started working as a barrister? Did you uncover any stories of success and struggles against discrimination?


Ironically, Mithan bagged her first legal case from a client who wanted to “inflict upon the opponent the humiliation of being defeated by a woman.” She recalls feeling like “a new animal at the zoo” while appearing in court, arousing the curiosity of men who peeped through its doorways to catch a glimpse of this unique species. Understandably, this made her feel extremely “self-conscious”. Such acts of discrimination notwithstanding, newspaper records reveal that Mithan practiced in court for about 15 years from her enrolment as a lawyer in 1924 in India.



Mithan was extremely outspoken on women’s rights. Tell us about some of her work in that area, and the legislation she proposed.


Apart from the female suffrage activities that Mithan is renowned for, she was a staunch advocate for amending marriage, divorce, inheritance and guardianship laws in India to make them fairer to women, often drawing upon international legislation. As a Zoroastrian herself, her legal expertise was sought in reforming the laws for marriage and divorce in the Parsi community.


One of the women’s organisations that she was most prominently associated with was the All-India Women’s Conference. As its President, she propounded a shift of focus from “sewing and cutting classes” for women to their more active participation in industries and emphasised on the need for family planning. She also encouraged women to take a more active role in civic engagement and public works in the country. After the partition of India in 1947, Mithan was tasked with being the Chairperson of a committee constituted for resettling refugee women and children in Bombay. 


But her activism was not restricted to only women’s issues. She also spearheaded hunger eradication programs, anti-child labour advocacy and slum improvement projects in India. In 1928, she joined protests with the Bombay Youths League about a proposed school fee hike for secondary education in India. The Bombay Chronicle noted “The ridiculous plea that higher education should be further taxed to find funds for primary education is aptly described by Miss Tata as the policy of robbing Peter to pay Paul.” These protests may have had a hand in the government backing down on the fee hike attempt for colleges and schools eventually.



Mithan married in 1933, probably at age 35. Do you know anything about her husband Jamshed Lam’s feelings about her continued activism and legal activities?


I will let Mithan’s autobiography do the talking for this question. She describes Jamshed, a lawyer himself, as “a wonderful and loving husband” who “was proud of my achievements and helped to advance me in every way….I have been greatly lucky in my menfolk--a liberal father of very advanced views, a loving and generous husband, and a fine son of whom any parent would be very proud.”


How do you describe Mithan’s legacy for women in India? 


Mithan left behind an invaluable legacy for women in the legal profession and beyond. Demolishing patriarchal stereotypes of what a woman can and cannot achieve, particularly in traditionally male-dominated fields, was the cornerstone of her career.


While Mithan was a woman of many firsts, she did not work in silos but mentored scores of other women. Prominent among them was Violet Alva who was a law student at Government Law College, Bombay when Mithan was a professor there. Violet subsequently went on to become the Deputy Home Minister of India and the first female Deputy Chair of the Rajya Sabha (the Upper House of Parliament). Examining the life stories of trailblazing women like Mithan makes us realise that a lot of rights that we, as Indian women, enjoy today, such as the right to vote or work, were achieved on the back of the unwavering efforts of such pioneers.


Parinaz Madan


As a solicitor in Bombay, you work hard as legal advisor at a prominent company, yet you make time for  pro bono work. Tell us about the pro bono organization you work with.  


In addition to the corporate law work I do, I am also a member of iProbonoIt is a global organization which connects lawyers with non-profits and social enterprises in need of pro bono legal assistance. Over the past few years of my association with iProbono, my work has involved advising schools, innovations labs, mental health professionals and organisations working for the underprivileged on a number of education, child rights, disabilities and medical laws in India.


Law is a very potent instrument for social change and I believe that in a developing country like India, especially, there is tremendous scope for lawyers to create systems and establish precedents from the ground up. 



You’ve said that India has some of the strongest child abuse laws in the world, but these laws aren’t often exercised properly. Can you give an example of how this could be changed?



In 2019, the Economist Intelligence Unit published a report evaluating the response of sixty countries, across the development spectrum, to the scourge of child abuse. Interestingly, India ranked the highest amongst all the surveyed countries in terms of the strength of its legal framework for protecting children from sexual abuse and exploitation. However, awareness of these laws remains low and their implementation remains challenging, given the high rates of child abuse in the country. 


Now, child abuse is a very pervasive and complex problem and its eradication needs resolute engagement from various stakeholders, both government and private. However, one of the ways in which organisations interacting with children (like schools, children’s shelters etc.) can mitigate child abuse is by developing effective child protection policies, as an article I've recently written demonstrates. Such policies typically contain a blend of preventive and remedial child protection measures. In the absence of such policies, organisations often deal with child abuse incidents arbitrarily and without regard to the law, causing grave prejudice to the interests of children under their care. Through iProbono, we assist various civil society organisations in drafting and implementing child protection policies, to foster a safe and child-friendly environment. 


The pandemic has many people working from home. Do you see this is an opportune time for more persons with disabilities (PWDs) to have a chance to enter the Indian workforce? What are the factors that make it difficult for PWDs to work? Is there a national law in existence for enabling disability inclusion in the workplace?


The employment rates of PWDs in the Indian corporate sector are abysmally low barring, of course, a few outliers. A study published by the Business Standard in 2019 noted that PWDs constitute less than 0.5 per cent of employees in India’s top companies. In India, the Rights of PWDs Act, 2016 is a national-level legislation that requires companies to develop equal opportunity policies and create an accessible environment for their employees, but its implementation remains patchy.


Historically, taboos associated with disabilities and low literacy levels have kept a lot of PWDs out of the workforce. Social isolation and a lack of employment opportunities, posed by the Covid-19 crisis, have hit PWDs further. 


But, some disability rights activists see a silver lining to this crisis: the pandemic has impelled companies to adopt remote working policies and technologies which certain groups of PWDs have long demanded as reasonable accommodations. Needless to say, it is imperative that such technologies are designed to be accessible to PWDs, to facilitate their meaningful participation in work.  In a 2020 piece I wrote for Business Standard, I’ve argued that there is a strong legal, business and moral case for disability inclusion in the Indian corporate sector, particularly in the light of the pandemic. I think the ILO’s Director-General summarizes the essence of this fittingly: “A disability-inclusive response means a better response for us all.”

Monday, February 22, 2021

Romania Goes to Africa

 Annamaria on Monday

This story begins at Icelandic Noir in November of 2014.  I am exercising a great deal of self-control not to turn this post into a pean to one of my favorite crime conferences.  It was at the meetup in question, for instance, that I found friends who have been boon companions ever since.

And where Stan and I pledged to draw the world's attention to crime fiction set in warmer climes, which resulted in Sunshine Noir.

Besides, being in Iceland in winter means one sees the sunrise and sunset every day with images like this:

That year, Jeff and I were on a panel about locations outside the Scandinavian sphere.  With us were two Romanians, including Bogdan Hrib--an author/publisher that I have stayed in touch with ever since.

About a year and a half ago, Bogan suggested that the first in my Africa series, Strange Gods might appeal to his readers and be a candidate for translation.

The ensuing effort moved along quite quickly, especially given the usual plodding pace of publishing.  And voila:

The Romanian edition of Strange Gods will launch in a couple of weeks.  What fun!

Others of my books have been translated, often into languages I cannot read at all.

I can read the page numbers!

But Romanian is a Romance language.  In Italian "Strange Gods" would be "Dei Stranieri." Zei Straini isn't that different.  So, though I cannot read the description for potential readers, since I kind of know what it says, I can get the drift.

I am sorry that I can't be in Bucharest for the launch.  I am hoping to right that omission as soon as such travel is possible.  How I pray it will be soon!  

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Weird UK Laws Still Current

 Zoë Sharp


During the lockdown back in October 2020 here in the UK, there was a news story of Scottish National Party MP, Margaret Ferrier, who travelled by train from London to Scotlandafter she’d tested positive for Covid-19.


This reminded me of an old English law, which I understood had never been repealed, saying it was illegal to get onto public transport in London if you had the plague, and that a cab driver could refuse to carry a passenger he or she suspected might be infected.


It turns out this is indeed still in force as part of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act of 1984, which also applies to a number of other notifiable diseases - Typhus, Tuberculosis, Rabies, Typhoid Fever, Cholera, Anthrax, Dysentery, Smallpox, Leprosy, and Scarlet Fever being among their number. I wonder if coronavirus counts?


In looking this up, I found a number of other archaic laws which were quoted as still being in force… unless you know differently, of course.




When it comes to cabs in the City of London, they may not carry rabid dogs or corpses.


It is illegal for a lady to eat chocolates on a public transport conveyance.


It is illegal to jump the queue in the ticket hall of the London Underground, if there’s a sign saying Queue Here.

Your car can get you into all sorts of hot water, so it’s best to know the rules there, too. It is legal for a male to urinate in public, only if it is on the rear wheel of his motor vehicle, and his right hand remains on the vehicle at all times.


You must carry a bale of hay in your vehicle at all times so you can feed your horse. I think a full tank of fuel—or at least enough to get you to your destination—probably counts.


It is illegal to drive with ice or snow covering any part of your windscreen, and you can be fined for snow that falls off your car roof as you drive.


It is also illegal to pay for your meal at a drive-through using a mobile phone, if the engine is running and your handbrake is off. Six points on your licence and a £200 fine.


House & Home


The Metropolitan Police Act of 1839 was a doozy for those who want to stop anybody having any fun. Under the terms of this Act, people were forbidden to knock on someone’s door and then run away (to ‘wilfully and wantonly disturb any inhabitant’ at their door without lawful excuse), or to discharge any firearm ‘of greater calibre than a common fowling-piece’ within 300 yards of a dwelling. Fall fowl (arf, arf) of that bit of legislation and you’re looking at a fine of £200.


Not to mention the fact that you are not allowed to beat or shake any carpet, rug or mat, except door mats before 8am in a thoroughfare. Apparently, the same Act also forbids flying a kite in a public place, or to ‘sing any profane, indecent, or obscene song or ballad’ in the street.


And don’t even think of stringing a washing line across the street or you’ll be in breach of the Town Police Clauses Act of 1847. This Act also bans making slides out of ice or snow.

In London, woe betide anyone with a faulty alarm system. It is illegal to activate your burglar alarm without first nominating a key-holder who can switch it off in your absence, preferably within 20 minutes.


More of a tradition than a law, but you are not allowed to refuse someone the right to use your toilet. It used to be legal to travel freely through another person’s land, so this may be a throwback to that.


Streets & Buildings


Ever wondered why some stores put up brown paper over the glass while they’re changing the display? Well, in Scotland, it’s illegal for a boy under the age of 10 to see a naked mannequin.

Under the Library Offences Act of 1898, it is illegal to gamble in a library.


It is illegal to order or permit any servant to stand on the sill of any window to clean or paint it.


It is illegal to carry a plank, ladder, wheel, pole, cask, placard, showboard or hoop along a pavement in the Metropolitan Police District, according to the Metropolitan Police Act of 1839.


Rights of Royalty


Beached whales and sturgeon must be offered to the reigning monarch – came into force in 1322, called the 'Prerogativa Regis' (King’s Prerogative). 


It’s against the Treason Felony Act of 1848 to attempt to depose the monarch, so if you put a stamp on an envelope upside down in ‘absolute defiance’ that may count…


While it isn’t illegal to deliberately destroy a banknote, under the Currency and Banknotes Act 1928, it is an offence to deface a banknote by printing, stamping, or writing on it. And the Coinage Act of 1971 also makes it an offence to destroy a metal coin that has been current in the UK since 1969, unless a licence to do so has been granted by the Treasury.

It is still an executable offence to allow your pet to mate with a pet belonging to the royal house without permission.


Only the monarch may eat a mute swan. Which brings us to:


Food & Drink


No person shall, in the course of business, import into England, potatoes which he knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, are from Poland. This came into effect in 2004. It’s been illegal to import potatoes from non-EU countries since 2013 because of a disease called ring rot.


It is illegal to be drunk in a pub according to Section 12 of the 1872 Licensing Act. 'Every person found drunk... on any licensed premises, shall be liable to a penalty'. It is also an offence under the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 for the keeper of a public house to permit drunkenness or disorderly conduct on the premises. Furthermore, under the Licensing Act 2003, it is an offence to sell alcohol to a person who is drunk, or to obtain alcohol for consumption by a person who is drunk. The same Act also forbids you to be drunk and in charge of a steam engine, a horse, or cattle in England and Wales.


In Scotland, it’s illegal since 1972 to be drunk and in charge of a cow. You could be fined £200 and jailed for up to 51 weeks.

The Salmon Act 1986, Section 32 poaching law states that it is illegal to ‘handle salmon in suspicious circumstances.’ In recent years this has been extended to trout, eels, lampreys and smelt.


Around & About


Until relatively recently, women at official Thetford Town Council sessions were required to seek the mayor's permission in order to take off their hats. The blokes, on the other hand, could to use their own judgement about when to discard their headgear.


In York, it is legal to shoot a Scotsman on sight, with a crossbow, except on Sundays.

Singing Happy Birthday is in breach of copyright laws if used for commercial purposes, which is why staff in some restaurants often sing their own made-up alternative. The rights are owned by Warner/Chappell. 


And finally…


A law from 1313 states that it’s forbidden for MPs to wear armour in parliament, and that anyone who dies in the Houses of Parliament is entitled to a state funeral.

Under the terms of the Police Act 1996, Pt V, it’s illegal to pretend to be part of the police by wearing part of the uniform, even for a fancy dress party or for the purposes of, ahem, removing it again.


Sadly, the one about pregnant women being allowed, in an emergency, to relieve themselves in a policeman’s helmet, is apocryphal.


But, I’m sure you will be relieved (arf, arf) to learn that, under the terms of the Prohibition and Inspections Act of 1998, it is illegal to cause a nuclear explosion.