Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Looking to the heavens, living in the present: Mānawatia a Matariki (Happy Māori New Year!)

The reappearance of the Matariki star cluster (aka Pleiades) in the
pre-dawn light to the east, in June-July, marks the Māori New Year

Craig every second Tuesday

Kia ora and gidday everyone,

So this week is a rather special one back in my homeland of Aotearoa New Zealand, with the rising of the Matariki cluster of stars (also known as Pleiades or 'the Seven Sisters' in Ancient Greece and still nowadays throughout Europe and elsewhere) in the winter sky and the associated celebration of the Māori New Year.

Traditionally for Māori, Matariki is a time for reflection, celebration, and preparation. It has been an important time of year for Māori for centuries, and in a landmark decision the previous New Zealand government made it an ongoing, annual nationwide public holiday from 2022 onwards. Just as it was when it became the first self-governing country in the world to legislate women had the right to vote (back in 1893, 27 years before suffragettes found success in the United States, and 35 years before the UK), New Zealand became a world leader in granting a national public holiday to a sacred indigenous event, rather than the raft of imported holidays brought by settlers.

(I note that National Indigenous Peoples Day is celebrated throughout Canada, and is a public holiday in a couple of provinces, but is not (yet) a national statutory holiday for everyone. Hopefully in future.)

A special light display at the Auckland Stardome and Observatory
to celebrate the first indigenous national public holiday in 2022

"Matariki will be our first public holiday that recognises Te Ao Māori and will be one that is uniquely New Zealand," said Acting Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Peeni Henare when the decision was announced in mid 2021. "Matariki is more than just a public holiday. Our celebration of the new public holiday will be informed by key values such as unity, sharing, feasting, coming together, and environmental awareness."

“I think it’s incredibly significant,” said Olive Karena-Lockyer (Te Aupōuri, Ngāti Raukawa), an astronomy educator at Stardome observatory in Auckland. “It’s from here, from Aotearoa. It’s not imported, like Christmas or Easter or the Queen’s birthday. It’s for us and what is relevant to our environment.”

Devil's Tower National Monument in Wyoming, aka 'Bear Lodge' for the Kiowa
is the place from which legend has it the 'Seven Star Girls' went into the sky

The rising of the Matariki/Pleiades star cluster in the sky - bright in the sky given its closeness to the earth and ability to be seen with the naked eye not just telescopes etc - is an important event for many cultures throughout the world, and entwined with myths and legends dating back thousands of years. You can read more about some of those, from the Seven Sisters of Greek Mythology to Hindu and Aboriginal beliefs, to the Seven Star Girls of the Kiowa, in a post Lucinda Riley did here

While many of the stories relate to seven stars, or six (in Japan), or nine for Māori, the actual cluster is made up of hundreds of stars. As noted by Harvard University's Micro Observatory: 

"Galileo observed the stars of the Pleiades in 1610. Without a telescope, six stars are bright enough to seen, or at most nine if it is very dark and a person's eyesight is very good! (benefits of clearer skies in Aotearoa, perhaps?) Scattered between these six bright stars he counted [with a telescope] over forty fainter points of light, recording the positions of 36 stars in his sketch of the cluster.  Galileo drew outlines around the stars that had been known since ancient times."

So while the Matariki public holiday is something very Kiwi, it celebrates something that is shared by and has been entwined with many cultures throughout the world for hundreds and thousands of years. For millennia, we've all looked to 'the heavens' in awe, for guidance (and navigation), to tell stories, to seek to understand. In Hawaiian the star cluster is known as Makali’i, ‘eyes of royalty', and in Japan it is Subaru, meaning ‘gathered together’. 

Japanese car manufacturer Subaru uses a logo depicting
their six visible stars of the 'Matariki/Pleiades' cluster

The star cluster is visible at different times throughout the year around the world, and for Aotearoa New Zealand, it disappears for a while before reappearing or rising again in the pre-dawn light in the winter months (June-July). This year the official public holiday is Friday 28 June, in three days (the holiday will always be a Friday, to create a long weekend for people to spend time with their loved ones, and be different to the usual Monday holidays).

Watching Ngāti Rānana London Māori club perform
in celebration of Matariki on the weekend

In Aotearoa New Zealand, for many centuries for Māori and nowadays for all New Zealanders, Matariki is about reconnecting with your home and whānau (family). In terms of  Mātauranga Māori (ancestral knowledge and wisdom), Matariki is the beginning of a new season (and year) and is a time for;

  • Remembrance (Matariki Hunga Nui– Honouring those we have lost since the last rising of Matariki
  • Celebrating the present (Matariki Ahunga Nui– Gathering together to give thanks for what we have
  • Looking to the future (Matariki Manako Nui– Looking forward to the promise of a new year
This year, we began celebrating Matariki on Saturday, as Miss 9 and I attended a special event with Ngāti Rānana London Māori club near a wildlife reserve in the docklands of London. It was great to have a 'taste of home' and to be gathered with fellow Kiwis and others to mark the changing of the seasons. Even if we're in opposite seasons here in London, with sporadic sunshine and heat of midsommer more than the wintry clear skies of Matariki back home!

It was a busy Saturday, with parkrun, drama class, her school summer fair, Matariki celebrations, and our allotment neighbours' Swedish midsommer celebrations all packed into a single day! Lots going on, lots to be grateful for. 



I know for most of you reading this Matariki is likely a new or 'foreign' concept, but I hope you've enjoyed learning a little about this time of year, which has always been special for the indigenous people of my homeland, is now becoming something that brings all Kiwis together, and relates to something shared by many cultures. 

So from me and my little Kiwi to you, I hope you have a wonderful Matariki! Given it's about reconnecting with your home and whānau (family), and is celebrated by people coming together to remember their ancestors, share kai (food), sing songs, tell stories, and play music, I think that's the kind of celebration we can all get behind! 

Until next time. Ka kite anō.

Whakataukī of the fortnight: 
Inspired by Zoe and her 'word of the week', I'll be ending my fortnightly posts by sharing a whakataukī (Māori proverb), a pithy and poetic thought to mull on as we go through life.

Tuia ki te rangi, Tuia ki te whenua, Tuia ki te moana, E rongo te po, E rongo te Ao

(Look to the sky, the land, and the sea to understand the divisions between day and night)

Monday, June 24, 2024

Author vs Copy Editor

Annamaria on Monday




First, I state the obvious.  All of us writers! We all need copy editors.  And I for one need them desperately, given my proofreading challenges.  I try to find my own mistakes.  But....

Not even Sister Mary Catharine O'Connor could get me to do it well.  SMC, as we lovingly called her, was the most demanding teacher I ever had.  "Hard marker" is not a strong enough a term to truly describe her.  She did not grade one's work on how well you had completed the assignment, but how close you came to what she thought you were capable of.  This was particularly true of her creative writing class, but also of the papers for lit courses she taught.  When you handed in your homework, she insisted that it had to be signed on the title page, with the word "Proofread" over your signature.  If, when reading your work, she came to a fourth error or typo, she stopped reading.  And no matter how brilliant the content, you could not get an A.  In the end, she despaired of me.  In the my third year, she gave me a dictionary, inscribed with the words, "Patricia, I give up.  Use this in good health."

I still have it.  That's it - well-worn, above

(BTW, I would not be here or anywhere else were authors are found, if it weren't for SMC.  She was the real deal when it comes to writers!  Her stories were published in the New Yorker.  The year she gave me the dictionary, her collection of short stories was published.  I also still have my copy of that  There are "rare" copies available on Amazon.  if you look for the book today, here is how the description of her anthology begins:

This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it.


What a privilege to have had her as my teacher.

I was her student in the olden times, way before spell check and decades before kids were allowed to be dyslectic.  I did not find out that I was so impaired until the person who tested my child also tested me.  The first words she said about me after the test were, "I bet you are a bad speller." Yup! And an even worse proofreader. My  neurological condition is called mixed dominance. It also causes me to mix up my right and left.

I NEED the help of a good copy editor. Through six non-fiction books and so far, six novels, I have had copy editors who found my typos and filled in the missing words.  They have my undying gratitude for making me look as good as I try but fail to be.  Those fixers are the unsung heroes of my writing life.

Except for two. 



One was the copy editor who worked on (I should say "worked over"- in its criminal connotation) my last nonfiction, Monster Boss. That was a hard time for me personally, with four difficulties ganging up on me, any one of which would have tested my capacity.  It was also the first time I was sent a digitally marked up file and had to respond to it on line. We're talking here about 2008.  In addition my other personal issues, David and I were living on a construction site without our own Wifi.  I had to depend on what I could pick up of unpassworded connections in the neighborhood.  Grrr.


For Monster Boss, the copy editor's main goal was to rewrite my book in what she considered a proper business-like style.  She rewrote almost every sentence, on every page, often turning the active voice into the passive, eradicating what she called a "breezy, negligible style, inappropriate for a serious business book."

The change I remember best was her rewrite of the end of a chapter.  I wrote, "Okay.  You have set your goal. Now, pick a path and get moving."

She changed that to: "Once a final result is chosen, it is essential to carefully plan one's approach...Blah. blah, blah."  Her sentence was twenty-two words long.  Grrr.

What I have been facing lately is nowhere near as bad as that.  This time it has to do with a copy editor who may just lack experience with historical fiction.  And in fact, it may be that the copy editor was really not a person at all.  But a Bot.  Or maybe - what may very well turn out to the worst possibility - the combination of a person and Bot.  Anyway, the manuscript that I got back this past Friday for my approval was replete with "corrections" where the editor thought it was his/her/its job to inform me that in the 21st Century, black men will react negatively if anyone calls them "Boy."  This, as you can imagine, was not news to me. She/he/it insisted that I should never use the word "boy."  They (?) replaced it wherever it appeared. Since my characters in this book are living in colonial Africa in 1914, they talk like people of their time, and there were many, many of those "boys@ in my MS.

Late in my story, a drunken and angry bigot refers to the Indian residents of Nairobi as "wogs".  I got the digital version of a tongue-lashing for my horrible disregard for 21st Century sensibilities but employing such racist language. 

I had received a preview of how this editor was going to handle my MS.  I picked up on this misplaced intolerance for 1914 language.  In my comments on the sample, I allowed as how one cannot apply modern-day sensitivity to the way people in 1914 actually spoke.  In my comments regarding the Chapter One sample, I said that, as a historical novelist, it was my intention to portray the times as they actually were.  But, I added that I am also careful never to imply that I approve of racism. (In 1914 British, they called it racialism.)  That said, I thought my nemesis would drop the subject.

But no. When I got back the edited full manuscript, the editor had taken out all the "boys."  He/she/it even changed "houseboy" to "house servant" and "stableboy" to "stable hand."  My characters were made to talk about the three young Kikuyu who show up at the scene of the crime, not as "Kikuyu boys" but as "Kikuyu young men."

Over the past three days, I have spent about seventeen hours, going through the MS and putting my characters back into 1914, where they live.  They are back to talking the way people talked then.  Thinking in the way people thought at that time.

In fact, every body talked differently then, not just my fictional people.  Here's a for instance. That year, WWI began.  Eventually, the Harlem Hellfighters volunteered to fight for their country.  But, they were marginalized by racist US Army policies that refused to let them fight.  Once in France, the French - desperate for warriors - took them and fought beside them.  Those black American heroes composed and sang songs about their battle exploits.  And what did they call themselves in their lyrics?  Boys!  This example is from one of their songs "On Patrol in No Man's Land."



What’s the time? Nine.
All in line.
All right, boys, now take it slow.
Are you ready? Steady!  Very good,Eddie.
Over the top, let’s go!
Quiet, quiet, else you will start a riot.
Keep your proper distance, follow ’long.
Cover, brother, and when you see me hover,
Obey my orders and you won’t go wrong...

Hear it here

After my typing "STET" about 150 times at this point, my story is restored to its historical accuracy.  Now, I will stop this venting.  But please know, I am still smarting from the more than one hundred  sanctimonious scoldings. And I deeply resent my aching spine, which I got from sitting at the computer, getting more and more tense and angry at all the time that it took to restore my manuscript to where I know it has to be.

I remind myself.  And you.  The MS in question is for A Death on the Lord's Day, my first new work to be published in six years.  That painful hiatus was due to a perfect storm of publishing snafus.  For all that time, that book has been in no man's land.  BUT NO MORE!  It will be out in time for Bouchercon.  Just typing those words makes me feel better.



Saturday, June 22, 2024

Tales of the Piano Bar, Reprise: Don't Lose Your Head Over the Holidays

 

San Juan Bautista, Joan de Joanes (cir.1560)
 
Jeff––Saturday
 
Pentecost falls fifty days after Easter, and in Greece it is always a huge holiday weekend.  It will celebrated tomorrow and this year’s crowds on Mykonos are expected to pump up the number of tourists on the island, for Pentecost one of the three great feast days, along with Easter and Christmas.  But this isn’t about Pentecost.  Nor is it about Easter.  It’s a tale told by Jody Duncan who, together with Nikos Hristodulakis, once owned Mykonos’ Montparnasse Piano Bar.   
 
Jody would like you to THINK his story has something to do with those most holy of days to the Greek Orthodox faithful, but I prefer to consider it simply further evidence of the sorts of minds who once put the olive in your martini or umbrella in your mai-tai from behind the bar at the La Cage aux Folles of the Aegean.  Jody and Niko we miss you...but take it away with your tale.

Jeffrey, this story is entirely appropriate for the season as it begins on Easter and ends around Pentecost.


A few years back we decided to have friends over to our house for Easter dinner rather than following our usual practice of being guests in their homes.  But one friend insisted on contributing the lamb and he would not take no for an answer.   So, a day or two before Easter, Adonis the Greek appeared at our door bearing his gift of an entire lamb, complete with its head wrapped separately in newspaper.


Okay, I get it, if you’re hosting Easter dinner in Greece there must be lamb.  No ifs, no ands, no buts.  But heads?  Please.

I couldn't bring myself to cook that thing, and didn't even know how or where to begin getting a head ready for the oven.  I did the only thing I could think of.  I stuck it in the freezer.  A non frost-free one I might add.

A couple of months later, in June around the time of Pentecost, I thawed the freezer and came across a parcel wrapped in newspaper.  I’d forgotten all about it.  Inside I found what looked to be the frosted, frozen head of John the Baptist.

That was all that remained of that poor unlucky lamb.  And it was my fault it had ended up here rather than in its rightful place on the Easter table.  I had to find some way to redeem myself.  It was still early in the morning for Mykonos—around noon—and the performers crashing at our place from the night before were still asleep.

It was the perfect opportunity for my giving the little lamb a proper send off.  Phyllis Pastore, our headline singer and an institution on the island, was just starting to wake up.   I went to her bedroom and stood in the doorway, balancing the lamb’s head on my left shoulder.  She was ignoring me and so I started softly humming a tune.

I waited until she’d opened her eyes but had not yet grasped the meaning of my visit.  At that instant I stepped forward into her bedroom and in my best Paul Anka impression blared out the lyric I’d been humming, “Put your head on my shoulder…”

I was so proud of myself.

Phyllis had another view of things.  She leaped out of bed with a scream that nearly brought the poor lamb back to life.

I was laughing so hard I was beginning to think the other head on my shoulder was laughing too.

Phyllis drew a deep breath to compose herself, and in a perfectly blasé Ethel Merman sort of way said, “Jody, if I were you, I’d keep the new one.” 

[Ed. note:  I always liked Phyllis’ style.]

Time for a drink, I think.  Here’s what we at the Piano Bar call the Flirtini.  It's a lovely champagne cocktail, light in taste and perfect for warm summer evenings.

In a champagne flute, put one ounce elderflower liqueur (St. Germaine is the most well known brand) and 1/2 ounce lemon juice. Top with champagne and voilà you have a refreshing cocktail—and it’s gentle as a lamb.

 
On a more serious note, today is the memorial service for one of my long time closest friends on Mykonos, Michalis Apostolou.  He passed away some forty days ago, and today we celebrate his Mnimosino service  commemorating the completion of his journey to the afterlife. 
 
May your memory be a blessing for eternity.

--Jeff

Friday, June 21, 2024

Mad Dogs and Englishmen.....


I’m writing this in 28 degrees of heat.

You can guess that I am not at home – it’s cold and rainy there. I am in Gran Canaria trying to meet a deadline and I am sitting indoors with a huge bottle of water. We went out for a walk at 7.30 this morning and will go out to the pool at 4pm or so. It really is too hot for fair skinned northern European types.

Last week, the body of British TV presenter Dr Michael Mosley was found on the Greek island where he had been holidaying, after days of speculation re what had happened to him. The most reported fact was that he had gone missing in 40 degree heat, the middle of the day.

The first reports of him being missing came through mid week. He had disappeared, just gone out for a walk and got lost, or had fallen and was waiting somewhere to be rescued, hopefully after crawling into some shade. Many had presumed, as we do in these days, that he had his phone with him and had raised the alarm and it was just a case of pinpointing exactly where he was, and then getting him out of there.

He was 67 but very fit, healthy, a media spokes person for living a healthy life.

Then the story, and the rumours, started to get a bit bizarre. He had gone out alone in 40 degrees of heat for a walk. CCTV captured him in an empty street with a small rucksack, a hat and a black umbrella for shade. He had in the past, talked about the mental benefits of going for a walk without a phone, technology is a good servant and a bad master. 

On the day he disappeared, he did not have his phone with him.

He also seemed to have either got lost or changed his mind about where he was going, it was only when the CCTV (in a different location to where he was presumed to be) showed him walking past a tavern, down a deserted street, that the search teams realised they had been focused in the wrong area.

Something, that turned out to be his body, was spotted situated on the rocky coast by a boat patrolling the area, looking for signs of life.

They found him lying against a fence  near the Agia Marina Beach. A PM was carried out, it turns out that he had died on the day he disappeared, of natural causes. He may have taken a wrong turn but  knew he was near the marina but collapsed before he could reach it.

Probably heatstroke and exhaustion. 

He was an interesting man, a doctor who had a way of making complicated things simple, god alone knows how many lives he has saved and changed for the positive by encouraging people to do ’just one thing'.  I have his book of that name and it’s exactly what it says – do just one thing to help change the bigger picture of your health and the health of the nation. Standing on one leg while brushing your teeth was one of his favourites. He popularised the 5 to 2 diet - eat well but healthily on five days and then stay under 500-600 calories on the other two days of the week.

                                                      

He was always popping up on the tv, on the radio, with his friendly approachable style, giving advice on diet, exercise and healthy living. I read somewhere that he had been a diabetic but had to adjust his eating and his lifestyle to reverse the changes. Which I presume means that he was an non-insulin dependent diabetic and when he lost weight and learned to eat to in a way that didn’t stress his pancreas, his blood sugars maintained a good level without medical intervention.

He also ate a tape worm just to show that it wasn't a good idea to have such a parasite in your system for 6 weeks. I didn’t see the programme but it's reported it was wonderful TV !!  "infested; living with parasites" if you want to look it up!

Here are a few ideas from his Just One Thing book.

Eat a little bit of dark chocolate a day.

Eat beetroot

Buy some house plants ( I typed that as “house pants” which - on either side of the pond - could be useful!)

Dance!!

Learn to visit and value green spaces

Allocate ten minutes a day to day dreaming.

Read 30 minutes of fiction a day. Good for mental health !!

                                                                    

He was very likeable, personable and was always hugely enthusiastic about life.

Which makes his demise all the more bitter

An MP who lost 4 stones following one of Mosley diets was quoted as saying “Through courageous, science-based journalism, Michael Mosley has helped thousands of people get well and healthy. I’m one of them.”

Somebody else said, “He did change the types of conversations people have about health care and what people can do for themselves”.

 All of which begs the question, "What was he doing out walking in that heat, without enough water?"  I’m presuming in a region that he did not know that well, otherwise he wouldn't have got lost. And if the diabetes story is true--- all of the above even more so.

It’s just a very tragic situation.  A sad day for us all.


Wednesday, June 19, 2024

A happy ending for the rhinos?

Michael - Alternate Thursdays 

Last year I wrote about the potential sale of the largest privately owned collection of rhinos in the world at auction. There were 2,000 rhinos involved as well as a large property and starting bids were set at just $10 million. There weren't any. That's very cheap just for the rhinos, or even just for the property, but the catch was protecting and continuing the farming. The owner, billionaire John Hume, wanted to sell the operation as a going concern and that involved huge running costs and basically no income. So the auction closed with no bids, and the future looked bleak for the rhinos. 

Two thousand white rhinos represents a huge and important gene pool. Hume had carefully preserved genetic diversity, but his hope that he'd one day be able to sell his stockpile of horns to recover at least some of the investment proved groundless and the monthly costs of the operation gradually escalated beyond even his ability to support. 

However, last September there was a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. African Parks, a private Johannesburg-based conservation NGO that manages twenty-two protected areas in partnership with twelve governments across Africa, agreed to purchase the property and the rhino, under a completely different model. The plan was to "rewild" the rhinos - release them into areas where they would be at home and protected. This would happen gradually over a ten year period so that progress could be monitored to ensure that the program was working. Since the rhino were never really tame, it was felt that the animals would be easy to rewild if suitable homes could be found for them. 

In consultation with all the players in the area, it's now been agreed that the ideal environment is the Greater Kruger Park area - the Kruger National Park plus a variety of private reserves that have grown up around it. (One of them is Olifants River Game Reserve where I have a share in a bungalow in the bush and where I am right now.) It's this satellite area that has been identified as the new home - over time - for the two thousand rhinos. If all goes well...

The first step to freedom
Photo: Daily Maverick

The first step was taken last month when 32 rhinos were released in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve. The full story was reported in the Daily Maverick, South Africa's best source of online news. Since they were at the scene, they can tell the story better than I can, so here is the first step in the happy ending for the rhinos. It's quite a story!

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Memories and Musing Paths Not Taken

It was Father's Day last Sunday--that's my excuse to post this ancient photo of me with my (late) dad and mum.


I remember telling my dad when I was nine or ten years old that I wanted to be a writer.

Why?

Because the girls in my class used to ask me to tell them stories at recess.
I remember one about the loud, angry woman who had a pastry shop down the hill from Mount Sophia where our school was.
In my story, her (delicious) 50 cent curry pies were made with the tongues of dogs and cats, and her $1 pies were made with the tongues of children--that's why she never talked to primary school students like us, because she wanted to preserve young tongues for her special pies.
But (and I still like this twist) our Principal secretly went to talk to her and Loud Angry Aunty agreed that she would only cook the tongues of students from our school who lied to her.

After the squeals and giggles came the dilemma: what if Loud Angry Aunty caught you eating one of her plain curry pies and asked 'how is it?' and it had no taste (because no tongue); do you tell the truth and make her angry or do you lie to her and let her Cut Out Your Tongue?

FYI that last question was delivered At someone and when that Someone started to cry I knew the story 'worked'.
(Sorry, H!)

I thought telling stories would be a good way to earn a living, but somehow my father wasn't equally convinced,

'You'll become a doctor' he said.

This photo is evidence I tried Med School for a while. Here I'm with some course mates in front of a Rubber Plantation upcountry, on a break in Malaysia.


And yes, I'm thinking of setting the next book in a rubber plantation. How does 'The Rubber Tree Mystery' sound?

It was Jeff's last birthday post that made me think about paths not taken. Dropping out of Medicine felt like the right thing for me then and now. The only time I've wondered was when first my mother then my father got sick and I wondered if I might possibly have made a difference if I'd taken a different path...

But of the twelve of us (including the photographer) in front of the plantation a lifetime ago, four died before reaching their 60's--despite access to the best (presumably) Medical care Singapore has to offer.

I doubt I could have made a difference to them or to my parents. And I've had a wonderful time on my chosen path so far, even / especially the sections I would label 'Adventures' (Thank you for the definition, Patti!) .

Another of those friends is now a neighbour and, since a stroke made it difficult for him to, I get to walk his dog sometimes,


This furry sweetheart brings me so much joy!

And so does this slightly less cuddly one I spotted last week...

I love mudskippers for their adaptability and for how they hop, skip and climb mangrove trees. They're literally 'fish out of water' but seem perfectly comfortable adapting to their environments!
If I had a spirit animal, it would be the mudskipper!

And now, like the mudskipper, I have to decide whether to go for a long walk on land or go out on the water today--it's not raining but there are definitely some clouds not too far out--



Or I could just stay here reading and writing--which seems to be where I end up, no matter which path I choose to start out on!

Between life and death there is a library, and within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things woul be if you had made other choices.
Matt Haig--The Midnight Library

Monday, June 17, 2024

Patti’s Aphorisms

Annamaria on Monday



First of all, why "Patti's?" 


Many of you know that my legal name is Patricia King.  My parents named me Patricia because I I was born on St. Patrick's Day.  They were following one of the two common Italian naming customs by calling me after the saint's days when I arrived.  (People named Pasquale or Pasqualina, for instance, were often born on or very close to Easter.)


The name "King" came to me with my first marriage.  I kept it after the divorce because I had a young daughter who whose last name was King. I thought she was going through enough for a three year-old, and I didn't want her to have a different name from her mother.

These days most people call me Pat. Just the other day, for instance, the clerk at the pharmacy asked me my name so he could find my prescription.  I said,"Patricia King."  He proceeded to address me, as most of my friends do these days, as "Pat."  This is not my favorite.  

To me, Pat is a flat word with a flat meaning.  But I answer to it. 'Twas not always so. Starting when I was an infant, I was known to my family and early in my life, to my friends as Patti. (I prefer the Italian spelling, with an 'I' rather than an eye rather than a 'Y.')  My nieces and nephews, my lifelong friends and their children, all of those who knew the young me, still call me Patti or Aunt Patti.  But currently, everyone else says "Pat." Though I am still little, I guess I am not small enough or, more likely, not young enough to be walking around with a diminutive name.




Okay, the title of this blog is out of the way.  Now to its other word, Aphorisms.  Specifically, ones I have coined.  Never fear.  I am not clever enough to have thought up very many.  But for this blog, I have also coined a new one.

Here are two I have had been tossing around for a while:

No adventure worthy of the name 
is fun while you're going through it.
 
This one just fell out of my mouth one day, when my daughter complained during a week in the Caribbean. She was around nine years old and justly upset. we had gotten lost looking for what was supposed to be a beautiful, sequestered  beach. We wound up at the island dump. Since then, I have trotted my saying out a number of times. As far as I can see, the stories people tell when they come home from a trip are the ones about what went wrong--the loss luggage, the wrong turn, ... It seems  a way of celebrating one’s survival. And of course, we all know that every good story has to have trouble in it.

This next saying is a bit long to be an aphorism. I guess I should call it a truism.

People in their 20s and 30s want stuff.
 People in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s want experiences.
 People in their 80s and 90s want help.

Among he illustrations peppered into this post are two of my favorites, coined by witty and wise people.  They are sayings I  quote, by people  cleverer than I.  Here is my new aphorism for today:


  

Artificial Intelligence is to real intelligence as
artificial flowers are to real flowers.

Will this statement stand the test of time?  I doubt it.  For one thing, I don't think is clever enough or nicely stated enough.  It feels true to me, but does it sum up, as I hope the others do, a complex concept in a few words?

Besides, AI bots are scraping the entire internet, including Murder is Everywhere, with their insatiable appetite for grist for AI mill.  When the AI bots find my thirteen words characterizing AI as dull and disappointing, if AI really achieves its full potential of independent thinking, it will see my statement as an insult and delete my words.  Maybe this whole post will disappear.

If you are here and you see that happening, it will be time to become afraid of AI.     

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Christopher Huang Guest Post: On Dressing for the Occasion


Sunday—Jeff introducing Chris

Christopher Huang––better known as Chris to those of us who see him at seemingly every major book conference on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean––was born and raised in Singapore, studied architecture at Canada’s McGill University in Montreal and now lives in Calgary where he writes exclusively in post-WW1 Britain. His first novel, A Gentleman's Murder, was published in 2018; it was followed by Library Journal’s star-reviewed Unnatural Ends in 2023. His third book, a sequel to his first, is expected in May 2025. Chris dabbles in interactive fiction and has difficulty passing up a good "full English" breakfast.

 

When I asked Chris a month ago at Bristol UK’s CrimeFest to consider writing a guest post for MIE, little did I expect that this man known for his conservative sartorial splendor would share a nigh on “bare it all” tale of his post-CrimeFest adventuring through an expanse of suburbia extending northwest from London known as Metroland, and his harrowing efforts to escape the clutches of his Metroland hotel.

 

Enjoy.

 


When I ran into Jeff Siger on my first night at Crimefest this year and he suggested that I contribute a post to this blog, I wondered what to write. A deep and terribly learned treatise on the history of train travel, perhaps? A survey of various executions of the full English breakfast? As it turned out, however, Fate would soon take a hand.

 

Now, I think we can all agree that overseas travel is expensive. So if I’m going to cross seven time zones, you can bet I’m doing a little more than just Crimefest before heading home again. After all, I’m a Canadian writing in a British setting; and as Cathy Ace pointed out to me in 2018 when I first cancelled my original flight home in favour of tromping all over the North Yorkshire moors in the dress shoes and suit intended for a weekend of sitting around a Bristol hotel, the best sort of research is actually being there. Most of my post-Crimefest adventuring, therefore, has been about research in one way or another.

 

This year, my focus was Metroland.

 


That’s the expanse of suburbia extending northwest from London along the old Metropolitan Railway line. Housing development there began in the 1800s, but really took off around the early 1900s as the men came home from WW1 demanding a better life. I found a cheap hotel in the heart of that suburbia, and I wasn’t too particular since I wasn’t there to enjoy its amenities. The bathrooms were shared, something I’ve experienced before but have yet to get used to. I mean, what’s the dress etiquette when you’ve first rolled out of bed? Most people don’t pack a dressing gown nowadays. But as long as you remember to bring your keycard with you, all should be well. Right? Besides, the staff was accommodating enough to check me into my room four hours early, which I appreciated.

 

My first day passed without a hitch. I hit up the London Transport Museum, on the grounds that half my research always seems to be about how people got from A to B in the 1920s — the price of writing historical fiction, I suppose. Besides, Metroland was originally developed by the Metropolitan Railway and intrinsically linked to the idea of an easy commute to and from the City of London, so this was a good place to start.

 



My particular period of interest is WW1 and its aftermath. Aside from learning about the recruitment of women workers and the requisition of buses for military transport, I also learned that corporations have been making questionable advertising decisions since forever …

 


The next two days were spent invading the countryside from Harrow to Amersham. The urban furor of London seems to fade a little with every stop northwest, which is to be expected. At Amersham, for instance, the green pastures promised by the old Metroland brochures were much more in evidence. Meanwhile, the residential houses of each old suburb are a lesson in how the same cookie-cutter design can be dressed up in an infinite variety of ways; and, given about eighty to a hundred years of renovation and repair, that “dressing up” can settle into a bone-deep individuality.

 


 

Also, no Metroland suburb is complete without its own WW1 memorial.

 




Somewhere in the middle of this was when my hotel keycard first died. It was no matter: a quick stop into the reception soon resolved the issue.

 

Day four, I visited Highgate Cemetery, which subverts the usual expectation of ordered graves set in manicured lawns with winding paths amid dense foliage. Never mind the famous people buried here, from Douglas Adams to Karl Marx: what truly impresses is the sense of civilisation being absorbed back into nature.

 




I found that my keycard had died again when I returned that night. The clerk had it re-reactivated, and I thought nothing more of it. After all, my flight home was the next morning. What could possibly go wrong in the next twelve hours?

 

Of course, any savvy reader knows that I wouldn’t have mentioned any details of my hotel situation if, in fact, nothing went wrong.

 

The plan was to leave at 6:30 AM and catch the bus, which should get me into Heathrow Airport by 8:00 AM, to give me plenty of time for my 10:15 AM flight. I awoke at about 5:45 AM, left my room to use the facilities … and found that my keycard had died a third time.

 

So there I was, locked out of my room wearing nothing but my underwear, with a transatlantic flight coming up in a matter of hours. I headed down to the reception, only to find it empty. Perhaps it was too early … or perhaps the clerk was napping in the back room? Rather uncomfortably, the reception was actually separate from the main hotel, which left me stretched across the porch area, in full view of the public street, with one foot wedging open the main door as I hammered on the reception door. No one responded, but hope springs eternal, as they say.

 

I honestly considered breaking a window to get either into the reception or my own room. But the first would achieve nothing, since I had no idea how to work the keycard machine; and I had no way up the side of the building to my room window. Meanwhile, suburban London zoomed by on the street before me, hopefully too focused on the workday ahead to notice the guy standing there in his … uh, did I say underwear? No no, these are workout clothes. Clearly. Nothing to see here as I do my stretches before heading out for a pre-breakfast run … barefoot. I will never complain about hiking the North Yorkshire countryside in a business suit again.

 

A couple of other guests, noticing my predicament, were kind enough to try calling the hotel management on their phones; but it wasn’t until 7:00 AM that the clerk showed up — half an hour after my planned exit. I got my keycard re-re-reactivated, hurriedly dressed, and caught a taxi instead of a bus to arrive at Heathrow much as originally planned.

 

Given the focus of this blog, I should share a few lessons I learned from this experience outside of my intended research:

 

1. Allow plenty of time for things to go wrong, because they invariably will.

2. Wear clean underwear, preferably of the sort that can pass at a distance for casual wear.

3. If your keycard dies twice while nobody else’s does, it could mean that the card itself is wearing out. Get a new one rather than simply reactivate this one, even if you’ve only got twelve hours left on your stay.

 

Last year, my already-extended post-Crimefest adventure was made longer when my flight home was cancelled at the last minute by an airline strike. This year, this happens. If I didn’t know better, I’d wonder if Britannia wants to keep me for her very own.

 


––Christopher