The Drive That Changed Everything

He had kept raising difficulties. From doubts about the engine to mud on the tyres.
She was more confident, her money had helped built it, she had helped design it, she knew it would work.
She planned it carefully, told her husband she was going to her mother’s home more than a hundred miles away, he expected her to take the train, she waited until he had left the house.
Then her sons rolled the ungainly machine out of the stable, pushed it until it started, and Bertha Benz took the world’s first motor car and drove into history.

Bertha Benz, picture from Wikipedia

Charli Mills from the Carrot Ranch prompts us thus this week

September 19, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about mud on the tyres. The tyres can be from any conveyance or serve as an analogy. How did they get muddy and why? What impact does mud on the tyres have on the story (plot) or characters (motivation)? Go where the prompt leads!

I have gone slightly away from the prompt again with a completely true tale about another remarkable woman.

A delightful reconstruction of the journey, it is in error in only two particulars.

Her son’s came with her as the car wasn’t powerful to go up hills and someone had to push it.

She wore a hat, her hat pins were invaluable in freeing blocked valves.

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Festival Fever

We went to a really wild festival this weekend,

There were street parades.

Music and dancing.

Addictive substances were consumed.

It did get a bit wild.

But was kept in check by armed security

Jane Austen Festival, Bath, 2022

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A Shameless Princess

“Shameless!”
The shocked women looked at the statue of Venus. A beautiful reclining semi-nude woman.
“But it’s her! A princess and the favourite sister of the most powerful man in the world. How could she do it?”
Princess Pauline Borghese entered the room, the ladies curtsied. She watched as the statue was rotated in front of her, the likeness was unmistakable.
“What do you think?” she asked one of her ladies in waiting.
“Very fine,” the woman hesitated, then asked nervously. “Didn’t you feel nervous when you posed?”
“Oh no!” The Princess laughed, “The studio was very well heated.”

Pauline Borghese by Canova {picture from Wikipedia}

Completely true.

In 1803 Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon’s favourite sister, married her second husband Camillo Borghese, 6th Prince of Sulmona, an Italian nobleman. Shortly after the marriage he commissioned the sculptor Antonio Canova to portray his wife as a classical goddess.
The sculpture shocked her contemporaries and her response was exactly as I have given it.

This is in response to Charlie Mills August 22, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story exploring shame as an emotion or theme. Consider how to use shame to drive a cause-and-effect story. How does it impact a character? Is there a change? Go where the prompt leads!

I have rather been led to a somewhat shameless lady, Pauline Bonaparte, Princess Borghese. She is supposed to have chosen the goddess Venus herself, as it had been suggested she pose as the virtuous, virginal goddess Diana. Her response to that idea was one of laughter as, with her reputation, no one in Europe could consider her a suitable model for a virgin

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An Englishwoman takes Precedence

It was impossible, somewhere as remote as this and another man had reached the summit first.
He furiously stamped through the snow to the tall figure.
“How did you get here? I am the Prince of Moscowa and should have been the first man to climb Vignemale.”
The figure turned, he gasped it wasn’t a man but a woman in a long black dress.
Anne Lister smiled. “You may be the Prince of Moscowa, but here an Englishwoman takes precedence. As for how, my wife advised me to bring crampons.”
She nodded, turned, and left him gasping in anger.

Caspar David Friedrich – Wanderer above the sea of fog

This is loosely based on a real story. On the 7th of August 1838, Anne Lister, diarist, landowner and traveller (also known as Gentleman Jack) made the first ascent of Vignemale in the Pyrenees, her wife, Anne Walker, had insisted she take her crampons which proved essential in the ascent (Anne Lister is also described as ‘the first modern lesbian).

Anne Lister


The Prince of Moscowa, son of Napoleon’s Marshall Ney, climbed the mountain on the 11th, and immediately claimed in the press to have made the first ascent. It took the threat of legal action for him to back down and grudgingly admit she had been the first to the summit.
I don’t know if the phrase, ‘an Englishwoman takes precedence.’ Was actually said by Anne Lister, but I think it should have been.

This is in response to Charlie Mills flash fiction challenge, in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features somewhere remote. I thought about a wonderful true story concerning a remarkable lady.

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An Unromantic Waterfall

It was not what she had expected, on a honeymoon in the Alps you admired waterfalls, perhaps sketched them. What you did not do was stand beside your new husband as he measured the temperature of the water at the top of the fall, and noted down the figures his friend shouted up from the bottom.

“The water is warmer at the bottom of the waterfall,” his friend told her, “he is proving that heat is produced from motion. Mrs Joule, your name will be famous.”

She doubted it.

She was wrong.

Joule = the international unit of energy.

.

This is in response to Charlie Mills April 11, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using the phrase, water falls. Where is the water coming from? How does it shape a story? Who does it involve? Go where the prompt leads!

I was drawn to one of the most remarkable experiments of Victorian science, in 1847 when James Joule, who was on his honeymoon, and William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) tried to measure the temperature difference between the top and bottom of the Cascade de Sallanches waterfall.

They were both brilliant men, Joule’s work on heat led to the SI unit of energy being called after him, Thompson determined the temperature of absolute zero, leading to the temperature scale, Kelvin, named after him.

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The Last Ensign

In 1948, as the British Mandate for Palestine came to an end, a party of RAF personnel lowered the ensign that had flown over their airfield for the last time. It was thin and tattered, the legacy of flying for years in the desert. No one seemed to want it so a young airman folded it up and put it in his kitbag.

He continued to fly, all over the world moving aircraft around as part of the Ferry Squadron. He had many stories of his travels, from the cockpit seal of his aircraft failing as he was flying over the Himalayas, to surprising an American submarine surfacing off Gibraltar.

With a group of fellow pilots in front of a Meteor.

After he left the RAF he continued to fly, as a civilian pilot with the Fleet Air Arm.

Meeting the first Transatlantic Balloon

All that time, the ensign was kept carefully wrapped up, as it had one last job to do.

John Isaac Thompson

3rd April 1928 – 17th December 2021

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The Yorkshire Carol Theft

Today is the feast of the Epiphany, when we remember the gifts of the Wise Men. But I am not going to talk about gift, rather than a remarkable theft.


Over three hundred years ago Nahum Tate, arguably the worst poet ever to be appointed Poet Laureate, wrote his one brilliant work, the Christmas carol, While shepherds watched their flocks (he is otherwise best known for rewriting Shakespeare to give happy endings to King Lear and Romeo and Juliet).

Song of the Angels at the Nativity of our Blessed Saviour - Nahum Tate

When While shepherds watched their flocks was first published it was suggested that it be sung; To St. James’s Tune or any other Tune of 2 and 6 Syllables. As, for various curious reasons, it was the ONLY Christmas carol that was permitted to be sung in churches, it rapidly became very popular. Singers throughout the land soon began to fit it to different tunes, over thirty are known to have been used, both adaptations of existing music, and specially composed tunes. One, written by Jane Savage in 1785, is the earliest known Church of England hymn by female composer.

However there was no generally preferred tune, for example, the music book of Thomas Hardy’s grandfather contains two completely different tunes. Then, in 1805, Thomas Clark a Canterbury shoemaker and choirmaster, published a tune which he called Cranbrook, after a village in Kent. This tune was tried with various hymns, then with While shepherds watched their flocks it was an instant success. It spread rapidly, and seemed likely to become the standard tune for the carol.

While shepherds watched their flocks sung in the reconstructed Georgian church at Beamish open air museum


If you listen to this most people will say, “Isn’t that the tune to …..”

In the middle of the nineteenth century the Heptonstall glee club was on an outing to Ilkley Moor, like most choir outings they sang, and made up a silly song about a courting lad and lass. Unlike most songs written in these circumstances, someone wrote it down, and the choir continued to sing it at their concerts.

A popular version of On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at

This version spread like wildfire, and was soon sung all across Yorkshire and beyond. So much so that it is regarded by many as the Yorkshire ‘National’ Anthem

The Yorkshire Anthem in a more polished version sung by Lesley Garrett

And that was that. Victorian Hymn Book compilers weren’t that prudish, but the idea of a carol sung to the tune of a comic song was too much, and a tune written in the sixteenth century was a safe alternative, and that is what we sing today.


People now say that While shepherds watched their flocks was once sung to the tune of On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at and even consider that the tune is a Yorkshire one.


And that is the true tale of the Yorkshire Carol Theft

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The Archaeologist Writes – St. Joan works overtime

My brother has just re-posted this on his blog. Something I wrote for him seven years ago, about our grandfather, his remarkable life and a unique war time souvenir.

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The Two Dolls – Or an anti-racism story from Georgian England

As a contribution to Black History Month I give you this story which was written in 1830, I will tell you more at the end.

A lucky day it was for little Fanny Elvington when her good aunt Delmont consented to receive her into her family, and sent for her from a fine old place, six miles from hence, Burdon Park, where she had been living with her maternal grandfather, to her own comfortable house in Brunswick Square. Poor Fanny had no natural home, her father, General Elvington, being in India with his lady; and a worse residence than the Park could hardly be devised for a little girl, since Lady Burdon was dead, Sir Richard too sickly to be troubled with children, and the care of his grand-daughter left entirely to a vulgar old nurse and a superfine housekeeper. A lucky day for Fanny was that in which she exchanged their misrule for the wise and gentle government of her good aunt Delmont.

Fanny Elvington was a nice little girl, who had a great many good qualities, and, like other little girls, a few faults; which had grown up like weeds under the neglect and mismanagement of the people at the Park, and threatened to require both time and pains to eradicate. For instance, she had a great many foolish antipathies and troublesome fears, some caught from the affectation of the housekeeper, some from the ignorance of the nurse: she shrieked at the sight of a mouse, squalled at a frog, was well-nigh ready to faint at an earwig, and quite as much afraid of a spider as if she had been a fly; she ran away from a quiet ox, as if he had been a mad bull, and had such a horror of chimney sweepers that she shrank her head under the bedclothes whenever she heard the deep cry of “sweep! sweep!” forerunning the old clothesman and the milkman on a frosty morning, and could hardly be persuaded to look at them, poor creatures, dressed in their tawdry tinsel and dancing round Jack of the Green on Mayday. But her favourite fear, her pet aversion, was a black man; especially a little black footboy who lived next door, and whom she never saw without shrinking, and shuddering, and turning pale.

It was a most unlucky aversion for Fanny, and gave her and her aunt more trouble than all her other mislikings put together, inasmuch as Pompey came oftener in view than mouse or frog, spider or earwig, ox or chimney-sweep. How it happened nobody could tell, but Pompey was always in Fanny Elvington’s way. She saw him twice as often as anyone else in the house. If she went to the window, he was sure to be standing on the steps: if she walked in the Square garden, she met him crossing the pavement: she could not water her geraniums in the little court behind the house, but she heard his merry voice singing in broken English as he cleaned the knives and shoes on the other side of the wall; nay, she could not even hang out her Canary-bird’s cage at the back door, but he was sure to be feeding his parrot at theirs. Go where she would, Pompey’s shining black face and broad white teeth followed her: he haunted her very dreams; and the oftener she saw him, whether sleeping or waking, the more her unreasonable antipathy grew upon her. Her cousins laughed at her without effect, and her aunt’s serious remonstrances were equally useless.

The person who, next to Fanny herself, suffered the most from this foolish and wicked prejudice, was poor Pompey, whose intelligence, activity, and good-humour had made him a constant favourite in his master’s house, and who had sufficient sensibility to feel deeply the horror and disgust which he had inspired in his young neighbour. At first he tried to propitiate her by bringing groundsel and chickweed for her Canary-bird, running to meet her with an umbrella when she happened to be caught in the rain, and other small attentions, which were repelled with absolute loathing.

“Me same flesh and blood with you, missy, though skin be black,” cried poor Pompey one day when pushed to extremity by Fanny’s disdain, “same flesh and blood, missy!” a fact which the young lady denied with more than usual indignation; she looked at her own white skin, and she thought of his black one; and all the reasoning of her aunt failed to convince her, that where the outside was so different, the inside could by possibility be alike. At last Mrs. Delmont was fain to leave the matter to the great curer of all prejudices, called Time, who in this case seemed even slower in his operations than usual.

In the meanwhile, Fanny’s birthday approached, and as it was within a few days of that of her cousin, Emma Delmont, it was agreed to celebrate the two festivals together. Double feasting! double holiday! double presents! never was a gayer anniversary. Mrs. Delmont’s own gifts had been reserved to the conclusion of the jollity, and after the fruit was put on the table, two huge dolls, almost as big as real babies, were introduced to the little company. They excited and deserved universal admiration. The first was a young lady of the most delicate construction and the most elaborate ornament; a doll of the highest fashion, with sleeves like a bishop, a waist like a wasp, a magnificent bustle, and petticoats so full and so puffed out round the bottom, that the question of hoop or no hoop was stoutly debated between two of the elder girls. Her cheeks were very red, and her neck very white, and her ringlets in the newest possible taste. In short, she was so completely a la mode that a Parisian milliner might have sent her as a pattern to her fellow tradeswoman in London, or the London milliner might have returned the compliment to her sister artist over the water. Her glories, however, were fated to be eclipsed. The moment that the second doll made its appearance, the lady of fashion was looked at no longer.

The second doll was a young gentleman, habited in the striped and braided costume which is the ordinary transition dress of boys between leaving off petticoats and assuming the doublet and hose. It was so exactly like Willy Delmont’s own attire, that the astonished boy looked at himself, to be sure that the doll had not stolen his clothes off his back. The apparel, however, was not the charm that fixed the attention of the young people; the attraction was the complexion, which was of as deep and shining a black, as perfect an imitation of a black boy, in tint and feature, as female ingenuity could accomplish. The face, neck, arms, and legs were all covered with black silk; and much skill was shown in shaping and sewing on the broad flat nose, large ears, and pouting lips, whilst the white teeth and bright round eyes relieved the monotony of the colour. The wig was of black worsted, knitted, and then unravelled, as natural as if it had actually grown on the head. Perhaps the novelty (for none of the party had seen a black doll before) might increase the effect, but they all declared that they had never seen so accurate an imitation, so perfect an illusion. Even Fanny, who at first sight had almost taken the doll for her old enemy Pompey in little, and had shrunk back accordingly, began at last to catch some of the curiosity (for curiosity is a catching passion) that characterised her companions. She drew near – she gazed – at last she even touched the doll, and listened with some interest to Mrs. Belmont’s detail of the trouble she found in constructing the young lady and gentleman.

“What are they made of, aunt?”

“Rags, my dear!” was the reply: “nothing but rags,” continued Mrs. Delmont, unripping a little of the black gentleman’s foot and the white lady’s arm, and showing the linen of which they were composed-; – “both alike, Fanny,” pursued her good aunt, “both the same colour underneath the skin, and both the work of the same hand – like Pompey and you,” added she more solemnly; “and now choose which doll you will.”

And Fanny, blushing and hesitating, chose the black one; and the next day her aunt had the pleasure to see her show it to Pompey over the wall, to his infinite delight; and, in a very few days, Mrs. Delmont had the still greater pleasure to find that Fanny Elvington had not only overcome and acknowledged her prejudice, but had given Pompey a new half-crown, and had accepted groundsel for her Canary-bird from the poor black boy.

NOTE. — About a month after sitting to me for his portrait, the young black gentleman whom I have endeavoured to describe, (I do not mean Pompey, but the doll,) set out upon his travels. He had been constructed in this little Berkshire of ours for some children in the great county of York, and a friend of mine, travelling northward, had the goodness to offer him a place in her carriage for the journey. My friend was a married woman, accompanied by her husband and another lady, and finding the doll cumbersome to pack, wrapped it in a large shawl, and carried it in her lap baby fashion. At the first inn where they stopped to dine, she handed it carelessly out of the carriage before alighting, and was much amused to see it received with the grave officious tenderness usually shown to a real infant by the nicely dressed hostess, whose consternation, when, still taking it for a living child, she caught a glimpse of the complexion, is said to have been irresistibly ludicrous. Of course my friend did not undeceive her. Indeed I believe she humoured the mistake wherever it occurred all along the north road, to the unspeakable astonishment and mystification of chambermaids and waiters.

The Strangers cropped

This story was written by Mary Russell Mitford, a noted writer in the first half of the nineteenth century. Her life story is remarkable, I won’t go into details, please look her up, but she finally achieved success with her stories about rural life. These were first published in various magazines, and then brought together in several volumes under the collective title of Our Village. The Two Dolls is to be found in the fourth volume published in 1830, and subsequently included in one of many collections of her stories called Children of the Village.

These stories are based upon her life in Three Mile Cross near Reading in Berkshire, including a mixture of real and imaginary people. One real person, who appears in the background of several stories, was a professional doll maker. So I suspect that the doll was real (and probably the story of his travels to Yorkshire are true), though Pompey and Fanny Elvington are just delightful and remarkable fiction.

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A shocking Georgian way of dealing with nuisances

Lately there has been some trouble in our village, children have been playing the traditional game of irritating people by ringing the doorbell and running away.

Now this has probably been going on since doorbells were invented (which was long before the word doorbell was invented – possibly by Jane Austen, certainly she was the first to write the word down).

However the Georgians, as well as inventing the word ‘doorbell’ also invented a way of dealing with the problem which probably couldn’t be used today (health and safety enthusiasts have a lot to answer for).

In June 1789, the Poultry, an area of London, was pestered by a man ringing the bells on various houses and shops at night. It caused considerable disruption and fear, but by the time doors were opened the perpetrator had fled into the ill-lit London streets. Finally one man had enough, Thomas Ribright, optician at the sign of the Golden Spectacles, he was much more than a simple optician, he was a maker of scientific instruments and decided to use his knowledge to set a trap. He described what he did in a letter to the Times, 8 July, 1789.

A tradesman, who lives not an hundred miles from me, having made a practice of ringing my bell violently in the night time, by which my family were greatly alarmed, I resolved, if possible, to punish the disturber of my rest. For this purpose I pasted some tin filings upon the pavement before my door, and having made a communication between the handle of the bell and the conductor of an electrical machine, by means of a wire, I charged a large jar to be ready for his reception. A few moments after my neighbour, as I suspected, made an attempt as usual; but instead of accomplishing what he intended, he received the whole contents of the jar, which made him stagger, and when I opened the door, I found him leaning against one of the supporters of the door, exclaiming, What! you shoot people, eh! d-n ye.- These are the real circumstances of the affair , and to the truth of them I am ready to make an affidavit if necessary.

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Thomas Ribright had been experimenting with the transmission of electricity through various media. He had connected a fully charged Leyden jar, a means of storing a large electrical charge, then linked it to the back of the doorbell. Outside he had coated the doorstep with tin filings to provide a good earth, and waited.

The result was better than he could have imagined. The perpetrator, Peter Wheeler, a local grocer and tea-dealer, who had been nicknamed ‘Count Fig’ because of his airs and graces, and who seems to have quarrelled with most of his neighbours, was now ruthlessly mocked. One cartoon depicted him as the ugliest man in London.

Peter Fig the little grocer, commonly call'd Count Fig

Thomas Ribright prospered, after all he certainly made excellent scientific instruments, but never seems to have had the need to electrify his doorbell again, and modern rules and regulations would, I fear, prevent us from using his methods today.

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