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It is a whirlwind in here

In Honour Of The Queen’s 92nd Birthday

<> on June 24, 2015 in Berlin, Germany.

 

In my novels where HM The Queen occasionally appears, one of those instances is after her own mother’s death at 101 years. Here is a meeting between my protagonist, ST, facilitated by the Royal Steward, Howard.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“Howard?”

“Sir.”

As it is the most of formal protocol days ST must accept that Howard is first and foremost a Steward of the Queen. He will be guided, he will be ushered, he will be tended to with the utmost of discretion.

“A sad occasion, Howard.”

“Leavened a touch this time around, Sir.”

This is Howard’s way of informing him that all – more or less – is as it should be.

“Please convey to Her Majesty my deepest condolences.”

“You may do so yourself, Sir.” Howard indicates for another member of the staff to continue greeting the flow of arriving vehicles. “If you’ll follow me.”

This is unexpected. ST had been surprized enough to be invited back to what he assumed would be a somber buffet in one of the State reception rooms. There would be small talk and a hurried atmosphere as most of the Royal family would soon be on their way to the internment at Windsor Castle.

“Whose idea is this?” ST asks the question to Howard’s retreating back as he follows the other man along the front of the palace.

“Whilst on duty, Sir, I have no ideas of my own.”

They enter a section of the palace unknown by ST. They come to a door that Howard has to unlock. He uses no swipe card nor keypad but a substantial metal key upon an equally impressive key ring. When they are through the door Howard locks it behind them.

The corridor is far shorter than the length they have just walked. ST guesses they are near the back lawns and gardens. He wonders if he is going to be taken to the pond he stood beside so many years ago, and if he will have the chance to skip stones again. However, in less than a minute, Howard turns sharply along an unexpected hallway and shortly stops in front of a set of double doors.

“Our destination, Sir.”

ST makes a quick appraisal of his person, tugging a coat tail and smoothing his hair. He questions the steward with a glance and Howard nods his head before he knocks on the door. ST can’t tell if Howard actually hears a response or if there is a designated seven seconds before he swings the doors open.

“Your Majesty.”

“Come in, Howard.”

ST notes that Howard unusually precedes him into the room instead of standing aside and then following. He is also surprized that when he himself enters the room Howard does not close the door behind him.

“Your Majesty.”

“Thank you for attending.”

“Your mother made a profound passage through Time. You’re welcome.”

The Queen is mid-room, standing beside an ornate floor lamp. The room is not a large audience chamber but a smaller sitting room or den. There are comfortable chairs and books on shelves and a writing table. In one corner is a television and a discreet bar.

“Yes, she did.” The Queen finally approaches ST with hand outstretched. “She put every year to use.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” ST takes the Queen’s hand, ungloved and barely adorned, and shakes it gently. He looks her in the eye as she does to him and finds a calmness he did not expect.

“Come to the window.”

“Ma’am.”

He follows her across the room and notes that Howard, although unbidden, does the same. They stand in a line before the broad panes of glass.

“My mother did not often reside in this palace as she believed it rightfully belonged to the current monarch.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Appearances.”

“Ma’am.”

“Howard tells me you are finding out about appearances.”

“Yes.” ST does not hide his glance toward the steward. “I am discovering that it is others who do not permit me to be on an equal footing.”

“Exactly so.” The Queen smiles. “And does Howard instruct?”

“I suspect so, Ma’am.” ST also smiles. “But with Howard, who can ever know?”

“Oh, we live and learn from that one.”

The Queen looks away from the men and stares out the window. Since ST is here by request and no polite dismissal has occurred, he realizes the audience is not over. He also realizes, standing and looking onto a burgeoning garden, that this may be one of the quietest rooms he has ever been in. There is not a sound reaching them from the great city of London, nor from the bustle of the palace.

“When my mother did come here, this was her favourite room with her favourite view.” The Queen points out the window. “She would often spend an afternoon here after some public or family function – the two often intertwined.”

“As she would often point out, Ma’am.”

ST almost snorts in surprize for Howard has just given the Queen a verbal nudge. He assumes this is part of a steward’s job, but ST has never seen it done.

“Yes, Howard.” The Queen glances at him. “My mother was a ‘public’ person over sixty years. She both resented and appreciated the fact that she had forty years without.”

“Both, Ma’am?” ST is struck by the notion for not only does it sound contradictory but he is startled to realize he has similar feelings.

“Yes.” The Queen turns and looks directly at ST. “She appreciated the fact she did experience the younger portion of her life where she lived almost normally. She resented the fact that by having that experience she lived the rest of her life knowing what she was missing.”

“And you, Ma’am?”

“I was not born to be a Queen but as long as Uncle David had no issue I was always reminded I was Heir Presumptive. My youth had some normality but I was never allowed to go my own way. “She pauses to look out the window. “I have never known what I am missing but I am aware I am always missing something.”

“Do you think that is worse?”

“How can I compare?”

ST has no answer for this and hopes it is rhetorical. That you can’t really know one thing without experiencing its opposite is a nugget found in the core of Space/Time – and Space/Time rules the world.

“Howard’s body language is urging me on.”

“Is it, Majesty?” It is Howard himself who asks the question. “Uncharted waters, Ma’am. I apologize.”

“You’re being protective, Howard.” The Queen nods. “It’s appreciated.”

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Escape From The House of Hell

alh5baf0f_ottla[Franz & Ottla]

Franz Kafka lived way too long with his parents (his discord with his father is famous), and stayed in the city of Prague (which he described as “The little mother with claws”) for most of his life. But his sister, Ottla, escaped both. In my rendition of Kafka’s missing diary entries, in Kafka In The Castle, I show his reaction to his sister’s escape.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

20 April 1917

Fate laughed up its sleeve, and this morning’s post brought a letter from Felice. A letter of no consequence, except for its arrival.

And I, in fact, have answered it. Perhaps too hastily. Perhaps too truthfully.

I have praised Ottla so much previously that F. has, upon occasion, made comments about my admiration.

That was her word, and I think it was not used favourably.

But the truth is – I have great admiration for my youngest sister. She does not think and think and think.

She does not discuss things for weeks.

She acts.

My God – she got away from Prague!

With The Queen In The Queen’s Garden At Buckingham Palace

buckingham-palace-garden-lake

In my novel, More Famous Than The Queen, I follow the life of ST, so famous he is only known my his initials. One of his friends is the Queen of England. They have the occasional meeting.

Here, written a number of years ago, is an abridged account of one of his meetings with Her Majesty, in the gardens of Buckingham Palace.

So, why not share, on the heels of the recently released documentary of Her Majesty, walking and talking in her gardens – itself quickly becoming famous.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

ST walks half way along the lake without seeing anyone else. He assumes he will quickly be notified when the Monarch is ready to receive him. He knows his progress is being monitored by sensors and security devices.

He slows his pace. He is past the turn in the path, and nearly to the head of the lake. He can not be more obviously present as he stands beside the glistening body of water.

ST absently gazes at the ground in search of a skipping stone. The lake is so narrow, he will have to throw along its length. It seems he won’t get to practice his rusty skills, for the earth is totally absent of suitable stones.  Crushed, white pebbles border the lake. All of the strategically placed rocks are too hefty – some even large enough to sit upon. It is apparent the area is regularly raked.

He pushes his shoe through the pristine arrangement, hunting for an errant rock which might have missed a ground keeper’s eye. Not a particle of dust accumulates on his highly-shined toe.

****************************************

ST’s hunt is futile, and he begins to search in earnest around one of the large rocks. Instead of using his toe, he carefully reaches forward to push the polished pebbles out of the way. He even picks some up, hefting them in his palm.

“Is it your intent to stone our fish?”

ST is so startled he drops the pebbles. He has heard not the slightest sound behind him. He turns with much surprise and shock, prepared to rebuke whichever ground keeper or security person he confronts. His angered preparations are for naught.

“They will prove adept at avoidance.”

“Your Majesty.”

“They have survived many a grandchild.”

ST stares at the small woman, and actually feels a twinge of reverence. They have met before, and had conversations – not just two minutes of “chat” during some reception. Even though ST knows all about the smoke and mirrors employed by fame, there is always something at the core to be obscured and reflected.

A small woman in black, glancing at him while squinting into the sun. It is not who she is, but all the things people believe when they meet. For the first time, he realizes what others may be seeing when they come to look at him.

“Skipping stones, Ma’am.”

“A poor choice here.” She turns from the sun.

****************************

It seems to ST she would like to be alone, but for him to leave in any direction would be acutely apparent. Startled by royalty at the beginning, and offending royalty at the end, is not the way he wants to remember this encounter.

He stands his ground, keeps silent, and watches the small woman’s back, as if he were a faithful yeoman of the guard. Give him a halberd and pike, and he would be the most diligent defender the kingdom has ever seen.

She is staring into the water, which reflects the blue sky and the trailing white clouds. The surface is so calm their reflections sparkle. “Do you know they call this the Queen’s weather?”

“Yes.”

“That seems rather a lot of responsibility to us.” She takes an unhurried look into the sky, then points to a huge swath of blue. “As if we could command such a thing.”

“It’s just as easy to take the credit.”

“Then credit must be taken for the poor weather. To be accorded jurisdiction over fifty percent, demands a responsibility over the other fifty.” She turns and looks directly at ST. “And so much more, beyond our expertise.”

“I understand.”

And although ST does understand, he speaks because he is spoken to. And he does not speak the first words which spring into his head, which would be impertinent.

“You hesitate.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” He has forgotten how perceptive she is.

“Many do.” She is waiting.

“`Heavy is the head that wears the crown’.”

“Our Mr. Shakespeare knew his Royalty.” Her eyes definitely change, ST will swear to it. “Although we suspect he would prefer a correct rendition. `Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown’.”    “Henry IV, Part 2.”

“Are you playing catch-up?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“It is to be commended.”

********************

She glances toward the palace, and then looks into the sky. “In the country, we generally tell time by the sun.” She again walks toward the lake, and stands so close her toes seem to touch the water.

“This conversation must never have taken place.”

“Ma’am. My plan is to make my memoirs a tissue of lies.”

 

(image)http://www.britmums.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Buckingham-Palace-Garden-lake.jpg

Anniversary Of The Sinking Of The Titanic

titanic_in_southampton
Halifax is significant to the Titanic, and vice versa. It is the port where 209 of the victims from the Titanic were brought after being retrieved. 150 of these bodies were eventually buried in Halifax.   I live a short city bus ride  from one graveyard where many Titanic victims are buried.  I am also a longer bus trip to another graveyard where more of the dead are buried. I usually visit each once a year.
When cruise ships come to Halifax, one of the ‘tours’ offered the passengers is a visit to the Titanic graveyard. I assume the irony of this is lost, but I do wonder about the ‘tempting fate’ aspect of such an excursion.
One year I went to a Titanic “parade” down on the waterfront. The event started one hour late. The horse-drawn “hearse” was really a waggon from a local farm. The candles were  fake electric. Still, the team of Percheron horses was wonderful, and the folk in period costume were well done.
The ‘undertaker’ driving the team had a black frock coat and black top hat but – alas – no black riband around the hat. There was a plain, grey wooden box in the back.
Whatever the reason, a half dozen present-day undertakers from Snow’s Funeral Home (the funeral home which had tended to the actual Titanic victims) marched behind the waggon.
As a macabre aside (and I generally favour the macabre, but I found this creepy) there were meals to be had in some of the downtown restaurants which featured the menu of the last meal eaten on the Titanic.
One of these restaurants was The Five Fishermen. At the time The Titanic sank, Snow’s Funeral Home was in the building The Five Fishermen now occupies. So – literally – the coffins were once stacked in the same room where present day patrons were chowing down on The Titanic’s last meal.
I did learn one new thing. One of the people crowded around the ‘hearse’ opined  there would have been no women undertakes in 1912. The group following the waggon did have one woman. A member of the real undertaker group said that was not true. Indeed, two women embalmers from the city of Saint John (a port city in the adjoining province of New Brunswick) were brought in by train to help with the vast numbers of dead.

Kafka And Friday the Thirteenth (13th)

viernes-131

In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the missing entries of his actual diaries.  There are many days to fill, as he either did not write during these days, or he destroyed the record.

I do give him a brief recognition of Friday 13th. In reality, the Swiss Girl haunted him (pleasantly) all his life.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

13 April 1917

I almost wrote down the year as 1913. That was the year I met the Swiss girl. And I remember her joking about Friday the thirteenth, and how we had missed it by just a day. She was superstitious – Christians seem to be. I wonder what precautions she is taking today. It will be three years and seven months since I saw her. Yet some of the things we did could have happened last week. I think that memory must be made of rubber.  You can sometimes pull it toward yourself – and sometimes it snaps away like a shot. Causing as much pain.

Ogma Meets A Unicorn (for National Unicorn Day)

md3371150725

Twitter and many other parts of the world are awash in comments and observations about National Unicorn Day. Since so much of it seems frivolous, here is an excerpt from my novel, A Lost Gospel, where unicorns are as real as the fingers on your hand.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“You want us to think like the unicorn?” Ogma was irritated, and spoke with deliberation. “The ways of the beasts are even beyond the girl. At her best, I believe she just follows.”

“There are times, Ogma, when the worth is not in the accomplishment, but in the attempt.”

“I’ll be a better man by trying to think like the beast?”

“You can’t help but be a better man, Ogma.”

“Well. That’s spoken like a Head Druid.” Although Cowin could not see his actions – perhaps because Cowin was unable to see him – Ogma held out his hand and rubbed his fingers together. “Here, beastie, beastie. Uncle Ogma has a wee treat for you.”

“Is that what you think a unicorn thinks?”

“But if you come up to Uncle Cowin,” Ogma’s voice now had a sing-song tone. “Just jab him in the arse with that big horn, for he doesn’t have anything for you at all.”

“A least I promise nothing.” The Head Druid had finally deduced what Ogma was doing. “But what will be the reaction of those very sharp teeth when your hand is found to be empty?”

“What?” Ogma hesitated.

“Does the unicorn possess your sense of humour?” Cowin did not try to suppress a chuckle. “Or will your empty hand be empty even of fingers?”

Ogma momentarily considered the question, then quickly raised his hand. He was about to make an obscene gesture, but instead turned in the direction of a distant noise. He could feel by the brush of Cowin’s cloak that the Head Druid did the same.

“We’re being approached without hesitation.” Ogma whispered the words.”By more than one, if the sounds don’t play tricks.”

“That isn’t possible in this fog.” As the oncoming noise shifted, Cowin turned slightly. “I don’t suppose you have a knife under your cloak?”

“No, Head Druid.” Ogma stared into the dark. “Like most, I rarely carry arms while on the Island.”

“The times are changing.” Cowin looked at the vague shape of his companion. “Keep no more than a few strides distant.”

“We’re not prepared for a fucking invasion.” Ogma got into a crouch and flanked the Head Druid.

“Maybe they won’t see us.” Cowin leaned toward the approaching noise.

“I think that’s a false hope.” Ogma moved into his fighting position, bracing for an attack. “They’re aiming right in our direction.”

“The fog will give some protection.” The Head Druid also crouched into a combat stance. “Let as many as possible go past, then jump the ones at the rear. If they’re armed, we might wrestle a weapon from them.”

“Or a body to use as a shield.” Ogma wrapped his cloak around his arm to help deflect a thrusting sword.

“Nothing fancy.” Cowin dug his heels into the earth. “We have to go on this voyage – nothing is more important. If we’re overwhelmed, we must try to escape.”

The fog seemed to muffle noises which were close, yet make distant sounds crack like a whip beside their ears. This aided to the druids’ confusion, and they couldn’t tell who was approaching, or from where. It was Ogma who spoke first, using an oath which held traces of fear around the words.

“Something’s brushing against me.”

“What do you – ”

“Curse Manannan’s damn fog – it’s at my legs.” There were sounds of commotion, and then of a body rolling on the earth. “Fucking sword of death.” Ogma’s voice was high.

“Where are you?” Cowin stared uselessly through the fog.

“By the gods of hell. Get it away from me.”

“Ogma.” Cowin moved toward his voice. “I can’t even – ”

“It’s the beast.” Ogma shouted. “The damned beast.”

“Beast?”

“The unicorn.” Ogma was sputtering in anger. “It’s pulling my clothes with its teeth, and that horn has come inches from – ” Ogma’s voice moved. “Oh, for fuck’s sake.”

“Ogma.” The Head Druid was both concerned and relieved. “Don’t struggle – it’s not going to hurt you.”

“You don’t think being frightened can’t hurt you?” Ogma’s voice was sharp, but the rage was ebbing from it. “I’m stopping, you bag of shit. I’m sitting on my arse and not lifting a hand, so get your head away from me.” There was a pause, filled only by the heavy breathing of the unicorn. “This damn thing is bigger than you’d think, Head Druid.”

“Do you still have all your fingers?” Laughter surrounded Cowin’s words. “Or does the unicorn look upon you with a smile?”

“This was its game?”

“Be thankful.” Cowin walked toward the other man’s voice. “You found out the unicorn has a sense of humour.” He reached his hand to help Ogma to his feet.

“The beast does not go after your fingers,” complained Ogma.

“I don’t tease him.” Cowin rubbed the animal’s neck. “Nor do I speak of him in such a rough manner.”

“You think it understands me?”

“Not the words – but the intent.” Cowin felt the unicorn become tense under his hand. “The girl approaches.”

Spring Onion Risotto

As I have written two historical novels about onion farmers, I can say with verve: All Onion / All the Time.

Cooked in vegetable stock, this Spring Onion Risotto is pretty light, but the cheese added in at the end adds just enough richness.

Source: Spring Onion Risotto

TRAVEL The Ocean: Atlantic Container Line’s North Atlantic Cargo-Passenger Service Opens This Week Between Hamburg, Antwerp and Liverpool and Halifax, New York and Baltimore With Return To Liverpool — The Cruise People Ltd

This is how i would like to cross the ocean.

The Cruise People Ltd is pleased to announce the opening this week of a new cargo-passenger service between Europe and North America with five new ACL vessels called the G4’s. Delivered over the past two years to Grimaldi Lines subsidiary ACL, these ships now offer a weekly year-round fixed day of the week passenger service […]

via Atlantic Container Line’s North Atlantic Cargo-Passenger Service Opens This Week Between Hamburg, Antwerp and Liverpool and Halifax, New York and Baltimore With Return To Liverpool — The Cruise People Ltd

Elephant for Easter

via Goose Lane Editions / The Elephant Talks To God / Short Stories