According to that strange song Green Grow The Rushes, Oh, five represents the symbols at your door while V, the Latin numeral five, has been characterised as a hook. This being so, our hook to drag you further into this newsletter is to advise you to forget about the rivals, gospel-makers, and lily white boys that memorably throng the song. Instead, do continue reading and in return we promise not to be too noisy, just in case the symbols on your threshold are, as some claim, cymbals.
Needless to say, there were numerous benevolent societies providing financial and other aid to workers in various trades, as well as dispensaries, convalescent homes, and hospitals treating the poor. Organisations to benefit children offered food, clothing, medical aid and housing, and educated and trained them for various trades as well as assisting some to voluntarily emigrate to the far reaches of the empire. Care was provided for stray cats and dogs, while the Home of Rest for Horses (l886) recalls the huge number of working equines in the city. There were homes for the inebriated and help was available for discharged prisoners of both sexes.
As one might expect, several societies assisted fallen women. The object of the Battersea Mission House (l880) was saving "young women in perilous circumstances, and to receive the fallen, especially first maternity cases", while the London Female Guardian Society (l807) provided "an asylum for the rescue, reclamation, and protection of betrayed and fallen women".
There are hints of class consideration even among those helping these unfortunate. The Anchorage Mission of Hope and Help (l878) noted they assisted penitent young women, but added "Especial provision for better class cases". Single women who entered St Mary Magdalene's Home (l865) received shelter for a year after the birth of their first child, but were considered only "if previously of good character."
Those from the better class who fell on hard times could also apply for relief to the Distressed Gentlefolks' Aid Association (l897). The Royal United Kingdom Beneficent Association (l863) provided annuities to persons from the upper and middle class in reduced circumstances, provided they were over 40, sound of mind, and unable to earn a living due to bodily infirmities.
Religious and missionary organisations naturally abounded, working both at home and abroad. For example, while the Hoxton Coster's Mission (l86l) evangelized and helped street-traders and slum dwellers -- I do wonder why they would mention donkey shows as part of their work -- the Baptist Missionary Society (l792) did not hesitate to take a global view, for their stated intent was "To diffuse Christianity throughout the world".
Some charitable institutions listed exist to this day, such as the Anti-Vivisection Society, St John Ambulance Association, YMCA and YWCA, and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. Others are very much of their time -- the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines Protection Society (l837) which looked after "interests of native races, especially in countries under British rule" or the Irish Distressed Ladies' Fund (l887) for relieving ladies who, because of changes in Irish landed properties, had no income and had been reduced to poverty.
And finally, one charity that must surely resonate with subscribers is the Royal Literary Fund, founded in l790 and incorporated in l8l8. Its aim was to assist "authors of published works of approved literary merit, and authors of important contributions to periodical literature, who may be in want or distress, their widows, orphans, mothers, or sisters."
While this is an enterprise readers and writers alike will applaud, doubtless subscribers have noticed immediately the authors' fathers apparently had to shift for themselves, not to mention that the prospectus description strongly suggests authors were always male. Perhaps I should look into the Royal Literary Fund and if they are still in existence apply for a grant, just for the heck of it.
Appropriately, a total of five Poisoned Pen authors have been nominated for awards to be announced at LCC. The other three PPP nominees for works published in 2004 are Ruth Dudley Edwards for the Lefty Award (most humorous mystery) for Carnage on the Committee, fellow historical mystery author Priscilla Royal was also nominated for the Bruce Alexander Award for Tyrant of the Mind, and Twist Phelan is nominated for the Calavera Award (best mystery set in the geographical area covered by Left Coast Crime) for Family Claims.
Speaking of which, Eric's interactive fiction game WAX WORX was voted winner in the Most unusual Adrift setting/plot category of the 2004 InsideAdrift Awards. It also finished second in the game of the year category. If you'd like to try it, check out http://baf.wurb.com/if/game/2352
The question that interested me most was whether it is possible to face down a charging bull, grab its horns, and somersault up onto the creature's back, which is the popular conception, not surprisingly since itís what surviving images seem to show. Expert opinion is mixed, but leans strongly toward "no way!"
This piqued my curiosity because in our mystery novels Johnís daughter, Europa, and her mother, Cornelia, are bull-leapers. To be precise, 6th century Cretans who recreate the even then ancient sport for the entertainment of Byzantine era audiences.
Mary and I never worried much about bull-leaping technique, except insofar as we didn't want to get it wrong. (Ah...now there's trouble brewing I've brought Mary into it, notice...) We figured we'd be safe if we had our bull leapers recreate what they would have been able to see in the same frescoes that shape our own picture of the practice. If historians suddenly proved that people today have been misinterpreting those images, well, our characters made the same mistake! And whatís more, the Byzantine audience would expect to see bull-leapers doing what those old frescoes showed them doing and not what some professor, 1,500 years in the future, was going to decide theyíd been doing.
Sheer, physical impossibly was another matter. It is pretty hard to justify characters doing the impossible, even if it has been considered possible for thousands of years. As a writer interested in historical accuracy my first thought was, naturally, oh no! I hope we never showed them leaping? Did we ever show them leaping?
Unfortunately, yes. In the very first chapter of the very first book. But how detailed had we been? What did we say? Maybe we were vague. Letís hope we were vague. I couldn't remember, so I looked and found:
"The bull bellowed. Suddenly it was in motion, hooves hammering the ground.
"The girl stood her ground as the animal closed in.
"At the last instant the bull lowered its head, its gilded horns flashing murderous intent in the sunlight. For a moment John's eyes blurred. He blinked rapidly, and when he focused on the girl again she had left the earth as easily as a sparrow, vaulting over the onrushing animal's head, grabbing its deadly horns to land lightly on its back."
Ouch! Could we have got that wrong?
Well, let's not be too hasty! Whatever the weight of opinion might be, some authorities still take the images literally. (Please donít ask whether theyíre living...) Mary and I are always open to learned opinions which coincide with our dramatic impulses.
Moreover, there are some who postulate that the bulls were specially trained. One of the main arguments of the bull-leaping spoilsports is that it would be impossible to grab the horns of a charging bull because the bull sweeps its horns back and forth in a goring motion.
Notice that our magnificently trained taurine performer only lowers his head. His horns merely flash. Nothing is said about them sweeping. No, they are right there for the grabbing -- and what's more, although the bull is in "motion" there is no indication that this motion is rapid. John is able to blink a few times while the girl executes her maneuver. In fact, it is quite possible he does not actually see her grab the horns, but only has the impression she did so. She may just have leapt over the bull's purposefully lowered head.
Phew! That was a close call. Luckily writers of historicals always think of everything....
Mary R and Eric
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