Even when it snows and the landscape dons a white overcoat, February always seems the greyest month of the year. Half way through winter it may be, but the other side of the cold season seems as far off as it did at the turn of the year. Not to mention late 1099s show up to remind us tax season loometh. And now to add to the general misery, here comes another issue of Orphan Scrivener...


Speaking of winter miseries, when the power goes out we're still able to have hot meals and warm drinks, being possessed of a gas cooker and given our coffee pot is of the sturdy metal type heated on camp fires in westerns. To prepare for lack of water when electricity to run the well pump is not available we set aside a fair amount of Adam's ale, but imagine the horror when towards the end of one winter, after some weeks of being unable to get to the shops we almost ran out of coffee! Oh, the humanity!

Taking no notice of William Cowper's characterisation of tea as the cup that cheers but does not inebriate, we boldly cheer the pot that produces Satan's brew. But no Irish coffee for us, thanks. We drink coffee in all its black and aromatic glory without anything added to interfere with its rich, robust flavour. Not even sugar or milk, no sir! This is Liberty Hall. Naked coffee is what we like and that's what we imbibe.

At one time my family drank nothing but strong tea made from the leaf. The earliest coffee I can recall is an occasional bottle of Camp Coffee, a liquid essence sold in distinctive square, elongated bottles. It's fair to say its label has become iconic, with its less than subtle suggestion of the glory days of the British Empire. The label's colourful illustration depicts an Indian servant in sash and turban, holding a tray on which are displayed a jug and the instantly recognisable bottle. He serves a Highland officer, who is all togged up in sporran, plaid, kilt, and red jacket, and taking his ease on a chest in front of couple of bell tents. These details strongly suggest, to me at least, they are on campaign where this particular type of coffee conveniently needs only a spoonful or two of the essence and the addition of steaming hot water and a quick stir with a spoon instead of all that preliminary messing about with grinders and coffee pots, especially while persons of ill will hide behind boulders and take, well, yes, pot shots at you.

We got through so many electric perkers over the years we eventually moved to the plain metal type of which I spoke. Their big advantage is there no parts to go wrong -- or so you would think. However, we had one (now relegated to serving as back up) whose lid would never quite close but it did at least serve for its purpose. Then there was another whose lid bubble fell apart. It turned out to be manufactured of plastic, a foolish design decision considering boiling water would hit it regularly during the perking process. Yankee ingenuity to the rescue: a repair kit from a local ironmonger's emporium provided us with a glass bubble and accompanying rubber sealing ring, and with a bit of fiddling about it rendered the old pot whole again. It's still going strong, literally as I type, as the merry sound of energetic bubbling floating upstairs signals it's just starting to perk the next batch.

A favourite quotation of mine is William Cobbett's advice to endeavour to free oneself from the slavery of tea, coffee, and other slopkettles such as soup or grog, asserting daily intake of a pint or two of warm liquid greatly injures the health. It seems Cobbett frowned upon time wasted gossiping over the cups, and further asserts the reader is unable to imbibe these drinks without a servant to light the fire and prepare the slop. To be fair, since his title is Advice to Young Men And (Incidentally) to Young Women in the Middle and Higher Ranks of Life his audience would not find his reference to a servant strange, but all the same I cannot be the only person who wonders what Cobbett drank and if he got it himself. Since he also advised his readers to drink nothing intoxicating cold water straight from the jug suggests itself as fitting his preferences. Just don't heat it up, OK?

As for the first two beverages he names and shames, at one time Eric drank tea much more than coffee. He's since reconsidered his position so now you could say that, to paraphrase J. Alfred Prufrock, we are measuring out our lives together in coffee spoons.


Most of this issue's BSP revolves around The Guardian Stones, written by our alter ego Eric Reed. We're happy this is the case, given we prefer to let him have the spotlight. And no, he did not demand it with menaces. Dame Rumour was ever a lying jade...


Being as The Guardian Stones is set in rural Shropshire, we drew our BSP bow at a venture and scribbled a line to the Shropshire Star, the fifth best-selling regional evening newspaper in Britain. To our amazement and delight, they've briefly mentioned the book. Can't beat that with a big stick!


Or in this case, two writers transparently masquerading as one. Mary's guest essay for Alicia Rasley's blog on 8th January talked about the creation of the village of Noddweir, including how the village came to receive its unusual name.

ER SPEAKS or TO MARKET, TO MARKET -- OR MAYBE NOT E.B. Davis interviewed Eric Reed for the Writers Who Kill blog on 20th January. Topics covered such diverse topics as what drew ER to write about the English countryside during WWII and, in connection with black marketeering, whether the marketplace nullifies politics.


Martha Roper, self-described wise woman in The Guardian Stones, gathers herbs and plants to make natural remedies for ailments and for other purposes. While she does not specifically say so, she must certainly visit the fields surrounding Noddweir to obtain some of her ingredients. On January 28th Joanne Tropello's Mustard Seed site ran Mary's guest essay touching on Martha's herbal knowledge.


Another contribution to the Poisoned Pen Press multi-author blog will appear on February 18th, this time musing about memorable TV ads. Mary poses the question: which have remained with you over the years?

Meantime, subscribers may care to read news and blogs about and by our fellow Poisoned Pen authors via this links page


Our series of Sunday reviews of Golden Age of Mystery novels continues, most recently examining Eden Phillpotts' The Red Redmaynes. It's a novel opening at a stately, not to say sedate, pace, but by the closing chapters the characters are whirling about in a lively mazurka. More at


This morning after I got online and checked my email, baseball news, and news (always in that order) it struck me that I spend more time staring at a screen than I did as a child when I started my day watching Captain Kangaroo and ended it with programs like Car Fifty-Four, Where Are You? and My Three Sons. It's ironic because I ended my long relationship with television shortly after Mary and I moved into our current house.

Our television reception was terrible. Everything looked like the introduction to The Outer Limits. We weren't bothered because our viewing had been withering away ever since we were married. The last shows we watched with any regularity were The X-Files and Millenium (badly underrated!). Reruns of Seinfeld also, to be honest. Well, okay, I admit we enjoyed The Nanny.

By the summer of 2001 there wasn't much left to watch. Apart from occasional local weather reports, the last thing I saw on television was the incomprehensible image of planes flying into the World Trade Center. The first thing I recall seeing, while sitting in my high-chair in front of a tiny black and white screen, was Willie the Worm, a crude puppet featured on a Philadelphia television station.

Make of those strange bookends what you will.

Do you remember when everyone called television "The Boob Tube"? Back before there were any boobs to be seen, back when sets actually contained tubes. A long time ago.

Psychologists warned that staring passively at a screen would make people stupid. Did it? If the boob tube so powerfully influenced those of us growing up in the fifties and early sixties why didn't we all become cowboys? As a kid and a young adult I probably spent as much time with television and those ubiquitous westerns as the next person, but it didn't stop me from falling in love with the written word or lessen my loyalty to books.

I grew up reading when there weren't any programs on. Saturdays were typical. I spent my mornings tuned in to cartoons and then Jungle Theatre featuring old Tarzan movies. After that it was out to play until dark, after which, with the rest of the family, I settled myself in the living room to watch something (anything!) from the small selection offered during prime time. Still, somehow, I found plenty of time to read. Rather than becoming addicted to television my interest faded over the years.

It might have helped that my family lived next to my grandparents and my great aunt, who spent most of their lives without television and never quite cottoned to it. I only remember them having one television set, a black and white portable that sat on a metal stand, looking out of place amid the Victorian furniture in the lace-curtained living room. It must have lasted for a couple decades and was never replaced by a color set.

My great aunt feared she'd be electrocuted if she tried to adjust the mysterious dials so she kept the set on and simply plugged it in and then unplugged it as necessary. She only watched The Billy Graham Crusade and Lawrence Welk. My grandmother joined her for the latter. Despite my grandmother being a huge fan of Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason novels I can't remember her following the Raymond Burr series. As for my grandfather, he liked baseball games and never missed a rocket launch. I thought it odd that a man who, as a farmer, had been so close to the earth was fascinated by our attempts to get off it.

Perhaps it was my grandmother, reader that she was, who saved me from being a television casualty. She read everything from modern mystery novels to Dickens. Before I had memorized the alphabet, I sat beside her in the big rocking chair while she read me The Wind in the Willows and Heidi and Thornton W. Burgess's gritty -- relatively speaking they certainly were -- animal stories. In the dim lamplight of her living room she introduced me to magic. Compared to books played out in my own unfettered imagination, television shows were only little figures jumping around behind glass.

So here I am today, spending longer than ever in front of a screen but reading: email, news, articles, and books. Not sitting passively but writing. Even sending off mail and posting my words to be read onscreen on the Internet by others. I guess I have ended up a slave to a television screen, but not in a way anyone might have guessed back in the days when Willie the Worm roamed the earth.


Speaking of reading, if subscribers have persisted this far, they're just in time to see us sign off with a reminder the next issue of Orphan Scrivener will arrive for scrutiny on April 15th. If nothing else, it'll serve as an alternative to perusing the labyrinthine intricacies of the IRS Form 1040 instruction booklet.

See you then!
Mary R and Eric

who invite you to visit their home page, to be found hanging out on the virtual washing line that is the Web at There you'll discover the usual suspects, including more personal essays, a bibliography, and our growing libraries of links to free e-texts of classic and Golden Age mysteries, ghost stories, and tales of the supernatural. There's also the Orphan Scrivener archive, so don't say you weren't warned! Our joint blog is at Intrepid subscribers may also wish to know our noms des Twitter are @marymaywrite and @groggytales Drop in some time!

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