4 Ways Librarians Save the World Every Day

You have to admit, librarians have a certain mystique. Whether it’s that buttoned-down-but-secretly-sexy figure in cute glasses that you know has a wild side waiting to be set loose, or a secret master of the arcane, there’s no shortage of heroic librarians in literature and film. You can find book-magicians in Jim C. Hines’s Libriomancer series, for example. There’s also the TV and feature-length film series The Librarians, that features a delightfully nerdy cast of artifact hunters who, interestingly, never seem to crack a book. But real-life librarians quietly save the world every day, in numerous ways that most people never hear about. Here are just a few. 

The Library Detectives

A line drawing of three men standing over a table stacked with books.
By Frederic Dorr Steele / Фредерик Дор Стийл [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“There’s this book…I don’t know what it’s called or who wrote it, but it has a dog on the cover….” Does this sound like you? Never fear. There are librarians who specialize in rendering exactly this kind of help.

When the New York Public Library’s queue of “what’s that book” questions reached critical mass, reader services librarian Gwen Glazer assembled a crack team of librarians to track down the titles patrons were desperate to read. They dubbed it the Book Quest Hackathon, and over the course of the day, librarians from across NYPL’s various branches used the power of the Internet—and their social connections—to identify and track down readers’ requests. 

Who knew that so many people would go to so much trouble to reunite people with the books they loved?

Services to Vulnerable Populations

a woman reads a picture book to small children
Photo by Airman st Class Ellora Remington, via the U.S. Air Force (Public Domain)

Libraries in the United States provide a stunning array of low-cost and no-cost services to patrons. From free internet and computer usage to classes and workshops, if you want to learn something or better yourself, the answer can often be found at your public library. Some libraries offer free legal clinics for people who need legal advice. You might also find job skills workshops. If you need a flu shot, many libraries partner with the local health department to provide them for free. Want to learn how to use a computer, or speak a second language? Chances are you can do it for nothing, or next to nothing, at your public library.
The library also provides a day-haven for people who have nowhere to go. People at risk for social exclusion can find a calm, quiet place to read or grab a cup of coffee. Parents of small children can take a break while their kids enjoy story times, craft activities, or scheduled kids’ movies. 

On the Front Lines of the Opioid Epidemic

a box of Narcan
Image: CC BY 3.0, by Intropin, via Wikimedia Commons

On a more serious note, you’ve no doubt heard about the opioid epidemic. What do librarians have to do with it? Well, unfortunately, some addicts have found the library to be a safe place to shoot up. In fact, one Philadelphia library had to close for three days after used needles had clogged its sewer system. Librarians find themselves evicting drug dealers, cleaning up used syringes, patrolling bathrooms, and even acting as de facto first responders by administering Narcan when patrons overdose.

Keeping the World Safe for Democracy

key-hole-2274790_640
Image: CC0 by succo, via Pixabay

When various freedoms have been at risk, librarians have stepped into the breach to protect them. 

The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom defends intellectual freedom on a number of fronts. They have worked tirelessly to keep banned books on the shelves, to challenge book bans, and to fight censorship on every front.

When the Federal Government wanted to secretly peek at patrons’ checkout records, the American Library Association took them to court. And when the FBI insisted on snooping on patrons’ records, libraries across the country put up signs warning patrons about this activity. They also changed their record keeping systems so that checkout records were destroyed once a book was returned.

Today, many libraries provide digital privacy workshops to teach patrons how to be safe online. And many others only use browsers that don’t track user data.

Librarians save the world every day, in ways big and small–in some ways that make headlines, and in other ways that no one ever notices. So next time you visit the library, thank a librarian.

An American has Sighted Nessie…And Nessie is a Girl!

Did you know that if you spot Nessie, you could win 1500 GBP (around $1980.00 USD)? That’s right. Every year, the Official Loch Ness Monster Sightings Register takes reports of Nessie sightings at their website. Some of these are credible enough to be accepted into the registry Then, every year, the Register chooses the best sighting and awards the prize. 

So far, they have registered 1105 sightings in Scotland total. 2018 has had ten sightings so far in Loch Ness. The number will almost certainly surpass 2017’s record of eleven sightings.  There have been sightings in other lochs as well. 

Loch Ness
Image: CC0 by 39967 via Pixabay

Loch Lomond seems to be a favorite with critter-spotters, who call their local critter Lomie. Loch Lochy has its Lizzie. Morag lives in Loch Morar. And then there’s Garry (of course) of Loch Garry. There’s a critter in Loch Morlich, as well, though they haven’t seemed to have got around to naming it. Maury, perhaps? Hmmm, statistically, Scotland’s Loch-lizards seem more likely to be female.

2017’s prize went to Rebecca Stewart of Lancashire, who snapped a shot of Nessie on her honeymoon that October. You can see the photo on the Register’s website.

The ninth accepted sighting of 2018 to be accepted into the registry was a high-tech achievement. Lisa Stout of Ohio sighted Nessie via Google Earth. Recently unemployed, Stout had been using her free time to search for Nessie from afar. She found Nessie, whom she believes to be female, in a cluster of photos taken by a user in Fort Augustus. Interestingly, Stout has experience of a local monster, Bessie, who lives in nearby Lake Erie.

nessie_GE

 

Lake monsters are pretty common the world around. Many cryptozoologists believe them to be either undiscovered species, or species thought to be extinct, like the coelocanth, that have actually survived.

One thing’s for sure, though — they’re great for tourism.

Do you have a local lake monster or another cryptid? Do you think it’s a hoax, a relic, an undiscovered species, or something different altogether?

 

Featured Image: CC BY 2.0 by M&R Glasgow via Flickr

Unexplained Edinburgh: Bluidy MacKenzie

The persecution of the Covenanters looms large in Scottish memory, as it should. For several decades in the 1600s, the group of Scottish Presbyterians who signed a covenant denouncing both the Pope and English rule, suffered from terrible persecution. And, as any ghost-chaser knows, social and emotional upheaval are two reasons spirits like to stick around. Such is the case with MacKenzie, the ghost of Greyfriars Kirkyard.

the statue of Greyfriars Bobby in Edinburgh
Image: CC BY-SA 3.0 by Michael Reeve, via Wikimedia Commons.

Greyfriars Kirkyard, located in the center of Edinburgh, is a lively tourist attraction for many reasons. There’s the kirk itself, which is beautiful and historic. The surrounding cemetery is a picturesque place for photos, walking, and meditation. And then there’s Greyfriars Bobby, a faithful little Skye terrier who waited outside the kirkyard for 14 years after his master was interred there. Scotland loves its dogs, and after Bobby’s death in 1872, people quickly erected a memorial. Outside the walls of the kirkyard, you can see Bobby’s statue. Inside, you can leave sticks on his grave for the ghost dog to play with.

And then there’s MacKenzie.

The poltergeist MacKenzie is said to be the ghost of the Lord Advocate Sir George Mackenzie, who carried out one of the bloodiest sustained actions against the Covenanters. On June 22, 1679, fifty years after Scottish Presbyterians signed the Covenant, the king’s forces put the rebels down in a bloody battle called the Bothwell Brig. 

Portrait of Sir George Mackenzie
Image: Public Domain, by Internet Archive Book Images, via Flickr

After the battle, the King’s forces rounded up the remaining Covenanters and imprisoned them in a section of the kirkyard now known as the Covenanters Prison. They stayed there for months, suffering through the brutal Scottish winter. But it wasn’t only winter that tortured the prisoners. There was also “Bluidy MacKenzie,” who subjected the prisoners to starvation, sadistic torture, beheadings, and more. 

Mackenzie reportedly enjoyed his work, and by the time of his own death, had killed a breathtaking 18,000 people, ironically, in the name of worshipping — the “right” way — the Prince of Peace.

Things were quiet for several hundred years after that. But then, in 1998, a vagrant seeking shelter disturbed MacKenzie’s slumber. In the intervening years, visitors have reported over 500 ghostly attacks, including:

  • Burns
  • Scratches
  • Bruises
  • Hair-pulling
  • Broken fingers
  • Nausea
  • Hallucinations
  • And more

In 2000, exorcist Colin Grant attempted to dismiss the foul spirit. He was not only unsuccessful, but died unexpectedly a few weeks later.

Are these events the work of Bluidy MacKenzie? Or merely a series of unfortunate events? What do you think?

Featured Image: Image CC BY-SA 2.0 by Magnus Hagdorn, via Wikimedia Commons

Hike Scotland’s UFO Trail

Scotland has some amazing hiking. My nephew recently spent a week or so on the West Highland Way with a friend. And, given the size of even the largest Scottish cities, stunning nature is rarely more than a short drive away.

In fact, Scotland can be a fantastic place to do any number of unique outdoor activities. Like all-weather skiing? Try the Midlothian Snow Sports Centre, where you can, among other things, ski year-round on what amounts to wet carpet. It’s surprisingly popular. You can walk through the countryside in the footsteps of intellectual giants like James Hutton, who originated the idea of Deep Time. And there’s always aurora-chasing.

And now you can hike the Scottish UFO Trail.

a spaceship in cloudy skies over a forest during daytime
Image: CC0 by ChristianPlass, via Pixabay

Some 40 years ago, West Lothian forestry worker Bob Taylor claimed to have had a close encounter with a hostile alien spacecraft. The incident happened in November of 1979, in Dechmont Law Woods in Livingston.

According to Taylor, who passed away in 2007, he was walking through Dechmont Law Woods with his dog, when he saw a flying saucer hovering above the trees. He said the ship had two smaller spheres attached, with spikes. The spheres dragged his legs and dragged him toward the ship. He smelled something burning and heard a hissing sound. And then he passed out.

Taylor came to about half an hour later, and, finding his car wouldn’t start, dragged himself nearly a mile home on foot. His wife called the police, who initially declared the incident an assault. However, after they visited the scene of Taylor’s abduction, they found a strange pattern of holes and indentations on the ground, which, to this day, have not been explained.

What’s more, Taylor’s trousers were ripped in such a way that investigators determined the damage had been caused by something mechanical, pulling upward — such as a spaceship dragging its victim towards it.

A criminal investigation ensued. To this day, this is the only close encounter in Britain that has been investigated to this extent by the police. It’s also the only officially recognized UFO encounter in Scotland.

a map of Scotland with West Lothian Council highlighted in dark blue
West Lothian County, Scotland. Image: CC SA 3.0 by Barryob, via Wikimedia Commons

 

To commemorate the Dechmont Woods Encounter, the West Lothian Council has put in marker posts and a display board pointing visitors to the site.

Will you have your own encounter in Dechmont Woods? Chances are slim. However, chances are very good that you’ll have a gorgeous hike in some stunning countryside.

Featured Image: CC0 by CPMacdonald, via Pixabay

Watch this Space

It’s been a couple of years since I wrote a full-length novel. Life happens. Immigration happens. And then life happens some more. But then something magical transpired. I attended the UK Meet in September and reconnected with my tribe. And there, in the quiet of my hotel room, I gave birth to a fully-formed novel proposal. I wrote it up on the train home (7 hours from Bristol to Edinburgh!) and sent it to BSB the next week. And they liked it! I don’t know why this surprised me, but it did. And so now I have a new project lined up to keep me busy after my current project with Blind Eye is finished.

It’s a departure in many ways. I’ve written G, I’ve written L, but now I’m writing something even closer to my heart — a story about the fluidity and diversity of relationships, and a story about how we all create our own families with the ones we love.

And oh yes, there’s a Creature.

Have a look.

1885, Wapping, London

It comes with the fog, leaving madness and death in its wake. Survivors claim it’s a demon, but Dr. Gideon Spencer doesn’t believe in monsters. Either way, rapacious land developers want to clear the area, and that includes the clinic Dr. Spencer and his ex-fiancee, Nurse Abigail Gordon, built with their bare hands.

Meanwhile, in fashionable Chelsea, May Eisenstadt and her brother Nathaniel spend their days dabbling in esoteric philosophy and radical politics. And then a chance meeting brings the two worlds together.

Meeting May turns Abigail’s life upside down, as she realizes the real reason she hasn’t looked for a husband since ending her engagement to Gideon. Sparks also fly between Gideon and Nathaniel. Not only are their personalities like vinegar and baking soda, but as their attraction deepens, Gideon begins to realize that Nathaniel’s alchemical research may be at the root of the problems that come with the fog.

Can these four disparate people save London’s most vulnerable citizens from the terror in the fog, before the city tears down the slum and the clinic? And how will they resolve their complicated tangle of emotions and attractions?

Coming from Bold Strokes Books.

Featured Image: CC BY 2.0 by gwire, via Flickr

Ghostly Voices Recorded in Ipswich

If horror movies have taught us anything, it’s that disembodied children’s voices singing nursery rhymes never portend anything good. It’s no wonder, then, that people in Ipswich, Suffolk (UK) were unsettled, to say the least, to hear exactly that. 

For months, apparently, residents were tormented by the ghostly-sounding voice of a child singing “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring” — in the middle of the night, no less. But as creeped out as some people were, no one reported it. And it went on for months.

Why did no one report it? Well, one Ipswitch resident was afraid she was imagining it — or at least that people would think she was. And that, apparently, was even more frightening than hearing the voices in the first place.

But she wasn’t imagining it, and neither was anyone else. You can hear an actual recording here:

 

 

Finally, after months of this creepiness, one resident contacted the local council. Fortunately, the council members took her complaint seriously, and initiated an investigation. They traced the music to the nearby Farthing Road Estate business park.

The owners of the business park blamed the malfunction on spiders getting into the wiring. Which makes it even worse, in my opinion.

But my question is, why would there be a recording of children singing creepy nursery rhymes set up to play over the loudspeaker system at a business park, anyway?
Well, according to the property managers, the nursery rhyme was supposed to scare off burglars. Nontraditional, I suppose, but fair enough. If I were a burglar, I’d be more frightened by ghost children than by your usual siren noises. The spiders, apparently, were triggering the alarm by walking across the motion sensors.

The property managers promised to adjust the settings on the motion sensors to prevent the problem from happening again. Here’s hoping the people of Ipswitch are sleeping a bit more soundly now.

Featured Image: CC0 by Brenkee, via Pixabay

 

 

 

Stranger than Fiction: Vampire Veg

The vampire’s day has come and gone in western popular culture — several times. We’ve had evil vampires, scary vampires, misunderstood ones, emo ones, sexy ones, and, *sigh*, sparkly ones. I’m done for now, unless someone can come up with a new take on the idea.

Or perhaps an old, forgotten take.

According to Ethnologist Tatomir Vukanovic, the Romani people living in the Balkans area tell stories about vampire veg. Seriously.

Wallachian Watermelon and Bloodsucking Pumpkins

According to the legends that Vukanovic collected, any inanimate object left outside during a full moon can become a vampire. The cynic in me wonders if this wasn’t some sort of scare-story parents tell their kids to get them to put their toys away. But I digress.

Podrima Pumpkins

According to Vukanovic, a specific group of Romani who follow the Islamic faith, believe that pumpkins and watermelons “fight each other,” and it’s this fight that causes them to change into bloodthirsty beasts. If they have been kept together, outside, for more than ten days, the pumpkins will form a sort of Gourd Congress. They will shake and vibrate and even growl. If you notice drops of blood on the pumpkins at this point, you will know that they have turned.

Vampiric pumpkins and watermelons do attempt to harm people, says Vukanovic. However, they’re not very good at it, so most people aren’t too worried.

There are other ways, apparently, that ground fruit can turn vampiric. For instance, if one keeps it around after Christmas. How do you get rid of your vampire veg? Boil it and scrub it out with a broom, then burn them both.

Vampire…Farm Tools?

Vukanovic also collected stories of vampiric farm tools. The knot of an oxen-yoke can be a particularly suspicious item, or, as Vukanovic says, “a vampiric object of lesser power.” Good thing there aren’t very many teams of oxen running around modern-day Edinburgh.

Although, quite frankly, I’m not liking the way our backyard barbecue is looking at me.

 

 

Featured Image: CC BY-SA 2.0, by saeru, via Flickr

Unsolved Edinburgh: Gilmerton Cove

When many people think of Edinburgh, they think of the castle, high on its black volcanic base, or the lively shopping district of Princes Street. Holyrood Palace may come to mind, or the cobblestone-paved Royal mile. Some might envision the winding Grassmarket passage, which inspired Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, or even the Elephant House, the cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote parts of The Sorcerer’s Stone. And then there’s our beloved Bobby, the monument to Edinburgh’s most famous dog. And we do love our doggies.

Well, the castle is overcrowded, expensive, and not particularly handicapped-accessible, the Royal Mile is filled with overpriced Scottish-themed tat, and the Elephant House is now a Chinese restaurant that charges people to walk to the back room where Rowling actually worked.

But there are still plenty of things to see that aren’t heaving with visitors and won’t cost you a limb. One of these is Gilmerton Cove. And unlike a lot of mysteries, this one is yet to be solved.

Where?

Gilmerton Cove is located in the village of Gilmerton, on the southeast side of Edinburgh. Gilmerton Village dates back to at least the 1500s, and has its roots in coal mining and lime quarrying. There was also quite a bit of farming in the area, and there still is. The City of Edinburgh began to buy up land around the village in the 1930s. Today Gilmerton is a suburb of Edinburgh.

The name comes from the Scots Gaelic Gille-Moire, meaning “Servant of the Virgin Mary” and ton, meaning “settlement.”

Today, the village is quiet and pretty, with winding streets and a combination of modern homes and businesses with centuries-old ones made from local sandstone. And there, on the western edge, beneath the Ladbrokes, is Gilmerton Cove.

What?

table

Gilmerton Cove is a series of tunnels carved out of the sandstone bedrock beneath the village. No one is quite sure how they got there, but there are theories. What we do know is that the caves have been a tourist attraction since the beginning of the 19th century.

The Mystery

In 1820, blacksmith George Patterson claimed that he had dug the tunnels, singlehandedly, over the course of five years, to use as a combination of workspace and living quarters. 

IMG_20180916_141847765

On one hand, the walls and ceilings clearly show the marks of hand-tools. However:

  • It would have taken one person a lot longer than five years to have carved out tunnels of that size, especially by hand
  • There are inscriptions in some places in the tunnels that resemble masons’ marks, indicating some of the work was done by professional masons
  • Where did the rubble go?
  • There is no evidence, anywhere, of fires used either in forging or cooking

Some theorize that since Gilmerton was a mining community, Patterson or someone else hired local miners to secretly dig out the tunnels. However, despite a more than 120-year history of archaeological study, we still don’t know exactly who dug the tunnels, when they dug them, or why.

Some Theories

There are, however, plenty of plausible theories about who might have used the tunnels. There are three rooms, for example, that provide seating, and two of them have stone tables. Some possibilities include:

Covenanters

First, some say Covenanters hid here. The Covenanters were Scottish Protestants opposed to both the influence of Rome over the English monarch and to the buying and selling of indulgences. They believed in self-governance for Scotland, as well as direct communication between people and God. 

The history of the Covenanters is long and fraught. For forty years (1638 to 1678) the Covenanters met with persecution and repression from the English kings Charles I and Charles II. Some believe that Gilmerton Cove was one place the Covenanters sought refuge.

a stone table in an underground cove
One of two table structures with seating.

The Hellfire Club

Another theory is that people used this space for illicit drinking and carousing, perhaps as an underground pub. On one hand, there was no need, seeing as drink has never been illegal in Scotland. On the other hand, perhaps something a bit darker was going on.

“The Hellfire Club” was the name adopted by numerous clubs for upper-class men who enjoyed behaving rudely and blasphemously. Plus ca change. Underground caves would, of course, have been an excellent place to do so — both because it was well out of sight, and for the atmosphere.

Mary Queen of Scots

Some say she, too, hid from her enemies here. It’s possible. She seems to have hidden just about everywhere else in Scotland.

The Knights Templar

Oh, why the hell, not? Dan Brown, Rosslyn Chapel, blah blah.

Druids and Witchcraft

Because of course.

What Actually Makes This a Great Attraction

There are several real things that make Gilmerton Cove well worth your time, however.

First, it’s not overrun with other people wanting to see it. One-hour tours are by appointment only, and limited to twelve people at a time. This makes it cozy and intimate, but not stifling — and the guide is engaging and knowledgeable as well.

Also, it’s not too expensive — just 7.50 GBP for an adult 4 quid for a child, and 20 for a family ticket, at the time of this writing.

Recent imaging by the University of Edinburgh has shown that the tunnels actually extend much further out, prompting speculation that there may actually have been secret passages to both Rosslyn Chapel and nearby Craigmillar Castle. And that’s pretty cool.

So the next time you’re in Edinburgh, skip the castle and hit the cove.

All photos CC BY SA NC by Jess Faraday. This means feel free to use for all NON-COMMERCIAL purposes, with attribution. Thank you.

The Ghosts of Zanzibar: Ghost Tractors and Spooky Ladies

When many of us think of ghost stories, we envision White Ladies haunting spooky Queen Anne style houses in England, the United States, and possibly Canada. In Mexico and the American southwest, you might hear about La Llorona or La Planchanda. But every culture has its ghost stories, and some of the most interesting ones come from far-flung places that many of us never get to visit.

Zanzibar

a map of the Zanzibar archipelago
Image: CC BY-SA 4.0 by Oona Räisänen, via Wikimedia Commons

Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania. It consists of a number of small islands off the Tanzanian coast in East Africa. Zanzibar was and is a very important player in the international spice trade. Much of the world’s cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, and cloves come from this area. It was also an important center of slave and trading routes for the Arab world, between the middle ages and the beginning of the twentieth century. As such, it was a point of cultural interchange between the Islamic world and the local cultures. And then Britain inserted itself.

As any ghost hunter can tell you, these factors — the not-always-peaceful overlapping of numerous cultures, a history of avarice, war, and revolution, combined with the trauma and misery of the slave trade — make fertile soil for unquiet spirits — and for stories about them. But Zanzibar’s ghosts come in a lot of different flavors, from the ancient to the timeless to the thoroughly modern.

The People’s Palace

Zanzibar's Sultan Palace
Image: Public Domain, by Vitopuntocom at it.wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons

The People’s Palace (also called the Sultan’s Palace) in Stonetown was built in the late 19th century for the Sultan’s family. The British destroyed it in 1896, during the Anglo-Zanzibar War. Interestingly, the war lasted only 40 minutes, making it the shortest one on record. However, it was enough to take out the palace, and I suppose the British felt they’d made their point, and their favorite took over as Sultan. In 1963, Zanzibar became independent from Britain. The very next year, local revolutionaries successfully revolted against the Sultan. As a result, the new government renamed the property The People’s Palace.

Today it’s a museum and the site of numerous hauntings. People have reported hearing babies cry, seeing blood spill out of the palace’s front door then disappear, and yes, the obligatory Woman In A Spooky Veil.

Scary Ladies

A ghostly woman in white, with blue lighting
Image: CC0 by AdinaVoicu, via Pixabay

Speaking of Scary Ladies, the tradition of the Spooky Woman in Flowy Clothing exists in Zanzibar as well. They have their share of White Ladies, like the one Abbas Darjani saw on Malindi Street one night. The encounter so frightened him, that he reportedly fell seriously ill. His illness later caused him to go blind.

More commonly, though, the European “Lady in a White Veil” is replaced by a woman in flowing, black Islamic garb. A builder, for example, went to a local spring to fetch water to mix cement. There, he saw what he took to be a Muslim woman washing clothes. He greeted her, but she ignored him. As he drew closer, she looked up at him and hissed, her face a mask of fury and evil. The builder realized she was an evil spirit. He tried to escape, but found she had sucked all of his energy away. He finally did manage to stagger away, but reported feeling weak for months afterward.

Another black-clad Scary Lady haunts the Stonetown High Court, Mnazi Mnoja Hospital, and Victoria Park. She hasn’t threatened anyone, but, just like European ghosts flee from the Cross, this Lady in Black runs away when people recite verses from the Qu’ran.

Which is the really interesting part of that story, in my opinion.

You can read more about these ghostly women and other apparitions in Zanzibar Ghost Stories by the historian Mohammad A. Amir.

Ghost Vehicles

an abandoned and rusty tractor
Outside of Quartzite, which does, actually, have supernatural meaning for me. But that’s another story for another time. Image CC0 by TraveLink, via Pixabay

One thing that Zanzibar has that the West seems to lack is undead vehicles. Samuel Lwelela of the Zanzibar Resort in Pogwe told the Fortean Times about the phantom vehicles that haunt his village of Malita in mainland Tanzania. These vehicles appear to be limited to tractors, and numerous witnesses have reported seeing them. They have also been reported to kidnap people. Tanzania’s phantom flying tractors didn’t make this list of ghostly vehicles, but they sound pretty cool anyhow.

But Where are the Ghosts, Really?

One of the villains in my novel, The Left Hand of Justice is a police inspector who spent his whole life waiting to have a supernatural encounter, but never did. He’s very bitter about it, and it drives him to evil acts.

That was a bit of author self-insertion. I’ve always loved ghost stories, and whenever I visit a new city, I always try to book a reputable ghost tour. These tours are always full of stories of other visitors who see orbs, hear voices, or feel “a presence.” But no matter how “open” I am to the experience, it never happens. It hasn’t turned me evil, but it has turned me slightly cynical.

I remember sitting in the dark in the bowels of the Queen Mary at midnight, for example, chanting nursery rhymes, waiting for the famous little girl ghost. Nothing happened except a stiff back and a bout of feeling silly. The midnight tour of Chillingham Castle scared the bejeezus out of me, and a couple of my co-ghost-walkers even showed me “orbs” that they’d captured with their digital cameras. Le Sigh. But maybe one day.

What about you? Any ghost vehicle or Scary Lady encounters you’d like to share?

 

 

#ghost #lefthandofjustice #left_hand_of_justice #jessfaraday #ghostvehicle #phantomvehicle

 

 
Featured Image: CC0 by djp098, via Pixabay

So You Think You Recycle?

A lot of us think that recycling is a modern conceit — something that arose as a reaction to the produce/consume/discard culture, whose toll on the earth is evident everywhere we turn. But “mend and make do” has been around a lot longer than “it’s cheaper to just buy a new one.” But even if you’re doing everything you can to reduce, reuse, and recycle, you probably still have nothing on the Victorians. Let’s take clothing as our example.

Two racks of multicolored second-hand children's clothes
Image: Public Domain, by Senior Airman Tammie Ramsouer, via Maxwell A.F. Base

The Old Clothes of St. Giles

In his book, Victorian London Street Life in Historic Photographs (1877), John Thomson describes the process of clothing production and recycling, from sheep to beer. Sheep to beer? How does that work? Like this.

  • First, wool is harvested from sheep and made into fabric. This fabric is used to make clothing.
  • The wealthy buy the new clothes and wear them for as long as they choose, before passing them on.
  • Once passed on, the second-hand clothes find their way to a “clobberer.” The clobberer patches, mends, and uses various chemicals to remove stains, smells, and other unwanted additions to the fabric. Eventually, as Thomson says, “old garments are made to look new.”
  • Sometimes the clothes are rendered so skillfully that they make their way back to the wealthy, who mistake them for brand new. Other times, they continue down the social scale.

 

A dressmaker's dummy, pattern book, and old sewing machine.
Image: CC0, by Nebulosagrafica, via Pixabay

 

  • The next person to work on the garment is a “clothing translator.” The translator converts garments from one form to another, for example, makes a skirt into a waistcoat, or a jacket into caps for workers.
  • Once garments have gone beyond the help of a translator, they go to mills, where the wool is torn apart, mixed with new wool, dyed, and turned into brand new fabric, and the cycle starts all over again.
  • Alternately, the wool, rendered to fluff in the mills, is sold to hops-growers. For used wool, as it turns out, makes a top-notch fertilizer for certain kinds of hops.

“And thus,” writes Thompson, “are old clothes converted into foaming beer!”

A selection of light and dark beers in glasses on a wooden table
Image: CC BY 2.0, by Paul Joseph 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons