My eldest daughter enjoys walking along low walls, tightly holding my hand, placing one foot neatly in front of the other with deliberation; even if the wall is eight inches wide.
And I remember doing the same. Except back then those low walls seemed much higher and I was really taking my life in my hands. But the walls I used to walk along used to be studded with remains of black painted iron railings, cut back one or two inches high, an echo of a time when every salvaged scrap of metal mattered. But those walls seem to have vanished, either the walls have been knocked down, or the remains hauled out of the stone and replaced with new railings, complete and without history. And they look smart; a strong frontage to any property. But I can’t help but prefer the reminder of an era when the country pulled together, everyone sacrificing and making do in an effort to keep their families safe.
Even if they did present something of a trip hazard to small, clumsy feet.
Below is an extract from Braving Madness where Lord Carrington is walking through London, waiting for Betty’s response to his offer.
Having left Westminster far behind them, the flat fronted houses of the town’s richest inhabitants now towered over them, their pale cream facades littered with columns and the rooflines crowned with cornices. They were nearly at Carrington house. Edward’s cloak brushed against the tall iron railings headed with golden arrowheads.
Edward sighed. He wished she’d just make her mind up already, he wasn’t sure his nerves were up to any further delay. After all she must have had at least twenty minutes to consider his offer. And she’d really painted herself as the decisive kind. “Call me Edward,” he said.
Having treated myself to some much needed hand-cream, it got me thinking about older treatments for dry skin, treatments with less attractive ingredients like hog fat and rosewater.
Until having my first child, dry skin has never been an issue for me, but in the last few years my hands look older, my veins more apparent, the lines deeper etched. It probably doesn’t help that most of my time is spent cleaning up after little people with my hands either in soapy water, or in dire need of being in soapy water. But at least at the end of the day I can enrobe them in a silky smooth moisturiser, leaving my skin soft and rich with the scent of cherry blossom.
A lot more appealing than hog’s fat.
Here is an extract from Braving Madness where the hero, Edward, meets his future father-in-law.
His skin was like parchment, pale blue veins embossing the back of his hand, creeping over his knuckles like little streams to wrap about skeletal fingers. The man looked ancient. Truth be told, there had probably been better looking corpses. And yet he couldn’t have been much over sixty, could even have been in his fifties. Clearly life had taken its toll.
Despite having grown up in a house filled with carvings and handmade furniture, woodwork has never been a hobby of mine. Not until recently. In the last three months, I’ve made two large bookcases and two wardrobes, replacing shelving which littered every available wall space of my home with strong pine furniture, sturdy and reliable. And I love it; love the smell of wood in when I go to bed at night, warm and close, it cocoons me. Due to time constraints I’ve been forced to adopt power tools, but I still prefer the feel of a saw in my hand, the tug as the blade tears through the fibres, the satisfaction as another piece joins the pile.
In Braving Madness, Edward has a secret hobby of carving miniature animals similar to the Japanese netsukes, first popular in the 17th century. Typically only a few centimetres in diameters these beads were used to secure crafted boxes, which hung from their robes like a reticule or pouch.
“Do you mind if I use your ink and pen, presuming I can find them?” she said. “Have you thought the use of a decent filing system might help keep your desk cleared? Or just the use of a very large box. Or a fire.”
Betty pushed aside the piles of papers littering the blotter and her fingers closed upon smooth object. She frowned. At first glance, it was just a wooden ball, no bigger than a walnut, but peering closer she saw a tiny beak and an outline of plush wings and breast, with intricate feather marks covering its surface. It was a woodpigeon, beautifully carved, and completely at odds with the rest of the grand townhouse.
“As attractive as arson sounds, I think my secretary would object if I incinerated all my papers. Oh and the quills are in the left hand drawer.”
Betty jumped at Edward’s words and she slid the carving out of sight.
Stone bridges have always been a soft spot of mine, the gentle curve of the supporting arches, the rise of solid columns from the water, the rush of the tide at the base. With steel bridges the construction seems obvious, giant Meccano pieces lifted by towering cranes, the fantasy play set of a ten year old boy.
But stone is something else. Stone is back breaking work. Sweat sodden clothing and soaking boots slipping in silt and mud. The creak of supporting timber scaffolding and the groan of taut rope as each piece is lifted into place.
In the extract below, the indeterminable Betty first meets Edward standing on Westminster Bridge. The bridge was completed in 1747 and spanned over 250 metres, an architectural triumph of the time.
The idiot was going to fall in the Thames before he even got the chance to jump. Betty clutched her cloak tighter in a futile attempt to block out the bitter wind and stared at the stranger balancing on the stone railing of Westminster Bridge. A shadow flickered across her soul. It tumbled through her like a wave of nausea until she could hardly catch her breath.
Only a drunk would have picked such a night for contemplating suicide. Summer time would have been preferable.
Developing a skill for a musical instrument would have been essential for any young lady hoping to succeed in securing a husband. The harp, the violin, the pianoforte or harpsichord, all would have been fair game. But one must not forget the humble viola.
I love the sound of the Viola, the rumble of the lower ‘C’, the soaring notes of the upper ‘A’, the haunting melodies the instrument is capable of producing. With the rest tight under your chin and your fingers curled around the neck, the music swells through your body with each stroke of the bow. In the five centuries since its birth, it rarely takes centre stage; instead it supports and adds depth, the sultry older sister of the ever popular violin. It is a beautiful instrument in its own right.
This is an extract from the first draft of “Practice makes perfect.” The heroine, Ellen, is giving the hero, William, a Viola lesson.
She was so close couldn’t breathe without catching her scent, delicate violets mixed with the unfamiliar warmth of rosin wax. Ellen rearranged his hand position along the fingerboard, her skin cool and dry and in such contrast to his. The ebony was now slick with his perspiration and his knuckles strained to maintain the awkward placing.
Ellen let out a sigh and her neckline fell down a fraction of an inch.
William’s hand slipped.
“You’re not even trying,” she said.
She didn’t know the half of it.
If there were any room I could add to my rather small house, it would definitely be a library. Books are crammed into every corner of my house, even the bathroom isn’t safe. And they aren’t all whimsical tales of secret romances. No, in my house, the Screw Fix catalogue nestles between Squire’s Problems in Quantum Mechanics and Earl Scruggs’s 5 String Banjo. So a room dedicated to reading would be bliss. And a Regency mansion wouldn’t just house a library, it would also be catalogued. Dark red walls, heavy velvet curtains and towering bookcases with leather bound volumes. Peace and quiet. A girl can dream.
Here is an extract from Braving Madness, where the heroine, Betty first enters the Edward’s library.
Spying a desk by the wall, Betty headed towards it like a bee seeking nectar. Ink, quills, paper, all the things one needed to make life manageable. At least she presumed they would be there beneath the mounds of papers and documents. How anyone could be so disorganised was beyond her.
A chair stood by the desk and Betty eyed it suspiciously. It was an old chair and the leather was worn and faded. It was only around the edging studs that you could even see the original dark blue. But it was the indents on the seat padding that held her attention. Two indents presumably from… it seemed ridiculous not even to be able to speak the thought in her head. She tried again, from Edward’s bottom. Edward’s bottom had made those marks.