Friday, June 27, 2014

The London of Sebastian St. Cyr: the Ragfairs of Rosemary and Petticoat Lanes

You won't find Rosemary Lane on any modern London map. Running from Dock Street to the Minories near the Tower,  it was renamed Royal Mint Street in the nineteenth century. Its famous street market is long gone, too. But for several hundred years, Rosemary Lane was the place to go if you wanted to buy old clothes (as Sebastian sometimes does for his disguises) or if you were on your way down in the world and needed to sell your clothes.

Read the accounts of Regency (or Georgian or Victorian) men and women sliding into poverty, and their descent is inevitably marked by visits to old clothes dealers. A nice gown could be exchanged for an not-so-nice gown, with the difference in price going to buy another few days' food and lodging. And when that money was gone, the unfortunate would find themselves back at the old clothes sellers, with the not-so-nice gown being exchanged for something even less respectable--and so on, until one was reduced to the worst imaginable rags. At that point, you starved.

The shops lining the lane were occupied by old clothes sellers, which is why you see coats and gowns hanging against the sides of buildings. But dealers also sold their goods from stalls or barrows, while some simply spread their piles of old boots and shoes, bonnets, hats, wigs, and stays on the ground or on pieces of old carpet.

Traditionally, many old clothes dealers were Jewish. Look closely at Rowlandson's watercolor above (you can click on it to see a larger image) and you can read the names on the shop signs. Moses Moncera Old Hats and Wigs. Widow Levy Dealer in Old Breeches. You'll also see how many of the dealers are shown wearing long coats and beards (the piles of hats they wear on their heads are a sign of their trade). As a result, most of the stalls and shops were closed on Saturdays until after sundown.  The lane did a roaring business on Sunday mornings.

Another street famous for its old clothes trade was Petticoat Lane, shown in the print above. It was actually in a slightly less poor area than Rosemary Lane. In a fit of Victorian prudery, Petticoat Lane was also renamed, becoming Middlesex Street. But its street market still survives--and is still closed on Saturdays.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Restoring Mayberry

I was researching something recently--whitewash, or lime production, or something weird like that--when I stumbled across this lovely blog.

It's kept by an American who moved to Ireland and blogs about living off the land, and life in Ireland, and doing things the old-fashioned way. He's a wonderful writer and a wonderful photographer, and I now drop in frequently to vicariously savor a place that glows fondly in my memory.

Restoring Mayberry .  Worth a visit.

Friday, June 20, 2014


 I've spent the past week organizing my computer files (and I'm still at it!), trying to reconcile my outdated backup with what the Rent-a-Nerd guy managed to salvage. By far the biggest hit was to my iPhotos: out of over 6,000 photos, he managed to salvage just 268. Ouch. So I've been organizing the files from the old backup, looking at old camera cards in the hopes that things like my daughters' graduations last year (med school and MA) are still there, and hitting up family members for their photos.

I've made some interesting discoveries along the way, such as the above picture of me with Tracy Grant at Bouchercon in 2010; I misplaced the camera after my trip to San Francisco and found it so long after the fact that I never did anything with the pictures I'd taken. I also found this old scan of me on a dig on San Juan Island in the 70s. I look like a child.
And I was thrilled to discover this great photograph of my mother at a Mardi Gras parade, age 92, taken just weeks before she died:

I'm afraid I haven't been spending much time with Sebastian, though, except for three hours while waiting at the orthopedist the other day with a lateral meniscus tear, and the hour I spent at the vet's with Huckleberry. Yes, Huck is not well again. I'm really worried about my baby....

Monday, June 16, 2014

And Now for Some (Sorta) Good News

The past five days have been swallowed by the fun (snark) process of setting up a new computer (and a new printer when I realized my old workhorse was no longer supported by anyone) and loading and sorting data from my woefully out-of-date backups.

I'd been meaning to get a new computer for some time now. But it's always such a hassle that I kept putting it off. Bad idea. Last Wednesday, my old faithful started making funny noises and then (while I was still scrambling around for my external hard drive to back it up as I've been meaning to do forever) went white except for the Dreaded Spinning Ball of Doom.

According to the Rent-a-Nerd guy, they were able to recover about 25/26 of my data, although I've yet to load it on my new computer to see exactly what was lost and how it compares to my old backed up files. The good news (and there is some!) is that I do have the first 140 pages of Sebastian Book #11 printed out, so while I may need to retype it if it isn't part of that 25/26, it isn't completely lost.

As you can see from the photo, I now have an external hard drive permanently hooked up and set to back up every hour. I feel like I'm closing the barn door after all the horses are gone, but better late than never, right? I'm also looking into someplace in the Cloud to back up to as well (suggestions are welcome).

The funny thing is, I used to be fairly good about backing up. But somehow in the past year I let it slide--along with everything else. Lesson learned.

Oh, and you can also see my new mouse pad! He doesn't look like my vision of Sebastian, but I do love that cover.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Remembering BC/Baby

Baby came into our lives more than ten years ago, a stray who showed up on my mother’s porch. We never knew his story, although I’ve always suspected he must have been the companion of some elderly person or child—someone who loved him dearly but had no control over his fate. He was desperate for a new home, desperate for people to love. But neither my mother nor I were in a position to bring him inside, so while I tried to find someone to take him (that’s when I discovered how difficult black cats are to place), she began feeding him. We named him BC, short for “Black Cat.” Not very original, but then we didn’t expect him to be a part of our lives for long. Because he loved pets so much, we’d spend hours out on the porch with him in our laps, while he purred and cuddled and said, “I really, really want to come inside.” He broke our hearts, but with two aggressive alpha male cats, bringing him inside just didn’t seem an option.

Fast forward to seven years ago. We were leaving my mother’s house one evening when BC came crawling up on the porch. He was in such awful shape, I thought he’d been hit by a car and had a broken leg or back. In truth, he was actually starved and massively dehydrated. We figured he must have been accidentally shut in a neighbor’s shed and almost died there before he was let out. As it was, he almost died in my arms as I sat up all night holding him and coaxing him to drink and eat. I promised him that if he survived, we’d bring him inside and give him a real forever home.
It was my older daughter who took over his rehabilitation; she also renamed him Baby. He was so debilitated, it was months before he could walk without falling over, or jump again. But we came to realize that, in truth, we should have named him Buddha Cat, because he was a very evolved soul—endlessly patient, kind, and loving and giving to both people and the other cats who came into his life. Here he is cuddling our cat Nick when Nick was dying of kidney failure a few years ago…
We never knew how old Baby was; the vet who helped us nurse him back to health seven years ago said he was at least ten and probably more. And then, last fall, he started having health problems. We knew it was only a matter of time, but through it all he remained as calm and as loving as ever.  And this past Monday, just two days after we lost Banjo, Baby died, held lovingly in my daughter’s arms.
You know, my computer went into meltdown this week, and I’ve never been as good about backing up as I should be. Yet even though the data loss was massive, I am (uncharacteristically!) finding it hard to get too upset about it. Some things really aren’t as important as they might otherwise seem.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Saying Goodbye to My Banjo

We lost Banjo this past weekend. He was only fourteen months old.

He came to us on my birthday, in September. A heartbreakingly skinny jumble of skin and bone and dirty fur that weighed barely a pound despite being six months old, he’d been born feral with cerebellar hypoplasia, which made it hard for him to walk or even stand for long without falling over. I didn’t want to take on such a huge responsibility, didn’t want any more cats. But I couldn’t leave him and his sister to die miserable deaths, so we trapped them and brought them home.
We almost lost them that first week when they had an inexplicable, nearly fatal reaction to their vaccinations. After bottle-feeding them kitten formula around the clock for weeks, we finally had to acknowledge that as bad as they had been before, they were now worse. Scout eventually was able to feed herself and drink unaided (although she’s since lost that ability…), but Banjo never could manage it again. So I hand fed him, three times a day, month after month. The bond we formed was fierce. His coordination might be lousy, but there was never anything wrong with his mind or his heart or his soul. He was an amazing little guy.
Through it all he remained as alert, intensely aware, happy-go-lucky, and loving as ever. He brought me endless joy and laughter and love, and he taught me some much needed lessons about patience, and perseverance, and acceptance. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was blessed the day Banjo came into my life. And I am devastated now that he has gone out of it.
Farewell, my little friend. You are badly missed.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

The London of Sebastian St. Cyr: Tattersall's

Located near Hyde Park Corner, Tattersall's was a popular fixture during the Regency period. Not only was it the foremost auctioneer of expensive horseflesh, but its subscription rooms were a fashionable gathering spot for sporting men--a place where gentlemen could meet and drink and lay their bets. (Hence the threat of "settling day at Tattersall's.")

Originally founded in the mid-eighteenth century by Richard Tattersall, a former groom to the Duke of Kingston, it contained stables, two subscription rooms, a counting house, covered galleries, a courtyard with its iconic temple-covered pump, and kennels. The kennels were necessary because in addition to horses and carriages, Tattersall's also sold hounds.

Later, in the Victorian era, the establishment was forced to move to Knightsbridge, and then relocated again to Newmarket. It also dropped the apostrophe from its name. But it still exists, and is still considered the leader in its field.

Because Tattersall's was such a fashionable lounging spot, Sebastian has been known to confront suspects in its famous courtyard. One such scene takes place in What Darkness Brings. But he'll no doubt be back again in the future....