Three Feet – Less Two

by Jacqueline Dowling

In February 2013 I wrote:

So, my favourite king of all time, the last Plantagenet – Richard Crookback aka Richard 111, has been found. Three feet under, sans crown, sans horse, sans feet. Sans everything actually. The final ignominy of this discovery has surely to be the nature of the latters’ disappearance: to wit the erection in the 19th century of a privy, right over his noble remains , in the process,severing his feet.

Hall’s Croft, Stratford upon Avon: once home to Susannah Shakespeare and husband Dr John Hall. Sometime in the 20th century. The day’s visitors have left, the house quiet and filled with the gentle spirits of the past. Sitting on the top step of a creaky old staircase one evening, the casement windows open to late sunbeams and wisteria hanging heavy with honeyed scents and bees, I thought of another stair, narrow and sinister, lurking in the musty White Tower dankness of the Tower of London. And of the young princes Richard of Gloucester is reputed to have murdered and buried under those stairs.
Of Clarence too, Richard’s brother who ended up neck down in a butt of Malmesey (sans head, presumably) somewhere in the same building. History doesn’t relate how or why he died, except to say that he was imprisoned, tried and executed – and that was that.. But he was no good anyway, and probably deserved what he got.

But Richard : Imagine, at the age of twelve years, having a knight’s training forced on him; a frail, undersized young boy who suffered from scoliosis and who, throughout his formative years knew little other than constant ill health, and the threat of war between the houses of York and Lancaster. He was mentored and trained by Warwick ‘The Kingmaker’ and rode to war for his brother Edward IV , ‘The Sun in Splendour.’ Ned, seducer of Elizabeth Woodville, the greed of whose family hastened the end of Plantagenet reign in Britain. There was no place for Richard in this court of excess and corruption. He headed back to the northern moors, instructed the warlike Welsh to ‘sit and stay’ – which they did, for a while, and then, aged seventeen and still not terribly sturdy, he sorted out the rest of the dissidents. And Edward caroused on and on – why not? His youngest brother was doing a pretty good job on his own.

Richard married Ann, they had a son and, from all accounts, a loving family life when wars allowed. The French and Spanish were constant burrs under the English saddles, in addition to troubles at home. Arranged marriages didn’t help much except to strengthen France’s hold on England by marrying poor batty Henry off to Margaret of Anjou, who turned out to be even more warlike than the English. It was a bloody time indeed. Ferdinand and Isabella murdering and burning any non-Catholics in Spain, Ivan being Terrible in Russia and rumblings of discontent coming from all sides…a bit like the world today some may say.

Then, in 1470, Warwick turned Lancastrian, unseated Edward The Sun King who later died, and there was much conjecture about what had happened to Princes Edward and Richard, and where they stood in relation to the throne. That conjecture continues today. Richard 111 was crowned king and reigned for two short years. Rumours were rife that he’d had the princes murdered to ensure his accession. It was never proved. Shakespeare and I differ in opinion on Richard’s character. He had him as evil, cruel and conniving. From the sparse historical fact available I choose to believe that he was anything but evil. More a victim of time and circumstance. A fearless soldier, a loving family man who was educated and, I believe, sensitive.

Perhaps the scents of herbs in the old house mellowed my thoughts that evening; or the sense of Dr John Hall’s gentle invisible presence. But I continue to believe in Richard Plantagenet’s innocence and hope that he will finally be laid to rest in a dignified and peaceful manner.

On August 7 2014 it was announced on the BBC website that : The remains of Richard 111 will be reinterred on 26 March 2015 at Leicester Cathedral…He will be buried with the full honours due a monarch, and the service will follow as closely as possible that which should have taken place some five hundred years ago. Ah – the Brits do pageantry so well…

Brain Trip

by Penny M

So there I am, awake already because of the gale force winds whipping around my skyline townhouse. I’m tapping away on my laptop and Whatsapping sporadically to my kids in Oz when the lights go out.

My first thought is that the storm has put the power out. Oh bother, my battery is low on phone and right hand (alternative name for laptop). Then it dawns on me that my neighbour is using his angle grinder again or some other power tool which is of course impossible without a spark from Eskom.

Horrors, did I pay the last bill? I use buffer time to log onto my bank website. Date of last payment was in July. You need to understand that my brain is in September already planning my departure for my son’s U.K. wedding. Panic driven deduction leads me to pay the electricity and rates bill.

Next, a hasty disconnection of the disabled remote receiver and a reconnection of the old phone to call the accounts department and tell them I’ve paid. I listen to the automatic message with sinking heart. ‘Please bear in mind that reconnections may take up to 48 hours to complete.’ My mind is racing with ideas of camping at the Mug & Bean or staying with a friend for two days.

A gentleman answers politely and, after the usual security and account checks, informs me that my account is up to date. He advises me to call the faults number. I do so.

A pleasant woman tells me that there are no faults reported in my area and asks me to check my board while she holds on.

You guessed it! The trip switch was down. I made several attempts at resetting it to no avail and returned to apologise to my support person. She advised me (with knowing nod and smile, I’m sure) to call an electrician.

Before I didplugs that, I ran around unplugging every appliance. I then reset the board one by one and voila! The only negative in this tale is my resultant cash flow problem. And my fruitless search for the culprit who I suspect might have four legs.

The moral of the story? Think plenty of times before doubting yourself, no matter how old you are; live in the moment, you never know when you might be unplugged.

P.S. There is only one thing worse than being forgetful and that is forgetting that you remembered.

My merry-go-round

Wednesday night concerts

Photo: yourfriendsinhighplaces.wordpress.com

By Sue Trollip

On Wednesday nights in summer there are free music concerts in the park. Most of the town comes out to play, some bring supper, some just drinks. Everyone brings a blanket to sit on and something warm for when the sun goes down.

Right in front of the stage is a sandy piece of ground for those who like to boogy, and on a hot summer Wednesday, with a margarita in one and a band hitting their groove, who wouldn’t want to boogy? (It’s not a nightclub, nor a school disco, it’s just mellow cats bopping.)

My niece has this ploy when the band hots up, she grabs my hands and either tucks her legs in tight and we swing around, or I pull her hands upwards and she walks up my thighs and does a somersault. We both giggle and get dizzy and flushed with our small adrenaline buzz.

I’m telling you this because on the job front, life keeps throwing me curve balls. (Yes, I am grateful that it is finally throwing me any balls at all!) Last night I slept for thirteen hours because balancing balls like graveyard shifts is not my forte. But while working those graveyards I met some lovely, and a few spooky, people. I laughed. I ate chocolate cake and I raised my eyebrows. I learned a lot about this place I am now trying to call home. Then the graveyard ball got taken away, hence the long sleep, and a new ball flew in. I caught it swiftly and it became part of the balancing act. I rejigged my work schedule and moved into the next phase.

It’s not a 9-5 life and sometimes it’s bloody exhausting, but it’s also fun. It’s different and I think, like my niece at a summer night concert, I’m going to grab on tight with both hands, fling my feet in the air and see what happens next.

In Search of the Great South African Hero

By Susan Roberts

People often ask me why I write foreign heroes as the love interest in my novels. An awkward question, and one that I have to answer carefully. I mean, I don’t want to insult my South African male friends, do I? So without beating too much about the old shrubbery, let’s unpack this question and see what we can find.

As a romance writer, I have a pattern that I am obliged to follow. Tall, dark and handsome male? Check. Not a problem to find any number of those here. A man who will love his woman and protect her to the death, no matter what? Check. Plenty of those too, but in real South African life that protection frequently does end in death, which doesn’t go down too well in a romance. But hey – it worked for Romeo and Juliet, so let’s look at our choices.

We can have death by hijacking, mugging or the more adventurous gang of house-breakers who crash in after ripping out the burglar bars with the winch on their 4×4 and hold up the entire household at gun point. Exciting stuff, but not for the faint-hearted. Wait – there’s more! Then we have them biting off fingers for rings, violating the women while forcing the men to watch, and then shooting the men in cold blood while they are still tied to a chair.

No, this is not some sadistic plot for a future novel of mine. Each of the above incidents has occurred – sometimes daily – in certain parts of my lovely country, but few get to hear about it because it has become so commonplace as to be no longer newsworthy.

Back to my hero list: A man with a private source of wealth and/or good job prospects? Hmm, not so easy to check this one. If he’s a politician, then he probably has unlimited wealth as well as access to a number of funds, but not necessarily his own. However, who can honestly see any politician as a romantic lead in a novel? Unless you’re writing a romantic fantasy about Nelson Mandela himself, it’s a kind of no-go area because of the sour taste most politicians leave in our mouths. Anyway, somebody already made a romantic film about Mandela.

We’ve had other wonderful films about Mandela, Steve Biko and Donald Woods, but these are actual historical stories, taken from a past in which those heroes, being the plight-of-the-underdog types, became the epitome of the South African hero. Somehow the same thing doesn’t work when today’s rulers from that formerly underdog party abuse their power a few decades later. Show me a successful politician in South Africa today, and I’ll show you someone who bends the rules in order to keep playing ball with his equally corrupt buddies – like Bob over the border.

Talking of playing ball, what about sporting heroes? Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter which country they live in, sportsmen have a limited shelf life, so they’re not the best long-term prospects. Some of them are great actors though (and much better paid than normal actors!), and particularly convincing when it comes to showing the ref that they have been mortally wounded in an unfair tackle. Whoosh! There goes all my respect for their sporting prowess – out the window!

Then there was that track star with bionic legs, whose last girlfriend… Okay, let’s not go there; the court case is still on.
What other males are successful in South Africa today? I prefer to steer clear of the big corporate mining types and businessmen who make their millions on the backs of the downtrodden masses, so let’s avoid those. In fact, in view of the storm still raging over the Marikana massacre, it’s best if we don’t go there at all.

How about minibus-taxi drivers? There’s an enterprising group of normal, hot-blooded men. If it weren’t for their fearsome reputation of clocking up a road death toll almost daily, they’d be quite dashing. Dashing here, dashing there and generally swashbuckling about everywhere in their precarious clapped out and barely held together vehicles, reminiscent of Han Solo’s infamous Millennium Falcon spaceship. (Okay, we did the Han Solo thing in the last blog; stick to the South Africans, please – Ed)
If we’re supposed to write about what we know, or what we’re passionate about, then I can’t write about a taxi driver, a corporate mining big-wig, a wimpy soccer star, a politician or a daring housebreaker. Sorry, but there’s just no inspiration coming from those channels.

Looking back at my boyfriends over the years, I see a string of youths who earned their living working as lighting technicians, sound engineers and stage managers. Oh, did I ever mention that they nearly all came from other countries? Yes, one of my friends gleefully pointed that out to me (and to everyone else within earshot, dammit). What does this tell you about how I went for South African lads even when I was young and they still had decent job prospects? Yup, I guess I just didn’t.

And if I didn’t go for them way back then, why would I now when those prospects are even leaner? I’m not sure I could get excited about a hero who’s lost his job because he’s now too pale to fit in with his progressive, forward-looking company’s stance on BEE. I’m not saying that such a guy doesn’t have the right credentials; I’m saying that those credentials only work when that guy goes to another country and bravely starts to make a new life for himself.

Wait, that reminds me: my new novel has a minor character who was born in Australia and goes back there in his forties with his South African wife and daughter. This is taken from real life – my brother-in-law took my sister back to the land of his birth when he could no longer make a decent living in South Africa thanks to BEE and the horrors of an escalating crime rate. A brave move on his part, but hang on – he’s not South African either!

How about a character who doesn’t go to another country? Perhaps I could write about a hero who loses his job, his money, his house and then his family, and bravely stays here to face the consequences? Perhaps he could end up on the street in true South African style, living in Joubert Park, or some slum in central Johannesburg, fighting hardships thrown at him by the harshness of street life. Now there’s a rite of passage guaranteed to bring out the survival instincts in a true hero!

However, I don’t think my readers would enjoy it. I certainly wouldn’t enjoy writing it. Such a character may be a great hero in a dystopian novel, but not in romantic fiction. The very idea of Mr Darcy losing his estate, money and family influence, to become a beggar on the streets of London, Bath or some village in Sussex isn’t going to get Lizzie Bennett’s hormones raging, or mine, or indeed any hormones belonging to the reader of such a tragedy.

So, getting back to the original question: why do I choose foreign heroes? Because they work as romantic ideals of the perfect male, untainted by the realities amongst which we are forced to live every day.

Let’s not forget that the statistics (which we are not supposed to know) point to the fact that two women are raped every minute in this unfair, fair land. Is it any wonder that I want my beleaguered South African heroines to be rescued from their plight by a man who really can spirit them away from this violent land to another country – a place where they have a reasonable shot at living happily ever after?

 

Picture from stockimages of www.freedigitalphotos.net

Picture from stockimages of http://www.freedigitalphotos.net