Out Now!

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Mellow fruitfulness...and stuff

Autumn is nature's great clean-out, recycling gone mad, and it happens every year. As fast as I rake leaf-covered lawns, more leaves descend, and I end up with mounds of red and gold leaves. Within days they’ve turned brown, flecked in crimson and gold. A ratatouille of decay. A week or two later they’ll resemble giant horse droppings.

Still, very satisfying as you look out the window. Beneath those dormant piles are oceans of sludge teeming with microbes and bugs, worms and beetles, the occasional hedgehog, a smorgasbord for birds.

I wish my recycling were as efficient. My downfall is what comes through the letterbox: those things you look at and think—‘Ummm, could be useful one day.’  They go behind the fruit bowl in the kitchen and by the end of the year they’re pushing bowl and fruit to the edge of the worktop.

We are talking about leaflets from estate agents begging you to sell your home, business cards from several banks, Cancer Research Gift Aid labels, Church newsletters, Tree Surgeons. (There are a lot of trees in Osbaston). And lets not forget Take-Away Menus ranging from the Misbah, the Raduni, and Jewel Balti to a yet to try Thai Bistro.

There are leaflets selling Clay Core storage radiators – ‘the future of heating’, numerous small gardening businesses offering moss-free lawns, taxi cards, Blenheim Palace brochures, ‘Honest quotes’ from Ash Tree Electricals, others promising to satisfy all of my TV and Audio needs. Handymen at reasonable prices, gutter clearance.

I have glossy Internet Provider brochures, Old online supermarket orders, leaflets offering ‘Drive Maintainance and Patio Power Cleaning’. Buried in the pile are old gardening catalogues old postcards thought too good to throw away so instead lost in fruitbowl limbo, old credit cards used to scrape grease from the hob, unopened Home Insurance mail promising me theirs is the cheapest and best, an expensively produced holiday booklet from Citalia, kept for six Italian recipes that looked wonderful but never tried. The only things missing are charity brochures. They would fill an entire kitchen unless binned at once.

The whole thing is horribly expensive because I have to buy tons of fruit to hold the bowl in place. Without such ballast the bowl would teeter and plunge from the worktop.

There are just two more sad confessions:
 A pepper pot that no longer works but which every so often I try to fix. That hides behind the knife block waiting for its yearly fumble

                                  A five year old tube of 1% fat when I foolishly went on a diet.

Back to the window....and staring at leaves

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Maybe not a good life, but a life fully lived

When I was a very young boy Germans wore boots and dueling scars, and, if they were spies spoke in harsh sibilants. Female spies were either butch with hair enbrosse, or else dark and sinisterly beautiful and smoked thin cheroots.

Old memories came back as I reread the remarkable history of Princess Stephanie Hohenlohe. As the picture illustrates she doesn’t match my childhood vision, though J Edgar Hoover threw a hissy fit when he realised she was in America.
Princess Stephanie Hohenlohe

He referred to her as ‘worse than ten thousand men,’ and placed her under 24-hour surveillance. So not the Nazi spy of my dreams though she did have a habit of smoking Havana cigars, striking the requisite match on the soles of her shoes.

She divorced her husband in 1920 but retained the title. After that there was no holding her back. In 1922 she moved to Nice, began a relationship with The Duke of Westminster, and then moved on to John Warden of Standard Oil, before moving to Paris and Sir William Garthwaite, a British insurance tycoon.

Rich, but not rich enough.

In 1927 she met Lord Rothemere, the third richest man in Britain. He was impressed by her assets, she with his playing style. The relationship endured and, after being accused of spying for Germany, she moved from Paris to the Dorchester in London. Rothemere was besotted with her, and his newspapers, the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail praised the genius of Adolf Hitler and argued that The Treaty of Versailles was unjust, and that Germany should have its former territories restored.

It should come as no surprise that the Princess was promised £350,000 if she canoodled  Rothemere to champion German claims upon Poland.

By this time Princess Stephanie Hohenlohe was on very good terms with Hitler, Goering, Himmler and Ribbentrop. Hitler called her his ‘favourite princess’ which bears tribute to her beauty, magnetism and manipulative charm.


Perhaps because Princess Stephanie Hohenlohe was part Jewish. No matter. Heinrich Himmler declared her an ‘honory Aryan,’ and Hitler awarded her the Golden Insignia of the Nazi Party, along with a castle in Austria. In 1938 British Intelligence reported ‘She is frequently summoned by the Fuhrer, who appreciates her intelligence and good advice. She is perhaps the only woman who can exercise any influence upon him.’

It is not surprising then that she became a key conduit of secret messages between Goering, Lord Halifax (British Foreign Secretary and arch appeaser) Lord Rothemere, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

Lord Rothemere, George Ward Price, Hitler, Fritz Weidemann, Joseph Goebbels, Magda Goebbels and Princess Stephanie Hohenlohe

Her star waned when she began an affair with Hitler’s aide-de-camp, Fritz Wiedemann, a man ‘exuding eroticism.’ Hitler removed him – to San Fransisco, where he served as German Consul.
In 1939 Stephanie Hohenlohe joined him sharing the Weiderman household with Weiderman’s children and wife, Anna Luise.

From this point on she was hounded by the FBI who were convinced, probably rightly, that she was set upon increasing Nazi influence in America. In 1940 she was ordered to leave the country. She fought against it, declaring her innocence, her love for America and when that failed experienced a ‘nervous breakdown.’
On the point of being expelled as a German spy, she played her final card, beginning an affair with Major Lemuel Scholfield, head of the Immigration and Naturalisation Service, a senior figure in the State Department.
Hmm, I wonder what she sees in me?

She saw enough to marry him, much to Roosevelt's profound annoyance.

And then what? What happened to ‘the most dangerous woman in Europe?’

After the war she returned to Germany and began a new career in the media. Maybe not a good life, but a life fully lived.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

A trail of crumbs in a dark wood

I’m going through a sticky patch, not so much ‘writer’s block’ but more 'where the hell am I going with this?' This being the final book in a trilogy. 
The first two novels, ‘The Gift’ and ‘Bloodline,’ are strong; books I’m happy to send out, perhaps the best I’ve written so far. I dip my quill in hubris and look around nervously.
On the other hand, this final book, putatively titled 'Blood-fall', is teetering on 'Still-born.' At present a nightmare. What do I have?
It is set between 1932 and 1941. 
It has a prime motivating force. 
 I know the fate of one of the major characters, and more importantly why. 
Other than that, for the moment at least, I can’t see the wood for the trees. There are so many rich and fascinating trees:
Brendan Bracken, Churchill’s intimate advisor who had occult leanings and associated with the black magician Evan Morgan in his younger days, The Princess Stephanie Hohenlohe, the beautiful and manipulative master spy who had Lord Rothmere and Adolf Hitler wrapped round her perfumed fingers, despite being half Jewish. Guy Burgess and Edouard Pffieffer, the aide to Daladier, the French Minister of War. Burgess, a communist spy, and Pfeiffer were predatory homosexuals who once played ping-pong over the supine body of a Parisian rent boy – but more to the point a weak link in the highly secretive correspondence between Neville Chamberlain and Daladier during the Munich crisis. I have Ribbentrop and the deeply troubling Lord Halifax who once expressed a wish for a State Procession in honour of Hitler, the British monarch by his side in London. And had it been Edward VIII this would likely have come to pass.
All this you cannot make up – but so many rich and variegated trees for my fictitious characters, John Grey, Elizabeth and Elsie McBride to weave their way through in something approaching a compelling plot. I'm looking for that trail of crumbs in the dark wood; no worse. I'm feeling my way through a maze in a thick mist, and wearing a blindfold. Wish me luck

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Idle moments well spent

As the title suggests there is an art to life, and as we wandered through HerefordCathedral it becomes apparent that there is art in death. A case in point is Sir Richard Pembridge, a C14th Knight who died in 1337. By all accounts he was a splendid fellow who fought for the king at Crecy and Poitiers, and was rewarded for his trouble by being made a Knight of the Garter. Better still he was allowed to wear a garter on his left leg. What’s not to like about that?

Sir Richard survived a dangerous and exciting life. He was less lucky in death, or at least his tomb was. During the Civil War in the C17th his right leg was damaged. After the war it was replaced with a nicely carved wooden leg - complete with garter. Not only was it on the wrong leg, he now had two of them. This anomaly remained for another two hundred years until, in the C19th a third leg was commissioned in alabaster and without the surplus garter. May he now rest in peace.  

It was with that thought I stroked his head. It is one of my many vices, stroking the heads of dead men, so long as they’re smooth and cold and made of stone. I’ve stroked Einstein’s knee in Washington, and a whole series of Rodins in the Vatican Museum. No sculpture is safe from my wandering hand. Stained glass windows on the other hand…they’re too high to reach

And back to tombs again. 

This is the tomb of Andrew Jones and his wife. He was a wealthy cider maker who died in 1497. He gave money to the Cathedral so merited a tomb... in the crypt. What I love about his is what he is resting his feet upon. Whereas knights like Sir Richard Pembridge rest their feet on hunting dogs or leopards etc, his feet rest upon a cider barrel. An early but tangible sign of the emergent bourgeoise. All in all a happy tomb, insofar as tombs can be happy. 

On the other hand

The Denton Tomb is sad on different levels. It shows the effigies of Alexander Denton and his first wife Ann Willison, who died in childbirth. (1556) The child is shown with her, tucked alongside her left leg. Alexander however died twenty years later and is buried in Buckinghamshire along with his second wife. 

And let's end on a happy note. We had a hot goat's cheese salad in a small cafe adjacent to the cathedral. I don't have a photo of the salad, or the cafe, though if faced a C17th coaching inn.  I do though have some more stained glass windows - modern ones but just as  beautiful:
The Thomas Traherne Windows