Friday, February 24, 2017

The Abduction Of Lady Grange

Rachel Chiesley, known as Lady Rachel Grange, was by all accounts, a bit of a girl and rather a handful. She is best known for being abducted, by her husband, James Erskine, Lord Grange.

Rachel was born on Skye  in 1679 - just as the Jacobites were starting to flex their tartan muscles.

She was one of nine children. Her father rather famously shot dead the Scottish judge who had dared to pronounce a verdict against him. He was found guilty of that murder by the Lord Provost  and he was sentenced to death by hanging, before the sentence was carried out his right hand was cut off and the pistol he had fired was hung round his neck.

Rachel herself was one of ten children, she would have been nine or ten years old when her father was executed so I guess we could say her childhood was troubled. She was considered very, very beautiful, very passionate with a temper to match. She married Lord Grange, a successful lawyer, at the age of 28, probably after she became pregnant. Although the marriage was never happy, they had nine children together.

Her husband’s family, the Erskines, were known to be Jacobite sympathisers. The younger Earl went by the rather lovely name of ‘Bobbing John’ due to his political machinations.

Rachel was a bit bonkers – probably the result of the nine children she had. She talked of suicide often, a huge scandal at the time and it is rumoured that she slept with a cutthroat razor under her pillow – probably to keep her husband away .  She also threatened to strip naked in the middle of Edinburgh just to embarrass her husband. (This is the noise of people in Edinburgh being outraged… ‘tut’)

Rachel swore in the street ( in Edinburgh!!!) and disrupted church services, saying that her husband was a Jacobite and she had in her possession letters that would show he had plotted against the Hanovarian government in London. She insisted that he should be executed as a traitor. She used to abuse her children in the street to such as extent that they would hide in the local pub until she either calmed down or went away, and that might take two or three hours.

James Erskine, the Lord Grange dismissed divorce as a solution to all this. He decided to have her kidnapped. He paid some close friends to do it, then explained her disappearance as her sudden death and gave her a decent funeral. Interesting to note that this time he was playing fast and loose with the charms of a local coffee house owner. More interesting to note that her children,  the  eldest being in their  twenties, knew their mum had been abducted  by their Dad and did nothing to get her back. Their tutor is on record as saying that the kids were terrified of their mother and her spontaneous angry outbursts. And their mum had disinherited them all at birth.

So the Lady was taken from her home sometime during the night of  22 January 1732 by some Highland noblemen. There was a bit of a scuffle, or a bit of a rammy as we would say, and the bold Lady was removed from the premises in a sedan chair and then taken by horse to Falkirk, where she was held for six months in a empty tower. At that time she would have been about 50.

The kidnappers took their role very seriously, tearing out her hair and knocking her teeth out. They   took her off for a very long tour of the very remote Scottish island on the Western coast, ending up in Hirta of St Kilda and left her there. It sounds awful… alone in a stone walled hut with a grass thatched roof,  right beside the sea  with only goats and sheep for company… and an awful lot of whisky- actually that sounds better than living with her husband.  Until you remember the  horrific wind up there that never ever stops – most folk who lived inany part of St Kilda were deaf due to the noise of the wind and sheep knew not to go too near the edge of the cliff for fear of being blown off.

The locals were told not to give her food or clothing, and she probably didn’t share a language with any of them.
 In the end she managed to get a message to Edinburgh, to the minister of Inveresk. He was horrified by the conditions she was living in and he paid for a boat with armed men to sail to St Kilda ( no easy feat ). It had already set sail by 14 February 1741, but it she had already been moved on.

He probably got wind of the rescue attempt. (?)

Her husband lawyer had already blocked a legal application for a search warrant for St Kilda so he must have known that somebody would attempt a rescue.

Now, at Hirta on the St Kilda archipelago, a pile of rocks  are the only remains of Rachel’s house. A cleit, twenty feet by ten. In the winter she would have been scooping the snow out of her bed with her hands.  Even in a good day, the island is a bitter, inhospitable place- fortyfeet waves are quite normal.

Rachel died, without regaining her freedom on 12th may 1745, aged 66 by which time she had been effectively jailed for  13 years, and her life  has been constant fodder for stories and songs that have now passed into folk lore.

I just wonder if she was bi polar.

 Caro Ramsay 24 02 2017

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

How I Survived Christmas and Other Stories - Chapter 4: Killing time

Leye - Every other Wednesday. 

Chapter 4: Killing time

Photo: Ask Joanne

When people come up and stand next to me on a platform, I always feel the urge to confess to them that I don’t know where the train doors will stop. Of course, I never say anything, being London, you know. You don’t want to go about greeting strangers and being helpful and all, or else you’ll be a weirdo.  So I just stand there warming my hands in my pockets, and when the train stops and we’re all facing windows instead of doors, I simply shrug off the guilt and I engage in polite shovelling with the people I’ve misled. Every damn time, like yesterday when I rode on a South-Eastern train to keep my date with Cold Shoulder.

Cold Shoulder. Not only was she free to meet, she also suggested the café we went to the first time. Of all places, there. But I shouldn’t read much into that, right? Too late. I already did. Signs everywhere. She kept my number after all this time. She’s single – I think. She jumped at meeting up with me. She chose the place we both had our first date.

So, the train journey. It took two hours in total from my office to the café. We’d agreed a time and I was on time, but Cold Shoulder wasn’t there when I walked through the café with my coat still on because I wanted her to see how good I thought I looked in it. It was rather toasty in there and I began to sweat under the synthetic wool pretty sharpish so she didn’t get to see me in it. I found a table for two and waited. I could see the door from where I sat. I could see the entire road, for that matter. Glass. I could see her before she saw me. I moved the chairs, rearranged the standing-upright menu on the table, and I chose the perfect waiting pose and I waited. And I waited, and I waited, and I waited. And I remembered how on our only date that many years ago she’d been late as well. And I waited some more, and in the time I waited, I started to think of all my deal-breakers and how tardiness was at or close to the top of the list.

Up there with not being on time is a behaviour that has divided my friends. Something that really screws with me. Roughly half of my friends agree with me that it’s just not on while the other half think it’s cute. The first half are mostly men, the other half mostly women. And it is this: taking food from my plate in a restaurant. Arghhhh! I just can’t stand it. I see that uninvited fork encroaching upon the airspace of my food and I go do def con 4. The nukes are warming up. And what makes it even worse is the lame, afterthought attempt at justifying the theft: ‘Do you want to try some of mine?’

NO! No, I do not want to try your dumplings. If I wanted dumplings I would have ordered dumplings. Do you see any dumplings on my plate? No. That’s because I did not want dumplings so I did not order dumplings. I wanted steak! I ordered steak! Now leave my steak the ef alone!!! (This is someone's rant. Not mine.)
Well, you get the picture. I go ballistic. But all on the inside, while on the outside I continue smiling. Wars are sometimes declared in silence. I have decided not to date someone because they were a plate invader.

Cold Shoulder was really keeping me waiting, so I had time to go over more of my bugbears. I even discovered one I never knew I had.  At the end of my retrospective session I’d counted ten. Ten deal breakers. Ten things I just couldn’t stand in a partner. To qualify they had to be something that had made me end a relationship or refuse to proceed with a potential. I even attempted to rank them and that particular exercise led me to a life changing realisation. All this time I’d been discounting people based on my deal breakers, people have probably been discounting me to. Foreclosing on any form of intimate future with me. I have my deal breakers, they have their. I judge them, they judge me. On what was I being silently judged? My obsessive time keeping? My insane irritation at the innocent action of a date stabbing her fork into a piece of my steak?

A catalogue of faces began to form, each with a title beneath it: ‘Weird laugh.’ ‘Eats too fast.’ ‘Watches the Kardashians.’ ‘Does not know who Stephen Hawking is.’ ‘Thinks we speak Nigerian in Nigeria.’ ‘Always wants to hold hands in public.’ ‘Never holds hands in public.’ ‘Loud chewer.’ And slowly the titles faded and only the faces remained. Faces of perfectly normal people. People I should have made it work with, but for my crazy, insane, infantile, deal breakers. Little bugbears that kept me single and lonely when I could have been a couple and happy.

And with this realisation came a resolve so powerful that I felt its force as a wave that swelled and swept through me. From now hence forth, I will become mature and stop looking for flaws.

I checked the time. Cold Shoulder was thirty minutes late. I picked up my jacket and  began to leave. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

le téléphone

In the early 90's Parisians were getting rid of le télépone comme ça.
France and Europe had jumped to cell technology faster because of their archaic land line system.
Much easier for them to grab on to the 'new' technology. Far faster than we did. I remember thinking how cool and special that was. How advanced.
One time in the Marais, a hairdresser, had come out of the coiffeur salon in Place du Marché Saint Catherine.
This was a warm afternoon, a time to sit in cafés in the square.
He had a cell phone to his ear, gesticulated with a cigarette in his hand during a conversation and sipped an espresso from a cup he'd set on the hood of parked car.
He was poetry in motion involved in a very intense phone call. In the middle of it, he'd gotten a call from another cell phone he had pulled from his pocket. Two cell phones! Was it his mistress? His wife?
He managed all of this; the two phone calls, smoking and sipping from his demitasse in pure acrobatic fashion.
This is Bernard Henri-Levy the rockstar philosopher, not the coiffeur but it reminded me of him and to give you an idea. Also, I remember he wore a white shirt, the buttons undone to almost his navel and gold chains. Marseilleise? Corsican coiffeur? But whatever he managed all this with a certain style, a panache, a je ne sais quo manner that I've never forgotten.
Especially when today on the street all one sees is robot-like behavior with people at that cell phone texting stance which brooks no human contact. In Asia they even have walking lanes
Ah, those were the days when cell phones were part of life, not life. Cara - Tuesday

Monday, February 20, 2017

Touring Around Cape Town

Annamaria on Monday

When Stan wrote a couple of weeks ago about the noon cannon
on Signal  Hill, I told him I expected a one-gun salute when I arrived.
  Here is my photographic proof, taken from a boat during our
 harbor cruise, that he kept his promise.  

My peerless hosts silhouetted against the equally peerless view of
Table Mountain from the harbor.

The view from Stan and Mette's terrace.

If you don't find the terrace view impressive enough, here
is the view from their driveway.

The entrance to the inner harbour

Nobel Square, dedicated to South Africa's four Nobel Peace Prize
Winners.  The work of these four courageous men's has more to
 teach the world about  waging peace than any other four people
 in history.  If only today's leaders could absorb their depth of wisdom and humanity. 

With apologies of Albert Luthuli, but the gull would not fly away.
Talk about a determined photo bomber!
Desmond Tutu

Frederik de Klerk

Nelson Mandela
Sights around the Waterfront

A scenic drive along Victoria Road:

Sunday, February 19, 2017

A True Ghost Story From Japan

--Susan, every other Sunday

All my life, I've professed to believing in ghosts ... primarily to prevent them feeling the need to actually prove their existence to me.

In other words - I believed by choice, so I didn't have believe by experience.

That worked out pretty well for me until last November, when I went to Japan to research my sixth Hiro Hattori mystery - and encountered one of Japan's most famous yūrei (ghosts).

Although I write fiction, the following story is absolutely true.

I spent November 3 and 4 doing research on Mount Kōya, one of Japan's most sacred mountains and the heart of Shingon (esoteric) Buddhism in Japan.

Kongobuji - one of Mount Koya's leading temples.

The mountain is home to over 100 Shingon temples (many of which host overnight guests, both secular and religious) and Okunoin ("the temple at the end") - an enormous cemetery that houses not only the mausoleum of Kōbō Daishi, the priest who brought Shingon Buddhism to Japan, but more than 250,000 other graves and monuments to the dead.

The entrance to Okunoin.

I spent five hours at Okunoin on the morning and afternoon of November 4. The scale of the cemetery is overwhelming, but it's also one of the most peaceful places I have ever been.

Foliage at Okunoin. A truly peaceful resting place.

That night, I stayed at Ekoin, a Shingon Buddhist monastery.

My guest room at Ekoin.

After dinner (and after dark) one of the priests from Ekoin offered an English-language tour of Okunoin. I went, and spent a delightful hour listening to him explain the history of the cemetery--and asking him research questions, which he answered at length and in depth.

The tour ended on the far end of the cemetery, near Kōbō Daishi's mausoleum, where the priest released us to walk back to the temple on our own.

I stayed near the mausoleum to take some photographs of statues I needed to document for my novel, and when I finished, I discovered that everyone other than our guide and two other visitors had already disappeared back down the path, most likely to escape the cold.

A statue of Jizō, the "excuse Buddha" - and my excuse for ending up alone in a cemetery after dark.

Which, of course, meant that I was an hour's walk from the temple. Essentially alone.

In the dark.

Buddhas and tombstones at night.

The guide was showing the remaining visitors some other statues, which I'd seen that morning, so I started back along the path on my own.

I wasn't scared. I'd seen the cemetery in daylight, and knew it was a peaceful, sacred place.

Okunoin in daylight.

About halfway through the cemetery, I stopped to snap some photos of the monuments in the light of the lanterns beside the path.

Tombstones after dark, illuminated by traditional lanterns.

While taking photos, I heard the click of traditional Japanese wooden sandals--the type many priests on Koya still wear--approaching from behind me. Wanting to be polite, I waited, taking photos and listening as the geta came closer. When the priest was right behind me, I turned, bowed, and said good evening . . .

. . . but there was no one there.

The sound of the sandals ceased the instant I turned and bowed. The path was completely empty in both directions, as far as the eye could see - and given that the path is straight at that place, and lit at regular intervals, I could see quite a distance in either direction.

Needless to say, I did what any self-respecting, curious historian would do.

I ran like hell.

I ran until I caught up to a couple strolling along the path ahead of me - far enough that I was completely out of breath, legs burning, and struggling to look like I was merely out for a pleasant jog. Only then did I slow down.

Not creepy at all. Until the ghosts show up.

I followed the couple back to Ekoin, returned to my room, and went to bed - but didn't sleep for quite some time.

After thinking through the experience, reviewing my photos and memories, and considering what I know of Japan, the world, and science, I believe the spirit I met in the graveyard was real, and that it was betobeto-san, a well-known Japanese ghost.

According to legend (which I now interpret as factual, too), betobeto-san is a harmless trickster. The spirit follows people along deserted streets or pathways, making a sound like wooden geta that get closer and closer to you until you panic and run. Even then, betobeto-san supposedly follows you until you turn and greet him by saying, "After you, betobeto-san," at which point the spirit goes away.

Based on my own experience, bowing and saying "Good evening," will also suffice - because, although I remained in Japan for another two weeks, I didn't hear or see anything similar again.

A Buddha monument at Okunoin. 

Some people don't believe in ghosts, and that's okay--I only half believed in them myself until November.

Now, though, I know beto-beto.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

What's Been Happening in Greece


For those of you who’ve wondered what’s been going on in Greece since November 8, 2016—or, for that matter, anywhere else in the world outside of 725 Fifth Avenue (NYC), 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (WDC), and Mar-a-Lago (FL)—here’s where things stand.

The Grand Kabuki play of bailout back and forth is well into its third run, featuring Greece’s left wing SYRIZA Prime Minister again railing at his country’s EU and IMF creditors over additional austerity measures they insist Greece follow as a condition for the disbursement of more funds in July. And they want an answer by Monday.

The smart money is on Greece’s Prime Minister capitulating once more, after an encore performance of Sturm und Drang. At least that’s been the modus operandi so far, what with SYRIZA having raised the nation’s VAT to 24%, cut pensions by 40%, dramatically increased taxes on land, cars, gasoline, cigarettes, etcetera, and cut close to six billion euros from public wages (though recently announcing 40,000 new public sector hires—widely seen as an effort to counter their party’s sinking poll numbers).

Greece Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras

The Prime Minister has little choice but to go along with Greece’s lenders’ demands if he wishes to cling to his position, for anything leading to snap elections would likely send SYRIZA and its far-right coalition partner out of power.

A new poll shows 8 of 10 Greeks holding a negative view of SYRIZA’s achievements in its two years in power, and has SYRIZA trailing its center-right opposition party, New Democracy, by 16.5 percentage points.

Nine of ten respondents believe things are headed in the wrong direction, and their responses to other questions on what they see as their country’s fortunes are equivalently dire. More than three quarters of respondents see things getting worse.

And they appear to be correct. “Experts” had predicted that fourth-quarter 2016 growth in Greece’s economy would exceed its third quarter growth of 0.9%, but instead it fell by 0.4%, with unemployment remaining at 25%, manufacturing activity recording its largest decline in 15 months, and import prices reaching their highest level in 70 months.

As one reporter (Mediapart’s Martine Orange) observed:

Martine Orange

“European officials may argue that their bailout is working, they welcome the recovery of Greece and the budget surpluses, but the situation is quite different: passively we are witnessing the low-noise collapse of a whole country….

“In seven years Greece's GDP decreased by a third. Unemployment affects 25% of the population and 40% of young people between 15 and 25 years. One third of companies have disappeared in five years. Successive cuts imposed everywhere in the name of austerity now bite in all regions. There are no more trains, no more buses in whole parts of the country. No more schools, sometimes. Many secondary schools had to close in the most remote corners because of lack of funding. Per capita spending on health has declined by a third since 2009, according to the OECD. More than 25,000 doctors were dismissed. Hospitals lack personnel, medicines, everything....

“One fifth of the population lives without heating or telephone. 15% of the population has now fallen into extreme poverty compared to 2% in 2009

“The Bank of Greece, which cannot be suspected of complacency, has drawn up a report on the health of the Greek population, published in June 2016. The figures it gives are overwhelming: 13% of the population are excluded medical care; 11.5% cannot buy prescription drugs; People with chronic health problems are up to 24.2%. Suicides, depression, mental illness show exponential increases. Worse: while the birth rate has fallen by 22% since the beginning of the crisis, the infant mortality rate almost doubled in a few years to reach 3.75% in 2014.”

Ms. Martine’s bottom line to all of this is simple: “After seven years of crisis, austerity and European plans, the country is exhausted, financially, economically and physically.”

As she sees it, the entrenched unwillingness of Greece’s creditors to accept debt relief—instead insisting on further punishing austerity measures—as the only way out of this eternal quagmire, seems motivated by a desire to force Greece into Grexit…at least from the euro.

Putting it succinctly, she writes, “Pushing Greece out instead of granting it the necessary restructuring of its debt, at a time when geopolitical tensions have never been so strong, where Donald Trump explicitly attacks the construction of Europe and bets on its breakup, seems incomprehensible.”

How apt.

With so much in play—SYRIZA driven to stay in power at seemingly any cost, Greece looking for a shining knight with a magic wand to salvage it from financial extremis, and the attention span of the world driven by 140-character tweets—what happens there next may be just that.  Incomprehensible.

Let us pray.