Thursday 29 April 2010

Good Luck, Lizzie!

Good luck to my lovely Lizzie who begins her Physics Finals with THREE (count 'em!) exams this Friday.

[*ranty Mum* How ridiculous is that? Three years of working towards a degree and they slam you with THREE exams on the same day???]

Wednesday 21 April 2010

At the Sign of the Pestle and Mortar

I do love the local history talks at the Bury St Edmunds record office. Today's was about apothecaries, of which I knew not a lot until this morning.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, apothecaries occupied the middle ground in the medical hierarchy, below the physician who would diagnose and prescribe, but well above the surgeon. The thought was that anyone could chop a leg off, but it took someone really clever to stop the pain.

A late Stuart/ early Georgian apothecary would make up all the pills and dra
ughts himself from his extensive stock of herbs, spices and opiates. His most valuable book would have been his Herbal (Pat had got out John Gerard's exquisite 1633 and 1636 Herbals for us to read and lust after), followed by his own recipe book for medicines and potions. Frequently these were a 'work-in-progress' with notes as to their efficaciousness. They would also be passed down from master to journeyman or father to son. Apprenticeship lasted seven years, after which you were free to start up on your own.

This print shows a standard apothecary shop interior with a giant pestle and mortar on the left, an alembic (or still) on the right, jars on the shelves and lovely graduated drawers for ingredients and ointments. The pestle&mortar was so useful it was the standard advertising device. The photo at the top shows where an original apothecary's shop stood in BStE - pestle&mortar still there above the door.

Apothecaries didn't only supply medicines, they were also much in demand as a source of food flavourings. Inventories show vast quantities of items such as caraway seeds that would make their potions palatable as well as having a medicinal effect. They also used plenty of sugar (various kinds) and, er, senna. One really weird ingredient was gold-leaf: to coat the pills of the better-off patients. (I can just see that catching on with the NHS)

Blood letting was a favourite remedy, and all apothecaries had a leech jar. One eminent BStE citizen apparently used to fish out a leech and clap it to his forehead whenever he had a headache!

All in all, good apothecaries with a fine client list had high social standing and were able to amass a reasonable degree of wealth. Both the apothecaries, Thomas Macro senior and junior, were members of the Corporation of Bury St Edmunds - a very prestigious position indeed.

One last photo: Pat always makes us authentic Georgian snacks to go with our tea. These are "jumballs" flavoured with cumin and caraway. Delicious. They are also quite, er, firm, so we were given permission to dunk!

Friday 16 April 2010

Distracted by the shiny

So, the 50th Anniversary RNA Conference is at Greenwich this summer, and last week was full of meetings to Make It Work.

Like sorting out timetables (don't hold your breath). And accommodation. And food. And, er, Gala Dinner table decorations. (Look, these things are important.)

So this morning - aided by daughter who should have been revising for her finals - has been largely spent distracted by the shiny. There's something so gleeful about running beautiful sparkly sequins through your fingers...

Monday 5 April 2010

Show, not tell

I've been busy this week editing my People's Friend serial, which is why I've not been blogging. There "wasn't a lot to do" said lovely editor Shirley, apart from "pick up the pace a bit" in the final part.

Pick up the pace.

Oh, God.

So off I hared to the phone and had a nice chat with her. It transpired she thought that while the final part (it's a four-part gentle mystery) obviously needed to include a lot of denouement and explanation, the last third felt a bit flat. Could I perhaps inject some action into it?

It is a sad fact of life that editors are rarely wrong, so I sat down and re-read the episode. And yes, she was right. Could I see how to fix it? Could I heck.

So I wrote down the sequence of the last third: Penny goes to the boat, Penny listens to one side of Leo's phone call, Penny sees the point at which Leo regains his memory, Penny listens to Leo telling her what happened, Penny and Leo solve the final mystery together.

Oops. All Penny's viewpoint. But if I rewrote the middle three segments from Leo's point of view it should suddenly become much more alive because the information is coming to the reader first-hand instead of second-hand.

This is the gist of the original (with some spoilers removed)
Penny saw memory hit Leo with almost physical force. His face drained of colour. “I’ve got a meeting. I’ll ring you back.” He turned off the phone, dropped it with a clatter and slumped forward, covering his face with his hands.

"You've remembered, haven't you?"

"I'd had a terrible night and was still going over what she’d said next day. I drove around a bend on a road that I must have travelled a thousand times before - the sun was low, it dazzled off the wet tarmac and I went off the road into a tree."

And this is the revised version
Why did he still have this gap around the time of his accident? They reached the bottom of the road, Penny started to make the turn and the sun glanced off the wing mirror straight into Leo’s eyes. A
kaleidoscope of images rushed at him. A bend. A quiet suburb. The road slick with rain and the sun dazzling off it. The steering wheel jumping. The scream of tyres...

“Stop!” he yelled, covering his face with his hands. “Stop!”

The car braked to a halt. “Leo, what is it?” said Penny. “Are you ill?”

Leo opened his eyes. A child skipped down the pavement with her mother. Seagulls screeched overhead. “I’ve remembered,” he said.

And guess what? It works. Just as I've always known and had temporarily forgotten. And that is Show, not Tell.

PS: the photos are of the hellebores that I transplanted from my mother's shade-garden so I'd always have a permanent reminder of her. I could have told you that today (top photo) they are bushy and thriving and twice the size they were two years ago... or I could show you (bottom photo). I know which works best for me.