Penny Blake

Extraordinary Everyday

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The Enchantress – or, ‘woops I’m sorry I seem to have murdered Ada Lovelace’ …

Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace,  Augusta Ada Byron, Ada Lovelace, The Enchantress Of Science… our beloved Ada has many titles and many claims to fame besides her noted works with Charles Babbagae. This little ghost story grew out of a reflection that, if it wasn’t for certain great minds at certain points in history, our world today would be a very different place… so, yes, I’m terribly sorry, but I have murdered the great mathematician for my own evil purposes. I shall await firing squad on the morrow…

The Enchantress

The little crucible fizzed and popped indignantly as the heat from the gas flame melted the thin flakes of lead within. Gussy puffed at a stray strand of her liquorice hair and stuck her tongue between her teeth as she kept the vessel clamped between the two short lumps of wood. The wood was charring black. I held my breath; entranced by the bubbling silver metal.

Gussy carefully laid the crucible down on top of the tomb. She turned to the pile of tiny metal rods beside her and dipped the ends of two of them into the molten lead before pressing them together and holding them firm.

We waited in the cooling breath of the city as it sighed out. The fractured light from the shattered window above painted us like jewelled serpents, lying on our bellies in the dust of the old church.

I traced the coloured patches on the cold stone, remembering the shape names she had taught me, remembering the triangles which fit to make the cubes, the fantastical little wooden instruments she had built for measuring the spaces between one line and another. Trying desperately to recall the little numeric rituals that would reveal the magic held inside each simple union of those spaces and lines.

A single silver droplet fell and splashed upon the stone.

“Angel’s tear,” Gussy whispered.

I watched it harden in wonder, then turned back to contemplating the stained glass shadows.

When the window had broken I couldn’t say. We hadn’t been down to the crypt for almost a month. Gussy had been ill – measles they said –  and it had taken her weeks to get over it. I had waited patiently by the railings every morning, watching the doctors and physicians coming and going with their top hats and their Gladstones, staring up hopefully at the ivory walls of the towering townhouses; all alike as a row of po-faced governesses with dark, vacant eyes that sucked in the sunlight from the Piccadilly Road and echoed back only a cool disdain for London and for humanity. Day after day I waited until she was better – and it seemed like eternity, but then everything does when we are young.

The lead solidified slowly in the almost silence. We filled our space with secret smiles and shrugs and the sighs of impatient children who wish that life would hurry itself along.

Gussy’s legs rocked back and forward in the gloom; a pendulous rhythm, taken for granted – tock, tock, tock, – like the pulse of the green sap inside the wood, the raised voice of the soap box cynics in the square outside, the choked breath of the chimneys puffing and grinding their industry, the soft, unobtrusive tick of clockwork winding down – everyday miracles, only remarkable in their absence.

Her black boots were scuffed at the toes and the laces trailed Fibonacci’s dance steps in the dirt. Beside them lay the creature she was building; frail framework vermeil with rust so that it seemed a tiny relic of diluvial times, some old crustacean now land bound and at our mercy. Gussy leant across my vision and secured another leg in place by means of a coil of wire twisted to form a cylinder. She pulsed the little rods up and down, up and down with an idle finger, checking the motion of the mechanism.

Gently she set the thing upon its feet and, lacking purpose or drive, it hesitated beneath the long shadow of the tomb, its amber eyes lit, not from within, but by the coloured light cast down from the stained glass saints above. The pale glass face of the Christ child, borne high on the shoulders of Christopher while all around them the river and the storm thrashed and foamed, had been exploded and the clear sunlight surged through the space between man’s delicate craftwork and danced decreasing spirals on the sleeping dead and our serpentine selves and the little simulation of life we were trying to create using all the spells we’d learnt so far. The creature had a central crank shaft, legs with pivoted joints that worked like pistons, a small fuel tank…

“Did you bring it?”

I nodded and reached inside my coat for my father’s pipe. My cold fingers closed around the smooth wooden bowl and I drew it out, bringing with it the comforting aroma of things that are ‘in hand and being dealt with.’ There is a certain grim delight in the finality of fire, a letter cast into the flames is soon devoured and all the words and thoughts therein and all feelings they evoked and things they might have achieved, for good or ill,  are all licked down to naught.

I handed Gussy the pipe. Outside the sound of a spade slicing through the turf grated our quiet air into curls of metallic noise that sprang up around us and stung our throats and ears. They don’t burn our dead round here but quicken them with lime, the faces whose lines they can’t stomach to read, while those more illustrative of the truth they are trying industriously to create are enshrined in boxes of stone, for generations to behold in silent awe and whisper ‘ah, so this is how it was, for them.’

She took the instrument and the leather pouch of backy, filled the bowl and fished in her pocket for a match. Our eyes met and we shared those kind of guilty smiles that relentlessly plague the faces of the innocent when they are caught doing nothing. I took the match from her shaking fingers and struck it on the stone. Gussy put the pipe in her mouth and sucked as I cradled the flame to the bowl. The golden tendrils flared, smoked violently, and then settled to a steady glow. Gussy put her mouth gently to the tube of the fuel tank and blew a lung full of violet smoke into the cavity, sealing it in with a notch of cork. The smoke inside the tank coiled and writhed like an imprisoned jinn.

“Ready?”

I nodded. I hugged my legs up tight to my chest to make more room on the flagstone floor. My teeth chattered and something inside me like a harp string trembled uncontrollably. Of course I wasn’t ready, how could anyone ever be ready for something like this?

The little beast waited in the dark, waited on our gumption, our resolve to release that pent up fume and let it spiral through the spaces we had mapped for it and realise the magic we had captured within each frame. Gussy’s pale fingers slid forwards and, with a soft hissss, opened the valve.

At once the twist of smoke rippled out of the little copper pipe spout. Like a long spindling tongue it slavered over the tiny triangles of coloured glass, soldered onto their pinwheel frame, and sent them carting round and round like a giddy carousel of streaming lights; blue, red, gold and green tumbling over and over propelled by the snaking vapour. Down the shaft the motion coiled, turning the minute metal discs which sent the pistons pulsing up and down up and down, the legs began to rise and fall and then, as the crescent rockers on which the creature crouched reached their pinnacle and began their decent the leg which had hung uncertainly in the void now took its first slow, mechanical step.

Then another.  And another.

Slowly we watched its laboured gait carry it inch by gruelling, faltering inch, out from the shadows that we and the dead cast over it, across the mosaic stains filtering through the glass and, finally, into the sunlight, pouring in through the shattered space between the lines of lead.

I Iooked up again at the window as, for a second,  the dreamy veil of industrial smog lifted a little outside and the dazzling white of the sun’s own light, free from all other interpretation slipped in like an ancient viper and stuck two bold brass fingers in my eyes, blinding me to everything but its own completeness.

Gussy put her hand into the shaft of light and the dust particles danced in elation at her touch as her pale fingers twisted this way and that like a stage conjurer working his arts on the enthralled crowd before him who stare in wonder, their faith at his mercy.

She turned back to her creation, still staggering this way and that across the debris-strewn floor. It hadn’t stopped in the sunlight shaft but had moved onwards now towards the patches of darker shadow and a landscape of fallen mortar on the other side of the crypt, far beyond our easy reach. There were steps down there. Somewhere in the dark.

“Shall I go get it?” I asked her with no enthusiasm to move myself.

Gussy shook her head and the stray strands of charcoal hair drifted round her pale face like smoke. “It has a logic system governing its movements. It can sense the optimum path and change direction.”

“So it shouldn’t fall?”

“No. It shouldn’t fall.”

We watched in silence as our little monster disappeared from view into the darkness. After some time, Gussy frowned and pressed her fingers together pensively, then she licked the nib of her forefinger and began quickly sketching a complex diagram in the dust. Numerals poured from her fingertips like wine from a crystal decanter and soon I was drunk on the complexity of it all as the lines and spirals leapt across the floor, capturing the void, taming and twisting it into ever smaller and more complex forms, forcing it to unleash the orenda within.

All around us the light and the dust, the shadows and the colours waged war across the walls and tried to claim us for their own children while outside the mundane things continued to tick their own time steadily away.

“It was a good thing the window broke,” I said after about twenty minutes had passed.

“Mmm.”

“Otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to salvage all those bits of metal and glass.”

“Mmm.”

She looked older, suddenly, and out of place; not grown bigger, simply aged from the inside. Could that happen, I wondered? Could a spirit get old while the body stays young? I thought of the faces of those poor folks put to lime in the paupers pits. Young souls in bodies grown haggard and creased by the pain and wretchedness of life pulsed out in dark despair. No, it must be only the flesh that is born to fail, surely the soul goes on forever and age and illness cannot touch it?

Outside in the churchyard, a raven chuckled to itself as it peered at the inscriptions on the tombstones. Beyond, the rattle of hooves and carriage wheels on the cobbled street trickled down; a background curtain too familiar for us to be disturbed by the subtle shifting of its fabric, we were too soaked up – like droplets of vinegar on a surgeon’s sponge – Gussy intent on her design and I … holding my breath, enchanted.

Tales From The Airship Katarina: The Tuesday Flight Club

The Tuesday Flight Club:

Chpt three: The Surmen at the temple of heaven                 

The planet Earth has flooded – an act of divine angst? Perhaps– however, the dauntless human spirit,  ever alert to finding the bare necessities of life, ever willing to turn the most hostile of environments into a holiday camp (consider Blackpool… Eastbourne… Clacton…), endures with infuriating tenacity, regardless of the fact that its awesome creator may be fervently wishing it would ‘just sod off and die.’

Both beneath the waves and above them, life goes on in an admirable assortment of sunken cities, floating carnivals, slightly submerged villages and diverse domiciles of every description and, above them all, sails the Airship Katarina; Hotel Of The Skies, carrying passengers, and the occasional contraband cargo, in style from the port of one floating scrap of human existence to the next.

The Airship Katarina, chauffeur to some of the most celebrated, cerebrated, and inebriated  personages on the planet and, once a month, host to the Tuesday Flight Club; a select gathering of witty and percipient individuals, each highly regarded in their diverse fields of expertise, each solemnly sworn to meet aboard the Katarina on the first Tuesday of every month in order to share and discuss the marvellous mysteries that their expeditions, investigations, literary endeavours and knitting circles have brought to light…

This particular Tuesday it was the turn of Major Coronary, the supposedly noted cartographer whom no living soul, bar my aged Aunt Agatha, seemed to have heard of, to share some curiosity, catastrophe or conundrum on which his fellow octogenarians could feast their exaggerated powers of intellect. Previously, we had been presented with a homicidal clockwork killing machine and a foolish message in a bottle, now we stared in stunned silence at the article which, with a disconcerting twinkle in his eye, the major had laid before us.

It was a rough cylinder, elongated and slightly tapered towards each end, and seemed to be made of leather, although the wrinkles spoke of some emaciated substance beneath, which may have once been plump and vital and filled the now shrivelled skin making it robust and smooth.

Smooth it was now not. Besides the various knots and gnarls the thing was pocked with warty blemishes along its length, from some of which protruded wiry hairs, and, whatever it may have been in life – for it undoubtedly conveyed the impression of a thing that had passed over – certainly it had suffered for it.

In fact, as I regarded it, I came to the rapid conclusion that no thing on earth had ever been as hated, or as loved, as this thing in front of us. Some person had so vehemently despised it, so fervently desired its demise, that they had hacked it into as many pieces as they could manage. And yet someone else, presumably, had so wished to salvage it that they had painstakingly (if clumsily) stitched it back together again and this process seemed to have been repeated many times until at last the poor unfortunate thing had given up the good fight.

Aunt Agatha studied it gravely from beneath the brim of her pugnaciously purple hat. She said nothing but her knitting needles seemed to semaphore her revulsion. Edward Monroe, sitting opposite me, laughed nervously and glanced at his wife who seemed to be trying her hardest to look perplexed. Elgin Marbles reached inside the mis-matched assortment of archaic astro-gear, which he quaintly referred to as his ‘space suit,’ and pulled out his monocular.

“Gods of the deep!” he exclaimed, ignoring my aunt’s derisive snort, “I’ve never seen anything like it! What is it?”

The major smiled enigmatically “I would not expect any of you to recognise it. It is what is known on the isle of Knitty-ta-ta as a swashcumber.”

My aunt gave another indignant snort “What nonsense! The isle of Knitty-ta-ta has not been seen since I was a child. The knitted islands were amongst the last land masses to survive the rising sea levels but, like everything else, they succumbed in the end.”

“Indeed, so it has generally been assumed. However, last year an old chum of mine asked if I didn’t fancy pulling out of retirement for one last shove into the unknown blue; St. Isidore’s is a cartographical alliance dedicated to mapping out the diluvian globe and their oceanographical seismic transponders had picked up the vibration of an as yet uncharted mobile landmass in the former mountainous region where Knitty-ta-ta was last seen.

“Of course I could not resist the prospect and as you can see,” he patted the strange swashcumber affectionately, sending an inexplicable shudder down my spine, “our efforts were rewarded. What we discovered was the last floating remnant of the temple of heaven. The lost tea temple of Knitty ta-ta, set afloat by a complicated crochet of kelp bladders and faithfully piloted by a handful of clerics who, I am sorry to say, have been driven utterly mad by their experiences at sea.  When our subaquatic-dugon-drawn-paddle-barge, pulled up alongside the floating temple, the clerics were just beginning their monthly Surmen and not only were they overjoyed to see us – having lived for several decades with the belief that they were the only gentlemen left on the planet – they were most insistent that we should join them in the temple grotto and bear witness to the strange event which was about to take place. “

Ladies and gentlemen, in testimony of the tragedy which may occur when a small island of otherwise sane and moral gentlemen is set adrift from the rest of humanity and placed at the mercy of sea, salt and persistent seals, I present to you the account of our experiences in the temple of heaven…

The Major went on to describe at length and in detail his experiences of the Swashcumbering Surmen but I will not play sport with your time and intellect by repeating his words verbatim. Instead I will give a brief account of what, apparently, one might expect should one ever have the misfortune to be invited to such an event:

The walls of the grotto rise like the curved sides of an upturned tea cup and their stained appearance will do nothing to rob you of the impression that this is what you have stepped into.

The floor it is as well to step on as little and as gingerly as possible for it is a vast debris of broken china crusted with rancid cream, mucilage and lumps of decaying flesh from previous swashcumbering Surmens.

The crowd, eager, straining at its leash for the impending carnage, surges up the curvature of the walls on rows of chronically unstable wooden terraces so that they bear down upon the ring, their faces red and rabid beneath their oil skin cowls. Oil skin cowls are the official garb of the Surmen priests and their purpose, you will soon discover, is not as one would first suppose, purely aesthetic.

At last a cheer swells up from the lower levels as the combating swashcumberers are manhandled into position in the centre of the ring. At first you will doubt their humanity –  the absurd layers of padding beneath their long oil skin overcoats, coupled with enormous gauntlets and mesh-lens goggles, enforce a stiff, laboured movement comparable to ungainly automata.

Perhaps it is this ridiculous mixture of the comic and the grotesque, this detachment from the reality of the human flesh beneath, which allows the crowd to excuse this vial swashcumbering as entertainment.

The arms master now enters the ring, bearing before him the weapons of each swashcumberer on a knitted cushion. This cushion bears, in intricate intarsia, the crest of the tea temple – a monkey, cross-legged, staring meditatively into a large cup of gunpowder tea. The idea is for each gentleman to now inspect his weapon and confirm that it is in fact his own but, considering the get up, such a feat is obviously impractical and the pomp at this stage in the proceedings is merely part of the show.

The weapons themselves will be one of two varieties of aquatic cumber; Aqua Cucumis melo var. flexuosus, or Aqua Cucumis sativus, carefully cultivated from seed by its owner from a unique heirloom line of fruits, and their state of rancidity and disrepair are testimony to the great and noble swashcumberings their owners have previously survived.

I say survived; it is not the purpose of the Surmen to hold a swashcumbering where either swashcumberer is ‘the victor.’ Instead, each man is bestowed a certain amount of esteem and rank amongst his peers according the number of wounds his own cumber has sustained without wilting. A wilted cucumber results in disqualification from the round and the owner of such an inadequate fruit will be scorned by the entirety of the temple until such a time as he is able to cultivate a new weapon and re-stake his claim to manhood.

Once the satisfactory grunt has issued forth from each combatant (please do not think I am speaking derogatorily at this point, a grunt, literally is all that any man could muster under such oppressive garb) , the weapons are crudely thrust into each gauntleted hand and on the clanging of a bell the whole grotto erupts into chaos as the fun begins.

It is slow work. Unable to do more than shuffle obtusely like a pair of aged clockwork penguins, the swashcumberers attempt to swipe at eachother with their long, green weapons. Often a chunk of hoary cumber-skin is catapulted up into the stalls amid whoops of ecstasy from the crowd and, of course, from every smite upon a cumber, there oozes a plentiful stream of sappy mucus. It squirts over the combatants, clerics and crowd, it dribbles over the china shards and slathers down the sloping walls.

Now and then you see half a man’s cumber go flying and then, of course, he calls for time (grunting and flailing like a pig in a sock until his request is comprehended by some person with authority) and his steward comes hopping high-legged across the slippery floor with his needle and thread to repair the severed organ, whilst the impatient crowd pelts him with cream cakes and fine bone china.

Considering that these stewards are not afforded any armorial protection for themselves, it begs the question ‘who is in fact the braver man?’  The clerics of the temple of heaven do not, however, concern themselves with philosophy and, considering that the tradition of swashcumbering both originated and thrives within their midst, the world may be thankful for the fact. Their only concern is to emerge from the ring with a cumber so savagely mauled and mutilated, so pummeled and pulped and haphazardly stitched back together by some Barbary butcher that they will be able to hold their heads up high as they go about the temple with these grotesque appendages swinging at their belts.

Once the odious show has reached its climax in showers of cream from the stalls, the clerics retire to the feasting hall where each man’s cumber is proudly passed around for inspection and praised with speeches, poetry and songs.

So the Major’s narrative came to an end and he offered the specimen swashcumber for us to examine. My aunt peered at it curiously over her pince nez, “I suppose we should be thankful that our own little islands of humanity have not yet fallen into such demise.”

At that moment our meeting was interrupted by the appearance of my bothersome brother, sporting his captain’s hat askew and a rising actress on each arm. “Ah, there you are Jem! Glad someone has time for a sit down…hello! What on earth is that thing? Reminds me of the time I drank twelve bottles of Pernod with the Earl of New Tunbridge Wells…”

I left my aunt Agatha choking on her crumpets and went to make the Katarina ready to land as the peaceful port of Southerby loomed into view below us…

Cogs and spring and whirry things…

“Ask me where I’ve been”

“Where have you been Lord Flashheart?”

“Where haven’t I been? WOOF!”

Ah god bless Rik Mayall, we miss him still! But, I digress, this post is supposed to be a grave apology for my recent absence during which time we have acquired several new things, the most exciting of which having arms and legs and a fine set of healthy lungs via which it is able to demand milk and nappy changes and cuddles and baths and things and interfere adorably with life the universe and everything … and certainly the world of blogging!

But we are getting back on track now and working on several exciting projects which I’ll tell you more about later this week, suffice to say I’m over the moon at being able to work with some fab artists and writers who are not only super talented but also absolutely lovely folks so I’m feeling both excited and hugely blessed 🙂

Tales from the airship Katarina have been building too, so those will be appearing soon along with additions to the tea activists’ handbook and more weapons of choice for discerning ladies and gentlemen so, huge thankyous for your patience over the last few months and watch this space for enormous amounts of steam-powered silliness in the coming weeks 🙂

12 Days Of Wizmas: Letter 5

If you have missed the previous letters you can read them here

If you would like to know the hidden message in the last letter it was: “Perfect But The Timing Device Keeps Coming Loose Any Ideas?”

Letter 4: Addressed To: Apartment 1b, 113a Botheration Street , Lichfield. The envelop was marked with two stamps, the first placed upside down in the top left corner and the second placed in the centre of the right hand edge.

My Dearest Friend,

I have enclosed a poem with my letter, darling, in the hope that it might HELP sooth your nerves and give you a little extra something to occupy your mind between now and the time we all return to Lichfield.

Considering THE contents of my last letter, I frankly was not expecting the delivery of five brass rings this morning and am quite confused as to what you mean by sending them to me? Not a single one of them fits any of my fingers and, to be honest, when a Lady thinks of receiving a ring, she expects it to be made of gold. With perhaps a diamond or two set into it. And certainly not to have the words ‘Crapper & Son; Twice The Crap Of Any Other Plumbing Merchant’ inscribed upon the inside.

Please try to engage the GEARS of your grey matter and understand me when I say, do not send any more of these ludicrous gifts.

Their daily appearance ON THE doorstep has begun to give my Aunt the affliction of Nerves.

We intend to catch the skywayrail LOCOMOTIVE back to Lichfield on Sunday and Gabriel will be in his ELEMENT to show you the hairs that ARE still JAMMED in the cogs of the wagonette.

Until we meet AGAIN,

Christina.

This Poem Was Included With The Letter:

When I was FIRST but sweet SIXTEEN

The SECOND glance you gave, I gave it TWO

And said “ hast never TH’EARD the nighting bird

sing so sweet upon the hour Of SIX O’clock, except to shower

love with praise?”

I met thy gaze

and you came FOURTH and said FOUR, FIVE times over that you did love me.

Was I wrong to believe?

Fi! THe notion that you would deceive

IS EVEN now repugnant to my soul.

But time goes on and still our well dips dry.

Now that NINETEEN has passed me by,

shall I live to TWENTYSIX or even TWENTYEIGHT ,my love, without you by side?

Oh why, but for some other’s sake, must we our amour hide?

If this world turned but some other way,

then, perhaps, you would make me your bride.

Poem By Christian Biscotti, Written, at the SIXTH hour, FOUR minutes past.

The 12 Days Of Wizmas: Letter 4

If you have missed the previous letters you can read them here

If you would like to know the hidden message in the last letter it was: “Something To Hold The Powder Cartridges Together”

Letter 4: Addressed To: Apartment 1b, 113a Botheration Street , Lichfield. The envelop was marked with two stamps, the first placed upside down in the top left corner and the second placed in the centre of the right hand edge.

My Dearest Friend, I appreciate that your endeavours to supply me with the

Perfect wizmas gift are both generously and affectionately intended,

But really this is getting out of hand.

The arrival at 3am this morning of four Pawling Girds betrays a distinct lack of both

Timing and taste. I mean what exactly is one to do with such a strange

Device? Wear it as some experimental item of corsetry? Torture the kitchen maid? Affection

Keeps me from expressing the full extent of my vexation, dear, but really! We are

coming home to Lichfield very soon, I promise you. Please try not to

loose lose any more of your sanity between now and the time I see you next. I must warn you that

any amount of lunacy is not becoming to either a Lady or a Gentleman and should you have any

ideas pertaining to gifts in the near future please keep them to yourself. Your anxious friend, Christina.

The Twelve Days Of Wizmas: Letter 3

If you missed the first two letters you can read them here

If you would like to know the primary hidden message in Letter 2 it was: “A Little Ostentatious But Yes They Will Prevent Burns When Welding Thankyou.”

Letter 3:

Addressed To: Apartment 1b, 113a Botheration Street , Lichfield. The envelop was marked with two stamps, the first placed upside down in the top left corner and the second placed in the centre of the right hand edge.

My Dearest Friend,

Surely you do not mean to send me a gift every day we are apart? Why, it has

Only been three days and already I have received A Cartridge Of Ti Kuan Yin Tea, not to

Mention the Two Spurtle Gloves, and now three Wrench Pens? To be perfectly

Ernest, dear, I would not even have guessed their double use had Michael not

Taken one to make some minor adjustment to the Luminescent Wagonette –

He is not really the practical sort, as you know, but likes to think of himself as such – and

Inadvertently discovered that the wrench tool splits in two to reveal a hidden fountain pen.

Now I do see the point in sending me a pen, but a wrench? Exactly what is a

Gargantuan poet such as myself to do with a wrench? Let alone three! If I were a

Tinker, or a baker perhaps these gifts might make more sense but to speak with perfect candour, the

Only thing I can think is that you are indulging in large amounts of caffeinated tea again. It is a

Habit, darling, and those who wish to be continued to be thought of as Very Quiet

Ought really to keep their Habits to themselves and not draw attention to them by sending

Ludicrous, expensive and ill thought out gifts to their close friends. Please save your money

Dear and buy yourself a nice caddy of de-caffeinated Earl Grey and some dairy free scones

To while away the hours until we return to Lichfield. Gabriel sends

His regards and informs me that I ought to tell you about the fiasco that

Ended the Witch Hunt yesterday. He is quite right, you will be green with envy at the

Prospect of knowing that you missed such all over larkishness

Only it wasn’t actually our endeavours with Aunt and the wagonette that set it off,

Would you believe that The Pre-Cognitive Sisterhood showed up, all garbless and on horseback!

Do you know that we even thought we spotted the infamous Cucumber amongst their ranks?

Extreme amounts of riot were caused by them tearing up the hunt and I have never seen Aunt

Robusta turn a more violent shade of puce as the luminescent wagonette was boarded by a

Cavalcade of naked women, singing battle hymns and trying to tear

Apart the mechanisms with their teeth.

Really we couldn’t have caused a better sabotage feat ourselves and so were forced

To simply sit back and watch the fun – something no doubt you would have

Revelled in yourself I imagine, had you been here.

In fact I am beginning to think that it is providence that you have been kept away,

Darling. You should have seen the look on Aunt Robusta’s face when one woman’s armpit hair

Got tangled in the wagonette’s gear system – not to mention the look on Gabriel’s when his

Endeavours to free the poor girl landed him a kick in the teeth. I think he may be in love. Again.

Still, she managed to free herself eventually… you know, having now witnessed one of

Their raids, I cannot honestly continue to regard their activities in the same romantic light.

Of course I still see the value of many aspects of their cause as noble, I am simply stru

Ggling to reconcile Gabriel and Michael’s paintings of them, with the stark reality of

Eighty unwashed, unclothed female barbarians on horseback descending upon us in a fit of

Tremendous passion. Perhaps I shall

Have to write a poem about the

Experience in order to fully convey the

Rather confused jumble of feelings the whole thing has aroused.

Ever your friend, Chrissie.

 

 

The Twelve Days Of Wizmas: Letter 2

If you missed the first letter, you can read it here

If you would like to know the primary hidden message in the first letter it was: “The cartouche is a perfect vessel for the gunpowder please send more”

I will reveal the hidden message in this letter tomorrow…

Letter 2:

Addressed To: Apartment 1b, 113a Botheration Street , Lichfield. The envelop was marked with two stamps, the first placed upside down in the top left corner and the second placed in the centre of the right hand edge.

My dearest friend,

Another gift? How dreadfully generous of you, although I must confess to feeling just a

Little perplexed this time. Needless to say I was not expecting to receive a pair of Spurtle Gloves.

In fact, had it not been for our intimate dealings with, well, one doesn’t want to bandy

The name, shall we say ‘certain oatcake purveyors?’ I should not have known what

They were at all, but really, darling, please write and tell me that these are NOT the actual and

Legitimate Golden Spurtle Gloves presented at the Annual World Oatcake Flipping Contest in

Edinburgh? Firstly, I am not certain that I wish to know how you came by them, and secondly I

Ought to remind you that the special, golden, heat-resistant fabric is manufactured in Lancaster;

Surely you have not forgotten the unicorn conspiracy taking place in Lord Ashton’s factories there?

Tristan’s speech on the matter last year was so passionate, so heart rending, so well researched, so

Ernest… I am quite shocked that you would think such Spurtles an appropriate Wizmas gift.

Nevertheless, and despite the fact that I have no desire to begin flipping oatcakes, I shall keep

Them. At least they will remind me of you. If I can only bring myself to forget the suffering of the

Animals who have sacrificed themselves for my dubious gain. Now then, I promised to

Tell you about the show didn’t I? Oh darling! Would you had been here to see it!

I’m afraid – no, delighted in fact – that I made an enormous error in telling both my aunt, and you,

Of the title: It is Burlington Bells, not Belles. That may seem insignificant I know, but be

Utterly assured my dear it proved to be the essence of the thing entirely. Let me relate the

Story before I burst with it: All begins innocently enough with Johnny announcing the title

“‘Burlington Bells’ ladies and gentlemen” and then he begins to sing his part. My aunt is

Unfamiliar with the Burlington Arcade in Lichfield and its frequenters and so did not pick up on

The occasional, though quite muted, references to those very particular ladies and gentlemen

You see conducting business there from time to time. Nobody batted an

Eyelid in fact and he finished his piece and stood to the side whilst Charlie got up and

Stood beside him and sang the next part. Yet again, there were odd little

Things which stood out as possibly being to meant to have been taken in a certain way,

Heavy words lightly thrown I should call it, but certainly nothing unsuitable for an

Evening of respectable entertainment. Charlie finishes his little section and,

Yes, Joyce takes the stage and begins the last part and sings it splendidly as always. But

When she is done, instead of them all taking their bow and their seats in quick succession,

It transpires that this is not the end at all. Only the beginning, for Joyce now begins again on

Ly this time, when she reaches the end of the first verse, Charlie begins singing his

Little bit again too. Oh dear! What seemed at first to be two, almost completely innocent

Pretty little songs, when sung together create an entirely new verse that is so

Raucously amusing I was forced to glance with grave concern in my aunt’s direction in

Ernest hope that she had been struck momentarily deaf and could not hear what was being

Verberated around her dining hall.

Ernest hope seemed to have won the day for once as the old dear showed little to

No acknowledgement of what was going on, other than to look ever so slightly confused.

This was not the end, however, because, as no doubt you have guessed, when Johnny

Began his verse over again, the combination of all three now produced a third version of such

Undeniable scurrility aimed at the reputations of several well known Tea Time Lords, that Aunt

Robusta’s attention was finally caught. Her eyebrows first began to twitch at the realisation that

Now these young people, who had begun by singing sweetly about ladies

Strolling about with parasols and stockings of a certain hue,

Were now brazenly defaming some of the most respected members of the aristocracy,

Her nostrils then began to flare as the epiphany dawned upon her,

Erstwhile portified, senses that the Bells part of the title did not refer to certain

Neatly attired members of the fairer sex, but rather certain anatomical members of the other.

What it was that finally turned her purple and instigated the snorting, foaming and wildly

Energetic convulsions, I cannot say but I think this final fit must have occurred at the

Later point when the multiple layers of song entwined in such an ingenious way as to

Describe in detail the penances meted out to the afore mentioned Lords in recompense for their

Ignoble behaviour by the ladies of the Burlington Arcade, all involving pain, humiliation and ‘Bells.’

Needless to tell you the rest of the company found the whole thing hilarious. Gabriel called it

‘Genius’ and I cannot disagree with him. It only pains me

That you were not here to see it too, darling, but it is assured a long season at The Garish and I

Have made Johnny swear to get us the box for the premiere so that we can enjoy it together.

Aunt has retired to her room but not before ordering the domesticons to hurl Johnny, Joyce a

Nd Charlie out ‘on their ears.’ Whether the poor mechanicals understood these instructions I don’t

Know but their attempts at carrying them out only served in adding further hilarity to the evening.

You know that wicked trio were booked into a comfortable abode in the village the whole while?

Only my good opinion of them prevents me from thinking that the whole fiasco was deliberate.

Utterly yours, darling,

Chrissie.

The Twelve Days Of Wizmas: Letter 1

Over the run up to Christmas I have put together a series of posts for those of you who like a little crypticology scattered amongst the tinsel and the twinkling lights of this festive season. The Victorians adored cryptograms and secret messages; they used letters, flowers and even stamps to communicate hidden messages to their loved ones and the Victorians in The New World were certainly no exception, as you will see. As usual, I’m afraid I  have flagrantly stolen concepts from just about everywhere… including the concept of Christmas itself…

Introduction to the letters:

These Letters, indicating a correspondence between the famous revolutionary poet Christina Biscotti and an un-named personage residing in Lichfield,  were found amid the wreckage of Lancaster Castle by Fein Richards and Turk Goodie of The Tiffin Den Sleuths. Fein’s notes in The Tiffin Den Sleuth’s Case File suggest that these are not the love letters they appear to be but actually coded instructions for brewing an extremely potent new form of tea. Goodie’s notes in the margin of Fein’s notes, however, point towards the conspiritational creation of a bomb. Whatever the case, I offer them here in the, perhaps vain, hope that they may shed some light on the mysterious incident involving a statue of Queen Victoria, the flooding of Lancaster city centre with lemonade, the rise of the global power company GORGON and the plight of a missing octopus…

Letter one:

Addressed To: Apartment 1b, 113a Botheration Street , Lichfield. The envelop was marked with two stamps, the first placed upside down in the top left corner and the second placed in the centre of the right hand edge.

My Dearest Friend,

Thankyou from the very bottom of my

Heart for your kind and thoughtful gift, which arrived this morning,

Exquisitely wrapped in gold and purple orangza! What an imaginative way to

Celebrate the first day of Wizmas

And how thoughtful of you, darling, to

Remember that it was over a steaming pot of Ti Kuan Yin

That our eyes first met, all those years ago. No doubt you can guess how surprised I was to

Open the ornately decorated porcelain cartridge and find myself violently and

Unexpectedly showered in a generous dusting of finest quality tea which, even as I write,

Covers the floor, cushions, armchairs and fainting couch, onto which

Holman – you remember my cousin, Holman? – has actually fainted, no doubt in a fit of

Ecstasy at the thought of enjoying such a delightful and generous gift. Shockingly provincial of him, I know.

I shan’t be sharing any of it with him of course but I will let him bask in deluded

Slumber for a little longer whilst the household domesticons rally themselves to the

Arduous task of sweeping it all up again and depositing it safely in the tea caddy.

Perhaps you might consider wrapping your next gift more cautiously? Just a thought, dear.

Everyone here misses you most terribly. I have pleaded with Aunt

Robusta to invite you down this year but, you know she is taking the

Feud with your mother most earnestly and cannot be persuaded that your presence on her

Estate would cause anything but the most unbearable quantities of scandal. I am forced to

Console myself therefore with these correspondences and endure the somewhat dull and

Tedious company of Dodge and Appaul, who insist upon darkening the daylight hours with

Vociferation after vociferation upon the subject of Universal Fruitcake Theory. As if

Everyone who is anyone had not read Through The Cooking Class months ago! My

Simpering aunt is, however, in her element and quite fancies herself to be firmly placed within ‘The

Set’ having had such eminent (if penniless) house guests for the Wizmas season. Why

Exactly she should favour them with hospitality whilst shunning the heir to the throne

Lies quite beyond my understanding but then there is no accounting for the sensibilities of aunts.

Fortunately, Johnny, Joyce and Charlie will be joining us tomorrow and they have promised not

Only the traditional Amelia performance (My aunt is adamant that Dodge will be able to rig her

Rocking chair to replicate Amelia’s winged article and is determined to play the role herself despi

Te Dodge’s own protestations that he is only a theoretical man) but also their new and

Heretofore unseen musical atrocity ‘Burlington Belles’. I am certain Aunt Robusta has no idea what

Exactly she is letting her guests in for, however I look forward with mounting

Gusto to the outcome, which I am certain will be amusing. It is of course most

Unfortunate that you will not be here to witness it yourself but I promise to write and

Notify you of every detail as soon as I am able. Apparently the anthem is sung to the

Popular tune of ‘Ninety Nine Bottles Of Beer’, or so rumour has it. Not that

One can put much stock and store by the same rumour mill that insists certain

Wild and unprincipled individuals are, in fact, Very Quiet Gentlemen, but there you have it.

Deserved, I am sure, is any reputation that comes with such a hefty price tag.

Everyone is planning an excursion this afternoon to watch the traditional Wizmas

Revels in the village. You will be sorry to miss the Witch Hunt as William and Gabriel have

Persuaded Aunt Robusta to trial their latest purchase: Dr. J. Sallis’s Cream-Powered

Luminiferous Wagonette. You must remember the delightful

Escapades of Dr.Sallis, detailed last month in The Gourdian newspaper, which resulted in the poor

Aspirational gentleman being deported to Hull? I am

Speaking, of course, of his heretical proclamations, about the return of The Holy Child, from the

Elevated heights of the Lichfield Cathedral spire before hurling him

Self off it expecting to be borne away to some dubious other dimension by the

Extraordinary apparatus he had strapped to his back. Of course he did

Not succeed in leaving the sphere of this horrid globe, only falling rather haphazardly

Downwards into the waiting arms of Her Majesty’s Good Folk, but the fact remains,

My darling, that all his inventions are being auctioned away by his family and not

Only were my brothers able to procure the wagonette, but also some other

Rather more interesting items which I am anxious to bring to Lichfield for you to see.

Ever yours, Chrissie.

Think you’ve spotted something? Discovered a code? Put two and three together and made one thousand five hundred and sixty eight? Awesome, well done 🙂 I’ll reveal a little of the mystery tomorrow along with the next letter… TTFN 🙂

The Tea Activists’ Handbook: Suggested Activities for December

Activities For December:

– Knit cup jackets and pot cozies for friends and family.

– Knit blankets, hats, scarves, socks or  mittens for a local homeless shelter, animal sanctuary or premature baby unit.

– Adopt a granny (or granddad)! Contact your local retirement or care home and find out if there is an elderly person who would appreciate regular visits for tea and cake.

– Invite your neighbors in for tea and mince pies.

– Send boxes of tea to friends and relatives abroad.

– Set up a stall to give away free cups of hot tea in your local area. If the police ask what you are doing, give them a free cup too!

– Donate some really nice tea or other cheerful festive treats to your local food bank.

– Organise a tea and mice pie sale. Use the money to buy presents for children at your local hospital, homeless or women’s shelter.

– Make teacup candles by melting wax beads (or grated wax from spent candles) and pouring it into old teacups with a weighted wick. Give as gifts to friends and family.

– Make your own spiced tea by filling jam jars with your favourite black tea and adding chopped or ground dried spices like cardamom, cinnamon, ginger or star anise. Tie the jars with ribbon and give as gifts. Don’t forget to keep one for yourself.

– Surprise someone in your family with a cup of tea.

– Set aside a quiet hour to enjoy a nice cup of tea with your favorite biscuit.

– Recycle your tea boxes by filling them with small gifts and posting them to distant friends and relations.

Tea Activists’ Handbook: Introduction to December

December was gifted to us by The Powers That Tea, so that we might have a month in which it is perfectly acceptable to combine alcohol and tea. In December we stoke our inner flame with the warming spices of chai and remember that our actions in the world can bring this warmth and comfort to others.

The Sacred Tea for December is Masala Chai.

The Scared Ritual for the first of December is as follows:

The Chant:

Oh tree of tea, oh tree of tea

How sacred art thy leaves to me

Oh tree of tea, oh tree of tea

Thy blessed blossoms should be free

Yes free to all, not hoarded up

To fill some greedy guzzler’s cup

Oh tree of tea, oh tree of tea

Divine gift to humanity.

The Oath:

           

I solemnly swear to accept the gift of the month of December as a month for spreading comfort, warmth and sustenance to those around me. I will honour the Powers That Tea by drinking Chai with respect and acknowledging that these delicious spices are a divine gift to all, not to be hoarded or monopolized by one group of greedy guzzlers. As a mark of this vow I will wear my Festive Tea Socks every day during the month of December.

            I solemnly swear that I am up to a lot of good… although it may not seem like it at the time.

Optional Ceremonial Garb:

The Festive Tea Socks