Sunday, December 22, 2013

What the Dickens! - A Bit of Christmas, Victorian Style

Last week-end we went to the Dickens Fair in San Francisco with friends. It was like actually entering the Victorian world. More than 700 costumed players took part in the event, and many visitors dressed in Victorian costume to enter into the spirit of things. I wasn't always sure when I was speaking to an actor or to an enthusiast, which added to the overall "magical" effect of the day. Everyone, of course, spoke with an English accent, confusing me at first, until I "got it".

A rather complacent fellow.

A  convivial lass.

Let the celebration begin!
 Take a look at these folks. They were, no doubt, some of the actors. And they played their roles convincingly.

Dickens and friend stopping for a
photo. Very accommodating.

My friend, Susan, spied on Charles Dickens at his meal: A short
time later, Rajan and I encountered the Great Man himself:
The Dickens' enjoying supper.

The Great Man himself.

Unbeknownst to Dickens (we peeked in the window), after he left the house, the butler and maid were preparing to sit at his table to enjoy a bit of their own cheer. The gentleman at the door, watching Dickens leave, didn't seem to bea bit  aware of this.

Sly maid.

Abetting butler.

Oblivious gentleman.

Dickens was not the only famous man we met, however. I was amazed, as we wandered down Nickleby Road, to encounter another famous person. Well. Two famous people—none other than that most renowned detective and his literary colleague. Yes! Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson!

Sherlock, pondering a case.

Pondering it in depth you
might say.

Watson seemed to ponder it, too.

You may not
believe this, but as
savvy as Sherlock Holmes is, he didn't seem to get what a blog is. And he acted like he had never heard of Facebook.
I mean, really?

Still, when the Phantom of the Opera clued me in and suggested the duo might be amenable to being featured in The Strand, they concurred. Holmes and Watson, please think of this as a feature article in The Strand.
The Phantom, cluing me in.
On and on we wandered, through lanes and alleys, and even the London Docks! And what a busy place THAT was!
It's a hard life at the docks.  You
drink a lot. And you make friends
with parrots.

Tempers can still be touchy.

But, a little song and dance helps.

       There was a surprise at the docks, though. The fellow in red you see below claimed to be a Baron. He said he was organizing an expedition to America, and would I like to come along? He said his intentions were honorable, but he didn't invite my husband . .  . Doesn't that sound suspicious?
Baron Karl Friedrich
Hieronymus Von Münchausen
 and his seagoing friend.

The Baron explains about the expedition.
The matey's expression makes me think
the Baron isn't telling everything.

An honorable baron? What
do you think?
I thought he looked a little sly, myself. So . . , Rajan and I moseyed on, encountering some interesting people on the way:
A couple working out a spat.

A fanatic.

Someone doing Xmas shopping.

A violinist inside a violin shoppe.

Someone chatting with a bartender.

Hungry diners.

Waltzers at Fezziwig's Dance Party.
There was some Polka, too.

A puppeteer for a rather . . . creepy
puppet show. The puppets were monsters
And not least of all, when we went for lunch with our friends in Pickwick Place, my friend, Susan was able to snap a picture of the Queen in a procession that was most impressive. You know how processions can be. We could barely get a glimpse. Still, Susan managed to catch a quick picture on theat invention of the future, the Smart Phone. (Ah, if only Sherlock could have seen this happen, he would have been out of his mind with excitement. Next year, Sherlock, I promise to come clean that I'm not really from The Strand, but am from the future.) Because next year we will return for sure.
The Queen - Victoria, that is.

Thanks friends, for stopping by. Have you ever been to the Dickens Fair? Which character in this collection did you find the most interesting?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

New Free Kindle Download of The Fourth Wish

With the holidays drawing close, I'm offering a second free Kindle download for The Fourth Wish, this time for three days: Sunday, December 15th through Tuesday, December 17th. The last one put the book as #1 in its category. But what made me happiest was the prospect of so many young people being able to read it. Here is where to go on those dates:

The story takes place over the winter holidays. It involves magic and wishes, complex family situations, and I've been told it's very humorous. A good read for both boys and girls, ages 8 to 12.

I hope you will check it out.

Meanwhile, what are some of your favorite titles for readers of that age group?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Victorian Remedies, Then and Now

This image (or other media file)
 is in the public domain because
 its copyright has expired
With Thanksgiving Day past, Christmas Day to come, and New Year's Eve to follow, the aftermath of the holiday season brings more than fond memories of festive meals. The traditional Christmas dinner in particular, going back to Victorian England (stuffed poultry of some kind, mashed potatoes with gravy, and cranberry sauce, plum pudding, fruitcake, and perhaps mince pie), much of which we still cook today, can leave indigestion in its wake. 

Today we might take a Tums or an Alka-Selzer or some other over the counter antacid to settle our stomachs. But in nineteenth century England, these remedies weren’t available. The famous Mrs. Beeton (Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, published in 1861) suggested Hepar Sulph (calcium sulphide) for chronic indigestion. For indigestion produced by overeating, she recommended nux vomica (strychnine). She also supported Dr. John Cook Bennett’s recommendation of the curative power of the tomato, “almost a sovereign remedy for dyspepsia and indigestion.”

While modern homeopathy today includes small amounts of nux vomica to treat indigestion as one remedy, most medical doctors would be loathe to recommend strychnine. And calcium sulfide figures in today’s homeopathic remedies for infections rather than for indigestion. As for the curative power of the tomato, its high acid content often triggers indigestion rather than curing it.

Overeating can also cause headaches, according to Dudley Delany, R.N., M.A., D.C. (Winter, 1986/87, issue of Health World). For headaches caused by indigestion, once again, Mrs. Beeton recommends nux vomica, a cure also accepted in current homeopathic practice for this type of headache. But few of us today would be comfortable doctoring our families with strychnine or want to follow the helpful hint in an 1882 issue of Girl’s Own Paper to “Sponge the head all over night and morning with water as hot as you can bear it, and rub it dry with a coarse towel.” (

Today’s over the counter medicines usually treat either headache or indigestion, not both. Antacids provide digestive comfort, but can cause headaches. The caffeine in aspirin can aggravate indigestion and the acetaminophen in Tylenol can cause an upset stomach. However, according to the editors of Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs (1987 Rodale Press, Inc., p. 384), mint, especially peppermint, is a home remedy that really works for both indigestion and headache. A mint infusion is recommended for indigestion or upset stomach. Freshly picked, crushed mint leaves applied to the forehead can relieve a headache. 

Would any of Mrs. Beeton’s remedies be useful today? Perhaps her hot liquid cure for a cold—raisins, stick licorice, sugar candy, rum, and a bit of vinegar, boiled then simmered and drunk warm at bedtime—would partially pass muster. The Mayo Clinic Staff agrees that warm liquids make a patient more comfortable and suggests that warm lemon water with honey can loosen congestion and prevent dehydration ( ) while a cold runs its course. The staff also recommends bed rest, saltwater gargles, and over the counter medications to relieve discomfort, since a cold cannot really be cured—a fact that would surprise Mrs. Beeton. Of her own cure, Mrs. Beeton promises, “The worst cold is generally cured by this remedy in two or three days; and, if taken in time, is considered infallible.”