We had booked a tour of the Parliament building in Vienna and the MP’s were kind enough to leave the building so we could go and have a good gawk at it.
It’s a very imposing building (I’m convinced I was Christopher Wren in a former life, I love gazing at architecture).
I just love that sign telling you where you will find missing children! There didn’t seem to be any around to claim though.
HISTORY (WELL KIND OF)
Now that Carlos of Aragon is dead, busy haunting the streets of Barcelona, his younger brother Ferdinand is heir to the throne. We can forget about all the girl children, because under Salic law women cannot ascend the throne in Aragon.
This is Ferdinand, but I couldn’t find a picture of him before he got a crown.
Isabella, still controlled by her mad mother spends most of her days praying, but Mummy is now really furious as King Henry’s wife Joan (miraculously) produces a daughter and so Isabella and her elder brother Alphonso are a step further away from the throne to rule Castile. She is not a happy bunny.
Then, King Henry, summons Prince Alfonso and Princess Isabella to attend court at Segovia, probably so Henry can keep an eye on them. Isabella is now 11 years old and Alfonso 9.
SANGOMAS PART 1
Tribal medicine and herbal cures are still alive and well even in the cities in South Africa. You can often see the witch doctors (both men and women) also called sangomas, as they are often dressed more traditionally and are liberally adorned with beads, charms to ward off bad luck and have chicken bladders in their hair.
On two occasions I was told by the sangomas themselves that they woke in the night and followed a voice telling them to leave their homes and walk. They had no idea where they were going but followed paths and roads until they finally arrived – often after days – at the home where they were expected. In each case their host or hostess was an experienced witch doctor who told them they had been chosen to carry on the profession and taught them everything they knew. In both cases the newly trained returned to their home villages to practice.
(More next week)
Amie makes friends with Ouma Adede the best known and most powerful sangoma in Apatu – and I based her on my meetings with the witchdoctors I met and talked to.
After we left the Vienna Experience exhibition we spent several minutes standing on the pavement discussing which way to go – I won’t go as far as arguing exactly but it got heated. Want to know who won? DH, nauseatingly he was right. We spent time meandering the streets getting a feel for the place – to me the vibes screamed music, history and art – quite heavenly.
This building is the front of the State Opera house.
They offer free tours and we left it to the last day to go round it – sadly it was closed on that day.
So, we headed off to the Town hall or Rathaus (the name in German) instead. I know it’s silly but I kept imagining scenes similar to the Pied Piper of Hamlyn – how we often think about politicians?
I’m not sure we were supposed to go inside but there were no notices telling us not to and we were very good and didn’t vandalise anything or scrawl graffiti on the walls either. It was a veritable maze with several wide staircases covered in red carpet over the marble floors.
When Joan Henriquez Ferdinand’s mummy hears of the intended betrothal of her stepson Prince Carlos with Isabella, she is furious because she is all for the marriage between her darling Ferdinand and Isabella. But all is not lost because Carlos is now locked up by his Daddy the king and is languishing in jail. Not the best place for a royal to get married, even in those days.
King John is forced to release his son, but shortly after, Carlos dies in rather suspicious circumstances. It’s said that his ghost still walks the streets of Barcelona.
And it gets worse. Living quietly in Olite, Blanche [Henry’s ex wife the one he had before Joan Henriquez] is now very scared. On Carlos’ death, she has inherited Navarre. She is still imprisoned by her own family, in general she has a very sad life. She also dies under suspicious circumstances at the age of 40. Like Carlos, she was probably poisoned. What dangerous times, better to be a peasant I think.
When we first started filming in the rural areas around Johannesburg, it was easy. The local people were so friendly and helpful. If we asked them to cry they wailed loudly enough to be heard in London. If we asked them to laugh they cackled till we begged them to stop.
But, somewhere word got out that in Hollywood, actors were paid obscene amounts of money, and they began to demand payment. Sadly, our budget did not stretch to this and we were at a loss as to what to do. Until someone hit on the idea to ‘pay’ them in plastic buckets and bowls.
It worked! We got our footage and they walked off with brightly coloured plastic ware and everyone was happy.
Later, when I was running my own company in KwaZulu Natal I handed out lollipops for appearing in my movies. The idea was to give them to the children, but the grown-ups were having none of that and queued up to get theirs as well. It led to lots of laughs and some amazing footage.
This picture is not a mock-up, this lady was having her first lesson in learning to write.
So there we were in the Hofburg in Vienna where they have an amazing permanent exhibition about Elisabeth of Bavaria, born in 1837, she was the Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary because she married Franz Joseph I.
She’d had a good childhood, but was horrified at 16 to be married off and then to live in a stuffy court full of rules and regulations. She was a bit of a rebel and fed up as she had nothing much to do. She had the mother in law from hell, the Archduchess Sophie who bossed her around and took over bringing up the children.
Sissi was very beautiful and her hair reached to the floor. She spent hours each day bathing, it took a whole day to wash her hair and exercising – at 5 foot 8 inches, she weighed only 50 kg (110 pounds, 7 st 12 lbs) most of her life and cinched in her waist with corsets so it was only 19 inches in circumference. She had a pretty unhappy life and often went traveling. She was assassinated in Switzerland at the age of 61.
But the Hofburg had, even more, to offer which I’ll tell you about next week.
Now that we have come to the accession of Queen Elizabeth II of England to the throne, it doesn’t feel very historical after all.
The Princess and her husband Prince Philip were in Kenya on safari when the news came through. The press and paparazzi were asked to keep away from the bungalow she was staying in to give her some privacy – and they did! How times have changed.
This is a modern photo taken from Trip Advisor.
Although King George died on 6th February, the new Queen was not told until the following day. An urgent telegram was sent to Government House in Nairobi but it could not be decoded because the keys to the safe holding the codebook were unavailable.
Before our Queen even ascended the throne (they place them well off the ground so they can be seen), she promised faithfully to serve her country as ‘long as I shall live.’ A promise, she has kept for 64 years making her the world’s longest reigning monarch.
These are a few of the topics I wrote scripts for in the past:
medicine, productivity, toothpaste, manufacturing telephones, photography, power stations, pollution at sea, and distance education, bakeries, banks, nation building, tourism, diets, meat, margarine, aluminium, marathons, birds, splitting the atom, HIV / AIDS, crime, what to do in an emergency, legal information, modern classical music, maths, English literature, top athletes, lifestyles, science, mining, court cases, mayoral keynote speeches, oceans, honey badgers, African wildlife, religion, literature, safety, electricity, behaviour modification, self employment and so on and so on and so on. Too many for me to remember.
So, I guess it’s not surprising that I’ve written books in 3 different genres, memoirs, comedy and the Amie series.
Apparently, an author who does this shoots themselves in the foot, but I think I sound like me in all my books – OK, boring! In case you want to check them out this is the link to my website which describes them in more detail.
This week I’m adding a few more pics of our trip on the Canal du Midi. I loved going in and out of the locks, and in one of them, you might be able to make out where are 3 in very quick succession in succession and it looks as if the boat coming downstream towards us was hanging in mid air!
It was amazing to see grass growing on the lock gate.
We were out on the boat for a couple of hours stopping off on the way back at a lochside cafe.
Being a Sunday night we assumed that there would be plenty of places to have our evening meal. We were wrong. We walked around the new – though it is hardly new now – part of town and finally found a fast food joint which was manned by a charming young man who used sign language and pictures of the meals he had on offer printed out on a plastic sheet.
The following morning we set off for home again.
As I mentioned last week poor George/Albert/Bertie had a bad stutter. He was also very shy and didn’t want to be king at all he’d not been expecting it – it was big brother’s job.
George was born in 1895 so may even have remembered great granny Queen Victoria and he was 41 when he had the throne thrust upon him. He wrote in his diary that he burst into tears. It was time to book the speech therapy lessons.
So moving on to George VI the family were at it again with all the name thingie. We know him as King George, but he was christened Albert, Frederick, Arthur, George and before he became king he was called Albert and Bertie to friends and family. So why I wonder did they decided to use his last name as king to make him King George? (And the littlest male heir we have now is also called George – I think someone should show them how to google names and see how many different ones there are).
I’ve since discovered that ‘the queen what I don’t like’ demanded the name Albert to offset the fact that George was born on December 14th, the day when ‘Dear Albert’ died.
THE ADD BREAK.
Here is the beginning of book 4 in the Amie series – Amie: Cut for Life. myBook.to/Amie4
“Oh, my God! It’s Amie! It’s Amie!” The shriek reverberated around the walls of the shopping mall, bouncing off the plate glass windows and echoing along the hall.
Amie froze in her tracks. The plastic shopping bags slipped out of her hands and slithered onto the floor. Was the voice referring to her? Had someone recognized her? Was it someone who knew her well? What was she going to say? How could she explain? What was worse, she could have sworn it was her mother’s voice. No, that wasn’t possible. Her parents were six thousand miles away, outside London. This was Johannesburg, South Africa, her mother wouldn’t be here. Would she?
“Now Mary, calm down, you’re imagining things. You know it’s not Amie. Amie’s gone.”
Still, Amie couldn’t move; she was riveted to the spot, she didn’t even dare turn round. The mannequins in the shop window peered sightlessly at her as she stared at the reflection in the glass. Her mother’s name was Mary. It was her mother. Here, just across the hallway. Hell!
“It’s only another girl who looks a little like Amie.” Her father’s voice wasn’t convincing and Amie could feel his eyes boring into the back of her head. Did he believe his daughter was standing only a few feet away? “Remember,” he continued, “you thought you saw her in Croydon shopping centre a few months ago. That wasn’t Amie either, just a girl who reminded you of her.”
“Let me just ask her Raymond, let me ask her …”
“No! You can’t go bothering people. There are millions of thirty-year-old girls with blonde hair all over the world. Come and sit down for a moment dear.”
Amie retrieved the bags off the floor, fumbling with stiff fingers to prevent dropping them a second time. She dithered, uncertain what to do. More than anything in the world she wanted to run to them, throw her arms wide open and tell them that yes, she was Amie, their daughter. She was alive; alive and well.
She shuffled over to a nearby bench and sat down as if needing to rearrange her packages. She didn’t have the strength to walk away, her legs felt like rubber and she was shaking from head to toe. She sensed movement behind and to her horror realised that her father was helping her mother to sit on the seat that backed on to the one Amie was occupying.
“Now don’t go getting yourself upset Mary. We’ll sit here a moment while you get your breath back, and then we’ll go upstairs to our room and have something stronger to calm you down.”
Her father was fussing like he always had throughout their forty odd years of marriage. If they were going upstairs, then they were staying here at the hotel that was part of the shopping complex. What was she going to do? It would be wonderful to talk to them, to feel her father’s arms around her, to comfort her mother. She could also find out what had happened to Samantha, her sister. Had she made it up with her husband Gerry, or was she now divorced? And what about Dean and baby Jade, her niece and nephew, how were they?
Mary Reynolds was weeping. It was tearing Amie apart at the seams. What was she going to do? What were the consequences if she told them she was still alive? Would it comfort them or cause them more pain? If she broke the imposed code of silence would her employers simply shut her up for good?
She leaned further forward and buried her head in the bag of underwear she’d just bought until she sensed them getting up from the bench. She counted twenty seconds before peeking behind her; they were heading for the hotel entrance. She would recognize her father’s upright figure anywhere and the particular way her mother walked, a kind of penguin waddle that had always made her and her sister laugh when they were small.
She clenched her fists around the shopping bags, took a big breath and made for the nearest exit. She needed to get back to the B & B where she was staying and consider her options. This was not a decision to be taken lightly and Amie was not known for making her mind up quickly. She had the uncanny knack of seeing problems from several angles all at the same time and needed space to process them.
Now on the first Monday of the month, I usually write about a book thing rather than my travels – such as they are. Right now I’m in the “Shall I, shan’t I?” stage regarding my next book. Do other writers suffer a sort of empty nest syndrome after launching their latest offering out into the world to meet the general public? (Not that Amie has gone anywhere she’s still lurking in the shadows!)
This time after the flurry of all the screaming and shrieking about the launch – delicately of course – I sat back and thought ‘what now?’ I was physically and emotionally drained. At that point, I heard a little voice from under the bed crying out to me. Don’t laugh! I’m a very sensitive person and I have these flashes occasionally. It was Horatio, begging to be let out.
Back in the 1980s, I wrote several short stories for children which went out on the South African Broadcasting Service. They asked for more Horatio tales, but I had a miserly thought that instead of receiving a few Rand for every flighting I could add a few extra stories and have a whole book. Of course, this would sell millions overnight and I’d be off on my mega yacht in no time at all. I submitted a different series of stories about a witch to the SABC, completed Horatio and gave the manuscript to my then agent. I even produced what I now know is called swag to go with it.
I understand she tried Penguin in London who wrinkled their noses and that was that under the bed it went in South Africa, through 10 house moves, then packed into a cardboard box and flown to Spain and thrown under yet another bed, along with all those awards I shall never look at again.
So in my indecisive mood I decided to take action – not an easy feat getting under our bed the hydraulic lift thingie doesn’t work too well and I nearly sliced off an arm hoisting it out. Would you believe the two copies I have are typewritten on real, old-fashioned paper!
Yes, that’s how long ago I wrote it. So now I’m labouring away, got an illustrator lined up and soon I will pluck up the courage to tell DH that the next offering will have pictures in it! I must just tell myself that I will not have a nervous breakdown trying to get it out for Xmas, or I’ll aim for Christmas 2018.
Since I’m already out there in 3 genres, what’s one more? I’m probably schizophrenic as it is, and it gives Amie a break for a couple of months.
Not only was Edward or David as he was called – they like things to be very complicated, downgraded to a Duke, the British royal family refused to be friends with him. He had broken the unwritten rules by saying he didn’t want to be a king anymore.
That was not on. If you are born a king or queen then you become a king or queen and you rule whether you like it or not and you stay ruling until you go to the big throne room in the sky.
The House of Windsor does not do this abdication thing and let the youngsters take over and have a go. In the UK the Heir Apparent might wait for years and years and years.
But there was no stopping Edward from making history and after a lot of fuss, his younger brother had to step in and take over.
THE BOASTING BIT
Just have to share with you that October was a great month with two really unexpected awards. Amie African Adventure was a Finalist in the Book Excellence Awards in the Adventure category and a Finalist in the IAN awards in Literary Fiction.
And, Walking over Eggshells was a Finalist for First Non-Fiction in the IAN Awards, so I am very thrilled.
As we walked (well DH walked, I staggered) over the dry, grassy moat and the bridge to buy our entry tickets, I thought the castle was in a remarkably good condition considering it had been assembled in the XII century. It was built by the Trencavel family who added a bit more to it in the following century. Showing off how rich they were no doubt.
An interesting family they turned a blind eye to the Cathars, who’d developed their own version of religion and so the Pope of the day declared a crusade under Simon de Montford who laid siege to the city.
After all that was over, the town was declared French and they thought the castle would be very useful in manning the Franco/Spanish border. Which turned not to be such a good idea as someone went and moved the border further south. Now, Carcassone was several miles inside France. After all that effort!!
Now while George had 5 sons, one as I’ve said was locked away so you’ve probably heard about the two eldest Edward and George – though Edward was called David, just to be confusing.
Mind he had a fair few to choose from – Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David. I think it must be a royal thing no one in his right mind would want that many names surely?
David aka Edward got about a bit. He liked to party and sometimes these were quite scandalous occasions. The Prince was accused of all kinds of bad behaviour, and one lecture I attended on his life, suggested he liked to wear nappies and get beaten. (There goes my knighthood!)
File:Bundesarchiv Bild 102-13538, Edward Herzog von Windsor.jpg
He’d only been king a few months (his father George V had died in the meantime, so it was Ok for him to become king) when he asked a lady called Mrs Wallace Simpson to marry him and this shocked the whole nation.
THE EMBARRASSING BIT
Yes, here is where I mention my books, though I have far more fun writing about the other stuff on my blog.
I have 8 out so far, in 3 different genres which only goes to prove I’m a bit schizophrenic I guess. Memoirs x 3 – Humour x 1 – Adventure/thriller/spy x 4.
Well, it’s a whole month already since my birthday, but I promised I would share my adventures with you as it was a bitter/sweet experience.
I’d been waiting in great excitement for the big moment when DH would ask me what I’d like as a present and I had my answer all ready.
I wanted proper publicity photos, taken at one of those places which provided the wigs, the warpaint, and the Photoshop experts. I would then burst forth onto Facebook and other places with my long, golden locks flowing over my shoulders looking 25 years old with ‘go to bed’ eyes the size of flying saucers.
It was not to be. Instead, he waved the bed and breakfast booking for 3 nights in Carcassone. This would have been my second choice and I was looking forward to visiting the medieval walled city in south-west France.
We set off in the car very early in the morning and after a few hours realized we were in France. We’d stayed on the motorway (the tolls were horrendous) but it cut the journey by hours. We whipped round the Pyrenees and reached Carcassone in the late afternoon. We had a bit of a battle with the GPS as it insisted on trying to take us down a pedestrian street to the B&B. Later, we discovered that everyone else drove down these walk only streets! We found a teeny, weeny parking place right outside the door, but by the time DH had maneuvered the Tank (that’s what I call his truck thingie) into the minute space there wasn’t room to put tissue paper between the bumpers.
The B&B was lovely, though by the time I’d climbed the 3 flights of tiny, windy stairs I was exhausted.
Now to my mind, a castle is in a town right? Not in Carcassone. The town is one side of the river and the castle is on the other, very strange I thought. The first evening we took a gentle stroll into the town, and had a highly priced coffee.
We also popped into a church and had a look round.
Next morning we planned to go to the castle, but I began to have my doubts – and this is where the bitter part comes in. It was perched somewhere up in the clouds!! DH goes mountain walking in the winter, and it was no problem for him. I, on the other hand, see no necessity to walk farther than from the front door to the car.
I huffed and puffed up this HUGE hill – honestly nearer to a mountain – with not a coffee shop open until finally, we got to the top. Imagine my fury when I saw a car park right next to the castle! I was totally exhausted by the time we made it up there, and it didn’t look as if there was any public transport going back down either! I’d not planned a workout on my special day. I was too tired to take photos of the steepest bit. More next week.
Now George V was probably a little worried about keeping his seat on the throne. Not only had his cousin Tsar Nicholas of Russia been cruelly disposed of, Kaiser Willhelm II of Germany also got the boot. George and his wife May had 5 sons and a daughter and he is quoted as saying “My father was frightened of his mother, I was frightened of my father, and I am damned well going to see to it that my children are frightened of me.”
See, I told you he wasn’t a very nice person. His sons were quite terrified of him. Yet, and this is a spin doctor’s dream – on his father’s death he wrote in his diary “I have lost my best friend and the best of fathers … I never had a [cross] word with him in my life. I am heart-broken and overwhelmed with grief but God will help me in my responsibilities and darling May will be my comfort as she has always been. May God give me strength and guidance in the heavy task which has fallen on me.” Somebody’s telling porkies! (London Cockney rhyming slang – pork pies = lies).
THE ADD BREAK
By the time you read this Amie: Cut for Life book 4 will be off the pre-order and you can take a peep in the look inside. Book one is also available in audio.