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Adventures in lockdown easing – race day!

What a great day we had at our virtual Glorious Goodwood – special thanks to ‘Brian the Snail’ who came in third by a nose at 66/1 and meant we only had a loss of a couple of quid each on the day. The ladies all dressed up (details on our amazing hats another day): I didn’t deliberately set out to look like a pearly queen.

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An unexpected bonus – and very apt, given that in a non Covid world we’d have been at Highclere (Downton Abbey) for Battle Proms – was the NHS spitfire flying almost overhead.

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Charlie’s latest newsletter

A bit of a flyby mailing today as we’re about to launch into a weekend of fun, with a virtual raceday followed by an in-house spa day. Mr Cochrane and I will not  be providing whale noise while our daughters tone their faces.

News

Jury of One is now also out in audio book, which makes two of the Lindenshaw mysteries now available for you listen along to.

Free story final part:

Last time, Mrs Beeton had begun to work for the mysterious Messrs Murchison and Quentin (note the initials). Where did that lead her?

I started courting Samuel in those days, although I only revealed to him the secret of what I’d actually been doing the last few years when I discovered that he also knew Mr Murchison and was called on by him, on occasions, to help out via his publishing work. You can imagine the scene as Samuel and I strolled through Kew Gardens together only to come across Mr M admiring some roses. The ensuing conversation was heartening for both of us, removing the load of secrecy we’d both had to bear. I often wonder if Mr M engineered that supposedly chance encounter, although I haven’t asked him directly. Let it be his little secret.
That shared bond made our relationship stronger and closer: it was natural that he should ask me to marry him and for me to accept. It was also natural for me to carry on my work—sometimes in conjunction with Samuel, sometimes on my own. Not all married ladies of my acquaintance were allowed, or expected to enjoy, such a degree of freedom and responsibility that wasn’t bound up with the running of a household.
I continued the practice of sending out messages, via the magazine and so on, although this time it wasn’t sharing information I’d discovered. One of Mr Murchison’s agents, a Mr Basildon, supplied me with the keywords they wanted shared and I weaved them into the seemingly innocent recipes and articles on how best to run a household.
Remember I mentioned:
The white Aylesbury duck is, and deservedly, a universal favourite. Its snowy plumage and comfortable comportment make it a credit to the poultry-yard, while its broad and deep breast, and its ample back, convey the assurance that your satisfaction will not cease at its death.
That was a commission from Mr Basildon, who wanted all his contacts to be on the lookout for Daniel, Stanley and Thea, who usually met on the seat at the end of the road, by the sand. Not that I understand exactly why this sort of information was important, it but I was assured that those who read it would. Samuel suggested it wasn’t really a case of three people meeting to admire the ships passing. He wondered if we were dealing with a code within a code, the words each having a secret meaning which—when combined—formed a coherent and important message. We believe there is about to be an escalation in the Opium War, or some such thing. Beware of foreign agents operating in the Grimsby area.
There are plenty more example, but I won’t bore you with them. Open the book or the magazines and root it out for yourself, like a little sow might root a choice truffle, as Mr Murchison quaintly put it. Perhaps you might be able to interpret the information better than either Samuel or I could. Still, we were paid well and had the satisfaction of knowing we were doing our bit for Queen and country.
If I have one lingering regret about how I discharged my service, it is that my experiences might have left a lasting effect upon my health and the health of my children. All that time I spent with Mr Quentin, playing with substances of one sort or another. No matter how safe we tried to keep ourselves, inevitably I came into contact with chemicals—on occasions I’d walk in and the air would be a perfect fog of noxious fumes. Could that have caused all those problems I had in bearing a child to full term and then rearing it safely? Mr Quentin himself says it is possible, although Mr Murchison always, as so often, kept his own counsel. I have subsequently discovered that another woman who worked alongside me in Paris has suffered in a similar fashion. I dread to think what went on there to cause such an outcome but perhaps, as Samuel says, it’s merely a coincidental run of bad fortune.
That was a certainly a period of our lives beset with its troubles. Mr Murchison called to see us one day, a very unusual occurrence, to say that it might be best if we discontinued the messages for a while. Certain folk had become suspicious and he didn’t want to expose us to any potential harm. By which he would have also meant that he didn’t want to expose Her Majesty’s government to any scandal.
We, of course, agreed to his suggestion, although I did point out that my Household Management book was already out and should we attempt to recall it? Mr Murchison felt that would be unwise—what a stir it would cause, even if we hid it under a cloak of addressing concerns of plagiarism. Simply best to stop hiding the messages and keep our heads down.
That strategy, I’m afraid, didn’t work. While we no longer played an active role, our past activities carried long-lasting repercussions. Just as long lasting as I suspected my playing at science with Mr Quentin had proved to be. We’d been party to enabling communications to take place, communications that had ultimately led to people being killed. Casualties of war, Mr Murchison called them, necessary deaths that had happened for the ultimate benefit of the British nation. If Britannia were to continue to rule the waves—as well as many parts of the land—then we had to accept there would be casualties. On both sides.
It is an unusual set of circumstances in which one gets to read one’s own obituary and tributes, although one might do so with a degree of trepidation if one felt they might not be universally complimentary. I didn’t bother with mine, with one exception, being too busy trying to establish my new life in a way that would be convincing to my neighbours, distant as they were. Folk are far nosier in the countryside than they are in a city such as London or Paris.
Mrs Beeton was dead, of puerperal fever, the day after giving birth to a son. She was buried at West Norwood. She most definitely wasn’t recovering from her labour in a house just outside Romsey and the coffin certainly hadn’t contained large lumps of stone bound together to feel like a body. The tears on the face of my husband undoubtedly weren’t the result of one of Mr Quentin’s chemicals, cunningly applied to a handkerchief to dab near one’s eyes.
Samuel, bless him, played his part beautifully, I’m told. Such a tribute he produced for me.
Her works speak for themselves; and, although taken from this world in the very height and strength, and in the early days of womanhood, she felt satisfaction—so great to all who strive with good intent and warm will—of knowing herself regarded with respect and gratitude.
Over and above those heartfelt words, I was delighted to see the message he had slipped in there for me, using words we had planned the connotation of beforehand. Fort, as in hold the fort, be strong for us. Host, meaning thank your hosts for being such a help in our need. Other things which are purely private between a man and wife.
After my “death” I stayed at Embley Park, a lovely house with delightfully spacious grounds. Mr Murchison had arranged it all, of course, having connections to the family in a similar way to us. One of the daughters in the family, with whom I corresponded frequently, served her country—and her fellow beings—in many ways, some of which could only be discussed by those who had experience of such things. I believe she found it useful to confide in me.
For the next twelve years, Samuel and I conducted our marriage in a circumspect way, not wishing to draw suspicion upon ourselves or the family whose guests we were. I settled in one of the lodges, where Samuel would visit me when he was “Down in Hampshire for the fishing.” Sometimes he brought young Mayson and Orchart to see me and they would stay for a few weeks, enjoying the country life. He’d told them I was their aunt, a fiction we maintained until they were old enough to be told the truth and understand its context. Of all the sacrifices I made in the greater cause, that was the most painful.
While the lives we led hardly represented an ideal situation, it was better than the alternative of carrying on as we had been, but constantly in fear. Besides, as we reminded ourselves, others had made greater sacrifices for their country. Eventually, though, our past began to catch up with us again: we had perhaps underestimated the tenacity of our enemies and their net drew in around Samuel. When it became plain that we could no longer carry on our life without becoming under suspicion—and perhaps also risking the safety of my host’s daughter, whose fame was spreading—Mr Murchison felt he had to move to the second part of his plan.
There must have been no end of laws broken in both Samuel’s case and mine—surely it’s a crime to forge a death certificate?—but, naturally Mr Murchison smoothed over all that side of things. From something Mr Quentin mentioned, Mr M was quite used to dealing with such irregular matters.
So now there were two coffins full of rocks in the cemetery at West Norwood and a simple country couple living in the lodge at Embley, one of whom enjoyed making pastries and who both took care of their “nephews”. We played host as well to the daughter of the family and I hope that our frank and well-informed conversations were of benefit to her. While we no long played an active role in serving our queen, we could act as mentors to those to whom we passed on the baton.
You will find in my book the line, “Dine we must and we may as well dine elegantly as well as wholesomely.” Let me rephrase that and apply it to the world rather than to the table. “Live we must and we may as well live usefully as well as safely.”
Which, reader, we did. A household who had been stirred by many events, but never shaken.

And finally – a mystery. Seen on the golf course (ignore the smiley face). What can that metal thing with the rivets be? Any ideas, please let me know.

Charlie

Adventures in lockdown easing – Goodwood and spa days

This weekend we’ll be enjoying the wonders of Glorious Goodwood and a spa day, all without leaving Cochrane Central, thanks to ITV, Ladbrokes.com, Waitrose, Boots the Chemist and a bit of imagination.

We’ve done a virtual raceday before – the girls all dress up, with home-decorated hats, we put our money into a race pot and act like we’re on the course. Virtual spa is a new invention, but things like facials and lemon water will feature. Mr C and I are refusing to produce whale song…

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Adventures in lockdown easing

Last week felt the nearest we’ve been to normality for ages. Lots of live sport on telly helps lift the mood, of course, and a couple of days staying with middle daughter (socially distanced, of course) was good, too. We walked, had a coffee out, had a meal out(!) and visited the Wild Place Project. Of course some people weren’t being in any way sensible, but every place or business we visited was trying hard to keep staff and customers safe.

Roe deer at Leigh Woods

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Fallen oak at Exbury which has had its year rings labelled.

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Well done Starbucks at the M4 services

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View from the Clifton bridge.

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Charlie’s latest newsletter

Hello. Apologies for the hiatus between newsletters. I don’t know about you, but I’m finding the gradual easing of lockdown has made us really busy. In fact, lockdown as a whole has been a touch manic. Lots of new skills learned, though, like helping to write a bid for lottery funding and cleaning out drains.
 
News
 
The Bold Strokes Books online panel I took part in (about writing romance and what it brings to the reader) is now available via youtube. I found it really amusing that two of us chose a ‘favourite romance quote’ that originated with Winnie the Pooh!
 
Another good review for A Carriage of Misjustice at Rainbow Book Reviews: 
an interesting mystery, engaging characters, a big slobbery Newfoundland, and I had no problems reading it as a stand-alone
 
Also a lovely review of The Best Corpse for the Job audio version at Padme’s Library.
 
I loved how the author used the characters’ determination to keep it legit by slow burning the sexual tension until the crime is solved), drama, and of course everything that lovers of English mysteries have come to expect: murder and wit.  Let’s face it, these English villages must be some of the most dangerous places to live on the planet😉😉. (Charlie’s note – I agree about English villages. At least, they’re dangerous places in cosy-mystery-universe.)
 
Free story part 2:
 
You’ll remember (I hope) that we left Mrs Beeton, she of the famous cookbook, having met a mysterious Mr Murchison, who asked her if she’d like to serve her country. The thick is about to plotten, as we Cochranes say.
 
I had assumed that I’d be involved in nothing more daring than using my language skills to translate messages or perhaps performing important but routine administrative tasks.  I knew it couldn’t turn out to be the equivalent of one of my brothers being asked to serve his country, taking the Queen’s shilling and going off to join a regiment. Nobody had the foresight to allow women to be in the army or the navy. 
In 1854 I moved to Paris—not back home to Epsom, as my official biography says—where I learned to make pastry for a business, Pierre’s, who kept the diplomats fed, including with patisserie of the choicest kind. You will recall that we were embroiled in the Crimean War at the time and the French were our allies. But people don’t easily forget and the Hundred Days War was within living memory for some. The French had been our enemies time and again throughout the ages and, according to Mr Murchison and his colleagues, there was always a risk that they would be our enemies in the future. In short, the British government didn’t trust them.
So my way of serving my country? It began with keeping my ears open and reporting back what I heard. The business had been carefully vetted by the French government and was trusted implicitly, as it employed waiting staff who spoke the minimum of the local argot, staff who could hear what was being said and not understand a word of it. That was true for the vast majority, although one or two of us were fluent. That was the hardest part of what I did, playing ignorant. I was helped in it by one of the manageresses, who knew the standard trick used to attempt to catch out new employees, so I was prepared for it. I think that to the end of my time they nobody suspected me of being anything other than a nice, not very bright English gal whose attempts to learn a foreign language were far less successful than her development as a pastry chef.
Those we waited on thought they’d taken enough precautions in terms of security—alas for them, they hadn’t. We knew that any outgoing correspondence—whether personal or from the business—was routinely monitored, although the degree of monitoring had lessened over the years. That was no doubt helped by those to whom we sent our secret yet in plain sight messages dropping hints into the appropriate ears (the French spied on us, too!) that the information had come from elsewhere.
Still, what better to lull those who monitored us into a false sense of security than a stream of recipes sent home to one’s sister? I’m proud to say that was my idea, rather than hiding messages in letters home describing one’s visits around the sights of Paris or mild romantic encounters with French gentlemen. Mr Murchison was delighted and suggested I might include in the first such missive that I was being rather naughty, smuggling out these French recipes, although surely I was to be forgiven, as they were so superior to our English ones. The person who checked our mail must have smiled at that and, hopefully, lowered his guard further. Such silly English mademoiselles.
Silly English mademoiselles who were keeping those in London informed of all the key discussions they’d overheard.
Did I ever go further than simply baking pastries, serving them and keeping my ears open? A lady never speaks about such things; however I would simply note that such things went on and that secrets were heard in bedrooms that might have been heard in board-rooms. Polite society frowns on such things, but were not both Rahab and Mary Magdalene heroines, despite their profession?
I digress.
Returning to the matter of my career, I was brought back to London after a year—a young woman can’t appear to take too long to learn the pastry-makers art—and it was only then that I discovered Mr Murchison was in charge of the entire espionage operation for her Majesty’s government. One would never have thought it of him, given that he resembled nothing other than a kindly yet shrewd solicitor but I suppose therein lay his success. The secret hidden beneath the innocent exterior.
He introduced me to another gentleman, although this one’s appearance was more in keeping with his role within the organisation. Mr Quentin resembled a mad professor, such as might step out of the pages of a novel, and he was employed to produce all manner of strange devices. An umbrella that had concealed within it a firearm. A fine hunter watch which could carry enough poison to kill the population of a small village. The collodion process was of particular interest to him—if one could obtain a truthful record of, say, a diplomat caught in flagrante delicto, how useful might such evidence be were one to want a favour from said man?
Mr Quentin and I were very taken with each other, although not in a way that would have later threatened my burgeoning relationship with Samuel. When I was in Paris, I learned a little about life, including the fact that some gentlemen didn’t seek the company of women. To use another Biblical example, David and Jonathan. Mr Quentin was another such. I don’t say that simply based on my suspicions: he found me a sympathetic ear as well as being a useful colleague and it must have been a great relief to him to be able to mention such things, even if in a highly veiled manner, to another person.
We had such fun working together, as well. Once I saw what he did, I began to have ideas and although I had no notion of how to put these into practice, he did. We eschewed food laced with poison, not simply because that’s a trick as old as time. It’s also one that’s easy to overcome, with that other old trick, the poor innocent food taster. The type of thing we preferred was an elegant gateau with a timing device inside it, that would explode at the precise moment you wished it to. A moment at which you could be far away from the blast and the shrapnel. How easy to dispose of one’s enemies by delivering such a delicious form of death?
We never quite mastered producing a serving dish with a hidden photographic device inside, although Mr Quentin managed a passable humidor that could capture blurred images. Alas that we couldn’t find a way to produce an image—or whatever you might call it, a living transcript, perhaps—of what was said over post-dinner cigars once the ladies had retired.
Such larks we had in his laboratory, although I have to confess we nearly blew London sky-high on at least one occasion. Chemistry and mechanical engineering, I found, bore a great resemblance to cooking. The importance of the correct method and accurately weighed ingredients, how vital it was to use appropriate utensils and secure quality of produce. One can’t produce a proper Yorkshire pudding in a china dish and neither can one substitute a test tube for a flask. One needs to work methodically and with care, although there is still room for a touch of instinct or flair.
As I have been quoted as saying, “The kitchen is the great laboratory of the household, and much of the ‘weal and woe’ as far as regards bodily health, depends on the nature of the preparations concocted within its walls.” That could equally have applied to my adventures with Mr Quentin.
 
And finally – as restrictions ease here, we’re taking the odd opportunity to do different things, in a safe way. I caddied for Him Indoors then we had a drink in the clubhouse. Busy, isn’t it? 
 
 
 
Charlie

A parable for our time

(Based on Matthew, chapter 25):

For I was hungry, and you donated to my local food bank: I was walking along the pavement and you crossed the road to give me distance: I was close by indoors and you wore your mask: I was poor and you supported free health care.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, and donated to thy local food bank? Or on the pavement, and gave thee distance?
When saw we thee close by indoors, and wore a mask? Or saw thee poor and supported free health care?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it for one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it for me.

For I was hungry, and you did not donate to my local food bank: I was walking along the pavement and you did not cross the road to give me distance: I was close by indoors and you did not wear your mask: I was poor and you did not support free health care.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, and did not donate to thy local food bank? Or on the pavement, and did not give thee distance?
When saw we thee close by indoors, and did not wear a mask? Or saw thee poor and did not support free health care?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have not done it for one of the least of these my brethren, ye have not done it for me.

 

RNA 60th anniversary flashfic

I found this when I was tidying up my e-mail files. Competition I entered in February and forgot all about so I guess I didn’t get anywhere. Flashfiction, subject Romantic Novelists Association 60th anniversary.

Plain Brown Cover

“Is Lady Chatterley’s Lover a book you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?”

Dan forced his attention away from Rugby World. “Eh?”

“There’s an article in here.” Steve jabbed at his newspaper. “Sixty years since the Penguin obscenity trial. Some clown of a lawyer asked the question.”

Dan shrugged. “Well, obviously, I don’t have a wife or a servant—unless I count you when you wash my rugby kit—so the question’s irrelevant. Anyway, that sounds more like the sort of thing you’d hear in eighteen sixty. I mean, Shakin’ All Over was number one in nineteen sixty.”

“How do you know that?”

“It came up in the last pub quiz. I’m stunned people still thought like that then. Dinosaurs.”

Steve knitted his brows. “You’re stunned? Really? What if we’d been born in thirty-five instead of ninety-five? Life would have been a bit different, and I don’t just mean you probably being evacuated from Islington.”

Dan glanced at the array of novels on their bookshelf, all of which featured boy meets boy. These varied from the sort anyone’s wife could have read, to those that would have given the question-asking lawyer a heart attack. None of them had needed delivering in a plain brown cover, unless you counted Amazon packaging.

He looked at Steve, with whom he’d been dancing at a respectable night club till gone midnight. No chance of that sixty years ago, either.

“You’re right.” Dan nodded. “My diamond geezer.”

Lockdown – getting nostalgic for real holidays

Throughout lockdown, we’ve been trying to focus on what we can do and enjoying that, rather than fretting about what we can’t. Usually it works, even when I’m thinking that we should have been going on a cruise next week. As part of managing that, I’ve been having great fun looking through old holiday snaps and trying to recreate in my mind the feeling of being on holiday, even if we’re stuck-at-home for the moment.

Still nostalgia kicks in. Remembering having second breakfast here…

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contemplating life there…

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and going in search of these little beauties.

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Adventures in lockdown easing – ‘on the bag’

Since golf courses re-opened, the youngster has been caddying for her dad on a Sunday. Or, as she says, “We caddies call it being ‘on the bag’!” She was too busy this weekend and, more importantly, the clubhouse and loos had opened again, so I went along.

Saw some very well behaved spectators:

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while the bar was packed to the rafters.

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There was also the whizziest giz for ensuring you didn’t need to touch the flag!