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The Making of Red Nell. How to Create a Pit Bull Queen of Crime.

Challenge: To create female crime boss who could hold her own in Victorian London’s seething underworld.

Enter Red Nell. She sprang up, fully formed. A rough, wildly eccentric character so scary she could frighten the scales off a cobra.  She had to be potent, so I made her fireplug sturdy with a blunt face, and a presence that made innards congeal with the force of her green stare.

She needed to be colourful, so she wears a soldier’s battered scarlet tunic over layers of striped and tartan skirts.  Her hair, which gives her her name, is hennaed to shocking red in honour of the flaming tresses of her youth.  On her head, always perches one of the fantastic hats brought as tribute those daring to seek her favour.

She needed a crucible to forge her ferocity, so I made Red Nell a merry Irish tinker until her fierce drives for survival reared to life in the desperate Irish potato famines.   Driven, with her family, like hordes of other famished skeletons, up on the London docks, she had to win or die. Her empire began with a fence’s body buried in a cellar.  Illiterate though she was, she kept track of every penny skimmed from street vendors, every inch of territory wrenched from her bitter arch rival, Teapot, who had the face and instincts of a moray eel.

And, like any ambitious Victorian, Nell, eventually peeps over the limits of her slum domain at larger world, glimpsing unimaginably vaster opportunities for profit by doing things with ships and land and mines.  Her own illiteracy and ignorance may keep her down but the next generation, blood of her blood, must be taught.

So Red Nell embarks upon a madly unorthodox enterprise via Mrs. Gresham’s seedy Ladies’ Academy and unsuspecting Amelia Radmore’s charity dedicated to rescuing starving urchins from the streets….

You can meet Red Nell, if you dare, in The Tomorrow Country, my historical novel found at: www.gailhamiltonwriter.com  (Or Amazon.ca)

Gail Hamilton’s books.

Stamp Collectors – it’s not too late to get a commemorative Home Children stamp

In September, 2010, Canada Post issued a stamp honouring the contribution of the British Home Children to Canada.  This is what they said :

“Starting in 1869, and continuing into the years following the Second World War, more than 100,000 orphaned, abandoned and pauper children were sent to Canada by British churches and philanthropic organizations. They were welcomed by Canadian families as a source of farm labour, domestic help, and, in some cases, as children of their own. While some children some benefited from their new life, others were abused, neglected and overworked. The Government of Canada has recognized the experiences of Canada’s Home Children by proclaiming 2010 the Year of the British Home Child.”

Gail Hamilton’s books.

New health disorder – lack of trees!

 

 

 

 

 

A new wellness problem has emerged – nature deficit disorder.  Kids, no longer put out the door to go play in the woods, have lost their contact with bugs, tree forts and robin’s nests and now are thought to suffer from this freshly noticed condition. Obesity, ADD, anxiety, low grades and a horde of other ills are blamed on this disconnect from the beezy, sunny, life-crammed world where we evolved. Turns out that catching tadpoles and climbing trees gives you a brain. (Hey, we could have guessed!) Put the youngsters out there to get some green.

Gail Hamilton’s books.

Extreme shepherding. Love this YouTube fun

I get a big kick out of this one every time.

Gail Hamilton’s books.

Beavers again. Smarter than me!

Beavers not only found the end of the hidden drainage pipe, they dragged it out of the water so it could flow no more. Ha, ha humans!

Bash a hole in a beaver dam and they fix it before you walk out of sight My attempts to breach the dam before their pond drowns the entire oak woods, have only met with beaver mirth.  In their distant lodge, the first trickle triggers the emergency repair squad to stop up the gap.  So, on learning how they are alerted by the sound of running water, I hit upon the very clever plan of burying a long piece of drainage piping UNDER the dam with both ends far enough away that the beavers would not connect them with the water gushing into the field.  Snickering to myself about perplexed rodents, I installed the pipe and restored the dam to it’s solid condition, confident the ditches would soon move the pond water on its way.

Two days later. Not much water in the ditch, none of it moving.  Back at the dam, the beavers had not only figured out my strategy, they had found the end of the pipe deep in their pond and actually dragged the end up out of the water so it could flow no more.  The bite holes all along it, were the beavers telling me they are way smarter than I think and I should just give it up.  They will always win.

Gail Hamilton’s books.

Beaver balls. Keep Out!!

Tramping through the snow, I encountered a strange new phenomenon – frozen balls of mud heaped in piles three or four feet high in pyramids or against the trunks of trees.  What on earth could they could be?  Ammunition dumps for a mud ball war?  Savings banks for a colony of giant moles?  Who had stacked them so laboriously?  And why?

Naturally, Google has the answers.  Turns out that these heaps of mud balls are raised by beavers to mark the edge of their territory, warning other house-hunting beavers  that this real estate is taken.  They are a giant “Keep Out!” sign.  I will have to make a trip around all the beaver ball towers to find out how much territory I do not own.

Gail Hamilton’s books.

Another tower of frozen mud balls

Beaver territory marker. Keep Out!

The Victorian Corset. Or “Hector, I’m Going to Faint!”

Impossibly tiny waists were the ideal.

Book research turns up of a lot of odd knowledge.  If you’ve ever wondered how Victorian women achieved those bizarre hourglass figures, you have to learn about the corset.  In Queen Victoria’s time, the corset was a torso-moulding undergarment gripping the body from bosom to hips.  Expected to actually hold a woman up, it had 24 whalebone or steel stays, closed with metal fasteners at the front  and laced up at the back as tightly as two maids or husband a could pull. It was then covered with a corset cover to protect clothing should the steel stays rust or stain.

CorsetDef

Organ displacement by the corset

The goal was a “wasp waist” that a man’s hands could span.  Remember Scarlett O’Hara so proud of her 17 inch waist?  A girl’s waist was supposed to be smaller than her age when she married.  And if she wasn’t married at 21, she was on the shelf.

It took two maids to lace these corsets tight enough.

Corsets made women faint, especially at events like balls where the corset would be at its tightest, compressing 3 to 7 inches away from the lungs and diaphragm. Breath could only be got at the top of the lungs. Any exertion, like dancing, ramped up the oxygen deprivation.  Next thing the dancer knew, she was draped over the fainting couch, waiting for the world to come back. Engineers have calculated the pressure applied by the corset was 20 to 80 pounds per square inch!

The corset not only squeezed the lungs and displaced internal organs, it distorted the upper skeleton.  The corset was considered a medical necessity since females were thought too delicate to hold themselves upright for long without help. Girls, at age five, were put into corsets and kept there for the rest of their lives. Ribs were pushed inward and the spine malformed, usually due to the presence of Rickets, a vitamin deficiency disease common at the time, that made bones soft and fragile.

Corset liver

Corset liver. A liver pressed against the ribs so much the bones made grooves on the edge.

Since respectable women could not be seen in public while pregnant, the corset was used to suppress evidence of their condition so they could evade their “confinement” as long as possible.  It is no wonder that miscarriages, fetal deformities and still births were the result, not to mention the myriad other “hysterical” ailments brought on by this iron-gripped garment. Doctors forgot what a normal woman looked like because their female patients had been shaped, or deformed, by their corsets.

Reforming rants against tight lacing had little effect on women who, as today, were trying to emulate the impossibly shaped ideal beauties they saw in illustrations and catalogues. And the tighter the lacing, the higher your status.  After all, if you couldn’t bend over, you couldn’t work, signaling to all your membership in the leisure class. Women who rebelled by undoing their corset laces became, quite literally, “loose women” and lost their reputations pronto.

CorsetDef2

Tight laced woman.

It wasn’t until the flapper era, with it’s waist-less tubular figure, that the corset finally expired and women could truly join the work force of the 20th century. Today, it’s pale descendant is the elastic girdle.  Women resort to diet and exercise to attain the slender grace their great grandmothers forced with corset laces.  I hope we can say we won.

Gail Hamilton’s books.

Firewood Wars

Winter’s delight

A load of firewood arrived today.  Lovely dry ash at a very good price.  The young farmer who brought it told me about his tractor, broken down in the woods, his competitors slashing prices in their ads and the fewer and fewer people using wood to heat their homes because of insurance company displeasure.

A cord of wood, 4 x4 x 8 feet, has a lot of sweat in it.  The trees, often  deep in some frozen swamp accessible only in February, or clinging to a hillside too steep to cultivate, must first be felled, trimmed of branches, turned into cordwood and logs and hauled out of the woods. Next this hard-won booty is cut into foot long blocks by chain saw or buzz saw, then laboriously split to fit all kinds of stoves, dried for a year and, finally, loaded up by hand and delivered to the customer.

Wood is heavy, the work dangerous.  My check was cashed within the hour.  I hope it helped with the broken tractor.  I will appreciate my fire and order another cord or two before the price climbs in the fall.

Gail Hamilton’s books.

Cat Courage. Should We All Pay Attention?

Alpha cat. Don’t mess with me!

Sydney is a black and white cat  staying with me while her owners work overseas.  She is small, polite and handicapped, having lost one of her hind legs to an accident in Europe.  Along with my two kitties, Sydney always bolted to the basement when a large barking, drooling Labradoodle thumps in for the day.  After several flights to the nether region, Sydney got fed up with being a refugee.  One day, Sydney hopped brashly upstairs, snatched possession of the couch and refused to budge no matter what the dog tried.  Standing her ground, Sydney outlasted the dog who eventually gave up harassment and ceded the territory. Sydney remains queen of the couch and top dog too.  A fine example for us all.

Gail Hamilton’s books.

A Big Story Gets Bigger Type

The Tomorrow Country is a big story fitted into a compact book.  However, after several comments from book buyers about “needing glasses”, I realized there is a whole cadre of fiction lovers out there, the baby boomers, who need friendlier type.  So The Tomorrow Country has now been reset in larger print  and on creme paper to further pamper the eyes.  So, Boomers, you don’t have to squint any more.  If you don’t have a book yet, check it out the easy-reading improvement.

Gail Hamilton’s books.