How I found a 14th century supernova in a medieval Latin hymn.

This is of an 11th century supernova but gives you a feel.

I’m really excited! I think I’ve found the only historical reference to a supernova in c 1320. It’s in a Latin hymn to Mary, the mother of Jesus, also known to Catholics as the Blessed Virgin and Our Lady.

The hymn is called Stella splendens in monte and it’s from the Llibre Vermell of Montserrat which was written in 1399 near Barcelona, and is one of the earliest collections of written music ever. The hymn is quite well-known and has a very pretty tune – two tunes, actually, since it’s polyphony.

It’s a bit of a mystery, is the 14th century supernova. Nobody saw it. They saw the supernova in CE 1081 and two famous later supernovas in 1572 (Kepler’s star) and 1604 (Tycho’s star). And yet there was definitely another supernova in our galaxy in c 1320. The remnants have been found and there’s a spike in nitrates in an ice core from Antarctica, which shows when the ionising radiation arrived – along with three more spikes for the other supernovae. It happened in the constellation Vela, the star was about 15 times bigger than the sun and it was a type II supernova – and it was only 600 light years away which means it should have been brighter than all the other stars. Yet nobody has found a record of it anywhere in Europe. There is no reference in China or Japan either but this is less surprising because the supernova would have been on their horizon.

KABOOM! (I know, no sound in space.) This is what’s left.

It was the words that caught my attention. There we were in the Törökbálint church choir, near Budapest, singing this lovely Latin hymn (I adore singing Latin hymns and tend to break out into Salve Regina quite frequently.) Suddenly I noticed the words. “Stella splendens in monte, ut solis radium…”

My Latin has never been very good and there’s not a lot of it left, but I could make this out. Roughly the words mean “A star in splendour on the mountain, radiant like the sun.” Or more accurately (thank you, Adam Key, a Latin teacher and my cousin): “Star shining like a ray of sun in the mountain notched-by-miracles, hear the people!”


Then there were lots of verses describing how everybody ran to see it, old and young, rich and poor, repenting of their sins, beating their breasts and singing Ave Maria. There’s a Latin pun in the first lines – monte and serrato – that refers to Montserrat near Barcelona, probably where the wonder was seen (and where the Llibre Vermell was written). Since the mountain of Montserrat was already sacred to the Virgin Mary, the star was obviously her doing. Later there’s a reference to her “jewelled shrine.”

It’s the enthusiasm of the people that stands out. The star is captured in a few lines – most of the hymn is about how absolutely everybody ran to see it and how they sang to the Virgin on their knees. You get the feeling that the writer of the hymn was actually in the crowds, singing “Ave Maria” to the amazing light in the sky.

Now when I first noticed the words I immediately thought of a supernova – but as I didn’t know of any 14th century stellar explosion, I assumed it was a comet or Venus low in the sky. The next day I hit Google – and there it was, an article in New Scientist [14 November 1998, by Hazel Muir] called “Medieval Mystery.” This wondered why nobody in Europe noticed the very bright supernova that would have appeared suddenly and faded in a short time – days to months – in the early 14th century.

Given the ice core evidence [On Ice by Robert Matthews New Scientist 18 Sept 1999] which puts the supernova around 1320 +/- 20 years, there’s a possible easy answer. 1315 and 1317 were notorious as years without summer, when it was cloudy and pouring with rain from May to October. Those two years were so bad, there was a serious pan-European famine afterwards that lasted until 1322. So the weather was probably just too terrible for Europeans to see it.

But I think they saw it near Barcelona where the weather might have been clearer. And I’ll bet that with so many people running to see the amazing star, there will be other mentions in the record that haven’t been properly understood. Sort of “Monday, saw Virgin Mary’s house above Montserrat. It was really bright and shiny and we had lentil stew for dinner.”

So send astronomers, send medieval historians to Barcelona! There may be other details about the supernova to be found there. I’m curious about the “jewelled shrine” for instance which might refer to colours. You might be able to narrow the date down a bit more. I’m betting on the rain-soaked year of 1317.

I did a little dance when I found the New Scientist article and sang Stella splendens very loudly. For a writer of historical novels, finding a supernova in a Latin hymn is just as exciting as finding the stellar remnants must have been for the astronomers.

Tech meltdown (again)

I had another tech meltdown the other day. It wasn’t quite as bad as it’s been in the past, but it was still pretty bad and very embarrassing because somebody I like saw it. I have meltdowns when I’m on my own which are also bad and embarrassing but at least there’s no collateral damage.

I should have known better than even to touch my laptop that day, because I woke feeling grumpy for no reason I could make out. I felt better after a walk but then I was encouraged to make a little video about the book of mine that’s coming out on Kindle (LUCKY WOMAN, new title, rewritten).

Well, I made one video and frankly it was awful. So I bounced around and jumped up and down to get my blood moving, put some lippy on my cheekbones so I didn’t look so grey and tried again. A bit better but it was too long.

So I tried to trim the thing. A perfectly simple operation. Make two copies of the video. It took me ages to work out how to do that, which should have warned me that I wasn’t firing on all cylinders. Then trim the back end from one copy and the front end from the other and voilá. Two little videos where there had been one before.

I couldn’t do it. I’d done it once before but I couldn’t remember the exact sequence. Meanwhile an appointment with a kinesiologist was getting closer and closer which stressed me more because I hate being late for anything.

So I started panicking. Why couldn’t I do it? It was a perfectly simple operation. Why wasn’t the laptop co-operating? Why did it hate me? Why? Oh my god. Why am I so stupid? Why couldn’t I remember how to do it? Etc. and so on.

Of course, at that point what I should have done was stop, close the laptop and gone off to my appointment.

I didn’t. It didn’t even occur to me. I started swearing and muttering and sweating and clicking randomly over the screen and told the friend who was only trying to help by telling me what an intelligent woman I am, to fuck off. I’m not proud of that. Understandably my friend lost their temper and told me off, also pointing out I was going to be late for my appointment.

At least that made me shut the fucking piece-of-shit laptop. I fled out the door and ran most of the way to the kinesiologist – which of course burned off most of the stupid-making cortisol.  I got there in good time and felt much better.

I wish I could find a reliable way of stopping these stupid tantrums. It really isn’t good for a woman of (ahem) mature years to start behaving like a three year old who’s been told she can’t have a go on mummy’s iPad.

Yes, I know it’s because my amygdala gets swamped with stress hormones and my reptile brain takes over, ready to roar at the evil laptop and chomp it to bits along with anybody else in the area. I’ve had some success with Tapping/EFT in the past, which calmed me down enough so I could shut the laptop and go for a walk. When I come back I can usually do whatever it was I couldn’t before, or at least realise it isn’t so important.

Shut the laptop, walk away. That’s all I need to do. Why is it so hard to think of when I’m locked in unwinnable combat with a Totally Obedient Moron piece of tech?




Talking about Sir Robert Carey

My book GUNS IN THE NORTH is out now – a triple helping of Sir Robert Carey, with the first three books of the series in a handsome omnibus edition (Head of Zeus).

That’s A FAMINE OF HORSES (Sir Robert Carey arrives at Carlisle and wonders why there are so few horses available.)

A SEASON OF KNIVES (Sir Robert’s servant Barnabus is accused of murder)

A SURFEIT OF GUNS (Sir Robert travels to Dumfries to meet King James VI of Scotland where he gets into a lot of trouble)

So I’m going to be at Waterstones Kew, London UK, on Wednesday 26th July at 6.30 pm talking about it. I’m hoping the trains to Carlisle will be running the next day (27th July), because I’ll be at Waterstones Carlisle, UK, at 6.30 pm, talking about Sir Robert Carey’s adventures and the awfulness of the Border reivers.

Now I really enjoy doing these events – and I’ve been doing them since I was 18 which is (mumble mumble) years ago. A long time anyway. And if you’re called Armstrong, Graham or Fenwick or any other Border name, I’ve got some interesting news about your 16th century ancestors.

However this blog is really all about me having proudly made a little video about my events this week and trying to work out how to put it in my blog. It seems to take ages to  upload videos so I’ll try a Youtube link.

Good god, it seems to have worked. Amazing!

I’ll see you at Waterstones.

Please, Mr Corbyn…

9th May 2017


Dear Mr Corbyn,

Just in case you hadn’t noticed, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to kick the Tory Corporates out of power on 8th June, with a hefty landslide. Nothing else will do.

Now you probably won’t achieve that without doing some things that may be against your ideology. Not against your honour – it’s clear that you are an honourable man, but ideology is different from honour. Please have the courage to dump it.

If you want to beat the Tories, Labour must ally with the Greens and the LibDems. If you don’t do this, wherever the Left fields multiple candidates, its vote will be split and it will lose. In the noble cause of removing Mrs May before she does any more damage, hold your nose and do it. Let the new Progressive Alliance do what they’re doing without any apparatchiks from Labour expelling them from the party. Puhleese! What are you thinking of? Don’t be Stalinist. It’s old-fashioned and embarrassing.

If you want to beat the Tories, you also have to hire better speechwriters. Pretty please?  You need to inspire people, you need to bring them clapping and shouting to their feet. In other words you need to stop addressing audiences as if they were a committee at midnight. OK, I understand that after a lifetime of doing just that, you may find it hard. But at least get some inspiring wordsmiths, get some slogans, punchy memorable phrases, soundbites if you will. I’ll do it for nothing if you ask, but I’m sure you can find someone better than me. Do it.

If you want to beat the Tories, you have to hammer away at how the appalling inequality in Britain is pulling our society apart at the seams. You have to save the NHS. You have to save the schools. You have to end Food Banks due to lack of demand.

You can have three core statements: you don’t have to go as bovinely stupid as Mrs May’s “strong and stable” mantra, designed to appeal to the frightened old people who are now the Tories’ main supporters. Every time she repeats it, have someone pop up and say “weak and stagnant”.

You see, if you want power, you have to show your feelings. Don’t tell lies. Don’t lose that wonderful old-school dignity of yours. I know you’ve got passion in there somewhere, because you are genuinely a champion of ordinary people and nobody does that if they don’t give a toss. Let your passion show.

I know it’s going to be hard on you. But could you try, please? The UK seems to be lurching backwards into the Seventies, except this time with a lot of incompetent smug millionaires in charge, backed by billionaires. The troubles of the Seventies were caused by runaway unconsidered socialism. Our present troubles are caused by another economic ideology, that of runaway unconsidered neo-liberalism (neither new nor liberal). We need to find a better economic theory – but not now (now is not the time…) Now we have to win.

I’m not even a member of the Labour party because I don’t think writers should align themselves with any party. But I honestly think you would make a good, possibly great, Prime Minister.

We need a landslide to dislodge the Tory Corporates. Think how lovely it’ll be to watch the needle swing far into red territory, think how lovely it’ll be to watch their faces and the faces of the pundits as the great British electorate administers another massive kicking to the Tories and hauls them out of their cosy trough!

Somebody has to step forward and stop the rot as we slide steadily into being a much smaller, poorer, one-party-state version of Trump’s America. This may be the last chance. It could be you. Would you give it a try, please?


Best wishes and good luck,

Yours sincerely,

Patricia Finney

Diana Gabaldon’s lovely review of A CLASH OF SPHERES

To say I’m happy about this review from Diana Gabaldon is like saying that “War and Peace” is about fighting or that a blue whale is quite big. I’m beaming. Thank you so much, Diana! (this comes from my US publishers’ website at Poisoned Pen Press.)

The following essay is by New York Times best-selling author of the Outlander series, Diana Gabaldon.

This is one of the most entertaining, elegant and deeply emotional books I’ve read in years. (I’m tempted just to write “EEEEEEEEE!” to sum up my response to it, but that seems inadequate, if heartfelt.)

I’ve loved the Robert Carey series since the first book (A Famine of Horses), and every one thereafter has had all the elements that made the first so engaging: a fascinating look at little-known parts of Elizabethan history, wonderfully immersive details, hilarious dialogue, adventurous situations, and—above all—characters drawn with a deftness that catches the essence of a soul in a few words.

Sir Robert is the center of it all, of course, but the story certainly doesn’t stop with him. He’s surrounded by a constantly evolving (and revolving) constellation of courtiers, reivers, Borderers (often synonymous with reivers), Sergeant Dodd (his surly, dour, stubborn, honorable sidekick), scholars, assassins, spies, royalty, and (to be sure) women. One woman in particular; the unattainable Elizabeth Widdrington, unhappily married to a cruel older husband and much too honorable to take Robert Carey as her lover, much as she wants to.

This one’s not an ordinary historical novel

All of this would be more than enough for your ordinary historical novel…but this one’s not an ordinary historical novel: it’s an orrery—you’ve doubtless seen one, even if you didn’t know what it’s called—it’s a mechanical model of the solar system. And those you’ve seen have undoubtedly been designed to fit the Copernican theory of astronomy: to wit, with the sun in the center and the various planets orbiting it at varying distances. But it was not always thus…

Back in Sir Robert’s day—i.e., the late sixteenth century—there were competing views of the stars and their movements, and scholars who espoused the Ptolemaic system, in which the planets and the Sun all (naturally) circled the Earth, were more popular than the upstart (and obviously deluded) Copernicans. Only in a P.F. Chisholm novel will you have a delayed-fuse plot that centers (you should pardon the expression) on a formal scientific disputation regarding the position of the Sun in the solar system, held at the Royal Court of Scotland, between the King and an itinerant Jewish healer.

Not that there aren’t plenty of other plots orbiting that one: religious persecution, murder in several shades, rejected lovers of all stripes and persuasions, and the head-butting politics of the constantly feuding Border surnames.

Passing without touching

The novel is an orrery, though; the underlying structure of the book reflects all the intricacies with which people orbit each other, mostly passing without touching, turning a light face or a dark as they travel through their personal space, their orbits influenced by love, jealousy, ambition, greed, insecurity, fear, revenge, longing, frustration, friendship and its loss—and the soul-wrenching effects of being responsible for other people.

And at the center of it all is a tenderly human compassion that sheds its light through this system of moving bodies, for everyone from the King of Scotland to Sergeant Dodd’s horse.

I finished reading the book, and immediately read it again. Been a long time since that’s happened.

Diana Gabaldon (2017)

To learn more, read an excerpt, or to purchase, visit: A Clash of Spheres.

My brother Mark Finney’s eulogy of our mother – Daisy Gizella Emőke Finney née Vészy


Today I would like to say a little to celebrate the life of the quietly extraordinary woman who was my mother.

There are too many stories for just twelve or so minutes. They could fill a book and thankfully my sister, Patricia, is currently working on one. All I can do is to provide a few highlights and describe some of the people who shared her life.

Daisy grew up in Hungary in a well-to-do, highly intellectual family. Her father was a lawyer and a decorated hero of the first world war, her mother a writer and novelist who later became a psychoanalyst. She was an only child and was doted upon. Here is a brief extract from a beautiful tribute written by her cousin and friend: Vivian Foti-Wagner:

“Our greatest pleasure was when we could have sleepovers and spend the night together as well, either in our apartment or in their house. During these times we were chatting non-stop, probably until dawn if one of the strict grownups didn’t come in and turn off the lights. We never ran out of topics to talk about: the chatting and the giggling started at bath time in the evening and wouldn’t stop even while washing and getting dressed in the morning.

Emőke was a fundamental person in shaping my personality and my identity. I thank the Lord that He has gilded my childhood with her presence, which is radiating into my whole life.”

When, despite the avoidance tactics of the Regent, Miklos Horthy, the Germans occupied Hungary in 1944, Daisy Emoke was sent away to relatives in the country near Lake Balaton. Her parents stayed behind in Budapest and worked in the Resistance Movement against the Nazis. They were arrested by the secret police, miraculously released and eventually joined Emoke.

Then they were arrested again, in the spring in front of Emoke during a roundup of “undesirables” and taken away to be shot. On being led away, her father said to her. “Don’t worry, Emoke, we will be back for Easter.” She could not understand why everyone seemed so sad. Her father had promised something. He would keep that promise. And he and his wife did, through their own series of extraordinary adventures. As she was triumphantly reunited with her parents she rebuked the grown-ups for their doubts saying they, as adults, ought to know better.

One story best describes for me the gulf between my lucky generation which has known an enduring European peace and those who were caught up in that global conflict and, for that matter those who to this day throughout the world have had to flee their homes and their countries and become refugees.

This is what she told us. “We were travelling back after the end of the war to Budapest. We had walked across battlefields ankle deep in spent cartridges and I had seen sights not meant for a 12 year old girl. But it was alright. My father was with me. He had escaped the Nazis and had evaded the Russians and we were now going home to our beautiful house…if it was still there.

Now we were stuck at a station on a train going nowhere a few miles outside Budapest. We watched a train puff past and it became apparent that it was bound for Budapest and we had missed it. There were Russian soldiers about, which made everyone nervous and a railway worker said that the best thing would be to walk to the next station. The other passengers started setting off across the fields but my father, instead of following them, decided it would be easier going along the railway track where he (with his terrible sense of direction) could not get lost. Our path led along an embankment and people were gesticulating at us but we ignored them.

It was then that I noticed the unburied bodies from a recent skirmish , still with their boots on. This was unusual. Generally boots were the first things taken. I told my father who looked worried. I then pointed out some metal spikes I had seen sticking out of the ground. My father, who was a few steps ahead of me with my mother, went quiet and stopped. He could loudly lose his temper when faced with a miscalculated invoice but was always icy calm when it mattered, as it did now. We were standing in a minefield. “Don’t touch them, Csillagom (my little star)” he said using his endearment for me. “Just walk in my footsteps, only in my footsteps.” And so I did.

After the war, with the political situation becoming ever more dire, my mother escaped to Switzerland using, unbeknownst to her, a forged passport, where she attended a finishing school in Lausanne. There, she made many friends, learned fluent French and broke a few hearts of students attending a nearby boys’ school.

Despite my mother’s world being turned upside down she never lost her faith in her father’s miraculous ability to solve anything, do anything, find anything but it was a shock when as a student in England she met her parents at Victoria station on their arrival after their escape from Hungary . She didn’t at first recognize them as all she saw was a little old couple struggling with their suitcase.

Daisy’s first few years in London were not happy. It was so strange to witness her parents’ poverty as they subsisted in a tiny bedsit in Herne Hill. Thanks to her great friend, Anita, Daisy lived in a service flat in Bayswater. Her mother worked as a librarian and Daisy assisted her father with his work on émigré politics. She was relieved when her father’s unerring ability to spot a good location and to know the right people secured them a flat in St. Johns Wood.

In 1956 she worked assiduously with the British Council for Aid to Refugees helping to deal with the huge influx of refugees from the Hungarian Uprising which had been brutally suppressed by the Soviet Union tanks. At that time refugees were welcomed with open arms by this country.

Despite English not being her first language and being away from her parents, staying with a variety of her mother’s friends in England since her mid teens, Daisy had done well in all her exams and was able to study law in preparation for becoming a barrister. At Grays Inn she was worshipped by a number of young men. On the periphery of her little coterie was a tall, dark, handsome man whom she had noticed but whom she did not really know very well. Late one afternoon after a pleasant time spent in the Students common room she announced that she was off to buy some typewriter ribbon. “I’ll come with you” said one Jarlath Finney and indeed he did, as she said herself at his memorial, for the next 45 years.

Just before her marriage, Daisy was asked to join a particular organization. This organisation’s public persona was as a charitable foundation which received donations of books from publishers and organized their distribution to countries behind the iron curtain. It was, in fact, a CIA front. The subtle operation, which ran for 37 years, was dubbed in one article “the Marshall Plan of the mind” and was run by George Minden a Romanian intellectual and refugee. He said, perceptively, that the main thing the West was up against was “not Marxist obstacles but a vacuum” and that “what is needed is something against frustration and stultification, against a life full of omissions.” The communist authorities, while resisting direct attempts at propaganda, could not stop these mass charitable gifts of books – of the great literature otherwise denied to the populace, of ideas and information that they would never otherwise see and of an alternative world out there, just across the barbed wire. When the breakup of the Soviet Union and its satellites took place, it was in no small part due to the ability of the people to think, to see beyond what was fed to them by the state and to choose and demand freedom when the moment came. My mother worked quietly and efficiently for that organisation, charming and wheedling from publishers and running the London office single handed for eighteen years. To quote from an article by John Matthews:

“Daisy Veszy, a young upper class émigré from Hungary, whose Oxbridge English, together with her soon-to-be-acquired name, Finney, disguised her foreign origin, was a person whom Free Europe had earlier tried to recruit. She had luxuriant dark hair surrounding a pale and pretty face, from which flowed a mellifluent contralto voice… In the all-male bastion of British publishing, she found her femininity raising eyebrows, but the fact that she was charming, attractive and had a law degree of her own, invariably broke the ice.”

Daisy adored Jarlath. In supporting him and his career, she subsumed her own. She never practised as a barrister but, had she done so, her determination and intelligence would no doubt have carried her to success. In those days, however, she chose to bring up a family – as well as the work of running the London end of a CIA operation, which she was able to do largely at home, while she acted as referee, mediator, comforter and enforcer to four children. She did, however, find time to become a magistrate and was a mainstay of the lay bench at Horseferry Road magistrates court where she greatly enjoyed the challenge of dispensing justice in this most important historical bastion of the English legal system.

I knew my mother dressed well but it was with the selfish eye of a son that I saw her and I did not really notice…until going through some old photographs recently restored by Gavin, it struck me quite forcefully that, whether as a twenty-something posing on a stone seat in Edinburgh, a young mother going for a walk in Devon with her toddler children, sitting in a deckchair in our garden or attending Vicky’s first holy communion, she always looked effortlessly glamorous. Her outfits were beautifully matched and generally set off by a pair of elegant high-heeled shoes. Even in her later life I recall my daughters noting with respectful awe at a family get-together that my mother was wearing a Chanel suit.

Daisy was, to use her own words, utterly bereft when Jarlath died. We all fretted for her as she sat alone in her house and eschewed activities where she would be able to socialize and meet people, although she did venture out to attend this church from which she derived great solace. “You need to get out of the house more” we said. “People will not come to you!”

We were wrong…people did come…in particular…

John Freeborn was an acquaintance and neighbour. He had lost his wife, tragically to cancer some time before and he started spending time with Daisy. He soon became a firm friend and her close companion who took her on the holidays she always wanted to go on but never did, who went with her to the theatre, the cinema, restaurants and cafes, the houses of friends and relations; even to visit Hungary again for the first time since she had left as a child. It was John who organized the transport of a stained glass window showing Jesus calming the storm which had been dedicated to her father’s memory but had languished in a box after its church had been demolished. It was he who enabled it to be placed in the church which her father and a friend had planned many years before and which had finally been built, and he took her to Hungary to unveil the window and to meet friends and relatives, some of whom she had not seen since childhood.

It was John who gave her back her zest for life and it is thanks to him with his quiet, good humoured determination, calm nature and often wicked sense of humour that until dementia took her, and in fact beyond, Daisy enjoyed several most happy years. As Altzheimer’s took an ever more malicious hold, he cared for her, at increasing emotional cost to himself as he tried to maintain for her a sense of comfort, security and normality. Patricia then stepped in to look after Daisy for nine months but still he was always on hand to help… every day. Even when we had to move her to a wonderful care home near me in Farnham , John battled with the M25 traffic at least once a week to visit her.

We all owe John such a debt of gratitude for all he has done for our mother and he has demonstrated how one should behave as a friend, a companion, a Christian and a gentleman of honour.

So – an extraordinary eventful life. Often a difficult one. But above all, the life of a woman determined to be brave, to survive no matter what obstacles were thrown in her path, to love the country of her birth and the country which took her in, to do the best for people who needed her help, to love life, provided it was interesting, and, of course, at all times to be dressed with impeccable style and élan wherever she happened to be and whatever she happened to be doing. We all miss her.

Mark Finney 22 February 2017

Time to chuck out the old Right/Left dualism.

We need a completely new way of thinking about politics and we need to throw out the old Right/Left dualism.

It’s finished. It’s had its day, caused untold death and destruction throughout the 20th century and needs shooting in the head.

Yes, it was quite a useful tool because we humans are dualistic thinkers and we have a visceral need to split things into two categories – right/left, bad/good, up/down etc. But it doesn’t work any more. Partly because as the Right becomes more and more extreme, the Left is floundering, having lost its founding myth of Marxist thought. Partly because there are important political groupings that don’t fit into it at all – is the Daesh/ISIS death cult leftist or rightist? Neither, it’s a religious fundamentalism. Partly because a lot of political thought has become as sclerotic as the thinkers, tinkering with unimportant things.

We need a new axis to help us think about politics.

Here’s one.



Extremist                                                                     Moderate


It’s really about finding political similarities. Although people with leftist convictions often feel more comfortable with other lefties and rightwingers with other righties, there are a whole bunch of people who are completely excluded. What about Libertarians? You usually find them lumped with rightwingers, yet Libertarians are usually neither racist nor sexist nor interested in controlling what drugs people take. They are as anti-government control as any dyed-in-the-wool Anarchist. So where do they go?

Simple. On the Finney axis, moderate Libertarians go with other moderates like old fashioned liberals. Extreme Libertarians go with the extremists. Tea Party republicans obviously go on the Extremist end, moderate Rupublicans stay moderate. Where do we put the radical Evangelical Right? With the Extremists.

Like this.


Extremists                                                                                        Moderates

Communists                                                                                     normal Democrats

Tea Party Republicans                                                                     normal Republicans

Anarchists                                                                                        Liberals

Daesh/ISIS                                                                                        Episcopalians

Creationists                                                                                      Reform Judaism


Etcetera. By all means tinker with the lists but remember, this axis is about a willingness v. an unwillingness to listen, awareness of v. obliviousness to confirmation bias, ability to have civilized debate v. insistence that your viewpoint, is the only one.

Just in case you’re worried, in fact there are relatively few Extremists in the world. Most people are instinctively Moderate. The trouble is, a few Extremists with their passion and hatred and noise can have a truly massive effect on everyone else – as shown by the Tea Party and Daesh/Isis. They can convince unthinking Moderates that racism is fine and sexism is funny.

On the other hand, sometimes the Extremists’ passion and hatred and noise are what you need to change a bad status quo – for instance, the people who destroyed the Slave Trade were the Extremists of their time, while most white people were just toddling along comfortably, never thinking about slavery.

So we need both styles of thought. That’s worth remembering. It’s worth repeating. WE NEED BOTH STYLES OF THOUGHT.

Personally, I’m an Extreme Moderate, which is a whole other ballgame.


Big Fat Fail, Lidl Supermarkets

I’m going to be persnickety. Two things about Lidl (a European discount supermarket for my American readers) are seriously annoying me. One is kind of petty. The other is actually pretty important.

Let’s start with the petty one. Lidl in Hungary has normal trolleys and also smaller baskets on wheels. I like to use the smaller baskets on wheels, mainly because you don’t have to fiddle around finding a coin (100 forints or 1 euro) to put in the slot so you can release the trolley from its chains and start trundling it round. I never never have a 100 forint piece when I need one, or I have it in the form of two 50 forint coins etc.

Hungarian supermarkets also generally have a nice custom whereby they provide a small shelf near the checkout where you can put your basket after you’ve paid so you can sort out your plastic bag and avoid putting the eggs under the cabbage, while not holding up the queue.

All was fine with Lidl until this year when some kind of order clearly came down from on high, saying that you could no longer keep your little basket when you went through the checkout, you had to leave your basket before the checkout. So you couldn’t just put your shopping back in your basket after you’d paid for it, and trot over to the shelf to sort yourself out. No, after you’ve paid, you have to either a) put all your shopping in your bag immediately at the checkout which slows down the queue a lot and can be stressful for people who worry about that kind of thing; or b) you have to carry your shopping over to the shelf, requiring several trips, meaning you might drop the eggs, and anyway slows down the queue.

I told you this was petty, didn’t I?

It’s one of those stupid little rules that higher management love to invent. Probably they don’t want to pay the lad who collected up the baskets and took them to the entrance. Maybe it’s a fire hazard. Whatever. The fact that this rule is encouraging the Gauleiter element among the checkout girls and boys, is also irritating. I had a snotty girl order me to take my basket back to the other end of the queue the other day. Instantly reverting to childhood, I put the basket on my head, shouted “coming through!” to the uncomprehending queue and did my best to damage the basket when I dropped it into the pile. Then it took me a remarkably long time to put all my shopping in my plastic bag after I’d paid for it, while the girl sat back and rolled her eyes, the way Hungarian checkout girls often do. I’m not proud of this, by the way. But what do they expect? It’s a stupid irritating petty rule, impacts old ladies more than anyone else, plus you slow down the queue whatever happens and the queues are slow enough already because Lidl clearly doesn’t believe in making it easy to pay.

Remove this silly rule, Lidl. Find another way to save the basket-collecting lad’s wages.

So that’s the petty complaint. Here’s the far more serious complaint and here I’m really being unfair to Lidl because every single supermarket does it. But Lidl have pissed me off, so it’s them.

Do you have to put sugar in everything? I mean, the chocolate and the creamy puddings, that’s fine. I’m trying to cut down the sugar I eat and I’ve taken to reading ingredients lists. Ye gods. EVERYTHING has sugar (or artificial sweeteners which are worse) in it. Not just breakfast cereal and meusli and salami and tinned sweetcorn and sauces and seasonings and pickled cucumbers and bread and coconut milk and…

Frozen seafood? OSTRICH STEAKS? Why in the name of the gods of food do you feel the urge to put sugar in ostrich steaks? Aren’t they sold as healthy meat because low fat? Seafood is ALREADY sweet, do you have to put sugar in that? Why?

Well, I know why – it’s because sugar is addictive and you want us consumers to come back for more ostrich steaks and that’s the quickest and cheapest way to do it.

That’s not good enough, Lidl (and all the rest of you cheating crowd of big grocers). People are wising up to the dangers of sugar and in particular the dangers of sugar that you don’t know is there (ostrich steaks!) I’m not the only person cutting down on sugar. Sugar is quickly becoming the Supervillain of food, not poor old fat. It’s implicated in heart disease, high blood pressure and the pandemic of obesity sweeping the globe, not to mention it causes Type 2 Diabetes. And possibly Alzheimer’s, since it may be that Alzheimer’s is just Type 3 Diabetes of the brain.

You’re going to say you only put a teensy amount in the ostrich steaks. Well it mounts up. Take a look at the USA if you want an awful warning on what happens when you add a little sugar here and a little there. Their obesity levels are at 1 in 3 and their Type 2 Diabetes stats are following up the curve into the stratosphere.

Here’s my suggestion, Lidl. Be at the forefront of the grocery revolution. Introduce a line of products which have neither sugar nor artificial sweeteners in them. Like ostrich steaks and seafood without sugar, vitamin pills without sweeteners. Don’t add anything else like fructose and maltose which are also sugars. Just guaranteed no-sugar no-sweetener food. You can charge a bit more for them, I realise it’s going to be hard NOT adding sugar.

You remember. Like food used to be. No sugar in it unless it’s a pudding. Do it Lidl, your competitors will laugh and then they’ll follow you.

Oh and let  us keep our baskets, eh?

Why Donald Trump might be President of the USA.

I think I understand why Donald Trump can get away with anything. I’ve been mulling it over for a while and I think it all goes back to the US Apprentice “reality” series (2004-2016), the TV show that is basically an extended job interview for eight people. Donald Trump was a co-producer and the guy who said “You’re fired!”  At its peak it had an audience of over 11 million though its ratings have been steadily dropping and it has changed to using celebrities rather than real people. It’s still running, although Trump was fired by NBC in 2015 for saying rude things about Mexicans.

Now I don’t have a dog in this race. I’m British, I can’t vote in an American election. I only care whether it’s Hillary or Donald, because I don’t want to be nuked by anybody.

On the one side we have Hillary Clinton, whom nobody seems to like. True, she is a long-serving politician with a few skeletons in her closet and is accused, on small evidence, of corruption mainly because of her years in politics and being married to Bill.

The fact that she’s female in the world of American politics is a huge disadvantage. She has a much longer, more complicated and contradictory set of unspoken rules that she must obey than any man. If she raises her voice she’s told off for being shrill. If she doesn’t raise her voice, she’s told she’s weak. It’s odd but true that old-fashioned Europe is much more comfortable with female rulers. Just to remind you, in the UK we had Margaret Thatcher in 1979, or 37 years ago.

On the other side we have Donald Trump. I honestly can’t imagine a man less worthy to lead America. Based on what he says, repeatedly, he’s a bigot: he hates everyone except white men, or possibly, himself. His misogyny is legendary. He’s presently showing worrying symptoms of Alzheimer’s.  He has a lot of strikes against him on the financial side as well – including self-admitted non-payment of taxes which he regards as smart, routinely bankrupting small businesses by not paying their invoices (also smart) and being in the pocket of Russian oligarchs.

If Hillary or anyone female had that kind of backstory of sexual scandal and financial fecklessness, ridiculous ignorance and bullying of disabled veterans, she would be laughed out of the primaries. She would never run, let alone get a nomination, Republican or Democrat.

None of this seems to matter to Trump’s supporters.

I think there’s one explanation here for some of the male support for Trump. They may not be misogynists like him, but they still don’t like the idea of a woman as President because… well… it reminds them of Mom. We don’t have to get too Freudian here, but this is very clear from a lot of the unbelievable spite hurled at Hillary.

OK, so why does Donald have any support among women, which he clearly does. Why would any woman support a man who clearly hates women, puts them down, jeers at them for being fat and having periods.

Well, some of those women are diehard Republicans. They’re thinking: he may not agree with Republicanism, he may be a misogynist, but he’s our misogynist, so we’ll vote for him.

Now there is an unpleasant (and wrong) attitude in Europe, which looks down on Americans as crazy, ignorant, heavily-armed lunkheads and that’s why they want to vote for Donald. This is a stupid attitude. America still has the most vibrant economy in the world and you don’t get that if everybody’s dumb. You have the normal distribution curve but in general, Americans are smart because that economy is very harsh if you aren’t. Some of them pretend to be dumb, the better to sell things to the snotty Europeans. They’re also adventurous. Only eight years ago they voted in a black man to be President.

So why are any of them, male or female, preparing to elect as President, a man who is less intelligent than most of them?

I think it’s down to the “The Apprentice.” There’s an effect which makes the stars of soap operas and reality shows seem like one of us, friends or at least acquaintances. They come into our living rooms and bedrooms and talk to us, entertain us. We often talk back. Subliminally, we think of them as near neighbours, as people we know.

There’s a long-running radio soap in England called “The Archers” – an everyday tale of farming folk. I once heard that it was a very serious decision if one of the characters was going to have a baby – because the BBC knew that they would have to hire extra staff to cope with the flood of baby jackets, pompom hats and bootees that their fans would send to the fictional baby. The mother was real to the knitting ladies, she felt like a friend, so the baby was real too.

Even being quite a minor celebrity this way helps. Would we have had the Brexit vote in  the UK without cuddly old Boris Johnson, from “Have I Got News for You”, cheering it on? I suspect not.

Anyone we see so regularly, even someone as brazen and bigoted as Donald, unconsciously becomes part of Our Tribe. He gets to be Uncle Don, he’s funny, he shocks the liberals. He’s a character. He’s like the drunken, fat, unpleasant Sheriff that you can’t get rid of because, incredibly, everybody likes him.

They say things like “Uncle Don tells it like it is” and “Yeah, he’s a bit rough when he’s talking about Mexicans/Chinese/women (but who likes them, eh?)” They say, “Hey, Uncle Don, have a beer, big guy!”

That’s why Donald is going to be elected. Because the audience for “The Apprentice” have all accepted him into Their Tribe. Hillary has never been on a reality show, she isn’t considered part of anyone’s Tribe, except her own.

Uncle Don is shocking and funny and a lot of people feel they know him well. “Yeah, sure, Uncle Don, we’ll elect you. Have another beer.”


Enys 2 possible prologue

The young man had tearstains on his face. Not much surprise there, his pretty wife was dead, thought Mrs Trinity Creavy. He had wrapped her neatly in a nice new linen sheet to do duty as a shroud in spite of the law, and carried her in his arms to bury. Her face was blue and her tongue stuck out slightly. Dead, yes, definitely. But of what? She tried to focus but there was too much booze in the way.

“She was well yesterday,” mumbled the lad, “Perfectly well and she… then she said she had a headache and she felt tired.”

“Oh,” said Mrs Creavy, squinting through the booze. Would this be another fee for her? “Anything else?”

“She said her neck hurt and her armpits and her legs,” blubbered the lad, “But I didn’t think anything of it and then she… she went to bed and I went for a drink with my mates and then… And then when I got back I was boozed up so I had a drink with the Reverend Pendry and then I went to sleep and I thought she was sleeping and I woke up and went to work and came back and she was still in bed, still in the same position and so I knew… and she was. She was dead.”

“Ah,” said Mrs Creavy. That didn’t sound quite right but never mind. When you die your body fights. But the girl was definitely dead now.

The lad laid the body on top of another knight and put his face between his hands and strangled the sounds he was making. He had big raw hands that were hard inside.

“So you came to me,” said Mrs Creavy, nodding wisely, which was a mistake because the dark crypt started swimming. “Good. Cos we both know what, don’t we?”

“It can’t be,”said the lad who wasn’t wearing his waterman’s livery coat of scarlet wool but old clothes, an old woollen doublet going back to the boy King’s reign, shouldn’t wonder. “She was perfectly well.”

“Yes of course, that’s how it goes, innit?” said Mrs Creavy, sighing theatrically, “Fine one minute, headache the next, dead the next. Plague. God’s scourge.”

She had said the word. Now she would see if he took the bait. She was the Searcher of Bodies for St Brides and it was always a steady earner because no matter what, there was always a steady harvest of people taken by the plague. Usually they were children, of course, but every so often you got what you might call a bumper year.

The boy – well, he was probably in his twenties but everyone under the age of 40 looked like a child to Mrs Creavy – leaned against a knight of old, with one stone leg awkwardly folded under him, she always wondered why some of them were like that – and snortled through his fingers. They were in St Bride’s crypt, and apart from a couple of black candles, they were in shadows deeper than the ones outside, which were deep enough on a cloudy autumn night.

“But I can’t… I can’t be…”

“What? You can’t be shut up in your house?”

He ought not to be anywhere. He should have stayed in his house and sent for the St Bride’s plague-searcher, Elias Fold or herself, to come out and inspect her body and he knew it too, so that meant he was up to no good, for all his tears. But then lots of people didn’t do what they should do because they always hoped that it wasn’t plague. So they brought the body out to the churchyard, causing bad airs, and then they usually found that it was plague, but by that time somebody had had time to get out to the shops and buy food and ale so they wouldn’t starve to death. Of course, by that time the bad airs that reeked out of somebody with plague for six weeks before they got sick, by that time the bad airs had given everybody at the shop plague so locking them up for six weeks was a bit hopeless. But what could you do?

“I’ve only been back from the Tiger for a couple of weeks,” he burbled, “I can’t afford it.”

Who could? “What if you give plague to your passengers, eh?” Mrs Creavy didn’t really care: so what if they took plague from him, it was more business for her? She could never catch it again.

“It isn’t plague!”

“Oh. What is it?”

“It’s… consumption.”

Mrs Creavy gave him a fishy look. “She’s quite solid, ain’t she?” she said, “not hardly what I’d call a skellington, now.” They looked at the dead girl, her body curled in its shroud now the stiffness was gone, not too bad a smell considering, too dark to really see the face though.

The boy straightened up and looked around the crypt in quite a touchingly conspiratorial way. Mrs Creavy thought she had better hurry the business up or they might be there all night. It wasn’t as if it was hard to work out what he wanted.

“Now then,” she said sternly, “this here wife of yours died of plague. She did. Like many another, I might say, round here in the Liberties specially. Died of plague and you none the wiser.”

He was staring straight at her, eyes red. She folded her arms.

“What I should do is mark her dead of plague and bury her quick in the common grave what we dug last Saturday night and send Mr Fold round to paint a red cross on your door and lock you in. Yes?”

Nothing. The candle light carved planes of his strong-jawed young face so that he looked like a particularly noble saint from the old days when the churches had been full of them, St George maybe. Another tear rolled down and he wiped it off with the back of his hand. He was big too. Not that tall, but wide. Definitely a waterman and apprenticed from a boy too, by someone that could feed him well, the big thick-fingered hands told you that. Oh he must cause flutters if he took a party of women across to the bearbaiting, no doubt about that. But she hadn’t felt flutters for years now, and didn’t plan to.

“So,” she said, “which bit of what I should be doing, do ye want me to leave out? Eh?”

The young face hardened and he swallowed. “Bury her as a plague death but don’t call Mr Fold.”

“Hmm. Can I do that? I’m not sure?”

He fished in his crotch and pulled out a silver shilling. Now that was more like it. “Oh,” she said tonelessly, “I’m sure I can’t do such a thing.”

Another shilling joined the first. And then another. Well it wasn’t lack of money that was behind his not wanting to be locked up.”

He read her mind, looked at the stone floor with the Latin carvings in it. “I’m scared, Mrs Creavy,” he said awkwardly, “I’m scared to be in the house, even with Reverend Pendry there… In case she… she walks.”

Mrs Creavy nodded. Well they did, sometimes. Plague came on you so suddenly, often times you was puzzled to know you was dead and went awalking about trying to talk to people. Any kind of sudden death could do that, mind.

“You want me to bury her as a plague death in the common grave but not tell anyone.”

He nodded. A sixpence joined the three bright shillings winking at her from his horny palm.

Seconds later they had disappeared under her stays. A small bottle of aqua vitae came from the same place and she took a good nip, re-establishing the blurred edges of the world. She even offered him some because of the generous sixpence but he shook his head.

“You can’t come to the plague grave,”she warned him, “You got to go away. What’s her name?”

“Mary. Mary Smith.”

In a pig’s eye, she thought. She had seen him before at church, quite regular he was, but she had never been interested in his name. Truth to tell, she often didn’t come to church when the plague was hot, she was too busy. His name definitely was not Smith, though she could not think what  it was now.

There were plenty of Smiths around the Liberties, hardly any of them the true name. What did it matter, anyway?

She found the tally stick for women stuck in her belt and marked another death, for the priest to put in the register. There were six other tally sticks in her house for this week alone. Normally there were twenty deaths a week from plague in a crowded London parish like St Bride’s, mostly children. You could tell next year was going to be a good one – it was autumn and getting colder and the numbers like that? By next summer, if she lived that long, she would have enough money for a nice little house to be a pension for her. She had picked one out already. Of course, booze was expensive.

“Off you go, Mr Smith,” she said to him. He paused and then  he did a stupid thing, if it really was plague. He started for the stairs but then he stopped, turned, went and embraced the corpse of his wife, holding her head delicately as if she could still feel, and kissed the mouth. He whispered words that sounded like “sorry, sorry” and tucked something under the shroud. Then he finally stumbled up the stairs, blindly like someone with smallpox.

Mrs Creavy sighed, went over and had a fish for what he had left and pulled it out. At first she thought it was just a rough pebble but when she brought it closer to the candle, she laughed. Young men were so romantic and daft: it was a good thing she had put a stop to that.

“Daniel!” she shouted up the stair, “We’ve got another one.”

Daniel her son came shambling down the stairs. She smiled to see him – he always looked so puzzled, bless him, and he was usually puzzled. She knew she could never marry him off because what he was showed too clearly in the big broad brow and the unlined features. He wasn’t one of them chinese-looking ones, with slitty eyes and a big tongue, they were simple from the start. No Daniel was simple now but he hadn’t been once. In the old days he would have gone into a monastery as a lay brother but now what could you do with him if you didn’t have a lord?

Daniel came over and squinted at the woman, wrapped in her shroud. He stroked her hair.

“Pretty,” he said sadly. “She’s pretty.”

Mrs Creavy hadn’t seen it, what with the blue and the sticking out tongue, but maybe. Perhaps she was pretty. He stroked her face too.

Daniel often got upset, especially with the girls and she didn’t want any of that.

“Yes, well, you take her up to Old Simon and Sir John, and get on with the others too, you hear?”

“Yes mum.”

Gently as if he too thought she could still feel, Daniel took the wrapped body on his shoulder and went upstairs with her easily, followed by Mrs Creavy a little wobbly from the drink.

She could see a tall thin man with carrotty hair there, already waiting, holding a small corpse. Another one.

“I’ll be with you in a minute, sir,” she said, adding the sir in respect to his shiny boots. The man’s face was bent into shadow, crying probably. They almost always cried, specially for the younger ones. It was a boy, not very old, quite skinny, wrapped in a sheet not a shroud. Probably not plague with that one, probably a fever or the squits.

Mrs Creavy wondered when it was she had stopped feeling a lump in her throat, especially for the little ones, the children. Babies were pretty much slugs in linen, adults just part of the day’s work, but children? When did she stop feeling sad about children?

She picked up one of the candles by the crypt entrance to light her way, though Daniel didn’t need it. He never missed a step even in the upper churchyard. They were going to the lower churchyard, the new one for the overspill.

Through the gate, over to the left where there was a long deep pit ready dug, hard against the new wall. They covered it over in daytime of course, no point making it obvious. The smell of death was thick around them but she was used to it, though the plague did something evil to your innards that made you rot quicker. Sometimes before you were even dead.

Old Simon the gravedigger was there, along of Young Simon, his grandson, a thoughtful lad of twelve years. There was a neat row of bodies waiting, all simply wrapped in the statutory woollen shroud or sometimes just in bedsheets if the family couldn’t afford shroud money or had no time to buy one. And old Sir John Gosport was there, the Papist priest from Queen Mary’s reign, so the girl not called Mary Smith, she would at least get a bit of a send off. Sir John sometimes sang the Dies Irae for the dead, after they had been buried under a thin layer of earth ready for the next lot. Mrs Creavy couldn’t get used to the modern way of calling priests “father” – she was too set in her ways. You called them Sir John because they were important, got the spirit to turn bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, they did, no matter what they said about it now. Got the spirit to turn plain well-water into Holy Water too, against ghosts and ghouls and demons. Old Nan, the cleaner, always said that St Bride’s Well was already holy but Mrs Creavy didn’t think so. It was just water, wasn’t it? When once Sir John had said his Latin over it, then the water was holy. The spirit stuck too. Just because Sir John was old and a little wandered in his wits, didn’t mean he had lost the spirit, no indeed.

Daniel put the body down on the end of the row as gently as if she was only sleeping and covered the face with the top folds of the shroud so it was decent. He sighed as he did it, said something peculiar. “Good bye, Betty,” he mumbled, “See you later.” Why did he do that?

But it was pointless to ask him: he couldn’t tell her why he did things.

“Right, mum?” he asked.

“You help Old Simon,” she told him, “Come along back later, I’ve got another customer.”

“Yes, mum.” He smiled at the old man and picked up the shovel. “See how quick, Old Simon!”

“Yes, you’re quick, Dan my boy. You’re quick.”

Sir John had already started chanting the Latin, holding a small book but not looking at it. It was Papist but who cared what kind of service plague victims got, the thing was to get them in the ground quickly and make sure they stayed there with some kind of prayers, that was all.

Oh oh, Daniel had stopped digging, turned to her with a frown on his face. She knew what was coming next and sighed.


“Yes, Daniel.”

“Plague won’t get me, will it?”

She sighed. He always asked at some point in the night and it was sad to tell him. Because he had been a bright little boy before, full of questions and funny little tales.

“No Dan, see, we’ve both had it. Remember? A long time ago when you was little?” He had been born when the new Queen came in and the plague had been hot a few years later, she had lost count of when exactly. “First your dad got it and he died. Then your big sister got it and she died. We were all locked up in the house, remember?”

He frowned uncertainly, he didn’t remember. Sometimes he did and sometimes he didn’t.

“And then I got it and I got the buboes and they burst so I got better.” Unconsciously she put her hand to the side of her neck where the biggest one had been, nearly choked her, it did. There was a flat scar the size of a baby’s hand. “And you got it too and you got buboes and they burst and so you got better, Dan, isn’t that lucky?”

Now he put his hand to his neck and found the scars there. He smiled sunnily. “Oh yes. That’s when the Lady told me it would be all right.”

Mrs Creavy said nothing to that, she never did. If he believed he had seen Our Lady come to help him, that was fine by her. It was just a pity Our Lady hadn’t saved a bit more of his wits from the fever, that was all.

“Yes Dan, and you were. You’ve never been sick since.”

He smiled again. It broke her heart, that smile. To see such a gentle sweet smile on a grown man’s face.

“She was nice, the Lady,” he said. He bent to straighten the young woman where she waited in line for the last time. The shroud fell down from her face and he put it back respectfully.

“Look mum, see. She’s got them too.”

The movement of the shroud had shown the woman’s neck. Mrs Creavy paused and then brought a candle closer. It was true. The woman did have the shiny puckered scar that showed where a bubo had burst and healed. Well. So it could not be plague that killed her, notwithstanding she was dead. Mrs Creavy had never heard of anyone ever getting plague twice.

“Yes,” she said to Dan, “You’re a clever boy, now go help Old Simon with that fat one.”

Old Simon was having trouble with a man’s big body and so Dan went and picked up the legs so Old Simon didn’t have all the weight on the slings as he dropped him down into the pit.

Mrs Creavy looked again at the woman’s neck. There were more marks lower down. Deep dark bruises that went round her throat.

Oddly Mrs Creavy felt as if she had been struck in the chest. It wasn’t the first time, mind, by a long way, and she wished she had spotted it earlier because she could have got a lot more out of the young man for it. It was just that she had felt sorry for him.

Still. She might see him again. She covered the marks, covered the face, knotted the shroud so it wouldn’t come loose. She straightened and walked carefully because of the booze, up the churchyard and into the upper one, the older one, half full of little tumbledown shacks built of cast off pieces of wood. The tall thin man  had gone but left the small corpse lying on the ground wrapped in his sheet. Sometimes they did that too though not often. There was no label on him to tell who he was so she supposed he was just one of the urchins who died like flies when the weather got cold and the gentleman had brought him along as a kindness. Dan would get to him when he came back from helping with the plague pit.

She went into the most respectable little house, nearest the church, quite comfortable now. Searchers were supposed to live in the churchyard during bad plague times so they didn’t infect the living.The beggars were not supposed to be there, but there wasn’t a lot she could do about them and sometimes they got plague or something else and died and she could carefully burn out their shacks.

At least she didn’t pay rent, which was a real mercy in this part of London where a shared bed in prison cost a penny a night. She unlocked the door and went in. She had a chimney and she had a little bed for herself near it and a kind of strong ledge with blankets on it for Dan. Sometimes she had a pig or a goat that lived under Dan’s ledge but not now because the pig had met his Maker in October when the pig-killer had come round and was now in barrels and bacon hanging in the chimney and sausages in links draped from the rafters, some hog’s cheese in the larder and a good liversausage needing eating too. She was proud of her huswifery and proud of her house. The roof was good reed thatch from the reed beds round Paris Garden and the walls double wattle with good London clay mixed with bull’s blood smeared on the outside. It was warm and snug and better than many had and one day she would have an actual house, a proper one with a front door that went into a hall with a plate cupboard in it and a parlour and a kitchen at the back and a room each upstairs for her and Daniel.

She latched the door after her and waited to be sure no one had followed her. Then she put the black candle she still had in the holder on the little table and brought out the thing she had taken from the dead girl, whatever her name was.

It glistened white in the golden light from the candle and she had to hold it near and turn it round several times to be sure she was not mistaking herself. She wished she hadn’t drunk so much bad aqua vitae too. It was a shining thing, a beauty. A pearl it was, a pearl the size of her thumbnail and pure white. A pearl like the ones you saw dangling on the Queen who had a passion for them, a pearl you could make into something else like a boat or a part of a unicorn and wear as a strange cunning jewel. Not her, of course, some great Court lady or lord. It was a pearl worth a fortune, a pearl that could buy her house for her, and that romantical fool had been willing to bury it with his woman, where its beauty would slowly die and rot.

And how had  he got it, eh? That was the question. Where had he got it and why did he want to bury it with his wife? She thought hard about where to keep it and decided it must go in her moneybelt under her stays. You needed to keep pearls warm or they died too.