Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Review-The Lost Child by Ann Troup


Mandy Miller disappeared from Hallow’s End when she was just 3 years old. She was never found.
Thirty years on, Elaine Ellis is carrying her mother’s ashes back to Hallow’s End to scatter them in the place that she once called home. Elaine has never been there, but it’s the only place Jean talked about while she was growing up – so it seems as good a place as any.
As Elaine settles into her holiday cottage in the peaceful Devonshire village, she gets to know the locals; family she never knew she had, eccentric and old-fashioned gentry, and new friends where she would least expect them. But she is intrigued by the tale of the missing girl that the village still carries at its heart, and which somehow continues to overshadow them all. Little does she know how much more involved in the mystery she will become…


This story opens with a wonderful description of Elaine driving to a holiday home with the ashes of her mother Jean, in the car – intending to scatter them at Hallows End where Jean once lived.

Elaine was difficult to engage with at first, but it soon becomes clear that her upbringing has unusual in that she has been closeted in a semi-abusive relationship with her controlling mother – as a result she is na├»ve, insecure and introverted. She relishes the final breaking of the bond with Jean, but also feels guilty about it and has to fight to let her go mentally.

I loved the use of Jean’s ashes as a constant presence insinuating themselves into the world of the living as if unwilling to let go. Slightly creepy and  brilliantly handled although I don’t think it was meant to be a paranormal element as some reviewers believed, more a constant and physical reminder of Jean’s insidious influence. 

The character of Brodie, who latches onto Elaine, is a fifteen-year-old girl from a council estate who hid behind baggy clothes and had learned very early that all grownups in her life have lied to her and will always let her down. Yet the child in her refuses to stop loving them no matter how they behave. The drunken mother, the avaricious sister, the disinterested brother. She latches onto Elaine and they have a unique mother/child relationship which keeps alternating.

The story isn’t so much about who the missing Mandy Miller is, but what happens to the lives of those involved when the truth is revealed. An unusual, beautifully written mystery

Friday, 25 September 2015

The Tower Subway

The most enjoyable thing about historical research, is the fascinating facts about London I have discovered which supply perfect fodder for my novels. One I will definitely add to my Flora Maguire Mystery series is the existence of the second oldest tunnel under the Thames built during Victorian Times.

In 1863, an attempt to bridge the river failed due to ‘the great height required for the passage of ships’ A steam ferry service was also abandoned as it would have disrupted the heavy amount of shipping which used the river in the mid-19th Century.
Tower Hill Entrance

The Tower Subway ran between Tower Hill on the north side of the river, to Vine Lane, just west of where Tower Bridge stands now on the south bank. Built using a method similar to Isambard Brunel, i.e a wrought iron tunnelling shield bored through a layer of clay just below the river bed. Budget restrictions meant the tunnel was only 7 feet in diameter and 1320 feet long.

The tunnel progressed at a rate of 9ft every twenty four hours and was completed in just over a year, designed to take a narrow-gauge cable-hauled railway powered by a static steam engine. Passenger lifts to the surface and a cable car were powered by a 4hp stationary steam engine.
From behind a hoarding at Tower Hill, passengers would descend by lift into a vaulted and well lit area of about fourteen feet square designated as a waiting room. Then shuttled twelve at a time in a cable car across the river on a journey which took about 70 seconds to Vine Street, where the shaft was slightly shallower, a few minutes’ walk from London Bridge Station.

For the first hundred feet or so the omnibus was pulled by a rope fixed to a stationary engine; then descended by its own velocity down an incline and up the incline on the other side to the foot of the shaft.
The Waiting Room

Priority of ascent was given to first class passengers, who paid two pence, while the second-class passengers paid one penny. I am not sure if this means that the extra money meant you could jump the queue and leave the ‘Halfpenny’ crowd waiting a lot longer than the designated five minutes for the entire process, but that was probably how it worked.

Collins' Guide to London and Neighbourhood stated: Those, however, who are afflicted with chest complaints should not attempt to make use of it, owing to the extreme closeness of the atmosphere and the limited space in the tube, which renders stooping necessary. It is open from 5.30 AM. till midnight.

The service proved so uneconomical, it lasted only from its opening in August 1870, until the company went into receivership that November. The cable car and tracks were removed and the tunnel turned into a pedestrian walkway the following year. Gas lighting was provided, with stoneware tiles replacing the wooden planks. The lifts were replaced by spiral staircases; the one on Tower Bridge side was 96 steps. 20,000 people a week braved the dark, dank and claustrophobic tunnels to walk beneath the Thames at a cost of a halfpenny each way.

Omnibus Carriager
Tower Bridge was opened in 1894, when crossing by bridge in the open air was free, the toll tunnel was abandoned, then eventually closed for good.

At its height, the subway carried a million foot passengers a year. The tunnel was sold to the London Hydraulic Power Company for hydraulic tubes and water mains which is what it is used for today.

During WWII, the tunnel was badly damaged when a German bomb landed in the Thames, although the tunnel lining was not penetrated.

The Tower Subway is not open to the public, but the northern entrance still exists at Tower Hill, next to the Tower of London ticket office. The entrance is not original, but a replacement built in the 1920's. Strangely, English Heritage does not feel Tower Subway does not meet the criteria for listing as an historical building.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879
 .........A curious feat of engineering skill, in the shape of an iron tube seven feet in diameter driven through the bed of the Thames between Great Tower-hill and Vine-street. The original intention was to have passengers drawn backwards and forwards in a small tram omnibus. This, however, was found unremunerative, and the rails having been taken up the tunnel has since been open as a footway. Unfortunately, however, after subtracting from its diameter the amount necessary to afford a sufficient width of platform, there is not much head-room left, and it is not advisable for any but the very briefest of Her Majesty’s lieges to attempt the passage in high-heeled boots, or with a hat to which he attaches any particular value. It has, however, one admirable quality, that of having cost remarkably little in construction. 


Tuesday, 1 September 2015

It's Not RSI - It Was The Skates

I acknowledge that I spend more time than most people at my laptop, but I write, so it's to be expected.

Recently I have noticed pain in my wrists when I do other things, like taking tops off jars or removing plugs from sockets – for the benefit of my US friends, UK plugs have three prongs – I wouldn’t have this problem there with those wobbly, two prong fragile things - I have no idea how they stay in the sockets at all and why you don't all die in electrical fires....!  But I digress……

I have another theory about the sticky/sore wrist thing.  When I was six, I broke my left wrist roller skating and had to have my arm plastered to the elbow. No helmets or knee pads required in those prehistoric days. You attached a metal bar with wheels onto your shoes then too! [See pic above-these are so much like mine I could cry]

Four days later I did the same to my right arm and back we go to A&E to have it plastered as well. The doctor was concerned as to how I had managed two such injuries in a short space of time and suggested investigations for brittle bone disease. My mother laughed hollowly and pointed to where I was at that moment balancing along a three foot wall outside his office, one arm in plaster and the other in wet plaster and a sling. She turned a ‘That’s what I have to put up with’ look at the doctor who didn’t say another word.

He did however peer at me over his half spectacles and said, ‘Young lady, when you are older, those wrists of yours are going to give you some trouble.’

I was six – ‘Older’ had no meaning for me – I was more upset about the fact my mother had thrown away my roller skates! However, that eminent man’s words come back to me now when everyone tells me I have brought on the creaky wrist thing myself by all that typing and suggest I stop, or at least ease up a little.  

I can’t. I’m a writer - It was the skates – honestly!

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