Saturday, February 14, 2015

Vinegar Valentines ~The Card No One Wanted

A bit of Vinegar for a sousing spouse
in this Vinegar Valetine from 1907
Did you think Valentine’s Day was always a red-hearted, lovey-dovey mush of chocolates, overpriced flowers, and overbooked restaurants?

Think again.

In the 1840’s a new fad began to appear during the second week of February; Vinegar Valentines.
Basically these were just insult cards, decorated with a vile caricature, and an offensive poem. These cards insulted the person’s looks, job, intelligence, race, body shape or any combination.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the mean-spirited slant, the fad grew. By the mid-Victorian era, they were quite popular among senders. For recipients they were less so- as if the sentiment weren't punishment enough, if a letter was unstamped, the hapless soul had to pay a penny for the delivery and the privilege of being insulted.  Millions of these cards were sold and sent, as recently as the 1940’s but very few of these cynical cards exist today- most were probably torn to shreds by the poor victim.

Political topics for vinegar valentines through the years included Secession and Suffrage

The sousing spouse found his
revenge in this Vinegar Valentine
from the 1940s

Although it is certain none of these missives could be considered "politically correct", through the years vinegar valentines with a very specific political slant were also produced, As early as the pre civil war era where Secessionists were the target, through the suffrage movement and beyond politicos took advantage of the hearty holiday to add their own brand of vinegar.

These bitter pills even found their way into modern pop culture. In Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, Calvin  often gives Susie Derkin vinegar valentines hiding his true affections for her under their cruel veil of immature distaste.

In these days of Facebook drama and Twitter trauma we may think that trolling is a foul by-product of the internet age...the long and storied history of vinegar valentines prove yet again that there is nothing new under the sun.

Many thanks to the quite excellent "QI" quiz show for the introduction to this topic! You can also visit Collector's Weekly for more in depth information on vinegar valentines. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Zombie Valentine’s Date Guide-Dressing to Impress

With Valentine's Day fast approaching I thought it would be nice to post a wee dating guide for our brain eating friends...The following is from 'The Enhanced Zombie Bible' now available in Paperbook and at your favorite online eBook emporium.   

The Zombie Valentine’s Date Guide
Making the Most of Your Appearance

Why are Zombies the world’s worst dressed bi-peds?

With the Zombie Apocalypse firmly under way, the world is your oyster as far as shopping’s concerned. And let’s face it; shopping at the right places to make an impact has to be high on your agenda, right? Since the downfall of civilization, large department stores and shopping malls are full of ready-to-wear goodies in all sizes. So get yourself off to the nearest outfitter, and get yourself some impressive duds, because, let’s face it, you Zombies need to impress. There’s plenty of competition for the choice cuts of meat. (Did I really say that?)

In movies and television-with all the department stores there would be available to shop in-when have you seen a well-dressed Zombie? Never, right? This is a travesty! You sir or madam can change this ridiculous trend...head out into the world with  purpose, shamble your way to the nearest store and get shopping. Don’t be afraid of those pesky humans barricading them inside such stores. There’s little food inside, and you can wait outside until they leave or look around for one of your shuffling friends who has read The Zombie Bible. He’ll be the one with the hammer on his belt… perfect for scaring the crap out of humans barricaded inside shops/malls with glass doors.

Anyway… back to Dressing to Impress. Guys, you’ve got to decide what image you’re trying to pull off. And if one doesn’t work for you, change your image! Perhaps you’re into a preppy look, nice slacks (yes, I said ‘slacks’) and a designer polo shirt will certainly get you noticed. You might even go for the full man-around-town look and grab a shirt, clip on tie (you’ll never manage to tie one, so stick to clip-ons) and single-breasted suit. Nice. Of course, if your taste runs to one of the guys in the Village People, you can do that too; there’s lots of choice out there, and plenty of ways to get noticed by the opposite sex.

Ladies, again, you’ve got an image to consider. You too can do the preppy look, nice shorts or capris’, blouse, and sun glasses is an eye-catching look. But there are also thousands of designer dresses out there, and as long as you don’t mind looking slightly out of place in the shuffling un-dead ranks, you’ll certainly get noticed. And let’s face it; if you’re not a pretentious type, Daisy Duke got plenty of cat-whistles in cut-off shorts and a checked blouse.

Once you’ve gone to the right stores, got yourself the best duds that you can get yourself into, and are ready to go on the prowl. Right? Wrong. You really need to think about a lot more than just the look if you are going to properly get your freak on.  For more tips, spend the price of a cheap coffee, and find out's all in black and white right there in  'The Enhanced Zombie Bible'...

Monday, February 2, 2015

Teaching the Wheel of the Year~ from Caledonii: Birth of a Celtic Nation

 In pagan cultures, the first snowdrops sneaking a look at the sun on Imbolc (Feb 2nd) were more than just the first sign of  warmth to come. They whispered of the passing of the goddess from  winter's Crone to the Maiden of spring. In this scene from my Caledonii series, the wisewoman passes her candle of knowledge to the maiden Kat'lana.

Winnie knelt down on the grass and closed her eyes. Kat’lana knew that she always gave thanks to Brighid, the Shining One before beginning her teachings. Even though the sun was warm on their shoulders, Winnie still wore many layers of clothes on her considerable figure. White hairs shone like strands of glistening silver as she composed herself.

Kat'lana crossed her legs and found a comfortable place in front of the wisewoman-crone. The sandy soil cushioned her light form and the regular cadence of the waves on the nearby rock gave her breathing a rhythm from which to align. She awaited the teaching, already knowing the topic. It was the day before the midsummer day, the longest day of the year. Beginning at midnight the Solstice fire would be lit and a vigil kept until just before the dawn, when the entire clan would walk to the stone circle to witness the rising of the sun between the two dark signal stones. Understanding the ebb and flow of the wheel of the year was integral to the spiritual life of her people, Winnie would remind her charge that the passage of days was a sacred thing.

"Imbolc" by Jenny Dolfen
The old woman’s eyes opened, and sparkled with promise.  “Are you ready?”

Kat’lana nodded, “Yes, wise one.”

“What is the most important day of our year?”

“The Dark Day, the Mid-winter solstice.”  Kat’lana remembered their last Dark Day with the tribe from the south, before her journey northwards into the Norland clans. Snow had covered the village, well-trodden and hard, a sharp frost already crisping the air. Yet, on the evening before the Dark Day, the tribe extinguished every fire, every lantern and fire-pot, closing out every source of heat. She knew that across the whole country, this same process was being repeated, throwing the entire land into darkness, until the time of the lighting of the bonfires the next day. “It is when we throw our very existence into the hands of the Goddess”  She remembered the dhruid’s staff as it touched the edge of the bonfire, watched in awe as the spark from the wooden tip had lit the dried grass, grinned as the divine favored their village once again.

“And what is the next most important day?” Winnie prodded.

“Tomorrow,” Kat’lana smiled, holding her head to the warming sun, luxuriating in the hot afternoon rays. Her face had already colored this summer, giving her skin a healthy brown hue. “The summer solstice, our longest day and a celebration of the Sun God, king of the summer lands.

Winnie held her staff in both hands, showing the pattern of notches on four sides. “Each year holds four quarters of ninety days.” She said, rotating the staff to show the four scored sides. “Plus one day of celebration.” “The other quarter days are planting time and harvest.”

Kat’lana anticipated the next question, touching the top notch on each side of the long rowan staff. “The equinoxes; the other edges of the square.” Kat’lana drew a square in the sand in front of her, and stabbed each corner. “After each quarter, we celebrate.”

Winnie smiled, as proud as any mother would have been. “Without the counting of the days, the sowers would plant wrongly, and the gods would be displeased.” The teacher watched the eager face of her pupil as she showed genuine thrill at the simple teaching of the Counting Days, one of Winnie’s favorite lessons. She remembered holding the Iceni child under her skirts after the fall of Boudicca, the long days trekking north, away from the Roman retaliation against the rebellious tribe, the long months of hiding. Kat'Lana's heritage shimmered brightly in the eyes of this already wise warrior maiden.  “How do we give the four seasons their boundaries?”

Kat’lana’s answer was already on her lips. “The Cross-Quarter Days”. She made indentations at the midpoints of her square in the sand, then drew a diamond inside it.

Wheel of the Year Stamp by CherryPieArtStamps
“The beginning of Spring?” Winnie asked, now content that her pupil had remembered her teachings from last year.

“Imbolc, the time when the lambs are born” Kat’lana said, her words precise. "winter's wise crone
is once again a maiden, her belly swollen with the babe that shall be the summer king.

Winnie could find her own phraseology in her pupil’s words. “The beginning of summer?”

“Beltane,” Kat’lana clapped her hands together, anticipating the feasts that would follow tomorrow’s ceremonies. “A time to dance, and for the joining of young couples…” She stopped, the next part of the lesson dry on her lips. No youth in the clan had approached her this year, and although she spurned male companionship for the most part, she had hoped a brave one would attempt to attract her.

“The beginning of autumn?” Winnie continued, aware of her charge’s disappointment. 

“Lughnasadh,” Kat’lana’s words were now somewhat distant, her concentration not on the lesson, but searching, wondering where her male companion would appear.

“Kat!” Winnie snapped, her sharp tone shaking Kat’lana from her thoughts. “The meaning of this day?”

“Sorry, wise one,” her head fell, her chin on her chest. “Lughnasadh is the wedding of the Sun god Lugh to the Earth goddess, causing the ripening of crops.”

“Well done, and the last Cross-Quarter day? The end of autumn, and the beginning of  our year?”

Kat’lana lifted her head, her composure returned, her words strong and confident. “Samhain is when time is not time- the veil between the worlds is lifted and our ancestors who watch us from beyond draw near again. It is also the time when we cull our herds and bring the meat in for the winter.

The old woman looked at her Iceni charge, a young woman blossoming into womanhood, yet holding onto the last vestiges of her childish self. “The lesson is over.”

Kat’lana stood, bowed her head. “Thank you, wise one.” And she was gone, sand spinning from her bare feet, bow in hand, legs pumping with the energy of youth.

Authors Note: If you would like to journey further into the world of  ancient Scotland, my just released prequal to the Caledonii series, Caledonii: Birth of a Celtic Nation. Druid & Iceni  it is now available as a FREE eBook on Amazon and Smashwords.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Weight Loss Resolution? How About Cream of Chicken & Mushroom Soup for less than 200 calories

Unbeknownst to some of his readers, Ian Hall (Author) is more than just a pretty face, a sexy accent and a ready pen...he is also a kitchen legend. From time to time you will find recipes here on the blog, but we promise he is still writing away in the meantime...

There’s nothing better on a cold winter’s day than a bowl of chicken soup; it’s the ultimate comfort food. If you're sick, have the flu, or just feel like a bowl, it hits the spot.

But when it looks thick, and tastes creamy that’s even better. Prepare to dip your bread, dunk your croutons, crumble your crackers.

But what about your New Year's weight loss resolution? Let's be honest, "lose weight" has to be on 90% of the lists made by intrepid souls each year. What if I told you that all this big bowl of goodness could be under 200 calories? Ah, now that would make a difference!

“But how can you make a “creamy” soup for less than 200 calories?” I hear you ask. Read on, my friend…

Chicken and Mushroom Soup ("Cream" of Mushroom)


  • 2 pints water
  • 2 Knorr chicken stock cubes
  • 1 medium onion
  • ½ lb mushrooms 
  •  ½ lb skinless chicken breast
  • ½ lb celery
  •  ¼ cauliflower

Seasoning suggestions; coriander, pepper, curry powder.

Cooking Instructions (pretty easy;-):

  • Boil water, add stock cubes. 
  • Stir till dissolved. 
  • Add chopped onions, cauliflower and celery. 
  • Boil for 60 mins. (This is to mush the original ingredients, and negate the sharp tang of the celery) Be careful about the mix sticking to the bottom of pan.
  • Liquidize  this mix to almost a puree. (This is to mimic the ‘cream’ of mushroom idea. No actual cream here, but we have a thick stock base.)
  • Add chopped chicken (preferably pre-cooked, leftovers, whatever) and chopped mushrooms. Boil gently for 60 mins. 

This makes a nice “creamy” soup. The celery, onion, and cauliflower are basically calorie/carb free.

Recipe makes 4 bowls of soup, at less than 200 calories each bowl.

Weight Watchers, my wife did the calculations and tells me the soup is only 3 Points Plus per serving!

This recipe was taken from the books below... both available at Amazon, and wherever good eBooks are sold.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

A Scottish Burn's Night to Remember: Gorebridge Primary School 1971

Robert Burns: Address to a Haggis
On 25th January in Scotland and all over the world, people raise a glass of the "water of life" and say a toast to Robert Burns. Born on this day in 1759, Burns was a  Scottish poet, song collector, romancer and favorite son. His works are celebrated from Edinburgh to Edmonton, from Selkirk to Shanghai. At traditional Burns Supper or Burns Night events we lift our glasses, play our bagpipes, listen to the Haggis being addressed, and eat, sing, recite and be merry.

For a Scottish school boy or girl, performing your first assigned Burns poem at a proper Burns Night is like crossing the Rubicon, everyone remembers their own...

Gorebridge Primary School, January 25th, 1971. I was twelve years old.

Contestants from our school (Stobhill Primary, a smaller school from ‘up the hill’) were invited to the larger Primary school in the village for Burns Night. It seemed like we’d practiced our poems for ages, but it may just have been the few weeks since starting again after New Year. If truth were to be told, we knew some of the boys from Cub Scouts, but in the larger, older school, we felt distinctively out of our league. I mean, they even had printed programs of the order of events. So posh.

I recall the echoing corridors, hallways and rooms, brick built, much older than our ‘new’ school. I remember reciting my poem on the stage, getting it flawless, and getting off as fast as my gangly legs would carry me. I remember Sandy Allan trying a bit of Tam O’ Shanter, Burn’s epic ghostly tale, and being prompted when he paused, hundreds of parents mouthing the next line for him. And I remember being presented with my coveted Burns Anthology Book prize, duly marked with the date and place. But one recollection of the night lies far deeper.

At the traditional meal, we sat patiently at our large trestle tables waiting on the arrival of haggis, neeps, and tatties, the fare of champions. I had looked around for my usual addition of tomato ketchup or broon sauce, but realized early on that I was going to have to eat them ‘unseasoned’ for a change.

So, there we were, a hundred kids, black trousers/skirts, white shirts/blouses, waiting for our food. Then I heard the familiar sound of the bagpipes being played, and in he marched, full highland regalia, feathers and tassels, probably from Borthwick Pipe Band, I can’t remember, but Archie Pinkman used to live just a few yards from the school, so it was probably him. Anyway, in he marched, taking the long way, round the outside of the room, followed by two boys, one carrying a huge haggis in its skin, one walking with a knife in his hand. They all stopped at the stage, and we waited until the bagpiper had finished, and duly applauded.

Then Jock Devlin started the address to the haggis… we knew it was him, it said so on our programs. Jock was kinda famous in our village, he swam for the Scottish swimming team. (People knew him by his own name, not his parents' that time I was still firmly “Andrew Hall’s son”). Jock's address to our national dish began just as impressively...

"Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o' the pudding-race!"

We all knew it a little bit, but Jock marched through the verses flawlessly. I was very impressed. Now, in verse three, he started the dramatics…

"His knife see rustic Labour dight,"

And he raised the silver knife high above the platter, smiling, ready for the downward strike…

"An' cut you up wi' ready sleight,"

And with gusto Jock stabbed at the huge steaming bag of goodness… To everyone’s surprise the knife cut through the outer skin like butter, cut through the body of the haggis, and went right through the large china plate that held it. The boy holding the plate could do nothing else but let it all crash to the floor… smashing pieces of plate and haggis onto the linoleum tiled floor.

We all gasped… the sound reverberated round the room...
Then silence, then giggles, then the cacophony of uncontrolled laughter from a hundred twelve-year-olds. Jock, ever the hero, joined in the mirth.

I can hear it as if it were yesterday. I honestly cannot remember if Jock ever finished the poem, but it became a highlight of conversation for many years. I became firm friends with Jock in High school, and miss him now.

A Burns Night to remember, right enough.

Burns Night Extras~

I recorded my own, not quite as eventful reading of Address to a Haggis in full Braid Scots (yes, its an ACCENT;-) here:

You can read the full text of the poem and learn more about Burns and his legacy at the most excellent Robert Burns Country: The Official Robert Burns Site 

Read more tales of a Scottish rural upbringing here...
Tales of a life just south of Edinburgh, Scotland.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Caledonii: Birth of a Celtic Nation. Druid and Iceni (Prequel)

Caledonii ~ Druid & Iceni 
Now available free on Kindle & other eBook sites

With my Caledonii (Roman invasion of Scotland) novella series now standing at 5 books, I wanted to do a free story for the many hundreds of fans now reading the saga. So I looked in Caledonii 1, and a wee story popped right out at me... a Scottish druid is sent southwards into Brigante territory (modern Northumberland/Cumberland) to bring two of the King Venutius's sons north to safety.

I planned 2000 words, but you know me. 10,000 words later, a tale of betrayal, druid magic, and adventure had found its way onto my pages. It fit my original idea perfectly; a 10,000 word prequel to the Caledonii: Birth of a Celtic Nation series. It stands on it's own, but it also gets you into the era, the characters, the timeframe.

Druid & Iceni. Picture the scene...
It is 69AD, and the Romans have been lords of the southern part of Britain for over twenty years. Knowing their eyes are forever northward, the Brigante King Venutius decides to send two of his young sons north to safety. Sewell, a druid from the Votadini clan (modern East Lothian), is sent on the mission to locate the boys, then get them safe to his homeland in the Caledonii nation. It is a dangerous journey through hostile lands, and there are many who would stand in his way. Venutius has many enemies, ans they would pay Roman gold for the boys.
To preserve the Brigante bloodline, Sewell cannot fail.

The cover above is the link to the kindle version on Amazon of Druid & Iceni. It's 99c right now, but we'll soon turn the screws on Amazon and get it down to free for you.
However, for other formats, it's available FREE here, on Smashwords...

The full series is available in eBooks everywhere;
Caledonii: Birth of a Celtic Nation. 1. The Great Gather
Caledonii: Birth of a Celtic Nation. 2. The Druid's Plan
Caledonii: Birth of a Celtic Nation. 3. The Coming of Age
Caledonii: Birth of a Celtic Nation. 4. The Romans Invade
Caledonii: Birth of a Celtic Nation. 5. Druid's Work

Friday, November 7, 2014

Thunderbirds, Space 1999, Stingray, Captain Scarlet: The Definitive Top Ten Gerry Anderson Shows

If you grew up in the UK in the 60’s or 70’s, you could not fail to get caught up in the World of Gerry Anderson at some point or other.
F.A.B. Thunderbirds Are GO!

Born in 1929, Gerry was an English TV producer, with a huge imagination and equally expansive dreams. He began in the late 50’s with puppet oriented children’s television, gave us science fiction icons like Thunderbirds, Space 1999, and ended a generation later in 1983 with a science fiction classic; Terrahawks.
Children of all ages have their own particular TV favorite, and below I have listed the top ten.
In reverse order, I have taken into consideration, viewing length, formats, countries reached, and spin off value. I hope among my top ten you will find your favorite.
Four Feather Falls 1957
Number 10. Four Feather Falls (1957)… is Gerry’s Kansas adventure, a puppet western ala Wagon Train. After experimenting with The Adventures of Twizzle, and Torchy the Battery Boy, Gerry produced thirty-nine 13 min episodes of Four Feather Falls, but despite some clips being re-shown, the series was never repeated.
Supercar 1960
Number 9. Supercar (1960)… Gerry’s next venture lasted 2 series, with thirty-nine 25 min episodes, and was first to use the word Supermarionation (Anderson’s patented puppet technology). It spawned a four week run of comics in the USA, where the TV series was syndicated.
Joe 90 1968
Number 8. Joe 90 (1968)… Following the failure of the second Thunderbirds feature film, Joe 90 lasted just 30 episodes. And although it was a favorite of mine (age 10) it would prove to be the last string puppet series made by Anderson to reach television. The idea of downloading a new skill-set to accomplish undercover work has been copied many times since.
Terrahawks 1983
Number 7. Terrahawks (1983)… was Anderson’s final hurrah. In thirty-nine 25 min episodes, done in the Henson style of hand puppetry, the series was most popular in Japan. It was one of the first television shows to be made into a computer game. I am ashamed to say I never watched it. By then I was 34, and wrongly considered myself way too old for Gerry Anderson’s puppets.
Fireball XL5 1962
Number 6. Fireball XL5 (1962)… Following Supercar’s USA success, Fireball XL5 actually ran on official NBC format in the children’s hours from 1963 to 65. Thirty-five 25 min episodes were made, and it carried onto comic and book formats. I had a foot-long plastic Fireball XL5 spacecraft which I threw up into the air, watching it float back to earth in a flimsy polythene parachute.
Stingray 1963
Number 5. Stingray (1963)… Thirty-nine 25 min episodes were produced of this fantastic undersea adventure. Although colour television was still seven years in the future, Stingray was the first British Children’s TV series to be entirely filmed in colour. It was syndicated in the USA, and shown in 7 countries. It had a regular spot on the Century 21 comic.
George Sewell and Gabriella Drake 1969
Number 4. UFO (1969)… This was the first of Anderson’s real life dramas to be produced. Twenty five 50 min episodes were made, but despite huge popularity in the UK it never got a second series. The scripts for season two were re-written into the plot for Space 1999. Like the puppet series Captain Scarlet, it used sexy females in short skirts, every young man at the time would remember the purple hair and curves of both Wanda Ventham and Gabriella Drake.
Lieutenant Green, Captain Blue, and Captain Scarlet 1967

Number 3. Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967)… Thirty two 25 min episodes were made of this ‘darker’ space series, dealing with death, vengeance and inter-planetary war. It was shown in 40 countries inc USA, and a 2005 animated series. The immortal Captain Scarlet was the epitome of cool, and the sexy female pilots, unshaven baddie Captain Black, and grumpy Colonel White completed the cast. I had all the matchbox die-cast metal cars. "Spectrum is Green!"
The main cast Space 1999 1975

Number 2. Space 1999 (1975)… Two series of forty-eight 50 minute episodes were made, networked in both the USA and in Canada, starring Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, straight from their success in Mission Impossible. International stars galore flocked for parts in the episodes, and many old faces crop up, even in small bit-parts.
The king of them all: Thunderbirds 1974

Number 1. Thunderbirds (1974)… The International Rescue juggernaut lasted 2 series, ran thirty-two long 50 min episodes, was broadcast in 30 countries, spawned two Supermarionation feature films, and a 2004 film based on the series. The Thunderbirds accessories caused Christmas shopping frenzies to find ‘Tracy Island’, and kids to buy plastic and metal toys by the million. Gerry’s wife, Sylvia, produced the voice for Lady Penelope, and who can forget the craggy voice of her driver/butler, Parker. I think every kid in our street had one Thunderbirds toy. Who can forget the complicated launch sequences from Tracy Island: Thunderbird One blasting off from under the swimming pool, and the palm trees folding backwards to allow Thunderbird Two to reach it's launch ramp.
And of course, the playgrounds rang to the sounds of “F.A.B. Thunderbirds Are Go!”
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