Tag Archives: UK

Battle of Ridgeway

Anger house Ridgeway near Fort Erie ONToday marks a bizarre incident in Canadian history. Irish-Americans invaded Canada, planning to hold it hostage as leverage to end British rule in Ireland. My family’s farmhouse was smack-dab in the middle of what became known as the Battle of Ridgeway. Reading about it, the threads I picked up led far into North American and Anglo-British political and cultural history.

June 2, 1866, soldiers of the US-based Fenian Brotherhood met Canadian militia at a limestone ridge near Ridgeway west of Fort Erie, Ontario. It was a kind of “who’s on first?” fight. The Canadians had no horses to pull ammunition wagons so only had what they could carry. The Fenians had dumped Battle of Ridgeway illustration, showing IRA flagmuch of their ammunition because it had got too heavy after a day of carrying it all. Information and communication on both sides were misinterpreted, resulting in costly mistakes.

The Fenians were American Civil War veterans, straight from battle. The Canadians were volunteer part-time militia who had never seen action.  Due to budget constraints, many had never fired a live round.

At the end of the day, both sides had dead and wounded. The Fenians, who wanted to move west, were pushed back east to Fort Erie. But then the Canadians retreated. The newspaper clipping Fenians are coming June 1 1866 Irish-AmericansFenians celebrated their victory and planned their next move. And then they saw US gunboats in the Niagara River pointed at them. American and Canadian authorities picked them up and imprisoned them briefly.

“We are the Fenian Brotherhood, skilled in the arts of war. And we’re going to fight for Ireland, the land we adore. Many battles we have won, along with the boys in blue. And we’ll go and capture Canada, for we’ve nothing else to do.”

Their marching song pretty much explains the Fenians. They had finished fighting in the Union Army just a year before. While the country tried to pick up the pieces after the devastation of the Civil War and President Lincoln’s assassination, the Irish-Americans were looking at the troubles in the homeland they had been forced to leave. The US government knew the Fenian plan but ignored it until the last minute. Their action might provide leverage for US negotiations with Britain as well. Indeed, on June 6, Britain paid the US $15 million for war damages caused by its commerce with the Confederacy and the US enacted laws to stop acts of aggression from within its borders.

Fenian flag 1866 crwflags.com
Fenian Flag 1866

In Britain, they downplayed it because technically it was a British military loss to the Irish, the first in over 100 years. In Ireland, they celebrated it for the same reason. Fifty years later in Ireland, the name of the Fenian Brotherhood’s invading force was resurrected: the Irish Republican Army.

In Canada, the government downplayed the battle because it was a military loss with significant casualties. At the same time, they were debating confederation of the four provinces. That spring’s Fenian campaign of raids (in New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario) convinced enough people that, individually, each was more vulnerable than if they united. In 1867 the vote was for Maple Leaf Forever sheet music coverConfederation. That same year, Alexander Muir, a veteran of Ridgeway wrote The Maple Leaf Forever, long an unofficial anthem.

The date of the battle was chosen in 1890 as Decoration Day, commemorating Canada’s war dead. That stood until 1931 when November 11th replaced it as Remembrance Day. The date and story of the Battle of Ridgeway faded into obscurity.

The Anger house, at the corner of Ridge and Bertie roads, holds its memories of that day. The shed that served as a field hospital still stands and the brickwork of the house is scarred by bullet holes.

Sources

Amazon link for Ridgeway by Peter VronskyFor more, see Peter Vronsky’s Ridgeway (left), or an introduction by him at fenians.org.  Other good accounts are:  

The American Legion’s Burnpit,

The Wild Geese Irish history site,

history.net,

“Here comes that damned Green Flag again”,

Loyal Orange Lodge, and

“The Fenian Raids” by Capt. (N) (Ret’d) M. Braham, CD.

An excellent novel about the Fenians is The Roof Walkers by Keith Henderson (click title or image below left for Amazon). 

On eBay – Fenian Raids Battle of Ridgeway

 

She Loves You

Some things you will never ever forget.  One, for me, is Ed Sullivan introducing “these CBS Beatles ad on tvyoungsters from Liverpool.”  Hands clenched on head, pulling at hair, “eek, aah, oohh”.  In the living room with parents, sitting on the floor in front of the television, screaming.  Watching John-Paul-George-and-Ringo, February 9, 1964. I still can hear “well, she was just seventeen, and you know what I mean, the way she looks, is way beyond compare.”

Even now – old enough to realize that my parents must have been looking askance at each other, each blaming the other’s gene pool for having produced such a half-wit of a child – the memory sends shivers through me.  After that and before, I watched bands I loved on girl-in-audience-screenshotEd Sullivan’s “shew”.  But the Beatles were “way beyond compare.”

I think we in North America were lucky in our introduction to them.  They were already an established sensation by the time they came on tour.  We already knew it was ok to like them; indeed being Beatle-crazy was de rigueur.  Probably in England, there had been girls who said ‘they’re ok but it’s Frankie and the Fruitcakes who are really going to make it big.’  In light of knighthoods, billions in sales and historical perspective of the musical and social change started by the Beatles, those girls probably still feel a bit silly.

Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein made a way bigger misjudgment. According to Terry O’Reilly on CBC’s Under the Influence, Epstein let someone else market Beatles products – at a 90/10 split, the 10% going to the Beatles.  Who didn’t buy a Beatle wig?  And I had Beatles cards tv screenshotBeatles bubblegum trading cards, uncut sheets.  My father got them from a friend at O-Pee-Chee Gum.  I cut them into individual cards, not keeping even one whole.  I could have retired on the proceeds of those.

The fact that none of the plentitude of Mersey Beat bands ever matched the Beatles’ success does not deny the success that many did achieve due to the spin-off effect.  The Beatles were not created in a vacuum; they were influenced by their contemporaries and they opened doors for others.  In September 1964, the Beatles came to Toronto.  My mother would not let me go, despite wheedling DC5 London Ont UWO Archives lfpress.com James Reaney 3Nov2011and tantrums.  Two months later, my friends and I stood along Oxford Street in London (Ont.), waiting for the Dave Clark Five to drive past. They were playing at Treasure Island Gardens and, again, my mother said I couldn’t go.  But being in that crowd of girls on the street, screaming our heads off, made up for a lot.  The Dave Clark Five weren’t the Beatles, but they were close enough. Tellingly, I have no memory of the Rolling Stones coming to London the next year. That suggests their music was beyond my pre-adolescent ken.

Beau-Brummels-Teen-Aug-66-beaubrummels.tripod.com_laugh_60sjpgTerry O’Reilly mentioned a 1960s band called the Beau Brummels. They were from California but their music and foppish suits seemed British.  And, maybe more importantly, their name put their records alphabetically right after the Beatles in record bins, thereby increasing their sales.

I will be watching the Beatles special February 9th  on CBS. I’ll probably sit on the floor as close as possible to the tv, maybe scream a little.  For sure, I’ll cry a little for four lads and a girl from long ago.

Baby Prince George

FB-Monarchy-post about Prince GeorgeIn the past three days, the royal baby has been born, brought home, had pictures posted on Facebook, and been named. A boy named HRH Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge.

For two days my television was tuned to the Royal Baby Channel – whichever one had “live coverage”. It’s been worth it, waiting to see that little bundle in the arms of both his parents. Also worth it have been the hours and hours of filler patter by hosts and guests on the broadcast specials. I find you always learn something new about British and Royal history and protocol when guests have to fill airtime.

There is a photograph, I learned, from the last time there were four generations in the direct royal line. It is of Queen Victoria, her son who would be Edward VII, her grandson London,-Royalty,-Four-Generations Queen Victoriathe future George V and her infant great-grandson the future, and fleeting, Edward VIII. Let’s hope it works out better for this newborn when it is his time to be king.

Something struck me as very interesting in the analyst chat on CNN yesterday. It was the question of when this future king’s time will come. Repeatedly, people said with amazement that it might well be 70 years before it was his time. Amazing indeed considering that, in 70 years, his father William will be 101 years old. Even with the good genes of the Windsors, still being a reigning monarch at that age would be remarkable.

I think having three generations already in line for succession actually means is that there may not be a reign as long as that of Elizabeth II, or Victoria, in this century. That is, of course, assuming that these future kings live out their assigned ‘three score and ten’ or more years.

my-tv-screen CTV Prince George leaves hospitalLooking at the number of direct heirs doesn’t determine how long it will take for them to reach the throne anymore than only counting heads in a grocery store check-out line tells you how long you have to wait to reach the cashier. You also have to look at how full their shopping carts are. With succession, you have to look at the age of the heirs as well as the number of them. The best estimate you can make is how long their reigns might be.

Queen Victoria’s heirs

Queen Victoria also had three heirs lined up. She came to the throne at the age of eighteen and lived a very long life. Her son’s reign was only 9 years. His son came to the throne already a grandfather. He reigned for 26 years. His son, the present Queen’s father, died when only 56 so Elizabeth came to the throne at the age of Mom's Royal Scrapbook photo D Stewart25, much younger than she or anyone else expected.

What is significant about these four generations is that, all things being equal, it is likely that people alive today will never again see a young monarch or such a long reign. The last generation to see the fairy-tale story of a young princess, or prince, being crowned will have been the age cohort of Queen Elizabeth. That being said, Long Live the Queen – and the future King and King and King.

Queen’s Secret: Review

Amazon link for Charles Templeton The Queen's Secret
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Last week I saw a book called The Queen’s Secret by Charles Templeton.  Curious to see if it was by the late Canadian journalist of that name, I pulled it off the shelf.  Yes and even better, due to my being in a Royal mood with the expected arrival of HRH Baby, the plot hinges on the line of succession to the throne.

It was published in 1986.  Its queen is a fictitious Mary III who has one heir, a daughter.   References are made to previous monarchs, including Elizabeth II and her father and uncle, and to periods in their reigns when conflict between personal life and duty to country caused crises for the individuals, the monarchy and the nation.

The book is set in an unspecified future, one in which scientific discoveries and technologies now commonplace clearly have not been invented.  Problems that have beset the monarchy in past and present times move the story along.  Those include the political and Daily-Mirror-July-1982 Palace prowler headlinereligious aspects of marital choice for Royals, especially those who are heir presumptive or apparent, and the intrusion of media attention into the private lives of Royals and the governance of the country.

According to the book jacket, Templeton got the idea for the book after news broke in 1982 about a man breaking into Buckingham Palace and succeeding in getting into Queen Elizabeth’s bedroom.  When The Queen’s Secret was published, media attention on the Royals, particularly on the wives of Charles and Andrew, was high.  It was before the apex of attention, and tragedy, was reached.  A 1987 review of Templeton’s novel considered the plot outdated. “[T]he glory days of royalty are clearly waning,”  the reviewer said, calling stories about mésalliances of Royals “quaint and archaic to a generation weaned on People Andrew_Sarah_wedding_1986-07-23_wikimediamagazine and prime-time soap operas. The British nobility itself is now in decline…”  Little did the reviewer know in 1987 that the Royal soap opera had barely begun.

The solution to the problem of reconciling the personal and political given in the story would not be possible now due to a change in succession protocol made by the Queen in anticipation of William and Kate’s baby.  As the firstborn, their child, whether female or male, will in time be the heir apparent.  Prior to that change, a firstborn daughter of the monarch would be called “heir presumptive” because the birth of a younger brother would displace her in the line of the succession.

Templeton’s heir presumptive is named Victoria, something that pleased me because that’s the name I’m betting on if William and Kate’s baby is a girl.

HRH Baby

With the expected Royal baby, there will be a kinship situation that hasn’t existed since Queen Victoria reigned.

royal_family-balcony-detail-wikicommons-Magnus-DThere will be 3 generations of direct heirs apparent to the throne:  the Prince of Wales, Prince William and Prince William’s child.  Like Victoria, Queen Elizabeth’s children have become grandparents while she is still on the throne.

In December 2012 the line of succession was changed in law to simply the firstborn of the Prince-of-Wales-Investiture-1969-education.gtj.org.ukheir.  It had previously been the eldest son.  If the first child was a girl, she was heir only if she never had a brother.  That is easy enough to grasp.  It’s a second change made by the Queen to titles that’s less well known.  When I saw headlines that William and Kate’s baby, if a girl, would be a Princess, I didn’t understand why she wouldn’t be already.

Until now, only the eldest son of the Prince of Wales’ eldest son had the title Prince.  His sisters and younger brothers were known as Lady or Lord.  William and Kate’s baby will be in that position, great-grandchild of the Queen, from the Prince of Wale’s eldest son.  By the change in succession rules made in December, that child, whether a boy or girl, will be in line for the throne after William.  The title change means she will be HRH Princess Baby, not The Lady Baby.  So too will her siblings, for this applies to all the children of the Prince of Wales’ direct heir.

British Royal Titles

Royal baby -titles-chart-by-D-Stewart
Click for larger view of royal titles

All children of a monarch are Prince or Princess.  The children of the monarch’s sons are also Prince or Princess, but daughters’ children take their titles from their fathers.  For the great-grandchildren, only the eldest son of the 3rd in line for the throne was called Prince.  Titles follow the male line, with the exception of the children of a regnant Queen.  I made this simplified chart (above) of who would have what title.  The chart below shows the current Royal Family with their primary titles.

Royal-Family-kinship-chart
Click for larger view of Royal Family titles

Birth and bestowed titles

The good thing about being Queen is you can give people titles.  So, for example, the Queen made Antony Armstrong-Jones an Earl before he married her sister Princess Margaret.   Margaret’s children inherited their titles from him.  Mark Phillips, when he married Princess Anne, chose not to receive a title.  Therefore their children, while in the line of succession, have no titles.  Also, if you have several titles, you can choose which you wish to use and pass on.  So the Queen and her son Prince Edward decided on Earl of Wessex for him when he married, instead of the customary dukedom.  He then chose that lesser title to use in giving his children titles.  So, although technically they are prince and princess, they are known as Lord and Lady.

A Princess born into the royal family continues to be called Princess and takes her husband’s titles.  A Prince’s wife, if a commoner, becomes princess but the title is not put before her own name.  Diana was never ‘Princess Diana’, she was ‘Diana, Princess of Wales’ for example.  She can also go by another title of his, as Kate did with Duchess of Cambridge.  If her husband has no other titles, she is known as Princess his name, as with Princess Michael of Kent (the Queen’s cousin by marriage).

Eldest royal baby girl

Down the road, another matter will need to be addressed if the royal baby is a girl.  The monarch’s eldest daughter may be named Princess Royal.  Unlike Prince of Wales that is Elizabeth_II-coronation-portrait-detail_1953-Library-Archives-Canada-PDa temporary title, Princess Royal is given for life.  Anne is the Princess Royal, and will remain so until her death.  The previous Princess Royal was Mary, daughter of George V.  As it stands, William’s heir eventually could be both Prince of Wales and Princess Royal.

I hope the baby is a girl.  I’d like to see these historic changes play out.  I read that they may include Elizabeth and Diana as middle names for a girl, but nothing on her first name.  My money is on Victoria.  It’s a “queenly” name and it would give us a Victoria II.

I found these websites helpful: 

“Would Prince William’s…?; “…title [of] daughter of a princess?”

Monarchist League NB Jan. 2013 Queen Letters Patent

House of Windsor family tree

Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent 

HRH Prince Michael of Kent.

Reading History

Well-written and well-researched historical fiction gives the reader a two-fer:  a good story and a history lesson that you may have slept through during school.

Amazon link for The Boleyn Inheritance historical fiction
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Recently, I’ve been living in the Tudor and Plantagenet eras courtesy of Philippa Gregory.  I started with the Boleyn sisters books, made into movies that I haven’t seen but I hope do justice to the books and their subjects.  I don’t know how it would be possible to make a bad movie out of the historical material itself and the treatment given the characters by Ms. Gregory.

Next I read the novels about the other characters in the Henry VIII saga:  The Constant Princess tells of his Amazon link for The Queen's Fool
first wife, Katherine of Aragon.   The Queen’s Fool tells of his childrens’ reigns, Edward, then Mary and ending with the ascension of Elizabeth.  The Other Queen is about Mary Queen of Scots in the later years of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign.  It is the only one that I kind of wanted to end.  I knew what happened to her:  she ended up “with ‘er ‘ead tucked underneath her arm” and, with the interminable plotting and moving about the countryside, I found myself thinking “please somebody, chop her head off and be done with it.”

Then I moved to The White Queen and The Red Queen, books about the predecessors of the Tudors, the Amazon link for The Lady of the Rivers by P GregoryPlantagenets and the War of the Roses.  There are two more books in this series, telling the stories of the mother of Edward IV’s Queen Elizabeth (The Lady of the Rivers) and the daughters of the Earl of Warwick (The Kingmaker’s Daughter).

You’ll notice a similarity in topic here – these are stories told from the woman’s point of view.  Even if you were the most dedicated history student, you may well have not been taught much about the queen consorts or dowager queens of England.  Ms. Gregory will fill in those gaps for you as well as bringing to life the monarchs they married or mothered.

A bibliography is always appended to Ms Gregory’s books.  I read it thoroughly and make a list of the books I want to Amazon link for The Other Boleyn Girl dvdfind.  She also writes a note explaining what is historical fact and what is speculation or fiction.  After finishing one of her novels, I always spend an evening googling the people and the era.  She makes me want to know more about them and what I find matches pretty well with what I’ve read in her books.

A while ago, I listened to a CBC radio interview with a writer about his novel set in the American West (sorry, can’t find the details online).  He said he doesn’t worry about historical accuracy because readers want a good story, not to learn about an era so he just creates his own world.  I guess that applies for some readers but not me.  If I’m going to invest my time reading an era-specific book, I want it to accurately tell me about that era and I want to know where Amazon link for The Last Templar by Michael Jecks
it deviates from history.  Philippa Gregory does that, as does Michael Jecks in his medieval England mysteries.  I would think that if you are going to research and travel in order to get the flavour of a historical era and the people living in it, as the writer I heard interviewed said he does, you might as well present your fictional story in a historically accurate setting.  As my father always said, if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

Dressage Top Hat

dorothee schneider diva royal ger-dderosaphotoA requirement for safety helmets to be worn by riders in all equestrian shows is a good idea and, by and large, the helmets look ok.  But dressage needs something that is as elegant as the sport itself.  Something that looks like, well, the traditional top hat.

After watching the Olympics dressage, where some riders wore top hats and some wore crash helmets, I thought can’t technology come top hat helmet by l'Hiverup with a protective helmet with style?  I googled it and, yes, others have thought the same thing.

The helmet on the left looks good.  I’d like to see it on a human head to see its proportions and if it still looks good when on.  The dressage helmet below  does have the shape of a top hat and obviously the protective capabilities of a helmet. But its size, with that protection, makes it also makes it look kinda like The Cat in the Hat.

Megan Rust helmet top hatA serious head injury in 2010 by Olympics dressage rider Courtney King-Dye started the move for helmets for all riders in all disciplines.  Yes, it’s a good idea.  A horse cantering, no matter how elegantly in dressage, is still moving at a good speed and a fall can cause the rider a lot of damage.

But dressage, of all the equestrian sports, is also an art form.  Looks and beauty of movement on the part of horse and rider is an Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro 2012 Olympic dressageimportant element.  Riders wearing a standard shaped crash helmet may as well complete the look by wearing snowmobile pants.

In show jumping and eventing, the crash helmet somehow doesn’t look as bad.  These are more clearly “sport” even though there is artistry in what horse and rider are doing.  But in dressage, the athleticism involved is hidden from view so that the beauty of the movement can be seen.  Like in figure skating, circus performance and dance.  You know these are superb athletes but you don’t want to see the strain of muscles pumping.  You want to see the beauty and fluidity of motion.

If dressage riders are going to wear standard issue crash helmets, you might as well reiningdemand ballerinas wear knee and elbow pads.  Please, scientists, keep working on a helmet that preserves the elegance of dressage as well as the heads of riders. While you’re at it, a protective cowboy hat for reining would be good.  The look of that hat is important too.

Congratulations to Team GB for winning gold in team dressage and show jumping.  And thanks to all competitors for incredibly exciting and beautiful performances.

Dick Francis: A racing life

Amazon link for Dick Francis A Racing Life
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The back cover of Dick Francis: A Racing Lifea biography by Graham Lord, calls it “warm, affectionate, yet sharp and perceptive.” I usually read the jacket information before starting a book. This time I didn’t. I’m glad because I know it didn’t skew my impressions of the book.

The only word of that description with which I would agree is “sharp.” I found the book sharp to the point of nasty and petty. The first page puts the thesis forth that Dick’s wife Mary probably wrote the novels. Throughout 373 pages of text, Lord jibes and pokes about it at every chance.

The argument is that Dick Francis did not like or do well in school and that Mary did. Dick quit school as soon as he could to become a horseman. Mary went on to university, gaining a degree in French and English. Lord illustrates with facts and speculation what he calls “the most amusing literary camouflage since Marian Evans pretended to be George Eliot.”

An apparent fact is that Dick repeatedly said that Mary should be named as co-author.  But Mary and the publishers thought the books were more marketable under the name of a champion jockey. Lord does paint a picture of the personalities of both Dick and Mary. What I take from his portrayal of Dick is of an unassuming man who was honest as a jockey and in all other aspects of his life. The impression of Mary that I gained from Lord is that, as they say, she wasn’t backward about putting herself forward.

Mary Francis – Researcher or writer?

There has never been any hiding of the fact that Mary did much of the research for the books. In Lord’s book, I learned that she turned many of the novels’ subjects into businesses or avocations for herself. She became a pilot and ran an air taxi service, she bought into a wine importing business and she took up photography to the professional level. All this was to better research Dick Francis books. With the literary aspirations that Lord says she had, I am amazed that she did not claim the credit for them if she believed herself to be the sole or major author.

Lord says that the physical afflictions suffered by characters are those suffered by Mary, not Dick. She had polio as a young woman, so does a character. She suffered from asthma, so does a character. Literary allusions are ones that would only be known to Mary with her education, not Dick with his. The portrayal of the male heroes and the female characters seem to be written more from a woman’s perspective than a man’s. It is Mary’s sensibilities, interests and afflictions that fuel the books, Lord says.

Racing and horses are central

Ok, but I would argue that those are story elements attainable through good research Dick Francis on Devon Loch 1956 Grand National and from drawing on experiences of others. At the heart of Dick Francis novels is racing and horses. You are riding in the Grand National with the book’s hero.  You know the horses as sentient beings through the eyes of jockeys or grooms.  And that is not Mary’s experience. She didn’t particularly like horses or racing. And physical afflictions? The descriptions of broken collarbones and dislocated shoulders are from Dick’s experience.

Amazon link for The Sport of Queens
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Lord is disparaging toward Dick about his respect for the Royal Family. As an example of what he sees as Dick’s fawning, he says that Dick asked the Queen Mother’s permission before entitling his autobiography The Sport of Queens. Why, Lord asks, should Dick think it necessary to ask permission to use that phrase? Perhaps because the phrase is actually The Sport of Kings? By changing it to Queens, Francis was making direct reference to his riding career. At that time there were two Queens and no King. As well, he rode for the Queen Mother. Perhaps he was just being polite.

Writing process

Graham Lord makes much of Dick saying that writing was hard for him. Hard to believe, Lord says. Maybe, but I’ve read more interviews with best-selling authors about the difficulty of writing than those saying oh, it’s a snap. There’s also cringe-making recitations of interviews with Francis by writers for literary journals where Dick could not discuss concepts of formalism or semiotics in literature. Oh, for heaven’s sakes, not being au courant with literary analyses is hardly proof that someone can’t put pen to paper and write a good story.

Before and after reading Lord’s book, I did not think that Dick wrote the books entirely on his own. Why wouldn’t Mary contribute, edit, add her own words? Especially with their long symbiotic marriage, it seems they became almost inseparable. Their son Felix also became part of the writing machine. But at the core of all Dick Francis books are horses, racing and jockeys. Neither Mary nor Felix lived in that world. Dick did.

Graham Lord better on James Herriot

Amazon link for James Herriot bio by Graham Lord
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In 1997, two years before A Racing Life, Graham Lord published James Herriot: The Life of a Country Vet – the “warm but incisive” biography its cover promised. Dick Francis: A racing life is not. At 262 pages, his Herriot biography is the length  A Racing Life would be if Lord cut out the waffle. That would be most of the first three chapters and the long descriptive word lists throughout. I began skimming very early.

Francis Family Books

If you had the sad job of picking the topic of the last novel you would write, I don’t think you could choose better than Dick Francis did. Crossfire, co-written with son Felix and published in 2010 by Michael Joseph, is the final book in his long and illustrious career as a mystery novelist. Dick Francis died in 2010 at the age of 89.

Amazon link for Crossfire by Dick Francis
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Crossfire is a great story and a family effort. You don’t need to google anything to know the experiences of three generations of the family are in it. The horses, stables, races and racing industry amongst which Dick Francis lived are there, as usual. But our hero is a wounded Captain in the Grenadier Guards, recently returned from Afghanistan.

The authors’ thanks are given to Lieut. William Francis, Army Air Corps and Grenadier Guards, for his assistance. He is the grandson of Dick and son of Felix. So the horse and racing elements of a Dick Francis are there, as is information and insights about a different topic. This time, that other topic is the Afghanistan war and the physical and psychological realities of being injured by an explosive device. You see the trauma of being back home but having to deal with the injury and the sudden loss of your career and your passion – soldiering.

Dick Francis and family

banner photo from Grenadier GuardsThe book is a tribute to Lieut. Francis and his fellow soldiers in Afghanistan and elsewhere in war. It is also a tribute to Felix for carrying on his father’s work so well. And, of course, it’s a tribute to Dick Francis, master storyteller and steeplechase jockey. In his racing and writing, he has probably taught more people about the intricacies of horseracing than anyone else. And no matter what the villains of the piece do, the love Francis has for horses and his respect for their abilities and heart is always apparent.

Dick Francis’ books were written with the help of his family. His late wife, Mary, helped with research, writing and editing. Her interests and knowledge, such as in photography, were also reflected in the plots of some of his books. Felix, their younger son, helped his father with many of the books, taking an increasingly active part in the creation of Grenadier Guards Band on Horseguards Parade, Anon. 2008the latter ones. The last three Dick Francis books are published with both Dick and Felix as co-authors.

After his father’s death, Felix has continued writing under his own name. I have not read his solo efforts yet but, based on the co-authored books, he learned well from his father. And with Crossfire, I feel I have got to know the family better. I am glad that they let me see the post-war feelings of a wounded veteran. They did it with a deft touch, put in here and there in a very good story of chicanery in the racing and investment businesses.

Coronation Street Scene of the Week (Dec. 4/11)

“For generations, the cream of British aristocracy and the crowned heads of Europe have Mary saying the Royal Family burnt their bridges with herintermingled to produce a bloodline like vintage champagne.  Then what do they go and do?  Pour in a quart of brown ale.  I’m surprised they haven’t booked the Rovers for afterwards.”  I have not heard such a wonderful summary of the debate of royalty marrying non-royalty as Mary gave about William and Kate’s wedding in Tuesday’s episode.

Coat of Arms of Catherine, Duchess of CambridgeLike many, I have a favourable impression of Miss Kate Middleton, purveyor of party supplies, now Catherine, HRH Princess William of Wales, Duchess of Cambridge, Countess of Strathearn, Baroness Carrickfergus.  However, it will be hard to think of her again without picturing a quart of brown ale.

An advantage of being seven months behind the UK broadcast dates is that this week we got to relive the Royal Wedding.  It was wonderful.  The banner in the Rovers, the commemorative plate in Graeme’s apartment.  It took me back to the all night television watching I did last April, and added Graeme in Kabin telling Mary she has destroyed livessome lovely twists.

It worked nicely into the Graeme and Xin immigration marriage story.  Mary’s pronouncement that the primary purpose of Royal marriages is as alliances for purposes of bloodlines and politics, of course, flew right in the face of her earlier statement that marriage ought to be for love only.  When she said the latter, she was justifying her reporting Graeme and Xin’s marriage scam to the immigration office.  When Rita questioned her inconsistency in argument, she backed down gracefully and admitted she Mary in motorhome as Graeme talks to Xinhad done wrong in turning them in.  She then, in her home on wheels, rode to their rescue.  She helped Graeme find Xin, and singlehandedly changed a flat tire while quizzing them on their knowledge of each other.

But we weren’t done with pontificating on the Royal Wedding.  The immigration officer Bob Stephenson in Rovers saying he can't look at those two any longergave a republican view.  “I’d line the lot of them up against the – well, I’d favour an elected head of state,” he opined in the Rovers as he pointed along the wall where he could imagine them all lined up.  He looked at the royal lineage from the perspective of his position.  He made the valid point that his job is to “stop marriages of convenience, marriages that let undesirable foreigners into this country.  The Royal Family has been doing that for centuries.”  During the interview in the apartment of “Mr. and Mrs. Proctor”, Graeme quickly realized that hanging the Royal Wedding plate had not worked quite as intended – to show his and Xin’s patriotism.  He blamed its presence on a Immigration officer and Mary arguingwedding gift giver and smashed it.

What a treat Bob Stephenson from the UK Border Agency was!  I do hope he has to return to deal with Mary over the car crash they had – or anything (except Xin’s new visa being taken away).  He and Mary together are just wonderful.  I wonder if the Queen Audrey with Marcia and friends in barwas amused by the episode.

And speaking of queens, Audrey meeting “Marcia” and friends Friday was, well, priceless.  Please, can we see these ladies again?