Thursday, March 31, 2011

Soft futures

I'm always on the look out for ways to think about how the future might unfold and this article and a recent write-up of it stimulated a lot of thought. Taking oil rigs workers as an example it shows what happens when the macho culture of such high risk workplaces becomes more cautious and open. It swapped swaggering and intimidation for sharing and taking into account co-workers' feelings.

The result was lots more shut downs because people were happy to say when they thought working practices were too risky.
Wrote the authors: "In short, men routinely breached conventional-male norms, acknowledging their own and others' shortcomings as part of the learning process.”

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Gold rush?

This chat with an established author who is going the e-book route has crystallised a lot of my thinking on the matter - especially with regard to whether it is vanity publishing with the blinkers on. Food for thought.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Hell here

No-one seems to know what Hell is made of. I'm curious because the story I am working onSoil profile 236x288 38.76 KBImage via Wikipedia opens with someone being buried alive in Hell. In the interest of versimilitude I wondered what the soil is like there and how easy, or difficult, it would be for him to dig his way out.

Matthew 25:41 suggests that it was a place that God made for the devil and his angels so it may share some properties with Earthly matter given the common created. And there is another hint in Isaiah 14:12 which talks about the devil being cast down to earth. So there will be soil. Good.

There are plenty of people on the net who claim to have been to hell, but older accounts of what Hell is like are hard to find. The logic of the story dictates that I need those older accounts. There's Dante's Divine Comedy, of course, but that feels a bit, well, obvious. There is, in the writings of Roger of Wendover, the story of a peasant called Thurkill who claimed that Saint Julian took him on a tour of purgatory.

Full text versions of his writings are hard to find. But I did find this which has mentions some of the various tortures meted out to the classes of sinners. The proud, for instance, are bound with hooks to vast iron wheels which spin them round "with the most violent impetuosity".

The gluttonous are held in a loathsome pool and "perpetually crammed with toads" by devils that snatch the amphibians from tables set on the bank. If the toads perpetually renew is there a part of hell that is all toads? And how are you crammed with toads?

So not only is there soil, there are toads, flying serpents, venomous creatures and lots of devils. Though I'd guess that natural materials, wood and water to name but two, are in short supply. Hmm.

Even older are the stories from the Srimad Bhagavatam - one of the key texts of Hindus - in which the location and punishments of entire hellish planets are detailed. Some of the punishments are fairly light. For instance, those who steal another man's wife, money or children are chastised so harshly that sometimes they faint.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The write way

This checklist is so useful I almost don't want to post it.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Plans of insane asylums

Just in case I have a need to set a story in one, these should help.

Victorian cigarette brands

Cigarettes grew in popularity following the Crimean war (1853-56) when returning soldiers brought with them an innovation they got from their French allies and Russian foes.

Guinea gold
Salmon & Glucksteins Dandy Fifth cigarettes
Egyptian & Oriental Cigarette company - Sheikhs, Dragoumis and Pllatonos
Old Gold
Joy's Cigarettes
Player's Navy Cut
Wills's Bristol - Three Castles, Gold Flake, Woodbine (1888), Capstan (mild, medium, full)
Carreras - Craven A (Named after the Earl of Craven), Hankeys, Guards
Bewlay - Flor de Dindegul cigar
Newsboy Plug tobacco
St Bruno standard dark flake
Old Virginia cheroots
Philip Morris - rolled Turkish cigarettes
Benson and Hedges (1873)
Cavanders Army Club

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Now serving

Domestic servants in Victorian England were pretty ubiquitous - about 13% of the female population was in service. Everyone from the lower middle classes upwards had them, though more cash meant more servants around the place.

The minimum income needed to a daily servant who came in to do the housework was about £150 and a head teacher, journalist or shop keeper could expect to make that. Doctors, lawyers and clerks typically made much more than this (£300 - £800) and would have correspondingly more help.

There was a well-established order in which servants would be acquired too. One that everyone knew because everyone had them. Did people have conversations about getting the full set. I bet they competed to see who could have the most on the least income.

After a daily charwoman came a live-in servant, aka the maid-of-all-work, who was typically a teenager and did all the menial work of the house.

Then came a house maid and following that a nurse or cook - depending on a house’s needs. This triumvirate would typically be enough to support a family in cosy gentility. Often it was the case that servants outnumbered those that employed them.

Next servant to get would be the first manservant - these tended to be rarer as they were taxed. A valet or butler would be the first choice who could also look after the horses and carriage. An income of about £500 per year would support these four servants and a family.

On an income north of £1,000 then a house would likely acquire a dedicated groom or a girl to help the cook.

Beyond this came more specialisation and include footmen, valets, a chef, governess and many, many varieties of maid.