Scary Hen

Hello, how was your week?

I am feeling somewhat ruffled. Let me explain. A few weeks ago, a fox came into the garden and ate a cockerel and my favourite big black hen. Hard to not hate foxes (though actually, even I am appalled that there is a suggestion we might legalise fox-hunting again – but that is a different issue).

Anyway, at about the same time as the above massacre, one of my other hens started to get broody, to collect the eggs the other hens laid as soon as they left the laying box, and to refuse to budge. I collected the eggs every day (because most of them were bantam eggs, and I don’t want more bantams) but she was very fierce. Have you ever encountered a cross hen? They fan out their tails, and fluff up their wings, and when you come within striking distance, they zoom in and peck you. Very hard. Enough to form a red blood blister, even through gloves. Scary.

Also (if that isn’t bad enough) one broody hen tends to remind the other hens that they too want to be mothers, so they all stop laying and you have no eggs, whilst still having to pay a fortune for their food and cleaning up stinky poop each day.

So, I decided I would move said broody hen into the duck aviary (as I think I mentioned in a previous blog) and give her the eggs I still had, from the lovely big black hen which had been eaten. Good plan. Except, that was several weeks ago, and chicks take 3 weeks to hatch. Exactly 3 weeks. So something was wrong. Scary hen was still firmly on her nest, but there was no sign, whatsoever, of hatchlings.

So this morning, I decided I needed to act. I donned my protective Marigold gloves and a thick coat, and went to discuss the issue with the hen. She was not impressed and still refused to let me investigate. I left her for a few minutes, while I fed the ducks, and noticed that, because she thought I had left, she was no longer sitting on her nest. I dashed back and managed to corner her. Catching her was loud and violent (towards me, she was completely unharmed if somewhat cross). I was cheered on by the cat, who was watching on top of the cage and at one point reached through and patted the top of my head for encouragement. The dog was less helpful, as she chased around the cage barking, which did nothing to calm the situation. All the chickens in the other cage squawked their disapproval, and I had a row of ducks on the bank who were trying to watch.

Managed to catch her, only one deep wound (now covered with a Mr Happy plaster) and she was carried, still trying to peck any available flesh, back into the chicken coop. I checked her nest. There were bits of shell, and one remaining egg, which was cold. I think she must have eaten the others.

I like having chickens, but only when they are free. I love being in the garden when a flock of birds wanders through it, I like that they come to watch me garden, will investigate anything new, and spend hours digging through the compost heap. I do not like animals in cages. Until the foxes stop being randy and doing daredevil raids past the dog into the garden, the chickens have to stay in their cage. Am not enjoying this at all. Ducks are so much nicer.

Hope your day goes better than mine has so far. Time for my morning coffee now. Thanks for reading.

Take care,

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I am pleased to announce that JOANNA is finally available as a Kindle book. If you search for JOANNA by Anne E Thompson in whichever country you live in, it should be available. The UK link is below:

Bees, Builders and Babies……

Hi, how was your week?
Now, could you let these babies die? I decided that I could. The mother duck had nested in a particularly hard place to get to, she is not an especially pretty duck, and I have 3 other nests being sat on – I don’t need more ducks. I decided I would, absolutely, let them take their chances. If the mother couldn’t protect them, I would not interfere. Definitely. Except, of course, when I found 3 abandoned ducklings left in the nest, and 2 more frantic on the pond looking for their mother, and another 2 desperately trying to keep up with her as she climbed over tree stumps while the crows circled and the cats moved closer…..well, it was hard to not get involved…. After crawling through hedges and brambles and wading through muddy water, I need a cup of tea. Fraught mother is safely in a cage with 7 ugly ducklings. The mother is completely ungrateful, and makes a sort of hissing noise through her nose whenever I go near. But she is looking after them now, which is a relief as I don’t have to bother with heat lamps.

The bees have decided to nest in the cavity wall, right next to a door. They are surprisingly scary when you want to use the door. They go and in and out of an air-brick, which leads to a grill into the larder (keeps the food cold). My understanding is that we are not meant to kill bees (despite their scariness) and so we are trying to persuade them to move house. I have been playing music to them, via the grill in the larder (Radio Kent, at full full volume – it would make me want to move out). Dog unimpressed. Bees refusing to move.

 Not sure if you can see fuzzy bees waiting outside for queen to emerge.




As I write this, we also have builders here. Can life get more fun? They arrived at 7:50 this morning, van loads of them. They’re building some shelves, replacing a shower screen and tiles, and putting in an extractor fan – I was expecting one bloke (husband organised this, not me – I was completely happy with a slightly dangerous shower door and having to open a window afterwards.) They are now everywhere, they emerge from unexpected places. And leave doors open. All of them. Why is it necessary for the front door to be wide open at all times, even while they’re in the loft, and the bathroom, and bringing mugs back to the kitchen, and eating sandwiches in the garden. The only one who seems to be enjoying them is the dog (so I suspect she may have shared the sandwiches). To be fair, they are doing their best. It is not, I suppose, possible to drill and saw quietly. They also put down dust sheets to protect the carpet when they arrived (though I have a sneaky suspicion that when they leave I will have all the dust from the previous jobs on my carpets – they do not look like they get put in the washing machine overly often.) I do hope they finish soon and aren’t here for days on end. Otherwise I too might start hissing through my nose….


Hope you have a good week.
Take care,
Anne x


If we can’t see you, you don’t exist.

Thank you for reading. Is it too soon to buy something new to read on holiday?

JOANNA, available from bookshops and Amazon .


There seem to be sunflowers growing in the corn field…..!



Letters to an Agent….

I was pleased with Hidden Faces as a book. It is a ‘gentle’ story, one to make the reader smile, with characters they would recognise. A book you could give to your aunty. JOANNA however is different. It is grittier, faster paced, and delves into how people react in very extreme situations. It will, I hope, have much wider appeal.  So I would like a publisher to take it on. Which means I need an agent to approach one for me (because in the UK, mere writers are unable to speak to publishers, they will only work through an agent). So, I sent my manuscript to a few agents. Not many, because I am fairly fussy still, and if I only ever sell the books I have published myself, it doesn’t really matter.

In October 2016, I posted (yes, posted – they don’t take emailed submissions) my manuscript to David Higham Associates. They are the agents for The Girl on the Train, which is a book very similar in style to JOANNA. So I thought they might be willing to represent me. I read all their submission requirements and sent (by post) everything they required. Which was both costly and a hassle. As they had stipulated that I should include a stamped addressed envelope, I fully expected a reply. Even a standard, thanks but no thanks, reply. But no, nothing. Is this agency running a scam to obtain free postage from desperate authors? These are the actual emails I subsequently sent.

January 2017
Dear David Higham Associates,

I posted a submission to you, as per your instructions, in October 2016. As this included a stamped addressed envelope, and I have not yet heard from you, I wondered if perhaps the manuscript had become separate from the postage (which you said sometimes happens.)

My submission is a thriller, entitled JOANNA, by Anne E Thompson.

Please could you check and let me know if this is still under consideration, or when I might expect to hear from you.

Thank you for your help.

Yours faithfully,
Anne Todd

February 2017
Dear David Higham Associates,

I posted a submission for your consideration in October 2016. A novel called JOANNA – the story of a psychopath, by Anne E Thompson. It was written after extensive research on the condition of psychopathy, involving in-depth reading of books and papers by neuroscientists. I interviewed both psychopaths and their families, and spent many hours listening to convicted serial killers. I now consider myself something of an expert on psychopathy. I wrote the novel in the first person, giving the reader insight into how a psychopath views the world. I also showed how her family felt, what it is like to love a psychopath and how one copes with the aftermath of their actions. It is an easy read work of contemporary fiction.

As I said, I now consider myself to be something of an expert. In fact, I was interviewed this week by a journalist from the local newspaper, and have been asked if I would be able to speak on both Meridian Fm and BBC Radio Surrey. People are very interested in psychopaths – and I hope JOANNA will be a popular novel. Which brings me to my reason for emailing. When I submitted my manuscript, I included a stamped addressed envelope, as per your instructions. I assumed this meant you would be posting, at the very least, a standard reply. But alas, no such letter has been forthcoming. I am hoping that by now you have managed to read my submission, have loved it, and are in the process of making an offer to represent me. I am assuming this meant you were too busy to reply to my email of January 2017. I trust therefore, that I will soon receive my letter, in the envelope provided.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,
Anne Todd

1st March 2017
Dear David Higham Associate,

Every day when the post arrives, I rush to inspect the envelopes, which lie in a muddle of dirty shoes and discarded socks (I have sons). I am searching for a slim white envelope. The white envelope which I stamped and addressed myself, one day way back in October. Actually, I know the exact date – I posted it to you on 26th October 2016 – but I’m trying to appear casual. I sent it with the first few pages of JOANNA, which were double spaced as requested, a synopsis of the novel (which is very similar in style to The Girl on the Train) a CV, and a covering letter. You see, I had read your instructions very carefully, I am that kind of person. Thorough.

However, every day I search to no avail. Your reply has not arrived. I have since sent you a few emails, hoping to jog your memory, to perhaps spur you into action. But no, it seems I am destined to remain ignored. Not even a standard letter has been forthcoming. I admit, I am no longer expecting a response from you, and my reason for writing is to ask for your permission to use these emails on my blog. They illustrate so wonderfully the sort of things – or rather, lack of things – that a new author can expect when struggling to find their way into the world of publishing. Given your inability to reply thus far, I will assume that unless I hear otherwise, I have your full permission to use my emails to you, on my blog, and in other areas of social media. I will publish them, probably at the end of March.

March will be a good time to publish them, as it will coincide rather nicely with the launch of JOANNA. Whilst waiting for you to not reply, I have not been idle. My manuscript has been edited, and was then passed to a typesetter, who prepared a file for the printer. I commissioned a talented young photographer to produce a cover (see below) and now have a book. It will appear in bookshops shortly, and these emails can become part of my advertising on social media. Should you have a change of heart, I would still love to hear from you. I very much hope that people will enjoy JOANNA, and that my sales figures will rise accordingly. As I discovered with my previous books, the supplying of books to shops is time-consuming. I am currently writing my next book, and if you felt able to represent me, to find a mainstream publisher who could reprint JOANNA and make it available to a wider audience, that would be wonderful.

I have of course, pondered on the reasons for your lack of reply. Possibly, you lost the envelope. More likely, you have sufficient clients already, and simply ignore all new submissions. There is also the slim possibility that you are running a postal scam. My research for JOANNA has involved many hours studying the behaviour of psychopaths. To manipulate vulnerable people (new authors) into certain actions (sending you stamps) for your own gain (selling said postage for a profit) would of course, fit the psychopathic profile rather well. However, if I’m honest, the thought of David Higham being a mere front for a little man in an office steaming stamps from the front of envelopes, seems unlikely. I will therefore assume you are simply too busy to reply.

It has been lovely chatting with you.

Yours, ever hopeful for a reply,


PS. I attach the planned cover of JOANNA, to help you to consider the possibilities awaiting.



The agent has missed out on JOANNA, but you don’t have to!


Going to Seed at the Chelsea Flower Show

Husband works with the husband of someone who organises the Chelsea Flower Show, who kindly gave us tickets. Very exciting! I have always wanted to go, the weather was perfect, so off we set. Some worry over the dress code – looked at Google images and everyone seemed smart, so we decided jeans were probs not the thing to wear. (Actually, it wouldn’t have mattered, there were a whole range of outfits.)

The tube station was shut, so we walked from Victoria station. I wondered if there’d be loads of security, as the Manchester bombing was so recent, but it was fairly low key, and certainly didn’t spoil anything. Nor did we get attacked (which would have spoiled it more).

The show was good – but not what I was expecting. I have seen telly programmes about some of the gardens, and I thought we would walk past about 40 little gardens, all with different themes. There were actually very few. Not sure if this is because we didn’t pay £10 for a map, and so we missed them, or if there are only about 10 gardens each year. The event is sponsored by M&G Investments, and their garden won (which I thought was rather funny!)

The main impression is clever. The gardening is very very clever. Each one looks as if it has been established for several years, with mature trees, wild flowers growing between paving stones, everything carefully planned. There are also lots of people. Millions of them. It’s hard to get photos of the gardens without several stray arms and ears in the frame. After a while, I stopped photographing flowers and started to photograph the people. I could make up whole stories for some of them. Most women wore flowers: flowery skirts, flowers in hats, flowers attached to hair combs. If you stood still and listened, there was a whole symphony of sneezing.

We didn’t see many gardens, but we did see lots of stands selling interesting garden related stuff. If you like garden centres, Chelsea Flower Show will be paradise for you. Husband got rather side tracked and somehow managed to buy a shed when I wasn’t looking. He kept wandering off and talking to people – there were lots of people to talk to, guides who could tell you about the gardens or direct you to the pimms stall.

I liked the inside arrangements. We found the dahlia stand (my Dad grew dahlias) and they were all perfect. We found a display of potatoes, and a stand with carnivore plants. All the flowers were straight stemmed, fresh blooms, bright colours. Not a nibbled leaf in sight.

It was all very clever. But it wasn’t very real. I guess people don’t want to pay to see real English gardens. Next year, Husband is going to pay (£8,000) for a stand (apparently). He is going to represent a real garden – with weeds and slugs and flowers that are a bit squashed. He will sit in the middle in a deckchair with a handkerchief on his head. Perhaps I will incorporate a dead bag of decapitated birds to complete the image. We’ll call it “Gone to Seed”. Do look out for us if you visit….

Okay, brace yourself for a few fuzzy photos taken on ancient phone:

This is my favourite garden. 

 Some cool sculptures you could buy. If you are rich enough.






 Animals, which looked cute, but were just covered in fake grass, so I didn’t really see the point of them.






 More people

 Indoor displays

 Parking was a problem.




 More gardens.




 Arty stuff.

  Mostly, lots of people….

 Dahlias – some of which were as good as the ones my Dad used to grow.

Thank you for reading.









The Red Light District of Mumbai

So, deciding to be brave, I went to the red-light district of a Mumbai slum. Husband was working, so I contacted Tearfund, and they arranged for me to visit one of their projects. Beforehand, I was very nervous about going on my own, but I am so glad I did it.

I was met by Max, who is the director of Sahaara. We’ve never met, so it was a little like a spy story -“I will be under the arch with a pink carnation in my buttonhole” (Well, actually, he just told reception who he was and we met in the hotel lobby, but you get the idea.) We then got a taxi to Turbhe, the area of the slum he works in. We chatted in the car, and I could check on a few things I’ve included in my latest novel (which is set partly in the slums of Delhi).

As we walked through the slums, it was all very familiar to places I saw in Delhi. Homes made from scavenged materials -uneven walls, unglazed windows, corrugated iron roofs. The hard mud paths were litter strewn, in a couple of weeks they’ll be quagmires of wet mud.




Roads were pot holed, narrow, stalls and heaps of rubbish making obstacles for vehicles to inch around. At one point the road was blocked as a lorry driver was asleep, curled up over the steering wheel, oblivious to the honking from other drivers who were unable to pass.




We first went to a building (actually, it was really just a narrow room) which is a feeding centre/education room. In May, everything closes (due to the heat) but they were still providing a midday meal. They had two gas burners, one with a pressure cooker of dhal, one with a vat of rice.






There was a bowl of hard boiled eggs, which they must’ve cooked earlier. No worksurface (no idea how they chop vegetables – they must do it in their hand, on a plate balanced somewhere). No sink, no running water. There were cupboards, some of them very high. At one point a woman climbed, a foot on a shelf, other foot on the top of a cupboard door, to reach plates from a top cupboard. Metal plates were stacked on a drainer.





They were washed in a bucket on the floor, the water fetched from an outside water butt. Water is piped into the slum once in the morning, once in the evening, and people fill containers to use throughout the day.

The children arrived. Black eyed, smiling, interested to see a big white woman sitting in their room (I feel huge in India. Everyone is smaller than me. Husband is a giant here.) I took lots of photos, but I’m uncomfortable about publishing them here, as most of the children had mothers who were sex workers. I will include fuzzy ones of backs, but not include faces, and hope that preserves their annonimity (we were on the edge of the red light district, I could photograph houses on the left, not on the right.)

These children were growing up in an environment where prostitution is the norm. Sahaara is educating them, so they don’t follow their mothers into the same profession, they will have choices in life. Previously, they found that some children arrived only for the food. They made a rule, if the kids don’t attend lessons, they can’t eat. People complained, but now they all come to lessons. Seems a wise decision to me – if we just feed the poor, they will always be poor. (This is why I like Tearfund/Sahaara – they sometimes make unpopular decisions if it is for a greater good.)

They showed me the toilet, a room with a drain, a bucket, and a ladle. Absolutely no idea how it should be used (thankfully, was just a morning visit, I didnt need to use a loo). Max told me that families are more likely to have a mobile phone than a toilet. There was also a fridge (not in the toilet, just in the room).

While we were there, the power went out. This happens every Friday. There isn’t enough electricity, so different areas have no power for certain times during the week. They never know how long the power cut will last, sometimes a few hours, but when I was there it came back on after about 30 minutes. The fridge whirred back into life and the ceiling fan stirred the warm air. Would make the fridge pretty useless for anything other than drinks though.

We walked through the red light district. The houses here were slightly better, I guess it pays well. Each little house had 3 or 4 women outside, just sitting on chairs or on the floor. I thought they were sitting in the shade, chatting to each other. (Later realised they were soliciting customers – am a bit naive about such things). Sahaara has a second centre in the heart of the red light district.

Here, they chat to the women, teach them skills like sewing, hairdressing, making things from junk; enabling them to have other life choices if they want to choose a different career. Max said it’s about caring for the women, showing them that God loves them, that they have worth, that they matter. Sahaara has a 9 point plan, starting with recognising the women, then greeting them, then befriending them, then inviting them to the centre, then the women coming on their own…. until, hopefully, they will decide they want to leave. If they do, then there are safe houses they can go to, to adjust to life outside the red light district, somewhere they can start to rebuild their lives.

Usually the centre is shut during May, but they opened it to show me inside. When they saw it was open, a couple of women came in, to see what was happening. Max said I could talk to them ( someone translated for me) and asked me to pray with them. I will change their names. Actually, I will give them English names, in the hope you will see they were just women, the same as us, but with different lives.

Maria spoke to me first. She was about 35 ( age in the slums is a bit uncertain, she said she was 31, Max thought she was slightly older). She was short, plump, with lovely clear skin, and when she smiled, her whole face sparkled. She told me she had moved to Mumbai from a rural community because there was no work and she needed money. A friend who had already moved helped her to get a job as a construction worker. It was poorly paid, very hard labour. Another friend approached her, told her that people at home already thought she was a prostitute, her reputation was already ruined. So why not join her in the brothel? She would earn more, doing easier work. So she did.

I asked if she had children. She has two grown sons, aged 21 and 15. If you do the maths, that tells its own story -Maria had been a child bride. I have no idea where her husband is now, but her sons live back with her mother. She never sees them, but they text her ( her phone is better than mine. But then, everyones phone is better than mine. When I showed her photos of my own children on my phone, she laughed at it!)

I then prayed with her. She wanted me to pray for her sons. I’m not sure how it rated as a prayer, it felt more like I was being a lucky talisman, but maybe God will use it somehow to reach her. I kept thinking about when Jesus met with ‘fallen’ women in the Bible stories, how he was always kind to them.

Maria hurried off after the prayer. She works during the day, so needed to get back to her brothel. Which isn’t quite what happens after prayer meetings at my home church.

I chatted to Sally. She was heavily pregnant, the baby is due very soon. She is no longer a prostitute, as she earned enough to buy a couple of rooms, and the rent from one covers her own living expenses. She told me she has a husband, but it seemed vague, I think she was living with a man but it wasn’t necessarily permanent. When the baby comes, she will go to the local hospital for the birth. After a couple of days, she’ll return home, and will pretty much be on her own. She’s already bought baby clothes and nappies ( that she can wash) from the local market. When the baby is 3 months old, she will travel for 3 days on a train to visit her mother. She’ll stay with her Mum for about a month. Her Mum cannot come to her, because her reputation is bad and she lives in a disreputable area. Can you imagine – three days on a hot crowded train, on your own, with a three month old baby? Not sure I could’ve done that.

Sally wanted me to pray for her baby. She’d had a baby a few years ago, but he had died. I prayed with her. Then we left. As we walked back to the feeding centre, I saw Maria, sitting outside her brothel. We smiled and waved at each other – friends. But with lives in different worlds.

These women were young enough to be my daughters. Caring about them was easy.

Back at the other centre, about 35 children sat on the floor. One child said grace (I think it was in English, which seems bizarre, as they all spoke Hindi. But I was tired, brain was fuzzy by then, so maybe was imagining it). They ate from the tin plates, no cutlery, scooping the food with their right hands. The women were busy, one dishing up the food on plates, the others taking it round to the kids. I nearly offered to help, but then I realised, it was like Lunch Club at home. Everyone had a role and knew what they were doing, the last thing they wanted was some big foreign woman getting in the way!

We got a taxi back to the hotel, and Max delivered me safely to the lobby. I was so glad I had been, met the women, seen the children. It makes it easier to support the work and talk about it to others. Everyone has a different story. Some of the women would have been trafficked as children, some had gone into prostitution by choice, because their options were very limited. Max said they work with everyone, the prostitutes, their children, the pimps. They all need to be cared for.

It would be easy to judge, but their lives are tougher than ours, we are not so very different inside. If Sally finds she cannot make enough money from rent, she may well decide to go back to her village, to buy a young girl, to act as her pimp, so she can feed her own child. Not because she is more wicked than you or me, but because she has grown up in a harsher place, where survival means hard choices.

Sahaara is trying to show that God loves them, wants a better life for them and their children, and is teaching them the skills so they can make that choice. But the decision has to be theirs. All Sahaara can do is give them the choice. All we can do is help to provide the resources, and pray.

Thank you for reading. If you would like to help support Sahaara or learn more about their work, go to for more details.

Mumbai, India

 I am writing this in Mumbai. Husband has to work in India for a few days, and travelling on work expenses is always rather nice (I pay for my travel & food, but the hotel is no extra, and they’re nice!) so I tagged along. Plus I love India, it’s possibly my favourite country (not that I have seen more than a snippet of it -but what I’ve seen, I like.)

We arrived late Wednesday night, having woken early that morning (left home 5.45 am), so I was tired. We had to go through different immigration, as I was travelling on a tourist visa, and husband had a work one. The woman at the desk was very pleasant, and when husband pointed out for the sixth time where he would meet me, she laughed. When he went off to his work visa desk, she commented that he seemed very worried about me.

“Yes,” I smiled, “he thinks I’m incompetent.”

Immigration officer then asked for my visa. I gave her the print out with the hotel details on. (They look the same, both printed from the computer.) She politely asked if I also had a visa.

She then asked where I had come from. I was surprised, but gave my full postal address. I even remembered the postcode, which often defeats me, so felt rather pleased with myself. Immigration officer looked confused and asked for my boarding pass. It was somewhat crumpled, but I dug it out from the bottom of my bag, then realised my mistake. “Heathrow!” I said, ” You wanted me to say Heathrow, not my address, didn’t you!”

Immigration officer continued to smile. We then had trouble making the fingerprint machine work (but I don’t think that was my fault.) Eventually I was allowed into India. I think Immigration Officer went for a tea break.

We’re staying at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. It’s beautiful. There was a mix up with our booking (also not my fault) and as a goodwill gesture, they upgraded us to a suite. The hotel really is beautiful. There are flowers and candles everywhere, and the corridors are all open, with lots of carved lattice work.

When we returned yesterday evening, there were patterns of flower petals everywhere, so pretty. (Romantic husband referred to them as ‘vegetation on the floor’ ).







Walked to Gateway to India. Lots of people there, some were catching ferries across the sea. It was previously owned by Portugal, (the Portuguese for good is ‘bom’ and its a bay, hence was called Bombay).





We went to a market and bartered for some trinkets. I am not very good at bartering, especially when the crafts are actually very pretty, and the price seems to be low to start with. Tradesmen smile a lot when I shop (and tell me not to bring my husband next time, because he’s cannier than me!)

Wandered around the city. I love the faded colonial buildings covered in vines, the huge plants, the colour everywhere. Every sense is bombarded, so much noise and smell (not always pleasant), and so hot. We met some friends for lunch. They said that in a couple of weeks the rain will come, sometimes raining for several days continually, which cools everything down.

I also visited the slums on the mainland, where I was shown around by Sahaara, one of the projects Tearfund works with. I went on my own, as Husband is working (very brave of me!) I will write up what I saw and post it later this week. Right now, I need a shower!

Excuse the bleary photos -all taken with my ancient phone.
Take care,

Anne x

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Smelling Like Marilyn….

Ah, the problem of what to wear. I had been invited to London, which is pretty much a foreign country as I go there so rarely. I knew the day would involve some walking, then a lunch in a posh dining room – so what should I wear? I was fairly confident muddy jeans and wellies weren’t appropriate. Perused wardrobe and began sorting outfits. In the end, I was restricted – in both senses of the word – by finding clothes that actually fit. My weight tends to fluctuate (joys of being an older woman) and I’m having a ‘fat tummy phase’. I eventually leave in a too-tight skirt and a silk blouse that gapes. I carry heels and wear flats. I so wish I was a man sometimes.

Arrived in Grosvenor Street, where we were meeting, on time. Nice walk from Victoria. We then met our guide, Cindy, who gave us a quick introduction. The plan was to visit a few shops in Savile Row and Jermyn Street – tailors to the rich and famous. No, we weren’t shopping (phew) we were having a tour. It turned out to be very interesting.

First stop was Floris, one of the oldest perfumeries in the world (apparently). We met Edward, who is the 9th generation of his family to own the shop. They have 17 royal warrents, and we saw the ledger showing the perfume the Queen orders (she pays by cheque or postal order). We also smelled the perfume that both Winston Churchill and Eva Peron wore (I didn’t much like it).

We were invited into the back room, where a lady with lilac coloured hair described the bespoke service the shop offers. As we stood in the old, low ceilinged room, surrounded by glass cabinets from a former age, I felt like I’d walked into a Harry Potter film and was choosing a magic wand.

For a mere £450, you can have a 2 hour appointment with Madam Lilac Hair (not her real name) and design your own perfume. She used lots of phrases like “main notes” and “complementaries” to describe the process, which starts with 60 different bases.

The perfume should be kept in a box, and preferably in the fridge. It should last for a year, after which time, the alcohol base starts to ‘go off’ and smell bad. (I didn’t tell her that I have perfume from about ten years ago).

As we left, I was chatting to the guide about the perfume Marilyn Monroe wore. She sneaked me into a side room, opened a drawer, and sprayed some on my wrist. How exciting! I feel very desirable now….

We then popped to Turbull and Asser in Jermyn Street – the makers of bespoke shirts for royalty. They showed us how they use patterns drawn on brown paper, which are then sent off in “shirt bags” (which are really just big envelopes) to a factory where they are digitalised. Their customers include Charlie Chaplin, Churchill, and a certain American president who asked for them to be made without the label, so no-one would know they were made in England!

All the shirts are cotton, and they don’t glue the fabric to the stiffener in the collar, as apparently this shortens the life. (Someone needs to tell Mr M&S that. Or perhaps they have…) It costs £255 for a shirt, but a new customer is expected to order at least six.

Next stop was Gieves and Hawkes (pronounced with a hard ‘g’). They make both made-to-measure and bespoke suits. (Made-to-measure is fitted onto a basic block, and the customer then has it fitted and chooses the fabric. Bespoke begins with brown paper, cut into a pattern.) A bespoke suit starts at £6,000 and will take 12 weeks.

We were taken upstairs to the archive room. Glass cases ran along one wall, filled with the red coats and gold helmets of the Queen’s bodyguards. They make, maintain and fit the uniforms. We were allowed to hold a helmet, which was surprisingly light (it’s made from brass and coated in gold, with a gold filigree pattern moulded on). We were told not to take photographs (shame) as they would be fired. The red coats are made from a heavy wool cloth, so it doesn’t warp when the epaulets and sword are added. They must be boiling hot to wear, and summer is a busy time due to garden parties and state visits (the next one is a visit from the Prime Minister of Spain). The uniforms are worn 12 times a year, and you have to be a rank of major or above to be body guard to the Queen.

Our final stop was Huntsman, who make hunting clothes. It was the shop that inspired the film “Kingsmen”. We arrived in the reception area, which had heavy leather chairs, newspapers, chocolates and drinks, and peonies in a vase. All very dignified. Below us, 14 people were working in the basement, making suits for people like Nicole Kidman and the royal family.

Actually, these places aren’t called ‘shops’. A little history: in 1666 there was the great fire of London. Afterwards, everyone was very keen to blame the French (English people still like to blame the French for everything. It’s not considered racist, though I’m not sure why. Perhaps because they once beat us up and we have very long memories.) Anyway, King Charles II wore French fashions, lots of frills, and this was politically a bad move. So he switched to an English made suit, which included a waistcoat. Yep, the first three-piece suit was apparently Charles II’s fault (even though Husband assures me only Germans wear waistcoats today.)

Anyway, following this, the coffee houses grew up. Men met, and instead of getting drunk, they became stimulated (all that caffeine) and began to plan insurance companies and such like. They regularly met their friends for coffee, and discussed business; but sometimes, someone would arrive who they didn’t like. So they created a membership system – hence the birth of gentlemen’s clubs. As lots of men were gathering in a fairly small area of London, there also grew up brothels (a surprising number for the area under discussion.) The place then became almost exclusively the domain of men, and women of a certain profession. As the men walked between the clubs and the brothels, they went along Jermyn Street, so it became the place that high class tailors set up shop. They then wanted to expand, into Savile Row, but that was an exclusive residential area, which didn’t want tradesmen. So the tailors had ‘houses’, not ‘shops’. Not everyone was invited to buy from them, and at one time, you needed two letters of introduction before a tailor would see you.

However, I found everyone to be charming and helpful, and very happy to show us round and explain things. I expect it was because I smelled like Marilyn….


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