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May 25th, 2016

03:05 pm: Sick Day/Book Day
 Woke up very achy this morning, emailed work that I was taking a sick day, and at present am feeling better enough that as usually happens, I'm feeling a bit guilty about not having gone in.

Meanwhile, I've been searching Project Gutenburg for things to read: Monday evening and Tuesday during breaks I read one of Patricia Wentworth's Miss Silver mysteries, The Key; it's definitely a cosy, but Miss Silver is saved from being a mere knockoff of Miss Marple by the detail of being a full-time professional private detective. She makes her living at it. Previously she was a governess, and it's implied she can win over middle- and upper-class witnesses by reminding them of their childhood nannies, and working-class ones by coming off as the sort of not-quite-gentry, not-quite-commoner who has the inside track on gossip while "not being the sort you have to mind your Ps and Qs with." I suspect she also plays a bit older than she actually is.

This afternoon, by contrast I read Charles Williams' <I>The Place of the Lion.</I> Felt rather stupid for not guessing Williams was one of the Inklings until I looked him up afterwards. True, he wrote it before he met Lewis or joined his circle, but when a book's genre is described as "theological thriller" and the premise involves a breach in reality unleashing Platonic forms on a small prewar English village, where they run around absorbing/possessing people and things, it's a bit of a giveaway. Need to think about this one for a bit, but there's a half-dozen or so by the same author waiting to be read.


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May 22nd, 2016

09:22 am: Dream Report
 Last night's dreams included a plot thread where I was trying to track down a... smuggler? Somebody involved in the shipping trade, anyway. In the dream, I could search the records of different voyages online, which included any ebooks downloaded by the crew during the trip: so I ended up tracing one captain by her taste in literature.

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May 15th, 2016

10:23 pm: Weekend Report
 Successful thrifting expedition Saturday morning netted me a knee-length broomstick skirt with sequinned waistband, and a pair of J. Crew wedges which like the ballet flats I found last year, are cute, comfortable and don't fall off my feet when I walk. I can see why J. Crew have such a preppie cult following, and it's not as though I've any street cred to lose by wearing them. We then went to the 25th Annual Reading of Single Pages, aka Jason's birthday party. The dice rolled up a page number of 26, and I read about four of the half-dozen books I brought -- Lives of the Monster Dogs and The Joy of Cooking had the best pages 26.

Today we had lunch with my parents and then went to TCAF. I picked up a graphic novel called Louise Brooks, Detective. It's set during the part of her life immediately after the end of Brooks' Hollywood career, when she'd returned to her home town in Kansas; so far so true; I'm guessing the solving-a-murder part is fiction, though I'm not sure. They've certainly got her voice down, at least as I remember it from the memoir I read years ago. After that we hung out for a while in Balzac's, the coffee shop on the ground floor of Metro Ref, where Andrew chatted happily to an older woman named Peggy who reminded him of his late friend Bev.

I think Balzac's must be part of a chain(1), though I can't recall seeing another one. Faux-vintage restaurant decor is nothing new -- it's at least twenty-five years since my father, returned from a trip, mentioned a place that had been "a sort of English Pub mapped onto the interior of an office building." Balzac's struck me as especially theatrical, though -- it has a pressed-tin ceiling, beadboard along the front of the counter, and a wood-framed glass display case for the baked goods, and yet there is no attempt to hide the edges: you can see you're on a set that's been constructed inside a 1970s Brutalist concrete building.

About twenty minutes before we left, someone began yelling and I glanced up to see a shirtless man in a Santa hat. Oh wow, I said, Zanta's back. Apparently the local man, famous in the first decade of this century, is off his meds and back to his manic career.

(1) I just checked their website -- apparently there are six locations around Toronto, and several elsewhere in Ontario.

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May 12th, 2016

08:35 pm: Knitting Post
 Our graphics designer at work asked me to translate the pattern on a sewing kit we're going to order; the sample label is is in multiple languages, but not English in particular. I read through the French one several times, looked up the names of stitches and in one case several demo videos of a stitch I'd never encountered before (the most common name for it in English seems to be Knit One Below), confirmed that the stitch pattern is neither Fisherman's Rib nor Brioche Stitch although it looks a bit like both, and I think I've translated it, if they can accept that I broke down the instructions a bit differently. Most of that was done after work.

Also I need to work out what needle size is actually called for, because the pattern says "8," even though European knitting needles are supposedly sized in mm. I did a swatch that I'll bring in, but I ought to try it with the actual yarn from the kit.

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May 9th, 2016

08:37 pm: Pleasurable Corrigible Malfunction
 At the Fantastic Pulps Show on the weekend I bought a paperback of The Planet Buyer which I guessed to be Cordwainer Smith's Norstrilia under a different release title. Unfortunately I was only half right -- it's the first of a two-book edition of Norstrilia, and ends just as Rod, C'mell et al arrive on Old Old Earth. Now I need to track down the rest so I can find out what happens next. Smith's world-building is extravagant, deeply weird, beautiful, funny, horrific and seemingly effortless -- he doesn't want you to ask how much work went into his distant-future universe so he keeps you off-balance with invisible replicas of the Temple of Diana of the Ephesians, monkeys who are also trained surgeons, and a computer who dabbles in economic warfare. The last detail was when it occurred to me that even though his stories are nothing like what one usually associates with the genre, Cordwainer Smith might just qualify as military SF. For asymmetrical conflicts and passive resistance.

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May 7th, 2016

07:49 am: One of those things-I-saw-on-the-Internet-&-have-never-been-able-to-find-again was some project to make... pop-up radios? Little structures of folded paper or thin plastic that evoked rather than replicated vintage radios and had sound chips inside them.

Anyway last night I finally gave in and began messing around with cutting and folding some paper. I'm trying to keep them as simple as possible, though some glued tabs might be necessary. I don't know how I could do the sound, except to stand them on my iPad while it plays.




Not really even prototypes yet. Narly's paw in phot due to his interest in the proceedings.

May 6th, 2016

06:17 pm: Survived the week, now if I can just make it through the weekend
My cooking has just set off the smoke detectors for the entire building. I hear sirens in the distance. I hope the fine isn't huge, I already mislaid my transit pass for this month and have to pay fares over and above my subscription.

ETA -- Some firefighters came to my door and took down my name and details. They said they wouldn't fine me but I don't know whether the condo board will.

April 27th, 2016

09:19 pm: In which the reader is left to draw their own conclusions

On New Year's Day 1753, Elizabeth Canning, an eighteen-year-old maidservant, vanished. A month later she turned up, claiming to have been assaulted and held prisoner; when her description of the house she'd been held in seemed to point to one Susannah Wells, Canning identified her and another woman named Mary Squires as her captors.

The trial was an 18th-century media circus (more on that later); at first Wells and Squires were convicted and sentenced, but the case was immediately reopened by the Lord Mayor of London; this time Canning was convicted of perjury and deported to the American colonies. Until her death, she stuck to her version of the story, and Wells and Squires stuck to theirs. The Rashomon-like case apparently retained enough notoriety that 20th-century writer Josephine Tey based a novel upon it, updating the circumstances to a modern setting.

 

Back in the winter of 1753, though, the story Canning told when she returned (emaciated and with marks of an injury on her head) was that she had been assaulted by two men, robbed and struck unconscious; that when she came to, her attackers had let her to a house where an old woman had tried to recruit her for the sex trade; and that when she refused, the woman had beaten he, stolen her corset stays and put her in a hayloft with "a black pitcher not quite full of water, and about twenty-four pieces of bread ... about a quartern loaf." After subsisting on this for several weeks, she had given up hope of release, and managing to work one of the boards loose on a window, climbed out and found her way home after five hours of walking.Trying to piece together where she'd been held, friends and family noted that Canning thought she'd heard the name "Wills or Wells" used, and that she'd recognized a coachman through the window who drove on the Hertford Road. As it happened the widowed Mrs. Susannah Wells lived on the Hertford Road, and a local paper immediately reported the whole story including the suspicion cast on Wells .

 

This is pretty much where *any* hope of a professional, unbiased investigation would have gone off the rails, if there'd been such a hope on the first place: England in 1753 -- had not only no forensics, but no police as such -- Robert Peel wouldn't be along for seventy years. So Canning and her family had to have the local alderman swear out a warrant and then go oversee Wells' arrest themselves. (They did have a warrant officer and several peace officers.) There, Canning seems to have identified everybody in the house as having been present when her abductors had brought her in a month before. Meanwhile, she was still recovering from her captivity, and her family still needed to prosecute the case against Wells themselves. They needed a backer, and they got one in the form of novelist magistrate Henry Fielding, who proceeded to issue a warrant against everybody in Wells' house, imprisoned two of them (both young women) and cross-examined them until they corroborated Canning's story. The actual charge was theft of Canning's corset stays, worth ten shillings: a more serious charge at the time than assault, and a hanging offense. Eventually Wells was sentenced to branding and imprisonment and Squires to death.

 

Meanwhile Grub Street was having a field day -- Squires was described as a "gypsy," adding racism to the rousing narrative of "innocent maid defends her virtue against a gang of crooks." (George Rousseau in his 2012 biography of John Hill, a popular writer and supporter of Squires, links the ferocity of the Canningites' racism to a bill in under discussion in Parliament at the time that would have granted Jews the vote.) Outside the trial, mobs attacked anybody they recognized as being related to Wells or Squires.

 

So who took upWells and Squires' side, and why? The Lord Mayor seems to have been genuinely horrified by the behaviour of the opposing "Canningites," but also seems to have suspected them of supporting Canning as a political attack on himself. John Hill mostly just hated Fielding -- London newspapers had just got through the "Paper War of 1752–1753," which Hill later claimed was a joke or publicity stunt he and fielding had cooked up and which had got *way* out of hand. Hill began collecting witnesses who could testify Squires and her family had been travelling in another part of the country during the month of January. Meanwhile the Canningites, for their part, hunted up witnesses willing to say the opposite.

 

Canning went on trial for perjury in the spring of 1754. Family and neighbours testified that she'd been genuinely injured and emaciated when she returned home. Canning's mother attempted to claim the young woman was too stupid to invent falsehoods, but was forced to admit she could read and write. Adding to the grotesque comedy, all the witnesses who'd attested Squires presence in the neighbourhood at the time of her supposed crime fell apart on the subject of the exact dates, because England had changed over from the Julian calendar to the current one in 1752, a few months before the incident. The jury's initial verdict was that Canning was "Guilty of perjury, but not wilful and corrupt." They were told they had to find her wilful and corrupt as well, or she couldn't be guilty of perjury.

 

She appears to have started a new life after she was sent to the American colonies. It wasn’t a long one by modern standards, but she lived with a Methodist family who believed in her innocence; eventually she married somebody. She died at thirty-eight. I don’t know how old Wells or Squires were at the time of their deaths — Wells had served her prison sentence by the time of Canning’s conviction, and Squires had been pardoned and wasn’t executed.

 

I need to address my own bias here: I heard of the Canning case via an online discussion among people who *hated* Tey's version. In Tey's version, the accused women are now a middle-class mother and daughter in straightened circumstances, while their accuser is still working class; and it's taken for granted almost from the opening that she's a lying liar who tells lies. Her age has been lowered to fifteen years old from eighteen, but only to further condemn her — she’s a cunning piece of jailbait who’s accused two total strangers of a serious crime in order to account for the month she spent with a married man (to whom she’d — of course — lied about her age) until his wife caught up with them and beat her. Tey’s “elopement gone wrong” version at least fits a one-month timeline better than “covering up a pregnancy” or “covering up an abortion,” which seem to be the usual suspicions among Canning’s modern disbelievers. The viciously classist take on the case was what had irked the readers on the discussion thread, but at least one person also argued that when a mystery is set up in binary terms, the resolution needs to be a third possibility, unsuspected by the characters. Otherwise you might as well watch a coin toss. I freely admit, therefore, that when I heard about the Canning case and its *lack* of resolution, it struck me as more interesting than the novel; and when I looked up the details I was hoping to find room for a third explanation. I'm not a historian, and this was a quick overview, based on only the most easily accessible sources, but I think I succeeded in finding enough doubts to satisfy myself. I did eventually come across a few other theories that Canning’s story was basically true but she misidentified her attackers, though a few of them still veered into “crazy girl hallucinated it,” which I’m not sure is any less depressing than “evil bitch made it up to cover some sexual misconduct.”

 

I’m not so sure she needed to be crazy, either, or even full-on amnesiac from the head injury.

 

Back when she, her family, and the peace officers they’d brought along had entered Susannah Well's house, Canning had stated that the hayloft looked like the one she'd been held in, but with more hay. Somebody had noted that boards across the windows appeared to have been put up, or put back up, recently. This, I think, is where it's possible for Canning to have gone off-course without deliberately lying.

 

It goes without saying that an eighteenth century house and barn wouldn't have had electric light; it's not unlikely that Elizabeth Canning never got a good look at any of her captors. Furthermore it doesn’t sound, from her account, as though she saw any of them during her month-long captivity after that first night when they put her in the hayloft. Even leaving aside confusion from her head injury or pressure from the peace officers to agree that they'd found her assailants, the situation could have primed her for false memories, and as the trials wore on, With both mobs and local political leaders piling on fuel, and Canning herself reduced to a token to be blamed or protected, the sunk cost of her efforts could have made her even more convinced that she was facing down her true tormentors.



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April 20th, 2016

10:04 pm: Dream Journal, etc
A couple of weeks back I read a piece about the 1920s "Day Hotel" under Milan. It's described as a hotel with everything but beds, but it strikes me as more like an underground shopping mall with bathhouses. Anyway, probably because of this, and maybe because of the other news stories on trans-panic washroom bans, I had a dream in which I went into the women's washroom in a mall and it had a pool and change rooms and a salon inside. "Nice to know this is here," I thought, but I didn't have time to stay. I sort of wish washrooms really were like that, but I'll settle for everybody being allowed to pee in peace and safety.

Meanwhile, Andrew and I have acquired a bit of antique practical comfort in the form of a vintage banker's chair that Don sold to us for $20 plus the $40 taxi fare to get it to our place. I'm afraid the poor guy had to sit outside our building for a while because I'd expected him slightly later, and also didn't notice for a while that Andrew had unplugged our phone (he doesn't want anyone disturbing him during the day.) The chair was made in Guelph, Ontario sometime in the early 20th century, has leather armrests and an adjustable leather back, and is generally very nice to sit in. Pictures to come.

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April 10th, 2016

07:32 pm: Been kind of a rough day, for reasons I don't feel like going into, but a friend posted on Facebook:

I really love going on to Facebook on a Sunday morning, when all my friends are reposting articles, or posting their movie/TV reviews, or blogging. It's like spending the morning in a Parisian cafe with a bunch of really interesting people, without having to leave the house.

That helps a bit.

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