Research is something I aim to have done before I ever start work on a book. After all, how can the flesh hang convincingly if the skeleton isn’t firmly in place? I suppose it’s just a reflection of my grasshopper mind that I never manage to stick to this plan.
I start the working day needing to verify something and before I know it it’s lunchtime and I’ve wandered a long, long way from my intended path. Frinstance… this morning there were just two things I wanted to look up. The first was bricks. You want to know about bricks? Pull up a chair, cancel that trip to the landfill, join the British Brick Society. I mean, who knew?
London Yellows, Cambridge Buffs, Hastings Reds, Wensums, Kimptons, Black Stocks. I’d be gazing at pictures of them yet, but I also needed to check on typhoid. And if you think bricks are a big subject, just wait till you look into infectious diseases. My mid-morning cup of tea arrived and I’d meandered as far as Windsor Castle where Prince Albert was about to expire, rather appropriately in the Blue Room. That room has a history of people expiring in it. Note to Royals: if you’re at Windsor and feeling a bit under the weather DON’T GO INTO THE BLUE ROOM.
Well anyway, everyone knows Prince Albert died of typhoid, right? Or did he? There is apparently a growing body of opinion that he suffered for years from Crohn’s disease and died after a severe attack brought on by the stress of having a wastrel son. Prince Bertie, 20 years old, was up at Cambridge studying Female Anatomy and the inside of brandy snifters and Papa Albert went there to remonstrate with him. You can imagine how that played.
‘The sacrifices your mother and I have made.’
‘Leave it off, Pops. It doesn’t exactly matter if I don’t get a chuffing degree. I’m going to be King.’
Poor Pops went home with a belly ache and a day or two later it was Blue Room Curtains. So perhaps not typhoid after all, which was fascinating but nothing to do with what I needed and somehow led me to carbolic soap.
Anyone over the age of fifty can probably remember that pungent, hard, red soap used in schools and hospitals. Its powerful ingredient was phenol and if you really want a sniff down memory lane you can still obtain it from the Carbolic Soap Company, also purveyors of Pond’s Cold Cream and, (and this is truly bizarre) two styles of washboard, one suitable for musicians and one for historic laundry re-enactors.
So that was my morning.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and, sorry I could not travel both and be one traveller, long I stood…