So, you’re self-isolating. Sequestered. Feeling rather…hermitic. It’s been weeks since your last haircut and you don’t feel like cutting your nails or shaving. What’s the point, right?
Scratching your stubbly neck, you realize that your significant other has disappeared into another part of the house; doing her part to social distance herself, you suppose.
Face it, you are becoming a hermit.
So, what is a ‘hermit’? A hermit is someone who lives in seclusion from society, usually for religious reasons.
As the wealthy tradesman, his wife and mistress discovered in “Ticking: A Tale of Two Time Travellers”, hermits were also employed by aristocrats to simply exist, as a part of the landscape surrounding the estate, to entertain visitors and to, somehow, improve the aristocrat’s cache. This phenomenon -- the ornamental or garden hermit -- occurred primarily in Georgian England, Ireland and Scotland, but hermits were also employed in continental Europe.
Prior to hiring a hermit, estate owners would have a hermitage constructed. If a grotto or cave were not available, this place of lodging might be a rustic shack.
The aristocrat might demand that his hermit dress in a costume, often as a druid. Although it is unclear as to what a druid looked like, the ‘druid costume’ unfortunately included a cap that looked much like a dunce cap.
The aristocrat in ‘Ticking’, Sir William Mansfield, made no such costume demand. He paid his hermit to simply live on the estate grounds, in a grotto. Estate staff would bring him meals and empty his chamber pot daily.
The hermit was forbidden to converse with anyone and was to “neither to wash himself…in any way…but is to let his hair and nails both on hands and feet, grow as long as nature will permit them.” (from an advertisement referenced in Sir William Gell’s ‘A Tour in the Lakes Made in 1797’).
Payment was made only after completion of a contract of, say, 5 to 7 years. At the end of that period, Sir William paid his man a pension equivalent to the annual income of a regular working man, for the remainder of the hermit’s life.
The first thing the hermit would do, I suppose, upon completion of the contract is to cut his fingernails, as he was forbidden to cut them during his tenure. Five years of growth would make them long (there’s a vast range for fingernail growth, between 0.5 and 4 inches per year). So, a hermit could have 20-inch nails at the end of his 5-year contract.
Cutting his nails would allow him the dexterity to perform other needed sanitary tasks, like finally bathing, washing his hair and shaving his beard. The bath would likely not be in a bath tub, as only the rich had tubs.
So, while you self-isolate, bear in mind the sad existence of the garden hermit. Then, order a non-contact pizza or something and consider yourself pretty well-off.
AUDIOBOOK -- Ticking: A Tale of Two Time Travellers, Chapters 37 to 48, the final chapter
In this troubled time, enjoy. I'll post additional chapters so that you can complete the book and, hopefully, leave me a comment or two. Stay safe, wash hands...you know the drill.
In The Hawking Sequence, Skypilot and Alim escape from the work camp via a “speeder” (railway motorcar). My love of speeders runs deep. When I was 10 or 11, my parents took me to see the National Film Board of Canada’s “The Railrodder” (1965), starring Buster Keaton. Keaton plays an elderly Englishman who, after reading an ad in the London Times about touring Canada, decides to do just that.
He swims across the Atlantic (I guess, as he is seen emerging from the water, fully clothed and with enough energy to walk up the beach) then steals a conveniently parked and vacant speeder. The short film is an homage to his previous work as he travels in the speeder along the tracks performing goofy stunts reminiscent of those in his younger days, but miraculously never coming face-to-face with an opposing train. An enjoyable, but not particularly funny, movie that captured the attention of at least one young Canadian at the time.
The concept of the speeder stayed with me. Imagine flying along the tracks, bouncing around corners and over level crossings, while constantly thinking that a train will soon appear around that next corner coming straight at you!
While attending university, I got a job as a Trainman with the Canadian Pacific Railway unapologetically through my uncle, E.N.A. (Ted) Sewell, who was running the show at the CPR. From there, I went to the British Columbia Railway, working on the track maintenance crew. Most of the crew were swarthy Portuguese and I was the tall, gangly kid who kept breaking hammers by not hitting the rail spike at the correct angle.
I guess the railway was tired of repairing hammers as, one day, a supervisor drove up to the crew and asked the foreman, “Where’s Van Alstyne?” Bending down, I heard my name and stood straight up. The foreman saw me immediately, as I was head and shoulders above my colleagues.
The foreman offered me a job as Track Patrolman, operating a speeder! This one was the classic yellow and even had a regulation red emergency light on top; like on the top of police cars of the time.
Of course, I jumped at the opportunity, saying Adeus to my Portuguese workmates and thereby starting the best job I ever had.
Stories about my train patrol experience to follow…
The main character in the Ticking series of books is named Skypilot.
Writers of fiction cower at one of the unwritten rules, this one in a loud voice from above and accompanied by thunder: “Of thy main characters, [insert clap of thunder here] thou shalt make-up but a single weird name”.
For Ticking, I wanted a name that is odd, different for my protagonist; something that reflected his religious family background, a connection to Classic Rock and the choice that his progressive missionary parents made when he was born.
A “Sky pilot” is a member of the clergy, especially a military chaplain who blesses the troops – like in The Animals 1968 song of the same name – prior to battle.
As mentioned in Ticking: A Tale of Two Time Travellers, Sky was not the only one in his school with a different name. Some recent, actual names for babies include: Aoife (for a girl, pronounced EE-fa), Cookie, Peaches, Sugar, Dove, Elon, Falcon, Lark, Oak, Sable, Cub, Lion, Coyote and, of course, Sequoia.
Game of Thrones fans selected Oberyn, Rhaegar, Margaery and Daenerys, the spellings of which will frustrate teachers, coaches and aunts completing birthday cards for years to come. Other parents chose to honour authors, like Hawthorne, Sinclair and Whitman. I am not sure as to the current popularity of “Vann” as a given name, but my upcoming trip to the year 2036 will reveal its future popularity.
The trouble with time travel (how could there be more than one?) is that, upon arrival, you must be able to converse. Zac and Sky speak only English and a bit of French. Their travels are generally restricted to those places in which inhabitants speak these languages. And, the further back in time they travel, the less recognizable these languages will be.
Alim, with his family background, was able to provide an exception, teaching the guys Aramaic.
Aramaic, an ancient language of the Middle East, is still spoken by some, mostly Jews and Christians, in parts of Palestine, Syria and Lebanon. It was the common language of Jesus’ time in the Middle East. Jesus – or Yeshu as he would have been called – spoke Aramaic.
Aramaic is written from right to left, with all the letters representing consonants. Virtually all modern Middle Eastern writing systems and many Asian systems can be traced to it. Aramaic itself has different dialects – like Targumic and Syriac – with Jesus speaking the biblical version.
At its apex, Aramaic had spread to become the lingua franca of the Persian empire.
Readers have been asking about the origin of some of the character's names in Ticking: A Tale of Two Time Travellers. So, I've provided some background below, classified by imaginary and real:
Beatrice Westover: Shares the author’s wife’s maiden name. Audrey is the mother of three sons, Clark, Jordan and Adam. And, grandmother to Addisyn and Cameron.
Clive Rock: Affectionately named after the author’s transit planner colleague and boss. Like his Georgian counterpart in the book, Clive is a visionary, who developed the local fare zone system, amongst other innovations.
Harry Moody: A suburb of “Fraserdale”, Port Moody is where the author attended high school, home of the “Moody Blues”.
Helena Harris: Pronounced “Heleena” (a spelling that would not work in the mid-1700’s), she shares her name with the author’s paternal aunt; that is, his father’s father’s sister. Craig’s “Aunt Helena” would have definitely fit in with the aristocracy. She was an opera singer; wife of a Depression-era doctor who made a bundle writing prescriptions for alcohol; and socialite in the Chicago elite, which included her ex-pat Canadian friend Hal Foster, creator of “Prince Valiant".
Jacques DuTemps: His name being the French word for “time”, bien sur!
Jerry O’Flarity: Though not spelled the same, named after a local pro hockey player from years ago.
Daltrey: Named after, and bears a resemblance to, Roger of The Who (1983 press photo of Roger wearing a tricorn).
Mr. Jamieson: Named after the author’s younger brother, Jamie.
Mr. Pickett: Named after impresario, Mr. Hugh Pickett, who made major contributions to Fraserdale…err Vancouver's arts and entertainment scene. He was awarded the Order of Canada in 1986.
Skypilot Sewell: Shares his surname of the author’s paternal cousins, a dynasty of Canadian railroaders, some with an artistic flare. His given name will be discussed in a future blog.
Zachary Burling: Shares the author’s paternal grandmother’s surname. Edwina May was born in 1896 in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Henry Cavendish (1731-1810) was simply the greatest experimental and theoretical English chemist and physicist of his age. His calculated imprecision in the experiment he performed with the assistance of Skypilot notwithstanding; the Royal Society distinguished him for his precision in his varied research. This included experiments regarding the composition of atmospheric air, the properties of gases, the synthesis of water, the laws governing electricity, a mechanical theory of heat, and calculations of the density (and hence the weight) of our planet. His experiment to weigh the Earth, known as the Cavendish experiment, was so accurate that it is within 1% of the currently accepted figure. And yes, he was painfully shy and did dress rather slovenly for a very rich man.
Henry Fielding (1707-1754) does not appear in person in Ticking, but his influence is felt nevertheless. He was a study in contrasts. On the one hand, he was a staunch supporter of the Church of England (which led to his being given the position of London's chief magistrate) and, on the other; he turned to populist political fiction to support an extravagant lifestyle.
Joined by his younger half-brother John, he helped found London's first police force, the Bow Street Runners. In a corrupt society, Henry was admired for his impartial judgments, incorruptibility and compassion for those whom social inequities had forced into crime. Henry's influential writings included a proposal for the abolition of public hangings. In another display of his polarity, he was not opposed to capital punishment, as he presided in 1751 at the trial of the notorious robber James Field, finding him guilty and sentencing him to hang.
Sir John Fielding (1721-1780) was blinded in an accident at the age of 19. Despite this, he succeeded his half-brother as chief magistrate, becoming known as the "Blind Beak of Bow Street" for his ability to recognize criminals, and others, like Henry Cavendish, by their voices alone. He was knighted in 1761. Together, the Fielding brothers enhanced judicial reform and improved prison conditions.
Jack Harris (d. 1794): The swaggering headwaiter at the Shakespeare’s Head tavern, Harris’s real name was John Harrison. He was a part-time pimp and self-professed author (he didn’t actually write it) of the “List of Covent Garden Ladies”, a popular guidebook of the area’s prostitutes. Printed every Christmas from 1760 to 1793; it detailed the appearance, sexual skills and fees of local prostitutes, reviewing them as one would a movie or restaurant.
“The Pimpmaster General” proudly admitted to being a pimp and in supplying the city with fine whores, all of who paid him for an entry in his famed parchment list. He had agents stationed throughout London who would meet arriving stagecoaches, recruiting young women who were just trying to find a new life in the big city. In addition, he somehow found time to operate a “Whores Club” from a private room in the tavern -- on Sunday evenings, no less.
Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795) was the founder of the pottery company that bears his name. He recognized that the middle class was expanding, as was its ability to purchase things like pottery. He pioneered various sales techniques, like a money back guarantee and travelling salesmen, and is consequently referred to as the inventor of modern marketing. And funny! Anyone who can pull off dressing as a gondolier as a subtle thank you had to be a funny guy.
Lancelot “Capability” Brown (baptized 1716-1783) was the most renowned landscape architect of the time. He earned his nickname as he was in the habit of viewing a subject plot and saying, “It has great capabilities.”
Thomas Chippendale (1718–1779) became the first cabinetmaker to publish a book of his designs, titled “The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director”. Three successful editions were published, with illustrations, propelling Chippendale to the forefront of his profession. The first style of furniture in England named after a cabinetmaker rather than a monarch, Chippendale became the most famous name in the history of English furniture at a time when such craftsmanship was at its pinnacle.
Thomas Arne (1710-1778) had to disguise himself, at a young age, as a footman to sneak into the opera, where his love and taste for music was formed. His father wanted him to become a lawyer, but Arne practiced in secret the violin and keyboard instruments. He is generally regarded as the most important English composer of the 18th century.