Neil Countryman and John William Barry meet as teens on the running track. John William comes from Seattle’s old money and founding families, Neil is from the other side of the tracks. They develop a love of the outdoors, which for John William results in him becoming, for a time, the Hermit of the Hof.
A novel that I find my brain returns to ponder periodically.
When I was small, my dad used to disappear up into the room in the roof of our suburban Silhillian home to use this sewing machine.
I’ve no idea where it came from, but one of my earliest memories is my dad making me a royal blue zip fronted tunic, which I wore on my first day at Greswold Infants School (even if I did hanker after a pleated skirt with shoulder straps like all the other girls had).
It also produced clothes for my Sindy doll – an orange satin evening gown with lace bodice trim was a particular favourite – and, less of a favourite (sorry mum!), a somewhat gaudy pair of dungarees for me. And, once my dad had taught a young me how to use the treadle, to thread up the machine and to wind fresh cotton onto the bobbins, I made a whole array of clothes – a black and white polka dot shift dress I wore one Sixth Form summer channelling Audrey Hepburn, two ball gowns for my first couple of years at St Andrews.
When dad moved to Herefordshire, the sewing machine moved in with me.
I’ve never known much about it, and as I am at long last contemplating passing it on to a new owner I thought I’d see what I could find out.
With Singer Manufacturing Company Ltd painted onto the top, emblazoned on a shield sporting shuttle and needles, and twice on the treadle base, it was clearly a Singer sewing machine, each of which has a unique serial number. My machine is F509343.
Googling Singer sewing machine series F led me to two excellent websites:
The sewing machine is beautifully decorated with the “Victorian” (rectangular bed) decal. The faceplate is embossed with the “grapevine” pattern with two corner dots. The stitch plate is circular, nickel or chrome plated (I can’t tell which), covering the feed dogs with 2 split slide plates that run from front to back of the machine to cover the vibrating shuttle mechanism.
The sewing machine cabinet has an extension leaf table work surface, suspended drawers on either side and a small drawer in the middle for storing cotton reels, patterns, scissors, etc and my three spare bobbins, plus a cover – making it Extension Leaf Table Cabinet No. 126. Although now painted white, the woodwork is usually oak.
The sewing machine stands on an ornate cast iron base housing the treadle and flywheel that power the needle.
It’s really a piece of furniture in its own right, measuring:
100cm high, from the top of the cabinet cover to the floor
90cm wide, from the folded edge of the extension leaf on the left to the edge of the table by the wheel on the right
48cm deep, from one side of the front castor wheels to the other side of the rear ones.
Except that the Scots men and women who made my sewing machine would have been measuring in feet and inches, so let me try that again:
40 inches high
35 ½ inches wide
19 inches deep.
It’s a gorgeous piece of machinery.
Email me if you want it.
You’ll just need to collect it from the City of London.
Unwillingly in partnership with Anacrites but happily and lucratively working on Vespasian’s tax census, Falco finds himself investigating the murder of an arena lion.
When the trail grows cold, Falco and family – extended to include drunken sot brother in law Famia and truculent teenage nephew Gaius – travel across the inner sea to the northern shores of Africa in search of Helena’s errant younger brother Camillus Justinus and Baetican heiress Claudia Rufina who we last saw eloping, at the end of Three Hands in the Fountain.
Here the plot lines converge as Falco and Co travel around the main towns of Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, culminating in a denouement at the End of Harvest Games in Lepcis Magna.
Falco and new partner Petro are on the trail of a serial killer, whose victims start turning up piecemeal in Rome’s water supply. Helena is nursing new baby Julia and helping to keep their enquiries on track and Claudia Rufina, visiting from Beatica, is engaged to Helena’s brother Aelianus.
Anacrites is still lodging with Ma and becomes embroiled in the investigation on behalf of the Water Board.
Meanwhile Falco and Petro find themselves assigned an official patron/supervisor in the form of ex consul Frontinus.
The Invention of Nature is Andrea Wulf’s biography of Prussian scientist-naturalist-ecologist-explorer, Alexander von Humboldt, whose travels in the Americas gave us Humboldt’s Penguin, amongst many, many other things, and whose renown resulted in place names ranging from Mare Humboldtianum on the moon to Humboldt University in Berlin. Most importantly, via the publications, lectures and correspondence that occupied Humboldt for the majority of his long life, he developed the concept that has been called Humboldtian science – a holistic view of science and nature, climate, the environment and ecology, and by extension encompassing art and society.