22 December 2023

All Things Christmas including Santa and NORAD

Image by Castleguard via Pixabay

Once again I return with my traditional Christmas post, because, as with all good Traditions, it has the right amount of fact while not taking itself too seriously. And at the end of yet another tumultuous year, we do need a bit of not taking oneself too seriously! 

Let it raise a smile as snippets are retold over a glass of something warming and yet another brandy-laced mince pie.

Wishing all my readers, of this blog and of my novels,
a wonderful festive season, whatever your beliefs. 


Who will be leaving gifts at your hearth? 

Here in the UK it is definitely Father Christmas who will be visiting, and despite his title he has nothing to do with Christianity, or parenthood, or even humans. It is the spirit of Mid-Winter, a personification clothed in evergreen, wrapped in holly and ivy, and garlanded in red berries and mistletoe. 

Striding in from the myths and mists of pre-history, this jovial spirit arrived at the solstice to partake in the mid-winter frivolities. The people welcomed it with entertainment, plied it with food and alcoholic beverages, and gave offerings so that it might not linger too long but instead beat smooth a path for an early spring.

Not a terrible lot changed when the Roman Legions clanked up the beaches to make a home in these lands. They brought with them Saturnalia, a festival of light. Homes were garlanded with evergreen, and a good deal of partying was undertaken beneath the watchful eye of their god of agriculture, Saturn, often depicted carrying a scythe. 
So far so good.

Enter Christianity and a need by the early church to leverage ‘Jesus the Christ’ against entrenched Paganism. No one knew the birthdate of Jesus of Nazareth, so the Pope of the time decided Jesus should be given one. The Pagan equinox celebrations of spring and autumn had already been appropriated, so why not align the day to the biggest Pagan celebration of them all? A bishop from the Middle East, recently raised to sainthood for his good works, was also pressed into action: Nicholas (more or less). 
In the face of such worthiness the Brits remained steadfastedly wedded to their eat, drink and make merry.
The Romans assimiliated or left for sunnier shores, and the Saxons and Jutes invaded from Germania, bringing along their Woden and winter’s Father Time. They also believed in eat, drink and make merry, so they fitted in quite well. 
A few centuries later came an invasion by the Norse and Danes (Vikings) who also believed in eat, drink and make merry. [Careful readers may notice a pattern developing.]
They brought along their own version of Woden Odin who, during mid-winter, took on the manifestation of Jul – Yule – in that he was portly, white-bearded signifying age, had the ability to see into people’s minds and know if they’d been good or not-so-good, and rode a horse, Sleipnir, which travelled at terrifying speed due to it having eight legs. 
Father Christmas as we know him was beginning to coalesce.

Saint Nicholas didn’t truly put in an appearance on British shores until these islands were invaded yet again [becoming monotonous, isn't it?] this time in 1066 by ex-Vikings, the Normans, hailing from what is now a region of northern France. However, no matter how the populace was “encouraged” to be pious, once out of the church doors after celebrating Jesus’ birthday, eat, drink and make merry remained the national stance. 
Not even the Puritans, who in the mid-17th century took the field and the country during the English Civil War, could fully abolish Christmastide – ie the eat, drink and make merry – though they certainly gave it a determined try. In retaliation, Father Christmas, as he was by then well known, made appearances in Mummer’s Plays, to raise a glass or an obscene gesture (or both) to the Puritan Parliament. 
And what happened to the Puritans? They were happily waved off to America (more or less).

1836 book illustration of Mummers entering a house, led by Father Christmas, and including St George and the Dragon.
Mummers entering a well-to-do Victorian house, Father Christmas leading. Note his holly staff & crown, and drinker’s false 'red' nose. Assorted characters in the troupe following include St George & the Dragon, England’s patron saint. Illustration, by Robert Seymour, from ‘The Book of Christmas’ by Thomas Kibble Hervey, 1836. Image in Public Domain via Wikimedia. (click to enlarge)
It was in America, after the War of Independence in the 18th century, that the populace began to embrace a certain Sinterklaas from the Dutch tradition of Saint Nicholas, doubtless because it wasn’t British. [How's that for holding a grudge?]
In 1810 the New York Historical Society held a dinner in honour of Saint Nicholas, and twelve years later Clement Moore, drawing on Norse and Germanic folklore, wrote a poem A Visit from St Nicholas which was subsequently published as The Night Before Christmas.
Thus Santa Claus came into his own, wearing the vestiges of Father Christmas and Jul. Even the reindeer and sled mentioned in the poem came from the Sámi people of Lapland, who the Norse peoples to the south of them firmly believed were ‘magicians’.

The Coca-Cola Company? Bah humbug! Late to the party.  Father Christmas, even Santa Claus, were wearing red before it showed up with its non-alcoholic beverage. But it had, and still has if its vivid red pantechnicon is anything to go by, damned good copywriters.
Which finally brings me to NORAD. Yes, the North American Aerospace Defence Command based in Colorado Springs. 
In 1955 Sears Roebuck & Company, also based in Colorado Springs, placed an advertisement in the press inviting children to phone Santa. Except the phone number was misprinted. Guess who was inundated with phone calls? CONAD – the Continental Air Defence Command and forerunner of NORAD. 
Despite being in the grips of the Cold War with personnel supposedly watching for in-coming missiles from you-know-where, the Defence Command put diplomacy to the fore and gave radar updates to children on the progress of Santa from the North Pole.

And thanks to the late Colonel Harry Shoup, Director of Operations at the time, it still does. Check on Santa’s progress at https://www.noradsanta.org/ Arrive before Rudolph gathers the other reindeer, and visit the Elf Village where there are activities and games to keep your little ones enthralled. Or you. [Go on, you know you want to.]

So, wherever you are, and whatever spirit of Nature you believe in, be sure to eat, drink and make merry this festive season. It's a Tradition.

With grateful thanks to History Today, Time-Travel Britain, Museum of UnNatural Mystery, various Wikipedia pages, and NORAD, for their assistance in producing this tongue-firmly-in-cheek blogpost.

6 November 2023

Of Apples, History and Annoying Utility Companies.

A single morning's crop. Image by (c) Linda Acaster

It was a busy month, to say the least, not helped by British Gas arbitrarily deciding to change the household billing system and then having the temerity to advise me – three times – that it had been corrected. Can you tell I’m getting ready to hit social media??

October also means we have been inundated with apples. We are lucky to have inherited four gnarled mid-sized trees, dating from at least the early 1900s. I’m not sure of their variety but they could be local, Hornsea Herring which originated in 1780 to cope with the coastal climate. They are dual purpose, an eater-baker, but modern apples have been bred to be sweeter than in 1780, so its only an occasional year when they can be eaten from the tree.

We were given a type of Red Delicious eater which we’ve kept stunted so as to pick without the need for steps and a long-handled brush (!!), and helpfully the two apple stocks tend to glut alternate years. Having frozen plenty, we are now eating the last of the Red Delicious. I did try to store them whole one year, and just about lost the lot, so it is to the freezer they now go.

I hate wasting what nature offers for free, hence the header image. It went with a short article written for a publication on Medium – Deliver Me Your Bruised And Your Broken – as a response to a news article on food waste. The publication is usually behind a paywall, but my article carries a ‘friend’ link so as to be read by non-subscribers. It may give you a smile, or turn your indignation up a notch.

My own Medium publication – Escape Into History – now has all my previously written history articles embedded, and I’m adding new ones as I write them. These are behind a paywall.

Over on Substack, my Portals to the Past publication remains free to read, and subscribers get the weekly history article – yes, weekly (what was I thinking??) – delivered to their inboxes. I’ve acquired 37 subscribers in a month, which may not sound much but I find startling, considering I’m still learning the intricacies of the platform.

No mention of my writing fiction, you’ll notice, but that might change in the coming months. Substack has a contingent writing serialized fiction. Shall we say, I’m considering joining them.

More next month, or the end of this month, if I get my act together.

30 September 2023

Introducing New Newsletter “Portals to the Past”


It’s been a rare couple of months. First I inaugurate a History themed publication on the digital platform, Medium, and now I set up a Newsletter on Substack. Is it too much – or perhaps a dearth – of sunshine? Haven’t I enough filling my days? After all, there is such a thing as overcommitment. But which creative ever owns up to that?
The newsletter came about after I attended a Zoom talk by Substack, which was intriguing enough for me to explore the platform. Rather like Medium, it is a platform where subscribers  authors and readers – interact, mostly under publication banners, much as I’m building on Medium. The added bonus for subscribers to individual publications is that full posts are delivered as an email to their Inboxes.

Paying Subscribers? Much of the content is free, some behind personal author-paywalls – there are some very big hitters on Substack, from every career and walk of life.

My original intention was to use Substack for my fiction and keep Medium for non-fiction. But, while I worked out how to initiate this, I realised a writer can carry more than one ‘newsletter’.

The sharp-eyed may recognise the banner header image. It is part of the Ring of Brodgar standing stone circle of Orkney, a different aspect of the banner header to Escape Into History. It was chosen deliberately because I intend to use the same, or some of the same, history posts to reach a different audience.

At least, that’s the plan. 

Substack offers automated promotional images for posts for a range of media. The square one to the right is handy for use on Facebook and X/Twit. Taller versions are offered for Pinterest and TikTok.

But that's enough. As ever, the learning curve is steep  alas, it goes with the territory.

If you are curious enough to have a look, here's the link:      https://lindaacaster.substack.com/     

If not, see you next month.           

10 September 2023

Woodhenge - in the Stonehenge Sacred Landscape

20th century concrete pillars at Woodhenge. White, light blue, & red tops showing. Image by (c) Linda Acaster

What happened to August? In fact, where’s September disappearing to?

Normally regarded as ‘high summer’ in the UK, in late August Summer finally arrived. Friends visited, the vegetable and flower beds went into true English Country Garden mode (and with them the weeds), and we did a bit of travelling – back to Wiltshire.

This time we visited Woodhenge and Durrington Walls, both longstanding on my must-see list. They proved as fascinating as I’d hoped, as much because of the little that is known against what has been gleaned from recent archaeology. Both are within the World Heritage Site of the Stonehenge Sacred Landscape, and yes, we went to Stonehenge, too – in thick drizzle.

Woodhenge is the least known and most enigmatic of the three. It was discovered only in 1925 when early aerial photography showed rings of concentric darker spots in the dry vegetation not noticeable at ground level. Maud Cunningham, born 1869 and a pioneering archaeologist in the area, undertook the first investigation. She and her husband promptly bought the site to preserve it, in turn giving it to the nation.

Woodhenge, as it became known, is 160ft (50m) in diameter, though not quite a true circle. Within its outer bank and inner ditch (the henge) were found six rings of post holes which would have supported individual oak timber uprights. Different rings had posts of different thicknesses. At its centre was found the grave of a child about three years old.

Today, knee-high concrete pillars, in equivalent thicknesses, stand in place of the long-decayed oak posts, their tops painted in different hues for ease of visitor recognition. It gives the site a somewhat questioning appearance.

Despite of a corresponding age - 2500BC - to the raising of the first sarsen stones at Stonehenge a mere two miles distant, the site was no blueprint test. Were the posts open to the elements? Were the post heights uniform or as irregular as their diameters? Did they support wooden lintels? Did they support a massive roof, long gone? The questions seem endless. What’s more, it wasn’t the only one in the area, just the largest. Or largest found so far.

One thing is certain, it wasn’t a giant building providing shared accommodation. Durrington Walls close by was the contemporary place of settlement. Its enormous bank and inner ditch, most of which remain visible, was some 1500ft (470m) in diameter, making it, in modern classification terms, a super-henge.

More on Durrington Walls in a future blog

31 July 2023

Escaping Into History

Part of the Ring of Brodgar, Orkney. Author's image and draft cover of a digital publication.

It's been quite a July. On the one hand, the weather has been anything but summer-like. On the other, and after much procrastination, I've finally taken tentative steps in opening my own digital publication on the Medium platform.

For those who have not come across it, for a fee (monthly US$5 or annual US$50), Medium hosts posts behind a paywall; writers are paid via a post's views. Posts - referred to as stories - can be any length on just about any subject. Publications take stories on a theme and are usually group-edited to share the workload. A publication can also be owned by a single individual and used as a repository for his/her own stories on a theme.

I've been writing for Medium for a couple of years, on a variety of subjects. But my true enthusiasm is for History, particularly historic places in the British landscape, and I'm at the stage where it would help to have these stories in one easy-to-find spot, my own publication. The picture above is its cover image.

Despite Medium's copious Help pages, getting the back-end to work as I want is less intuitive than here on Blogger, but there is always a learning curve to negotiate with any new venture. The first stories are up, and I thought I'd share a Friend Link which opens the paywall to a specific story. 

History in my Landscape explains the event that led to my interest. Enjoy.

1 July 2023

It's the Great July Ebook Sale - 50% Discount!


Smashwords - the Ebook distributor I use to reach Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Scribd - starts its Summer Sale today running throughout July. As well as epub format, it offers mobi for a Kindle.

Great news! Many of my titles are included, offered at 50% discount.

Link to my Smashwords Sale Page:
(50% Discount automatically applied at checkout)

The Mythic Time-Spanning Romance trilogy Torc of Moonlight is offered as separate novels, or if you want even more savings, as the complete trilogy in one long ebook.

For who prefer their reading with a little more of a shiver, there's plenty to choose from within my Chillers.

Thinking about writing your own fiction? How about a guide which does what it says on its cover - no waffle, full stories explained: 

Reading A Writer's Mind: Exploring Short Fiction - First Thought to Finished Story

That's enough to keep you going for ages. Check out my personal Smashwords Bookstore, and enjoy your reading:


2 June 2023

Of Amazing History and Annoying Tech

One of the immersive World War II exhibits at Eden Camp

Early May was full of the Coronation of King Charles III. The Union flag bunting saw another airing, the Pimm's stood ready, and smoked salmon & cucumber sandwiches were indulged. I sat glued to the TV throughout, not so much awed by the pageantry, but by the weight of history behind it. 

I'd chosen a good channel to follow, hosted by a softly spoken, highly knowledgeable presenter, and that day's newspaper had the entire service, and what it represented, laid out six columns wide and three pages deep - now safely stored in my research files. Whether I'll ever get to use it is hardly the point. And it was a very good day. Especially the Pimm's.

Another good day was experienced mid month at Eden Camp Modern History Museum in North Yorkshire. We were there to chat to the curator regarding a section of the extensive exhibits. 

Dubbed Eden Camp because of its proximity to Eden Farm, Prisoner of War Work Camp 83 was built in 1942 during World War II, first for Italian and later German prisoners. It closed in 1948 when the last of its 1,200 inmates were repatriated, and was purchased in 1985 by local businessman Stan Johnson, ostensibly to level the site for a factory. He found 35 of the original huts almost intact, and while he was deciding what to do with them, the site was visited by a group of Italian gentlemen eager to share fond memories of their stay. The rest is... history. 

A "Doodlebug" / "Flying Bomb". A V1 rocket - the first drone. Click for larger image
Eden Camp suggests allotting three or four hours for a visit; I'd say visitors will be lucky to see it all in a full day. We certainly didn't. The collections of photographs are fascinating. So was clambering on the Sherman tank (ahem...). The focus isn't only on World War II, but on all the conflicts since. It is sobering to realise just how many there have been.

No sooner had our photos been uploaded to the computer than we were off to Wiltshire to meet up with friends and collect 50 old CDs used to archive yet more historical data but without accompanying documentation. Our job is to clean them up, discover the contents, transfer to an external hard drive for safety, and create some sort of catalogue. Mmm, not a two-day job, then.

We'd decided to make the most of the trip south, and crossed to the east of the country into Essex for, you guessed it - shopping! No, more history.

Medieval Templar Barns at Cressing, Essex. Click for larger image

During the late 1100s, Cressing was the hub of a Knights Templar estate just outside the village of Coggeshall. The village lies on the highway of the period, Stane Street, built during the Roman occupation of Britannia which ceased when the legions were withdrawn in around 410AD. This was just before the East Saxons took over the area, hence 'Essex'. History always comes in layers. 

Of the estate buildings, only the two medieval barns remain (118ft x 45ft and 36ft high). Dendrochronology points to the main timbers of the Barley Barn - oak of course - being cut 1205-1230, and the Wheat Barn 1257-1280. Both had expensive tiled roofing from their initial construction (4,500 tiles each), weighing around 55 tons. They are a phenomenal sight, and currently much sought after for weddings, though probably not during winter.

The barn bays held produce from the estate, its sale helping fund Knights Templar operations in the Crusader states of the Middle East.

Which finally brings me to the question of annoying modern tech. With so much history still operational, why does our tech cause so many problems?

We arrived home to find a Windows update had caused the laptop to refuse to acknowledge the existence of the integral optical drive it had happily connected to before we went away. Two days of frustration later, with 50 disks to read, it became easier, if highly annoying, to purchase an external drive.

And who noticed my website had been off-line for a week? The host had no idea what had changed, and neither had the domain registrar. Thank goodness for YouTube videos, or this post might never have seen the light of day. 

I am hoping June proves just as inspiring with its history, but less annoying with its tech. Fingers crossed.

30 April 2023

Spring has finally sprung with Covid, Orwell’s 1984, and King’s Fairytale

One of our front borders. Spring has sprung while I've been busy coughing.

Hello! Yes, I know it’s been a while. Despite rumours to the contrary we haven’t emigrated, we have had Covid. And no, it wasn’t me who brought it home. Omicron is supposedly endemic now, so I guess we’ve done well getting this far before embracing our first bout.

Was it bad? Not particularly. I’ve had worse influenza in the long distant past. I could have done without the “pressure head”, a very odd feeling -  certainly not a “headache” - which lasted about four days, and the mucus from Hell which lasted for the rest of the month. I didn’t fight when the need to sleep descended, just doubled my vitamins D & C, Magnesium and Zinc. And watched YouTube videos, and read when the fancy struck. 

The dusting could go hang, again.

It was great to read without the prick of guilt that I should be creating, which was well beyond me, though my choice of material might seem odd. George Orwell’s 1984 headed my list, gained from the library the week before I was laid up. As I started to recover, I opened it up.

I’d not read any of Orwell’s work, but particularly wanted to read 1984 because for months social media has been alive with the likes of Ministry of Truth, Doublethink, and Big Brother.

What can I say? Two Minutes Of Hate [social media pile-ons], cancel culture, screens which gush propaganda 24 hours a day and listen in to conversations [hello Alexa]… Orwell must have had a crystal ball. That, or his view of the world under a Stalin-like totalitarian regime, which was still in power when the book was published in 1949, has edged close while we’ve been otherwise distracted, doubtless by insubstantial 'shiny things'. Orwell wrote 1984 as a warning; it seems some are using it as a handbook for life.

Stephen King’s Fairytale, a 600 pager he wrote during the Covid pandemic “to make him happy”, I started reading via Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’ feature sometime around Christmas. On its strength I clicked through to buy, and immediately stopped myself. Why any publisher would think I would shell out £13 for a Kindle copy I couldn’t own, while the hardback is £11… 

Words don’t exactly fail me, but are unrepeatable in polite company. The publisher’s profits could go hang; I logged on to my area’s library catalogue and reserved it: I was 24th in the queue. I wonder why?

Of course, notification it was ready for collection arrived in my Inbox while I was incommunicado. I managed to pick it up on its last day on the waiting shelf and am currently a third of the way through. Like Orwell’s novel, it is a very readable book. But cripes, I’d forgotten how unwieldy 600 page hardbacks are.

So, is any writing of my own on the horizon? Short articles for the Medium platform, certainly, and there’ll be a long overdue update in my health series on this blog, but nothing long of note in the fiction stakes. At least not yet. There are, of course, projects on a back burner. There are always projects on the back burner.

As the saying goes, watch this space. Even better, subscribe to my blogposts. It’s less hassle.

Enjoy May.

10 February 2023

Valentine's Promotion on TWO Romances


For the love of Romance, from 10th until 15th I have stepped price promotions via Amazon UK and Amazon USA on both my Historicals.

Beneath The Shining Mountains
is set in the region now known as Wyoming and Montana in the USA; the date the early 1800s. For the Apsaroke people, the place is Apsaroke lands; the time, the good years between the coming of the horse and the arrival of land-hungry settlers. Game was plentiful; the creeks ran clear. A man could prove his worth by his military exploits – and a woman, if she wanted, could ensnare herself her chosen husband. But why would a man with so many lovers want to take a wife?

...loved learning about their customs and rich culture...

Hostage of the Heart is set very much in Britain, on the Welsh Marches, during the autumn of 1066 when the destiny of both Wales and England hung in the balance because of outside forces.

With the northern militia hurrying to York in support of the new king, Rhodri ap Hywel, prince of the Welsh, sweeps out of the forest to reclaim by force stolen lands, taking the Saxon Lady Dena as a battle hostage. But who is the more barbaric, a man who protects his people by the strength of his sword-arm, or Dena’s kinsfolk who swear fealty to a canon of falsehoods and refuse to pay her ransom?

...a historical that really grips the reader with lots of twists and turns...

The novels are clean Romantic Suspense, and between them carry over 90 review ratings. Promotional prices start at 99p / 99c today rising back to full price late Wednesday evening. Grab them while you can, and snuggle down with a Valentine’s read of Romance and Adventure!

Global Links:      Beneath The Shining Mountains        Hostage of the Heart


31 January 2023

Nothing New About Story-TELLING


Here we are at the end of January with the first blogpost of the month. If Christmas was quiet, January has been manic for all the wrong reasons. Despite this, I actually managed a few non-fiction shorts for Medium and attended a couple of writer events.

The Romantic Novelists’ Association

Halfway through the month was a digital meeting of the Northern Chapter of the RNA – Romantic in name now, rather than genre action, as many of us have spread our wings over the years. Zoom meetings were inaugurated during the pandemic, and the group decided to continue running them when the monthly face-to-face meetings re-started. It has helped a few far-flung members and those who can no longer travel so far. We keep meetings to Zoom’s free 40 minutes so as to focus the mind.

One of the subjects covered was revamping promotional material for our individual titles – hence the image above, which is for a Horror novella, the antithesis of Romance, which I use for marketing on Facebook and Twitter. It’s a bit grey, a bit flat, the text is bigger than the title. Yes, it needs a rethink.

Humber SFF

A few days ago I attended an Open Mic event at Humber SFF, reading – you guessed it – an excerpt from The Paintings, though in truth it was more of an edited excerpt. I had a 2,000 words limit, but had to find a standalone scene which would both make sense and not give too much away. Not easy. Horror relies on pacing and tone to build anticipation, something which can’t be achieved in half a page. I found my ending and worked backwards to its start, some 3,500 words distant. Ouch! It took four condensing edits, but on the night read well.

It was while I was in the act of reading, an ear on the reactions of the audience, that two things came to mind: The Paintings is a first person narration, and the narrator is female. This could work for self-read audio.

I’ve dabbled before, under duress and a short lead-time. I had to download Audacity, learn its software, and produce a short story, when a local in-person SFF convention had to go digital at the start of the pandemic. I recognised the merits of self-audio then, but life had other priorities.

National Storytelling Week

Tonight, I’m off to another writers’ meeting – often there’s a dearth, but sometimes they pile up like this – and the call has gone out for links to audio stories in recognition of it being National Storytelling Week.

The idea behind the dedicated week is to promote the “oldest artform in the world”: audio performance. The week came into being in 2000 and, although its original remit was firmly aimed at children, it has blossomed to embrace a wider audience, hence the call for links. Well, I have a story ready to go, but it’s no use on my harddrive. Alas, it needs to be hosted somewhere.

A list of this year’s face-to-face events can be found HERE, but there is absolutely no reason why a digital event, even a single author event, can’t contribute. Something to consider for next year if not this.