Tales of the Asylum

The ruins of Severalls Hospital

One day in the early 1960’s I came home to find that while I was in school my grandmother had been whisked away in an ambulance and taken to a mental hospital. The news followed several unsettling days, days of half heard whispered adult conversations, days when my grandmother kept to her room and my mother placed her meals on a tray outside the door. I learned a phrase I only half understood, paranoid delusions, but somehow I knew it meant she had gone mad. 

It all started one evening when our neighbor came to the door. I was doing homework in the kitchen and overheard the conversation. She explained that she waited until my Continue reading

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Gardens of Mystery

“Ever since the first serpent slithered into the Garden of Eden writers have imagined the garden as the scene of temptation and evil.”

In my latest blog for MCPL I recommend mysteries with a garden setting:

Gardens of Mystery

Incidentally, the MCPL blog is now on WordPress! So I am identified by the name of this blog dispatchesfromtheformernewworld.

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On My Bookshelf – Witchfinders

Witchfinders – no, not characters in our contemporary political drama. But it could be that hearing cries of “Witch Hunt” almost every day for two years was what led me to this particular book on my shelf.  Witchfinders by Malcolm Gaskill is a mesmerizing account of a seventeenth century English witch hunt, one of the most vicious on record, led by two Essex gentlemen, Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne. Hopkins earned the title Witchfinder General and became something of a folk hero in the villages and towns of East Anglia. Through torture and intimidation he extracted confessions and false witness accounts from terrified people, mostly women, arresting a total of 250 presumed witches. Over a hundred were publicly hanged.  Continue reading

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Notre Dame

Tourists approach Notre Dame Cathedral in 2016

Like so many people across the world I watched with horror as Notre Dame Cathedral burned. I felt grateful that I had the opportunity to enjoy its beauty before this devastating fire. After my visit I wrote favorably about how France protected the character of its churches and cathedrals as houses of worship, unlike the eyesores of secular installation art I had seen in cathedrals in England and Belgium. This is an excerpt from my post Please, Not in the Cathedral:

“It is hard for me to admit that France may be superior to England or Belgium in any way, but Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, and Sainte-Chapelle were mercifully art installation-free. All were making an obvious effort to maintain the atmosphere of a house of worship despite the hoards of tourists. As we entered Notre Dame a large sign spelled out Silence in a lengthy list of languages. In addition an official stood by with the sole duty of saying “Shhh” every few minutes and as needed. It was the loudest, most officious Shhh I had ever heard. Ignoring these admonitions many tourists chattered away, at first in whispers but gradually becoming louder. When the noise level became too high a recording came on with a spectral Shhh echoing through the vast space like the voice of God himself. Then the word Silence was intoned in a multitude of languages like the tolling of a great bell from the Tower of Babel. For a time a mortified hush fell over the crowds until a fresh influx of visitors started the chattering up again.”

May the silence now be broken by the sounds of reconstruction until Notre Dame is restored to her former glory.

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Blog News

Good news – Dispatches From the Former New World is now ad free! I have upgraded the site to get rid of those annoying and ugly ads.

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The Dream of an English Garden

Spring is here at last and my thoughts turn to the garden. Weeds are already beginning their annual takeover before I’ve even finished cleaning up the dead remains of summer past. A good time to reprise my garden dream first published in The Dabbler in 2013. One bit of good news – no mad robin disturbs the spring idyll this year.

An ideal English garden border

As I write the demented robin who inhabits the dogwood tree in our garden is repeatedly flinging himself against the window in a kind of avian kamikaze assault. The thump, thump, thump of bird meeting glass is a strange counterpoint to the sweet tweeting and trilling of the other garden birds. I don’t know why the robin does this every day for hours, Continue reading

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Leaving Ireland

Emigrants Leave Ireland by Henry Doyle

They left to escape the famine, poverty, an oppressive colonial government, then the violence of rebellion and civil war. They left to find work, to send money home to their families, to find opportunities in the big industrial cities far from their small rural cottages. Some sailed east to England, some west to America, and some south to Australia. Many, like my grandmother, never spoke of Ireland again. So I have had to piece together my Irish family’s history from snatches of conversation overheard in childhood, bits and bobs of story learned from relatives, facts discovered in online archives, and a box of Continue reading

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