An Alarming State Of Affairs


One of the first stories I ever wrote was a tale called “Blue Roses”. On completion I gave it to quite a few friends to read. I will not go into details for obvious reasons (every IPL cheerleader will know how much trouble one blog post can get you into!) but I will say that two of these friends happen to be brothers. After reading the story, they both said they enjoyed it but there was one problem they had ‘noticed’.
Obviously some information is needed here before I carry on. The story is set in Victorian England and centers around a high-society Madam who, after her husband passes away, keeps seeing a ghostly female figure in her precious front garden. Now there is a scene in which our main Lady finds herself out in the garden in the dead of night. And since no-one usually parades around in gardens on cold winter nights, the housekeeper, on hearing noises coming from the front of the house, assumes it might be a burglar. She is then tempted to “raise the alarm.”
Now my very astute friends pointed out that, if the story was set like, a hundred years ago, how can they have alarm systems in their houses?

Huh? What? Did I miss something here?

These two were obviously unaware of a very common expression and the origins of the word “alarm” itself. I tried to explain to them that ‘raise the alarm’ was an expression that meant “draw attention to danger” or in other words, “call for help” and is traditionally linked to the popular ‘hue and cry’.
Now this is were I became quite irate. In my attempt to explain all this, I noticed that they were barely listening to me and I had the impression that they thought I was being defensive. To them this was such a glaring mistake. What is more alarming, and that pun is definitely intended, is that these two people are educated with university degrees, and one happens to be an avid reader. What do you do when supposedly “clever” people, on the backing of their own ignorance, take you to task on something that is considered to be general knowledge and which you happened to be right about?

Now this incident had been entirely forgotten by me until recently when it resurfaced again from the bowels of my memory.
In another story I recently completed, I created a character who happens to be a tanner. No, he doesn’t sit on a beach browning himself. He takes animal skins and turns them into leather. That type of tanner. Anyways, this story is also set a few hundred years ago (surprise, surprise) and I have Mr. Tanner go into financial ruin because he purchased a bulk load of animal skins on credit and is unable to pay for them due to certain factors. As I read over this, I could not help thinking of my two astute friends. What would they say if they read this?

“Hey, wait a minute; they didn’t have credit cards all those years ago?”

Now most people know that the credit system is as old as banking itself, pre-dating the Knights Templar; will my friends understand this? I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t.

After raising the alarm, a hue and cry ensues. A scene from Victorian times

What is annoying however is that I find myself wasting time researching things I already know. I even looked up the origins and background to the words “alarm” and “credit” just to reassure myself that I’m right. How sad.

The silver lining in this though, is that my wealth of useless information has increased. I now know more about the police and inland security in Medieval Europe as a result of my “alarm” researches; I also know more about the history of coinage and trade than I ever did before due to my “credit” searches.
I suppose this proves that no matter how much you take for granted the knowledge you already have, there is always more you can learn.

NM.

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2 thoughts on “An Alarming State Of Affairs

  1. skombie says:

    I’m well behind. But! Perhaps something insightful, which may apply to this. Was that in my class last year, we read out this guys story and he referred to the mosh pit section of a heavy metal concert as the nose-bleed section. Ofcourse everyone was confused because the nose-bleed section is meant to be way up high at the back. At the end of the day, you want the reader to have a smooth read even if that means changing something you think is cool, true, historical.

    • Nisha says:

      I totally agree but at the same time as a writer, I would also like my side of the process to be smooth too. I’ve started to realise that you cannot please everybody-at least one person will either be confused or bored but you just pray that the majority will like it.

      ps. I’m not a metal fan, I know what a mosh pit is but never heard of the nose-bleed section(!). I learnt something today thanks!!

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