The Devil’s Porridge

The-Devils-Porridge-MuseumLast year one of the book launches I attended was for thriller writer Matt Hilton’s collection of short stories, The Demon Drink and the Devil’s Porridge. Set against a backdrop of the so-called State Management System (a kind of mini-Prohibition) in Carlisle, the stories are fun and entertaining – and the history of this particular period is fascinating, too.

Basically the State Management System (SMS) was set up during the first world war to prevent hordes of workers from the nearby munitions factory at Gretna Green from descending on Carlisle’s pubs and drinking them dry. As you might expect, the combination of alchohol and explosives (mostly nitroglycerine – the Devil’s Porridge of the title) isn’t a healthy one and the authorities were alarmed enough to step in, introducing restrictions on the number of pubs and the amount of booze sold, and having nice cosy games like bowls to try to gentrify the whole process of drinking.

Rather remarkably, it seems to have worked. Even more remarkably, it lasted until as recently as 1973. And now there’s a museum at Gretna Green, called The Devil’s Porridge Museum, which celebrates the munitions factory, the people who worked there, and the SMS itself.

It sounds absolutely fascinating, and if it had been open we might well have called in during our trip to Gretna at the weekend. Annoyingly,  it had just closed for its winter break and won’t be open again until mid-January. But we’ve made a note, picked up a leaflet, and will definitely visit next time we’re in the area. It would be a shame to miss this!

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Elephants galore

Anyone who’s read the ‘trivia’ on my webpage will know that I have a thing about elephants.  I love trying to squeeze new references to our trunked companions into my longer works (there isn’t much space for an elephant in most of my short stories).

So I was amused to find a plethora of the beasties on our recent holiday – in fact, they seemed to crop up everywhere we went!  First there was the elephant-shaped headland on the coast.  Then the complete fossilised elephant skeleton, dug out of the local strata, in a museum (and lots of cute cuddly elephants in the shop – it’s something of a local hero, apparently).  And then when we went to a nearby National Trust property, I’m blowed if one of the previous owners hadn’t put together an entire collection of elephant ornaments, of all shapes and sizes.

It’s amazing where mighty, four-footed ruminants can turn up…