Friday Fictioneers: The Linnet of Livorno


PHOTO PROMPT © Douglas M. MacIlroy

Granny Cora was in music hall back in the day.

She started aged seven with her parents and four siblings – The Flying Beneventis – though the family name was Mossop and the closest Granny came to Italy was sharing a Penny Lick on Blackpool seafront.

At the age of twenty-one Granny married her manager, Gordon, and shed her leotard to become a novelty act – The Linnet of Livorno. She’d stand alone in the limelight and whistle. One moment she was a blackbird, the next a mistle thrush, always ending with a song to make the heart break – the nightingale.

***

Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers. See the picture prompt write, share and read the work of others.

I don’t know what the bird in the picture is – I’m pretty sure it’s not a mistle thrush, a blackbird, a nightingale, or even a linnet. But whatever she is, she inspired me to travel back in time.

NB

A Penny Lick was a small glass for serving ice cream most common during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The glass would be rinsed off (not very well!) before being used for the next customer.

Wilton’s Music Hall is the oldest music hall still standing in London. It really gives an idea of what a typical Victorian music hall was like.

76 thoughts on “Friday Fictioneers: The Linnet of Livorno

    1. Thank you, Rochelle. So glad you liked it. I’d love to visit Wilton’s one day. Sadly, it’s closed at the moment of course, but maybe one day. Thanks for your kind words

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    1. I do love writing historical fiction. Gives me great pleasure to wander back in time. Yes, penny lick is great, though I wouldn’t want to have eaten one. Thanks Josh

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  1. A lively look at Blackpool’s past.
    The bird: definitely not a linnet. My first thought was Nuthatch, except that white bar on its wing is wrong. So, on the shape of its beak, I’ll leave it as some sort of insectivore and excuse my ignorance by claiming it a non-UK bird 🙂

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  2. I had a peek at the Leeds Variety Theatre’s foyer when we were in the city a few months ago (sadly I couldn’t see the auditorium) — you’ll remember that this is where The Good Old Days show was filmed in. As for the Linnet of Livorno this is such a lovely little bio — would that it were true!

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    1. What a fabulous theatre! Growing up I was very spoilt, having Buxton opera House, one of Frank Matcham’s theatres on my doorstep. I even sang in the stage once – in a school choir, not in Tosca or anything! I’m sorry of obsessed with music hall. For some reason I was taught sings like My old man as a kid and would sing them very happily. Weird kid 😄. Thanks Chris

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  3. I remember wondering what on earth my parents could find entertaining about someone making bird noises. Your character sounds like a real… er character. 🙂

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    1. So you remember Percy Edwards? He made a whole career out of bird impressions and that was during the time of TV. There still was that continuation from music hall for quite a while on telly, want there? Thanks Sandra

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  4. I was privileged to see a small old music hall in Manchester just before it was demolished. It breathed history, just like your story

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  5. A lost entertainment these days, alas things have moved on and those that were around back then have too. I can’t say that entertainment has got any better without music halls, in fact it’s probably poorer without. Nice one Lynn.

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    1. Thanks Iain. It was an interesting era, truly populist entertainment that influenced some of the people we saw as we were growing up – Morecambe and Wise, for instance. Always makes me nostalgic, thinking of them! Thanks for reading

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    1. I think marriage certainly took her away from her family troupe a and into a solo career. That might not have been a bad thing though – hard to work with your family! Thanks so much for reading

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    1. Hi Matthew, really glad you liked this. A combination of things inspired me – I’m naturally drawn to historical subjects (history BA), so my mind wanted to pull away from that home office vibe; I’m currently writing a novel where one of the female characters can imitate birds, not for the stage, but just a skill she picked up to entertain her siblings; I kind of love music hall and theatre any way, always think there’s dramatic possibilities in that world of pretence (all fur coat and no knickers as they used to say) the showmanship and its got a seedy feel to it too, with larger than life characters up front. Must have all whirled together in my brain and spat out this! Thanks for the kind comment and for reading

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    1. Very true. Music hall lasted for quite a short period, though we kept seeing acts created there on our TVs into the eighties – I’m thinking specifically Morcambe and Wise though comics like Les Dawson wouldn’t have been out of place rubbing shoulders with the likes of Max Miller. Not so far away really. Thanks so much for reading, Penny

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  6. I like the touch of realism that a performer pretends they’re from somewhere else to seem more exotic. Because otherwise, you’re just making bird whistles, right? … Although to be fair, many bird songs are quite lovely.

    Thanks for explaining the penny lick, I was wondering. In this time of plague, the idea of licking anything that isn’t washed thoroughly seems especially gross. Ew!

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    1. Yes, who’d want to admit coming from somewhere rundown and ordinary like Blackpool when you could pretend you’re from Italy. And penny kicks were a disgusting idea, though apparently they were banned when the authorities realised how unhygienic they were and that can led to the development of the ice cream cone, for which many of us are grateful ☺️. Thanks for reading, Joy

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      1. Good point — I should think up some more exotic hometown for myself, too. Better for my image. Although what’s appropriate for a fantasy writer? Under the elven hill?

        Mm,, now I want ice cream! In a sanitary serving dish, mind you. :=)

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      2. Ha! Be interesting to see what people would choose as an adopted home town, what they’d feel better suits them than the reality. Never occurred to me just to make these things up, though one could easily get away with it – who’d check? I’ve met the odd real fantasist and they just baffle me. What’s the point? And yes, ice cream!

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      3. Making up exotic origins seems more in line with exotic performers, not the likes of me. But then, politicians are always making up origin stories about how they came from hard-scrabble towns, and business moguls like to claim they came from nothing. So maybe it’s more about caring about your image more than your substance. (ha!)

        Whereas I care more about the ice cream. I ordered grocery delivery for the first time and it’s coming tomorrow. I did NOT include ice cream in the order, because I was being “good.” Now I am deeply regretting that choice. Sigh…

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      4. You know, it’s pretty much impossible to get a grocery delivery here at the moment? All the supermarkets were booked up for three/four weeks in advance, now they’re saying please don’t ask for a delivery is you’re not elderly or disabled or self isolating, which is fair enough. Just don’t forget your ice cream next time!

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      5. We are very lucky to have so many delivery services available here, both the groceries and restaurants directly, and also 3rd party services like Doordash and the like. Plus there are several young people in our neighborhood who are volunteering to do grocery delivery for elderly residents who live alone — following strict protocols, of course. The stores here all have a special time (usually the first 1-2 hours of the day) that are set aside for only customers who are elderly or immuno-compromised. Are they doing that where you live too?

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      6. Yes, similar – many of the supermarkets are doing the same here, opening an hour early for the elderly. Some have also set aside times for health workers as so many were struggling to get food after long shifts. We’ve been queuing to get into shops too, with the social distancing making it about 15 mins to get inside. Better than being infected though

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      7. Our grocery stores are actually opening later (and closing earlier) to give the employees more time to clean and stock without any customers around. And then the first hour (or for my store, first two) are for the elderly. So now the first time I can get in is 9 or 10am, versus 6 or 7am. So much for my usual approach of being the first one there at dawn-o-clock, stopping by on my exercise walk! Hoping my new masks arrive in the post today so that I can try the store first thing tomorrow (for the first time in weeks) — I’ve heard Fridays is when they get their toilet paper shipments, oooo!

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      8. Ours are doing a similar thing – certain days and times for the elderly and health workers. They’re taking about making us wear masks here, when the restrictions are relaxed, though where we’re supposed to get them from, I don’t know. Not sure if you’ve heard, but our health workers are struggling to get PPE, let along members of the public. We’ve had quite a few health workers die because they’re not properly protected. It’s a disgrace

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      9. Here in California, a “face covering” is now required within any store or other public area. Mostly we are discouraged from buying medical grade masks, because the medical professionals need them. But there is evidence that other types of masks still help reduce the spread, including hand-sewn cloth masks, if done properly. I ordered some on Etsy, and they are much better made than what I could do myself. Still working out how to wear it without fogging up my glasses and getting the mask into my mouth when I talk, though.

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    1. Ooh, that’s really interesting. Have you inherited any photos? Haven’t been to Blackpool in years, though growing up in the North West, Blackpool was the place to go for seaside fun. Back then it was very polluted still, but no one seemed to care. We now live in Bristol and go to Weston super mare instead which is like Blackpool with slightly warmer seas!

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