Writing a ransom note

Italian lira (euro), Italy
Italian lira (euro), Italy

Have all of you seen Austin Powers? You remember when Dr. Evil comes up with an evil plan to hold the earth ransom for the (in his mind) terrifying demand of ‘one Mi-llion dollars’? Remember how all his evil minions giggled at that amount because in the time that Dr. Evil had been frozen, the value of the one-million dollar ransom had become insignificant?
Well in a weird way, that’s where I am in my research today.
In 1930s Italy, just what ransom demand WOULD be considered daunting to Portia and her client?

Just as a point of comparison, the ransom note for the Lindbergh baby (Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr. son of Charles Lindbergh) demanded $50,000 US dollars for his safe return in 1932.

Now since the Italian Lira no longer exists, there are some tricky calculations I am forced to make.

If I take data from this Fodor’s site that lists the historic value of the Italian Lira, and also this data that gives me the exchange rate for US dollar to various other international currencies, I find that $50,000 US dollars in 1930 is roughly equivalent to ₤1,000,000.

Interestingly, we arrived back at Dr. Evil’s ‘one mi-lion’ number.

That said, because the client in this case is a young girl, I think I will halve the demand (based on the amount of money she could actually readily get her hands on) and make it ₤500,000.

The internet is a fabulously informative place!

Where to luncheon in 1930s London

I’m writing a new scene in CaseBook 7 (yup, the truck has been restarted friends, in no small part due to your encouragement and inspiring blog posts!) and I need a suitable spot for Portia to meet her friend Elaine Ridley (née Elaine Barclay, first introduced in ‘A Case of Darkness’). First I did some research on eating out in 1930s London, and found some really helpful references and supplementary writing at http://www.20thcenturylondon.org.uk/eating-out-1900-1950.

Elaine is a member of London’s elite, so I need a spot suitably chi chi for her palate and standing.

A Lipton restaurant next door to Holborn Underground
This photo of 1925 shows the busy corner at Kingsway and High Holborn and is from 20thcenturylondon.org.uk

The first location I came up with is this Lipton restaurant which would have been located at the corner of Kingsway and High Holborn.  The restaurant here was in walking distance of the Strand and Covent Garden and right next to the Holborn tube station on the Piccadilly line.

The next restaurant option I came up with was Restaurant Boulestin which was described by Cecil Beaton (renowned photographer and interior designer) as “the prettiest restaurant in London.”  The new location featured circus-theme murals by the French artist Marie Laurencin and fabrics by Raoul Dufy. (this is all from the Wikipedia article here by the way).

Clown, wall panel from Restaurant Boulestin (mural), Laboureur, Jean-Emile (1877-1943)
Clown, wall panel from Restaurant Boulestin

As the fine folks over at The Aesthete Cooks blog describe, Boulestin is an unsung hero of French culinary art, and the writers of that blog did a fine job of recreating one of his signature meals: foie de veau. It turns out Boulestin was not only a fine chef, but a cookbook author, and on the BBC, the first Chef to have his own program about cooking.

The location of the restaurant is a little hard to lock down, but it was near Covent Gardens and the Royal Opera House, and was sadly replaced by a Pizza Hut in 1994 (reported on with sadness in many papers, including the Independent here). I <think> the Pizza Hut they are speak of is on Henrietta St.

I think this is the better of the two in terms of a scene-setter – eh?

Adding to the menu from a blog post over at The Vintage Cookbook from a Boulestin cookbook for Salade de pomme de Terre aux piments.