For the time being, I’ve made the decision to keep the story going exclusively on Reddit. I still plan to announce and link each chapter here, but would like to spend the extra time copying it over and arranging the chapters on writing other work instead.
Origins of words and phrases are a point of interest for me, leading me to stumble across the surprising origins of “sweet FA”.
Originating from the slang “fanny adams”, meaning mutton, stew or anything worthless, used by British seamen in 1869.
Current use is largely “sweet fuck all” and the meaning remains the same – nothing, worthless.
Fanny Adams was very much a real little girl living in Alton, Hampshire in 1867.
Fanny was only 8 years old on the 24th of August, 1867 when her mother gave her permission to go up to Tanhouse Lane with her friend (Minnie) and younger sister (Elizabeth).
There they met a 29-year-old clerk, who offered Minnie and Elizabeth three halfpence to spend, while offering Fanny a halfpenny if she would accompany him a couple of miles north of Alton, towards Shalden. Fanny accepted the halfpenny but initially refused to accompany the man, who then picked her up and carried her into a nearby field, out of sight of Minnie and Elizabeth.
By 5:00PM, Minnie and Elizabeth had returned home and were questioned by a neighbour regarding Fanny’s whereabouts. Both the neighbour and Fanny’s mother went to Tanhouse Lane. They met the clerk, but after questioning him and finding him to be respectable, they believed his story of giving the girls some sweets and that was all.
By 7:00PM, Fanny was still missing. More neighbours joined the search. They found Fanny’s violently mutilated body in the field.
. Her head and legs had been severed and her eyes removed. Her eyes had been thrown into the River Wey. Her torso was dismembered and the entire contents of her chest and pelvis had been torn out and scattered across the hop field, with some internal organs found further slashed or mutilated.
The police arrested the clerk – Frederick Baker – that very evening. Witnesses and colleagues placed his whereabouts in the area, not returning to the office until 3:00PM. His work colleague reported that while drinking, Baker had mentioned leaving town. The colleague questioned the difficulty he might face getting another job, to which Baker replied: “I could go as a butcher”.
On the 26th of August, Baker’s diary entry from the 24th was discovered. It read:
24th August, Saturday – killed a young girl. It was fine and hot.
Despite Baker’s protests of innocence and his defence arguing insanity and claiming the diary entry was not a confession, he was found guilty by the jury in just 15 minutes.
Baker was executed on Christmas Eve of 1867.
Fanny’s headstone reads:
Sacred to the memory of Fanny Adams aged 8 years and 4 months who was cruelly murdered on Saturday August 24th 1867.
Fear not them which kill the body but are not able to kill the soul but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both body and soul in hell. Matthew 10 v 28.
The phrase “Sweet Fanny Adams” didn’t come in to use until 2 years later, in 1869.
New rations of tinned mutton were introduced to British seamen at this time. The introduction left the seamen unimpressed, leading them to suggest the tins might contain the grisly remains of Fanny Adams.
“Fanny Adams” (or sweet F.A.) soon became slang for mutton, stew and eventually anything considered worthless. In 1889, the phrase was recorded as:
“Fanny Adams (naval), tinned mutton”
It’s unclear when Fanny Adams evolved to “fuck all”, although stating a correct date is difficult to pinpoint thanks to the politeness of written record until the 20th century.
Walter Downing, an Australian soldier who fought in Europe in the First World War, wrote an glossary of WWI soldier’s slang called Digger Dialects in 1919. He is the first to record the link between F.A. (meaning ‘fuck all’) and Fanny Adams:
“F.A., ‘Fanny Adams’, or ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’ – nothing; vacuity.”
We shared the rest of the wicked – restless, light, constantly on edge. There was no way for us to just shut it all out and get the sleep we really needed.
We longed for Annie, for normal days, for the end of war.
There was no doubt we were heading into a war greater than we’d faced before – we were finished just surviving, we were heading to a fight with Harvey and whatever zombies lay between us.
Jay started from his uneasy sleep beside me, and was ready to go immediately. He twitched the curtains aside, then turned back to me, his mouth set in a grim line.
“It’s just getting dark.” He said quietly. “We should make a move.”
I’ve read the gothic horror Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews before – probably over a decade ago, when I was in my mid-teens. I actually read the entire series back then, and I read them with more of a shocked fascination than anything else.
Spoilers ahead, in case you haven’t read the book (or seen the movie).
I turned each page this time around knowing what was coming. When the doughnuts first appeared, I knew what they meant. I knew what was hidden in the powdered icing. Every time Cory spoke, or did something, or was just so plain cute, I felt a little sick.
Strange, how as you get older, the shock and emotion comes from a completely different place. As a teenager, the shock was mostly of what Chris and Cathy did – their incestuous relationship, the hiding, the lying.
Now in my 30s, the shock comes from what their mother did to Cory. How she let all four of her own children wilt, slowly killing them all, with all but Cory eventually escaping on their own. I was utterly miserable after reading it, fascinated but sick with a grey kind of sadness.
Okay, it was sad, but it wasn’t real … right? Except that’s the problem with Flowers in the Attic – it’s always been claimed to be “based on a true story”. I tried to determine how truthful that claim was, but it’s been difficult – impossible – to completely determine one way or another. While I think it’s safe to say the book was clearly embellished, what if the seeds of the story – the children locked away – actually happened?
Even the editor, Ann Patty, has been known to confirm the story is at least partly true:
“Yes, Flowers in the Attic was based on a story she heard when she was in the hospital for a spinal operation…. Well, someone told it to her, yes. Some doctor there. So I’d guess that some aspects of it were true—at least the aspect of kids being hidden away. Whether the twins were real, the sex, the time frame, probably not. I think it was just the concept of kids hidden in the attic so the mother could inherit a fortune.”
The source of the story seems to be from a doctor in a hospital that V.C. Andrews came in to contact with:
“While at the “University of Virginia hospital for treatment…she developed a crush on her young doctor. He and his siblings had been locked away in the attic for over 6 years to preserve the family wealth.”
“Flowers in the Attic WAS based on a true story. Virginia was a young lady when my dad made arrangements to take Virginia to the University of Virginia hospital for treatment. While she was there, she developed a crush on her young doctor. He and his siblings had been locked away in the attic for over 6 years to preserve the family wealth. Obviously she cut the time back [in her novel] to be more believable. That area of the country has a lot of very wealthy people. I do not know who they were.”
Alluding to the story being at least partly true is even included in the original pitch letter:
So despite my best efforts, while not confirming completely whether or not this story is true, I also didn’t receive much comfort about the sadness I felt re-reading this novel. Even if this account is untrue, there are children locked and hidden away from the world, and now that I’m older (but not necessarily wiser), this is what I take away from these books. The sadness of a mother who loved herself too much, and her children too little.
Morning came after a long, restless night with little relief from the worries that plagued us. Finally we gave up on the attempts to rest and found ourselves sitting in the dining room, waiting for the others.
“I don’t think they’re going to go for it.” Jay murmured, interrupting the silence.
“Would we? They have to protect Toby.”
“We wouldn’t let anything happen to him!”
The tension in the air felt palpable as I withheld my response from Jay. We both knew what I was thinking – we’d never let anything happen to Annie, either, and look how that had ended up.
By the time we woke, nighttime had settled around us and we fumbled around in the poorly lit room, gathering our gear and heading downstairs to leave.
Nervous energy bounced between us, gnawing at our stomach, leaving us in a hurry to get going and skip any kind of meal. The glow of excitement had worn off a bit, and we were seeing our plan for what it really was – a rough idea, a dream in need of serious work.
We left the house with few words spoken between us, but Jay took my hand and we walked back to the bikes, choosing to push them through the worst of the overgrowth around the house.
We’d gone to sleep throwing ideas back and forth, our excitement growing, dulled only by the exhaustion that beckoned us.
The ideas we exchanged were mostly lost to the night, our words becoming gradually more slurred and the suggestions more fanatical as we struggled to stay awake.
We slept more soundly than I can remember us sleeping since this whole thing started – the deep sleep of people who felt peaceful and craved energy to put a plan in motion the next day.