Tuesday, 30 November 2010

44 Mecklenburgh Square

This house, in Mecklenburgh Square, London WC1 (named after Queen Charlotte, of the house of Mecklenburg-Strelitz), bears a privately erected blue plaque to an obscure American writer, called Hilda Doolittle. In fact, her friend D H Lawrence once stayed in the house and also wrote part of a book here. Later on, Dorothy L Sayers lived here for a while, and it is probably where she invented Lord Peter Wimsey. In her novel Gaudy Night, she makes it home to her heroine, Harriet Vane.

The large Grade II listed garden in the square itself is reserved for residents of the square (including the students in London House and Goodenough House)and was laid out as part of Thomas Coram's Foundling Hospital between 1810-1812. Samuel Pepys Cockerell and Joseph Kay were responsible for its design which includes many plantings from New Zealand. I have happy memories of tennis on the court in that sheltered, leafy place.

High Summer

While parts of the northern hemisphere are snow-bound and heading for Arctic conditions, I am sorrry to say that it is high summer down here and yesterday was in the late 20s'C with just enough ocean breeze to sway the palms and be thoroughly agreeable.

Friday, 26 November 2010

View From Hawker's Hut

This is the glorious view from Hawker's Hut. It was also from here that Hawker could see sea storms arising and render assistance to those in peril on the sea and even, at his own expense, bury those killed at sea and washed up on those shores.

The Wind in The Willows

The copy of Kenneth Grahame's famous book The Wind in The Willows, shown above and inscribed "To Foy Felicia Quiller-Couch from her affectionate friend Kenneth Grahame. Oct. 1908." was auctioned at Bonhams in March and, at £32,400, fetched ten times its estimate after 'fierce bidding'. Maybe it is not that surprising because it is one of the world's best loved children's books and the inscription is to the daughter of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch who is supposed to have been the inspiration for the character Ratty. Indeed, the whole book was conceived in boating trips up and down the River Fowey and its harbour, because Kenneth Grahame spent a fair amount of time there and was even married in the parish church of St Fimbarrus; although it is fair to say that Kenneth Grahame's home life at Pangbourne on the River Thames also provided some inspiration.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Thanksgiving and Its Roots

Happy Thanksgiving to those of you who are celebrating it today. It is a pity that its origins (with the Pilgrim Fathers in 1621) in the British Harvest Home, Harvest Thanksgiving, or Harvest Festival are less celebrated in Britain than they used to be at the time of the Harvest Moon (at the Autumn Equinox). Although there is evidence of such celebrations stretching back to pagan times, The Rev. Robert Stephen Hawker of Morwenstow in north Cornwall was responsible for bringing the celebrations into the churches, which used to be decorated with flowers and harvest produce. There used to be services of thanksgiving, and the singing of hymns, such as We Plough The Fields and Scatter and All Things Bright and Beautiful. Unfortunately, with the understandable fall in church attendance (owing to the useless, wishy-washy leadership of the Church of England), everyone now thinks that Thanksgiving is an American and Canadian invention.

Largely gone in Britain too are ceremonies such as 'Crying The Neck' to mark the reaping of the last neck of corn and making a corn dolly out of it as a charm until the next harvest home.

In the picture is Hawker's church of St Morwenna on the cliffs of Morwenstow. Hawker was also a remarkably good poet and hymn writer and used to sit out in a little hut, which he built out of driftwood, on the high cliffs, overlooking the ocean, to compose his verse. The hut is still there, and it is the smallest building preserved by the National Trust.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Miss Joan Hunter Dunne

When he died they said that Cary Grant was not supposed to die (in a sense, I suppose that he never will) and when Joan Hunter Dunne died, her obituary in The Independent newspaper said that she should never have existed; she should have been just a made-up name in a poem but the fact of the matter is that she did exist and John Betjeman became infatuated with her when he met her in her war work in the Senate House of the University of London and wrote the poem A Subaltern's Love-song about her. He even presented it to her over lunch and she was delighted as it relieved the tedium of the war and also accurately reflected the type of life that she led: she was even (as Betjeman had supposed), a doctor's daughter from Surrey (although not "Furnish'd and burnish'd by Aldershot" sun)but Farnborough. Joan Hunter Dunne (1915-2008) is in the photograph. She did marry after the war and had a family.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Book II Cover

Here, at last, is the front of the dust cover for Book II. I am very happy with it, even if the images in the bottom right (aside from the cigarette case) were not my personal choice. 'History' is in the main title again; although I might say that the sub-title is a better description. However, there are, as before, interesting historical titbits, including the fruits of my latest researches on the history of the DJ-Tuxedo, which probably go further than anyone else has gone so far. I feel that I should issue a humour warning: if you cannot read what I have to say with a pinch of salt, then buy a more earnest book, of which there are many. Otherwise, you are likely to be left spluttering with indignation, here and there. However, there are not many books which cover all the ground that is covered here.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

The Voice of the People

I see that the gutter rag The People, read by the 'intellectually challenged' has conducted a poll of 'Britons' which suggests, they say, that a majority would favour Prince William becoming the next king. But this all rests on a fundamental misunderstanding: kings are born and not made and if the 'people' of Briton really want a choice in their head of state, they should bring about a revolution: otherwise, editors of the rag The People keep your unhelpful opinions to yourselves.

Ripping Yarns

Yesterday I watched the BBC television adaptation of Unpleasantness At The Bellona Club and today there is Murder Must Advertise. This set me thinking about the order in which I came to enjoy ripping yarns and I concluded that it was in this order: first, Enid Blyton's Famous Five books; secondly, Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons and Captain W E Johns' Biggles; thirdly, Ian Fleming's James Bond books, together with Leslie Chateris's The Saint books and certain individual works, such as Baroness Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel; fourthly, H Rider Haggards's books such as She and King Solomon's Mines (and never mind that the real mines were probably copper mines rather than diamond mines!); on then to the thrillers of Dorothy L Sayers and, finally, moving onto further individual books, such as Wilkie Collins' The Lady in White and Erskine Childers' The Riddle of The Sands. Of course, The Holy Bible and the Works of Shakespeare also contain many 'ripping yarns' too but that is axiomatic. But I cannot help thinking that modern boys, addictively locked into pointless computer games, are missing out on some thrilling tales.

The Mayflower Compact

On this day (according to the Gregorian Calendar) in 1620, the Pilgrim Fathers ('the Pilgrims' in the USA), signed the Mayflower Compact (a transcription is shown above) and in this they covenanted and combined in a Civil Body Politic of self-government, whilst maintaining allegiance to King James. The other picture is of the memorial at the Barbican in Plymouth, Devon, from which they embarked.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Dorothy L Sayers and the BBC

Over the last two days, I have been renewing my acquaintance with the BBC serializations, in the 1970s, of a couple of the television adaptations of the Lord Peter Wimsey stories: yesterday it was Five Red Herrings and, today, it has been Clouds of Witness. I am sure that there is a boxed set of the whole lot, produced by the BBC, available from the BBC shop and on-line, from the usual suspects. I hope so. For: casting (importantly the casting of Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter and Gyn Houston as Bunter); acting; wardrobe; direction; atmosphere; props; manners; suspense; drama; romance and pace: moreover, because it was all, probably, achieved on a shoestring budget, they are brilliant entertainment. I doubt whether the BBC has produced anything better recently and it brings to mind the terrible shame that the earlier Ian Carmichael and Dennis Price televison versions of The World of Wooster seem to have been lost to the world by virtue of re-use of the recording tapes. It also brought to mind a charming BBC radio series that Ian Carmichael made of the life of Jack Buchanan, in which he recounted Jack Buchanan (a stage hero of his), walking into his dressing room after one of Carmichael's own early stage successes and introducing himself with the line: "Hello, old boy, I'm Jack Buchanan" and then congratulating him on his show; an act of gratuitous encouragement to a young beginner, who went on to achieve his own place in the very heart of the nation.

Ian Carmichael, star of stage and screen 1920-2010, pictured above, in a still from the Wimsey series, with Glyn Houston as Bunter.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Prince William of Wales's engagement

All the world congratulates Prince William and Kate Middleton on their engagement but the Prince's choosing to give her his mother's engagement ring strikes a discordant note, bearing in mind the publicly miserable marriage that it presaged the first time around and, surely, something made especially for her would have been more appropriate. Even giving her the late Queen Mother's ring would have been better. Is it just a private matter? No, it isn't, because these people are public property.

But then there are stories of how economical members of The Firm are!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Monarchies and Republics

I was thinking more about the relative merits of monarchies and republics and it seems to me that there is some force in the argument that monarchies, set within a democracy, have a great deal going for them: the nation is just about guaranteed a leader who will be well educated and who knows how to behave in an international setting. They might not always be the brightest or the most morally upright but monarchs are bound to a duty to which they are born; whereas every President has clawed his way to the top in the thirst for power and prestige. I know which I prefer. Moreover, having a monarchy means that the UK will never end up with some ghastly screwball as a head of state: President Mandelson or First Lady "Our Cherry" Blair.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Day of The Proclamation of The Republic

Today is the holiday called after The Day of The Proclamation of The Republic on 15th November 1889, when Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca reluctantly fell in with a plot by republicans to depose Brazil's last Emperor, Dom Pedro II. The Emperor's Own 1st and 9th Cavalry regiments seized control of the buildings housing the government and a bloodless coup and the proclamation were made. This must have seemed a cruel reward for the making of the Golden Law, abolishing slavery, on 13th May 1888, and for lengthy periods, Brazil struggled under dictatorships, before it emerged into the age of democracy and its current prosperity.

I won't bring my voice to cry out 'Long Live The Republic' but I will definitely shout 'Floreat Brasilia!' And I shall enjoy the fireworks!

The picture is of Dom Pedro II.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Kathy Kirby

I mentioned Kathy Kirby in the last post and at least somebody else remembers her - so why not a little more? Her recording of the late fifties' song I Wish You Love by Chauliac (English lyrics by Albert Beach) is now in the Youtube bar below. Having listened to many other recordings of this, including those by Dusty Springfield, Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich, Dean Martin and Gloria Lynne, it is definitely my favourite. Kathy Kirby is one of those sometime big stars who has been forgotten by the world. Yet her voice (with perfect pitch) is beyond compare with most of the modern singing celebrities, with their tuneless, clanking, regional accents and overall (sorry to say) pig ignorance, who distract the audience from the fact that they can't sing, can't dance, by shakin' it. There is about her performance an ineffable grace and it brings a most pleasurable comfort.

Friday, 12 November 2010

If You Were The Only Girl In The World

This song was written by Nat Ayer with lyrics by Clifford Grey for a show,starring Violet Lorraine and George Robey, at the old Alhambra Theatre, which used to stand on the east side of Leicester Square. Great though the Odeon Leicester Square is, maybe it is a shame that the world could not have kept both of these buildings. As for the song: it was praised by Sir Edward Elgar, who called it a perfect melody and it has been recorded by many artists across the years and one of my favourite recordings is that made by Gertrude Lawrence and Noel Coward but I also enjoy the Stanley Holloway version and the recording by the rather forgotten Kathy Kirby. Besides those there is the piano roll recording by 1930s pianist Frank Milne. I have put links in the Youtube bar at the foot of this page but whether they work externally I cannot say. If they do not, it is easy enough to find them on Youtube.

The photograph is Stanley Holloway in a still from the great film The Titfield Thunderbolt.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Retirement of RN's Aircraft Carrier

The government's decision to scrap its remaining aircraft carrier and the Harrier jets flown from it has been attacked in The Times today by retired senior naval and military figures. Those in service are not, for obvious reasons, permitted to make comments on government decisions. The warning that these fellows have given is reasoned and based upon their substantial experience. The UK's government of the day includes many neophytes who should, undoubtedly, listen to the voice of experience. The signatories to the letter warn that the scrapping of the carrier (not to be replaced for several years) could open up the real possibility that Argentina could successfully invade the Falkland Islands and inflict a national humiliation on a par with the loss of Singapore. Surely, any government worth its salt would take every measure to prevent any such thing?

The picture is an artist's impression of the two replacement aircraft carriers which, some say, will not be fully operational for many years.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The Demon Drink

In this age of what I have heard described as 'body fascism' to defend the consumption of alcohol at a level beyond the rather feeble levels 'set' by 'authorities' such as the British Medical Association is unfashionable. By the way, of all the people that I have dealt with in my life, I have never come across a group with more out-and-out, hopeless and reckless drunkards than the medical profession: one that I can think of used to have so much to drink, on a daily basis, that help was needed to get her into a cab which was to take her to the train station and so back to home and beauty, after a drive, at the other end, in her large Mercedes.

However, back to my onions - or is it sheep - George W Bush admitted to alcoholism, the American people did not think that this disqualified him from being their President and he did what he had to do. Charles Kennedy, on the other hand, sometime leader of the Liberal Democratic party in the UK, was caught napping a couple of times, after the habitual over-indulgence in the Parliamentary bars (which is as generally traditional as the over-indulgence to be witnessed in the bars frequented by the legal profession in central London) and, for being caught,was censured by other, more purse-lipped, Scotch members, and then got the heave-ho plus many lectures from various, self-righteous journalists (another group renowned for their liking for the products of the grain and the grape), on the perils of the Demon Drink.

For my own part, with Omar Khayyam:

"I often wonder what the vintners buy
One half so precious as the goods they sell."

I doubt whether many great people would have been the same without their addictions: from Tallulah Bankhead to Winston Churchill and from F E Smith to John Huston. What a pale little age we live in, populated by bullies and the bullied, because the kill-joys have taken control.

But they are not taking control of me.

Today's picture is of a bottle of over-proof, pre-1915-French-ban Absinthe, courtesy of oxygenee.com.

Monday, 8 November 2010

The Marvellous City

Off into the Marvellous City today and will seek out some snuff, scented with a phenolic essence from the Imburana tree (snuff was born in Brazil and the early European manufacture favoured Brazilian tobacco for snuff as it has always favoured Cuban tobacco for cigars). Also need some more proper tea. After that, it's off to meet our friends for a snack and a chat and then homeward bound. It is about two hours there and two hours back, as the road winds through the mountains, but it is only fifty miles in distance. Above is a view of the mountains from Sampaio Correa.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Norman Parkinson IV

Of course Parkinson always photographed women in a way that brought out their - shall we say - their warmth; whereas Cecil Beaton's photographs (especially the Garbo photographs of her dressed as a Pierrot) lack that warmth and appeal. Of course, no where is this warmth and appeal more apparent in Parkinson's work than in his Pirelli Calendar work.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Remember, Remember, The Fifth of November

Bonfire Night in Britain is the celebration for the deliverance, in 1605, of James I and his Parliament from a plot to blow up the House of Lords by Guy Fawkes and twelve other papist conspirators, who had rented vaults under Parliament where they stored their gunpowder. Tipped off by an anonymous 'grass', Fawkes, who had been sent to guard the gunpowder, was captured and dragged off to the Tower of London, where he was tortured for the names of the co-conspirators. He eventually gave the names of seven others. They were rounded up and all tried for High Treason in Westminster Hall. Found guilty, they were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, which means that they were to be taken down before they were dead and have their genitals cut off and burned before their eyes and then have their guts drawn; finally being quartered with the parts being distributed around the kingdom as a deterrent to other would be traitors. In fact Fawkes managed to kill himself on the way up the scaffold by jumping off it but they still cut him up.

The Good Old Days.

Anyway, all those of you back there in Blighty, enjoy the bonfires and the fireworks tonight.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Norman Parkinson III

Just so that we are clear that Norman Parkinson had an eye for contemporary art and fashion, see the above picture of a model in a Philip Treacy hat. Still pretty though.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Norman Parkinson II

Here is another great shot by Norman Parkinson. There is always something magical in the composition of his pictures; something whimsical and alluring. This shot is taken in the nineteen fifties/sixties and yet the attitude that it portrays could be a hundred years back from now. Tub-thumping? Yep, that's right and if, Jed, I am a grumpy old man, I am proud of it.

Norman Parkinson

I just saw this advertisement, for an exhibition of the work of Norman Parkinson, on Jeffrey Archer's Blogspot ("We Authors", don't you know!) and thought to myself that I can actually remember when women dressed like that but where did they all go - or, where did it all go wrong?

I mean, one minute, we are the greatest civilization on earth and the next we have become, roughly in order: beatniks, hippies,rockers, mods, punk rockers, goths and street rappas: each incarnation of 'pop' being lower and more vile than the last; thanks to idiots such as the walking corpse Andy Warhola and those 'artists' who: exhibit corpses; pile up bricks; or tin and label 'the artist's excreta' or, in the case of Tracy Emmins, scrunch up their dirty linen, for us to stare at in 'art' galleries. And it all takes place to a brain-damaging, wall-thumping, cacophany, called muzac, given to us by talentless, breast-wiggling, pelvis-grinding, near-naked female tarts and a host of scruffy, male plonkers, selected and promoted by money-grubbing morons on gutter-level 'telly' programmes.

What a shame that we 'lost it'.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Homeward Bound

And so back safely,at what I can describe only as just the other side of midnight as these events do not take place in earth time. However, there was nearly a Galactic Highway pile-up on the Mars Home Straight on the journey home. Tiredness, I suppose, induced a little wandering of the attention by the fellow in front; his broomstick wobbled, he braked too hard and he nearly lost his Familiar. Fortunately, mine was able to reach out and grip her before she fell right off and the situation was saved. We pulled over for a break after that: a cup of tea for me and a saucer of milk for Flash. Unfortunately, I am not permitted to give an account of the proceedings at the venue and, indeed, I received something of a censure, from the most senior member of the coven, for having mentioned the proceedings at all. Still, there we are.

What hat did I wear? The hunting-weight Cambridge, of course.

Flash is in the top picture.