Monday, 31 October 2011

Just Before We Set Off

Just before  Flash, her apprentice and I (all perfectly dressed, of course), set off on our annual, mid-Atlantic rendez-vous  - here are Jack and Binnie: our chosen recording for the flight:

Above is Binnie, just before the take-off, so to speak.
Blessed Be!

Flash's Apprentice Familiar

It's that time of year again and the broomstick has been buffed-up by a 'daily' hired specifically for the purpose and Flash and I will be setting off again in that moment that does not quite exist and returning before it has passed, for the Coven's annual Mid-Atlantic Meeting. However, this year, at her insistence, Flash has an Apprentice Familiar onboard. As yet unnamed, and all black (a big advantage for a Familiar), I'll try to get a picture later today when the nest is less guarded.

Friday, 28 October 2011


Although she was extremely stylish and could give the impression of a great beauty, Gertrude Lawrence (1898-1952) was only just the right side of pretty and had nothing much more than a sweet voice. However, those who saw her on the stage said that she lit it up: a living example of 'It' in action. It doesn't really come across in the few films that she made and (The Band Wagon aside), a similar thing can be said of Jack Buchanan. They had a stage presence that was largely lost on celluloid. The affection in which she was held was so great that Noel Coward could not trust himself to attend her funeral.

Sheridan Morley, one of her biographers, shrewdly put her presence down to her compassion and, to my mind, in saying this, he half draws back the curtain on 'It'. I also think (and it has to come from sound recordings), that she had extraordinary senses of timing, irony and wry humour. The recordings show how she could bring her audience onto her side; see her point of view and like her. That George and Ira Gershwin wrote Someone To Watch Over Me for her also says something; not to mention all the Coward songs and plays, written for her to perform. Here she is singing it a year before she died.

Maybe I am just a sentimentalist - but I don't think that anyone could ever sing it better than she:

My favourite story about her is that, after she was bankrupted over her wildly extravagant spending habits, she bought a house in England but then went to live in America. Her agent asked her whether this was sensible. Her response was to ask him to look into the cost of installing a swimming pool.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

More on The Gates.

Metalurgica Max arrived early to repair the gates and did a stonking job, in surprisingly little time (a couple of hours). He is not cheap but it is so well done that I asked for a quote for him to renovate the other parts, which the aggressive, salt-laden winds have corroded. It is just over half as much again as it was five years ago but then there is probably more to do. A less sensible choice than Buckingham Palace-style iron railings to bound a property forty metres from high tide mark, with a notorious Spring sou'-westerly, I cannot imagine and more sensible neighbours have wooden fences or concrete 'railings'; still they were not our choice as they are a part of the house as it was built for the original owner.

Skilled craftsmen in Brazil are not as rare as they have become in the UK (and, probably other parts of the so-called 'first' world), where most modern buildings comprise mixtures of pre-fabs of some kind and kiln-dried green softwoods, stapled onto thick cardboard; all contributing to the dull sameness of modern 'design', and more or less guaranteed to crumble and fall apart once the mortgage has been paid.

Brazilian trades and crafts run in families and Metallurgica Max's sons will probably become metal-workers. What is astounding about these people (and most admirable), is that they arrive with an exiguous array of tools and hardly any materials and achieve, in short order, extremely satisfactory results; they also give you a quote and they stick to it, even if the job turns out to be trickier than, at first, assessed. There is no knowing shaking of the head and apprehensive sucking of teeth, accompanied by the cynical, British: "OOh! I don't like the look of that Guv!" to exaggerate the extent of the job and to inflate the price. Moreover, it is satisfying to have reached the stage of being able to communicate reasonably effectively in Portuguese, and I am sure that this means that they no longer quote me a 'Gringo price'.

I strongly dislike being addressed as 'Patrao'
roughly equivalent to 'Master', something more than 'Senhor' ( a business-like 'Sir') and smacks of flattery; it can, sometimes, presage a rip-off but not this time. Incidentally, if tradesmen or business people here declaim that you are 'familia' after you have struck a deal with them, you just know for certain that you have been well and truly screwed. Again, though, not this time.

Well done! Metalurgica Max!

I have a friend who has a farm in Dorset and he employs a farm manager who, in best Thomas Hardy tradition, addresses him in a thick 'Dosset' accent as 'Maasterr' - and my friend seems to revel in this. I just cannot understand it and the offering or the acceptance of such a degree of obsequiousness in our age makes my flesh creep; after all, some people with real titles let them lie idle.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Budd Shirtmaker Dragon Chairs

I have just learned that the pair of dragon chairs are still in the shop (in the windows) and that their importance to the history of the shop is appreciated by the new owners.

The Harry Potter Factor

Randall Couch:

He recently wrote, on another site, of the internal 'regeneration' of the the charming old interior of Budd Shirtmakers in the Princes Arcade off Piccadilly and mentioned the Harry Potter factor. Budd were recently bought from the Webster family by the corporate group which owns (and, in fairness, saved), the tailor Huntsman in Savile Row.

As it used to be, the shop was a bit of jumble of fine things; the paintwork was old and the fixtures and fittings were of the dark wood that one would really expect from shirtmakers beloved by everyone from Terry-Thomas through to John Hurt; Edward Fox, and Hugh Bonneville as well as professionals, politicians and tycoons; in fact everyone with knowledge of this gem of a shop, managed by the venerable Mr Rowley, with veteran cutter Mr Butcher.

I rather regret the introduction of light wood fittings and order to the place, and the removal of anything (such as the dragon chair, in the picture), which might be reckoned, by the new owners, to intimidate the sort of people who, they miss to notice, will never become Budd customers anyway. They have indulged in an exercise to broaden the customer base: to attract all the monied celebrities and barrowboy traders who might have been put off by the old shop. But it's a short-sighted exercise because it entails the loss of the kind of magick that inspired the Harry Potter stories. Randall Couch properly observes that these stories, which hark back to the mysterious nature of the existence of all things, are immensely popular with the young and I am quite sure that the senior tutors at Hogwarts are all Budd customers.

So why do business purchasers have to tinker with a winning formula? Is it just because they have been on some dumb management course, learned a bit of jargon and have to set about applying the newly learned marketing techniques; quite missing the point that what they are actually doing is rubbing out a real attraction to new customers and things of affectionate remembrance for older customers? I can remember old Mr Webster sitting in that chair in the 1980s and I'm going to ask them to put it back.

A Gate Fell Off

Eaten away by the maresia (salt-laden wind), a huge iron gate fell off its hinges on Saturday. I am waiting for Metalurgica Max to arrive and repair it. Looking at the railings as well, I realize that they need major repairs.

There is always something...

Friday, 21 October 2011

Who Wants To Live Forever?

The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon

Turns Ashes - or it prospers; and anon,

Like Snow upon the Desert's dusty Face

Lighting a little Hour or two - is gone.

From Edward FitzGerald's translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (Omar's tomb, in Iran, appears above).

There are many religions and philosophies which seek to persuade us, without any shred of scientifically valuable evidence that, in a sense, we are all destined to live forever. Some of them have many followers and others only a few. Some of us, they say, will go to heaven and others to hell. It normally depends on how well we tow the line and behave on earth.

Heaven can be a place where cherubim and seraphim sit on large, fluffy, cotton-wool clouds, melodiously playing stringed instruments. Those souls allowed in effectively have free tickets to listen to the harmonies for eternity; all beneath the benevolent gaze of a white-bearded Papa Noel figure, who is the Big Boss. In another version, heaven might be a series of graded, tranquil and fertile gardens, for the righteous, allocated according to just how righteous the righteous have been on earth. These are thronged with virgins, allocated at the happy ratio of upwards of seventy to one, in favour of every male soul. The female souls too may have their hearts' desires, which, presumably, need to include being one of around seventy consorts of every good male soul. Everyone,though,may listen to the babbling brooks and drink of the unfermented juice of the vine.

Hell, in many slightly different versions, is generally: too warm for comfort; the company is questionable and the length of stay indefinite.

There are variations on these themes; each more or less the invention of uneducated minds in primitive times but the themes and imagery and the beliefs that they engender have been followed down centuries by virtue of the pressure of compliance, enforced with threats of damnation of unbelievers. These threats are inconsiderately passed down the generations, as though the reason "I had to believe it and, therefore, so will you" were any reason at all, let alone reason enough, to enforce an unreasoned and unreasonable terror upon successive, generations of entire nations. This terror is powerful enough to have retained its grip, among some people, even into our technologically advanced age.

Some, such as the Roman Catholics, even went so far in the middle ages as to improve upon the original scheme for life-everlasting in the scriptures and invented purgatory (a more or less nasty middle-world), as a place for penitence, punishment and redemption postponed for the souls of those christened adults who had failed to purchase (like a financial futures' option), for hard cash, absolution for their sins from the church on earth. Some other churches, such as the happy-clappy 'evangelical' churches , are even now heavily into garnering financial incentive payments from the gullible. Limbo was also invented as a wonderful exception to the summary condemnation of the souls of unbaptized infants.

The evident decline in any religious belief in the western world is a necessary background to what I have to say. People who have lost (or never had) any belief in 'life after death' are almost certainly going to be inclined to cling to the worldly certainties that they do have. And they will cling to them, however uphill the road leads, because, after all, something is better than nothing.

"But is it?"

I should add, as a footnote, which might be of interest, even though it is not strictly relevant to what I have to say, that I do entertain a simple belief that all that we are, body and soul, is absorbed back into the generality of the physical and the spiritual in the universe, after we die. By 'the spiritual' in us, I mean our feelings and emotions; our hearts. Whether, after we die, we continue, in any sense, to exist as individual entities, I have no more real idea than anyone else who has not yet died - but I am quite sure that I am against the idea.

Trafalgar Day

Today is Trafalgar Day and we gratefully commemorate the battle and remember the death of Admiral Lord Nelson. An observer onboard Lord Collingwood's HMS Royal Sovereign wrote of the moment that, victory assured, news was brought of Nelson's death: "Chaps that fought like the devil, sit down and cry like a wench."

Thousands lined the funeral route and one witness wrote: "The sound of all the men removing their hats as the coffin passed sounded like a wave breaking on the shore."

The twelve seamen from HMS Victory, who were the pall-bearers, covered Nelson's coffin with flags during the service but, as they did so, they spontaneously tore strips off the large George and put them in their coats over their hearts.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Hall Walk

I just found this nice film of The Hall Walk from the Dearest of Small Cities to Polruan. Watch out for the Swiss Cottage style house after the ferry crossing - it's Ferryside, where Daphne du Maurier wrote her first book The Loving Spirit and from where she was married, going by boat up Pont Pill to Lanteglos Church, which are both shown.

Amazing Amy

This Reminds Me Of Old Silver, Who Distantly Remembered Circus Tricks

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

How Tall Was Rudolph Valentino?

Written accounts vary as to Rudolph Valentino's height: I have seen it put at between five feet eight to five feet ten and there is a photograph of Valentino standing next to the boxer Jack Dempsey, which makes Valentino look like a midget - but Dempsey was only six feet one. However, camera distance and angle can make a big difference to proportion and perspective.

So how tall was Valentino and is it possible now to find out? Well I sent out a couple of inquiries. The first was to Anda Rowland, the gov'nor of his London tailors Anderson & Sheppard; Anda Rowland immediately replied and promised to look into their records and did so the next day. The second was to Campbell's funeral parlour in New York. They laid Valentino to rest, and have not yet replied. When they do, I'll put up the result.

The Anderson & Sheppard ledgers show that Valentino was measured by them on 21st November 1925 and, from the following measurements (note the contemporary comment on the shoulders), the current head cutters in that firm estimate that Valentino was 'approximately six feet tall':

Chest: 38"
Very sloping shoulders
Overcoat length 62"
Jacket length 31"
Outside leg 42"
Inside leg 32"
High waisted rise 10"
Waist 32"

This all comes from one of the best firms of tailors in the world and it goes without saying that one accepts the figures; after all they made perfectly fitting clothes from them. Moreover, they certainly well-disguised the sloping shoulders, just as Hawes & Curtis did for Robert Donat, who suffered from the same condition.

It seems generally to be accepted that Greta Garbo was five feet seven tall. Here is a picture of her with John Barrymore in a film still:

It is certainly true that film studios sometimes played hooky with actors' heights (with built-up shoes and even boxes to stand on) but let's take it that this picture shows them at their real heights. I have seen John Barrymore's height described as five feet ten to five feet eleven but never less and that seems consistent with this shot.

Here is John Barrymore receiving an acting award from Rudolph Valentino and Valentino looks a little taller (although that might be accounted for by camera distance and angle):

But all this makes it fairly plain that Valentino was much nearer six feet than he was to five feet eight. All that I can think is that the jealous, adverse publicity (which probably contributed to his early death), continued afterwards.

But (to twist a quotation from F E Smith): even if we are now none the wiser, at least we are far better informed!

Here is a youtube clip of Rudolph Valentino literally introducing the Argentinian tango to the world, in Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse (1921); he is dancing with Beatrice Dominguez (who tragically died before the film was released) - please be patient as the (rather absurd) first male dancer in the clip is not Valentino:

They also said that Valentino had a 'squeaky' voice and would never have made the transition to the 'talkies' - another myth that is put paid to in this clip of him singing two songs:

It is clear that he had a pleasing baritone - and no more 'accent' than Omar Sharif.

One final, revealing fact is that my twenty-one year old daughter had to be told who Fred Astaire was - but when I asked her whether she knew who Rudolph Valentino was, she replied

"Of course!"

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Evanescence and Regret

When I was young and starting out in the world, I knew an old Hindu and, in reply to my youthful expressions of striving through life and not surrendering, he just used to smile and say: "Life is about resignation, my friend; resignation!" As I have grown older I have come around to his point of view. Whether there is a "Providence that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will" or not, we are bound to time-out at some stage. The knowledge that this is so is borne in on us from an early age. We become aware that loved ones: people and pets; the rich and famous - all die - and that we too will die.

This fundamental fact actually adds savour to to the enjoyment of the time that we have and sharpens
our senses to the beauty of the passing moment: evidenced in everything from our appreciation of the budding, flowering and dying of a summer garden rose, to the sun rising and setting each day, or the waxing and waning of the moon; the ebb and flow of the tide; the passing sound of a bell, or the fading away of a long-remembered scent.

We may revisit, actually or in memory, the places and the doorways through which we walked long ago and from where others watched us go but they bear no perceptible traces of these happenings, they just framed our lives; our movements; our thoughts; our dreams; our yearnings; our arrivals; our departures. Others come and paint over the paint on the wood and perform their own events in these places and when we return and stare up at them we realize, most unexpectedly, that what we miss most, what hits hardest and most cruelly, is not all the 'little deaths at parting' but all the time that we have wasted since we left: and no time is more wasted than that wasted in regret.

The picture is of the great three-sided clock on Platform I at Paddington Station; which is one of the few buildings that, over recent years, has been immensely improved and well conserved by the spate of civic 'regeneration'.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

More on Addicts and Addictions: Merely The Beginning

Toping Dylan Thomas
The literary agent who sold rights in my first book took a quick look at a summary for this book (sic) and said that he didn't see a commercial book. This is understandable. After all, I have not (like Russell Brand) called it a "Booky Wook" or (like 'Shed' Simove with his "What Men Think About Apart From Sex") left all its pages blank. However, given that the agent saw a commercial book in my first book and that book has delighted a few thousand happy purchasers (worldwide) since it was published in October 2008, I hope that he is always wrong. If he is always right, then this will join my burgeoning list of books that delight the few. Either way, someone is going to be right and someone is going to be wrong but someone is also going to be pleased and I shall be relieved. I shall be relieved of an obligation that I feel to set the record straighter than it is abouts addicts and addictions.

This is not intended to be an apology for the wastrel addicts and alcoholics (who, I am sure, are legion) or for those who lead them astray (all of whom deserve a good kicking); neither is it meant to be any kind of encouragement to leading a life of excess and wastefulness.

But I have noticed that the world is full of smug 'recovering' alcoholics and addicts, lecturing us with fingers wagging, from their self-appointed moral pedestals, of the dangers of using alcohol, tobacco, drugs and the devastation caused by addiction: devastation to self-respect, career, family and friends. They leave out of account as moral anomalies or, maybe, unspoken exceptions that they think prove their precious rule, all those achievers, with addictions, who never wanted to 'recover'. I expect that S T Coleidge would be there with his opium and, if he had not been there with his opium, we would never have had The Ryme of The Anciemt Mariner or Kubla Khan. Dylan Thomas would certainly be there, sliding under the table with Richard Burton, on their fire water and, if they hadn't had their fire water, Dylan would never have written Under Milk Wood for us and Richard would not have so well performed it, even if, without the firewater and the chain-smoked fags, they had both lived to be ninety.

I suspect that Amy Winehouse wouldn't have written her best lyrics or sung at her best without her addictions; just as the great poet, A C Swinburne, who took the world by storm with Atalanta in Calydon:

"Maiden and mistress of the months and stars

Now folded in the flowerless fields of Heaven...."

never wrote anything of note after the Godly and well-meaning (but dull), Theodore Watts-Dunton 'saved' him from brandy and doled him out a bottle of beer a day, for the rest of his sorry days. Augustus John was plainly addicted to women and gave the world a raft of powerful paintings of the creatures that he loved.

Winston Churchill would, without any doubt at all, now be classified as seriously addicted to alcohol and tobacco (even though our nancified age somehow (mysteriously) managed to vote him 'The Greatest Briton'); yet Charles Kennedy MP, a sometime recent leader of the Liberal Democrats was forced out of his position because some paparazzo snatched a couple of snapshots of him looking 'tired and emotional', after a hard day's night, and the scandal-gluttonous public lapped it up, sucking in their lips, tut-tutting and wagging their fingers too. I would have had more respect for Kennedy if, instead of resigning and promising to reform his moral character, as though he had signed up for Sally Anne, he had sought out the paparazzo responsible and given him a good hiding.

Then a 'recovering' alcoholic got on his soap box and told us all, through a broadsheet newspaper, that he had battled alcoholism, beaten it and (of course) emerged a better person and so, therefore, should you, Charles Kennedy. But just a moment, how dare you say that? Who do you think you are?

If you had said that to Winston Churchill he would have told you, as he told King Ibn Sa'ud, of Saudi Arabia, that using alcohol and tobacco were absolutely 'sacred rites' to him or, as he told Bessy Braddock MP when she accused him of being drunk: "And you're ugly, but in the morning I'll be sober". And he would have insisted on his rights to drink and smoke. Of course, despite all that, some inconstant little jerk in the British Medical Association would tell us that Winston Churchill was an alcoholic. Incidentally, it never ceases to amaze me that these medical people have the utter gall to get up infront of us and lecture us about excess: some of the most problematic drinkers and smokers that I have ever known have been medical doctors - I suppose that they just fall back on that old saw: "Don't do as I do, do as I say"; which is just as well, as I recall one who, in the last fifteen years, would regularly render herself unable to stand after a couple of bottles of Pinot Grigio and, on being poured into a cab, would proclaim that she would be driving her large saloon from her home railway station to her house. As far as I know, she is still in business and holds a quasi-judicial post as well.

If forced to accept the scientific 'definition' of alcoholism, Winston Churchill would have insisted that he was a functioning alcoholic - and look at his achievements, across the field from: politics to painting, to literature, to flying and hunting; building walls, lakes and gardens; as well as letting the world have some of the most inspirational oratory in the history of mankind, along the way. He would also have said that "I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me". It seems quite plain to me that those great, rolling passages in his wartime speeches, with their mounting grandeur and indomitanble spirit, in the very eye of the storm, would never have come out of him without the: comfort food (steak and kidney puddings), the Pol Roger champagne, the Hine brandy and the Romeo y Julieta cigars.

Without his addictions, Churchill would have been less. He more or less said so and there is no reason to doubt it and Without Churchill, as he was, the world might well have been crushed sooner by the jackboots that now storm the stage of public and professional life, populate the media and, sofly, softly, persuade us to believe ourselves to be less worthy than we ought to be.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

There's Always A Way; Or: Through The Foxholes

Most practical problems can be solved by finding foxholes (as I always think of it), by lateral thinking; which is an immensely valuable thinking habit to cultivate. For example, I was recently stumped in my attempts to get hold of some decent cologne and some English snuff (Brazilian snuff is excellent but I just fancied some from Fribourg & Treyer) because of transportation / importation problems.

Now I have found answers to both of these problems: strangely, here in the Sleepy Hollow, there just happens to be a shop which sells a very good range of artisan-produced eau de cologne, which is up there in quality with Roger et Gallet - so quite good enough - and not terribly expensive, as the packaging is of the 'without-the-frills' kind: suits me. So that's one problem solved.

I have also discovered an outfit that, hastle-free, exports snuff all over the world: but, for me, it is even better that a friend has insisted on standing me: a small consignment of  F&T 'Macouba'; 'Bureau' (recently re-introduced and I can't wait to try it); 'Prince's Special', and 'Old Paris' as well as some Wilsons-of-Sharrow 'Rose of Sharrow' (probably for mixing). He is buying it today and going to send it himself; so I shall keep a very keen weather-eye for delivery vans.

However, reviewing this post, I think that my solutions have more to do with persistence than lateral thinking: another thing worth cultivating...

Peter Ustinov and Modern Humbug

I just had cause to remember Peter Ustinov (1921-2004), award-winning actor, writer, director. His many screen roles included those in Quo Vadis (1951); Spartacus (1960), as a well as several appearances as Hercule Poirot.

Ustinov was a genius - look at the range of all that he did; even directing serious operas.  I discovered recently that his father had started out as German diplomat; became a British spy against the Nazis, and changed his nationality before the War. One of those who stood up. That's a real problem with our age: not enough people will stand up and say "Just a minute"... and carefully review and pull to pieces some of the dreadful intended legislation that is passed in default of argument, let alone real opposition.

As people like Ustinov fall off the twig (no Betjeman to save buildings - look what he did for the Midland Hotel at St Pancras - saved it - as Norman Birkett saved part of Lakeland, now named after him, with a last, wonderful speech), there is a poverty of debate and a roller-coaster of puritanical humbuggery, instead of the old fashioned kind of humbuggery, which at least had the grace to be shame-faced.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Style Icon XLII: Herbert Marshall

Everybody has heard of Gary Cooper; few remember such members of the early 'Hollywood Raj' as Herbert Marshall (1890-1966); despite appearances in many films, including several classics; often co-starring with Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo and Bette Davis: Trouble In Paradise (1932); The Little Foxes (1941); The Razor's Edge (1946). He even had an affair with Hedy Lamarr. Suave, sophisticated and debonair, how different he seems from the likes of Michael Caine and Jude Law and that Office Fellow - all Cockneys and Eshtuawy dwellers. What a shame that the image of the British male has been so devalued in the American mind.

The picture is a still of Marshall and Marlene in Trouble in Paradise.

Sheridan Keeping House

The playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan and the poet Lord Byron were adept at 'keeping house' from their creditors and their bailiffs. This meant staying indoors and out of the way. Beau Brummell and Scrope Davies took the alternative route of escape and became 'Gentlemen Gone To The Continent'. Of course, Byron also fled debt and scandal several times.

Inside the house at 14 Savile Row (illustrated), which Hardy Amies renovated after WWII to accommodate his business, there is a casement from which it is said that Sheridan used to peep out at the importunate band of his creditors and their henchmen, thronging below. The house bears a plaque to his memory. 

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Caps Off!

I just saw a reference to R G Collingwood on  the 'Permanent Style' blogspot and it provoked thought.

R G Collingwood was Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy at Oxford University between 1935 and 1941 and wrote a number of books; most famously, The Idea of History; on the premise that history is real knowledge, as much as natural science, because from history we may deduce man's inclinations and capabilities. On dress, he said:

"Dress is a kind of language; but when it is rigidly uniform the only emotions which it can express are emotions common to those who wear it. The habit of wearing it focuses the attention of the wearer on emotions of the kind, and at once generates and expresses a permanent 'set' or habit of consciously feeling in the corresponding way.

Dropping a uniform carries with it a curious breach in the emotional habit. The consciousness of sharing uniform dress with a circle of others is thus a consciousness of emotional solidarity with them; and this, on its negative side, takes a form of emotional hostility towards persons outside the circle. To illustrate this from the history of parties and classes is superfluous."

Collingwood says, in fact, that his statement is an axiom. I agree. The abandonment of uniform styles of dress accounts for much confusion and conflict in modern society. I am also instantly reminded of Soames Forsyte having his topper knocked off by a rabble in the street, just after the First World War, and then swapping it for a Homburg - as disguise, out of the necessity of self-preservation!

Surely, though, emotional hostility exists in all classes and groups, towards others who are actually inimical to them and their interests and a 'uniform' is simply one way in which we express our allegiances and, in fact, avoid actual conflict; at least in those cases where the members of the conflicting parties are civilized?

The picture is of R G Collingwood in the typical garb of an Oxford academic of his time.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Book III Publication Date

I call it Book III in my 'trilogy' :)) History of Men's Etiquette: A Short Guide To The Sporting Life (please concentrate on the sub-title) has been announced for 30th November 2011:

One thing is for sure: the covers have consistently improved and now the art department bods have confined themselves to images that I have provided.

Beau Brummell's Bank Account

Drummond's Bank, at 49 Charing Cross, was subsumed in the Royal Bank of Scotland, on January 24th 1924 but the branch is still called Drummond's Branch and, rather like another RBS branch, Child & Co, at 1 Fleet Street, still has a cachet. Drummond's oldest surviving customer is Meyer & Mortimer, tailors now in Sackville Street. M&M's founder, Jonathan Meyer, of Conduit Street, had been one of Beau Brummell's favourite tailors.

The Drummond's banking records include the period 1800-1815 (when Brummell was in his prime) and his records are there but they are, alas, just on microfiche; the paper ledger records were sacrificed to the War Effort (although what on earth use they were for that, Goodness only knows). Brummell's account was not very active in the twelve months before his flight (on 16th May 1816), so it's all there and, one day I shall give myself a window of a fortnight and transcribe the microfiches. I have a specific enquiry in hand at the moment, in relation to the records and, if I get a result, I shall post it in the blog.

The records after 1815 have been preserved only for every tenth year. However, the surprising thing is that his account remained active through 1825, and down to at least 1835. Maybe, the account was the medium through which his friends responded to his begging letters, in which he complained of having been reduced to 'bran bread' and other deprivations. Again, one day, I shall give myself the time to go through it all and find such things as the night when (and the amount for which), Brummell broke George Harley Drummond, a partner in the bank, over a game of whist in White's Club (the first and, presumably, only time, that G H Drummond played a high stakes' game).

Maybe it is a little surprising that Brummell's recent biographer, Ian Kelly, did not explore these records. Indeed, as I show in History of Men's Accessories, the records of snuff chandler Fribourg & Treyer give a very good idea about Brummell's snuff habits and also his addresses at various stages and are important social documents. However, I cannot say that I am disappointed because, just as Ian Kelly was taking the ferry to Calais to start his researches, I had started my own. Alas! for me that he got into print before I had got very far at all and it all sits in a drawer, sine die. There are, though, outstanding points and many intrigues, I am sure, await discovery and discovering them one fine day will be something to look forward to.

The picture is of goldsmith Andrew Drummond, founder of Drummond's Bank in 1712.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Prompted by Nothing Really: The Poor Old Romanovs

The Royal Navy was all ready, with Geo V's agreement, to go and blast some bits off a few Bolshies and save the Czar and his family but, because of the instability caused by the First World War; the rise of the union movements, and the Easter Rising of 1916 in Ireland, Georgie got cold feet and left the Romanovs to their fate. Some speculate that his then late elder brother, the Duke of Clarence, would have saved the Romanovs. I think that Georgie was a bit of a squirt for leaving them and that they could have been quite easily and quietly assimilated as quasi-landed gentry in the English shires - as others have been: Louis Napoleon and Prince Tula of [then] Siam - remember too that even Napoleon, as he awaited his fate in Plymouth Sound, pacing up and down on decks of HMS Bellerophon, wanted to be exiled in the Green and Pleasant Land, before he was bundled off to send his snuff orders to Fribourg & Treyer, at [i]Ye Sign of the Rasp and Crown[/i], Haymarket, from St Helena.

However, not all the Romanovs were wiped out because, in April 1919, HMS Marlborough did evacuate the Dowager Empress (Queen Alexandra's sister) and various members (including other senior members), of the family and Court and some of them did settle down in rural obscurity in various countries in exile, and their descendants live on.

Above is a photograph of HMS Marlborough, signed by some of those whom she saved.

The Proposed Renaming of Birmingham City Gun Quarter. Cry: "Shame!"

They might be back-peddling slightly now but some smart-alec local councillors have decided, upon the petition of fifty 'concerned residents', that the old Birmingham 'Gun Quarter' (or, what is left of it after the developers, recently got their mits on it), should be re-named, to dissociate the area from 'drug-related gun crime'. The first thing that occurs to me is that it's a real pity that the notoriously corrupt and now (thankfully defunct) Restormel Borough Council 'lost'the petition of thousands of St Austellians, who protested about the demolition of the old Odeon Cinema. Because, if fifty Politically Correct Brummie protesters are really enough to snuff out a portion of our nation's history, how much more valid, to conserve a significant part of local history, would have been a petition comprising thousands of objections to its destruction? But, hey! That is 'modern Britain' for you!

The fifty Brummie protesters are, apparently, concerned that the name the 'Gun Quarter' suggests some kind of official support or recognition of the drug-related gun crime in the city. The fact that there is on-going, notorious, drug-related gun crime suggests to me that more time and resources should be aimed at stamping it out.

Meanwhile, as its councillors squander time and resources on such absurd nonsense as renaming old established local areas to appease fifty 'right-on' residents, Birmingham council has a massive deficit that would have the late Joseph Chamberlain spinning in his grave. So proficient and popular was this adopted son of Brum that, after a term as Mayor Of Birmingham, he stood unopposed in the general Election of 1876 and was returned as one of the city's MPs, which he remained for the rest of his lfe. So influential was he in late 19th and early 20th century politics that Winston Churchill said of him "He made the weather". He had made his fortune out of screw manufactory, one of the many metal works associated with Brum, because of the large local deposits of iron ore; which accounts for the rise of the city during the industrial revolution which, in turn, put Britain at the top of the class in innovation, design and production (there's a memory that is a real blast from the past). Gun production was all a part of this; to such an extent that, a famous local firm, called William Powell & Sons, was instrumental in securing Birmingham its own Proof House in 1813, since when there has always been a Powell on the Board of Guardians.

It can certainly be said, without fear of exaggeration, that the Birmingham gunmakers made the weapons that made and guarded the Empire. Later when Liberty herself was endangered, they were still there doing the job and firms such as A A Brown made machine tools for Spitfire fighters . And that's all on top of turning out tens of thousands of sporting guns; some of which are right up there with the Best of the Best worldwide.

Surely, the unproductive and disorganized squads of modern British politicians might at least look back on our nation's industrial past with pride? - especially since truly British industry produces less and less every year; even Bristol Cars nearly bit the dust and are now foreign-owned - and especially since the diminished Birmingham gun trade is at least still there.

In any event: while the government of modern Britain is spreading 'great western democracy' over parts of the earth that have no use for it, and street rioters run amok, unchecked for days on end; while it has been over-regulating the law-abiding in everything from radiator settings to smoking in public, just as all the major banks went bust; similarly, it was debating fox-hunting, while there are still mentally defective people sleeping in doorways, and the old and sick are sometimes left to die in filthy hospital corridors. Where do those in national and local government find the time for all the twaddle?

Cry "Shame" on Birmingham City Council.

Today's picture is of the Birmingham Gun-barrel Proof House.

Sunday, 9 October 2011


The second gun of a true matched pair of shotguns bears numbers that are immediately consecutive with the first gun and the guns should be the same in terms of overall configuration. A 'composed pair' is any other brace of guns that are used as a practical pair and they might have slight differences. Double-gunning requires special considerations, including, importantly, safety considerations.

The following useful points come from
the BASC Guide to Shooting Game (Swan Hill Press, 2007), by Michael Yardley:

 1)The loader stands to the right rear of the shooter (assuming a gun firing off the right shoulder).
2) The fired gun is handed back with the right hand (the loader taking it with his left a few inches forward of the action body), over the right shoulder.
3) The fresh gun is taken by the shooter with the left hand, palm facing upwards to receive the gun. The shooter's eyes, meantime, keep looking forward towards the birds.
4) The safety catch must be on when the gun is passed back to the loader; the shooter's trigger finger must be off the trigger and the hand firmly wrapped around the grip behind the bow of the trigger guard.
5) Gun muzzles are held safely up as they pass from hand to hand.
6) When he is opening the returned gun, the loader must make sure that the muzzles are pointed safely, too. When he loads and closes the gun, the muzzles should be directed towards the ground (noting the potential danger to his own and other shooters). There is never a need for the loader to have his fingers near the trigger or touching the trigger guard.
7) The shooter should pass his gun back when
a single shot has been fired if no other shot is immediately anticipated, with safety reapplied.

The picture is of a true matched pair of vintage Boss guns.

Bankrupt Tin-Hitlers

Ah! Memories, memories! Some years ago I had to speak to one of those manual-reading humanoid-robots in a banking call centre and it just could not take my point (although exactly what it was I forget - but I was definitely in the right). This was all a long time before the British banks went bankrupt (what pleasure there is to be found in making that observation). I recall that the robot had a thick accent - but whether it was strong, North of England "Eee-up"; Narthern Oirish, or Popadum-Asian, I don't recall. I just know that it did not help. And, I, the customer, felt short-changed by some stroppy, patronizing and obstructive smart-alec, who was probably borderline illiterate.

So, I said to the robot: "You're a t**d".

There was  a stunned silence at the other end; there being, plainly, no 'manual' response to this one. Then the robot spluttered (and I mean spluttered); well, actually it was between a splutter and a squeak:

"What did you say?"

So I refreshed his memory: "You're a t**d" I said and, pausing just long enough to hear the second round of stunned silence, I hung up, leaving him short on the old 'job satisfaction' front. Of course, by this stage, I had concluded two things. First, that, without a lot of fuss and effort (a letter of complaint and, maybe, even a reference to the toothless Ombudsman), I was not going to get a satisfactory resolution and, secondly, that it was time to change my bank.

I strongly recommend this course of action when nasty little officials go too far. It doesn't achieve any practical result but, by jingo and by jove, it makes you feel much better.

Friday, 7 October 2011

The Road More Travelled

As a poor student I can remember pressing my cold nose against the windows of shops such as W S Foster and Floris in Jermyn Street and now I understand that they have some of my books for sale. And that's not all: Floris tell me that Brummell's ghost pops in from time to time and he was seen actually reading one of them at the counter. Apparently, he was smiling as he was reading but the devil of it is that I shall never know whether he was smiling in approbation or derision; still Brummell's ghost was reading my book in Floris: that's a long way down the road from just having a cold nose pressed, Little Match Girl-like, against a plate glass window of another of the world's most beautiful shops.

Speaking of things olfactory: gentle readers might keep their eyes open for a feature in The Field magazine entitled How Not To Smell Like a Dank Dog by someone from around here. I think that it's in the next edition. Thanks to John Bodenham of Floris, it even includes some nice pictures from their archive.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Some Still Like It Hot at Mr Lobb of St James's Street

After all the fame and the fortunate years, starring in Coward musicals, the musical stage actress, Ivy St Helier, fell on hard times and, according to Brian Dobbs' fine book, about John Lobb: "The Last Shall Be First" [Elm Tree Books, 1972], she visited Mr Lobb in St James's Street for a new pair of shoes. But, before I get to what happened then, I pause just to mention that the book's title is Lobb's motto and is derived, in a very Victorian way, from a few references in the New Testament. In fact it is a double pun because not only does the shoe last come first in the shoe-making process but John Lobb, as an upstart, intended from the very beginning, to be at the head of his trade: 'the first'; whether or not they make the very best bespoke shoes (actually, I'd say that Foster-Henry Maxwell make better), the whole world has heard of 'John Lobb shoes' as very fine shoes: hence the double pun.

Anyway back to my abandoned sheep, grazing nonchalantly on the hillside, and Ivy St Helier. On entering the shop, she encountered a Lobb employee who asked how he could help and Ivy St Helier said that she wanted to order a new pair of shoes but that she could afford only £so-and-so. The employee then went up the stairs to Eric Lobb's office, off the gallery, and explained that there was a lady downstairs who wanted new shoes but could not afford the full price. Eric Lobb told the employee to tell her that the shop was not an eastern bazar and there could be no haggling. The shopman went back down and relayed the message but Ivy St Helier persisted and the shopman returned to Eric Lobb who asked the shopman for her name. The shopman then found out that she was called Ivy St Helier and told Eric Lobb, who remembered seeing her playing Manon in Cowards' original, 1929 production of Bitter-Sweet and so he smiled and told the shopman to go down and say to her Hey-ho! If Love Were All, from the title of one of her songs from the show.

So the shopman trundled back down the stairs and delivered the line, before rushing back up to Eric Lobb, panting: "You've done it now, sir, you'll have to come down - she's burst into tears."

Eric Lobb then went down to the shop and greeted Ivy St Helier, telling her how much he had enjoyed her performances and what an honour it was to have her back in the shop, and then he told her to choose any shoe style she liked to be made with his compliments.

It is not then only because of its fine structure that John Lobb's deserves Esquire magazine's description as "possibly the most beautiful shop in the world".

As Ivy St Helier was leaving, she turned and said that today 'cool' is the thing but that, when she was young, they had "liked it hot."

Here is a short clip of a recording of the song sung by Ivy St Helier:

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Right To Get Fat

There are finger-wagging Tin-Hitlers out there, lecturing us about the dangers of alcohol, smoking, coffee, sugar and now they're onto the hobby-horse of fatty foods. One trouble with the scientists on whom they rely, and whose opinions are central to a lot of  government thinking on these subjects, is that they seem to blow with the wind: one week, a couple of glasses of red wine a day are good for you and, more or less the very next week, ever having drunk any alcohol at all leaves you with a heightened risk of developing cancer. One week, coffee is a clot-busting miracle drug and the next it is the stuff of which heart attacks are made - and so it goes on. And on. And on. And on.

Apparently, the Danish have dreamed up a super-tax aimed at fat people. The idea is to tax them on fatty foods; not to raise revenue as such, but to lessen expenditure, because it is aimed at deterring people from needing medical treatment as a result of indulging in fatty foods (the only up-side is that Ronald MacDonald might hit the skids).

The ban on smoking nearly everywhere has almost certainly left the governments without a great big wedge of revenue from tobacco taxes. Hence the state-funded health services are going to suffer. They can no longer financially cope with treating fat people, who need stronger beds and more food than thin people. So they have come up with the perfectly brilliant idea of taxing them and if not out of existence at least taxing them down to size. The eugenicists of the early twentieth century would have been right behind all this political nonsense, because it is also, in part, about creating 'perfect' human specimens and controlling what they consume and even how they think.

There's a book kicking around about how the world would have been had Hitler and the Axis forces won WWII. Their genocidal tendencies aside, I really do wonder whether Hitler and Mussolini would actually have laid so many personal freedoms so low, as the modern 'great western democracies' have done. There was even a recent news item that children had been taken away from their parents and put into local authority 'care' because their parents were over-feeding them!

And the really shocking thing is that no one much seems to notice; let alone care. Maybe it is time to take note of a few words of wisdom from Tacitus: 'summum ius summa iniuria': [more laws, more injustice].

That's a warning that should be heeded before it's too late. And it nearly is too late.

Today's picture is of Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle being fed a face-full of fatty acids by Mabel Normand.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Dotty Parker: "Excuse my dust"

The great wit Dorothy Parker gave herself two epitaphs: "Excuse my dust" and "This one's on me".

There's an interesting little tale about Dorothy Parker's dust. She was cremated on 9th June 1967 in Hartsdale but her friend Lilian Hellman (maybe because she was upset that Dotty had left her estate to Dr Martin Luther King and not to her), left the ashes at the crematorium and for six years they sat there on a shelf. The crematorium then sent the ashes to Dotty's lawyer's offices, where they remained in a filing cabinet for fifteen years. Someone then remembered them again and they were given to the charity which (on the death of King), became her principal beneficiary and they interred them, on 20th October 1988, in a dedicated memorial garden, under a plaque which actually mentions "Excuse my dust".

My favourite Dotty story concerns a neighbour who visited her just after her second husband died of a drug overdose. The neighbour asked whether there was anything she could do and Dorothy Parker replied "Get me a new husband". The neighbour told Dorothy Parker that this was the most shocking thing that she had ever heard and Dorothy Parker then said:

"Well, then, run down to the corner and get me a ham and cheese on rye - but tell them to hold the mayonnaise."

Monday, 3 October 2011

Reference Books Online and Bells on Sunday

Just to spread the word that membership of a public library in England (maybe other parts of the UK too) entitles the member to online access to a whole range of excellent works of reference, including the full Oxford English Dictionary; just visit your local library website and search. Have your card number to hand because this enables you to log-on to read the books.

One of the thing that I miss about Blighty is peals of church bells; often twice a week, a practice session and then the Sunday peals, as well as wedding bells and the passing bell. However, BBC Radio 4 broadcasts a peal or two each Sunday in a little programme called Bells on Sunday and I have just had my weekly fix, by virtue of the listen again facility, which also brings us The Archers' omnibus. St Clement Danes' church in Strand, London ('oranges and lemons'):

Sunday, 2 October 2011

In Milady's Boudoir

As I acknowledge in History of Men's Fashion (not a title that I ever wanted), the sub-title What The Well Dressed Man Is Wearing derives from P G Wodehouse's Right-ho! Jeeves, in which Bertie Wooster is prevailed upon by his Aunt Dahlia to write an article for her failing magazine Milady's Boudoir. What I did not know until today is that this is a humorous jibe at the magazine The Lady which, in fact, had declined a Wodehouse story.

The fact that I chose this as a sub-title might have been a clue to the fact that the book was written in a spirit of fun but, instead, legion 'i-gents' (i.e. those concerned with exchanging views over the internet on the minutiae of men's dress and early twentieth century etiquette [that word makes me shudder]), have been at pains to criticize the substance as though it were not written tongue firmly in cheek. This is not to say that I did not strive for reasonable accuracy and a promised second edition will iron out the creases (so to speak) but I sometimes wonder what happened to the British sense of humour.

Today's picture is of the current proprietress of The Lady, Mrs Julia Budworth. The magazine has been in family ownership since it was founded by Thomas Gibson-Bowles in the late nineteenth century (along with the original Vanity Fair magazine). Apparently, Boris Johnson's sister Rachel has been taken onboard to introduce "hip in place of hip-replacement" in a revamping of this magazine ("Butler wanted"), so often found in dentists' and doctors' waiting rooms.

'Debo' Mitford is JB's cousin and appears on the copy of the magazine that she is holding.