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Articles on this Page
- 09/24/18--17:00: _Oxford Stret by Mir...
- 09/25/18--16:01: _Paris, May 1968, th...
- 09/26/18--16:30: _Frida Kahlo at the ...
- 09/27/18--16:01: _The Devil is in the...
- 09/28/18--16:01: _Publishing history ...
- 09/29/18--16:01: _September Competition
- 09/30/18--16:01: _ Granddad and The ...
- 10/01/18--18:06: _Waking up in a Fren...
- 10/02/18--16:51: _The Top Ten Gothic ...
- 10/03/18--22:30: _The Elf-Mounds of I...
- 10/04/18--16:30: _The First Stop Moti...
- 10/05/18--20:30: _Belfast 1918 -- A P...
- 10/06/18--17:30: _A visit to Gladston...
- 10/07/18--16:30: _'He Loves You like ...
- 10/08/18--16:19: _Writing Londinium w...
- 10/09/18--16:30: _cod fail - Michelle...
- 10/10/18--17:22: _A wander through th...
- 10/11/18--21:00: _The Great Courses
- 10/12/18--23:00: _The Etiquette of Ap...
- 10/13/18--16:30: _The Pleasures and P...
- 10/14/18--16:00: _Sylvia Plath's Lett...
- 10/15/18--18:00: _Lovely Lucca
- 10/16/18--22:00: _PETERLOO - a place,...
- 10/17/18--16:30: _Glass Town Wars and...
- 10/18/18--16:01: _The Rich American, ...
- 09/24/18--17:00: Oxford Stret by Miranda Miller
- 09/25/18--16:01: Paris, May 1968, the student's revolution by Carol Drinkwater
- 09/26/18--16:30: Frida Kahlo at the V&A by Janie Hampton
- 09/27/18--16:01: The Devil is in the detail by Rachel hore
- 09/28/18--16:01: Publishing history by Mary Hoffman
- 09/29/18--16:01: September Competition
- 09/30/18--16:01: Granddad and The Zeppelins by Susan Price
- 10/01/18--18:06: Waking up in a French cave, by Gillian Polack
- 10/02/18--16:51: The Top Ten Gothic Novels - Chosen by Anna Mazzola
- 10/03/18--22:30: The Elf-Mounds of Ireland... (2) by Katherine Langrish
- 10/04/18--16:30: The First Stop Motion Animation - Joan Lennon
- 10/05/18--20:30: Belfast 1918 -- A Poem by Sheena Wilkinson
- 10/06/18--17:30: A visit to Gladstone's Library.....by Adèle Geras
- 10/07/18--16:30: 'He Loves You like Salt' by Karen Maitland
- 10/08/18--16:19: Writing Londinium with the Seven Senses
- 10/09/18--16:30: cod fail - Michelle Lovric
- 10/10/18--17:22: A wander through the history of Iffley Village
- 10/11/18--21:00: The Great Courses
- 10/12/18--23:00: The Etiquette of Apples
- 10/13/18--16:30: The Pleasures and Perils of Living Abroad - by Lesley Downer
- 10/14/18--16:00: Sylvia Plath's Letters Volume 2 by Fay Bound Alberti
- 10/15/18--18:00: Lovely Lucca
- 10/16/18--22:00: PETERLOO - a place, a time and a film. By Penny Dolan
- 10/17/18--16:30: Glass Town Wars and the Brontës - Celia Rees
One morning last week I went on a rather doleful shopping trip to Oxford Street. In the clothes departments shop assistants outnumbered customers and full racks of garments pleaded to be liked. As I walked through those designer mausoleums I remembered my childhood, when my shopaholic mother and grandmother took me on all day shopping trips . After an orgy of trying on clothes in bustling department stores these trips ended in the ground floor cafeteria in Selfridges with me, as a fat little girl, standing up to eat an enormous ice cream called a Knickerbocker Glory. Now that some people think that department stores will disappear from all our High Streets, it seems a good idea to remember their interesting pasts.
Towards the end of the 19th century Oxford Street changed from residential to retail. The first department stores were exciting and innovative. In Zola’s wonderful novel Au Bonheur des Dames (1883), a department store in Paris is the main character: a self contained world, a kind of paradise where women of all ages revel in colour and choice and sensuality. Not exactly a feminist message - but in fact, for middle class women, the arrival of department stores did represent a kind of independence. In mid-Victorian England it was not considered acceptable for a ‘respectable’ woman to go out unchaperoned whereas, a generation later, a shopping trip to a department store, where clothes, furnishings and lunch or tea could all be found under one roof, was allowed.
John Lewis was a buyer of silks for Peter Robinson, which has now disappeared. It was on the site at Oxford Circus where Topshop is now. He bravely set up his own draper’s shop at 132 Oxford Street in 1864. Over the next thirty years he expanded and when a court injunction banned him from extending his shop into Cavendish Square he defiantly spent three weeks in Brixton Jail. He eventually won and the stuffy residents of Cavendish Square had to put up with his enormous shop. His son, Spedan Lewis, was not a conventional businessman. As a young man Spedan had a serious accident when he fell from his horse whilst riding to work through Regents Park. He took two years to recuperate and seems to have thought hard about the unfairness of a world where he and his family took more money from the business than all the rest of their employees together. When Spedan eventually inherited both John Lewis and Peter Jones ( in Sloane Square) he spent decades setting up a trust, or Partnership, which transferred some of the benefits of ownership to his employees.
Debenham, next door to John Lewis, started as a small drapery store on Wigmore Street in the 18th century, when Mary-le-bone was a village. The shop later grew and sold drapery, silks, haberdashery, millinery, hosiery, lace and family mourning goods.The latter involved a complex and expensive etiquette; after Prince Albert’s death in 1861 Queen Victoria wore her widow's weeds until she died in 1901. Many people felt obliged to follow her example and after a death entire households were expected to wear black. This sad photo shows a baby with black armbands.
D H Evans, which my mother and her friends called D H Heavens, once stood where House of Fraser does now. In 1879 Dan Harries Evans, a farmer’s son from Llanelli, bought a small draper’s shop in Oxford Street. His wife did the dressmaking and other members of the family helped out. They specialized in fashionable lace goods and eventually,in the 1930s, their shop became a department store.
Selfridges has the most colourful history of all these department stores although not, perhaps, quite as lurid as the TV series Mr Selfridge.
This photo of Selfridges under construction shows how many buildings were demolished in order to build it. Harry Gordon Selfridge was 51, and already very rich, when he opened his new emporium. He began his career a stockman in the warehouse of a Chicago department store and, 25 years later, was a junior partner. His wife, Rose, was a shrewd business woman and property developer.
On a visit to London he was shocked to see how old fashioned British shops were. His new building managed to be both modern and classical (In 2003 it was awarded a English Heritage plaque). There was a roof garden and new ornate window displays. A clock with an enormous figure called The Queen of Time still reigns over main entrance. Selfridge said his aim was "to make my shop a civic centre, where friends can meet and buying is only a secondary consideration." Could he be held responsible for introducing the consumer society? Some of his catchphrases were: “The customer is always right;” “Only [so many] Shopping Days Until Christmas,” and "I am prepared to sell anything from an airplane to a cigar".
In fact when the vast store did open, in 1909, the monoplane in which Louis Blériot flew across the Channel for the first time was on public display. Over the four days of the launch event about 150,000 people visited the store and 30 policemen were needed to hold back the crowds. For the first time cosmetics and perfumes were put on display at the front of the store. In other London stores make-up. which many people still disapproved of, was sold in side rooms or even in areas hidden by blinds.
The huge success of his new store made Selfridge more innovative - and more megalomanic. The 'Earl of Oxford Street' introduced a Bargain Basement to attract poorer customers. After the First World War he wanted to erect a massive tower (very Trumpian!) and a subway link to Bond Street Station, which was to be renamed “Selfridge’s". The book department expanded to become the biggest in the world. In 1925 the inventor John Logie Baird demonstrated the first television in the store and, later, the BBC transmitted live music broadcasts from the roof garden. There was a library, reading and writing rooms, reception rooms for French, German, American and "Colonial" customers, a First Aid Room and a Silence Room, with soft lights, deep chairs, and double glazing. Selfridge even - a most revolutionary idea then - installed toilets for women shoppers
During the Blitz Selfridge's windows were bricked up for safety. Although the roof was damaged by German bombs the shop continued to trade and the basement was converted into a communications base, with a dedicated line run along Oxford Street to Whitehall so that Churchill could make secure direct telephone calls to Roosevelt.
After his wife, Rose, died during the flu epidemic in 1918 Selfridge became wildly extravagant. He lost a lot of money gambling and had expensive affairs with (amongst others) the famous Dolly Sisters and Syrie Barnardo Wellcome, who later become Syrie Maugham. He entertained lavishly. both at his house in Mayfair and on his his yacht. In 1941, when he was 83, Selfridge was forced to resign because he was deeply in debt, and the apostrophe was removed from the department store's name.
So department stores were once great centres of urban life. Chaplin recognised this in his 1916 silent film The Floorwalker, in which the little tramp has fun with escalators and mirrors.
I had hoped to have the book out on the shelves this autumn to coincide with the fifty-year anniversary of 1968 in France, a year that changed modern French history. However, due to various issues, I am a little late. The main point is it is on its way!
Frida Kahlo 1907-1954Image courtesy of Museo Frida Kahlo.
© Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México.
Matilda was fascinated by the surreal self-portraits with Kahlo’s signature mono-brow, painted using a mirror attached to her bed. After a near-fatal bus crash at 18 years, she was in constant pain and unable to walk. ‘She was a woman that suffered many injuries but who was able to transform this pain into art,’ wrote Hilda Trujillo, Director of the Museo Frida Kahlo.
|“I’d rather sit on the floor of the market of Toluca,” said Kahlo,|
“and sell tortillas than have anything to do with those artistic bitches.”
Now her image sells like hot tortillas. photo Nikolas Muray, 1939.
However, many are now on display at the V&A, having left Mexico for the first time. Being housebound, Kahlo painted everything around her, including the plaster corsets she had to wear to support her spine. It’s sad to see the one she painted with an unborn baby– knowing that she never bore a live child.
Kahlo’s laced boots are gorgeous - red leather, with stacked platform heels and Chinese embroidery along the side. But one boot is prominently displayed on the prosthetic leg she wore for the last year of her life. Would she have liked that? She didn’t show off about her disabilities and wore long skirts to cover her polio-damaged legs, even when she still had two.
Art, fashion or function? |
Would Kahlo have approved? Photograph Javier Hinojosa.
© Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México,
|Kahlo’s colourful and eccentric image has been appropriated|
by feminists, fashion designers, artists and souvenir factories.
Photo: Robin Richmond, 2018
|‘In Mexico now, Frida is everywhere. On children’s knapsacks. |
On wallets. On handbags. On shopping bags. On socks. On Barbie Dolls.
On the 500 peso bill. On tortilla packets,’ says Richmond. photo: Robin Richmond, 2018
|Cultural appropriation, or a grand-daughter dressing up?|
|A garden in Italy rather like one in the novel|
This month's "guest post" is a bit unusual. Don't worry - you'll still have a chance to win a book tomorrow; it's not that different!
Readers may be aware that I run, with my husband, a small independent publishing company called The Greystones Press. We publish YA and adult fiction and most of our books have a historical element. Take the two we are bringing out on 4th October.
The adult novel is by Sophie Masson and is called Black Wings:
✽ Blog: www.rebirdfeathers.com
✽ Facebook: www.facebook.com/SophieMassonAuthor
✽ Twitter: @SophieMasson1
Nico’s quest interweaves with the girls’ as he searches for the true identity of E J Holm, the author of the detective thrillers he devours. The victims and the killers in Holm’s books all seem to be linked to the Partisans who resisted the Fascists in Italy in World War Two.
Gradually, Jade discovers that her grandfather’s secrets are linked to that too. Who is E J Holm really? And what is his connection with the girls’ grandfather?
She has loved Italy ever since her first visit there in 1973 but it was 25 years later that she became fascinated by stories of the partisans who formed the WW2 resistance to Fascism.
To win either of the two books featured yesterday jsut answer the following question in the Comments section:
"What book set in a European country, in the past, is your favourite and why?"
Then copy your answer to:
Closing date: 7th October
We are afraid our competitions are available to UK Followers only.
Recently, we’ve been remembering the two World Wars: rationing, evacuees, bombs, black-outs…
I thought I’d jot down a few of the family stories my parents told me about their war-time experiences because they seem, to me, a little different to the image of the war years we are fed by more ‘official’ history.
My grandad, George Price was born in 1900 and so was too young for the First War. At fourteen, he
was already the wage-earner of the family. He left school and started work at 12 because his father, a miner, was out of work. He lived with his family in a row of cottages with slate roofs.
|Grandad at the brickyard. He's on the right. No idea who the other two are.|
At the time there was a tremendous scare about zeppelins, which were expected to float overhead at any moment, dropping explosives or incendaries. My youthful Grandad’s contribution to the war effort was to take the metal dustbin lids and shy them up onto the roofs. They landed on the slates with a terrific echoing clash and then slid and bounced down the slates making a din you can imagine.
My Grandad and his mates drew deep breaths and yelled, “Zeppelins!” The cottage doors were flung open and people came running out, the women with their aprons flung over their heads. (This sounds like a Dickensian joke but I’m assured that — for reasons I find hard to comprehend — many women used to do this when alarmed. I can only imagine that it was something like Zaphod Beeblebrox’s peril-sensitive sunglasses: what you can’t see can’t frighten you.) When the sober elders saw the youths doubled over with laughter, they were not pleased. Grandad and friends waited a few days and then did it again — and again, until the only reaction was, “That bloody Price kid needs a good hiding.”
I’m told that when an elder of ‘the row’ found out that it was George Price who’d invented the prank, he was not surprised. “The brighter they am,” the elder observed, “the more ways they can think of to make trouble.” Grandad was also well-known for disturbing peaceful evenings by knocking on doors and politely asking what the time was. The factory at the end of the row had an enormous clock over its gate.
When I was told this story, I was always given the impression that the neighbours' fear of zeppelins was unfounded: that they were being rather silly and that the dustbin lids rattling down the slates was a great joke on them.
I've since found that this wasn't the case at all. The neighbours had very good reason to fear zeppelins as the nearby towns of Wolverhampton and Walsall, about ten miles away, had very recently been bombed by zeppelins.
It happened on January 31st, 1916 and the zeppelin L21 was heading for Liverpool but became disorientated. The crew were looking for the Manchester ship canal as a landmark and, thinking they were further north than they were, mistook one of the Black Country's many canals for the one they were searching for. The bombing killed 67 people and injured many more.
This puts another complexion on my 16-year old grandad's little joke. I'm inclined to think he should have had a good hiding -- although as he'd been the family breadwinner for four years, nobody was going to do it.
George Price grew up to marry Elsie Savage. I'm told they first met when his younger sisters invited her round. George (when not shying dustbin lids onto roofs) was a quiet man who liked to eat his meal and read his paper in silence. The girls were talking and laughing and annoying him. He told them to be quiet. Elsie stood up, put her hands on her hips and said something like, "You're not the boss of me, George Price!" He folded his newspaper, got up and threw them all out of the house.
But reader, she married him and it was a long and, as far as I know, happy marriage. They had two children: my father and aunt who were ten and five respectively when the Second World War broke out. Many accounts of the war give the impression that all city and town children of this age were evacuated. Certainly the Black Country, as a centre of industry, was heavily bombed and some neighbours’ children were evacuated. But my Grandad absolutely refused to consider it. He is reported as saying, to neighbours, “You can send your kids away to strangers if you like but mine am staying with me. Whatever’s coming, we’ll all go through it together and I shall know where they am and what’s happening to them.”
|The 'formidable' Elsie Price - author's own photo|
Elsie worked all her life -- in fact, she had quite a career, going from canteen worker to supervisor of School Meals for Oldbury (at a time when that meant cooking real meals in kitchens and coming up with a menu that supplied most of the daily nutritional requirements of a child.) She also became a Cordon Bleu cook and managed the VIP dining room at a company which entertained customers from all over the world.
But during WW2 she managed a canteen at Accles & Pollocks, where they made parts for Spitfires and Hurricanes. "I'd much rather have women work for me," she said. "A woman does what you ask her to do, and when she's finished, looks round, sees what else is to be done and gets on with it. A man does what you tell him to do and when he's finished, he goes outside for a smoke." (I'm saying nothing.)
When the air-raid sirens sounded, Elsie was supposed to go into the works' shelter. Instead she went outside and ran through the streets to home, with shrapnel ricocheting off the walls and pavements as the anti-aircraft guns fired. She wanted to join her children in their own shelter.
After she'd done this a few times, someone she worked with told my Grandad what she was doing and he told her, angrily, that she wasn't ever to do that again. What was her being missing from their shelter a few times compared to her being killed by shrapnel or a bomb and never coming home again? I suppose Elsie saw the point, as she started going into the works' shelter.
I'll end with an alleged joke. This is an heirloom joke, worth one and sixpence, passed down to me through generations.
A VIP, visiting A&P, stopped beside a workman and asked, "How many fighters do you make here in a week, my man?"
"Oh, hundreds," the man said. "Hundreds, easy."
"My word! You make hundreds of Spitfires a week?"
"Spitfires? -- Oh, you said fighters. I thought you said, 'lighters'."
(The men who worked at A&P often used the machinery and materials to make cigarette-lighters which they traded or sold.)
|Leaving town to go on pilgrimage. Photogr||aph: Gillian Polack|
|There be caves in these rocks! Photograph: Gillian Polack|
|The pilgrim route. Photograph: Gillian Polack|
|Modern Montpellier. Photograph: Gillian Polack|
As the nights draw in and the spirits move closer, it’s time to huddle beneath your Victorian counterpane with an unbearably creepy book. Many brilliant Gothic reads are being released in time for Halloween: Melmoth, The Corset, House of Ghosts, The Lingering, and The House on Vesper Sands, to name but a few. All play with and develop ideas and tropes that have been ghosting about since the 18th century. Ever since Conrad was crushed to death by a giant helmet in The Castle of Otranto, the Gothic genre has been evolving strangely and blooming darkly.
Here, as a discussion/fight-starter rather than a definitive list, are my top ten favourite Gothic reads.
1. Jane Eyre (1847)
Sinister boarding schools, ghostly visions, eerie laughter, suppressed sexuality and angry women in the attic. Charlotte Brontë used gothic elements in Jane Eyre to create a new female language. Critics of the time were not impressed, however. The Quarterly Review did 'not hesitate to say that the tone of mind and thought which has overthrown authority and violated every code human and divine abroad, and fostered Chartism and rebellion at home, is the same which has also written Jane Eyre.’
2. Wuthering Heights (1847)
Wuthering Heights was also controversial in its time because of its unflinching depictions of cruelty and its challenge to Victorian societal ideals. Even now, Wuthering Heights remains a raw and powerful read, and many authors cite its influence in their own work. Many of us have wondered what else this formidable author might have written, but Emily Brontë died at the age of 30, saying that she would have ‘no poisoning doctor’ near her.
Charlotte's Jane Eyre, Emily's Wuthering Heights, and Anne's Agnes Grey, were all published in the same year.
3. The Turn of the Screw (1898)
Henry James said he preferred to create ghosts that were eerie extensions of everyday reality: ‘the strange and sinister embroidered on the very type of the normal and easy.’ For nearly 120 years, readers have been trying to work out whether the ‘strange and sinister’ were only in the unnamed governess's mind, or whether the ghosts in The Turn of the Screw are real.
4. Rebecca (1938)
Though dismissed by many critics at the time as romances, novels such as Jamaica Inn, Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel (and many of Du Maurier’s short stories) are more akin to mysteries or psychological thrillers strongly embued with gothic elements. As with Henry James, the real and the ghostly often elide, so that Mrs Danvers is part human, part malevolent ghost, and Rebecca herself haunts the imaginations of the characters, and also that of the reader, long after they’ve finished the book.
5. We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)
‘My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.’
It’s my favourite first paragraph so had to be quoted in full. We Have Always was Shirley Jackson’s last novel and, in my view, her best. In fact, it’s probably my favourite book on this list: deceptively simple, darkly funny and profoundly unsettling. Jackson's biographer referred to it as a 'paean' to the author's agoraphobia. If you haven’t discovered Shirley Jackson yet, you’re in for a rare and disturbing treat.
6. The Bloody Chamber (1979)
Angela Carter was hailed as the ‘grand-dame of the modern English gothic’, saying that she’d ‘always been fond of Poe and Hoffmann – Gothic tales, cruel tales, tales of wonder, tales of terror, fabulous narratives that deal directly with the imagery of the unconscious.’
The Bloody Chamber is perhaps her most gothic work. In her collection of stories about witches, forsaken castles, haunted forests and howling wolves, Carter gave fairy tales a fantastic, feminist twist.
7. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (1985)
Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with an exceptional sense of smell. He survives his mother’s attempt to kill him at birth and grows up in stinking, extraordinary 18th century Paris. Grenouille becomes a perfumer in order to preserve that most precious of smells: his murder victim. Dark, brilliant and building in bizarreness to a climax you’re unlikely to forget. Kurt Curbain wrote a song about it.
8. Beloved (1987)
Gothic fiction often connects with the fears and anxieties of its time. Beloved is the story of Sethe and her daughter Denver after their escape from slavery. Their home in Cincinnati is haunted by a revenant, whom they believe to be the ghost of Sethe's daughter, Beloved. This astonishing book uses the gothic to expose the horrors and silence of slavery.
9. The Little Stranger (2009)
Sarah Waters has apparently said she did not set out to write a ghost story, but she seems accidentally to have written one of the best ones. It is the 1940s and, as Hundreds Hall decays, peculiar powers take hold. Superbly measured and deeply chilling. As with the best gothic tales, we’re left unsettled and unsure. And probably wanting to see the movie.
10. The Loney (2015)
Of the many brilliant gothic novels from recent years, The Loney stands out like a moss-covered tombstone. Both old and new and suspended somewhere between the supernatural, the strange, and the outright horrific, Andrew Michael Hurley’s novel is, as Sarah Perry has said, a real Gothic masterpiece.
And yes, I realise I’ve missed off many of the classics usually included in lists of this kind. But what would be the point of a Gothic list, if it conformed to expectations?
Anna Mazzola is a writer of historical crime fiction. Her second novel, The Story Keeper, is a tale of dark folklore and missing girls on the Isle of Skye.
Following on from my last month's post on the mound at Dowth, here I am, thrilled to be standing in front of the magnificent passage grave of Brú na Bóinne or Newgrange, in Co. Meath, Ireland. Another of the Elf-mounds of Ireland, it was explained in later years as the palace of Oengus, foster-son of Midir, king of the Sidhe.
Thrilled? I was blown away! As a Neolithic junkie, this has been on my bucket list forever. Yes, I know the facade has been restored - and yes, I know the restoration has raised eyebrows in various quarters; in fact when it gets really nasty the word 'Disneyfication' is thrown around - but I kind of appreciate the attempt to try and give the visitor some idea of the way the place used to look. Or might have looked...
It's not as though we inherited a pristine site to begin with. The exterior of the great mound had suffered much damage in the past. It was dug into during the 1600s, and by the early 19th century a folly had been built close to the site, using stones taken from it (it's still there). By the late 19th century the entrance of Brú na Bóinne looked like this...
...while by the early 1900s some of the debris and earth had been cleared away and it looked like this.
Between 1962 and 1975 the site was excavated by Professor Michael J. O'Kelly, who decided to reconstruct the facade of the monument from the collapsed stones lying at its base: an intriguing mixture made chiefly (here I quote from Wikipedia) of "white quartz cobblestones from the Wicklow Mountains about 50 km to the south." But there were also "dark rounded cobbles from the Mourne Mountains about 50 km to the north; dark gabbro cobbles from the Cooley Mountains; and banded siltstone from the shore at Carlingford Lough." Noting where the stones had fallen, Professor Kelly looked at how the ratio of white quartz to dark cobblestones changed along the facade, and restored it according to his own impressions of how it might have appeared. I particularly like the gradation from dark at the far edges, to white in the middle.
Here's a close-up of the whiter part, studded with those round dark 'statement' boulders.
It's been much hated. In 1983 the French archeologist Pierre Roland Giot said it looked like "cream cheesecake with dried currants distributed about"while more recently the tv archeologist Neil Oliver has criticized as "a bit overdone, kind of like Stalin does the Stone Age". Maybe so... especially since the stones of the new wall have been set in reinforced concrete. "Another theory is that some, or all, of the white quartz cobblestones had formed a plaza on the ground at the entrance." Who can say? As a Yorkshirewoman I have a lot of respect for the dry-stone-walling techniques of our forbears. Today however, the entrance looks like this (see below) and those dark cut-outs on either side, faced in black stone, are unashamedly modern, making room for the steps by which visitors can come and go - serving the practical purpose of protecting the vast carved stone in front of the doorway from people who might otherwise scramble over it.
I know what Neil Oliver means, though... but however the stones were once arranged, their presence is still impressive, and the vast kerbstones which rim the foot of the mound are in their original places. Just protected from rainfall erosion here and there. Here's myself and my husband, book-ending one of them.
If the impressive, restored exterior leaves doubts as to its authenticity, the interior has not been touched. The stone-lined passage into the mound (where amateur photography is forbidden) and the amazing, high, corbelled chamber like the inside of a witch's hat, with its intricate spiral and chevron carvings, and the two huge stone dishes laid in the side chambers - these remain as they were in prehistory - as incredibly moving as they must always have been.
The marvellous website Voices from the Dawn tells how when Professor O’Kelly began the excavation in the early 1960, he became aware of a recurrent local tradition that the sunrise used to light up the triple-spiral stone at the end recess far within the tomb. Professor Kelly wondered, having recently uncovered Newgrange’s unusual ‘roof-box’ - that rectangular aperture you can see in the photos above the entrance - whether it had been intended to admit the light of the rising sun. He tried it out at the winter solstice on 1967, and two years later repeated the experiment:-
"At exactly 8.54 hours GMT the top edge of the ball of the sun appeared above the local horizon and at 8.58 hours, the first pencil of direct sunlight shone through the roof-box and along the passage to reach across the tomb chamber floor as far as the front edge of the basin stone in the end recess. As the thin line of light widened to a 17 cm-band and swung across the chamber floor, the tomb was dramatically illuminated and various details of the side and end recesses could be clearly seen in the light reflected from the floor. At 9.09 hours, the 17 cm-band of light began to narrow again and at exactly 9.15 hours, the direct beam was cut off from the tomb. For 17 minutes, therefore, at sunrise on the shortest day of the year, direct sunlight can enter Newgrange, not through the doorway, but through the specially contrived slit that lies under the roof-box at the outer end of the passage roof.”
Since the light-box had been blocked with stones, and covered for many centuries with the collapsed walls of the mound (see the early black and white photos above) no one could possibly have seen this effect in modern times until the professor uncovered it. This, then, may be a very old memory indeed. And for more about Brú na Bóinne's Elf-mound connections, see next month's post!
|Quartz stone and round river boulders|
Photos copyright Katherine Langrish except for the two black-and-white ones which can be found on the Wikipedia entry for Newgrange
Coraline, The Box Trolls, Wallace and Gromit, A Town Called Panic, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! Kubo and the Two Strings, Isle of Dogs, and so many more - stop motion animation films are going from strength to strength in the 21st century. Where did it all begin? We have the multi-talented Willis O'Brien to thank, and here is his stop motion film from 1917, The Dinosaur and the Missing Link. Enjoy!
Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.
The building as you approach it looks like this.
I felt at home immediately for the very good reason that I'd spent eight years of my childhood at a very similar building: Roedean School, Brighton.
The actual library is most beautiful and this is where famous thinkers and writers give talks and where you can study the whole day long if you are a guest.
But what really made me feel as if I were back at school again was the windows. They are exactly like the windows I remember so well from my childhood....
even down to a strong resemblance in the soft furnishings and the catches on the windows.
There is a wonderful restaurant for the use of guests and you can take your food outside if the weather is good. We did this several times and I can remember hunting out my sunscreen and hat to sit outside on a couple of occasions. The food is excellent and if you fancy something even more splendid in the food department, there's a superb restaurant called THE OLD GROCERY just up the road. I do recommend that most strongly. We had a very wonderful meal there on our last night in Hawarden.
If you can tear yourself away from the delights of the Library, there's a wonderful castle, just opposite where you can walk and explore. Above is a picture of the ancient Keep. And below, is a photo of the brochure produced by Gladstone's Library which advertises what's going on there all the time. Together with the lovely Bernard Johnson slate paperweight which was a 70th birthday present from one of the friends who came to Gladstone's Library with me. It was a very enjoyable and stimulating few days and as good a mini-break as any I've been on. If this post reads like an advertisement, it's really meant to. I can't recommend it enough to any small group of people who want to get together for a couple of days. All details about booking etc from www.gladstoneslibrary.org
Medieval Dove Cote, Llantwit Manor,
Belonged to the Abbey of Tewkesbury
Photographer: Peter Wasp
First there was the problem of producing the salt itself. The salt pans along the coast were filled with rain or washed away by floods and even where they were intact, in order to produce salt, sea-sand and silt had to be washed and the resultant brine boiled in lead pans over peat fires to allow the salt crystalize out. But the peat used to boil the brine required weeks of sun to dry before it could be burned, as did wood. The lack of salt also badly affected leather tanning and cloth-dying, both vital industries in producing everyday goods. Many lost their jobs.
Laos. Boiling brine to make salt in the medieval tradition.
American Salt Box circa 1850.
Gift of Mrs Robert W. Forest, 1933
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Salt hung in the house, often alongside phials of holy water or charms, was also considered to purify and protect the house from evil, and a salt box hung near the chimney would ensure witches and evil spirits couldn’t enter the home that way. It was also handy in case anyone unwittingly said or did anything that might bring a curse on house or any family member. A pinch of salt quickly dashed onto the fire would hopeful negate the curse before any harm could be done.
Glass Rolling Pin. 1820-1837
Auckland War Memorial Museum
One very attractive way of keeping salt dry was the glass rolling pin. Towards the end of the 18th century, glass blowers in Britain began to make hollow glass rolling pins, which were cheap to produce and were made in works centred around ports where there was a ready supply of coal for the glass furnaces. They became popular among sailors as gifts for mothers, wives and girlfriends, and they would personalise them by painting them with images of their ships, flowers, messages and names. Then they would fill the rolling pin with things they had bought in foreign ports such as spices, cocoa or salt. Salt was heavily taxed in England at this time which made it expensive for poorer families, and this was a good way of smuggling in cheap salt as gifts for family or friends, in the same spirit that some people today try to sneak in duty-free cigarettes for their mates. Cords were attached to the knobs of the rolling pin at either end so that it could be hung in a warm spot in the kitchen to keep the salt dry. In time the idea spread inland and glass rolling pins filled with salt became a popular and ‘lucky’ wedding present to give the bride.
English Salt Box
Auckland War Memorial Museum
As salt was valuable, having salt in a box on the wall or hung in a rolling pin, where a guest might help themselves was regarded as sign of hospitality and in ‘Master Humphries Clock’ (1840-41) Charles Dickens used a description of a house where the salt box was kept locked as a way of showing misery of the home and the meanness of the owner.
Karen Maitland's latest medieval thriller 'A Gathering of Ghosts' is published by Headline.
|Trying a garland made by Patty Baker (Kent)|
[This is a shortened and edited amalgam of two papers I gave in early-October 2018, one for the University of Kent and one for a conference called Sensory Experience in Rome's Northern Provinces in London. #SERNP2018.]
Archaeologist Lindsay Allason-Jones, a visiting fellow at Newcastle University recently said, ‘It wasn’t until I wrote a book from the point of view of a Romano-British woman that I started to think about things like where did she keep her house key?’
This is what I have discovered. As I write characters who have adventures in the ancient world, I have to imagine them moving through space with the sights, sounds, smells, and all other sensory experiences in order make it seem real to my young readers. This is especially important for children who need to be grounded in a sensory world.
Here is how I used the seven senses to portray Roman Britain in my most recent series of books for kids, the Roman Quests, and also in my new work-in-progress The Girl with the Ivory Knife, in which a 12-year-old London schoolboy travels back in time to 3rd century Londinium (Roman London).
SIGHT is the first of the five senses. For my Roman Quests I wanted to get an overview of what Roman London would have looked like.
|Model of London's port at Museum of London Barbican|
• Museums are useful, with their statues, inscriptions and artefacts. The Museum of London and it’s archaeology department MOLA gave me tons of material.
• Models are very special. Storytellers know the power of the miniature.
• Interactive maps like the one produced by MOLA are super.
|superb Bath Roman Baths|
• Google maps and Google Earth help me get a birds’ eye view of your terrain or walk along a road from , for example.
• Alan Sorrell’s marvellous paintings and drawings. See my blog about him HERE.
• Visiting sites like Butser Ancient Farm, Bath Roman Baths & Fishbourne provide 3D spatial and sensory experiences especially when they are peopled by re-enactors.
|Hard to Be a God (2013)|
• Watching movies. For my book set in Roman London, a place you would NOT want to visit, I watched Hard to Be a God (2013), like Fellini Satyricon only with more mud, excrement and chickens.
• Film sets can give you inspiration, too.
London’s Mithraeum hadn’t reopened when I was writing the Roman Quests and besides, those books are set in the late first century. But I could use the Mithraeum for my new work in progress about the boy travelling back in time.
For my Time Travel book, I tried to think of things we don’t see today that would have been commonplace then.
• A sky full of stars
• Crucified man on a cross
• People in rags and barefoot
• Indoor darkness – a world with no electricity
• Someone carrying a torch, a very symbolic object
• Someone with a staff (Main purpose? To beat off dogs!)
• The different stages of animal sacrifice
• A mind-boggling array of diseases & deformities
• Especially eye infections, skin disorders and toothache
For the first time I could relate ancient objects to modern ones. E.g.
• Tunics would have been like a big T-shirt and a toga like a blanket
• Mithras’ Persian cap is like a Smurf hat
• A Mithraeum initiation could be described as a flight simulator
• And the seven grades as levels of a video game...
|Sophie Jackson on what smells to put in the Mithraeum|
|A Saturnalia dinner with Stephen Cockings|
• To Alex, a girl smells like apple pie (clove oil for her aching teeth) and church (frankincense perfume)
• Someone’s breath smells of garlic
• Alex gets headache from breathing oil lamp smoke
• He also smells the peaty smell of outdoor braziers
• And the roast pork smell of body being cremated
• With an undercurrent of incense burned against demons
|Smelly and Tasteable things|
• Posca, water with a splash of vinegar, was often drunk by soldiers.
• I make mine with red wine vinegar but you could use white, too.
(Adding even a little wine or vinegar to water kills bacteria. The Romans didn’t know about bacteria, germs or viruses but somehow they knew adding vinegar to water was good.)
• Honey was a hot food, prescribed for those of a phlegmatic humour.
• Olives, especially the little bitter black ones are ‘a taste as old as cold water…’ (Lawrence Durrell in Prospero’s Cell)
|ELMA mastic gum from Chios|
• Mastic gum. One of the sniffable objects at the Museum of London’s Roman Dead exhibition (on until 28 October) is something called mastic. I first discovered mastic while reading the first century AD epigrams of Martial. He talks about a man who picks his teeth with a mastic toothpick. But it was mainly used as gum to be chewed to freshen the breath. In fact, we get the word ‘masticate’ from mastic. Read more HERE.
SOUND is harder to replicate than taste in my opinion, especially music. Armand D’Angour has been doing fun experiments into ancient Greek music and I often listen to Indian music to try to get an idea of how exotic Roman music might have sounded. We do know about other sounds, such as:
|interactive sound at Museum of London Docklands|
• Dogs barking in the night
• The wailing of bereaved, more common and more audible then?
• The shouts of peddlers, bread sellers, a rag-and-bone woman...
• Tepidarium echoes with the sound of slaps and grunts of masseuse
• Blacksmiths hammering
• Door hinges squeaking
• Bells and rattles to frighten off demons and cover unholy sounds
TOUCH can be experienced not just with fingertips and lips, but also with our bare feet. Here are just a few a time traveller might have encountered in Londinium.
|interactive touch at Museum of London Docklands|
• Bare Feet on a muddy, gravel-studded road
• Or on a mosaic floor or on London brick
• Glutinous mud of the south bank foreshore
• Warmth of a kiln and hard-baked earth around it
• A piglet snuffling at someone’s armpit
• Itchy mosquito bites on bare legs
• Stepping in squishy, still-warm manure
• loom-woven linen & woollen belt pouch
• Carbantinae (one-piece leather shoes) rub top of feet
(The Roman Dead also has a display where you can touch a replica hobnail boot, top and bottom.)
KINESTHETIC means the awareness of the position and movement of the body. Many of the objects I’ve been talking about are interactive. You have to engage with them in a kinesthetic way.
|Richard and Caroline Lawrence in Nimes|
• Playing with an oil-lamp or a pigskin lamp
• A Saturnalia Dinner
• Leather bikini bottoms as worn by girl acrobats
• NO Bogus Roman Handshake
• NOT using a sponge stick
• Trying out a wax-tablet
• Using a strigil and oil
|Tom, Giacomo and Patty try out a strigil and scented oil|
THE SIXTH SENSE is the final sense I want to think about.
|A double flame lamp at a Saturnalia dinner|
At the moment I’m involved in a marvellous project based around the archaeology of the House of Amarantus in Pompeii. I had the idea to write a scene from the point of view of a sixteen-year-old slave girl who has recently arrived in Pompeii from Britannia. She sleeps on a mat in the doorway of her mistress’s bedroom. My idea of showing not telling the kids about the layout of the house is that she wakes up one night in pitch black and has to grope her way to the loo.
So close your eyes for a moment and imagine waking up in the peristyle walkway of a fairly posh Roman house. Think of five different things your fingers might encounter as you push yourself to your feet and start to grope your way along the corridor. Think of five different things you might hear. Think of five different things you might smell. Where do you have to avoid evil spirits in the house? Think of five different ways your body is reacting to this night-time grope.
Whether we are scholars, writers, historians, teachers or all of the above, let us study the past not just with our heads but with our hearts and with all the senses.
My Roman Quests are perfect for kids studying the topic of Romans in Key Stage 2. My first time travel book, The Girl with the Ivory Knife, is out early April 2019. It is based on real bones and sites from Roman London.
I've done a lot of crazy things in cars on the terraferma of the Veneto. It always seems to go wrong. Some might say that I'm better off never leaving Venice. This post feels like a continuation of Not the Villa Pisani at Stra, in which your correspondent swotted up on said stately home only to be delivered to a completely different Villa Pisani.
This time I thought I'd done my homework properly. I'm currently on the trail of the historic trade route that brings dried cod from the Lofoten island of Røst all the way to Venice. I have written previously about the slightly salty start to the six-hundred-year-old relationship between the fishermen of Norway and the diners of la Serenissima. It started with a shipwreck in 1431 and the cod-lines have never been broken since then. But lately ‘stoccafisso’ or cod has become a talismanic plot device in my WIP. Venetian revolutionaries known as 'Carbonari' will use it when fermenting some trouble for their Austrian occupiers in 1818.
At any Venetian bar or restaurant, you can to this day eat Baccalà mantecato (dried Norwegian cod soaked in water or milk and then whipped up to a fluffy paste with olive oil). And of course it was the two islands of Røst and Venice that set up the whole unlikely business. Surprisingly, however, the mother-lode of modern stoccafisso research in the Veneto turns out to be on dry land.
In 1987, the Confraternità della Baccalà alla Vicentina (cod served with polenta) was established in the small terraferma town of Sandrigo, half an hour’s drive from Bassano del Grappa. A partnership brought together gastronomists and local personalities who resolved to promote the baccalà that was, they feared, in the process of disappearing from the Veneto.
Two years later, the plans came into effect. September 30 and October 1 of 1989 saw the arrival of the first stockfish from the Lofoten Islands to be cooked by restaurants and served to the public in a Saturday night supper and a Sunday lunch in Sanrigo. On Saturday afternoon those involved paraded around the town, which was bedecked with Norwegian flags, a sight said to have moved the Norwegian Ambassador, whose countrymen had donated 5 quintals of stockfish for the occasion. Sandrigo welcomed 10,000 visitors that weekend, too many to be fed the main meal. Many had to settle for a pasta seasoned with a "tocio" of baccalà. And for the last thirty years the tradition has continued, each year enriched with new activities and festivities. Innovative dishes have been added to the repertoire. Now you can get gnocchi and risotto with baccalà, croquettes with baccalà and many other dishes. There is even, God help us, baccalà pizza. According to the website, the baccalà festival is now one of the biggest and most important in Italy. In 2017 the 10,000 kg of the fish were consumed, a record.
Relations with the Norwegians have strengthened: thanks also to land-bound Sandrigo twinning with the island of Røst and to the ever-increasing presence of Nordic guests and students who, in alternate years, come to visit Sandrigo.
Given my current research, I was of course keen to see the festival of the baccalà. So to Sandrigo recently, in a day of limpid sunshine, hoping to catch sight of the promised processions, the handsome (surely!) Norwegian fisherman, to taste the many dishes prepared for the occasion and to generally enjoy the sagra. (A sagra is a festival usually devoted to a local food of some kind. As nothing much grows in Venice, except cruise ships and tourist inundations, we are deprived of sagre. So it was especially piquant to feel that I was about to get a little involved in this one.)
Naturally, I did my research on the website of the Confraternità. September 27th was listed as one of the active days of the festival. Personally, I was hoping to meet some Røstians whom I could visit next year when I do the Norwegian part of my research. I had a million questions for them.
My little party was encouraged when the first thing we saw in Sandrigo was a banner over the road, welcoming us to Baccalà Country.
Then, with mounting excitement, we noted the Norwegian flags at every corner. At the excellent Sandrigo restaurant where we had lunch, wooden models of stoccafisso were piled in the window. We were told by our host that perhaps forty or fifty Norwegians were in town for the festival. He was curious too: ‘And why are you here, Signori?’
‘Siamo alla caccia di Pescatori Norvegesi’ we told our host. ‘We are on the hunt for Norwegian fishermen’. Under my breath, I added, ‘Tall, handsome ones!’
But … on making our way to the sports ground which is the epicentre of the festa, we found only empty seats …
empty bars …
a huge pavilion set up for hundreds of dinners …
We found the menus of all the different dishes prepared with cod …
We had already missed the previous Saturday’s show: TIRACCHE MATTE PRESENTS THE CRAZY GIRAFFE - a duo of jugglers grappling with the objects of everyday life. And Sunday’s
Mediaeval Show with waders (?) and jesters.
Just two days after our visit, Saturday 29 September was to be one of the highlights, with pavilions of foods, tastings, and a Magic Night with street arts, including fakirs, tightrope walkers and fire-eaters, all accompanied by live music. And on the morning of Sunday, September 30th there’d be the Investiture ceremony of the Confraternità of the Baccalà in the presence of the Norwegian delegation from Rost, with flag-raising - national anthems and performances by the drummers of Conegliano Veneto and the flag-wavers of the Cerva di Noale, historical costumes, a parade of the Food and Wine Confraternities and of the Baccalà Club, followed by more live music and street shows. Monday 1 October was to be the GRAN FINALE, with the specialty of RISOTTO DI GRUMOLO DELLE ABADESSE… with baccalà. Since the 16th century, rice is a speciality of the small hamlet of Grumolo delle Abbadesse, between Vicenza and Padua. It was introduced to the area by nuns ('abbadesse') from the Benedictine abbey of San Pietro di Vicenza.
But by Monday October 1, I was long gone, sadly. I was back in London, having scored a comprehensive fail on my cod research. However, I do not count my golden day in Sandrigo as wasted. I could not have wished for more hilarious and sympathetic companions. I’d never been to Sandrigo before. We were shown inside the lovely Villa Sesso Bourdignan by its kind owners, who now live in the part of the building that was the original post office, being the home of the carrier pigeons who used to deliver the mail.
We also got to press our noses against the gates of this villa and glimpse its frescoes through a cracked keyhole.
Those of you who speak Italian, will know that its name translates as ‘Villa Sex Slave. but in fact the ‘Sesso’ is a family name (We had earlier seen the villa of Camillo Sesso) and Schiavo is a locality. (Still!)
But sadly, now I am back in London, writing this. I’ll hope for better luck in Røst next June, where a Puffin Festival is promised … maybe … if I can get the day right … perhaps ...
Michelle Lovric's website
I am lucky enough to live in the village of Iffley, about 2 miles from the centre of Oxford. One route from the centre of Oxford to Iffley runs along the side of Thames, another traverses the ancient Meadow Lane that linked the village with the city from time immemorial. The third route is along the busy Iffley Road.
Most people know of Iffley due to its outstanding Norman church, dating from 1160, with its exceptional wealth of Romanesque decorative carving, but it is much more.
To quote the Iffley Conservation Area Appraisal:
“The ancient village of Iffley sits between the more suburbanised developments of Iffley Road (Donnington) and Rose Hill. Despite the increasing suburbanisation, Iffley retains a strong rural character and an extensive green setting to its west. The village centres upon a small network of lanes and pedestrian routes, with development spanning the 12th century to the present day.”
There is only one road into the village by car, so it has retained a sense of cohesion, and has a thriving community of residents. There are many groups of eager villagers united by their love of the beautiful Norman church, the village’s history, or by music or poetry. We have a community shop, run by volunteers. Each month there is a film night at the local thatched village hall, and there are often concerts or lectures in the church or hall. We even had French film festival in the hall last month.
Archaelogical finds at Iffley span both the Palaeolithic (185 objects) and Neolithic (476 objects). Palaeolithic stone tools date from the period known archaeologically as the Mid Acheulian (between 250,000 and 350,000 years ago approximately), and were made by early hominids (Homo Erectus).
The Romans were there. Iffley village lies on the edge of what was an extensive distribution of Roman manufacturing sites related to a pottery industry of national significance. More exciting for me is that a number of Roman burials were identified near Iffley Turn, where I live. These may represent part of a cemetery on the edge of the manufacturing area, where the land slopes down to the flood plain. The cemetery is now covered by modern flats, but every time I pass by I think of the Romans who lived and worked nearby and were buried there.
|St Mary the Virgin, Iffley.|
The appearance of the township was dramatically altered in the 19th century. Its fields were inclosed in 1830 and by 1852 it boasted 23 “gentlemen's households” (three of them clerical), a ladies' school and as many as seventeen tradesmen. The houses of the gentry (mainly tradesmen seeking higher social status) were set in large gardens and spread out between the old village and the Iffley Road. The Priory, Iffley's "Strawberry Hill" is an example of one of these.
Village life persisted well into the twentieth century. There were mummers at Christmas, May Day celebrations, visits of Jack-in-the-Green and travelling bears from Oxford. The feast day of the Iffley Foresters Club held in early July and it was the occasion of a fair. Another fair was held in September. Walking weddings and funerals were still the village custom and if it was a baby's funeral, girls dressed in white and carrying white posies were the bearers.
Some years ago, in a quest to lose weight, I took up running. Running, as many of you will know, is unbelievably boring - especially for those of us shaped less like runners and more like flat-footed sweet potatoes. I am also tone deaf, and like Horatio Hornblower, derive less pleasure than other people do from music. So my husband recommended The Great Courses by The Teaching Company; a treasure trove of lectures from US college professors.
There are hundreds of courses to choose from. The one I went for first was a History of Byzantium by Kenneth Harl (his courses are fantastic, by the way - particularly his Vikings one). Like a lot of people who studied history, my knowledge was patchy - good on the Julio-Claudians, hopeless post-Constantine. Good on the Renaissance, hopeless on the Enlightenment. Good on the Russian Revolution, sketchy on the French. You get the drift.
The Great Courses has acted as a sort of join-the-dots for my patchy knowledge of world history. The Harl lectures had another consequence - they brought me to writing historical fiction. I remember running through St James' Park, and listening to him talk about the Empress Theodora - the courtesan turned sixth-century Empress, and religious activist. I'd never heard of Theodora. I remember I stopped running, and sat on a park bench. Listening. People strolled by, pigeons fought over bread for the ducks, swans glided.
By the time the lecture finished, I had resolved to write Theodora's story. And reader, I did. OK, I did it badly, no one wanted to publish it, and then Stella Duffy did it better. But hey. My first novel, which I think of as akin to a Patronus Charm in Harry Potter - it helps to cast the spell, knowing already that you can achieve the spell.
In the fourteen years since, I've listened to loads of Great Courses. My absolute favourites are those by Garratt Fagan, an Irish born historian of Ancient Rome who taught in the US and died aged only 54 last year. This blog is a peculiar echo chamber, and perhaps its readers will understand the particular joy of walking somewhere beautiful, listening to a mellifluous and searingly insightful voice talking about the third century crisis in Imperial Rome.
In the old days, if you bought a Great Course, it came in a box set of CDs, with accompanying leaflets. We would burn them on to MP3 players. Now, I can download them onto my iPhone from my audible account (incidentally, this massively decreases the price of lots of the courses).
My husband, who is not tone deaf, is a huge fan of Professor Robert Greenberg's lectures on music, particularly his history of opera and his talks on Beethoven.
I don't run any more while listening to the courses. Partly because I really, really hate running. But also because I've been listening to a lot of philosophy, and you need to concentrate. Say you are running along, and Professor Lawrence Cahoone is talking you through Hegel's three stage dialectical interpretation of history, and you suddenly think: Oh look, a pigeon. And, bang, just like that you are lost in Hegel. To listen to these bad boys, you need easy access to the go-back-30-seconds button on your phone.
Here's the link: www.thegreatcourses.co.uk It's a treasure trove.
by Deborah Swift
|Jeanne Illenye - The Fateful Temptation|
I have been lucky enough to be given a huge plastic bag full of apples from my friend's orchard, and have been busy cooking up stewed apples and freezing them, so I can enjoy them through the winter. Whilst looking up different recipes I cam across snippets of applelore, which I hope will give you a taste of apples and of Autumn.
The Latin malus means both “apple” and “evil,” which, according to some historians, is probably why the apple gained a reputation as the Forbidden Fruit, when most scholars agree the original fruit was probably a pomegranate, though Michelangelo’s Temptation and Fall on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel features forbidden figs. By the 17th century, the apple being the commonest fruit in Europe, the fruit responsible for man's Fall from Grace was widely believed to be the apple.
The first evidence of deliberate cultivation dates from the period of the Roman invasion of Britain, but by the 9th century records show that cider making was already well established, and the Norman French brought with them a number of new varieties of apple, including the Costard. This apple is no longer grown, but its existence is preserved in the word costermonger -- a seller of Costard apples.
In North America nearly everyone has heard of 'Johnny Appleseed'. During the late 18th Century he planted orchards right from Pennsylvania in the east through to Indiana in the west. According to legend, the indigenous population regarded him as a medicine man, because of his combination of enthusaism for nature and his religious devotion, which involved distributing tracts along with the seeds.
|Gentleman's Silver Apple corer from 1690|
Above is a Victorian mother of pearl handled pocket fruit knife and fork, each with its own little leather carrying case.
There is a knack to peeling the fruit elegantly in polite company. Holding the fruit by the fork, the apple is stood straight up and peeled from top to bottom without being touched by the hands. When the entire fruit has been peeled, it should be carefully sliced into small morsels and eaten one piece at a time. I should think many people found their apple shooting unexpectedly across the table!
For more information on how to eat fruit correctly with or without cutlery, (including bananas and all sorts of other fruit) I recommend you go here. Of course I can't imagine many of us will feel the need for such extreme etiquette, but it is fascinating!
|Still Life - Balthazar Van Ast .17th Century|
My Idealed John Bullesses |
by Yoshio Makino 1912
|Fleet Street by James Valentine c 1890|
Soseki (his first name and pen name) was a pre-eminent scholar of English literature and one of the first graduates of Tokyo Imperial University’s English Literature department. He had been sent to study for two years by the Japanese government, keen to learn as much as possible from the most powerful country in the world.
But he really didn’t want to go. For a start he had to leave his pregnant wife behind. He had a very small stipend and spent most of it on books, which didn’t leave much for rent. He stayed in a succession of shabby lodging houses - in Gower Street near the British Museum, Priory Road in West Hampstead, the ‘gloomy, squalid neighbourhood of the notorious slum Camberwell’, Tooting and lastly Clapham Common, the one place where he felt even remotely contented.
|Farewell photo before Soseki's departure|
for London. Soseki is bottom right
When he did go out for a walk, he felt terribly self conscious about his smallness of stature. Everyone he met was ‘depressingly tall,’ he wrote. Once he saw an ‘unusually small person’ approaching and thought, ‘Eureka!’, then realised this person was still 2 inches taller than he was. Finally ‘a strangely complexioned Tom Thumb approaches, but now I realise this is my own image reflected in a mirror.’ In the park ‘herds of women walk around like horned lionesses with nets on their heads.’ He was struck by the fact that even tradesmen ‘are for the most part better dressed than many a high ranking official in Japan ... A butcher’s boy, when Sunday rolls around, will proudly put on his silk hat and frock coat.’
Behind his back he heard people referring to him as a ‘least-poor Chinese’, a very strange adjective, as he noted. He was also mistaken at the theatre for a Portuguese.
To improve his health his landlady suggested that he take up cycling so he set off for the horse riding area on Clapham Common where there would not be too many spectators. His efforts resulted in a series of comic mishaps with him nearly running down a policeman.
|Soseki in 1912|
Eventually he became so isolated and miserable that his landlady, doctor and fellow lodgers advised him to take a holiday. So he went to Scotland, where he made the discovery that British people didn’t go moon-viewing or appreciate moss and began to doubt whether the British were really worth the reverence in which they were held in Japan.
Nevertheless all in all it was a miserable experience. ‘The two years I spent in London were the most unpleasant years in my life,’ he later wrote. ‘Among English gentlemen I lived in misery, like a poor dog that had strayed among a pack of wolves. I understand the population of London is about five million. Frankly speaking, I felt as if I were a drop of water amid five million drops of oil.’
|Plaque at 81 The Chase, Clapham|
But in fact Soseki’s lonely years were the making of him. He wrote about them wryly and humorously in several early works and went on to become one of the most beloved Japanese novelists of all time, author of Kokoro, Botchan and I am a Cat, among many others.
Yoshio Makino in contrast adored London. A artist three years younger than Soseki, he arrived a few years before him, in 1897, though there is no evidence that their paths ever crossed.
Makino particularly loved the mist and fog of the English landscape. He wrote, ‘London in mist is far above my own ideal ... the colour and its effects are most wonderful. I think London without mists would be like a bride without a trousseau ... The London mist attracts me so that I do not feel that I could live any other place but London.’
He lived in London for 45 years, mainly in Kensington, and did many paintings - of the Thames, Earl’s Court Station, Sloane Square, all studies in mist; of Fulham Road with a church spire looming out of the gloom, pavements glittering on a rainy night, shadowy nightspots with crowds of women emerging from brightly lit houses into a dark street.
He also admired British women and painted many pictures of them. He called them John Bullesses (after John Bull). ‘Some John Bullesses bury themselves into such thick fur overcoats in winter. You can hardly see their eyes; all other parts are covered with foxes’ tails, minks’ heads, seals’ back skin, a whole bird, snakeskin, etc. ... But when they get into a house and take off all those heavy wearing, such a light and charming butterfly comes out,’ he wrote.
Soseki’s stay came to an end in January 1903 but Makino stayed on till 1942 when he was reluctantly repatriated. He spent the rest of his life trying to get back to England.
Lesley Downer’s latest novel, The Shogun’s Queen, is an epic tale set in nineteenth century Japan and is out now in paperback.
For more see www.lesleydowner.com
All pictures courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
I have just finished reading the second volume of Sylvia Plath's Letters, published by Faber and Faber. They make for sober reading. The first volume, published in 2017, covered the period 1940-1956. In those, a smiling, bikini-clad Plath beams out from the front cover, while the pages are filled with the optimism and hope of youth. There are pockets of doubt and difficulty, the hint of rape and a suicide attempt, but also Plath's growing certainty of herself as a writer, a woman and an equal to the towering figure of Ted Hughes, with whom she is forever linked.
|Letters, volume 1|
|Letters, volume 2|
|The Bell Jar, first published in 1963|
|23 Fitzroy Road, London, last residence of Sylvia Plath|
We have just returned from a few days in Lucca, a walled mediaeval city in Tuscany - and my post is due for tomorrow; so it's going to be something of an extended postcard! Looking out today at the wind and rain and banks of cloud, I certainly wish I was there again, enjoying the sunlit squares, the narrow streets, the beautiful city walls...
|The narrow streets...|
|This is taken from on top of the wall - sadly, I don't have one of the wall itself.|
Those walls. Everyone I'd spoken to who'd been to Lucca had said that walking the wall was a must, and they were absolutely right. Lucca was a Roman town - the streets are still laid out in a Roman grid pattern, and it's easy to trace where the forum was, and the amphitheatre (more of that later). It was the Romans who built the wall, and it's testament to their extraordinary engineering skill. It's massive: a steep bank, wide enough on top for a road with a verge on either side, planted now with trees which last week provided welcome shade, though their leaves were starting to flutter down like gleaming copper pennies. There are numerous gates to allow access into the city, and people stroll, cycle and run on top, with the mountains on one side and the towers and domes of the city on the other. It was easy to imagine carriages rolling along, and ladies and gentlemen on horseback, exchanging greetings, making assignations...
I'm not someone who's sensitive to ghostly presences. But just as on the wall I could imagine people from the 18th and 19th centuries, in the streets at night, quiet, lit by lamps which cast soft shadows, it was easy to sense the presence of earlier inhabitants: silk and velvet skirts sweeping the paving stones, smiles and laughter, secrets shared, promises made. We went to one museum which really helped to make that older time come to life: called the Palazzo Mansi, it was partly the house of wealthy merchants as it had been and still was, and partly the home of the city's art collection. One of the most extraordinary things there was this ceiling: centuries old, but the colours as fresh and light and clear as if it had been painted yesterday, instead of to celebrate a long-ago wedding. It was so cleverly done that it was really difficult to discern what was really three-dimensional ad what just gave the impression that it was. (A word of warning, though, if you ever go: mysteriously, you can only get into the museum at certain times of day, and it's not easy to spot. As a result, it's very uncrowded!)
|I loved the vase of flowers, centre right.|
There are of course lots of churches. The cathedral, San Martino, has a number of features which particularly intrigued me. One was this marble statue of Illaria del Caretto, who died in 1405 at the age of 26, after giving birth to her second child. She was the second wife of Paolo Guinigi, the Duke of Lucca - and not the last. This sarcophagus was commissioned by her husband, but she was laid to rest elsewhere, not inside it.
|Isn't she lovely?|
She's so beautiful, so young. Her husband was later deposed by the people as a tyrant. Quite unfairly, perhaps - apparently the Duke grieved greatly (though that didn't stop him remarrying soon after) - I was reminded of Browning's poem, My Last Duchess, which is an immensely skillful and chilling monologue by the Duke of Ferrara, during which he gradually, 'inadvertently' reveals that he had his wife killed out of jealousy. I gave commands/ Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands/ As if alive.
Another thing was this, which is carved on quite a small stone on the outside of the building. I thought it was a maze, but discovered on looking it up that it's a labyrinth. I was struck by the difference - that with a maze, you try to reach the centre: with a labyrinth, you try to get out. Not sure why that seems significant, but it does. I'd like to know more about the script chiselled into the stone on the right: mediaeval graffiti, or a commentary of some kind by the artist? It's quite difficult to see.
And this picture is specially for Mary Hoffman. She mentioned that she particularly liked the pillars of the churches in Lucca. I hadn't even noticed them, but because of her comment, I looked again, and saw these beautiful, intricate carvings.
There are so many other things I was going to write about, but this post is already quite long enough. So I'll end with a picture which isn't of Lucca at all. It's of Viareggio, where we spent a glorious day on the beach. (Unbelievably, only three days ago...) It's a long time since I saw Death In Venice, but it made me think of the scene at the beginning, where the protagonist first sees the beautiful boy with his family on the beach. Except that it wasn't in Venice, and fortunately, nobody died...
I've got a new book coming out on November 1st.
The label informs me it comes from Pompeii and that such items were symbols of fertility and strength. I could easily churn out 2,000 words on the subject of phallic imagery and objects in ancient Rome. There’s a lot of them. But that’s not what I’m writing about this month. For my second thought after, “Wow that’s beautiful." Was “I wonder how it got here?”
I found I couldn’t shake that thought. Just how did a tiny phallic amulet from the lost city of Pompeii end up in a gallery on London’s Euston Road? I suspected there might be a story there.
I was right. It is quite a story. One involving an eccentric American millionaire, a dashing ex naval captain with a love of fast cars & hobnobbing with grandees, and a quite extraordinary collection.
|Henry Wellcome courtesy of the Wellcome Collection.|
This was proper frontier country. Aged eight Henry's home town was attacked by the Sioux. The young boy assisted his uncle in caring for the wounded.
Aged 15 he created and marketed his own version of Invisible Ink. Aged 19 we find him at the Chicago School of Pharmacy. A promising and developing career as a salesman for a drug company was interrupted when his friend Silas Burroughs suggested Wellcome follow him to London. Burroughs had in mind a British pharmaceutical company, but run with American panache, drive and most importantly American style marketing.
Henry took the leap to London and in 1880 Burroughs, Wellcome and Co was founded.
To say Burroughs, Wellcome and Co was successful is a gross understatement.
Burrough’s sudden and untimely death in 1895 left Wellcome as sole proprietor and enormously wealthy. What to do with all this money piling up?
|Henry Wellcome in fancy dress.|
Courtesy of The Wellcome Collection
There was travel.
|Wellcome in Sudan.|
Courtesy of the Wellcome Collection
And then there was collecting.
Wellcome had a dream, a grand ambition with his collecting. It was to;
Partly this was born of his innate curiosity. Partly his American drive that had taken him from a wood cabin in frontier country to a multi-millionaire living within the fashionable London set. But mostly it was driven by the huge resources he had at his disposal.
Reading about Wellcome’s collection is jaw dropping and ultimately a little dispiriting. How was I to find a record of my little phallus in this lot? To give you some idea of just how much Wellcome collected you need only know that they measured it by the ton.
There were 110 cases of Graeco-Roman objects.
In all a million plus objects made up Wellcome’s collection. Somewhere in this million was my little phallus.
Though Henry Wellcome travelled extensively seeking objects for his museum (Much to the disgust of his wife Syrie “Ever since our marriage, the greater part of our time has been spent in places I detested collecting curios” - they later divorced) he did not take sole responsibility for acquiring objects for his museum. He did have a company to run after all, but also because he recognised that his presence at auctions was likely to push the price up of his desired object. To overcome this he was known to effect disguises, as he told a friend:
|Peter Johnston Saint.|
Courtesy of The Wellcome Collection
He joined the, now named, Wellcome Institute in 1921 and had soon impressed Henry Wellcome. Within a very short time he was given the title of Foreign Secretary. The sole purpose of this role was to travel and buy up objects suitable for the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum. It was a job Johnston Saint was well suited to involving, as it did, much hobnobbing with Ambassadors, Cardinals, Directors of key museums and other such notables.
A friendly member of staff at the Wellcome Collection (thank you Ross!) pointed me towards the papers they hold on Peter Johnston Saint. There were letters to Henry Wellcome, reports on his activities as Foreign Secretary and (joy!) his travels diaries.
Somewhere in these diaries I might find my little white phallus. Hoping he had decent handwriting I began to read about Johnston Saint's trip to Italy.
Johnston Saint began his Italian quest on Saturday 19th January 1930:
His diary is an interesting insight into how objects were sourced and brought for the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum. Some of the work involves making contact with the right people. Such as on Monday 21st January when Johnston Saint meets with Cardinale Gasquet, the Prefect of the Vatican archives. The Cardinal is presented with a gift:
I thought for a moment that within those 99 phallic objects might be my phallus but as Johnston Saint drily records:
But later that same day he is to be found in further small establishments:
|A Priapus from Pompeii. Not|
the one JS purchased.
Attributed to Aaron Wolpert
It's not all buy, buy, buy though. Johnston Saint takes the time to visit the sites. A trip to the Vatican Library on Friday 25th January impresses him much:
The baths of Caracalla have him recording wistfully:
Bad weather might have prevented the work that day but work did continue and these massive ships were eventually exposed.
|The now lost pleasure barge of Caligula. Look|
at the man to the left to see the huge awesome scale
of this boat.
On Tuesday 29th January Johnston Saint reveals that he is leaving for Naples. Would he visit Pompeii? Would he stumble across a certain small white phallus, and hopefully write down that he did? Or did the phallus not come from Pompeii at all? Was it maybe discovered in one of those small shops by the Forum selling phallic objects by the hundreds?
There was only one way to find out. I kept reading.....
Those letters of introduction obtained from the Ambassador come in handy now as they gain him access to the Director of the Naples Archaeological Museum and a very famous cabinet:
|From Naples Museum's famous cabinet. Photo attributed Kim Traynor.|
Dr Jen Grove of Exeter University has written a very thorough account of the collecting of sexually themed materials in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This is what she has to say about Wellcome’s collection:
He also collected images and objects outside of this sex/religion theme including materials dealing with the pleasure aspect of intercourse:
|One of Peter Johnston Saint's photographs from his 1930 trip to Rome. Image courtesy of Wellcome Collection|
The next day on Thursday 31st January Johnston Saint is given a tour of Herculaneum. His mood is greatly different from the interest and excitement at securing his photographs from Pompeii. To see the theatre at Herculaneum he had to walk down through 60 feet of lava (this is still the case today).
However what the hotelier shows him is so impressive that he cannot hold back the bucks:
A marble phallus you say? 4 inches long? Bronze wings? And a chain for suspending?
A bit like this one then?
Miraculously I had found it! I had found my phallus! It had been excavated in 1927 by the proprietor of a hotel that stood on the Porta Marina gate into Pompeii. He met Peter Johnston Saint on Thursday 31st January 1930 and showed him his collection of artefacts. Johston Saint purchased several of these objects on behalf of Henry Wellcome, including the phallus.
And that folks, is how my little white phallus ended up in a gallery in London’s Euston Road!
For some reason I feel this piece needs an epilogue. So here it is.
|Henry Wellcome and Peter Johnston Saint|
Courtesy of The Wellcome Collection
The company Henry founded with Silas Burroughs went through several incarnations (including Glaxo Wellcome) before it was finally sold off and GlaxoSmithKline one of the largest pharma companies on the planet was formed. The money from this sale was ploughed into the charitable Wellcome Trust. Today the Wellcome Trust has assets worth £20 billion and in 2017 spent £1.1 billion advancing medical science.
And as for that small marble phallus? Well 700,000 people visit the Wellcome Collection each year and let’s assume absolutely all of them stare at that little white phallus and think firstly “Wow” and then secondly “I wonder how it got here?"
I'd highly recommend Frances Larson's "An Infinity of Things: How Henry Wellcome collected the World." if you are at all interested in Henry Wellcome and his mania for collecting. This book gave me much of the material for this article.
Special thanks also to Dr Jen Grove and Ross Macfarlane for their assistance.
L.J. Trafford is the author of the Four Emperors Series set in ancient Rome. She also runs the hashtag #phallusthursday on Twitter, which examines the use of phallic imagery in ancient art and has a bit of a puerile snigger about it all.