Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Pictures from a Mediaeval Bible

Cologne Bible, Samson and the lion, Judges xiv

I've just been reading Pictures from a Mediaeval Bible (James Strachan, Darwen Finlayson, London, 1959), a lovely collection of woodcuts, with commentary, from the Cologne Bible of 1478-80. The first systematically illustrated Bible - see Past Masters: The Cologne Bible Illustrations - it was the prototype for many inferior copies. The vividness and sharp composition of its depictions of Biblical stories, transferred to contemporary mediaeval settings, are still striking today ... even if the quaintness and cartoon-like encapsulation of scenes make it impossible to resist annotating many of them! (Hat tip to LOL Manuscripts).

(For the benefit of non-palaeontologists: the thing at top left has a remarkable resemblance to the Lower-Middle Cambrian fossil Hallucigenia - or at least Hallucigenia as it was first thought to be. As the Smithsonian's Department of Paleobiology page Hallucigenia sparsa (an onychophoran) explains, this Burgess Shale fossil was first interpreted as a creature walking on long stilt-like spines, with short hooked feeding tentacles on its back. Better specimens from a related species found in China have since revealed that the first interpretation had Hallucigenia upside-down: the tentacles are legs, and the spines are on its back. The other multi-tentacled things in the picture are actually flames; in the Cologne Bible, the scene comes from the Book of Leviticus and depicts Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, being consumed by fire as divine retribution for offering incense lit with unconsecrated fire).

- Ray

Friday, 24 September 2010

Literary limekilns

A Lime Kiln at Coalbrookdale, c.1797, Joseph Mallord William Turner: see william-turner.org

Wayland Wordsmith just featured a post on limekilns by the Exe Estuary - see Limekilns - that proved quite thought-provoking.  Around this district there are quite a few examples of these arched cliffside structures whose purpose - local production of lime (for agricultural and building) - is so completely obsolete that it's hard to imagine their environmental impact. Their three-day coal-fired burns, calcining limestone or shells to quicklime (see the South Devon AONB leaflet) emitted copious smoke and carbon dioxide; as Wayland Wordsmith says, they were a regular cause of death.

Dr. O'Connor, of Carlow, has recently directed attention to another prolific source of destruction to health and life which especially exists in rural districts and in the neighbourhood of small towns. The kilns for burning lime, dotted everywhere over the face of the country, directly cause the death, in every ten years, of between two hundred and three hundred persons. Their warmth attracts to them wayfarers, who, falling asleep, so die, from the poisonous fumes of carbonic acid emitted, of which an admixture of only one-sixth renders the atmosphere unfit to support life. All this would be at once remedied by a law requiring lime-kilns to be surrounded by a fence. The attention of Parliament was directed to the subject fourteen years ago, and it has been repeatedly urged on their notice during the interval. Surely the evil has attained a sufficient maturity to entitle it to notice, even though the sufferers by it be only the homeless and friendless poor.
- page 551, The Lancet, Volume 2, Medical Annotations, November 15, 1856

As such - ubiquitous, intrusive, and scary features, a kind of pocket hell-mouth - they seem to have acquired enough metaphoric symbolism to appear in literature, going back at least to Shakespeare. A search of Project Gutenberg - here - finds hundreds of occurrences, either as passing locations or as now-defunct similes/metaphors for dryness. However, it's interesting to take a brief look at more specific occurrences:

FALSTAFF: Thou mightst as well say I love to walk by the Counter-gate, which is as hateful to me as the reek of a lime-kiln.
- The Merry Wives of Windsor

THERSITES. Why, his masculine whore. Now, the rotten diseases of the south, the guts-griping ruptures, catarrhs, loads o' gravel in the back, lethargies, cold palsies, raw eyes, dirt-rotten livers, wheezing lungs, bladders full of imposthume, sciaticas, limekilns i' th' palm, incurable bone-ache, and the rivelled fee-simple of the tetter, take and take again such preposterous discoveries!
- Troilus and Cressida

Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story Ethan Brand—A Chapter from an Abortive Romance, was inspired by the sight of a limekiln on a walk - see his Passages from the American Note-Books.  A fine little Gothic tale, it makes full use of the limekiln as a setting and as instrument of destiny for its eponymous protagonist, who is guilt-ridden from his "Unpardonable Sin" of a having made a young woman, a circus performer, "the subject of a psychological experiment, and wasted, absorbed, and perhaps annihilated her soul, in the process". Ethan Brand's fate is that of many villains, such as Malitius in the story of Fulgentius and the Wicked Steward, who end up being burnt in the kiln.

A little after the Hawthorne story, there's Great Expectations, in which the unpleasantness of the limekiln figures in Pip's confrontation with Orlick, and in the later metaphor for the confusion of Pip's fever.

It was another half-hour before I drew near to the kiln. The lime was burning with a sluggish stifling smell, but the fires were made up and left, and no workmen were visible. Hard by was a small stone-quarry. It lay directly in my way, and had been worked that day, as I saw by the tools and barrows that were lying about.

Coming up again to the marsh level out of this excavation,—for the rude path lay through it,—I saw a light in the old sluice-house. I quickened my pace, and knocked at the door with my hand. Waiting for some reply, I looked about me, noticing how the sluice was abandoned and broken, and how the house—of wood with a tiled roof—would not be proof against the weather much longer, if it were so even now, and how the mud and ooze were coated with lime, and how the choking vapor of the kiln crept in a ghostly way towards me.
"... I left her for dead, and if there had been a limekiln as nigh her as there is now nigh you, she shouldn't have come to life again..."
But the vapor of a limekiln would come between me and them, disordering them all, and it was through the vapor at last that I saw two men looking at me.

On a different note, a burning limekiln gets centre-stage as a kind of sexual metaphor in an episode in Bayard Taylor's 1864 John Godfrey's fortunes: related by himself. A story of American life. Here, in "the episode of the lime-kiln", the schoolteacher protagonist thinks he's being invited to a cosy gathering by the kiln, where he hopes to meet the woman he is attracted to; instead he finds he has been conned into courting Verbena, sister of the gruff lime-burner Tom Cuff, so has to make a getaway from the top of the kiln, chased by Cuff's dog.  And later, as described on pages 109- in Robin Hackett's Sapphic primitivism: productions of race, class, and sexuality in key works of modern fiction, an encounter with the kilnman and "the red winking eye of the lime-kiln" serve as pagan and sexual motifs in Sylvia Townsend Warner's 1963 Summer Will Show.

In rather less heated form, limekilns figure in poetry too, as in Francis Skurray's topographical poem Bidcombe Hill (much ridiculed in Blackwood's Magazine, September 1828) ...

In looking round to catch the varied scene
Which seem to crave admittance to my song,
A rival hill appears, rais'd as it were
By magic hands, amid the level plain;
Against its shelvy side the lime-kiln leans,
And stains with pitchy smoke the azure sky.
- Bidcombe Hill

... as well as John Bradshaw Kaye's Songs of Lake Geneva: and other poems (written in 1881, his The Old Lime Kiln on the Lake Shore isn't at all bad as an elegy on the past); and Jervis McEntee's rather sanitised The Lime Kiln, from Sarah Carter Edgarton Mayo's 1855 The Rose of Sharon: a religious souvenir.

Night by night,
The fire from the lime-kiln, burning bright,
Illumines the solemn gloom ;
Leaping and waving, its wonderful light
Seems like a fire of doom.

Through the night,
When the resting pond lies breezeless and still,
It gleams on its silver tide,
And it lights the end of the gloom-buried mill
And the willow standing beside.

In the night,
When the moon is low, and the stars are gone,
And the road is lonely and drear,
The driver, winding his midnight hour,
Blesses its kindly cheer.

All the night,
The murmur of voices is heard to chime
With the roar of the leaping flame,
And the tardy traveller, time after time,
Has wondered whence it came.

The livelong night,
Who nourish the fires and tend the blaze,
And watch the wonderful light ?
Are they spirits that hide through the long bright days,
And meet at the lime-kiln at night?
- Ray

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Burglar Bill and F Anstey

I first ran into F Anstey's comic recitations Burglar Bill and The Conscience-Curst! out of context in A Century of Humorous Verse, so it was a pleasure to find the full set in the Internet Archive: Burglar Bill, and other pieces for the use of the young reciter. With introduction, remarks, and stage-directions (1888, London : Bradbury, Agnew, & Co. - burglarbillother00anst). Originally published in Punch, they are do-able as recitations, but are actually a satire on the whole recitation format.

The title recitation, Burglar Bill - annotated with helpful directions to the reader - tells the maudlin story of a hardened burglar whose heart is touched by a meeting with a twee child.

Can it be his guardian angel,
Sent to stay his hand from crime?
[In a tone of awe]
He could wish she had selected
Some more seasonable time!
[Touch of peevish discontent here]

"Go away!" he whispers hoarsely,
"Burglars hev their bread ter earn.
I don't need no Gordian angel
Givin' of me sech a turn!"
[Shudder here, and retreat, shielding eyes with hand]
[Now change your manner to a naive surprise; this, in spite of anything we may have said previously, is in this particular instance NOT best indicated by a shrill falsetto]

But the blue eyes open wider,
Ruby lips reveal their pearl:
[This must not be taken to refer to the Burglar]
"I is not a Garden anzel,
Only — dust a yickle dirl!"
[Be particularly artless here and through next stanza]

All turns out well, when he helps the yickle dirl, Bella, by using his burglaring tools to open the stuck door of her doll's house. Declining the offer of meeting her family, he returns home a sadder and wiser man.

In a garret, worn and weary,
Burglar Bill has sunk to rest,
Clasping tenderly a crumpled
Cheesecake to his burly breast.
[Dwell lovingly upon the word "cheesecake," which you should press home upon every one of your hearers, remembering to fold your hands lightly over your heart as you conclude. If you do not find that several susceptible and eligible bachelors have been knocked completely out of time by this little recitation, you will have made less progress in your Art than may be confidently anticipated]

The other recitation I'd seen before is comic horror: The Conscience-Curst! tells of a stranger who confesses to a village policeman to the serial murder of various uncles.

As before, you should devote special attention to your title, which may be announced after this fashion. Stalk into the middle of the room or platform, with one hand in your bosom and your eyes staring as in a trance. Then, in a hollow voice, hurl the name of the poem at the nearest old lady:

[And, if you do it properly, she will jump like anything]

The night-owl shrieked: a gibbous moon peered pallid o'er the yew;
The clammy tombstones each distilled a dank unwholesome dew;
[Shudder here with your shoulders]
As through the sleeping village passed a wight of aspect weird,
Whose haggard face was half obscured by a long neglected beard.
[In order that the audience should grasp this idea, you should pass your hand lightly over your chin]

His convex spectacles gave back the gleaming of the moon,
He wore a pair of overcoats, although the time was June.
[Give a dark significance to this piece of apparent eccentricity]
Two slippers wrought in faded wools hid his ungainly feet,
And he danced a grisly polka-step all down the silent street.
[You might just indicate this, if you think you can do so in a sufficiently ghastly and impressive manner; otherwise — don't]


"My Uncle Joseph sold ('purvey,' I think, he termed it) meat,
His veins with vital fluid were abnormally replete!
[Close your eyes, and shiver here, as if at some unpleasing reminiscence]
Who would have thought so old a man ——?... [with a dazed abruptness]
Enough! — Within the tank
I flung the still unconscious corpse of my favourite Uncle Frank!
[Here you should strike the attitude of a man who is hurling a favourite uncle to his doom]

Burglar Bill, and other pieces for the use of the young reciter satirises various styles: "Sympathetic Artless"; "Sporting Sensational"; "Tear-Laden Domestic"; "Melodramatic Weird"; "Low-Life Realistic"; "Transatlantic Familiar"; "Sensually Harrowing"; "Marine Emotional"; "Bucolic Buttonholing"; "Triumphant Tragic"; "Voluptuously Melancholic"; and "Homely Pathetic". They're very worth reading, taking a dig not only at recitation but at late-Victorian poetry genres in general. Gaslight (a nice resource of Victorian weirdness) has a sampler here; and as I said, the full batch is here.

F Anstey - Thomas Anstey Guthrie - isn't much remembered these days, but as a late-Victorian / early 20th century writer he left a surprising trail of adaptations. It seems likely - though I've not seen direct confirmation - that Janet and Allan Ahlberg's Burglar Bill is loosely based on the Anstey character; his novella The Tinted Venus as adapted into the Broadway musical and film One Touch of Venus; The Brass Bottle became a movie more than once (e.g. The Brass Bottle); and the story Vice Versa: A Lesson to Fathers (a comedy in which a father and son magically switch bodies - see Gutenberg EBook-No. 26853) has been multiply filmed - see Wikipedia).

Check out F Anstey works online: Project Gutenberg / Internet Archive; they're variable but interesting.  His Baboo Jabberjee and A Bayard from Bengal comes across as a bit racist by modern standards, but are nevertheless socially well-observed 'outsider commentary' comedies about an educated-but-naive Indian character struggling with the foibles of English society.  Ones particularly worth checking out those - commercially unsuccessful, which is a pity - are those where Guthrie broke away from his Punch typecasting as a comic writer. The Statement of Stella Mabberly, for instance, is a pretty good psychological horror novel; and the 1891 Tourmalin's Time Cheques (1891) is in SF/fantasy territory. It tells of Peter Tourmalin, bored on a long ship journey who makes a deal with a 'time bank' enabling him to draw 'time cheques' that revisit previously deposited hours if he wants to take a break from routine.  He deposits the rest of the journey, and instantly finds himself at home in the middle of planning arrangements for his marriage. When he draws the cheques, however, they drop him into increasingly fraught out-of-sequence segments of the timeline aboard the ship, and complications increase as the interest accrued on the time deposit adds extra time where he revisits segments already experienced.

See Brian M. Stableford Yesterday's bestsellers: a journey through literary history, pages 69-, for a good overview of Anstey and his works; it mention's Anstey's largely unexplored talent for darker fantasy. Despite his success as a humorist, he expressed in his autobiography, A Long Retrospect (sampled here at Gaslight), his regret at the lack of success of his serious works.
- Ray

Monday, 20 September 2010

Girvan Fun Palace

Fifth Dimension, aka Girvan Fun Palace, Design Journal 1969

Something that just surfaced from the sludge of memory while I was browsing an article on minimal surfaces: Fifth Dimension, also called the Girvan Fun Palace, which I visited on a family holiday in the early 1970s during what must have been its very short life. It was an extremely odd development for Girvan, what was then a very staid small-town Scottish seaside resort: Keith Albarn's sub-psychedelic installation of modular coloured fibreglass units ("Ekistikit") where you walked through various womb-like rooms containing sensory experiences: sounds, lights, hanging plastic objects to push through, and so on.

VADS (the Visual Arts Data Service - worth browsing in general) has an article online with more images: see Funny business at the seaside, Alastair Best, pp 58-61, Design Journal, 251, 1969. As it says, initially the futuristic experience was somewhat diminished by the central dome's incongruous rock garden full of plastic potted plants; a problem explained by a letter in Design Journal 255:

Sir: In "Funny business at the seaside" (DESIGN 251/58-61) Alastair Best made some scathing references to design failures in Keith Albarn's Fifth Dimension Fun Palace on the Girvan foreshore which caused the Fun Palace to fall somewhat below Albarn's fondest hopes.

We should like to point out, however, that Girvan Town Council was not insensitive to the incongruity of plastic rock gardens and revolving daleks amongst feeble strobes, electronic music and easily detected soft floors. These crept into the design when it became obvious that a complete "psychedelic" experience would not be ready in time for the 1969 summer season.

Girvan Town Council has engaged our company to renovate the interior of the Fun Palace. To do this we have rethought the entire interior, including the transparent sides of the building - which have now been made opaque. The result is a stimulating audio-visual and sensual experience throughout.

John Ballantyne, Denis A Barns, Electroscope, 35 Lamerton Road, Cumbernauld, Glasgow

A follow-up review, Fun palace makes good, in Design Journal 260, 1970 (see pp 14-15) was more favourable.

... the interior has been recast from start to finish by two young men calling themselves "Electroscope.'' For Denis Barns, painter (Glasgow School of Art) and John Ballantyne, scientist (Strathclyde University) this is their first big commission. Strobe lights and hanging objects in the dark, hectic colours in patterns and shapes that fight the form, sudden spatial contrasts, eerie lights and an assortment of noises from murmurings to mindmelting screechings are old tricks - but they still work when used with all-round intelligence, as here. The warren of cells and tunnels and sudden loftier chambers presents at least half-a-dozen respectable visual excitements, as, for instance, when the almost subliminal strobe light (black and silver) of one cell slows down and takes on colour in the next.

The ''feelie" element is nowhere as sophisticated as this (near the entrance, for example, you find yourself bound to struggle - and it is a struggle - through a dense forest of heavy hanging objects) although further in there is a pitch-black vault with a teetering floor, where the barrel walls' all repetitive domes and angles like a Camargo relief, invite finger exploration for just as long as the ears will stand a hideous electronic crescendo.

The loftiest chamber, white and luminous, might have come straight from the set of Doctor Who with its do-it-yourself switchboard to alter lights and sounds. Finally another dark tunnel with fairy lights snaking endlessly away to the right (mirrors) leads you through a structure of translucent cubic boxes of coloured plastics sheets, ambigious and rather beautiful in a fairy castle kind of way. Then the boxes solidify, become white and gleaming in what you realise is not electricity now, but sunshine.

A good two shillings worth (children half price) of anyone's money, wet day or fine.

I recall that this was the version I visited.
- Ray

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Gender-reversed Tempests

I've just been looking at the first reviews of The Tempest, Julie Taymor's new adaptation screened at the Venice Film Festival and due for general release in December.  I like Taymor's style (Titus was great - a masterly and witty take that managed to redeem one of Shakespeare's least polished plays) and like The Tempest, so although the reviews are mixed - see the Telegraph and Indy Movies Online - it looks very worth watching.

In Julie Taymor's version of 'The Tempest,' the gender of Prospero has been switched to Prospera. Going back to the 16th or 17th century, women practicing the magical arts of alchemy were often convicted of witchcraft. In Taymor's version, Prospera is usurped by her brother and sent off with her four-year daughter on a ship. She ends up on an island; it's a tabula rasa: no society, so the mother figure becomes a father figure to Miranda. This leads to the power struggle and balance between Caliban and Prospera; a struggle not about brawn, but about intellect.
- Internet Movie Database

The gender reversal is getting quite a lot of comment, but it's not unprecedented in stage productions: see On Prospera's Island from Metroactive; the Prospera's Brave New World section in Shakespeare re-dressed: cross-gender casting in contemporary performance.  However, I'm slightly bitching because around a decade back I wrote a Tempest adaptation using exactly the same idea, called Stormbound: The Tempest Retold. It was entirely hackwork - a fem-dom fantasy novella I wrote for an e-publishing firm called Amatory Ink - but I recall being very pleased with it as writing; it was faithful enough to The Tempest that I believe it had genuine literary merit as an adaptation. I'd been vaguely thinking of resurrecting it since finding a writing group critique for the first chapter. But, somewhere amid multiple changes of computer and clear-outs of outdated 3.5" disks, the rest is unfindable, and the publisher is defunct too. Moral: keep proper backups.
- Ray

Monday, 13 September 2010

Tamara Drewe review

I've mentioned previously Stephen Frears' film adaptation, with screenplay by Moira Buffini, of Posy Simmonds Tamara Drewe. We saw it today and highly recommend it; it was every bit up to expectations.

As is generally known, it takes its scenario loosely from Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd: the beautiful Tamara (played by Gemma Arterton) comes to the Dorset village of her childhood to initiate renovation and sale of her late mother's house. There she becomes the focus of attraction for three men: the reliable handyman and past lover Andy Cobb (Luke Evans), the adulterous author Nicholas Hardiment (Roger Allam), and the charismatic indy band drummer Ben Sergeant (Dominic Cooper) who she is interviewing.

Over the course of a year, their shifting relationships are watched by Hardiment's long-suffering wife Beth (Tamsin Greig), the weary academic Glen McCreavy (Bill Camp) and the other residents of the writers' retreat run by the Hardiments, and by two bored and mischievous village teenagers, Jody and Casey (Jessica Barden and Charlotte Christie). Eventually, the already tense situation is raised to boiling point by Jody - who is smitten with Ben - sending a provocative forged e-mail to all of Tamara's suitors.

The film could be described a tragicomic farce, deliciously wry rather than laugh-out-loud. The casting, locations and characterisation can't be faulted; it handles its different threads deftly; and it's tightly storyboarded from the graphic novel, except for a very effective and sympathetic change to part of the resolution. The main story is rich in Thomas Hardy book and movie allusions without being heavy-handed, from the lovely set pieces such as Ben impressing Tamara with his skill with drumsticks (just as Captain Troy impresses Bathsheba with his swordsmanship) down to the minor characters called Tess, Eustacia and Diggory.

The whole story is given greater depth by Simmonds' sharp observations of the difficult social trends of villages taken over by Yuppie culture, and of the foibles and pretensions of the writing circuit; a recurring theme, right through to the end credits (don't miss the song) is how writers recycle their experience into their works. I particularly liked the way it manages to bring a sympathetic edge to Tamara, the Bathsheba character (she could be unsufferable and too perfect, but her burden is that she is an unwitting femme fatale who evidently hasn't come to terms with her new-found attractiveness after rhinoplasty) and the way the film made Jody and Casey even more central to the story. They act both as a Hardyesque rustic Greek chorus, and as classic trickster figures - superficially disruptive, but the eventual catalysts for change and resolution.

It's hard to single any actor out as especially good, but Dominic Cooper was outstanding as the scary and charismatic Ben Sergeant, as was Jessica Barden as Jody (she did well not to get entrenched in a Coronation Street bit part). However, all concerned - author, adapters and cast - should be immensely proud of this film. Go and see it.

PS:  There's an excellent article - minor spoilers - about the genesis and making of the film in the Sony press kit.

- Ray

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Maxwell Gray ... where London stood

I encountered an intriguing snippet of information that combines two of my ongoing minor fixations: the works of Maxwell Gray (Mary Gleed Tuttiett), and spotting ruined Londons in fiction. Distinctly out of character with the themes of her previous works, one of the stories in her last book, the 1923 anthology A Bit of Blue Stone, features a post-apocalyptic London.
"The Crash" ... looks far into the future and pictures England sunk again in primitive existence as the result of a terrible revolution; "the battered and half-ruined Palace of Westminster" is almost the only relic of today.

- The Times Literary Supplement, May 24, 1923
I shall have to find this.

Addendum: I just got the book, and have commented. The story is actually called After the Crash.

- Ray

Ido and Toblerone

An interesting language sighting. For a while I've had on the shelf a promotional cube toy (see Magic Folding Cube) that can be manipulated to show various pictures relating to Toblerone chocolate. But I'd never studied very closely the above picture on one of the main faces, with its logo Swisiana Lakto-Chokolado Toblerone. Linguo Internaciana "Ido". Reform-Esperanto.

This thoroughly understandable text (apart from the name) is written in the contructed language Ido. As the Wikipedia article explains, this was developed in the early 1900s by a schismatic group from the Esperanto community to repair perceived flaws in Esperanto.  Very loosely - see Comparison between Esperanto and Ido - the modifications bring the morphology and roots of Ido closer to the familiar European Romance languages, and away from Esperanto's Slavic and agglutinative elements. There has been a deal of drama in the relationship between the two languages that I won't go into; I'll just recommend a glance at idolinguo.org.uk to get some of the flavour. It does look a very accessible language, though strongly Latin-based.
La lektanto es invitata unesme nur ganar la savo necesa por komprenar ca linguo. Balde vu deskovros la plezuro di rapida progreso e forsan vu volos korespondar kun ulu en altra lando. Ni savas ke Ido funcionas. Nun vu povas probar ol. Ido es klefo qua apertas la pordo a plu vasta mondo.

The reader is invited first just to gain the knowledge necessary to understand this language. Soon you will discover the pleasure of rapid progress and perhaps you will want to correspond with someone in another country. We know that Ido works. Now you can try it. Ido is a key that opens the door to a wider world.
As to why it should turn up on Toblerone merchandise: that's down to Theodor Tobler, the chocolate company's founder, who was a committed internationalist and a proponent of Ido. A number of Tobler's collectable cards were similarly written in Ido.

As you can see, these cubes can show nine pictures: the six 2x2 on the faces, and three 2x4 on the three hidden orthogonal 'slices'.

- Ray

Sunday, 5 September 2010

In Delderfield country

On Friday, Clare and I had a very pleasant afternoon under accidental circumstances. We planned to go to do some walking on the South West Coastal Path around Beer, but the X53 Jurassic Coast bus was taken out of service, so we opted for the Sidmouth-Budleigh section instead. We highly recommend the walk, which is a bit over seven miles. It starts with a stiff climb from Jacob's Ladder, at the western end of Sidmouth, up Peak Hill.

One literary point of interest on the way was the commemorative plaque to RF Delderfield on the Sidmouth side of Peak Hill ("On this hill lived Ronald F Delderfield, whose inspired writings gained him international fame. 1912-1972").  As I've mentioned before - see To Exmouth again and Delderfield papers - the Delderfields lived locally; William Delderfield was publisher of the Exmouth Chronicle from 1923, and his sons Ronald and Eric both became writers. However, from my experience, if customers at The Topsham Bookshop buy anything by a Delderfield, it's almost certain to be one of Eric Delderfield's travel books: Ronald has all but disappeared into obscurity.  As Sam Jordison wrote in the Guardian Books Blog - Who's Paul Auster, Dad? (11th April 2007) - it's not clear why.  He wrote highly readably, with a strong sense of social justice - but something about his works no longer hits the spot. Perhaps it's that they're a trifle emotionally distant; Twentieth-Century Romance and Historical Writers (1990) said of them: "RF Delderfield's novels are not so much classic love stories as family sagas punctuated by strong romantic impulses".

Returning to the walk: from the forested summit of Peak Hill, which has occasional views back toward Sidmouth ...

... there's a slight dip across open heath/farmland before the path rises to a largely level walk through more forest at High Peak (you can take an optional detour to the summit).

Crossed-eye stereogram, High Peak: click to enlarge

Then there's a steep descent to Ladram Bay, which has a caravan site and impressive coastal rock stacks.

On the other side, the path continues with an undulating section along somewhat lower clifftops before it drops to near sea-level at Otter Head (a headland by the outlet of the River Otter) and takes a short detour north to the lowest crossing point before returning downstream to Budleigh alongside the Otter Estuary Nature Reserve.  See Geology of Sidmouth and Ladram Bay, Devon, for an interesting analysis of the terrain.

I find the East Devon and West Dorset coast immensely evocative, almost certainly because it so strongly resembles the southern coastline of the Isle of Wight, where I spent a lot of time in childhood and which I've recently had the opportunity to re-explore. The light is the same - all-day sun from the south-facing aspect - and the terrain, controlled by rather similar (and in some locations identical) geology, is also much the same: a coast of cliffs and chines and landslips, the clifftop hedgerows sculpted by the same prevailing wind direction, that gives me an intense feeling of familiarity.  With one or two places I genuinely couldn't tell the difference: for instance, parts of the Lyme-Axmouth Undercliff in Dorset/Devon look identical to parts of the Niton Undercliff, Isle of Wight.  It produces a strange double-exposure sensation: as if they were a 'shared space' where I could walk between the two locations.

Felix Grant and I have discussed a couple of times this sensation as it occurs in unreliable childhood memories: a memory splice that fits two locations together. I have, for instance, a distinct memory of visiting a cliff tunnel in childhood. I recall it as one visit, yet the memory is of the top of the tunnel being reached on a visit to Freshwater, Isle of Wight (there are such tunnels, but I can't place where or how I might have visited, since it was all MOD) but the bottom of it - a balcony emerging in the cliff face, to be at the Clifton Observatory, Avon Gorge, Bristol.  Perhaps I'm confusing it with Freshwater Redoubt?  Memory is odd.

Anyhow - returning to topic - so far we've walked all of the Coastal Path between Exmouth and Lyme Regis, in sections, except the part between Branscombe Mouth and Beer (where we were going to go prior to the bus mishap); that'll be the priority next time, as the Hooken Undercliff looks seriously interesting.

You might be interested in a companion piece I wrote for the Devon History Society weblog: Ladram Bay: time and tide, which focuses on the history of a lost geographical feature, Ladram Arch.

- Ray