Wednesday, 30 March 2011

It's Friday ... and Ern Malley

A post at Language Log - Gang Fight - just featured one of any number of parodies of Rebecca Black's much-ridiculed teen stream-of-consciousness It's Friday; with Gang Fight, this was done by lip-reading the song, and then redubbing with the garbled lyrics. However, there are many more: three of my favourites are the purported Bob Dylan original and Meat Loaf cover (both of which rise above their parodic origins to give surprising sensitivity to completely banal lyrics), and Handsome Mike's Acting Masterclass (in itself ridiculing an acting style all too common in bad productions of Beckett monologues).  There are some fine parodists out there.

On the subject of parodists, Language Log also just featured a passing reference to Ern Malley.  Malley was the Impostures Intellectuelles  of the Modernist poetry circuit in 1940s Australia: a fictious poet created by the writers James McAuley and Harold Stewart as a hoax on the modernist magazine Angry Penguins.

The poems comprised a sequence of seventeen by an "Ernest Lalor Malley", sent to Max Harris, the editor of Angry Penguins, by Malley's also-fictitious sister Ethel, starting with:

Dürer: Innsbruck, 1495

I had often cowled in the slumbrous heavy air,
Closed my inanimate lids to find it real,
As I knew it would be, the colourful spires
And painted roofs, the high snows glimpsed at the back,
All reversed in the quiet reflecting waters –
Not knowing then that Dürer perceived it too.
Now I find that once more I have shrunk
To an interloper, robber of dead men's dream,
I had read in books that art is not easy
But no one warned that the mind repeats
In its ignorance the vision of others. I am still
The black swan of trespass on alien waters.

Harris was taken in, but on publication, the hoax was rapidly exposed. McAuley and Stewart explained how they had put the poems together in an afternooon by a process quoted in Michael Heyward's The Ern Malley affair:

with the aid of a chance collection of books which happened to be on our desk; the Concise Oxford Dictionary, a Collected Shakespeare, Dictionary of Quotations etc. We opened books at random, choosing a word or phrase haphazardly. We made lists of these and wove them into nonsensical sentences. We misquoted and made false allusions. We deliberately perpetrated bad verse, and selected awkward rhymes from Ripman’s Rhyming Dictionary. The alleged quotation from Lenin in one of the poems, ‘The emotions are not skilled workers’ is quite phoney. The first three lines of the poem ‘Culture as Exhibit’ were lifted, as a quotation, straight from an American report on the drainage of breeding-grounds of mosquitoes.
- requoted from Marvellous Boys, Mark Ford, LRB, Vol. 15 No. 17, 9 September 1993.

The whole thing turned rather sour when some of the Malley poems were - incredibly, now, but this was hardline wowser era - included in a prosecution of Harris for obscenity, such as

Night Piece

The swung torch scatters seeds
In the umbelliferous dark
And a frog makes guttural comment
On the naked and trespassing
Nymph of the lake.

The symbols were evident,
Though on park-gates
The iron birds looked disapproval
With rusty invidious beaks.

Among the water-lilies
A splash — white foam in the dark!
And you lay sobbing then
Upon my trembling intuitive arm.

But ultimately Mcauley and Stuart had apparently made their intended point - to prove that a Modernist editor couldn't tell good poetry from bad - and the cause of Modernism in Australia was set back decades. And yet, 65 years later, Malley's poems are more remembered and reprinted than those of his creators, and not always for absurdity value. The critic Robert Hughes wrote:

The basic case made by Ern's defenders was that his creation proved the validity of surrealist procedures: that in letting down their guard, opening themselves to free association and chance, McAuley and Stewart had reached inspiration by the side-door of parody; and though this can't be argued on behalf of all the poems, some of which are partly or wholly gibberish, it contains a ponderable truth... The energy of invention that McAuley and Stewart brought to their concoction of Ern Malley created an icon of literary value, and that is why he continues to haunt our culture.
- quoted in The Ern Malley Affair, 1993.

In short, rubbish deliberately concocted by good writers - as with the modern Wergle Flomp entries - has a habit of being better than it sets out to be.

The official Ern Malley website is at  There's also a good account, mostly previewable online, in the chapter The Ern Malley Hoax in Where fiction ends: four scandals of literary identity construction (Therese-Marie Meyer, 2006).

- Ray

Monday, 28 March 2011

Bartitsu documentary

A while back I mentioned Bartitsu, the English martial art invented around 1898 by Edward William Barton-Wright and immortalised in Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories under the misnomer "Baritsu".

Since then, Bartitsu has undergone a flourishing revival via the historical research of the Bartitsu Society, helped along by publicity for the 2009 Guy Ritchie film Sherlock Holmes (which reenvisioned Holmes as an action hero) and a deal of synergy with the neo-Victorian steampunk movement. In connection with this, Tony Wolf of the Bartitsu Society just sent me news that:

The independent documentary, "Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes", is now available on DVD.

At the end of the Victorian era, E.W. Barton-Wright founded Bartitsu as a pioneering "mixed martial art" combining jiujitsu, kickboxing and self defence with a walking stick. It was also the means by which Sherlock Holmes was said to have defeated his arch-nemesis, the evil Professor Moriarty, in their famous battle at Reichenbach Waterfall.

The documentary was shot on location in Italy, Switzerland, England and the USA. Through numerous interviews, animations, re-enactment sequences, rare archival film footage and historical images, it explores the history, rediscovery and modern revival of Bartitsu.

There's a preview trailer, gallery and other associated material at Freelance Academy Press. Particularly check out the article Bartitsu: the "Mixed Martial Art" of Sherlock Holmes, An Interview with Tony Wolf.

I loved one comment at the end, that really sums up the fascination of research: how apparently dusty topics can so easily take you into new experience and acquaintances.

Q: Considering all you have told me, if there is any one "take away" message you want to impart to viewers of the film, what would it be?

That the most obscure and unlikely events can reverberate though history in very strange, interesting and even valuable ways. I mean, if not for Barton-Wright, I'd never have found myself climbing up to Reichenbach Waterfall with an Israeli opera director ...

- Ray

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Bayan time (3)

I just got a webcam for £2.50 from the charity shop, so thought I would show you the bayan I mentioned previously.  Possibly it's a bit incongruous playing the Bluebell Polka, Jimmy Shand's chart-topping signature tune, on a Russian accordion, but it's a very catchy tune.(not, as is commonly thought, trad Scottish, but written by one F Stanley in the early 1950s, with comic lyrics by Paddy Roberts - see the Strathspey Server).

- Ray

Thursday, 24 March 2011


múm: Green Grass of Tunnel.

A recommendation from current listening: múm (pronounced "miooyyuujm" according to the official website This is an Icelandic experimental group whose genre I can only categorise as their MySpace page does: other.

Their work is sort of ambient, but more focused: a mix of folky acoustic played on quite odd instrumental line-ups, with breathy English vocals (reminiscent of the gentler Björk register) and radio-static electronica. It slides effortlessly between wistfully upbeat, chill-out, naive; and at times outright creepy, like water dripping and echoing in icy caverns. And all this with highly surreal lyrics. "Haunting" is a cliche, but nevertheless it is.  As Kristam Moffett at Tolling for the Mute describes them - Múm – A Little Treat from Iceland - "At one minute you can be listening to an orchestral wave of sound, and the next feel like you’re inside a giant grandfather clock with an old record playing".

On initial acquaintance, I've especially enjoyed Green Grass of Tunnel (embedded above), I Can't Feel My Hand Any More, It's Alright, Sleep Still, Iluminated, Ladies of the New Century, Sing Along, and The Land Between Solar Systems; but there are many more tracks on YouTube.

- Ray

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

King of the Badgers

Philip Hensher's King of the Badgers (Fourth Estate, March 2011, ISBN: 978-0-00-730133-1) looks worth watching out for.  I missed a reading by the author yesterday at the University of Exeter, but spoke today to a visitor who went. From the publisher's description:

After the success of The Northern Clemency, shortlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize, Philip Hensher brings us another slice of contemporary life, this time the peaceful civility and spiralling paranoia of a small English town.

Hanmouth, situated where the river Hand flows into the Bristol channel, is usually quiet and undisturbed. But it becomes the centre of national attention when an eight-year-old girl vanishes. This tragic event serves to expose the range of segregated existences in the town, as spectrums of class, wealth and lifestyle are blurred in the investigation. Behind Hanmouth's closed doors and pastoral façade, the extraordinary individual lives of the community are laid bare.

The reviews out so far describe Hanmouth - some of the blurbs call it Handsmouth - the setting for this barbed analysis of the underbelly of an English town, as:

... an imagined town in Devon ... Hanmouth, on an estuary, is now a town to which people retire. It has fine streets full of handsome houses and there are small specialist shops, like the cheese-shop kept by Sam. But on its fringes there are housing schemes inhabited by a very different class of people. So while there is comfort, there is also social tension.
- Book review: King of the Badgers by Philip Hensher, Allan Massie, The Scotsman, 18th March 2011

... and ...

There’s a class struggle of a very English kind going on in Hanmouth, a small Devon town near Barnstaple.

Residents are becoming increasingly resentful of the fact that, whenever Hanmouth is mentioned, the image that springs to people’s minds is not the lovely coastal village itself but rather the grim council estates up the road.

When a young girl disappears, in a plot-thread inspired by the Shannon Matthews case, suspicion falls on the mother, a hairdresser in her twenties with four kids by different fathers and a yobbish partner. The consensus among the more well-to-do residents is that they’re “both deplorable and beyond genealogical analysis”. This casual snobbery is our introduction to the people of Hanmouth, a group we get to know in great detail in this highly effective snapshot of contemporary Britain.

This village is no Brigadoon. In Hanmouth, preparations for a drug-fuelled gay orgy are as meticulous and tediously domestic as for a suburban dinner party. In fact, despite the largely ageing population, no-one has lived there for long enough to remember the death of another young girl 30 years earlier. The town is, in effect, populated by transients who are trying to make a community without the benefit of local roots or long acquaintance.
- In Middle England’s dark heart, Alastair Mabbott, Sunday Herald, 20 Mar 2011

This could describe any number of south-west estuary towns, and I'm sure Hanmouth is a portmanteau. But despite the nominal North Devon setting, the tale from my informant was that it was especially applicable to Topsham.

Addendum. By the way, Nick Curtis's Evening Standard review - King of the Badgers gives a Middlemarch-style overview of a community - says the title "refers to a character in JP Martin's children's books about an affable millionaire elephant, for no reason I can discern". I suspect that it's more subtle than that. Since the book explores secret lives, it may well connect with The mysterious case of Mr Davies and the badgers (Philip Hensher, The Independent, 11 March 2003). The term also appears to have criminal connotations, as it was an epithet of the Max Shinburn aka Max Shinborn, a notorious criminal mastermind of the late 19th century.

- Ray

Sunday, 20 March 2011

An Old Song

I've just been persevering with the remainder of Maxwell Gray's 1899 story collection The World's Mercy, whose title story I mentioned a few weeks ago ("It was a dark and stormy night").

An Old Song is core Maxwell Gray territory, a small-town drama of lost love, clergymen, disowning, and redemption. This is the one with the Bulwer-Lyttonish "dark and stormy night" introduction:

The night was stormy; a wan moon rode through masses of black and gold, swift-sailing cloud, through lakes of clear blue space and threads of opal and silver film, thus producing a wildly beautiful and impressive series of sky pictures. Now and again the dim wet streets were swept empty and dark by a scud of rain, then as suddenly flooded by clear, pale moonlight, when the wet flags and streaming runnels became a dazzling silver brilliance, making the light from houses appear duller and dimmer than before.

The stranger
On this wet night in a small town, we're introduced to a mysterious stranger wearing an Inverness cape who walks the streets for several pages before going into a musical concert. Standing at the back, he is repeatedly shaken by emotion, especially by the sight of the soprano singer, a Miss Ruby Elliott, and by her rendition of the song of lost love, Robin Adair.

We find from a Greek chorus of locals the details of some of the cast of the story: Beatrice Ford (Ruby is her stage name); the elderly vicar Dr Ashworth; and a younger and apparently nasty vicar, Vereker. The stranger, who has evidently come home after a long absence, goes on his way, but not before a burst of authorial purple prose.

Oh, rosemary, rosemary, bitter-sweet, wholesome herb, you always bring tears, not idle, but "from the depths of some divine despair," whether recalling bliss or woe, sunshine or tempest! Your fragrance is the scent of unforgotten youth, which was sweet and is bitter in retrospect; which was fresher than May dew and is now old as a mossed, illegible tombstone; which was sad and is now sweet as pressed rose leaves; which was gloomy with despair, and is now, seen in the hot meridian of life, glorious with auroral hues of hope. Grow not in my garden, tear-watered, melancholy herb; rather let some tributary of Lethe flow stilly round the flower plots, some dreaming lotus plant float on its fountain's brim! I cannot tell what the magic herb brought to the lonely man's mind ; it breaks my heart only to think of him, pacing the wet flags in darkness, in sight of the lighted house, not quite alone, since he was face to face with his past.

After the concert, Beatrice visits her relatives the Westlands, and conversation drifts round to the topic of "poor Bob Ashworth", the Reverend Ashworth's son Robin. He had been a likeable, musically talented, but mildly irresponsible young man, whose life had been somewhat blighted by his repressive father and by his friendship with Vereker ("a liar and a sneak"), and who left town under a cloud.

Mr Westland then tells the story of "the black bishop", which to a modern reader is fairly excruciating for its racist language. Years previously, some staid church people in town were due a visit from an African cleric, the Bishop of Nigritia. The Bishop arrived, and proceeded to shock everyone with lurid stories of how he was a converted cannibal. Then the real Bishop arrived ("a genuine shiny-faced nigger"); the false one was Robin in disguise, and Vereker was in on the joke. Robin, however, got all the blame, and after a confrontation with his father, left the house, and disappeared for a long time.

Beatrice, staying overnight with the Westlands after the concert, reveals more of the story in conversation with Mrs Westland. Mr Westland had brokered a reconciliation with Robin and his father, and after his return Robin had been a frequent visitor at the house of Beatrice's uncles (for whom he worked) and a musical partner for Beatrice. At this point in the telling, Beatrice becomes upset, telling how, on a skating outing, Robin admitted that he loved her. The feeling was mutual, but on their return to the house, Robin was summoned to a family meeting, when it was found that he had stolen money in his pockets. In exchange for a promise not prosecute, he was told to leave. Beatrice had received a postcard saying he was quitting town, and he had never been seen since.

The next day, at the end of a sultry Sunday, the local church is packed, a guest organist playing superbly. In mid-sermon, there's a sudden storm and thunderclap, and lightning sets fire to the church. The gas lights go out, leaving the church in semi-darkness.

Then followed a scene beyond imagining; the building that a moment before had resounded with psalmody, measured, solemn, swelled by hundreds of reverent voices, and borne upon billows of rolling organ music, that had echoed the outpoured prayer and praise of a worshipping multitude, words of prophet and evangelist, and the well-known voice of the preacher, was filled with sounds of terror and wrath, anguish and despair; shrieks of frightened, trampled women and children; threats and execrations of maddened men, trying here to free a passage, there to stem the on-rush of the congested crowd, that prevented the inward opening of doors, round which raged a fierce fight in the dark; calling of parent to child, child to parent, friend to friend; cracking of woodwork where people forced pew doors and climbed hither and thither; groans and cries of pain; shattering of glass where a window was climbed and forced; and ever through the thick, heavy dark, terribly invaded at moments by blinding flashes of lightning, the weird, unearthly clashing of the church bells, the hiss and drum of rain on the roofs, the sullen, fierce growl, the low, distant rumble, or loud crash and roar of savage thunder

It reminds me of the scene in Hilaire Belloc's George, Who played with a Dangerous Toy, and suffered a Catastrophe of considerable Dimensions.

However, all is not lost. A deep and powerful baritone voice calls, "Keep your places! Be men!" and begins to sing "O God, our help in ages past", before being joined by Beatrice (who is in the church) and then by organ music. Calm is restored, and the church evacuated in an orderly manner. The organ continues to play even as the fire engines arrive; no-one can quite remember when it stops. It turns out that the mystery organist has saved the congregation in more ways than morale-boosting; he had turned off the gas, and closed and locked the organ stairwell from inside to stop the fire spreading. They find his smoke-suffocated body in the morning; it's the stranger from the beginning of the story, who is of course Robin Ashworth.

The end
The images come from Atalanta (a protofeminist girl's magazine), whose October 1896 carries an illustrated version of the story (here at the Internet Archive). The pictures seem to be a kind of Victorian photoshopping; posed photographs mildly modified as paintings.

The remaining stories in The World's Mercy are called Sweet Revenge, A Summer Night, and The Widow's Clock.

The first could be classed a romantic farce, set around a "Carlen Castle" - highly identifiable as Carisbrooke. Gerald Dover is trying to engineer a match between his rich heiress cousin Rosalind and the young and penniless Sir Wilfrid Carr. En route to visit Rosalind, whom he has never met, Wilfrid visits Carlen Castle where, it happens, Rosalind and her friend Margery are cutting flowers. Taking the pair for village girls, he gives away his intentions of courting the heiress; the girls in turn pretend the heiress is old and ugly. Wilfred is, any case, attracted to Margery, and gets a slap for trying to kiss her. When they are all subsequently introduced formally, Wilfrid is thoroughly and rightly embarrassed; but Rosalind realises he is a good sort and bankrolls his match to Margery (revealed as Rosalind’s cousin) to the tune of £15,000.

A Summer Night is a slice-of-life story about a small-town doctor, not unlike MG's father, who is called out to a village tragedy, when a farmer accidentally shoots his wife during an argument about her old boyfriend, who has returned after deserting from the army. The Widow's Clock is in many ways the best of the batch, a simple and charming psychological story told in Isle of Wight dialect. A widow becomes depressed and ill after her son’s financial troubles force her to sell her clock, her only treasured possession. She is restored to health when her daughter’s boyfriend takes a job with its buyer, and through shrewd negotiation manages to buy it back.

I didn't find this anthology to be Maxwell Gray at her best.

"Vereker", incidentally, caught my eye as an unusual name. I wonder whether MG picked it up from novels of the time (the 1888 The Honourable Mrs. Vereker or the 1897 Violet Vereker's Vanity) or from her Isle of Wight origins? (The Verekers were an aristocratic Anglo-Irish dynasty who owned the now-demolished East Cowes Castle in the late 19th century).

- Ray

Style wars - Part 4 - prescriptivism as meme

Dennis Baron, Professor of English and Linguistics at the University of Illinois, just posted a rather depressing piece at the Oxford University Press OUPblog, It’s time for English teachers to stop teaching that the earth is flat.

It reports how many English teachers (in the USA) are simply ignoring all they've been taught in training about English and grammar.

Prospective teachers get a healthy dose of sociolinguistics, transformational grammar, and the history of English.
But when they get their own classrooms, many of these same teachers reject such knowledge in favor of the simplistic language model they absorbed when they were in school, a model that ignores the complexities of the language people use every day in favor of a few prescriptive rules that can be memorized and tested, but that have little connection with what really happens when we talk or write.

I don't know if the same applies to UK teaching, but it certainly concurs with my experience of the Yahoo! Answers Languages and Words & Wordplay sections, where school-age askers regularly mention their teachers having told them the old prescriptivist rules ("Don’t split infinitives", "Don’t end sentences with prepositions", "Don’t use contractions", "Don't start sentences with And or But", and so on).

Why do these non-rules persist despite repeated debunking? I think because they're memes: ideas that carry powerful cultural baggage. That baggage is, at heart, to do with class anxiety - "use construct X and you are in a better class than people who don't use it" - and this goes right back to the origins of prescriptivism in the 18th century, when it was closely linked with the rise of the middle class. A while back (see Style Wars - Part 3 - redeeming Lowth) I mentioned the Codifiers project at the University of Leiden, set up to study the pundits who pronounced on language in the 18th century. Its members have produced some very interesting books and papers on prescriptivism, many of them previewable on Google Books. For example:

  • The Bishop's Grammar: Robert Lowth and the Rise of Prescriptivism (Ingrid Tieken-boon Van Ostade, Oxford University Press, 2011. This looks an extremely nice book, which debunks the common belief that Lowth as a prime mover of prescriptivism.
  • Current Issues in Late Modern English (ed. Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade, Wim van der Wurff, Peter Lang, 2009). Papers from the Third Late Modern English Conference, held at the University of Leiden in 2007. Joan C Beal's Three hundred years of prescriptivism (and counting) charts prescriptivism from its beginnings to the current "new prescriptivism" exemplified by writers such as Lynne Truss and John Humphrys, finding resonances between past and present such as fear of the underclass.
  • Perspectives on prescriptivism (ed. Joan C. Beal, Carmela Nocera, Massimo Sturiale, pub. Peter Lang, 2008). Papers from the colloquium Perspectives on Prescriptivism (20-22 April 2006), hosted by the University of Catania. The Codifiers and the History of Multiple Negation in English, or, Why Were the 18th-century Grammarians so Obsessed with Double Negation? is particularly interesting; it asks why grammarians had a downer on a construct that was no longer in general usage. It concludes that it was a social shibboleth, a marker of the language used by servants and other lower-class people, and therefore to be avoided by anyone with social aspirations.

So much for the information carried. As to the propagation process, Professor Baron's line about the "simplistic language model they absorbed when they were in school" says it all. Students are taught prescriptive grammar rules as hard fact at a young age, and when they're exposed later to the more subtle - and often directly contradictory - picture of descriptive grammar, the new information hits a barrier of cognitive dissonance (resistance to revising an idea - in thise case, one interlinked with the holder's self-worth about their social status). This situation leads to extraordinary convolutions of logic to explain why such rules are correct against evidence to the contrary. For instance, if multiple acclaimed writers use some construct disobeying a prescriptive rule, it's not viewed as evidence that the rule is wrong, but dismissed as "good writers knowing when to break the rules".

If, as Professor Baron describes, these memes are effectively hijacking the educational process, how do you break the cycle?

- Ray

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Carolinium ... Carolinum

While Googling current events in Japan, I ran into this New York Times piece that exemplifies the gormlessly optimistic and typically nationalist hype of the early days of nuclear discovery.

Dr. Baskerville the Only American Who Ever Found a New Element.

THERE was once a time when nobody could hear of a great scientific discovery without having a mental picture of a dreamy, hermitlike student who buried himself in his laboratory among nasty fluids and disagreeable gaseous odors. Such an impression no longer holds good. An instance in point is the latest celebrity in the field of chemistry, Dr Charles Baskerville, who at the age of only thirty-three has just startled his brother scientists by announcing two hitherto unknown elements of matter contained in thorium.

There is nothing of the secluded, unsociable hermit about this professor from North Carolina. Though hailed by great chemists as the only American who has ever discovered a new element, he is ready at a minute's notice to go out on the football field, pull off his coat, and show that he can punt the leather ball further than any undergraduate in the university. Fair-haired and full of chest, he looks much more like the athlete than the man of science.

... etc

- New York Times, May 22, 1904

While the NYT painted Dr. Baskerville as something like Doc Savage, later research proved this celebration of his discovery misplaced; an attempt in 1905 by RJ Meyer and A Gumperz to repeat his separation of "carolinium" and "berzelium" found no components in thorium except thorium (see Zur Frage der Einheitlichkeit des Thoriums, DOI: 10.1002/cber.190503801140).

While the hype for Baskerville's discovery had been immense, reportage of this fairly quick refutation was vanishingly low-key - in fact nonexistent outside the scientific journal circuit - so the name must have been a meme for a while. That leads me to suspect "carolinium" to have been the source for the name of the fictional radioactive element "Carolinum" in HG Wells's 1914 novel The World Set Free (it might even be a misnomer for the same thing, just as the real-world martial art Bartitsu become "baritsu" in Sherlock Holmes stories).

As explained in the article How nuclear energy was foretold (Dr Anthony R Michaelis, New Scientist, 1st March 1962) - which summarises several fictional appearances of nuclear applications - The World Set Free is a "future history" story exploring the use and abuse of nuclear energy. Wells credited the inspiration to Frederick Soddy's 1908 popular lectures and the ensuing (and occasionally flaky 1) book Interpretation of Radium. While The World Set Free is often cited as a prediction of nuclear weapons, Wells didn't get the technical details right (or even feasible as nuclear physics). Instead of the reality - a rapid chain reaction causing one large explosion - he envisaged an unstable isotope, Carolinum, that could be held in stasis until released.

Those used by the Allies were lumps of pure Carolinum, painted on the outside with unoxidised cydonator inducive enclosed hermetically in a case of membranium. A little celluloid stud between the handles by which the bomb was lifted was arranged so as to be easily torn off and admit air to the inducive, which at once became active and set up radio-activity in the outer layer of the Carolinum sphere. This liberated fresh inducive, and so in a few minutes the whole bomb was a blazing continual explosion.
But Carolinum, which belonged to the beta group of Hyslop's so-called 'suspended degenerator' elements, once its degenerative process had been induced, continued a furious radiation of energy and nothing could arrest it. Of all Hyslop's artificial elements, Carolinum was the most heavily stored with energy and the most dangerous to make and handle. To this day it remains the most potent degenerator known. What the earlier twentieth-century chemists called its half period was seventeen days; that is to say, it poured out half of the huge store of energy in its great molecules in the space of seventeen days, the next seventeen days' emission was a half of that first period's outpouring, and so on.

This is fantasy physics; there's nothing that can put radioactive decay on hold. A letter commenting on the Michaelis article comments that Carolinum "sounds more like a strongly pyrophoric material that also happens to be radioactive" (see Letters, New Scientist, 15th March 1962). However, Wells got one thing right:

A moment or so after its explosion began it was still mainly an inert sphere exploding superficially, a big, inanimate nucleus wrapped in flame and thunder. Those that were thrown from aeroplanes fell in this state, they reached the ground still mainly solid, and, melting soil and rock in their progress, bored into the earth. There, as more and more of the Carolinum became active, the bomb spread itself out into a monstrous cavern of fiery energy at the base of what became very speedily a miniature active volcano. The Carolinum, unable to disperse, freely drove into and mixed up with a boiling confusion of molten soil and superheated steam, and so remained spinning furiously and maintaining an eruption that lasted for years or months or weeks according to the size of the bomb employed and the chances of its dispersal. Once launched, the bomb was absolutely unapproachable and uncontrollable until its forces were nearly exhausted, and from the crater that burst open above it, puffs of heavy incandescent vapour and fragments of viciously punitive rock and mud, saturated with Carolinum, and each a centre of scorching and blistering energy, were flung high and far.

His description of what would now be called a "China Syndrome" scenario - a molten mass of self-heating fissioning material melting itself into the ground - is horribly realistic. The Hungarian physicist Leó Szilárd, discoverer/inventor of the nuclear chain reaction concept, read The World Set Free in 1932. Accounts differ as to whether it directly inspired him, but its portrayal of nuclear weapons certainly informed his decision to file the patent out of the public eye, with the British Admiralty (see Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Dec 1992).

There's a good summary and analysis of The World Set Free in Chapter 8, Setting The World Free, of Gordon D Feir's 2005 HG Wells at the End of His Tether: His Social And Political Adventures. The novel itself isn't difficult to find online, though I won't link to it. It's an example of the bizarre inconsistency of copyright law, and its failure to adapt to the open nature of the Internet. As Copyright and HG Wells explains, Wells is out of copyright in the USA, Canada, Australasia and Africa, but in copyright in the UK until 31 December 2016. It's hard to see the point of this demarcation - at least to the extent of merely reading the book - when any UK reader can see the book on Project Gutenberg.

1. Flaky in the sense that Soddy's ideas included the theory that alchemical ideas of transmutation and the elixir of life were some kind of folk memory of a previous civilisation that knew of nuclear transmutation:
Is, then, this old association of the power of transmutation with the elixir of life merely a coincidence ? I prefer to believe it may be an echo from one of many previous epochs in the unrecorded history of the world, of an age of men which trod before the road we are treading today, in a past possibly so remote that even the very atoms of its civilisation literally have had time to disintegrate.
- The Interpretation of Radium, Frederick Soddy, 1909

- Ray

Maidenhood, by Longfellow

A nice bibliographic experience yesterday; I had a chance to look at an unusual edition of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem Maidenhood. In 1887, this was published in a pleasant softback edition, illustrated by a J Stanley and printed to high standards by E. Kaufmann, Lahr (Baden).

MAIDENHOOD: a Poem. By HW LONGFELLOW. Illustrated by J. Stanley. Oblong 4to. with Nine Coloured Plates and Thirteen In Monotint, fancy cover prettily printed in colours, 2s. 6d.; boards extra, gilt edges, 3s. 6d.

You can see the full view of the US (Boston, Estes & Lauriat) edition at the Hathi Trust: record 008662581.

However, the version I saw was more than this: an album of the original watercolours, bound as a presentation book with a copy of the print edition, dedicated by the artist, in a pouch in the back. I couldn't resist photographing a few of the plates - which the American Bookseller described as "rich in idealism and romance" - as they're rather lovely. I haven't been able to find out anything about the illustrator, J Stanley; the paintings are skilled, but mildly naive.

An article on Longfellow in The Literary World, January 28, 1887, tells this story:

A clergyman in the States once preached a sermon from this poem, and told of a strange student of "Maidenhood." This was a poor lone woman, dwelling in a hut that stood in a bare tract of the North-West. From an illustrated paper she had cut a picture of a young girl, and pasted it on her wall. Longfellow's poem was printed below it. There, day by day, as she stood at her bread-making or her washing, she gazed at the young face, pondering the words of the poet until both face and poem worked themselves into her nature. When the clergyman happened to call at her cabin, and noticed the humble attempt at decoration, the old woman was able to talk of "Maidenhood" and draw from it such meanings as astonished the visitor, and sent him home with keener views into life's beauties. This story typifies the relation of Longfellow to humble readers all over the world, and such a relation is his chief glory.

As to drawing meanings from the pictures, this one strangely reminds of Clare going into the kitchen in the morning to feed the cats.

- Ray

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Ephemeral Curios

Just found via a comment: Ephemeral Curios, a moderately new weblog, by "Emily", that features our kind of topic.

Enjoy: Robot penguins of the air (graceful helium-filled automata); HYPOZOIC KAVASS ILLITERAL STOP (Victorian telegraph codewords); Galileo and the collapse of Dante's Inferno (Galileo debunks Hell on engineering grounds); The Infant's Grammar or a Pic-nic Party of the Parts of Speech (a grammar instruction text personifying parts of speech); Latinglish poetry ("O, see, Willie, see 'er go!"); "Illustrations of Madness... Embellished with a Curious Plate" (the "Air Loom" that Victorian paranoid James Tilly Matthews thought was being used to torment him remotely); Ramon Llull's theological sentence generator (an early algorithmic device); Glass harmonica (an elaborated version of that annoying thing some people do with a wine-glass); God the geometer (a classic picture of God measuring a cosmos that looks a lot like a Mandelbrot set); A recording from Edison's phonograph (a scarcely audible choral recording from 1888); and Burning Ship Fractal (click through to the enlarged version of the 3D - it's like a dizzying alien city). And lot of very nice photography.

- Ray

John H Bartlett and GeoCities

At a loose end after finishing my (very late) tax return, I finished a project I've been planning for a while: to rescue the website of the late John H Bartlett from GeoCities oblivion.

John, who died in 2002, worked at Joel Segal Books; but his main career was as actor, writer and theatre designer.  His notable local productions were a one-man performance of Alexander Pope's poem The Rape of the Locke (a strange bit of mock-heroic satire written to defuse an 18th century scandal caused by an aristocratic twit snipping a lock of hair from a society beauty without permission); and That Tiger Life (a solo drama imagining Oscar Wilde posthumously recounting his life).

So here is: John H Bartlett.  (I recovered the site from the Internet Archive, and took the liberty of tidying up the layout for Blogger).  Apart details of John's productions, it has examples of his artwork for costume, and his interesting commentary on topics such as Restoration acting style, 18th century card games referenced in Pope's poem, the Restoration actor Thomas Betterton, and the voice of Oscar Wilde. It also features the video The Drop, an interesting fable filmed in the vicinity of the bookshop.

After finishing the revision, I found: John H Bartlett (the original site) - Phil Gyford had the same idea of preserving it. Phil's copy, however, keeps the site in its original style. As he describes - Ugly and neglected fragments - GeoCities (one of the original free hosting services, which was closed in October 2009) was a remarkable fossil of an early era of Web design, where ideas about site layout and aesthetics were very different, and personal sites weren't filtered through the visual and structural slickness of Blogger.

- Ray

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Eggcorn sighting: "mop cap"

As you may recall, "eggcorn" is a linguistic term coined in 2003 by the Professor Geoffrey Pullum for a particular style of malapropism: one where an unfamiliar term is reworked into familar words with some kind of internal logic (in short, the coiner of the eggcorn has attempted to brain out the etymology, and got it wrong).  The term comes from the malapropism "eggcorn" for "acorn", but there are many others, such as "preying mantis" for "praying mantis", "old-timers' disease" for "Alzheimer's disease", and so on.

My attention was just drawn to one: "mop cap" for "mob cap".

Without a doubt, "mob cap" is historically and etymologically correct, and the vastly predominant form in print.  See Google Books Ngram Viewer for a frequency comparison ("mob cap" vs "mop cap").  The etymology is a murky one. It's not from "mob" as in crowd (a contraction of mobile vulgas = fickle masses), but, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, from a 17th century word "mob" (= "A wench, a slattern; a promiscuous woman; a prostitute"), with possible interaction with the 17th century "mobble" or "moble" (= "To muffle (a person, or the head, face, etc"). This acquired further connotations of informality of female dress - a mob or mod-dress was "A loose informal garment for a woman" - until by the late 1700s we had:

mob cap
A large cap or bonnet covering much of the hair, typically of light cotton with a frilled edge, and sometimes tied under the chin with ribbon, worn indoors by women in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

The term had shed its disreputable origins, and the imitation of rustic clothing had become chic; the mob cap, often in very florid forms, was worn by highly respectable ladies. Here are some images of wearers from Wikipedia: Elizabeth Sewall Salisbury (1789), Marie Antoinette (1792), and Mrs Richard Yates (1793).

By the end of the 19th century, however, it had ceased to be fashionable, and only maids, servants and menials were wearing mob caps as utilitarian headwear. I'm sure this is how the eggcorn originated; the mistaken idea that it was a cap worn while mopping things.

The eggcorn is not unknown even historically, as in this 1835 example:

Barl. I ax pardon. Miss, will you be kind enough to go boil the lobsters for the company? Dang my buttons, this is letting you go to Blandford races. I'll buy riding habits and feathered hats for you—go put on your mop-cap and white apron—there's the keys— get along.
- The London Hermit, John O'Keefe, Alexander's Modern Acting Drama, 1835

... and in a handful of other examples from the second half of the 19th century.

But by far the most appearances are in the past decade. At least in books since 2000, "mob cap" still predominates - "mob cap": 2630 hits / "mop cap" 146 hits - though with the surprising occasional appearance in scholarly books by people who ought to know better (for instance, page 255 in Helen Bradley Foster's New Raiments of Self: African American clothing in the antebellum South). But on the Web in general, the eggcorn has come to account for around a third of all occurrences of the term - "mob cap" 429,000 hits / "mop cap" 224,000 hits. - where "mop cap" is mostly being propagated by costume hire and fancy dress websites.

It's enough to turn you prescriptivist...

- Ray

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Boschian instruments

Addendum: an anonymous commenter kindly drew my attention to the existence of this radio clip on YouTube. Thanks!

On the subject of musical instruments, I was just reminded of something that ought to be broadcast again: a 1968 Radio 3 spoof by Michael Mason concerning three alleged 15th century musical instruments.

Francis Bacon, who had written in 1624 of "Diverse Instruments of Musick likewise to you unknowne", would have despaired. The Shagbut was described in the programme as "a two-man trombone, formed mainly of boiled leather and twenty-five feet of tubing. Neither aesthetically pleasing nor practical". The Minikin was referred to as "a sort of arthritic virginal, with its mechanism taking exactly a minute from keyboard to string, mainly because the instrument was six yards long". There was, quite naturally, a time lapse before the Minikin could give forth its rather plingy sound - and it filled this with a "ratchety-gratchety" coughing and spluttering. The bass line was provided by the Flemish Clacket - a lute of the larger sort. Apparently it was some fifty feet in height! Since it didn't possess a fingerboard, it was played from the inside, with the tuner outside.
- The BBC Radiophonic Workshop: the first 25 years, Desmond Briscoe, Roy Curtis-Bramwell, BBC Radiophonic Workshop, BBC, 1983

A Radio Times clip reproduced at Hugh's Corner: Music matters gives the details:

9.25 Stereo
The Shagbut, Minikin and Flemish Clacket
Schola Polyphonica Neasdeniensis
Peter Weevil and John Throgmorton (shagbut)
Tatiana Splod (minikin)
and H.G. Hogg (Flemish clacket)
Introduced by Hugo Turvey

Hucbald the Onelegged (of Grobhausen, fl. 1452)
Instrumental Rondo: Haro! Poppzgeyen ist das Wieselungenslied
(First broadcast in 1968)

According to various accounts, nearly the entire broadcast - a satire on the preciousness of the Early Music scene - was taken up by sotto voce arguments during attempts to tune the instruments. The recital finally got under way, only to be curtailed after a few seconds when the Flemish clacket imploded.

Two of the instrument names, by the way, are not entirely fictional. "Shagbut" is a genuine historical name for the trombone (alongside sackbutt, sagbutt and other variants), and a "minikin" (as discussed here in a paper on German etymologies) was a treble lute string.

The programme gets a mention in New Notes for Old Instruments, an essay by the music Bayan Northcott (from The Way We Listen Now and Other Writings on Music, 2009) which explains a deal of the context: how listeners, and even composers, tended to regard the cult of early music as an antiquarian fad, or even a joke. Northcott memorably describes the Flemish clacket as "a monstrous Hieronymus Bosch kind of instrument", evidently referring to the hybrid instruments in the Hell section of Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights, and oddly enough, in 2010 the curators of the Bate Collection, Oxford University's museum of musical instruments, commissioned the creation of reproductions of these for a special exhibition: see the Bate news article The Garden of Earthly Delights, and Descent into Hell for larger images.

I get the impression that Oxford were a little sore about the double-edged media coverage; as they explain in a "Behind the headlines" feature, How the Bate's instruments of torture split the media, the most effective publicity for the exhibition was a Guardian article, Shocking news from Oxford: you can't play a flute with your bottom (Sam Leigh, Guardian, 7 November 2010) that ridiculed the project for taking Bosch's surreal designs literally. Even the straight article in the Times was solidly negative (though I love the punning headline):

Inharmonious Bosch and his instruments of torture

Hieronymus Bosch 's hellish vision of cruelty and depravity in The Garden of Earthly Delights has been converted into an equally gruelling sound by museum curators based at the University of Oxford in a failed experiment. Musicians at the Bate Collection of Musical Instruments spent months recreating the musical instruments in Bosch's 16th-century painting in the hope that they would give an insight into early music - but Andy Lamb, the manager of the museum, said that the instruments sound unbearable.
Two of the instruments - a flute and a drum - produce a reasonable sound, but the remaining eight are either impossible to make or painful to hear. The trumpet does not have a natural harmonic series. It has also been coiled so many times that it would be impractical to play. The harp's strings are of a length and weight that do not give an octave.
The lute cannot be tuned without collapsing. The shawm, a woodwind instrument like an oboe, is strangely proportioned. Of the bagpipes, Mr Lamb said: "If you look at the finger holes in the painting the spacing doesn't make sense."
The flute took weeks to make, and the other instruments even longer, but Mr Lamb denied that it was a waste of time.
- Jack Malvern, The Times, November 3, 2010

Detail, Bosch, Garden of Earthly
, from Wikimedia Commons
I strongly suspect the musicians' dungeon in the brilliant The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T. was also inspired by Bosch. The scene where Dr Terwiliker is having a drummer tortured (0:53 in the trailer) ...

"The lovely rumbling sound you hear" BOOM! BOOM! — "is one of my favorite prisoners. He was a bass drummer in an orchestra I once conducted. Do you know the part in Beethoven's Fifth Symphony where the drummer is supposed to go 'ah-boom-boom-boom Boom'? Well, this stupid lout always went 'ah-boom-boom-boom Boom. Boom.' One extra boom. He'll be here forever." He approaches a cell with a man striking a huge drum, and Zabladowski asks, "You mean he has to keep beating that drum forever?" Dr. T. blithely sneers, "Oh, that isn't the man I'm punishing. My man is inside the drum."
- That Old Feeling: Seuss on First, Richard Corliss, Time, March 2, 2004

... is very reminiscent of the man-in-drum portion in the Bosch painting.

Bosch's hybrid lute-harp is, incidentally, also reminiscent of the composite self-playing stringed instrument in Animusic's animation Resonant Chamber (see previously).

- Ray

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Bayan time (2)

Further to Bayan time: a progress report about the Орфей six weeks on (I thought I'd document it, on the vague possibility that it might help anyone else learning the bayan (B system chromatic button accordion).

It's going extremely well, considering the radical difference from a piano keyboard system and that I'm largely on my own.  It took about a month of solid practice to get reasonably comfortable with the unfamiliar note locations (left). The bass - left hand - proved more of a problem than I expected; although it has the same Stradella system as the piano accordion I'm used to, the buttons are considerably closer in spacing, and I'm still finding them a rather cramped. Actually, it's not quite the same system as I'm used to; being a full 120-bass, there are the counterbasses and extra chord rows to learn (as well as unlearning some of the ways of making chords unavailable as presets on the 24-bass).

However, I'll put a demo on YouTube shortly; I can already play some of my party pieces from the piano accordion (Stormy Weather, and the ubiquitous Bluebell Polka). The chromatic layout is proving very versatile, equally comfortable for simple Morris tunes and heavily chromatic tunes like the Pink Panther theme.  I highly recommend the bayan for its tone; the eBay description called it "a strong sweet voice" but I wasn't prepared for how different it would be.  The default reeds have a powerful and mellow clarinet-like flavour quite unlike the stereotypical accordion, but it has four other voices including a "wet" tuning giving the classic French musette accordion sound.

The single most useful website I've found so far has been Blumberg's Music Theory Cipher, which has helpful charts of notes, scales, triad shapes, and general note relationships within the chromatic keyboard.  And the second: YouTube.  Once you get past the depressing bits - such as the virtuosity of Lidia Kaminska and Alexander Dmitriev - it's seriously helpful in showing things like hand position and which fingers to use (there's an interesting interview with Lidia Kaminska on the technology and technique of bayan playing here).  But for clear examples of more achievable playing, I've found the Bayanina Music channel especially helpful.

Looking at YouTube and website discussions, there doesn't seem to be much consensus over use of the thumb: some players brace it against the keyboard edge and just use four fingers (it seems to have been standard technique in the past); some use it to play. Personally I go for the latter, as my little finger doesn't work very well. A second area where opinion seems to vary is whether to stick to three rows (the darker grey section in the image above). Some do, and it has the advantage that you can learn the pattern for a single scale, and play in any key by shifting that pattern elsewhere on the keyboard. However, looking on YouTube at what players actually suggests this shouldn't be stuck to obsessively, or even at all: in context, often notes outside the three-row scale make a better alternate fingering.

I've one major warning: watch the shoulder and back.  A heavy accordion (and the Orfei weighs 10kg) is working the rotator cuff of the left shoulder especially hard.  I've found it most comfortable to play sitting, and use the left thigh to support the left half of the bayan and do some of the effort of working the bellows.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

SF and other text source visualisations

Via MetaFilter: The History of Science Fiction, a lovely infographic by Ward Shelley that was one of the winning submissions to 7th Iteration of the Places & Spaces: Mapping Science Exhibit on "Science Maps as Visual Interfaces to Digital Libraries" (2011).

"History of Science Fiction" is a graphic chronology that maps the literary genre from its nascent roots in mythology and fantastic stories to the somewhat calcified post-Star Wars space opera epics of today. The movement of years is from left to right, tracing the figure of a tentacled beast, derived from H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds Martians. Science Fiction is seen as the offspring of the collision of the Enlightenment (providing science) and Romanticism, which birthed gothic fiction, source of not only SciFi, but crime novels, horror, westerns, and fantasy (all of which can be seen exiting through wormholes to their own diagrams, elsewhere). Science fiction progressed through a number of distinct periods, which are charted, citing hundreds of the most important works and authors. Film and television are covered as well.

It has a number of works of proto-SF that I keep meaning to read, and suggests some intriguing "genetic" paths for the origins of genres. For instance, treating the Western as an offshoot of Gothic seems a strange but by no means unarguable theory, given the tropes of Westerns: wild landscapes, imperilled heroines, clear-cut good and evil, grotesque villains, and brooding Byronic "man with no name" heroes.

See also the Winning Entries page for Places & Spaces: Mapping Science, which leads off in other interesting directions, such as Chris Harrison's projects on Visualizing the Bible (maps of "social networks" created by plotting people and places occurring in the same Bible verse).

Sole Survivor

More brilliance from the Internets. From YouTube: Sole Survivor (1970). The image quality isn't great, the soundtrack grotty, and the copyright undoubtedly very grey, but it's the only place you're likely to see this superior CBS TV movie, which has acquired a cult following.

It opens with a group of ragged and cynical US airmen sheltering in the vicinity of a wrecked B-25 Mitchell bomber in the desert. Shortly an aeroplane flies overhead and a recovery team arrives - at which point the story takes a major turn when we realise the airmen aren't crash survivors but ghosts, and it is 18 years since the crash. The site is being investigated by Major Michael Devlin (Vince Edwards) and Lieutenant-Colonel Josef Gronke (played by William Shatner), who have brought along the powerful Brigadier-General Russell Hamner (Richard Baseheart). The find is a mystery, since Hamner, the original navigator of the bomber, has said that he and all the crew bailed out over the sea 700 miles away. Gradually the backstory emerges: that Hamner bailed out prematurely in combat; this act of cowardice caused the misnavigation that led the rest of the crew to become stranded in the desert. The ghostly crew, through limited ability to move objects and to manifest as hauntings, attempt to guide Devlin and Gronke to the truth of events and to find their remains; otherwise, they will be doomed to an eternity in limbo at the crash site. It's a clever and poignant story, making the most of its single-location story with tight dialogue of stage-play quality. For whatever reason, it hasn't been on TV for decades and it's well possible that it has been lost apart from poor video copies. It's very worth watching.

See Wikipedia for the basics: Sole Survivor (1970 film). The story is closely based on the real-life incident of the Lady Be Good, a American B-24D Liberator bomber and its crew, similarly lost in the Libyan desert through a navigation error in 1943, and not rediscovered until 1958. I'm unaware of any direct evidence, but it seems very likely that Elleston Trevor's 1964 novel The Flight of the Phoenix, though more upbeat in its outcome, was inspired by the Lady Be Good incident (the 1964 review in Air Pictorial: Journal of the Air League, Volume 26, noted the similarity of scenario).

- Ray

Monday, 7 March 2011

Désenchantée and other videos

I've mentioned previously liking Europop, and you may have spotted in the sidebar Mylène Farmer's Désenchantée (Disenchanted): despite this being a chart-topping hit in France, neither the song nor the singer - who has been nicknamed "the French Madonna" - are much known in the UK.

French is not a strong point with me, but the Wikipedia article explains that the lyrics were inspired by the 1934 book On the Heights of Despair, a powerful expression of existential hopelessness by the Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran. This evidently struck a chord in France in 1991, at a time of student unrest and the Gulf War. What I can say, though, is that the video is brilliant and chilling: what's musically a bright and upbeat anthem set against a powerfully-filmed and bleak dramatisation of the theme of disenchantment. It's a commentary on messianism: a charismatic woman incites rebellion at some kind of boys' gulag (with allusions to Oliver Twist at the workhouse) and triumphantly, like La Liberté guidant le peuple, leads the inmates out to ... well, watch.

Désenchantée is among a number of Mylène Farmer videos filmed by composer and director Laurent Boutonnat with large budgets and cinematic-quality technique. Often inspired by literature and generally tackling difficult themes - for instance, existential angst, sexuality and subversive views of religion - they stand out as examples of pop video as a non-trivial artform.  I wish I knew French better to appreciate the lyrics.

The video for Je te rends ton amour (I Give Back Your Love) is a powerful, and for many shocking, mix of religious, horror and sexual imagery. That for Libertine has a lush and decadent visual flavour based on Kubrick's Barry Lyndon and the novels of de Sade; and its long continuation Pourvu qu'elles soient douces (Let's hope they are soft) interweaves the song into an extremely dark but beautifully-filmed historical drama of lust and betrayal, in which Farmer's female libertine character fights to the death with her rival against the backdrop of a massacre of an English army company in the Seven Years' War (these three videos are NSFW, but you can find them at YouTube).

L'Âme-stram-gram (video) takes its visual style from Chinese mythological / Wuxia films (A Chinese Ghost Story and, I thought, Zu Warriors). The lyrics are about psychoanalysis, and interspersed with erotic punning; the title alone is pretty hard to translate. The moderator at  MF International  has translated, and explains: "Ams tram gram" is essentially meaningless, the start of the French equivalent of "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe", but Farmer has spliced extra meaning into it by converting the first syllable to "L'Âme" = "The Soul".

That for Tristana (video) is a retelling, in a style reminiscent of early Russian cinema, of the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs set against the background of the Russian Revolution.  And Sans contrefaçon (Without forgery - video) tells a sad and unsettling story with, according to Wikipedia, multiple inspirations - The Adventures of Pinocchio, the Dargaud Media children's animation Peter Swift et Le Petit Cirque (Peter Swift and The Little Circus), and Apollinaire's poem Les Saltimbanques (The Acrobats) - of a ventriloquist who finds his dummy becomes a real woman ... but only when away from him.

- Ray

Adventure at Horseshoe Cove

While Googling "Horseshoe Cove" (mentioned previously) I ran into a unconnected reference; it's the name of a location in Florence L Barclay's 1910 romance novel The Mistress of Shenstone.

Like a number of writers little known a century later, Mrs Barclay was a highly popular novelist whose work included her debut romance The Wheels of Time and the bestselling The Rosary. The Times obituary favourably recalled her work,which praised her ability to tackle themes of romance and religious feelings in a way that dispensed with Victorian piety yet retained moral integrity:

Her death removes a figure as well known ten years ago to large sections of the novel-reading public as Charles Garvice, Marie Corelli, or Ethel M Dell. Her most popular book, "The Rosary," enjoyed a circulation of vast dimensions, and made friends of the author in homes all over the land.
It was one of the secrets of her success that she managed to be entirely sincere, and yet to infuse into an atmosphere which many people regard as narrow a kind of repressed excitement.
A writer who appealed to and won the affection of so many of her fellow country men and women is no negligible quantity. Indeed, there is reason to think that Mrs Barclay understood the tendency of her age better than many contemporary novelists whose technical skill exceeded her own. The way in which she blended passion with the spirit of pilgrimage was distinctly post-Victorian.
- Death of Mrs Barclay: a loss to millions of readers, The Times, March 11, 1921

The Mistress of Shenstone tells of the young and beautiful Lady Myra Ingleby, who goes for a rest cure incognito in Cornwall after the death of her husband in some unnamed military adventure at "Targai", somewhere in the Middle East.

"You know perfectly well that Lord Ingleby volunteered for this border war because he was so keen on experimenting with his new explosives, and on trying these ideas for using electricity in modern warfare, at which he has worked so long."

(Does she really want to be married to this guy? Anyhow...)  In Cornwall, her life is saved by a young man called Jim Airth, who helps her climb a cliff after she falls asleep on the beach and is cut off by the tide, and the two fall in love and become engaged. Jim, however, doesn't know that she is Lady Ingleby; and she doesn't know that Airth was the man who accidentally killed Lord Ingleby by prematurely detonating a mine. This naturally enough places a tension on their relationship, with a further twist when a telegram appears to indicate that Lord Ingleby is still alive, and there are also class issues (eventually resolved when it turns out that Jim Airth is himself an aristocrat going incognito).

Some of the book is fairly silly, such as Lord Ingleby's dog that gets vibes of his death and dies in sympathy, and also reflective of the prejudices of its time (for instance, the idea that the protagonists must be of the same class for a proper resolution). But it's well-plotted and well-paced, and not at all a bad read; it was filmed in 1921 (see IMDb).

Here's the full book at Project Gutenberg - E-text No. 26235 - and here are the chapters featuring the beach and the cliff climb: In Horseshoe Cove / Jim Airth to the rescue / "Yeo, ho! We go!" / 'Twixt sea and sky.

Many of Mrs Barclay's works are on the Internet Archive (see creator:"Barclay, Florence L. (Florence Louisa), 1862-1921") as is the subjective, but nonetheless interesting, biography by one of her daughters, The life of Florence L. Barclay: a study in personality. There's more biography, and some works, at Literary Heritage West Midlands; as the commentary says, some of her shorter works - such as "My heart's right there" - are morbidly patriotic by modern standards. Contrary to the now more popular anti-war writers and poets of World War One, Mrs Barclay (like Jessie Pope) was distinctly jingoistic at times.

It's a righteous war, my girl; and every man who fears God and honours the King, should be up, and out, and ready to do his share; and every woman who loves her home, must be willing bravely to do her part, by letting her man go. And if she has to hear that he has given his life, she must stand up, brave and true--as a soldier's wife or a soldier's mother--and say: 'God save the King!'
- from My heart's right there

- Ray

Journal of Religion and Film

Journal of Religion and Film: I just ran into this very interesting University of Nebraska journal via the MetaFilter thread Shinto Perspectives in "Spirited Away".

Even in secular Western culture, religion is still deeply intertwined with cultural memes and the tropes of storytelling, such as representations of good and evil in film, as the statement of purpose explains:

The Journal of Religion and Film examines
the description, critique, and embodiment of religion in film.

Many films, directly or indirectly, serve a "religious" purpose. Like religions, they present meanings that people give to life. They portray people and the values people embrace in life. The films themselves, then, are a part of the fundamental religious "struggle with the ultimate problems of human life."

Articles in the JR & F, then, are not restricted to a denominational list that equates religion with a commonly accepted set of rituals, beliefs, and laws. "Religion," in contemporary times and in the issues of the Journal, is much more personal and interactive than that. It is the living of values constructed in a dialogue between an individual and a culture. A particular worldview is received, adjusted, reapplied, and lived by the individual.

So the JR & F will consider not only films that explicitly highlight traditional religious images and themes. Although there will be analysis of films that consider such religious themes as sacred space, sacred times, savior-figures, images of god(s), and battles between good and evil, there also will be investigation of notions and assumptions that underlie everyday, "secular," human talk and action.

Better still, JR & F is free-access.  Check out its index of films.

Just skimming, the "A" section I find: "Angels Carrying Savage Weapons:" Uses of the Bible in Contemporary Horror Films, by Mary Ann Beavis; Mozart & Salieri, Cain & Abel: A Cinematic Transformation of Genesis 4, by Gregory Allen Robbins; The Devil We Already Know: Medieval Representations of a Powerless Satan in Modern American Cinema, by Kelly J. Wyman; Archetypes on Screen: Odysseus, St. Paul, Christ and the American Cinematic Hero and Anti-Hero, by John Fitch, III; Anti-feminism in Recent Apocalyptic Film by Joel W. Martin; Any Gods Out There? Perceptions of Religion from Star Wars and Star Trek by John S. Schultes; and James Cameron's Cathedral: Avatar Revives the Religious Spectacle by Craig Detweiler.

- Ray

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Dawlish coves

Horse Cove, Dawlish

Another spot of local geography: Horse Cove is a small and usually inaccessible cove at Dawlish between Coryton Cove and Shell Cove. I took the above picture (now at Geograph) when I walked round at low tide four years ago.

I just spotted that the newspapers had some excellent aerial shots in February, notably the Daily Mail - see the second image in The £1.7m house whose sea view just got closer: Home at cliff edge as 15ft garden disappears after landslide (10th February 2011) - concerning the precarious position of a clifftop house above the cove following recent cliff falls.

The whole changeability of  the coast extends to placenames. A look at Ordnance Survey maps up to the mid-1900s - see Old Maps - shows the above location unnamed, and Horse Cove is what is now called Shell Cove. Shells do figure in older accounts: an article on Teignmouth and Dawlish in The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post for June 16, 1884, says:

The Cowrie cove, or shell beach, just beyond Coryton Cove, is a favourite for ladies; it can only be reached at low water, or through the private tunnel.

Shell Cove just seems to have solidified as a placename over the past century. Other location names have been more durable: Coryton Cove (aka Coryton's Cove) was named after the Corytons, landowners who lived at Cliff Cottage above the cove (see page 308, A complete parochial history of the county of Cornwall). As I mentioned at the DHS blog - 1885: Dawlish "death trap" - Coryton Cove was also called the Gentlemen's Cove, because of its historical use for segregated male bathing. The three railway tunnels nearest Dawlish were similarly named after the respective landowners: the Coryton tunnel after Jane Coryton; the Phillott after the Rev. Charles Phillott, of the Clevelands; and the Kennaway after Mark Kennaway, who owned Lea Mount, the promontory through which the tunnel runs (see the Dawlish Community Trust flyer).

A feature of Horse Cove that intrigues me is the rectangular tunnel entrance with steps leading up. At the time I visited it wasn't accessible; the ledge leading up to it had eroded too badly. Where does it go? Is it to do with the railway or was it the abovementioned "private tunnel" to the beach?

- Ray

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Topsham Book Swap

A note for your diaries: World Book Night is on Saturday March 5th 2011.

World Book Night represents the most ambitious and far-reaching celebration of adult books and reading ever attempted in the UK and Ireland.

On Saturday, 5 March 2011, two days after World Book Day, with the full support of the Publishers Association, the Booksellers Association, the Independent Publishers Guild, the Reading Agency with libraries, World Book Day, the BBC and RTE, one million books will be given away by an army of passionate readers to members of the public across the UK and Ireland.

The book give-away will comprise 40,000 copies of each of the 25 carefully selected titles, to be given away by 20,000 ‘givers’, who will each distribute 48 copies of their chosen title to whomever they choose on World Book Night. The remaining books will be distributed by World Book Night itself in places that might otherwise be difficult to reach, such as prisons and hospitals.

The twenty-five titles were selected by a wide-ranging editorial committee, chaired by James Naughtie. After looking through the list of titles, you can apply to become a giver on World Book Night itself.

While one might suspect the ultimate reason is promotional for the book industry rather than sheer altruism, World Book Night is marked by various interesting literary events and reading group gatherings that go beyond the chance of a freebie book.

In Topsham, we have Topsham Book Swap at the Globe Hotel on Saturday March 5th, 6.30-8.30pm, when you're invited to "bring a book you love, swap it for another".

See the World Book Night website - - and the Facebook page for more information.

- Ray

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Salutation Inn

Salutation Inn, Topsham
A book on my search list: Salutation Inn. A novel (Richard Gray, pub. Michael Joseph, 1941). I stumbled across some reviews, and found from one that the novel's setting is actually Topsham's Salutation Inn. Here's one:
Although it is a first novel, "Salutation Inn" is a powerful story that shows its unknown author as a gifted writer. It is a psychological study that depends largely on atmosphere for its success. The author uses an old inn in a lonely marshland English village as a retreat from a murderer for whom the police are hunting. At this "Salutation Inn," Inigo Orton, a man of strange passions, who calls himself Mr. Crawley, finds an understanding, appreciative soul in the barmaid, and a welcome from an eccentric old woman. But he can find no peace of mind, and. inevitably, tragedy results when his identity is discovered. This is a decidedly unusual book, with a pervading and inescapable atmosphere that only artistry and true feeling could produce.
- The Advertiser (Adelaide), 20 September 1941
It looks strange enough to be a good yarn, and I'd love to read it. The Catalog of Copyright Entries for 1941 identifies "Richard Gray" as Jasper Salwey, a sufficiently unusual name to be most likely the artist and architect Jasper Philip Salwey (1884-1956).

Update: see Salutation Inn revisited for more on this book.

The Salutation Inn in Topsham has been closed as a pub for around two years, but I was delighted to be given a tour today by the new owner Ed Williams-Hawkes, who is renovating it as a top-of-the-range hotel. I'd previously only seen the ground floor and a handful of the first floor rooms, but it's an amazing 26-room labyrinth over three floors, and architecturally very interesting underneath the many (often hamfisted) modifications over four centuries.
Reverting to Topsham at the time of its prosperity, a further development of the vernacular is to be seen in the Salutation Inn, famous as an hostelry for travellers by road from North to South Devon as well as a rest-house for those travelling by sea to the Continent. This building which, in its external treatment as in the interior details of the Assembly Room and other apartments, follows the mode of 1720, marks another and later stage of the formative development. By this time the Dutch influence had become completely anglicised. The main feature of the design is the prominence given to the Assembly Room, which is placed over the coach entrance and in former days was supported on two timber Doric columns of proved substance. The original stone pedestals are in situ, but the corpulent supports have in the last twenty years been replaced by modern brick piers which lack grace and character, apart from their efficiency as structural supports.
- Regional Architecture of the West of England, Sir Albert Edward Richardson, Charles Lovett Gill, 1924.

Cat mummy, Salutation Inn
It's quite gothic in places, and in the attic there's a mummified cat (above) such as are found occasionally in old buildings. It has been nicknamed "Tonic", because it has a gin trap on one foot. It's unclear if this is how it died, or if this was added as a scary detail posthumously.

The showpiece of the Salutation, however, has to be the Assembly Room that overhangs the frontage, and is a prominent feature of Topsham's Fore Street.  The Salutation must have seen some memorable junkets. As I've mentioned before, in the late 1700s the Salutation was the headquarters for Colonel Robert Hall's Devonshire and Cornwall Fencibles during the War of the First Coalition (see Samuel Carter Hall visits Topsham); and the Assembly Room was the venue for the upper-crust booze-up ...

The officers of the navy and army, resident at Topsham, and the Gentlemen of the town, repaired to the Assembly Room, at the Salutation Inn, to drink the King's health; and the Rev. Mr. Carrington being unanimously requested to take the chair, and having complied in a very obliging and polite manner, many loyal toasts were drank, and many excellent songs were sung, particularly one printed and dispersed amongst the company upon the occasion.

... following the hanging of Tom Paine in effigy in Topsham in 1793 (see Tom Paine hanged in Topsham).

Assembly Room, Salutation Inn, Topsham

See Exeter Memories - The Salutation Hotel - Exe Street, Topsham - for a bit of the history.  A skim of the British Library 19th Century Newspapers archive finds the Salutation had extremely varied use in the 19th centuries: for balls, property auctions, society dinners, coroner's inquests and even as unofficial mortuary for people found drowned in the Exe.

Addendum: 1st August 2011.

Renovation of the frontage is now visible, involving restoration to historically authentic appearance (slate blue, not black, paint; exposed wood on the gate; and the paint removed from the brick pillars).

Addendum: 21st August 2012

See Salutation.

- Ray