Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Bayan time (11): progress

It's been about ten months since I took up bayan, and I guess I've reached a stage of consolidation: hitting the long-term learning curve. Having got thoroughly comfortable with the instrument (no more arm and shoulder pains), now I'm spending a lot of time on building a repertoire - learning medleys as well as distinctive individual pieces - and various aspects of technique.

It's a strange sensation being at this level. For the first time in my life, I feel truly at home with an instrument; on holiday I missed playing it. But getting to the point of competency opens up a vast and terrifying prospect of what needs doing in order to go beyond just competent - especially as I know I'm not musically gifted. Music for me is just a facet of generalism.

Particular areas for work include developing left-hand technique (counterbass scales and chord work beyond the basic keynote-chord motif I was used to on my old non-counterbass piano accordion); right-hand chord shapes beyond the basic major and minor chords; general right-hand technique (things like how to play triplets); and non-keyboard skills such as bellows control. Lack of tuition, beyond what I can see on YouTube, carries a huge risk of getting into mistaken habits, so I'm ordering Friedrich Lips' The Art of Bayan Playing, a classic tutorial that's only fairly recently been translated into English.

One thing I can work on without needing any deep secret: confidence in public playing.  All there is to that is taking every opportunity to do it. On Sunday I played - two slots of three pieces - at the first of the new TOPJAM music sessions at Topsham Rugby Club (see Facebook). That went very well, though to a small audience who were perhaps as much wowed by the unfamiliarity of the instrument as by the playing of it!  And if rehearsals go to plan, I'm playing a double act (with Lily Neal on violin) at the A La Ronde Community Christmas Tree Festival in Exmouth on Saturday.

I copied this image across from my other blog. I had this upper-arm piece done in April, when I was already aware what a milestone experience learning the bayan was turning out to be. For those into such things and in the East Devon area, I highly recommend Glory Bound Tattoos, on Rolle Street in Exmouth. I'd had a couple of recommendations from others, and their work online looked good. The shop has a nice atmosphere and the staff were very friendly and efficient; they also didn't mind taking on a quite precise self-designed image that didn't offer much artistic scope (the dots are actually round when I'm not contorting to take a self-photo). Regular readers may recognise the older one below as a stylised Isle of Wight.

- Ray

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Ken Russell: great imaginer of music

Showbiz 411 tributes to Ken Russell by Martin Scorsese and Ben Kingsley

I was very sorry to hear of the death at 84 of film director Ken Russell; apart from the basic news, there's been very little on television so far. My favourite obituaries so far are the ones in the Los Angeles Times by "Culture Monster" (Ken Russell, one of film’s great imaginers of music.) and the New Yorker's Culture Desk (Ken Russell: The Rare Director Who Understood Musical Greatness).

Russell produced a certain amount of rubbish, and has often tended to categorized purely for his dimension of outrageousness ...

"the chief defiler of celebrities of the past and present," which is what Pauline Kael called him.

... but I don't think that's accurate. His films brought a kind of 'comic strip' approach to musical biographies: outrageous exaggeration, anachronism and invention cloaking an essentially faithful portrayal of musical history in terms accessible to the modern mindset. Lisztomania is my favourite in this respect, faithful both in its portrayal of Liszt fan frenzy - "Lisztomania" - and in biographical detail, being partially based on the "kiss and tell" novel Nélida, by Liszt's longtime mistress Marie d'Agoult. The same goes for the 1970 The Music Lovers (Russell's take on Tchaikovsky) and the 1974 Mahler. (This is not forgetting his lower-key earlier biographies s such as the 1962 dramatised documentary Elgar; the 1966 Isadora Duncan, the Biggest Dancer in the World; the moving 1968 Song of Summer, about the last days of Delius, reportedly so accurate that Eric Fenby had a nervous breakdown over the suppressed recollections it activated).

His vigorous approach worked just as well on his groundbreaking film of The Who's rock opera Tommy, and his wide musical interests also surfaced in the (in my view) under-rated Crimes of Passion, whose score was a prog-rock adaptation by Rick Wakeman of Dvořák's New World Symphony; and in his contribution to Aria, an excellent compilation film in which various directors filmed music videos for operatic arias.

Other personal highlights from Russell's work that spring to mind: the 1969 DH Lawrence adaptation Women in Love; the 1971 The Devils, despite its hugely controversial reputation a not-so-wildly exaggerated portrayal of historical events described in Aldous Huxley's The Devils of Loudon; the 1972 Savage Messiah, a biopic unusually for Russell not about a composer, but about the French sculptor Gaudier-Brzeska;  the 1986 Gothic, a not at all bad portrayal of the Shelleys' visit to Lord Byron at Villa Diodati that led to the writing of Frankenstein and The Vampyre; and the 1988 The Lair of the White Worm. Russell's comedy-horror treatment of this final example incorporated his signature fixations on sex and religion, and in fact they prove faithful to Bram Stoker's own obsessions - it's an again rather under-rated take on a hard-to-film book. See The Lair of the White Worm previously.

As Russell was a film-maker, I think it's appropriate to end this appreciation with a sampler of clips from his works:

  • 1962: Elgar: Portrait of a Composer (in full on YouTube: part 1 / 2 / 3 / 4).
  • 1968: Song of Summer: portraying the difficult collaboration between the syphilis-crippled Delius and the uptight Fenby. In full on YouTube: part 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5. Of all of these clips, this one is a must to check out.
  • 1970: Omnibus: Dance of the Seven Veils:  a highly controversial and little-seen biographical film, portraying the links between Richard Strauss and Nazism.
  • 1970: The Music Lovers.
  • 1974: Clip from Mahler: spot the movie quotation at 5:10 onward; and Mahler - The Conversion scene: Mahler's conversion from Judaism to Christianity dramatised through an over-the-top fantasy sequence filmed in some mountain quarry, involving Cosima Wagner and a mix of Wagnerian, Nazi and religious iconography.
  • 1975: Elton John, Pinball Wizard, from Tommy.
  • 1975: Love's Dream from Lisztomania: sensitive arrangement of Liszt's Liebesträume No. 3 as a Charlie Chaplin pastiche.
  • 1984: Clip from Crimes of Passion (NSFW): exemplifying its sharp dialogue, synth-heavy score from the New World Symphony, and Anthony Perkins' tour de force performance as a tormented street preacher who becomes embroiled in a relationship with the prostitute alter ego of a businesswoman, played by Kathleen Turner.
  • 1988: D'Ampton Worm song - Lair of the White Worm  - and the movie trailer (NSFW).
  • 1987: Nessun Dorma from Aria (NSFW): Russell's segment uses "Nessun dorma" from Turandot as backing for a powerful fantasy in which a car accident victim's resuscitation mirrors a dream scene of tribal ritual.

The Performance786 YouTube channel has a number of Russell's early short films including the 1956 Peepshow and Knights on Bikes; the 1957 Amelia and the Angel; and the 1961 Antonio Gaudi.

- Ray

Isle of Wight for 10,000 years

right-click and view in new tab to enlarge

On the subject of ephemeral landscapes, the above image comes from a children's encyclopedia, The World of Wonder: 10,000 Things Every Child Should Know (Amalgamated Press, Ed. Charles Ray, 1932), which looks a rich lode of interesting and sometimes off-the-wall illustrations.

This one, The Story of the Isle of Wight for 10,000 Years, doesn't seem well-informed geomorphologically, even for the time it was written. The south coast of the island is an entirely erosional coastline, so the new land at bottom right isn't going to form. Nor is the trend on the northern side of the western Wight depositional. The western promontory tipped by the Needles is essentially being eroded from both sides, like a pencil being sharpened.  It'll certainly retreat with continued erosion, but while it exists, it'll continue to be  a promontory because its Chalk erodes less easily than the softer Tertiary rocks that form the northern half of the island.

Note the persistence of the road patterns 5000 years into the future. Probably the artist put them there just there for geographical orientation, but I guess it's not unfeasible; in the UK, we're still using many Roman roads, many of whose routes pre-dated the Roman occupation.

- Ray

Monday, 28 November 2011

The Old Lime-Kiln on the Lake Shore

Further to last year's post Literary limekilns: Dr Sadru Bhanji kindly sent me a scan of the above postcard image, dated 1927, showing old limekilns near Topsham (at "Marsh, near Clyst St George"). It's in Dr Bhanji's collection, and probably my favourite image from the recently released Topsham: The Historic Port of Exeter.

It's such a classic ruin that I was interested to find if any trace still existed. It was obviously an unsafe structure, but I thought at least a tump might remain. But the 'closure' to this search proved surprisingly disappointing. The ruined kilns no longer exist; they're not on the 1933 Ordnance Survey map, and must have been demolished to clear space for the house that now stands at their former location (adjacent to the road from Topsham to the George and Dragon, directly opposite Darts Farm llama enclosure).

I found an unbelievably apt poem, The Old Lime-Kiln on the Lake Shore: July, 1881, from John Brayshaw Kaye's 1882 Songs of Lake Geneva: and other poems (this is Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, not the Swiss one). The poem recalls how a lakeside lime-kiln used to be the meeting place for swimming, fishing parties and boyhood high jinks - but years later, disused, it's just a ruin, and in time even that ruin will cease to exist. It's dripping with pathetic fallacy, personification and sentimentalism; as I mentioned in Literary limekilns, a working limekiln was a polluting and occasionally lethal presence on the landscape. Nevertheless the description is very like that in the photo above (not on a lake shore but by a sluice off the River Clyst) and the poem is still a strong evocation of transience. From the ending:

But things have changed since the " long ago,"
For the ever-moving tide of years
Has borne from thence in its ceaseless flow
All those who rowed to that night bird's cheers,
While sun and storm, growth and decay
Have all been busy in their way,
And ruin is tenant now, at will,
Of all that 's left of the old lime-kiln.

Now the the circling walls are fallen in,
And the grass grows green round the crumbling stone,
And the brave old oak that so long had been
The kiln's companion, is lying prone, —
As though it could not bear to stay
When its warm, old friend had passed away,
It has stretched itself along the hill
And died on the grave of the old lime-kiln.

The rude stone arch, too, has disappeared,
And in the front where the fireman stood,
A white-barked birch has sprung and reared
Its ghostly trunk, and two young oaks brood
In mournful silence close at hand,
And the three in full-leafed beauty stand,
to shade and mark and memorize still
The sunken tomb of the old lime-kiln.

A few more years and the well-known spot
Will not retain e'en a single trace
That it ever was, — it will be erased
By the ever-busy hand of time.
A few more years and the world will not,
Of all who once sported about its base,
Have kept for itself a single name
Or preserved one memory uneffaced,
But all will simply be forgot.
Unspoiled by praise, untouched by blame,
What lot could be truly more sublime?
But while they live, like a sweet, wild chime,
The memories of the past shall thrill
Their hearts when they muse of the old lime-kiln.

- from The Old Lime-Kiln on the Lake Shore: July, 1881, John Brayshaw Kay

View Larger Map

Google Maps view of the site of the old Marsh limekilns, Topsham. The kilns were adjacent to the main road where you can see the white vehicle, centre. The sluice running diagonally up toward the road is that at bottom left in the postcard image. The path where the man is standing in the postcard still exists; it's now the Route 2 cycle network path by the Topsham Bends @ Darts Farm Gateway.

- Ray

Sunday, 27 November 2011

The gumnut babies

As I mentioned in the previous post, the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography tells how Avis Acres' mid-1950s Hutu and Kawa mythos was inspired by the earlier "gumnut babies" of the Australian author and illustrator May Gibbs.  There's a good BibliOdyssey post from 2008 - Snugglepot and Cuddlepie - with examples of Gibbs' work.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Hutu and Kawa

I just ran into this interesting children's book: The Adventures of Hutu and Kawa (Avis Acres, Reed Books, 1990). Charmingly illustrated by the author, it tells of the adventures in a New Zealand forest of two "Pohutukawa Babies", fairies that live in the Pōhutukawa tree (Metrosideros excelsa); their hairstyles and skirts are styled after the Pōhutukawa's red flowers.

Monday, 21 November 2011

The roots of fiction

As with Cecil Torr's Small Talk at Wreyland, described by The Times as being about "first of all (though he did not know it) Cecil Torr", weblog topics tend to have a stream-of-consciousness relationship to their authors. So with today's topic of dentists in fiction, no prizes for guessing where I was today. I had a root canal treatment on a molar, which went fine except for a bad few hours after the anaesthetic wore off.

As it happens, Bill Ott and his Booklist column was there before me on October 15th 2000. It's reprinted on page 196 of The Back Page (Bill Ott, Joyce G. (FRW) Saricks, 2009).  Ott starts with a venerable example, the antihero of Frank Norris's 1899 McTeague, who once debarred comes to a bad end in Death Valley (see the Internet Archive ID mcteagueastorys00norrgoog), and continues with examples such as Rick Boyer's crime-solving Doc Adams; Captain Waldowski, the "Painless Pole" from Richard Hooker's MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors; Dr Marvin Bruce Fleckstein, the blackmailing dentist found murdered on the first page of Susan Isaacs' Compromising Positions; and "the evil Nazi dentist in The Boys from Brazil" (I think he may be confusing this with Laurence Olivier's role as Dr. Christian "Is it safe?" Szell in Marathon Man).

I can't much improve on this list at this instant, but there are some interesting-looking sources. On the general topic of dentists in fiction I'd like to read, for instance, the paper Dental questions in Frank Norris's novel "McTeague" ...

Frank Norris's McTeague, one of the first novels in which the main character is a dentist and dentistry is central to the plot, has been a minor member of the American literary canon for over a century. Possibly because Norris was such a committed and practicing realist/naturalist, his characterization of McTeague as a believable dentist has not until now been questioned. Nor has his use or misuse of the California Dental Licensure Legislation of 1885 to bring about McTeague's downfall been subjected to historical analysis. Such analysis may cast doubt on the credibility and reputation of the novel.
- L Scanlon, J Hist Dent. 2002 Mar;50(1):17-24.

... as well as the compendium Foley's footnotes: a treasury of dentistry (Gardner P. H. Foley, 1972) and Suzanne Poirier's paper Comedy or Cruelty: The Dentist as Portrayed in Literature and Art. Bull Hist Dent, 1987;35:1-7, which (as far as I can gather via Google Books snippet view) collects examples and analyses the negative portrayal of dentists in the arts, and offers the counterexample of "one of the few multi-dimensional dentists in fiction", the village dentist Russell Maude in Janet Frame's 1965 novel The Adaptable Man.

However, I can offer another positively-portrayed dentist: Dr Dillingham, the hero of Pier's Anthony's 1971 comedy SF novel Prostho Plus. Dillingham is a rather jaded Earth dentist who gets unusual visitors: aliens who require dental work for one of their number (they communicate by making cuneiform-like bite marks on plastic rods). Kidnapped by the aliens - the "Enens" - he finds himself as property on their world as an "exodontist".

The Enens farm him out to treat a prince, the child of the "high muck-a-muck" of the ocean world Gleep (the comic names are a translator artifact). This child turns out to be a giant whale-like creature whose dental cavity is so large that Dillingham has to excavate it from the inside. After the treatment, however, he finds himself a prisoner, sold to Gleep as a permanent dental maintainer living inside the Gleep prince, until his contract is purchased by the diplomat Trach, a vegetarian dinosaur. He acquires his freedom by saving Trach's career by curing his halitosis.

Dillingham continues to successfully treat patients, such as an "Electrolyte" who has become aphasic from gold inlays on conductive teeth; the latter, out of gratitude, sponsors him to attend the Galactic University of Dentistry. Here he is dismayed to be studying alongside creatures with immense technical advantages such as eidetic memory and specialist organs for dental work. On the night before an important test, he takes the time to fill the tooth of a tiresome, elderly oyster-like creature, during which procedure he has to fight off the latter's laser-wielding grandson. As a result he achieves only 3% on the test, and is further dismayed when the ethical decisions of his previous work are stringently criticised.

And I'll stop there. It's a good yarn, dentally authentic, and worth finding; inexpensive copies are easy enough to come by on Amazon.

Addendum: see Felix Grant's The Growlery - Prostho Plus - for further discussion on this.  We both managed to find copies, and are very much enjoying re-reading it. As I said to Felix, the dentistry details are deeply rooted, so to speak, in the dental technology of the time it was written.  Unrestrained SF exploration of the theme of dentistry would not be about the mercury amalgams and gold inlays that appear in Prostho Plus; it might be about tooth transplants and stem cell implantation of tooth buds to grow new teeth (even now it's outdated: my dentist puts some kind of optically-cured ivory-coloured plastic into cavities, not metal). On Earth, Dillingham has irritating patients, such as the woman who wants healthy teeth replaced because it's fashionable, and the old man who refuses proper treatment of his extensively-filled teeth in favour of "patching them up so they won't blow", and he finds exactly the same kinds of problem on alien worlds.  Prostho Plus is essentially an SF pastiche on the dentistry of the time it was written - but no less good for that.

- Ray

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Much to learn

A spot of synchronicity. Recently, a non-native speaker asked me about the usage of the English word "much". I had to think about this one, because it's in the territory where native speakers learn in early language acquisition; to non-native learners, it proves to have quite a complicated rule-set for such a simple word.

On first analysis, it seems that in idiomatic standard English, these are the main rules for when "much" is usable as a quantifier:
  • with an intensifier:
    I liked the film very much. - standard
    I liked the film much. - not standard
  • in questions:
    "Have you much money on you?" - standard
    I have much money on me. - not standard
  • in negative statements:
    There wasn't much food at the party. - standard
    There was much food at the party. - non-standard
  • with non-countable nouns (subject to the previous constraints):
    There wasn't much food at the party. - standard for non-countable
    There weren't many plates at the party. - standard for countable

I use "standard" vs. "non-standard" rather than grammatical vs. ungrammatical because this is often a matter of register rather than correctness; on further analysis, there are exceptions. In formal English, "much" is usable in some kinds of positive statements, subject to position.
  • We much enjoyed our visit.
    but not We enjoyed our visit much.
  • Your condolences were much appreciated.
    but not Your condolences were appreciated much.
  • There is much to be said about the adoption process in the UK (Hansard)
  • There is much that is good ... (Hansard)
  • We have much to do to prepare for that possible eventuality. (Hansard)

This brings me to the Currys PC World advert embedded above, an extended spoof of the scene when Darth Vader arrives to inspect progress on the Death Star II. The ad ends with Vader saying "You have learned much, young one", a quote from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.

It's immediately recognisable as an odd phrase, but one that's proving a puzzle because it goes against a trend. If you look at Google Books Ngram Viewer, you find that similar forms using "much" after a verb are generally archaic ones on the decline: "have seen much", "have heard much", "have said much", "have travelled much", and so on. Yet "have learned much" is a construct that's virtually non-existent in 1800, but has more or less continually increased in print use since then; it appears, then, to be a formalism that has developed in modern times rather than a relic of an archaic one.

Within the Star Wars mythos, why Vader should say this is open to speculation, since it's completely out of his normal range of diction.  During his childhood and youth in the films he speaks standard American, representing some regional flavour of Galactic Basic Standard. His change of accent and timbre is explicable by the use of a voice synthesizer - in the mythos, Vader suffered lung damage - but his actual speech pattern remains standard, and not overly formal (for instance, he uses contractions - see the Star Wars wiki). But the isolated weirdness of "You have learned much" represents a formalism beyond even that of other upper-echelon characters. Perhaps it's an acquired idiolect over-compensating for his regional roots?

Stalin springs to mind as an example of a despotic leader with a regional accent. It probably wouldn't have been as impressive as the voice of James Earl Jones, but it would have been authentic to leave Vader's voice as that of the Bristolian Dave Prowse.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Richard Rosny - and an apocryphal rhyme

Gore Cliff - "over-beetling crags"
One of the pleasant aspects of researching a topic is how later experience and research brings new light to topics previously visited. A while back I mentioned Maxwell Gray's 1903 novel Richard Rosny, (Internet Archive richardrosny00graygoog), which is set on the Isle of Wight. One chapter, The Storm, features this extended description of the landscape of the coastal road where Ronald Musgrave attempts to persuade Richard's wife Evelyn to elope with him.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Beating the competition

Pardon the nepotism, but here's a link to an article at Clare's new weblog: How to run a writing competition and keep the competitors happy, which is a guide on how not to present competitions.

As our household computer consultant, I can assure you it's all true, particularly the bit about design of competition entry forms.  Over the years I've had to photoshop or otherwise correct a long stream of supposedly printable entry forms that were not fit for purpose:
  • insufficient room to complete your details;
  • bad formatting so that the form wouldn't print to fit on an A4 page;
  • forms where the page designer had somehow managed to break both the File/Print option and the ability to save the text for offline printing;
  • downloaded forms that had to be hacked out of obscure file formats (e.g. the notoriously unreadable Microsoft Publisher .PUB files);
  • forms inextricably embedded in graphics-heavy pages that waste gallons of printer ink;
  • and so on.

If we found them heavy weather, I'm absolutely sure others did.

- Ray

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Mrs Miniver

I just ran into an erudite eggcorn - Mrs. Minerva for the wartime film Mrs. Miniver - and had some mild bibliographic surprises on Googling the background. Mrs Miniver, you may well know, was a classic World War II tear-jerker with a strong propaganda element. What Went the Day Well? did in portraying rural working-class England and This Happy Breed did in portraying urban working-class England, Mrs. Miniver did for middle-class England.

What I didn't realise was that it was loosely based on a 1939 book of the same name, based in turn on a series of Times newspaper articles by "Jan Struther". They told from the viewpoint of the fictional Mrs. Caroline Miniver an account of the daily life of her middle-class family - she and her husband Clem, and their children Vin, Judy and Toby - in the pre-war years.  Partially autobiographical, the articles drew on the life of the author, Joyce Maxtone Graham (the pseudonym came from her birth name, Joyce Anstruther). They were immensely popular, though with a few dissenters:

There were a few people who hated Struther's miniaturist approach, finding it twee and offensively irrelevant. When her columns came out in book form just after war began, E M Forster's review in the New Statesman was sneering and snobbish. Rosamond Lehmann said in The Spectator that the effect of waiting for the next Mrs Miniver column was like being locked up in Borstal while anticipating a visit from a particularly condescending Lady Bountiful.
- Secretly in love with a refugee: Musings on chrysanthemums concealed a complicated life, The Telegraph, 21 Nov 2001.

Skimming the reviews of reviews, it seems that Forster's complaint was that Mrs Miniver purported to be a kind of classless Everyman, but actually hankered after the privilege and values of the upper class; and Lehmann's was that it was just so nauseatingly and relentlessly nice, a view echoed by a Times correspondent:

Sir, I too have been hoping for another article by Mrs. Miniver, but for quite a different reason from your other writers. I pay a tribute to her creator when I say that I always think of Mrs. Miniver as a real person, and I hate her with an immense hatred. She is always so smug, so right, such a marvellous manager, and things always go so well for her. Well, nothing goes on like that forever: something horrible must be going to happen to the lady soon, and I want to know her reactions.

I have no doubt that Clem will become an A.R.P. warden, Vin will join up, Mrs. M., assisted by her daughter, will cope in a wonderful manner with refractory billettees and run the hospital supply depot in the manner born, and Toby will join the Boy Scouts. It would be so much more helpful if Mrs. Miniver would tell us how she would be behave if her husband had an affair with a pretty A.R.P. worker, if her son refused to join up, and if some of the workers at the hospital rose up in revolt and told the lady exactly where she got off. I expect that she would cope with it all in a slightly hurt and surprised manner. No, I think the only thing for Mrs. Miniver is a direct hit from a bomb, and I am quite certain that within a month Clem would marry again a young and pretty, untidy woman, who never by any chance said or did the correct thing, and they would be enormously happy, and so should I.
Yours truly, MF Savory, 24 Arundel Court, Worthing.
- Letters, The Times, Oct 12, 1939

Despite such malcontents, the popularity continued with the bestselling book compilation, which was also, by all accounts, highly influential in ways more than mere popularity.

The columns were first published in book form in 1939, shortly after the outbreak of war. Struther stopped the regular newspaper columns that year, but wrote a series of letters from Mrs. Miniver, expanding on the character's wartime experiences. These were published in later editions.

The book became an enormous success, especially in the United States, where Struther went on a lecture tour shortly after the book's release.

The U.S. was still officially neutral, but as war with Nazi Germany intensified in Europe, the tribulations of the Miniver family engaged the sympathy of the American public sufficiently that President Franklin D. Roosevelt credited it for hastening America's involvement in the war. Winston Churchill is said to have claimed that it had done more for the Allied cause than a flotilla of battleships. Churchill is further quoted by Bernard Wasserstein in his book, "Barbarism and Civilization," as saying that the book (and later the film) was worth "six divisions of war effort."

In 1942, when the film came out, Roosevelt ordered it rushed to theaters.
- Wikipedia, Mrs. Miniver, 20:50, 28 July 2011 revision

Struther was a versatile author. I've known the name Jan Struther from childhood, as the author of the hymn lytrics to Lord of All Hopefulness and When a Knight Won His Spurs, but for some reason always assumed it to be male Dutch name. Her works would normally be well in copyright, but by agreement with the Maxtone Graham family, the Collected Works of Jan Struther is online in a special Internet edition at Mary Mark Ockerbloom's extensive A Celebration of Women Writers site.

The online text of Mrs. Miniver, still very readable apart from its value as a period social document, has a good biographical intro reproduced from the Virago edition. She was a good poet too, both on serious and comic topics; I very much like her 1936 The Modern Struwwelpeter, which first appeared in Punch. It updates Heinrich Hoffman's 1845 book as a new set of cautionary rhymes including the story of Disobedient David, who fiddles with electric light and is driven away by demons, never to be seen again; Anthony, the Boy Who Knew Too Much, who gets an appropriate comeuppance for his spoilsport griping during a conjurer's act; and The Dreadful Story of Janet, who likes trying on clothes in shops so much that she gets to do it permanently...

For a more structured online biography, see the Orlando Project, and there a deal of background at Jan Struther's Mrs. Miniver Family Internet Edition, an official site by Struther's son Robert Maxtone Graham. Struther's grand-daughter Ysenda Maxtone Graham published a print biography, The Real Mrs Miniver, in 2001.

Struther got the name "Miniver", by the way, from the heraldic and ceremonial fur. A number of accounts tell the story: how James Fleming of The Times asked Struther to come up with a name beginning with "M", and how she wandered the streets looking for inspiration.

Just then I noticed a man carrying a big bundle of skins out of one of the furriers' warehouses. I wondered what kind of skins they were and what country they came from. Then I remembered that vair was one of the furs in heraldry, and I tried to see how many of the others I could recollect. There was vair and counter-vair and potent and counter-potent and ermine and erminois; and I had a sort of idea that there was another one whose name I couldn't remember for several minutes. When I luckily did remember it, I went straight back to Printing House Square and said to Mr. Fleming, "Look here, what about calling her 'Mrs. Miniver'?" He chewed the stem of his pipe sardonically and said : 'That's not half bad.' Knowing Mr. Fleming's genius for understatement, I took this to mean that he approved ..."

This anecdote appears in several places, usually in the context of expressing her general frustration at being identified with Mrs. Miniver. See The Truth about Mrs. Miniver (Jan Struther, English (1939) 2(12): 347-355); A Pocketful of Pebbles (Jan Struther, 1956); and Under the Reading Lamp: Jan Struther tells us about the origin of "Mrs Miniver" (WJ Hurlow, Ottawa Citizen, Sep 27, 1946).

- Ray

Saturday, 12 November 2011

A literary moment: Nova

New bar display: Denley's Essence of India, Topsham
Falling fire dropped light down their faces.
      "Which brew of the other world's do you want to try first?" Lorq asked the twins as he surveyed bottles on the stage.
     "The one in the red bottle — "
     " — in the green bottle looks pretty good — "

- Samuel R Delany, Nova

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Tagliente's multiplication by columns

image: Tomash Library
An interesting challenge via the recent Ptak Science Books post An Episode in the History of Multiplication: reconstructing a 500-year-old algorithm for long multiplication.

John mentions the 16th century instructional Libro dabaco, a pocket-sized book on practical mathematics for merchants, co-written by Girolamo and Giovanni Tagliente (since only one was the nominal author, I'll use the singular Tagliente for convenience). The book is described in more detail in Paul F Gehl's online book Humanism For Sale ("Making and Marketing Schoolbooks in Italy, 1450-1650") in the section 6.03 Commercial skills.

The problem lies in the book's multiplication "per colonna" ("by columns") system, of which there are some nice images here as part of the The Erwin Tomash Library. Both John and Paul comment that Tagliente doesn't explain the algorithm, because his text says the diagrams are self-explanatory. They're not!

image: Tomash Library

This example evaluates 9876 x 6789 = 67048164. As John says, you can see where the digits in the individual rows come from: Tagliente multiplies pairs of digits in the two multipliers. But how do those rows produce the final product?

It turns out to be clear when the multiplications are assigned their correct column values: the result is just their sum.

This leaves the question of why the digits are multiplied in that order to produce the rows.

The full method turns out to be very elegant. Modern long multiplication involves carrying at each stage of producing the partial sums. For example 1234 x 5678 requires four multiplications (each with four sub-multiplications), all with carries when done by hand:

1234 x 8 = 9872
1234 x 70 = 86380
1234 x 600 = 740400
1234 x 5000 = 6170000
then you sum the results to get 7006652.

As with ordinary long multiplication, Tagliente's method involves multiplying all permutations of digit pairs taken from the two multipliers - but it does it in such an order that there are no carries within each row. Each single multiplication produces a result in the range 00-99 (i.e. occupying two decimal places) and each pass of the algorithm produces a row of such results, each shifted from the previous by two decimal places, so that they can just be written adjacently.

Applying this to 1234 x 5678, the order of multiplication could go:

1234 x

Row 1: 1x5, 2x6 3x7, 4x8 (vertically aligned)
Row 2: 1x6, 2x7, 3x8 (offset 1 right)
Row 3: 1x7, 2x8 (offset 2 right)
Row 4: 1x8 (offset 3 right)
Row 5: 2x5, 3x6, 4x7 (offset 1 left)
Row 6: 3x5, 4x6 (offset 2 left)
Row 7: 4x5 (offset 3 left)

The results are:


It looks like this when laid out in columns to show the place values:

I haven't tried it with multiplications between figures with different number of digits, but as long as the place values are kept correcly, the permutation routine would work fine. The order of permutation doesn't really matter as long as all the permutations are covered, and Tagliente's own examples show several different routines (see Addendum 3).

I'm sure Tagliente arranged his calculations according to this column layout, because the final sum doesn't work otherwise. But I can only guess that the woodcut creator for Libro dabaco was more interested in artistic design than mathematical correctness, and broke the layout, obscuring the method. This is further suggested by the errors in the host-and-chalice example for 927 x 789, which gets the correct answer of 731403 despite a number of mistakes in the sub-results (such as having 2x7=16).

Multiplication "per coppa" - image: Tomash Library

The procedure in the above example is meant to be structured as:

Row 1: 9x8, 2x9
Row 2: 9x7, 2x8, 7x9
Row 3: 2x7, 7x8
Row 4: 7x7
Row 5: 9x9


Corrected for place values:
72180 +

As I said, the order of permutations seems flexible. This third example goes through them in yet another order, and, unlike the other two, is rather more faithful to the column structure.

image: Tomash Library

Addendum:I just found a reference to the above methods in the 1908 bibliographic catalogue Rara Arithmetica (Internet Archive ID raraarithmeticac00smituoft). Again without explanation of the algorithm, its authors comment on the 'diamond' and 'triangle' plates above, in the 1541 Tagliente:

For two curious forms of multiplication see Fig. 64. Such arrangements of the work in multiplication were quite common, particularly in the early Spanish and Italian arithmetics of the first half of the sixteenth century. That they should have found place in a popular mercantile treatise is, however, rather surprising.
- page 116, Rara Arithmetica; a catalogue of the arithmetics written before the year MDCI, with description of those in the library of George Arthur Plimpton, of New York, Smith, David Eugene, and Plimpton, George Arthur, pub. Boston Ginn, 1908.

Addendum 2 (upgraded from comments)
: Leon has commented that:

This looks a lot like Lattice Multiplication.

Thanks: yes indeed. I didn't spot this, but it's algorithmically very similar. Lattice multiplication handles the permutations of the multiplier digits in the rather more foolproof way of laying them out along the axes of a rectangular grid. It creates exactly the same array of two-digit numbers as Tagliente's method, but at an angle: you sum them down a diagonal (from top right to bottom left) rather than vertically. For comparison:

Image from interactive app here
The Tagliente method could be described as a hybrid between the lattice method and regular long multiplication.

Addendum 3: And Thony Christie, at the interesting-looking blog The Renaissance Mathematicus, also solved it, pointing out that Taliente's method is, in effect, a sloppily-structured version of an algorithm called the Diamond (see Multiplying the Renaissance way). This led me to a source: Companion Encyclopedia of the History and Philosophy of the Mathematical Sciences (ed. Ivor Grattan-Guinness, 2003) of which pages 203-206, a section by the abacco arithmetic expert Warren Van Egmond, have clear descriptions of such algorithms. It seems they derived from methods originally for the abacus, but adapted to the needs of pen-and-paper calculation. Forms included multiplication in croce (in the form of a cross) which refers to the set patterns for multiplying the digits, as in the Tagliente method; and several forms laid out per campana (a bell shape), per coppa (in the shape of a cup), or as a diamond or circle (see diagram, page 205). Italian mercantile calculation of this period was a kind of 'Burgess Shale' of long multiplication, when diverse forms initially flourished and eventually resolved into the modern form. WVE notes that unlike many mathematical operations, these were not imported from Hindu or Arab mathematics, but "developed independently by the abaccists themselves, with much trial and error".

Victor J. Katz's 2000 Using History to Teach Mathematics: an International Perspective (page 15) has an example of the per coppa calculation.

- Ray (and thanks to John Ptak for raising the topic).

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Hocus Pocus

This evening I just heard on a jukebox a track - linked above - I remember from decades back: the excellent Hocus Pocus by the Dutch progressive rock group Focus. It rather takes me back. As the Wikipedia page says:

It takes the form of a rondo, consisting of alternation between a powerful rock chord riff and varied solo "verses" (in the original all performed by Thijs van Leer) which include yodeling, organ playing, accordion, gibberish lyrics, flute riffs and whistling.

This description doesn't do justice to Mynheer van Leer's energetic and amusing performance; he reminds me of the great Kenny Everett. Although he's eaten all the pies since those days (haven't we all from that era?) it's great to see Focus are still going strong: see

My favourites from Focus in the past, apart from Hocus Pocus, are the reflective Janis, Sylvia (YouTube here), Moving Waves, and their very nice arrangement of the brass chorale in the middle of the Giuoco delle coppie segment of Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra:. The original version is here; the Focus version is here. Anyhow, Focus in its current incarnation continues to be brilliant.

Addendum: There are a number of accounts of Jan Akkerman's use of classical music in his work for Focus in the 1970s. See Focus on Focus: Jan Akkerman: the classical element 1, which notes the particular problems Focus had in getting rights from Bartók's estate for the quote from Concerto for Orchestra.

Focus weren't the only prog-rock group to use Bartók. For instance, Emerson, Lake & Palmer's track The Barbarian from their eponymous 1970 album is a rock take on Bartók's 1911 piano piece Allegro barbaro. In fact prog-rock was largely responsible for shaping my early taste in classical music, as EL & P provided tasters of a number of composers, and slightly non-mainstream ones at that: Bartók; Aaron Copland, whose Hoedown, from Rodeo, appears as Hoedown on Trilogy; Mussorgsky, whose Pictures at an Exhibition was adapted by EL & P almost in its entirety; and Janáček, whose 1926 Sinfonietta is the basis of EL & P's track Knife Edge.

- Ray

Sunday, 6 November 2011

On going back

Ryde Pier - a pleasant arrival, even on a wet Autumn evening

It occurs to me that haven't fully explained the reason for the recurring Isle of Wight topics here. Now that JSBlog has moved to being entirely a personal weblog, I'll fill in the background. It's one about "going back" - re-forging links that were broken in the past.

My parents are both from the Isle of Wight, but divorced when I was a baby: an outcome highly explicable in hindsight by my father having just returned from Korea, having been in the Battle of Imjin River and two years in a Chinese prison camp (see To The Last Round). The divorce was acrimonious, resulting in a family divide for decades, and my father demonised; I was brought up on the mainland in Gosport. Nevertheless, my mother and grandmother visited their side of the family, and visits to the Island are among my best childhood memories.

This all changed when my mother remarried (I was 9 or so). I think my late stepfather was insecure about my mother's previous history, as we virtually never visited the Island and main holidays were always to his family in Fife. For a while I kept my birth surname, Coombes, but then (by procedures I forget) it was changed to Girvan: technically I think I had the choice not to, but it's pretty difficult for a child not to give in to pressure to do something that all the family are presenting as the most reasonable thing to do. When I was in my teens and free to go where I wanted, I visited the Island a few times to walk and do geology, and I became aware of the basics of my father's life through a bequest that listed some of my half-siblings. After university, however, I moved to the Midlands to work, and the South just got consigned to the past.

Cut to much later.  When I married Clare in 1988 - we lived in Birmingham then - she suggested that we send a note to my father telling him the news, and we got a friendly letter back, leading to years of contact on a swapping Christmas cards basis. But three years ago I had a call from one of my half-sisters, Sim, inviting us to a family reunion. The thought was terrifying: I'm sure it was on both sides. What if we didn't like each other? There was a huge risk of mutual culture shock: I was the only one of the immediate family to have been to university, and a prestigious one at that; most of my father's side of the family hadn't left the Isle of Wight.

Anyhow, we went, and found my father to be an amiable man at the heart of a huge extended family that he has put in great efforts to help through the occasional drama that all families have. I don't see any trace of the troubled man who came back from Korea. It's fair to say we don't have a lot in common interest-wise, but Dad is very easy to like, and shared genetics (and consequently appearance) and a shared background have proved to be a far more powerful connection than I'd ever imagined. I've acquired an excellent father and extended family, and I know our meeting has provided 'closure' for Dad too (I had never really thought what a gap it must have been in his life, not knowing his first-born son). "Roots" are a bit of a cliché, but for the first time in my life I feel that I have them, and that they're in the Isle of Wight, not in Gosport where I was brought up.

Nor was it a one-off meeting. We've kept in contact, and visit several times a year, generally walking in the day (the southern IoW coastline is extremely like that of the better-known Jurassic Coast) and visiting family in the evening. Every visit I meet new relatives; I was especially pleased to find that my great aunt (who I used to visit as a child) was still alive, and still in the same house, only five minutes' walk from the hotel where we stay. It may sound silly to those for whom this is perfectly normal, but it's a delight to be in a town where you might (as happened this time) run into your sister and aunt at the bus station.

I've discussed with Felix Grant the pros and cons of "going back". The most pessimistic view is that you shouldn't try, as expressed in Stravinsky's Histoire du soldat (The Soldier's Tale) whose protagonist is granted good fortune by a deal with the devil - subject to the condition that he never return to his home town.

Il ne faut pas vouloir ajouter
A ce qu'on a ce qu'on avait,
On ne peut pas être à la fois
Qui on est et qui on était

Il faut savoir choisir;
On n'a pas le droit de tout avoir:
C'est défendu.

Un bonheur est tout le bonheur;
Deux, c'est comme s'ils n'existaient plus.

You must not seek to add
To what you have, what you once had;
You have no right to share
What you are with what you were.

No one can have it all,
That is forbidden.
You must learn to choose between.

One happy thing is every happy thing:
Two, is as if they had never been.

But I think this is unnecessarily pessimistic. As long as you have no illusions about what going back will do for you (if you're not happy, it won't miraculously make you happy) and aren't overly fixated on things being exactly as you remember them, it can work. And I can offer my own experience as an example of that. Quite apart from the family connections, re-experiencing the Island's landscape gives me a continuing buzz, from the moment of stepping off the boat; its coasts and downs produce a deep feeling of familiarity, I can only assume from early childhood not consciously remembered. I'm delighted also to be able to share it with Clare, who likes it too (she has called parts of it "magical"). In fact it's better than childhood: you can be on your own itinerary, not subject to someone else's; and every sight, informed by greater breadth of knowledge and experience than a child has, provides a flood of connections, both on an informational and emotional level. This is going back at its best; sometimes, you can share what you are with what you were.

- Ray

Over Culver to Shanklin

View Larger Map

About a year ago - see Swinburne, Culver climber - I mentioned Culver Cliff, at the eastern end of the Isle of Wight, and its literary connection: Swinburne claimed to have climbed it. On Friday 28th October, Clare and I walked from Whitecliff Bay round Sandown Bay to Shanklin (first visit for Clare, the first since the mid-1970s for me): a route of some six miles that starts by going up over Culver Down.

Culver Cliff from Whitecliff Bay
Whitecliff Bay from Culver Down
You start at the caravan park at Whitecliff Bay and walk generally south-west. It's geologically interesting, as you're walking over a steeply-folded succession of older and older rocks: Tertiary at Whitecliff Bay, on to the Cretaceous chalk of Culver, then down through the Cretaceous succession of Upper Greensand, Gault, Lower Greensand and Wealden. It was a slightly hazy day that got increasingly and dismally overcast, but from Culver Down we could see across the eastern end of the Island over Bembridge harbour, with Portsmouth's Spinnaker Tower on the skyline.

Panorama, looking across Bembridge to Portsmouth

Yarborough monument

Culver Down itself has several points of historical note. Left, the Earl of Yarborough monument: "To the memory of Charles Anderson Pelham, Earl of Yarborough, Baron Yarborough, of Yarborough, in the county of Lincoln, Baron Worsley, of Appuldurcombe, in the Isle of Wight, D.C.L., P.B.S., F.S.A., whose benevolence, kindness of heart, and many virtues endeared him to all who knew him, this monument was erected, as a testimony of affection and respect, by public subscription.

As the owner of large estates he was one of those most conspicuous for the qualities which peculiarily adorn that station, and as the first Commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron he was eminent in fostering and encouraging by his example and liberality all that was calculated to improve the science of naval architecture and the maritime interests of his country. He died on board his yacht the 'Kestrel' in the port of Vigo in Spain, September 5th, 1846, aged 65."

This is, incidentally, the same Earl of Yarborough that the Newport Oddfellows lodge was originally named after.

WW2 gun emplacement
Sandown, from Culver

Culver and Red Cliff
Somewhat inland, there's a small Palmerston fort (Fort Bembridge) that we didn't look at (I'd used up my day's geekiness allowance by looking at the WW2 gun emplacement). As I mentioned in an earlier post, the end of Culver Down appears to be a single headland, but the headlands from Whitecliff Bay and Sandown are actually different points, separated by a scary concave overhang (see page 66, Wight Hazards, and this excellent aerial photo by Ashley Middleton on Flickr).

From the summit of the down, the path goes downhill to reach sea level at Yaverland Beach, near the Dinosaur Isle museum, and from there it's a level walk by promenade or beach all the way round Sandown Bay, via Sandown, to Shanklin. There you can get to the town centre either by the lift up from the beach or via various footpaths; the most scenic - subject to opening times - is the commercial one up Shanklin Chine.

Sandown frontage
"Lester Pighutt" Blue Plaque

I found Sandown, like many resorts, deeply dismal out-of-season. Nevertheless, it has some quaint features: the rather baroque architecture of the Victorian villas that are now beachside cafes and restaurants; and the Strollers beach huts and cafe at the western end of Sandown, whose decorations and comic captions amount to a coherent piece of folk art (all the huts have spoof Blue Plaque signs and punning names, such as "Pier Huts of the Caribbean", and the dogs' water bowls outside the cafe have sizes and captions appropriate to different breeds, including one with a jagged bite out of it for Rottweilers). Shanklin beach too was in winter renovation mode, but the clifftop Keats Walk (where Keats wrote Ode To Autumn and revised The Eve of St Agnes) and Rylstone Gardens (above the Chine) are a pleasant oasis from the more seaside-y side of Shanklin whatever the time of year.

Left: view from Keats Walk, Shanklin, overlooking Shanklin promenade and cliff lift, with Culver Down in the distance.

It's quite interesting to compare the walk with the descriptions in the 1879 Jenkinson's Smaller Practical Guide to the Isle of Wight (Internet Archive ID jenkinsonssmall02jenkgoog) - see pages 46-52. Developments have mostly been unobtrusive; it's still remarkably similar to when Jenkinson saw it.

- Ray

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Mark of Cain

I speculated a couple of weeks back that Rider Haggard's 1888 Mr Meeson's Will might be the first Victorian novel to feature a tattooed mainstream character. This turns out to be wrong, if you can consider a criminal aristocrat a mainstream character. I just read Andrew Lang's 1886 The Mark of Cain, (Internet Archive ID markcain02langgoog) which is rather a fun yarn. The story:

Robert Maitland, a rich young academic and philanthropist, and his doctor friend Frank Barton go to a rather seedy London club, the Cockpit, to play baccarat. There they meet the disreputable Hon. Thomas Cranley. In the course of a game, Barton catches Cranley cheating by using a cigarette case and  a puddle of spilled soda water as a 'shiner' to see the cards being dealt.  Cranley is thrown out the club, disgraced. Outside, he finds a copy of The Times, reads an obituary, and has an idea ...

"So the old boy's dead," he reflected; "and that drunken tattooed ass and his daughter are to come in for the money and the mines! They'll be clever that find him, and I shan't give them his address! What luck some men have!"

Here he fell into deep thought, his brows and lips working eagerly.

"I'll do it," he said at last, cutting the advertisement out of the paper with a penknife. "It isn't often a man has a chance to star in this game of existence. I've lost all my own social Lives: one in that business at Oxford, one in the row at Ali Musjid, and the third went—to-night. But I'll star. Every sinner should desire a new Life," he added with a sneer.

... before disappearing into the night.

Some weeks later, the corpse of a "old Dicky Shields", a heavily tattooed tattoo artist, is found dead in a cartload of snow outside his lodging in a rough part of London.  Maitland gets to hear of this, as he has a connection: he paid for Dicky's daughter Margaret ("a daisy flourishing by the grimy waterside") to be "transplanted ... to a school in the purer air of Devonshire" with an eye to making her his ward and eventually marrying her. Maitland enquires of Dicky's landlady, Mrs Gullick, who tells him that Dicky had for some months been tattooing a sailor acquaintance. In the course of their conversation, another mystery is mentioned: her small daughter, Eliza, tells how she was frightened by seeing "a big Bird" on the roof.

The scene shifts to Devon - Miss Marlett's Establishment for the Highest Education of Girls at The Dovecot, Conisbeare, Tiverton, where Margaret receives a telegram from Maitland about the death of her father. Shortly after, Maitland arrives in person, only to find Margaret has gone, having left with a fur-coated "Mr Lithgow" authorised by a bogus telegram from Maitland.

Maitland enquires along the rail route, without luck, and returns to his Oxford college, St Gatien's. A few weeks later, his friend Barton visits; having seen Dicky Shields' corpse, he has the extraordinary theory that Shields was murdered (contrary to the inquest's finding of death by natural causes) by some undetectable poison.

"Well, it is strange; the murderer must have been a great traveller also. He must have been among the Macoushi Indians of Guiana, and well acquainted with their arts. I know them too. I went there botanizing."

The two come to the conclusion that the "Mr Lithgow" who abducted Margaret and the mystery sailor seen drinking with Shields on the night of his death might be the same person.

They are, as revealed to the reader: the Hon. Thomas Cranley is keeping Margaret in a house in Victoria Square, Pimlico, S.W., cared for by the violent alcoholic Mrs Darling; Margaret is unaware of Cranley's malicious purposes, and unharmed except that she has been ill for a time.  Cranley, for undisclosed reasons, wants her out of the way. Her illness interrupted his first plan, to take her to the Continent; he then tries to murder her with a poisoned orange, but chickens out at the last minute; and finally he conceives the plan of getting an acquaintance, Mrs. St. John Deloraine, to take on her and Mrs Darling to work in her philanthropic cafe, The Bunhouse (seems harmless enough, but read on). He has a brief panic when Maitland turns up during his visit to Mrs Deloraine, but Maitland (unaware of the card scandal) makes polite conversation and leaves.

Barton and Maitland, meanwhile, have found a clue: an advert in a French newspaper referring to "The gentleman travelling with a young lady, who, on Feb. 19th, left a bearskin coat at the Hôtel Alsace and Lorraine, Avenue de l'Opéra, Paris". Maitland goes to Paris to investigate, and promptly falls foul of the police. His enquiries attract attention - the advert was evidently a decoy - and, found to be travelling without a passport, he obtains his release with difficulty. He writes to Barton, saying he's tired of investigation, and is going to Constantinople and the Greek Islands.

Back in England, Barton is investigating for himself Dicky Shields' old lodgings.  He finds among Shields' tattooing kit a strange wooden needle ...

"I thought so," he said aloud, as he placed the needle in a pocket instrument-case: "the stem of the leaf of the coucourite palm!"

... but at that point is called in his capacity as a doctor to The Bunhouse nearby, where a young woman has been stabbed by another. As he arrives, the attacker stabs herself in the heart and dies. The young woman is carried to her room, and Barton eventually walks toward home. En route, he sees something amazing:

Through the crepuscular light, bulks of things—big, black, formless—were dimly seen; but nearer the hoarding than the middle of the waste open ground was a spectacle that puzzled the looker-on. Great fans were winnowing the air, a wheel was running at prodigious speed, flaming vapors fled hissing forth, and the figure of a man, attached in some way to the revolving fans, was now lifted several feet from the ground, now dashed to earth again, now caught in and now torn from the teeth of the flying wheel.

It's a crashed flying machine! Barton helps the injured pilot, called Winter, in hiding the machine and getting him to his own lodgings to recuperate.  Barton's subsequent enquiries into the recovery of the young woman, "Miss Burnside", reveal Cranley's conspiracy: to place her at the Bunhouse with the violent Mrs Darling, then (having professed affection) telling Mrs Darling he was jilting her in favour of Margaret.

Barton has geeky chats with the recovering Winter about heavier-than-air flight and its mythological precedents (actually rather interesting); and also chats with Margaret, with whom he falls in love, twigging eventually that she is Margaret Shields. The attraction is mutual, and Barton reveals that Maitland is not an impediment to their marriage; his interest in Margaret is purely avuncular.  He writes to Maitland to tell him the news.

Shortly after, Barton is called to a lawyer colleague's office on a matter of medical jurisprudence.  A Mr Richard Johnson died some time back, and left a large estate to his estranged son. All that is known is that the son travelled widely as a sailor, and had full-body tattoos. Barton has been called, as an expert of tattooing - he wrote a book called Les Tatouages Étude Médico-Légale - to verify the identity of a claimant. When shown a diagram of the tattoos, he recognises Johnson's long-lost son as having been the late Dicky Shields.

After explaining privately to the lawyer, Barton disguises himself as "Professor Lieblein, of Bonn" and examines the claimant, who shows his tattoos.

"That's the Burmese style, sir," he said, pointing to his shoulders and upper arm.

These limbs were tattooed in a beautiful soft blue; the pattern was a series of diminishing squares, from which long narrow triangles ran down to the elbow-joints.

"Sehr schôn, sehr schôn," exclaimed the delighted Professor. "It is very hubsch, very pretty, very well. We cannot now decorate, we Germans. Ach, it is mournful!" and he sighed. "And now, sir, have you to show me any moko? A little moko would be very instructive."

"Moko? Rather! The Maori pattern, you mean; the New Zealand dodge? Just look between my shoulders," and the seaman turned a broad bare back, whereon were designs of curious involuted spirals.

"That is right, that is right," whispered the Professor. "Moko, schlange, serpent-marks, so they call it in their tongue. Better moko, on an European man, have I never seen. You observe," he remarked to the elder Mr. Wright, waving his hand as he followed the tattooed lines—"you observe the serpentine curves? Very beautiful."

Finally, Barton, having seen the final proof of an Arab tattoo - "the wasm, the sharat, the Semitic tribal mark ... the mark of Cain!" - springs the trap.

"You must be tired, sir," said the Professor, in a very soft voice. "May I offer you a leedle cigarette?"

He drew from his pocket a silver cigarette-case, and, in a thoroughly English accent, he went on:

"I have waited long to give you back your cigarette-case, which you left at your club, Mr. Thomas Cranley!"

Cranley is arrested, and at his trial, the full story comes out. As one of the few people to know the true identity of "Dicky Shields", he aimed to steal the latter's inheritance by getting identical tattoos, killing the original, and then impersonating him; and naturally he wanted Margaret, the real next of kin, out of the way. Barton testifies with forensic evidence that the murder had been committed using curare. And Winter, the flying machine pilot, is carried into court to testify that he actually saw the murder being committed, as at the time he had landed on the roof near the window of Shields' room; his machine was the "big Bird" that frightened Eliza.  Cranley, saving the court the problem of further deliberation, drops dead in the dock.

The epilogue tells of the fate of the characters: Barton and Margaret Shields are married, as are Maitland and Mrs. St. John Deloraine. In conclusion:

But Fiction herself is revolted by the improbability of the statement that an Oxford Don has finished his magnum opus!

It's a good story, even if Cranley's plan is rather telegraphed from the start, and an entertaining mix of erudite detective story, romance, and borderline-SF (the flying machine subplot comes as a major surprise). The author too was a surprise: this is by the Andrew Lang, the Scottish poet, novelist, literary critic, and contributor to the field of anthropology, best known as a collector of folk and fairy tales - all of which explains the general erudition and the academic protagonists. The final line is evidently self-referential, as Lang was a fellow of Merton College.

The social history side of the book is quite interesting. Like Maxwell Gray's previously-mentioned The Great Refusal, The Mark of Cain is set in the heyday of the settlement movement, when a strong initiative in help for the urban poor came from rich philanthropists who set up residential and other establishments presided-over by higher-class management. In The Mark of Cain, one central location is Maitland's philanthropic pub, the Hit or Miss ...

"The pothouse? Oh, the Hit or Miss you mean? Well, I'm afraid it's not very successful I took the lease of it, you know, partly by way of doing some good in a practical kind of way. The working men at the waterside won't go to clubs, where there is nothing but coffee to drink, and little but tracts to read. I thought if I gave them sound beer, and looked in among them now and then of an evening, I might help to civilize them a bit, like that fellow who kept the Thieves' Club in the East End.

... and Mrs. St John Deloraine's philanthropic café, the Bunhouse:

At this moment the lady's "favorite vanity," in the matter of good works, was The Bunhouse. This really serviceable, though quaint, institution was not, in idea, quite unlike Maitland's enterprise of the philanthropic public-house, the Hit or Miss. In a slum of Chelsea there might have been observed a modest place of entertainment, in the coffee and bun line, with a highly elaborate Chelsea Bun painted on the sign. This piece of art, which gave its name to the establishment, was the work of one of Mrs. St John Deloraine's friends, an artist of the highest promise, who fell an early victim to arrangements in haschisch and Irish whiskey. In spite of this ill-omened beginning, The Bunhouse did very useful work. It was a kind of unofficial club and home, not for Friendly Girls, nor the comparatively subdued and domesticated slavery of common life, but for the tameless tribes of young women of the metropolis. Those who disdain service, who turn up expressive features at sewing machines, and who decline to stand perpendicularly for fifteen hours a day in shops—all these young female outlaws, not professionally vicious, found in The Bunhouse a kind of charitable shelter and home.

- Ray

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Topsham: bookshop schism

I've mentioned privately to some readers that changes were afoot at the secondhand bookshop where I work in Topsham (and hence my rebadging JSBlog). The details are now public, and the following flyer is in the shop. If you have any relevant bookmarks, update them.


From the 1st November 2011, this shop will no longer be operating under the name of "Joel Segal Books". Joel Segal and Lily Neal have agreed amicably to terminate their partnership.

The shop will be known as The Topsham Bookshop and will be owned and managed by Lily Neal. The new website address will be but the telephone number will remain the same (01392-877895).

Joel Segal will continue to trade under the name of Joel Segal Books and will be operating from The Café, 76 Fore Street, Topsham. He can be contacted on 01392-875239 or 07790-906118, or via his website

I'll continue to manage the site for The Topsham Bookshop.

- Ray


Tanssi Poika - translation

Check out EviEvone's YouTube channel for examples of tracks by Mimmit ("Chicks"), a double act comprising the sisters Pauliina Lerche and Hannamari Luukkanen, who come from the village of Rääkkylä in Eastern Finland near the Russian border.

Their target audience is actually children ...

The Mimmit band is an exciting mix of danceable world music and animation!

A new and refreshing take on Finno-Karelian world music for children and the young-at-heart with mythological undertones!

Mimmit has a big mission: They want to make children fall in love with world and ethnic music before they get too suspicious about "alternative" music styles!

... but this seems an irrelevant genre classification for this exuberant and refreshing folk-fusion music, some of it quite dark and mystical, such as Tanssi Poika ("Dance, boy"), Pakkasherra (the Finnish equivalent of "Jack Frost", I think) and Hauen sanalla ("The Word according to Magical Pike").

See the official Mimmit website for samples and background; there is an English page. Pauliina Lerche has also done solo work, which I've mentioned before. See her official website for track listings and samples. Other tracks are on YouTube including the brilliant accordion piece Tulikatriili ("Fire Quadrille")

- Ray