Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Monster Mash

It's Halloween, and I could get literary with Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker and all that, but instead I thought I'd just post this brilliant video compilation for the one-hit wonder, Bobby "Boris" Pickett's Monster Mash.
- Ray

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Bayan time (17): back at TOPJAM

TOPJAM - 28th Oct
photo by Martin Stork
Looking back, I see I haven't posted anything about bayan progress since April. This is not through lack of interest, but just nothing spectacular to tell of; it's been a time of slow consolidation, quite probably stuff I should have done more at the start, such as getting the upward and downward runs more polished (the layout doesn't lend itself to playing runs, unless fully chromatic), finding notes reliably, and bass work.

And - I guess unsurprisingly - I didn't feel terribly motivated in July-August, when the cancer investigations got into full swing. Practice has been a bit hard work since I started chemotherapy: a lot of the time, the bayan seems to have doubled its normal two stone weight. Nevertheless, I've got in some solid practice recently - a bit of a break seems to have done some good - and on Sunday I played at TOPJAM (the local music session run by Martin Stork and David Gander - see Facebook).

Due to a double booking, we had to move from the Globe Malthouse to the Passage House Inn this time: quite a small venue, so numbers were down. But there was a very good line-up. I didn't stay the whole session (I did find it quite tiring) but very much enjoyed the reggae by singer-songwriter Paul Kouatchou, and a guy whose name I can't remember at this instant, playing amazing fingerstyle guitar pieces by Andy McKee.

I played what have become my party pieces: Ochi Chyornye, Koskaan et muuttua saa (aka Adagio Cardinal) and Peg o' My Heart (the Singing Detective theme) in one slot, then Libertango later while another artist was setting up. Grim though I look in the picture, I think it went very well; a couple of people commented that Peg o' my Heart was the best I'd ever played it, and for once I felt so too. I was particularly pleased that the performance anxiety (getting distracted by people talking or moving about - unavoidable at a pub gig) is much more under control.

It was brilliant to be back. They're a nice crowd at TOPJAM, and (I may have said this before) genuinely welcoming if you play something a bit off the ordinary track. Next time I hope to have something new again. A friend has been pestering me for a long time to learn the excellent Beer Barrel Polka...

- Ray

Friday, 26 October 2012

A New Englander hates on the Sandrock

I always like historical travelogues, and just ran into an interesting one by the American author and literary critic John Neal (see pp 40-42, The Cambridge History of American Literature: Volume 2, Prose Writing 1820-1865). It's not a travelogue as such, but Neal paid an extended visit to England from 1824-1827, on a kind of evangelical tour for American literature and culture, and in 1830 he incorporated the visit into his novel Authorship: A Tale (Internet Archive ID authorshipatale01nealgoog).

Authorship is an extremely complex work: a metafictional novel in which a narrator called Holmes visits the Isle of Wight, though the character of Holmes is closely based on Neal, and the landscape detail on Neal's real visit to the Island.

Holmes's / Neal's trip starts out well:
I had long been wishing to see the Isle-of-Wight; and by the merest accident in the world I found myself there in the beautiful autumn of eighteen hundred and twenty—.

Such weather I had never seen before out of America. It was the very counterpart of our Indian-summer, that we brag so much of. I do not know what other men may feel, but I feel in the rich drowsy atmosphere of that particular season very much as if I could make love to any body or any thing that fell in my way. To breathe was a luxury. To tread the green turf, to walk under the great beech-trees that overshadowed my path, to look up at the sky and out upon the sea, from every side of "the Garden of England," as they call it there — a miniature picture of England, 1 should call it — was to be happy, to be charitable, and to be at peace with all the world — authors excepted.
Ryde Pier, looking across Solent
His description of the Solent view is heartfelt and appreciative. Having made the crossing several times under similar conditions - the view has changed little in the nearly two centuries since Neal saw it - I can fully understand the buzz he got from it. The water adjacent to Ryde is indeed a remarkable colour, and arriving is always a delight. (My photos are from September 2012).

Ryde, from Ryde Pier

So I set off on my pilgrimage from Ryde, after running down to the pier for the fourth time, to look at the Portsmouth shore as it lay glittering afar off through the thin haze and over the smooth beautifully-shadowed sea, like a sort of aerial panorama. — Stop, reader — I must try to give you a notion of Portsmouth as it appeared to me at the time I speak of, whether you have or have not stood upon the pier at Ryde, while the waters were spread before you like a sheet of changeable satin— changeable with shadow and light and with every hue between the deep yellow of the shore and the deep strange blue of the sea ...
Portsmouth Harbour entrance, from the Solent
... nothing that I saw then, though it was all that I have described it to be, could equal the view that I had now of the Portsmouth shore of Gosport, of the shipping, of the military works, and of the far blue sea with a fleet riding slowly over the dim barrier which hardly separated it from the far blue sky — launching away, ship after ship into the unfathomable air, as if they knew, like the huge birds of South-America when they float over the top of the Andes — into the sky — with all their mighty wings outspread, that there was no power in heaven or earth able to wreck them, or shatter them, or disturb them on their way. It was a picture to be remembered for life— 'to be carried away on the. heart, as if the colors were burnt there, and the moveable beauty of a camera obscura had been shut up for another day, or melted into the material and fixed there for ever and ever.

looking west froom Ryde Pier
The broad-striped waters were like a smooth satin, glossy with light, and rippling with a low soft air that stole over the green surface like a shadow. You could see it move. They were green too— of a beautiful positive green, such as I never saw any where else; no doubt owing to the mixture of a sober yellowish dye produced by the sands near the shore with the cold blue of the ocean— a blue that appeared as black as midnight, where the waters were very deep, On every side of me were happy faces — grown-up children wading about on the shore, and looking as if they had never heard the name of sorrow, as if to them life were but one long holyday; barges and wherries dipping to the swell ; great ships at anchor with their sides turned up to the air as if they had been cast away in the very middle of the great deep ; and others afar off towering into the sky like prodigies, or floating up and fading away, like so many superb creatures of the air, each abroad on some great particular errand of its own.
The Gosport shore, from the Solent

The night before there had been a gale, which prepared the way for what I saw now. I stood on the pier and saw it approach — the breeze sounding over the deep, the mist rolling toward me like a heavy white smoke, the tide moving with a steady roar, which grew louder and louder as it heaved and weltered underneath our feet; and the Portsmouth shore, while it seemed very high and very far off, breaking through the mist with an effect such as I never saw before, either in life or in poetry, either in pictures or in sleep. The sky was cloudy — it was even dark—there was nothing above able to produce what I saw, nothing of brightness in that part of the above which I could see ; and yet the high lands of the opposite shore, lands that were neither high nor picturesque when the wind was another way, were gleaming with a sort of mysterious beauty, such as you may conceive would be the character of a fine painting, if it were covered with a grey gauze and lighted up from within. It was what I should call, if I were not afraid of being charged with affectation, a sketch by the Deity, a shadow of the landscapes that we are to see hereafter; so faint, so ethereal was it, so unlike the landscapes of our earth.
- ibid, pp14-17

The view - now much overgrown and gentrified - from "the celebrated wall"
Holmes/Neal is equally blown away on visiting "Bow-Church" [sic] and seeing the view of what he calls "the celebrated wall" (the escarpment backing the Undercliff) from the vantage point of what's recognisable as Hadfield's Lookout.
The view was delightful, and rich, and various, and like nothing I had ever seen before. I remember thus much, and I remember too that whatever there was to see, I saw, and that before the day was well over, I (But for my life I cannot say now whether it was while I stood on that rock or after I had peeped over and crawled away) among a multitude of things, the memory of which had escaped me before my head was on the pillow that very night, I saw — a huge high wall— so huge as to appear like a part of the foundations of our earth, and so high that I mistook a white cloud sailing over the top, for smoke. It was like the vapor that follows the discharge of cannon that are too far off to be heard ; a wall stretching over leagues and leagues of territory ; cottages underneath my very feet (I could have jumped through the roofs) grouped here and there among the trees and the rocks and the gushing water and the wild shrubbery, as if they were copied from old pictures ; on every side of me the bulwarks of an empire, great square blocks which appeared as if they had been wrought by the hands, or piled up where they lay by the power of giants ; here a cottage or two garnered up in the holes of the rocks, and there half a dozen more literally folded among the ruins of what appeared like the overthrown barrier of a huge citadel — a barrier overthrown by flood, or by earthquake, or by fire from above — not by the wrath of mortal man ; here a heap of the greenest foliage I ever saw, overhanging a roof, the loveliest I ever saw (not seven feet high), and a little bit of smooth rich turf, yet greener than the foliage of the young trees, and as lively as the plumage of a parrot — ' Green to the very door ' — and hedged about with flowering shrubs and great rocks, much higher than the roof, and scattered clumps of blackberry — bushes, with never a bit of a pathway to be seen, so that you could not conceive how the people got there alive, nor how they got the children there that you saw laughing and rolling about, or hiding in the shadow of the rocks, or creeping half sideways over the smooth turf.

All this I did see, and I saw it either while I was on the top of that rock, holding by the flag-staff, afraid to move lest the rock should tip over among the houses, and afraid to let go, lest I should be blown away ; or I saw it, after I had escaped ...
- ibid, pp31-33
Sandrock Hotel roughly as it would have been when Neal visited
- image from Cooke's A New Picture of the Isle of Wight, 1812
After that it went downhill. Holmes/Neal stays at the now-defunct Sandrock Hotel, and gets off to a bad start.
The approach to the house delighted me. The roof was thatched, there was a green piazza running the whole length of the house, and there was a very pretty patch of green turf spreading out before the piazza far enough to allow a sort of a promenade. As I drove up to the door, I saw several faces at the window — but I could not see of what shape or form they were, much as I desired it; for there was a bit of thin white drapery between the faces and me. At the door too, several persons appeared, and others were walking about on the little patch of green; but nobody in the shape of a landlord or waiter, chamber-maid or hostler. I went up to the door, and was going in to look for the coffee-room, or the traveller's room, or a room where I could see somebody belonging to the house, when I perceived that I should get into the kitchen if I stirred either way, or into the room at the window of .which the faces appeared. A knocker was on the door — I believe — but I dare not be certain, for I have quite forgotten much that I saw there, and I hope to forget the rest before I die. But whether a knocker was on the door or not, I knocked ; and after a while — faith, it was a good while too, so long that I began to fear the guide had brought me to a private house, and that the people about me were the retired nobility of our age — a very good sort of a man appeared, with a face that I took the liberty to be pleased with. I asked for a room. He hesitated. For the coffee- room, — there was no coffee-room. For the travellers' room, — there was no such room to be had; he was very sorry. Could I have a private room? or a place to eat my dinner? —I was hungry as a tiger. He did not know, but would inquire. He left me standing at the door, and after a few minutes came back, and desiring me to follow him, took me round the house on the outside, and opening a door which led me up a narrow stair-case, entrapped me into a room so meagre, so desolate, and so like the rooms we see in the new public-houses of my country when they stand out of the general thoroughfare, that I felt rather inclined to be merry by occupying all the furniture I saw.
- ibid, pp37-38
The trip then turns into a whingefest, from the interminable account of the narrator's attempts to get an egg for breakfast at the Sandrock (pp51-55), via his disappointment with a sea cave at Freshwater, to his dealings with service staff, other Isle of Wight people, and other visitors (all portrayed by him as uniformly gormless) on various muddy and narrow paths. Bearing it mind that it's fictionalized, it's hard to believe it was that bad, and much of the account is very skimmable (the Wikipedia article rightly summarises Neal's work as "undisciplined and often rambling").

But it's still worth reading for a contemporary account of visiting the Isle of Wight when it was just becoming a visitor attraction, before its Victorian fashionability. The account of the western extremity of the island at The Needles is at a time when it must have been extremely scary; it was 30 years before the building of the Needles Old Battery, and there was a narrow public path right to the very tip of the eroded chalk promontory.

View Larger Map

There's a huge amount of metafiction in Authorship. In the first chapter, Holmes fancies a mysterious woman in Westminster Abbey. Later, on the clifftop near the Needles, he gets into an altercation with a man who first calls himself Colonel Peter Piper, then various names of Neal's own fictional characters, before revealing himself as Edwards, husband of the woman (called Mary, whose life story is then told). These are the couple from the Abbey, and the encounter leads to a general discussion of the nature of authorship. I rather lost track at that point; Neal does indeed ramble. There's a nice comment on the novel in the biography John Neal (Donald A Sears, Twayne Publishers, 1978):
Such playfulness, when coupled with private jokes and the public scandal of the love story, failed to find a sufficiently sophisticated audience and the novel was hardly a success. Popular judgment survives, for a contemporary hand has written in the copy of Authorship in the Princeton University Library, "John Neal in this work is completely at home, his surpassing genius occasionally bursts forth from the heaps of rubbish in which he is so fond of obscuring it".
But I think "rubbish" is too harsh. The complex allusions in Authorship to Neal's life and works are discussed in detail in the essay collection John Neal and Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Culture (Edward Watts, David J. Carlson, Lexington Books, 2012). See, for instance, see the preview of the section from page 79 onward: "Bewildering alternations of fact and fiction". In this, Jorg Richter notes that Neal's scenery descriptions do bear terminological similarity to those in a contemporary guidebook, James Clarke's 1822 The delineator; or, A description of the Isle of Wight.

Relevant sections:
Chapter II: Isle-of-Wight— Portsmouth— English Inns: Wonders of the Isle
Chapter III: Tour of the Isle-— Home— Labor distinguished from Exercise— Grave-Yard
Chapter IV: The celebrated Wall— The Land-slip— Scenery — Comforts of Dining— Sand-Rock Hotel
Chapter V: English Inn for Tourists— English Beds— Waiters— English Breakfast— Household Philosophy— Alum Bay— The Needles— The Light-House
Chapter VI: Human Love put aside by the help of a fresh Egg— Black-Gang Chine — Tourists — The Land-slip — Cave at Freshwater
Chapter VIII: Adventure at the Needles— The Cliff— The Sea— Perplexity— The Drawing-Master turns out to be . . . what? mad ? perhaps a Player? 67

- Ray

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Exeter Writers Short Story Competition 2013

I promised (via one of my other hats as site maintainer for Exeter Writers) that I'd promote this here.

Exeter Writers is running, for the fifth year now, its annual short story competition. It's open genre (excluding children's fiction), the entry fee is £5, and the prizes are: first prize £500, second prize £250, third prize £100, and an additional regional prize of £100 for a writer living in Devon. For full details, check out:

Exeter Writers Short Story Competition 2013.

You can read previous winning entries - the standard has proved high - at the same site: 2008/9, 2009/10, 2010/11, 2011/12.

- Ray

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The Diamond Pendant - aka The Black Opal

As part of the continuing Maxwell Gray project, I just finished reading her last novel (though not her last published work): the 1918 The Diamond Pendant, retitled The Black Opal in the USA. Like many/most of Maxwell Gray's works, it's loosely a romantic melodrama, though with crime fiction elements, set in the years immediately before the First World War.

Revision: the original post here has now been incorporated into my book A Wren-like Note: the life and works of Maxwell Gray (Mary Gleed Tuttiett). See the official site,

- Ray

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Isle of Wight postcards

Some oddments I've been meaning to share. I forgot to mention that on our recent Beer Quarry Caves day out, Clare and I had a brief look in Sidmouth Antiques Centre on All Saint's Road, Sidmouth. If you're into postcards, it has a very good selection, and I found a few of the Isle of Wight that took my fancy. None of them are dated, but the general terrain puts them in the very early 20th century. Click to enlarge any image.

The first shows the now-eroded-away Blackgang Chine. The near distance is quite bizarre in modern terms; you can see late-Victorian villas built on a ledge that even at the time must have been known to be unstable from the previous century's history of erosion. The building craze of the era over-rode all sense in that respect. The ledge was gone within a few decades, and now, likewise, everything in the foreground. The current cliff line truncates the row of houses at the right of the postcard.

The second shows the old Blackgang-Niton Road looking east toward Windy Corner. It was a much-photographed location - see Isle of Wight Historic Postcards - but the cliff (centre) collapsed in July 1928, and this portion of the road no longer exists.

The third is some miles to the north-east, the still-extant Shanklin Chine, and looks up to the upper entrance booth. I took some photos in 2009: Shanklin Chine.

And on that theme, here are a few more photos of the Undercliff crags I took on our September Isle of Wight visit. Out of what I can only describe as sheer stupidity, I somehow managed to go through the whole visit not realising I'd got my camera switched into the lowest resolution mode (640x480); the images are fine, however, at web detail.

The path is one of several that run at the base of the cherty crags topping the cliffs: the rock wall on one side, and a sheer drop into dense woodland on the other. I guess it's not dangerous, but it's secluded and exhilarating. This is the Undercliff at its most evocative: what John Morgan Richards called "almost fairyland".

For once, I'd like to stay cryptic about the location - it's not the well-known Cripple Path at Niton, although the terrain and geology is identical - and offer it as a puzzle to Isle of Wight enthusiasts. It is a public right of way, and I was able to deduce its location for myself from similar photographs and the Isle of Wight County Council's excellent Rights of Way Maps. I've repeatedly found that solving a mystery adds to the pleasure of our visits, and I've had some great discussions with local explorers coming from a different perspective: mine is old maps and texts, and correlating these with ground exploration by others has produced some fascinating connections between past and present terrain.

- Ray

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Salmon fishing around the Exe and beyond

I feel a trifle guilty to be once again picking up and running with a topic by Ralph at Wayland Wordsmith, but I was interested in his recent post Arthur L Salmon's "Sunset by the Exe".

I'm familiar with Arthur L(eslie) Salmon's name, as he wrote a couple of the Blackie Beautiful England series illustrated by the previously-mentioned Ernest William Haslehust, and many other travelogues, mostly of southern England. This prompted me to look for anything else he might have written specifically about the Exeter area, and I immediately found the anthology that the poem Sunset by the Exe comes from West-Country Ballads and Verses (William Blackwood, 1899, Internet Archive ID westcountryballa00salmuoft). It also has a verse retelling (page 16) of the fictional legend of the Parson and the Clerk.

His Literary Rambles in the West of England (Chatto & Windus, 1906, Internet Archive ID literaryrambles00salmgoog) has some very interesting topics:
Near the mouth of the Exe: a literary and historic pilgrimage - p1
George Borrow in Cornwall - p30
Literary memories of Tavistock - p51
The poet Gay and the Barnstaple district - p72
With Sir Joshua Reynolds in Devon - p87
Herrick in Devon, and some other memories - p110
With Keats at Teignmouth - p130
Hawker of Morwenstow - p149
Saints and saint-lore of the West Country - p182
Tintagel and its Arthurian traditions - p211
With Coleridge and Tennyson at Clevedon - p228
Literary associations of the Quantocks - p248
Richard Jefferies: an attempt at appreciation - p276
Literary Bristol - p303
I rapidly realised, however, that these books were just the tip of the iceberg. Salmon was astonishingly prolific, and not merely in travel writing. He produced many anthologies of poetry, as well as publishing poetry and litcrit in newspapers and periodicals; he was a correspondent with Elgar, who set a number of his poems to music. He wrote (assuming it's the same author) a guide to relationships, The Man and the Woman: Chapters on Human Life. He wrote a considerable body of short stories, tending toward fantasy and horror including a 1927 anthology The Ferry of Souls: A Book of Fantasies and Sketches (see The FictionMags Index , and this summary of his erotic horror story The Were-Wolf, in The Essential Guide to Werewolf Literature (Brian J Frost, Popular Press, 2003).

Despite this large body of work, his biography is elusive; he seems to have played his cards very close to his chest about biographical disclosure, and to have dropped off the map at the end of his career. About all that I can find his birth date - 1865 - which appears in various copyright catalogues (for instance, the Library of Congress Catalog of Copyright Entries, 1916). He's not in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, nor in the National Archives nor any news archives or books I can find on Google, nor does the Times Digital Archive or TLS Historical Archive have an obituary. I've also skimmed the prefaces and end matter of his books online: nothing there either. I've just two possible leads. One is a Times entry mentioning the will of an Arthur Leslie Salmon:
Large bequests to Friends of Poor
Salmon, Mr Arthur Leslie, of Felpham, Sussex (duty paid £3,641) ... £36,242
- The Times, Saturday, Jul 02, 1966; pg. 13
If it's him, he lived to around 100. The other is a late work by him, the 1937 A Book of Memories: Sketches and Studies of Reality. In this - see the blurb on page 39 of his poetry anthology Swan Songs - he discusses what childhood memories mean to him in later life. It looks the one most likely to yield autobiographical detail - I've ordered it, partly out of sheer curiosity, partly because it looks likely to be an interesting and poetic work of introspection. I'll report back once I've read it.

Finding a more detailed biography could be an interesting project - probably one involving trawling different newspaper archives - but one I'll resist getting sidetracked on. If anyone wants to give it a go, feel free.

Here's an almost certainly partial bibliography:
  • Noon-Song: a poem (Castell  Brothers, 1887)
  • Haunted: and other Poems (Spottiswoode and Company, 1894)
  • Songs of a heart's surrender, and other verse (Blackwood, 1895, Internet Archive ID      cu31924013219831)
  • Life of life, and other verse (Blackwood, 1897, Internet Archive ID cu31924013219823)
  • Lyrics and Verses (Blackwood, 1902)
  • Cornwall (Methuen, 1903, Internet Archive ID cornwall00salmgoog)
  • A Popular Guide to Devonshire (Methuen and Company, 1904)
  • A Book of Verses (Blackwood, 1906, Internet Archive ID cu31924013219815)
  • Literary Rambles in the West of England (Chatto & Windus, 1906, Internet Archive ID literaryrambles00salmgoog)
  • The Weeded Moat (with Hugh Wyand, Breikopf & Härtel, 1907)
  • A Little Nook of Songs (Blackwood, 1908)
  • West-Country verses. Collected and revised (Blackwood, 1908, Internet Archive ID westcountryverse00salmiala)
  • Dorset (Cambridge University Press, 1910, Internet Archive ID dorsetguil00salmuoft)
  • The Cornwall Coast (TF Unwin, 1910, Internet Archive ID cornwallcoast00salmuoft)
  • A New Book of Verse (Blackwood, 1910)
  • The Man and the Woman: Chapters on Human Life (Forbes & Company, 1913, Internet Archive ID manandwomanchap00salmgoog)
  • Dartmoor (Blackie, 1913?, Internet Archive ID dartmoor00salmuoft)
  • Bath and Wells (Blackie, 1914, Internet Archive ID bathwells00salm)
  • Songs of wind & wave: a collection of verse (W. Blackwood & Sons, 1916)
  • The Joy of Love and Friendship ( Chicago : Forbes and Company, 1919)
  • Plymouth (Macmillan, NY, 1920, Internet Archive ID plymouth00salm)
  • The heart of the west, a book of the west country from Bristol to Land's End (R Scott, 1922, Internet Archive ID heartofwestbooko00salm)
  • Bristol: city, suburbs & countryside (London : Bristol Times and Mirror, 1922)
  • City, Sea and Countryside (1925)
  • The Ferry of Souls: A Book of Fantasies and Sketches (Foulis, 1927)
  • Selected Poems (1932)
  • The Augustan Books of Poetry (Ernest Benn Limited, 1932)
  • In Later Days: A Collection of Verse (E. Benn, 1933)
  • A Book of English Places (E. Benn, 1934)
  • Tales from the West Country (A.H. Stockwell, 1937)
  • A Book of Memories: Sketches and Studies of Reality (Chapman & Hall, 1937)
  • Swan Songs: A Collection of Later Verses (Chapman & Hall, 1938)
  • Flowings and Ebbtides: Stories of the Vicar and the Doctor (Chapman & Hall, 1939)

As I mentioned above, here at The FictionMags Index is a separate biobliography of his short fiction and poems in magazines.

Addendum: Jan Gore kindly contacted me about Arthur Leslie Salmon, and we compared notes. She has found him on, which says he was Exeter-born, but was living in Bristol in 1911. This ties in a newspaper clipping, dated 1943, I found in A Book of Memories, saying he spent his boyhood in Bristol ...
Compliment to Bristol poet
The name of Mr Salmon is not now so familiar to Bristol readers as when some years ago he was a regular contributor to our local dailies - sometimes the 'Western Daily Press', but more often that fine weekly issue of the old 'Times and Mirror'.
Bristol as it was when Mr Salmon was an observant boy spending his spare time in the fields of St. Andrews and Bishopston, or the Ashley Hill environment, so dear in memory to elderly Bristolians.
... and, in the first chapter of the book, a reference to his having a grandmother in Teignmouth.

- Ray

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

The Cricklewood Greats

Somehow I've managed to miss this on many previous showings, but tonight I finally caught BBC4's The Cricklewood Greats ...
Peter Capaldi embarks upon a personal journey to discover the shocking history of the stars of north London's famous film studios. Including clips from rarely seen films and interviews with Marcia Warren and Terry Gilliam.
... a graphically and textually brilliant pastiche, written by Peter Capaldi and Tony Roche, of the century-long history of a small London studio.

In 45 minutes, it takes us from the early days with Arthur Sim's Méliès-style The Flying Pie and his stock comic character "The Little Drunk"; the strange life of Florrie Fontaine, a Gracie Fields clone and Forces sweetheart who fell from grace by becoming a friend of the Nazi High Command; the King of Horror, the classically-trained Lionel Crisp, his role in the Quatermass-like Dr Worm (in which he undergoes a horrific transformation after being bitten by a radioactive worm), and his long career in Hammer-style horror; Jenny Driscoll, a glamour actress who appeared in the Carry On style "Thumbs Up" comedies; and final demise of the studio, brought down by disastrous financial losses during the filming of Terry Gilliam's lost Professor Hypochondria's Magical Odyssey.

The Cricklewood Greats is a gem of intelligent comic television of a kind we seldom see. If you're in a region where it's available, it's currently available on BBC iPlayer for the coming week. See The Cricklewood Greats.

- Ray


Musical recommendations...

I've always been a fan of folk-rock and punk-folk - for instance, The Pogues - but a bit over a month ago I was getting another tattoo at the excellent Glory Bound in Exmouth, and they had on an album by another Celt-punk band the Dropkick Murphys (a particular trackwas Fields Of Athenry). This led to a general swapping of recommendations: I recommended to them the Square Word Calligraphy site, and they recommended further Dropkick Murphys tracks, as well as the bands Flogging Molly and The Real McKenzies.

They're all very good - Flogging Molly is rather more political in tone, if that's your inclination - but as a favourite I'm leaning toward The Real McKenzies, for their greater range. Their Farewell to Nova Scotia is a good, but rather standard Celtpunk, version of a much-covered traditional song, but their latest studio album Westwinds has varied and brilliant tracks: for example, the wistfully nihilistic I Do What I Want; the frenetic Fool's Road; the bizarrely upbeat version of the classic Massacre of Glencoe; the bagpipe-rock tribute to the late Billy Millin, My Head is Filled with Music; Stan Rogers' brilliant mixed-metre modern folksong Barrett's Privateers; and the inspirational shanty-style The Tempest:

We are all born free but forever live in chains
And we battle to exist and soldier on,
We'll take whatever comes to be while keeping hopeful melody
And we'll cruise through the darkness until the warmth of dawn.
So row, row you bastards, you never can tell,
Through water like glass above a briney hell.
So row and a-holler, come give her all you can,
Or the sea she will best us, we'll never see the land.
- Ray

Monday, 15 October 2012

A fight with sledgehammers!

Let's have something sensational.

A while back, I noticed references to a lost 1902 English short film called A Fight with Sledge Hammers, whose existence is attested in a number of movie books, and which some have called "the first video nasty". A contemporary description:
Two blacksmiths bash each other to pulp with hammers. throw iron bars at each other, and all for the love of a girl. See the sensational ending in which Joe holds Fred's head on the anvil and is about to bang his brains out with a sledge hammer but is prevailed upon by the girl to spare the other's life. See the victor crawl battered and bleeding across the floor, his all but senseless form dragged up on to its feet by the policeman who takes him into custody.
- 1902 advertising blurb, reproduced in The Miracle of the Movies, Leslie Wood, 1947
There's a flyer reproduced here - Ultra-violence from the dawn of the movies - at the blog The Vault of Buncheness.

I was interested in tracking the origins. The Internet Movie Database credits the script to ...
Wilson Barrett (sketch "The Sledgehammer")
... (Wilson Barrett being a successful late-Victorian actor-manager well-known for melodramas) and this detail immediately tracked the story back to an original:
Another domestic play, The Sledgehammer, adapted from the Flemish original of Neston le Thiers, was completed early in 1897. It is a melodrama of murder, false accusation, wrong conviction, and tables turned on the criminals and had its debut with one of Barrett's own road companies in February at the Theatre Royal, Kilbern [sic]
- The art of the actor-manager: Wilson Barrett and the Victorian theatre, James Michael Thomas, UMI Research Press, 1984
A bit of Googling found "Neston le Thiers" to be a misnomer for the Flemish playwright Nestor de Tière, and the original to be his 1893 rural melodrama Roze Kate, het Treurspel der Smeden (Rose Kate, the Tragedy of the Blacksmiths). The full text of the play (in Flemish) is in the Internet Archive (ID rozekatehettreur00ti) - but despite the date, there's no sign of the English translation online.

It looks a good yarn. Matheus Dirix, a middle-aged blacksmith, has three sons: the nasty Jacob and the weak-willed Simon, and the hardworking Everard (who is betrothed to Rose Kate). The ailing Matheus dies, and some months later his widow plans to remarry. Jacob and Simon realise that the marriage would lose them their inheritance, and Jacob pushes Simon into murdering their mother, framing Everard, who is sentenced to death. Rose Kate, to help her fiance, flirts with Jacob and Simon in turn, hoping to trick them into giving something away. This sets the two brothers against each other, and they fight with sledgehammers. Both are fatally injured, but before he dies, Jacob confesses to the murder, in front of witnesses.

Here's the exciting climax, in which the two fight, watched by Rose Kate and a hidden witness, Walkiers:
SIMON (Een stap vooruitdoende). Wat wacht ge? Hier staat een man.

JACOB Ik vrees u niet! Hier ben ik, laffe hond! dom beest! ellendige verrader! Uw leven wil ik!

(Beiden zwaaien de hamers achteruit en slaan: de hamers botsen op elkander. Beiden wijken een stap. — Walkiers verschijnt in de deuropening links en ziet, in het halfdonkere staande, onbeweeglijk toe).

SIMON Gij gaat ter helle! — Verdoemd! (Den hamer wegwerpend). Te licht is die! (Hij grijpt cen anderen). Aan mij! Roze Kate! Aan mij! Aan mij!

JACOB (Ook van hamer verwisselend) . Aan mij! En al het goed aan mij! O beest, te schoon, de kans! Aan mij de erfenis, aan mij alleen!

(Zij kampen: zij treffen elkander op den schouder. Een gebrul ontsnapt hun).

SIMON Te licht, die slag!

JACOB Voel deze!

(Zij kampen en slaan met overgeweldige kracht. Gelijktijdige dubbele slag. Jacob treft Simon op het hoofd, en Simon treft Jacob op de borst: Simon ploft, als van den bliksem getroffen, dood ten groude; Jacob wankelt en valt eindelijk roerloos neer. Rose Kate werpt den fakkel weg ...)

Translating idiomatically as best I can manage:

SIMON (taking a step forward). What you waiting for? Here's a man.

JACOB I'm not afraid of you! Here I am, cowardly dog! stupid beast! wretched traitor! I want your life!

(Both hammers swing back and forth: the hammers collide on each other. Both take a step. - Walkiers appears in the doorway and looks left, standing in the half dark, motionless).

SIMON You go to hell! - Damn! (He throws away the hammer). That's too light! (He grabs another). To me! Rose Kate! To me! To me!

JACOB (Also swapping hammers). To me! And you're better off with me! You beast, this is too good a chance! The inheritance is mine, all mine!

(They fight: they hit each other on the shoulder. A roar escapes them).

SIMON Call that a blow?

JACOB Feel this!

(They fight with greater vigour. With a simultaneous double blow, Jacob hits Simon on the head, and Simon hits Jacob in the chest: Simon collapses dead to the ground, as if struck by lightning; Jacob falters and finally falls down motionless. Rose Kate throws the torch away ...)
The play seems to have done well, both in its native language (Nestor de Tière was acclaimed as an author of vigorous and realistic peasant dramas) and in Wilson Barrett's translation. It had a London revival in July 1911, and a further boost overseas in 1914 when the Australian and New Zealand rights were acquired by Messrs George Willoughby (see Stage Jottings, The Auckland Star, 31 January, 1914).

Apart from the 1902 English one-act segment filmed by Dicky Winslow as A Fight with Sledgehammers, in 1912 the full play was filmed as a silent in Holland by Oscar Tourniaire as Roze Kate, with the plot somewhat elaborated (for instance, to include a frantic horse ride by Roze Kate to get the confession to the authorities in time to save Everard from execution - see Of joy and sorrow: a filmography of Dutch silent fiction, Geoffrey Donaldson, Stichting Nederlands Filmmuseum, 1997). The 1912 film is also lost.

Roze Kate would make a nice am-dram revival as a piece of period Grand Guignol melodrama. I rather see it updated, with Simon and Jacob fighting it out with chainsaws ... *

- Ray

* A concept that has unfortunately stuck in my mind ever since I misheard the lyrics of Country Life by Show of Hands as containing the line:
Lost two fingers in a chainsaw fight
It's actually "a chainsaw bite".

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Cannibal dining ...

Spotted in a local pub. After a number of drinkers (including me) curled up at this, the guy who wrote the sign finally grasped the problem, and took it back for revision.

- Ray

Friday, 12 October 2012

The World Mender

So, as part of my ongoing project to read the entire works of the author Maxwell Gray, I used my recent incarceration as an opportunity to read her 1915 novel The World Mender.

The World Mender is a politico-religious romance following the life of a crusading politician, from his rural childhood to the rise of the Labour movement in the decade before World War 1. It was published in 1915 in the UK by Hutchinson, and in the USA by D Appleton, New York,1916. (The foreword explains that the novel was planned and in part written before the war, but that the author's “personal misfortune” delayed its revision and completion).
The Worldmender
By Maxwell Gray
Author of "The Silence of Dean Maitland," etc.
"The Worldmender" is somewhat akin to the author's previous book, " The Great Refusal," and bids fair to be as successful. It is a long novel, and tells the history of a village boy's rise to be Cabinet Minister, his training, psychological development, and the gradual sloughing of his extreme Socialist and Radical principles as he rises. There is a strong love interest, and the charming scenes and characters of country life, which are a characteristic feature of this author's work, are not the least attractive features of this important novel.
- the Hutchinson blurb
Revision: this post, in much expanded form, has now been incorporated into my book A Wren-like Note: the life and works of Maxwell Gray (Mary Gleed Tuttiett). See the official site,

- Ray

Wednesday, 10 October 2012


The view for four days: sometimes overcast, sometimes overcast and raining
Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage;
If I have freedom in my love
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.
To Althea, from Prison, Richard Lovelace
I said I wouldn't be writing about my ailments, but events have taken an annoying turn that brings Richard Lovelace's classic lines into sharper focus than usual.
I'd been very well, once over the short-term aches and pains from chemotherapy. But on Sunday evening I felt rather under the weather, and per protocol got myself checked out at the hospital. A blood test showed I'd suffered the not uncommon mishap of neutropenia: the treatment had killed all my white blood cells. So it was immediately into an isolation room and onto intravenous antibiotics, and I'll be here until my immune system is up and running again.
It's a necessarily austere room (for reasons of asepsis) and the view isn't great (a piece of damp and unkempt garden, with admin offices of some sort beyond). On the plus side, I'm not going to get bored; Clare brought in my Kobo and laptop, so I'm getting on with some Maxwell Gray work, and I can "soar above" to the extent that my Internet phone works (with bandwidth and other limitations). But I miss Clare, the cats, playing the accordion, room to walk about, and general life around town. I've been in hospital before, but never in isolation.
After just two days, I'm getting a glimpse - however trivial a one - of what imprisonment must be like.
On the technical side - when I had my appendix out a while back, I remember being infuriated by the hospital's Internet service: crippled and censored access via a fiddly little rubber keyboard attached to an overpriced bedside TV / phone / Internet console service called Patientline. I gather there are touch screens now, and the service has been rebadged as Hospedia, but the price complaints continue.
It isn't installed in my room, so I had to try other avenues. My laptop finds a perfectly good WiFi hotspot for "guests and visitors" of the hospital - but when I asked if I could have a guest password, they went all bureaucratic on me and said it only means staff guests and visitors. So the phone will have to do. If you're ever in a similar position, make sure you have a reliable service that does everything you're likely to need, or it'll get irritating.
For example, I find my Samsung Genio Touch has a known cookie bug that makes it refuse to talk to Blogger (including the configuration page for setting up the email-to-Blogger option to circumvent the problem). Consequently, Felix is kindly posting this for me.
- Ray (hopefully due for release soon)

Update: I'm freeee! (writing Thursday evening).

Thursday, 4 October 2012


The remarkably selective and inaccurate A.P.E.X. trailer

While Googling the works of Philip Roth, I was pleased to run into a film I remember from years back directed by a different Philip Roth - Philip J Roth: the 1994 A.P.E.X.

It's a time-travel story, the premise being that scientists in 2073 are sending a test probe back to 1973. Following a malfunction, one of the scientists, Nicholas Sinclair, follows the probe through to prevent it killing an innocent family, but he inadvertently contaminates the past with a virus. On his return, he finds himself in the new timeline he has created: a 2073 where humanity has been driven to near-extinction by an endless supply of the deadly robot probes sent automatically from the original timeline to erase the contamination. He finds himself an unpopular soldier-technician, his wife a surly and militarily expendable plague carrier who no longer knows him, and his new colleagues completely unaware of what they're fighting. Sinclair uses what influence he has to get a team to escort him to the ruined time laboratory in this revised timeline, where he hopes to reverse the accident. The team doesn't like it; the robots don't like it; and, increasingly, the fabric of spacetime doesn't like it.

In many ways, A.P.E.X. sucks bigtime, and it has attracted much ridicule. Why would a time probe take the form of a rocket-toting humanoid robot of scary and Baroque design? Where are these millions of robots being manufactured? Why are future soldiers always so ill-disciplined and shouty? There's a pleasantly facetious review at A.P.E.X.

And yet there's a lot I like about this film. Roth, who co-wrote the story, seems to have a genuine feel for the tropes of SF. The characterisation is unusual: Sinclair is not the gung-ho protagonist usual in this kind of post-apocalyptic rampage, but a thoughtful character whose brow-furrowing angst as an outsider to this brutal alternate world are as central to the story as the action sequences.

And it has a certain geek interest in being one of the two films to feature the single prototype of the Landmaster amphibious vehicle, with its strange 'tri-star' wheel configuration. See Damnation trolley for the other.

It's on YouTube: if you like SF, check it out.

- Ray

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Fake prescriptive poppycock

Cosmo (a he-cat) and Phoebe (a she-cat)
- or, being neutered, are they both it-cats? -
are pissed off at my joke at their expense
Via a post by Geoff Pullum at Language Log - Newly invented fake prescriptive poppycock - a nice diversion from the Lingua Franca column in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

In honour of the long history of grammatical discourse being poisoned by bogus rules invited by peevologists, the MacMurray professor Allan Metcalf invites readers to come up with new but venerable-sounding bogus rules. See A New Contest, Centered Around Usage.

It's not great, but I came up with:
"He" and "she" are not appropriate as pronouns for animals; as they are of an entirely non-human class, all animals should be "it".

If it's necessary to specify the sex, use either the precise and long-standing term for the particular animal of that sex ("Where is Kittikins? The tom is on the mat") or expand the definition ("Where is Kittikins? It, the male, is on the mat" - or "The he-cat is on the mat").
I possibly could have woven into the yarn Cordwainer Smith's nice constructions to designate names of animal-derived underpeople in his Instrumentality mythos, where a prefix designates the animal origin: C'Mell is of cat stock, B'Dikkat of bull stock, and the eagle-derived E'telekeli.

Addendum: Ever since I posted this, I've had a horrible nagging feeling that my rule is stupid enough for someone to have actually proposed it in real life. A quick search of Google Book suggests not. But the sexist personification rules for animal gender in Richard Hiley's 1837 English Grammar and Style are almost as silly when you think them through:
c. When speaking of animals, the sex of which is not regarded by us, we frequently assign to them gender suited to their particular characteristic properties. The strong and bold ones being considered the masculine, and the weak and timid of the feminine gender; thus, we say of the horse, that he is a useful animal; of the hare, that she is timorous.
d. Insects, small quadrupeds, birds, and fishes, are frequently spoken of as neuter.

- page 21, Richard Hiley, English Grammar and Style: To which is Added Advice to the Student, on the Allainment and Application of Knowledge, 1837
The mind boggles at the semantic difficulties in deciding if a particular species of animal is macho enough to be a "he".

Hiley was a Leeds schoolmaster, with, like many authors of "me too" grammar books in the 1800s, no particular qualifications for commenting on English grammar other than wanting to correct what he saw as deficiencies in Lindley Murray's English Grammar. Although his aim was nominally descriptive, he nevertheless completely failed to understand fundamental linguistic points such as the inevitability of usage change. This led him to diss the grammatical correctness of earlier highly-educated and well-known writers, rather than recognising them as data points for the mainstream correctness conditions of their time, a century or more before Hiley was writing.
But, if a knowledge of Latin and Greek does induce a habit of correct English diction, how comes it to pass that the writings of many distinguished classical scholars of the last century are lamentably deficient in grammatical accuracy? Dr. Bentley is a well-known instance. Nor will it be difficult to point out numerous violations ot grammar in the pages of Addison and Swift. Who, in these days, would admire, as specimens of graceful composition, the once reputed elegant pages of Locke, Barrow, and Tillotson? Yet these men had, in addition to their classical attainments, frequented the best company, and had attended, as far as the low state of grammatical knowledge would then allow, to correctness of expression.
- preface, page v, English Grammar and Style.
- Ray