Thursday, 31 October 2013

Schalken the Painter, and other Halloween tales

This YouTube video - very murky in both vision and sound - is probably the only chance currently to see Schalken the Painter, Leslie Megahey's atmospheric adaptation, broadcast in December 1979, of the Sheridan Le Fanu story Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter. The adaptation is based around the real paintings of Godfried Schalcken (1643-1706).

Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter is one of the online stories in The Little Professor's 2013 Annual Halloween Horde of Horrible Happenings, this year compiled from mid-19th century horror fiction. Read on.

Addendum: And for a bonus - I nearly forgot - check out the Exeter CVS podcast of Clare Girvan's story Meet the Wife, originally on the Exeter CVS radio show.

"When their light aircraft crashlands in the middle of nowhere on Halloween, two stranded airmen seek help from a local villager."


Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Mysterious superfruit #2

More on the peculiar phenomenon of marketing dubious health products with images that have nothing to do with the product.

The mysterious superfruit turned out to be a malformed hen's egg. Now it's this thing, that comes with the promise "Eat THIS, Never Diet Again ... Dr OZ:"The Holy Grail of weight loss".

The site links to an advert for extract of "Garcinia gambogia" - a fruit native to Indonesia that goes under various names such as Malabar tamarind. Its scientific name is Garcinia gummi-gutta, but slimming product vendors have latched on to the former scientific name Garcinia gambogia. There's little or no evidence of its claimed weight loss properties, and one trial had to be abandoned because of liver toxicity.
Garcinia gummi-gutta, however, looks like a small pumpkin (above left).

A Google Images search finds that the fruit in the advert link picture comes from an entirely different plant, the Finger Lime (Citrus australasica - depicted right). A thorny shrub native to Australia, it has lately acquired a reputation as a gourmet "lime caviar".

- Ray

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Coming soon: A Wren-Like Note

A few of my contacts know already, and others may have guessed, that I've been working been for some time on a biography of the Newport-born author Mary Gleed Tuttiett (1846-1923), who wrote under the pseudonym Maxwell Gray.

The project is close to completion - I'm at the final proofing stage, finalising the cover image, and completing the index - so I expect it to be finished and in production within a week or two.

Meanwhile, the website is now live at

The title comes from one of Maxwell Gray's poems
There comes a time when all the woods are mute;
No longer sounds the blackbird's mellow flute,
Throstle and lark and linnet no more sing,
And men have long forgotten how in spring
The nightingale in golden splendour poured
Her magic song's accumulated hoard;
The wintry day hangs heavily; 'tis then
Pleasant to hear the small, hedge-haunting wren;
Good folk, when grander poets are not near,
These wren-like notes of mine may bring you cheer.
- Ray

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Beer pump artwork

Beer pump labels are a fine little genre of miniature artwork. I was struck by a couple this week:

Firstly, there was Tolchards "Devon Coast" (a pleasant hoppy beer made by Red Rock Brewery of Bishopsteignton). With its ocean vista, and foreground shed and path disappearing down into a cove, it's a nice example of a picture that fits Jay Appleton's "prospect-refuge theory": the claim that human aesthetic experience of landscape is based on perceptions that are evolved for survival (e.g. places to hide, escape routes, places with a clear view).. See the previous posts Landscapes in mind and Prospect and refuge in a beer glass.

And then there's the depiction of Lord Nelson on the label for St Austell's "Admiral's Ale".

detail from St Austell Admiral's Ale label
This deserves credit as a very sharp caricature of the classic Lemuel "Francis" Abbott portrait (currently hanging in the Terracotta Room of number 10 Downing Street).

As in other depictions, the red sash is borrowed from a different portrait by William Beechey. See previously: Nelson gets a facelift.

- Ray

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

The art of Shanklin Chine

Shanklin Chine is a coastal ravine on the south-east coast of the Isle of Wight, prettily-landscaped as a visitor attraction, and only a few hundred yards from the town of Shanklin. We visited it about four years ago, but we were in a little of a hurry then, and I fancied a more leisurely look when we were back on the Island at the end of September.

This is the "Longfellow Fountain" by the Crab Inn in Shanklin Old Village. The inscription ...

O Traveller, stay thy weary feet;
Drink of this fountain, pure & sweet;
It flows for rich & poor the same.
Then go thy way remembering still,
The wayside well beneath the hill,
The cup of water in his name.


... is a poem credited to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow when he stayed at the Crab Inn in 1868 (below the poem is a little twin-flag logo, UK and USA). On investigation, this attribution appears a trifle shaky. The book The Poetical Works of Henry W. Longfellow (18??) carries this explanation:

The following quotation from a private letter, dated "Shanklin, Isle of Wight, 1st October 1879," is the authority for ascribing this inscription to the Poet:—

"just look at this group of thatched cottages! The one on the right is a library where we go for books. In the middle is the Crab Inn. Do you see what looks like a pile of stones to the right of it? That is a fountain for the use of the public. I read some verses painted there on a piece of tin, and said to myself: 'That must be from Longfellow.' I found afterward that they were written by him, by request, when he was here some years ago:
The author of this "private letter" is unidentified. The first citation to Longfellow appears in George Shaw's The tourist's picturesque guide to the Isle of Wight (1873). There doesn't seem to be any great reason to doubt it - nevertheless, there is no primary evidence from Longfellow himself that he wrote it.

The place has changed a deal since Longfellow was there. Shanklin Old Village is a characteristically commercialised English "olde village", a cluster of thatched houses of genuine antiquity adapted into a complex of pubs, tearooms and gift shops, all on a busy main road. But just a minute's walk takes you down a quiet pedestrianised lane to the top of the Chine, and you find you're in a different world.

Clare at Chine entrance
You can take a slight detour first to the adjacent park, Rylstone Gardens, where there's a good chance of seeing red squirrels. I saw one in the distance, and it wasn't the best day for views. But there was an interesting and unexpected feature in the now rather dented stainless steel commemorative Elvis plaque by the clifftop, installed by the Isle of Wight Rock and Roll Society in 1978.

It has short score quotations from four Elvis classics (below): 1 is "Hound Dog"; 3 is "Teddy Bear". Any thoughts on the others? Although I'm perfectly capable of reading the score, they're quite difficult to place without the rhythm backing.

click to enlarge

Back to the Chine. The rustic-styled entrance booth takes you instantly into the fresh and humid microclimate of this mini-ravine. It's virtually silent apart from birdsong and the sound of the stream.

After initial steps, the path levels out to a shallower descent with rustic bridges, benches and landscaped pools, with a choice of exits to beach level or via an aviary, tearoom and exhibition centre, up to the clifftop. It began to rain, but surprisingly little made it down to the chine floor level; we sat for a while in one of the little shelters, and just chilled out. It's very obviously a managed landscape, but I really don't care; Shanklin Chine is unique, a calm and lovely experience. "A very great Lion," as Keats put it. *

If you're visiting in the near future, the current Heritage Centre exhibition is Turner's Isle of Wight Landscapes and the Discovery of Shanklin Chine. I'm a great fan of historical Isle of Wight scenic artwork, and this exhibition follows JMW Turner’s journey around the island from his sketchbook of 1795. It also features scenes of the Chine and elsewhere in the Wight by other artists including Thomas Rowlandson, Richard Banks Harraden, Samuel Howitt, William Daniell, Charles Tomkins, and Lefevre James Cranstone. It's extremely well-selected and well-annotated, and thoroughly worth a visit.

Chine Cottage, and the Heritage Centre, from the seaward end of the Chine
A bonus to the visit: on the way out, going up the path back to Shanklin, Clare and I saw our first fully-fledged red squirrel. We've seen them before, but they were rather dark brown. This was the real thing, a brilliant marmalade-coloured squirrel. Unfortunately it zipped by and up into the treetops too fast to bring the camera to bear ... but it was there.

See the older post - Shanklin Chine - for more background on the Chine's history, as well as one of my favourite poems, Mimi Khalvati's The Chine, which means a lot to me as an uncannily accurate impression of how the chine powerfully evokes that 'double exposure' sensation of reconnecting with the landscape of remembered childhood.

See also the official website

- Ray

* Lions = an archaic expression for "Things of note, celebrity, or curiosity (in a town, etc.); sights worth seeing" (Oxford English Dictionary).

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Thomas Randle elucidated

Further to Victory: for a long time I've had my doubts about one of the standard Topsham claims to fame, that one Thomas Randle (the spelling varies) was quartermaster aboard the HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. The story is perpetuated by a gravestone, whose general condition shows it's not 150+ years old, by St Margaret's Church. The National Maritime Museum's maritime memorials record - M4401 - explains that it's a replica of the original, which was broken by a mower.

JAN. 2ND 1851

My doubts came from the discrepancy between the details on the stone, and those in the HMS Victory crew muster roll, available at the official HMS Victory site - here. The Quartermasters are listed, and Randle is not among them. There was a "Thomas Randall" aboard, but he was merely an able seaman.

This discrepancy is resolved by the document ADM 36/15900 in the National Archives (Admiralty: Royal Navy Ships' Musters (Series I). ADM 36. Ship: VICTORY), which contains Randall's full naval service record. It's online in the National Archives Trafalgar Ancestors section - Thomas Randall aged 41 born in Exeter, Devon, England - and here's the relevant section:
HMS Victory
Ship's pay book number: (SB409)
11 May 1803 to 19 May 1803
Rank/rating: Able Seaman
Comments: prest

20 May 1803 to 9 November 1803
Rank/rating: Quartermaster

10 November 1803 to 15 January 1806 (Was at Trafalgar)
Rank/rating: Able Seaman
So he was at Trafalgar, and was a quartermaster aboard the Victory - but not at the same time. For some reason, he'd been demoted to Able Seaman around two years before the battle. This conflation of detail was thoroughly entrenched by the mid-1800s.
January 16, at Topsham, in her 88th year, Mrs. Frances Randal, widow of Mr. Thomas Randal, Quartermaster of H.M.S. Victory at the battle of Trafalgar.
- Trewman's Exeter Flying Post, January 20, 1859
- Ray

Saturday, 5 October 2013


On 23rd September, we were passing through Portsmouth, and visited HMS Victory, Lord Nelson's flagship, which is preserved in dry dock in Portsmouth Dockyard. Clare had never been here before, and I hadn't been since around 1970, so it was a major experience for both of us.

As with the previously-mentioned Osborne House, the Victory is set up for self-guided tours that take you along a roped-off continuous route taking in all the decks, from poop deck (top stern 'bridge') to the hold. Unfortunately the uppermost levels were under renovation, but it was still a superb experience. It's not for the unfit or infirm, and it's bad enough if you're merely tall - there are steep steps, and the ceiling heights range from low to very low. We were a trifle worried about having our luggage with us, as this is a working dockyard with security issues. The Dockyard staff, however, were very helpful in recommending a couple of places where luggage can be left nearby, but there turned out to be no problems with our carrying it (we were travelling reasonably light).

When I was younger, I think I would probably have been chiefly interested in the naval aspects - the armaments, how the ship was steered, etc - but it proved oddly interesting to find the minutiae of infrastructure: how a large ship worked as a self-contained community. For instance, the toilets - the 'heads' - were far more sophisticated than I'd imagined; and the galley was a wonder. Brodie's Patent Galley was a surprisingly compact installation considering its capacity (with a suitably organised rota) to cook daily meals for hundreds of crew; there were 821 aboard the Victory. Its one central range is augmented with sub-stoves for individual cookery, and a large copper distiller for desalinating seawater for the surgeon's use.

Visiting is not cheap: it's £17 for an adult. But this covers a year's repeat visits, and - unlike the miserly Osborne House - there are no restrictions on photography. I can't recommend this visit too highly. Check out the official site

(Sincere thanks to Buddy for the loan of his tickets).

The head

Over the bows: a wonderful vista of historic and modern buildings

Brodie's Patent Galley
Brodie's Patent Galley

Out to modern Portsmouth: Number One Tower, Gunwharf Quays.
Clare and I call this the Death Star, because when we first saw it,
it was under construction, and rather recalled the half-constructed
new Death Star in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.
- Ray