LIFE – We're living it!
Monday 4 December 2023
Wednesday 1 November 2023
No sun—no moon!
No morn—no noon—
No sky—no earthly view—
No distance looking blue—
No road—no street—no "t'other side the way"—
No end to any Row—
No indications where the Crescents go—
No top to any steeple—
No recognitions of familiar people—
No courtesies for showing 'em—
No knowing 'em!
No traveling at all—no locomotion,
No inkling of the way—no notion—
"No go"—by land or ocean—
No mail—no post—
No news from any foreign coast—
No park—no ring—no afternoon gentility—
No company—no nobility—
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member—
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,
– Thomas Hood (1799-1845)
Today, the poem is often presented in a considerably edited-down form and is invariable given the title 'November', which pretty much demolishes the punchline!
[Photo: Brian Sibley]
Tuesday 31 October 2023
To mark the passing of the month of October and to welcome November's relentless autumnal onslaught, here are Joe Mugnaini's stunning cover illustrations for Ray Bradbury's books (above) The October Country and (below) The Halloween Tree.
Monday 30 October 2023
I recently unearthed this old paperback copy of The Lord of the Rings (cover art by Pauline Baynes): a volume that was the Bible for the youth of my generation.
The edition is dated 1971 (when I was 22-years-old); fast-forward a decade, and this would be the copy that i used when adapting Tolkien's epic for the BBC's – now renowned – 1981 radio serialisation.
This truly great movie was released on this day 55-years ago in 1968. Based on a brilliant play/screenplay by James Goldman and played to perfection by a legendary cast of stars and newbies, headed by Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn as King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Geoffrey (fourth of the five sons of Henry II): I know. You know I know. I know you know I know. We know Henry knows, and Henry knows we know it. We're a knowledgeable family.
John (youngest sons of King Henry II): Poor John. Who says poor John? Don't everybody sob at once! My
God, if I went up in flames there's not a living soul who'd pee on me to
put the fire out!
Richard: Let's strike a flint and see.
Friday 27 October 2023
Monday 16 October 2023
Sunday 15 October 2023
I love maps! By which I mean that I am passionate about them – whether they depict real places or the let's-pretend realms of the imagination.
There cannot be anywhere better to write about the maps in my life than where I am now: Venice – or to be absolutely precise in case you want to locate it on a map: 2316 Calle del Pestrin, San Marco, 30124, Venice. You see Venice is both the most intricately and incompetently mapped city in the world.
When my husband, David, and I arrived here first, almost thirty
years ago, we came clutching The
Illustrated Venice Map by Magnetic North: chosen from Stanfords’ incomparable
emporium, ‘Est. 1853’, at a time when it was the largest, and indeed only, map
maker and seller in London and is still, today, the best starting point for the
ardent traveller. I suspect that I selected this particular map of Venice
(there were, at least, a dozen others) because it had little pictorial indicators
of likely destinations: the Piazza San Marco – la Piazza (‘the Square’) –
the Rialto Bridge, Santa
Maria della Salute and Teatro La Fenice.
It was an Italian sitting next to us on the plane, helpfully advising us how best to reach our hotel with minimal chance of getting lost, who expressed, with surprise, his approval of our map, noting as we would soon discover that, unlike most tourist maps, it shows every calle, campo, ponte and fondamenta, mapping the city down to the shortest, narrowest of blind alleyways. However, it is much more than just that: it is also a map of a state of mind, a glorious figment of historical imagination. It has served us well, its folds worn to yawning slits that defy refolding; and, though rarely now referred to, we carry it still out of sentimentality.
The very first map of which I was aware – long before I understood that places, real or fictional, were capable of beingmapped – was of what I fancy must have been some piratical treasure island. It resided within the red (possibly) covers of a large gift book of tales, verses and puzzles selected to delight the younger reader. As I have it no longer (and, despite years of searching, have never found another) my recollections are imprecise: to my three-year-old self it seemed huge – of the proportions of a lectern Bible – and I hauled it around, insisting that any indulgent adult read to me from its pages.
My favourite story was that of Alice’s expedition into Wonderland that was serialised through the volume, chapter by chapter. But there was another story – pictorially told – of some adventurous, perhaps even swashbuckling, kind that featured a double-page spread, printed, my hazy memory thinks, in black and red and showing a map of an island. I believe I can almost make out its contours: its wavy coastline of coves and creeks; its chief attractions being mountains, forests and lagoons and, maybe, a spot significantly marked with an 'X'. I think of this map, existing now only in faulty memory and having never been seen again, as being mine alone. The next map to which I laid personal claim was, some might say, not a map at all – although I must beg to differ.
It came folded in half in a box together with a die and four bright plastic cars – green, blue, yellow and red. It was Christmas 1953, I was now four years old, and the radiantly yellow box-lid announced itself as containing ‘Enid Blyton’s LITTLE NODDY CAR GAME. Get to the Station with NODDY and his friends’.
CLICK IMAGE to ENLARGE
A snake of numbered squares crawled back and forth across the gaming board – or, as I knew it to be, a map of the route from Noddy’s house (square 1) to the Station (square 120) through a nursery-coloured landscape dotted with toy houses, roads and rivers, bridges, ferries, traffic lights and level crossings.
CLICK IMAGE to ENLARGE
Making a journey as Noddy was – like all the great literary journeyings from The Odyssey to The Pilgrim’s Progress to Moby Dick – punctuated with all manner of random incidents leading to advances or retreats, dictated here by the roll of a die: ‘Big Ears shows short cut to No. 70’ or (this was in the politically incorrect ‘50s) ‘Golliwogs crossing road, miss turn’. Some fifty years after my mother had given my Noddy map-game to an undeserving cousin, I bought another in an antique centre and was comforted to find that my childhood memories were still intact, from landing on square 30 (‘Downhill advance to No. 35’) to getting stopped by Mr Plod the Policemen on square 80 (‘Fined! Licence out of date, back to No. 25’).
I now jump ten years, to August 1963 when the 14-year old me, now gripped in a passionate obsession with the life and films of Walt Disney, picks up a copy of National Geographic with a lead article (a satisfyingly staggering 50-pages long!) devoted to ‘The Magic Worlds of Walt Disney’ and find that it contains – to my breathless delight – a three-page, foldout pictorial map of Disneyland: a place, like Venice, that is both a reality and a fantasy
Specially drawn by ‘J E Barrett, Staff Artist’, this is Disneyland before the coming of Pirates of the Caribbean (let alone the unlooked for arrival of Indiana Jones and Star Wars), when pack mules and mine trains still explored Nature’s Wonderland and when it was still possible to ride the Flying Saucers of Tomorrowland.
CLICK IMAGE to ENLARGE
Truthfully, I cannot recall the countless hours in which I pored over that map, drawn back again and again by the pseudo-gothic lettering of ‘Disneyland’ and studying its detail until (had it been possible for me to go to Disneyland) I could have found my way blindfold and without missing a step from the hippo-infested waters of the Jungle Cruise via the blue-roofed towers and turrets of Sleeping Beauty Castle to the helter-skeltering Matterhorn bobsleds.
And when, after an interval of over twenty years, I finally passed through the turnstiles to ‘The Happiest Place On Earth’, I found myself walking, as if in a dream, through those foldout pages of National Geographic: the map and the place metamorphosing into a present experience.
These then were my three ‘personally owned’ maps. My life since has, of course, been crowded with a great many maps with which I have been deeply in love – and about which I have even written books – but which I always knew I shared with others: for example, the puzzling chessboard ‘map’ at the front of Through the Looking-glass; or Moomin Valley with its wolf-topped Lofty Mountains and that enticing off-shore island, home to the enigmatic Hattifatteners; or Bilbo’s Wilderland in The Hobbit with its crooked spine of the Misty Mountains marking the frontier beyond which lay the cobwebbed forest of Mirkwood and greater perils yet.
Then there have been those cosily reassuring maps made by E H Shepard: of Winnie-the-Pooh’s ‘100 Aker Wood’ and its surroundings (including the best-ever map location: ‘Where the woozle wasn’t’); and the rural home of the inhabitants of The Wind in the Willows with a river–– No! Sorry, Ratty, The River! – curling its way from Toad Hall to Pan Island and the Weir beyond. Or Pauline Baynes’ ornate charts of Narnia and Middle-earth: as evocative as the work of any fifteenth-century cartographer and meticulously embellished with cartouches portraying the various sites in the stories – Cair Paravel or Minas Tirith – realised in gleaming gem-like colours.
None of these, however, can ever truly supplant those earliest depictions of the ordered middle-class world of Noddy’s 1950s Toyland; or the ever-beckoning pleasures Disney’s Garden of Earthly Delights as it was in the early ‘60s; or, again, that long-lost, foggily-recalled mysterious island map that first lured an unsuspecting three-year-old into succumbing to the unappeasable dreams of Elsewheres and Othertimes.
[Written in Venice, December 2016; Revisited in London,2023]
Saturday 30 September 2023
Another piece of contemporary comic-book cover-art; this one by Jon Bogdanove for Knight Terrors: Superman, Issue # 2 (variant cover B).
Bogdanove (best known for co-creating the title title, Superman: The Man of Steel) has created a stunning piece of art with a powerful image artfully achieved through its depiction of energy, movement and the simultaneously in-focus above-and-below water perspective. The outstretched grasping hand breaking the surface is, for me, an exciting and intensely dramatic gesture –– and, incidentally, very scary for a thalassophobe.......
Oh, just go and look it up!
Thursday 28 September 2023
I was born in London (Clapham, actually; South London Hospital for Women & Children, precisely) and lived in Wandsworth until I was five years old. Then – as result of a rather too-longish story for here and now – my family moved to a row of quaint cottages ('Heath Cottages' they were called) in Chislehurst.
Twelve-point-something-miles from London and at that time (1953) still a rural village with a stables, a market garden, all those sweetly antique facilities (butchers, bakers, fishmongers, ironmongers, grocers and greengrocers, a rather good library, a flea-pit cinema with a corrugated roof in which – if it rained – it was too noisy to hear the film) and – my chief delight – a blacksmith who, whenever I looked in to watch him shoeing horses at his forge, would give me old horse-shoes.
After the dull streets of Wandsworth, Chislehurst was green and idyllic: a cricket ground, woods and ponds (caves, if you dared to go down there) and a local celebrity-tramp, 'Smokey Joe', who lived in the woods in an improvised 'house' made of old blankets and tattered lace curtains!
The village had a Victorian, 'Tudor-style', arched Water Tower (requiring use of a driver-controlled one-way traffic flow accessed by nothing bigger than a single-decker bus), a village sign depicting Queen Elizabeth I, in 159, knighting Sir Thomas Walsingham IV (patron to Christopher Marlowe) and a cockpit, once used for cock-fights but, mercifully no longer in service!
I was educated at the village Church of England Primary School (dedicated to the original Father Christmas, St Nicholas, whose associated Parish Church contained the earthly remains of the aforementioned Tho. Walsingham); and, having triumphantly failed my 11+ examination, Chislehurst Secondary School for Boys.
I attended, at various times in my variegated spiritual life, no fewer than four out of the five local churches (two 'high', one 'low' and one Methodist, although not in that order) and I worked in the village at the Local Council Education offices and much later – after many other non-village jobs – sitting at my typewriter as a freelance writer banging out scripts for the BBC. By then, of course, Chislehurst was no longer so much a rural beauty-spot as a dormitory for London commuters, the local blacksmith was now a Barclays Bank and the Post Office an Indian restaurant.
I loved my child life in Chislehurst (certainly more than I did the often emotionally stressful relationships in Heath Cottages), but it was only recently that I found myself nostalgically riffing on the theme of Those Were the Days which prompted me to look up whether there were any such things as transport or tourist posters for Chislehurst. And, yes, there were...
The one at the top of this post is contemporary and produced by The Chislehurst Society featuring the village pond, the cricket ground, the Church of the Annunciation (one of the 'high' ones), the caves, and what looks to be a blissfully happy couple of Chislehurstians.
The earliest Chislehurst poster I came across dates from 1914 and seems to depict what I assume was not an agressive local resident, but an early 'cave-person', suggesting just how well known was the once-believed prehistory of the subterranean labyrinth of Chislehurst Caves. Created for London Transport, this work by Tony Sarg (1880-1942) is obviously inspired by what was at the time a theory (frankly a legend) that the caves likely dated back at least 4,000 to 6,000 years. Unless this unattractive fellow was an ancestor of Smokey Joe.
1922 comes a black-and-white print – of what, presumably, must have originally
been a colour poster – presenting the drabbest conception of the rural paradise
of my childhood. Nevertheless, it is the work of the highly influential
graphic designer and poster artist, Edward McKnight Kauffer (1890-1954).
So, there's glory for you.The
next poster first appeared seven years later in 1929 and is the work of 'CWB',
Cecil Walter Bacon (1905-1992) and takes us back to the time of romantic myth
with a couple of Druids busily doing whatever Druids would have done in the
Caves if they had ever been there to do it!
I should confess at this juncture that, despite living in Chislehurst into my late 'forties I never visited the Caves: my memories mainly being of the floor-shaking vibrations we experienced from the weekend pop-concerts that thudded deep beneath our living room floor every weekend – oh, yes, and one October when the village became the focus of national attention as a result of Eamon Andrews hosting a not-very-creepy Halloween TV show live from the Caves. Finally, here's a contemporary poster created in 'retro style' (by an uncredited artist) for purchase as a framed wall decoration. Shown is, to the left, the timbered building that, when I was a child, was the local branch of Martin's Bank (impressively embellished, in those days, with the sign of a gilded grasshopper); and, to the right, the popular hostelry, 'The Rambler's Rest' (rumored, back in the day, to have once had a secret way into and out of those enigmatic Caves!) and, on its right-hand side, the end house of Heath Cottages –– just a few doors down from where I lived for so many years.