Wednesday, 31 October 2012

In the frame

"All in all, not a sound type.  Nunn drew a box round her name in the Horse of the Year Calendar.  He drew a scalloped edging round the box, then a box round the edging,  and a line of loops round the new box, and a box round the loops.   Then he surrounded the whole thing with a picture frame, and the picture frame with more boxing, scalloping, and loops, and the expanded version with another picture frame.  Leaning very close to see what he was doing, he began to shade in the gaps between alternate sets of borders.   One thing worried him as he worked.  He knew for sure from his long years of dealing with subversion that anyone who got up a petition was merely acting as a front for some more sinister figure who remained unidentified.  That was the man he really had to get at.  Nunn turned over the possible names in his head."

The Tin Men  Michael Frayn

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The opsimathic reader

"That the Queen could readily switch from showbiz autobiography to the last days of a suicidal poet might seem incongruous and wanting in perception.  But, certainly in her early days, to her all books were the same and, as with her subjects, she felt a duty to approach them without prejudice.  For her, there was no such thing as an improving book.  Books were uncharted country and, to begin with at any rate, she made no distinctions between them.  With time came discrimination, but apart from the occasional word with Norman, nobody told her what to read, and what not.  Lauren Bacall, Winifred Holtby, Sylvia Plath -- who were they?  Only by reading could she find out.  

It was a few weeks later that she looked up from her book and said to Norman: 'Do you know that I said you were my amanuensis?   Well, I've discovered what I am.   I am an opsimath.'

With the dictionary always to hand, Norman read out: 'Opsimath: one who learns only late in life.' "

The Uncommon Reader  Alan Bennett

Sunday, 28 October 2012

'Spy' chooses his name

"In conclusion, it might be of some interest if I again record how I came to adopt the nom de crayon 'Spy'.  Mr. Thomas Gibson Bowles, who was the proprietor of Vanity Fair at the time I submitted my first cartoon, requested me to invent some characteristic signature consisting of three letters.  I worked three initials into the form and semblance of a jester's bauble.  But that did not please him.  Thereupon he threw me a dictionary, and asked me to choose a three-lettered word which would constitute an appropriate signature.  The book opened in the middle of the 'S' pages.  Near the top of the first column was the word 'Spy', one of the meanings of which was given as 'to observe'.  Whereupon I adopted the word as a pencil-name, and I have caricatured under it ever since."

'Spy' and His Sitters  Leslie Ward  The Strand Magazine January 1910

Saturday, 27 October 2012

A lunar calendar

"The grandfather clock is an enemy telling me that death runs at my heels.  The clock has a painted face picturing the four seasons; Spring, a child on a sheep-covered hill; Summer, a girl big with child raking hay in a shining meadow; Autumn, a woman blown before a tempest; Winter, an old man with a red face pushing sticks into a fire under a cooking pot slung from a tripod.  There is a painted moon behind, that moves with the days of the month."

Tide-race  Brenda Chamberlain

Friday, 26 October 2012

London morning, 26th October 1928

"Next day the light of the October morning was falling in dusty shafts through the uncurtained windows, and the hum of traffic rose from the street.  London then was winding itself up again; the factory was astir; the machines were beginning.  It was tempting after all this reading to look out of the window and see what London was doing on the morning of the 26th of October 1928.  And what was London doing?  Nobody, it seemed, was reading Antony and Cleopatra.  London, it appeared, was wholly indifferent to Shakespeare's plays.  Nobody cared a straw -- and I do not blame them -- for the future of fiction, the death of poetry or the development by the average woman of a prose style completely expressive of her mind.  If the opinions upon any of these matters had been chalked on the pavement, nobody would have stooped to read them.  The nonchalance of the hurrying feet would have rubbed them out in half an hour."

A Room of One's Own  Virginia Woolf

Thursday, 25 October 2012

The end of summer

"The Sun now darts fainter his Ray,
The Meadows no longer invite,
The WoodNymphs are all trip't away,
No Verdure cheers sweetly the sight.
Then adieu to the pastoral scene,
Where Harmony charmed with her Call:
Where Pleasure presided as Queen,
In ye echoing Shades of Vauxhall."

'The Adieu to Spring-Gardens',  (John) Lockman 1735

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Quality newspaper


Amid all these lugubrious kinsfolk and acquaintance, mother found her social duties tiresome enough, and liked to have me in the room in order that she might give vent to her feelings afterwards. 'Molly dear,' she would exclaim, 'I must say what I think about Aunt Lizzie, or I shall burst.'  Charles enabled us to bear a lot by means of his deadly imitations of every one.  But mother, the gayest of mortals, had to rack her brains to get the conversation away from grievances.  She even asked a visitor one day how she managed to have such an effective bustle.  The astounding answer was,  'The Times.  I find its paper so good, far more satisfactory than the  Daily News',  and putting her hand under her skirt she tore off a piece to show us."

A London Child of the 1870s   M. V. Hughes

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Matsue nocturne

"At home again, I slide open once more my little paper window,  and look out upon the night.  I see the paper lanterns flitting over the bridge, like a long shimmering of fireflies.  I see the spectres of a hundred lights trembling upon the black flood.  I see the broad shoji of dwellings beyond the river suffused with the soft yellow radiance of invisible lamps; and upon these lighted spaces I can discern slender moving shadows, silhouettes of graceful women.  Devoutly do I pray that glass may never become universally adopted in Japan  -- there would be no more delicious shadows. "

Writings from Japan  Lafcadio Hearn,  ed. Francis King

Monday, 22 October 2012

Devon Harvest song

"The Potter fashioned me with care, as plainly doth appear,
For to supply the harvest men with good strong English beer.
Drink around my Jolly reapers and when the corn is cut
We'll [hand] the other Jug around
and cry A Neck A Neck."

Able Symonds 1813
Inscribed on Devon Harvest Jug,  at Buckland Abbey, National Trust

Saturday, 13 October 2012

At West Wycombe Park

"Sunday 8th February

Still freezing hard and the drive desperately dangerous and slippery.  Eddy is here again, and Cecil Beaton came last night.  He is quite grey, and darts like a bird.  He is flagrantly twentyish.  He must be very successful if money-making is an indication.  I do not mean to be critical for he is an artist.  Jamesey likes him and I find him very sympathetic though a little alarming.  This morning on my return from Mass at High Wycombe I gave him an hour's typewriting lesson; and made him use all his fingers too.  He showed promise.  Towards the end we started gossiping, and then I saw how entertaining and sharp he is."

Ancestral Voices  James Lees-Milne

Friday, 12 October 2012

Quilp's pen

"It was a dirty little box, this counting house, with nothing in it but an old ricketty desk and two stools, a hat-peg, an ancient almanack, an inkstand with no ink and the stump of one pen, and an eight-day clock which hadn't gone for eighteen years at least, and of which the minute-hand had been twisted off for a toothpick.  Daniel Quilp pulled his hat over his brows, climbed on to the desk (which had a flat top), and stretching his short length upon it went to sleep with the ease of an old practitioner; intending, no doubt, to compensate himself for the deprivation of last night's rest, by a long and sound nap."

The Old Curiosity Shop  Charles Dickens

Thursday, 11 October 2012

A new pen, 1947

"Do you notice any improvement in the writing done with the 'Biro' pen?   Jim tells me that he will never want to use any other kind.  It was invented during the war for the use of the RAF pilots whose pens failed to work sometimes at the high altitudes."

Herbert Brush,  Monday 2nd June 1947.

"I went to the British Museum and bought a 'Biro' pen on the way, after going into three shops where the pen was sold out as soon as they obtained a supply.  I have heard so many good accounts of it that I made up my mind to buy one and use it in my diary.  The pen runs well and seems to suit my style of writing, and goes very smoothly, no matter how hard I press."

Herbert Brush, Tuesday 15th July 1947.

Our Hidden Lives   The Remarkable Diaries of Post-War Britain  ed. Simon Garfield 

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Landscape near an Aerodrome

"More beautiful and soft than any moth,
With burring, furred antennae, feeling its huge path
Through dusk, the air-liner, with shut-off engines
Glides over suburbs and the sleeves set trailing tall
To point the wind.  Gently, broadly she falls,
Scarcely disturbing charted currents of air.
Lulled by descent, the travellers across sea
And across feminine land, indulging its easy limbs
In miles of softness, now let their eyes, trained by watching,
Penetrate through dusk, the outskirts of this town.
Here where industry shows a fraying edge,
Here they may see what is being done."

From The Landscape near an Aerodrome  Stephen Spender

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Squadron Leader Peter Carter bales out

"He left the microphone and clambered across to the nearest escape hatch.  Lowering himself, he sat on the edge with his legs dangling down into fog and space.  A rush of cold wind struck his legs, in violent contrast to the heat of the plane.  Yes, he had  his own conception of the Other World, as well as some of the old traditional ideas.  The big, white wings, for instance.  He insisted on retaining them.  They were essential to any Other World. For the rest, well he imagined something like a great office with vistas of filing cabinets, because there must be an awful lot of records to be kept, and a large clerical staff.  But, above all, there would be a great dignity and peace -- the serenity that came from an ordered existence where Justice and the Law remained unchallenged.  Kindness and an utter freedom from the ruinous prejudices of this world would mark human relationships.

The excitement and elation had left him now and he felt quiet and calm.  He stared down into the fog and murmured his last poem, with great seriousness and solemnity,

'The pine-tree drops its dead;
They are quiet, as under the sea.
Overhead, overhead
Rushes life in a race,
As the clouds the clouds chase;
      And we go,
And we drop like the fruits of the tree,
      Even we,
      Even so.'

Glancing back at the body of the dead operator he said: 'See you in a minute, Bob.  You know what they wear by now.  Propellers or wings ...'
Raising himself  slightly on his hands, he slipped gently out of the plane.  The great uncanny wounded monster lurched on, obsessed with its own approaching end and oblivious of his departure."

A Matter of Life and Death ( the book of the film)  Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

Monday, 8 October 2012

Rockfist Rogan flies in.

"This has to be a perfect landing.  It would be terrible if I cracked up on my arrival."

Rockfist Rogan,  of the 509th Flying Squadron, RAF.

First appearance in The Champion comic, 8th October 1938.  Frank S. Pepper

Sunday, 7 October 2012

John Aubrey remembers

"When I was a a boy 9 years old, I was with my father at one Mr Singleton's, an alderman and woollen-draper in Gloucester, who had in his parlour, over the chimney, the whole description of the funeral, engraved and printed on papers pasted together,* which, at length, was, I believe, the length of the room at least; but he had contrived it to be turned upon two pins, that turning one of them made the figures march all in order.  It did make such a strong impression on my young fantasy, that I remember it as if it were but yesterday.  I could never see it elsewhere.  The house is in the great long street, over against the high steeple; and 'tis likely it remains there still. 'Tis pity it is not redone."

*Published by Thomas Laut, 1587

Brief Lives  "Sir Philip Sidney"  John Aubrey,   ed. R. Barber 

Saturday, 6 October 2012

"For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?"

"He arrived at S--- in the morning and took the best room in a hotel, with a fitted carpet of grey soldier's cloth and on the table an inkwell, grey with dust and surmounted by a figure of a horseman with his arms raised and no head.  The hotel porter gave him the necessary information: Von Diderits  lived in the Staro-Goncharnaya Street, in a house he owned himself, not far from the hotel.  He was rich and lived well; he owned horses and was known to everyone in the town.  The hotel porter pronounced his name as 'Drydyrits'!"

The Lady with the Little Dog   Anton Chekhov, trans. Elisaveta Fen

Friday, 5 October 2012

Night Mail to Scotland

"This is the Night Mail crossing the border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,
Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner, the girl next door.
Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb;
The gradient's against her but she's on time.
Past cotton-grass and moorland boulder,
Shovelling white steam over her shoulder,
Snorting noisily, she passes
Silent miles of wind-bent grasses.
Birds turn their heads as she approaches,
Stare from the bushes at her blank-faced coaches.
Sheep-dogs cannot turn her course;
They slumber on with paws across.
In the farm she passes no one wakes,
But a jug in the bedroom gently shakes.

Extract from Night Mail  W. H. Auden
written for the GPO Film Unit documentary "Night Mail" 1936

Monday, 1 October 2012

At Quincey's moat

"But when these hours wane,
Indoors they ponder, scared by the harsh storm
Whose pelting saracens on the window swarm,
And listen for the mail to clatter past
And church clock's deep bay withering  on the blast;
They feed the fire that flings a freakish light
On pictured kings and queens grotesquely bright,
Platters and pitchers, faded calendars
And graceful hour-glass trim with lavenders."

From Almswomen  Edmund Blunden