Monday, 28 January 2013

Distant shores

"Perched on my city office-stool
I watched with envy, while a cool
And lucky carter handled ice ...
And I was wandering in a trice,
Far from the gray and grimy heat
Of that intolerable street,
O'er sapphire berg and emerald floe,
Beneath the still, cold ruby glow
Of everlasting Polar night,
Bewildered by the queer half-light,
Until I stumbled, unawares,
Upon a creek where big white bears
Plunged headlong down with flourished heels,
And floundered after shining seals
Through shivering seas of blinding blue.
And as I watched them, ere I knew,
I'd stripped and I was swimming, too,
Among the seal-pack, young and hale,
And thrusting on with threshing tail,
With twist and twirl and sudden leap
Through crackling ice and salty deep --
Diving and doubling with my kind,
Until, at last, we left behind
Those big white, blundering bulks of death,
And lay, at length, with panting breath
Upon a far untravelled floe,
Beneath a gentle drift of snow --
Snow drifting gently, fine and white,
Out of the endless Polar night,
Falling and falling evermore
Upon that far untravelled shore,
Till I was buried fathoms deep
Beneath that cold, white drifting sleep --
Sleep drifting deep,
Deep drifting sleep . . . .

The carter cracked a sudden whip:
I clutched my stool with startled grip,
Awakening to the grimy heat
Of that intolerable street."

The Ice-Cart  Wilfred Wilson Gibson

Sunday, 27 January 2013


"The rapid Mandoan dawn had come. ...  The air, after the shower, was almost fresh.  Bill sought, in the twilight of the stuffy, dishevelled sitting-room for his typewriter.  He hunted among his papers for the draft agreement already planned and approved by Talal, giving permission to construct, two miles north-west of the city on land now belonging to the Royal House, an aerodrome, with a site for a hotel and all the necessary offices, to be built by the firm of Prince's Tours, Limited.  He collected paper and carbons, fitted a new ribbon on to the machine, and sat down to his first direct participation in the making of Mandoa.

Tick, ticketty, tick rattled his fingers on the keys.  Tick, ticketty, grr.  Something was wrong. The space-key was definitely out of action.  Cursing softly over his spoiled copies, for paper was precious, Bill began to tinker.

But it very soon became evident that the case was hopeless.  Without further tools, he could do nothing. He needed a small screwdriver, wire, heaven knew what -- or he must copy thirty-five documents by hand.  He sat cursing and tapping dismally.

The solicitous Jeff came with his tea.  He looked at the machine and at Bill's disconsolate face.
'Sick?' he inquired, comprehensively.
Bill nodded.
'You take him to Mr. Byron Wilberforce Gish, eh?  Mr Gish A.1. mechanic,' Jeff continued, touching the disabled machine with a timid finger.
'That's a good idea, Jeff,'  said Bill, who had never learned the indignity of accepting suggestions from a slave....

Glad to avoid walking in the heat of the day, he shut the typewriter into its case, told Jeff to carry it, and set off for the cinema."

Mandoa, Mandoa  Winifred Holtby

Saturday, 26 January 2013

'Wette wrytyng'

" Among the rich, a standish was provided for the scrivener -- it was not considered in the least dignified for a great man to write his own letters.  The standish contained compartments for pens, inkhorns and for powdered gum sandrac -- or sand. Paper was used but parchment was necessary for official and family documents and its oily surface was prepared by rubbing in gum sandarac.  Errors were erased with a penknife, the rough places sprinkled with pounce (probably pumice) and smoothed down with a dog's tooth or an agate.  And, in passing, it is interesting to note that blotting-paper was known, and had been known for years.  Horman, writing in 1519 says  'Blottyng paper serveth to drye wette wrytyng lest there be made blottis or burris'.  "

The Elizabethans at Home  Elizabeth Burton

Friday, 25 January 2013

Thames Frost Fairs


With the temperature within the city of London recorded as 11 degrees below freezing as early as the 25th November, throughout December and January fairs were held on the ice in London from Putney Bridge to Rotherhithe, a greater area than previously recorded.  Various amusements included turnabouts, puppet-shows, bear-baiting and a travelling menagerie of animals.  On one booth a sign was was raised :
'This booth to let.  The present possessor of the property is Mr. J. Frost.  His affairs however not being on a permanent footing a dissolution or bankruptcy may soon be expected and the final settlement of the whole entrusted to Mr. Thaw'.

Printing presses were installed and from one came the following verse:
The silver Thames was frozen o'er
No difference 'twixt the stream and shore,
The like no Man had seen before
Except he lived in days of yore. "

Frosts, Freezes and Fairs  Ian Currie

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Books and brussels sprouts

" In the open markets held in the shabbier streets, where flaring naphtha lights swing over barrows like those set up once a week in the squares of little country towns,  I have often stood in the jostling crowd of marketers, to turn over old, greasy, tattered covers.  There is an aloofness about the bookstall even there, where it stands in line with a load of brussels sprouts and cabbages on one side, and a man selling mussels and whelks on the other.  The bookstall, even in its untidiness, has always the air of the gentleman of the three, come down in the world perhaps, but still one of a great family.  I have sometimes been tempted to apologise to the bookseller for taking a penn'orth of cockles and vinegar while looking at his books.  It seemed etiquette not to perceive that grosser, less intellectual stalls existed."

Bohemia in London  Arthur Ransome

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Authors -- pains and pleasures

"Fry was one of the many friends to whom Kaye would send thoughtful presents. He was enraptured by the 'Rexel Home Office' stationery set.  'The black and red of it.  The self-sharpening of it.  The refillability of it.  And not just a namby-pamby stapler --  but a BAMBI stapler.'  J.C. Trewin was equally grateful for a book, 'a work of perverted genius' which 'shall go into my most precious Stuffed Owl collection' .  Rebecca West wrote from Ibstone House, thanking Kaye for the bottle of brandy, 'which was, by God it was, badly needed'.  She had just endured an experience that 'might afford material for your husband's genius', if that did not make Kaye wince.   She and her husband had  returned from America to find that their secretary, ' a lady of fifty',  had rearranged the contents of their house.  'We can't find anything, including the typescripts and copies of a complete novel, of which mercifully I still have the original.'  They found a bowler hat perched on a lamp-stand, and in the gardeners' cellar, an eighteenth-century cradle, a family heirloom, had been 'hit with something hard and left among the stored potatoes', draped with a 'quite valuable Bosnian carpet'.  The soon-to-be Dame Rebecca was prostrate with indignation: 'I went to Switzerland in a state of collapse to recuperate'. "

So Much to Tell  Valerie Grove

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Consummate cursing

"We seemed like knights of some old legend, sailing across some mystic lake into the unknown realm of twilight, unto the great land of the sunset.

We did not go into the realm of twilight; we went slap into that punt, where those three old men were fishing.  We did not know what had happened at first, because the sail shut out the view,  but from the nature of the language, that rose up on the evening air, we gathered that we had come into the neighbourhood of human beings, and that they were vexed and discontented.

Harris let the sail down, and then we saw what had happened.  We had knocked those three old gentlemen off their chairs into a general heap at the bottom of the boat, and they were now slowly and painfully sorting themselves out from each other, and picking fish off themselves; and as they worked, they cursed us -- not with a common cursory curse, but with long, carefully-thought-out, comprehensive curses, that embraced the whole of our career, and went away into the distant future, and included all our relations, and covered everything connected with us - good, substantial curses.

Harris told them they ought to be grateful for a little excitement, sitting there fishing all day, and he also said that he was shocked and grieved to hear men their age give way to temper so.

But it did not do any good."

Three Men in a Boat  Jerome K. Jerome

Monday, 21 January 2013


"You slawzy poodle, you tike,
You crapulous puddering pipsqueak!  Do I have to kill you
A second time?"

The Lady's Not for Burning  Christopher Fry

Sunday, 20 January 2013

X-ray words

"But what? What is there more important to say? And how can one be violent about the sort of things one's expected to write about?  Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly -- they'll go through anything.  You read and you're pierced.  That's one of the things I try to teach my students -- how to write piercingly.  But what on earth's the good of being pierced by an article about the Community Sing, or the latest improvement in scent organs?  Besides, can you make words really piercing -- you know, like the very hardest X-rays -- when you're writing about that sort of thing?  Can you say something about nothing?  That's what  it finally boils down to.  I try and I try ..."

Brave New World  Aldous Huxley

Saturday, 19 January 2013

turning of pages

"... the quiet of an age-old river is like the slow turning of pages in a well-loved book."

Till I End My Song  Robert Gibbings

Friday, 18 January 2013

Bird-witted readers

"The Care of Books

5.   Don't use a thick book-marker, whether it is your morning's post or an elegant leather affair.   Miss Dorothy L. Sayers has said: 'Please burn all your book-markers - even the pretty one Aunt Mabel sent you last Christmas (or at least put that one away and only bring it out when she comes to call).  You cannot possibly be so bird-witted as to be unable to discover which page you got to by looking at it."  If you are reading The Wealth of Nations, and do not feel you can follow this counsel of perfection, use a piece of ribbon or a thin piece of paper.  Anything thicker will make unsightly bulges where the marker has rested for any length of time."
[Dorothy Sayers' quote from Begin Here]

Books of Your Own  Elizabeth Edmonston,  National Book League

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Pip, Squeak and Wilfred

"January 17th:   ... Go up to night-nursery and offer to read Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare.  Vicky says she prefers Pip, Squeak, and Wilfred.  Robin says that he would like Gulliver's Travels.  Compromise on Grimm's Fairy Tales, although slightly uneasy as to their being in accordance with best modern ideals.  Both children take immense interest in story of highly undesirable person who wins fortune, fame, and beautiful Princess by means of lies, violence, and treachery.  Feel sure this must have disastrous effect on both in years to come."

Diary of a Provincial Lady  E.M.Delafield

Wednesday, 16 January 2013


 "BOOKWORM, s.   [from  book and worm ]
    1  A worm or mite that eats holes in books, chiefly when damp.           Guardian.
    2  A student too closely given to books;  a reader without judgment.            Pope. "

A Dictionary of the English Language  Samuel Johnson

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

A poet's companion

"In the cottage where we lived,  he used to spend long hours in the garden beneath a tall orange-tree, sitting in a deep armchair, certainly a relic of the English occupation, watching, pen in hand, a small wood-worm, a little brown-hooded hermit that lived in the arm of the chair, come out his den and set to pierce a new hole with his saw-beak."

Mrs Helle (Skiaderessi) Flecker,  on her husband writing in Corfu, 1911.
Introduction to James Elroy Flecker's  Hassan,   J.C. Squire

Monday, 14 January 2013

An Oxford don

"A prudent man shuns hyaenas.
 No banker is imprudent.
      No banker fails to shun hyaenas."

Symbolic Logic   the Rev. C. L. Dodgson  (died 14th January 1898)

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Romances -- possible or probable?

"The reading of romances is a most frivolous occupation, and time merely thrown away.  The old romances, written two or three hundred years ago, such as Amadis of Gaul, Orlando the Furious, and others, were stuffed with enchantments, magicians, giants, and such sorts of impossibilities; whereas, the more modern romances keep within the bounds of possibility but not of probability."  (1740)

Letters    Philip Dormer Stanhope, fourth Earl of Chesterfield

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Twelfth Night Cakes

"Christmas goes out in fine style - with Twelfth Night.  It is a finish worthy of the time.  Christmas Day was the morning of the season;  New Year's Day the middle of it, or noon; Twelfth Night is the night, brilliant with innumerable planets of Twelfth Cakes."

Leigh Hunt, 1840

'but a silly play' (Or, What you Will)

"6.  Twelfth day.   After dinner to the Dukes house and there saw Twelfth night acted well, though it be but a silly play and not relating at all to the name or day. wife and I home and find all well. Only, myself somewhat vexed at my wife's neglect in leaving of her scarfe, waistcoat, and night-dressings in the coach today that brought us from Westminster, though I confess she did give them to me to look after -- yet it was her fault not to see that I did take them out of the coach.  I believe it might be as good as 25s. loss or thereabouts.  So to my office, however, to set down my last three days' Journall, and writing to my father about my sending him some wine and things this week for his making an entertainment of some friends in the country, and so home."
Samuel Pepys, 1663

The Shorter Pepys   R. Latham

Saturday, 5 January 2013

January's Great Frost

"Jan. 4, 1709:- ...  My ink has been fros, and tho I writ with it as it comes boiling from the fire, it's white.  If I might tell you all the stories are daily brought in of accidents accationed by the great frost I might fill sheets, as children drown upon the Thames, post-boys being brought in by their horses to their stages frose to their horses stone dead, and we are obliged to the horses for having our letters regular.  There are several stories trump'd up that happened the last great frost of 1684 and told as now; they begin to build booths upon the Thames, it begins a little to thaw, so I hope it will not last so long as that did... "

The Wentworth Papers   Peter Wentworth to his brother, Lord Raby.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Our Fireside Pantomime ("Or, What you Will")


"It happened that the undersigned spent the last Christmas season in a foreign city where there were many English children.

In that city, if you wanted to give a child's party, you could not even get a magic lantern or buy Twelfth-Night characters -- those funny painted pictures of the King, the Queen, the Lover, the Lady, the Dandy, the Captain, and so on -- with which our young ones are wont to recreate themselves at this festive time.

My friend, Miss Bunch, who was governess of a large family, that lived in the Piano Nobile of the house inhabited by myself and my young charges (it was the Palazzo Poniatowski at Rome, and Messrs. Spillmann, two of the best pastry-cooks in Christendom, have their shop on the ground-floor);  Miss Bunch I say, begged me to draw a set of Twelfth-Night characters for the amusement of our young people.

She is a lady of great fancy and droll imagination, and having looked at the characters, she and I composed a history about them, which was recited to the little folks at night, and served as OUR FIRESIDE PANTOMIME .

Our juvenile audience was amused by the adventures of Giglio and Bulbo, Rosalba and Angelica.  I am bound to say the fate of the Hall Porter created a considerable sensation and the wrath of Countess Gruffanuff was received with extreme pleasure.

If these children are pleased, thought I, why should not others be amused also?  In a few days Dr. Birch's young friends will be expected to re-assemble at Rodwell Regis, where they will learn everything that is useful, and under the eyes of careful ushers continue the business of their little lives.

But, in the meanwhile, and for a brief holiday, let us be as pleasant as we can.  And you older folks -- a little joking, and dancing, and fooling will do even you no harm,  The author wishes you a merry Christmas, and welcomes you to the Fire-side Pantomime."

The  Rose and the Ring   William Makepeace Thackeray

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Thought and Word

"When a man is in doubt about this or that in his writing, it will often guide him if he asks himself how it will tell, a hundred years hence."

Notebooks,  'Music, Pictures and Books: Thought and Word'   Samuel Butler