Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Hpe, Lve, Valur and ?

"Black stared into his tankard, while the tavern clock ticked sixty times. ' I hate things with an O in their names, ' cried Black.  'That goes for clocks and parrots.'  He threw his tankard at the clock and broke it open, but there was nothing inside but works, no rubies, no emeralds, and no sapphires and no map.

Littlejack, the man with the map. (by Ronald Searle)

'The parrot's name is Magraw,' said Littlejack. ' There aint no O in that.'

Black stood up and smote the table with his fist. ' I'll get rid of O, in upper case and lower,' cried the man in black.  'I'll issue an edict.  All words in books or signs with an O in them shall have the O erased or painted out. We'll print new books and paint new signs without an O in them.'

And so the locksmith became a lcksmith, and the bootmaker a btmaker, and people whispered like conspirators when they said the names. Loves Labours Lost  and Mother Goose flattened out like a pricked balloon.  Books were bks and Robin Hood was Rbinhd.  Little Goody Two shoes lost her O's and so did Goldilocks, and the former became a whisper, and the latter sounded like a key jiggled in a clock.  It was impossible to read 'cockadoodledoo' aloud and parents gave up reading to their children, and some gave up reading altogether, and their search for the precious jewels went on."

Hope, Love, Valour and Freedom!  and a Happy New Year

The Wonderful O  James Thurber
© the estate of James Thurber,
Ronald Searle illustration for Penguin Books

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Season's Greetings, with ancient splendours

Season's Greetings and thanks to all those whose blogs I enjoy so much, such as Anecdotal Evidence,
English Buildings, Fired Up, First Known when Lost,  James Russell, Spitalfields Life, Quad Royal,  and many others.

"For lo! the days are hastening on
By prophet bards foretold,
When, with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold.
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendours fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing."

The Angels' Song: It came upon the midnight clear  Edmund H. Sears, 1849

Sunday, 21 December 2014

A Yuletide journey

[Sir Gawain rides through the lawless wilderness of the Wirral, in search of the Green Man to return his challenge]

"But, if those fights were fierce, winter was worse
Where chilling water spilled out of the clouds
Freezing as it fell, pelting the pale ground.
Almost killed by sleet, he sleeps in all his armour
More nights than enough among the rough rocks,
Where plummeting creeks from the summits ran cold
Or hung above his head in hard ice-blades.
This way, in danger, in pain and hardship,
Over the land the knight rides till Christmas Eve,
Then in despair on his ride,
He cries in a plangent tone
That Mary be his guide
To a house, a warm hearth-stone.
Hunched on bare branches, doleful birds
Piped out pitiful calls in the bitter cold."

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, trans. Keith Harrison
© The Folio Society, 1983

Carving at Brant Broughton church, Lincolnshire
© Pitkin Publishing, photocredit T. Negus 

Friday, 19 December 2014


 "My purpose is to tell of bodies which have been transformed into shapes of a different kind.  You heavenly powers, since you were responsible for those changes, as for all else, look favourably on my attempts, and spin an unbroken thread of verse, from the beginnings of the world, down to my own times.

Before there was any earth or sea, before the canopy of heaven stretched overhead, Nature presented the same aspect the world over, that to which men have given the name of Chaos.  This was a shapeless, uncoordinated mass, nothing but a weight of lifeless matter, whose ill-assorted elements were indiscriminately heaped together in one place.  There was no sun in those days, to provide the world with light, no crescent moon ever filling out her horns: the earth was not poised in the enveloping air, balanced there by its own weight, nor did the sea stretch out its arms along the margins of the shores.

Ovid banished from Rome,  J.W.M.Turner 1838
The Athenaeum, London

Although the elements of land and sea and air were there, the earth had no firmness, the water no fluidity, there was no brightness in the sky.  Nothing had any lasting shape, but everything got in the way of everything else; for, within that one body, cold warr'd with hot, moist with dry, soft with hard, and light with heavy.

This strife was finally resolved by a god, a natural force of a higher kind, who separated the earth from the heaven, and the waters from the earth, and set the clear air apart from the cloudy atmosphere."

The Metamorphoses of Ovid  trans. © Mary  M. Innes

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Twins in error….

"Re-enter Abbess, with Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse, confronting their twin brothers, Dromio and Antipholus of Ephesus.

Abbess: Most mighty duke, behold a man much wrong'd.
Adriana: I see two husbands, or mine eyes deceive me!
Duke:  One of these men is Genius to the other;
And so of these; which is the natural man,
And which the spirit?  who deciphers them?
Dromio of Syracuse:  I, sir, am Dromio; command him away.
Dromio of Ephesus: I, sir, am Dromio: pray let me stay."

The Comedy of Errors, Act V.  William Shakespeare

Sunday, 14 December 2014


"They were standing under a tree, each with an arm around the other's neck, and Alice knew which was which in a moment, because one of them had 'DUM' embroidered on his collar, and the other had 'DEE'.  'I suppose they've each got 'TWEEDLE' around at the back of the collar' she said to herself.

They stood so still that she quite forgot they were alive, and she was just looking round to see if the word 'TWEEDLE' was written at the back of each collar, when she was startled by a voice coming from the one marked 'DUM'.

'If you think we're waxworks,' he said, 'you ought to pay, you know.  Waxworks weren't made to be looked at for nothing. Nohow!'

'Contrariwise,' added the one marked 'DEE', 'if you think we're alive, you ought to speak.' "

Through the Looking-Glass and what Alice found there  Lewis Carroll

[after the epigram by John Byrom, on the rivalry between Handel and Giovanni Battista Bononcini]:-

"Some say compared to Bononcini,
That Mynheer Handel's but a Ninny;
Others aver, that he to Handel
Is scarcely fit to hold a candle.
Strange all this difference should be
'Twixt Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee!"

Thursday, 11 December 2014


 "The next day or two he saw vixen and cubs again, though his visits were shorter, and these visits gave him such an innocent pleasure that very soon his notions of honour, duty and so on, were entirely forgotten, and his jealousy lulled asleep.
One day he tried taking with him the stereoscope and a pack of cards.  But though his Silvia was affectionate and amiable enough to let him put the stereoscope over her muzzle,  yet she would not look through it,  but kept turning her head to lick his hand, and it was plain to him that now she had quite forgotten the use of the instrument.  It was the same too with the cards.  For with them she was pleased enough, but only delighting to bite at them, and flip them about with her paws,  and never considering for a moment whether they were diamonds or clubs, or hearts or spades, or whether the card was an ace or not.  So it was evident that she had forgotten the nature of cards too.

"Oh Silvia,…have you forgotten what it is to be a woman?"

Thereafter he only brought them things which she could better enjoy, that  is sugar, grapes, raisins, and butcher's meat.

By and by, as the summer wore on, the cubs came to know him and he them, so that he was able to tell them easily apart,  and then he christened them. ... and told them he was their godfather and gave each of them a name...

Thus Mr Tebrick had a whole family now to occupy him, and indeed, came to love them with very much of a father's love and partiality."

Lady into Fox  David Garnett, illustrated by Rachel 'Ray' Garnett

Monday, 8 December 2014

An American in England

"This would have been a bright sunny day but for the interference of the fog; and before I had been out long, I actually saw the sun looking red and rayless, much like the millionth magnification of a new half-penny."

English Notebooks  Nathaniel Hawthorne, December 8th 1883,   (from Geoffrey Grigson's The English Year)

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Star Talk

" 'Are you awake, Gemelli,
This frosty night?'
'We'll be awake till reveille,
Which is Sunrise,' say the Gemelli,
'It's no good trying to go to sleep;
If there's wine to be got we'll drink it deep,
But rest is hopeless tonight,
But rest is hopeless tonight.'

"Are you cold too, poor Pleiads,
This frosty night?'
'Yes, and so are the Hyads:
See us cuddle and hug,' say the Pleiads,
'All six in a ring: it keeps us warm;
We huddle together like birds in a storm;
It's bitter weather tonight,
It's bitter weather tonight.'
"Jupiter " in  De Sphaera Lombard School miniature,  Biblioteca Estense, Modena

'What do you hunt, Orion
This starry night?'
'The Ram, the Bull and the Lion,
And the Great Bear,'  says Orion,
'With my starry quiver and beautiful belt
I am trying to find a good thick pelt
To warm my shoulders tonight,
To warm my shoulders tonight.'

'Did you hear that, Great She-bear
This frosty night?'
'Yes, he's talking of stripping me bare
Of my own big fur,' says the She-bear.
'I'm afraid of the man and his terrible arrow;
The thought of it chills my bones to the marrow,
And the frost so cruel tonight!
And the frost so cruel tonight!'

'What is your trade, Aquarius,
This frosty night?'
'Complaints are many and various
And my feet are cold,' says Aquarius,
'There's Venus objects to Dolphin-scales,
And Mars to Crab-spawn found in my pails,
And the pump has frozen tonight,
And the pump has frozen tonight.'  "

Star Talk   Robert Graves

(Miniature from the Lombard School

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Mr Chevenix's library

'It is a little plaything-house that I got out of Mrs. Chevenix's shop, and it is the prettiest bauble you ever saw.
…..the Chevenix's have tricked it out for themselves; up two pair of stairs is what they call Mr. Chevenix's library, furnished with three maps, one shelf, a bust of Sir Isaac Newton, and a lame telescope without any glasses. ...

….For the rest of the house, I could send it to you in this letter as easily as the drawing, only that I should have nowhere to live till the return of the post."

Letters  Horace Walpole to Horace Mann,  June1747

Monday, 1 December 2014

A seasonal gift

"The Gift is Small, Good Will is All."
 London 1688

Book-shaped ceramic hand-warmer, © Fitzwilliam Museum.