Published by Random House, India
Freda Bedi was a Derbyshire woman who at Oxford married B.P.L. Bedi, and later moved with him to Lahore. She was an Indian nationalist - and was jailed by the British - and a communist, and later a prominent Tibetan Buddhist. She was active in Kashmiri politics, and is still remembered warmly in Srinagar. And, we now discover, she wrote rhymes for children.
More particularly, Freda wrote poems for her elder son, Ranga, who is now in his late seventies. These are charming, whimsical verses - sometimes mystical, or about animanlsm, sometimes with a feel for the Punjabi countryside and a sense of the momentous events then emboiling india.
These rhymes have now been published by Random House India, graced by charming illustrations by Anna Bhushan. The cover - designed to accompany a rhyme entitled 'The Kite Song' - gives a sense of her style.
Freda and Baba Bedi
Freda's life merits a full biography. She was a striking figure - noted for her beauty and her courage. Margaret Bourke-White met her in Kashmir in 1947-8, and heard from her stories about Kashmiris' struggle against their maharajah. She later worked with Tibetan refugees in Kashmir, and that was what led to her conversion to Buddhism and then her role as a senior woman religious within Tibetan Buddhism.
She wrote a couple of books about India in the 1940s, in essence compilations of her journalism. These are now very difficult to come by.
Rhymes for Ranga has great charm. It works as a book of nursery rhymes, but the occasional insight into Freda's politics - and the evident warmth of her relationship with her son - are what stand out for me. The rhyme below is about Gandhi, and Anna Bhushan's illustration represents Freda and Ranga on the streets of Lahore.
St Giles in the Fields: Creative Commons
Of all the old central London localities, St Giles has been squeezed into almost nothing. St Giles High Street - it still exists, indeed there's a solitary 'Borough of Holborn' street sign - is so anonymous, you need to have done the knowledge to know where it is. But St Giles is worth the search. Within the shadow of Centrepoint, St Giles in the Fields is one of the most marvellous of London's old parish churches. Built in 1734, with a fine, and well maintained, Palladian interior.Head out of the gates
towards the northern end of Shaftesbury Avenue, and you find two of the city most atmospheric retailers. I am not sure who shops there, but I am so glad that someone is sustaining these venerable institutions.James Smith and Sons ('established 1830'), umbrella makers and sellers, has about the best traditional shop front in London. A hundred yards away, Arthur Beale ('established
four centuries'), yacht chandlers, claims even more ancient antecedents.Head the other way, and you are on Denmark Street - the original Tin Pan Alley, and still a slightly disreputable mix of music shops, instrument repairers, and seedy-looking clubs.
I sometimes stroll along Denmark Place, alongside the entrance to the '12 bar club'. This was where London's OBrienities - followers of the Chartist and socialist Bronterre O'Brien
- met in the 1870s and 80s.
St Giles was a stronghold of artisan radicalism. And there's a vestige of that in the church - an LCC blue plaque for George Odger, a working man radical. A sign below explains: 'The George Odger plaque, formerly on 18 St Giles High Street, was placed here in 1874'. The novelist Henry James stumbled across his funeral procession, and wrote kindly of it.
If you stroll along the side of the church, you come across central London's most hidden oasis. Flitcroft Street takes you past the renovated Elms Lesters Painting Rooms
, along a passage, and to Phoenix Gardens
. This is simply the best designed small garden in London. It's looked after, well looked after, by a local private charity. The photo gives a sense of the place - and this is just three minutes from Oxford Street.Phoenix Gardens boasts that it has the only frogs in the West End. Well, perhaps. It is sadly about the last of the communatarian ventures started in Covent Garden and Seven Dials a generation ago. Perhaps the last vestige of the old St Giles radicalism. But it's still there!
A lovely piece of political ephemera - bought from Bob Jones's bookstall, set up today at QMC at Mile End.
This was published by the Independent Labour Party in 1919 - and was a simple but very effective endeavour to show the meaning, and the limits, of public ownership.
'Our Coal Mines' but 'My Garden' ... 'Our Railways' but 'Your Clothes' ... 'Our Land' but 'My Religious Beliefs'.
And: 'Our Government (which we can change when we wish).'
A leaflet more than ninety years old and in wondrously good condition.
Just back from the Steve Winwood concert at the Roundhouse, 'Mr Fantasy' still ringing in my ears.
When I first saw him, I was still at school. Sneaking in to the first concert of the 'Low Spark of the High Heeled Boys' tour at the Leeds University Students' Union. I didn't know much about Traffic - but the concert convinced me that I needed to.
Seven years ago I caught up with Stevie again at a concert at Ann Arbor outside Detroit. The energy, and the musicianship, still there.
Tonight at the Roundhouse, with 'Empty Pages'. 'High Heeled Boys'. 'Light up or Leave |Me Alone' and ' Gimme Some Loving', he still had it. In spades.
But when you've done something three times in a lifetime, where do you go next?
Just out from Five Leaves' New London Editions - Alexander Baron
's very fine first London novel, Rosie Hogarth
. Back in print for the first time in decades. And I would say it's a good read - I've written the introduction.It was first published in 1951 and tells the story of an inward-looking working class community in south Islington (it's set somewhere near Chapel Market) traversing through the profound changes brought about by the Second World War.The novel has a very strong sense of place. It's certainly one of the best London novels of its era, and a kind and compassionate look at a community described in the 1950s as 'one of the last atolls of the old time cockney life'.
Cover: Islam Gull
:A gem of an issue of Granta
, writing from and about Pakistan.Amid a cornucopia of riches, with the emphasis more on reportage than fiction, I was taken particularly by Fatima Bhutto's article. Mangho Pir is a Sufi shrine outside Karachi, where the crocodiles are revered as saints, and tended by the Sheedi community (in India, the word would be Sidi) - those of African descent who congregate in small clusters all the way along the Arabian Sea coast from Oman to Karnataka.The Karachi Sheedi have great prowess as dancers and sportsmen - but otherwise are part of the ignored, forsaken underbelly of south Asia.Jane Perlez writes of Jinnah, and the way he is memorialised in current-day Pakistan. Sarfraz Manzoor tells his warm but unsettling story of a British Asian 'marrying out'. And the peerless Basharat Peer humanises the story of the continuing conflict and despair in the Kashmir valley - powerful writing, though its inclusion in a volume entitled, starkly and simply, 'Pakistan', packs its own punch.Mohammed Hanif, whose 'exploding mangoes' is perhaps the most powerful representation in fiction of modern Pakistan, contributes a short story - the human incident behind a riot ... a lovelorn, revolver-wielding, police thug who fires off at random to avenge his humiliation at the hands of a much more worldly-wise Karachi nurse.
Fermin Rocker 'Newspaper Kiosk, Tufnell Park'
Not many newspaper kiosks feature in works of fine art. The painting by my old friend Fermin Rocker
- who died in 2004 - captures the wonderful paper stall outside Tufnell Park tube station. A stall I patronised every weekday on my way to work. Until the end of last week.The stall is now closed - 'until further notice', says the forbidding notice. The staff at the tube station say it has gone for good. Every morning, I handed over my pound coin for a copy of the 'Daily Telegraph'. "There you are, young man", the older assistant would say when on duty. No one else calls me young these days. And indeed, his tune had changed of late to "there you go, old mate", which is a touch more intimate but less motivating.You can make out the stall in its modern incarnation in the photo below. They never said it was about to close. It's a sudden death. Part of my routine lost. A much larger part of the stall holder and his colleagues' lives gone. I grieve its passing.
Photo: Sunil 060902 CreativeCommons
Sam Lesser - one of the last survivors of the International Brigades which fought in the Spanish Civil War - died last night. He was 95.He was among the first group of British volunteers to go to Spain in the autumn of 1936. Three months later he was shot and returned home wounded. He went back to Spain to work as a journalist, and in later years - under the name Sam Russell - reported for the communist Daily Worker. I interviewed him once - about Spain, about reporting from Moscow, and his meeting with Che Guevara who, Sam enjoyed recounting, told him that: "the communist parties of Latin America are shit!"Sam was a hugely gregarious guy, with a hearty voice, a splendid moustache, and a twink
le in his eye. You can hear Sam here reminiscing only a few months ago about fighting in Spain.
There are some wonderful photos
of Sam and other IB veterans - taken by Eamonn McCabe.
Another great piece by Ian Jack in today's Guardian
: why Delhi is still at heart a contractors' city.He's quite right - it's a slovenly, '10% cut', type of city. The metro has been a huge, transforming success - but the Commonwealth Games episode suggests that underneath, the culture hasn't changed.'Sarkar' means government - which means, in India as elsewhere, slow, bureaucratic, uncivil and somewhat tarnished.