A wonderful day at Lowdham outside Nottingham yesterday - a well attended, well organised and exceptionally friendly Book Festival, in a large-ish village which - and this must be almost unique - has its own bookshop. I was talking about London Fictions in the marquee at the back of the village hall - one of four parallel events around Lowdham - and the 'House Full' sign went up ten minutes ahead of start time. Never had that before! And I took a couple of snaps of the audience just to prove it.
Really nice to have two of the contributors to the book (John Lucas and Greg Woods) and a contributors to the London Fictions website (Colin Stanley) in the audience. I met them all face-to-face for the first time yesterday.
Lowdham itself - a three-pub village - was fun to explore. In addition to the independent bookshop 'The Bookcase' (Jane, who runs the bookshop, is the prime mover behind the annual book festival, along with Ross from Five Leaves, who happen to be the publishers of London Fictions) the village has a Primitive Methodist chapel dating from 1844, still in use by an independent Methodist congregation. The chapel was one of the venues for the book festival. To my surprise, it has quite an elaborate organ - not what I associate with the "Prims".
A wonderful array of badges - mainly about the health service and animal rights, and dating (I'd guess) from the 1980s. All from a generous benefactor who had come across this website. I particularly like the 'Acid Rain' and Amnesty International 'torture: the hidden crime' designs. A really big thank you, Julia!
Looking down on London from the top of the Shard - my birthday treat today. The weather was overcast, but that didn't limit the views. Simply stunning. I'm afraid my iphone photos don't do full justice. But you'll get a sense of how far you could see.My benefactor
Looking east, you could see the Thames Barrier clearly, and make out the wind turbines a few miles further up stream - and on the horizon the cranes at Tilbury or somewhere out that way.
To the north, both Primrose Hill and Hampstead Heath stood out, along with the turquoise cupola of St Joseph's on Highgate hill. The Olympic Park and the Emirates Stadium were both in clear view.
To the west, you could follow river along its gentle sweep past Battersea Power Station and towards Berkshire. All agreed, a good afternoon outing.
The most I've ever spent at Oxfam Books - but what a gem! The first edition of the first of Colin MacInnes's London novels, with the original dust jacket, a bit battered but all there (the front at least).
The jacket is memorable - designed by Alexander Weatherson, who seems to have knocked around in the same circles as MacInnes and his friends at the time. Certainly, he was photographed by Ida Kar in 1958, the year after City of Spades was published.
The original art work for this cover is for sale, it just so happens. For £1,250.
And the book? An account of the arrival in London of a young Nigerian, Johnny Macdonald Fortune. 'It is a picaresque novel of the coloured world within a world of which so few of us know anything, although it lies around us every day ...', says the blurb on the dust jacket. 'The mood is sometimes hilarious, sometimes tragic, but at all times filled with the affection for coloured men and women without which, the author believes, all understanding of them is impossible.'
Talk about 'them' and 'us'! But this was 1957. And the novel itself is a lot less patronising:
My first action on reaching the English capital was to perform what I've always promised my sister Peach I would. Namely, leaving my luggages at the Gvernment hostel, to go straight out by taxi (oh, so slow, compared with our sleek Lagos limousines!) to the famous central Piccadilly tube station where I took a one-stop ticket, went down on the escalator, and then ran up the same steps in the wrong direction. It was quite easy to reach the top, and our elder brother Christmas was wrong to warn it would be impossible to me. Naturally, the ticket official had his word to say, but I explained it was my promise to my brother Christmas and my sister Peach ever since in our childhood, and he yielded up.
This quite grabbed me - the colours, the shapes, the style. It's the Royal Arcade off Bond Street - not my normal stamping ground, but you have to admit it's got a certain something!
"I love walking in London," said Mrs Dalloway. "Really, it's better than walking in the country."
And 90 years almost to the day since Clarissa Dalloway's walk from her central London home up to Regent's Park, devotees of Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway - and those after a good stroll - today followed in her footsteps.
It was a well thought through event organised by the Women's History Group, along with the Literary London Reading Group - and off we went in posses, with seven readings from the novel en route.
Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself - the novel opens. And she sets out from her smart Westminister town house - she's hosting a political soiree that evening - across Victoria Street and St James's Park to her florists in Bond Street. While there, her story entwines - at a distance - with that of Septimus Smith, a shell shocked war veteran who has talked of ending his life, and his Italian wife Lucrezia.
We gathered this morning in Dean's Yard behind Westminster Abbey - headed across St James's Park, alongside Green Park - walked the whole length of Bond Street (never done that before) and of Harley Street (ditto) - and through the greater part of Regent's Park. I took a few photos, mingled here - as on the walk - with short bursts of the novel.
Well, we saw the first act! 'To Kill a Mockingbird' at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre was eventually washed out this afternoon by persistent heavy showers. A real pity - not least because the first half was really excellent.
So, what did happen to lawyer Atticus Finch, his daughter Scout, and the accused Tom Robinson? I said to my neighbour that it didn't feel as if the play was heading towards a happy ending. He had re-read the novel recently and assured me that the end wasn't that bleak. Reading the plot summary, I'm not so sure
It's well known that George Orwell spent part of the war working for the BBC - in what would now be called the World Service. Less well known that he edited and contributed to a 1943 book based on the BBC's wartime broadcasts to India.
To my great delight, I came across a copy of the book for well under a tenner in a Bloomsbury second hand bookshop. An excellent website about Orwell's books says of Talking to India:
'Despite his continuing health problems, Orwell managed during 1942-43 a prodigious output. In addition to his time-consuming duties at the BBC (which included writing 15-minute commentaries, reading many of them over the air, and producing booklets and courses), he was a regular contributor of essays and reviews to the Partisan Review, the New Statesman, Tribune, and other weekly newspapers. ... Talking to India, wrote Orwell, was "a representative selection…with a literary bias" of the programs broadcast to India. The approximately 2,000 copies printed of the book were sold out by 1945. Orwell's contribution, beyond the Introduction, was "The Rediscovery of Europe: Literature Between the Wars," broadcast in March 1942 and published that same month in the Listener (the BBC magazine). ...'
The aside that 'talks marked by an asterisk were written by Indians or other Asiatics' jars today, but was intended then as an indication that the BBC 'talking to India' in wartime involved Indians and others from across Asia, not simply metropolitan voices.
Orwell's introduction is posted below - it makes much of the inclusion of a broadcast not on the BBC, but 'a verbatim transcript of a broadcast from Berlin by the Bengali leader, Subhas Chandra Bose'. Orwell goes on to make a case for 'a difference between honest and dishonest propaganda', Bose being an example of the latter, which at least makes clear what he thought was the BBC's wartime purpose.
The photos included in the book are the highlights - that at the bottom (Eliot, Orwell, Mulk Raj Anand, Tambimuttu, all in the same BBC radio studio) is justly renowned - the others not quite so acclaimed, but just as remarkable.
This bridge has good claim to be quite the most remarkable, and the most pointless, in London. It's the Gloucester Gate Bridge at the west end of Parkway, between Camden Town and Regent's Park. The area is awash with bridges - over canals, railways lines. And this one is over ... well, a slight dip in the ground.
But of course there's a back story - and while the design of the bridge may not be to everybody's taste, it has a certain majesty.
The bridge was built in the 1870s over what was then the Cumberland Basin of the Regent's Canal. The basin was filled in in the 1940s, leading to the curiosity of a landmark we have today.
Architecturally, it is ornate beyond the ordinary bounds of the London bridge. There are several bronze lamp standards in the fashion of candelabra.
There were also apparently stone figures on the bridge - not quite sure what of - but these were apparently damaged or destroyed in bombing during the Second World War.
The map below shows the spur of the canal, and the basin tucked to the south-east of the Regent's barracks. And you can also see below the floral motif in the bridge's carved sandstone, which is now weathered but still attractively graceful.
The bridge was the handiwork of the St Pancras vestry (vestries were the main institution of London local government until municipal reforms in the closing years of the nineteenth century) which must have been kept busy building over all the canals and main line railways on its patch. And it left lots of plaques and inscriptions to make sure it got the credit.
Even more remarkable are the bronze reliefs - there are two of them, one on each side of the bridge, but appear to be modern copies of the originals - showing the martyrdom of St Pancras.
The Wikipedia entry on this somewhat obscure early Christian martyr reads: 'Saint Pancras was a Roman citizen who converted to Christianity, and was beheaded for his faith at the age of just 14 around the year 304.' It adds: 'By the mid-nineteenth century, pious embroidery set Pancras's martyrdom in the arena among wild beasts, where the panther refrains from attacking and killing him until the martyr gives the beast permission.'
Well, the beast below doesn't look to me much like a panther, and it certainly isn't in "refrain" mode - but why spoil a good story, or a dashing design!
The Gloucester Gate Bridge curiosity continues just a few feet from its north-west corner, with a very strange fountain and - difficult to find any other word - cave.
This was the handiwork of the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain Association. It dates from much the same time as the bridge - the website that records the rudiments of its story describes it as 'an odd arrangement of rockery-type rocks, a charming country-girl statue and, in modern times, no water.'
There is indeed a charm to the fountain, which the tens of thousands who drive past it every day will most likely never have noticed.
Quite why the figure was placed on top of a recess big enough for a family of troglodytes to live in, well, I guess that's lost to time.
One of the crowning delights of Tufnell Park in recent months - Healthy Planet, a shop which gives away books - is to close on Tuesday.
I've picked up some real gems there, and even more enjoyed the chance to browse. On Tuesday evening from 7.30, according to the posters on the window, there will be a 'bring your own food and drink' party and BBQ.
Thanks to all those who brought a bit of sunshine to this corner of NW5.
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