Sister Emilia Montavani
65 years ago, 27th October 1947, was quite a day in Kashmir.
The first Indian troops landed at the airstrip outside Srinagar, initiating a military presence which continues to this day ... the Maharaja, in all probability, signed the instrument of accession by which Kashmir became part of India, and certainly this was the day that Lord Mountbatten, Governor General of independent India, accepted the accession ... and in mid-morning, armed Pakistani tribesmen scaled the walls of St Joseph's convent and hospital in Baramulla, killing six of those at the mission.
I first heard the story of the attack on the Baramulla mission from Sister Emilia, an Italian nun who had lived through the attack, indeed spent seventy years there in all, and is now buried in the mission grounds. She was laid to rest close to her friend Sister Teresalina, a young Spanish nun who was among the casualties that autumn day back in 1947.
On the far side of the misson lie the graves of the five other victims of that violence - a military grave for Lt-Colonel Tom Dykes, and plain headstones for his wife Biddy Dykes, a nurse pursuing holy orders Philomena, the husband of the hospital doctor Jose Barretto, and a patient Motia Devi Kapoor.
It's a moving and important story - modest in scale to some of the anguish Kashmir has endured over the intervening years, but in many ways the moment the Kashmir conflict began. 65 years on, let's remember those who died so tragically that day - and those such as Sister Emilia who kept their stories and remembrance alive.
Beryl Vuolo celebrates her 90th birthday this coming weekend. Happy birthday Beryl!
I had the pleasure of wishing her well this week. She's featured in this blog before - as 'Red Beryl', the actress and communist who was suspended from her civil service job back in the autumn of 1948 because her political loyalties were seen as making her unreliable. The story is told in outline here.
She starred in a Unity Theatre revue, 'What's Left', which among other things poked gentle fun at the Labour government's 'red purge' ... and then fell victim to that very same purge.
At her home outside London, she told me about her acting, her politics - she used to sell the Daily Worker outside Earl's Court station - and her moment in the political spotlight all those years ago. She showed me a scrapbook full of scores of press cuttings, theatre programmes and wonderful photos - a treasure trove of memories. Most were about the 'Red Beryl', issue, and serve to show just how much attention her suspension from the civil service attracted. She was front page news - and in the Evening Standard as much as the Daily Worker.
The great cartoonists of the time - and this was the heyday of the political cartoon, as practised by Low, Vicky and the Daily Worker's Gabriel - all made use of the story of the purging of Beryl Lund (as she was then known). And their handiwork is preserved in Beryl's own personal archive.
The press photo that sparked their interest is this - of Beryl as showgirl against a backdrop of a deserted, cobweb-ridden 'mass' Liberal rally.
Low made use of the image to lampoon the Tories - the exact reference is lost in the mist of time, but the model for the dancer in the 'Tory Unity Revue' is clearly, yes, Red Beryl.
Gabriel in the Daily Worker took a more predictable cartoon potshot - showing an MI5 man taking Beryl's place in the revue line-up.
In the News Chronicle (below), Vicky was much more mischievous - the high-kicking revue line up consisted of the Labour cabinet, with the diminutive, moustachioed figure of the PM, Clement Attlee, in the middle. The MI5 agent in the front row is focussed however on the three dancers out of sync with the rest, and kicking with their left legs. Nye Bevan's left leg is particularly evident.
Beryl Vuolo was a talented actress, and she did much more at Unity Theatre than appear in revues and parade as a showgirl. But as she looks back from the vantage point of her 90th birthday on a very active life, she can reflect with - I'm sure - both pride and nostalgia that she caught the attention of the best caroonists of the age.
Well, quite a nostalgia-fest of a week. I looked at the gig guide in the Guardian on Saturday morning to find that both Jefferson Starship and the Steve Miller Band were playing in London. What a dilemma! But Jefferson just don't cut it without Grace Slick. So it was down to the Roundhouse last night to see a 69-year-old Steve Miller, and a nifty band, deliver classy versions of a classy back catalogue, including such oldies as 'Living' in the USA', 'Space Cowboy' and 'The Joker'.
These guys can still groove. Miller himself is in great form both on guitar and as a vocalist. The songs are splendid. There's a touch of the Springsteen about Steve Miller - except where it comes to the lyrics. Any guy who can rhyme calculator, elevator, operator and alligator is, well, a bit of a joker. Coming to which, the chorus of that anthem goes:
Cause' I'm a picker, I'm a grinner. I'm a lover, And I'm a sinner
Playin' my music in the sun
I'm a joker, I'm a smoker, I'm a midnight toker
I get my lovin' on the run
It then gets even more peachy and politically incorrect. But then this was written forty years or so ago.
Jack Kerouac's On the Road, of course, is even older. First published in 1957. By the time I read it I guess sixteen years later, it was already a Penguin Modern Classic. I've still got the copy I devoured back then - I've never dared read it since. It was too special - too much of a moment, my moment. I didn't really get the jazz thing, but I sure got all the rest.
So I was a bit nervous about seeing the movie - but I enjoyed it, broadly true to the spirit of the book, brilliantly acted, and with some of the sadness and sourness which added veracity to what was in part a coming of age (or refusal to come of age) novel.
Now, I suppose I better make some attempt to discover worthwhile cultural artefacts more recent than the mid-1970s. I'll let you know how I get on.
It's become a bit of a Saturday ritual - gozleme, Turkish savoury-stuffed pastry, from Yildiz on Junction Road in Archway.
The gozleme are made on the premises, as you can see - and are often so piping hot the bag is uncomfortable to carry.
If you haven't tried them, give it a go. Yildiz does four types - cheese, potato, spinach and lamb mince. I'd recommend them all.
One of the obsessive compulsive aspects of blogging is checking how many people come to your site, and the route they take to get there. That's how I know that someone alighted here recently by searching on 'zadie + tichborne'. How this delivered my site as their destination, I don't quite know. But I suspect it means someone else has noticed something I spotted but haven't blogged about (yet) ... here goes.
Zadie of course means Zadie Smith. The Tichborne claimant was a mid Victorian cause celebre, when an Australian working man appeared claiming to be the long lost Sir Roger Tichborne, and demanding his estate. The claimant became a big radical cause, and by far the most commanding popular and courtroom drama of the day.
Some of Tichborne's family supported the claimant. Others were convinced he was bogus. The opposition to his claim was seen by many as aristocratic elitism - a mass movement was formed to support the claimant - his lawyer was elected to Parliament off the back of it - a Magna Charta Association was set up with a radical and reform agenda which extended well beyond the Tichborne case ... but the claimant failed, and was eventually jailed for perjury.
So, what's the link? Well in her new novel NW - more about that here - Zadie Smith makes a couple of glancing references to Tichborne. Here are the words (p180) of a law professor addressing Natalie and her peers on the limits of reason:
"... Hundreds of witnesses stand in the dock ... They all say: That's Tichborne. The man's own mother gets up there and points: That's my son. Reason tells us the claimant is ten stone heavier than the man he's claiming to be. Reason tells us the real Tichborne could speak French. And yet. And when 'reason prevailed', why did people riot in the streets? Don't put too much faith in reason. ..."
But then, in the Zadie-ish manner, a hundred pages later there's a silent codicil. As Natalie/Keisha is on her long, desperate walk, she finds herself beside a cemetery she had walked round as a child. 'Local people claimed Arthur Orton was buried in here somewhere. In all her figure of eights she never found him.' (p269)
Arhur Orton was the Tichborne claimant. The wiki entry reports: He died on 1 April 1898 in impoverished circumstances, and was given a pauper's burial. In "an act of extraordinary generosity", the Tichborne family allowed a card bearing the name "Sir Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne" to be placed on the coffin before its interment.
The interment was, as far as I can make out, in Paddington cemetery - which is on Willesden Lane. So it all sort of fits. Fits the geography, the plot, and feeds in to issues of identity (and rationality) which are at the heart of the novel.
But how come her interest in the now decidedly obscure Tichborne story? Over to you, Zadie!
One of those heartwarming moments tonight.
I've been eating on-and-off at the Fryer's Delight - an excellent fish and chip shop on Theobalds Road - for I guess thirty years.
This evening, at a neighbouring table, were a young Italian couple experimenting with the quintessential British cuisine (though the Fryer's Delight is Italian run, but let that pass). She ordered a coke then realised that - as credit cards aren't accepted - they didn't have the money for the drink as well as the food. So she handed back the unopened coke can.
Two minutes later, another young diner, as he was leaving, handed the couple ... a can of coke. He'd paid for it himself. Before they had realised what was happening, their benefactor had disappeared into the night. A small act of kindness - but a nice one.
Another book bought for the cover. Not that the book itself is a complete dud. Berkely Mather, real name John Evan Weston-Davies, was a retired army officer with many years of service in India and across Asia who wrote thrillers that attracted the attention of Ian Fleming and Ernest Hemingway. They are dated, as this cover suggests. The Pass Beyond Kashmir, Mather's second book, was published in 1960. It clearly sold well - it's not hard to find, though I was pleased to pick up a copy with Barbara Walton's dust jacket in half decent condition.
And of course, the vulnerable white woman was the stock-in-trade of Kashmir in Anglophone popular fiction - thanks largely to H.E. Bates's The Scarlet Sword. More on that here.
This is the wonderful portrait of George Bernard Shaw by Bertha Newcombe which has just been 'found' after decades unaccounted for. Found hanging on the common room wall at Ruskin College. So not so much missing as overlooked.
It dates from 1892 and, capturing the young Shaw's ability as an orator, was entitled 'GBS - Platform Spellbinder'. Newcombe was rather infatuated with Shaw, much to his eventual annoyance - the story is told here. But it was naughty of him to describe the portrait as 'By Bertha Newcombe, Spellbound'.
In a remarkable gesture, Ruskin has given the portrait back to the Labour Party, whose property it once was. At least it was saved from the skip, where some of Ruskin's heritage items have ended up.
What a great way of spending a sunny Sunday morning - walking around my own backyard in the company of people with a real passion for and commitment to the area.
The Kentish Town Neighbourhood Forum - who are seizing on this government's "localism" initiative to develop a neighbourhood plan for much of NW5 - organised this gentle stroll. It took in planning and conservation issues, local history, and - real treats - a quick pop in (entirely impromptu) to a local Ethiopian bakery and (with advance warning) to our star local tailor.
College Lane, parallel to Highgate Road, is the longest row of houses I've come across in London fronting a walkway rather than a road.
The houses, though small, are now sought after. They were built for railway workers. And - a detail I'd never noticed before - along the row there's a tiny memorial, now barely legible, to railway men who lost their lives in the First World War.
The area opposite the houses, which are all on the west side of College Lane, used to be a rail workers' social club. It's due for development with a price tag, we were told, of £7 million for the land alone - but getting access to the site could well devastate about the last Georgian corner of Camden, the wonderful Little Green Street, with is bow-windowed former shops. If anything in this life is worth fighting for, it's the future of spots like Little Green Street.
And another NW5 detail that was new to me - at the eastern end of Little Green Street there used to be a gate leading to a farm. One of the sturdy wooden gateposts is still there. You can see it at the bottom left of the photo below.
Through the Ingestre estate, we walked up to the double bridge across the rail lines at the back of Acland Burghley School. I knew the Fleet river ran near here, but hadn't appreciated that it too is carried over the rail tracks in a hugh, rusting pipe. So much of the lay-out of the streets around here was shaped by the river - and it still runs, rising on Hampstead Heath, constrained by pipes and sewers, until it spills into the Thames near Blackfriars bridge.
On Fortess Road, we popped into the back room at the Ethiopian-run Engocha grocery - just next to the excellent Lalibela restaurant - to see them making injera, the flat, sour, rather spongy bread. If you're tempted, it's a very modest 70p for a piece the size of a large pizza.
Then it was back down towards Kentish Town station, lamenting the demolition of the old Methodist chruch, and in to Chris Ruocco's renowned tailoring shop.
The man himself was there, to tell us stories of all the stars he has dressed. Madness and Westlife are among his recent clients; he has spangled and sequinned Diana Ross; Ed Miliband and 'pleb' Andrew Mitchell both sport his made-to-measure suits.
The back room workshop displays dozens of framed photos of stars who he counts among his customers.
In the front shop, amid all the suits awaiting fitting or collection, there's a small electric keyboard, for anyone tempted to belt out a tune.
On the way home I drop in to Ruby Violet for a cone of homemade salted caramel ice cream - recommended by a fellow walkabouter. What a lot NW5 has to offer!
This is Tower Lodge on Parkhill Road, NW3 - at the Belsize Park end of the road. A curious solitary tower amid a street of substantial Victorian houses. It looks a little like a folly - and according to the guy who lives there, who I met as I was taking these photos, that's exactly what it was.
My attention was caught by the coat of arms on display above the uppermost window. That, the current occupant says, has given the building its colloquial name: Three Bears Lodge. If you are wondering why, then look at the photo below.
There is a certain dilapidated charm to the building (formally known, it seems, as Tower Cottage)- which is, I was told, about to face renovation. There's some connection, apparently, with an old dairy on Hampstead hill, but I'm not clear what.
The coat of arms is altogether curious. The legend means, I take it, 'Strength and Patience'. There are three bears, and above, amid some bulrushes, a goose, or perhaps a heron or swan. Horizontal between the bears are a couple of birds, pigeons to my untrained eye, and a fleur-de-lys. You can see a close up of the emblem here.
There's nothing that I can find on the internet which gives much more of a clue. Over to you!
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