'The Lion of Kashmir'
Just bought on eBay - a photo of Sheikh Abdullah which bears the date on the back of 24th September 1965. He was then 59, and - as the press note on the back of the photo confirms - at that time in detention. I'm not clear whether the photographer was able to take this picture while Abdullah was under arrest or whether it's a re-release of an earlier portrait photo.
LATER: And the photographer? Well, there was a very famous camera man by the name of 'Baron' who worked for Camera Press ...
Sterling Henry Nahum died in 1956 - this is his obituary in 'The Times' - but it seems that he took this portrait shot of Sheikh Abdullah, and then it was recirculated by the Camera Press agency in 1965.
It's also possible that this photo was indeed taken in or around 1965 by Baron Studios, which continued in operation until 1974. Of this, the National Portrait Gallery says: Founded by the dance, film and celebrity photographer Baron (born Sterling Henry Nahum) , 1906-56, the studios operated between 1954 and 1974 from London studios on Brick Street, Park Lane and Mayfair. They employed a number of operators including Count Zichy and principally Rex Coleman. Though primarily consisting of over 10,000 studio portraits of businessmen, many of the more interesting subjects, including those in colour or on location, portray writers, musicians, foreign dignitaries, artists, broadcasters and fashion designers. Godfrey Argent purchased Baron Studios in 1974 and the collection was generously donated to the National Portrait Gallery in 1999.
Simply the most influential work of history of our times. And this morning I chanced across a 1963 first edition of E.P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class at the excellent Black Gull bookshop in East Finchley. It was published by Victor Gollancz, and this copy is in excellent condition with the original dust wrapper. It wasn't cheap, but it's made my weekend!
The illustration on the cover is entitled 'Victory of Peterloo' - the massacre on Manchester's St Peter's Fields - from William Hone's Political Tracts of 1819. Thompson's agenda was the working-class radicalism of the period from the French Revolution to the Regency.
And his goal, as he famously declared in the preface, was to 'rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the "obsolete" hand-loom weaver, the "utopian" artisan, and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott, from the enormous condescension of posterity.'
Up the Crescent: Home & Colonial
Queen's Crescent isn't exactly top drawer - but it does have a lively, lived in feel to it, and its recently revitalised Saturday market is a great way of spending a leisurely hour. It has the added bonus of a recently uncovered shop sign from a century or so ago - the Home & Colonial Stores were grocers and tea vendors, and this sign - there's more about it here on the excellent Kentishtowner site - is in wonderful nick, and seems to have a secure future.
The food stalls include this French Caribbean (from Guadeloupe to be precise) foodie's delight - fried fish sticks for £1, and we also got a dumpling and king prawn stew, will let you know what it's like.
Another customer was an old Trinidadian guy - he'd spent his life as a merchant seaman, his grandfather was from India and he learnt Hindi from his granny but it's faded entirely away. He likes the Caribbean pungency of the food from this stall - and so do I.
There's also a really good fishmonger's and a stylish bread stall, as well as lot of other general, bric-a-brac, flowers and yet more food stalls and popup cafes.
And the hog roast was exactly that - the whole thing. Next time!
The shoppers were overwhelmingly local - and there's a good feel to the place. If we'd hung around longer, live music was on offer. Queen's Crescent has always been that little bit hidden away - squeezed between Gospel Oak and West Kentish Town. But one of the area's oldest market streets seems to be back in form.
Highgate Camp revisited
A year or so ago, I blogged about a small war memorial in Highgate which was quite literally falling apart - and with it remembrance of those who served at Highgate Camp and lost their lives in the First World War. That's the memorial as it was on the left. When I chanced upon it this afternoon, I discovered that it has been splendidly restored.
There are two memorials either side of a gateway at the top of Swains Lane, just a minute's stroll from Pond Square. There was something elegiac about the manner in which they were crumbling away - and part of me wonders whether that is the most poetic fate. But I imagine those whose forbears are commemorated here will much prefer this new lease of life for the memorial - and now in a century's time, the names should still be decipherable, and some of those who stop and take notice will ponder on the tragedy which befell this nation - indeed the world, for this was a global conflict - in what contemporaries called the Great War.
The facing memorial, to J. Dawbarn Young, has also been replaced. This wasn't as tarnished, but it's clearly appropriate that both memorials should match. James Dawbarn Young was a barrister whose passion for yachting led him to enroll in the naval reserves, and reach the rank of Lieutenant Commander. He died 96 years ago this week.
These are of course memorials not graves. But just a short distance down Swains Lane lies Highgate Cemetery, which in the spring has a quiet enchantment to it. I hope you agree.
That House on Clerkenwell Green
A wonderful drawing from 1933 of what is now the Marx Memorial Library on Clerkenwell Green. It was built in the eighteenth century as a Welsh charity school, in the 1870s housed the Patriotic Club, one of London's leading radical clubs, and later was home to a socialist publishing house. Clerkenwell Green is one of my favourite London haunts - it has not just Marx House, but a wonderful sessions house, The Crown tavern (once a music hall), and overlooking it all the bleached tower of St James, Clerkenwell.
This drawing is on the cover of a pamphlet I've just bought - Tommy Jackson's lively account of the radical associations of Clerkenwell Green. As he says: 'To find a spot in London, or even in the British Islands, richer in historical associations than Clerkenwell Green and its vicinity would be hard indeed.'
A few decades later, another leftist, Andrew Rothstein, pursued the same territory in A House on Clerkenwell Green.
Tommy Jackson knew the area well - he was born in Clerkenwell, and imbibed the traditions of artisan radicalism which then flourished here. He makes that lineage clear in this pamphlet (see below right), and in his wonderfully engaging 1953 autobiography Solo Trumpet. My copy of that title includes a cutting from the 'Daily Worker' (below left) two years later reporting Jackson's death - one of the last of the left's great auto-didacts.
Ayot St Lawrence, just twenty-five miles north of London, owes its reputation to George Bernard Shaw. He lived here, on and off, for the last forty or so years of his life. And Shaw's Corner, built in 1902 as the New Rectory, is now a National Trust property - and on a day like today, a tolerably bright bank holiday, has about as many visitors as it can handle (the volunteers say they can't remember as many visitors, though to be honest even then it's hardly what you would call a throng).
Ayot St Lawrence, though, has many other surprises. On the serpentine road through the village, there's the ruins of the 'old church' (with the still splendid Old Rectory immediately opposite). Which begs the question - where the new church? And walking round the village, you can spy it across the fields, in a solitary location some way off.
And what a church! Clearly patronised by the Lord of the Manor (I didn't buy the guide book, so I don't know why the old church fell out of favour) - it's a Grade 1 listed Palladian-style building from the 1780s, and still in use, at first glance more stately home than place of worship.
Inside, there's a nice East India Company-related memorial - the father was surveyor-general of Bombay, and the son, as a teenager, was killed serving with the British army in Sindh in 1840. I hope the inscription, below, is legible. Another son was Sir Monier Monier-Williams, a professor of Sanskrit at Oxford.
And then to the main event - Shaw's Corner ... architecturally nothing special, an early C20 building, but in spectacular grounds. And it's well maintained, with wonderfully atmospheric rooms capturing the place as it was when Shaw died (as recently as 1950 - he was in his mid-nineties) with lots of Shaw memorabilia. Take a look at the photos over the fireplace - Stalin and Lenin stand out, but can you identify the others?
Here's the answer - courtesy of the National Trust. And yes that is Gandhi hiding behind a candlestick
On Water Lane
So, where that skeleton was (see the last post on the blog) ... well it wasn't so much painted over in an act of vandalism, as in preparation for another fine piece of street art. This is it. Water Lane, just north of the canal at Camden, and just off Kentish Town Road, if you want to go and see for yourself. Which I reckon you should ...
I spotted this street artist at work late yesterday morning on Water Lane, just north of the canal in Camden. It's an iphone photo - not one of my best. But it reveals something I'd always wondered about - how street artists do these big pieces. He had a bog standard domestic paintbrush attached to a long pole - and was using it to mark out the black lines in this rather striking dinosaur (?) skeleton.
Even more striking, when I walked past early this morning, the whole thing had been painted over. Gone! Rib cage, backbone, skull, the lot. Beware, grave robbers at work.
Srinagar: on Amira Kadal
Over the years, I've walked round Srinagar many times - but I'd never before noticed the fish market on Amira Kadal, one of the most prominent bridges across the Jhelum. The bridge - there's more about it here - dates from the 1770s and the period of fairly brutal Afghan rule over the valley - through the current construction is as recent as the 1980s. It's just a couple of minutes walk from Lal Chowk. The fish sellers, all women, are all on the right side of the bridge as you walk over from Lal Chowk - all the other traders, of which there are plenty, stick to the other walkway.
There is something about 'fish wives' around the world - sassy, confident, outgoing. It's certainly true of the sellers on Amira Kadal. A friendly, welcoming bunch who were happy for me to take photographs, and were clearly doing good business.
The fish in the plastic basins - covered both to stop them jumping out and to discourage the cheel overhead - were clearly that morning's catch. Still very much alive. The women were gutting some of the catch as they sold it - I hadn't realised that they simply disembowelled living fish. There were three main types of fish - a small one which I can't name, a medium size which looked to me to be the famed Kashmiri trout though the women clearly didn't recognise that name, and a much larger fish which they called 'golden fish'.
It all leaves me to wonder why fish dishes don't feature more prominently in Kashmiri wazwan. I ate in a few local restaurants, and there certainly wasn't a lot of fish on offer. I once managed to eat pan-fried trout in Kashmir, served with lightly fried Kashmiri almonds - but that was at the Grand Palace on the sole occasion I've dined there.
Who catches the fish? Is it the women's menfolk, or are they buying catches wholesale? And where is the fishing? On the Jhelum and Dal Lake or further afield? If you know, let me know. And if you are wondering how to cook fish Kashmiri style, there's a film on YouTube which might help you.
The saffron fields on the outskirts of Srinagar. The crocuses whose stigmas constitute saffron (kesar in Hindi) flower in October and November. At the moment, there are just unexceptional little plants which from a distance look like tufts of grass - overshadowed by the almond trees in blossom. But saffron is one of the world's most valuable crops - about $2,500 a kilo (in case you are wondering, a kilo of gold costs $42,000). Kashmiri saffron is, so the growers say, the world's best - much superior to the saffron from Iran and Spain. Indeed, it's said that some unscrupulous Kashmiri traders bulk up their saffron with cheaper, coarser Iranian stigma.
The culinary value of saffron comes not so much from the taste - which is not at all pronounced - as the golden hue it imparts to cooking, and the wonderful fragrance. While in the saffron belt, we had some kahwa, traditional Kashmiri tea, containing saffron - and the colour really does stand out.
What stands out even more is the wealth of the saffron-growing community - the houses are immense, not just one or two houses, but all of them. I've never seen a village anywhere which, in terms of the size of the houses, appeared to be quite this prosperous. OK, so these are each home to an extended familiy and people here would much rather invest in property than save in a bank. Even so, these are big, big properties.
It wasn't immediately clear to me why saffron was grown in just a small area on the southern fringes of Srinagar. I was told that the land was good, slightly sloping to aid drainage, and that tradition - reinforced by religious myth - dictated that this was the realm of saffron. There are plenty of Kashmiri villages that are much, much poorer - especially those on the edges of the valley, where the mountains start to climb. But it was astonishing to see such opulence. Another sign of this increasing wealth - where once the crocus stamen would have been picked and sorted by Kashmiris, now Bihari workers from hundreds of miles away travel to Kashmir to take on this delicate and repetitive task.
Saffron has certainly brought a golden touch to Kashmir.
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