Remembering Stuart Hall
To Friends' House on Euston Road this afternoon, for a powerful, moving five-hour-long memorial event for Stuart Hall. He was not simply a pioneer of cultural studies, but provided fantastic insights into race and identity, was a political activist from the Universities and Left Review established in the wake of Hungary and Suez down to his critique of Thatcherism. A public intellectual of the highest order, a warm and collegiate man, the sort of broad mind that comes along all too rarely.
About 700 people came along today - a gathering of the old new left (and some of the old old left too). There was Angela Davis from the US - that's her in the photo - and Chuck Taylor from Canada, joining the likes of Bea Campbell, Sally Alexander and Martin Jacques. The best speech, mixing emotion, personal remembrance and great humour, was from Stuart and Cath's daughter, Becky - among other things, recalling how she and her brother Jess hated their parents' embrace of collective childminding ('the arrangement, we used to call it') and hankered after repressive '50s style parenting.
Amid so much else, Stuart Hall in the latter part of his life gave particular emphasis to black representation in culture - notably photography, film and fine art. Rivington Place in Shoreditch - which describes itself as London's global arts centre - is the institutional legacy of that work. This aspect of Stuart Hall's intellectual energy was well reflected during the afternoon - as was his love of jazz, and Miles Davis in particular.
Bea Campbell recalled that she once commented to Stuart how blues music takes you to the worst of human experience. 'Yes', he replied, 'it takes you there, but it doesn't leave you there.' That, she suggested, could be said of Stuart's life's work - taking us to the worst and most contested aspects of our world, but not leaving us there.
The event ended with everyone singing William Blake's Jerusalem. Cath explained that she and her sister grew up in a house with a lot of hymn singing, and she wanted a collective act to round off the afternoon:
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England's pleasant pastures seen!
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!
I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England's green and pleasant Land
All Saints and EOKA
Walking up Camden Street this afternoon with a bright, low, winter sun, I was struck by the elegance of what's now the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of All Saints.
The building dates to the 1820s, built in what architects call a neo-Greek style. It became known as Camden Chapel.
After the Second World War, as more Greek Cypriots settled in this area, it began to be used for Orthodox services, and was eventually bought by the Orthodox church. It became a cathedral in 1991.
All Saints is listed Grade 1 - and you can see why. It's certainly the stand out piece of clerical architecture in Camden Town (not that I can think of a lot of competition) - and one of the best in the borough.
The building was open as I walked past, so I had a peep inside. Very much in the Orthodox style, its charm slightly dented by a sense of being a bit crowded by all the trappings of worship. A building of this elegance needs a sparse and dignified interior. Though the cathedral is clearly well patronised, and the building cared for, so let's just be thankful for that.
I mentioned that Greek Cypriots provided the drive to establish a Greek Orthodox church here. A Camden History Society publication records that in 1956, an assistant priest at All Saints was deported on suspicion that he was raising funds for EOKA, which was fighting the British and aimed to reunite Cyprus with Greece. After Cyprus gained independence in 1960, the Cypriot leader Archbishop Makarios came to London several times, and conducted services here.
A Passage to India
This charming yet deeply tragic memorial tablet is on the walls of St Anne's, Highgate - the church where John Betjeman was baptised. You can only imagine the excitement amid which Doris Tanner, newly married, headed out to India. Within a year she was dead. Aged just 23. It's not clear where in India she was buried.
Her husband was an 'A.S.P. India', by which I take it that he was an Assistant Superintendent in the Indian Police Force. Jocelyn Tanner outlived his wife by almost sixty years, dying in 1973. He appears to have made his career in the Indian Police and was awarded the King's Police Medal. He married again, and his new wife, Aileen, lived until 1983. They are buried in the same grave at Haughley in Suffolk.
Of all the beats, Ferlinghetti has lasted best. He's still living - which makes him of course almost unique among the major beats (I am reminded that Gary Snyder is also happily still with us) - but his poems pass the test of time well too. So I was thrilled to find in a Bloomsbury bookshop this weekend a first UK edition of his landmark work A Coney Island of the Mind.
This appeared in the US in 1958, with the UK edition the following year. It includes the poems from his 1955 volume, Pictures of the Gone World. So all of the best of Ferlinghetti's early work is here.
The title, Ferlinghetti explains, is taken from Henry Miller, and 'expressed the way I felt about these poems when I wrote them - as if they were, taken together, a kind of Coney Island of the mind, a kind of circus of the soul.'
Coney Island is a peninsula jutting out from Brooklyn in New York City into the Atlantic Ocean. It's famous for its amusement parks. And that provides the motif for the dust jacket and the matching decorated boards of this particularly smart edition - see below.
By this time, Ferlinghetti had already established City Lights bookshop in San Francisco, which continues to flourish.
Let me give you a flavour of Coney Island - the first few lines of the first poem:
In Goya's greatest scenes we seem to see
the people of the world
exactly at the moment when
they first attained the title of
They writhe upon the page
in a veritable rage
The mysterious Maggie Harkness
Margaret Harkness was a novelist of late Victorian London who produced a string of social realist books - A City Girl, Out of Work, In Darkest London and A Manchester Shirtmaker - which deserve attention as much for their style and subject matter as for their literary merit. She wrote of the lives of the poor, of poor women in particular, and of movements for social change, including both socialism and the Salvation Army.
I spent yesterday at a symposium at Birkbeck devoted to Harkness and her writings. She is a somewhat myseterious figure - the drawing above is the only confirmed likeness of her. Her relationship with the socialist former army officer H.H. Champion, also above, was close, and persisted over several years. Both are enigmatic figures - and the story of their intertwining personal and political lives, and the novel Harkness wrote about Champion some years after their friendship (it's entitled George Eastmont, Wanderer and is extremely, and I mean extremely difficult to find) featured repeatedly in yesterday's papers and discussion.
Harkness also spent time, perhaps a decade or so, in India and what was then Ceylon. The only book of hers I have ever discovered in a second-hand bookshop - at least a title published in her lifetime - is her Indian Snapshots, which I once chanced across in Hauz Khas in Delhi. Among the many mysteries about Harkness which still have to be addressed is just what she did while in India, where she lived, and how she engaged with the country. Maybe that's for the next Harkness symposium.
And a real treat for Harkness obsessives, yesterday's symposium had pencils produced specially for the occasion. Now that really is style!
I've just come across this marvellous image on Twitter and couldn't resist posting it. It dates from 1948 and was the work of Mario Miranda, a Goan artist and cartoonist who died as recently as 2011. He outlived the 'Illustrated Weekly of India' - once the pre-eminent Indian weekly which numbered Khushwant Singh among its editors - by almost twenty years.
I love the way it captures the bustle of Bombay in such a kind and unthreatening manner. The design is dated, over romantic, but heart warming as well as charming..
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