Tag: London

The lovely gift of the gab lost

Sunday, 25 May, 2014 0 Comments

In George Orwell’s novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying, the protagonist Gordon Comstock struggles in vain to complete an epic poem describing a day in London: “It was too big for him, that was the truth. It had never really progressed, it had simply fallen apart into a series of fragments.” What Comstock battles is a phenomenon called “poet’s block”, a much less famous torment than its cousin, “writer’s block”. When Dylan Thomas found himself unable to compose, he created the image of “The lovely gift of the gab” that “bangs back on a blind shaft”. The combination invokes the image of a once-rich vein of language in a Welsh mine that is now empty of inspiration.

On No Work of Words

On no work of words now for three lean months in the
bloody
Belly of the rich year and the big purse of my body
I bitterly take to task my poverty and craft:

To take to give is all, return what is hungrily given
Puffing the pounds of manna up through the dew to heaven,
The lovely gift of the gab bangs back on a blind shaft.

To lift to leave from treasures of man is pleasing death
That will rake at last all currencies of the marked breath
And count the taken, forsaken mysteries in a bad dark.

To surrender now is to pay the expensive ogre twice.
Ancient woods of my blood, dash down to the nut of the seas
If I take to burn or return this world which is each man’s
work.

Dylan Thomas (1914 — 1953)


Celebrating Brazil with the crowd

Friday, 23 May, 2014 0 Comments

Kieran O’Keeffe describes himself as “A happy Irish designer working and living in London with the super Lynsey Power.” Together, they had the excellent idea of creating a Brazil World Cup wall chart poster that would stand out from the crowd, and with the help of the crowd at Kickstarter, 55 backers pledged £660 to get the job done. Well done!


Feather Tongue

Saturday, 19 April, 2014 0 Comments

Didn’t get tickets for Kate Bush at the Apollo in Hammersmith? Lots of other people didn’t, if that’s any consolation. For those seeking solace, there’s always Lyla Foy, who’ll be playing in Chicago tonight and in Kilkenny in May. The young Londoner does not disguise her adoration of Kate Bush in Feather Tongue, which exudes the kind of retro romanticism that made the composer of Wuthering Heights so famous so long ago.


Journalist of the day: Vera Brittain

Wednesday, 9 April, 2014 0 Comments

To understand the pacifism of Vera Brittain it is imperative to know that her brother Edward, her fiancé Roland Leighton, and her two dearest friends, Victor Richardson and Geoffrey Thurlow, were all killed during World War I. Thirty years later, she was vilified for speaking out against the saturation bombing of German cities during World War II, Vera Brittain but her position was seen in a different light when, in 1945, the Nazis’ Sonderfahndungsliste G.B. (Special Search List G.B) of 2,820 people to be immediately arrested in Britain after a German invasion was shown to include her name.

9 April 1942: “At tea-time went to Mayfair Hotel to see demonstration of ‘Liberty cut’ sponsored by the Ministry of Health as an anti-typhus measure. New line of country for me; place crowded with hairdressers; representatives of the Press (mostly hard-working women plainly dressed), and fashionable ladies in mink coats looking as if they’d never heard of the war. Several leading hairdressers talked on the importance of shorter hair for women in present crisis. Demonstrations of ‘Liberty cut’ on different girls followed, including a showing of the ‘cut’ itself. The number of men present interested me; it showed how much money there is to be made out of women’s hair.” Vera Brittain (1893 — 1970)

Tomorrow, here, Mme. de Gaulle mispronounces “happiness” and Kenneth Williams gleefully pounces upon the double entendre.


Journalist of the day: Liane de Pougy

Monday, 7 April, 2014 0 Comments

“We’re drawn to making our mark, leaving a record to show we were here, and a journal is a great place to do it.” So wroteKeri Smith in The Guardian last month, and this week Rainy Day will be devoting its posts to those who have left a record with their journals. We’re beginning with Liane de Pougy, a Folies Bergère dancer who became one of Paris’s most beautiful and desired prostitutes in the glory days of the fin de siècle.

7 April 1922: “Lord Carnarvon, the archaeologist, is dead. Liane de Pougy He was my lover when I was eighteen. It was here at Nice, at the Restaurant Français, that I first saw him. He was twenty five, I thought he was so fine, so distinguished, so thoroughbred, so chic that I adored him. Just to watch him and admire him was enough for my enthusiasm. He was introduced to me that same year at the clay-pigeon shooting at Monte Carlo. Tremendous heart fluttering, I could have died at his feet. He left the next day. What a dear little silly I was. A few months later I saw him again in London, at Covent Garden. Lady Dudley had the measles and the key of her box was for sale according to custom and I had bought it. Carnarvon walked in absent-mindedly during the interval: flutters, smiles, excuses, compliments, confessions. He was vicious, an invert so they said. He loved me all the same… and was a delicious, agonizing lover, full of charm and cruel grace. So I became the rival of Lady de Grey — Gladys. I had the upper hand. He didn’t make me very happy; he was fugitive, a traveller, always off to India, the Baltic, Scotland. I have kept a pearl in his memory, the most beautiful of all my pearls, the one valued today at a hundred thousand francs.” (Liane de Pougy, 1869 — 1950)

Tomorrow, here, Queen Victoria confides some dreadful news to her diary.


Chelsea, before it became part of Londongrad

Friday, 14 March, 2014 0 Comments

In light of Sunday’s illegal referendum in Crimea, what now for the West? That is the question. Writing in the Financial Times, John Gapper makes a suggestion: “It could impose asset freezes and visa bans on a few selected oligarchs (perhaps seizing Chelsea Football Club from Roman Abramovich, the minerals magnate).”

Long before Chelsea became the home of resource thieves and their fawning retinues, Sir John Betjeman, the British Poet Laureate, was casting a wary eye on the borough. The transformation of spelling through texting was still a way off in 1977, but punk was in the air and Betjeman was convinced that “the kiddiz know the sound”. And for all those Stamford Bridge fans who think that there is no tomorrow, he reminds them, in gleeful anticipation of the inferno of the oligarchs, that “Satan stokes his furnace underground”. Here’s Chelsea 1977 from from The Best of Betjeman.

Chelsea 1977

The street was bathed in winter sunset pink
The air was redolent of kitchen sink
Between the dog-mess heaps I picked my way
To watch the dying embers of the day
Glow over Chelsea, crimson load on load
All Brangwynesque across the long King’s Road.
Deep in myself I felt a sense of doom
Fearful of death I trudge towards the tomb.
The earth beneath my feet is hardly soil
But outstretched chicken-netting coil on coil
Covering cables, sewage-pipes and wires
While underneath burn hell’s eternal fires.
Snap, crackle! pop! the kiddiz know the sound
And Satan stokes his furnace underground.

Sir John Betjeman (1906 — 1984)


Born to run

Saturday, 22 February, 2014 0 Comments

Matan Rochlitz and Ivo Gormley of Banyak Films hire “all the kit needed to make documentaries, music videos and shorts” at their studios in Hackney in London. The results have attracted international praise. Here, they bombard runners with intimate questions and extract “funny and brutally frank confessions.”

“Someday girl I don’t know when
We’re gonna get to that place
Where we really wanna go
And we’ll walk in the sun
But till then tramps like us
Baby, we were born to run.”

Bruce Springsteen, Born To Run


What if Britain had stayed out?

Friday, 24 January, 2014 0 Comments

That’s the question posed by R.J.W. Evans in “The Greatest Catastrophe the World Has Seen.” His engaging tour d’horizon of the latest World War I books includes belated recognition for Le origini della guerra del 1914 (“The Origins of the War of 1914”) by the Italian politician and journalist Luigi Albertini, which was published in 1942–1943. As Evans notes: “Silenced by the Fascist regime, Albertini immersed himself in all the sources, and added more of his own by arranging interviews with survivors. That lent an immediacy to his wonderfully nuanced presentation of the individuals who actually made (or ducked) the fateful decisions.”

The fateful decisions taken in London were “entrusted to the tentative grasp of the country squire Sir Edward Grey”, who “wobbled both before and after Berlin’s foolhardy démarche, and was determined at least as much by parliamentary frictions and civil disturbance at home.” This “disturbance” included “the ferocious clashes over Ireland’s home-rule legislation.” Grey, does not emerge well from the books reviewed by Evans, but like many of the other players in this drama he was unprepared for what was coming in July 1914. “Communing with nature on his country estate, for he passionately preferred live birds (he was an acknowledged expert in their observation) to the feathers on an archduke’s hat, he had already reached the conclusion that ‘if war breaks out, it will be the greatest catastrophe the world has ever seen.'” And it was.

The Survivors

No doubt they’ll soon get well; the shock and strain
Have caused their stammering, disconnected talk.
Of course they’re ‘longing to go out again,’ —
These boys with old, scared faces, learning to walk.
They’ll soon forget their haunted nights; their cowed
Subjection to the ghosts of friends who died, —
Their dreams that drip with murder; and they’ll be proud
Of glorious war that shatter’d all their pride…
Men who went out to battle, grim and glad;
Children, with eyes that hate you, broken and mad.

Siegfried Sassoon

1914 — 2014: Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, compared the leadership of China to the German monarchy of Wilhelm II ahead of the First World War. Beijing Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang responded by calling the Japanese World War II criminals commemorated at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo “Nazis in the East.”


Bond interrupted

Friday, 15 November, 2013 0 Comments

Following a forced and painful interruption, we’re ready to recommence reading Solo, the new James Bond thriller by William Boyd. At the end of the first chapter, 007 is at the Café Picasso in Chelsea in London. He orders a glass of Valpolicella and a portion of lasagne. This is followed by another glass of wine and an espresso. Now, note what follows: “He threw down a pound note and some coins to cover his bill and a tip, stepped out into the King’s Road and hailed a taxi.” Given London prices today, William Boyd is dealing clearly with a distant past in Solo.

Here’s the cover of the fourth Ian Fleming 007 story, Diamonds are Forever, which was published in March 1956 in Britain by Jonathan Cape. The creator of the cover art is to be credited with making an effort to match the author’s attitude.

“Before a man’s forty, girls cost nothing. After that you have to pay money, or tell a story. Of the two, it’s the story that hurts most. Anyway I’m not forty yet.” Ian Fleming, Diamonds are Forever

Diamonds are Forever


Gaitskell’s baths and Cameron’s jumpers

Thursday, 14 November, 2013 0 Comments

Brrrrr! There’s a nip in the air. Back in mid-October, the UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey said that he wears jumpers at home to keep his heating bills down. The next morning, Prime Minister Cameron’s spokesman was asked whether people should “wrap up warm” and wear jumpers. He said: “That’s not a question that I have asked him. Clearly, he is not going to prescribe necessarily the actions individuals should take about that but if people are giving that advice, that is something that people may wish to consider.” The Daily Mirror duly (mis)informed its readers: “David Cameron left sweating as voters hit out at ‘put a jumper on’ energy advice“. The insinuation being that the Prime Minister was a cold-hearted toff. But the dirty nature of what passes for British politics (and the reporting of such politics) is not exactly new as this diary entry by Hugh Gaitskell shows.

14 November 1947: “How easy it is to say the wrong thing! How easy it is not to recognise one has said the wrong thing!

About three weeks ago I made a speech at a municipal election meeting in Hastings, I was very tired when I got there but it was a good meeting. I tried to keep my speech fairly above party despite the coming election and inevitably referred to fuel economy in the course of it [he was Minister of Fuel and Power]. Then I let fall two fatal sentences:

‘It means getting up and going to bed in cold bedrooms. It may mean fewer baths. Personally, I have never had a great many baths myself and I can assure those who are in the habit of having a great many baths that it does not make a great deal of difference to their health if they have fewer. And as far as appearance — most of that is underneath and nobody sees it.’

warm jumper Of course the first sentence was said in a joking manner and the second was a pure joke, and the audience laughed and took it as such. It is the kind of thing I have said again and again at open air meetings to liven things up. After the meeting one of the local people who was driving me round referred to this, and said he would not be surprised if it was in the headlines the next day. Though he, himself, thought it a joke and took it as such. The press did pick it out though not very flamboyantly. However on Tuesday it so happened that Churchill was making his big speech against the Government and he made great play of these remarks of mine. I was not present at the time but everybody tells me that he was extremely funny at my expense. Since then I have become associated in the public mind with dirt, never having a bath, etc. I am told that at the [Royal] Command Performance no less than three jokes were made about this by music hall comedians, though they all seem to have been in quite a friendly manner.

First of all, I did not worry at all. It seemed inconceivable to me that anybody could believe that it was anything but a joke. However, I now consider I really made a mistake.”

Hugh Gaitskell (1906 — 1963)

Talking of baths and jokes, here’s one: What happened to the leopard who took a bath three times a day? After a week he was spotless!


Ozymandias, perhaps

Sunday, 10 November, 2013 0 Comments

The arrival in London in 1821 of a colossal statue of Ramesses II, acquired for the British Museum by the Italian adventurer Giovanni Belzoni, is said to have inspired Percy Bysshe Shelley to compose Ozymandias. The central theme of the sonnet is the contrast between the inevitable decline of all empires with the lasting power […]

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