- Created: 17 May 2018 17 May 2018
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Canterbury Tales (1387 – 1400): “Her mouth was sweet as braggot ... or as mead” Add a comment
- Created: 02 May 2018 02 May 2018
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Labour councillors have trashed our local libraries and turned a blind eye to a worsening air pollution problem that is now putting the health of the Borough’s children at risk. In the case of instances like the Carnegie Library, Labour councillors took the votes of those who elected them for granted and pushed ahead with the closure despite the negative impacts on the community that it served.Add a comment
- Created: 26 April 2018 26 April 2018
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At long last, the Carnegie Library is open but its opening is as controversial as its closure. I popped in yesterday to see for myself. A security guard on the main door exchanged pleasantries and I walked into the main room. Here were shelves of books, computers and tables and a toddler group underway. Another security guard stood near the door to the stairs that led to toilets. He told me they weren’t open yet.
The atrium in the main room ensures that it is still a lovely space but this isn’t going to be where the library will remain. Sometime soon, it will relocate to the old children’s library room and the gallery next door to it. The new library will occupy 151 square metres compared to the old footprint of 357 square metres (the main room plus the children’s room). I took these figures from the Carnegie Community Trust (CCT) business plan (last updated in January).
It is two years since the Carnegie was closed, forcing community activities to seek alternative venues and kicking out the twenty odd self-employed, freelance and small businesses renting desk there (including me). At that time and several months later in October 2016, when the new floor plans were displayed, there was no business case from Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL).
According to the People’s Audit, negotiations between GLL and Lambeth Council “were at an advanced stage” way back in October 2015. It further revealed that “sponsorship of the Black Cultural Archives was contingent on the agreement” which makes it all sound like a rather unsavoury, done deal.
Without this knowledge, it’s very hard to understand the council position. I haven’t met anyone who wants a gym there and it seems unlikely that it will get a lot of custom, sitting as it does in a residential area, a fair walk from any stations and not far from other gyms and leisure centres.
Aside from the gym, there is nothing in the CCT business plan that hadn’t already been addressed, either by library staff or the Friends of the Carnegie Library group. CCT’s plan says the main room will be used for flexible community use library activities, events and performances and will be available for hire. All of this would have been possible whilst using the main room as the library. The shelving was all on wheels for that reason.
I can’t decide whether the council has cynically rushed to open before polling day or cynically set up temporarily in the main room or cynically done both. I spoke to Councillor Jim Dixon who was out campaigning a week or two ago. He suggested I visit the reopened library to see it for myself. I’ve done that and remain disappointed in the lack of imagination and paucity of vision. It is dispiriting.Add a comment
- Created: 19 April 2018 19 April 2018
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Among the many casualties in World War One was Lieutenant William Hope Hodgson, writer of weird and horror fiction, seaman, pioneering photographer, binder of Houdini and teacher of physical culture to the Blackburn police. On 19 April 1918, forty year old Lieutenant Hodgson was killed in an artillery bombardment near Ypres.
In 1913, he had married Bessie Farnworth and the couple lived in France until the outbreak of war. Back in England and despite being in his late thirties, Hodgson volunteered to join the Royal Artillery. He was invalided out with a broken jaw in 1916 after being thrown from a horse but when he had recovered he insisted on being reinstated.
Early in 1918 he wrote to his mother; “The sun was pretty low as I came back, and far off across that desolation, here and there they showed - just formless, squarish, cornerless masses erected by man against the infernal Storm that sweeps for ever, night and day, day and night, across that most atrocious Plain of Destruction. My God! talk about a Lost World – talk about the end of the World; talk about The Night Land – it is all here, not more than two hundred odd miles from where you sit infinitely remote. And the infinite, monstrous, dreadful pathos of the things one sees - the great shell-hole with over thirty crosses sticking in it; some just up out of the water - and the dead below them, submerged …. If I live and come somehow out of this (and certainly, please God, I shall and hope to), what a book I shall write if my old ability with the pen has not forsaken me.”
He never had the opportunity to write that book. After his death, he slipped into obscurity, unlike contemporaries like MR James and HP Lovecraft. He always had his supporters, like Lovecraft who ranked him as “perhaps second only to Algernon Blackwood in his serious treatment of unreality” and August Derleth, the founder of Arkham House publishing.
Hodgson’s oeuvre ranges from straight up horror to cosmic weirdness. Some of it is cosy, some is brutal and some mind-bending. Along with monsters and ghosts, Hodgson’s stories brim with ideas about astral projection, the origins of life, dimensional rifts and deep time.
For many devotees, The Night Land is his magnum opus. It is set on a ruined earth, far in the future. It is a mighty work, full of ideas but thanks to its cod-archaic style, it’s also a slog. Some love it, some hate it. Either way, it’s not the place to start if you haven’t read any of his works.
The House on the Borderland is wilder but more accessible. The narrator describes out of body experiences, drifting over vast plains, across voids of space and through time to the death of the sun. This is coupled with the earthier siege of his house by hordes of swine creatures.
Another strand of Hodgson’s fiction is the Carnacki stories. Carnacki is a ghost finder, somewhat indebted to Sherlock Holmes and Blackwood’s John Silence. He is Hodgson’s best-realised character; methodical, sceptical but open minded and constantly wrestling with fear.
Carnacki investigates all manner of hauntings, deploying high-tech gadgets like an electric pentacle and wall microphones, alongside the more usual garlic and arcane rituals. He is so thorough that he sometimes spends several weeks minutely examining the haunted building before tackling the phenomenon itself. Some of the stories are deliciously grotesque, like The Whistling Room and The Gateway of the Monster, and it’s no wonder Carnacki is almost overcome with funk.
My favourites are his sea stories; two novels and a boat load of short stories. These are tales of mystery and imagination and the best of them have an insidious power. His protagonists are becalmed, ensnared in the weed of the Sargasso Sea or shipwrecked on bizarre islands. They face all sorts of slithering, biting sea creatures, weird moulds and slicks of scum, drifting derelicts and uncharted lands.
The Ghost Pirates is the better of the novels and shows Hodgson’s weaknesses as well as his strengths. His dialogue can be pretty rum (“Rot! You know jolly well you were sleeping in your time-keeping. You dreamed something and woke up suddenly. You were off your chump”) and the officers and crew could easily be swapped with those in his other stories.
When Hodgson gets into his stride though, he’s superb. A crewman has disappeared somewhere in the rigging and a search is undertaken, lit by lamps and flares. The tension builds and holds as the men fight panic and shadowy figures tracking them.
The Voice in the Night is probably his best known sea story. A becalmed schooner, far from land, is hailed by an inhuman voice, asking for food. The voice’s owner has a grotesque and tragic story to tell. The path the story treads is fairly well worn, dating back at least to Lucian of Samosata but Hodgson does it well.
The story was filmed brilliantly for US television in the late 50s, making great use of atmospheric and claustrophobic sets and a terrific cast of James Donald and Barbara Rush, ably supported by Patrick Macnee and James Coburn. Also worth a look is a luridly 60s Japanese version called Matango, directed by Ishirô Honda of Godzilla fame. It makes a good companion to Hammer’s delirious The Lost Continent and counts Guillermo del Toro among its fans.
Hodgson isn’t much filmed. Apart from these, there have only been a couple of Carnacki adaptations, with Alan Napier and Donald Pleasance in the title role.
The sea stories smack of authenticity and it’s no surprise to learn that Hodgson spent eight years at sea. He describes the monotony of life on board, the watches and the work in a natural way. When Hodgson’s father died, his education was cut short and a couple of months before his fourteenth birthday, he signed on as cabin boy on an oceangoing windjammer. This life was “comfortless, weariful and thankless” and he suffered under a brutal second mate. He made the young Hodgson’s life so miserable that in the end he fought back and ended up receiving a merciless thrashing. He likened it to a fight between a mastiff and a terrier.
His response was to learn judo, build muscle and eventually earn a Third Mate certificate. He also heroically rescued a man from shark-infested waters and was awarded a medal by the Royal Humane Society.
The Hodgson family had always been cash-strapped. His father was a clergyman and moved parish frequently. The mill town of Blackburn was the final posting. While at sea, he had also taught himself photography and when he settled back in Blackburn in 1902, this formed one strand of a rather modern-sounding portfolio career. He combined it with running a physical culture practice, with the police as his main customer and writing.
In October of that year, Harry Houdini appeared at Blackburn Palace Theatre, offering £25 to anyone who could bind him so that he couldn’t escape. Hodgson took up the challenge and met Houdini on stage with “an armoury of cuffs and irons” as the Blackburn Standard had it. Houdini protested that the locks had been wrapped with twine, which was against the spirit of the challenge but eventually relented. Hodgson used his knowledge of muscle action and soon the escapologist was “for all the world like a trussed fowl”.
Houdini did escape but it took so long that the audience had grown restive and then angry but not with Houdini. Panting and weak, he addressed the cheering crowd; “Ladies and gentlemen, I have been in the handcuff business for fourteen years but never have I been so brutally and cruelly ill treated. I would just like to say that the locks have been plugged”.
By then, Hodgson had disappeared to the police station, fearing retribution. After his experience at sea, it must have felt strange to be the one labelled brutal.Add a comment
- Created: 18 February 2018 18 February 2018
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In the heart of picturesque Dulwich Village, the oldest purpose-built gallery in the world, designed by architect Sir John Soane, stands stout and firm, self-confident in the world-class collection of paintings that can be found hanging on its walls. It is, of course, the Dulwich Picture Gallery.Add a comment
- Created: 23 December 2017 23 December 2017
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Last year we listed a few walking-off-Christmas-by-public-transport ideas and here are another three. Living in south London, I’ve tended to look further south to Surrey, Kent or Sussex for days out, to places like Box Hill and Knole Park. Recently, I’ve cast an eye north, in search of some variety.
A day in the country is a genuine need for some. It certainly is for me. A 35 minute train journey from Euston takes you to Tring in Hertfordshire. The station sits on the edge of town and a right turn lands you plum in the countryside.
Our plan was to head north on a stretch of the ancient Ridgeway Path and then to circle back through the wooded hills of the Ashridge Estate. We made a mistake very early on and ended up doing the walk in reverse. It didn’t matter a jot, of course.
This is one of those walks studded with points of interest, man-made and natural. In the Ashridge Estate, there is a striking monument to the Duke of Bridgewater, known as the “father of inland navigation” for construction of the Bridgewater Canal. Very close to this is a Moneybury Hill Barrow, a 4,000 year old Bronze Age burial mound.
A woodland path offering views of the valley below eventually brought us out on to the Ridgeway and Ivinghoe Beacon, once an Iron Age hill fort. From up, the views are expansive and on our visit, an exhilaratingly cold wind whipped down from the north. We doubled back towards the south, following a muddy path for a while, towards Pitstone Hill before diving back into woods at Aldbury Nowers nature reserve.
If you’ve a tolerable sense of direction and enough daylight, you can take any number of paths and still make it back to Tring station.
For a gentler walk, Epping Forest is a good bet. At the far end of the Victoria Line is Walthamstow Central and from there it is an eleven minute rail journey to Chingford. A right turn out of the station and a five minute walk will put you on the edge of Epping Forest.
It’s a mix of meadow and forest, with some muddy streams and ponds and lots of beech, oak, birch and blackthorn. This is Sunday stroll territory, rather than hike. Connaught Water qualifies as a lake rather than a pond and is suitably picturesque. In the woods nearby, we saw mobiles of string, stick, leaf and acorn dangling from branches, with a touch of the Blair Witch, though they were charming too.
There are walking routes (the Holly Trail, the Willow Trail and so on) but we followed wandered wherever our feet took us. The paths changed from broad to narrow, surfaced to grassy and popular to empty.
Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge gives a focal point. It’s free to enter and offers a potted history of the Epping Forest and of the 1217 Charter of the Forest that re-established some rights of common people. These included collecting fire wood, pasturing and grazing live stock and cutting turf. When the nine year old Henry III signed, it reversed some of the Normans’ trampling on people’s rights.
The third suggestion is along the River Lea Navigation, on the Hertfordshire Essex border. This is one of those walks you can start or finish from a variety of places, all on the same line from Liverpool Street. We began in Ware and ambled south as far as Broxbourne.
Residential narrow boats and barges dot the banks, there’s a decent pub or two and Amwell Quarry Nature Reserve is there to explore if you’ve time and inclination. There are also a few reminders of the working life of the river too.
At Dobb’s Weir, we skirted Admiral’s Walk Lake and found ourselves on the banks of New River. This water course is a 17th century aqueduct that was constructed to take water from the River Lea and Chadwell Springs to a fast-growing London. The water is fast flowing and full of long, trailing tresses of weed. This was my favourite bit of the walk and enough to suggest exploration of the upper and lower regions of the aqueduct.
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- Created: 03 December 2017 03 December 2017
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Vineyards are popping up all over Britain, especially in the south of England and Wales, and from these vineyards are sprouting many an international wine award to accompany them.
Having tasted many of the English wines that are on the market I am surprised that there has not been more take up from restaurants and bars in serving our home grown splendour.Add a comment
- Created: 16 November 2017 16 November 2017
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After several years of “meaning to go” to the Cinema Museum in Kennington, I went to last night’s screening of Bad Day at Black Rock. What a wonderful place the Cinema Museum is but possibly not for much longer.
The landlord is the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust and it is planning to sell to a developer. Losing the museum would be a tragedy. This dispiriting affair fits in with the loss of the Carnegie Library and threats to Dulwich Hamlet. There’s a petition to save the museum here.Add a comment
- Created: 31 October 2017 31 October 2017
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“I was forty years old and a failure as an actor when the opportunity to play Dr Frankenstein was offered to me. Despite years of endeavour both in America and in British television, I could see no future and was about to give up acting to design scarves for a living.”
- Created: 24 October 2017 24 October 2017
- Hits: 896 896
Whether you are stepping out from beneath the confetti on your big day, charming the board of your company into a New Year's bonus, or simply organising an impromptu neighbourhood knees-up, realising you don’t have enough bubbly to complete the job can be a harrowing experience. Add a comment
- Created: 16 October 2017 16 October 2017
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From the back of the church comes rhythmic clapping and percussion. On screen, Mr and Mrs Bunting, landlord and landlady of a boarding house, go the door. It’s the police, led by Joe, the detective investigating the serial killer called The Avenger. Joe speaks; “We’ve come to have a word with your lodger”. They go upstairs as the tempo picks up and into the lodger’s room. The suspect is kissing Daisy. She is the landlords’ daughter and Joe’s girlfriend. Add a comment
Prince Luitpold of Bavaria in London to announce that “beer is for all occasions!” especially weddings!
- Created: 10 October 2017 10 October 2017
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Prince Luitpold of Bavaria has been in London this week extolling the benefits and joys of beer drinking. During a lunch the Prince gave at Royal Windsor Racecourse on Monday we were served a different beer for each course. The pairings were surprisingly better than I expected (being a more wine orientated drinker) but, perhaps given the profiles of the different beers, they are more obvious than we might imagine. Add a comment
- Created: 03 October 2017 03 October 2017
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My walk to work takes me through Brockwell Park. This morning was one of those cold, crisp mornings. The leaves are a lovely mix of green, gold and red. My wandering mind stopped lighted on sloe gin. This rich and warming drink is very easy to make, with has just three ingredients; gin, sloes and sugar. Opinion about the proportions varies and I guess there are family recipes aplenty. Add a comment