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Friday, 24 March 2017

Pictures from the past: Liverpool women

It was a time before washing machines, fridges or convenience food, when women sanded their doorsteps pristine

and cleaned windows the hard way.

And gossiped through their clean windows. Never a secret slipped by

Enjoyed a port and lemon or three

Dressed up for special occasions (Aintree Racecourse 1938)

Ironed  the hair for special occasions

And now we have everything.

Aintree Races today

Friday, 17 March 2017

The Gym, The Rolling Stones, and me

For some time now I’ve done my 50-minute gym sessions to the sound of the ‘Today Program’ and ‘Any Questions.’ I’m a news junkie, and in some ways it helped take my mind away from the utter tedium of pounding treadmills and stuff. It also actively encouraged dangerous levels of exertion. My blood pressure is a passionate beast, and hearing weaselly obfuscations and obvious untruths from the self-serving and corrupt, I pound  cross-trainers and treadmills even harder, imagining their heads beneath my trainers, their tongues and brains pulping under my feet.

Afterwards, usually in the shower, I feel some Christian remorse, pull them to their feet and brush them down . . . until the next time.  

Just recently I’ve discovered a new and more satisfactory way of passing time in the gym, one everyone else has known for some time, everyone but me with my fixation on ‘news.’
Music—and with the added virtue that no politician gets hurt in the process.

It’s my new iPod touch, and large Bose headphones that unfortunately make me look like Nanook of the North. A small sacrifice.

Since my entire music collection is now on the iPod, I’m discovering albums I haven’t heard for years. My obsession with ‘news’ is one of the reasons for this, that and the fact I can’t listen to music when I’m writing. Some authors can, and to me that is mystery. I can write or I can listen to music. I can’t do both since each have competing demands and my brain has very small processing power.
It doesn’t need much processing to punish your body; then distraction is everything and music a godsend. I feel like St Paul on the road to Damascus telling everyone the news years after everyone knows.

There is though music and music. ‘Dancing with Mr D’ (Rolling Stones Goatshead Soup) is particularly good on the Cross-Trainer. ‘Not Fade Away’ fabulous for fast running on the Treadmill, along with ‘Radar Love’ and most anything by Chuck Berry. ‘Emotional Rescue’ is also quite versatile – useful for the Exercise Bike, Rowing machine and the various Weight Machines that bugger your muscles. Ocasionally Hildegarde de Bingen comes on, but she’s no bloody good at all.

There are pitfalls. You are in your own world, oblivious to anyone else there. A few times I’ve been caught out singing – and the gym quickly empties. Worse though is the occasional Mick Jagger strut from machine to machine. Truly sad. A fourteen year old boy in old man’s body. Me—not Mick.

Then there’s the swim. No music just chlorine. The sauna that follows almost makes it all worthwhile. If I could find some way to listen to Hildegarde de Bingen in the Sauna, that would just be icing on the cake.

Friday, 10 March 2017

A free range childhood.

Sometimes pictures say it better than words

When cars knew their place

A time before cars

                                                        When Bin had sentinels ....

                        (What was going on in their minds? Something richer than a video screen)

Bins without sentinels

Friday, 3 March 2017

Witch-hunts and martyrs

Where would we be without witch-hunts? Today it is ‘Russians.’ Three hundred years ago it was Catholics, and as a result an 80 year-old Monmouthshire priest was sentenced to being ‘hanged, drawn and quartered.’

Titus Oates

In 1679 Titus Oates accused the Queen of England of being involved in a Popish plot to poison her husband, Charles II. Charles personally questioned Oates and caught him out in a number of transparent lies, but in Parliament, the Whigs (a C17th version of the Democrats) wanted to be convinced and so were. It was the last great persecution of Catholics in England. It lasted three years and 15 people were executed—including John Kemble, the elderly Monmouthshire priest.
Friends warned him to hide until the danger passed but he refused, and in 1679 Captain John Scudamore was sent to arrest him. It is likely that Scudamore, too, was a catholic, though lapsed. His wire and children certainly were.

Kemble was sent to Hereford gaol and later that year was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

The sentence was delayed for a time because evidence was needed to implicate others in a newly discovered ‘plot’ to poison Titus Oates. Kemble was ordered to London. Too old and sick to ride, he was strapped backwards on a horse like a sack of potatoes and taken to Newgate Prison. There he was questioned by Titus Oates and Lord Shaftsbury but to no avail. Kemble was then obliged to walk most of the 135 miles back to Hereford gaol.

The journey nearly killed him, but he remained in good spirits and received John Scudamore and his family in his cell. He offered them sweets and called John Scudamore a good friend, the best in the world.

On August 22 1679 John Kemble was executed. Before leaving his cell, he was allowed to say his prayers, smoke his pipe for the very last time, and drink a cup of sherry to steady his nerves.
He was then dragged on a hurdle two miles out of Hereford to Widemarsh Common, where he spoke his final words:

I die only for professing the Old Roman Catholic Religion, which was the religion that first made this kingdom Christian . . . and I beg of all whom I have offended, either by thoughts, words or deeds, to forgive me, for I do heartily forgive all those who have been instrumental or desirous of my death.

The hanging was  botched and Kemble took half an hour to die. So great was the popular sympathy he was spared the butchery of drawing and quartering. Instead his corpse was beheaded and his left hand cut off. It survives to this day as a relic.

His corpse is buried in Welsh Newton churchyard a few miles north of Monmouth.
The famous C18th actress, Sarah Siddons, nee Kemble visited the grave and in a contemporary poem declared herself  more proud to be of the martyr’s name and race ‘than if within our veins there flowed the blood of twenty kings.’


Thursday, 23 February 2017

Letters from a debauchee

The exuberant truffle hound returns! A previous book: Evan, Lord Tredegar, Selected Letters, Prose and Quotations: The Mystic Muse of Evan Frederick Morgan now has its natural sequel: Evan, Lord Tredegar: Further Letters and Prose Pieces with Anecdotes about Evan.

This book is a relatively slim volume but one which illustrates the level of detective work involved in sniffing out long forgotten letters to and from Evan Morgan. Like all the letters William Cross has unearthed in his various books, they provide glimpses into a highly febrile world of privilege and debauchery. And for those with google at their fingertips, the index references will take you down the rabbit-hole into long forgotten worlds. 

The Introduction begins with a quote from Oscar Wilde, ‘The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your heart grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself.’ Evan Morgan yielded to everything and exhausted unimaginable wealth in the process. The nineteen-page introduction provides a brief account of Evan Morgan’s life, useful for those who know nothing about him. One quote sums it up, a warning from a father to his son:
‘You are old enough to know that there exists a man named Evan Morgan…and I tell you here and now that should you ever find yourself in the same room you are to leave immediately.’ Alan Pryce-Jones ‘The Bonus of Laughter’

 The letters that follow shed some light not only on Evan, but such interwar luminaries as Aldous Huxely, Ottoline Morrell and Lloyd George’s mistress, Frances Stevenson – who saw through Evan almost immediately.

There are anecdotes of Evan in Oxford’s Randolph Hotel opening the door to rooms service completely naked. It was likely he did this in most hotels, either from carelessness or in the hope of an obliging bellhop.

Whatever other letters remain, it is probable Will Cross will unearth them. He haunts Kew Gardens, sleeping between stacks in his hammock – when he’s not riffling through obscure archives of old country houses or haunting ancient dowagers. For those interested in what some of the great houses would prefer to forget you can check out his books on:

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Dogs and gorillas

When I was small I longed to have a dog, a wish never fulfilled. There were others in a similar boat and we competed with each other to walk the dogs of housebound old ladies. I don’t know if we were a blessing or curse, knocking at random doors and offering to take whatever dog they had for a walk. Sometimes we got paid, but that wasn’t the point. Nor were we being charitable. We were dogless and desperate.

I took every kind of dog, collies, terriers, alsatians— never a dachshund though. There’s always a line not to be crossed. Even now I can still feel the pull of the lead, becoming an extension of the dog pulling it.

But why wasn’t I born four or more decades earlier, born in small Glouceshire village of Uley. Dogs? Pshaw! Those kids played with a 200lb gorilla called John Daniels.

It was an orphan, its parents killed by French officers in the Gabon. A sailor brought it to London, where it ended up in the window of Derry and Thoms Department Store with a price tag of £300.  It was sold to a British Major who gave it as a present to his sister, Alyce Cunningham.

Alyce Cunningham took its training in hand.  The animal made his own bed, helped with the washing up and partook of afternoon tea. He was a versatile creature at home in town and country. Alyce Cunningham dressed him as a boy from very early on and allowed him to play with her niece and her friends. Occasionally he accompanied her in a taxi to London Zoo, where he’d ogle the ladies and urinate in front of male challengers. At night he was allowed three large whiskies to ease his melancholia.

The highlight for John Daniels, was his annual trip to Miss Cunningham’s home village of Uley in Gloucestershire where he learned to appreciate cider, rose bushes and playing with children, sometimes accompanying them on long walks—stopping at cottages he knew to have cider.
Eventually John Daniels grew too large for the aging Miss Cunningham and she sold it to Barnums circus who dispatched it to America where it sickened and died in 1921