Monday, 15 December 2014

THE BOOK

Waterstones chief executive James Daunt
James Daunt, the Chief Executive of Waterstones,

I read an article in this Sunday’s, Observer, entitled

Whisper it quietly, the book is back … and here’s the man leading the revival

The man in question is James Daunt, the Chief Executive of Waterstones, the main High Street, quality bookshop chain we have in Britain. The article stated,

“The news that, for the first time in a long time, Waterstones is beginning to show signs of modest growth (new shops; new optimism; new markets) is symbolic of a sea-change in the world of books. Whisper it discreetly, but the book is showing signs of making a modest comeback, with British bookselling exhibiting the symptoms of an unfamiliar, fragile optimism.
During the first decade of the new century, this sector cornered the market in gloomy predictions that the end of the world was nigh. The digital revolution, plus Amazon, plus the credit crunch, seemed to add up to a literary apocalypse. There were moments, some CEOs in book publishing now concede, when they could hardly see a commercial way forward. A mood of panic quickly spread, with many dire predictions.
In Britain, hardbacks were said to be on the rocks, libraries doomed, the ebook all conquering, with the Visigoths of online selling storming through the high street. Among writers, with the tumbleweed blowing down Grub Street, the garret loomed.”

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/dec/14/book-revival-james-daunt-waterstones


Lets imagine a certain scenario leading up to Christmas. I am sitting at home. I have my i-pad on my lap, lounging comfortably on a sofa. I look up AMAZON in my GOOGLE search box. I click on the heading, books. Recently  I read a review of a book by Andy Miller entitled, A Year of Reading Dangerously. The title sounded interesting. I wondered what wild things could have been happening in Andy’s reading adventures this year. Looking at the book on-line, without moving so  much as an arm, I  moved a finger or two, gliding my hand over the virtual keyboard on the screen in front of me and typed an enquiry that revealed there was a link to a similar book written by Henry Miller. The surnames are a coincidence by the way. I thought then there must be some depth, some profundity in this apparently flippant Christmas stocking filler. A couple of clicks later I accessed my AMAZON account and paid for an e-book version of the above tomb and there it appeared in my i- book app.

I clicked on it and perused the introduction. I had a look at the chapter headings and then clicked it off to read further at a later date, bookmarking the page I had got to.
I then proceeded to click on my TESCOS account, reviewed my last food shopping list, adjusted a couple of items, added McVities Chocolate Biscuits and sent my order in. A few more deft movements of my fingers only, required.

In my head, I must admit, and this must be a throwback to Neanderthal times, when I would have actually had to drive my car, park it and walk to a book shop in Wimbledon, or drive a mile to my local TESCOS and walk the aisles pushing a trolley, I imagined the people who were about to do the work for me, in my place. I still have an inbuilt memory of actual human contact and interactions. A fault perhaps in my programming. I recall the inconvenience of other people around me, waiting in queues,  using my VISA card and having to press the digits on the card machine to enter my code and then all the trouble of carrying and bringing my purchases home!!! My goodness, the time wasted.

So this brings me back to the above article in the Observer. How can book shops be making a comeback, even a tentative come back? What on earth is going on? AMAZON, like some far off alien force has zapped all actual shops. They bring everything to my door. E- Shopping with TESCOS has eliminated the need to walk around the shopping aisles making that tedious effort to lift an arm, flex the fingers of  a hand,grip an item and then place it in a trolley. There was the matter of having to make the effort of using my legs too, of course!!! And meeting real flesh and blood people!!??

So what is it about holding a book in your hands and having to physically turn the pages? A book, has weight. It is a solid object. You can feel its texture. You can dog ear the pages. In a whisper, you can scribble notes in its margins. If you want to, you could deface it . Various autocratic and draconian regimes have even done that. Burning piles of them have been known. A real solid paper and card book, with real print and real pictures, some are works of art in themselves, is something you can touch, smell, taste, if those are your wants, and experience its presence through all your senses. You can actually hear it too. It makes quiet sounds when you turn the pages or loud sounds if you drop it from a height and it causes screams, as it flutters through the air, when , in a fit of anger, you might want throw it at someone. It is something, even apart from its cerebral content, that we can have a relationship with.

What might be happening then, with Waterstones as an example? Is the world  now readjusting to a more human scale? Is internet shopping being rebalanced so we can become human again?Are people now wanting to get back some elements of a real, physical world of shopping? And when the dust has settled I wonder in which favour the balance might be weighted?

Sane human beings need contact with people  and all manner of things including solid paper books through the use of our senses. It is how we make relationships. If a lot of those points of contact are removed and we are only left with the cerebral bit, the thought process bit and everything else is imagined in our heads, or, perish the thought, a generation or two down the line, they might not even have the memory of a full sensory life, then we are doomed as a human race. We cannot be human.


Long live experiences which bring us into real contact with people and real contact with things, including books. Long live Waterstones and all the independent book shops all over the country. I hope you are surviving and not only surviving but are a real valued part of your community.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

A story about Charles Dickens for Christmas!!!!!


A news article, published today on the BBC website, describes how Charles Dicken’s lobbied for his own personal letter box to be installed in the brick wall that separated his garden and house at Gads Hill, from the main road.



Gads Hill Place at Higham near Rochester.

In the 19th Century, when the postal service was in its infancy, Charles Dickens lobbied for his own personal letterbox, writes Kathryn Westcott.
It's Christmas 1869 and Charles Dickens, prolific letter writer, is hurriedly finishing off a correspondence. "The postman is waiting at the gate to tramp through the snow to Rochester and is unlawfully drinking a glass of gin while I write this," Dickens reveals to his friend Charles Kent.
The postman was a familiar sight at Dickens's Georgian home, Gad's Hill Place in Higham, Kent. A postbox, installed by the postal service at the author's request, was one of the earliest wall-boxes to be introduced in Britain, following the introduction of the pillar box across the nation by fellow writer Anthony Trollope in 1852.
Dickens had personally lobbied for that postbox in 1859. Perhaps acting on a tip-off by friend and writer Edmund Yates, who worked in the Postmaster General's office, he replies to a correspondence from Yates stating:
"I think that no one seeing the place can well doubt that my house at Gad's Hill is the place for the letter-box. The wall is accessible by all sorts and conditions of men, on the bold high road, and the house altogether is the great landmark of the whole neighbourhood. Captain Goldsmith's house is up a lane considerably off the high road; but he has a garden wall abutting on the road itself..."

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-30399042


Rochester Cathedral

In August of 2009 my friend ,Clive, and I drove down from London to Rochester for the day. We visited many of the Dickens sites, such as Rochester Cathedral, where Edwin Drood, Dicken’s final and unfinished novel plays out its dark and mysterious plot. We stood outside of  Satis House at the end of the High Street which Dickens used in Great Expectations as the home of Miss Haversham. We lingered outside the old town hall, now Rochester Museum, where Joe Gargery took Pip to be indentured.


Satis House.

 We found the Swiss Chalet situated behind buildings off the High Street, now removed from Gads Hill. It was a present from a friend, Dickens had it constructed in his garden.  It was where he escaped to write in privacy. We photographed The Royal Victoria and Bull Hotel where, not only Dickens and his friends sometimes stayed, but where the illustrious Mr Pickwick resided.Rochester and, The Bull, mark the start of Pickwicks travels.


The Bull
Without a doubt Clive and I made our way out of Rochester across the bridge over The Medway and up to the top of Gads Hill to visit Gads Hill Place, Dickens final residence and where he died.
Gads Hill Place is an imposing, large Victorian house set back from the main road within ample grounds. Shrubs and trees shade it. A crescent drive enters, from the road at one side, arcs round to the front door of the house and then curves round to the other side of the property to re-enter the main road again. A brick wall fronts the property separating it from the pavement and main road.



The tunnel to the Swiss Chalet.
There are two unique features to Gads Hill Place and gardens that are observable from outside. The most obviously noticeable are the steep sloping steps that lead from the front of the house down into the ground to a wide, high arched tunnel. The floor of the tunnel is cobbled. It leads under the road to where a small plot of land is grassed over, surrounded by shrubs and trees, with a bench to sit on. On this piece of land Dickens had his Swiss Chalet initially erected. When you study the tunnel and its entrance and exit you can imagine Dickens briskly entering the tunnel and emerging the other side to climb up the opposite set of steep steps to his Swiss Chalet.  I wonder how much the process of using the tunnel created a sense of entering another world?


The Swiss Chalet Dickens used for writing. It was here that he was writing Edwin Drood before he died.
The other feature is something you might miss. It is a dull  metal oblong plate, about thirty inches in height and about ten inches wide fixed into the brick wall fronting the road. This piece of metal is covered in flaking red paint and has patches of rust covering it. On it is embossed the words, LETTER BOX."


Dickens letter box at Gads Hill Place.

Underneath that title is a royal crown with the capital letters V and R situated either side.
Under the crown are the words ,"cleared  at," Two  holes made below this statement show where a metal holder was positioned to take the collection time sign.This is the letter box Dickens lobbied to have installed at Gads Hill.


Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month 1918


534806
6,Platoon B Coy
1/15 London Regiment
B.E.F
France
14.3.1918
My Dear Peter,
                        Thanks so much for your letter received today. I was jolly gla dto receive it as I have often wondered how you  were getting on.Really we are quite alright out here, heaps of grub,good billets and under the circs are very comfortable.
Do you know Peter I haven't had a letter from home for eleven days and since my arrival in France six weeks ago I have had only two letters from them (Susie and William McGinn,mother and father) don't you think its jolly rotten of them. If you write to them please jog them up a bit for me.

Dear Peter, I hope you will write often and I will write you as often as poss; You see sometimes we are very busy and haven't much time. To day I haven't time to write any more so must say good bye.
Your loving brother,
Willie
P.S. Love to Ettie (Peters girlfriend and future wife.)


This letter was written by my great uncle, William McGinn, in 1918 from France.There is a sense that he was feeling pressured but trying to hide it. by blaming his mother and father for not writing to him. Reading Jill Knights account of the movements of the 1/15th Battalion London Regiment (Civil Service Rifles) for that period makes me think William was suffering stress when he wrote the letter. 

There are two parts to the letter. Both parts begin with, Dear Peter. Perhaps they were written at different times in the day, between activities. The second part appears to be written in a hurry. The handwriting changes. It slants to the right and is more of a scrawl in parts. He finishes hurriedly,

“ I haven’t time to write any more, so must say goodbye.”

I found a calendar for 1918. On his way to France, after training, at probably the army camp on Wimbledon Common, where many of the rifle regiments trained before going over to France, he first wrote a postcard from Southampton.The date of the postcard  is dated Tuesday 5th February 1918.

Once across the Channel and disembarked at Rouen, he wrote another postcard home.The postcard from Rouen, is not dated.




  William says in the letter, dated the Thursday 14th March, that he has been in France for six weeks. Between the Southampton postcard dated 5th February and the letter written on the 14th March it is exactly five weeks and two days. He must have sailed for France almost at the same time he wrote  the Southampton postcard.

He died on Monday of the 1st April, two weeks and four days after sending the 14th March letter.

Battalion names got complicated, especially as the war progressed towards its finale.
Field Marshal Haig  restructured the Army in February 1918 in preparation for the expected German offensive. The 1/15th Battalion, London Regiment, which was The Prince of Wales Civil Service Rifles, became part of the 140th Infantry Brigade, London Regiment which was itself part of the 47th London Division. Many regiments and battalions were  disbanded and the soldiers were used to strengthen other battalions and brigades. The Civil Service Rifles continued to remain as a unit but it was connected to other groups.

According to Jill Knights book,THE CIVIL SERVICE RIFLES IN THE GREAT WAR,(All Bloody Gentleman), the Spring of 1918 was wet. The Civil Service Rifles were deployed at Ribecourt and Flesquieres during the month of January. They saw little action in that time but there was continual shelling and aerial bombardment of their positions.

In February they were brought up to full fighting strength with the arrival of one hundred men from the disbanded 6th London Battalion. Those reinforcements must have also included William. They spent most of their days hiding in dugouts and foxholes. Jill Knight states that sixty three men  reported sickness from gas attacks by the end of February.During the eleven weeks, from the start of January to the 19th March, only two men were killed however.

On the 19th March the 1/15 London (Civil Service Rifles) were required to defend the right flank of the whole British Army and on the 21st March the Germans began their offensive. At one stage, because of gas attacks, they had to wear box respirators continuously for six hours. William was a member of B company but the whole of C company was surrounded and captured by the Germans and taken prisoner. Many of C company died in the assault. William was lucky to escape. The Germans were resisted and the British Army was kept intact.

The Civil Service Rifles were withdrawn from the front line to rest for a while. They returned to the front on the 29th March at Aveluy Woods for three days. Aveluy Woods  is three kilometres north of Albert and a few kilometres south of Arras. They suffered fifteen casualties from shelling. William was one of those.
William McGinn, my great uncle.


I

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Jimi Hendrix and Jane Austen Are Friends!!!!!!.






JIMI HENDRIX

  Johnny Allen Hendrix was born on November 27, 1942 in Seattle ,Washington  and died on September 18, 1970 in the London Borough of Kennsington in the heart of London from reputedly a drugs overdose.
 Jane Austen was born in Steventon Hampshire on the  16th December 1775 – and died in Winchester on the 18th July 1817 reputdly from a disease called Addisons disease a problem with the immune system, which causes it to attack the outer layer of the adrenal gland (the adrenal cortex), disrupting production of steroid hormones aldosterone and cortisol causing a break down of the immune system. Not an unsimilar affect to Hendrix’s overdose. In both cases their bodies stopped. . One hundred and sixty nine years separated their births. That fact would have bothered neither of these two geniuses if they had ever met.

 

JANE AUSTEN

They both spent time in London and enjoyed the metropolis and this might appear at first their only connection.  However, Hendrix  had a great respect and affinity with the 18th century especially in the person of the German Composer, who emigrated to England ,George  Frederick Handel, who also, like Hendrix,, came to London for fame and fortune. Hendrix loved The Messiah and Handels Water Music. Hendrix was a gatherer of all sorts of music which he then assimilated through his own creative mind into new and exciting compositions. He did it with the Beatles Sergeant Peppers anthem and also the sacred, Star Spangled Banner which he reinvented in his own style at the Woodstock Festival and gave it meaning to a new generation. Then of course there was all his own original compositions made about life’s many ,”Experiences.” 
In comparing Jane Austens compositons with those of Jimi Hendrix,Cross Town Traffic has connections with Austen’s Northangar Abbey, The Gods Made Love, is comparable to the love of  Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Hendrix wrote Little Miss Strange and of course Austen had a few strange ladies portrayed in her novels, Fanny Price and Emma Woodhouse for two. Hendrix was concerned  with money matters, homes and relationships just as Austen was. There are many ideas and themes shared by the two. In many cases the same sentiments have been expressed by both.

So one day, let us say,  Jimi Hendrix was walking along The Strand towards The Royal Courts of Justice. The reason,  let me reassure you, a mere matter of a minor smoking misdemeanour. Who should be advancing towards him from the other direction but Miss Jane Austen herself on the way to pay her tea bill at Twinings, also on The Strand.

JH.  Hey is that you Jane? Did I ever tell you, I love Dylan, man?

JA No Mr Hendrix I do not recall you ever telling me about that gentleman  Mr Dylan. 

JH. I only met him once, Dylan that is,. back at the Kettle of Fish  on MacDougal Street in New York.

JA Ah New York, named after that most delightful of Yorkshire cities. Such a shame it is no longer within the power of this realm.

JH Yeh cool, man, whatever. Peace to all men.I met Dylan  before I went to England  do you dig that sis. I think both of us were pretty drunk at the time. No, no, I don’t mean you were drunk  I mean Dylan was, drunk at the time. Hey, hows things with you? Where are you hanging out  now girl? What you doin in London Jane?

JA It is so delightful to see you again Mr Hendrix. I am here visiting my brother Henry, who live s a few hundred yards from this very spot, in Henrietta Street.  However, ordinarily,I am living with  my mother, such a nuisance but that is by the by and my sister inlaw in Southampton along with my best friend Martha. Martha is such a problem.  She chases after vicars you know. There is a Dr Mant in Southampton she just will not leave alone whatever I say to her and no matter how much I implore her. I tell her it will all end in tears.

JH. Check that sis, hee hee hee. It’s the other way with me girl. I’m the one chasin the chicks round here. You dig!! But  hey Jane  Hennrietta Street, Its so cool. All those tourists  and  street musicians. I get inspiration for my song writing in places like that. Real cool man.

JA We hope to visit the theatre while we are here. I know Kean is performing in Lear.By the way,I do like your miltary attire Mr Hendrix. I didn't know you were a military person. You quite remind me of my dear brothers . They look smart too in their Royal Naval uniforms.If I recall we met at The Marquee Club in Soho last was it not?  A gentleman most proficient on the guitar was playing, a rather strident number if I remember, called White Room. Mr Eric Clapton I think. He certainly played a virtuoso performance displaying much passion.I could feel my cheeks quite blush at all the energy he manifested in his bodily movements. His suggestion of a white room with black curtains has quite influenced us all in Castle Square as to our choice of d├ęcor. My ears didn't stop ringing  for days.


JH.Long as I got blacked out windows too. I need head space Jane. Time to think. Time to create man. I live next to where that dude Handel lived. He was some musician.You, ever checked out his stuff?



JA Yes, I have heard Mr Handels Messiah performed in St Pauls Cathedral. A most exhilarating experience. I sang so heartily with the chorus. I don’t like to complain but I must say, Mr Hendrix,  our house in Southampton is such a bother. Our garden is putting in order by a man who bears a remarkably good character, has a very fine complexion, and asks something less than the first.(Who was, in your parlance Mr Hendrix, not a cool cat ) The shrubs which border the gravel walk, he says, are only sweetbriar and roses, and the latter of an indifferent sort; we mean to get a few of a better kind, therefore, and at my own particular desire he procures us some syringas. I could not do without a syringa, for the sake of Cowper's line. We talk also of a laburnum. The border under the terrace wall is clearing away to receive currants and gooseberry bushes, and a spot is found very proper for raspberries.

JH Hey Jane but that sounds cool . The way I’d like to live, because like I want to get up in the morning and just roll over in my bed into an indoor swimming pool and then swim to the breakfast table, come up for air and get maybe a drink of orange juice or something like that. Then just flop over from the chair into the swimming pool, swim into the bathroom and go on and shave and whatever.

JA A swimming pool? I don’t think I have ever heard of one of those. It sounds very interesting.Is it like the baths in Bath? As far as the inside of our house goes the alterations and improvements within doors,  advance very properly, and the offices will be made very convenient indeed. Our dressing table is constructing on the spot, out of a large kitchen table belonging to the house, for doing which we have the permission of Mr. Husket, Lord Lansdown's painter -- domestic painter, I should call him, for he lives in the castle. Domestic chaplains have given way to this more necessary office, and I suppose whenever the walls want no touching up he is employed about my lady's face.

JH. Hey Jane I love you’re your wit and charm.. I could do with a bit of that  in my songwriting. Hee Hee you didn’t mean that when you said,the painter was  doing things to  my lady’s face, now did you Jane?

JA I most certainly did Mr Hendrix. I meant every word..
May I ask, how is your latest musical endeavour proceeding Mr Hendrix? I must come and hear you when you next perform. I enjoyed the conflagration you started when you set your guitar alight last time I was at The Bag o Nails club, I think you told me it was called that. All that consternation and screaming. I wish we had balls like that  in Southampton and Bath. It was all so, humerous and enlightening. Such fun.

JH I’m writng a number called Little Miss Strange.Its goin on my new album Electric Ladyland..

JA Oh Mr Hendrix I do like that title. Electric Ladyland. All my novels have ladys in them who wish to acquire lands. I am not sure I understand the term electric though. You must tell me some time over a ,joint. That, is, what you called that stick of twisted paper with brown leaves all scrunched up inside, that I smoked with you? I really thought you were going to set me alight like you set your guitar alight. However, it did made me feel so good. I felt quite giddy and skittish. I went home afterwards and wrote a scene in my novel, Northangar Abbey, where Catherine Moorland, who is staying in the Abbey, begins to imagine all sorts of terrible things. I don’t think I could have created that scene without the profound influences that seemed to overcome my whole being smoking that joint. What an unusual name, joint.

JH I’ve just remembered. I’m looking for pretty girls to appear on the album cover of Electric Ladyland. Jane. Would you like to pose?

JA Oh Mr Hendrix, pose, I do not pose.But thank you anyway. I shall look forward to seeing the cover though.  It is a great delight to have met you once again. I do hope we shall meet again soon. Perhaps, as I said, at another of your concerts. Next time do refrain from smashing your guitar into the stage. You did look so aggressive and I know you are not at all like that.Such a sweet man.. I could almost write you into one of my novels. Now do keep the flaming guitar though. That is so jolly and of course heart-warming and the excitement it causes is so great. What, is that you do, by the way, with your instrument sticking up from between your legs? You look so excited as you seem to polish the shaft.I really must go now.I have to get to Twinings before he closes.

JH I dig that Jane.

Oh, my mind is so mixed up, goin' round 'n' round_
Must there be all these colors without names,
without sounds?
My heart burns with feelin' but
Oh! but my mind is cold and reeling.


Is this love, baby

or is it confusion?







JA Oh Mr Hendrix, you are a one. I must go Mr Hendrix, Goodbye.

And so our two geniuses part. One to pay a fine for drugs possession and the other to pay a bill for tea,
As Jane crosses the road to Twinings door she mutters in a distracted sort of way.

JA  Born Under A Bad Sign,

Been down since I began to crawl

If it wasn't for bad luck

Wouldn't have no luck at all


Oh my goodness. Now where did that come from?  It just popped into my head.I must tell Mr Hendrix about it next time I see him.




references:



The Official Jimi Hendrix website:  http://www.jimihendrix.com/us/home



Guitar World Jimi Hendrix's Final Interview from September 11, 1970


Rolling Stone 1969 Sheila Weller interview with Jimi Hendrix  

Jane Austens letters  Collected and Edited by Deirdre Le Faye

Emma    by Jane Austen (Penguin Classics)

Northangar Abbey by Jane Austen (Penguin Classics)

Mansfield park by Jane Austen (Penguin Classics)

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Penguin Classics)

Persuasion by Jane Austen (Penguin Classics)

Sense and Sensibillity by Jane Austen (Penguin classics)












Friday, 19 September 2014

Scotland remains part of The Union.


The results of the independence election in Scotland gave the YES voters 45% and the NO voters 55%. Scotland is to remain in The Union.
Things, however, will never be the same. A whole batch of devolved powers have been promised Scotland. The three major parties, The Liberals, Labour and The Conservatives have made promises which now need to be enacted upon.

Gordon Brown, our last Labour Prime Minister, in an impassioned speech arguing for a NO vote,, before the voting began on Thursday stated,

"....the Scotland Act would establish a new rate of income tax, devolve stamp duty and create borrowing powers for the Scottish parliament."

He said he expected to see other tax-raising measures, benefit levels and powers over transport handed to Holyrood.

More powers have been promised The Welsh Assembly. Northern Ireland and its needs require attention too and now England itself, which has never before been thought of in terms of devolution needs to be considered as well. Our whole constitution will be examined and changes will be made.
Should powers  be devolved to cities and rural counties? Will this create economic and industrial power houses of our cities? The process will be long and arduous. It is not the responsibility of one political party or one section of society.

The discussion in Scotland and now the discussion in the rest of the United Kingdom is going to create a new constitution and a new union for the future. The United Kingdom is now in the process of recreating itself. This could be the boost needed to energise the UK and make it develop in innovative and creative ways. A very exciting time.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

THE UNITED KINGDOM

The Union Jack fluttering above the beach in Lyme Regis on the South Coast.
On Thursday 18th September in the year of 2014 the Scottish people are voting for independence.
They are voting to separate themselves from the rest of the United Kingdom and go it alone as a separate political and economic entity. They could of course vote to stay as part of the United Kingdom too. However, at this moment, two days before this momentous vote, the decision of the Scottish people hangs in the balance.

The people on these islands began to appear about 500.000 years ago and then the Ice Age came and they disappeared. About 12000 BC the climate warmed up and the ice melted. People returned. They could walk here because the land that later formed the British Isles was joined to Europe by a land mass. This land bridge, called Doggerland later disappeared under rising sea levels Evidence for hunter gathering has been found in the remains of bones and in cave drawings. To hunt, especially the larger animals like mammoths, bison,elk and  aurochs, people needed to group together. At this stage only small groups would be required to hunt and trap large animals. It is easy to see how small communities probably family sized communities  needed to work together and it is easy to understand that they would form traditions within families and also pass down family stories. The seasons and the weather patterns also ruled their lives.This early instinct to form small communities and work together developed through the centuries and millennia.

We can look back at the vast expanse of the history of these islands starting from hunter gatherers and the requirements of their lifestyle  to the appearance from Europe  of people who had started to  farm and so formed static permanent communities and built houses and huts. The Neolithic period or New Stone age was the time people formed themselves into tribes and became far more powerful because of their numbers. Vast building projects like the  stone circles at Avebury and Stone Henge and giant mounds like Silbury Hill in Wiltshire , the hill forts such as the vast Maiden Castle in Dorset, used for protection from neighbouring kingdoms, were built. They required great technological ingenuity and the development of tools. The coming together of tribes into kingdoms required leaders, holy men , traditions, rituals and beliefs. They created strong powerful and increasingly wealthy communities. Later, metals began to be smelted naming the Bronze Age and Iron Age. Celtic tribes moved here from Europe in about 500 BC and brought new traditions and technologies.

The Romans invaded in 43 BC, stayed a few hundred years and built  towns and roads and then left. Invaders from Europe came,. The Angles and Saxons and they formed Kingdoms like Mercia and Wessex. These kingdoms often fought each other. The Vikings came and invaded and took their part of the country mostly in the north in an area termed The Danelaw. The Saxons fought back under Alfred the Great and stemmed  the tide of Viking authority. William the Norman invaded in 1066  and took over a country  we could recognise today as England stretching from the South coast up to Northumberland and the borders of Scotland.

Between 1282 and 1283 Edward I invaded Wales and built massive castles at Caernarvon in the north and Pembroke in the south and a whole range of other castles throughout Wales to keep it subjugated and placed it under English rule. During the 1290’s he turned his attention to Scotland. He didn’t manage to subjugate Scotland. There were defeats as well as successes but war was an expensive undertaking and Edward I had problems with taxation. His son Edward II continued the Scottish campaign but was unsuccessful too.

Scotland began its joining with the United Kingdom when Elizabeth 1 died childless and the Tudor dynasty came to an end. Her cousin, James VII of Scotland, the son of Mary Queen of Scots, was invited to become King of England. He accepted and became James I of England.The crowns were united but the countries stayed separate until full union was achieved through the act of union in 1707. The forces of trade and influence within Empire brought us together. There was a need to be together for the greater good.

The Tudors had tried to subjugate and rule Ireland but had not proceeded much beyond Dublin and The Pale.After the English Civil war Cromwell sent armies to Ireland to subjugate them. The Irish had been royalist in sympathy and would have caused a problem if they were not controlled. It was a severe and brutal campaign and Cromwell is hated in Ireland to this day. Ireland's joining the union was a parallel coming together with Scotalnd. It achieved its act of union in 1800. Differing forces of religion and trade played their part. Also in both cases Scotland and Ireland were seen as routes to invasion from England's enemies. It was better for all, economically and militarily to be together.

The history of the United Kingdom, is therefore bloody and often cruel but it is also the history  of a coming together which enabled growth, industrial and agricultural revolutions, great art, music and literature.  This creative force occurred because of the forging together of four united countries, England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland into a place that is so unique and special and has this deep shared history. It is in the gradual unifying of the whole that it has become an amazing and special place.

It is easy for nationalists in Scotland, or England, Wales and Ireland to want to separate from the others because of a deep sense of remembered hurt, pride and belief in their traditions but they are not looking at the whole picture. They are being selfish and ready to damage the whole for their narrow beliefs and so doing they are going to diminish the strength and power that comes from being together rather than apart. The British Isles, The United Kingdom, is going to be a smaller place not just in land mass if the YES vote wins on Thursday. The strength derived from being together will be weakened. We will not be quite so amazing.


Rather like those early hunter gatherers who needed each other to help bring down a woolly mammoth otherwise, as individuals they would not have been able to survive,  we all need each other now in our four countries to stay strong and grow. Within a group it is still possible to have individual traits, traditions and beliefs. Often strength and creativity is derived from the diversities within a whole. A synergy is formed. The history of our islands has been one of struggle, pain and war, but through the searing heat of that melding together it has made us unique and special.

A piper in Princes Street next to Scott's monument. I hope we can call this bit of land part of The United Kingdom come Thursday!!!!

Saturday, 30 August 2014

A PENGUIN BOOK


A Penguin book using the original colour system.

Marilyn went off to her usual Saturday morning car boot sale in Raynes Park this morning. When she came back she brought me two presents. First, a bar of Belgium chocolate made from coffee beans from Madagascar, which sadly, exists no longer, and secondly a copy of Claire Tomlin’s Jane  Austen :A life, she picked up from a second hand book stall. This edition was one of a series of books chosen to be republished in Penguins original format  to commemorate Penguin being the publisher of the year in 2007. I already have the original Penguin paperback version of Jane Austen: A life, with the pale green cover, a print of Steventon Rectory in the background and prominently to the fore, Cassandra’s sketch of Jane. I also have an e-book version on my i-pad for when I take friends to Jane sites so I can easily find quotes from Claire about the place we are at.
This 2007 version of Tomlin’s biography of Jane is different from the 1997 edition. Penguins have used the cover system that they originated when Penguin was founded by Allen Lane in 1935. There are  many aspects of the style which are iconic. Penguin books and their distinctive covers were something I was used to when I was growing up in Southampton, so there is a strong element of nostalgia connected with this cover design. Penguin published only the very best in academic writing, in novel writing and writing of all types. They were also renowned for bringing on the best new writing talent and were never afraid to develop strange ideas and subjects. All this comes with feelings of comfort and memories of enjoying reading books from a youthful age. One of the key concepts that Allen Lane wanted to promote was the idea that the best writing should be accessed by the whole population. Penguins were first sold in places like Woolworths and W.H. Smiths for 6d.
The style of my,” new,” edition of Jane Austen; A Life, is simple. The cover is divided into three broad horizontal bands of colour, from top to bottom, navy blue, white and navy blue. The title and authors name are printed within the white band, in a simple black and white print , created as a modern type face in the 1930’s. Below this in the lower blue band is the iconic Penguin symbol. The story goes that Allen Lane wanted a logo and name that would be attractive to all. A secretary at 8 Vigo Street, just off Regent Street where Allen Lane had his office,, overheard a conversation about using an animal logo. She suggested a penguin. Everybody liked the idea and Edward Young, the illustrator, was sent off to London Zoo where he spent a day sketching penguins in all sorts of poses.

The colour bands were designed to denote what type of book they were.  The Claire Tomlin biography of Jane Austen is dark blue because biographys were dark blue. Green, was crime fiction, cerise, travel books, red, plays, yellow was used for that very important genre, miscellaneous, light purple were letters and essays and grey was world affairs. Allen Lane also developed his publishing house with brands called Pelicans and King Penguins.