Monday, 13 April 2015


The picture on the Fairport Convention album cover UNHALFBRICKING (1969)

The album cover to Fairport Convention’s second 1969 album UNHALFBRICKING shows a rather traditional, apparently timeless English scene. A middle aged couple, conservatively dressed, are standing before an English scene consisting of trees, lawn and a fine example of  a church  depicting  traditional English church architecture. A sense of  calm and continuity is created. Just after the recording of the album, Martin Lamble , the groups drummer,  died, at the age of nineteen. The band was travelling from a gig in a van, which crashed on the M1. Eric Hayes was the photographer who took the picture. Joe Boyd, the American record producer who produced Fairport Convention at the time, later said that the photograph for the cover was taken in early spring just before the crash. The title of the album, the second album they released in 1969, is apparently the result of a game the band often played while returning from concerts. Sandy Denny invented the word during a game called, Ghosts, a word creation game. The rules stated that you had to form non-existent words. However, within the context of the album cover it could have other meanings and explanations. The year of the album, 1969 was the year Harold Wilson,at the Labour Party Conference in Scarborough, made his, “White Heat,” speech about the vital importance of technology and science for the future prosperity and development of Britain, . Bob Dylan and friends had recorded  the Basement Tapes by 1967. Germaine Greer, published The Female Eunuch the year after in 1970. Charles Manson and his, “family,” committed terrible murders in California in 1969. The Vietnam War had been raging since 1955 and still had another six years to go. Jenny Lee, the Minister of State for Education under Harold Wilson enabled the Open University to be created opening up degree level study and the consequent work, social and economic opportunities to a strata of society that had never considered a University education before. The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was promoting transcendental meditation. Sexual liberation was being practised. Social and personal experimentation were the driving forces of the time.

Mr and Mrs Andrews by Thomas Gainsborough  (1750)

The photograph on the front of the album has many Rennaissance influences. There are strong directional lines created within the picture leading the eye to various points. In the foreground the fence and wall take the eye from the upper left  of the picture, gently sloping away to a focal point low on the right of the picture. The, “half brick,” divide, created by the brick wall and the latticed fence on top of it, create a  barrier between the foreground and the background.  The tree just behind the wall, slightly off centre, compartmentalises the scene. It appears to separate the church from the rest of the picture. The spire of St Mary’s church in the background points heavenwards. The grid pattern, Renaissance artists experimented with grids and perspective lines to create and structure their paintings, produces the effect of showing us individual portraits of the band member. The central focal point of the picture is the slightly open gate between the foreground and the background. Is the gate opening or closing? The portrait of Edna and Neil Denny, Sandy Denny’s parents has a little of Thomas Gainsborough’s painting of Mr and Mrs Andrews about it. Gainsborough showed a wealthy landowning couple standing to one side of the painting showing off their estate in the same way as Edna and Neil reveal their garden to the observer.Even the arm and hand gestures are similar. Neil Denny, crooks his elbows as does Mr Andrews and Edna Denny's hands hold each other in a demure pose just as Mrs Andrews hands hold each other in her lap.

The same scene as the front cover fourty six years later.
(The address is 9B Arthur Road Wimbledon.)

This combination of using an art vocabulary from the past in a modern setting links with the music on the album. Reviewers have written that Unhalfbricking is an album which  links the past with the present in folk music. It is a combination of old folk music and its traditions with new ideas of rock music creating a new genre, folk rock. On different tracks Sandy Denny sings with the traditional folk singers tone and the group harmonise in a traditional folk manner. On other tracks she has a clear unaffected singing style more in common with a rock singer. This is most evident in the only track that is a traditional folk song on the entire album, “A sailors Life.” During the track, rock elements are introduced, two worlds come together.  Many of the tracks on the album are by Bob Dylan from his renowned, “Basement Tapes,” which were recorded up to 1967, such as Si Tu Dois Parter, which interestingly the members of Fairport Convention translated into French. Dylan’s original title was “If You Gotta Go Go now. “Whether this was an oblique support by the members of Fairport Convention for Britain joining the European Common Market which it did do in 1973, I am not sure. There is also, Percy’s Song, by Dylan, and on the recent publication of the album  two extra tracks, both either written or influenced by Dylan, Dear Landlord and Ballad of Easy Rider. The opening track, Genesis Hall, was written by Richard Thompson as was a Southern United States style song, Cajun Woman. Sandy Denny introduces her well known song, Who Knows Where The Time Goes, and also a song called, Autopsy. In many ways it is an experimental album trying out new ideas and using different influences. Listening to it you can understand where Fairport Convention were leading.

In 1969 feminism and sexual liberation were two of the great social forces of the time. Germaine Greer published The Female Eunuch in 1970. The pill was available. Having sex was prevalent outside marriage and women were being encouraged to not only have fun and enjoy sex but to take the lead too. Abortion was an option and there were shows of public nudity. This did not only happen at music festivals. I remember a news headline in a local paper with an companying picture of a naked woman streaking across Kingston Bridge. Women were going to university and getting an education. Men were encouraged to become, what was termed as, equal partners, house husbands, and take an equal share in looking after the children. I have changed my fair share of nappies!!!!!. Equality was being explored. The world seemed to be changing fast. The picture on the front cover of Unhalfbricking makes a powerful commentary about feminism and sexual liberation. Sandy Denny’s parents, Edna and Neil Denny at the front of the picture portray the past and conservatism with a small c. It is almost the same portrayal of the couple Thomas Gainsborough achieved in Mr and Mrs Andrews in 1748.  This is a view of relationships from the past. The wall, the half brick barrier behind Edna and Neil, separates them from their daughter Sandy and the members of Fairport Convention. The band all wear long hair, men and women both. They wear clothing influenced by India and the United States, jeans and caftans. Sandy Denny,is a female member of a group that is all male apart from herself. At the time of the picture she is travelling the country, playing at gigs with these men. She is living the liberated life.  I mentioned before, I wondered if the gate is being closed or is it being opened. It is open at the moment. Does this mean there is still a link between her parents ideals and beliefs and the new social revolution that is going on?

Sandy Denny died after falling down stairs and hitting her head.She was only 31 years old. Here is her grave in Putney Vale Cemetery, South London.

The church, St Mary’s Wimbledon, in the top right of the picture, isolated from the rest of the picture by the strong lines of the tree, is evocative of the established religion, the established order. To illustrate how little unchanging the world had been up to this point  we can consider the history of St Marys. The church is first recorded in 1086. The building has been changed and adapted  much since then,  to meet a rising population in the area over the decades and centuries. There remnants from each period within the fabric of the church. Some medieval oak beams have been found in the structure. The Georgians developed it further and then in the 1860’s Gilbert Scott was commissioned to redesign it and expand its size to take a further four hundred seats and he also  built the 196 foot spire. Within its structure are parts of all the historical periods. Scott clad the outside of the church completely in flint so it looked like one complete entity. This goes to  illustrate that until the 1960’s the world and society hadn't changed much. The population grew but basic beliefs  and attitudes about the world and society remained similar. However by 1969 Britain was actually becoming more and more multicultural. People such as the members of Fairport Convention were experimenting with new ideas of religion and culture. They were not sticking with the old beliefs caricatured by the church in the picture. They were looking at the world with new eyes which are reflected in the lyrics of their songs. The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was not only bringing transcendental meditation to the Beatles but many other young people of the time were trying out these new ideas of philosophy, spirituality and self-discovery. This idea of spirituality, self discovery and mind expansion, replacing the old ways of the established church, included drug taking. Sandy Denny was to be affected greatly by this. Drugs and alcohol probably contributed to the terrible accident which brought about her untimely death at the age of 31. In a way the church in this picture is a symbol of tradition and the past and is as strong a symbol of  what was changing and passing away as the pose made by Sandy Denny’s parents.

What  this picture also does, in its almost rural calm and sense of middle class peace and tranquillity,  is give the lie to what was going on in the world at the time. The Vietnam War had been raging for the previous fourteen years and still had another six years to go. The picture, with the members of the group in the distant, surrounded and almost swallowed up by their surroundings appear out of place and time. They don’t want to be there. It is not their world. Many in the folk world, the traditionalists, probably thought the same about them with regards to their new musical ideas that were emerging. Were Fairport Convention part of the old order in folk or were they the new? Dylan was castigated by the traditionalists for turning to the electric guitar rather than continuing with an acoustic sound. In contrast to this picture,of  middle class timeless  England there was another opposite image in the Wimbledon of the time. On a brick wall beside the railway line, as the train entered Wimbledon Station from the South, there was daubed the slogan, “America will be defeated by the Viet Cong.” How the graffiti artist knew that, many years before the end of the war, is difficult to discern. It was obviously a new way of looking at the war. We come to the use of the prefix un. As with the word, unknowable, or unlikely and all the other words beginning with un, it creates the opposite meaning to the root word. Perhaps Sandy Denny in her use of the prefix, un, knew something about removing barriers such as the “halfbrick,” barrier in her parents garden. Perhaps the gate is being opened and not being closed. Perhaps the gate to the old style of folk music is still being left open and not being closed in this album.

Friday, 3 April 2015


Taken on a run along the Cornish coast at Holywell Bay

The words, “Just going for a run,” are the words I invariably say when I leave the house to indulge in my form of fitness exercise, which is running of course. I usually turn left out of my front door and along West Barnes Lane, through Crossway and then onto Grand Drive. My runs tend to vary from that point. I take different routes.  I am never sure what form the run will take. It is a little like stream of consciousness writing, a Jackson Pollock painting or Miles Davis improvising with his trumpet on a theme.  I have certain tools, feet, legs and a pair of lungs and of course I run on pavements but with those prerequisites anything can happen. The streets are my pallet.   When I was young, early twenties, I took the George Best viewpoint. Drink and fitness can go together for a few years at that age. I have never smoked, so that has never been a problem, but as far as drinking alcohol goes, I think regular running has made me moderate my drinking of beer and wine as I have got older.  Running enables me to feel that I do not want to drink alcohol or not much. I still have a great night out with a group of mates once in a while. Marilyn and I get mellow together drinking a bottle of wine on occasion too.

Approaching running from an improvisational point of view, I have found that over the years I have been to locations and seen places I would never have seen if I didn't get out and run. I have run through alleyways between houses, run along paths and bye ways via allotments, parks and on occasion, between the gravestones of cemeteries. At the pace I run I have time to take in my surroundings and enjoy them.

Running is a great way to explore your environment, whether in your local area or on holiday. Many years ago, Marilyn and I were staying in a YMCA quite near the UN building in New York. While I am on holiday I try to keep up my regular running regime. One morning I decided to tackle the paths and byeways of Central Park. My good ness the park was full of cyclists, skateboarders and rollerbladers. It was like being in the worst traffic hour ever but with everything moving fast. I survived.That was an experience. I have run along the cliffs north of Newquay in Cornwall and experienced the most amazing sea and coastal views in bright sunshine. It is awe inspiring seeing wild gorse and heathers along the cliff tops and circling gulls and diving cormorants over the sea. The fresh smell of the sea air and the clean cool breeze are wonderful.  Before kids Marilyn and I went camping in a two man tent, yes very cosy, in a quiet valley beneath the peaks of the Skafells. This was thirty years ago. I imagined I could run to the top of one of the fells that abutted our campsite. I started off early one morning. My legs began to feel heavy half way but there was no way I was going to stop. I forced myself on and upwards. I got to a point where will power didn’t come into it anymore. I had been going up this very steep incline for twenty minutes or more, and this is the only time this has ever happened to me, my legs stopped moving. I could not consciously make them move any more. I stopped. I had to sit while the sensation in my legs came back. I was determined to get to the top and I did. That was scary because my legs had actually stopped of their own accord even though I wanted them to continue. I tried the same run every day for a week. By the end of the week I could do it with a degree of comfort.

 I have a passion for local history.  I mostly run where I live. My favourite routes take me through South Wimbledon , through the John Innes conservation area. There are some famous places in South Wimbledon. Merton is connected with Admiral Lord Nelson who lived at Merton Hall. William Morris’s works, where his wallpapers were printed and his furniture was made by local craftsmen, was situated at Merton Abbey Mills. The only remaining parts of the medieval Merton Priory, the chapter house, is under Merantun Way . Merantun Way itself marks the Roman road, Staine Street which lead from the Roman London Bridge to Chichester Harbour on the south coast near Portsmouth. I especially love running on Wimbledon Common though. There are parts of the common, bits of woodland, up there that have never been developed by human touch, ever. The common is managed but in a way to continue its health, growth and continuance. There are two golf courses within its bounds, The Royal Wimbledon and London Scottish both begun in Victorian times. Parts of it have been used by the military over the centuries too. Charles II’s Tangier regiment was formed and trained on the common before going out to Tangiers in 1662. The Royal Flying Core had an airfield on the common before the RAF was formed. It was a military shooting rifle range in Victorian times and was used to train rifle regiments in the First World War. Highwaymen and duelists took advantage of the remoteness of the common during the 18th century. It is however the silver birch woods and the wild grasses and the wild birds that proliferate on the common that I love to look at and experience as I run. Running on the common puts me in touch with nature. As an aside, for you lovers of all things connected with Ancient Egypt, the Putney cemetery on the west side of the common contains a very important grave. Howard Carter, who discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 is buried there I see blue and green plaques on buildings and have time to stop and read them. Robert Graves lived as a child near the Ridgeway in Wimbledon Village. A V Roe, the aircraft pioneer, worked in a shed at the back of his brother’s house at the bottom of the hill leading to Wandsworth High Street. The Putney debates of 1647, held after the English Civil War about religion and government, took place in St Mary the Virgin church next to the Putney side of the bridge going over the Thames. Buildings, gardens, trees, people and all manner of life is observable as I run. Running from your front door around the locality where you live is a great way to interact with and  learn about and enjoy where you live.

A selfie taken in Edinburgh running around Arthur's Seat.

On the down side, I have been sworn at from passing cars, been made fun of, had eggs thrown at me from the top of the multi storey car park in New Malden, tripped over and gashed my knees and elbows and even once, because I was distracted by a car without its headlights on in the dark, run into a lamppost and concussed myself. But the bad things are very rare and represent a negligible fraction of one percent of the running time have clocked up over the years.

There is an industry built up around running and sport in general. Who can blame the magazines, shops, gyms, clubs and TV programmes from trying to encourage people to take up sport and what seems to be highly important, buy their product? There is a benefit for the consumer if they are serious about the sport. It is running magazines that I have a particular issue with. I am sure my thoughts and concerns can be extrapolated to other magazine titles attached to other sports and events too. These magazines have nice glossy pictures of fit young men and women looking attractive. Many pages are used to advertise running shoes, clothes, computerised running devices to track speed, distance and heart rate, energy drinks and food.  The magazines are however, unnecessary. They are a shop window for various businesses and manufacturers to make money. Maybe it is controversial to say this but all the myriad of energy food products created and marketed for runners and participants of sports are not needed. The different running shoes made by different manufacturers are really unnecessary too. Most running shoes on the market are of a reasonably high standard. The only difference between them is their logo. The prices are all much the same. The articles in these magazines are of limited use too. How to get fit for a marathon. What shoes to wear? How to run. Keeping a running diary; and various other obvious themes.  The articles are worded in different ways and are given different angles to grab the interest. Different people write them or ghost write them so they always sound new and fresh. I have discovered that if you buy a monthly series of any one of these magazines over a year, they all end up saying the same sort of thing. You can actually learn the same stuff by just getting out there and running. But what you must realise about these magazines and what should stop you buying them is that year after year the same things are repeated.  You can only say so much about running. Everybody is an individual and we all have different body types. There is no information a magazine will provide that will really apply to you. There are the obvious things like staying hydrated and eating energy foods like pasta, but we all know that stuff anyway. You really do have to get out there and find what is good for you yourself.

My reasons now for running are not to get fit, or lose weight or necessarily run for charity these days, and although I think these things are worthy things my reasoning for running is about feeling good and exploring and enjoying my environment. I already have a high level of fitness so I am not aiming to achieve a particular level of fitness any more. I have discovered that being fit helps me think and provides me with the energy to do a multitude of things with enthusiasm and effort. I feel so much more active in every way being fit.  The feeling and sensation of running is one of the things that I like. There are those moments, when I have attained a comfortable rhythm in stride, arms swinging and breathing that creates almost a feeling of euphoria. That particular feeling doesn’t happen often but when it does I feel as though I could run forever. It is almost a floating sensation. I think I actually attain a level of karma. Mostly, however, running is a comfortable experience. I tend to run on the front of my foot. I have never adhered to the heal toe principle. I have consciously tried using the heel toe combination but it is an unnatural technique I think. I get a better pace, more spring in my step, a more natural flowing movement and a cushioned feeling from running on the front part of each foot. I have never suffered, ankle or tendon problems so I must have found a way of doing it right. The other feeling I get derives from the fitness I have achieved. It is good to feel fit. There is no doubt about that. I am 62 years old and I feel fit and well. My lungs work well. My weight is right for my height. I eat when I need to, generally what may be termed a balanced diet.  I probably drink too much coffee and tea, especially coffee. Coffee gives me a buzz. A drug, I know.

The way technology is going, one day we will be able to design our own running shoes based on the evidence collected on a personal application that monitors our running experiences. Imagine connecting your phone to a 3D printer and the printer making a bespoke pair of shoes for you? It will happen. Take my word for it.

I combine recycling with running too. Marilyn bought me a pair of baggy tracksuit trousers from a car boot sale for 50p. (I am NOT into tight fitting lycra you might be pleased to know.) I also wear inexpensive £2 tee shirts from my local supermarket.
Running is wonderful. It is good for you!!!!!

Monday, 23 February 2015

SHERLOCK HOLMES (The man who never lived and will never die.)

Entering the Museum of London to see the Sherlock Holmes exhibition.

The first exhibition in London about Sherlock Holmes for over sixty years is at the Museum of London. It began last year on the 17th October and is due to finish on the 12th April 2015, this year. Marilyn, Abi and myself went to see it on Saturday 22nd of February.

This exhibition has been inspired by the continued interest in Sherlock Holmes and what he represents. The recent BBC’s series, Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock and Martin Freeman as Dr Watson has given a modern twist to Conan Doyle’s original detective stories. However in recent years Hollywood has been fascinated by the exploits of the Victorian sleuth too. Robert Doherty in the modern day TV series, Elementary, set in New York and which relies on the concept of Sherlock Holmes, is one example. “Sherlock Holmes,” the 2009 film, directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Jude Law as Watson and Robert Downey Junior as Sherlock was a smash hit at the box office worldwide. It was the 8th highest grossing film of 2009.

This exhibition covers not just the filmic and stage history of Sherlock Holmes. The London of Sherlock Holmes features in an inspirational way if not totally as a physical entity and includes the scientific and technological innovations of the time that Holmes employed in his search for answers. The city itself , its enormity, its mix of population, its extremes of poverty and wealth, its maze like structure, its smoke and dense fogs, its play on the dreams, real and imaginary, of the people of the time who were horrified almost equally by the fiction of Jekyll and Hyde and the reality of the Jack the Ripper murders. All this created a climate of possibilities in which Conan Doyle could set his great character to work.

 Benedict Cumberbatch playing Sherlock.

The origins of Holmes is also explored. Where did the concept of a super sleuth come from? A man who could use minute analysis in any situation to solve a mystery? Arthur Conan Doyle was a physician who had studied at the University of Edinburgh Medical School from 1876 to 1881. His tutor was a Dr Joseph Bell. Doyle worked for Bell as his assistant during this time. Dr Joseph Bell was renowned for his use of close observation. Bell had a theory that a person’s personality could be deduced from studying his face. Dr Bell, physically was tall and thin and had a hooked nose. Conan Doyle used Dr Bell not only for the appearance of Sherlock Holmes but also for his approach to forensic analysis.

The exhibition is advertised on a poster that shows a side view of Sherlock Holmes’s head wearing a deer stalker and smoking his pipe. It is an x-ray picture which reveals the brain inside his skull. The brain is diagrammatically drawn. It labels the functions of the various parts of the brain. This diagram is tailored to what we know about Sherlock Holmes. These brain diagrams really reveal the thoughts and ideas of the illustrator of the diagram rather than what the brain actually does. For instance you can find diagrams depicting the brain of a Labour party supporter let’s say or the brain of a Southampton football fan for instance. They are a joke nowadays.These brain diagrams can be taken to ridiculous lengths.The Victorians took this all much more seriously. Doctors believed in a system of understanding the brain called phrenology. This has been disproved nowadays. In The Hound of The Baskervilles Holmes's skull surprises Dr Mortimer who remarks,

 "I had hardly expected so dolichocephalic a skull or such  well marked supra orbital  development."

So for this exhibition we have the brain diagram of Sherlock Holmes. Some of the main areas show, reflectiveness and perceptiveness written large at the front of the brain. Traits such as domestic and aspiring come large at the back of the brain. Cautiousness and mirthfulness are written in small type, lost within the brains mass, amongst many other traits either written smaller or larger depending on the strength or weakness in the character of Sherlock Holmes. This has all been deduced analytically from the stories no doubt. 

The brain of Sherlock Holmes.

We entered the exhibition through a bookcase. A melodramatic way to enter. The lady at the entrance, directing people to the exhibition, suggested the best way to take a dramatic photograph. She has obviously has had a lot of experience at directing exhibition goers so. She opened the door in the bookcase ajar for us. Marilyn stood with her left arm raised and hand against the panel looking back at me. And so we entered the exhibition.

Marilyn entering the mysterious world of Sherlock Holmes!!!!

The first things that confront us are theatre and film posters for the likes of the TV series in which Jeremy Brett starred, and early film versions with Basil Rathbone, Arthur Wontner, John Barrymore and Ellie Norwood. The quintessential early Sherlock Holmes was played by William Gillette on stage primarily but he also starred in the first film of Sherlock Holmes. Gillettes physique, looks and manner became the publics, illustrators and dramatists personification of Sherlock Holmes. You immediately realise that Holmes is more than a character in a book devised by Conan Doyle. He has taken on a life of his own and is reinvented for each generation, hence the more recent adaptations I mentioned at the start of this article. We know that Conan Doyle attempted to kill off his character in a story, The Final Problem, published in The Strand Magazine in December 1893. Professor Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes plunge to their deaths at the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. However, with strong popular demand from both English and American readers, Conan Doyle had to bring his character back. In 1901, Eight years after, The Final Problem, Doyle wrote The Hound of The Baskervilles. To get round the fact that he had killed Holmes off Doyle set the story in a time before the Reichenbach episode. However there were calls for Sherlock Holmes to be reincarnated. Conan Doyle had to bring him back in real time. Miraculously Holmes Conan Doyle ,"arranged," that he had survived his fall into the Reichenbach Falls. He had not in fact fallen over with Moriarty but had overcome his opponent using a Japanese martial arts technique called bartitsu.     He was able to hide his tracks thereafter.

 The death of Sherlock Holmes illustrated by Sidney Paget, Paget was Holmes's most famous illustrator creating some the most iconic images of Sherlock Holmes.

There are few other characters that have this sort of power in literature and fiction. In recent years I can only think of Dr Who and perhaps James Bond and maybe characters like Superman and Frankenstein that have this life which is indestructible. They live beyond their authors and even the demands of readers and fans. They exist in themselves in our consciousness. Maybe you can think of others yourself.
Some Bartitsu moves and other accomplishments of Sherlock Holmes.

The next part of the exhibition displayed maps of London, both road and rail and many original Victorian and Edwardian photographs depicting the London of Sherlock Holmes. The great rail stations, of Waterloo, Paddington and Kings Cross, feature.  The Grand hotels such as, The Langham, The Savoy, The Cecil, The Hyde Park Hotel and The Russell, in Russell Square are portrayed. These were the locations of some of Holmes’s mysteries.

A railway map of London in the exhibition.

The development of technology that was happening at the time, the telephone, the typewriter and the proliferation of steam trains as well as horse drawn hackney cabs are all displayed, some as objects, the telephone and typewriter and some as old photographs, the stations, the trains and hackney cabs. These forms of transport and the millions of inhabitants filled the bustling streets and stations of the metropolis. The new technologies were things that helped Sherlock Holmes in solving his crimes.

 An interesting point is made that Conan Doyle was not a Londoner in the way perhaps Dickens was. When you read the Conan Doyle stories it becomes evident that although he lists places in London that Watson and Holmes pass on their way to some station or  grand hotel, a list of places and streets is all he relates. There are no detailed descriptions and sense of place. He doesn’t have a feel for London as such. A lot of his stories may start in a room at 221B Baker Street, which incidentally, Conan Doyle asserted that he never visited and never travelled along, then the stories move invariably to some rural location outside of London, mostly to places in the South of England which Conan Doyle did know well.

However, the exhibition shows us that Conan Doyle does use London in one particular way. The fog creates an atmosphere. The massive void between rich and poor is a source of tensions. London as a world centre with embassies and foreign dignitaries from all over the world create situations where individuals are compromised. He uses London in what it does to people. The crimes and mysteries in Conan Doyle’s stories are those of individual human beings and their tragedies are brought about in a place where literally millions of people are thrown together.

Theatrical make up for creating disguises.

Sherlock Holmes in his quest for enlightenment and understanding resorts to all sorts of strategies. He calms his mind by playing the violin and of course his violin is displayed He smokes a pipe. He experiments with cocaine and morphine. As a personality he shows many traits of the addict. His behaviour is erratic. He has mood swings. He doesn't eat for long periods of time. Starvation can create a heightening of the senses. Some say that they detect elements of what we term now as autism in his personality. He had few friends and acquaintances beyond Dr Watson and Mrs Hudson who more often than not suffer his behaviour. In his quest to find answers and to aid his observation he often dresses up in various guises as vagrants, old ladies, clergymen and in fact whatever guise might help him melt unnoticed into his surroundings, to watch and observe unnoticed. This strong bohemian free thinking aspect to Holmes is important to who he is and creates a sort of frisson which was and is appealing.

Smoking implements that Sherlock Holmes would use..

One display shows all the equipment needed to create a disguise, wigs, make up and costumes. All the requirements of a Victorian theatre dressing room. Holmes was a consummate actor in the stories being able to trick even those close to him. Another shows all the accoutrements of the smoker, pipes, tobacco, match boxes and various contemporary adverts for smoking. One display shows a hypodermic syringe and glass files that contained morphine for Holmes’s use.

Then there are the display cases with the iconic clothing associated with Sherlock Holmes; an evening dress for the theatre, a tweed cape and deerstalker for the moors and an elaborate dressing gown for sitting in front of the coal fire upstairs at 221B Baker Street. In one case is displayed Benedict Cumberbatch’s, Holmes, overcoat. It is displayed on a dummy. It  easy to imagine Benedict Cumberbatch himself filling the void inside that coat. Unfortunately, for his numerous fans, he is not filling the inner space created by the coat but he does appear on the many video loops alongside all the other incarnations of Sherlock Holmes, acting out their part on screens set around the exhibition.

Dominic Cumberbatch's coat in Sherlock.

Eventually, long after having entered by the bookcase and been mesmerised throughout by the master himself we arrive at the final denouement. There we are with Professor Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes, perched at the top of the Reichenbach Falls. We enter the final room and find we too have jumped into the boiling surging waters of that waterfall too.We are surrounded by a floor to wall screen showing the spray and tumbling water of a large waterfall. We are immersed in it and enveloped by it. Will we survive miraculously too just as Sherlock Holmes does? Were we able to use bartitsu, a form of Japanese judo, to throw off our opponent as Holmes threw Moriarty to his death and escape into apparent oblivion? Let us use Holmes methods to ascertain a conclusion. The process of deduction Sherlock Holmes used was called abductive reasoning which is logical inference. You observe, Marilyn, Abi and I were at the top of the Reichenbach Falls. I am here writing this. The hypothesis must be that we live.  Oh well, something like that. It is all based on the strongest inference amongst other inferences.

Right at the end we too were confronted by the Reichenbach Falls.

Here is Sherlock Holmes explaining it all himself in,” The Mystery of The Dancing Men,”

 "You see, my dear Watson" -- he propped his test-tube in the rack, and began to lecture with the air of a professor addressing his class --"it is not really difficult to construct a series of inferences, each dependent upon its predecessor and each simple in itself. If, after doing so, one simply knocks out all the central inferences and presents one's audience with the starting-point and the conclusion, one may produce a startling, though possibly a meretricious, effect.”

You see. It’s simple!!!!!

I suppose I could have used the dancing men code itself to explain what happened to us. Here is the alphabet. Try constructing your own messages.

Conan Doyle explained Sherlock Holmes missing years by telling us that he travelled in the Far East. He was probably sharpening up his bartitsu skills no doubt.
One of the main points that this exhibition reveals and perhaps helps us understand is Sherlock Holmes’s continuing appeal to every generation. He has an ability to be incredibly adaptable. He looks for the unexpected. He uses forensic analysis. He acts quickly. The problems in this world with ISIS, Russian brinkmanship and the Arab unrest would be fertile ground for Conan Doyle’s creative imagination and Sherlock Holmes’s talents. So I think what this exhibition shows us is that Sherlock Holmes, “the man who was never born, will never die.” 

On the upper floor of The Sherlock Holmes pub next to Charing Cross station there is a reconstruction of Sherlock Holmes study in 221B Baker Street. The descriptions of the room  in Conan Doyles stories and novels were used to recreate it.

Sherlock Holmes study at 221B Baker Street (The Sherlock Holmes pub)

Thursday, 22 January 2015


Last week I was working in a school in Dorking. Dorking is a county town situated roughly in the centre of the county of Surrey. It nestles amongst the hills of the North Downs. Box Hill is to the North East and Leith hill is towards the South West. To get to the school I got the train from Motspur Park, where I live. It is a direct route passing through Epsom and West Humble. The journey takes about twenty eight minutes. The school I go to is on the other side of Dorking to the railway station. It takes a further twenty minute to walk to the school from the station.  I enjoyed the train journey because the Surrey countryside is beautiful. I enjoyed the walk through Dorking High Street because the town is quaint and has many old buildings dating back to Victorian, Georgian, Stuart and Tudor times. Dorking itself was probably begun by the Romans. It is on the route of the old Roman Road, Staine Street, from London to Chichester. As I walked through the High Street I noticed a sign pointing towards West Street. The sign read, “To The House of William Mullins, Pilgrim Father.” That evening on my way back to the station I walked down West Street and found William Mullins’s house.

The house of William Mullins, West Street, Dorking, Surrey.

William Mullins was born about 1572 in West Street, Dorking, in the County of Surrey. He followed his father into the shoemaking trade. In 1612 he bought his own property, a house that had been built in 1550, in West Street and continued his trade as a shoemaker. From his first marriage he had a son, also named William, and a daughter, Sarah. He married a second time to Alice who already had a son, Joseph who was  born in 1614. William and Alice had a daughter together named Priscilla. William’s son, William, married and also lived in Dorking. His daughter, Sarah, married and probably lived in London. William Mullins decided to become part of the group who sailed on the Mayflower. There is no evidence for him being a religious dissenter but he appears to have invested money in the company helping to finance the venture. He took with him to The New World two hundred and fifty shoes and thirteen pairs of boots.  The majority of those who sailed on the Mayflower in 1620 were called, “Saints,” English separatists, seeking religious freedom. Those like William Mullins, who joined the Mayflower as a financial venture were termed, “Strangers.”
The Speedwell and The Mayflower left Rotherhithe in July 1620. They called in at Southampton to take on more provisions and others wishing to go to The New World. They left Southampton for North America but sailing along the English Channel towards the Atlantic it was evident that The Speedwell was not seaworthy so they put into Plymouth. The Mayflower continued alone across the Atlantic. The journey was a gruelling escapade. The people on board suffered all sorts of privations and malnutrition. It was more than two months before they found a spot to land near Cape Cod, much further north of their intended landing site. In the first year of founding the colony many died of tuberculosis, scurvy and pneumonia. They were also not used to the freezing temperatures they encountered when first landing. It was a desperate situation and they had to steal corn from local indigenous tribes to survive. This did not endear them to the local population at first.
William Mullins died in February 1621. Alice and Joseph died that April. Priscilla was the sole survivor from Mullins family. Priscilla married John Alden in 1622. John Alden had been in charge of looking after the barrels of water and provisions on board the Mayflower. He was born in Harwich, Essex. He and Priscilla became famous through the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called,” The Courtship of Miles Standish.” Miles Standish persuaded John Alden to woo Priscilla for him. However Priscilla had her own ideas about who she wanted to marry and encouraged John. She told him,“Why don’t you speak for yourself?”

The plaque commemorating John Alden, who joined the Mayflower at Southampton. 
The plaque is on The Mayflower Memorial next to Southampton's medieval walls.

John and Priscilla set up home in the newly established town of Duxbury. Their house still survives today. John Alden took up important administrative positions in the colony. Two Presidents were directly descended from John and Priscilla; they were John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams.
The house in West Street Dorking and the house in Duxbury, Massachusetts are the only remaining properties directly connected to the Pilgrim Fathers.

From: "The Courtship of Miles Standish,"(1858)  by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Then from a stall near at hand, amid exclamations of wonder,
Alden the thoughtful, the careful, so happy, so proud of
Brought out his snow-white bull, obeying the hand of its master,
Led by a cord that was tied to an iron ring in its nostrils,
Covered with crimson cloth, and a cushion placed for a saddle.
She should not walk, he said, through the dust and heat of the
Nay, she should ride like a queen, not plod along like a peasant.
Somewhat alarmed at first, but reassured by the others,
Placing her hand on the cushion, her foot in the hand of her
Gayly, with joyous laugh, Priscilla mounted her palfrey.
"Nothing is wanting now," he said with a smile, "but the distaff;
Then you would be in truth my queen, my beautiful Bertha!"


The will and last testament of William Mullins still exists. It was written down by John Carver on the day of Mullins’s death. It was witnessed by Captain Christopher Jones, Giles Heale, the surgeon and John Carver, the governor of the colony. The will was sent back to England on board The Mayflower so it could be administered by Sarah, William Mullins’s daughter,who lived in London.

 The blue plaque on William Mullins's house in Dorking.
This is a transcript of the will:

April 2, 1621]
In the name of God Amen : I comit my soule to God that gave it and my bodie to the earth from whence it came. Alsoe I give my goodes as followeth That fforty poundes in the hand of goodman Woodes I give my wife tenn poundes, my sonne Joseph tenn poundes, my daughter Priscilla tenn poundes, and my eldest sonne tenn poundes Also I give to my eldest sonne all my debtes, bonds, bills (onelye yt forty poundes excepted in the handes of goodman Wood) given as aforsaid wth all the stock in his owne handes. To my eldest daughter I give ten shillings to be paied out of my sonnes stock Furthermore that goodes I have in Virginia as followeth To my wife Alice halfe my goodes & to Joseph and Priscilla the other halfe equallie to be devided betweene them. Alsoe I have xxj dozen of shoes, and thirteene paire of bootes wch I give into the Companies handes for forty poundes at seaven years and if thy like them at that rate. If it be thought to deare as my Overseers shall thinck good And if they like them at that rate at the divident I shall have nyne shares whereof I give as followeth twoe to my wife, twoe to my sonne William, twoe to my sonne Joseph, twoe to my daugher Priscilla, and one to the Companie. Allsoe if my sonne William will come to Virginia I give him my share of land furdermore I give to my twoe Overseers Mr John Carver and Mr Williamson, twentye shillinges apeece to see this my will performed desiringe them that he would have an eye over my wife and children to be as fathers and freindes to them ; Allsoe to have a speciall eye to my man Robert wch hathe not so approved himselfe as I would he should have done.
This is a Coppye of Mr Mullens his Will of all particulars he hathe given. In witnes whereof I have sett my hande  John Carver, Giles Heale, Christopher Joanes.

The last will and testament of William Mullins.

A picture of a horse drawn on a plastered wall inside the house of William Mullins.

Here is a link to an article I wrote about The Pilgrim father’s previously.

Monday, 15 December 2014


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.”

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..."

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

6,Platoon B Coy
1/15 London Regiment
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,
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.