Monday, 17 October 2016

VALDEMOSSA, MALLORCA. ( a Summer holiday trip)

The mountainous scenery around Valldemossa

During the second week of August this year, the 7th until the 14th, Marilyn, Emily, Abigail and myself stayed on Mallorca, the main island amongst the Ballearic group of islands. We had a hotel just a short distance along the coast from Palma, the capital city of the Ballearics. From Palma we could take bus trips all over the island. In planning our holiday, we researched Gaia, the little village on the north side of the island near the coast set amongst the craggy outcrops and peaks of La Serra de Tramuntana. Gaia was the small mountain village that Robert Graves made his home and we wanted to visit his house and find his grave in the little cemetery in the village. La Serra de Tramuntana is a range of craggy limestone hills and mountains, some over 1000 m high, that stretch from East to West across the whole northern part of the island. The steep sided valleys and ravines make a spectacular drive through this rugged landscape. One such spectacular town we passed through was Valldemossa, set on the side of a steep mountain with a long beautiful valley extending south from it with views almost to the sea at Palma. When we got back to our hotel that evening, I found some brochures in the hotel foyer that described  Valldemossa. We discovered it had been a retreat for George Sand and her lover Frederik Chopin in the winter of 1838. They had stayed in rooms in the abandoned Carthusian Monastery of Valldemossa. When Marilyn and I read this we immediately thought we must go there. The next day the four of us got the same bus we had got to Gaia from the central bus station in Palma, except this time we alighted on edge of Valldemossa town.

Valldemossa is well signposted.

Valldemossa is well sign posted. We started walking up the crowded thoroughfare that comprised the main street making our way towards the Chopin and Sand museum. It was crowded with visitors from the cruise ships we had seen in the harbor at Palma. They wore their cruise ship badges so we could even pick out which ship they had come from. They looked like and sounded like a bored crowd of tourists. You could see and hear the fractious children with their worn out parents sighing and complaining back at their children in strained and reprimanding tones. Valldemossa is beautiful. The streets are lined with tamarisk and holm oaks. These trees create deep shade in the streets during the hot bright summer. The town is built from the honey coloured stones quarried from the surrounding mountains. Olive green shutters are placed over every window. Stone archways encompass heavy wooden doors. The streets are paved with worn irregular slabs of the same stone. The town is rustic, mellow and creates a warm comfortable feeling of human scale. It is the sort of place you need to walk around, stop, contemplate life  and speak to people. The atmosphere of Valldemossa seeps into you and makes you feel human again, if you give it time, away from the hurly burly of your everyday lives. Marilyn, Emily, Abigail and I made our way through this unhappy crowd and gradually the crowd thinned out and it became easier to stop and experience Valldemossa properly.

Shaded streets of Valldemossa

Valdemossa is a mountain town, very much reliant on tourism as is the whole of Mallorca in the 21st century but it is still home, to hillside farmers growing olives, almonds and grapes. Marilyn, Emily, Abigail and myself walked into some of the shops on the main street. There were the usual Spanish holiday mementoes. We found, a variety of straw sombreros of different circumferences. There were stuffed leather donkeys with colourful rainbow tassels for mains and tails. There was a choice of all sorts of brightly painted castanets.There were brightly coloured clothing on sale and artisan wooden carvings of fish and other animals for sale. There were traditional sangria drinking bottles with a long thin sharp spout. By holding the drinking bottle at arm’s length and above your head height you can send a long thin stream of wine arching through the air to your open mouth and straight down your throat. Watching it done is quite a skillful business. There were traditional Spanish costumes for children. There were local carved wooden statues of The Virgin Mary and Barcelona Football Team shirts side by side and various other paraphernalia, dishes, plates and bottled oils on sale too. We walked on. Interspersed with the tourist shops there were local shops selling bread and groceries. Bars and restaurants, with tables spilling out on to the streets and into the square at the top of the town were everywhere. We saw red banners all over Valldemossa advertising the, “Festival Chopin.” 

A banner informing about the Chopin Festival.

We eventually reached the great monastic church belonging to the Carthusian Monastery at the top of the town. An old weather beaten faced old lady selling entry tickets sat at a rickety wooden table. We asked about tickets to see around the old monastery and its church. She explained that the ticket allowed us to see the monastery. I asked where the rooms Chopin and Sand had stayed in were. She waved her arm in the air and grumbled at us with some guttural Spanish phrase gesturing to her right and then she had a go at English and said in a vague comment, “On thee urther side.”
The Carthusian Monastery of Valldemossa, dates back to 1399. It was secularised in 1835 under the Ecclesiastical Confiscations of Mendizabel. At the time there were anti clerical liberal movements in Spain and the government wanted to use the land to help the middle classes expand. The land and buildings of the monastery at Valldemossa were sold to a number of people however the towns people felt it wrong to use the old Carthusian property for their benefits so the new owners would merely rent out the rooms to vistors.

Inside the Carthusian church.

Entering the vast monastic church from the sun drenched courtyard in front of the entrance it took a moment to adjust our vision. The inside of the church was cool with its white washed walls reflecting any light that entered from the large roundel window positioned high in the barrel vaulted roof at one end. It was strange in the sense that were no other windows, none of the elaborate gothic arched stained glass windows of a cathedral or local church. Carthusian spirituality is about solitude and living in silence. This is one of the Carthusian statutes.
 The primary application of our vocation is to give ourselves to the silence and solitude of the cell. It is holy ground, the area where God and his servant hold frequent conversations, as between friends. There, the soul often unites itself to the Word of God, bride to the groom, the earth to the sky, man to the divine. “
The church seemed to cut us off from the outside world. The interior was virtually empty. At one end there was an elaborate altar with a gilt painted baroque framed painting of The Virgin Mary hanging above it and a life size statue of St Bruno, the founding father of the Carthusians to one side. The walls were lined to about half height by intricately carved wooden stalls and friezes where I presume the monks had once sat during mass. There was no seating for a congregation. The body of the church was an empty space floored with stone tiles.  As we walked from the church into dimly lit whitewashed corridors this sense of the Carthusian contemplative life seemed palpable in the structure of the buildings. We came to a small verdant, cloistered square. To one side, appearing almost cartoonish, were two giants. Two statues, at least twice life size, one representing Frederik Chopin and the other George Sand. They seemed totally incongruous. I can only suggest they had something to do with the Chopin Festival. I guess, either that they must stand in pride of place as the festival of Chopin piano concertos proceeds, or perhaps they are the outer costumes and masked heads of stilt walkers and the two creative, “giants,” walk amongst festival goers creating a sense of circus and fun.  

Frederik Chopin, myself and George Sand!!!!!

We eventually reached a long corridor at the far side of the cloisters, with a high barrel roof. Every place throughout the monastery was whitewashed and this seemed a very plain white thoroughfare, dimly lit like the rest of the interiors. We could see  to one side, set within the the wall opposite the cloisters and courtyard, there was a row of evenly interspersed wooden doors. They were each numbered. There were thirteen doors we discovered, each being the entrance to the cell of the previous monastic occupant. Cell number four was the reputed abode of Frederik Chopin and George Sand and Sand’s two children during their stay in Valldemossa.

The balcony garden outside of the cells where Sand and Chopin stayed.

The rooms are interconnected nowadays and Chopin and Sand occupied at least two of them. There are two pianos within these rooms. One is the Pleyel piano that Chopin had shipped to Mallorca and eventually brought to Valldemossa for his use.  Pleyel was the company of piano makers that Chopin preferred above all others. His last concert was played on a Pleyel. There is another piano there that Chopin also used while he was waiting for the arrival of the Pleyel. The rooms have quite a number of Chopin and Sand artefacts and manuscripts.There are receipts for the sea voyage they made to Palma from Barcelona. There are letters to friends and a first edition of Sand’s book ,”A Winter in Mallorca.”  

"Un Hiver en Majorque."

There are sketch books that belonged to Sands two children, Maurice, born in 1823 who was fifteen years old at the time they visited Valldemossa and her daughter Solange, born in 1828, who was ten years old at the time. Their father was George Sand’s estranged husband, Casimir Dudevant. One particular artefact was a cartoon drawing that George Sand had made depicting herself, Chopin and her two children meeting the local priest. In a true cartoonists, using characature, showing her nose and Chopins nose far larger that real life. Underneath Sand has handwritten, a legend stating that the priest was lecturing them about snow. He thought they might never have seen it before and Valldemossa experienced snow falls in the Winter. The facial expressions are very good. The two children are shown sitting very politely showing quiet interest as she is but Chopin is grimacing in almost a snarl. 

George Sand,Frederik Chopin with children, being lectured about snow.

Chopin composed most of the preludes opus 28.  while here. He had a prolific creative period during that winter in Valldemossa which is remarkable since he was suffering from pneumonia. Chopin wrote to his friend, Julian Fontan in December from Valldemossa.
“To Julian Fontana in Paris
Palma 28 December 1838
………………….or rather Valldemosa, a few miles away; between cliffs and the sea a huge deserted Carthusian monastery where in a cell with doors larger than any carriageway in Paris you may imagine me with my hair unkempt, without white gloves and pale as evert. The cell is shaped like a tall coffin, the enormous vaulting covered with dust, the window small. In front of the window are orange trees, plams, cypresses;opposite the window is my camp bed under a Moorish filigree rose window. Close to the bed is an old square grubby box which I can scarcely use for writing on, with a leaden candlestick( a great luxury here) and a little candle. Bach, my scrawlsand someone elses old papers…silence…you can yell….still silence. In short, I am writing to you from a queer place. I received two days ago your letter of the 2nd of this month…….”

Chopin at Valldemossa.

Chopin’s prelude in A minor  was undoubtedly composed at Valldemossa. It has a melancholy air. The weather during the winter of 1838 was cold and misty. The mood of the abbey at Valldemossa during that winter seems to have permeated this piece

A doll that belonged to Solange.

George Sand wrote, “Un Huiver a Mallorca,”during this stay in Valledemossa. Sand’s book is a curious mixed sort of affair. It provides a history of Mallorca. It lambasts the Spanish Inquisition. It is part travel book and part autobiography using a dark gothic style first begun by Horace Walpole in his  “Castle de Otranto.”At times it also employs a Romantic element in the style of Wordsworth. It  criticizes the people of Mallorca to quite some extent. In January Sand wrote to her friend, Mariliani
  “I write to You from my hermitage in Valldemossa […] In this no quarter is given me by the warbling piano of Chopin working in his normal, beautiful, way, to the astonishment of the eavesdropping walls of the cell’. In a later recollection, inHistoire de ma vie: ‘He could not curb his restless imagination. Even when he felt good, the monastery seemed to him to be full of phantoms and frights […] I found him at ten in the evening sitting pale at the piano, with a vague look in his eyes, with his hair on end…’ Chopin (to Fontana): ‘I send You the Preludes. Transcribe them, You and [Edward] Wolff; I think there are no errors. You will give the transcriptions to Probst and the manuscript to Pleyel. […[ In a couple of weeks’ time You will get a ballade [F major], polonaises [A majorand C minor] and a scherzo [C sharp minor]. Tell Pleyel to agree on the timing of the publication of the preludes with Probst. I still have not yet received any letter from my parents!’ To Pleyel: ‘At last I send You my preludes, completed on Your piano. […] I advised Fontana to hand You my manuscript. For France and England I want for it one thousand five hundred francs. Probst, as You know, purchased the German rights for Härtel for one thousand francs’.
Sand’s book ““Un Huiver a Mallorca,”(A Winter in Mallorca) begins wuth an assessment and comments about a book she has read about Mallorca written by a certain J B Laurens who had visted Mallorca a couple of years before Sand and Chopin. She enjoyed reading about the vegetation and the history and reading Lauren’s view of the island. George Sand takes great interest in facts such as population numbers, the number of square miles the island consists of. Sands goes into great detail about the temperatures at different times of the year and the differences between sheltered and unsheltered areas. She starts complaining from the beginning. They get to Mallorca by way of the ferry,” El Mallorqn,” a ship the Mallorcans had bought to help their trade with Barcelona and the rest of Spain. 

"El Mallorqn,"the ship Sand and Chopin sailed from Barcelona to Palma in.

There is a humerous description in her book that describes how she and Chopin got to Mallorca because of pigs. The Mallorcan sailors on board treated the 200 or more pigs they took aboard with far more care and respect than the human passengers. If it hadn’t been that the pigs were going to Mallorca Chopin and Sand would not have got there themselves. Sand’s was seasick, so that probably didn’t help matters. According to Sand, an apartment in Palma was merely a white washed box. Washing and cooking facilities were non existent. There were no windows in the rooms. According to Sand the people were lazy and stuck in their ways. They, after a short time, moved outside of Palma to a friends furnished house at Establiments, a rural area beyond Palma. She describes the cultivation and surrounding mountains in some detail. This was a silent place and she could hear babies crying at night and the slightest sound but the final straw was when winds the rains started. The deluge went on day after day. The damp got into the house. Chopin became ill and living there became unbearable. Eventually another acquaintance offered them another abode in rooms in the monastery in Valldemossa. Eventually they moved there. They arranged for Chopin’s Pleyel piano to be transported up to this mountain retreat. This was in Winter time and Chopin and Sand had not realized that Valldemossa in the mountains would be so cold. They suffered again but this time they stuck it out. It provided inspiration for Sand’s to write her book and for Chopin, although ill , to compose. The book is worth reading because although it is a jaundiced and somewhat partisan view of Mallorca and does the people of Mallorca no favours, it is a wonder that Valldemossa actually celebrates the two of them, it is entertaining at times in its exaggerations and almost ridiculous  negative descriptions of Mallorca. The book goes into all sorts of incongruous descriptions of buildings. There is a whole section on the three most important buildings in Palma for instance, The Cathedral, The Exchange and The Royal Palace. There are some dark gothic parts to it. Apart from the monastery at Valldemossa Sand’s also comes across another ruined monastery in Palma itself, one where the Inquisition had held sway. She goes into great detail about the beliefs and methods of the Inquisition. She had visited an Inquisition site before on mainland Spain and been into the caves used as prisons beneath the site, caves with walls hundreds of feet thick in places. She goes into chilling detail how the Spanish Inquisitors would imprison, Jews, reformers and anybody who didn’t toe the Catholic line. The worst offenders to the Inquisition were obliterated from existence, their names removed from any documents, their bodies burned to ashes, no record kept of their very existence. This persecution would go as far as their families too, mothers and fathers and siblings so there was no living memory of them either. Sand’s seems to take a prurient interest in this cruelty expressing her horror at the same time. Valldemossa, gets as much description and similar negativity, especially about the local people, who she thought uneducated and coarse as elsewhere in Mallorca but she does express a love for the scenery and the location. I agree with her on that point.

A portrait of George Sand on a wall of their cell at Valledemossa.

The rooms that Chopin and Sand occupied , although cramped and cell like, had doors that opened out on to balcony spaces. These small enclosures to this day,contain pots of flowers, palm trees, shrubs and plants of all types. They were and are, small, luxurious gardens. A low stone wall creates  the extent of each space and from that wall, looking south from the monastery,  down the v shaped valley created by the surrounding mountains you can see Palma and the sea in the far distance. The garden, its rustic stone surrounds and the mountains and the magnificent view affects all the senses and creates an uplifting experience. Sand and Chopin, for all its faults and travails, were both inspired by Valldemossa and you can see why. The surroundings and the views are spectacular.

As well as commemorating Chopin and Sands the various cells in the Carthusian monastery also recall the life and works of the Carthusian monks who had originally lived there. There is an extensive library that the Abbot of of the monastery possessed. There is also a pharmacy. The monks were great herbalists and chemists. They also had a printing press.

A monks cell.

The abbots library.

The monks chemist shop.
 Valldemossa was also home to the local saint, Saint Catalina Thomas. She was born on the 1st May 1533 in Valldemossa. Her house, next to the towns church, is now a chapel and a shrine and they celebrate her on the 27th and 28th July every year. While we were there in the second week of August, the white raffia streamers still crisscrossed an area of the town square and her portrait hung amongst the fluttering raffia  was still in place.

A statue of Saint Catalina Thomas.
She lived a life of prayer experiencing visons from an early age. She was visited by angels and devils and experienced a sort of ecstasy for the last years of her life.  Walking along the narrow streets and alleyways of Valldemossa, making our way to the church and the home of St Catalina Thomas we saw glazed porcelain plaques on many walls depicting scenes from her life showing her experiencing some of her visions in the countryside around Valldemossa. It is easy to explain her experiences as an overactive imagination. Her life, though, has encouraged people to prayer and devotion. 

A plaque on a house wall in Valldemossa depicting one of Saint Catalina Thomas's visions.

We can talk about all sorts of secular and religious techniques for harnessing the mind to create well being and improvements in our lives. Meditation techniques, mindfulness, forms of self reflection are helpful in both our own relationships and in our work place. Mentally rehearsing actions we are going to take, is another way to harness the power of the mind. Sports people use mental rehearsal in many situations. Maybe that is all Catalina Thomas experienced, some or all of those type of things and we can dismiss her for that. However she means something very powerful to many Mallorcans to this day and that is what really counts. She left Valldemossa and  went to Palma where she worked as a servant in a household before joining a religious order, the Canonnesses of St Augustine at the convent of St Mary Magdelene in Palma.

A shaded bar.

Valldemossa and the surrounding area is good walking country. The landscape is spectacular. It is worth exploring for the wildlife, the vegetation and the breath taking views. The town itself is very photogenic. There are lots of wonderful restaurants and a few rustic hotels and guest houses.


Chopin’s prelude in A minor  :
Played by Martha Argerich:

"A Winter in Mallorca," by George Sand (translated by Shirley Kirby James)
pub: Classic Collection Carolina 

Monday, 26 September 2016

GOOD CANARY A play written by Zach Helm and directed by John Malkovich at the Rose Theatre, Kingston upon Thames

Good Canary, is a play about drug addiction, its consequences on people’s lives and livelihoods. It is about mental deterioration, driving ambition, the precariousness of literary talent, the consequences of sexual abuse and the dubious amoral world of publishing. A powerfully toxic, dark brew that is destined to take us into the dark side of human nature and help us explore our own motivations and perhaps darker side too.
Zach Helm, is known in France , Spain and Mexico for his acclaimed productions of Good Canary directed in each case by John Malkovich. The play has been translated into French and Spanish although first written in English. It is now appearing in Britain for the first time and being produced for the first time in English  at the Rose Theater Kingston. Zach Helm is also known for the film, Mr Magoriums Wonder Emporium. He is renowned as a teacher of drama. He has created a technique called ,”open input drama,” which encourages actors to use experiences from the real world.

Zach Helms with his wife, Kiele Sanchez
John Malkovich is famous for starring in Dangerous Liaisons, Being John Malkovich and starring and performing in over seventy films. He has two Academy Award nominations. He speaks both French and Spanish.
I must warn any reader of this before they start reading that this is not a review but my analysis of what I saw the other day at The Rose Theatre. There will be plenty of,” plot alerts,” whatever that means? So many people write that phrase when reviewing things. I thought I would have a go at using it too.
The two main characters are Annie, played by Freya Mavor and Jack, played by Harry Lloyd.
Good Canary, begins with Annie and Jack in their New York apartment. Jack has just had his first novel published and has received a good review by a highly regarded New York Times reviewer. Jack reads the review to Annie who is cynical about it and analyses every phrase for its real meaning not believing it could be good. Annie is pacing about frenetically. The discussion changes.There is a lot of arguing and the free use of the F word being shouted. Jack is asks Annie how many pills she has taken. Annie is a drug addict and uses amphetamines to function. References to drugs and the world of drugs underpin this whole play. Annie cleans the apartment continually. The computerized scenery allows the windows she cleans at one stage to shrink or enlarge at will and move about on the wall almost trying to avoid Annie’s manic cleaning attempts. “How many times have you cleaned the apartment today?” Jack asks. “Oh three or four times maybe,” Annie replies as though its normal. There is a scene where her drug dealer,Jeff, played energetically and with an element of nervous energy by Ilan Goodman, comes around. He seems to be a friend of the family. Annie buys two enormous bags of pills. He says he has had to search Manhattan to obtain so much in one go. She pays him $2000 for them. The drug dealer is very nervous about letting her have the drugs. A drug dealer with a heart. A dealer with a conscience. His addiction however is money and he can’t resist selling all these drugs to Annie. He wines about her being careful. He pleads with her to not take them all in one go. This is a joke of course. Annie is not good at rationing her drugs and drugs bought to last a fortnight last four or five days. She says she wants to buy in bulk so she doesn’t have to worry the drug dealer so often and to have easy access to drugs whenever she wants. As well as the bulk buying of drugs Annie also, randomly it seems, buys a large steal red box. The audience is immediately drawn into this dark crazy world that Annie and Jack inhabit.
Its not just drugs that are the problem. We assume that Annie has been sexually abused as a child. At a dinner party with a publishing executive and his wife she even hints that sexual abuse for women is the norm.”So when did you first get raped?” She asked Sylvia the executives wife. She goes on to say that she was nine years old when it first happened to her. We begin to discover the root causes of Annies drug addiction. At one time Jack tells Charlie how Annie pleaded with her to fuck her in the arse and forced him to try. He could see the pain he was causing her and stopped. She seemed to crave the abusive behavior she had experienced as a child.

Annie ( Freya Mavor) searching for the drugs that Jack has hidden.

Jack, also randomly it seems, buys a small yellow canary in a cage for Annie to look after during the day. He thinks this might give her a focus to help take her mind of drugs. Annie is completely taken by this beautiful little piece of life. She loves it. The canary hangs from a stand on the stage throughout the performance. A computerized text appears on a wall that explains the use of canaries down mines to warn of gas. A canary will visibly weaken and die with the onset of gas in the tunnels. We as the audience think this must be of great significance. Being aware of Annie’s fragility this must be the warning  for Annie’s later precariousness or even demise. However, although the canary is there on the stage virtually throughout the performance its actual significance is forgotten and references to it are no longer made. I think this is a weakness by this nonuse of a supposedly important piece of imagery.
In many plays that deal with dark subjects there is dark humour. Zach Helms has put humour into this play but it is intermittent. A more adept playwright would keep an underlying sense of the absurd as a continuous thread throughout a play like this. The scene  where Annie is cleaning the apartment whilst on speed is funny and strange. The scene where she is buying drugs from ,Jeff.her dealer has its light moments. Annie ends up in hospital at one stage because of her attempts to vomit. Jack eventually finds that she has stuffed a hair curler deep down her throat and nearly choked to death. The ridiculousness of it is evident.
Zach helms has tried very hard to use all the playwright’s techniques and strategies. However, they are so obvious it makes much of the play clunky. There are the dramatic pauses, too long at times. I thought the actors had forgotten their lines. We have the theater critic, who every writer is afraid off, because their review can make or break them. The publisher who doesn’t read the books he publishes. He may as well be selling potatoes as far as he cares. The wife of the wealthy publisher who sits in her expensive high rise Manhattan penthouse and who is lonely and is bored with life. These are so obvious techniques it makes me think that I have seen parts of this play before. Now where did that scene come from? Where have I seen that before?
There is also the matter of computerized text displayed on screens. They provide us with background information at times, for instance explaining the use of canaries in mines. I think modern technology is fine in a play, and I absolutely loved the way projectors and lighting were used to create the scenery in this play but I am not convinced about its use to provide dialogue. This is more appropriate for texts displaying information in museums and galleries perhaps but I am not convinced about its use in a play. The actors spoken dialogue should provide all. There was one other use of computerized text which worried me. There is a tender scene between Jack and Annie. They are holding each other expressing their love. They lie on stage in silence. Their inner thoughts are displayed on screens above their entwined bodies. Fist Jack’s words appear and then Annie’s. This scene is a prolonged moment. Anybody with poor eyesight might think the play had ended or come to some frozen standstill. Shakespeare would have used a soliloquy. Other playwrights might have used a voice to the audience.Probably voice overs from the actors themselves would have worked much better. It detracted from the dramatic moment.

Jack and Annie with the canary of the title.
The  Good Canary suddenly becomes something of worth at the point when Jack reveals  that he is not the author of the new acclaimed novel but it is Annie who is the writer. There is an awareness that the center of this play, where all strands lead, is Annie.This is the crux of the play. Everybody, whether they know it or not is reliant on Annie. Jeff the drug dealer needs Annie to buy his drugs so he has an income. Jacks publisher, Charlie,  the large publishing firm wanting to buy Charlie out run by Stuart, the New York Times reviewer, Mullholland , who seems to hold all the power and Stuart’s, bored, lonely, sophisticated wife Sylvia, they need her for their very existence. They need Annie’s creative talent to provide for their livelihoods and eventually all the characters realise this.
Jack was aware of his reliance on Annie from the start of the play. There are moments when we think, why is Jack so dedicated to Annie, he loves her yes, but love can be eroded by a partner living a drug addled existence. Charlie tries to get Jack away from Annie. He sees her as a liability. A party is to be held at Stuarts apartment. Charlie tries to persuade Jack to leave Annie at home because the party is about signing a publishing deal and he doesn’t want Annie to mess things up. Jack knows that Annie must be there. She is the real author. The audience thinks he is just being admirably loyal to his wife and I am sure he is being that but there are obviously other forces making him bring Annie along. Annie behaves in a self destructive way at the party.She ruins the party.Everybody is shocked and her behaviour appears to have destroyed any chance of a book deal. Charlie, Stuart and Mullholand display  blatant misogyny . Stuart has treated his wife badly. We see their marriage self destructing. Mullholland tells Jack that after Stuarts wife leaves him that Stuart won’t even remember her after a while. He will get another to replace her. The men, apart from Jack, all dismiss Annie’s cries for help. They want to discard her. Jack is forced to reveal that Annie is the real author to Mullhollnad. Charlie is informed. The realization that their own existence relies on Annie’s talent , creativity and writing, changes all their outlooks towards her. Charlie wants Jack to get Annie to write a second book. Jack can see that Annies drug habit is getting out of control. The publishers need a follow up novel to the first successful novel. Jack pays off Jeff to stay away from Annie and not sell her any more drugs. Jack gets rid of the drugs in the apartment. Annie can’t function. She becomes desperate. We realise that Annie needs her drugs to function and to  write. We can think of Dylan Thomas and his drinking or Earnest Hemmingway and his reliance on drink too. The beat poets and writers all took drugs. Ken Keysey and One flew Over The Cookoos nest comes to mind.Annie commits suicide in the apartment when Jack is away. She poors bottle after bottle of  bleach, chrome cleaner, anything she can get her hands on, down her throat. She dies in agonizing convulsions on the floor. It seems that with Annie’s death everybody else’s existence has come to an end too.
Jack is disconsolate sitting in the apartment alone. He sees the red steal box that Annie bought, what seems ages ago. He manages to get the padlock open. Inside he finds numerous brown paper parcels. As he sits there opening them, we the audience, realise along with Jack that each parcel contains a manuscript. Annie, her days spent high on amphetamines has not only been cleaning the apartment she has been writing prolifically. Screens appear all around the stage displaying the novels, and books of poetry in Annie’s name that all become national best sellers.

John Malkovich

Here Zach Helms tries to attempt dark humour again. Jack and Charlie appear amongst grave stones in a cemetery at Annies funeral and Charlie says, “ For Christs sakes , she died of kitchen cleaning products, goddam.” I didn’t laugh.
Zach Helms is not an Edward Albee, or an Arthur Miller. His writing makes the  themes, of drug abuse, misogyny, the affects of sexual abuse, hidden talent, appear to be derivative and hence contrived. There is something powerful in this play however. Its strength and importance is the realisation that our existence, our world can be founded on the weakest of things. Sometimes the greatest things can come from something weak and insignificant and damaged that we all want to ignore or want to discard. John Malkovich has made a creditable attempt at producing the play. There are weaknesses in the use of projected text instead of the spoken word. Some of  the dramatic silences lose their drama after a length of time. This is probably to do with pace.The actors do their very best with lots of energy and some truly moving and emotional parts, especially from Freya Mavor as Annie. John Malkovich however,needs to get a better play script for the world to work out whether or not he can be a good stage directer. It seems he has only produced this one play, admittedly in various countries and in two other languages. Perhaps he should try an Edward Albee or an Arthur Miller, or even Shakespeare. If Malkovich is over here dipping his toes into the world of British theater to test the waters, he needs something better. If he is here trying to emulate Kevin Spacey at The Old Vic then he has some way to go.


Friday, 16 September 2016


Recently Marilyn and I went in to the center of London, initially to attend a lunchtime free concert at St Martins in The Fields. We heard Emma Stannard, a Mezzo Soprano, singing Grieg, Schumann, De Falla and Copeland accompanied by Keval Shah on the piano. They were superb displaying so much personality. The lunchtime concerts begin a 1pm and last for about one hour. When we came out onto a sunny Trafalgar Square we thought we would like to have a look in the National Portrait Gallery and see if any exhibitions were on.
There is a photographic portrait exhibition on at the moment. We first looked around  pictures  created by the Bloomsbury group and portraits of artists,writers and the famous from the 20th century. We looked at the Tudor and Stuart galleries populated by portraits of the ,”God ordained”,  and eventually wandered into the Georgian period sauntering past that little sketch of Jane Austen created by her sister Cassandra and some of the great writers and poets of the late 18th and early 19th century, Sir Walter Scott, Shelley, Byron and so forth. There are very few women represented in the older periods. Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots appears in the Tudor period. Some of Charles II’s mistresses are hung in the Stuart galleries but the Georgian period is when women become ,”really serious.”
The great majority of paintings in the Georgian Galleries are still of men but  there are a substantial number of women, Jane Austen, Mary Wollstonecraft, Hannah More, Fanny Burney, Hester Lynch (Mrs Thrale) and Dorothy Jordan, writers, artists, actors, philosophers, playwrights, society hosts and emancipationists. These women began to push the boundaries of society showing what women could do in the world and they were brave, revolutionary and they were intellectuals and thinkers of the highest order.They all suffered one way or the other for their causes in a very strongly male orientated world. They were courageous pioneers. 

  The Trial of Queen Caroline 1820 by Sir George Hayter oil on canvas, 1820-1823 (National Portrait gallery)

But there is one painting, with a woman in it, which could be described as even more inspirational and in some ways is more powerful than the rest and gets to the heart of what it was to be a woman in the early 19th century. This woman had courage, determination and a will to live her life the way she wanted. She was prepared to break the law, courted approbation from everybody, even her friends and supporters, those who might be on her side to a degree of sensure regarding her morals and choices in life. In acting in such a liberating way was perhaps even stronger than all the rest. “The trial of Queen Caroline in 1820,” is vast. It consists of hundreds of miniature portraits of men. The great men of the early 19th century. There is William Adams, lawyer and diplomat, Shute Barrington,the Bishop of Durham, William Cavendish the Lord Chancellor,  William Wyndham Greville the Prime Minister, the Duke of York, George IV’s brother, William Howley, The Archbishop of Canterbury, William Nelson, 1st Earl Nelson, Lord Nelson’s brother, Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. There are lawyers, landowners, statesmen, the Governor General of India and various other governor generals. There are Field Marshalls, bishops and archbishops. Thomas Barnes, the editor of The Times newspaper is there, politicians of every hue, agriculturalists, bankers, sportsmen, Lords, Earls and Dukes. The world was run by these men and women were second class citizens and had to do what they were told. Almost unnoticed, in the midst of this mass of manhood, sitting calmly and still and looking unmoved is Queen Caroline of Brunswick, the estranged wife of George IV. The painting portrays the trial brought about when George wanted to divorce her. Things did not go his way. For one the public disliked him intensely.

Caroline of Sir Thomas Lawrence oil on canvas, 1804. (National Portrait Gallery)
Caroline was born on the 17th May 1768, a Princess of Brunswick. Her father was Charles William, Duke of Brunswick and her mother was Princess Augusta of Great Britain and eldest sister of George III. Her father and mother had a difficult relationship. Her father had a mistress, who lived with them, called Louise Hertefeld. Caroline was put in a difficult situation. If she was civil to one the other reprimanded her. She was also unable to lead the life she would have liked to live while she was within the same household as her parents. She was forbidden to attend grand balls except on very rare occasions. She strictly chaperoned everywhere by her governess and some elderly ladies of the court. She was refused any contact with the opposite sex. She was even forbidden to dine with her own brother. This caused her great anguish and torment. Caroline was not averse to trying some extreme tricks. She feigned being pregnant on one occasion to challenge her parents. There were rumours about her from an early age that she had given birth at the age of fifteen. She often visited the cottages of the peasantry and it was claimed that on one of these occasions she had got pregnant.
Her mother and father considered many suitors for her from1782 onwards. Prince of Orange, Prince George of Hesse and Charles Duke of Mecklenberg were all suggested but nothing came of this. Her mother had always hope for a marriage to one of her English cousins. In 1794 Caroline became engaged to the Prince of Wales, her cousin. The reason for this were mostly political. Britain was at war with France and an Alliance with Brunswick would help Britain’s  cause. Also George was heavily in debt and if he married an eligible princess, parliament would increase his allowance. So Caroline was a political pawn, something the daughters of the aristocracy and monarchies had always been.
 John Stanley saw Caroline in 1781 and thought she was an attractive girl. In 1784 she was described as a beauty and she was also described as amiable, lively witty and handsome by others. On the.20th November 1794 Lord Malmesbury arrived in Brunswick to escort her to Britain. He wrote in his diary that, she lacked judgement, decorum and tact, spoke her mind, acted indiscreetly and often neglected to wash or change her dirty clothes. She appeared to have no innate notions of morality or the need for it. Malmesbury gives a damning account of her. It appears to be a subjective account. Caroline would not have been past, not washing, on purpose to deliberately repel Malmesbury. She was noted. for taking baths at other times, notoriously with her lover Bergami
It was a strange arrangement from the start. When Caroline arrived in Greenwich with Malmesbury on Easter Sunday 5th April 1795 she was met by Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey and Georges mistress. Frances Villiers had been appointed as Caroline’s Lady of the Bedchamber. Caroline and George were married in the chapel Royal in St James’s Palace on the 8th April 1795. George was drunk and had to be assisted throughout the ceremony. He thought Caroline unattractive and unhygienic. He himself had already married Maria Fitzherbert. It was an illegal marriage because Maria Fitzherbert was a Roman Catholic and through the Marriages act of 1772 was not legally valid. George, in a letter to a friend claimed that he had sexual intercourse with his new wife only three times, twice the first night and once on the second night. He said that he had to make a great effort to overcome his aversion to her. Caroline later claimed that on their wedding night George was so drunk he spent the night in the fireplace where he fell. They must have had sexual intercourse on at least one occasion because they had a daughter together, Princess Charlotte, George’s only legitimate child, born at Carlton House on the 7th January 1796.
George’s abuse of Caroline began almost immediately. Three days after Charlotte’s birth George made  out a new will in which he left all his property to “Maria Fitzherbert, my wife.” But Caroline could give as good as she got. Caroline was feisty and fought for her rights from the start. Caroline told Malmesbury that she was disappointed with George because he  was,”very fat and he’s nothing like as handsome as his portrait.” George, didn’t like Caroline’s jibes and jokes about Lady Jersey. But of course, as well as expressing his dislike and aversion to Caroline, George was having an affair with Lady Jersey. The relationship with Caroline was becoming a disaster.  George also had to contend with public opinion. The press vilified him for his extravagant tastes especially at a time of war. The public also took sides with Caroline and portrayed her as the wronged wife and public opinion only grew in support of her. People liked her because of her ,”winning familiartity and easy open nature.” We begin to draw parallels with the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diane. The similarities of the two relationships are evident. George became dismayed at her popularity and his own unpopularity.

In April 1796, George wrote to Caroline, “ We have unfortunately been obliged to acknowledge to each other that we cannot find happiness in our union. Let me therefore beg you to make the best of a situation unfortunate for us both.”
In August 1797 Caroline moved to the Vicarage in Charlton, London. She then moved  to Montagu House in Blackheath. Caroline felt free from the constraints of her marriage. She had liaisons with Admiral Sir Sidney Smith and Captain George Manby. She may also have had a fling with the politician George Canning. Her daughter was put into the care of a governess and lived in a mansion near  Montague House. IT appears that Caroline had strong maternal instincts and she adopted a number of poor children who had been fostered out in the Blackheath area. In 1802 she adopted a three month old boy, William Austin. Caroline fell out with her neighbours Sir John and Lady Douglas. They claimed that Caroline had sent them obscene letters. Lady Douglas accused Caroline of infidelity and said that William Austen was Carolines illegitimate son. In 1806 a secret commission was set up to investigate the accusations. Lady Douglas testified to the commission that Caroline had admitted to her that William Austin was her son.She also told the commission that Caroline had been rude about the Royal Family and she alleged that Caroline had also touched her in an inappropriate sexual manner. The accounts of Caroline’s behaviour could not have been more lurid and frank. More lovers were added to the list, Sir Thomas Lawrence , the artist who had painted Carolines portrait and also Henry Hood the son of Lord Hood were implicated.  Carolines own servants, it’s always the servants who know everything, could not or would not confirm any of these allegations. As for William Austin, his real mother, Sophia Austin came forward to testify that she had given birth to William. The evidence that was being stacked up against Caroline appeared more and more fictional and fabricated.The commission set up to investigate the initial claims by Lady Dougals announced that there was no foundation for them.
By the end of 1811, George III was declared permanently insane and the Prince of Wales was made Regent. George restricted Caroline’s access to Charlotte  further. Caroline became more socially isolated. She moved to Connaught House in Bayswater. In league with Henry Broughton, an ambitious Whig politician who wanted reform she began a propaganda campaign against George. George leeked the testimony of Lady Douglas to the Commission that had investigated Caroline but Broughton counteracted these allegations by releasing the testimony of the servants and Mrs Austin. Their daughter sided with her mother as did the public.
Jane Austen, who was an avid reader of news journals, wrote of Caroline, “ Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a woman and because I hate her husband.” After the defeat of Napoleon in 1814 George tried to restrict his daughter’s visits to her mother even more. Charlotte ran away to be with her mother. She was eventually persuaded to return to her father. There was a risk of public disorder which would make it more difficult for Charlotte in the long run.
Caroline now negotiated a deal with the Foreign Secretary, Lord Castlereagh. She agreed to leave the country for an annual allowance of £35,000.  On 8th August 1814 Caroline left Britain. She travelled to Brunswick and then to Italy through Switzerland. Probably in Milan she hired Bartolomeo Pergami as a servant. He soon became the head of Caroline’s household.. In 1815 Caroline bought a house on the shores of Lake Como. From early 1816, she and Pergami cruised the Mediterranean. Their relationship became closer and closer. By now gossip about Caroline was rife and even Lord Byron wrote to his publisher that Caroline and Pergami were lovers. By 1817, Carolines debts were growing and she moved from the Villa d’Este to the smaller Villa Caprile near Pesaro. Meanwhile Carolines daughter, Princess Charlotte had married Prince Leopold of Saxe Coburg. In November 1817 Charlotte gave birth to a stillborn son and then unfortunately died soon after. George refused to inform Caroline of her daughter’s death. Caroline heard the devastating news from an official sent by George to inform the Pope. This was a cruel way to discover the news.

A salacious cartoon depicting Caroline bathing with her lover Bartolomeo Pergami.

The Vice Chancellor John Leach was asked to set up a commission to gather evidence of Carolines adultery. This was the only way George could obtain a divorce from Caroline. Leach sent three commissioners to Milan to interview Caroline’s servants.. He sent his own brother James to the Villa Caprile. He reported back that Pergami and Caroline were living as husband and wife. The Milan commission was gathering more and more evidence. Caroline informed James Broughton that she would agree to a divorce in exchange for money. Divorce by mutual consent was illegal however. On the 29th January 1820 King George III died. George became King and as such she was the Queen. George demanded that his ministers get rid of her. George now was determined to divorce Caroline. The best and least painful way to divorce Caroline  was through an act of Parliament which would make their marriage annulled. Her name was removed from the liturgy of the Church. but he had to be very careful. His own infidelities and excesses did not deem him an innocent party in the affair. He could only divorce Caroline if it was proved she had been unfaithful and he certainly was not an innocent party in this respect. He had mistresses and an illegal wife after all.Divorce proceedings would only bring to light his own misdemeanors. Rather than run the risk Caroline was offered an increase in her annuity to £50,000 if she stayed abroad. Caroline rejected the governemenst offer. She returned to England on the 5th June. Riots broke out in support of her. She became the figurehead of a growing radical reform group who demanded change. The new King still wanted a divorce and submitted the evidence collected by his commission to Parliamnet in two green bags. They were opend on the 27th June. Fifteen peers examined the contents and regarded the contents as scandalous. The government introduced a bill in Parliament, the Pains and Penalties Bill 1820 intended to take the title of Queen away from Caroline and to dissolve the marriage. It claimed that Caroline had committed adultery with a low born man, Bartolomeo Pergami. Various witnesses, including Theodore Majocchi,one of Caroline’s servants were brought to be questioned.All sorts of salacious  details were revealed. Caroline came to the reading of the Bill which although not a trail was virtually a trial and sat there in the middle of this maelstrom. This is the scene portrayed Sir George Hayters painting, “The Trial of Queen Caroline.” There she sits, calmly, impassively while Broughton, arm outstretched, gesturing, argues vehemently her case , lawyers discuss and Carolines detractors thump their fists on oaken tables. They seem to be dissecting what womanhood is all from a male point of view of course.
As an addenda, All the witnesses for the prsecution were countered and their evidence shown to be untrue in many cases and eventually there was little prospect that the bill could be passed. During the trial Caroline remained immensely popular.
Caroline stated,
“All classes will ever find in me a sincere friend to their liberties, and a zealous advocate of their rights.”

She tried to attend the coronation on the 19th July 1821 but was barred from entering Westminster Abbey. Caroline became ill soon after. She died three weeks later on the 7th August 1821 at the age of 53. She may have had cancer.
Caroline of Brunswick broke ordinary moral standards, she challenged the laws of the land, she broke through the barriers between different social strata. She lived the way she wanted and not the way society or the church or the monarchy would want her to. She was a true radical, almost not taking any side but just being herself, come what may. She has an element of Elizabeth Bennet in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice,
 “ 'There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.' 
  She was her own person and did what she wanted.
She also connects with Mary Wollstonecraft’s ideas about women.

“I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.” 


“It is vain to expect virtue from women till they are in some degree independent of men.” 

A lot of what she was charged with was hearsay. A lot of what she was charged with was highly emotive, salacious and at the extremes of what could be imagined by her contemporaries and truly shocking to many. Her attackers were out to destroy her and stop her breaking social codes and beliefs. She was very much a woman alone. In her private life she seemed to be highly sexual, full of fun and a very warm motherly type who showed her emotions. They make her a real person. Recalling her upbringing where she was restrained from interacting with people in any meaningful way and seeing how vivacious and social she obviously was she must have had a lot of pent up feelings and emotions ready to come out. She did let them out and challenged the world. I think she was a very brave person. She challenged society to the utmost.
“There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved,” George Sand.
I hope Caroline found this.


Saturday, 16 July 2016


On Friday 24th June 2016 I woke up to the news that Britain had voted 17 million votes to 16 million votes to leave the European Union. I felt physically sick. I had a feeling of trauma and shock. Yes, it was that visceral. I had reasoned through historical context, the development of the European Union after the second world war, the development of an enormous economic bloc of European countries, which being in the union, we were a part of, that it was ludicrous and illogical to leave. I couldn’t see how little Britain could survive out of the Union. All those cultural ties, history, literature, music, drama, the flow of work, places to live, and of course, cheap holidays,  are magnetic, pulling us all together. However, workers moving around the European Union and immigration have also caused a desire for many to want  to leave. I could see that this was a problem. Immigrants taking jobs and houses, the National Health Service being overburdened but I thought, by working within Europe, and because most other European countries were experiencing similar problems, we could as part of the Union start to work these problems out together. That was the way I reasoned my vote to stay in. I must admit now, that probably a large part of my shock that Friday morning was that I am risk averse. 
But now we have voted out. There is no going back. It is of no use grumbling and looking to backtrack. Was the referendum legal? Were we told a bunch of lies which should make the vote null and void? Imagine if we did go back on it all. How utterly stupid, ineffectual, anti-democratic Britain would look. Through this vote the world has changed now for us. All the arguments for staying in the Union are valid. I am not going to change my mind about what I thought before and if we had voted to stay in we could have worked on those principals I thought were valid reasons to stay. We have voted to leave and now we must forget about all those other arguments and look at the positive creative arguments for being out of the Union. There is so much that is positive. We can do this. It is very scary but we will make it work. We could actually be stronger and better than before. We have been wallowing in a recession and suffering an element of austerity far too long because of the recent Conservative government and now we have a  different Conservative government that sound considerably more sensible and realistic than the last lot. They are going to reduce austerity and start investing more. They are going to do what Labour promised at the last election.
I listen to radio 4 every morning. They have a farming section. British farmers produce about 60% of our food requirements, the rest is imported mostly from Europe. Farmers are now talking about increasing output so we have to rely less on trade for our food. The fisheries industries are talking about expanding now they will,  no longer be under EU directives.

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London is pushing for an immediate decision on another to airport runway for Gatwick to help boost trade. The Bank of England has decided not to reduce the interest rate. The three ministers, Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, Liam Fox as Overseas trade secretary and David Davies as the minister for Brexit are preparing for a trade onslaught on the world. And, would it be all that bad if we can’t get similar trading terms with Europe such as we have as part of the EU? Away from the EU we have more freedom to create our own trading agreements world wide. Europe can say what it likes but it’s got to live with us as well as we have to live with Europe. Boris Johnson is a buffoon, and reading in the Guardian there are stories about Liam Fox and David Davies. In a way all that doesn’t matter, does it? If they deliver on Brexit, that is what counts. It’s easy to rip people apart.

Immigration is not the problem it has been made out to be and never has been.Immigration and emigration will be controlled more carefully but there should still be a fluid movement of people working and living throughout Europe including the UK. That is the way the world works. The problem for the Government  is getting the numbers down to tens of thousands because they have promised that. 330 000 immigrants coming into this country last year is another one of those numbers manufactured from various elements none of which have been made clear. The numbers won't change: the government will find a way of interpreting them differently so that it will look as though they have reduced. It would be bad for Britain if immigration was affected adversely.Call me reckless. I am warming up to Brexit. I can sense a feeling of excitement growing.

Thursday, 9 June 2016


The term, mudlark, nowadays has the romantic connotation of somebody strolling along the Thames shore on a sunny afternoon and suddenly discovering an ancient Roman hoard of silver coins poking up through the mud, or perhaps the discovery of an ancient Celtic shield revealed in the slimy river bank. However, it has a much deeper social and historical meaning.
On the beach below the OXO Tower looking towards The City.

The first, “mudlarks,” appeared beside the Thames in the late 18th century and early 19th century. They were usually children and mostly boys who scraped a living by scavenging along the shores of the Thames at low tide looking for anything they could sell for a few pennies. The items they might collect included pieces of coal, dropped from colliers, nails and bolts, pieces of discarded rope, bones, coins and any other item of use they might discover. In 1851, Henry Mayhew, the author, interviewed a 13-year-old, “mudlark.” Mayhew described mudlarks as the poorest level of society making a meagre income, dressed in tattered clothes and having a terrible stench about them. The modern day,” mudlark,” is very different. Officially there are 51 members of the Society of Thames Mudlarks. They are registered by the Museum of London to use metal detectors and to work with the Museum in collecting archaeological finds for the museum. Roy Stephen, at the Museum of London, says that their finds help them fill in some of the gaps of the history of London. Dr Michael Lewis at the British Museum goes further in that he thinks the present day work of mudlarlks has actually helped to rewrite history. Their finds add to the rich jigsaw of evidence that helps the Archaeologist and historian interpret the past. Apart from the these official mudlarks who work closely with archaeologist and museums , anybody can walk along the shores of the Thames  and find things. This is what Keith, a very good friend of mine and myself did one sunny June day recently.
One small spot on the beach. Terracotta, pieces of chalk, flint, broken glass and a myriad other items deposited by humanity.

Using our ,” Freedom Passes,” we got on the train from Raynes Park to Waterloo. From Waterloo we decided to walk along the, South Bank, towards, The Tate Modern. Keith had told me, on a number of occasions, about how he had done some ,”mudlarking.” The Thames River was at low tide as we walked along and quite extensive stretches of sandy and stony beaches were visible. Keith suggested we go down to the beach opposite the OXO building to do a bit of ,”mudlarking.” I had heard it was easy to find  the remains of artefacts along the Thames within the bounds of the city. I was dubious at first. Once we got on to the beach my immediate reaction was to start looking at the ground infront of me and to each side. The first obvious things were bricks and pieces of terracotta. The beaches alongside  the river is speckled by these items. There were many yellow bricks which are thought of as the standard London Brick  or stock brick. We also came across pieces of coal. At first I wondered about this but I kept finding more and more. What had been the industry at the side of the river here in the past? I picked up quite a number of oyster shells, which excited me because my immediate reaction was; Romans. Oysters were a staple of the Roman diet but it seems at other periods in History too. There was a recently broken wine glass. We kept finding bone, large blade shaped pieces of it. These segments could only have come from cows surely? I  saw the elongated lower jaw of a cow with teeth still in place. Keith rather eerily found a set of four blackened teeth still attached to a piece of jaw. Was this human? It looked too small for either a cow or a sheep. Another find that excited me and suggested a particular period in history were the many stems of clay pipes we found. There simply lots and lots of them. This made me think of the Georgian and early Victorian period. We came across a lot of rust encrusted iron bolts, hooks and a chain link. We also kept finding pieces of terracotta. The fragments must have been part of larger containers of some sort. Mostly they were not glazed but some were on one surface. Keith found a small fragment of white glazed pottery with a blue pattern on it. One of the intriguing things that stood out  was a short stretch of jetty. It was a length of evenly laid cobble stones, about a metre wide, edged by thick wooden pillars that supported large planks that kept the cobbled path within bounds. These planks were bolted with large iron bolts to the thick wooden pillars. The stretch of this pier that remains is in reasonable condition although it is eroding. This lead me to think it could not be much older than the Victorian period. We also came across a lot of flints. Some had been napped but many pieces were nodules that had come as they were from the chalk. There were also many large and small boulders of chalk. Each one these things has a story to tell us about London and the Thames through time. Keith and I began to surmise and make suggestions as we walked. All these artefacts made us wonder what had been here in past ages before the upmarket shops and restaurants and galleries that now line the shore at this part of the Thames. What did it all mean?
Keith searching for items.

London Stock Bricks first originate during the 19th century when London was beginning to expand outwards and new housing and buildings were constructed with bricks made from the London Clay they were to be built on. There has been a variety of colours of stock bricks. The earliest London bricks were red, going back to the 17th century and further. Then in the 1700s many were of a grey colour. In the 1760s another brick was made called a malm. The dictionary definition for malm describes it as a soft grey limestone that crumbles easily. It also describes it as an artificial mixture of clay and chalk to make bricks. There was some confusion over the differences between malms and stocks. The supplies of natural malm was also very limited, but in 1797 John Lee took out a patent for, 'A Certain Mixture of Chalk, Whiting, or Lime, Together With Clay, Loam, or Earth, For Colouring and Making Bricks'," and thereafter malm bricks began to be manufactured artificially, chalk being mixed with inferior clays and earths. The yellow bricks we saw in great numbers scattered on the shore were probably malms. Having said that there were also numerous porous types of red brick scattered about too. Keith and I thought of them as London Stock bricks.
Yellow London Stock bricks made with chalk and clay and a red stock brick too.

Oyster shells are interesting because the Romans developed the oyster beds where they could around the coast of Brittania. I remember taking a class of children to Fishbourne Roman Palace in Sussex quite a few years ago now. We learned that amongst all the artefacts that were found on the site that the rubbish tips were the most productive in telling us about life as a Roman. All sorts of things can be found in rubbish, just think of your own bins at home. Informing us of the Roman eating habits was one of the foremost things we can find from rubbish tips. The Romans ate copious oysters. So when I started to find oyster shells on the shore line of the Thames I looked over at St Pauls Cathedral and the city and recalled that that was where Roman London, Londinium, grew up. However in researching the cultural and historical eating of oysters it was not just the Romans who enjoyed this culinary delight. They were eaten all through the Middle Ages, the Tudor Period, the Stuart Period, The Georgian period and most definitely the Victorian period. While pickled oysters became a regular food of the poor in London and other towns, Dickens' Sam Weller remarks, "Poverty and oysters always seem to go together." In the middle of the 19th Century, oysters and scallops were being dredged in huge numbers all along Sussex coast by fleets of oyster smacks. Then, quite suddenly, the natural oyster beds became exhausted, partially through overfishing and partially through pollution; it was only deliberate artificial breeding that saved them from extinction. This far up stream in the tidal Thames at this point, the most probable assumption is that these were Victorian oyster shells. It just leaves the question, how did they get into the Thames from the dinner plates of the Victorians? The only answer is that the Thames was used like a sewer and all rubbish, including discarded oyster shells, were thrown into the Thames nearby the spot where the oyster flesh had been extracted from the shell and eaten at some person’s meal.

An oyster shell I picked up from the beach beside the Thames.

There were a conciderable number of pieces of terracotta pot and of course Keith’s little piece of glazed porcelain. I chose one piece to bring home. Terracotta could come from any period in History just as oyster shells can. The piece I chose was interesting because the rim has not been turned to give a nice rounded finished edge except in one place. This tongue or lip of terracotta that sticks out from the rim is too small to get a good hand hold for lifting the size and weight of the original pot. If there were a number of these lips around the edge I can only think they were used to hold the pot proud of the top of an outer container that it was placed inside. It is reasonably easy to estimate the size of the pot from the thickness of the terracotta and the curvature of the piece of rim that I have. It is a gentle curve so a complete top would have quite a large circumference. I could actually work this out on paper and continuing the curvature from the piece I have. A small pot would not need to be quite so thick. So I estimate it to be a tall round pot for containing something dry. It is not glazed either on its exterior or its interior so it would not be good for holding a liquid because of its porosity. Pottery is very durable and a piece of Roman pot can look very much like a pot from any later period in time. A modern handmade terracotta pot might merely look slightly less worn or used but there would not be much difference between the two.
The piece of terracotta I discovered on the beach. I wonder what the small lip on the rim was for?

The bones we found were a little creepy. Some were appeared like blades. They were slightly darkened with mud and green algae. They were large and so must have come from a large animal. A cow would be a good guess I should think. There was one bone I saw that was obviously the lower right side of a horse or cow’s jaw. It was long, tapering down from the joint of the jaw towards the front of the mouth and it had teeth all along its length. Perhaps a Victorian cabbies horse had collapsed and died on the job and its body thrown into the Thames? The bones could be just the results of the butchery trade. This is the thing with interesting artefacts like these, you begin to make up stories for them in your imagination. At one point Keith held some teeth still attached to a segment of jaw in his hand to show me. This was certainly not the teeth and jaw of a cow or horse or even a sheep. They were far too small. Was this human? I doubt it very much. It was probably the teeth and jaw bone of a dog or some such smaller animal.
A piece of blackened and burned bone. Was a piece discarded from the process of making bone char?
One piece of what I think is bone was blackened and fossilised. Could it be a piece of bone char? Bone char is primarily made from cow bones. The bones are heated in a sealed vessel at up to 700 °C (1,292 °F); a low concentration of oxygen must be maintained while doing this, as it affects the quality of the product. Most of the organic material in the bones is driven off by heat, and was historically collected as Dippel’s oil; that which is not driven off remains as activated carbon in the final product. Heating bones in an oxygen-rich atmosphere gives bone ash, which is chemically quite different. Bone char is used in water filtration to remove fluoride. It is used in sugar production. It is used to make the black pigment for artist’s paints. It has also been used, combined with wax, to impregnate and polish leather items to help preserve them.
A piece of pot with the remains of a glaze on it.

We found many pieces of coal. Just along from the OXO Tower where we were carrying out our Mudlarking exploits is the Tate Modern. That used to a coal fired power station when it was first built in the 1930s. That could answer the question about coal. Coal must have dropped into the river as it was being hoisted by cranes form coal barges onto the quay where the coals reserves for the power station were positioned. The OXO building, next to where Keith and I were mudlarking, was originally constructed as a power station to supply electricity to the Royal Mail post office, built towards the end of the 19th century. It was later owned by Liebig Extract of Meat Company in the 1920s  manufacturers of Oxo beef stock cubes, for conversion into a cold store.

The building was largely rebuilt to an Art Deco design by company architect Albert Moore between 1928 and 1929. Much of the original power station was demolished, but the river facing facade was retained and extended.

The short piece of cobbled jetty we found was probably where coal or other items were taken from barges to the power station on the OXO building site.
The cobbled jetty on the beach in front of the OXO Tower site where previously, in Victorian times, a power station stood.

The copious amounts of chalk and especially flint is interesting. Chalk can be readily obtained from the North and South Downs which are ranges of chalk hills in Southern England extending through Surrey and Sussex primarily. Flint has been used as a building material by the Romans, Saxons and all periods since. There are a number of buildings still standing in London made from flint. Churches and important buildings were made from flint. Some of the flint we discovered was napped, that means it has been, chipped into even shapes to use in buildings. Others pieces were natural flint nodes that had come straight out of the chalk. These could have been used in the infilling between a smoother outer and inner layers of napped flint. The large amount of chalk boulders could suggest that the flint was not removed from the chalk until it reached its destination in London or that brick works in the area were using the chalk to make the London stock bricks. Chalk is a little too soft as a stone to be used directly in building. It would dissolve and wear away too quickly under wet rainy conditions.
Three pieces of clay pipe stems I discovered on the beach.

Finally, one of the most intriguing things we found were the broken stems of numerous clay pipes. We could have collected clay pipes all day. Within minutes we both had found, perhaps a dozen each. Unfortunately, we only found stems. The bowls would have told us so much more. Often the bowl of a clay pipe has the makers stamp on it and some have intricate patterns and designs. Many are plain of course. Clay pipes have been known in England since Sir Walter Raleigh reputedly brought tobacco from Virginia to England in the 16th century. In 1578, Raleigh sailed to America with explorer Sir Humphrey Gilbert, his half-brother. This expedition may have stimulated his plan to found a colony there. In 1585, he sponsored the first English colony in America on Roanoke Island, now North Carolina. The colony failed and another attempt at colonisation also failed in 1587. Raleigh has been credited with bringing potatoes and tobacco back to Britain, although both of these were already known via the Spanish. Raleigh did help to make smoking popular at Elizabeth’s court.  The North American Indians used stone pipes to smoke tobacco. The clay pipes manufactured in England were of a similar design. A clay pipe is made by rolling a length of soft clay into a type of sausage with a bulge at one end. This clay sausage is placed into a mould and the two halves of the mould fastened together. A thin wire is inserted carefully in the end of the stem and pushed through until it meets the bulbous bowl shape, A thick metal, peg is then thrust into the bowl head, creating the hollowed out interior of the pipe bowl until it meets the channel made in the stem by the wire. The inside cavity of the pipe is then ready. The pipe is baked in a pottery oven until hard. The pipe is ready. The process is simple and quick and a pipe maker might make hundreds of pipes a day.
Clay pipes and a small fragment of glazed and patterned pot that Keith found.

Keith and I only spent about half an hour looking and finding things on the Thames shore line but it was a fascinating exploration. It got us thinking about London, it’s history and the purpose of so many items. We moved on to explore some other interesting things. We looked into a pub called The Fighting Cocks, that in the 18th century had actually been a cock fighting pit and saw the gallery where spectators would have looked down on the fighting pit below. We found where Shakespeare bought a house, part of the great gatehouse to the Blackfriars Monastery. We also discovered a wall, hidden out of the way, in an alleyway that still shows the lathes that were part of a wattle and daub construction. We found remains of the White Friars medieval monastery hidden beneath the steel and glass construction of an insurance company in, The City, just off Whitefriars Road. We came across an iron Victorian street urinal and a shop selling judges’ wigs situated behind the law courts, just off the Strand. A couple of pints of beer and a fish and chip meal in the Bell Inn, near the Law Courts, was our well-earned reward.