31 May 2012

Bernard Kops: Shalom Bomb: Scenes from My Life (2000)

The World is a Wedding (1963) is Bernard Kops's autobiography up to the age of 28, and Shalom Bomb – named after one of his poems – takes up his story soon after that point.

Bernard Kops saw John Osborne's Look Back in Anger in 1956, declared it 'crap', and determined to write his own play. The Hamlet of Stepney Green was performed at the Oxford Playhouse in 1957, and was a great success. Unfortunately that success wasn't consolidated by the follow-up, and this book charts Kops's recovery from later failures. The book records Kop's friends and associates in his long struggle for recognition/economic survival. Some of these were homosexuals, such as Colin MacInnes, Quentin Crisp, and Lindsay Anderson, with whom Kops, as a Jew, identified as another persecuted minority.

This book is a in part a story of illness (due to drug addiction), and also a love story, of Kops's wife Erica's remarkable support for her husband though this illness. It's a story told with such frankness that it is at times almost embarrassing  to read, but it is told so well that even most of the horrifying sequences are tinged with humour.

Some of the most memorable parts for me are descriptions of the addiction (to speed), when Kops, during the worst and final phase, asks 'Erica, am I just going out or have I just come in?' or, far more chillingly, when he looks at his kids: 'I knew the best gift I could give them all was the taking of my life, but I was always a terrible coward'.

Amazingly, Kops (born in 1926) has survived. I have to read more of his books, as he is a really powerful writer.

30 May 2012

Iain Sinclair: Ghost Milk: Calling Time on the Grand Project (2011)

Iain Sinclair's Ghost Milk is dedicated 'In memory of the huts of the Manor Garden Allotments', the 4.5 acre area of land in Hackney Wick bequeathed in perpetuity to the East End in 1900 by Major Arthur Villiers.* The allotments were destroyed in 2007 in order to allow construction of the London Olympics Park. Understandably, this is a very angry book. Sinclair writes of the sheer destruction that the Olympics vanity project, 'with a beat-the-clock impatience unrivalled in London since the beginnings of the railway age', has wrought: historic communities count for nothing when the only thing of importance is the world waiting agog for the pistol shot of the starter to herald a fleeting moment of glory.

Ghost Milk is a little like Sinclair's previous book Hackney, that Rose-Red Empire with its memories of decades past, its interviews, its peregrinations and its digressions, only the interviews are fewer, it is more global and includes several world grand projects beyond London, and its digressiveness is much vaster. And understandably, its anger is harsher as a result of the mindless destruction of communities human and non-human, the real fear of toxic waste contamination, and the whole equally mindless New Labour-created Olympics fiasco handed over (I express my own disgust here) as a torch to an identical, and above all identically clueless and destructive, political party.

Oh, and the meaning of the title? The expression 'Ghost milk' can cover a multitude of secular sins, but I like Sinclair's example of The Rolling Stones as a tribute band of itself performing at O2, which is of course the ghost milk of that other grand project, the Millennium Dome. Ghost milk is multi-layered.

*Another (albeit ironic) dedication, though, is made in the last sentence of the book (before the Acknowledgements) to 'Mayor Jules Pipe, a constant inspiration, as he remakes the borough of Hackney as a model surrealist wonderland'. It was Pipe who barred Sinclair from the original invitation he'd received to talk about his book Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire at Stoke Newington Library. I don't think the mayor smokes the right pipe.

Iain Sinclair: Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire

29 May 2012

Philip Seymour Hoffman's Jack Goes Boating (2010)

Philip Seymour Hoffman takes the lead role in Jack Goes Boating, which is also the first movie that he has directed. There are just four central characters – Jack (played by Hoffman) and his good friend Clyde (John Ortiz), who both drive limos for Jack's uncle; and Clyde's wife Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega) and her office work colleague Connie (Amy Ryan). Jack is 45, is emotionally immature, and has probably only had two brief relationships in his life ('tops', says Hoffman the director), and Connie seems a very wounded animal, although apparently a number of women have seen her as a just about average middle-aged single female New Yorker.

The plot revolves around Jack's 'parents' Clyde and Lucy (although all four are about the same age) devising a plan to bring Jack and Connie together, although their task would be far easier if their friends carried less psychological clutter. Plus, Jack learns that Connie wants to go boating, and then promises to cook her a meal. As he can't swim or cook, Clyde arranges the cooking lessons and teaches him to swim himself.

Water is a strong motif throughout the movie, and it is one of the main ways that Jack undergoes a kind of baptism into greater normality. Water is in the title of his favorite song, the original 'Rivers of Babylon' by the Melodians, a Rastafarian 'positive vibe' according to Jack, with words based on a psalm in the Bible about the exiled Jews lovingly remembering their homeland. And the movie toys with the song several times, as in its use as a kind of healing device when Jack lends Connie his Walkman when she's in hospital recovering from an attack, but also ironically when Clyde throws the machine at the wall and the music gushes out over the ruins of the important dinner Jack has made – and over the ruins of Clyde and Lucy's marriage.

In the end everything's changed – in the middle of his life, Jack walks off with Lucy into an unknown future, although at least they've made the choice to risk whatever ecstasies or agonies love will bring them, as opposed to their former relatively safe but numb singledom. But – another irony – matchmaker Clyde faces midlife alone.

The movie was adapted from Bob Glaudini's 2007 off-Broadway production of the same name, although several critics also mention its resemblance to a film that's new to me – Delbert Mann's Marty (1955), which was based on Paddy Chayefsky's eponymous teleplay, and also concerns two outsiders who are clumsily groping toward a hitherto far distant vision of togetherness.

I was drawn to the similarity of the title to Jacques Rivettes's 1974 classic Céline et Julie vont en bateau (Céline and Julie Go Boating), which may or may not be intentional.* Is it stretching things a bit if I draw an inverse analogy between Céline and Julie's eating the magic candy leading to a Proustian epiphany, and the foursome's sucking on a hookah and inducing memory loss? Probably, but it's a fun idea.

This movie deserved far more, er, 'positive vibes' from the critics. (There are few lovely songs from The Fleet Foxes too.)

*Purely as an additional point of interest, the imaginary 7 bis, rue du Nadir-aux-Pommes in Céline and Julie Go Boating seems to have become as cultish an address as the also imaginary 11 rue Simon-Crubellier in George Perec's novel La Vie, mode d'emploi (Life: A User's Manual).

28 May 2012

Edward Burra in Nottingham

The art critic Andrew Graham-Dixon says that he sees Edward Burra (1905–76) as an overlooked genius of British art. I was fortunate enough to catch the exhibition of Burra's work at the Djanogly Art Gallery, Lakeside, Nottingham University, last weekend before it closed yesterday.

Burra suffered from chronic arthritis but never had to worry about money as he was the son of a rich lawyer and was born at a house named Springfield in Rye, Sussex, where he spent his life when not travelling. Although critics have associated him with surrealism, he refused to identify with any particular movement or school, and his influences are drawn from popular culture as much as high: he was educated at Chelsea College of Art and loved 'B' movies perhaps as much as art galleries. Essentially he was an asexual voyeur and once claimed that he only had one erection in his life – while watching a Mae West movie.

France delighted Burra, where he particularly enjoyed the night life of Paris and painted dancers and prostitutes; he also loved New York City, particularly the bright, lively, working-class atmosphere of Harlem, and also stayed in Boston with his friend the poet Conrad Aiken, who saw him as a major painter of American life.

Another thing he loved was the seediness of Spain, although his work became much darker after the massacres and the general destruction of the Spanish Civil War. As World War II shortly followed, the darkness increased, with soldiers depicted as predatory birdmen with long beaks.

Burra was an elusive character, an outsider who loved painting outsiders, and he didn't like talking about his work. He only gave one interview, in which he comes over as very bored and verbally constipated, even (playfully?) nihilistic. When asked 'What matters?', he replies 'Nothing'.

Below is a link to a fascinating and very informative one-hour documentary about Burra's art and life, told by Graham-Dixon.

'I Never Tell Anybody Anything': The Life and Art of Edward Burra

Daniel Wallace: Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions (1998)

Daniel Wallace comes from Alabama, where Big Fish is set. This is story tied together by a string of tall stories and jokes told by the narrator Will Bloom, but originating from his father Edward. Here we have tales of a two-headed woman, a confrontation with an enormous giant, a daring wrestle with a killer snake, an encounter with a finger-eating dog, etc, and each time Edward comes out looking like a hero.

Now that he's dying, will Edward reveal his true self to Will, will the man who's been very much an absentee father physically and mentally (for he certainly seems to hide behind his own fantastic inventions) finally show the reality that must lie beneath the layers of ontological evasiveness? The myth of the man is wearing thin.

There are obvious allusions in this novel to Homer's Odyssey, particularly in Edward's heroics (even though they're mainly mock), in his restless quest for adventure, and in his (here very strained) relationship with his more conventional son. Also, Jenny Hill could make for a very watered down Circe, and that glass eye seems to be a tenuous reference to Cyclops. Plus, Joyce's Ulysses, itself a kind of reworking of Homer, is of course present in the name Bloom.

The 2003 movie  based on the book and retaining the half-title is in many ways different, but the spirit of the original is still there, and this is an obvious opportunity for Tim Burton to indulge in unadulterated fantasy.

The book too has a slight haunting quality, but with a rather different closure from the movie.

26 May 2012

Edward Joseph Lowe in Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Astronomer, botanist
a founder member of the
Meteorological Society
built Broadgate House
as his residence and

Today I discovered this new blue plaque at 72 Broadgate, Beeston, and this man was previously unknown to me. As yet, I don't think from what I can see online that there's much information readily available about him, although I'd love to be proved wrong. Brief details from the not always reliable Wikipedia are in the link below.

Edward Joseph Lowe, according to Wikipedia

23 May 2012

Henry Richard and Anti-Militarism in Abney Park Cemetery, Stoke Newington

3, APRIL 1812.
DIED 20, AUGUST 1888,

I had not as far as I'm aware heard of Henry Richard, who wrote several books – one of them on the abolitionist Joseph Sturge – until last month, when by chance I discovered his tomb in Abney Park Cemetery. Richard was widely known as 'The Apostle of Peace', and this post is particularly relevant in that this year marks the bicentenary of his birth. I was a little too late, as the celebration took place on 1 April this year.

Diane Abbott was present at the ceremony, and she's MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington. She's also the first black woman to enter the House of Commons, but more importantly she was a Labour MP in a New Labour government who voted against the destruction of Iraq, as of course Henry Richard would have done.

Below is a list, taken from the Guardian,  of MPs who voted aginst the destruction of Iraq, and is very revealing:

Diane Abbott, Graham Allen, John Austin, Tony Banks, Harry Barnes, John Battle, Andrew Bennett, Joe Benton, Roger Berry, Harold Best, Bob Blizzard, Keith Bradley, Kevin Brennan, Karen Buck, Richard Burden, Anne Campbell, Ronnie Campbell, Martin Caton, David Chaytor, Michael Clapham, Helen Clark, Tom Clarke, Tony Clarke, Harry Cohen, Iain Coleman, Michael Connarty, Frank Cook, Robin Cook, Jeremy Corbyn, Jim Cousins, Tom Cox, David Crausby, Ann Cryer, John Cryer, Tam Dalyell , Valerie Davey, Ian Davidson, Denzil Davies, Terry Davis, Hilton Dawson, John Denham, Parmjit Dhanda, Jim Dobbin, Frank Dobson, Frank Doran, David Drew, Huw Edwards, Clive Efford, Bill Etherington, Mark Fisher, Paul Flynn, Hywel Francis,George Galloway, Neil Gerrard, Ian Gibson, Roger Godsiff, Win Griffiths, John Grogan , Patrick Hall, David Hamilton, Fabian Hamilton, Dai Havard, Doug Henderson, Stephen Hepburn, David Heyes, David Hinchliffe, Kate Hoey, Jimmy Hood, Kelvin Hopkins, Joan Humble, Brian Iddon, Eric Illsley, Glenda Jackson, Helen Jackson, Jon Owen Jones, Lynne Jones, Martyn Jones, David Kidney, Peter Kilfoyle, Mark Lazarowicz, David Lepper, Terry Lewis, Tony Lloyd, Ian Lucas, Iain Luke, John Lyons, Christine McCafferty, John McDonnell, Ann McKechin, Kevin McNamara, Tony McWalter, Alice Mahon, Jim Marshall, Robert Marshall-Andrews, Eric Martlew, Julie Morgan, Chris Mullin, Denis Murphy, Doug Naysmith, Eddie O'Hara, Diana Organ, Albert Owen, Linda Perham, Peter Pike, Kerry Pollard, Gordon Prentice, Gwyn Prosser, Ken Purchase, John Robertson, Joan Ruddock, Martin Salter, Mohammad Sarwar, Malcolm Savidge, Philip Sawford, Brian Sedgemore, Debra Shipley, Alan Simpson, Marsha Singh, Chris Smith, Llew Smith, George Stevenson, Gavin Strang, Graham Stringer, David Taylor, Jon Trickett, Paul Truswell, Desmond Turner, Bill Tynan, Rudi Vis, Joan Walley, Robert Wareing, Alan Whitehead, Alan Williams, Betty Williams, Mike Wood, Tony Worthington, David Wright, Tony Wright, Derek Wyatt

· 16 Tory MPs who backed the rebel amendment were: Peter Ainsworth, Richard Bacon, Tony Baldry, John Baron, Kenneth Clarke, John Gummer, John Horam, Douglas Hogg, Edward Leigh, Humphrey Malins, Andrew Murrison, Richard Page, John Randall, Jonathan Sayeed, Ian Taylor, Andrew Turner

· All 53 Liberal Democrat MPs and 11 other MPs also backed the amendment.

22 May 2012

Erasmus Darwin in Lichfield, Staffordshire

BORN 1731.     (FROM 1756 TO 1781.)      DIED 1802.

Darwin was the grandfather of Charles Darwin and a physician, scientist, inventor, poet and botanist. The above date of Darwin's arrival at the house in Lichfield, Staffordshire, is slightly incorrect: he in fact moved here in 1758, less than a year after marrying Polly Howard, by whom he had three sons. Polly died in 1770.

A model of Darwin looks out onto Beacon Street.

After the death of his wife, Darwin had two daughters by Mary Parker, a young woman employed to help with the children.

The third edition of The Botanic Garden, dated 1791.

Interpretation panels mention the influence of Darwin's writings on other writers. One states that he influenced 'nearly all' the early Romantic poets, and draws attention to Darwin's The Loves of the Plants influencing Blake's The Book of Thel. Also mentioned is Darwin's influence on the young (although not the older) Wordsworth and Coleridge in, for example, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798), and also the later published 'Kubla Khan' (1816). Also briefly mentioned are Keats and Shelley, with a note giving what is almost certainly the writer's only source of reference: Desmond King-Hele's Erasmus Darwin and the Romantic Poets (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1986).

The Temple of Nature; or, the Origin of Society: A Poem, with Philosophical Notes (London: J. Johnson, 1803): a posthumous publication. There have been many editions of this book, some of them published relatively recently.

An example of Darwin the inventor: a sketch of his effective speaking machine, built in 1771.

A reconstruction of Darwin's study, with Joseph Wright's portrait of him above the mantelpiece and, by the model's head: 

Darwin's friend Anna Seward, painted by T. Kettle in 1762. I briefly mentioned her earlier when I showed photos of her memorial in Lichfield Cathedral. The link is at the bottom of this post.

Also in Erasmus Darwin House is the portrait of the Reverend Chancellor Thomas James Law, described by an unnamed source as a 'one man civic society'. Law gave the town the statue of Samuel Johnson in the Market Square in Lichfield (also shown, in several images, in a link below), the country's second free library (in Beacon Street), and the fountain in the museum gardens.

Law was buried in St Michael's churchyard in Lichfield. There is a local tale that the tomb (built for his wife) is elaborate because it is in defiance of the council, which wouldn't allow him to erect a Gothic canopy over Johnson's statue like the statue of Sir Walter Scott in Edinburgh.

'The home of
from 1758
until 1781'

In 1775 Darwin met Elizabeth Pole, a married woman from Radbourne Hall in Derbyshire whom he married in 1781, the year after her husband's death. Erasmus moved with his wife to Radbourne Hall, and then to Full Street, Derby, in 1783; in 1802 he died, just a few weeks after moving to Breadsall Priory and just four months before the death of his much younger wife (by whom he had seven more children).

A back view of the house.

Only a few yards from Darwin's house, and still on Beacon Street:

BORN 1716. [Actually 1717.]      DIED 1779.
     PULLED DOWN IN 1856.

Noel Jackson: 'Rhyme and Reason: Erasmus Darwin's Romanticism'

Anna Seward (1747-1809), Lichfield, Staffordshire

Dr Samuel Johnson and Lichfield, Staffordshire

Louis Wolfson and Schizophrenic Languages

Louis Wolfson's second book, the highly alliterative Ma mère, musicienne, est morte de maladie maligne à minuit, mardi à mercredi, au milieu du mois de mai mille977 au mouroir Memorial à Manhattan, which concerns his mother's death from ovarian cancer, has just been re-published in France after its first publication in 1984, and was re-edited by the author in 2010 with a very slightly different title.

Wolfson was born in New York in 1931 and has written two books, both in French, which is not his maternal language: a schizophrenic, after horrific youthful spells in psychiatric hospitals which included EST (ECT in British English), he came to detest English to such an extent that his existential survival depended on avoiding the language at all costs. Teaching himself Hebrew, German and Russian, but particularly French, he tried all possible means to shut out English words, notably those of his domineering mother, and for years strove to create an internal language that automatically bypassed received English words to create alternative foreign forms. 'Where', to give a straightforward example, is changed to the German 'woher', but other transformations involve highly elaborate linguistic convolutions via similar meanings and phonemes held in common, etc, sometimes through a series of different languages.

French publisher Gallimard published his first book, Le Schizo et les langues ('The Schizophhrenic and Languages') in 1970, with a Foreword by Gilles Deleuze. Raymond Queneau found it exceptional, and J.-B. Pontalis and Paul Auster have also shown great interest in Wolfson's work.

Ma mère, musicienne represents a kind of posthumous reconciliation of Wolfson with his mother, closely detailing his dying mother's state of health in her final year. There are some conflicting reports about the dates of events in Wolfson's life, although it seems certain that he later went to live in Montréal, and then Puerto Rico, where he won a lottery that made him a millionaire when he was in his seventies, although several years later he lost his money and unsuccessfully tried to file a suit against those responsible for his investment advice.

Inevitably, Rimbaud's expression 'Je est un autre' ('I is another') from 'Le Bateau ivre' has been referenced, and Le Nouvel Obs suggests that Wolfson's book makes Camus's L'Étranger (which of course also starts after a mother's death and for me is more accurately translated as 'The Stranger' or 'The Foreigner') look, well, of a far more superficial order.

My other post on Louis Wolfson:
Louis Wolfson: Ma mère, musicienne

20 May 2012

Save the Crane

A few weeks ago I made a post about street art in East London, which included this magnificent painting of a crane by Roa in Hanbury Street, Spitalfields, London. I now discover from The Gentle Author's latest post that the painting has now been hidden by a hideous, and totally superfluous, banner proclaiming: 'BANGLATOWN | BRICK LANE | CURRY CAPITAL 2012'.

A petition against the banner is now attracting attention. It can be signed by clicking on the link below. Also below is a link to The Gentle Author's post on the banner and more art by Roa, plus my original post on street art in this area.

Petitioning Tower Hamlets Council: Save the Crane

Spitalfields Life: The Sacred Crane, The Flayed Pig & The Mighty Hedgehog

Street Art, East London

18 May 2012

Abbas Kiarostami's The Wind Will Carry Us (1999)

Abbas Kiarostami's The Wind Will Carry Us is minimalist, and has been compared by some critics with Beckett or Pinter. It's probably easy to understand why: the setting (in and around a poor Iranian Kurdistan village) is bleak; the characters are few; the action (such as it is) is very repetitious, enigmatic or inexplicable; and the speech is kept to a minimum.

A small group of people from Tehran (of whom we only see one, who becomes known as 'The Engineer ' and is played by Behzad Dourani) drive to a village, telling a young boy there that they are looking for treasure, although this is an evident mistruth. Several times, the leader of the group has a cell phone call and has to drive out to higher land to talk to a mysterious woman (Mrs Godzani) in Tehran from whom he appears to be receiving instructions, and who is obviously imminently hoping for the death of a woman in the village (whom we never see, and whose health we only learn about through the boy). Each time (apart from the last) that the man drives to higher ground (and the ritual is certainly humorous as well as tedious, much like something from Waiting for Godot) 'The Engineer' talks to an unseen man digging a hole.

It would be facile to say (with a nudge to one dismissive critical comment about Godot) that The Wind Will Carry Us is a movie in which nothing happens several (as opposed to two) times, but (again like Godot) it is much more than that: Kiarostami, unlike so many Hollywood or Hollywood-inspired directors, doesn't simplify things for the viewer by making the meaning clear, and it is open to plural interpretation. This is arthouse cinema par excellence: take it or leave it, but it would be a mistake to knock it.

The Wind Will Carry Us takes its name from a poem by the prominent female poet Forough Farrokhzad (1935–67). Kiarostami is part of the Iranian New Wave cinema, widely believed to have been spearheaded  by Farrokhzad's only film, the 22-minute Khaneh siah ast (The House is Black). It was made in 1962 and is set in a leper colony.

Forough Farrokhzad's Khaneh siah ast (The House is Black)

17 May 2012

John Milton in London

At the side of St Mary-le-Bow church, in Bow Courtyard, is an interesting plaque with three separate inscriptions. The first is in gold cursive lettering and is John Dryden's 'Epigram on Milton', which appeared on the frontispiece of Tonson's fourth edition of Paradise Lost in 1688. The three poets referred to are Homer, Dante and Milton.

'Three Poets, in Three distant ages born
GREECE, ITALY, and ENGLAND did adorn.
The First in Loftiness of Thought surpassed;
The next in Majesty, – in both the Last.
The force of Nature could no farther go
To make a third – She join'd the former Two.

day of DECEMBER, 1608, and was BAPTISED
day of DECEMBER, 1608.


And across Bow Courtyard is John Milton Passage.

Just round the corner, on Bread Street, is this plaque:


St Giles without Cripplegate, where Milton was buried in 1674. Here, there is a statue of Milton, with busts of Daniel Defoe (who was baptized here), John Bunyan (who attended this church), and John Foxe, but unfortunately the church was closed at the time of my visit.

John Milton's Cottage in Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire

16 May 2012

Charles Dickens Connections in Kensal Green Cemetery, London

The grave of Robert Bell (1800–67) is now illegible. He was born in Cork, Ireland, and moved to London where he first worked as an editor for the weekly Atlas, and later as a journalist. He edited a large number of books of English poets, and was a friend of Dickens.

BORN FEB. 24, 1797.
DIED JULY 6, 1868.'

Lover was an Anglo-Irish songwriter and novelist who founded Bentley's Magazine with Dickens. He is probably best remembered for his novel Handy Andy (links to both volumes below).

Famously, John Forster (1812–76) wrote the biography of his friend Dickens, and also wrote biographies of Swift and Goldsmith. His bequest to the country was his library of 18,000 books, which included the manuscripts of all of Dicken's novels except A Christmas Carol. Dickens probably modelled Podsnap in Our Mutual Friend on him.


'Tagore was the grandfather of the great Indian poet Rabindranath
Tagore (1861–1941), and met both Dickens and Thackeray when visiting London.
ADDENDUM: I forgot to include this one of William Harrison Ainsworth (1805–82), who for a time lived in nearby Kensal Lodge, and had both Dickens and Thackeray as guests.

Samuel Lover – Handy Andy: A Tale of Irish Life: Volume One
Samuel Lover – Handy Andy: A Tale of Irish Life: Volume Two
William Harrison Ainsworth, Manchester

15 May 2012

Lord Byron's Friend, John Cam Hobhouse, in Kensal Green Cemetery, London

BORN JUNE 27TH. 1786. DIED JUNE 3RD. 1869.'


Hobhouse is perhaps best remembered for his relationship with Lord Byron, whose great faithful friend and travel companion he was for a number of years. Canto IV of Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage is dedicated to Hobhouse, 'a friend often tried and never found wanting'. It was Hobhouse who identified Byron's body (his face being unrecognizable) by his deformed foot. And it was Hobhouse who ensured that, because Westminster Abbey refused to accept the remains of the disgraced poet, he should at least have as dignified a burial as possible.

Lord Byron and Newstead Abbey
Lord Byron in Hucknall
Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott in Newark on Trent

William Mulready in Kensal Green Cemetery, London

A. D. 1786 DIED IN LONDON A. D. 1863'

This monument has been described as 'six-poster Lombard Renaissance' and was designed by Godfrey Sykes and created by James Pulham. The face above is based on Mulready's death mask.

The base of the tomb has a number of representations of Mulready's paintings.

Above, from left to right: Haymaking, The Last In, and The Younger Brother.

Giving a Bite, Choosing a Wedding Gown (an illustration for the first chapter of Oliver Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield), and The Sonnet, which was apparently for a popular novel, although I don't know which.

The Travelling Druggist, Boy Firing a Cannon, and I can't identify the one on the right.

Between the two seated nudes is a representation of The Seven Ages of Man, which is an illustration of Shakespeare's As You Like It: in Act II, Jacques says:

'All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms;
Then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin'd,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well sav'd, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans every thing.'

14 May 2012

The First Butterfly of the Year

I find it quite amazing that I don't see a butterfly until well into the month of May, so welcome, speckled wood.

Since before I can remember I've been entranced by butterflies, but ever since I saw Bo Widerberg's movie Elvira Madigan I've been haunted by the final image, frozen on screen, of the uncaptured butterfly, an image indicating the impossibility of the doomed couple to catch, to hold prisoner the ecstatic moment.

The butterfly is often used in literature, although Wordsworth's 'To a Butterfly' leaves me wondering why he bothered to write a rather empty nursery rhyme, and even Robert Frost's 'Blue-Butterfly Day' (much as I love the expression 'sky-flakes'), leaves me far from 'having ridden out desire'.

In Women in Love, D. H. Lawrence brings up the butterfly:

'Ursula was watching the butterflies, of which there were dozens near the water, little blue ones suddenly snapping out of nothingness into a jewel-life, a large black-and-red one standing upon a flower and breathing with his soft wings, intoxicatingly, breathing pure, ethereal sunshine; two white ones wrestling in the low air; there was a halo round them; ah, when they came tumbling nearer they were orangetips, and it was the orange that had made the halo. Ursula rose and drifted away, unconscious like the butterflies.'

 Speaking to Ursula, Birkin has a rather brutal thing to say:

'[H]umanity never gets beyond the caterpillar stage – it rots in the chrysalis, it never will have wings. It is anti-creation, like monkeys and baboons.'

I just prefer to remember a few butterflies I have known:

Such as this small tortoiseshell.

Or this painted lady.

Or this peacock.

Thomas Hood's Grave, Kensal Green Cemetery, London


BORN 23RD. MAY 1798.
3RD. MAY 1845.
A. D. 1854

BORN 6TH. NOV. 1792. DIED 4TH. DEC. 1846.

This monument was designed by Matthew Noble.

Paths of Glory, the excellent guide book to the cemetery published by the Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery, mentions that the poet 'once mortgaged his brain with his publishers in return for a cash advance'. Not exactly certain what that means. Anyway, the sorry sight above is a void where a relief once was: there were two, one representing a scene from 'The Bridge of Sighs', the other The Dream of Eugene Aram, the Murderer, but they were stolen some time ago.