Wednesday, 18 November 2020

A MONTH IN SIENA by Hisham Matar


This is a remarkable, contemplative book. After finishing 'The Return', a book in which Matar returns to the land of his childhood, Libya, seeking, unsuccessfully, his father's fate at the hands of Gadaffi, the author goes to stay in Siena for a month to look at the city's art, which he has been longing to do for many years. He meets the city, he meets one or two of its people, and he looks at paintings for a long time. His look is not, however, strictly aesthetic, but rather that of a storyteller. His description of Ambrogio Lorenzetti's 'Madonna del latte' is a short classic of interpretation. As I read this book I found myself imagining I was inside a poem. Highly recommended.

Sunday, 11 October 2020


Happy New Year, 1936 - deep in the heart of Merton

Trinity Ward Junior Imperial League members had their annual fancy dress dance in Gladstone Road on Saturday.  
Prizes were awarded for the best impersonation of film stars.

Harry Stroud's Bohemians in attendance, Beatles not having been born yet

Saturday, 10 October 2020


This is Harold Laski, the intellectual engine of the Labour Party of the 1940s and 50s, and professor of politics at the LSE, addressing the Ealing Labour League of Youth.  The woman is my mother, Jacqueline Clarke, whom he addressed, in his curious accent, and much to her amusement, as 'Charwoman' of the group.  He was very much taken with her conversation and invited her to the LSE where she became a secretary to, among others, Claus Moser, later a close friend, in the statistics department, while at the same time studying for entry to the school. 

Wednesday, 9 September 2020



My uncle Ken worked at the Hoover factory during the last two years of the second world war.  It had been given over to making armaments ('flamethrowers, that sort of thing', says Ken).  It is a much admired building, rightly so, and has now been converted onto flats.  I have discovered that Elvis Costello wrote a song about it.

Hoover Factory

Five miles out of London on the Western Avenue
Must have been a wonder when it was brand new
Talkin` `bout the splendor of the Hoover factory
I know that you`d agree if you had seen it too
It`s not a matter of life or death
But what is, what is?
It doesn't matter if I take another breath
Who cares? Who cares?
Green for go, green for action
From Park Royal to North Acton
Past scrolls and inscriptions like those of the Egyptian age
And one of these days the Hoover factory
Is gonna be all the rage in those fashionable pages
Five miles out of London on the Western Avenue
Must have been a wonder when it was brand new
Talkin' `bout the splendor of the Hoover factory
I know that you`d agree if you had seen it too
It`s not a matter of life or death
But what is, what is?
It doesn't matter if I take another breath
Who cares? Who cares?

Tuesday, 8 September 2020


 From the West London Observer - Friday 18 March 1932. Brother Patrick of course survived to write Hangover Square and Gaslight. He died in 1962.

Friday, 4 September 2020


 Brought to my attention by James Marriott in the Times.  It isn't at all clear to m what Geoffrey Hill is on about (it never is) but there is something here I vaguely recognise, a sort of lost memory.

by Geoffrey Hill

Autumn resumes the land, ruffles the woods   
with smoky wings, entangles them. Trees shine   
out from their leaves, rocks mildew to moss-green;   
the avenues are spread with brittle floods.

Platonic England, house of solitudes,   
rests in its laurels and its injured stone,   
replete with complex fortunes that are gone,   
beset by dynasties of moods and clouds.

It stands, as though at ease with its own world,   
the mannerly extortions, languid praise,   
all that devotion long since bought and sold,

the rooms of cedar and soft-thudding baize,   
tremulous boudoirs where the crystals kissed   
in cabinets of amethyst and frost.


 I've almost certainly posted this before.  Absolutely wonderful poem.


James Joyce


Wind whines and whines the shingle,
The crazy pierstakes groan;
A senile sea numbers each single
Slimesilvered stone.


From whining wind and colder
Grey sea I wrap him warm
And touch his trembling fineboned shoulder
And boyish arm.


Around us fear, descending
Darkness of fear above
And in my heart how deep unending
Ache of love!

Tuesday, 1 September 2020


 The Granville Theatre, Walham Green (Fulham Broadway to you youngsters). Adjoined was my great grandmother's caretaker's flat, through the walls of which Grand Guignol screams kept my mother awake and fearful through the night in the early 1930s. The theatre was established by a consortium that included Dan Leno. It was designed by Frank Matcham (who also designed the Coliseum). My g-grandmother, Elizabeth Mary Nunns, was the undertaker not for the theatre but for the solicitors and the coal merchants on the floors below hers. The theatre and offices were demolished in 1971.

Tuesday, 28 July 2020


Not quite the right moment, but this, discovered by a FB friend, theatre director Jake Murray, is a gem that can be brought out at any time.

by Thomas Carew
Now that the winter's gone, the earth hath lost
Her snow-white robes, and now no more the frost
Candies the grass, or casts an icy cream
Upon the silver lake or crystal stream;
But the warm sun thaws the benumbed earth,
And makes it tender; gives a sacred birth
To the dead swallow; wakes in hollow tree
The drowsy cuckoo, and the humble-bee.
Now do a choir of chirping minstrels bring
In triumph to the world the youthful Spring.
The valleys, hills, and woods in rich array
Welcome the coming of the long'd-for May.
Now all things smile, only my love doth lour;
Nor hath the scalding noonday sun the power
To melt that marble ice, which still doth hold
Her heart congeal'd, and makes her pity cold.
The ox, which lately did for shelter fly
Into the stall, doth now securely lie
In open fields; and love no more is made
By the fireside, but in the cooler shade
Amyntas now doth with his Chloris sleep
Under a sycamore, and all things keep
Time with the season; only she doth carry
June in her eyes, in her heart January.