Monday, 29 August 2016



The Library was part of the Institute.  Behind a counter was an old man with an ink-pad and a large oval stamp, with which he conducted a passionate, erratic campaign against slack morals...[he] had certain fixed standards...Murder he allowed; but not fornication.  Childbirth (especially if the character died of it), but not pregnancy.  Love might be supposed to be consummated as long as no one had any pleasure out of it. There were single words that called for the stamp at once. 'Oh, God!' the characters might cry in their extremity, but not 'Oh, Christ!' 'Breast' was not to be in the plural. 'Rape' sent the stamp plunging and twisting into the purple ink.

from A View of the Harbour, by Elizabeth Taylor (publ. 1947)

Monday, 8 August 2016


"Cheer up for Chatham, Dover's in sight,"Mum used to say.  I think she did once explain whence it came but I've forgotten.  I have two possible explanations: It is very old and the Chatham referred to was Pitt the Elder, and the phrase referred to the idea that one was nearing home - a safe port - after a sea voyage.  More likely, it is from the railways:

Why 'Invicta' - who knows?  This is from Wikipedia: "'The Chatham', as it was sometimes known, was often criticised for its lamentable carriage stock and poor punctuality" - and they didn't have the RMT to put up with.

Sunday, 7 August 2016


A STRANGE AFFAIR.-A singular affair is reported from Connah’s Quay. It seems that the wife of the mate of a trading vessel accompanied her husband on his last voyage to a Scotch port. On the return voyage the vessel put in at Millom, and the wife expressed a desire to return home by train. Her husband accordingly accompanied her to Millom railway station, and saw her off. On reaching Conhah Quay, instead of finding his wife, a letter from her awaited him, informing him that she had decided to leave him for over, as she could not live any longer with a man that had no whiskers. Nothing has since been heard of the runaway wife, and the husband has sold off his furniture and gone into lodgings.

North Wales Chronicle - Saturday 14 December 1889

Friday, 5 August 2016

FLEDGLING PRIZE: 2nd Place: Myrtle by Ruth Wiggins

My review for Sabotage Magazine (January 2015)

by Ruth Wiggins
The Emma Press, £6.50, 26pp

I thought I was going to have trouble with this, what with the first poem being all right justified and containing words with spaces between their letters for no very obvious reason. But then I decided that since it was called ‘Against Perspective’ I’d chuckle instead. 

My fear was dispelled by and the chuckle grew broader with the next poem, called ‘I’ve Been Crumbling Anti-Histamines Into Your Food All Week’, in which a new home is turned into a bower: “the whole thing seeds itself up the street. Early outbreaks / of lovage, sweet briar, vetch”.  Here we are on the floral side of Myrtle.  But the poet is a classicist, and in the Rome of Ovid and his fellows the Latin word myrtus (myrtle) was a non-vulgar euphemism for the female pudenda. Myrtle was considered aphrodisiac, and is associated with Aphrodite in Greek myth and Venus in Roman.  So having given us the floral, the poet now introduces us to the clitoral, or at least the aphrodisiacal, in ‘Borrowed Time’: “This afternoon you fucked me, right out / of my pyjamas and into yours” Thenceforth the poems hover back and forth, between the intimate and the public, with diversions into the quotidian here and there.

There’s plenty of tenderness, of a robust kind: “Come the apocalypse” there’ll be “usurping girls / …I’ll just / have to learn to kill”.  In a rather macabre love poem, ‘On Fear of Your Flying’ her lover’s sperm “startle // into memento mori”.  His having not died, I can’t believe her partner would not want to be identified as the “gorgeous boy” of the final poem, a play on a deliciously euphemistic Horace ode: “Be mine, right here beneath / this cheerful old vine”.

Horace is not the only classical poet Wiggins borrows from.  She does a wonderful job with a Propertius elegy.  ‘Only the Lover’ begins “Silly mortals, always second-guessing / the hour of your death…”

You type your vital stats into
but from the Circle Line to Tora Bora,
all exit points are hidden.

The language, the forms, the prosody in all these poems is unabashed, unafraid and enjoyably energetic.  Best of all, each poem is a surprise. Wiggins has a distinctive voice, characterised not by sameness but by unexpectedness. ‘Crawk’ is a poem about birds. I thought at first the reference was to crows, but the subject of the poem has a “quarrel of sisters”, which suggests sparrows; then again, towards the poem’s end she “Grouts her gizzard and gargles with rocks”.  Who knows what bird this is (it follows a poem, ‘Leda’ that features not one but several swans, not to mention eagles) – but it doesn’t really matter.  The poem draws the reader in, for it is full of activity, having begun with the teasingly abstract “She’s the opposite of mirrors”, from where we have no idea where the poem will lead us.

Yes, unexpectedness: there’s a poem describing the poet’s battle with a spider; a poem about the herb rosemary; a poem that bounces from side to side of the page, about the coming of spring, “cracking a courtyard laugh”; there are poems inspired by paintings; there’s a nanny goat and there’s a fox.

Myrtle is a thoroughly assured collection informed by classical learning and tempered with an erotic hum that underlies several of the poems. It delights in hoisting the ideas and images that prose cannot without preparation.  It is thorough poetry, and surprisingly a debut. There’ll be more.

582 words

Thursday, 4 August 2016

A Layman at the Tate - A Thought or Two About Georgia O'Keeffe

These big shows – and this has 13 rooms – are of course always full of people getting in the way of the pictures.  As a rule I tend to scoot from beginning to end, hoping for say 6 or 7 pictures to catch my eye.  I’ll then attempt to look at each one of those seven when it isn’t being crowded.  This usually works, although of course it means I miss much.  But I don’t believe you can look at more than about ten or twelve pictures in an hour.

So, the thing I noticed on this scoot around was the complete lack of human life.  It might be argued that New York city, of which there are two friendly paintings, can hardly be said to be devoid of human life, but the truth is that they are an anomaly.  When O’Keeffe came to paint adobe desert dwellings she painted them as though they were a part of the landscape, natural forms (which, in a sense, they indeed are).  A prime example of this is ‘Taos Pueblo’ (1929):

And when she begins to move back towards abstraction, human habitation becomes fit for that too, as in ‘In the Patio No 4’ (although you can also feel the heat):

 There are photographs of O’Keeffe herself, the work of her husband Alfred Steiglitz.  She is markedly handsome and severe; her hair not allowed to crowd her face.  

Steiglitz’s photos are often concerned with geometry, with plainness and planes, and there is a sense in which this is true of O’Keeffe’s work too, although her form is more plastic (I don’t really want to say ‘softer’).  As my son pointed out, her paintings are exceptionally still things that absolutely pulse with life. Perhaps this paradox is what makes them so alluring.

Having said that, my personal favourites were atypical. I very much liked the early charcoal abstracts.  “I decided not to use any other colour until it was impossible to do what I wanted to do in black and white”. The two pictures that come closest in the exhibition to the depiction of the human body are: ‘Mask with Golden Apple’, my photo of which somehow failed to come out (it is a letter box shaped picture of an African mask lying flat and painted from side-on, with an apple between the artist and the mask); and ‘A Man from the Desert’ (1934):

 The picture I liked best, the one I’d really quite like to have, is ‘Red and Orange Streak’ (1919), which frankly is a bit of a cracker:

There ARE flowers there, of course, and they are remarkable. I prefer the simplicity of the desert, the austere nature of the abstract, the wonderful swoosh of the streak.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

PATHS by John Montague

We had two gardens. 

A real flower garden 
overhanging the road 
(our miniature Babylon). 
Paths which I helped 
to lay with Aunt Winifred, 
riprapped with pebbles; 
shards of painted delph; 
an old potato boiler; 
a blackened metal pot, 
now bright with petals. 

Hedges of laurel, palm. 
A hovering scent of boxwood. 
Crouched in the flowering 
lilac, I could oversee 
the main road, old Lynch 
march to the wellspring 
with his bucket, whistling, 
his carrotty sons herding 
in and out their milch cows: 
a growing whine of cars. 

Then, the vegetable garden 
behind, rows of broad beans 
plumping their cushions, 
the furled freshness of 
tight little lettuce heads, 
slim green pea pods above 
early flowering potatoes, 
gross clumps of carrots, 
parsnips, a frailty of parsley, 
a cool fragrance of mint. 

Sealed off by sweetpea 
clambering up its wired fence, 
the tarred goats' shack 
which stank in summer, 
in its fallow, stone-heaped corner. 

With, on the grassy margin, 
a well-wired chicken run, 
cheeping balls of fluff 
brought one by one into the sun 
from their metallic mother 
—the oil-fed incubator— 
always in danger from 
the marauding cat, or 
the stealthy, hungry vixen: 
I, their small guardian. 

Two gardens, the front 
for beauty, the back 
for use. Sleepless now, 
I wander through both 
and it is summer again, 
the long summers of youth 
as I trace small paths 
in a trance of growth: 
flowers pluck at my coat 
as I bend down to help, 
or speak to my aunt, 
whose calloused hands 
caressing the plants 
are tender as a girl's.

The Compassionate Mr Broderip

My maternal great grandmother was named Matilda Box.  Looking for forebears I came across the following report in the Evening Standard of 24 November 1829.

The hero, Mr Broderip, was worth looking into.  His biography, filched from the DNB, follows the newspaper report.  Turns out he was an interesting chap, acquaintance of Darwin, etc..

Thames-police. — Yesterday Matilda Box, a middle-aged woman, whose emaciated appearance and hollow eyes, bespoke the deepest distress and misery, was brought before Mr. Broderip, the sitting magistrate, charged with stealing two pieces of beef from the shop of Mr. Smelley, a pork butcher, in High street, Shadwell, on Saturday night.
John Marks, shopman to Mr. Smelley, stated that the prisoner called at his master's shop on Saturday night, and cheapened two pieces of beef lying on the board in front of the house, which she took into the shop, as he supposed, for the purpose of having them weighed ; instead of which she put the beef under her shawl, and walked off. He pursued and took her into custody, and afterwards conveyed her to the watchhouse.
The prisoner (who had a child in her arms, which appeared in a sickly state), being called upon for her defence, burst into tears, and said that the most urgent distress had driven her to commit the offence. When she stole the beef, neither she nor her child had tasted food for many hours. About a month since, her husband, who was a ship-joiner, fell from the mast- head of a vessel into the hold, and, besides other injuries broke three of his ribs. He had since been confined in the London Hospital, leaving her with the infant she held in her arms and another child without any means of support.
Mr. Broderip said, if her statement was true, she certainly was an object of pity, and inquired if she had applied to the parish for relief.
The prisoner replied in the affirmative, and said that the overseers of St. George's in the East had given her 4s. since her husband's illness, for the support of herself and two children, but had refused all further relief because she had slept out of the parish.
Mr. Broderip said the child the prisoner held In her arms appeared to be severely afflicted, and inquired the cause.
The poor woman replied that it was labouring under an attack of the small pox, and she was not able to procure sufficient nourishment for its support.
Deverell, the beadle of Shadwell parish, confirmed the truth of the woman's story, and the shopman said his master was aware the prisoner was impelled to the commission of the theft through distress, and had no wish to prosecute. 
Mr. Broderip said the poor woman waa a deserving object of compassion, and ordered her to be discharged, with a caution not to be again guilty of a similar theft, or she would be severely punished. Ellis, an officer of this establishment, was directed to go with the poor Woman to the overseers of St. George's, to which parish she belonged, in order that she might be relieved, and the wants of the child supplied. Ellis soon after returned with the woman, and stated that the overseer, whom he had seen, had peremptorily refused to relieve either mother or child, and had ordered her to attend at the board in the evening, when her claim would be taken into consideration. 
Mr. Broderip, after some severe remarks, ordered some food to be instantly given to the wretched woman and her child, and directed Ellis, the officer, to make another application to the overseers of St. George's in the evening, and if they again refused to relieve her, to represent the case to the Lambeth-street magistrates.

Broderip, William John (1789–1859), lawyer and naturalist, was born on 21 November 1789 at Bristol, the eldest son of William Broderip, surgeon. After being educated at the Revd Samuel Seyer's school in his native city, he matriculated at Oriel College, Oxford, in 1807 and graduated BA in 1812. While at college he found time to attend the anatomical lectures of Sir Christopher Pegge, and the chemical and mineralogical lectures of John Kidd. After completing his university education, he entered the Inner Temple, and began studying in the chambers of the then well-known Godfrey Sykes, where he had as contemporaries Sir John Patteson and Sir John Taylor Coleridge. He was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn on 12 May 1817, when he joined the western circuit, and shortly after, in conjunction with Peregrine Bingham, began reporting in the court of common pleas. These reports were published in three volumes between 1820 and 1822. In 1822 Broderip accepted from Lord Sidmouth the appointment of magistrate at the Thames police court. He held this office until 1846, when he was transferred to the Westminster court, where he remained for ten years. He was compelled by deafness to resign, having obtained a high reputation for his good sense and humanity. In 1824 he edited the fourth edition of R. Callis's work on the Statute of Sewers, which, with its combination of antiquarian and strict legal learning, was exactly suited to his taste and talent. He was elected bencher of Gray's Inn on 30 January 1850 and treasurer on 29 January 1851, and was given care of its library.

Throughout his life Broderip was an enthusiastic collector of natural objects. His conchological collection was unrivalled, and many foreign professors inspected the treasures which were accumulated in his chambers in Gray's Inn. This collection was ultimately purchased by the British Museum. He was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1824, of the Geological Society in 1825, and of the Royal Society on 14 February 1828. In co-operation with Sir Stamford Raffles he was instrumental in the formation of the Zoological Society in 1826 and was one of the original fellows. He was secretary of the Geological Society for some time, and performed the arduous duties of that office with Roderick Murchison until 1830. To the Transactions of this society he contributed numerous papers, but most of his original writings on molluscs are to be found in the Proceedings and Transactions of the Zoological Society. Broderip's descriptions of animal habits were graphic. His ‘Account of the manners of a tame beaver’, published in the Gardens and Menagerie of the Zoological Society, is a prime example of his tact as an observer and power as a writer. He published extensively on zoological matters. His contributions to the New Monthly Magazine and to Fraser's Magazine were collected in the volumes entitled Zoological Recreations (1847) andLeaves from the Note-Book of a Naturalist (1852). He wrote zoological articles in the Penny Cyclopaedia, including all the articles relating to mammals, birds, reptiles, crustacea, and molluscs. His last publication, ‘On the shark’, appeared in Fraser's Magazine in March 1859. Broderip died in his chambers, 2 Raymond Buildings, Gray's Inn, London, on 27 February 1859. He was unmarried.

From the DNB