George Sims and espionage

img_2750Found in a thriller by George Sims (1923 -1999) an interesting letter about the book. Sims was a successful and much admired dealer in rare books, something of a poet and a novelist with several of his books being about the book trade (bibliomysteries.) This book Who is Cato? (Macmillan, London 1981) actually has an art dealer, one William Marshall (rich but disillusioned), as its hero. He becomes involved in espionage through his connection to  ‘Intelligence’ in WW2 and finds himself working against the KGB many years later while on holiday in Majorca…

The letter from Sims to a woman friend, who ran a bookshop, is on headed notepaper from his cottage ‘Peacocks’ in Hurst, Berkshire. It reads:

Many thanks for your helpful cheering letter. I was glad to have it. Probably I’ve told you that when Cato was published we were in America and our daughter phoned to say that there had been a mysterious burglary at our cottage in which nothing was taken. When I came back I was puzzled as to how an entry was made into our cottage and my office; nothing was missing not even some £10 notes in the office drawer… exactly like the burglary which took place at William Marshall’s cottage near Hambleden!!

Obviously someone thought I knew more than I did. I was to blame as I had signed the official secrets document when I was at the SCU, and there was quite a deal of fact mixed with the fiction. Love George.

The S.CU. ‘Special Communications Units’ were outstations of S.I.S (‘Special Intelligence Services’) involved mostly with radio communications. They were disbanded in 1946. Sims, known to be irascible, appears quite philosophic about this incident. His books are collected, especially the bibliomysteries, also his excellent and still mouthwatering catalogues

The Old Codgers

s-l400Found – a cheap paperback called The Daily Mirror Old Codgers Little Black Book (Wolfe, London 1975.)  The book is billed as ‘100s of funny, curious and strange facts from the world famous Live Letters column…’ The Old Codgers  column, where readers wrote in to get answers on all manner of things, had begun in 1936, apparently the idea of the newspaper’s  proprietor Hugh (later Lord) Cudlipp. It finished in 1990 by which time The Mirror’s thrusting new editor Roy Greenslade considered its old fashioned and said it was “putting off the younger readers we are trying to attract.”

An article at the time in one of the broadsheets said that while the world went through ‘convulsive’ changes the Codgers remained in ‘a pre-war era redolent of flat caps, allotments,racing pigeons and Woodbine cigarettes…’ There was a bit of protest when it was axed but considering that the Codgers were receiving a 100 letters a day it was fairly muted. They often referred to their legendary Little Black Book that  claimed to contain ‘all information known to man.’ In the days of the web most of the questions that readers sent it could now be very quickly answered. Google is now ‘the little black book.’  The questions were often sent it to settle arguments ‘down the pub’. The most common question in the latter period of the Codgers was whether Stan Laurel was Clint Eastwood’s father. The Codgers research showed he was not. Below are two fairly typical Codgers answers to questions on  ‘Slippery Wednesday’ and the origin of the phrase ‘Mad as a hatter.’

‘Slippery Wednesday’ is another day that has stuck in older memories because of its dire conditions. A former horse carman recalled how he had to put sacks on his horses hooves and his own feet to get about, and that pedestrians were ‘going down like ninepins’, because of the ice. But he couldn’t remember the exact date, only that it was a Wednesday in the 1920s. We were able to tell him that it was December 21, 1927 when severe frost on overnight rain caused chaos in London and other parts of the country, resulting in thousands of street accidents.

‘Mad as a hatter’ dates from the days when hats were made of felt which was processed by having mercury rubbed over it. The unfortunate men who did the job got mercury poisoning which caused their limbs to shake and contorted their features so that they looked crazy.

Grooming by letter? Innocent pre-web days…

pen-pal-letterWhat do you think of pen friendship? My daughter has been introduced, through a club, to a pen friend in France, and so far the letters received from the French girl are quite nice in every way. But I have been studying them recently, and, here and there, have noticed remarks which might conceivably indicate that the writer is a woman and not a girl. There is nothing undesirable whatever in these letters, but I have heard so much of the clever and cunning ways certain types of foreigner have of insinuating themselves in the minds of girls, that I am somewhat in doubt as to whether this correspondence should be allowed to go on. Perhaps you will kindly give me your views on this matter.

There are several reputable agencies in this country for putting correspondents in touch with foreigners. One of their expressed aims is to promote international goodwill. Often an interchange of visits results from the pen friendships thus formed., In so far as this correspondence furthers the exchange of views of general interest –for example, young people tell of their families, schools, occupations and excursions—they serve an excellent purpose and can be very educative. The idea is to link up correspondents of about the same age and standard of living.
If your daughter was introduced by a reliable source you have little to fear. It is usual for correspondents to exchange photographs at an early stage; if this has not yet been done, you might request this favour. Then, unless her correspondent is intending to deceive, you will be able to form a pretty good estimate of her age. In any case, you will do well to supervise the letters both ways. In the event of your daughter wishing to accept an invitation to visit France, you should first take up references —through the club or privately—which would leave no doubt as to the absolute trustworthiness of her prospective hosts.

( an extract from Real Life Problems and their Solutions (1938) by R. Edynbry
[R.R]

Beresford Egan on Beardsley

baudelaire-illustration

          ‘Fleurs du Mal’ (1927)

Found in Beresford Egan’s Epitaph, a Double-Bedside Book for Singular People (Fortune Press 1943) this piece by him on Aubrey Beardsley. Beresford Egan was always compared to Beardsley and was probably a little fed up with it. In appearance and temperament he was nothing like the 1890s aesthete. His technique was also somewhat different, as he explains. Apart  from his illustrations and books he also worked as a film actor and he can be glimpsed in Powell and Pressberger’s masterpiece A Canterbury Tale.

Beresford writes:

But poor, dear Aubrey! What of him? His shadow has overcast my life, as it has overcast the lives of others in the realm of black and white. Aubrey Beardsley died in the “arms of the church” and fell into the claws of the literary vultures. His bones have been picked bare, but his legendary spirit will continue to haunt us, until a critic is born who can see further than ‘The Yellow Book’.

Beardsley – that name has become a critical cliche. Who, among the black ink brotherhood, has not been compared with him? – except, of course, the followers of the “crosshatch” school still performing in ‘Punch’. There appears to be no overshadowing master of this technique: not even Tenniel, Charles Keene, nor Lindley Sambourne. The “crosshatchers” are never charged with plagiarism, although I have seen many an exponent whom one might justifiably accuse of being cast in the Harry Furniss (forgive the pun). Continue reading

Gramophone inventor Emile Berliner on ‘Immortality’

Found- a copy of Conclusions by Emile Berliner published in Philadelphia, img_2160by the Levytype Co., in 1899. Berliner was the inventor of the gramophone and the gramophone record and exceedingly wealthy. This book presents his philosophy and may have been a vanity project, this copy is marked complimentary and limited to 500. He appears to have been something of an agnostic and his views, especially his faith in science,
are somewhat ahead of his time:

On the Doctrine of Immortality

The confident belief of mankind in a personal immortality is a positive drawback to human progress.

The possibilities of earthly happiness are so vast, the dread of early death so natural and pronounced, that if mankind would but rationally divorce itself from its over-confidence in a life hereafter, it would work out its earthly Salvation in a very short time.

The time will undoubtedly come when most people will live to a hale old age, when they will be free from the hypocrisy, the intolerance, and the morbidness of our so-called civilisation, when food will be pure, when sound sanitary science by universally recognised, when life will be simple and free from sham, when love, in all its phases, will be less restrained, and when all parents will know that their children are and will be the incarnation of their combined thoughts and impressions.

Then, having tasted life from an overflowing cup, and having drunk the last drop at a ripe old age, man will gradually have become wearied and tired, and will be glad to lie down, expecting nothing, and leaving the future in serene resignation to take care of itself.

Prayer

The futility of prayer was never better emphasised than at the time of Garfield’s sickness and death, when some hundred millions of people earnestly and sincerely prayed for his recovery. What an absence of mercy!

But had Garfield been shot twenty years later Science would probably have saved him, prayers or no prayers.emile_berliner

Anti Coronation satire 1953

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Found – a 1953 Communist Party booklet criticising the amount of money being spent on the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The figure of 20 million pounds is probably about a billion now but it may not be totally accurate. The name Beavermere is a compound of the two major Press Barons of the time-  Beaverbrook and Rothermere. The style is that of a contemporary gossip column:

Lord and Lady Beavermere will be staying at Claridge’s during Coronation week. Claridge’s will be more than usually expensive because there are so many people like Lord and Lady Beavermere competing for room. The reason why they are stopping at Claridge’s is because the Beavermeres, like the others, have let their town mansion. Living in Lord  Beavermere’s house is the Rajah of Muddlecore who is paying £1000 for the week so as to be on the Coronation route. So, despite the expensiveness of Claridge’s, the Beavermeres can afford to do themselves well. Continue reading

Angus Wilson—author from the Museum

Angus Wilson picAlthough Angus Wilson is almost as unfashionable as F. R. Leavis these days, there was once a time when members of the chattering classes could hardly wait for his next novel or collection of short stories.

We are talking about December 1953, which is when John O’London’s Weekly ran a cover story entitled ‘ Author from the Museum ‘. In it Wilson is depicted as a sort of Larkin-like figure of prose (although at this time the Bard of the Humber had yet to achieve the elevated position he now occupies).Like Larkin, he was a librarian of an academic institution—in his case the British Museum, where he was Deputy Superintendent of the Reading Room—and like Larkin at Hull, he seems to have become a bit of a celebrity there. This is how the journalist Sewell Stokes described him:

‘Small of stature, with a luxuriance of prematurely silvered hair, and the gentle and accommodating manner of a diplomat, he might be cast by a film director as someone attached to the retinue of Marie Antionette. His appearance somehow vaguely suggests his belonging to another century. Diplomacy he certainly needs to maintain friendly relations with those readers of various nationalities, and varying temperaments, who use the Museum. An American lady used it recently for no more legitimate purpose than to have a peek at Mr Wilson, whom she had come to regard, through her admiration for his books, as rather a landmark.  Continue reading

Maundy Gregory – a St John’s Wood Gatsby

IMG_1829Found in a 1955 Punch – a review by the novelist Anthony Powell of Honours for Sale. The Strange Story of Maundy Gregory. (Gerald Macmillan, London: Richards Press 1954). Maundy Gregory had in the 1920s what amounted to a licence to print money. He sold honours, a profession that made a comeback in the Blair years. For £10,000 (about $1 million now) he could get you an earldom; knighthoods were a bit cheaper. You could, in fact, sign a cheque to him in your expected new name–only cashable when you assumed the title. He liked rare books, especially the works of the fantastical Frederick Rolfe (Baron Corvo.) In some cases (according to AJA Symons in Quest for Corvo) he would pay his agents to track down supposedly unfindable books, money no object. He had a mansion in St John’s Wood which later became the world famous Beatle’s recording studio.

Powell calls him an ‘honours tout’, a ‘real life Gatsby’ and ‘a mad aspect of the 1920s incarnate’. He suggests that anyone  ‘who enjoys a good laugh’ should read the list of  guests at his Derby Eve Dinner at his own club ‘The Ambassador’s.’ Something of a ‘sausage fest’ (i.e. no women) but, as Powell says, Gregory certainly knew how to ‘bring them in.’  The author of the book, Gerald Macmillan, may  be exaggerating when he says it was the most distinguished gathering ever held…

List of guests at Ambassador Derby Eve Dinner, held on June 2, 1931.

Major-General J. E. B. Seely (in the Chair), Sir Austen Chamberlain, Mr. Winston Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, Mr. J. H. Thomas, the Duke of Sutherland, Viscount Craigavon, the Marquess of Reading, Major-General the Earl of Scarborough, Sir John Simon, Lord Southborough, Viscount Elibank, Mr. J. Maundy Gregory, Lord Jessel, Mr. Ralph E. Harwood, Earl Winterton, Lord Queenborough, Lord Bayford, Mr. W. Dudley Ward, Lord Plender, Marquis del Moral, Lieutenant-Commander Sir Warden Chilcott. Continue reading

Iona – a minor poet sings

IMG_1597Found – a copy of Ionica – a book of  verse by Eton master William Johnson Cory  – this edition published anonymously by George Allen in 1891. It has been bound in an expensive full leather binding with gilt decorated inner dentelles. The book was presented by minor poet Arthur C James* to one Iona F Robinson on whom he appears to have been very keen given the title of the book, its sumptuous binding and the poem he has written to her on the front endpaper. Ironically Johnson Cory, a fellow master at Eton, is known for the gay themes in some of his poems.

Jan 16th. To Iona F Robinson

Not from those violet isles of western Greece,

Nor from the statelier cities which of yore

Looked into sunset from the Aegean shore

O’er varied tracts of bay and Chersonese

Home of the muse whose grace shall never cease;

-But from that northern Island which upbore

Columbus’s cross our Britain to explore, Continue reading

Two John Fothergill letters

IMG_1595Found – two signed handwritten letters from John Fothergill author of An Innkeeper’s Diary.  He was the proprietor of The Spreadeagle in Thame, the ‘inn’ he managed to make a cult destination during the 1920s and 30s. To quote travel blogger Ian Weightman:

‘In its heyday, The Spreadeagle near Oxford became a mecca for holiday makers, and the great and the good of the country. Many people booked to stay or dine there, purely because of Fothergill’s notoriety. But many others – including a “glitterati” of writers, actors, artists and heads of state – arrived as a result of the hotel’s widespread reputation as one of the best in the land… Fothergill was not only an illustrious innkeeper, but also an outstanding chef, connoisseur of wine, and an early campaigner for “Real Food”’.

The letters are to the writer Guy Chapman (author of the WW1 account A Passionate Prodigality and husband of Margaret Storm Jameson, English journalist and author.) They were associated with the writer’s organisation PEN – hence Fothergill asking for advice about republishing a gardening book he had written in 1927 (The Gardener’s Colour Book -now quite collectable.) The first letter is from the Spreadeagle and the second from his inn in Market Harborough which he ran from 1934 to 1952. Anybody writing a biography of Fothergill in the future would appreciate these letters, but when they are sold they tend to disappear – so following the original Jot mission we are recording them here. Continue reading

Gillian Hills–Beat Girl

For someone brought up with the Beatles, it’s difficult to understand the attraction for teenagers of what came immediately before the Fab Four transformed pop music for ever. Here, for instance, is the back page Film Review promo for Beat Girlbeatgirl_poster a movie released in 1960 that purported to show ‘ squares ‘ what their ‘beatnik’ teenage sons and daughters were getting up to behind their backs. Starring the pop singer Adam Faith ( his film debut at the age of 18 ), horror star Christopher Lee, a young Oliver Reed and the fifteen year old bilingual starlet Gillian Hills, it was also the debut of John Barry, who went on to forge a glittering career in film music.

In 1960, most pop music fans were more interested in how teen idol Faith would cut it as an actor, than they were seeing ‘ the second Bardot ‘, as Roger Vadim hyped the fifteen year Hills, but looking back, it is odd that latter’s acting career never took off. Here was an actress, whose striking blonde beauty and obvious acting talent should have propelled her to greater things. In ‘Beat Girl’ Hills plays the ‘ bad girl ‘ Jennifer, the sulky-looking beatnik, who rejects the values of her respectable parents and lives for the kicks she gets out of dancing in night clubs and hanging out in milk bars. In the opening scenes of the film she is a pouting, free-spirited presence as she descends the stairs to the basement dance floor, where, seemingly oblivious to everything and everyone around her, she begins a freestyle dance routine. On her website ( which is worth a visit ) Hills describes the dance thus: ‘ my brain flipped, my feet followed and I was off’. As for her role as Jennifer, she saw it as a protest at her treatment by her Lycee in Paris, who expelled her for taking on a debut role in Vadim’s Les Liaisons Dangereux ‘.

 

‘I could vent my frustration, my disgust, the helplessness and despair, and the anger at what had happened to my life in the recent months.’

‘Beat Girl’ proved popular in Britain, but was banned in France. However, this did not prevent Hills from taking roles in a number of French films in the early sixties and from recording pop songs in French, including the annoyingly catchy ‘ Zou Bisou Bisou’ (1961), which was later used in ‘Mad Men’. But in Britain the film roles were small. She was a brunette in the cultish ‘Blow Up ‘(1966) and in ‘A Clockwork Orange’ she had a cameo. She also appeared occasionally on British TV.Gillian Hills pic

In 1975 Hills decided to stop making films and left for New York City to try her luck as a book and magazine illustrator. Judging from the artwork on her website, she appears to have genuine artistic talent too! At 72, Hills now lives in England with her husband Stewart Young, manager of AC/DC and Cyndi Lauper, among other artistes. [R.M.Healey]

 

 

Malayan secret society ritual

IMG_1560 (4)Found – a rare Malayan police manual Notes on secret societies (Caxton Press, Kuala Lumpur 1953) by one C. T. Dobree. It is more of an anthropological study than a detective’s manual with much emphasisis on the  initiation ceremonies of each society; there are also notes on secret methods of communication known only to society members. This what he writes on the Wah-Kee (aka ‘Chow Fah Chee Tow’  or ‘Sze Kor Long.’) The way of refusing a cigarette is interesting – ‘push back the cigarette with hand-palm facing inwards.’

Jargons and signs.

After initiations the new members to the brotherhood are taught the secret jargons and signs by which strangers to one another may identify themselves as being of the one brotherhood.

These are some of the jargons and signs in common use: –

Questions.

a) Where do you come from? – from Singapore. (This is because the Malayan Wah Kee started in Singapore).

b) What is your surname? – Either Sui (Water) or Loke (land), or Peng (Peace) or Onn (Tranquility). Continue reading

It’s fun finding out… about Chapman Pincher

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Discovered in a box of books is this copy of It’s Fun Finding Out, putatively by Bernard Wicksteed, but actually written with Chapman Pincher, the man who was to become a true legend among spy-hunters.

Back in 1947, when the book was published by the Daily Express, Wicksteed, an RAF war hero, was an ex sub-editor who had published his first book, Father’s Heinkel in 1944. Pincher was an ex physics teacher who had recently joined the Express as a science correspondent. One day Express editor Arthur Christiansen had the bright idea of bringing the two men together to compile an exploration of weird facts something along the lines of the American Ripley Believe It Or Not books. The result was It’s Fun Finding Out.

Structured so as to reveal facts while on visits to several places, including a Zoo, the seaside, a farm, a wood at night, a river bank, the country in Autumn, a grouse moor, an art gallery and the Science Museum, the book also considers facts relating to social history, philately, the amazing physical toughness of Winston Churchill, the French view of the English and vice versa, and guppies, among many other topics. Continue reading

Spoof/ Nonsense handbill

IMG_1532Found at the Ephemera Society fair– this spoof April Fool’s day handbill/ poster. It probably dates from the late 19th century. It is in the tradition of British nonsense that goes back past Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll and was carried on with J.B. Morton’s ‘Beachcomber’, The Goons, Monty Python, Bonzo Dog, John Lennon and Professor Stanley Unwin and The Mighty Boosh. There is a West Derby Road in Liverpool. The reference to the young woman’s dress being composed of ‘spare ribs of pork’ is reminiscent of a costume recently worn on stage by the the singer Lady Gaga…

Missing from the neighbourhood of Black Rock Street, West Derby Road, about the first of April last, a short, middle-sized, and very tall young woman… had on when last seen a fashionable dress, composed of spare ribs of Pork with sage and onion trimmings; a double-breasted bonnet with Rattlesnake feathers – on her neck Dick’s hat-band that went nine times round and wouldn’t tie; a Chignon made of Shandy Gaff; Cast Iron stockings; Papier Mache drawers; Jack the Giant killer’s seven leagued boots, recently repaired, with holes in the soles; wears the Roman fall in the protuberance of the breast; must be recognised by her lovely piebald eyes, turned up Grecian nose, and a dew drop at the end of it, with savoury duck lips; has a splendid Carriage but no Horses; is supposed to have gone in search of the “Man in the Moon,” and will be known by looking two ways at once on Sunday’s; generally walks on her hands for the sake of cooling her heels, and always taking one step forward and one back, laments that she’s stationary in the world. Has been subjected to brutal treatment by her parents, having been born without father or mother, and wears mourning for a brother that never was in existence, being a son of her uncle Polly’s!

BY TELEGRAM. – When last seen was carrying a Satchel made of Boiled Cabbage, and was in a fearful state of exasperation, having too much of her own way in everything.

N.B. – She lives in Nim Nam Street, and is a Pan Mug Weaver.

The Land Girl

IMG_1510Found at the London 2016 May Ephemera Fair – an issue of this magazine – THE LAND GIRL. (NO. 7. VOLUME 2, OCTOBER 1941.) This was issued by the Women’s Land Army The first article  is an encouraging piece aimed at the new Land Girl, who possibly for the first time, will be meeting other girls from far flung parts of Britain and  the British Commonwealth.

On Being Strange.

At this time of year many members of the Land Army are working far from their  homes. In particular, girls who are threshing and potato lifting have come long distances, and many others have undertaken particular jobs in counties they have never visited before.

This offers a grand opportunity to break down prejudices which have survived from the times (little more than a hundred years ago) when it took many days of laborious travel to traverse this island and the vast majority of people never left their own county throughout their lives. But prejudice dies hard, and in many counties people who have lived in them for less than ten years are still called “foreigners.”

It is the right spirit which makes girls volunteer to go where they are most needed – once they have got there it is very important that they should stay, for they are needed, and a failure to stick it out means a great deal of trouble and wasted time and money, neither of which can be afforded nowadays. Home-sickness is almost inevitable, but it does not last, and a determination to be interested in new places and different people will help it to pass quickly. Continue reading

How to dance the Hokey Cokey

60670Found- some sheet music for the song The Cokey Cokey which later became the song (and dance) the Hokey Cokey. This is what it is all about… There are many theories about its origins – dealt with at Wikipedia and in a Mental Floss piece on its ‘dubious origins.’ Possibly the name came from the magician’s ‘hocus pocus’. This version was written in 1942 by Jimmy Kennedy (1902-1984). Jimmy Kennedy states that his version is based on ‘a traditional action song known long ago in the mining camps and saloons of the Canadian West. The word ‘Cokey’ means a dope fiend but what this has to do with the dance is not at all clear!’ As he says – it then came over in World War 2 with the Canadian troops. He explains on the back of the sheet music exactly how to do the dance:

This is one of the simplest dances ever. You hold your partner in the normal way and while the verse is being played you may fox-trot using any steps you like.   When the chorus starts, that is, on the words, ‘Left arm out’, you put your left arm in line with your shoulder, continuing on the words ‘Left arm in’ by bending the left arm in and touching your shoulder, then ‘Left arm out’ as before.  You hold your partner with the other arm. ‘Shake it all about’ explains itself —you simply shake your hand and arm with a circular motion. On the next line ‘You do the Cokey Cokey and turn around’ the appropriate action is to place the forefinger of the right hand pointing downward on top of your head and do a complete turnaround. ‘That’s what it’s all about’ ends the actions and you take hold of your partner in the normal way. Then the chorus starts over again with the right arm, then left foot and then the right foot etc., It should not be taken to fast..

This dance, since its introduction here by the Canadian forces, has caught on like wildfire and bids fair to out-rival some of the most sensational dance successes of the past.

Note: Alternatively the dance maybe performed by partners facing each other in line as in the Palais Glide and on the words ‘That’s what it’s all about’ both hands are spread out palm upwards. SEE?

Gerald Brenan – Diaries and Journals 1925-1932

gerald-brenanFound amongst the papers of the late distinguished bookseller and publisher Joan Stevens this cutting from a catalogue. It appears to be dated in 1976, bookseller not named but it does not sound like Joan. Gerald Brenan was still alive and his reputation well established, but it has subsequently grown, especially through his strong Spanish connections and the price looks very reasonable indeed. It was probably bought by, or sold on to, the University of Texas who seem to have most of his papers. They are unpublished but were used by Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy in his 1992 biography The Interior Castle: a Life of Gerald Brenan. As a dedicated Powysite Joan Stevens would have been interested in Brenan’s connection to Gamel Woolsey who had a passionate and painful affair with Llewellyn Powys. Gathorne-Hardy notes that, with typical Bloomsbury disdain, both Carrington and Lytton Strachey regarded her as a ‘bore.’ The part of Brenan was played by Samuel West in the 1995 movie Carrington.

307. Gerald Brenan’s Diaries and Journals, 1925-1932

Typescript, with manuscript corrections and additions. Two volumes, 239pp, 4to.

A document of both literary merit and literary significance. The majority of Brenan’s diary is devoted to the record of his long affair with the painter Dora Carrington. Although chronicled elsewhere (David Garnett’s “Carrington, Letters and Extracts from her Diary” 1970), Brenan’s own version of the frustration and anguish culminating in the inevitable ending of their relationship makes a fascinating counterpoint to the version found in Carrington’s letters to him, as edited by their mutual friend Garnett. Continue reading

Desiderata—a weekly publication for libraries and booksellers

Desiderata 001How come nothing can be found online about the little weekly periodical entitled Desiderata, a copy of which was found in a box of books the other day? It resembles the Clique in some respects, but unlike the latter, whose main job was to put collectors and booksellers in touch with one another, it aimed instead to provide ‘ a direct link between library and bookseller ‘.

The copy we found is probably fairly typical. It is issue number 36 of volume 8 and is dated September 9th 1955. Its 12 pages comprise an editorial in the form of a salutary story about a bookseller’s ring; there follows a rather silly defence of the inept ‘poet‘, Alfred Austin, against the entirely justifiable description of him by Evelyn Waugh as a ‘obnoxious nonentity ‘. Five whole pages of Wanted adverts from the British Museum then follow, and the rest of the issue is taken up by what appear to more Wanted ads from various public libraries, some small ads from booksellers and a full page ad from the eminent Guildford booksellers Traylen. A miscellany of literary notes and announcements takes up the back page.

The British Museum books wanted advert is the most interesting feature of the magazine. Listed in this case from ‘Tovey’ to ‘Trial’, the items demonstrate how keen the Library was (and presumably still is) to hold all editions of a particularly title, however seemingly obscure. This is, after all, its raison d’etre. However, one example listed seems out of place. There was a call put out for the 1915 second edition and its 1930 reprint of Pitman’s Dictionary of Secretarial Law and practice edited by Philip Tovey. Why would a 1930 reprint differ in any meaningful way from the 1915 second edition? Insisting on reprints for the sake of completeness is per se rather ludicrous. Continue reading

London A to Z (1953)

IMG_1381Found – this rare and attractive paperback guide to London published by Andre Deutsch in 1953 and illustrated by Edward Bawden. This extract of three entries gives the flavour
of the book. How many people raise their hats (head-gear?) when passing the Cenotaph in 2016? How many people still possess bowler hats and who could still call its football team ‘poor old Chelsea.’?

BOWLER HAT. The possession on of the correct type of bowler, hairy, not too large and curly-brimmed, is as essential to the young man about town as a pair of trousers. It is worn e either in the hand which is not carrying the rolled umbrella, or, sometimes, even on the head, tilted forward over the eyes at the angle adopted by villains in Victorian melodrama. The most London of all headgear…

IMG_1382CENOTAPH. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the simple and auster national memorial to the dead of the Commonwealth in both world wars stands in the middle of Whitehall.  It is the focal point of the nation’s morning on Remembrance Day. Men raise their hats when they pass it.

CHELSEA. Long famous as the home of artists, London’s nearest approach to a Latin Quarter, is now the favourite area of civil servants and businessmen as well.

An attractive and friendly place, which centres around the Kings Road and runs from Sloane Square down to the river, it’s studded with some very good cheapish restaurants, antique shops, drinking clubs. Both the men and women wear corduroy trousers. It also houses the Chelsea Football Club (at Stamford Bridge), long known as ‘poor old Chelsea,’ the despair and the delight – mostly the former – of its supporters.

The Unknown Country

RM coverRaymond Maufrais (1926-50) was a French paratrooper, journalist and explorer. In September 1949 he attempted to travel solo from French Guyana to Brazil. His route would take him through the densely forested and sparsely populated Tumuk Humak mountain range. In February 1950 his notes and equipment were found in a hut by the River Tompok. Final entries show that the exhausted Maufrais intended to swim to the nearest habitation – a distance of some 70 km. His body was never found. His father Edgar journeyed to Guyana in 1952 and spent many years in South America, publishing an account of his search for his son – whose fate has never been determined – in 1956.)


Thursday, 12th January [from the penultimate entry]

For a month now I’ve lived in the virgin forest, living entirely on what it provides and working hard meanwhile. And I’m nothing unusual, physically; I’m the average Frenchman – if that – the average European with his habits, his tastes, his modest scale of life – and his misadventures during the last twenty years. So that I’ve given the lie to those who asserted after their third round of punch that Guiana is “death to the European. He can’t exist in it without taking every possible precaution, keeping to a fixed diet, and avoiding physical effort. Hunting, for instance. You’ve got to go slow with your hunting; if you don’t, it’ll wear you to a shred. Kill you, in the end, it will”.

But Guiana is an unknown country. It’s not Guiana that kills the European, and it’s not hard, physical work, either. It’s the European who kills himself; and, as he needs an excuse, he pins the crime on Guiana.

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