Photography and poetry

In a world of cellphones with cameras as powerful as Leicas, sites like Flickr, Instagram, Pinterest etc., the problem still remains - what shall I shoot? This advice is from The New Illustrated Universal Reference Book (Odhams, London 1933.) The book called itself 'the book of a million facts' covering 'the main interests of humanity…no essential subject is left out.' Much of the technical stuff is highly out of date, the language even more so, but the advice is still good. A good photograph comes from the heart...

The world is crowded with things calling to be photographed when a man first goes forth with a camera. Indeed, he is so overwhelmed with the thousand and one things to take that he frequently returns home with only half his roll of films exposed.He is so confused and confounded by the wealth of possibilities confronting him in the end he cannot see anything worth taking.

The man with the camera should ask himself what class of subject naturally interests him…Let him focus his mind on something before he attempts to focus his camera on anything… every picture that is worthwhile arouses some feeling; wonder or sorrow, peace or joy, fear or distress, or any one of the many emotions which move the human heart.

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Reverend E. E. Bradford / Love in Earnest (Norfolk)

A rare photograph of the Reverend Doctor E. E. Bradford, devotee of 'Lads Love', posed outside his very humble Fenland church at Nordelph near Downham Market, Norfolk. Alas, admirers of such gay poetic classics as Passing the Love of Women and The Romance of Youth, failed to save the structure, built in 1865, which Pevsner dismissed in less than two lines as 'E.E. with a fleche between nave and chancel.'

In 2010 it was demolished, seemingly with hardly a protest, which is a great shame. Thankfully, the Rectory survives.

Bradford was a genuine eccentric of English letters, who published his innocuous verse, not imagining, or perhaps not caring, if it provoked loud laughter from the likes of Oxford sophisticates like Betjeman and Auden , to name but two. Actually, in 1935 Betjeman visited the poet, then aged 75. He found a lonely, 'saintly' man, isolated for want of a car, a modernist who believed in sexual freedom and birth control, but who was also fond of ritual. Betjeman’s recorded impressions of the man showed sympathy for his predicament:-

Vicarage hall, dark, grim…Terribly poor. Bradford hurried out of room in dressing gown.’ Quite safe in here, only other side of house is falling. I’m not bothered’. High voice, like Cottam’s. Talks a lot and v. fast. Sit on hard kitchen chairs. I sat by fire in arm chair. .likes conversing in French…Various reproductions of Tuke and Millais’ ‘Princes in the Tower’. Pictures everywhere. All very neatly docketed…

Bradford died in 1944. It’s a wonder that no-one has written a biography. Stephen Fry lives just a few miles away. Not a busy man, perhaps he should give it a go. [ETH]

John Cowper Powys’ Bookshop Rant

Found on a late 1960s bookmark from the renowned Holland Park bookseller Peter Eaton adapted from essays of John Cowper Powys in his 1938 work Enjoyment of Literature.

An over the top rant with a lot of incendiary keywords... but a rant would not be a rant if it wasn't slightly unhinged: take it away JC!

What a history of human excesses a second-hand book-shop is! As you 'browse' there– personally I can't abide that word, for to my mind book-lovers are more like hawks and vultures than sheep, but of course if its use encourages poor devils to glance through books that they have no hope of buying, long may the word remain!–you seem to grow aware what a miracle it was when second-hand book-shops were first too often happens that the books an ordinary man wants are on the 'forbidden shelves'. But there is no censorship in a second-hand book-shop. Every good bookseller is a multiple-personality, containing all the extremes of human feeling. He is an ascetic hermit, he is an erotic immoralist, he is a Papist, he is a Quaker, he is a communist, he is an anarchist, he is a savage iconoclast, he is a passionate worshipper of idols. Though books, as Milton says, may be the embalming of mighty spirits, they are also the resurrection of rebellious, reactionary, fantastical and wicked spirits! In books dwell all the demons and all the angels of the human mind.

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The 100% office (1930)

This is from an uncommon self improvement work from circa 1930 The 100% Office (Efficiency Magazine, London) by the prolific Herbert N.

Casson. He had obviously been taking his own medicine as he appears to have written over  60 books on these lines, as well as producing a monthly magazine on efficiency, not to be confused with Health and Efficiency.

Among his works are 52 Ways to be Rich, The Meaning of Life, The 12 Worst Mistakes in Business, The Romance of Steel, 12 Tips on Window Display, Will Power in Business etc., He was at the beginning of a business that is still going strong. Below is a sample of his advice to the 1930's office worker. The office appears to have a machine for addressing letters but otherwise no technology as we know it...

The 100% Office 

How to use the present moment as it flits past – that is the eternal problem, for all ambitious workers want to make the best use of their lives. There is in reality no time but NOW.

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The correct British way to make tea

From The New Illustrated Universal Reference Book (Odhams, London 1933). It called itself 'the book of a million facts' and was a sort of Google of its day. It advertised itself as covering 'the main interests of humanity…no essential subject is left out.' To test this I checked if it had instructions for making tea, as few things are more essential. Sure enough a third of the way through at page 414 it has this:


It is the easiest thing in the world, yet nine people out of 10 do not manage to make a success of it. First of all the water must be freshly drawn from the tap. That left already in the kettle is flat and lifeless. It must be quickly boiled and poured over the tea just as it reaches boiling point. Give preference to a pot of either earthenware or aluminium ware, as the two kinds that make the best brew, and let the pot be thoroughly heated before the tea is put in. This is generally accomplished by pouring boiling water into the pot and then pouring it out again. A way that comes to us from China, and an excellent way too, is to put the tea into a perfectly dry pot, and let pot and leaves get hot together by leaving it on the rack or any other warm place.

That's it. They might have added the measurements - usually one heaped teaspoon for each person and 'one for the pot.' Once the water has been poured (during a 'rolling boil') 4 or 5 minutes is the brewing time and a tea cosy can be used - but they seem to have fallen from favour. The fresh water should be taken ('drawn') from the cold tap; the Queen Mother is said to have had her tea made with still Malvern water. The pouring of the water while it is boiling is the quintessential bit. The writer Kyril Bonfiglioli, in one of his Jersey based thrillers, has a character say something along the lines of 'you can kill me or you can give me tea made with water that hasn't come to the boil…'

King Kong’s Vital Statistics

Found in Mostly Monsters by John Robert Colombo (Ontario 1977). A curious work of 'found' poems mainly from monster books and movies. For example, this piece extracted from Gustav Meyrink's 1915 novel The Golem:

But this I know-
That there is something here
In our quarter of the town...
Something that cannot die,
And has its being within our midst.
From generation to generation
Our ancestors have lived here
In this place,
And no one has heard more tales
About this reappearance
Of the Golem-
Happenings actually experienced
As well as handed down-
Than I have.

Another 'poem' is taken from a publicity handout for Merian Cooper's 1932 movie King Kong:

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A Mussolini Howler

Mussolini by Marinetti

From a book of  of schoolboy howlers collected by Colin McIlwaine and published in London in 1930. Most howlers are short and many are online already ('a polygon is a dead parrot') , some rather odd ('A Molecule is a girlish boy') and some very silly ('The highest peak in the Alps is Blanc Mange'.) This is the last entry in the book and one of the longer howlers.

Mussolini is an ugly man. He wears the shirt of the Madonna, and when he smiles he makes people weep. He has been killed four times. The first time they wounded him in the nose, the second time in the forehead, but he himself they never wounded. He is a phenomenon, a thing that comes only once in 1000 years. He hardly ever sleeps, but shuts his eyes for 10 minutes, then goes and has a good wash and returns to work as fresh as a rose. He is a man of mystery. He can do everything and knows everything and loves playing the saxophone with his family. Galileo was charged with High Treason because he said that Mussolini moved round the sun, and not the sun around Mussolini.

The Crazy Quilt Murders (1938)

The Crazy Quilt Murders by H.W. Sandberg (Phoenix Press N.Y. 1938)

Rare book (no copies for sale anywhere online) from the Donald Rudd collection of detective fiction. The plot is summarised thus:

When Benjamin Markley willed his nephew Sam a crazy quilt, it seemed like merely one more of his eccentrics on a par with the proviso that Markley legatees spend three days together in Sam's country cabin.

But the Markleys stopped laughing when the three days were blighted by a series of murders more puzzling than any Sam, a mystery writer by profession, had ever imagined. And the colorful crazy quilt enabled Sam to stop the murders before he himself was added to the growing list of victims… 

Everything in life must perforce follow a pattern. Life, death, the very thoughts that idle in your brain at this moment, are guided by a logical, if sometimes confusing, pattern. Witness the crazy quilt; modest or gorgeous, seemingly possessing neither rhyme nor reason, yet behold, you find in it a beginning, a body, a conclusion, the very essence of a pattern.( Sam Markley)

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“Some of the groups into which mankind is divided…”

An interesting illustration from an Odham's home learning book from circa 1938 Everybody's Book of Facts. The illustration is by modern standards somewhat racist, even xenophobic. Why the English woman is wearing a cocktail dress whereas all other nations are in traditional or peasant costume is a mystery.To be consistent the English illustration should have shown a farmworker in a smock with a  crooked stave. Even in the late 1930s this illustration would have raised a few eyebrows or at least a laugh...the author one F.L Bradley is 'quite interesting' on the subject of the location of the 'cradle of civilisation' suggesting  the Gobi Desert in Turkestan, farther Pomerania,Java,Brazil, Scandinavia, Honduras, South Africa, the Congo, Ceylon, North America 'and even the Arctic.' He notes 'the place most favoured by modern scholars is Mesopotamia, the present day Iraq, for it is there the oldest remains of stone buildings have been found, and not far off in the Caucasus the first metal work...' He concludes:

Eduard Stucken is of the opinion that the cradle is to be located, not in Mesopotamia, nor in the legendary continent of Atlantis, but in a sixth continent, that of Oceania, which has been broken up into the present archipelago of Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia by vast upheavals of Nature. The inhabitants of the east coast of this shattered continent are thought to have found a second home in America (there was possibly sea-borne commerce between the empire of the Incas and Polynesia), while the inhabitants of the west coast took ship for farther India, Mesopotamia, and Madagascar. Not only the affinity of language between the Egyptians, the Sumerians,the Polynesians, and the South Americans, but also the custom of building pyramids have been cited in support of this theory. Words which were written on tablets in cuneiform script 6,000 years ago are still used in the Antipodes.

To give but one example, the Sumerian word kud means to part, the Maori word koti means to cut, the Peruvian word kutu means to break a thread with the teeth, and the Mexican word kokota means cutter.
The former inhabitants of Oceania who had fled from their homeland may originally have settled in Siam or in the Sunda Islands. That the Sumerians and the ancient Egyptians were particularly noteworthy seamen has not been established, but the fact that many Sumerian words are still used in America and Polynesia compels one to look for other links. Another point to be noticed in this connexion is that finds have been made on the Peruvian coast which are reminiscent of ancient China. Incidentally the Sumerians were acclaimed as the forefathers of the Turks at the Pan-Turkish Congress held at Stamboul in 1936. It may be that the cradle of civilization was in the Tarim basin in Central Asia, where Sven Hedin, the eminent Swedish traveller, has located an age-old centre of culture in what is now a desert. Possibly, when inner Asia began to assume its steppe formation before the dawn of history, the Turkish and Mongolian peoples spread from here to all points of the compass.

I Am Jonathan Scrivener

Valancourt Books have valiantly republished Claude Houghton's forgotten bestseller I Am Jonathan Scrivener (1930). This prompted us to dive into the fathomless archives where somewhere we have the manuscript.

“So remarkable in truth is this novel that I cannot understand why it is not universally known and admired.” - Hugh Walpole (1935)

“I Am Jonathan Scrivener remains a tantalizing, highly diverting philosophical novel of rare elegance and wit.” - Michael Dirda (2013)

Valancourt sum up the plot thus:

James Wrexham is thirty-nine, lonely, and stuck in a dead-end job when he comes upon an advertisement for a position as secretary to Mr. Jonathan Scrivener. Much to his surprise, he is hired at a lavish salary despite never even meeting Scrivener, and he is told to take up residence at once in the flat of his new employer, who has suddenly disappeared. Mystified by Scrivener’s strange conduct and desperate to learn something about him, it seems Wrexham will get the answers he seeks when Scrivener’s friends begin to visit the flat: Pauline Mandeville, an ethereal beauty, Francesca Bellamy, a widow who may be responsible for the death of her husband, Andrew Middleton, a disillusioned alcoholic, and Antony Rivers, a handsome playboy. But as each of them unfolds his story about Scrivener, it seems that none of them are describing the same person, though all are obsessed with finding him. Why has he hired Wrexham, and why does he seem to have thrust this unlikely group of people together? Is Scrivener engaged in an inscrutable experiment, or could he be laying some kind of trap? 

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An enigma inside a maze

Found this ad in a pulp magazine Clues - A Magazine of Detective Stories from November 10 1930. The advertiser pleads:

Help! Who can get me out?  I'll pay $8000. Come to my rescue – quick. I'm HOPELESSLY lost in these treacherous, trackless catacombs.

I've tried for hours  to find the right path to freedom but here I am right back in the middle again. Can you find the right path? Will you try? 1000 thanks! – I knew you would. But first let me warn you there is only one path to freedom and it's oh so hard to find... Mark it plainly with pen or pencil and send it to me fast. If correct, I'll see that you are qualified at once for an opportunity to win as much as $2320 cash out of the $8000 in rewards that I'm going to give away. It's all free...

Is this an eccentric millionaire, or a wily entrepreneur garnering the addresses of mug punters, or a publicity stunt?

The clue is the word 'qualified'. Surely this is a forerunner of the Nigerian scams? The maze is probably not that difficult-- you send in your solution and soon hear that you have qualified to win a big prize and must send in, say, $10 (a useful sum in 1930) to enter for the big prize. After that you never hear from him again or are asked for further sums for even bigger prizes. Chap was based in Chicago.