More gems from Scorn with Extra Bile edited by Matthew Parris (1998)

Pop music

This man has child-bearing lips

Joan Rivers on Mick Jagger

You have Van Gogh’s ear for music

Billy Wilder on Cliff Osmond

Wood Green shopping centre has been committed to vinyl

New Musical Express on the pop group Five Star

Bambi with testosterone

Owen Gleiberman on Prince in Entertainment Weekly.

Television and movies

A vacuum with nipples

Otto Preminger on Marilyn Monroe

It’s like kissing Hitler

Tony Curtin on kissing Marilyn Monroe

The face to launch a thousand dredgers

Jack de Manio on Glenda Jackson in Women in Love

As wholesome as a bowl of cornflakes, and at least as sexy.

Dwight Macdonald on Doris Day

This was Doris Day’s first picture; before she became a virgin

Oscar Levant on Doris Day in Romance on the High Seas.

A face unclouded by thought

Lillian Hellman on Norma Shearer

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Cycling on the ‘Continong’ in 1906

Two things that jump out from a cursory glance at The Continong by the pseudonymous Anar de la Grenouillere, F.O.N.S., of which a file copy of the fourth edition of 1906 was found at Jot HQ the other day, is first the rather forced facetious tone of its advice to travellers to France, and secondly the predominance of references to cyclists.

In 1894, when The Continong  first appeared, the motor car had only been around for a handful of years and so presumably the author did not feel it necessary even to acknowledge its existence. But by 1906, when many more manufacturers were producing cars, this rise in traffic is not acknowledged in this ‘revised and updated ‘edition. Touring France for the English speaker was still all about railways or, in Paris, ‘buses and trams  ( though not the Metro, although this had been established by 1906)  possibly walking, horse-drawn ‘cabs’ but most of all, cycling. Compared to the four pages devoted to railways and three on cabs and cabbies, the author provides fifteen pages of advice for cyclists.

The first few pages of this advice are devoted to what to expect on arriving in France. British cyclists are urged to join the TFC (Touring Club de France) which was founded in 1890. For a mere five shillings a year, benefits include a Handbook, and the exemption of duty on their cycles, and for a few extra francs a Year-book containing a list of over 3,000 approved hotels, at which members enjoy a privileged position as to charges, a Year-book for foreign countries and a book of ‘skeleton tours’ for the whole of France and adjoining countries. Incidentally, a compulsory requirement for cycles being ridden in France and elsewhere on the continent was a name-plate ‘bearing the name and address of the owner (and) attached to the machine’. This seems to have been the equivalent of a car licence plate, which back then became a legal required for motor vehicles in 1903. Again, this suggests that cycles were seen as the predominant form of personal transport, at least in France.

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Association copies

Hedda Hopper

Having pre-booked an event on ‘ association copies ‘ at a book fair, not knowing exactly what this would entail, I was looking forward to a scholarly disquisition on the subject ranging over the centuries, from the sixteenth to the twentieth. Perhaps I’d be shown association copies containing comments and marginalia by genuinely important figures such as Charles Darwin or Samuel Johnson, or perhaps J.M.W Turner or Oscar Wilde. So imagine my disappointment when I discovered that the event would consist of one of the dealers visiting three of the stalls at the Fair, including his own, and picking out a book from each of the stalls  to illustrate the three type of ‘association’ copies. O, well, I thought, the three young people who had also booked looked excited by the prospect, so perhaps I’d wait to see what might happen.

The first type of association copy, we were told, was when a book bore the signature of a famous person, plain and simple. No presentation and no annotations, just the signature on a flyleaf, or whatever. In this case it was the signature of the future George V on a book about the monarchy. So far, so boring. Our guide moved on .The next type of association copy, we were told, was one containing an inscription  presented by someone associated with the book in question . In this case it was the illustrator Arthur Rackham inscribing a book he had illustrated to someone close to him. I can’t remember who this was. The third and last type, and in theory, the most appealing, was a book containing a comment of great interest by its author on someone to whom it had been presented. In this case it turned out to be a very barbed comment by the bitchy Republican showbiz ‘ celebrity gossip’ and failed actress  Hedda Hopper ( aka Elda Furry ) on her arch enemy, the  liberally-minded  Democrat and gifted actress Olivia de Havilland .I cannot recall the actual words used by Mrs Hopper, but they undoubtedly elevated the art of sarcasm to a new level of bitchiness. Unlike the other two association copies, I did find this particular one appealing, in a rather perverse way, but was less impressed by the four figure price attached to it, especially as both protagonists are rather forgotten figures today.  

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When writers attack

We at Jot 101 are always looking for new examples of bilious, scornful or downright libellous remarks. A number of collections have been scoured and selections made, but in Matthew Parris’s Scorn with extra bile ( 1998) we seem to have found a truly impressive collection of insults, including a very well known one from my own uncle, the first Baron Riddlesden ( aka Denis Healey ).

Some of the better insults are, alas, too long for inclusion, but here are some by writers that are equally entertaining, but pithier. There is also a hilarious semi-parody of the somewhat overrated children’s writer A.A. Milne by Dorothy Parker (photo above).

…an umbrella left behind at a picnic.

George Moore on W. B. Yeats.

A church lit but without a congregation to distract you, with every light and line focused on the high altar. And on the altar, very reverently placed, intensely there, is a dead kitten, an eggshell, a bit of string.

H.G. Wells on a book by Henry James.

A hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tried out a few of the old proven ‘ sure-fire’ literary skeletons with sufficient local colour to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.

William Faulkner on Mark Twain

I wish her characters would talk a little less like the heroes and heroines of police reports

George Eliot on Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I cannot abide Conrad’s souvenir shop style and bottled ships and necklaces of romanticist clichés.

Vladimir Nabokov on Joseph Conrad

Tell me, when you are alone with Max, does he take off his face and reveal his mask ?

Oscar Wilde on Max Beerbohm.

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The Library of E. M. Forster

Found in the archives at Jot HQ, this catalogue from Heffers in Cambridge of a large portion of E. M. Forster’s library.

In the introduction by King’s College Librarian, A.N.L. Munby, who knew Forster well, we learn something of Forster’s ancestors, who included his grandfather, Charles Forster, friend and Chaplain of John Jebb ( 1755 – 1833), Bishop of Limerick. Of the books bequeathed by Jebb to  Forster, by far the most valuable was a ‘superb’  copy of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, which came down to E. M. Forster in 1904. He in turn donated it to Kings College Library on his eightieth birthday. One book from Jebb that Forster owned at his death was a piece of incunabula dating from 1494. Sacrii Eloquii Celeberrimi Preconis Venerablis dni Alberti Magni Epi Ratisponess Sermones Aurei de Sacrosancto Eucharistie Sacramento had covers bound from a vellum manuscript. 

When Forster left the family home at West Hackhurst, Surrey, for King’s College, Cambridge in 1946, he had to downsize his library. Many books were sold and in his new accommodation on A staircase in the College Forster was obliged to settle on a library totalling 2,500 volumes. So, as new acquisitions were made, other volumes had to be given away to friends or to the College library.

On Forster’s death in 1970 Professor W. H. Sprott, one of his executors, inherited the contents of his rooms, including the library. After King’s College was allowed to purchase five hundred significant items from the library and friends were invited to choose books in memory of the writer, the rest was retained by Sprott. On the latter’s death in 1971 Heffer’s bought this remaining portion of Forster’s library.

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Some artists’ letters from the D’ Offay catalogue

Felicien Rops

Letters written by artists are generally boring. Just read William Blake’s letters. Most of them concern business arrangements with printers and publishers. However, there are a few exceptions. The letters of Samuel Palmer, that great admirer of Blake, tell us so much about his mental state, his religiosity and politics. Those of James Smetham, the Victorian artist, are occasionally mystical and deranged. The unpublished  letters of Britain’s favourite twentieth century artist, John Piper, many of which I have read, are also lively and sometimes controversial. 

We could say something similar about the twenty-five letters of Jean Cocteau, that Anthony D’Offay had for sale in his Art and Literature catalogue back in the late 1960’s. The addressee was Madeleine Le Chevrel and most of the letters and postcards to her were written between 1912 and 1925. Cocteau had the rather eccentric habit of composing ‘in a curiously abbreviated style where one word suggests a sentence and a question mark a paragraph’. Thus: (1917) ; Diag. prolonge mon sejour…Rome est lourd, molle, morte, grosse et petite. Le souvenir decourage de vivre. Les soupe, les champagnes, les aphrodisiaques, le cacodilates du Vesuve menent la danse de cette Kermesse enorme ou les eglises, les cuisines et les bordels  sont decore de la meme pacotille splendide. Les femmes sur les balcons se laissant tomber comme de bateaux entre les bras des marins…’ 

That strange word ‘ cacodilates ‘ is certainly new to us at Jot HQ. Some online research reveals that a French chemist named Cadet brewed up something he called Cadet’s fuming liquid in 1757. This turned out to contain cacodylic acid, a poisonous arsenic-containing compound, which today is used in chemical analysis. However, back in Cocteau’s day, it seems that a derivative of this substance was used in France as a stimulant, rather like cocaine.

For such a graphic picture of the young avant-garde artist and writer D’Offay wanted a quite reasonable £185, which is around £7 a letter.

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John Buchan parody by AI and a Clo-Kepp attendee

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Illustration from DALL-E when asked for a book cover for Buchan’s The Three Hostages. It doesnt seem to understand his name..

I asked Chat GPT to come up with a John Buchan parody. The brief was to write a piece with the context of rain outside, a man and wife inside and an unexpected visit by a friend. This had been the brief for a parody found in the annual school magazine of Clovelly-Kepplestone (1930) a private boarding school for girls in Eastbourne, Sussex. It flourished from 1908 until 1934 and was familiarly known to staff and pupils as “Clo-Kepp”. There is a very comprehensive piece on it at Wikipedia.

The Clo-Kepp John Buchan parody, probably by a school girl, is an amusing and well tuned effort:

    “The night was wild and rainy and reminded me of the time when old Hatiron and I were engaged in that business of the Forty-second Psalm. My wife, who was busily employed in the stitching and repairing of one of my shirts, torn during the day’s shooting at Clan Haggis, remarked upon the persistently bad weather we had been experiencing of late, and wondered, the streams being then in spate, whether I should not take a week off to try the mettle of the fish in the Ben Slioch burns.

    I opened The Times, and, glancing casually through its pages, noted with surprise that Flaxman had resigned his post in the Ministry. He was always pretty keen on politics, though strangely recondite in his views on Empire Policy, which he declared was sheer jingoism and inflated proletarianism.  However, it seemed strange that he should leave the Ministry at a time when Burton was intent on seeing that England got what she wanted.

    ” Well, what’s the news ? ” inquired my wife.

    ” Oh, very little,” I replied, ” the usual things ;  I see Flaxman has retired.  I can’t help thinking there must be something to it.”

    Just then the bell rang, and after a moment Breeves came in to ask if we were at home to Mr. Thoughtnot.

    ” Why, Jimmy,” I cried, ” this is a marvellous surprise.”  The last time I had heard of him he had been wandering about Samarkand disguised as a Shiari ; and had you spoken of him in a certain hovel where the mountains dip down beside the valley, which runs towards Tashkent, you would have heard strange things of him.  For Jimmy was a Lawrence in those parts, and there is not a wandering pedlar on the Kirgiz Steppe who will not give a night’s lodging to him who mentions Raskashpol.

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John Buchan and AI

As a lover of the works of John Buchan and one not unconcerned about the precarious future of this planet I consulted ChatGPT using a famous and prescient quote by Buchan from his thriller The Power House (1916).

I asked them this: “John Buchan wrote in 1916 “ ..you think that a wall as solid as the Earth separates civilisation from barbarism. I tell you, the division is a thread,a sheet of glass. a touch here, a push there, and you bring back the reignof Saturn.” Is this still true in 2023?” 

25 seconds later they replied: “The quote by John Buchan is certainly still relevant in 2023, as the line between civilization and barbarism remains thin and fragile. Though the world has made great strides in terms of technological advancements, social progress, and global connectivity, there are still forces that work to destabilize these achievements and push society back towards chaos and conflict. Whether it’s geopolitical tensions, economic inequality, racial divides, or environmental degradation, the challenges facing humanity require us to remain vigilant and work together to maintain and strengthen the bonds of common humanity that hold us together. In short, the quote from John Buchan remains a timeless reminder of the need for vigilance, empathy, and unity in the face of adversity.”

A good answer. He/she / it is definitely more Bernie Sanders than Logan Roy. I went on to ask it for a parody of John Buchan. In a past Jot we have a very good Buchan parody by a young girl at boarding school in the 1930s. It is many miles better than Chat’s brave effort. As the old unreconstructed Dr Samuel Johnson said (in about 1760) of women preachers: “Sir…(it)is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.” Tune in again soon to see both parodies..

English etiquette by an Indian Harley Street doctor 

Most books of etiquette published seventy or more years ago. have  comic value .If they were written by foreigners anxious to ‘ educate ‘ their compatriots in  the ways of the English there is a strong likelihood that they will be occasionally hilarious. Such a book is English Etiquette, which was published at St Christopher’s, Letchworth, a radical and culturally significant independent school that had established a printing press by the late 1920s. Its author, a certain  Dr R. U. Hingorani, an Indian who was active from 1928 to 1930, according to the records, and appears to have been a Harley Street practitioner around that time. The booklet’s aim was to familiarise Indian immigrants with the customs of the English.

Here is the good doctor’s advice on :

Personal habits

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It is a social crime to lick your fingers when turning over the pages of a book. An educated Englishman values his books as part of his personal property—he looks after them and keeps them clean. If he lends them to a friend it is a personal favour and he expects that friend to return the books in the same condition as they were lent. Licking the fingers while turning over the pages, besides being considered a dirty habit, will, if persisted in, soon spoil the appearance of a book, giving it a ‘dog-eared’ look and detract from its value…

You should never overlook another person’s newspaper or book…It is quite in order to ask for a loan of a newspaper or book but you should wait until he owner has completely finished reading and then politely make your wish known…

In England, as in other countries, an attractive personal appearance is a great asset in any walk of life but to attend to one’s toilet in public is a very bad social error. For instance, finger nails must always be kept scrupulously clean—this is a very important point as dirty finger nails are taken as evidence of a person’s bad upbringing—but they must never be cleaned in public. Ears and nose should always be attended to in private and you must never play about with your fingers when talking to another person…

Another bad error is to talk to a lady with your hands in your pockets. This shows that you are not so accustomed to talk with well-bred ladies and that your primary education has been defective…

European and Far Eastern people lend emphasis to their speech when talking with friends and acquaintances by gesticulating with their hands. This is quite incorrect in English eyes. A person who continually uses his hands in conversation is considered to have had an inadequate education…Pointing with the hands should always be avoided as this is considered a very rude habit…

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Curries in 1924

Talented artist, friend of Beardsley and writer on cookery, G. F. Scotson Clark ( see previous Jots) , was particularly fond of curries which, though they had been the staple of Anglo-Indian families since the late eighteenth century, were only just becoming popular with restaurant customers in the United Kingdom when his first book, Eating Without Fears , appeared in 1924. Here are his views on curries. 

‘ I was brought up on curry. Mine is an Anglo-Indian family. So fond was my mother of curry, that she used to declare she was weaned on it. In our old home one day we would have” Uncle Edward’s “curry, on another,“ Uncle Charles’s”. Uncle Charles was the only member of the family who was a Madrasi. All the rest were Bengalis, and our early recollections of Uncle Charles—when I was about seven or eight years old—are that his curries were infernally hot. The older he got—and he was close to ninety then—the hotter became his curries, until at last no one but himself could eat them. He lived in a curious old house in Bayswater, a house literally walled with books. The doubled drawing-room upstairs was always scattered with papers. He wrote from morning till night, but what he wrote I know not, except that he was the author of a Telegu dictionary in some twelve volumes, which I am sure no one ever read…

There is no necessity for a curry to be hot—hot with pepper to burn the tongue. Too much curry powder, or curry powder insufficiently cooked, is generally the cause of this. At the same time it should be piquant and not like a  stew with a flavouring of curry.

When the gas was cut off by the Gas Board at his small ‘ Bohemian Club ‘in London frequented  by ‘ artists, writers, barristers, soldiers, sailors, the clergy, including two bishops’, Scotson Clark volunteered to cook an Indian dinner using only a chafing dish and a spirit stove. The menu was: 

                                                                    Mulligatawny Soup

                                                                          Kedgeree

                                                                     Curry of Veal and Rice

                                                            with Bombay Ducks, Chutney, and

                                                                    West Indian Pickles

                                                                     Iced oranges

                                                                      Fruit Curry

The complicated  recipe for mulligatawny soup is as follows: 

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London restaurants in Fanny and Jonnie Cradock’s Bon Viveur (1956) that are still open today

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1) The Ivy

‘A classic name in the restaurant world and one most significant to the men and women of the theatre, the Ivy has at last changed hands. Since its inception until, last year it was under the administration of M. Abel, who so many will think of in his present-day retirement with affection and respect.

Now an entirely new ‘ character’ takes over—a big, boisterous, gentle, tough, kindly Edwardian fish king with a tremendous laugh, and a fair measure of that divine inheritance which is cockney humour. Waving a vast paw, he tells you, ‘I’m in fish, m’ father was in fish, I know fish, and yet I still put vinegar on my oysters because I like ‘em that way. It’s the fish lark that has given me four restaurants in London.’ Here he is apt to pause and reflect—the four restaurants seem both to astonish and tickle him. In a world overrun with meagre men Bernard Walsh stands out, nor alone for his height and build—nor for his silver side-whiskers and fancy weskits, but for his overall rumbustious largeness. Thirty-eight pancakes is his normal portion. ‘I like pancakes’, he explains. He probably has more friends among the press than any other restaurateur in London, and that speaks as loud and hearty as his laugh.

As he also likes meat, and Bernard, we say ‘gets what he wants’, the meat and the fish are quite excellent at the Ivy. Oysters are opened at the table ( the Bill of Fare states this), gives the prices—12s. No 2 Natives, 15s. No 1 Natives, 21s. Colchester—and Bernard adds as we twinkle at each other, ‘ I take the boast, ‘natives’ off my menu, when every fish-boy knows the town has run out of ‘em—which is more than some restaurants do.’ He is correct.

Correct, too, and good value are his Moules Mariniere ( 6s 6d), superb lobsters ( the scene on one occasion when these were cooked in the morning for evening service instead of in the afternoon!), served Cardinal, Newburg, Mornay and Thermidor for 11s. 6d.; his entrecotes( 7s. 6d.), mixed grill ( 10s. 6d.) , chops ( 7s.6d.) and lamb cutlets ( 7s.6d.).

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Eating without Fears: a second helping

In our first Jot on the artist and cook Scotson-Clark, we referred to the time he spent working in the City just after he had left school. After reading further into his very autobiographical book we now know much more after about this period in his life. It seems that one of his jobs was as a clerk in ‘ a very old-established wine business ‘. He describes the premises with the eye of a painter:

‘ The office was spacious, with large windows. In the winter a comfortable fire burned in the large open grate in the outer office. Green silk curtains screened the lower part of the windows from the vulgar gaze of the passer-by, and corresponding green silk curtains screened the upper part of the desks from the customers or visitors who chanced to call. The ledgers were so large that it was as much as I could do to carry them from the safe to my desk. Quill pens had retired in favour of steel ones on my entry, as had the sand-box in favour of blotting paper. There was no evidence of wine about the place—that would have been vulgar—but the atmosphere was charged with a delicious blend of the sweet aromae of wine, brandy and corks, that came up from the cellar…’

Scotson-Clark then goes on to describe the process of wine-tasting performed by the chief of the business, ‘a most polished gentleman if the old school’.

‘ I have often him with six or seven glasses of wine before him—each glass with a hidden label on the foot, reject four o five on the bouquet alone and then the remaining ones would be tested and arranged in their order of merit before the labels were looked at. And then came the final test of colour. A special old Waterford glass was used for this. It was most beautifully cut, though the lip was as thin as a visiting card. The stem was a trifle dumpy because it had been broken many times and blown together again, and with each repair , so had the stem shrunk. Then there was a special glass for claret, one with an out-turned lip. He liked it because it distributed the bouquet. Now the dock glass you will remember is slightly larger at the bottom than at the top, the alleged object being to concentrate the bouquet so that it escapes just below the nostrils…The glass should be wide enough at the top to admit the nose of moderate proportions, for the bouquet of the vintage is of great importance as the taste.

Champagne should not be taken from a tumbler except as a “corpse reviver” in the forenoon, and at that hour and, for that purpose, an inferior wine is as suitable as a good one, especially if it be “Niblitized”, that is, has incorporated in it a liqueur glass of brandy and a squeeze of lime, with the rind dropped in the glass. Neither the palate nor the stomach is in a fit condition to receive champagne before 8 p.m., and then it should be taken from the thinnest of thin glasses, either of the trumpet or inverted mushroom shape….On principle I am against hollow stems, except as curiosities. Nor do I like coloured glasses, except for hock which is apt to be slightly cloudy

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The artist as cook:

George Frederick Scotson-Clark

Some cooks may be artists in their own way, but artists are rarely cooks. But if this little book, Eating without Fears, a minor  best-seller in 1924 ( we have a third edition which we found in the Jot 101 archive at HQ) is any indication, the fin de siecle artist, G. F. Scotson –Clark was certainly both, albeit in a very minor way.

Scotson-Clark, the son of a famous organists and composer was the same age as his fellow illustrator and friend Aubrey Beardsley, and was in the same class with him at Brighton Grammar School.  But while Beardsley left school to pursue a brilliant but short career, his friend decided to try his luck in the City ( his biographers described him as a ‘ businessman ‘), only to change direction at the age of twenty when he emigrated to the United States. Here he may well have continued as a businessman for all we know, but what we do know is that his natural talent for drawing ( he appears to have been self-taught) saw him supplying art work for several American newspapers and magazines, including the New York Sunday World. He also designed posters for The Outing and worked as a stage and costume designer.

Then, in 1897, aged twenty-five, Scotson-Clark returned to England, where he remained until his death. He continued to design posters, mainly for the theatre, and his interest in the Music Hall is strongly evident in perhaps his best-known ( and certainly most expensive book), The Halls, which appeared in 1906. Scotson-Clark, though talented as a graphic artist , lacked the amazing originality of Beardsley, hence perhaps his comparatively low-profile as an illustrator today. His plates for The Halls, for instance, are strongly influences by the ‘ Beggarstaff Brothers ‘ who were very popular at around the same time. 

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Leonard Rossiter

The Lowest Form of Wit

Now that the season of good will to all men is behind us Jot 101 can safely tackle the art of sarcasm, examples of which can be found in a compilation published by the gifted comic actor  Leonard Rossiter ( The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin, Rising Damp) in The Lowest Form of Wit (1981).

Now I ‘ didn’t get where I am today ‘ by insisting that all the items   included in his book are good or even funny examples of sarcasm, but here are some of the better ones:-

The novelist James Joyce had an encounter with a fan, a woman who grabbed his hand and asked him fervently:

‘ May I kiss the hand that wrote Ulysses ?’

‘ No’, Joyce told her. ‘ It did other things too.’

Fred Keating once remarked of the actress Tallulah Bankhead:

‘I’ve just spend an hour talking to Tallulah for a few minutes.’

Of Hollywood Rex Reed remarked:

‘Hollywood is where if you don’t have happiness you send out for it.’

Margaret Kendal called Sarah Bernhardt:

‘ A great actress from the waist down.’

And Somerset Maugham , watching Spencer Tracy on set during the filming of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde asked a friend beside him:

‘Which is he playing now?’ 

Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree was nothing if not dramatic in his entrances on stage, always contriving to make the greatest impact on an audience when he appeared for the first time. So, on the opening might of his latest play, he flung open a pair of double- doors centre-stage, at the back of the set, and stood there for a moment holding an impressive attitude and looking straight out into the house. He was just about to launch into his first speech when he was pre—empted by a voice from the goods shouting:

‘Next station Marble Arch!’

Horace Walpole commented on the on the works of Samuel Richardson:

‘The works of Richardson …are pictures of high life as conceived by a bookseller, and romances as they would be spiritualized by a Methodist preacher.’

Oscar Wilde on Hall Caine:

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Mrs A. C. Dawson Scott and her Cornish writers’ retreats. ‘The  bungalow for a novel ‘.

Jot 101 Bungalow Richardson Odle picIt is in The Last of Spring, one of Rupert Croft-Cooke’s many autobiographical volumes that one finds an account of the author’s experience of renting one of the Cornish bungalows built for writers by the eccentric spiritual medium and author, Mrs A.C. Dawson Scott, in the early 1930s.

Croft-Cooke, armed with an advance of £20 from his publisher, Chapman Hall, following the success of his first novel was seeking a cottage in the country that would afford him the solitude and remoteness he needed to write a follow-up. He found one by answering an advert placed in a literary weekly by the novelist Dawson Scott, now better known as the founder of P.E.N. She herself lived in a holiday bungalow near Padstow and had had the idea of buying some land south of Trevose Head to build more bungalows which she would rent out to writers who needed a retreat.

The bungalows duly became a colony she called ‘ Constantine ‘, after the nearby ruins of a church and a Holy Well,  aimed at providing accommodation for those attending the Cornish Art and Literature Season in July and August, when she charged £5 a week to tenants. Luckily, Dawson Scott, nicknamed ‘ Sappho’ by her family, charged Croft Cooke the off-season rate of only £1 a week. Meeting his landlady in her London flat to arrange the tenancy was a daunting experience for the novelist. He found

‘ a forceful woman, decisive and grimly affable, obviously a born organizer. I never knew her in Cornwall, yet through vivid descriptions by Noel Coward, who was one of her early paying guests, and others, I see her in fancy in her Cornish setting, square, tanned, blatantly healthy, wearing a djibba, with the wet sand oozing up between her toes, and her hair undisciplined in the breeze, a woman with a purpose. ‘ Continue reading

Collected books that appeared a hundred years ago. No 1) The Red House Mystery by A.A.Milne

Jot 101 Red House MysteryMost readers know A. A. Milne as the creator of Winnie-the-Pooh, Eeyore, and Tigger, but four years before these characters appeared Milne published his one true detective novel, The Red House Mystery (1922).

By 1922 the forty-year old had become best known as a playwright and writer of screenplays for the cinema, as well as being  a prolific contributor to Punch, where his gently humorous style gained him many fans. Thus the appearance of The Red House Mystery must have been welcomed by a growing number of his admirers as something of a novelty. Here was a comic writer trying his hand at a genre that was becoming increasingly popular in what later became known as ‘The Golden Age’ of crime fiction.

Milne’s debut proved immediately popular. The well known critic Alexander Woollcott even went so far as to call The Red House Mystery ‘one of the best mystery stories of all time.’ The action was set (where else?) in a country house party hosted by Mark Ablett and attended by a handful of minor characters. At some point Robert, Ablett’s black sheep of a brother, who was living in Australia, turns up and before long is found shot dead in the head. Another guest, Tony Gillingham, appoints himself a latter day Sherlock Holmes and with the help of his friend as Dr Watson, this pair of amateur sleuths get to work on what appears to be a very puzzling crime indeed.

Milne was a graduate in mathematics from Cambridge and so it comes as no great surprise that at the centre of the book is a logic puzzle, but Raymond Chandler, who twenty-two years later was to demolish the raison d’etre of the Red House Mystery in The Simple Art of Murder, had serious reservations regarding the credibility of the plot. To him the novel was:

‘ an agreeable book, light amusing in the Punch style, written with a deceptive smoothness that is not as easy as it looks . Yet however light in texture the story may be, it is offered as a problem of logic and deduction. If it is not that, it is nothing at all. There is nothing else for it to be …’ Continue reading

Account of a young woman who survived the sinking of the Titanic

ff9823020c4c21c496e673e9e1706bab--titanic-passportFound in the memoir Chords of Remembrance by Mathilde Verne. (Hutchinson, 1936)  this account by a young woman  who survived the sinking of the Titanic.

Mathilde Verne  1865 – 1936  was an English pianist and teacher, her pupil

Geoorgette Alexandra Madill (Mattei) 1896- 1974  survived the Titanic and told Ms Verne about
it over lunch in 1922. The book is rare and this account is not recorded (so far!) on the web…

 

“I remember it as if it were yesterday,” said Georgette, when we were lunching at the Embassy Club (the last place in the world to talk of tragedy.) I really don’t know what first brought up the subject, but I gradually became so absorbed in the story that the bright crowd around me vanished and in its place, I saw a sinking ship, plunging to her doom in the pitch black darkness and I almost fancied that I heard the ice tapping against the sides of the boat with shelter Georgette and her family.

“I was sharing a cabin on the deck with my cousin,” she continued, “and, as it was very cold, I went to bed early. About midnight I was suddenly awakened by two totally the dissimilar noises – one something like the tiering of calico – the other the sound of escaping steam.

“The next moment the engine stopped and, to my great relief, mother came into the cabin and rang the bell to ascertain what it happened.
“The steward appeared, as ever, efficient and unperturbed, and in reply to mothers anxious questioning he said: “Well, madam, I really can’t say what is wrong, but as there are no orders to go on deck, you had better remain where you are.”

“This was reassuring but after a little while our maid came up from her cabin, and in agitated tones, informed us that there was water in the baggage room.

“‘There’s nothing to be alarmed at,’ said mother, ‘go back to bed and get off to sleep.’ But mother was not so confident as she appeared, and as we sat wondering what on earth the noises had meant, the maid rushed back… this time making no attempt to hide her terror.

“‘My cabin is flooded out – I can’t stay there a minute longer,’ she cried. Continue reading

Philip Wylie: pioneer Sci-Fi and environmental writer, nuclear holocaust expert…and misogynist

Gladiator_cover_2In his time the prolific and wide-ranging American writer Philip Wylie (1902 – 71), admired for his science-fiction writing, including Gladiator (1930), which partially inspired the creation of ‘ Superman’, When Worlds Collide (1933) , which inspired Flash Gordon, his social satire, and prescient warnings of nuclear and ecological disaster, was charged by  some of his detractors with misogyny—something his daughter  denied, but his contributions to the laddish erotic miscellany of 1935, The Bedroom Companion, show that the allegations were largely justified.

In ‘thirties America the slump resulted in many enlightened and educated women joining the workforce. Their presence as vociferous elements in society were seen as a threat to some men and as a result their claims of equality were often ridiculed. In ‘ An Essay on what a young girl ought and ought not to know on these days ‘ Wylie voiced the opinion of many men of his generation who resented the ways in which the fledgling women’s movement was challenging the Patriarchy.

‘ Modern women is obviously out of gear. Almost daily one of her unhappy numbers is murdered by a husband or a lover. Hourly, a representative of her baffled group throws herself into the streets of one of our cities. She clogs the corridors of our mental hospitals. Escaping assassination, suicide and insanity, she fills the newspapers with her ridiculous exploits, turns marriage into a bitter jape for cartoonists and movie producers to exploit, gluts the radio with her clacking, dynamites the birth rate, creates a nauseous and neurotic literature for herself, and, in her immense unhappiness, makes the who world at once a billboard and a consuming funnel for her pinheaded propaganda. The American matriarchy is a soprano scream so shrill and sick that any basso contralto is lost in it, and a man has to go about with his eyes shut, his nose held, and a padlock on his libido…’

 

Not content with a vicious character assassination of many of his fellow Americans, Wylie then went on to make a case for the impossibility of women being equal to men.

‘…man and woman are different; he can no more bear a baby than she can conceive a bridge…Woman’s place is not merely in the home—it is in the home in bed—in the bed of her husband, of her lover, in childbed. Within those limited dominions she has a certain supremacy. Within the boundaries of controlled emotion, she is exalted. But in the objective-creative world, towards which she is being directed today, she is a suffering anomaly or a grotesque farce. That fact is plainly self-evident, but it cannot be stamped into the brains of the multitude… ‘ Continue reading

More questions of etiquette in 1939

 

Jot 101 etiquette doffing a hat picIf Everybody’s Best Friend ( 1939) is to be believed, people were still debating the propriety of men giving up seats to women, whether or not it was necessary to doff a hat to a lady or where a man should walk on a pavement when accompanying a lady, as they had done for centuries before and perhaps still do. On the question of who should pay on a night out, to an earlier generation brought up before the advent of Women’s Liberation,  there is no question that a man should pay for everything. Notice that it is tacitly assumed that once the man and woman are married, it is certainly the husband who must pay for a meal and for seats in a theatre or cinema, even though the wife may have an income from her job. But have things changed that much ?

 

1 ) Giving up your seat to a ‘lady’.

 

There seem to be mixed views now on the question of whether a man should give up his seat to a woman in a crowded conveyance. Some men do, others consider it unnecessary. Has the custom changed ?

 

Custom in this respect has not changed and a courteous man has no hesitation in standing so that a lady may be seated. The exception is that no would desire an elderly man to give up his seat to a girl. A young man should be ready to offer his eat to an elderly man as well as to a lady. Similarly, in a crowded bus  or railway compartment in which only the women present are seated, a young woman may well offer her seat to an elderly woman, to a woman with a child in her arms, or to an old man.

 

When offered a seat a woman should always accept it readily, with a smile and word of thanks. To decline the offer is to slight a man who is doing the right thing. If a lady accompanied by a man is offered a seat, the man should utter a word of thanks for the courtesy shown his companion.

 

An interesting little point arose recently when my fiancée and I were travelling in a bus. The bus was full and men were standing down the centre. A lady got in. I offered my seat and had to go along the bus, with the result that my fiancée had really to travel the journey alone. Did I do right in offering my seat in these circumstances? Continue reading

Life in a Rhodesian Gold Mine in the 1930s (part 2)

‘…One morning we found we had nothing for breakfast—so Oliver had a bright idea—he tied some dynamite to stones—and then complete with boys—a basin and guns ( for shooting obstreperous crocodiles ) we waded half a mile up the River to a deep pool—sometimes the water coming up to our necks but others just mud and sand!! When we got there Dowie and I were posted behind rocks with guns ready for crocs—and the boys damned the river at one end—and Tozer and Ove got ready to dive in for dead fish—Oliver then threw in his dynamite bombs—bang !!—bang!!—bang!!—But no white tummies of dead fish floated —but after a while we began to wade in –and behold—there were lots of Tiger fishes swimming lazily about as if bedrugged–so Oliver pushed his bowl under them and threw them  onto the rocks—Oh, it was funny, more often than not he fell flat on his face in the mud and water –we must have looked funny sights in wet khaki trousers and the men in dripping shirts —I had a green handkerchief round my topand all the colour came off onto my skin and it wouldn’t even come off with soap and scrubbing brush—so now I am half green !! However, we got five fish and swam our way back to camp and breakfast –by that time it was 11 A.M. So we went without lunch that day!! Oliver and I called each other Dumpledum and Dumpledee because every morning we used to tell each other stories about the nonsence (sic)  land of milk and honey !! And the Three Bears! But in spite of our unconventionality —Oliver insisted on us sticking to the old code of writing “ bread and butter “ letters—So this is my letter to him : written this morning from here . We arrived back last night :–

TO Dumpledum

Dump Mine

Dump ‘ all

Dumpshire.

 

(There follows 35 lines of humorous doggerel beginning “ OH ! Dumpledum what did I do ? )….

 

…’WELL —-WELL—-WELL—we do not always play in this valley—for the men DO work——and thousands of pounds (£!) are at stake—I even take samples of Reef and pan them myself—but today another joy was in store, or I should say, “stable” , for me—I now own a real LIVE RACE HORSE—he only cost £15-0-0, ( which I borrowed and am hoping to pay back when I hear from my Bank-manager)”TURN-ABOUT is his name—he is well known all over Rhodesia and has won lots of races—he is 16-2 in height and a lovely bay—9 years old—–at the moment he is rather sore on his pins because to get here he had to walk 180 miles and had no shoes on—But wait for a weak (sic) or so and there will be no holding him  and Oliver’s newly made aerodrome ( which has not bee passed by the government ) will make a splendid gallop ! Well, my dears I think this letter is about long enough—I ought to pass it on to my secretary to type out ; for I hear from Tozer that you often could not read most of my letters, so you burnt the page and just guessed it !! Oh wait a moment, I have a poem I want you to read too—a real one—a serious one—but don’t cry—for I always laugh with the world !!   Continue reading