Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Miseries of Modern Life

Miseries of Travel (Rowlandson 1806)

In 1806 a witty Oxford don called James Beresford published The Miseries of Human Life, or The last Groans of Timothy Testy and Samuel Sensitive, in which a pair of curmudgeons railed against all the 'injuries, insults, disappointments and treacheries of everyday life'.Today they would probably be diagnosed with clinical depression, but Bereford’s book turned out to be a huge best-seller, proving that black humour is always popular in the UK. Indeed, rarely has mental illness been a source of such razor –sharp observations as those that emerged from the mouths of these Regency Victor Meldrews.

Some of the wit directed at miseries associated with coachmen, ostlers and taverns is very much of its time, but much of it has remained timeless and can still raise a smile today. I particularly like the following examples from their observations on ‘ Miseries of the Table ‘

After eating mushrooms—the lively interest you take in the debate that accidentally follows on the question ‘whether they were of the right sort ?’ 

Nicholas 'Horse Whisperer' Evans and his disastrous Scottish mushrooming party of a few years ago, gravely ill after consuming specimens of cortinarius speciosissimus, might wince at this one.  

Or what about this ?

On taking your dinner from an a-la-mode beef house –the relish of your favourite dish disturbed by the perpetual recurrence of a doubt whether the animal you are feeding on was a native of the stall or of the stable

Seemingly, horse meat was ending up in fast food outlets even in Regency times! 

To be continued… [RR]

I once met…King Richard Booth of Hay

Actually, I’ve met him twice. The first was in 1970, not too long after the Book Town of Hay-on Wye had started up. I was 18 and had only been collecting second-hand books for two years and could hardly pass up the prospect of a place entirely devoted to them. Back then there were only three shops—the Castle, where Booth lived, the Old Fire Station and the Old Cinema. My first visit, I seem to recall, had been with my parents, who had driven me up from Swansea. After that first taste of Hay I was hooked. It was on the second visit, again a day trip from home, but one that involved three buses, that I met Booth.

I was an impoverished schoolboy back then and spent all my pocket money, baby-sitting money and newspaper round cash on books. Because of this I justified to myself my nefarious practice of taking a pencil stub into the Old Cinema and writing my own prices on the books. As I saw it, if the experts at the counter didn’t challenge my prices that was their problem. Most didn’t, but on this one occasion the man at the desk turned out to be Booth himself. I recognised his face from a photo in the local paper, but there was nothing I could do. He had my book in his hand (I think it was a seventeenth century pocket Bible) and he suddenly looked very puzzled at something on the flyleaf.

L.B. Pekin on St. Christopher's

L. B. Pekin was the author of 5 books published by Virginia & Leonard Woolf's Hogarth Press in the 1930s - Public Schools: their Failure and their Reform (1932) Progressive schools: their Principles and Practice (1934) and a Hogarth pamphlet The Military Training of Youth (an enquiry into the aims and effects of the OTC).He also penned a short book on Darwin in their 'World-makers and World-shakers' series (1937) with a jacket by John Banting or possibly Richard Kennedy (who did most of Pekin's jackets). Kennedy later wrote A Boy at the Hogarth Press. L.B. Pekin's real name was Reginald Snell. This pamphlet on St Christopher's, a progressive school at Letchworth (still going strong and still vegetarian) was loosely inserted in his book on public schools.

The Way of Life
at St Christopher School, Letchworth


   It is too easy for a school to make extravagant claims for its contribution to the happiness and welfare of mankind. We can never know how much, in the end, we are able to do for our children. At the most we can but believe that by giving them a community in which they may develop most freely, according to the mysterious laws that guide the growth of the human spirit, they will be able to become most thoroughly themselves, knowing themselves and knowing what they midst do with their lives. At the most we can believe this–and at the least, too; in either case our responsibility and our opportunity are alike tremendous. Every school worthy of the name must be founded on a faith; none will perfectly succeed in living up to its highest hopes. In the paragraphs that follow we shall give the most honest description of one school that is built on a firm faith in a certain way of life,

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Small collection of rock lapel badges (pins) 2

The second and last showing of these badges from the world of rock music in the late 1970s and early 1980s-- before MP3 players, Spotify, YouTube etc.,

Joe Meek had shot himself (and his unfortunate landlady) in 1967 but lived on through this badge as did the green  Mekon...Gary Wright has a fan website and still tours Europe. Little is known of the SHF band and the 'Life is a Fight' badge probably refers to a political campaign of the time...

Monday, October 20, 2014

Small collection of rock lapel badges (pins) 1

These came with a ton of books on rock and seem to date from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. Truly ephemeral - they relate to some almost forgotten campaigns and acts, although Sex Pistols, The Who and Joni Mitchell are still famous. Not sure what was being defended in Sheffield and what 'The Incredible Plant' was. Johnnie Allan was a 'swamp pop' musician and The Soft Boys were well known in there day but finally disbanded in 2003, Stiff records are still renowned and mono keeps making a comeback ...more to come.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Russian Jokes (Brezhnev era)

Found - a not unamusing joke book Political Jokes of Leningrad by Arie Zand. (Published by Silvergirl, Austin, Texas 1982 - many thanks.) The jokes are now slightly dated, the best are about Brezhnev. There is a persistent theme of a fear of a Chinese takeover and the Bulgarian joke presumably reflects  the way that Bulgaria was then viewed by Russians. The last joke is not exactly a rib-tickler and is slightly surreal...

A special commemorative stamp with a picture of Brezhnev has been issued. It is a fine likeness, yet there have been many complaints that the stamp does not stick on envelopes. An extraordinary commission was formed to investigate these complaints. Their findings corroborated the widespread suspicion that the stamp would not stick because people were spitting on the wrong side. 

An international group of biologist had just completed a cooperative study of elephants in Africa. Upon their return to their respective countries each member of the group reported their findings. The German scientist wrote 10 volumes entitled: 'A Short Introduction to the Science of Elephants Observed in their Natural Habitat.' The French representative's work: 'The Sexual Life of Elephants.' The Russian: 'The Marxist Interpretation of Elephant Science.' The Bulgarian: 'The Bulgarian Elephant as the Loyal Companion of the Noble Russian Elephant.'

An American and a Russian argue about which country has more freedom. The American says: "I can walk in front of the White House and shout, 'Down with Carter,' and not one thing will happen to me."

Monday, October 13, 2014

Authors most in demand in 1924

How fashions in literature have changed in 90 years. Look at  this list compiled by ‘FMG’ for the Autumn 1924 issue  of The First Edition and Book Collector. Of the top 20 authors whose first editions were asked for by collectors in July and August 1924 only Lewis Carroll, Arthur Machen, Conan Doyle and perhaps Trollope could be said to be collected avidly today. Moreover, look at the specific popularity of each author signified by the number of requests made by collectors. Rudyard Kipling had 181, Michael Arlen, an amazing 98, Norman Douglas 68 and John Masefield 50.
this list compiled by ‘FMG’ for the Autumn 1924 issue  of
Then inspect the lower half of the draw. Both Oscar Wilde and Thomas Hardy come in at a paltry 38, only just ahead of Stanley Weyman, Rafael Sabatini and the now neglected Edgar Saltus! Poor Henry James, who has been fashionable in academic circles for many decades, was far less highly regarded in the era of the flapper. Only 36 collectors asked for him, as opposed to the 52 who fancied the work of George Moore.

Then there are the missing names. Unless you count Conrad as one, there is not a single modernist in the list, despite the fact that many had been selling books for 14 years. Look in vain for D. H. Lawrence (debut 1911), T. S. Eliot (debut 1917), Ezra Pound ( debut 1908), Wyndham Lewis (debut 1918), Joyce ( debut 1904) and most astonishing of all, Virginia Woolf ( debut 1915). The absence of the latter is particularly hard to explain when we consider the role in art and literature of the Bloomsbury  Set in this period, and the fact that Hogarth Press titles were hand-printed. It was to take thirty or more years before such modern masters were collected—by which time it was certainly the end of the road for the likes of Belloc, Moore, Masefield, Weyman et al.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

George Hunt Williamson, contactee

Found on the endpapers of Secret Places of the Lion by George Hunt Williamson (Neville Spearman, London 1963)- a  handwritten  note by  the publisher Neville Armstrong (1914- 2008). He was one of the last of the gentlemen publishers, producing books mirroring his own whims and tastes - such subjects as flying saucers, the occult, wrestling, reincarnation, spiritualism, spies, sex, cooking, chess and Spain. In 1955 he began his own imprint, 'Neville Spearman Publishers'. George Hunt Williamson has a good Wikipedia entry. He is described there as a flying saucer contactee, channel, and metaphysical author who came to prominence in the 1950s. His dates were 1926-1986 and  he was also known as Michael d'Obrenovic and Brother Philip. 'Contactees'  are people who claim to have experienced contact with extraterrestrials.

Nevile Armstrong/ Spearman writes:-

George Hunt Williamson('Ric')  was one of the original witnesses to the desert sighting of a UFO by George Adamski 'Flying Saucers Have Landed.' A world bestseller and years ahead of the phoney Erich von Daniken.

 Ric was a personal friend. Many strange things happened when in his company. I recall a wine bottle in my cottage in Upper Hartfield which refused to empty!  After an evening's talk which included my wife, the bottle was still half full. This was a minor happening.

 He also wrote a very strange book, Saint of the Andes. It was a monastery inhabited by  strange people – monks, I think – to which many people& expeditions set out to find. All were unsuccessful.

He was one of my most extraordinary authors but entirely sincere. 

Neville Armstrong 28th March 2004

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Barron's Textbook Exchange, Brooklyn 1941

Found on the front endpaper of an American book on Abraham Lincoln -- this bookplate label advertising a used bookstore. This store was the first business of the still extant and flourishing Barron's  textbook business and the owner started out mimeographing textbooks in the basement of the shop long into the night after the shop was closed. As Publisher's Weekly noted in 2011: 'In 1941, the after-hours mimeograph business became Barron's Publishing, and its first offering was the aptly named series Barron's Regents Exams and Answers...Seventy years later, the series is still going strong, albeit with some innovations—apps, e-books, and a subscription-based Web site—that could never have been imagined in 1941.'

He was still around and working in 2011 when he celebrated 70 years of business, which dates this label from the early 1940s. Of note is the broad range of business he was engaged in  - used books, stationery, art supplies, records both classical and modern, gym wear and even new books...this kind of enterprise is still needed to survive in the book trade.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Aberdeen humour from Sir James Taggart

Found - a slim volume titled Stories told by Sir James Taggart. (Dundee, London : Valentine & Sons 1926.) This book is in a series of Scottish joke books which include the famous 'bizarre' book Jokes Cracked by Lord Aberdeen

Lord Aberdeen's pal Sir James Taggart, a former Lord Provost of Aberdeen, was also a famous storyteller, notably against his own townsmen of 'the granite city.' It was said of him that he told 1000 jokes a year. His mournful look in the above photo reminds one of the old saying that ' a Scot a joke is no laughing matter..' Here are a few short ones to get the flavour:  'An Aberdonian went away for a month's holiday, taking with him a dark green shirt and a pound note. He changed neither of them.' Or try this: 'A traveller at Euston Station was booking a third class single to Inverness and was informed, "Change at Aberdeen.'' "Na, na," said the traveller, "I'll lake my change now, l've been in Aberdeen before." 

Almost all  the jokes are on the themes of incredible meanness and/or  drunkeness. Here are a selection of four the better jokes -the first about Lord Aberdeen himself :

 On one occasion when the Lord Aberdeen had been attending the assemblies in Edinburgh, he was walking along High Street when a drunken man knocked up against him.  A policeman reproved the man sharply, saying: 'Do you know that you have run into the Marquis of Aberdeen and Temair?'
'Good Lord!' said the man, 'am I as bad as that? Is there twa' of them?' 

Bawbees and Suet

A woman was in the habit of going to the butcher every Saturday to get two bawbees* for a penny, for the kirk collection. One Saturday night, after getting the two bawbees, the woman said, "Do ye no'gie a bit suet wi' that?" The butcher lost his temper. "You come here every Saturday night for two bawbees. I don't want to see you again." The woman waited till the storm passed and said: "That's fine way to treat your customers."

The Revolving Carpet

A Valuator called at certain house to value the furniture. He was so long in a room upstairs that the lady of the house went up to see what was that matter. She found him reclining peacefully in an easy chair, with an empty decanter on the table beside him. But he had not altogether neglected his duty because on a sheet of paper he had written: "Revolving Carpet - 1".

"Yer Nae Wrang"

An Aberdeenshire farmer was doing himself well at the Country Hotel, when the waitress came up and said, "Will you have a little whisky or a meringue?"
"Na, na lassie," replied that farmer, "yer nae wrong. Just fill up my glass".

*Bawbee= a halfpenny.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Toad in the Hole - the progenitor of pinball?

It’s called Toad in the Hole and it was popular (and still is, to some extent) in some pubs, especially in South East England, and particularly around Lewes. According to one online source, competitors stood back from a sort of   table on top of which was a sloping board containing holes. The object was to aim thick coin-like ‘toads’ towards these holes. Those toads that fell through the holes scored points.
However, an interesting variant of the game can be found in an illustrated article by the folklorist L.N.Candlin that appeared in the magazine Courier for November 1949. In this version:

The board for the game is about the size of modern dinner wagon and has three shelves. The top one has a large toad sitting in the middle with its mouth wide open. Around it are a number of hazards. The rest of the apparatus includes a miniature paddle-wheel, two trap doors hinged in the middle and guarded by hoops, and a number of holes, two of which are screened by iron hoops.

In this version, which was being played at the Bull Inn, West Clandon, Surrey, on Candlin’s visit, the prime object was to propel the coin-like missile (Candlin does not mention that they were called toads) into the toad’s mouth, but failing this, into one of the holes and down a chute to lie in a tray against one of the numbers painted on the lower shelves. What makes this particular apparatus similar to a modern pinball machine are some additions to the basic version of the table----the paddle wheel which, when turned, may have  guided any toad that had failed to drop into a hole towards the trap door, and the hoops which were there to prevent toads from entering the holes. According to Candlin, Toad in the Hole was played in some form or other in the reign of Elizabeth the First.

A phone call to the Bull’s Head, as it is now called, revealed that the current owner was aware of the pub’s old Toad in the Hole machine, but had no idea of where it was now, nor whether the game was still played in pubs in the district. Perhaps it ended up in the private collection of a regular at the pub, simply fell to bits, or was discarded when a new owner decided to replace it with a jukebox.

I wonder what Pinball wizard Tommy would have felt about all this… [RR]

Another Idler

Most literary people when they think of past magazines called The Idler would cite Samuel Johnson’s famous miscellany and Jerome K Jerome’s humorous organ of the1890s. Today’s Idler is edited by the anti-corporatist and ukelele enthusiast Tom Hodgkinson, author of How to be Free. But there was another Idler, which is, as yet, unknown to Wikipedia, and indeed has a very, very low online profile.

This Idler, a tabloid format miscellany printed on newsprint, edited by Sci-Fi writer James Parkhill-Rathbone, and published by ‘Editorial Associates’, existed for a short time around 1966 and then folded. Published quarterly from the editor’s home, the Old Crown, Wheatley, a former coaching inn, it called itself an ‘entertainment’, which is about right,

Old Etonians of Note- an exhaustive list

At Jot we love and devour lists...This list was found among the paper of  Norman (Arthur) Routledge (1928-2013), mathematician, teacher of mathematics at Eton and one time friend of Alan Turing. It appears to have been compiled by another teacher, Peter Lawrence, in 1983 and was circulated "in the hope that Masters will without diffidence suggest additions and/or deletions (especially in their own department/field), as well as drawing my attention to any non-OEs I may have included in error…" Reprinted here warts and all:-



Coningsby, Ld Vere, Millbank &c
  (Disraeli "Coningsby" passim)
Capt Hook (J M Barrie "Peter Pan")
Davy Jones (Erik Linklater "Pirates of
the Deep Green Sea")
Rockingham, Marquess of, "Under Two Flags"
  ('none rowed faster than stroke')
Sultan & Eunuch (C B Cochrane "Nymph Errant")
Bertie Wooster (P G Wodehouse passim)

STATESMEN (& Prime Ministers)

Balfour (PM)

Bute (PM)
Canning, Geo. (PM)

OE tie -Gieves & Hawkes

Canning, Stratford, Visct
Chatham (Pitt elder) (PM)
ChurchilI, Randolph
Derby (PM)
Gladstone (PM)
Grenville, Geo (RA)(&Wm.Ld)
Grey (PM) Lyttelton, Alfred
Melbourne (PM) North (PM) Peel (PM) Pitt younger (PM) Rosebery (PM) Salisbury (PM) Sandwich, 4th Earl (sandwiches & Sandwich Islands)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Austin Dobson winds up an artist

Austin Dobson was one of those rare examples—Anthony Trollope, Kenneth Grahame and Charles Lamb were three others—of a writer who had a day job in quite a different field. He was a career civil servant in the Board of Trade who somehow found the time to publish very entertaining essays, principally on themes in eighteenth century art and literature, and much experimental minor verse. As a seventeen year old bibliophile I discovered the Georgian period through Dobson’s wonderful Eighteenth Century Vignettes. In Dobson’s time, the three Brock brothers of Cambridge, all brilliant draughtsmen, were falling in love with the period, as did, a little later, the architect, Sir Albert Richardson, who held dinners  with his friends at his Georgian mansion in Ampthill in which everyone dressed up in Georgian costume. I don’t think Dobson went that far, but I could imagine all five men getting on very well together.

This bookplate, which was discovered among many other examples, among the papers of a descendant of Dobson’s, is interesting enough, but becomes more so when we find that there exists a sketch

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tambimuttu on Poetry

Tambimuttu was a Ceylonese poet best known in England and America as a poetry editor. His full name was Meary James Thurairajah Tambimuttu. He was a great champion of poetry and poets, especially Dylan Thomas. Wikipedia says of him: 'Most of Tambimuttu's own works are difficult to access, and his earliest works published before he came to London are lost. His greatest influence was as an editor and publisher, especially during the 1940s.' Here he is writing on poetry in  his editorial/manifesto in the debut issue of Poetry early in 1939. The cover is by Hector Whistler.


I wish to take my stand and I start by restating a few fundamentals, well-known enough maybe, but which seem to have been lost in the ramifications of modem thought and to need restatement for the purpose of this magazine.

Every man has poetry within him. Poetry is the awareness of the mind to the universe. It embraces everything in the world.

Of poetry are born religions, philosophies, the sense of good and evil, the desire to fight diseases and ignorance and the desire to better living conditions for humanity.

Poetry is the connection between matter and mind. Poetry is universal.