Saturday, August 31, 2013

Harold Monro puts up a sign

An excellent photo of the poet Harold Monro (1879 - 1932). Found in a copy of  his Collected Poems (Cobden Sanderson, London 1933). A handsome man reminiscent of TV's Inspector Lynley, the sign is almost certainly by McKnight Kauffer and was seen in commerce at last year's Santa Monica Bookfair.

There is a good piece on him at the Oxford DNB site. It informs us that he inherited a small income from a family-owned lunatic asylum. He was inspired by H. G. Wells's A Modern Utopia (1905) to start an order of ‘Samurai’, Wells's voluntary ruling class.This 'nascent order' (started with Maurice Browne who also started the Samurai Press) collapsed along with his first marriage in 1908. He opened the Poetry Bookshop in December 1912. It was revived after the war and in 1926 moved to Great Russell Street near the British Museum which is likely to be where he put this sign up.The DNB says this of the shop and HM:

Bookshop parties became famous; despite his chronic melancholy, the reverse side of his idealism, he was a generous host and kindly listener, delighting in serious conversation. Some people thought him handsome, others said he looked like an intelligent horse; he was tall, lean, and upright, with sleek dark hair, thick moustache, long face, and sad eyes. His tactless survey, Some Contemporary Poets (1920), shows little critical insight; his greatest service to his fellow poets was as an enabler.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

James Bond and the origins of the skateboard

Sent in by an avid jotter just retired at 50 and spending his time in browsing his vast library (mostly acquired in the purlieus of Charing Cross) and sharing it with a waiting world. Just like a Victorian gentleman scholar or, say, Casaubon himself. Good to see the mountaineering writer Arnold Lunn name-checked. He was,with Alfred Noyes, a great favourite of supercollector Jimmy Kanga…

James Bond and the origins of the skateboard 

Some skateboard historians will tell you that the invention came about almost by accident in the early fifties when surfers wanted to practice their surf moves on land. Before long, a firm in LA was making them and the basic board was modified in the next two decades. No actual inventor is named…until now. I can now with confidence say that the photo ( from an archive of sport-related press photos) shows the inventor, Hannes Schneider (1890 – 1955), hitherto known for his pioneering work in popularising skiing, demonstrating a pair of skateboards to the amusement of some Japanese onlookers.

The problem is that Schneider isn’t road testing two skateboards, but a pair of ‘Roll-Skis ‘.All the evidence suggests that the photo was taken in the early fifties, when Schneider would have been in his early sixties. Also, the roll-skier is definitely Schneider himself. The man’s features resemble those on earlier photos and who else but the inventor would be demonstrating sports kit bearing his name?

Schneider had a long association with Japan going back to 1930, when he was invited by the Japanese government to teach schoolchildren to ski. The new craze caught on and the Japanese love for skiing is totally down to Schneider’s influence and teaching there. It makes sense that he chose Japan to road test his new invention, the Roll-Ski, which was supposed to give skiers the opportunity to practise their sport in summer, when many pistes had thawed.

By 1950 Schneider had established himself in the US, where doubtless the Roll Ski would have been first demonstrated. As one of the skis resembles the skateboard in just about every respect, it seems likely that one enterprising American manufacturer saw a gap in the market and adapted the Schneider Roll Ski sufficiently to evade copyright restrictions.

As for James Bond, in chapter 12 of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service we discover that as a teenager before the War, 007 learnt to ski at the Hannes Schneider School in St Anton, Austria. While there he won the ‘Golden K’, the Arlberg-Kandahar challenge cup, established in 1928 by Schneider and Arnold Lunn.

So there you have it. The ultra-American youth craze that conquered the world   was invented by an Austrian----by accident. [Casaubon]

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

I once met….Bryan Forbes

It was in the summer of 1999 that the actor, screenwriter, director (Stepford Wives, Whistle Down the Wind, Séance on a wet Afternoon), turned crime writer, who died last May, had asked me to meet him at his second hand bookshop in Virginia Water.

It was an odd sort of shop—not the type one would come across in most provincial towns or indeed most parts of London. Here were no grubby leather-bound tomes in tottering piles, or cabinet of curiosities. I think it sold new as well as second books and indeed most volumes seemed to be of the twentieth century. I glanced around expecting to find rare books on golf or lawn tennis, classic American hard boiled thrillers or collections of recipes for cocktails.
But there no time to look further as Forbes appeared in person and we were soon speeding along in what was probably his Aston Martin to his home on the ultra- exclusive Wentworth estate. I only caught a glance of its exterior, but it seemed to be a huge and classic twenties film-star mansion, which it was, in the sense that Forbes later told me that as a young budding film star in the fifties he had bought it as a total wreck and had spent  many thousands of pounds doing it up. Something to admire, I thought.

I wanted to meet his wife Nannette 'Fairy Liquid' Newman, but Forbes told me that she had injured her back and was lying prostrate upstairs. We made ourselves comfortable and Forbes lit up a fag almost immediately and continued smoking throughout the interview. I asked him how he had begun to collect books and what his particular tastes were. He told me that he was mentored in his initial forays into bibliophilia by a well known 'book man'. He had become a great admirer of limited editions, though I kept quiet when he mentioned the Folio Society. He was also, it transpired, an avid admirer of Napoleon and he had managed to collect a fine library of books on him, all of which he had uniformly re-bound in crimson morocco. Something less admirable, I thought.

There were some showbiz anecdotes. I particularly remember the sad story of Dame Edith Evans in her final years being cheated of some irreplaceable signed books (one of which had been presented to her by George Bernard Shaw) by some unscrupulous knocker, who had offered her a fraction of their worth.

Before I left, Forbes gave me a signed copy of some poems his daughter had published. Ten years later, in my local auction, I saw a throne-like French armchair emblazoned with the letter ‘N ‘ for Napoleon. I phoned Forbes to see if he wanted to me to bid for it, but he politely declined the offer.[RH]

Saturday, August 24, 2013

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.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What Man Would be Without a Woman

This penny ballad (no printer/publisher named and no date, but circa 1840) was found among the archive of the late Leslie Shepherd, expert on catchpenny ballads etc., and connoisseur of the paranormal and bizarre.

It is laughably non PC, as you would expect ('she’s man’s best friend, for him she’ll wash and mend'), but generally is very appreciative of the female sex, is pro-marriage, and strongly against bachelordom.

'So lads if you’re not silly, you will quickly go and wed;
A single life you’ll find to be a bitter pill…'

The use of the word 'molly' is interesting. I had always thought it referred to a gay or effeminate man, but in this context the line 'What man would be a molly all his life?' suggests that to be an unattached male who must ‘ mend his own clothes , must wash his shirt, and molly coddle too’ was to be per se effeminate, which is a notion that has persisted  right up to the present, though the general acceptance of 'house husbands' today suggests that it is slowly dying out.  The use of the term 'molly coddle' is also instructive. According to the O.E.D. it was coined in 1833, and meant (and still means ) to treat like an invalid. Did it therefore follow that in the early Victorian period being treated like an invalid was linked with being effeminate ?

Thoughts on this are welcome. [RH]

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Aluminium / Aluminum

We did a posting on our old site Bookride on Chick Marrs Quinn's unfindable book The Aluminium Trail a self published and much wanted book about US aerial operations in the Pacific Area in WW2  The book is dedicated to 1st Lt. Loyal Stuart Marrs, Jr., Chick's husband who was killed February 27, 1945.  The 'aluminum trail' title refers to the pattern of air crashes in the difficult Indo-China regions, especially the Himalayas. People who lost relations and loved ones flying so far from home eagerly want this rare book and not a few libraries. Amazon sometimes has it at bearable prices.  As for Aluminum (or Aluminium as it is known in Britain) Everybody's Book of Facts (1940s) reveals this:

 The youngest child of the great family of metals is aluminium, which 50 years ago was as expensive as silver, just as silver was once more precious than gold, and iron more valuable than either. The first to isolate it was the German chemist Friedrich Wohler in 1827. Napoleon the Third used an aluminium spoon at state banquets, and had a set of buttons for his uniform of the same substance. It then cost about £109 a pound. In 1880 only 70 pounds were produced annually; in 1885 13 tons; in 1926 some 200,000 tons; now even cooking vessels are made of aluminium.

The metal is never found by itself but always in combination with other elements, including clay. The United Staes is the chief producer, although it is believed that aluminium worth about £288 million is available in the Gold Coast colony. The largest night sign in the world is made of this metal. It  graces the RCA building in Rockefeller Centre, New York, is 24 feet high and outlined in  neon lighting.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Winston Churchill book lover and painter

With the 50th anniversary of Churchill's death in 2015 there will be  celebrations and (possibly) an exhibition of his paintings. Churchill, while not leading the free world, was something of an amateur painter. His paintings have become valuable.

He wrote a book called Painting as a Pastime (Odhams, London 1948) of which his daughter Mary (Soames) said: "it is pure enchantment to read, throbbing as it does with enthusiasm and encouragement to others to seize brush and canvas and have a go, as Winston himself had done before, when, under the flail of misfortune, he had discovered in painting a companion with whom he was to walk for the greater part of the long years which remained to him." This quotation from his book is not about painting but about books:

If you cannot read all your books, at any rate handle, or as it were, fondle them – peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on the shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that if you do not know what is in them, you at least know where they are. Let them be your friends; let them at any rate be your acquaintances. If they cannot enter the circle of your life, do not deny them at least a nod of recognition.

Churchill's own books are heavily collected and he obviously had a good working library. He probably did not have time for book collecting but certainly he had the right attitude about books.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Kenny Everett on the Ouija Board

From a paperback called I've Seen a Ghost - True Stories from Show Business by Richard Davis (Granada, London 1979). A series of mostly tall, real ghost stories from British stars of the time -Jon Pertwee, Roy Hudd, Pat Phoenix, Vincent Price, Bob Monkhouse, Rula Lenska etc.. There are the usual actor's superstitions and tales of ghosts seen in old theatres...the one from Kenny Everett could be filed under 'more things in heaven and earth' or Kenny was simply blagging - which seems unlikely as there is no joke or punchline. Also it is worth noting that this was before the time of proper mobile phones...

It happened when we were staying at Pete Asher's house in Surrey, near Rosper. It looks rather like a Chinese house – all made of paper walls and bits of stick. And it was by a lake, an 8 acre lake with two islands on it. All very deserted, it was.

We had a cameraman and his assistant staying with us, and we decided to have a go with the Ouija board.  Well, the cameraman got a message through from his girlfriend; he said "that's odd - she's not dead". And she said by means of the Ouija board that she'd died that day. She'd taken a load of pills and she was in Bicester Mortuary. He couldn't believe this. He thought we were messing around, though I don't think any of us would have been quite as cruel as that. So he rang her dad, and her dad picked up the phone and he was in tears, because she had just taken a load of pills and he had taken her to the mortuary. The cameraman had been with us for two days; the phone hadn't rung and there was no way he could have known.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Revd. Sidney Swann - A Muscular Christian

An old edition of Who's Who reveals that The Revd. Sidney Swann, M.A., born in 1862, rowed in the Oxford and Cambridge boat race in 1883, 1884 and 1885, won the Cambridge sculls and pairs and the Grand Challenge in 1886 and 1887 and, in record time, the Steward's in 1885 and 1887. He also, in Japan, "won most things started for on land and sea; rowing, hurdling, cycling, running, pole-jumping, weight and hammer." We learn that he was the first to cycle round Syria, that he rode from Land's End to John O'Groats and from Carlisle to London in a day, that he rowed a home-made boat from Crosby Vicarage down the rapids of the Eden to the sea and that he cut the record from England to France in 1911 by rowing the Channel in 3 hours and 50 minutes "faster than anyone had ever gone between England and France by muscular power". He built several flying machines, and drove motor ambulances in Belgium winning three medals. In 1917, when 55 years old, he cycled, walked, ran, paddled, rode and swam six consecutive half-miles in 26 minutes 20 seconds in competition with a certain Lieutenant Muller of the Danish Army.

 He eventually became very eccentric and was persuaded in 1937 to retire. Committed to a mental asylum he escaped, remarried after his first wife died, and finally died himself after falling off his bicycle (in 1942). John Julius Norwich has a lot more on the highly competitive Swann in his 1975 Christmas Cracker - in old age he appears to have become a slightly  daunting figure in Lindfield...

In 1911 the Revd. Swann crossed from Dover
to Cap Griz Nez in 3 hours and 50 minutes

Saturday, August 10, 2013

How to become a spy (in 6 easy lessons)

Found in a 1963 Central Office of Information booklet Their Trade is Treachery. Of some rarity and value - a top online bookseller describes it thus:

In the wake of the Profumo Affair the COI "produced a lively booklet as part of their educational campaign to improve the awareness of middle and lower grade officials and members of the Armed Forces of their responsibilities in regard of security matters" (Gladden, Civil Services of the United Kingdom: 1885-1970, p.166). Includes accounts of notorious cases, tricks of the trade, and helpful advice, "Spies are with us all the time. They are interested in everything, defence secrets, scientific secrets, political decisions, economic facts, even people's characters in order to recruit more spies" (from the preface).

Towards the end of the book after a piece called 'How not to become a spy (in 6 not so easy lessons)' they offer this tongue in cheek advice:

How to become a spy (in 6 easy lessons)

1. Let it be known to your friends, casual acquaintances, and strangers that you have secret information, or are in a job where you may be able to obtain it one day.
This should attract treasonable propositions or threats, which it may or may not be possible to resist.

2. Think you are cleverer than you are. Be conceited. Tell yourself that you are capable of handling any regular association with Iron Curtain officials without informing your superior officer or local Security officer. If the Iron Curtain man is a diplomat, convince yourself that it's only your fascinating personality, wit, and friendship that attracts him. If you can believe that, you can believe anything. You're on your way.

3.Develop a few vices, especially abroad, so that with luck you can be compromised and blackmailed.

4. If you cannot manage a vice or two, just be foolish. If you can't be foolish, be incautious.

5. Accept favours and hospitality from Iron Curtain officials… When in return they ask some harmless service in exchange for good money, accept at once. This encourages them, and, if you pursue  the matter to a logical conclusion,  you should land yourself safely in prison one day.

6. If you do not fancy prison especially in cold weather, persuade yourself that if you become a spy you will never get caught. You will, of course, but one must not start with a defeatist attitude.

Friday, August 9, 2013

A castrato sends in his bill…

Invoices from famous castrati are pretty rare, but there is no reason why there shouldn’t be more of them around. The reason is that some of the best castrati gave singing lessons, and thus presumably sent in bills for their services. One of the greatest singing masters of them all was the brilliant Domenico Mustafa, who was also a composer and was appointed perpetual director of the Sistine Chapel in 1878.

Born in 1829 in Perugia to a Turkish father, the young Domenico doubtless had a good voice (it was later described as ‘ sweet and pleasant as that of a woman’) and, as was the custom, was castrated before puberty as a way of generating an income for his impoverished parents . He later was quoted as saying that he’d risk being indicted for murder if he could discover the man who had castrated him’. He joined the Sistine Chapel as a chorister at the age of 19.

 This invoice and letter date from 18 February 1870, when Mustafa was aged 41. He had already been director of the Sistine Chapel choir for ten years and as such must have been in great demand as a private singing tutor. For six lessons plus the sheet music he charged Signorina Holland ( perhaps an English lady ) a total of 67 francs and 50 centimes. Why the sum should be in francs, I don’t know.

Later on, in 1892, Mustafa gave lessons to the famous French soprano Emma Calve, teaching her to employ her celebrated ‘fourth voice‘, which was an unnaturally high falsetto. After hearing Mustafa himself performing this weird sound Calve described it as ‘ strange, sexless, superhuman, uncanny ‘.

Mustafa retired at the aged of 73 to his luxurious villa in Montefalco where he died in 1912. ‘ Villa Mustafa ‘became a hotel and is now a museum to his memory. [R]

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Politesse of Valdré

An interesting an uplifting anecdote of true impulsiveness found in John Julius Norwich's 1990 Christmas Cracker. Viscount Norwich was a jotter before jotting was invented - an Ur jotter. Respect. His Cracker booklets are sent to a few thousand of his closest friends and consist of information and wisdom culled from his library and also presumably sent to him by loyal correspondents.

Vincenzo Valdrati or Valdré (1742-1814) was an Italian painter-architect who came to England in the 1770s and designed, inter alia, several of the state rooms at Stowe before settling in Ireland where he became Architect to the Board of Works. From Howard Colvin's superb Biographical Dictionary of British Architects I learn that "while at Stowe he attended a wedding and when the bridegroom failed to appear, he was so moved at the bride’s distress that he chivalrously offered himself as a substitute – and was accepted."

Monday, August 5, 2013

I once had tea with ….Geoffrey Hill

Sent in by faithful jotter RMH. Fans of Nobel Prize winner Heaney might be peeved by his closing remarks but c'est la guerre...

I once had tea with ….Geoffrey Hill

Our Greatest Living Poet is not known for his bonhomie, but on this particular occasion the man who while teaching at Cambridge was often seen moping around with an expression that made him look ( according to one colleague ) 'as if he had been raped by God', showed a more buoyant side to his personality. It was around 1993 and my dear friend, the late lamented Patricia Huskisson ( a descendant of  the unfortunate Tory minister who was run over by a locomotive in 1830), lived in the next village and had invited me to meet the famous poet. I had contemplated bringing along my copy of Mercian Hymns, arguably the best poetry collection to appear for the past 40 years, for him to sign. I can’t remember if I actually took the book along to the meeting, but when I arrived it was obvious that this was not the occasion for a demonstration of cheap fan worship.

Hill was already there and so was Patricia’s old friend Guy Lee, the Latinist and translator of Ovid. Tea, which featured the usual mountain of sandwiches and cakes, was brought and although I cannot recall any scholarly bon mots from the mouth of Hill, I seem to remember him laughing on at least two occasions, which from the author of Tenebrae, seemed to me unexpected .

More unexpected still was the appearance of Hill in front of Patricia’s square piano, where he and Guy proceeded to play a duet---a baroque piece, I seem to recall. The whole meeting lasted no more than an hour. Our Greatest Living Poet ( sorry, Seamus, but you’re not in the same league ) left before I could ask him any serious literary questions.[RMH]

Saturday, August 3, 2013

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)

There appear to be collectors of Quilt and Sewing mysteries,
 Clickhare lists these:

Alias Grace by Margaret Eleanor Atwood
Broken Arrow (and more) by Lizbie Brown
The Elm Creek Novels by Jennifer Chiaverini
The Grub and Stakers Quuilt a Bee by Alisa Craig
Persian Pickle Club; Alice's Tulips by Sandra Dallas
Betsy Devonshire Series by Monica Ferris
Goose in the Pond (and more) by Earlene Fowler
Buried in Quilts by Sara Frommer
The Dead of Winter by Paula Gosling
Sew Deadly  (and more) by Jean Hager
Dark Road Home (and more) by Karen Harper
Hearts and Bones by Margret Lawerence
A Phantom Death by Annette Mahon
Sew Easy to Kill by Sarah J Mason
Stitches in Time by Barbara Michaels
Too Many Crooks Spoil the Booth (and more) by Tamar Myers
The Body in the Kelp (and more) by Katherine Hall Page
Crazy Quilt Murders by H.W. Sandberg
The Clue in the Patchwork Quilt by Margaret Sutton
The Crimsom Patch by Phoebe Atwood Taylor
A Piece of Justice by Jill Paton Walsh
Murder at the Quilt Show by Aliske Webb
A Piece of Justice by Jill Paton Welsh

Thursday, August 1, 2013

I danced with Wittgenstein

Almost everybody has met someone with a good story about someone well known that they had met - the 'I danced with a man, who danced with a girl, who danced with the Prince of Wales' phenomenon. Here is one just received about Wittgenstein - probably the greatest philosopher of the modern age.

One of our neighbours is a doctor in his 90s who remembers Wittgenstein at Guy's Hospital in the 1940s. He told me he had been recently invited to the unveiling of a new commemorative plaque recording Wittgenstein's time there but though fit and in excellent humour did not want to go to London. 

Wittgenstein was working at Guy's Hospital as a  porter and was pointed out to him pushing a trolley. He was known to be some kind of genius and was working as a volunteer even though he was in his 50s. Sadly the doctor remembers nothing else about him. Online other  doctors from Guy's remember his skill at mixing ointment and his intense charisma. He was still working on the manuscript of Mathematik und Logik while there and through Dr R.T. Grant also became involved in valuable work on wound shock therapy. He was really more of a laboratory assistant than a porter but also was tasked with taking drugs to patients. My doctor friend says that Guy's at the time was pretty much run by Ward Sisters, persons who inspired awe and fear and it would be interesting to know what Ludwig's Ward Sister thought of him. The King's College site has a good piece on his time at the hospital - Portering and Philosophy.[D.O.]