Category Archives: Literature

Books for Christmas (3)

I thought it might be nice if I gave you an idea of some of the best books that I have read over the past few years so that you could consider them as a Christmas present for one of your friends or family. All of the books featured are, in my opinion, well worth reading. They are all available on the Internet. In some cases, what appear to be very expensive volumes can be acquired for a fraction of the cost, if you go to abebooks or bookfinder, or if you consider the option of buying them second hand. It ‘s something I have never understood, but with some very expensive volumes, it is even possible to buy them brand new at a very much reduced price, again, if you shop around.

First of all, the book that explains all the hidden meanings in two of the great masterpieces of children’s literature. Why do hatters go mad? Which one of their pets did Victorian children often keep in a teapot? where did the Cheshire Cat get its grin?

It’s “The Annotated Alice: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll and Martin Gardner. An indispensable guide to two of the world’s most influential books:

And here, a great follow-up to “Annotated Alice”, the book that is, in my opinion, the best biography of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll. It’s by Morton N Cohen, and you can pick up this very large book for quite a low price if you buy second hand and choose carefully.

I previously mentioned a book about the cricketers killed in World War Two and here is the much larger book about the cricketers killed in the previous conflict. It was amazing to see just how many upper class men had only ever played two or three games of first class cricket, but, equally, how many of them had a brother, or even two brothers who were also killed in the war. What a slaughter of decent men that dreadful war was:

As the Titanic was sinking, the lights of another ship were seen, right on the horizon. This ship, though, did not sail over to help. The press decided the ship was the Californian and then made the life of its captain a living hell. And that was completely without justification according to “The Titanic and the Californian” by Thomas B. Williams and Rob Kamps. A gripping read:

It’s not that long since the centenary of the Great War, when a great many books were published about that appallingly wasteful conflict. Being a teacher of nearly forty years’ standing, I was attracted by the books written about its effects on a number of English public schools. Apparently at Nottingham High School where I worked, the school flag was almost permanently at half mast. And that was far from unique. Such exclusive private schools provided the majority of the junior officers, Second Lieutenants, Lieutenants and Captains. The first two of those three finished with a casualty rate as bad as Bomber Command in WW2. Here are the four I enjoyed most. The first one is from Uppingham School whose website is here

The second one is Oundle. Again, you can see for yourself the school’s website which is here

The third book was of Magdalen College School in Oxford with its Headmaster, Mr Brownrigg. Here is its website.

The last one was of a Yorkshire school called Wakefield Grammar. Here is its website.

Personally, I thought that Wakefield was the best of the four books, because it contained a lot of interesting details of life at the school at the time. Magdalen was possibly the most poignant, although Uppingham, of course, was the school of the three friends of Vera Brittain, and feature in her book, “Testament of Youth”.

The next book is “Slaughter on the Somme 1 July 1916: The Complete War Diaries of the British Army’s Worst Day” by Martin Mace and John Grehan. This is definitely a book that can be picked up a lot cheaper than its full list price. The book consists largely of the reports of the worst day ever for the British army, written for the most part  by junior officers, who tended to tell the true version of events in plain language. What they recorded is quite simply astonishing. And the best sentence ? “It was apparent that matters were not progressing quite as favourably as had been anticipated.” Understatement or what?  57,470 casualties on the day, of which 19,240 men were killed. And in the entire three and a half month battle, around 420,000 British and Empire men perished.

I have always been fascinated by DH Lawrence, who seems to have been “a most peculiar man”. Of the next four books, I have not read a single one, but I can’t wait to get started. The first is “A MEMOIR OF D. H. LAWRENCE: \’THE BETRAYAL” by GH Neville. Neville used to travel by train to Nottingham High School with the fourteen year old Lawrence.

Later in life, Lawrence was to steal away the wife of a university professor at Nottingham, Dr Ernest Weekley. Her maiden name was Frieda von Richthofen, but she then became, eventually, Frieda Lawrence. So far, I have bought “Genius for Living:  a Biography of Frieda Lawrence” by Janet Byrne which may help me understand the behaviour of this very strange woman.

A modern day professor at Nottingham University, John Worthen, has gone as far as to write a novel about that shocking love triangle back in Nottingham in 1912. I am looking forward to seeing how he portrays some extraordinary events.

An outstanding aviation book is “Darwin Spitfires”, a book by a local teacher, Anthony Cooper, about the use of RAF and RAAF fighters against the attacks on Darwin by the Japanese. This one I have already read, and it is a marvellous eye-opener of a book, not to be missed:

“Fire from the Sky: Surviving the Kamikaze Threat” is a study by the American author, Robert C. Stern, of the phenomenon of the Kamikaze attacks on American and Australian ships. It is a superbly detailed book with a very interesting comparison of the kamikaze and the islamist suicide bomber.

I was surprised to find that the next book was still possible to get hold of as it seems to be so local in its concerns. That point of view is somewhat incorrect though, because the book is really about any one of twenty or thirty counties where there were airbases during WW2. It is a very honest book, and if the behaviour of the locals is disgraceful, then the author is not slow to tell us about it. A little gem.

This book, with almost 900 pages and so many heavily reduced second hand copies around, has been described as a bargain door stop but that is a tad cruel.  Indeed, “The Right of the Line: The Role of the RAF in World War Two” by John Terraine is a wonderful reference book about the RAF with every facet of their war explained and examined. Definitely a book to be dipped into, it is a valuable encyclopedia about the events and intentions of the RAF in the Second World War.

So there we are. The best part of forty or fifty suggestions about what to buy the boring old fart in your family for Christmas. And all of them recommended by a fully paid up boring old fart of a blog post writer.

I can even offer you an insurance policy. If all else fails, then buy him a box set. How about this tumultuous tale of a chemistry teacher gone wrong ? Very, very, wrong…..

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aviation, cricket, History, Literature, military, Nottingham, Pacific Theatre, The High School, the Japanese, Writing

What would you do ? (7) The Solution

Here’s the emergency from last time:

And here’s the situation:

So, twenty seconds have already passed, and it’s already a dilly of a space pickle.

The space craft is still floating helplessly after the failure of the atomic motors. The crew have their space suits but they have had very little time to start the repairs to the motors before the alarm suddenly goes off. An extremely large meteorite is approaching them at ten miles a second. The time remaining before impact is less than forty seconds and decisive action is required.

What can the crew do ?

Well, page 2 of “Boys’ World” says that the correct solution is:

“There is only one thing they can do. They re-open both doors of the port airlock, allowing all the air to rush out of the ship. The rushing air acts like a rocket jet in the vacuum of space, and propels the ship away from the meteorite. Later the ship can be re-pressurised from their emergency air cylinders. “

And just to prove it, here’s the slightly blurry page of the comic:

“Why”, said the nine year old Ridley Scott. “What an amazing idea. When I’m a famous Hollywood director, I shall make use of it.”

“Stop daydreaming”, said his mother. “Have you done your paper round, Ridley? And have you done your English homework? That story about that woman on that space rocket?”

One intriguing thought is that Ridley Scott is known to have been a subscriber to “Eagle” comic. Did he used to read “Boys’ World” as well?

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Filed under Aviation, Humour, Literature, Personal, Science, Writing

What would you do ? (7) The Puzzle

“What would you do ?” used to figure on the cover of a boys’ comic called “Boys’ World”. This was a publication, obviously, aimed at boys and first appeared on January 26th 1963. There were 89 issues before the comic was merged with Eagle in 1964. The last issue of “Boys’ World” came out on October 3rd 1964.

I used to buy “Boys’ World”, and this was mainly for the front cover, which always featured a kind of puzzle. It was called “What would you do ?” and was based on somebody being in what Ned Flanders would call “A dilly of a pickle”. Here’s the situation:

The blue box sets the scene, and the task is for you to solve the situation. Perhaps you might like to write your idea in the “Comments” section.

Here’s the blue box enlarged:

So, a dilly of a space pickle. The space craft floats helplessly after the atomic motors have failed. The crew are in space suits but they have very little time to start the necessary repairs before the ship’s alarm goes off. An extremely large meteorite is coming towards them at ten miles a second. The time left before impact is less than sixty seconds and counting.

What can the crew do ??????

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aviation, Literature, Personal, Writing

Books for Christmas (2)

I thought it might be nice if I gave you an idea of some of the best books that I have read over the past few years so that you could consider them as a Christmas present for one of your friends or family. All of the books featured are, in my opinion, well worth reading. They are all available on the Internet. In some cases, what appear to be very expensive volumes can be acquired for a fraction of the cost, if you go to abebooks or bookfinder, or if you consider the option of buying them second hand. It ‘s something I have never understood, but with some very expensive volumes, it is even possible to buy them brand new at a very much reduced price, again, if you shop around.

The first book is quite unusual since it is an attack by a German writer on the dastardly deeds of Bomber Command, and presumably, by extension , on the American Eighth Air Force. Jörg Friedrich obviously remembers very well Dresden, Hamburg, Darmstadt, Wurzburg, Pforzheim and so on. He seems to have forgotten the people who invented the indiscriminate bombing of innocent civilians at places such as London and even York Minster in WW1, and then Guernica, Rotterdam, Warsaw and so on. And there are some factual errors.

Overall the book reminds me of the verdict of a German friend of mine about the generation before his own:

“They start a war and then moan about losing it.”

Even so, “The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945” by Jörg Friedrich and Allison Brown is quite an intriguing book. Some of the things he says made me quite angry but perhaps because many of them are things that I have worried about myself, but loyally continued to defend.

A nice contrast is the book by two German academics, Sonke Neitzel and Harald Welzer, entitled “Soldaten”.  They examine the dreadful, appalling things done by ordinary Germans in World War Two, and then look at whether the Americans in Vietnam or Iraq could have done the same. A really good book, which does not leave you feeling too good about your own morality.

In my previous selection, the best book was either “Subsmash” or “Bombing Germany : the Final Phase”. In this second selection, the book we should all read and take in is “Soldaten”:

It’s quite a contrast with our next book, “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” by DH Lawrence. There are a lot of different editions of this masterpiece, and I would recommend the one which has a preface or introduction by Doris Lessing. Do NOT be tempted by an edition “with extra new added pornography”. In any case, the book is also about WW1 and about the disappearing English landscape.

As you can see, the cover of the best edition has the gamekeeper putting his trousers back on, or, more likely, taking them off yet again.

Perhaps even better to read are Lawrence’s “Selected Stories”. You get 400 pages of his best short stories, including my own particular favourite “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter”.

Next on the list is “Black and British: A Forgotten History” by David Olusoga. This book should be a compulsory read in every secondary school in England. How much really interesting history has been hidden away because of prejudice? Black Africans on Hadrian’s Wall, a black man killed by a white mob in Liverpool and the fight to abolish slavery, among many other long avoided stories.

Four books I haven’t read yet, although I’m certainly looking forward to them. Firstly, “Lend-Lease And Soviet Aviation in the Second World War” by Vladimir Kotelnikov. I have looked at the pictures of the P-39s and P-40s with red stars on them, and the Short Stirling, but I haven’t read the text yet. If it’s as good as the illustrations, it will be brilliant.

I haven’t read this book either, although I have read the companion volume about cricketers killed in World War One. It’s “The Coming Storm: Test and First Class Cricketers Killed in World War II” by Nigel McCrery. I have no reason to believe that this book will be anything other than extremely well researched and an interesting read.

Next book in the “In Tray” is  “Mettle and Pasture”, the story of the Second Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment during WW2, written by Gary J Weight. I am hoping it will be a great read. It has certainly got some excellent reviews on amazon.co.uk.

The last book in the “In Tray” is called “Luftwaffe over America” by Manfred Griehl. The author examines the Germans’ very real plans to bomb the eastern seaboard of the United States during the Second World War,  using their Me 264s, Ju 290s and 390s and the Ta 400 from Focke Wulf. As a little boy, I was always intrigued by the fact that, on a trial flight, a Ju 290 supposedly got within ten miles of New York.

That’s all for now. Third and final part next time.

 

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Filed under Africa, Aviation, Bomber Command, cricket, Criminology, History, Literature, military, Politics, Russia, war crimes, Writing

Books for Christmas (1)

I thought it might be helpful if I gave you an idea of some of the best books that I have read over the past few years so that you could consider them as a Christmas present for one of your friends or family. All of the books featured here are, in my opinion, well worth reading. They are all available on the Internet. In some cases, what appear to be very expensive volumes can be acquired for a fraction of the cost, if you go to abebooks or bookfinder, or if you consider the option of buying the books second hand. It ‘s something I have never understood, but with certain very expensive volumes, it is even possible to buy them brand new at a very much reduced price. Again, you need to shop around.

First up to the plate, is “The Bayeux Tapestry: Story of the Norman Conquest, 1066” by Norman Denny and Josephine Filmer-Sankey. This book came out for the 900th anniversary in 1966 and was meant primarily for schools. It contains every single square inch of the tapestry in full colour. Many modern books leave out what they consider to be the boring bits, or reproduce them in black and white:

Next is “Conscientious Objectors of the First World War: A Determined Resistance” by Ann Kramer. Conscientious objectors, or “Conchies”, usually refuse to fight in their country’s wars because of religious reasons. This book completely changed my mind about them. I always thought that conchies were, deep down, just cowards, no different from the people who find spurious medical problems to avoid risking their lives, and are happy to let others do the fighting. I was wrong. Many of these people were a lot braver than the men already in the armed forces, and most of them were treated abominably, with their hearings not even being conducted according to the law. Here it is:

This is “Churchill’s Secret War with Lenin: British And Commonwealth Military Intervention In The Russian Civil War, 1918-20” by Damien Wright. So far, I’ve read 100 pages out of 500 but it’s a really interesting book . Who would ever have thought that the First World War extended into 1920? Or that British, Canadian and French troops fought for Murmansk, with Japanese and Italians present as observers?

These next three books are superb. Absolutely wonderful. “Brendon Chase” is about some boys who go off to the woods to live like Robin Hood. “The Little Grey Men” are the last four gnomes  in England, and in the sequel, “Down the Bright Stream “, one of them goes missing and the remaining three must find him. Superb books for children from eight to ninety-eight:

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There are lots of books about the Battle of Britain. Here are my two favourites. Roger Hall’s book is fifty years old and you will probably need to search carefully at either abebooks, amazon or bookfinder. George Wellum’s book is very skilfully written  :

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A famous incident of the air war is investigated in this book by Jean-Pierre Ducellier. Its title is “The Amiens Raid: Secrets Revealed: The Truth Behind the Legend of Operation Jericho” and Ducellier has spent the majority of his adult life attempting to put the evidence together into a coherent whole. And his solution is not a lot like the official version:

“Sisters in Arms: The Women Who Flew in World War II ” is a book by Helena Page Schrader. It details the women who were recruited in both Great Britain and the United States to fly aircraft. The treatment they received was amazingly different, with the ATA praised to the skies and the American women being much less fortunate in what happened to them. There  is a series of reviews here. How surprising that many of the American reviewers, especially Loren Tompkins, are not at all pleased when the USA’s treatment of their women flyers is shown to be infinitely inferior to that of the RAF and the women of the ATA, so they just limit themselves to slinging the maximum amount of mud at the book and its author. Only two American reviewers are accurate, namely Brenda Ledford and Kythera A. Grunge:

Our next book is, in my opinion, absolutely outstanding. It’s “Subsmash: The Mysterious Disappearance of HM Submarine Affray”  by Alan Gallop. The book is just superb. Anybody would enjoy reading it, whether or not you like military matters. It refers back to the disappearance of a state-of-the-art British submarine in 1950, the Affray, and the subsequent extensive search.  No official explanation for the disaster has ever been forthcoming, and the submarine is still down there, its crew still sealed inside, lying on the seabed near the Channel Islands.

During the search a number of strange things happened. The strangest was the massive object found on the bottom by sonar. It was too big to be the Affray and the search continued elsewhere. Several days later, attempts were made to establish what the object was, but by then it had disappeared.  Another strange event was that the wife of a submarine skipper claimed to have seen a ghost in a dripping wet submarine officer’s uniform telling her the location of the sunken sub. The position he gave later turned out to be correct.

The next book is also top of its particular category. The author is Tony Redding and the book is called “Bombing Germany : the Final Phase”.  The first city to be attacked in that final phase was Dresden in February 1945  and then came Pforzheim. Both cities until then had been relatively unscathed. During these attacks, though, the destruction unleashed by Bomber Command was apocalyptic. The author examines what happened from virtually every point of view, the bomber crews, the defenders, the occupying forces, everybody, even the German civilians who murdered RAF crews and then buried them like dead animals. I don’t have the time to read many books twice, but I shall be making an exception for this particular one. It is superb:

The last word of this first list is perhaps linked more directly  to Christmas itself. It is a book with two stories in it, both of which are told in picture form like a graphic novel. The book is “Classic Bible Stories: Jesus – The Road of Courage/Mark the Youngest Disciple”. The title says it all…the life of Jesus and then the life of Mark, who was also, of course, the writer of one of the Gospels.  The book could not have had a more perfect pedigree. The idea was thought up by Marcus Morris, an English vicar who invented the comic “Eagle”, itself meant as a Christian magazine for young people. The first story was drawn by Frank Hampson, generally thought to be the very best comic artist in England, if not the world, at the time. Frank’s lifetime ambition as a devout Christian, had always been to participate in this venture. The text of both stories was written by Chad Varah, the founder of The Samaritans organisation.

I have read all of these books and they are all well worth your time and money. I have no connection with any of them, beyond a copy of each one in my bookcase.

 

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, France, History, Literature, military, Politics, Russia, Wildlife and Nature, Writing

The Fairies of Cornwall (11) Two short stories

Today, I’m just going to let you read two short stories from William Bottrell’s “Stories and Folk-Lore of West Cornwall— Third Series” which Bottrell self-published in 1880.

The first story is told about a young farmer called Richard Vingoe who was targeted by fairies, for no good reason other than it was within their power to do so, near Treville Cliffs in West Cornwall:

“After wandering for five hours over places which appeared strange to him, Richard followed the path through the rocky bottom or glen into an underground passage or cavern, from which, on emerging, he found himself in a pleasant looking country.”

“Walking on, he heard the sounds of merrymaking and came to a place where people appeared to be having a feast. He noticed a great number of persons playing bowls. Being fond of that game, he was about to run and seize the silver ball as it fell near him, when a female darted from behind a rock, which had screened her from view, and made eager signs for him to stop playing and to follow her. She went into an orchard near at hand. He approached and saw that she was a young lady who he had once loved, but who had been dead for a number of years. She told him she was changed into the fairy state by having trespassed on the fairies’ domain, and that he had narrowly escaped the same fate.”

“She was disposed to save him for the sake of their former attachment. When the persons playing bowls and spectators of the game had all gone out of sight, she conducted her former lover to the upper world by a shorter road than that by which he entered; on the way she told him that, as he was engaged to be married within a few weeks, she had no desire to detain him. She advised him, however, to defer his wedding three years, that he might be sure he knew his own mind. When Vingoe promised to follow her advice, they passed through an opening in a carn, and he saw Nanjizal” (which is a real place):

His conductress then said good-bye, and vanished. Being fatigued with his journey, he lay on the grass, near the spot where he again saw the light of day, and there he was found asleep nearly a week after. Vingoe was never the same man again, for he took to hard drinking and he died unmarried.

Notice how many of the usual themes are introduced…..

………wandering for hours, disorientation, caverns in the rocks, a distant feast and merrymaking, an orchard, playing bowls, a dead person who is not dead but has been captured by the fairies and finally, the poor innocent victim who, like all the rest, is affected by his time with the fairies.

The map below shows you where Nanjizal is, thanks to the efforts of the Orange Arrow. This is the very last bit of England (hence Land’s End) and the dark grey shading in the top right represents the western edge of the town of Penzance. As an area, it is full of magic and witchcraft, even nowadays, and it must contain at least fifty Stone Age circles and other types of monument.

The second story concerns a servant girl called Grace who has been tricked into going to work for a human sized fairy:

“Grace told her master (the human sized fairy)  that she wasn’t used to going to bed so early. He answered,  “Please yourself on that score, and stay up as long as you want to.”

He then brought her a basket of fruit and told her to eat what she pleased of them. Afterwards, he gave her a cup of fruit juice that she found delicious. By the time she had drunk it to the last drop, she forgot her home and playmates among the hills. She forgot her brothers and her sisters, her father and her mother even. She no more remembered her former life, and only thought of her kind Master and the delightful place in which he lived. She dreamed of it that night and nothing else.”

This last tale could well have been something from a science-fiction short story. Not only do we have the familiar tale of eating or drinking something, and then there is no escape ( rather like the Greek Persephone) but we also have that feeling of lethargy yet total happiness, and a forgetfulness that leads to a perfect life, almost as if Grace had joined a modern day sect:

If you ever see the gentleman in the picture, make sure that you tell him what a “helter-skelter” is in England. It’s not what he thought it was.

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Filed under Cornwall, Criminology, Cryptozoology, History, Literature, Personal, Wildlife and Nature, Writing

The Fairies of Cornwall (10)

Jenny has given birth to a beautiful baby. She decides to leave her baby at home and to go to the village Harvest Festival. When she returns, the baby is missing. Eventually she finds the infant, and takes it to bed with her. In the months which follow, the baby becomes increasingly strange. Many of the neighbours say that they fear that the fairies have played a trick on her and have replaced her baby by a changeling.

They told her:

“You can do nothing better than to bathe your child in the Holy Well at Chapel Carn Brea”.

Carn Brea is the first hill after Land’s End and is made of Hercynian granite. It is at the southern edge of the parish of St Just in west Cornwall and has a beacon which is the first of the whole series visible on hill tops across the whole of England.

The story continues:

“Jenny dutifully bathed her baby in the Holy Well at Chapel Carn Brea. She had nearly passed around the top of the huge hill and was coming to some large rocks near the open moor when she heard a shrill voice, seemingly from above her head, call out “Thy wife and children greet you well”. Jenny was surprised to hear the shrill voice with nobody in sight.”

“Jenny returned to her home and stayed there until morning. Being fatigued and worried she overslept, for it was nearly daybreak when she awoke and hurried away, full of both hope and fear, to the fence around the field. And there, sure enough, she found her own dear child sleeping on some dry straw. The infant was as clean from head to foot as soap and water could make it, and wrapped up in a piece of old bright flowery chintz, which Fairies often covet and steal from washing lines when it is placed there in the sun to dry.”

“Jenny nursed her recovered child with great care but there was always something strange about him as there always is with one who has been in the fairies’ power, if only for a few days. He was constantly complaining, and as soon as he was able to toddle, he would wander far away to all sorts of out of the way places. The rich lady of Brea came to see him and brought him many nice things that his mother couldn’t afford to buy. When he was about nine years of age Squire Ellis took the changeling (as he was always called) into his service, but he was found to be such a poor simple innocent that he could never be trusted to work in the fields alone, much less with cattle. As the fancy would take him, every now and then, he would leave his work and wander away over hills and moors for days at a time.

Yet he was found useful for attending to rearing cattle and sheep. He was so careful of his master’s flock at lambing time that there was seldom any lost. He often talked to himself and many believed that he was then holding a conversation with some of the fairy tribe visible only to him . They were trying to entice him to ramble among the rocky outcrops, hills and moors, their usual haunts.

When he was about thirty years of age he was missing for several days. His flock had been noticed staying longer than usual in the same place, on a moor between the Chapel Hill and Bartinney. He was found, surrounded by his sheep, lying on a quantity of rushes which he had pulled up and collected for making sheep pens. He lay with his arm under his head, apparently in sweet sleep, but the poor changeling of Chapel Carn Brea was dead.”

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The Fairies of Cornwall (9)

This is a old Cornish story about a pretty young girl called Jenny who has given birth to a beautiful baby son three or four days previously. She decides to leave her baby for a few hours to go to the Harvest Festival in the village. In the world of Cornish fairies, this is a NO-NO in capital letters a thousand feet tall. It can only end in total catastrophe.

“Jenny, thinking about her baby left all alone at home, didn’t stop for the drinking after the harvest festival, but had one good drink of beer, got some cakes to take home and then she hurried away. When she opened her door, she saw, by the moonlight, that the cradle was overturned. Straw and rags were on the floor, but no child was in sight”:

“In searching all the holes and corners, she came to the corner where the wood was kept and there, among the heaps of dried grasses, ferns, and gorse, she found the child fast asleep. Being very tired, she took up the child and went to bed”.

“The next morning, when she looked at the baby by daylight, it seemed to her that there was somehow something strange about him. She didn’t know what, but he seemed to be different somehow from when she went off to the Harvest Festival. The baby was healthy enough but he seemed never satisfied unless he was all the time breastfeeding or eating. He would roar like a bull if he didn’t get his own way. He always wanted to be in her arms or eating. She began to wonder what on earth was going on”.

 

“Poor Jenny couldn’t do her household chores and had no rest at all in her life with the squalling hungry brat. Yet despite all his breastfeeding and eating, the baby always seemed to be wasting away to skin and bone. And so it continued through the entire winter. The more he ate the thinner he became. Many of the neighbours shook their heads when they saw the child and said that they feared the fairies had played a trick on her that afternoon when she went to the harvest festival.”

“They believed that the fairies had left a changeling which, according to local belief:

“….was believed to be a fairy child that had been left in place of a human child stolen by the fairies.”

Nobody knew why the fairies did this. Every culture across Western Europe seems to have had its own ideas. On that basis, there is no reason to exclude immediately that this was not an attempt by superior beings to harvest human DNA, and then to manipulate it, although the ease with which a changeling was identified hints at the many problems they were having with this.

Jenny’s neighbours told her:

“You can do nothing better with the child than to bathe him in the Holy Well at Chapel Carn Brea”.

Carn Brea is the first hill after Land’s End and is made of Hercynian granite. It is at the southern edge of the civil parish of St Just in west Cornwall and has a beacon which is the first of an entire network on the hill tops of England. In this way important messages can be passed such as “Spanish Armada in sight” (1588) or “Battle of Trafalgar won” (1805):

As far as I know, the last time the beacons were used was for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012. The next episode in this cute little fairy story will appear soon.

 

 

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Filed under Cornwall, Criminology, Cryptozoology, History, Literature, Personal, Wildlife and Nature, Writing

The Fairies of Cornwall (8)

This post is a continuation  from Episode No 7…..

Mr Noy has wandered into the Land of the Fairies, where he meets Grace Hutchens who was his fiancée for several years. One day she was found dead on the moor. She thinks that she had a fit, and that when she was buried, her coffin contained merely a changeling, sent by the fairies.

A changeling, incidentally, is a child believed to have been secretly substituted by fairies for the parents’ real child in infancy.

While this was going on, the real Grace Hutchens had inadvertently wandered into the Land of the Fairies on the moor. While she was there, she bit into a plum and was therefore forced to remain with the Fairies as a  servant girl to tidy up, bake cakes and brew beer, clean their houses and nurse the changeling children. Grace says to her erstwhile fiancé….

“People believed that I was found dead on the moor. It was supposed that I must’ve had a fit, as I was subject to them. What was buried as me, however, was only a changeling, a sham body.”

Mr Noy wanted to know much more about these strange beings, and was about to inquire, when the fairies again called “Grace, Grace, why are you so long. Bring some drink quickly.” She hastily entered the house and at that moment it came into his head that he too would have some drink, disperse the small tribe of fairies and save Grace.

Knowing that any garment turned inside out and cast among the fairies would make them flee, and happening to put his hand into his coat pocket, he felt for the gloves that he had worn in the afternoon.

As quickly as he could, he turned one inside-out, put into it a small stone and threw it among them.

In an instant they all vanished with the house, Grace, and all the furniture. He just had time to glance around and saw nothing but bushes and the roofless walls of an old cottage:

Suddenly, Mr Noy received a blow on his forehead that knocked him down. He soon fell asleep and dozed away an hour or two…… or so he thought.

Those to whom Mr Noy related his story, said that he had learnt nothing new from Grace, for local people had always believed of the fairies such things as she had told him, and that none of the fairies liked to be seen by daylight because they then looked aged and grim. It was said too, that the fairies who take animal form get smaller and smaller with every change, until they are finally lost in the Earth as ants.

Mr Noy, now fully recovered from his adventure, further informed his neighbours that he had noticed, among the fairies, many who bore a sort of family likeness to people he knew, and he had no doubt that some of them were changelings of recent date. Other familiar faces were their forefathers who died in days of yore, when they were not good enough to be admitted into heaven, nor yet so wicked as to be doomed to the “worst of all places”.

The worst of all places was not, in fact, a football stadium, but Hell:

According to Mr Noy, the fairies pass the winter, for the most part, in underground habitations, entered from the huge granite outcrops on the moors. And it is held that many persons who appear to have died entranced are not really dead, but have been changed into fairies.

This is Carn Kenidjack near St Just. It is a completely natural rock formation, but the connection between granite outcrops and fairies is extended by many people, even nowadays, to include the numerous megalithic sites of western Cornwall. I have certainly met one farmer at a little village near Constantine who believed that if you went at dawn’s early light down from the farmhouse to the megalithic tomb, you would see the fairies dancing in the form of little tiny lights:

This is Pixie’s Hall Fogou near Bosahan Farm. A fogou is a kind of underground chamber whose purpose, after around four thousand years of thinking about it, we have not yet ascertained.

In similar fashion, the capstone of Chûn Quoit frequently plays host to the same kind of lights:

One footnote, incidentally, is that “the fairies who take animal form get smaller and smaller with every change, until they are finally lost in the Earth as ants”. The Cornish people have their own special name for ants which is “Muryans”. It comes from the Breton “merien” and Welsh “myrion”.

 

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Alice in Wonderland (4)

When discussing Lewis Carroll, though, there are always issues which need to be dealt with, other than the quality of the books that he wrote, books which are surely among the best known, most widely translated and most familiar books in history. Have no fears. Alice will be outselling Harry Potter fifty to one in a hundred years’ time:

Whenever I have said how much I like that druggy golden afternoon, though, I am invariably assailed  by some deep thinker’s blunt statement “He was a paedophile”.

Well, as far as we know Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was not a paedophile, and as long as there is no documented proof, that is how it must stay. It is only too easy to throw stones at a man who died more than a century ago.

For me, the most important thing is to remember that the world of the 1860s, say, was very, very different from that of today.

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

(LP Hartley in The Go-Between )

The sharp differences between 1860 and now will invariably be reflected in the relationships between a single man and single young girls or women. In 1860, for example, the minimum legal age for marriage, with the consent of the parents, was only twelve for a girl and merely fourteen for a boy. In the 1861 census, 175 women in Burnley had married at 15 or less. In Burnley, the figure was 179. The Orange Arrow points at Burnley and, an inch or so further on, at Bolton.

On that golden afternoon of Friday, July 4th 1862, Lorina Liddell was thirteen years old. Another year, and it would have been completely reasonable and wholly acceptable for young gentlemen to be calling round at her house to pay court to her.

Last time, I spoke about the sudden break in the relationship between the Liddells and Dodgson and the missing page in Dodgson’s diary. Supposedly it read:

“L.C. learns from Mrs. Liddell that he is supposed to be paying court to the governess—he is also supposed by some to be courting Ina”

At the same time though, there are plenty of biographers such as Morton N. Cohen who think that Dodgson merely wanted to marry Alice when a few years had passed. Alice Liddell’s biographer, Anne Clark, writes that Alice’s descendants were certainly under the impression that Dodgson wanted to marry her, but that “Alice’s parents expected a much better match for her.” Mrs Liddell, for example, was aiming rather high perhaps, at the somewhat gormless looking Prince Leopold of Belgium:

Such “spring and autumn marriages” as Dodgson and Alice would have been, were actually quite common. John Ruskin the leading English art critic of the Victorian era was looking at one point to marry a twelve year old girl, while Dodgson’s younger brother sought to marry a 14-year-old, although he eventually postponed the wedding for six years. This is what Dodgson might have done. Wait five years, say, until Alice was sixteen or seventeen, and marry her then, when Dodgson was thirty five or so. Hardly outrageous, even by the standards of today.

A general pattern emerges with these “spring and autumn marriages”. The man usually falls in love with the girl when she is between ten and twelve years of age, and they are then married by the time she is sixteen or eighteen. Sometimes the little girl falls in love, but this was a lot less common.

We often tend to forget that the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was a teacher of mathematics at Oxford University and a deacon of the Anglican Church. Some colleagues knew him as a somewhat reclusive stammerer, but he was generally seen by everyone as a devout and serious scholar. One college dean said he was “pure in heart.”

Supposedly, Dodgson took around 3,000 photo­graphs in his life.

Supposedly 1500 are of children of whom only 30 are depicted nude or semi-nude. A great deal will depend on what is meant by “semi-nude”, of course. Here is Alice as “The Beggar”. Is she semi-nude? She is certainly not nude. All our attention is drawn, of course, to her enormous feet and weird toes:

Dodgson had the permission of both Liddell parents for this photograph and they were so pleased that they kept it in a beautiful Morocco leather case. Dodgson soon became so well thought of that he was invited to entertain two of the grandchildren of Queen Victoria herself.

Taking photographs of children was viewed in a very different way some 150-odd years ago. Here is the very sentimentalised, “The Prettiest Doll in the World”:

Victorians saw childhood as a state of grace; even nude photographs of children were considered pictures of innocence itself.

Such photographs of nude children sometimes appeared on postcards or birthday cards, and nude portraits—skilfully done—were praised as art studies.  Probably the most famous of society photographers at the time was Dodgson’s contemporary, Julia Margaret Cameron. As well as the rich, famous and beautiful, though, Cameron also took photographs such as” Nude child with hands folded” or “Venus Chiding Cupid And Removing His Wings “. Here she is, looking worryingly like a man, possibly even a man who has played 344 games of Rugby League for Wigan Warriors:

There was certainly no shortage of parents quite happy to have their children photographed nude by Dodgson, who was regarded as a top class photographer who had produced a large number of superb quality portraits of adults. And Dodgson was not the first Victorian to photograph nude children either. Wigan prop forward, Julia Margaret Cameron, among many others, predated him by at least three or four years. She was the most gifted artistically in this field. Dodgson’s nude photographs “by Victorian standards were, well, rather conventional.”

When he died, Dodgson left very few nude photographs behind him. As he grew old, he himself destroyed the majority of the negatives and prints of his nude studies. He asked the executors of his will to destroy any others that he had missed and this appears to have been done. This was not because the photographs were obscene. Every set of parents had already been given their own set of the photographs he took (and had posed no objections, in fact quite the opposite), so that was not the problem.

In 1881 he wrote to Mrs Henderson:

“Would you like to have any more copies of the full front photographs of the children? I intend to destroy all but one of each. That is all that I want for myself, and, though I consider them perfectly innocent in themselves, there is really no friend to whom I should wish to give photographs which so entirely defy conventional rules.”

The Hendersons (the father, incidentally, was a fellow of Wadham College, Oxford) had enormous  admiration for Dodgson’s work and were completely happy to for him to photograph their children nude. They left the children with him, unsupervised, and picked them up later. And there were no problems whatsoever.

Two families, the Hatches and the Hendersons, have passed down to us the only pictures we have which were taken by Dodgson of little girls in the nude. They were Beatrice Hatch, age 7, Evelyn Hatch, age 8, Ethel Hatch, age 9, Annie and Frances Henderson, ages 7 and 8. Anybody who finds them on the internet can see just how innocent they were, particularly in that world where:

“Victorians saw childhood as a state of grace; even nude photographs of children were considered pictures of innocence itself.”

The whole issue has perhaps been exacerbated by the fact that Dodgson died suddenly on January 14 1898. Before 1899 arrived, Dodgson’s nephew Stuart Collingwood wrote and had published, the biography of his uncle which contained two chapters on his friendships with little girls and yet no mention whatsoever of the many women that Dodgson counted among his friends:

Overall, my conclusion would be that the ball is very much in the court of the accusers. They have looked at Dodgson, a strange man admittedly, seen some of his photographs, and, without bothering to put them in the context of the age, cried “Foul”! It is now up to them to come up with irrefutable proof, something which nobody has done in over 120 years.

And don’t be fooled by the way, by the fake photograph of Alice supposedly kissing Dodgson. And above all, a full frontal of a young girl of fourteen or fifteen, supposed to be Lorina,  found in a French museum. Again, the burden of truth is on the museum is to prove its veracity.

And don’t forget, it wasn’t that many years ago that a French museum claimed to have found the real Beast of Gévaudan in its stuffed animal section.

They explained that they had “lost it”.

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