Category Archives: Literature

My Dad, Fred, and his favourite poetry (3)

Fred had two poems which he really enjoyed. I’m not so sure now that they didn’t both of them portray him as a man with a drink problem, insofar as they both have strong connections with establishments which sold alcohol, quite possibly in large quantities.

Anyway, the first poem of the two is called “Tarantella” and was written by Hilaire Belloc. The tarantella is a dance for two people which is supposed to mimic musically the very strong jerking spasms brought on by the bite of the wolf spider. The latter is a very large spider, but have no fear, there will be no pictures of arachnids here. Instead, just happy people enjoying a dance:

Those “strong spasms”, incidentally, are supposedly paralleled psychologically by the extreme emotions of falling in love.  In terms of the spider’s poison, however, love won’t stop the effects of the bite. Only dancing around like some kind of mad person can prevent the death of whoever has been bitten.

Here’s the first bit, a masterpiece of juggling with words, as the author tries to take Miranda back in time to one hell of a night that they shared years ago:

Do you remember an Inn, Miranda?
Do you remember an Inn?
And the tedding and the spreading of the straw
for a bedding,
And the fleas that tease in the High Pyrenees,
And the wine that tasted of tar,
And the cheers and the jeers of the young
muleteers
Under the vine of the dark veranda?
Do you remember an Inn, Miranda?
Do you remember an Inn?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young
muleteers
Who hadn’t got a penny,
And who weren’t paying any,
And the hammer at the doors and the din;
And the Hip! Hop! Hap!
Of the clap
Of the hands to the twirl and the swirl
Of the girl gone chancing,
Glancing,
Dancing,
Backing and advancing,
Snapping of the clapper to the spin,
Out and in
And the Ting! Tong! Tang! of the guitar?
Do you remember an Inn, Miranda?
Do you remember an Inn?
The next five lines of the poem show, though, how that memorable night of years ago has disappeared for ever into the past, and, like all our experiences as human beings, it can never be recreated, however hard we try:
  Never more;
Miranda,
Never more.
Only the high peaks hoar:
And Aragon a torrent at the door.

One critic, Oli Foster, has called the last twelve lines of the poem “a lament for all lost experience.” The poem finishes with the even more pessimistic final seven lines…

No sound
    In the walls of the Halls where falls
    The tread
    Of the feet of the dead to the ground
    No sound:
    But the boom
    Of the far Waterfall like Doom.

One final fact is that we actually know the identity of “Miranda”. She was Miranda Mackintosh, a Scottish lady, and Belloc met her during a walking holiday, at the hamlet of Canranc on the River Aragon in the Pyrenees in 1909.

Belloc wrote the poem in 1929 as a souvenir for Ms Mackintosh and he gave it to her as a New Year’s present.

Belloc in his private life was a very controversial character and in articles I have read about anti-Semitic poets, his name unfailingly crops up, usually fairly early in the list. His other political views are, to me personally, quite extraordinary. One of the best things to read that I found was here. Another point of view is his Wikipedia page .

Next time, we’ll look at the other one of the two poems my Dad, Fred, enjoyed so much.

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My Dad, Fred, and his favourite poetry (2)

Last time, I told you my Dad’s three favourite lines of poetry, which he would quote out loud at what he thought was the right moment.

Any mention of autumn, in any context, in real life, on TV, the fact that it was October, any of those would produce Keats’ line:

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”

Sometimes he would manage the second line after it:

“Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun”

Any bird high up in the sky, perhaps a skylark but definitely not an eagle, pigeon or airliner would produce Shelley’s line:

“Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!

Bird thou never wert,”

And then, Fred’s improvement on the lines by William Henry Davies:

“What is this life if so full of care, we have no time to stand and stare ? ”

Any mention of ships though, either in real life or on television, would set him off with some phrases, or even a couple of lines, from another of Fred’s favourite poets, namely John Masefield. All the family, therefore, soon became familiar with the various vessels of his poem “Cargoes”, and their home ports.  There was a “quinquireme of Nineveh ” and a “ stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus ” or, much more more likely in the North Sea off Skegness or Scarborough, perhaps, a “ dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack. ”

The first verse was a

“Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.”

The second verse was equally exotic:

“Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amythysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.”

And here’s that very galleon:

In contrast, though, the third, and last, verse is about a ship of a much humbler origin:

“Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.”

And here it is:

And now, some of the meanings:

Nineveh was the ancient capital of Assyria. You can see its ruins on the opposite bank of the River Tigris from Mosul, in northern Iraq.

Ophir was probably one of the many empires which flourished either on the banks of the Nile or in the Horn of Africa. King Solomon received a cargo from Ophir every three years. It was a consignment of gold, silver, sandalwood, pearl, ivory, apes, and peacocks. Presumably, the quinqireme in the poem was on its way to Israel.

Amethyst is a violet variety of quartz. The name comes from the Greek “αμέθυστος“.

Moidores were a Portuguese gold coin of the early 18th century and then worth about 27 shillings.

Topaz is a silicate mineral of aluminium and fluorine with the chemical formula Al2SiO4(F, OH)2. Topaz crystallizes in the orthorhombic system, and its crystals are mostly prismatic terminated by pyramidal and other faces. (There will be a test next Monday).

As a preliminary to the test, which one is which? Moidores? Topaz? Amethyst?

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My Dad, Fred, and his favourite poetry (1)

My Grandfather, Will, had apparently always loved poetry, and in this respect, his son, and my Dad, Fred, was to follow willingly in his father’s footsteps. This burgeoning love of rhyme was nurtured and encouraged by the fact that, like many children in the British Empire, Fred possessed a set of  “The Children’s Encyclopedia” by Arthur Mee, a famous, familiar and popular book of the 1930s:

Arthur Mee believed that the English, and in particular the English boy, were the “peak of creation”, although my mother, well familiar both with me and her husband, thought he was a madman. Each volume of Mee’s ten volume set of encyclopedias contained sixteen different themes or subjects and great prominence was always given to the Poetry sections, which were selected by Sir John Hammerton, a famous contemporary historian. Fred also liked the dinosaur pictures too:

Fred would often quote poetry, and his three favourite lines were……

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness ”

This is a line of Keats which was automatically triggered by any mention whatsoever of autumn. Or by a walk into a wood in autumn. Or a TV programme about autumn.

Keats’ best pal, Shelley, wrote the lines which are in second place:

“Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!

Bird thou never wert,”

These words would invariably emerge should any sighting of a skylark occur, perhaps during a walk alongside a field of corn. Quite often, it would be just any bird seen to be doing skylarky type things:

In third place came the rather wise, and arguably, slightly incorrect ……

“What is this life if so full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare ? ”

The correct version has no “so” and, surprisingly, no question mark:

“What is this life if,  full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare. ”

The poem was written by William H Davies, a Welsh poet, who spent many years as a tramp or hobo, in the United Kingdom and the United States. Presumably my Dad did not know that he was Welsh. Being Welsh was never a plus point with my Dad.

Fred always professed that his favourite poet was John Clare.  You can read about him in one of my early and probably over long posts, here.

And this is John Clare, perhaps “before” and “after” the boiled egg hairstyle became popular:

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In retrospect, I have always felt that Fred saw Clare as the simple, agricultural working class man, held firmly in his place in a world dominated by the upper classes, who were, for the most part as poets, fairly worthless and useless aesthetes, lacking Clare’s poetic talents, his intelligence and his capacity for accurate observation of the world around him. Perhaps too, as a native of the simple country village of Woodville, Fred could recognise the truth of the statement by Ronald Blythe, the President of the Clare Society, that the impoverished poet was “England’s most articulate village voice”.

It is not a giant leap, of course, to say that Fred probably saw his own life as directly paralleling that of Clare, denied as he was for purely financial reasons, the chance to go to a grammar school, and to have the same education as the more successful, and much less talented, upper class people that he would meet during the rest of his life, particularly in the RAF.

Given this love of John Clare, therefore, every time that he physically saw one running about, perhaps in a school playground when he was on yard duty, Fred would always identify this black and white bird as the “little trotty wagtail”, a phrase taken from one of Clare’s most frequently quoted poems:

Little trotty wagtail, he went in the rain,
And tittering, tottering sideways he near got straight again.
He stooped to get a worm, and look’d up to catch a fly,
And then he flew away ere his feathers they were dry.

Little trotty wagtail, he waddled in the mud,
And left his little footmarks, trample where he would.
He waddled in the water-pudge, and waggle went his tail,
And chirrupt up his wings to dry upon the garden rail.

Little trotty wagtail, you nimble all about,
And in the dimpling water-pudge you waddle in and out;
Your home is nigh at hand, and in the warm pigsty,
So little Master Wagtail, I’ll bid you a goodbye.

 

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Classics Illustrated

In the 1950s and the 1960s, there was always a desire among middle class parents not just to encourage their children to read, but to read what people called at the time “classic books”, books which might improve you. One way of luring children to, mainly, 19th century masterpieces, was to introduce them to a very large collection of such books for sale, an act which would encourage children, hopefully, to buy more and more from the “approved” library.

When I was a child, I had a very small collection of “Olive Classics”, dark green books with a kind of faux-leather cover, and a cardboard mini-box to hold them in. I still have them all, and I was looking at them the other day. I think I read the lot, although this may be more a reflection of the small number of books I possessed than the quality of the works in question:

I bought them based on whether or not I had seen the film (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), whether I had heard of the book and thought it was a good one (Ivanhoe) and if my parents just bought it for me as a stocking filler at Christmas (South with Scott). I also had Ben-Hur (tedious and over long), Allan Quartermain (a fabulous book):

Another way to read books which would be good for you were the magazines entitled “Classics Illustrated”. These were a series of American comic books which told the stories in pictures with very few printed words, usually just a caption. I had one or two of these as well, and certainly read them all avidly. It was marvellous to see pictures bringing books to life, although, if truth be told, the standard of the artworks was very, very low. Let’s compare them with “Eagle” comic. “War of the Worlds is really quite crude, whether it is the cover:

or the inside, where there seems to have been a problem with the printing;

Here’s “Eagle”, a weekly comic:

I can remember owning relatively few Classics Illustrated. There was “White Fang” which I really enjoyed. It was a “Ripping Yarn”, well told:

And then there was “Black Arrow” which I had never heard of, found really unexciting and I couldn’t understand the plot, anyway. The two I liked best were technically not Classics Illustrated, but, in one case, a “Special Issue”. This was a one-off publication about “The Royal Canadian Mounted Police”, which I loved. I particularly liked the fact that they were originally the “North West Mounted Police”:

What a wonderful cover!  One thing I did like especially was the dog on page 54 which looks as daft as a brush:

And I also fully endorsed, at the tender age of 11, the largely wise approach of the Canadians to their own First Nation communities.

The magazine which I liked even more was one of the “Classics Illustrated World Around Us” special series which was called “The Crusades”. I was intrigued by one particular sentence which said, roughly:

“Things took a turn for the worse when, in IIII, the king decided to…..”

At the age of eight or nine, I just could not work out what “IIII” meant. It  never occurred to me that it was a date.

Overall, I wish I had had quite a few more Classics Illustrated than I did.  I would have liked to have had a chance to read “Alice in Wonderland” or “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”, or perhaps even “Gulliver’s Travels”:

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And don’t forget………….

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“CAT, after D.H.Lawrence.” Part Two. What became of Dennis Rhodes.

A little while ago I introduced you to a young gentleman and Old Nottinghamian, called Dennis Everard Rhodes. He had written a poem in the School Magazine entitled “CAT (After D.H. Lawrence)” It was published in the Nottinghamian in July 1941, when Dennis was just eighteen. Here’s the High School at the time:

Amazingly, Dennis died only 18 months or so ago. He seems to have been one of the cleverest people who ever came to our school. A man of astounding brilliance and scholarship. I’m hoping in about 700 words to show you by how much he is cleverer than even a relatively clever person.

Firstly, let me quote you some of his obituary by Dr Lotte Hellinga which is expected to appear in The Library magazine in 2021:

“Dennis Everard Rhodes, Gold Medallist of the Bibliographical Society in 2007 and staunch contributor to The Library from 1952, died on April 7th 2020, aged 97…….

His studies began in 1941 with classical Greek, but he soon switched to Italian language and literature. During the war, he was already fluent enough in Italian to join the Intelligence Corps as interpreter during the Italian Campaign. He not only perfected his use of the language, but it discovered a country, its culture and its people that he came to love and where he felt at home. Italy in all its great cultural variety remained one of the two poles between which he conducted his life, the other being the British Museum, not less so when it was transformed into the British Library.

In 1950 he became Assistant Keeper in the Department of Printed Books at the British Museum Library. His mentors were both deeply immersed in the cataloguing and investigation of early printed books, and Dennis followed them in the same direction. He thrived in the Italian section, but his particular interest was in incunabula.

Dennis’ commitment to the library lasted his entire lifetime, through its separation from the Museum and becoming the British Library in 1973, then his appointment as Head of Incunabula in 1974,  his promotion to Deputy Keeper in 1978, his retirement in 1985, and the move to the new building in 1998; almost to the very end of his life he simply stayed on, most of those years continuing with work behind the scenes.”

An “incunabulum”, by the way, is “an early printed book, especially one printed before 1501.” “incunabula” is the plural. Surely you have not forgotten that old aide-mémoire:

“Please remember every day.

Neuter plurals end in “A”.”

Dennis’ obituary will reveal in much greater depth the all encompassing intellectual life of Dr Dennis Rhodes. You can read it here.

Dennis wrote a lot of very specialised books. You can fine a list of his book titles here. Here is one of the pages for you to look at if you follow the link. Just look how wide ranging these titles are:

This bookseller and dealer in fine art is selling an archive of some of Dennis’ work. He could almost sell it by weight! This picture below is only a tiny fraction of Dennis’ work :

Dennis’ books are held by most universities in the Western World. He did not always write in English. Here is the list of which of Dennis’ books are held just in the various libraries at the University of Gent in Belgium. Just click on “Search collection”.

Dennis’ publications are, of course, to be found in most of the universities of the world. Let’s look at the website.

First of all, there is an overview of who Dennis was, what type of things he wrote,  and, most impressive, how many of his works are held by libraries worldwide. And the answer? Well in excess of six thousand, scattered across the globe.

The same webpage begins that list of the more than five hundred of Dennis’ works, which are held by so many libraries.

With the last entry on the previous webpage, incidentally, we can see just how interested Dennis became in the spread of printing across Asia. What is even more impressive, of course, is that every single one of these first nine books on the list are held by a minimum of two hundred libraries world wide.

Dennis created an amazing volume of material in his lifetime and modern websites talk about Dennis’s prodigious productivity. As well as his books, in sixty-seven years he wrote over 450 such articles as well as about one hundred book reviews.

The first thing I did when I  came across the name “Dennis Everard Rhodes”, was to google it. I was amazed to find that in the first five pages, some fifty or so URL addresses, only a very few were not our DE Rhodes. In more than ten years researching Old Nottinghamians, I have never ever had a result like that. Just take the trouble to pause the gallery and to have a look at the titles (in blue). Surely these entries cover about as wide a spectrum as they possibly could :

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Only on the fifth page are there any interlopers., with the Norfolk Record Office and the Jamaican Family Search.

And finally, the only picture of the Great Man I have been able to find.

I have borrowed the photograph from a page of PRPH Books.

 

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Poems in “The Nottinghamian” 1922-1946 (6) or “The Cat”, after D.H.Lawrence

The famous novelist, David Herbert Lawrence, was a Nottingham County Council Scholarship pupil at Nottingham High School from 1898-1901.

For a number of reasons, despite his fame as one of the 20th century’s greatest novelists, Lawrence soon became persona non grata at his old school, and, even more so at his old university, which was then called University College, Nottingham.

The problem was that he wrote dubious books where the main characters indulged in naughty practices which embarrassed many of the good citizens of Nottingham and elsewhere:

Furthermore, in 1912, Frieda, the wife of  Professor Weekley, the Head of the Modern Languages Faculty at University College, Nottingham, had run off with Lawrence. She left behind her her three children, who, by the divorce laws of the time, she was forbidden to see. And it was all Lawrence’s fault, and everybody in Nottingham thought Lawrence was a cad and a bounder and they were all firmly on the side of the much wronged Professor Weekley.

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Given that Lawrence was an Old Nottinghamian, and had behaved so badly, the School had little choice but to condemn him whenever the occasion arose. And those negative feelings extended as far as everything that Lawrence had ever written. Well, how could a cad and a bounder write anything of any value? And exactly the same thing happened at University College, Nottingham.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I opened the July 1941 edition of the School Magazine, the Nottinghamian, and found the following poem:

 

CAT

(After D.H. Lawrence)

 

In the daytime,

She only sits licking her back with a rough, pink tongue

Like emery paper rubbing on a wooden frame.

Or curls up in a chair before the fire and mews.

Only milk can tempt her into the kitchen, and then she

Laps,

As gold-fish nibble ant-eggs, or cows munch grass,

With an insatiable longing for more.

Her tail, swishing gently to and fro ;

Her little black funny nose.

She purrs, purrs more gently than a ticking clock or than a baby

breathing in his sleep.

Her small, black feet and glossy shining fur,

Her dark-green eyes blinking in the bright day sunshine.

No more lively than a tired horse, or an old man sitting on a seat in the

park.

Only occasionally does she ring in a sparrow, clawed in a moment of

fiendish exertion ;

Or a mouse, mauled by those deadly cat-claws.

 

But at night, when the dark shadows hide the corners of the roofs and

people sleep,

She goes out and meets the other cats from down the road.

Then life begins, night-life of a thousand cats,

The cat life.

The black life.

They go and roll on the irises, and on the lilies, and hold a cat-

conference behind dark trees.

 

Life returns,

The cat life.

Squealing, scratching, and miaouwing and chasing one another through

the shrubs.

Squealing like naughty children, and then miaouwing again.

And then they squeal.

I wake, and wonder what the squealing  is,

Like a child strayed from its mother.

Cats in the garden, sitting on the lilies or chasing one another through

the green shrubs.

The night-life.

The cat life.

The poem was written by DE Rhodes of 6 Cl. That is to say, Dennis Everard Rhodes of 6 Classics. Dennis was born on March 14th 1923. He was the son of the schoolmaster at East Bridgford, a country village to the east of Nottingham, and he entered the High School, on a Nottinghamshire County Council Scholarship, on September 20th 1934, at the age of eleven.

He left the school on July 29th 1941 and went to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge with an Open Scholarship.

Dennis Rhodes lived to be 97, and he died only months ago. His adult life was on the academic world stage and some of it was so academic that a simple old codger like myself cannot even understand what he was doing. So, sometime soon, there will be a blog post about Dr Dennis Rhodes PhD, and what he got up to in the last seventy years of his life.

 

 

 

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Poems in “The Nottinghamian” 1922-1946 (5) “Blackpool, summer 1939”

This poem was published in the School magazine, the Nottinghamian in July 1939. It was written by Alan Douglas Fluder Howard, the son of a school teacher. Alan was born on December 1st  1922 and the family all lived at 5 Alpha Terrace, between North Sherwood Street and Addison Street, fairly close to the High School. Alan entered the High School on September 2oth 1934, as Boy No 5845 and he studied there until the end of the School Year in 1941 when he left to go to Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge with an Open Exhibition of £40 per annum for Classics and a City of Nottingham Scholarship of £80 per annum. Here’s Gonville & Caius College, or at least, a picture of the entrance to Staircase K:

Alan then seems to have become an illustrator of children’s books such as, for example, “The Pimpernel and the Poodle” and “Limping Ginger of London Town” both of which are still on sale, intermittently, on the internet.

Alan died on Monday April 14, 2008 at the Mount Nursing Home in Shrewsbury. He was the much loved and loving husband of Margaret, the father of Shelagh and Jennifer, the grandfather of Laura, Joanna, Harry, Katy and Zachary and the brother of Marian.

Unlike many Cambridge men of his era, Howard did serve in the war. On October 1st 1945, he received an Emergency Commission to promote him from the ranks of the ordinary soldiers to become a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Signals.

This poem is one of the very best you’ll find in the school magazine. It is set in Blackpool in the very last summer before the war began on September 3rd 1939.

Blackpool was, and still is, England’s Holiday Capital. Its most famous building is Blackpool Tower, jealously copied by the jealous Parisian architects within a couple of years of its completion. There are three piers, North, Central and South, there is a huge Pleasure Beach and Blackpool has literally thousands of things to do. And it also has its problems, as this poem will gradually reveal to you……..

BLACKPOOL, 1939

I like to be at the seaside, the seaside, the seaside,

The jolly, jolly seaside, is just the place for me.

 

I love the bracing sea-breeze, the sea-breeze, the sea-breeze,

The sewage-fish-and-chips breeze,

Down by the sea.

 

Oh, how delightful, beautiful, adorable,

Just to spend a day down on the strand !

Gramophones, deck-chairs, chattering lunatics,

And sand sand sand jellyfish sand.

 

How nice to have a picnic,

All on the seashore,

Down by the briny.

Oh, how grand !

 

Lemonade, sandwiches,

All gone musty,

Bread-and-Butter, hard as granite,

Seaweed, sand

 

With sad, shrill wailing, high above the waters,

The slender white seagulls swoop and soar:

Listen to the salt waves softly sighing,

Listen to the breakers crashing on the shore—

“An I says to ‘er, I says—“   “I wanner sticker rock.”

“Johnnie’s gorn an’ pinched me bucket and spide.“

“Let’s ‘ave some fishanchips.“   “Buy me an ice-cream.”

“Wind up the gramophone.”   “Pass the lemonide.”

 

Look at that fat man,

Playing with a beach ball’

Just like a walrus,

Just like a walrus ;

Look at these chocolate papers, toffee papers, newspapers,

And those broken bottles, pleasant for the feet :

 

Here are the side-shows,

Hark! the showmen softly call—

Giraffe-necked women, three legged women,

Fat women, headless women.

Yonder people half-drunk, two-thirds-drunk, completely drunk.

Not a few hyper-drunk, rolling down the street,

 

Hurrah ! for the sea-shore,

The sand-castles,

(So-called).

Hurrah ! for the deck chairs,

(Twopence a time) ;

Cheers for the deep sea, the green sea, the dirty sea,

Covered with frothy-brown,

Smelly-brown

Slime.

 

‘Ray ! for the beastly rock,

Landladies,

Pickpockets,

Roundabouts,

Sideshows,

Gambling dens.

Ray ! for the bandstands,

Machines to tell your fortune ;

No wonder they call us

Homo sapiens.

All that remains now is to show you just one or two pictures of Blackpool.  Here’s the beach, pier  and tower :

And here is an aerial view of the most famous holiday resort in England:

Here are the attractions in the South  Shore area:

Here’s the North Pier. You’d think nobody had heard of any other seaside resort in England. Every single English family and their dog, has turned up:

And here’s the Empress Ballroom in the Winter Gardens:

And finally, a couple of family photographs, both of them taken at Blackpool. First of all, the rather bored little boy is my Dad, born 1922. He looks about eight or nine to me. The lady with him is his mother, my grandmother. Behind them is an escape convict, blending in very skilfully with the cloche hatted crowd :

My grandad, the one who went to Canada and fought in their army, was the husband of the lady above. His father was my namesake, John Knifton, who seems to have acquired a touch of dementia in his final years. On one occasion, at a rather advanced age, he went up to Dr Love’s surgery in High Street, Woodville, and told him that he had come for the job as a doctor. There was, of course, no job. Dr Love went down to see his son, my grandad, and announced to him that “the old professor has really flipped his lid !”

So, here’s the Old Professor:

The lady with him was his second wife, a rather vinegary lady who my grandad and his brothers hated with a will. They would eventually finish up walking down a gangplank onto the docks at Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, because of her.

And finally, did you spot him? Staircase K ?

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Poems in “The Nottinghamian” 1922-1946 (4)

The author of the following poem which appeared in the Nottinghamian of December 1940 was Robert Norman Walters of VI Classics. Robert was the son of a “Master Fruiterer” and lived at 159 Cinder Hill Road in Bulwell. He was in the High School from 1930-1941. The winter of 1940-1941 was legendary for its severity and was excellent practice for anybody thinking of taking a winter break in Stalingrad a couple of years later.

SNOW

Snow shall fall and ice

Shall bind the lane in slithering shields

Of white and whitish blue.

Winds shall blow and howl and roar

And tiles shall fall.

Wood shall burst and split

Like statues known of old.

Rivers may cease to run

When snow shall whirl and swirl

And formless roofs gleam white.

Yet when this comes,

Let our strong, deep affections

Unfrozen, freeze not.

But with winter seen afar

Retain the burning heat

Of mid-June’s torrid air.

Robert left to go to Jesus College, Cambridge to study Classics. In the section of his poem :

“Winds shall blow and howl and roar

And tiles shall fall.

Wood shall burst and split

Like statues known of old.

Rivers may cease to run”

Robert has come remarkably near the words of Wace, who was possibly Robert Wace, a Norman poet, born in Jersey and brought up in mainland Normandy.

Wace was the first author to speak of the Round Table and the Court of King Arthur :

“Eventually

All things decline

Everything falters, dies and ends

Towers cave in, walls collapse

Roses wither, horses stumble

Cloth grows old, men expire

Iron rusts and timber rots away

Nothing made by hand will last.

I say and will say that I am

Wace from the Island of Jersey”

Wace lived, approximately, from 1100-1180.

James Theodore Lester was the son of a Leather Factor & Manufacturer who lived at 42 Bedale Road in Sherwood and then at Castleton House at 5 Castle Avenue in Arnold. The poem occasionally struggles for a rhyme, but the last verse is lovely.

“When I was six”

“When I was six I’d play at boats

And build a fort with many moats

Which I’d replenish with my pail

And put my little boats to sail.

 

 

Round and round and round they’d go

Till the water ceased to flow.

Then back home I would repair

And sit upon my rocking chair.

 

When it was time to go to bed,

Upon the pillow I’d put my head,

And think and dream of things I’d done,

And call the day a happy one.

 

We’ve already seen Frank Alan Underwood of 51 Charnock Avenue in Wollaton Park with his poem ““Evacuated”. This poem is a lot deeper and a lot more chilling. It was published in April 1943.

THE MIRROR

The dead man lay upon his bed

In the pause at dawn ere the Soul had fled,

And the Lamp burned dim as the East glowed red.

The Soul rose as the man had done

For twenty years at the beck of the sun:

But as yet it knew not that Death had won.

Then still as man and not aware

It looked in the mirror to brush its hair

–Looked in the mirror and found nothing there.

Ivan Keith Doncaster wrote a poem in The Nottinghamian in March 1937 which was pretty good:

 

THE FISHPOND

There’s a fishpond in our garden,

Not very big or wide ;

But fish just love to dart about,

Among the rocks inside.

And if you sit there on the bank,

You’ll see a sudden flash—

A big fat frog has just dived in,

And made a dreadful splash.

 

The frightened fish swim swiftly round

In search of safe retreat,

The frog looks at the golden line,

And croaks his sad defeat.

When ice seals up our gold-fish pond,

Neath winter’s frozen spell ;

We just catch golden gleams below,

To tell us all is well.

 

In summer when the fountain plays,

And sends forth silver rain,

The fish all frolic in great glee,

As cooling showers they gain.

 

We feed the fish with large ant eggs,

And when the days are warm

They jump to catch the flitting flies

Which o’er the pond do swarm.

 

Some happy moments there we spend,

Watching the fish at play ;

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter too,

They move in swift array.

 

Ivan Keith Doncaster only lived from 1923-1944 but he had already succeeded in the previous year in writing the most beautiful piece of poetry by any High School boy, bar none. It summarises how much we love our oh-so-beautiful lives, yet all the time are well aware of the price we will all one day pay as the distant bells toll our inevitable doom.

Keith paid his price in the mid-upper turret of a Lancaster over the German city of Kassel on October 22nd 1943, five days after his 20th birthday.

This poem appeared in April 1936 and had Keith lived, he would have been a great poet. He has a masterful touch and is capable of the most astonishing subtlety.

GATHERING SHELLS

“Along the silvery beach we run,

Gathering coloured shells.

We think that gathering shells is fun.

Along the silvery beach we run.

And as we go beneath the sun,

We hear the distant bells.

Along the silvery beach we run,

Gathering coloured shells.”

I have read that poem literally hundreds of times and I do not even begin to tire of it.

 

 

 

 

 

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Two Old Nottinghamian brothers fighting fascism (3)

Old Nottinghamian, Robert Renwick Jackson was the pilot of a Boston III Intruder. He was killed on February 13th 1943 during an Evening Intruder Sortie to Nantes, carrying out a mission to drop propaganda leaflets for the occupied French. This type of activity was called “Nickeling”. In the rich slang of the RAF, the men who did it were called “bumphfleteers”:

I was really surprised when I found out exactly what they were distributing. Firstly, it was not necessarily a single sheet floating down. Some leaflets were up to sixteen pages. They are best thought of like an old football programme, with two or four or even eight sheets folded in two and then stapled.  Leaflets dropped on France in late 1942 included “We are winning the battle which will be decisive for victory” or “Winston Churchill Ami De La France”. There were precise verbatim reports such as “Speech by Mr. Winston Churchill to the House of Commons on September 9th 1942”, “Churchill talks on British war production” and accounts such as “Victory in Egypt – Prelude to the Allied Offensive”, referring to the Battle of El Alamein. One leaflet showed what the Free French in Great Britain were doing, trawler fishing and so on, and a second leaflet which firmly announced, “The Renault factories were working for the German Army. The Renault factories have been bombed”. Always mentioned were the times and frequencies of the BBC’s broadcasts to France.

There were two long running titles which were dropped many times in France. The first was “Courrier de l’Air” or “Postbag of the Air” with lots of short articles and photographs, of various happenings outside Hitler’s Europe:

On February 25th 1943, it contained “A heavy threat weighs on the Nazis in the Donetsk region”, “Heavy fighting in central Tunisia” and “The battleship Richelieu in New York”. Sometimes a single topic might fill the “Courrier” such as “I flew over the German army surrounded at Stalingrad”, “Stalingrad the Invincible”, “The condemned German army were waiting for the coup de grâce” and the sarcastic “Hitler has not forgotten you” under a photograph of five half, if not totally, frozen German soldiers:

Another favourite was the “Revue de la Presse Libre” or “The Magazine of the Free Press”. It carried editorials and articles in French taken from “The Times”, “The Telegraph” and other British newspapers. The leaflets were printed in hundreds of thousands and were dropped for several weeks, particularly if they were very general in nature. “Who was right?” ran from February 4th-April 11th 1943. “Edition Spéciale : Casablanca” ran from February 11th-14th 1943, and the January 1943 “Courrier de l’Air” was still being dropped in March. My own best guesses for the leaflets that Robert was delivering included “Courrier de l’Air 4 février 1943” which was dropped between February 11th-March 4th. My best guess No 2 would be the “Revue de la Presse Libre No 5” which was airlifted in by the RAF between February 11th-14th 1943. Waterlows had printed around 300,000 of them.

To be continued……….

 

 

 

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Why no statue ? (3)

Last time I wrote about statues erected years ago to what we could well call “dubious heroes”. A monarch who was the Number One Slaver in the world. A president who kept slaves even in a country where everybody knew “that all men are created equal”.

I certainly feel that, if there are largish numbers of people who do not want statues of a particular person,  then so be it. Such men will then be gradually forgotten rather than commemorated by a statue and in this way be kept alive artificially.

Recently we have seen various groups of people smashing statues down, and even in one case throwing them into the harbour. But there does not necessarily have to be violence or hooliganism involved. Sometimes the local people can decide for themselves about a statue.

After James II was thrown out in the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, various groups of people tried to put the Stuarts back on the throne of England. It all came to a head in 1745 when a Scottish army marched on London.  By 1746, though, their dream was shattered. The Duke of Cumberland had fought and won the decisive Battle of Culloden. The Highland Scots,  the vast majority of them Jacobites, and their army, were completely destroyed.

No mercy was shown. British soldiers killed all of the wounded Highlanders left on the battlefield. When Cumberland realised that a wounded man near him was a Jacobite, he told Major James Wolfe to kill him. The latter refused and a soldier completed the job.

In the Highlands, every single person thought  to be a rebel was killed and over a hundred in total were hanged. Villages were burned. Farm animals were stolen. In other words, it was not very different from the arrival of the Wehrmacht or the SS in a Russian village in 1941. Here is the great man:

Not everybody in Georgian England thought the same way, though. In 1770 an equestrian statue of the Duke of Cumberland was erected in Cavendish Square in London to honour his exploits. Little regard had been paid, though, to the direction in which His Lordship should face. And sure enough, after a century of looking up a horse’s backside, the locals got fed up and in 1868 the statue had to be taken down.

One hundred and forty years later, a woman came up with a wonderful idea. She was a Korean artist called Mekyoung Shin. She constructed a life size statue of the Duke and put it back on the empty plinth. But her statue was made of soap and it gradually melted away, limb by limb:

To my mind, this idea of making statues of “dubious” people out of soap and then just letting them dissolve in the rain is an excellent one and should be encouraged widely.

We’ve already looked at Lord Nelson, and he would be an ideal candidate for a soap statue. And he was a sailor, so he must have liked water. Here he is:

But what about people who have reformed? Is it OK to erect statues to them?

Nowadays, Benjamin Zephaniah is a famous poet:

When he was a teenage boy, Benjamin Zephaniah, by his own admittance, was a member of a gang in Birmingham. He was a thief, he was a pickpocket, he was a burglar, he was a liar, he stole cars, he was violent and he took part in an attack on a gay man. He went to Borstal and to prison. But then, through poetry, he turned his life round. He now has 16 honorary degrees, he is Professor of Poetry at Brunel University and he narrowly lost the ballot for Professor of Poetry at Oxford.

Should we have statues to those who have reformed like Benjamin? Of course we should, and in his case, it should be placed outside whichever prison where he served half of his sentence, in such a way that it looks outwards to his future.

And finally one or two other rules. Every single statue should be retired after 200 years and auctioned off. Every city’s statues should be subject to a regular review to make sure their ethnic origin is not 100% white or male, and that there are a fair number of other categories represented.

And no famous sportsmen or women to feature. If statues of such people are needed, the fans themselves should pay. Or in the case of footballers, the football clubs they play for.

The only sportsperson to get a statue will have overcome great handicaps to become successful:

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Next time, we will look at the people who have never had a statue erected to them.

picture of soap statue borrowed from urben 75

 

 

 

 

 

 

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