Friday, 31 May 2013

Jago and Litefoot: The Mahogany Murderers

Doctor Who fans may be familiar with the fantastic 1977 story set in Victorian London,  'The Talons of Weng-Chiang,' with Tom Baker.
This particular story is my favourite one because of so many elements, including the delightful pairing of premier pathologist Professor Litefoot and Henry Gordon Jago, the theatrical manager and master of ceremonies with a witty way with words.  Being a little behind in knowing about this, I've only recently discovered the amazing treasure trove of audio productions being written and produced by Big Finish, many of them with former actors in Doctor Who, these new stories being set in between the adventures we saw in television. The idea of bringing these two characters back to life after over thirty years was a stroke of genius.  Listening to Trevor Baxter as Litefoot and the rich and fruity voice of Christopher Benjamin as Jago is a treat and to begin in order I started with the first offering:  The Mahogany Murderers.

The tale is set a few years after The Talons of Weng-Chiang, and over time they have "defeated denizens of the daemonic darkness together.  They have stood side by side against threats to the British Empire."  But when mysterious animated wooden figures began being seen in London, a new adventure begins.  This first story consists of Jago and Litefoot recounting their experiences of the mystery, relaying what occurred to each other in a pub.  It is a fine production with a rather intimate feel and serves as a good introduction to the audio box sets that have followed, with five being released and more scheduled.
 I am intending to purchase these sets slowly, and look forward to listening to more adventures with Jago and Litefoot.  

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Oak Apple Day


I always find old holidays and special days and customs fascinating, and as the 29th of May is Oak Apple Day in England, here is an extract about Charles II and the Royal Oak, from Chambers' Book of Days, 1862:
"Among the acts passed by parliament immediately after the Restoration was one enacting 'That in all succeeding ages the 29th of May be celebrated in every parish church and chapel in England, and the dominions thereof, by rendering thanks to God for the king's restoration to actual possession and exercise of his legal authority over his subjects,' &c.  The service of the Restoration, like that for the preservation from the Gunpowder Treason, and the death of Charles I, was kept up till the year 1859.
The restoration of the king, after a twelve years' interregnum from the death of his father, naturally brought into public view some of the remarkable events of his intermediate life.  None took a more prominent place than what had happened in September 1651, immediately after his Scottish army had been overthrown by Cromwell at Worcester.  It was heretofore obscurely, but now became clearly known, that the royal person had for a day been concealed in a bushy oak in a Shropshire forest, while the commonwealth's troopers were ranging about in search of the fugitives from the late battle.  The incident was romantic and striking in itself, and, in proportion to the joy in the having the king once in his legal place, was the interest felt in the tree by which he had been to all appearance providentially preserved.  The ROYAL OAK accordingly became one of the familiar domestic ideas of the English people.  A spray of oak in the hat was a badge of a loyalist on the recurrence of the Restoration-day.  A picture of an oak tree, with a crowned figure sitting amidst the branches, and a few dragoons scouring about the neighbouring ground, was assumed as a sign upon many a tavern in town and country.  And 'Oak Apple-day' became a convertible term for the Restoration-day among the rustic population.... In many old-fashioned and out-of-the-way places, the 29th of May is still celebrated, in memory of King Charles's preservation in the oak of Boscobel, and his Restoration." 

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Thomas Hardy, A Collection

I've not read very much of Thomas Hardy's writings.  I remember enjoying 'Under The Greenwood Tree', beginning (but not finishing) 'A Pair of Blue Eyes',  and browsing through others, avoiding the most tragic of his stories.  Somehow, over time, I have ended up with these:  

I was drawn to the seventies paperbacks with their attractive photographs and so, whenever I spotted one I had to have it,  and before that a few newer Penguin editions.  Thomas Hardy was a great writer and I do intend to read these sometime, particularly as I love writing that is highly descriptive of the English countryside.

Monday, 20 May 2013

A Perfect Place To Read


To me, this delightfully cosy room would be a perfect place to settle in for a long read.
From 'The Country Diary Book Of Decorating, English Country Style,' by Sydney A. Sykes

Monday, 13 May 2013

A Stella Gibbons Selection

Along with many people, the only Stella Gibbons book I had read was Cold Comfort Farm.  When I recently discovered the beautiful new Vintage Classics reprints of several others of her stories, with such appealing cover art, I could not resist buying some of them.   The first one I picked was Conference At Cold Comfort Farm, which I had high hopes of liking.  Unfortunately I did not like it very much and found it tedious to wade through; with so many characters being as irritating and outlandish as possible and the scenarios around most of the original characters so unlikely that it was just weird (and we know good old Cold Comfort Farm is weird, but in a more fun way).

Stella Gibbons obviously had a dislike of artistic or craftsy women, as she (unfairly) tends to make fun of them whenever she can. In 'Cold Comfort Farm', Flora tells wild dryad-like Elfine to "avoid orange linen jumpers and hand-wrought jewellery" and is quite sniffy over her liking poetry and wanting to work in an arts and crafts shop.  She also is withering over certain artistic shades of green.

An amusing passage in' Conference' is where Flora is rather disturbed over the immaculate and new "olde world" change in decor that has come over the inside of the previously grubby farmhouse:

"Her first hours there had been so fully occupied that she had not been able to receive more than a general impression of snowy walls where once rude words had leered out from sooty surfaces, and gleaming floors that were formally dull and scored by hobnailed boots, and that everything was labelled in wrought iron Greate or Lytel;  the Greate Scullerie, the Lytel Rush-dippe Roome, the Greate Staircasee, the Lytel Stille-Roome, the Greate Bedderoome, the Lytel Closete, and so on.  But now, observing at her leisure, she hardly recognized some of the shocking old cupboards and filthy cobwebbed alcoves, fitted up as they were with window-seats and oak chests.  There were typical farmhouse grandfather clocks ticking all over the place, and where there could have been an expanse of bare wall, it was filled up with a Welsh dresser all over peasant pottery.  In the Lytel Scullerie there were fifteen scythes arranged in a half-moon over the sink; there were horse-brasses all around the Greate Inglenooke and all round the Lytel Fireplaces, and Toby jugs and spotted dogs all over the windowsills.  The air in the rooms smelt faintly of warm, damp grass:  otherwise it was exactly like being locked in the Victoria and Albert Museum after closing time."
It sounds rather sweet and nice, like an old-fashioned tea room, yet profusely overdone, like a museum where one cannot touch the exhibits.  The quaintly-spelled, unauthentic labels are really funny.  Apart from the joyous turn of events at the end, it does seem a shame that it looks set to be the nasty, mucky old farm it once was.
Overall, this book seemed highly chaotic and had too many unlikeable and obnoxious characters, but I will be keeping it because of that lovely cover art!

The next one chosen was the collection of short stories entitled 'Christmas At Cold Comfort Farm'.  This was an excellent book that was hard to put down.  The stories were varied, interesting, well-written and sometimes rather poignant.  I highly recommend this one.

The last one read was 'The Matchmaker',  which involves a young wife and her three little daughters leaving war-damaged London and moving into an old cottage in rural Sussex.  Other characters include a landgirl and two Italian prisoners of war working at the local farm, a bachelor neighbour and various other characters.  This was a good book, if perhaps a bit long; by the end I was glad to be done with the emotional turmoils of some of the characters and had changed my opinions on some of them as they had developed over the novel, and actually couldn't bear the landgirl Sylvia at all and was glad to see the back of her!

I have grown to like Stella Gibbons' books rather well (some more than others), she is interesting and often thought-provoking, possessing a sharp wit and common sense. The next one I intend to read, as it looks extremely intriguing, is The Charmers.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

The Wonderful Creativity of William Morris

I've long been an admirer of William Morris (1834-1896),  his amazing creativity, intelligence, industriousness is mind-boggling.  There is probably no other man as this great arts & crafts designer, medievalist, artist, poet, who worked as hard as he on creating beautiful things, for he had a profound love of beauty and sought for it all around him.  I adore his statement:  "Have nothing in your houses which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."  He experimented and tried his hand at every craft used in his productions,  which sometimes resulted in him going about with indigo-dyed arms and hands!  He studied architecture, did drawing and painting, embroidery, weaving, stained glass,designed fabrics, wallpapers, tiles, furniture etc.., wrote enormous tomes of romance and fantasy and poetry, created The Kelmscott Press, which made finely bound books of great beauty.  He was also a great historian from childhood and would have been more happily at home in medieval times (he was greatly dismissive of the Victorian era in which he lived),  and did some Icelandic exploring inspired by his love of old Norse literature.  He was drawn to the elements and ideas of antiquity, one of his favourite books was The Antiquary by Sir Walter Scott, indeed Scott and Chaucer were among his favourite authors, and he greatly admired old cathedrals, tapestries and languages.

In his first lecture, "The Lesser Arts", he stated that: "Well I remember as a boy, my first acquaintance with a room hung with faded greenery at Queen Elizabeth's Lodge by Chingford Hatch in Epping Forest...and the impression of romance that made upon me!  a feeling that always comes back on me when I read, as I often do, Sir Walter Scott's 'Antiquary' and come to the description of the Green Room at Monkbarns amongst which the novelist has with such exquisite cunning of art embedded the fresh and glittering verses of the summer poet Chaucer."

William Morris was concerned with making everything more pleasing to the eye, which included bringing back traditional crafts made by hand by true craftsmen as in the middle ages, at a time when Victorian mass production was growing. 

William's verses embroidered on his bed hangings at his beloved home Kelmscott, conjure up the comforting atmosphere he promoted:

The wind's on the wold
And the night is a-cold,
And Thames runs chill
Twixt mead and hill,
But kind and dear
Is the old house here,
And my heart is warm
Midst winter's harm.

I have several large books on William's art, and two on Edward Burne-Jones (who was his best friend), on one bookshelf together; but several of the smaller-sized books I had elsewhere (tucked behind other books in another bookcase, as I never have enough shelves to have everything together properly), and so the other day got all those books out to look at them and realised how much I have to read.


I am presently reading a fascinating Morris biography by Philip Henderson, but I've yet to start on the huge Fiona MacCarthy biography I bought years ago...something to look forward to.  William Morris has been a strong inspiration for me artistically, and I wish I could fill my house with his fabrics and designs and curtain every window with vintage Morris curtains,  but, I do have two pairs of Morris curtains and a tapestry and cushions, etc..., and they are treasured objects.

"His last years were spent writing prose romances in a strange archaic language, collecting illuminated manuscripts, designing books on medieval models, and, after producing a Chaucer at the Kelmscott Press, was well on the way to a great edition of Berners' translation of Froissart.  To that extent, Morris never succeeded in escaping from his medieval dream."  (Philip Henderson)
*missing photos will be replaced soon* 



Hello and welcome to this new book blog site.  I'm Lori, an artist and musician, and for some time have contemplated starting a site devoted to books that I have read over the years, am reading presently and hope to read in the future; inspired by some excellent blogs by some very interesting booklovers.  I hope to meet some of you.    Comments are most welcome!