Reelin’ In the Years 99: Arthur of the Britons

Arthur of the Britons, starring Oliver Tobias, was an agreeably gritty early 1970s TV series made by the Welsh ITV company Harlech and broadcast in the children’s “hour.” The theme was written by prolific film composer Elmer Bernstein. I always thought it had similarities to the theme of my mother’s favourite soap Emmerdale Farm (which only became Emmerdale in 1989.)

Arthur of the Britons theme tune

The Chalice of Death by Robert Silverberg

In “The Chalice of Death,” Planet Stories, 2012, 91 p. First published as Lest We Forget Thee, Earth, 1958, as by Calvin M Knox.

Lest We Forget Thee Earth cover
 The Chalice of Death cover

This book is (dis)graced by one of the most execrable covers (right) it is possible to imagine. I felt ashamed buying it. Still, I suppose it reflects the times in which the story was first published – though the original Ace Double cover (left) is more restrained. Silverberg is of course one of my SF immortals and the book contains two other early works of his which I shall get round to later. Not that his early stuff is necessarily of great quality; he fairly churned it out. It was only when he came back to the field in the late 1960s that his genius shone through. It is to him, specifically his The Man in the Maze, that my continuing reading of SF beyond that date is due.

In The Chalice of Death, Earth, once the centre of a great galactic empire, has been lost in the mists of time but nevertheless Earthmen act as advisors to the rulers on many of the planets. Hallam Navarre acts as one such to Joroiran VII on the planet Jorus. His rival advisor, the Lyrellan Kausirn, takes advantage of a minor slip to lever Navarre away from influence. As a result Navarre is sent by Joroirdan to locate the eponymous chalice, in the hope it will grant eternal life to the ruler. Since it doesn’t exist that represents a problem. Navarre and his companions, one a half-breed Earthman, the other, Helna Wistin a (female) advisor to the ruler of Kariad, nevertheless find Earth within a chapter or so and a vault there where survivors from the time of supremacy have been kept in suspended animation over the millenia. They hatch a plot to revive Earth’s fortunes and the remainder of the story follows that process.

On even the most cursory examination most of this falls apart. Since we only meet two actual full blood Earthmen (which is the generic term adopted throughout) it is difficult to see how the race has managed to propagate itself over the years – still less for individuals to accede to their positions as advisors. The slightly unsavoury assumption that Earthmen (it’s got me at it now) are intrinsically better than the universe’s other inhabitants was also unexceptional back in the 1950s. And it was amusing to find Navarre using a slide rule for a calculation. But none of this is the point. This is pulp adventure stuff and can only be read as such. No pretentions to characterisation need apply; nor any consideration of literary merit. I read it as a would-be Silverberg completist, without high expectation. I wasn’t disappointed. Nothing could dim my memories of Silverberg’s glory period.

Glasgow’s Art Deco Heritage 13: Union Street

Art Deco style shop in Union Street, Glasgow:-

Detailing round the windows:-

The roofline has good touches:-

On the corner of Union and Argyle Streets lay the location of the famous meeting place known as “Boots’ corner” but Boots is long gone and this Union Street facade has now had “Mackintosh” embellishments added. Mockintosh, if you like:-

The detailing has typical Mackintosh square elements with sinuous biologically inspired lines:-

As do the window surrounds with the addition of also typical elongated rectangles:-

The elongated rectangles and sinuous lines are prominent in the bay window too:-

I can’t remember exactly which street this was in but it’s a fine building too, with hints of deco:-

The Guinea Stamp by Annie S Swan

Bibliobazaar, 2008, 298 p.

 The Guinea Stamp cover

Anyone with even a passing interest in Scottish literature knows the source of this book’s title, a title which jumped out at me from the shelves of a local library. And there the quote lay at the bottom of the title page, the affirmation that position in society is no indicator of moral probity.

The rank is but the guinea stamp,
The man’s the gowd for a that.

When George Fordyce, here, in conversation with his mother, refers to this quote as “that Burns rot” it adds confirmation to what we already knew, that he is the villain of the piece.

Mind you, that title page also has a subtitle A Tale of Modern Glasgow. Given that the novel was first published in 1892 and is set in the 1880s it hardly applies now.

The centre of the book is Gladys Graham, newly orphaned daughter of impecunious painter John, taken in by her skinflint uncle Abel, and transported from her Lincolnshire home to live in his dingy warehouse in Glasgow where she meets his assistant, the steady Walter Hepburn. She slowly softens Abel’s heart and on his death he bequeaths her both a large country house – the ancestral seat of the Grahams – near Mauchline in Ayrshire, plus a fortune to go with it.

It is almost impossible to read this sort of stuff without imagining parallels with Dickens. Not that we see any of him, but what we are told of Gladys’s father says he was Micawberish, her uncle is plainly Scrooge and Walter a mixture of Pip and Oliver with a bit of Bob Cratchit thrown in.

Gladys’s inheritance of course inserts obstacles to her destiny. Her new status certainly does not allow her to remain living in the warehouse with Walter. This throws her into the orbit of society types. It is here that she meets George Fordyce, to whom her indifference presents a challenge to be overcome. Any thought of contact with Walter and especially his wayward sister Liz is to be abhorred. But Gladys’s early poverty has imbued her with a keen sense of herself and of her purpose. She resolves to help the less well off.

When accused by Abel of impudence Liz replies, “Some folk ca’s the truth impidence, because they’re no accustomed to it.” Liz later disappears and Walter fears the worst, “The innocent must suffer for and with the guilty always. There is no escape,” he says and as Gladys’s chaperone, Miss Peck, tells her, “Women are the burden-bearers and the scapegoats always.”

The prose is of its time, but even then it may have appeared overwritten, now it seems dreadfully so. There is a high degree of telling rather than showing and Swan adopts the technique, not so much of foreshadowing, as of outright telling us what is to pass later. There is, too, a touch of melodrama to the proceedings and that title, whatever the twists and turns along the way, always has us in its tram-lines.

Pedant’s corner:-
There are some antique spellings such as waggon and chaperon plus we had, “in which the Fordyce household were concerned.” A household is singular. Gladys’s first intended chaperone, Madame Bonnemain, is said to be from Shandon on the Gairloch. That would be the Gare Loch. Gairloch is a completely different place.

Colonial Pavilions at the Empire Exhibition 1938

Here are two more of my collection of postcards of the Empire Exhibition, Scotland 1938.

The first shows three of the Colonial Pavilions, part of the South African building on left – one of the few “traditional” structures present (rather than the deco/moderne that dominated the Exhibition) – then New Zealand and finally Canada. As ever Thomas Tait’s Tower of Empire is in the background.

This next one is captioned wrongly. It shows the South African and New Zealand Pavilions and not Australia.

Glasgow’s Art Deco Heritage 12: Renfield Street

Art Deco style building on corner of Renfield and West Gordon Streets, Glasgow. Elegant vertical banding, plus good canopy in West Gordon Street:-

,

Renfield Stret view:-

Lower portion in Renfield Street:-

Flat roofed deco building on corner of Renfield and Bath Streets, Glasgow. Good v-shaped detail between the middle windows on Renfield Street:-

Sunset Over Leven, Fife

Photograph taken on 6/2/15.

Deep River by Shusaku Endo

Peter Owen, 1994, 220 p. Translated from Japanese by Van C Gessel.

Deep River cover

I read Endo’s Silence (published 1966) and The Samurai (1980) years ago now but this is the first book of his I have read since. Endo’s writing is unlike most Japanese authors in that it is coloured by his Christianity, specifically Roman Catholicism. Silence dealt directly with the missionary times in Japan, The Samurai with the cultural differences between Japan and “the West.”

Deep River engages with yet another culture, that of India, mainly following a group of Japanese tourists there ostensibly to visit Buddhist sites but each of whom has his or her own concerns. Isobe has lost his wife to cancer but on her deathbed she whispered she was convinced she would reincarnate; he has learned of a possible candidate in India. Mitsuko has a connection to Ōtsu, a man she tormented in her college days who is now doing good works in Varanasi (the book spells this city’s name as Vārānasī throughout.) Numada is a children’s writer who wants to set free a myna bird as an act of restitution. Kiguchi is haunted by his experience on the Highway of Death in the retreat from Burma and wishes to have a reconciliatory memorial service to the fallen of both sides.

(Aside:- It is perhaps understandable that little of the hideousnesses that Kiguchi remembers from the retreat is remarked on in non-Japanese writings. In the aftermath of an ill-advised offensive which duly went wrong the soldiers were left to their own devices and suffered accordingly. But then even in their good times Japanese soldiers were notoriously ill-served by their superiors. In retreat they were just forgotten.)

While the first part of the book chronicles the back-stories of the four main characters it is India that is the true centre of the novel. All four encounter the overpowering nature of that country. The deep river is not only the Ganges at Varanasi but the mass of humanity. Yet even here Endo’s Catholicism makes itself felt. Ōtsu has his own particular take on theology, failing his seminary education by being unable to accept European views and seeing God in all religions not exclusively in one. Nevertheless he clings to what he sees as his Christian beliefs.

The trip coincides with Indira Gandhi’s assassination. This coupled with his experiences on the Highway of Death makes Kiguchi come to the somewhat jaundiced conclusion that, “It was not love but the formation of mutual enmities that made a bonding between human beings possible.”

While the manifestations of Japanese, and indeed Indian, culture may appear odd to western eyes, reading books like this shows that at their hearts people really do not vary much the world over. Here it is religion that is the biggest estranging factor.

Refreshingly the translation is into British English but there were some entries for Pedant’s Corner:- négligé (négligée,) when he laid (lay) in wait, her name in Rajini (is,) when… gets me alone this (like this,) resembling that of his dead wife’s (a possessive too far,) we’d better just lay low (lie,) of the the taxi, “a harmonium, an instrument resembling a harmonica” (it isn’t clear whether this is supposed to mean two different instruments or if a harmonium resembles a harmonica – which it doesn’t,) to eat they daily bread (their.)

BSFA Awards (for 2014)

This year’s nominees for the BSFA Awards have been announced.

As far as the fiction is concerned we have the unusually high total of eight novels on the ballot form, of which I have read three*. (Edited to add: so far.)

The Race* by Nina Allan (NewCon Press)
Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge (Macmillan)
Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson (Solaris)
Wolves by Simon Ings (Gollancz)
Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (Orbit)
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August* by Claire North (Orbit)
Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor (Hodder)
The Moon King* by Neil Williamson (NewCon Press)

The short fiction has only three contenders – all of whom are women it seems; for the second year in a row. I have read none of them as yet (but hope the BSFA will produce the usual booklet.) Though it’s totally irrelevant I was on a panel at last year’s Eastercon with Ruth Booth.

The Honey Trap by Ruth EJ Booth (La Femme, Newcon Press)
The Mussel Eater by Octavia Cade (The Book Smugglers)
Scale Bright by Benjanun Sriduangkaew (Immersion Press)

Friday on my Mind 117: Noggin the Nog

One of the enduring memories of my childhood and early adolescence is the animated BBC TV series Noggin the Nog, one of that long list of delightful creations from the team of Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin which also included Ivor the Engine (a bit early for me,) The Clangers and Bagpuss (a bit late.)

Noggin the Nog was such a hit with my schoolmates that one of our secondary school teachers was dubbed with the nickname of the show’s baddie, Nogbad the Bad.

Each episode always had an intro narrated against the muted strains of Hall of the Mountain King, “In the lands of the North, where the Black Rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long the Men of the Northlands sit by their great log fires and they tell a tale,” which then went on into that particular storyline.

Noggin the Nog intro:-

Noggin and the Ice Dragon:-

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