War Memorial Fence, Seaham, County Durham

Between Terrace Green (hence, Tommy, and Seaham War Memorial) and the sea there is a fence on which Seaham’s Great War dead are commemorated.

One panel bears the first line of the poem In Flanders Fields.

Seaham, County Durham, War Memorial Fence 1

Poppies on the fence bear soldier’s names and regiment. (Seaham harbour beyond.)

Seaham, War Memorial Fence 2

A typical panel:-

War Memorial Fence, Seaham 3

Looking north:-

War Memorial Fence, Seaham 4

Memorial Benches, Seaham, County Durham

Clustered round Seaham’s War Memorial on Terrace Green are three benches commemorating those who served in the World Wars:-

War Memorial Bench, Seaham

Seaham, War Memorial Bench

Second World War Memorial Bench, Seaham

Close by the War Memorial is this box for the laying of crosses and poppies in remembrance:-

Box for Crosses and Poppies,Seaham

Seaham was once a mining village. A fourth bench rerpresents scenes from mining life. It has struck me that this may be in memory of the Bevin Boys, men conscripted during World War 2, not into the armed forces but to mine coal. Some of these also died during their service but they are not usually commemorated on war memorials. To my mind they ought to be.

mining Memorial Bench, Seaham

SF Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times (iii)

Another for Judith Reader in the Wilderness‘s meme.

This week, the remainder of my SF hardbacks. Click pictures to enlarge them.

More Ian McDonald, China Miéville, Christopher Priest, Keith Roberts, Kim Stanley Robinson, Robert Silverberg, a book of Art Deco posters which fits in nowhere else.

Science Fiction Hardbacks (iii)

On another shelf entirely, standing next to the above. This contains books by my not so secret SF vice, Harry Turtledove, plus one Gene Wolfe, among others. Above, on its side, is a book containing illustrated Bernie Taupin lyrics for early Elton John songs:-

Science Fiction Hardbacks (iv)

Planetary Nebula NGC 7027

From Astronomy Picture of the Day for 30/6/20.

Isn’t it lovely?

Planetary Nebula NGC 7027

The Devil’s Footprints by John Burnside

a romance. Vintage, 2008, 221 p.

 The Devil’s Footprints  cover

This is an exquisitely written novel whose title implies that it is going to be another in that long list of Scottish works of fiction which feature an encounter with the Devil, and in one sense it is, but it is also something entirely modern. I would submit, however, that it is not, as its description on the title page states, a romance – at least not in the usual sense of that word in a novelistic context – despite the narrator’s later claim.

Michael Gardiner lives with his wife Amanda just outside the seaside town of Coldhaven, where local legend has it that the Devil one night had stalked the town in the aftermath of a great snowfall, leaving his odd footprints behind. Not that the town is unused to strange events. It is also said that once a woman had given birth to a baby with two heads, one normal, the other mis-shapen and stunted. The baby had quickly died and the woman went mad.

Michael’s unravelling begins when his cleaner, Mrs K, who brings to him the town’s gossip (but only when she has verified it) tells him the details of the incident where Moira Birnie – née Gregory – and incidentally Michael’s first proper girlfriend, had dropped her fourteen year-old daughter, Hazel, off on a back road out of town before driving away and then, convinced her husband Tom was the devil, had killed herself and their two sons. The car they were found in was deliberately burned-out. This tragedy sets Michael off to wondering if Hazel is in fact his daughter, since the dates fit. It also reminds him of the bullying he had received in school at the hands of Moira’s brother Malcolm, and the secret he has kept all those years about Malcolm’s death.

Michael explains his subsequent actions with thoughts like “mostly we are creatures of chance” and that we “see ourselves from inside as we never appear to others.” He ruminates on the vagaries of marriage. “I had to wonder why anyone got married, when they had the evidence of their own parents’ lives right there in front of them.” He says marriage is a story, it needs some new event every so often, but “there is a moment when a husband begins to suspect his wife, or a wife her husband, of having another story altogether, a separate, private story, that remains, and perhaps always will remain, untold.” On the possible reasons for why his own marriage broke down he reflects that, “Things begin deep below the surface; by the time they are visible, they have a life and direction of their own. We don’t see that, so we call it destiny, or fate, or chance, when something unexpected happens.”

Coldhaven is well named, the inhabitants had never made Michael’s parents (mother a painter, father a photographer, both from down south) welcome. Such was the townsfolks’ antipathy towards the incomers that gifts of dogshit through the letterbox, anonymous letters, threatening encounters on the street, nasty phone calls were the least of it. Hence Michael is convinced his mother’s death in a road accident was a deliberate act. Most of Amanda’s friends – mainly local – had gone to college, but once back in Coldhaven, “their local accents were more pronounced than they had ever been, and you could tell they had been unhappy in their absence.” His father put up with all the harassment but Michael says, “People think tolerance is a virtue, but there are some things that shouldn’t be tolerated.”

While he acknowledges he did go, at least mildly, insane, on insanity in general Michael thinks, “Only the insane listen when the angel speaks, only the insane make wild-eyed denials and so confirm their guilt.” He also astutely remarks that, “when the devil has work to do, he makes it look like an accident …. in order to lure us into his trap, protesting mildly, if at all, but willing accomplices at the last,” which has undertones of Banquo’s speech in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. On the historical pursuit of supposed evil-doers Michael recognises that people who drowned or burned simpletons and scapegoats as witches were themselves really the ones who were afraid of being possessed, that they would find the devil touching their shoulder, that they were his chosen. In these passages Burnside is touching on the tradition of brushes with the Devil but not explicitly, since Michael’s devil is internal. (Arguably, I suppose, all the meetings with the Devil in Scottish fiction are internal.)

As to restitution, for Michael, penance “should be an everyday matter, a deliberate return from the glamour of sin.” He makes his own via a strange anabatic hundred-mile walk home to Coldhaven after his madness abates.

Through Michael, Burnside tells us a story is “not meant to be true, but it has to be real, it has to run.” In that respect The Devil’s Footprints runs, delightfully.

Pedant’s corner:- Mrs Collings’ cottage (Collings’s,) rowboat (rowing boat,) Vesalius’ (Vesalius’s,) Burntturk

Friday on my Mind 192 and Reelin’ in the Years 175: The In Crowd

I give you two for the price of one this week. (Not that either of them actually costs anything.)

The In Crowd was hit in both these decades, first for Dobie Gray in 1965, then for Brian Ferry in 1974.

Here’s Dobie Gray in a US TV appearance.

Dobie Gray: The In Crowd

Ferry’s treatment of the song is a little different.

Brian Ferry: The In Crowd

Seaham War Memorial

Seaham’s War Memorial is also on Terrace Green, near the statue of Tommy.

It’s a Celtic Cross with the column inscribed, “In grateful memory of our fellow townsmen who fell in the Great War and the World War,” and on the plinth, “for past, present and future conflicts.”

Seaham War Memorial From town

From seaward:-

Seaham War Memorial From Seaward

Inscription on the War Memorial’s base. To, “The immortal dead.”

Seaham War Memorial

Underneath the “for past” inscription, “1914-1918” (or “1914-1919”) – the wreath obscured the last number:-

Seaham War Memorial, Great War

Second World War:-

Seaham War Memorial, World War 2

Margarita Pracatan

Margarita Pracatan, who died earlier this week, was one of the most idiosyncratic performers I have ever seen.

Brought to the attention of the British public via Clive James‘s TV shows, she was nominally a singer. She sang in English but her heavy Hispanic accent was at odds with the songs she performed, yet it was that same accent which made a large contribution to her appeal.

James said of her that she could make some of the world’s most recognisable songs seem unfamiliar, new and strange and that, “She never lets the words or melody get in her way.” But he also added, “She is us, without the fear of failure.” Her personality was so big any failings of technique or timing simply did not matter. She embodied exuberance and joie de vivre.

I hesitate to put this under my music category. Nevertheless. If you have never seen her before marvel at this small sample of her œuvre.

¡Pracatan!

Margarita Pracatan: You Were Always on my Mind

Juana Margarita Figueroa (Margarita Pracatan,) 11/6/1931 – 23/6/2020. So it goes.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Guild Publishing, 1982, 233 p. First published 1817.

 Northanger Abbey cover

This is Austen’s first novel in order of writing, but the sixth to be published. It is certainly a lighter read than Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice but it is refreshing too in that its content is not over-familiar, not having been adapted to death for film and television in the way others of her works have.

From the outset it adopts a more satirical tone than those two books, seems to have a more acid eye to cast on polite society. It was Austen’s commentary on the sort of gothic novel which was seen as trifling, probably thought to be fit only for women to read.

It could even be said to be meta-fictional in that it addresses the reader directly, comments on itself (and on the attitudes of characters in novels to the reading of novels as somehow being unworthy,) while the narrator castigates her fellow novelists for their disparagement of their craft and enumerates the iniquities of reviewers but the overall story arc follows the pattern of romantic fiction.

Heroine Catherine Morland’s mother “had three sons before Catherine was born; and instead of dying in bringing the latter into the world, as anybody might expect, she still lived on.” Catherine herself is said to be as plain as any – no one “would have supposed her born to be a heroine” – seemingly with no outstanding qualities at all. Catherine’s fairly restricted life is opened up when she is asked to accompany the Allens on a trip to Bath for a few weeks’ stay. Here we have the vacuousness of trips to the Pump Room, the tedium of balls where the attendee knows no-one, either to converse or to dance with but soon enough Catherine falls into the orbit of Isabella Thorpe, the object of Catherine’s brother James’s affections, and Isabella’s brother, John, one of those men who insist on their own plans being followed, and who quickly takes it into his head that he and Catherine have formed an attachment. However, Catherine’s attentions soon lock onto Henry Tilney, via his sister Eleanor, and she is at pains to disabuse Isabella of any attraction to John.

It is past, though, the middle of the book before we come to Northanger Abbey, the Tilney’s residence, to where Henry and Eleanor’s father, the Colonel, invites Catherine. Her fascination with old architecture, coloured as it is by her slightly lurid imaginings (derived from gothic novels, naturally) ensures she is almost as delighted at the prospect of seeing Northanger Abbey as she is at prolonged contact with the Tilney siblings.

As fits Austen’s satirical intent, elements from the gothic (there are frequent references to the novel referred to as Udolpho) intrude at various points but while she has Catherine wondering about the appearance and contents of the room she is given at Northanger Abbey, what secrets it might conceal, and having all sorts of unworthy thoughts about Colonel Tilney related to the death of his wife or the possibility that she remains alive and sequestered, Austen draws back from excess. Given the milieu it is of course necessary that the path of true love does not run smooth – not for James as Isabella’s inconstancy is revealed, nor for Catherine when the Colonel is informed that she is not as ideal a match for his son as he had been led to believe.

There are Austenisms such as, “A woman, especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can,” to please the aficionados and an aside on men’s indifference to a new gown (or indeed any new clothing) on a woman. What the book demonstrates beyond anything else though, is the importance of money and prospects to the society Austen portrays.

Modern sensibilities might be offended by John Thorpe’s observation that the Colonel is, “as rich as a Jew.”

Pedant’s corner:- “the Miss Thorpes” (x 2, the Misses Thorpe,) “Miss Thorpe’s, progress” (no comma needed,) by the bye (I prefer ‘by the by’,) “her acquaintance with the Tilney’s” (with the Tilneys,) a missing comma at the end of a piece of direct speech, another before the start of one, “in the general” (in the General, several instances of General with a lower case ‘g’,) “the Lady Frasers” (strictly, the Ladies Fraser,) “the whole family were immediately at the window” (the whole family was immediately at the window,)

Sculpture of Tommy at Seaham, County Durham

Seaham is a town on the North Sea coast in County Durham.

The statue of Tommy is on the seafront in an area known as Terrace Green by Seaham’s War Memorial. It was erected in 2014 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Great War.

Statue of Tommy at Seaham

Detail:-

Detail of Tommy Statue at Seaham, County Durham

Side view:-

Tommy at Seaham, Side View

Reverse:-

Reverse View, Tommy Statue at Seaham

Its sculptor was Roy Lonsdale:-

Sculptor Signature, Tommy Statue, Seaham

Dedication plaques. The sculpture’s proper name is 1101, to reflect the minute of peace at the Armistice which ended the war:-

Inscription, Tommy Statue, Seaham

Other side view:-

Tommy at Seaham, Side View

There are more pictures of Tommy here.

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