Art Deco in Nottingham

We travelled up through Nottingham intending to stop at The Crown for dinner to see if it was as Deco inside as out. Unfortunately when we got out of the car in the car park the noise from inside was blaring and was therefore even worse when we opened the pub door. It also looked a bit rough. We decided to move on.

It wasn’t long til we came upon the Beechdale – another Art Deco pub, this time brick-built.

This is from the car park:-

Art Deco Pub, Nottingham, England

From south-east:-

The Beechdale from Road

From south-west:-

The Beechdale

From west-south-west:-

The Beechdale Pub, Nottingham

We went into this one only to discover it was festooned with Saint George’s Cross flags. (It was in the run-up to the European Championships.) It didn’t look like Scottish sounding people would be very welcome. We opted for discretion and moved to the city centre where every single eating place had a bouncer on the door. That spooked us a bit. Yes, it was a Friday night but is Nottingham really such a dangerous place to dine out?

There was this delightful little Art Deco pub there that I spotted only after we’d already eaten. It didn’t look open anyway:-

Art Deco in Nottingham

Great detailing, with fox statue. The numbers are stylish too:-

The Foxy, Nottingham, Detail

Friday on my Mind 142: Gong With The Luminous Nose

Les Fleur de Lys1 were the band called upon to record my favourite 60s song, Reflections of Charles Brown, and its B-side, Hold On under the name Rupert’s People.

I naturally assumed this song is a reference/tribute to the Edward Lear poem The Dong With A Luminous Nose. I was therefore amused when on Sounds of the Sixties 26/11/16 it was introduced and listed as “Going with the Luminous Nose.”

It sounds like psychedelia to me.

Les Fleur De Lys: Gong With The Luminous Nose.

1To be correct French shouldn’t that be Les Fleurs de Lys?

The Brilliant and Forever by Kevin MacNeil

Polygon, 2016, 251 p.

 The Brilliant and Forever cover

The Brilliant and Forever (B&F) of the title is an annual literary competition set on a Hebridean island, an island inhabited by humans – and talking alpacas. Everyone (and alpaca) on the island seems to be a writer or at least aspires to that state. The B&F is the highlight of the year and open to outsiders. There are two Decisions to be made, one by the Judges and one by the People. The judges’ winner gets signed up to a prestigious agency and an advance on a book deal.

The situation allows MacNeil to explore different kinds of demarcation. Not only is there discrimination and prejudice between (some) humans and the alpacas but the humans are divided between whitehousers (privileged) and blackhousers (less so) and there is even distinction among the alpacas from the island’s north and its south.

Our unnamed narrator – a devotee of haiku-kery, a culinary style limited to a certain number and kind of ingredients – is best friends with the human Macy and the alpaca Archie, who has the unfortunate habit of dribbling constantly (and therefore has to be accompanied everywhere by his spittoon) and is attempting to promulgate a catchphrase, “It’s like a jazz thing you don’t get.” As a writer himself Archie has entered the B&F – the first alpaca to do so for some time.

The entries to the competition are given in full. If you were to be uncharitable you could say MacNeil has found a way to shoehorn more than a few totally unrelated short stories into the format of a novel but you also have to admit it’s ingenious.

In amongst all this we have the aperçus, “‘Somehow, despite it all, something will be okay. That’s the best anyone can hope for,’” and “‘a writer tells lies to reveal greater truths and a politician tells half-truths to reveal greater lies.’”

The landscape description is a typically Scottish trait, here exemplified by, “In the broad expanse below – the mellow moorland and the flat, mirrored lakes and the muted sea and the sleeping villages – ” (though that lakes really ought to be lochs,) and there was a nice pun I hadn’t seen before; Lance Pharmstrong.

I was not entirely convinced by the stated response to the consequences following on from the People’s Decision but I shall not indulge in any spoilers. MacNeil’s is certainly an idiosyncratic and unique voice in the modern Scottish novel.

Pedant’s corner:- smartass (smartarse, please,) Madison Gardens (Madison [Square?] Garden? It was about cycling so may have been a play on Madison; but it should still be Garden,) mic (it was always mike in my day,) stoved in (staved in,) “out of his cakehole. ‘-you have….’” (comma after cakehole instead of full stop,) “how the majority were voting” (was,) he lay a plastic bag on the table (laid.) Many plus points for the wonderful portmanteau word gloominous as in “gloominous sky”.

Audley End

The reason we swung by Saffron Walden again was to take a look at Audley End which we couldn’t fit in last time.

Audley End has been described as one of the finest Jacobean houses in England.

Audley End

The hedge on the left above is a curious looking feature:-

Hedge, Audley End

Hedge Audley End, from House

Audley End, Hedge

House Entrance:-

Audley End, Entrance to House

Audley End’s grounds were laid out by Capability Brown – as these two photos – showing diffrent bridges – would suggest:-

Second Bridge, Audley End

Landscaped Bridge, Audley End

During World War 2 the house was a training centre for the Polish contingent of the Special Operation Executive (SOE.) This memorial to the 108 members who died as a result of their service lies in the grounds to the front right of the house:-

Audley End Polish SOE Memorial

Among Others by Jo Walton

Corsair, 2013, 408 p.

 Among Others cover

How does a reviewer describe this odd but delightful concoction? A coming of age story? No; the critical event of the narrator’s life so far has occurred before the time at which all but the initial chapter is set. A tale of adolescent awakening? Yes to that one. A fairy story? That first chapter invites us to consider it so but it does not begin with “once upon a time” nor end with “they lived happily ever after” and is in any case written in a realistic register. Then again it does have fairies in it. An orphan’s tale? Not quite, the narrator has run away from her mother and ended up in the care of a father – and his overbearing three sisters – whom she had previously never known. A boarding school story? In part. (You could well lose count of the number of ways in which our narrator is “among others”.) A primer on Science Fiction and Fantasy? Undoubtedly. It is almost perfectly calibrated to appeal to those with a love for the genre, especially for those books of the 1960s and 1970s people of a certain age will remember with great affection. Yet it doesn’t neglect the wider world of letters either. In particular it shows the interest in Plato Walton would later indulge in her Thessaly trilogy.

As a novel the story is couched in the form of almost daily diary entries – covering the six months from September 1979 to February 1980 – by one Morganna Rachel Phelps Markova, many of which display her love of books and of SF/Fantasy in particular. She can also see and talk to fairies and practices magic – but only in a benign way. Morganna’s voice is pitch perfect. This is how we feel a sometimes confused but opinionated girl of fifteen might write about herself. With a gammy leg due to an incident in which her twin sister was killed while they thwarted an attempt by their witch mother to destroy the world in some (unspecified) way she has difficulty with mobility. In memoriam she seems to have taken her dead sister’s name, Morwenna. One of the diary entries is signed as Morganna, letting us know this.

Walton has some fun delineating the antipathies of the Welsh towards the English (and the condescension from the other direction,) the snobbery endemic in a boarding school, “Class is entirely intangible, and the way it affects things isn’t subject to scientific analysis, and it’s not supposed to be real but it’s pervasive and powerful. See; just like magic,” and the oddities of adolescent behaviours in general. Her injuries actually are an aid as her bookishness would have set her even further apart from her boarding school peers. As it is she is excused games and haunts the school library, “Interlibrary loans are a wonder of the world and a glory of civilisation.” Her mother is an intermittent looming menace throughout the book and this is the major weak point as all the confrontations with her mother are curiously muted and of course the major one took place outside the novel’s confines. The final confrontation is somewhat anti-climactic, and over too quickly.

Apart from that Among Others is, to use Morganna/Morwenna’s word, brill.

Pedant’s corner:- chemistry (as a school subject it’s Chemistry; ditto Biology for biology – both French and Latin were capitalised; however, Physics, Economics, History and Music were not,) who everyone loves (whom,) “I bought four honey buns to go” (Morganna is supposed to be Welsh, not USian; the British usage is “to take away”,) someone is described as a fly half for the house hockey team; fly half is [or was] a position in Rugby Union, not, as far as I know, in hockey,) Morganna quotes a song’s lyric as, “‘Over the hills to Abergavenny, hoping the weather’ll be fine.’” (The actual lyric is, ‘Taking a trip up to Abergavenny, Hoping the weather is fine’,) “where we brush our teeth, and our hair” (the comma is unnecessary. Or is it?) “How much more likely resurrection if the dead process through the valley” (likely is resurrection,) “to which it is intended” (“for which” is more usual,) fit as a past tense (is USian, a Welsh girl would write fitted,) “everyone one always talks at the top of their voice” (at the tops of their voices,) “an explosion at a paint factory” (it’s usually “an explosion in a paint factory”,) a whole scrum were milling about (a scrum was,) “I think he deserves the benefit of the doubt?” (is not a question,) “Though I think ‘Etruscan Sea’ scans better?” (ditto; there were four more instances of such non-questions appended with a question mark,) “I don’t have maths brain” (a maths brain; or, a brain for maths,) “Burnham Wood coming to Dunsinane” (Birnam Wood.)

Saffron Walden War Memorial

On our way back from The Netherlands we again topped at Saffron Walden, Essex. Sadly the good second hand book shop that was there has now closed down. Retirement I think.

I did though take the opportunity to obtain a slightly better photograph of the town’s War Memorial than I got last time:-

Saffron Walden War Memorial

Hook of Holland

Our landfall in (and departure point from) The Netherlands was at the Hook of Holland (Hoek van Holland) via the ferry from Harwich.

Thee is a port building there which doesn’t seem to be used as a terminal any more but is impressively Art Deco in appearance.

From the River Maas:-

Hoek of Holland

On the way back as we were waiting in the queue for boarding I managed to get two photos from which this is stitched:-

Hoek Van Holland Terminal Building

This one of its central roofline sculpture was snatched from the boat as it passed on departure:-

Detail Hoek van Holland Terminal Building

The town of Hoek van Holland is itself very tidy and neat (unlike Harwich on the other side which shows the civic neglect typical of the UK as a whole.)

There were two decoish buildings. In this one it’s the left hand window and its decoration, especially the stepping.:-

Touch of Deco in Hoek van Holland

Deco corner. (Or maybe it’s just that Dutch Amsterdam style.) Pity the glazing has been updated:-

Art Deco Style, Hoek ofHolland

The doorway panel in the side street has great rule of three in the windows above the door and lovely detailing in the brickwork:-

Art Deco, Hoek of Holland

Immortality by Milan Kundera

faber and faber, 1991, 391 p. Translated from the Czech Nesmrtelnost by Peter Kussi.

Immortality cover

In the first chapter the narrator tells of seeing a gesture by a woman who was just leaving a swimming pool and which inspired him to write the novel. I was struck by the ageist perspective with which Kundera treats this incident. Be that as it may, gestures and their meanings, their particularity or otherwise, are a feature of the book.

Set mainly in Paris (where Kundera settled after leaving Czechoslovakia) the meat of the book lies in the relationships between Agnes, her husband Paul, and her sister Laura. There are similarities here to the writing of Irène Némirovsky, also an exile in Paris, but at an earlier time. Unlike Némirovsky though, Kundera delves into the deeper past in order to interrogate the means of achieving immortality, in the sense of remaining famous after death, by examining the relationship between Bettina Brentano (later von Arnim) and Goethe, which has mostly been seen through the lens of Brentano’s accounts. Ernest Hemingway too makes appearances – notably in discussions with Goethe in the afterlife – as does Beethoven, and there is a disquisition on Don Quixote. The author himself also features as a character. (Perhaps it was this book which gave Orhan Pamuk that idea.)

The narration comments on itself at various points, and at times does not so much foreshadow as give the later game away. We are told of the death of one character and explore its consequences long before being shown it and that in Part Six a new character will appear and then vanish without trace – as indeed he does; but only to present us with a connection to another that had hitherto not been mentioned (or deliberately hidden.)

The narrator/Kundera notes a historical transition in the toppling of Richard Nixon not by arms nor intrigues but the mere force of questioning, the power of the Eleventh Commandment “Tell the truth.” (Sadly that power no longer seems to work.) He also tells us that nineteenth century writers ended their novels with a marriage not to protect their readers from marital boredom but to save them from intercourse. “All the great European love stories take place in an extra-coital setting…. there was no great love after pre-coital love, and there couldn’t be…. Extra-coital love: a pot on the fire, in which feeling boils to a passion, and makes the lid shake and dance like a soul possessed.” How much of this is an echo of Kundera’s own attitude to intercourse is a matter for conjecture. (Compare “The Unbelievable Prevalence of Bonking” as Iain Banks, in The Crow Road, characterised another of Kundera’s works.)

In amongst all the narrator’s philosophising are sprinkled some bons mots, “A person is nothing but his image” and “I think therefore I am is the statement of an intellectual who underrates toothaches. I feel therefore I am is a truth much more universally valid.”

While at times the prose had the feel of a history book and of the literary work in general – one incident in particular reminded me of Mario Vargas Llosa’s Aunt Julia and the ScriptwriterImmortality was never difficult to read – a tribute to the translator, Peter Kussi, perhaps.

Pedant’s corner:- Saint Vitus’ dance (Vitus’s,) Agnes’ (Agnes’s,) assininity (asininity,) Avenarius’ (Avenarius’s,) Hals’ (Hals’s.)

Groningen Glass, Plus

Good glazing on a shop in Groningen:-

More Groningen Glass

There was interesting detail above the window’s centre. I’m assuming this was once a butcher’s:-

Groningen Shop Detail

Curved glass on different shop:-

Groningen Curved Glass

This shop’s owners are not much into tech it would seem. There’s something to be said for the old-fashioned virtues.

Notice in Shop Window, Groningen

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell

Headline Review, 2007, 284 p.

One of Scotland’s favourite books.

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox cover

In modern day Edinburgh Iris Lockhart is juggling life with her (married to someone else) lover Luke, her step-brother Alex and her business running a women’s clothes shop when she receives a phone call from a psychiatric unit informing her she now has legal responsibility for a great-aunt of whose existence she was previously unaware. This is Esme Lennox, born in India, where she had a gruesome experience when her younger brother Hugo died of typhoid while her parents and sister Kitty were away from home. The family subsequently returned to Edinburgh where Esme’s independent-mindedness and refusal to conform to the norms in school and social life of that time created problems: problems which eventually led to incarceration in an asylum. (In those days it only took the signature of a GP to lock up an inconvenient woman at a husband’s or father’s request. The woman could spend decades interned, only being released when the institutions began to shut down.)

Iris cannot confirm Esme’s identity as her father is dead, her mother has never heard of such an aunt and Iris’s paternal grandmother, Kitty, suffers from Alzheimer’s. She nevertheless takes her great aunt in when the hostel Esme was assigned turns out to be a dreadful place.

The lives of Iris and Esme are told in a close third person while Kitty’s first person stream of consciousness reminiscences are presented as if they were ramblings but within them are contained kernels of truth.

O’Farrell’s control of her material is masterly. (There may be one small foreshadowing misstep where long before the reveal we are given a clue to the mystery in a two-line paragraph which is repeated later. Maybe there are those who would have missed it on its first appearance but I would have thought once ought to have been enough.) The sections dealing with Esme’s time in India and those of the present day are handled with equal facility. Beautifully written and engaging.

Pedant’s corner:- “of husbands at the end of their tethers” (husbands, so that should be ends of their tethers,) the crew were scurrying (was,) “‘Aren’t I?’” (Okay, she was an ex-pat; but her parents were Scottish, it should be ‘Amn’t I?’) “‘You getting on one of your things about this, aren’t you?’” (You’re,) booties (they were for a baby, so bootees.)

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