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 I love almost everything Kipling wrote but I think I love the Puck books best of all- if only because they're the things of his that make the hair on my forearms bristle the most. This may have something to do with knowing most of the places he writes about. We live on the edge of his stomping ground- and have spent the past three or four years getting to know it better. 

Seely Sussex for everlastin'

I've just finished the first book. If any charge Kipling with being a bone-headed nationalist or racist or anti-Semite they really should read the final story- The Treasure and the Law- and have another think . Kipling himself worried that it was "too heavy for its frame"- and I can see what he meant- because its lightning-flash piercings of the dark are dizzying. Kipling wasn't one for shielding his young readers from life's little brutalities- and never less so than in this story of a prince in Israel who does his adopted nation a good turn in spite of itself. This is Kipling at his most glittery and magnificent- . I didn't understand a word of it as a child- and perhaps just as well.
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I had thought my copy of Puck of Pook's Hill was a hand-me-down from my grandmother but I checked the flyleaf last night and found it once belonged to Reginald Soundy who was the (deceased) husband of our next-door neighbour in Croydon in the 1950s- so it was a gift from her.

Reginald Soundy had it as a Christmas present in 1908. He was born in 1894- so that would make him 14 at the time. I know this much because he was a flier with the RFC and then the RAF- and an outline of his service record is available on line.

I'm re-reading Puck because we were in Kipling's particular corner of Sussex the other day- Wadhurst, Heathfield, Burwash, Etchingham. I wapped one of Peter Bellamy's CDs in the stereo as we were driving through and that strengthened the connection. 

Kipling is so economical. Puck contains enough material to have furnished a more diffusive writer with a whole string of novels. And yet nothing is skimped. 

Here's a vignette that gives us all we need to know about the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings. 

"Half-way up the King's Hill we found a false fellow from Picardy- a sutler that sold wine in the Duke's camp- with a dead knight's shield on his arm, a stolen horse under him, and some ten or twelve wastrels at his tail, all cutting and slashing at the pigs. We beat them off and saved our pork. One hundred and seventy pigs we saved in that great battle."

So few words, so much information, so much texture. And all in character.  We know exactly what happened, what the speaker's values are and also that he doesn't take himself too seriously....

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I was doing it again last night- and this time it was Ty Hardin I was watching- in a clip from the Warner Brothers' production line western series Bronco.

Hardin was a beautiful young man in an Eisenhower era sort of a way that was soon to go out of fashion- which may explain why- although his acting career bumped along for several more decades- his time in the sun was so short. History records that he turned down the lead in a cheap spaghetti western called a Fistful of Dollars. Would he have had Clint's career if he'd taken that gig? Probably not.

Bronco wasn't great art and Hardin wasn't that good an actor- but for my generation of little boys approaching adolescence in and around 1960- he and the other TV cowboys were the ones we looked to for information on how grown men were supposed to comport themselves. They were all good looking- but Hardin was the good-lookingest- which is why we nick-named a handsome French master Bronco- and not Rowdy or Wyatt or Maverick or one of the many other options.

I can still hum the theme tune. I even know the words...
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Seems like I keep doing this- turning to U-Tube to play clips of some musician or actor of my youth who has just died....

By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Galveston, Wichita Linesman- three great songs, transcending genre (are they pop or country or folk? Who cares!)

And timeless. The human condition summed up in three minutes of wistfulness. To do it once is amazing, to do it three times....
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Henry Irving was to the Victorian era what Lawrence Olivier was to the mid-20th century- the acknowledged head of the theatrical profession. As Olivier was the first actor to be made a peer so Irving was the first to be knighted. His productions at the Lyceum were noted for their beauty and spectacle- as if straining after the not-yet-existing condition of cinema- and also for their scholarship and intelligence. He was the definitive Hamlet, Shylock and Macbeth of his generation.

This death mask comes from the collection of theatrical knick-knackery belonging to Ellen Terry- his leading lady, muse and sometime lover...

What a strange and beautiful face it is...

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Smallhythe Place was originally a Tudor shipwright's house, later the home of the actress Ellen Terry- and is now a National Trust property, housing Terry's collection of theatrical memorabilia. The house and gardens are beautiful and the collection ranges from the snuffbox from which Joseph Grimaldi (Joey the clown) took a pinch of snuff just before he died to the green, beetlewing dress which Terry wore to play Lady Macbeth. The dress looks considerably more spectacular in Sargent's famous portrait than it does in real life.

This final picture shows the bottom of the garden with St John the Baptist's church- which is roughly contemporary with the house- behind.

Following on from our visit I've been reading Terry's Autobiography- The Story of my Life- which is full of lively theatrical anecdotes and good advice to actors and utterly lacking in point-scoring and malice.


Aug. 7th, 2017 12:12 pm
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Ailz jogged my elbow- she wants horse pix for her own site- so I went out into the field and snapped away.

Here's the whole herd- back row: Copper and Snowy. Front row: Bluebell (the foal) and Patch.

And here are mother and daughter- Snowy and Bluebell.

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 As a way of tipping my hat to Robert Hardy- who has just died at an advanced age- I watched a couple of clips of the TV show Manhunt (1969-70)- in which he played the anti-hero- Gratz- a chippy, love-lorn Nazi policeman- a sort of powder keg on legs- who succeeds in alienating our sympathies from the British bulldogs who might have been supposed to be the heroes. His performance is every bit as riveting as I remember. He started out in the classics- but came into his own on television- most famously in a popular show about vets which I never watched- and as a serial impersonator of Winston Churchill. He wasn't quite a star or quite a character actor but something in-between- as so many of the best-loved performers are. Millennials will remember him as Cornelius Fudge- a memorable performance in the huge mosaic of memorable performances that is the Potter franchise.


Aug. 2nd, 2017 12:39 pm
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"Who was that?" asked my mother as the carers were leaving.

"Your carers," I said.

"My parents?" she asked.

"Yes, I said, joshing her, "Your parents came calling."

Then I felt bad because perhaps she really did think- for a moment- that it was possible for her parents to have paid her a visit.


Aug. 1st, 2017 11:34 am
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It's not as if they're so very great a nuisance. They're not attacking us. Once they've entered the house (and I haven't worked out yet where the inlet is)  they congregate at the windows to buzz there frantically- flying into a sky that has suddenly gone solid on them- until their motors run down and they drop to the floor or window ledge, walk about a bit then die. Every so often I have a go at clearing the living ones out. I trap them against the window with a plastic cup, slide a forty year old art gallery catalogue between the glass and the cup's mouth, move this improvised  prison to an open window and shake them free. But there are always more. And the little furry corpses pile up.

I'm afraid of needles but I'm not afraid of wasp stings- which is odd...
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The Guardian has a great quote from the actor Jeanne Moreau whose death- aged 89- has just been announced.

Asked whether she felt nostalgia for the French New Wave she replied-

“Nostalgia for what? Nostalgia is when you want things to stay the same. I know so many people staying in the same place. And I think, my God, look at them! They’re dead before they die. That’s a terrible risk. Living is risking.”
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I remember having to eat stuffed marrow- and now nasty it was- watery and greasy and tasting of nothing very much apart from salt and pepper. I don't know quite when this was but certainly a long time ago. These days if marrow comes our way we roast it. We had one for lunch today. Roasted marrow is still fairly tasteless but the texture is much nicer. We also had roasted squash and roasted tomatoes. The truth about vegetables- which I didn't learn until late middle-age- is that almost every variety of it is much better roasted. 

Talking about squash, Ailz showed me a news story about a very ancient pot that had been dug up somewhere n the American South West. It contained seeds. The archaeologists planted the seeds on the off chance that they'd do something and they produced a variety of squash that was believed to be extinct but now isn't anymore. I love it when the past gives something back.
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 I was feeling really seedy and Ailz prescribed Enos Fruit Salts. The bucked me up no end. I must remember this for future reference: Enos Fruit Salts are a cure-all.

And now I'm tucking into a big plate of spaghetti.

My mother is watching a rugby match in the next room. There's some angry chap on the soundtrack whom I wouldn't want to run into down the pub who keeps shouting- "Move, move!"  They tried to get me playing rugger when I was a child. They wanted me to fling myself at other boys legs when they were running. What a nasty, rough game. Even nastier and rougher than football. I guess they thought it would be good training for charging across No-Man's-Land towards machine gun emplacements.

As soon as I finish the spaghetti I'm going to switch channels. 
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The case against Shakespeare's authorship?

It doesn't really exist. The argument- used by the Oxfordians- that only an aristocrat could have had the experience of the world and depth of culture necessary to produce  such work- is pure snobbery. After all, our candidate, Kit Marlowe, was a cobbler's son- and came from even further down the social scale than the glove-making, landowning Shakespeares. 

It's just a feeling really. 

You look at the records of Shakespeare's life- which are fairly copious- and the picture emerges of an energetic, none too scrupulous businessman. He buys land and property, lends money, does a bit of  profiteering, applies for a coat of arms. No reason why a man who leaves this kind of paper trail shouldn't also have written King Lear, Twelfth Night and the Sonnets but somehow it doesn't quite fit. One loves the writer but doesn't entirely like the social-climbing chiseller he seems to have been.

Where did he get his education? Why is there no certain record of him as a writer before he was 29? Isn't it a little odd that so great a genius should have risen without trace?

Our man Kit on the other hand leaves a glittering trail. He goes to university, acquires aristocratic patrons, hangs out with the Luciferian genius Walter Raleigh, travels, does undercover work for the government, writes and publishes plays and poems, translates Ovid- and all before he reaches the age at which Shakespeare emerges from obscurity.  Kit at 29 is a man of whom great things might be expected and Shakespeare at the same age is nobody in particular.

And then there's the evidence of the work. Shakespeare is just so Marlovian. His first published work- Venus and Adonis- is heavily influenced by Marlowe's Hero and Leander- which hadn't been published yet, his historical plays plough the furrow that Kit initiated with his Edward II, the style of early Shakespeare- his quirks and quiddities, his vocabulary and all that sort of thing- is practically the same as Kit's. You could say that Shakespeare was imitating his predecessor but you don't expect an imitator to surpass their model- and Shakespeare just keeps on getting better and better.

Where one sticks- a bit- is with the testimony of Shakespeare's contemporaries. Ben Jonson liked and grudgingly admired the man. Hemming and Condell seem to have accepted his authorship. But did any of them stand looking over his shoulder while he wrote? Was there any need for them to be in on the secret? The Shakespeare they knew was a fellow-actor, astute man of the theatre, fun guy to be around. He could have been all these things and still acted as the front for another man's work. Would the deception have been so very hard to maintain? Shakespeare could well have been enough of a writer to effect revisions of Kit's work as it went through the process of production, cutting lines, adding lines, shoehorning in a song or a masque-  all that sort of thing. Perhaps he slipped one or two of his own compositions- the Hathaway sonnet for instance- in among Kit's papers- simply because he could. It would explain why there are things in the canon that fall so very far below the general standard.

Case proved? Hardly. Perhaps the document that'll clinch the matter is out there- somewhere- but more probably not. In the end what matters is the work itself and not the name on the title page. 

Still one does love a good mystery...

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Kit is in big trouble. Archbishop Whitgift is running an English approximation of the Holy Inquisition and Kit has been informed against. A man called Baines has turned in a report of his blasphemous tavern talk which still exists- and it's spicy even by today's standards. Kit has been arrested, examined and is currently out on bail. If things go against him he could face the death penalty. Fortunately he has done the state good service (as an undercover agent) and has friends in high places.

The death in Deptford is faked up. The witnesses are all either government agents or professional conmen. The venue belongs to a relative of one of Kit's bosses. The inquest is irregular and the coroner is in on the fix. The body- probably that of a recently executed man- is hastily buried in a common grave. Kit, meanwhile, is on his way out of the country.

The rest is silence. Except that he goes on writing. He may have been in Italy, or Scotland or travelling around; he may have returned to England under a false name. There's no way of knowing. Meanwhile a man called Shakespeare has agreed to put his name to Kit's plays and poems.

Shakespeare is an actor and theatrical entrepreneur. Perhaps he does a bit of writing- botching up old plays and such. (There's a sonnet that puns on the name Hathaway- which doesn't fit with the rest and is altogether pretty feeble; maybe that's an example of Shakespeare's own work.) Anyway this scribbler- who has hitherto written nothing of note- starts producing masterpieces.  The man is witty and sociable and smooth. He passes. Not even his closest associates- Ben Jonson for instance- see any reason to question his authorship. The players notice that the scripts he turns in (and this is on the record) are singularly free of corrections and put it down to an extraordinary fluency of invention (Jonson grumbles about it.) Really it's because they're fair copies in Shakespeare's handwriting of Kit's original "foul papers".

The folio collection of "Shakespeare's Works" contains several plays that have never been published before and heavily revised versions of some that have. Maybe Kit has outlived Shakespeare and is still around in the early 1620s- overseeing the production of his magnum opus. 

And that's it. No-one guesses. No-one suspects. The man Shakespeare- who, in his lifetime, drew little attention to himself- begins to acquire a legend...

This is summary of other people's research and speculation. I claim none of it as original- except, perhaps, for the sideways glance at the "Hathaway" sonnet. 

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I've been looking at the case for Christopher Marlowe having faked his death and come back as Shakespeare. Verdict: unprovable but not implausible. There are no clinchers.


Marlowe and Shakespeare were the same age. Marlowe died at 29 having already established himself as playwright, poet and man about town whereas Shakespeare was a late developer, and only appeared as an author- with the Marlovian Venus and Adonis- a couple of months after Marlowe's death. The one takes up where the other finishes.

I read Marlowe's Edward II. It's has all the qualities we call Shakespearian- the poetry, the stagecraft, the ability to see all sides of a question, the mastery of pathos- and resembles Richard II to the point of making the later play seem like an imitation or riposte- but one that improves on the original- which is not something one expects a mere copyist to pull off- unless of course- it were a case of a master in competition with himself.

So either we have two great writers- of an age- with remarkably similar skill-sets- the one beginning his career just as the other cashes in his chips- or else...


Jul. 25th, 2017 10:39 am
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The difference between Trump and most other heads of state is that they hide their uncouthness, incompetence and venality behind a curtain- and he doesn't. He's the first uncensored, unfiltered president of the modern age. There's no Vaseline on the lens. In place of the managed image, the crafted statements there's an orange man with silly hair who twitters...

He's embarrassing but he hasn't started a war yet. Now which, I wonder, is the greater crime...
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Dante Gabriel Rossetti had no particular connection with Birchington (near Margate) except that he was staying there when he died. He hadn't wanted to be buried with his wife- Lizzie Siddall (whose grave he'd unromantically dug up to retrieve the poems he'd romantically sealed in her coffin) and he was too rock and roll for the Abbey so they buried him where he dropped (so to speak)- by the south porch of Birchington church. The monument- which features the figures of Dante and Beatrice- with whom Rossetti had a life-long obsession- and St Luke, patron saint of painters- was designed by Rossetti's old mentor and mucker in the Pre-Raphaelite movement, Ford Madox Brown.

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They dug up Salvador Dali to conduct a DNA test on behalf of a woman who claims to be his unacknowledged daughter and found him well-preserved, as hard as wood and with his famous moustache still intact. His embalmer- who also attended the exhumation- pronounced him good for a few more hundred years.

I don't think I can explain why but this makes be foolishly happy- especially the bit about the moustache.


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