Sunday, 22 January 2012

Childhood Memories

I lived next door to an antiques shop for the first couple of years of my life, on the High Street, in Dover. My Great Grandmother's house was furnished, for reasons of economy, with antiques and bric-a-brac - some from the shop next door. I remember the house well (or I remember remembering). It had a scullery lined with delft tiles. A scullery! I suppose this would now be called a utility room. I bought my first antique from the neighbouring shop, which remained in business for years after Great Granny died. This was a set of Victorian buttons to adorn the yoke of a Viyella mini-dress - and so it dawned on me - the realisation that I too could buy, and maybe sell, antiques!

Dover was a happy place to be a child, despite the fact that it still bore the scars of WWII bombing raids. So it was with great surprise that I recently discovered the poem "Childhood" written by the Imagist poet Richard Aldington in 1914, railing against the town where he also grew up. Of course, he appears to have had an oppressive and unhappy middle-class childhood so any town would have seemed as grim - but I was shocked.

"I hate that town;
I hate the town I lived in when I was little;
I hate to think of it.
There were always clouds, smoke, rain
In that dingy little valley.
It rained; it always rained."

Not so! We loved our sunny Dover Days!

"The long street we lived in
Was duller than a drain
And nearly as dingy."

I beg to differ, Mr Aldington. I know you lived on Godwyne Road in a rather grand middle-class house of the kind known in Yorkshire as a "Brass Castle". Part of my own school years were spent in Cobham House on this very "street".

                                                 Happy Days!

"The High Street and the other street were dull--
The front was dull;
And there was a public park, I remember,
And that was damned dull, too,
With its beds of geraniums no one was allowed to pick,
And it's clipped lawns you weren't allowed to walk on,
And the gold-fish pond you weren't allowed to paddle in,"
                                That may have been so in 1900.

But we LOVED the park!

So there!


Sunday, 15 January 2012

One day recently we had to go into Leeds and found ourselves with some time to kill. There was somewhere in the city that we'd never visited and now we had the time. We were not too keen, though friends and family had urged us to have a look. I tried to delay the horrors I felt might lie ahead by dragging Mr N into The Corn Exchange...

                                                 was years since I had been inside Cuthbert Brodrick's 1860's building, a wonderful rotunda which must once have buzzed and hummed like a huge beehive with farmers and merchants trading busily.

    The interior was less colourful and much smarter than I remembered from years ago and I wondered what Mr. Brodrick would have made of the shop unit names - "Body Lush" (bespoke ethical skincare), "Dirty Girl" (for men, of course), "Mad Elizabeth" (sounds darkly Victorian but actually she sells jazzy retro clothing).

We thought refreshments might help stiffen our resolve or, at least, delay the inevitable for a while, so we ventured into Primo's, home of the Gourmet Hot Dog, though we sampled the Gourmet Bagels,which were also on offer, instead - delicious!

   Then we ran through The Calls as fast as our lallies would carry us and over the River Aire towards the trendy Clarence Dock area with its old warehouses, now smart apartments, pausing, as usual, to admire the view.

   Then we saw it - time to bite the bullet and enter the Royal Armouries...

             exciting building, it would make a good film set but...

         ...some displays chilled us to the bone. I imagined that a good percentage of male visitors, given the right (wrong?) circumstances would be capable of cold blooded slaughter - killer apes every one. So we decided to study the earliest items on display, admiring the tiniest details, the beautiful materials, the craftsmanship. Here are works of art we can value for more than their killing-power.

We both liked this interesting armoured coat, made in early 19th century Rajasthan from pangolin scales decorated with gold leaf, more for magnificent display than protection. Scalemail?

  Yes, the Royal Armouries is well worth a visit, but we preferred to ignore the larger, bleaker picture.


Sunday, 8 January 2012

I have never tried Wyatting. I would never dare and, anyway, I think it is a pastime pursued by gentlemen, for the most part. The verb "to Wyatt" is named after Robert Wyatt, drummer with the Canterbury prog. rock band Soft Machine (or The Soft Machine, after William Burrough's novel) in the 1960s and 70s, and refers to the habit of playing strange, disruptive music on pub juke boxes in order to annoy the other drinkers - Robert's own interesting track, Dondestan, is particularly popular with these jolly wags.

Here it is - how much could you bear as the background to a peaceful pint?
I was prompted to ponder all this at the annual gathering of Mr N's lovely family...

when young R, who runs Robert Wyatt's local delicatessen in Lincolnshire, exclaimed with excitement that she'd heard that I, in my youth, had drawn him in the nude. I replied that this was during college hours when he was employed as a life model and that he had not been naked, but was wearing a leather thong - she thought this was even more interesting.

My memories were stirred - I remembered Robert as an impish youth, talking with enthusiasm about the breakthrough his band was about to make.
I loved his vintage leopard-skin jacket (from Ritzy's on Palace Street?)...

...though Robert always preferred to wear as little as possible.

I found out much later that I had, without knowing it, met his mother during my college years. I'd visited a Summer Fete at a handsome Georgian house in a village just outside Dover, and found to my delight that it was hosted by one of my mother's favourite BBC broadcasters, Honor Wyatt, friend of Barbara Pym and Robert Graves. She greeted my boyfriend as if she knew him well and I realise now that she had assumed he was one of Robert's long-haired musician friends, though at the time I did not make the "Wyatt connection".


Robert fell out of a window and broke his back in 1973, though he was soon on stage again, in his wheelchair, and still performs today, collaborating with the likes of Elvis Costello, Dave Gilmour, Bjork and many others.
According to R he is no longer impish, but rather "wizardy"...

...still a legend.

I cannot resist this clog-dancing version of Dondestan, by The Unthanks.