Category Archives: HV Morton

HV Morton on the Kindle: Something which won’t be on my Christmas List!

This piece was originally distributed as HVM Society Snippets – No.128 on 3rd Ocstober 2011

It is 85 years since H.V. Morton made his journeys around England which became immortalised as “In Search of England”.  One of the most evocative passages for me is the point where he visits St Anthony in Roseland in Cornwall.  While staying with some hospitable locals Morton is invited to trudge up a muddy lane in order to experience the contemporary pinnacle of what we would refer to today as “information technology”: a valve radio.  He meditates on the marvels of this modern miracle and shares the amazement of the locals as he listens to the tinkle of coffee cups and the rhythmic thrumming of a dance band in the Savoy Hotel, hundreds of miles away in London.  Morton was clearly at ease with modern technology.

Kindle

So, it was probably not in the spirit of the great man when I felt a small shudder travel up my spine as I read on the Amazon web-site recently that this first of his series of travelogues is now available in a “Kindle” edition.  The Kindle is an electronic reader, a device claiming to be everything a book is and more.  The adverts show us pictures of actors laughing while whipping Kindles out of over-sized bags (“see how small and convenient it is”) and desperately trying to appear as if they are enjoying themselves while their Kindle is exposed to sand on the beach or being enthusiastically licked by the pet dog (“see how rugged and portable it is”).  With thousands of different volumes stored on a single device you need never worry about having to find a real book on a real shelf ever again – everything is downloadable on a whim.

Well, I’m afraid I am unable to share the enthusiasm of its promoters, hard as this will be for Amazon to bear, I’m sure.  It’s just that I love actual books too much; even the most battered volume in my collection means more to me than the blank, empty eye of an electronic reader ever could. The feel, look, sound and even smell of pages as they are turned beneath one’s fingers is a million miles away from the cold caress of a plastic screen while little computer sounds attempt to mimic the noise of real pages. My books are friends to me, good and convivial companions through life’s journey.  I know each one of them intimately, they represent a living connection with things past and present – people and places I have known and visited down the years (I just have to look at my copy of “In Scotland Again” to be taken back in my mind’s eye to a cottage on the Mull of Kintyre on the shores of Loch Caolisport).

To me reading a book isn’t just about reading words, it is a personal and sensual experience.  Each book, with its individual creases and imperfections, its fonts and layout has a patina, a character of its own that no electronic device could ever capture, no matter how ‘convenient’ it claims to be (although who ever complained that a book’s batteries have run down!).  Some may see me being a “stick in the mud” (as my mother would say) by not moving with the times and keeping up with the latest technology, but that’s not entirely true.  I love the computer age, I am fascinated with word processors, the internet, email and MP3 players.  But books are different, they are my technological line in the sand, “thus far and no further!” I say, and the electronic reader is, for me, a step too far!

Anyone wishing to know more about the Kindle edition of In Search of England should follow this link.

With best wishes,
Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

p.s. Peter Devenish of the HV Morton Society comments: “Morton certainly was interested in new technology, even in his later years. In his letters he described how delighted he was when TV came to South Africa; and he was as excited as a 15-year-old with the first landing on the Moon. Whether the Kindle would have been the “technological line in the sand” for HVM I don’t know but, with his great love for his library and books generally, I suspect he would have shared Niall’s view.”

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A few Morton Connections

I had just sat down to enjoy a delicious “Pizzetta” from the Glastonbury market, accompanied by a pickled gherkin and a handful of Greek olives, all washed down with a glass of Coolwater Bay Sauvignon Blanc when an excited squeak from the other-half announced that she had stumbled across another HV Morton-related link while surfing the information superhighway.

I say “excited squeak” – it was more of an “oh no, not again“-type expostulation to be quite frank. I’m afraid the dearly-belovéd doesn’t entirely share her patriarch’s passion for all things Morton – a failing of which I am happily tolerant; it takes all sorts to make a world after all and it behooves a good Mortonite to be forgiving of another’s shortcomings.

In Search of England 1952 edn

As it happens I already had in mind a post to air a few of the various connections I have come across recently concerning Morton, the vast number of which are a testament to his phenomenal popularity during the early and mid-20th century. An author, born some 120 years, ago who still regularly crops up on random internet searches has clearly had a tremendous impact on popular culture at some point.

What Alison had discovered was a brief but very significant reference to Morton’s “In Search of England”, the 1927 publication that arguably ushered in the period of his greatest popularity. The link is on a blog, entitled “Socks for the Boys!” by historian and author Alison Twells, featuring a series of excerpts from the diaries of the writer’s Aunt Norah who lived from 1925 to 2009.

The material on the blog gives a fascinating insight into the concerns, fears and everyday events of Norah’s life. Particularly interesting for me was the entry on the page with the heading “Hitler Trouble“, written when Norah was just 14 years old (by my calculation), which begins “31st August 1939: Ma & I went down for tea to Helen’s. Came back early. Went down to Hills & post. Started to read ‘In Search of England’ by HV Morton. Cold. Hitler trouble.

If you have an eye for detail you will not be surprised to realise that what comes next is not this young girl’s impressions of Morton’s travelogue; her reading is interrupted in no uncertain manner by the outbreak of the Second World War, as Hitler invades Poland, and Britain declares war on Germany over the course of the next three days. The day after war is declared Norah’s diary records the sinking of the passenger ship Athenia and ends simply with the comment “sunny“.

Alison Twells’s intention is to eventually publish a book based on her aunt’s diaries and I wish her the best of luck. If her blog is anything to go by this will be a worthy and enlightening project.

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HV Morton's London

I have no idea what the connection Morton has with hosiery but, after “Socks for the Boys!“, the second website on my list is called “Sockless musings from London“. The blog entry announces a “One a day audio challenge” and goes on to review “HV Morton’s London“, a compilation of his three earlier books “The Heart of London“, “The Spell of London“, and “The Nights of London“.

The reviewer, a Canadian writer who goes by the name of “Sockless“, obviously likes the book quite a bit judging by her comments, and reports it is her intention to share this out-of-print work by posting a section from it online every day for a year.

Sadly however, this is the only post on the blog, her project remains unrealised, and my comment about it remains unanswered. This is a great pity – if you are still out there Sockless I hope everything is OK and that you might return to your challenge at some point in the future.

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The final entry today (I think I’ve gone on quite long enough, don’t you!) is a bit of an oddity that I have sat on for some years. It is part of the Hackney Podcast, a series of recordings about the East End London Borough of Hackney. Hackney Podcast volume 18 is a wonderfully atmospheric soundscape, based around readings from “HV Morton’s London” interspersed with selections of street sounds and general goings-on over a 24 hour period, including disoriented clubbers, partying squatters, late night booksellers and market traders opening up for the day. There are also other historical and contextual readings about the area.

Whoever thought of doing this must have quite a vision – the works of HV Morton and the hustle of the modern-day east end wouldn’t necessarily be the most obvious things to put alongside one another but the melange really works and provides a real insight into what it must have been like for Morton as a young  journalist wandering the streets looking for people to talk to and places to see, to use as material for his newspaper column.

After listening to the full 30 minutes of this haunting work,  you are left with the impression that actually, despite superficial differences, Morton himself might well have recognised many of the kinds of people featured in the production and would have discovered much useful material for “HV Morton’s 21st Century London“!

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

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Birds of the Gauntlet

This article originally distributed as HVM Society Collectors’ Notes – No.24

The Cover of "Birds of the Gauntlet"

The Cover of “Birds of the Gauntlet”

Dear Fellow Mortonites,

Just occasionally I like to allow myself the luxury of believing that I might have discovered a previously unknown piece of Mortoniana which will surprise and delight our resident Morton scholars and the rest of the HVM Society. Of course I appreciate that many in the society have been researching Morton for decades and have gone to the considerable trouble of tracking down personal papers, making contact with Morton’s family and acquaintances; acquiring rare publications; travelling to places he visited or lived; and spending hours in libraries, poring over microfiche machines and peering at ageing news-print.

This all strikes me as terribly inconvenient, not to say tedious. After all, this is the X-factor age and the current ethos is quite clearly that fame and success is everyone’s “right” and that if one can only “put one’s heart and soul” into something or “really believe in oneself”, then success will follow automatically and instantly, without the need for all that tiresome self-discipline, hard work and research.

Accordingly, it was after “putting my heart and soul” into many exhausting minutes of googling that I came across the item which is the subject of this bulletin and which I have not managed to find any existing reference to, in connection with HV Morton. Surely this has to be my X-factor fifteen minutes of fame.

In the past, when I have excitedly announced such “discoveries”, those more learned folk who really know their onions, after letting me down gently, announce that they have known all about my latest revelation forever and in fact the item in question is so numerous they have drawers full of them and put them to use propping up wobbly coffee tables and the like, while they study more deserving tomes!

But hope springs eternal, so here goes with my latest attempt at achieving immortality in the Mortonian Hall of Fame.

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Bakeia

“Birds of the Gauntlet”, written by Heinrich HJ von Michaëlis (another HVM!), was published in 1952 by Hutchinson & Co. ltd. Measuring approximately 11 by 8 inches, it is a hardback, bound in red board with gold embossed lettering to the spine and with a dustcover (above). It runs to 223 pages and is divided into part one; with twelve chapters, and part two; with four. There are eight colour plates and numerous monochrome sketches and studies, all done by the author. The foreword was written by the Marquess of Willingdon, and the introduction by Michaëlis’s fellow Somerset West resident and friend, Henry Vollam Morton. Morton’s introduction can be read in full here: Birds of the Gauntlet introduction.

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For the uninitiated, “birds of the gauntlet” are birds used for hunting, in falconry. The author describes with great affection the habits and lives of these birds, many of which he has rescued and reared and all of which he admires greatly: “their beauty and spirit appeal to me: many of them have been my friends and good companions”.

A large part of the book is given over to the stories of individual birds he has adopted, while the later sections are devoted to scientific considerations of flight – relating birds to his other passion, gliders – and of the forms and function of his “good companions”. The whole thing is written with a tone of wonderment and awe that brilliantly conveys his deep feelings for his subjects. The plates and drawings (some of which are included here) are superb and they alone would have made the purchase of this volume worthwhile, even without the Morton connection.

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Florian

Von Michaëlis was an artist, sculptor, ornithologist, pilot and expert in gliding. Born in 1912 in Germany to a German father and South African mother, he returned to his mother’s native country in 1937. He died in 1990. His life story – as described in brief by Morton in his introduction – is a fascinating one, encompassing Europe and Germany in particular as the old Imperium gave way to the Reich during the period between the wars. These 1,700 or so words are probably the nearest Morton ever got to writing “In Search of Germany”!

Morton compares Von Michaëlis favourably to some of his charges, describing him as “thin, spare and quick, with a restless darting manner, a rapid and fluent talker and a man who carries forty years with the air of youth”. The introduction has the mature, confident air of Morton’s later works while still retaining that characteristic whimsy and humour. From its tone HVM clearly has a great deal of respect for HvM.

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Von Michaëlis’s twin boys with Tonka

It remains to be seen if my discovery will rock the world of Morton scholarship (I ain’t holding my breath!) but whether or not it does, I am delighted to have come across this lovely volume and be able to add it to my little collection.

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
23 September 2013

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Illustrated Magazine’s “Coronation Record Number”

Illustrated Coronation issue

There have been 38 coronations in England since William the Conqueror of Normandy was first crowned at Westminster on Christmas day, 1066. Today marks the 60th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth the Second in 1953 following the sadly premature death of her father, King George VI.

On 13th June, 1953, Illustrated Magazine produced a special souvenir edition for the Coronation (a “Coronation Record Number”) to provide, in the words of the editorial, “a full pictorial record of the epic day on which the Queen dedicated herself to the service of God and of her peoples” in the hope that it would “perpetuate for you and your children the memory of June 2, 1953”.

This special edition featured contributions from authors including Sir Compton Mackenzie – “Words from the Heart” – and HV Morton – “A Queen’s Glory Outshines All” – the text of which was transcribed by Kenneth Fields on 2nd June 2011 and can be read in full here: http://www.hvmorton.co.uk/hvmsoc/LN99-101.html#LN100.

Morton’s article begins:

“My seat in Westminster Abbey gave me a perfect view of the objects I wished to see: the Coronation Chair, the Throne, the Chair of Estate and the Royal Box behind it. Nothing else mattered. It was upon that floodlit space before the High Altar, covered with a golden carpet, that the Queen would be anointed and crowned.”

IMG_2781 crop smallWith hints of the central portion of “In Search of London” from two years earlier, and its detailed description of the history and origins of Westminster Abbey, Morton takes us in a broad sweep from the Plantagenets, through St. Edward the Confessor and Henry III, to the present day. With his love of the linguistic, he points out that the ancient word for “Coronation” was the “hallowing, or the making holy, of the monarch”. As the piece continues, he harks back to the Coronation of this new Queen’s father, on 12 May 1937 which he also witnessed, and reported on for the Daily Herald.

The Coronation is, at heart, a communion service and Morton acknowledges this in the closing paragraph of his carefully crafted article as he notes simply:

“Kneeling side by side, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh took Holy Communion. Then, to a great pealing of bells and the sound of cheering, with the music playing and the trumpets blowing, Queen Elizabeth II went out from her hallowing, the Crown upon her head and the sceptres in her hands.”

Measuring 13.5 by 10 inches, the magazine is an evocative time capsule, capturing the feelings and aspirations of the time, both in the reverential tone of the articles and in the multitude of advertisements it features. Everything from rainwear, Ovaltine, bicycles and Bird’s Custard is promoted with a respctful Coronation theme.

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There is even a small advert for “Cuxsome, Gerrard & Co. ltd, Carnation Corn Pads” – for people suffering after standing for hours in the crowds perhaps – and for “glorious” Agfacolour film – just incase anyone was less than satisfied with mere black and white for this special occasion. My favourite is this full colour cartoon from the brewers of Double Diamond beer. Their well known slogan “A Double Diamond works wonders” is wonderfully borne out as a patriotic gentleman is elevated above the cheering crowds atop a teetering tower of beer bottles.

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Other slogans in this edition have fared less well with the vagiaries of time and an evolving language. One wonders just when it dawned on Mars, the manufacturers of Spangles boiled sweets, that the, then innocent and charming, phrase “Spangles, the sweet way to go gay” had finally run its course and become a less than effective means of enticing children to part with precious pocket-money!

The editorial, with justifiable pride, makes considerable mention of the many photographers who contributed to this important edition. The highlight however, (apart from possibly the cover photograph) surely has to be this central photograph, the first one ever published of the coronation in colour, taken by James Jarche who also contributed many photographs to Morton’s books and articles over the years.

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This sought-after and delightful magazine is well worth keeping a look out for. It is occasionally seen on the web pages of second-hand book sellers for reasonable cost and would make an important addition to anyone’s collection of Mortoniana.

A BBC article on the anniversary of the Coronation can be read here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-22729342 and a selection of photographs of the day taken by the Magnum Photos agency can be seen here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-22709637 (they feature Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall who crossed the pond for the occasion and some appalling weather).

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
2 June 2013

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Blue Days at Sea – a review

I have just finished reading “Blue Days at Sea and other essays” by HV Morton. While attending an enormous conference set in a magnificent edifice of concrete and glass, this slightly battered little book made perfect reading. It was a good companion to me in largely anonymous crowds as I carried it around to read between lectures and in coffee bars and restaurants, Morton’s highly readable style provided much welcome light relief from the subject matter at hand just as its slightly shabby cover contrasted pleasingly with the slick, plush interiors of the venue.

Blue Days at Sea, medium

The first thing I was looking forward to knowing more about was the unusual title. I had a vague idea the book was about the sea but was puzzled about the origins of the title. On opening the book I discovered that it is taken from a poem entitled “Romance”, by a young Robert Louis Stevenson. The first verse is given before the book begins:

I will make you brooches and toys for your delight
Of bird-song at morning and star-shine at night.
I will make a palace fit for you and me
Of green days in forests and blue days at sea.

“Blue Days at Sea and other essays” was first published in1932 and is dedicated “To All Who Serve on the High Seas”.

The book is a collection of short essays and vignettes, many of which are original, others having previously appeared in the Daily Express, the Sunday Express and the Daily Herald. It has nicely managed structure and form and is laid out in three broad sections – starting in serious and sombre mood in the section “About Men”, shifting into lighter gear for “About Women”, and offering a touch of introspection and a hint of the exotic as Morton travels far and wide across Europe and North Africa in “About Places”, until the final joy of coming home – “to a country which has no need to chain nailbrushes to a lavatory basin” – rounds off the collection.

The section titles are applied fairly loosley. In fact “About Men” concerns life in the Royal Navy, being an account of a period Morton spent as a journalist with the fleet, assigned to a ship referred to as HMS Impenetrable (although there is no reference an actual ship of this name anywhere to be found on the internet), initially anchored at its the base in the Cromarty Firth and later, during deep sea exercises and weapons training. These chapters clearly portray the great respect the author has for the personnel he encounters. We read his affectionate descriptions of the various manly goings-on and eccentricities he comes across, from the young “snotties” in the gun room to the god-like Captain on the bridge; all the time managing to convey a state of constant readiness, a willingness to face adversity and of extreme, calm and considered professionalism. These chaps, Morton seems to suggest, will get the job done, come what may, and still be back in the ward-room in time for a tot of rum and a round of “Priest of the Parish” before bed-time.

After the thrills of high speed manouvers in the Atlantic we are taken to the other extreme where, in the languid setting of a mediterranean naval base, the reader is given a touching account of the death and burial at sea of humble, loyal, Stoker Davis. Again Morton paints a picture of reserve and British stiff upper lip –

“‘Hullo! Where’s the wedding?’, asked a friend, nodding at the flowers.
“‘It’s Stoker Davis,’ replied the engineer commander, finishing his drink. ‘Dead.’
“‘Bad luck… What are you drinking?'”

HMS Dreadnought on manouvers

HMS Dreadnought on manouvers

The next section, “About Women”, while tending to the patronising as might be expected in a book of its time also reveals refreshingly modern attitudes in places. “The Wife” for instance, while describing the subject’s love affair “with a dress in a shop window”, also has a swipe at the husband as he is taken to task for not appreciating the work performed by his better half. The author also expresses disapproval of the husbandly hold on the purse strings which would have been the norm at the time. In another chapter Morton describes a business woman as she delivers financial advice to a male client to the accompaniment of simpering comments from a couple of “chaps” at the next table, “By Jove, pretty hot stuff that!”. To be fair, this isn’t Germaine Greer but in its day it must have been a bit of a revalation, particularly coming from a male author.

The reader is treated to a touch of pathos with the mysterious “Woman Nobody Knows” and a little light humour with “The Bad Girl” (a disconcertingly modern-sounding account of 1930’s “yoof”) and “The Head Huntress” ruthlessly stalking the jungles of London Society in dogged pursuit of a suitable marriage for her daughter.

The final section, “About Places”, starts in the tourist office with an account of the “Man of the World” who works there (and isn’t all he seems!), before Morton is off, across the globe with tales of his travels as he visits Paris, sees snow in Rome, rides across the Sahara on Ferdinand the Fiery Steed and encounters a link with the past – a proud man fallen on hard times – as he relates the touching story of Mr Snap in Cairo. There are several chapters concerning Rome, including an account – of interest to any Scot worth his salt – of a visit to the final resting place of Charles Edward Stewart, Bonnie Prince Charlie, at his tomb in the Church of St Peter. Morton gives a moving account of the life of the Young Pretender, contrasting the romance and chivalry of his youth with his sad fall from grace in later life. The romance of House of Stewart, he observes with disconcerting insight, is “the appealing romance of misfortune wedded to good looks”.

Then, after stopping off for a spot of night fishing in the seas around Capri where he is horrified by the throes of an expiring calamaro (or squid), it is back home once again with a loving homage to homecoming in the form of an account of the Dover to Victoria train as it takes Morton back to “reliable” London, a city populated entirely by “splendid men and beautiful women”. He is realistic about the fleeting nature of such feelings of elation after long weeks spent travelling abroad but nevertheless he notes the railway platform at Dover harbour as a symbol of something he would be willing to fight to defend in the event of war. I wonder if he could have guessed that only a few short years later he, and millions of others, would be called upon to do just that.

“Blue Days at Sea and other essays” is an engaging assortment, demonstrating Morton at his strongest as he explores a wide range of moods and emotions, all the while rooted in the everyday happenings of the world of the 1930’s. Once again Morton’s exquisite use of pace, structure and language reveals intimate details of life overlooked by grander, more self-important accounts elsewhere, and even today, after the best part of a century, we can still delight in it.

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, England
5 March 2013

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H.V.Morton – Our Fellow Men: A Review By Jim Leggett

(This post originally distributed as – HVM Literary Notes – No.117)

H.V.Morton – Our Fellow Men

A Review

By Jim Leggett

During a flight from Miami to Curacao in 1992, colleague Mike McDonough, a former Reuters reporter, mentioned his enjoyment of HV Morton’s volumes as, from his pocket, he produced a small book.

“‘Our Fellow Men’ – it’s a potpourri, on the daily lives of tradesmen, dustmen, ploughmen, chimney sweeps, even the milkman… have you read it?” he asked.

Our Fellow Men

OUR FELLOW MEN
By H. V. Morton

Methuen & CO. Ltd.
36 Essex Street W.C.
London

First published May 7th 1936, cover art by EA Cox

I’d never heard of this title let alone read it.

Back in Florida a week or so later I stopped by Mike’s apartment in Lantana, a sleepy seaside town some sixty miles north of Miami. Over a zesty Cuban coffee and sandwiches, he thumbed the pages of his hardcover copy with its slightly faded frontispiece, otherwise in pristine condition. He told me he’d picked it up in Manchester, his UK hometown. “Time to pass it on…” he added, giving the book to me.

“Our Fellow Men” is a Pepys-style contemporary (mid 1930’s) history, insights on ordinary folk, men and women, revealing day-in-the-life-of insights from a wide variety of intriguing characters, the like of which HVM had an uncanny knack of turning up. Add Morton’s wry historical observations, Presto! – Another enchanting read. I particularly enjoy being able to delve in anywhere, picking whatever occupation takes your fancy.

* * *

London taxi drivers, circa 1936, were issued from sixty to seventy police summonses a week, for going too slowly. Not keeping up with the normal flow of traffic was an offense, arbitrary fines ranging from 2s 6d in one court to 5s at another – for the identical “crime”. Taxi drivers were paid thirty percent of the gross meter taking, or 6s from every £1 pound collected. Morton interviewed a dozen drivers, discovering their take came to “rarely more than a £2 10s or £3 pounds a week job”. They received no wage; theirs was in an uninsurable occupation, in that if he is out of work, he cannot receive unemployment benefits. In short, taxi driving at that time was not profitable.

We meet, too, George, the cinema projectionist, the man picture theatre patrons never see – the man behind the film. Working in a fireproof room known as a “box”, two projectors, a side lantern and a spotlight are under his command. Morton notes: “It is thanks to George’s skill and vigilance that Greta Garbo comes over at the right speed, and it is due entirely to George’s alacrity that the heart-throbs change swiftly and smoothly to the welcome tempo of Walt Disney’s fertile brain”.

We learn that the moving picture era began in 1824, when Peter Mark Roget lectured before the Royal Society in London on the subject of moving objects and the law of vision. Morton notes the first form of moving picture was a card with a bird painted on one side, and a cage on the other, which – when suspended from a string and rapidly revolved – gave the illusion that the bird was in the cage.

Under George’s skillful hands something like seven miles of highly flammable film flickered through the projectors in his long days work. His first duty was to see the celluloid film did not catch fire…and indeed they did. As a boy I recall fire brigade bells clanging as they raced to the Star Picture Palace in Glasgow to suppress a smoky projection “box” fire.  The projectionist rarely sees the movie, “I don’t pay much attention to them! Sometimes I look at the news, especially Monday’s Cup-ties matches.” George says, closing the interview with “Well, I’ll be getting along home. I believe I am married….”.

Then there’s Bill, an insurance salesman, who knocked on some fifty doors during his morning’s round, collecting money on what his company called life insurance policies. Morton noted they are really “death policies”. The shame of a parish (pauper) funeral was so ingrained in the populace, they would forgo the smallest personal luxury to meet their meager weekly premium, their insurance man oozing charm while persuading them “You want to the right thing for dad, now don’t you? Have you got the money for his funeral? You’ve got to think about these things”.

Bill confesses that 90% of the money he so painfully screws from starvation incomes goes right into the pocket of the undertaker.  In that respect not much has changed – except you have to take a second mortgage to afford a funeral today. (In irreverent determination to cheat the mortician, I’ve donated my well-travelled corpse to some medical procurement enterprise, for free):

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On the lighter side Morton spoke with Jack, a newsboy. Evening newspapers, which supply London street sellers with a living, during the 1930’s sold by the “quire”, twenty-six copies, for which he paid 1s 6d. A quire, strictly speaking, is twenty-four, but the two extra copies – it used to be three – were thrown in as the seller’s profit. An 8d profit on the sale of every twenty-six copies sold. We learn of an assortment of street vendors; Sunshine Runners, who hawk papers only when there was something to sell – football results and the like; Tappers, crooks who got in touch to “tap” you, often pretending to sell papers to inebriates; Movie Men appeared to sell only one quire, earning them admission price to the pictures. Jack tells Morton he can earn £2 10s to £3 a week by selling newspapers, as long as his pitch is not invaded by pirates who swoop down from nowhere with a football edition.

* * *

In the space of 171 lively pages, thirty extraordinary ordinary Londoners are resurrected, alive once more as HVM so deliciously captured them. He divulges what they did to feed themselves and their families, reveals how many hours a day they toiled and, of paramount importance, the wages they earned.

Says Morton, “I have also the feeling that should some curious person pick this book from a penny box in the year 2036 A.D., he would be interested to know the wages of a dustman in 1936, or the money earned by a taxi-cab driver in the London of Edward V111”.

… I’ve sent my copy on to Sean Connery [see footnote], who was an Edinburgh milkman long before “shaken, not stirred” took the place of “One pint or two?”.

With best wishes,

Jim Legget, The Bahamas
March 2013

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FOOTNOTE:

In keeping with HVM’s observation on income, when last I visited with Sean Connery at his home in Lyford Cay, Bahamas, we spoke of his early job as milkman – when he had his own (employer’s) horse and cart.

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St. Cuthbert’s Dairy, in Edinburgh, delivered milk by horse and cart well into the 1980’s

On opening a weighty Volume One of “Old and New Edinburgh” by James Grant, published in 1883, Sean took amused note of a small rubber-stamp flyleaf imprint:

J.M. Cameron
26, Melville Terrace
Edinburgh.

“Christ! I used to deliver milk to that address…I knew that terrace well” he declared.

In his book “Being a Scot”*, a copy of his first milkman pay slip reads;

Date 20-7-1944;
CONNERY  Thomas. S. #26246.
St, Cuthbert’s Co-Operative  Dairy
Fountainbridge, Edinburgh

His starting salary was one guinea, or twenty-one shillings (£1.05p), a week. He writes; “the horse I groomed was a Highland garron pony called Tich and I loved her dearly.”

From his modest pay packet, Sean relates how he bought Tich rosettes and chains – which looped down from each ear, “along with a martingale, or bracelet, which hung down her front.” He was so proud of Tich he entered her in the annual horse-and-cart competition for the best-dressed horse and she won a Highly Commended!

* “Being A Scot” by Sean Connery with Murray Grigor, Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2008, pp18-19

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Mortonian Meanderings: “In Search of Cuckoo-Land”

Walking in to work each morning gives me time to think, to get away from the ubiquitous Information Technology that surrounds us all these days.

Today I am musing on some recently aired, light hearted grumblings about the country I live in and, specifically, whether images, conjured by authors like HV Morton, merely feed impressions of an idealised fantasy world (let’s call it “cuckoo-land”) to readers with a rose-tinted view of somewhere that is always just around the corner, forever out of reach.

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Cuckoo-land?

Is it right or wrong to fuel this alleged delusion, does such a delusion even truly exist? It’s certainly food for thought.

Locking the front door behind me, I step out onto a road which bears the name of an empire whose citizens, some two-thousand years ago, walked the same route and allegedly grew vines on the now frozen slopes above, and moored boats in the valley beneath, before the marshlands were drained to make way for productive green fields. Many a time, in the hope of uncovering Imperial Artefacts, our family has staged excavations in the front garden, only to encounter broken pipestems, fragments of pig trotter and shards of Edwardian crockery.

I am most envious of my daughter who I have just packed off, blinking and pale-faced at this unaccustomed hour, on a school trip to visit what the English refer to as the Mother of Parliaments, at Westminster. I wonder if I reminded her frequently enough to take plenty of photographs which I can purloin for future Morton-related projects?

I trudge on, swathed in warm and weatherproof garments, the cold nipping fiercely at any extremities injudiciously exposed to the elements, my breath billowing ahead of me. I imagine myself to be a stealthy ninja warrior, only my eyes visible, as I stalk the silent streets in search of my hapless quarry. To anyone with a more rational outlook I am more like the Michelin Man, after he’s let himself go a bit.

This morning the sky is clear and blue, something I’m sure I haven’t seen for months. Everything – red-brick houses; old, stone bridges;  even the slumbering, hollowed-out shells of former industry – is given a pleasant hue by the warm colours of the rising sun.

There is a smooth, flattering cover of frost over field, hedge and fence, lending an unblemished, slightly unreal quality to mundane things – even parked cars are transformed into works of art, courtesy of this freezing makeover. Looming out of the low-lying mists along the banks of the meandering river below are the tops of the highest trees, groping upwards, like skeletal hands; and tall, disembodied chimneys from a lost industrial past – which JB Priestley and HV Morton would probably have spat teeth at and ignored respectively – but which now, softened by the passing of time, are part of our landscape, history and culture and have become as familiar as old friends.

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As my walk continues, I realise the everyday world around me has been elevated to Turneresque heights – a dignified and distant silvery etching of trees, higgledy-piggledy houses and little hills which is suddenly astounding. I try to imagine it captured, frozen and in a frame, gracing the most exalted of art galleries.

It is part of the human condition that only after months of mud and mire, of rainfall and floods are we able to appreciate mornings like this – without the proverbial “rough”, we cannot enjoy the “smooth”. We need the contrast. But it’s difficult sometimes to avoid becoming preoccupied by the “rough”. It requires effort to appreciate what we have on our own doorstep, to be able to count our blessings and “see things with new eyes” – as those infuriatingly smug “New-Age” types are wont to say. It is too easy to become bogged down with the ordinary, the minutiae, the every-day blandness.

Misery and depression, death and destruction, murder and mayhem all sell newspapers (or their e-equivalents) far more readily than good news. So we have to look hard for that good news – the little chat with Tony the taxi driver down the road as he tells me his cat is much better now, thanks; a chance meeting with a grumpy lorry driver in day-glo yellow, who has probably been on the road since the crack of sparrows’ knee-caps, but who can still be persuaded to raise a smile when the driving skills of those Kings of the Road, the artic. drivers, are remarked upon in complimentary manner.

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“In the early morning before the sun is strong, a man standing on this hill looks down, not upon the neat flat pasture lands of the Vale of Avalon, but upon Avalon, an island again, rising from a steaming sea of mist… the mist rises from the fields as if it were the ghost of that sea which covered the valley in the age of legend. In the cold wind that runs before the dawn a man looks down upon this faint, moving veil, watches it writhe in spectral billows over the land, steaming upward in faint lines in the high places and so exposing the darker objects beneath which, in this hushed hour, seem almost like the bones of heroes, or the hulls of legendary barges sunk in some old poem.”

HV Morton, “In Search of England”, chpt 6

This country is different – it couldn’t be anything else (nor should we truly wish it to be) – from that of nearly a century ago. It is no longer (if it ever was) the place described by Morton’s amiable narrator, as he bowled along in his little car. True, nowadays bad things happen and times are tough, but they are not nearly as bad or as tough as they were (and were shortly to become) in Morton’s day, regardless of the alluring optimism of his travelogues. This country is still a pretty good place to be, if one can rise above the petty clamour as HVM did in his day, and I would still recommend it highly as a place to visit or to stay. We live in a cynical age, when it’s difficult to admit to being content with one’s lot, and we are all much more inclined to grumble than to eulogise. One book which claims to be a modern successor to Morton is in fact entitled “Mustn’t Grumble”, although in it, by all accounts, the author does indeed grumble, quite a lot.

If there is a heaven (and I’m yet to be convinced), it may not just be be a place where things are pleasant and comfortable, but one where we are able to appreciate that which is pleasant and comfortable without the need for the unpleasant and uncomfortable – now that would be a trick!

Until then I’ll continue to take life as I find it, one day at a time, and endeavour to appreciate the things around me more.

As I arrive at work I see the daffodils in the flowerbeds around the front-door are in bud – pioneering spears of lime-green, courageously poking out of black, frozen soil – Spring is in the air. It won’t last of course!

Now I need to hope I can find a spare moment, when I can sit down to catch these fleeting snippets of thought before they are snowed under with everyday normality – amateur writers, who needs them!

Niall Taylor February 2013

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HV Morton on Whisky

Originally distributed to the HV Morton Society as: HVM Society Snippets – No.151

IMG_5061 copy small“The whisky had uplifted them… It had given them wings.”
(from “In Scotland Again” chapter 6, section 9)

Product placement is nothing new. John Mills was sipping his “Ice Cold” Carlsberg in Alexandria a lifetime before James Bond inexplicably started flashing his omega ® watch and nokia ® phone – logos placed strategically for all to see – across the big screen and mysteriously eschewing his traditional vodka Martini (shaken, stirred or otherwise), in favour of the same well known (if somewhat out of character) Scandinavian lager, favoured by Sir John.

Surely, such mundane contrivances would have been beneath Morton. Never the less, it has occured to me, if he wasn’t being sponsored by Talisker then he was missing a trick!

Morton wrote his books in the days when a malt whisky was something very special, to be savoured and enjoyed, as one might a rare work of art. The drinking of a single malt was a mark of distinction; hoi polloi were condemned to make-do, as best they could, with mere blends.

These days, with any number of malts so easily accessible from the shelves of the nearest supermarket, something of the mystique is being lost. Thus it is a wonderful reminder of times gone by to read of Morton’s reverence for what is clearly his favourite whisky – with its hints of peat fires and sea salt and a strangely endearing, almost medicinal, tang.

It is Burns’ night, and many a lover of Scotland – adopted, native or otherwise; at home or abroad – looks forward to raising a glass to celebrate the brief but colourful life of their country’s great national poet, Robert Burns. I thought, on this occasion, a passage from Morton’s “In Search of Scotland” might be appreciated. It is from chapter 10, section 5, after the narrator has offered a lift to a wandering highlander, soaked during a mountain storm, on the road to Crianlarich. As the weather lifts, the sun comes out, a little gold cloud dances over the head of Ben Dorian, and Morton writes:

“I remembered that I had in my bag a bottle of Talisker whisky, that remarkable drink which is made in the Isle of Skye and can be obtained even in its birthplace only with difficulty. This seemed to me an occasion. When my companion saw the bottle of Talisker he ceased to leap about and, becoming solemn, he said:

“’Talisker? Ye don’t mean to open the bottle? It’s a shame to waste it; but, man it’s a grand whisky!’

“We settled down.

“He had a tin mug in his rucksack; I had one of those idiotic so-called drinking cups which you place firmly on a stone with the result that the whole thing telescopes and spills the liquor. We poured the amber-coloured Talisker into our mugs, and descending to an amber coloured burn in the heather we let a little ice cold water into the whisky.

“There is, so it is said, a time for everything, and the time for whisky is after physical fatigue in the open air among great mountains. This Talisker drunk below the great, windy clouds in the shadow of Ben Dorain was different from the whisky which a man drinks in his club as Lachryma Christi drunk in the shadow of Vesuvius differs from the same wine in Soho. This drink filled us with good nature and enthusiasm.

“My friend, perched picturesquely on a stone told me a lot about himself. He was something in a city. He always spent his holidays in his native highlands. He loved to wear the kilt for two to three weeks and to run wild in the heather. As the Talisker burned in him it lit fires of patriotism, and I listened with delight as he spoke of his love for the hills and the glens and the peat-hags and the great winds and the grey mists.”

Talisker

I like to think, just occasionally, the odd bottle of that “amber-coloured Talisker” might have found its way to Morton, sent from a grateful distillery owner across the water, in return for services rendered. Call it part of the angels’ share.

“Freedom, friendship and whisky gang thegither” (Robert Burns).

With grateful thanks to Jim Leggett, of the The Bahamas

With best wishes,
Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
23 January 2013

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HV Morton the Photographer

Originally distributed as: HVM Literary Note – No.116

My Leica and I 150dpi crop small

It isn’t always widely appreciated that HV Morton was a keen photographer, taking many of the photographs which featured in his books himself. This passion was also shared by his second wife, Mary who took many of the photographs included in his works concerning the Middle East.

I received an email on this subject a while ago, in the heady days immediately after the change of coordinatorship – when my mind was suffering information overload from juggling membership lists, email addresses and ideas for future articles – from HVM Society member and professional photographer, David Jago. Having had this for a while on the back burner, so to speak, I thought now would be a good time to put the information out as a bulletins to members.

I love connections, and on re-reading David’s piece in preparation, I found there was a little bell ringing at the back of my mind. This in turn, after a bit of thought, led me to look even further back, to a much earlier email from then the coordinator, Peter Devenish, following a remark I had made about a cover of one of Morton’s books on the home page of the web-site:

Dear Niall,

I’m sure you know [I didn’t! – NT] that one of your favourite jacket designs, namely that for several editions of  “Middle East”, was taken at Aleppo by HVM. I agree, it is a superb design.

Cover Middle East

Did you know, though [I didn’t! – NT], that HVM’s photo was first published in an article he wrote for Leica News and Technique, No.26, March-April 1937; published by E. Leitz, London. The article was entitled Travel with the Leica.  Interestingly, the illustration on the dust-jacket of the book is the reverse image of the photograph printed in Leica News and Technique.

Aleppo 1

All the very best,

Peter

And this brings me to the later email from David:

Hello Niall,

Just a note concerning HVM. I am an agency photographer and mainly use a Leica camera.  Recently I discovered in a bookshop a second hand publication titled “My Leica and I”. Published in English and printed in Germany in 1937, it contains stories by well known people together with photographs taken by them in a variety of countries. The first article, and there are 18 in total, is by HVM describing how useful he finds his Leica camera on his travels, together with details of the apertures and speeds used.

Prior to finding this book I had rather assumed that he obtained photographs for his books from press agencies but it now seems that this was not always the case.

Best regards,

David

I wrote back, thanking David and congratulating him on his wonderful find. That has got to be every book-lover’s dream, surely – to find a copy of an obscure and sought-after volume by sheer luck, whilst browsing the shelves of the local bookshop (I have a slightly singed copy of “A Stranger in Spain” which has always been special to me for that very reason).

David kindly sent me copies of the cover of this publication (as seen above) – featuring a very arty, bohemian type squinting earnestly through his viewfinder – and of Morton’s article, which it contained. Thus I discovered the title of the article was also Travel with the Leica.

That’s when the little “connections” bell started ringing in my head and I thought first, of Peter’s earlier communication (above) and second, of a previous HVM society bulletin – Literary Note No.22 to be precise – also by Peter, about this same publication where a transcription of the text of Morton’s article, and both the photos by HVM (The Gorge at Delphi and Bedouin Girl), can be found.

So it appears that the article, which, according to Peter, originally appeared in Leica News and Technique, No.26, March-April 1937, was, later that same year, also included in the hardback volume discovered by David in his local bookshop – the full title of which is “My Leica and I – Leica Amateurs show their Pictures”.

I was so intrigued by this little known example of Morton’s works that I have since (more by luck than judgement) managed to acquire a copy for myself. The publication is a well presented hardback, featuring articles by a variety of authors on diverse aspects of how best to use the Leica; including at the theatre, at the zoo, with the family and, amazingly, while skiing, and climbing in the Himalayas. A section at the back is given over to 152 pages of photographs by the authors, including Morton’s two contributions (the townscape from Aleppo is, unfortunately, not included in the work).

The photographs are all wonderful, but of particular note is the one on page 50 which features an aerial view of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella, North Spain, by Hans von Schiller. When I first looked at it, I thought it was somewhat spoiled by a massive shadow occupying most of its centre until I realised, from the shape, that this view had been taken from the gondola of an airship  – what a piece of history!

Other pictures have been taken all across the globe and feature landscapes as well as candid portraits of people at work, wild animals, people at sport and play; and some beautiful close-up work including studies of insects and snow-flakes – all giving an insight in everyday life in the 1930’s. My personal favourite is this one, entitled “Curiosity“, from the article entitled “The Leica in Family Life“, by Swiss photographer Dr Walter Weber:

Curiosity colour - mod

So, there we have it, another piece of the jigsaw of HV Morton’s life and works, and a side of him which gets little attention, even though photography seems to have been an important part of his life. In fact, according to Literary Note No.22, Morton once confided, in a letter to a friend, that he would have preferred to have been a photographer than a writer. Thankfully for us, he refrained from developing this idea further.

There are many more examples of Morton’s photographic works to be found though, if one looks carefully; and in part two, Stan White gives us a further insight into HV Morton, the Photographer.

With grateful thanks to David Jago of England, and Peter Devenish of Australia.

Best wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
January 2013

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Merry Christmas!

Originally distributed as HVM Society Membership Notice 2012-12-24

Just a short note, dashed off between rain, floods and disastrous mince pies, to wish all admirers of HV Morton and book fans generally, wherever you are and of whatever religious persuasion you may be, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

I tried hard to find a suitable quote from HVM about Christmas or winter, but couldn’t find anything which struck quite the right note. I did however come across this celebration, by Morton, of  the “bookmen” – which is to say “the book readers, the book hunters, the book tasters, the book maniacs…” who haunt the bookshops of the bustling Charing Cross Road, London – that captured the mood and I thought might be appreciated by librarious persons during the festive season:

“Lost to the world that touches their elbows as they stand there, the bookmen pry and pore into the books, looking and seeking and sometimes even finding. I love to remember the hours I have spent there, perhaps on spring mornings, sometimes in winter, oblivious of cold feet, when the shop doors open to the warning ping of a little bell, and often in the evening when the lamps have been lighted and the titles shine out splendidly in gold, behind the plate-glass windows.”

from “In Search of London”, 1951, chpt 10

Finally, anyone who, like me, will be raising a glass of  the old uisge beatha at the turn of the year can take comfort in the knowledge that, according to this web-site, the top three books to read while drinking whisky are all by HV Morton.

Sláinte mhaith!

With seasonal best wishes,

Niall Taylor
24 December 2012

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