Tag Archives: books

An unusual HVM connection

HVM Society Snippets – No.163
(originally circulated to the HV Morton Society 25 January 2014)

“Jo went leaping down the stairs…”

An unusual HVM connection

Dear Fellow Mortonites,

Some time ago I received an email from someone who described themselves as “a middle-aged Welshwoman living in the English Midlands” who went by the name of Molly. She had spotted the HV Morton website and made contact.

Molly wrote, “I came to Morton initially because I was on a quest to read all the books referenced in  the Chalet School series, where a character is reading ‘In the Steps of St Paul‘. So I read this, loved it, told my 86 year old father, and it turned out that Morton had been a great favourite of his family in the thirties. Further, I found a cache of books on his shelves… I continued with ‘In the Steps of the Master‘, ‘In Search of England‘ (which I found just a little self-conscious at times) and am now thoroughly enjoying ‘In Search of Wales‘.

Chalet School is a series of 60 books set in a girls’ school, written by Elinor Brent-Dyer between 1925 and 1970. According to wikipedia the original school was located in Austria then, following the rise of Naziism, relocated (rather rashly, with hindsight, even for a fictional establishment) to the Channel Islands before moving to the British mainland and then finally back to the continent, this time to Switzerland. Although modern-day reprints are available they are often heavily revised and altered (presumably in the name of “political correctness“) and, as a result, many of the original editions are highly sought after and change hands for considerable sums of money.

Cover

As one would expect these days, these books have an internet presence including the polished and informative “Friends of the Chalet School” and “insanity sandwich” (now no longer updated) which has a web page listing every one of the books & plays mentioned in the Chalet School series – there is an enormous number of them, Molly certainly has her work cut out.

Molly informed me the passage in question was from “The Highland Twins at the Chalet School“. To give a little context, Jo (the ongoing heroine of the CS) has gone off to collect the eponymous highland twins from the station. She is going to look after them because the Admiralty have commandeered their Scottish Island for the duration. (it’s set in 1940).  Robin, who is roughly 17 years of age and ridiculously angelic – she is later to enter a convent – is reading Morton. The excerpt is as follows:

Jo went leaping down the stairs, and Robin, left to herself, glanced at her wristwatch which was lying on the bedside table. ‘Twenty to six. Jo will have to buck up if she means to be at Armiford station by half-past six. Not that I think it will do any good. Well, I’ll just have another chapter or so of “In the Steps of St Paul“, and then I’d better get out. But it’s not worth while going to sleep again.’ She pushed up her pillows, pulled a woolly round her shoulders, for her nightgown was sleeveless, and the morning air coming through the wide-open window was sharp, with just a touch of frost, and settled down to a half-hour of enjoyment.

As to why Brent-Dyer chose to have one of her characters reading “In the Steps of St Paul“, Molly has a theory: “My guess is that she hadn’t actually read it herself, and thought it was more  – shall I say – religious and less political/travel-ly/generally contemporary than it is…“. Seen that way, Morton’s work would be ideal reading material for the “ridiculously angelic” Robin, seeking a literal path to enlightenment by following in the steps of one of Jesus’s disciples.

I hope this has been of some interest to Morton completists such as myself. If anyone enjoys this sort of thing you might be interested in a previous article listing a few more quirky links, including the wonderful “Hackney Podcast“.

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

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Thoughts of Glasgow

Bargain finds at Paddy's Market 1970 - (Photo copyright Jim Leggett - International Press Service)

Bargain finds at Paddy’s Market 1970 – (Photo copyright Jim Leggett – International Press Service)

“Glasgow on a November evening…

“The fog which has tickled the throat all evening relents a little and hangs thinly over the city, so that each lamp casts an inverted V of light downward on the pavement. The streets are full of light and life. Pavements are packed to the edge with men and women released from a day’s work, anxious to squeeze a little laughter from the dark as they move against a hazy blur of lit windows…

“There is nothing half-hearted about Glasgow… She is the greatest, closely-knit community in Great Britain… a mighty and inspiring human story. She is Scotland’s anchor to reality.”

From “In Search of Scotland“, chpt 11, section 2, 1929

Thinking of the people of Glasgow and those affected by the tragic events of Friday night.

Niall Taylor 1 December 2013

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December 1, 2013 · 11:18 am

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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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

ship 02 silhouette copy small

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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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Filed under Book reviews, HV Morton

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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Filed under Christmas, HV Morton, Quotations