Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Up the Junction

This is the pub scene from the amazing Up the Junction, which I finally watched with Lil'Sis and Chuckles during a very bleak hangover afternoon last week. "E're, when I go, I'm gunna 'ave 'orse n' cart. I mean, you get to your grave too quick in one of 'em motors." This is the kind of sentiment that seemed to ring so true, as we dissolved into a heavy morbid love of sixties British realism. Later that evening I watched the whole thing over again, and Lil'Sis disappeared with a double DVD of A Taste of Honey and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. Chuckles went to the gym. Up The Junction is pretty much an ensemble piece, but Maureen Lipman and Adrienne Posta were just brilliant. I recently watched a really interesting Mark Lawson interview with Maureen Lipman, it seems something of a shame that despite the early stuff, her work with late husband Jack Rosenthal, and role in Polanski's The Pianist, to the majority, she is most famous for playing "Beatie" in the BT adverts. Still, they were pretty funny I suppose. And what happened to Adreinne Posta? She was fucking cool. Katie thought there was a Smiths connection, but after googling it and finding nothing, thought maybe this was just a dream, it being so right...

Sunday, 25 January 2009

The Friendly Young Ladies

"Guilt isn't just sin. That would be simple. Guilt is being responsible for the consequences. Orestes found that out. You're my Eumenides, I suppose."
Elsie had not read of Orestes, and did not know what Eumenides were, but the ringing mysterious words gave a kind of grandeur to her trouble, and she registered it for future use. Her brain relaxed, she was even interested. - From The Friendly Young Ladies by Mary Renault, 1944.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Barbara Lynn

Sister Spyancop asks for a bottle of tea, Sister Grundy replies, "You'll get plenty of tea out of a tea-pot."

"It has been the proud lot of No.7 General Hospital, Estcourt, to claim the honour of launching the first local play relating to the (Boer) war. Civil Surgeon A. Balfour, the writer of the play, has proved himself a worthy disciple of Aristophanes. He and his willing band of helpers, chosen from the officers and nursing sisters, have, by their efforts, sent a zephyr of hilarity through the hospital grounds, where the atmosphere, redolent of surgeons and sickness, monotony and medicine, is usually somewhat oppressive."

"The Camp Catch" A farcical farce in two acts - from the Black and White Budget, Nov.17, 1900.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Patricia Highsmith; the covers

Since I started collecting the books of Patricia Highsmith I have always thought about how the book jackets and cover designs of her books have changed over the years, and how the designs have reflected the flux of Highsmith's catagorisation in a spectrum ranging from pulp fiction, to murder mystery, to cult reading, to serious literature. She is a writer who, in Europe, for example, was always classed as serious, but could always be found in American libraries between genre books and cheap pan editions, which over time, have aquired a whole new kind of seriousness in their kitsch collectablity. Here are some of my favourite first edition covers.

On flickr there is an interesting example of "The Blunderer", which had been issued as a pulp novel under the title "Lament for a Lover" (1956, The Popular Library/Eagle Books). You can view it here, courtesy of Hang Fire Books. The most noticable change in jacket design must be Highsmith's "The Price of Salt" (1952), which apparently inspired Nabakov to write Lolita. It was originally published under the pseudonym Claire Morgan, but Highsmith eventually reclaimed the book, and it is now marketed in a much more sophisticated style to its pulp predecessor. In England the title was even changed to the simple "Carol" (see below), to give it a new life and rid it of pulp fiction overtones. I do like the boldness of the original hardback, however.

Tom Ripley is Highsmith's most famous protaganist, and although I am very pleased to own the Cresset Press first edition of "The Talented Mr. Ripley" (1955), I am not especially fond of the dust jacket. In fact, even though this is her most popular book, and always in print, I haven't really found an edition that seems ideal, although this Spanish copy is perhaps one of the better ones. W.W Norton reissued the Ripley series with some rather good covers in 2008, the best of which is "Ripley's Game" (1974).

There is a wonderful book design blog, Première de couverture, which features possibly the best recent reissue of Highsmith's books, by Bloomsbury. They have an informative page on Highsmith here. Bloomsbury's designs are what I suppose you could call retro-modern, making allusions to the noir-ish, genre placement which Highsmith falls under, but at the same time being suitably stylish designs of some weight, to match the gravitas of Highsmith's writing. I have always found it hard to recommend one of the absolute best Highsmiths, "Edith's Diary" (1977), because the cover has always been such a let-down! Although I still think there could be a better cover one day, perhaps the Bloomsbury edition helps this predicament, somewhat.

There are many titles that I haven't mentioned here, and I will keep looking for more designs as I am sure there must be lots of foreign editions that I am not familiar with. When I find some more good examples I will post an update.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

A Taste of Honey until Up the Junction

Katie: can't wait for you to see Up the Junction - I think about it constantly!

Graham: 'Up the Junction' goodness me, that takes me back. I noticed it in Fopp tha other week; also I see 'Poor Cow' has come out; obviously January is 60's 'kitchen sink' month...

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Mimei Thompson (who was the feature artist in Issue 2 of The Coelacanth Journal, Hysteria) is having a solo show in Liverpool: Internal Geometry, 23rd January to 8th March, 2009, The Drawing Room at St. Georges Hall, Liverpool.
Mimei's work is at once alive with a painterly and psychological authenticity and sophistication, but also seems to convey a sort of teenage guilt and goonery, like a self-aware guffaw in the night when waking from a wild dream! Somehow she is able to do something very clever, to depict a space between emotion and intellect.
This is one of my favourite recent paintings from Mimei's website:

Long-nose Constellation
oil on canvas

Friday, 16 January 2009

The Saturday Book

It's friday, but The Saturday Book, published between 1941 - 1975, was such a fulsome compendium of curiosities, that it would probably bring you right on to the following Saturday to read it from cover to cover. These days there is something rather quaint in imagining setting aside the weekend for enrichment of the mind, but The Saturday Book had all the earnest excitement, about pretty much anything, that might well have inspired the reader to gaze towards the new dawn and cry; "Let tomorrow come, I am ready!"

The 7th annual issue, designed by Laurence Scarfe, is contained within this stylish endpaper design. The lettering is an embellished stymie bold italic; a font so reminiscent of the post-war period, to which I set up a photographic record here.

And within this design there are so many of the motifs that Bevis Hillier pin-pointed in his indispensible guide to the decorative arts of the 1940s and 50s, Austerity Binge. Here are the allusions to the countryside, and traditional folk symbolism that was popular in the 40's, possibly inspiring a love of, and patriotic pride in "England's pastures green".

But equally, there is reference in the "dots" motif not only to the medieval jester (another folkloric signifier), but to the incredibly popular "molecular" design of the 1950's; a motif inspired by science and science fiction, and our awe of the atom. The molecular design seems to me one of the most interesting of the post-war motifs because it became a ubiquitous sight in the 1950s, symbolising a fresh kind of smart modern living, and yet had its genesis, perhaps, in the horror of WWII's final blow to Japan, and was then inexorably emeshed in the Cold War. It is strange to think you can look at the endpaper motif of the Saturday Book and trace within it's curves and dots, a frisson of terror, progressiveness in all it's complexity, and a particularly English sense of past, pastural pleasures. Please click on the image to view it at a larger size.

The Saturday Book often featured pieces from famous, fashionable writers of the time like Walter de la Mare and H.E Bates, but there were always odd articles, like "Men's Tears" which might ask why "Englishmen seem to have abandoned the art of crying, at least in public", by the The History of Underclothes author, C.Willet Cunnington.

The Saturday Book belongs to an era of publishing that relished the eclectic, and had a salon style approach to presenting items both serious and whimsical (The Black and White Budget, Liliput). There was breathing space for the absurd, and a mood of the contemplative. If one wanted to be critical, you could say that there was something very middle-class about the language and keen-ness of The Saturday Book, but within its rather English, non-confrontational and conversational style, The Saturday Book brought to readers an awareness and curiosity about things not necessarily found within the everyday paper. This is illustrated particularly in a section called "Votes for Women". A photograph of a woman being roughly moved along by policemen is accompanied by a piece of text that reads; "The old lady on the right was one of 75 suffragettes arrested in March, 1907, for a raid on the House of Commons". The old lady somewhat softens a critical "act of terrorism", as it would have been seen at the time.

Here are two more scans from The Saturday Book's regular Art sections. In the decorative "Toulouse-Lautrec" heading, multi-font madness, and "comedy Rubens" of the first page, here is an example of everything that I love about this publication.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

The new year heralded the demise of Shipley Art Booksellers, a stalwart of the Charing Cross Road, and a place where I found work, friendship, intellectual stimulation, and all manner of abstract sparks, for the past four years. Graham Ward has written an eloquent tribute on his blog, with anecdotes about Derek Jarman, Susan Sontag, and the Golden Cherub to name but a few... you can read it here.
Nancy Campbell is in the process of compiling interviews with the staff that worked there over the past 25 years. I am looking forward to reminiscing about Ray, a "Michelangelo with Araldite", who always stopped by on saturday mornings to show us the "stunning busts" of his gold coin collection, and wax lyrical about "the strongest of all glues", or Clement, the Durer-esque anti-digital German who liked us because we had a "pre-collapse of the Berlin Wall" atmosphere going on. Then there was Wendy Bevan, who floated in wearing Ozzy Clarke, looking for something on Flamenco, and who, last time I served her, spoke only in a conspiratorial whisper! The goat-like Ken Isaacs, who regularly came by, in an Arsenal cap, stroking his strong bearded chin, to sell us books, and poignently retold his time as an evacuee, and showed us his brass figurine bells... I shall miss the grandiose sight of Rodney Player, in his Fedora and fur-collared tweed overcoat, always appraising 19th Century French Art for something he must've not seen last time, and finding in Rowland, an intelligent, gentle, and sympathetic spirit. Barry from Any Amount of Books would often appear; "Greetings!", looking for something Gothic, or "that delightful book on corrugated iron churches..." and Anthony from Henry Pordes would always call in to say hello, bolstered for more bookselling after a surrepticious visit to the pub.
Although people make a place, I think that I will just as well remember the peculiarities of ladders that conversely, "should never be opened the right way, for fear of death!", the carry-on like arrangement of an Erotic Section on top-shelf (next to Animal Art), Ivor Cutler's stickers, of stacks of books that always seemed to defy shelving and defy the laws of physics in the way they arose on Rowland's desk, of feeling either like "the high stool" or the "low stool" depending on the kind of rigours you'd experienced the night before... When all the orders had been sorted, and random catalogues catalogued, there was always a period of "Shipley Pride", where we sat back (on the various heights of stool) and checked how many 20p after Rossetti postcards we'd sold for coffee money, then we'd go round to No.1 cafe, and come back with slightly wrong orders because we'd become involved in a banter and lost all reason! Susan and I often forgot that our conversations where audible to the customers, and often found someone suddenly laughing with us (at us?!) over our derision of posh kids going ski-ing in Bratislava.
It is no good mourning the past too much, but it is sad to feel that even in my lifetime I have seen London lose so much of it's character, from the end of The New Piccadilly, Cornucopia, Laurence Corner, Ray's Jazz Cafe, the Hammersmith Palais (where my grandparents went dancing), even the buses... and now Shipleys (where else would you find flames flickering dangerously in an ancient fireplace, warming those browsing the theory section?!)
We have photographs, and many happy memories, and there are still some special places in town, but I hope the future will still be flexible enough to accomodate the more eccentric (not necessarily money-spinning) places like Shipleys that make London London.

See also: London R.I.P, Lost London
There is an exhibition of film stills featuring Zbigniew Cybulski (star of Wajda's Ashes and Diamonds, doomed lover of Marlene Dietrich) on the Barbican's mezzanine level. Click here for more. Thanks to Dominik Czechowski for the information.

That Old Feeling

to keep a blog again, or at least somewhere to put things...