Friday, 25 February 2011

East London Line Extension to open on Monday

According to London Reconnections the East London line extension to Highbury and Islington will open on Monday 28th February - the first train will run at 0955. As that's one of my childcare days I can't be there, which is a pity. The extended route should increase usage of the ELL, which I have found to be pretty low outside the rush hours, now that it connects with the Victoria and North London lines.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The Gipsy Queen of Norwood

Looking at the Derelict London site is a saddening experience, especially the pub section. During the writing of The Folklore of London I repeatedly found that pubs that I wanted to visit, to see what vestiges of their folk tales and legends survived, had been closed, turned into flats or torn down. This process continues remorselessly. I notice from the site that the Gipsy Queen pub in West Norwood has been converted into flats [the photo above is from Derelict London]. Below is the unedited text from the book on the reason for the pub's name, as another site related to local folklore vanishes:

Gipsy Hill was for many years a popular spot in Norwood for gipsies to set up camp. The “Queen of the Norwood Gipsies” Margaret Finch was a long-term resident who made her living by telling fortunes; when she died it was said that she was 109 years old. Owing to the fact that her body had become rigidly fixed into her habitual posture of sitting with her chin resting on her knees, Margaret Finch had to be buried in a square box on 24 October 1740 at Beckenham Parish Church. Even today there is a pub at 20 Norwood High Street, SE27 called the Gipsy Queen.

Margaret Finch was succeeded by her niece “Queen Bridget” who died in 1768 and is buried in the old graveyard of Dulwich. A pantomime entitled “The Norwood Gypsies” was performed at Covent Garden in 1777. Twenty years later, a police raid was carried out on the gipsy encampment, but the community was not finally dispersed until the passage of the Croydon and Lambeth Enclosure Acts at the beginning of the nineteenth century. There has, however, been a noticeable gipsy/traveller presence in South London up to the present day.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Customs and Ceremonies of London: Sir John Cass Commemoration

Over the course of 2011 I want to try to mention some of the lesser-known ceremonies that take place each year in London. They are covered in my Folklore of London book but are always subject to change or even disappearance. The chapter on customs and ceremonies was the most difficult to compile, as it was surprisingly difficult to get up-to-date information; also given my work and living situation it was, and still is, impossible for me to visit very many of these ceremonies. I managed quite a few during the research period for the book, but there were many more that I just couldn't get to or was not permitted to attend. If I get the time I'll try to get to a couple this year, but there are so many other demands on my free time these days.

Here's one from this month, which I have not personally seen. NB the link takes you to the Foundation's website which gives Cass's birth date as 1 February 1661, although the ODNB has him baptised on 28 February 1660:

Sir John Cass's Foundation - Founders Day took place on 1 February 2011

[original text from Folklore of London book]
Around the first week in March staff, pupils and governors from the Sir John Cass Foundation schools attend a memorial service at the church of St Botolph-without-Aldgate; formerly the date was on or near the birthday of its founder. Sir John Cass was probably born on 20 February 1660 and baptised at St Botolph Aldgate on 28 February. During an illustrious career he was Alderman of the Ward of Portsoken, elected Sheriff in June 1711 and became a Member of Parliament for the City; he was knighted in 1713. In 1710 he established his school in the churchyard of St Botolph’s for the education of fifty boys and forty girls. The church was declared unsafe in 1740 and rebuilt four years later to the designs of George Dance.

As he lay dying at his home, in Grove Street, Hackney, on 5 July 1718, legend has it that Sir John Cass struggled to write his will, in which he intended to leave all his property to the school. After having initialled only three pages of the lengthy document he suddenly suffered a fatal haemorrhage that stained the writing quill with his blood. The incomplete will was contested, but was finally upheld by the Court of Chancery in 1732. The school, which by this time had been forced to close, was reopened and the Foundation established. Today, as well as the Primary School, there is a secondary school in Tower Hamlets, Sir John Cass Department of Art, Media and Design (part of the London Metropolitan University) and the Cass Business School (part of City University).

For the commemorative service children from the primary school sport red feathers, which appear on the Cass coat of arms, a rather morbid reminder of the dramatic moment of death of the school’s founder. The event commences with a procession of around thirty pupils and guests from the Foundation’s Jewry Street offices to St Botolph-without-Aldgate. The service includes performances by pupils from the Foundation's primary and secondary schools. The reception afterwards is by invitation only, but members of the public are welcome to attend the service.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Mind Your Language

An 'amazing' article by Hugo Williams in this week's Times Literary Supplement on the present state of our language, particularly regarding currently fashionable words and phrases. As he says, 'Inflation is the name of the game' so that something that was once good or all right is now 'amazing' or 'fantastic'; similarly a bad event tends to be 'traumatic'. Traditional British reticence and modesty have no place here.

He also bemoans the fate of prepositions, with trains now arriving 'into' stations; I've noticed that people 'protest' something - 'against' has disappeared and for some time now we've been 'bored of' rather than 'bored with' pedants complaining about such changes. It's obvious that American English is to blame for all these imports -I suppose you know when you've been fully colonised when you speak exactly the same language; but surely these overly positive and self-congratulatory phrases (I'm good)would once have been inimical to the British character. Modern American usage has even invaded our own history. Williams gives an example from The King's Speech - Bertie says 'Excuse me?' when Edward tells him he intends to marry Mrs Simpson when the response would have been 'What?' or 'I beg your pardon?' - didn't any of the actors comment on this?

My own candidate for the latest buzz term, not noted by Williams, is 'pop-up' (should it have a hyphen?) which is really taking off in 2011. Sadly, 'iconic' still rules as the most overused adjective, it pops up everywhere, although I think that 'rocket science' and 'the elephant in the room' are in decline. 'Did you see what I did there?'

Friday, 4 February 2011

Remembering Kenneth Grant

There we were in the pub a couple of weeks ago discussing the occultist and writer Kenneth Grant - I was told he was now in a nursing home. Little did we know that he had recently died, although it was only announced in the last few days. I haven't read a great deal of his bizarre output but he was one of the last people to visit Aleister Crowley when he was eking out the end of his life at Netherwood in Hastings; the house has been demolished to be replaced by an anonymous Brookside close just off The Ridge. His short book Remembering Aleister Crowley contains photographs, letters and memorabilia from this period. He must, I imagine, have been one of the last living people to have met the 'Great Beast'.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

ICA Talk for Strange Attractor Salon

The ICA website now features a page on the Strange Attractor Salon during the Nathaniel Mellors exhibition, an artist that, I have to admit, I'm not familiar with - have to remedy that. My talk on the 'arcane subject' of underground London will be on Thursday 12 May.

Wire in Brighton

To the Brighton Kommedia last night to see Wire. Now minus Bruce Gilbert they were augmented by a good-looking young guitarist who resembled Michael Karoli from Can (Halleluhwah was playing while they set up). Colin Newman looks even more like a friendly geography teacher while Graham Lewis on bass remains menacing; Robert Grey (formerly Gotobed) kept up the trademark metronomic beat.

I’ve seen them a few times over the years, unfortunately not in their first 1977-79 incarnation, when they made their classic three lps that showed a staggering invention and musical progression compared to their peers. The first time I heard them on the radio – a track from Pink Flag – I could tell they were trying to so something much more interesting than a three chord thrash; they had atmosphere for a start. A gig at the Bloomsbury Theatre on 21 July 1985 was a triumphal return – they refused to play any old songs but fortunately the new stuff was strong. Support was provided by Michael Clarke doing a dance piece called The Shivering Man which certainly bemused a lot of the audience; I was a big fan of his at the time.

The most unusual concert was at the Barbican Flag:Burning, a collaboration with Jake and Dinos Chapman who screened fitness training videos behind them as they played Pink Flag in its entirety, an amusing conceit that got dull after it was used for the entire duration; the music was great, very precise. After a very long wait the second half was much stranger with each band member encased in a large box with a mesh front onto which various close-up images were projected – they played their latest record Send.

At Brighton there were a couple of new songs that sounded like old ones (at one point I thought they had started A Question of Degree, but they hadn’t). The new cd is promising – there’s a beautiful melodic song called Adapt and plenty of noise and belligerence. Newman’s psychedelic tendencies were not so much in evidence and much of it was definitely punk rock, albeit their artier version of it. I was especially pleased to hear Two People in a Room, possibly my favourite Wire track: compelling, linear, concise – one of those songs that you couldn’t imagine any other band thinking up. Another old favourite Kidney Bingos was also played, although I thought Drill was disappointing compared to how they used to play it in a elongated, more punishing version.

The second encore was a new song that was going for the My Bloody Valentine painfully loud wall of noise and succeeded well, although as a result I’m definitely suffering from Eardrum Buzz (a song they didn’t play). The guitarist from the support group thrashing around a la Thurston Moore while sitting directly in front of his amp is definitely a candidate for tinnitus. Wire didn’t come on until around 9.45 so I knew I wouldn’t get in until 1.00am – the midnight train from Lewes to Hastings was standing room only to Eastbourne, which was a shock.