To Lyminster in West Sussex to investigate an interesting piece of local folklore. Knucker Hole is a deep round pool, close to the church, fed by a strong underground spring. According to Notes & Queries (1855) such deep pools:
are called by the people thereabouts Nuckar Holes. They are very deep, and considered bottomless, because such strong springs arise in them that they never require to be ... emptied and cleaned out. A mystery ... attaches to them among the common people, who seem to have a vague notion of their connexion with another bottomless pit.
The Lyminster pond has been measured to a depth of thirty feet, but a local story says that village men once took the six bellropes from the church tower (a pub nearby is called The Six Bells) tied them together and still could not touch the bottom. The word Knucker derives from the Anglo- Saxon 'nicor' or 'water-monster' (nicoras appear in Beowulf) and the Lyminster pool was said to be the home of a fearsome dragon. For years he ravaged the surrounding area until a brave knight slew him. A very worn medieval tombstone, believed to be that of the knight, could for centuries be found near the church porch, but more recently was moved inside to stand by the font.
Another local tale ascribes the slaying to a young villager called Jim Pulk. The canny lad baked a huge pie, lacing it with poison, and drew it on a horse cart to the pool, where he hid behind a bush. The dragon emerged from the water, sniffed the pie, ate it together with the horse and cart, the poison soon took its course and the dragon curled up and expired. Having cut off the creature's head, to celebrate his victory Jim went to the Six Bells for a beer, but collapsed and died when he wiped his hand over his mouth - he'd forgotten to wash the poison off his hands; the tombstone has also been claimed as his. Another version features a hero called Jim Puttock. For more see Folklore of Sussex by Jacqueline Simpson (Tempus, 2002, pp.34-39).
Inevitably, there is a secret tunnel involved. Simpson notes that: 'Some seek a rational explanation, saying, for example, that there was a nunnery in Lyminster, linked to the church by a tunnel, and that the nuns invented the story of the dragon to scare soldiers away from this tunnel at the time of the Conquest.'
Inside the church of St Mary Magdalene we were pleasantly surprised to find a stained glass window commemorating the Knucker Hole tale. Between two angels representing sun and moon a fearsome dragon is approached by the figure of Jim Pulk bearing a much-reduced pie that would have been unlikely to finish off the monster. The window is, however, very beautiful. It was made by Caroline Benyon.
Unfortunately, the Hole itself - a couple of hundred yards down a wide grassy path from the church - cannot now be easily seen and sits heavily fenced off (complete with barbed wire!) and behind thick high hedges. Only small glimpses are available through a gate.
Pictures above: Stained glass window, tombstone and limited view of Knucker Hole through gate.
Having acquired a lithograph by Robert Colquhoun earlier this year I decided to read The Last Bohemians, The Two Roberts - Colquhoun and MacBryde by Roger Bristow. The two Roberts met at Glasgow School of Art and were inseparable until Colquhoun's death from a heart attack at the age of 47 in September 1962. MacBryde survived until May 1966 when he was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Dublin following an evening's drinking. They were one of the homosexual double-acts that have cropped up a few times in the history of art: one immediately thinks of Ricketts and Shannon and Gilbert & George.
The Last Bohemians is an interesting study of the pair, but I felt by the end that I still didn't really know them that well. Bristow is more forgiving than some commentators have been about their drunken and abusive behaviour and it has to be said that after Colquhoun's initial success and fame they certainly experienced some misfortunes. They were, however, extremely fortunate in having a number of well-off and not so well-off friends who supported them, paying their rent and lending them cash, in some cases for years.
The book introduced me to the artist John Kashdan who I hadn't come across before, whose work seems worth looking for, as well as two enterprising ladies from Lewes, Frances Byng-Stamper and Caroline Lucas who founded the Miller's Press and ran an art gallery in the town that attracted a lot of big names. There is an informative piece about them in Country Life (16 April 1987). More information here and here. Apparently, the portrait of them painted by Cedric Morris in 1935 (National Museum of Wales - see above) offended them so much that they never wanted to see it again once he had shown it to them.
I was also going to write more about some of the contemporaries and friends of the Two Roberts but I see that Richard Warren (see blog links opposite) has already done a wonderful job here.
Modern guides to play writing recommend brevity in many areas, not least stage directions, favouring the Pinteresque (Pause.) Dipping into one of my favourite literary studies/commentaries Invisible Forms by Kevin Jackson - a series of essays on paratexts eg. epigraphs, footnotes, appendices etc. - I find a chapter on stage directions. Probably the most famous stage direction comes from The Winter's Tale Act III sc. iii: Exit, pursued by a bear. Samuel Beckett in Act Without Words and Breath succeeded in making plays only from stage directions.
A type of discursive stage direction that is rarely, if ever, encountered nowadays comes from the beginning of J M Barrie's Peter Pan:
The night nursery of the Darling family, which is the scene of our opening Act, is at the top of a rather depressed street in Bloomsbury. We have a right to place it where we will, and the reason Bloomsbury is chosen is that Mr Roget once lived there. So did we in days when his Thesaurus was our only companion in London; and we whom he has helped to wend our way through life have always wanted to pay him a little compliment. The Darlings therefore lived in Bloomsbury ...
My favourite of Jackson's examples comes from Thomas Hardy's The Dynasts (1904-8). While Hardy in his preface describes it as 'presented to the mind's eye in the likeness of a drama' insisting that it is 'intended simply for mental performance and not for the stage' there apparently have been attempts to stage parts of it. Admittedly, with modern technology it might be possible to realise the stage direction below, but it would be interesting to see how it is done:
At once, as earlier, a preternatural clearness possesses the atmosphere of the battle-field, in which the scene becomes anatomised and the living masses of humanity transparent. The controlling Imminent Will appears therein, as a brain-like network of currents and ejections, teaching, interpenetrating, entangling, and thrusting hither and thither the human forms.
Will Carruthers Playing the Bass with Three Left Hands
I had the opportunity to see Will Carruthers (one-time bass player with Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized) at the splendid Wow and Flutter record shop in Hastings a couple of weeks ago. Very entertaining speaker and conversationalist and the book is really good too. It's often more interesting reading the experiences of the lesser known musicians struggling with poverty and addiction than the dull superstars like Elton bloody John. Apparently Spiritualized - in the early days at least - were fuelled more by booze than drugs - leading one wag to rechristen their excellent debut lp Lager Guided Melodies. I saw Spiritualized a number of times - memorable occasions were at the Hackney Empire with Aphex Twin and the short-lived Levitation (who had the plug pulled on them for over-running) and Middlesex Polytechnic playing within a stunning laser tunnel.
Michael Hoskin The History of Astronomy A Very Short Introduction
Harold Pinter The Dumb Waiter, The Birthday Party, The Room
Terry Johnson Imagine Drowning, Hysteria, Dead Funny
Simon Gray Quartermaine's Terms - I remember seeing this back in 1981 directed by Harold Pinter and with Edward Fox in the title role. Gray's autobiography The Smoking Dairies is also highly recommended.
Steve Gooch Writing a Play
Writing of the play is about 80% complete. Of course the likelihood of it ever being performed in public is extremely remote - we shall see.
Author of Subterranean City, Beneath the Streets of London, London's Coffee Houses, Decadent London, The Folklore of London, Subterranean City (Revised and Expanded Edition), Netherwood, Last Resort of Aleister Crowley, Lord of Strange Deaths, the Fiendish World of Sax Rohmer; Secret Tunnels in England, Folklore and Fact