christopher james

Poems and prattle

The 65 men who sailed South with Scott

‘We are very near the end, but have not, and will not lose our good cheer.’ Captain Scott, March 1912.

I recently wrote a collection of 65 sonnets commemorating Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s final expedition to the Antarctic (The Terra Nova expedition, 1910-1913). The book is called The Penguin Diaries (published by Templar, 2017) and there is one sonnet for each man who sailed south with him, 59 of whom returned. During the writing process I found, surprisingly, that there was no single place I could find a complete set of biographies for these gallant and occasionally foolhardy gentlemen. I have therefore written and collected these brief biographies here. I would be glad to correct any inaccuracies. The evocative image below was taken on Scott’s birthday, June 1911 aboard the Terra Nova by Herbert Ponting; sledging flags are hung above the table and Captain Oates is pictured standing on the left.

Shore Parties

ROBERT FALCON SCOTT Captain, C.V.O., R.N. (The “Owner,” “The Boss”). Born in Devonport, England in 1868. Joined the Royal Navy in 1881 aged only 13, later serving as Torpedo Officer on HMS Vulcan. Previously led the Discovery expedition (1901-1904) where he set a new record for furthest south with Shackleton and Wilson. Married to the sculptor Kathleen Scott. Died aged 43 on his return from the South Pole in March 1912.

EDWARD R.G.R. EVANS  Lieut. R.N. (“Teddy”). Born in London, England in 1880. Second in command. Suffered from scurvy on return from the pole, saved by Lashly and Crean. Later served with distinction in the First World War as a destroyer captain and won further honours. Wrote South with Scott, his account of the expedition.

VICTOR L.A. CAMPBELL Lieut. R.N. (“The Wicked Mate”). Born in Brighton, England in 1875. Led the Northern Party, compelled to winter in an ice cave on Inexpressible Island. Led a miraculous journey on foot back to Cape Evans across 200 miles of unstable sea ice. Decorated during the First World War and died in Newfoundland, 1956.

HENRY R. BOWERS Lieut. Royal Indian Marines (“Birdie”). Born in Greenock, Scotland in 1883. Served in Burma and Ceylon as part of the Royal Indian Marine Service. Took part in the Winter Journey as well as the Polar Party. Highly practical, hardy and dependable. Died with Scott and Wilson in March 1912 on return from the pole.

LAWRENCE E.G. OATES Captain 6th Inniskilling Dragoons (“Titus,” “Soldier”). Born London, England in 1880. Educated at Eton and South Lynn School Eastbourne. Served in the Second Boer War; injured by a gunshot wound to the leg. Contributed £1,000 towards cost of the expedition. Expert with horses and ponies. Crippled with frostbite and in an effort to save his comrades, walked to his death in the snow with the words: ‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’

G. MURRAY LEVICK Surgeon R.N. Born in Newcastle upon Tyne, 1876. Worked as both as doctor and biologist; member of the Northern party; keen photographer and spent time observing the Adelie penguins, recording his findings in his book, Antarctic Penguins, controversial because of its account of their sexual proclivities. His notebook was discovered in 2013 outside the hut at Cape Evans.

EDWARD L. ATKINSON Surgeon R.N., Parasitologist (“Atch”). Born in the Windward Isles, in the West Indies, 1881. Educated at Snaresbrook and St Thomas’ Hospital London. Took charge of the base at Cape Evans in the absence of Scott and Campbell. Launched rescue attempts for both Northern Party and Scott’s Polar parties. Discovered Scott’s tent in November 1912. Later served on Western Front, fought at the Somme and received DSO. Died aged 47 and buried at sea.

Scientific Staff

EDWARD ADRIAN WILSONB.A., M.B. (Cantab.) Chief of the Scientific Staff, and Zoologist (“Uncle Bill”). Born Cheltenham, England, 1872. Artist, naturalist and member of the Discovery expedition (1901-1904). Led the Winter Journey to collect Emperor Penguin eggs. Member of the Polar party, reaching the pole on 18 January 1912, dying on the return journey. Scott’s closest friend and highly regarded by all.

GEORGE C. SIMPSON D.Sc., Meteorologist (“Sunny Jim.”) Born Derby, England, 1878. Educated at Owens College Manchester and University of Gottingen. Specialised in atmospheric electricity. Conducted balloon and weather experiments while on the Terra Nova expedition. Became Director of the Meteorological Office in 1920, knighted 1935 and died 1965.

T. GRIFFITH TAYLOR B.A., B.Sc., B.E., Geologist (“Grif”). Born Walthamstow, England, 1880. Emigrated to Serbia, then Australia as a child, returning to England to take up a scholarship at Cambridge. Led successful mapping and geological surveys as part of the Terra Nova expedition. Died aged 82 in Sydney.

EDWARD W. NELSON Biologist (“Marie,” “Bronte”). Born 1883 and specialised as an invertebrate zoologist; conducted tidal experiments at Cape Evans. Later fought in Gallipoli and on the Western Front during the First World War. Committed suicide by self-injection aged 39 in 1923.

FRANK DEBENHAM B.A., B.Sc., Geologist (“Deb.”). Born Bowral, Australia. Studied English, philosophy and geology at university. Took part in the Western Journey during the Terra Nova expedition. Entered Cambridge University on his return in 1913. Fought in France and Salonika during the First World War. Awarded OBE in 1919 and founded the Scott Polar Institute in 1920. Died Cambridge 1965.

CHARLES S. WRIGHT B.A., Physicist. Born Toronto 1887. Studied physics at University of Toronto. Initially rejected by Scott but walked from Cambridge with Griffith Taylor to petition for his place. Conducted experiments on ground radiation and ice formation while part of the Terra Nova expedition. Served in France during the First World War. Died in British Columbia, Canada aged 88 in 1975.

RAYMOND E. PRIESTLEY Geologist. Born Bredon’s Norton, England in 1886. Studied at University College, Bristol and served as a geologist on Shackleton’s Nimrod’s Expedition (1907-1909). Took part in the Western Party. Won the Military Cross in France during the First World War. Co-founded Scott Polar Institute with Frank Debenham and became a Fellow of Clare College. Died aged 87 in Cheltenham, Gloucester.

HERBERT G. PONTING F.R.G.S., Camera Artist. Born Salisbury, England in 1870, moved to California and worked in mining and fruit farming. Took up photography and travelled extensively in Asia, publishing in London periodicals. Professional photographer on the Terra Nova expedition. Published his photography in The Great White South and then produced The Great White Silence from his cine-footage. Died London 1935.

CECIL H. MEARES Chief Dog Handler on the Terra Nova expedition. Born County Kilkenny, Ireland. Travelled extensively, fought in the Russo-Japanese and Boer war. Chose dogs and white ponies for the expedition, following Scott’s orders. Returned north in winter 1912, declaring himself unavailable for work two months prior to departure. Joined Royal Flying Corps during First World War and later lived in Canada.

BERNARD C. DAY Motor Engineer. Born 1884 Leicestershire, England. Took part in Shackleton’s British Antarctic Expedition, 1907-1909. Later joined the Terra Nova expedition as a motor engineer, returning after the first year. Awarded the Polar Medal and settled in Australia.

APSLEY CHERRY-GARRARD B.A., Asst. Zoologist (“Cherry”). Born Bedford, England 1886. Educated Winchester College and Christ Church, Oxford. Joined Terra Nova expedition through friendship with Edward Wilson. Youngest member of the expedition, taking part in the Winter Journey, Polar Journey and Search Journey, spending three years in Antarctica. Wrote the acclaimed account The Worst Journey in the World. Died 1959 in London.

TRYGGVE GRAN Sub.-Lieut. Norwegian N.R., B.A., Ski Expert. Born Bergen, Norway in 1888 and educated in Switzerland. Took part in the Western Party and also part of the party that found Scott’s tent in November 1912. Used Scott’s skis to travel back to Cape Evans. Member of the Royal Flying Corps during First World War. Died in Grimstad, 1980 Norway aged 91.

Men

W. LASHLY C. Stoker, R.N. Born 1867 in Hambledon, England. Worked on motor sledges as part of the shore party, then switched to man-hauling. Member of the Polar party, returning with Crean and Edward Evans, helping save the latter when he became ill with scurvy. Served in the Navy during First World War and later as a customs officer. Died 1940.

W.W. ARCHER Chief Steward, late R.N. Took over from Clissold as cook on the Terra Nova expedition after Clissold suffered a fall. After the Second World War he retired from the Royal Navy and set up a catering business in London.

THOMAS CLISSOLD Cook, late R.N. Previously served on HMS Harrier; took part in the depot laying journey in December 1911 – January 1912. Replaced by Archer as cook after a fall from an iceberg while posing for a photograph. Later settled in New Zealand.

EDGAR EVANS Petty Officer, R.N. Born in 1876 in Middleton, Rhossili, Wales. Educated at St Helen’s Boys’ School before joining the Royal Navy. Served with Scott on the HMS Majestic. Admired by Scott for his size and strength and for being ‘a giant worker’ he was chosen at the last minute to join the polar party. Died in 1912 returning from the pole after suffering a serious head injury sustained in a crevasse fall.

ROBERT FORDE Petty Officer, R.N. Born in Moviddy, Ireland in 1875. Joined Royal Navy in 1891 and volunteered to take part in the Terra Nova expedition aged 35. Involved in two depot laying expeditions and member of the Western Party. Left the expedition early in 1911 after suffering severe frost bite to his hand. Served in WWI on various ships and promoted to Chief Petty Officer. Retired to Cobh (Queenstown) Ireland and died 1959.

THOMAS CREAN Petty Officer, R.N. Born 1877 near Annascaul, County Kerry, Ireland.  Enlisted in Royal Navy aged 15 and took part in three major polar expeditions, including Discovery and Terra Nova expeditions with Scott and later Endurance with Ernest Shackleton. Renowned for his courage and fortitude he was a member of Scott’s last supporting party in 1911, returning with Lashly and ‘Teddy’ Evans. When Evans became incapacitated, he made a 35 mile solo trek across the ice back to Hut Point to get help. Returned to the navy, then retired in 1920 to Ireland, where he opened a pub called the South Pole Inn.

THOMAS S. WILLIAMSON Petty Officer, R.N. Born in Sunderland in 1877, joined Royal Navy and served on HMS Pactolus before joining the Discovery, then Terra Nova Expeditions. Survived a killer whale attack along with Ponting and Leese.

PATRICK KEOHANE Petty Officer, R.N. Born Courtmacsherry, County Cork, Ireland 1879. Served with Teddy Evans on HMS Talbot. Took part in the Southern Journey, turning back at head of the Beardmore Glacier at 85° 15’ South in December 1911. Member of the Search Party, finding the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers in November 1912. Later joined coast guard, re-joined Navy during World War II and died Plymouth, England, 1950.

GEORGE P. ABBOTT Petty Officer, R.N. Previously served on HMS Talbot. Part of the Northern Party who wintered in Cape Adair and on Inexpressible Island. Served in the Royal Navy during the First World War and died 1923.

FRANK V. BROWNING Petty Officer, 2nd Class, R.N. Born Stockland, Devon 1882 and joined the Navy in 1900, aged 18. Served on HMS Talbot; member of the Northern Party, acting as cook. Known for his cheerfulness and resilience despite serious illness while on Inexpressible Island, only just making it back to Cape Evans. Served in First World War, retiring in 1922, dying of double pneumonia in 1930 aged just 48.

HARRY DICKASON Able Seaman, R.N. Born Bristol, England in 1885. Served on HSM Defiance before Terra Nova. Member of the Northern Party. Died 1943.

F.J. HOOPER Steward, late R.N. Born 1891, England. Originally a steward aboard Terra Nova, he later became a member of the shore party, and search party, discovering the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers. Also part of the group involved in the second ascent of Mount Erebus. Died in England in 1955.

ANTON OMELCHENKO Groom. Born Bat’ki, Russia, 1883, Russia. Died in 1932 in the USSR.

DEMETRI GEROF Dog Driver. Born in Sakhalin, Siberia in 1888. Chosen by Mears when he went to Nikolayevesk to obtain the dogs for the expedition. Moved to England, then New Zealand after the expedition, before returning to Nikolayevesk to work as a gold miner, dying in 1932.

Ship’s Party

HARRY L. L. PENNELL Lieutenant, R.N. Born 1882, he spent most of the Terra Nova expedition in New Zealand, making only brief visits to Antarctica to bring supplies and remove crew members. Later served on HMS Queen Mary as Commander and died during the Battle of Jutland in May 1916.

HENRY E. DE P. RENNICK Lieutenant. R.N. Died while serving on the Hoguo, torpedoed by a German submarine in September 1914.

WILFRED M. BRUCE Lieutenant, R.N.R. Born in Scotland, he was the officer in charge of zoological work on the Terra Nova. He is also notable for being Captain Scott’s brother in law.

FRANCIS R. H. DRAKE Assistant Paymaster, R.N. (Retired), Secretary and Meteorologist in ship. No known relation to his more famous namesake.

DENNIS G. LILLIE M.A., Biologist in ship. Born 1884 and educated in Cambridge he was much admired aboard the Terra Nova, not only for his drawing skills of marine and bird life, but also for his accomplished caricatures. Served as military bacteriologist during the First World War. Suffered from poor mental health and was admitted to Bethlem Hospital, London in 1918.  He never fully recovered and died 1963.

JAMES R. DENNISTOUN In charge of mules in ship. Born 1883 in Canterbury, New Zealand. Educated at Malvern College, England. Found early fame as a climber before joining Terra Nova in 1912 for no pay, looking after Himalayan mules. Served in North Irish Horse during the First World War before joining the Royal Flying Corps as a bomb thrower. Died of wounds in August 1916 after being shot down over Germany.  A

ALFRED B. CHEETHAM R.N.R., Boatswain. Born Liverpool, 1867 and later based in Hull, England. Began a career in the Merchant Navy before making his first trip to Antarctica as part of the Discovery expedition, arriving on the relief ship, Morning. During the Terra Nova expedition, he volunteered to join the search for Scott but was turned down on account of his 13 children. He was later a member of Shackleton’s Nimrod and Endurance expeditions. Died in August 1918 when the SS Prunelle was torpedoed in the North Sea.

WILLIAM WILLIAMS Chief Engine Room Artificer, R.N., Engineer. After taking part in the British Antarctica Expedition he settled in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, joining his brother, the Reverend Henry Williams.

WILLIAM A. HORTON Engine Room Artificer, 3rd Class, R.N., 2nd Engineer. Returned with the Terra Nova to Cardiff in 1913.

FRANCIS E. C. DAVIES Leading Shipwright, R.N. Carved the cross left in memory of those who lost their lives returning from the pole in 1912. Also played a significant role in saving Terra Nova during the storm on its journey south at the start of the expedition. Served in the navy during the First World War and continued in service until 1920. Settled in Plymouth, later returning his Polar Medal to the King.

FREDERICK PARSONS Petty Officer, R.N. Born in Allington, near Bridport, Dorset in 1870. Member of the ship’s company on the Terra Nova expedition not joining the shore party. Served on submarines during the First World War before starting a successful business repairing shoes in Plymouth. Died 1970 aged 91.

WILLIAM L. HEALD Late Petty Officer, R. N. Previously took part in the Discovery Expedition (1901-04) saving the life of Farrar who was suffering from scurvy. Heald Island, Antarctica is named after him.

ARTHUR S. BAILEY Petty Officer, 2nd Class, R.N. Serving in the Royal Navy when he was asked to join the British Antarctic Expedition, Arthur Samuel Bailey was a member of the shore party and later awarded a Polar Medal.

ALBERT BALSON Leading Seaman, R.N. Born Allington near Bridport 1885. Entered Royal Navy in 1900. Joined HMS Powerful in 1911, before transferring to Terra Nova at Lyttleton. Later took part in the Gallipoli landing during the First World War. Later worked as a salvage diver, employed for many years collecting gold from the ship, Laurentic. Also decorated for gallantry for diffusing a bomb in 1941 during air attacks in Portland Harbour. Died 1950 in Dorset, aged 65.

JOSEPH LEESE Able Seaman, R.N. Staffordshire born, he was later to recall the terrible storm that the Terra Nova encountered on its journey south. In Antarctica he was almost the victim of a killer whale attack when the creatures attempted to break up the ice he was standing on to reach the dogs. Settled in his home county after naval service.

JOHN HUGH MATHER Petty Officer, R.N.V.R. Born 1887, Stroud Green, London. Assisted with clerical work and taxonomy. After the Terra Nova adventure, became a naval commander during the First World War and took part in a successful campaign against the Bolsheviks in Arctic Russia. Died 1957 in Farnborough, England.

ROBERT OLIPHANT Able Seaman. Born Strathmiglo, Fife, Scotland, 1883, joining for the first part of the expedition. Died just after the First World War in 1919.

THOMAS F. MCLEOD Able Seaman. Born Glasgow, Scotland 1873, later moving to Stornoway as a child. Joined British Merchant navy aged 14. Later served with Shackleton on both the Endurance and Quest expeditions. Later emigrated to Kingston, Ontario in Canada where he was employed as a school caretaker and night-watchman. Died in 1960 aged 87.

MORTIMER MCCARTHY Able Seaman. Born Kinsale, Co. Cork, Ireland in 1878; served on Terra Nova during its three voyages to Antarctica from New Zealand between 1910 and 1913, later settling in New Zealand.

WILLIAM KNOWLES  Able Seaman. Born in Liverpool, 1877, later emigrating to Lyttleton, New Zealand. Took part in the second and third voyages of Terra Nova to Antarctica, helping to build the cross on Observation Hill. Served on HMS Philomel during the First World War and was killed in 1915 while part of a landing party near Alexandretta following an ambush by Turkish troops in 1915.

CHARLES WILLIAMS Able Seaman. Born in Lyttleton, New Zealand 1881. Joined the navy in 1900. Played a key role in saving the Terra Nova during the storm on its journey south in 1910, cutting a hole in the bulkhead to reach the pump. Served on ships during the First World War with Commander Edward Evans, distinguishing himself during the altercation between the German SMS G42 and HMS Broke. He returned to New Zealand and was lost at sea in 1919.

JAMES SKELTON Able Seaman. Settled in Cardiff, working on the docks after service in the Royal Navy during the First World War.

WILLIAM MCDONALD Able Seaman. There is a report in a New Zealand newspaper of a concert given for the departing crew of the Terra Nova, with the detail that Angus McDonald sang at the event.

JAMES PATON Able Seaman. Born Scotland 1869. Served on the Morning, a relief ship to the Discovery expedition. Later took part in Shackleton’s Nimrod and Aurora expeditions. Lost while travelling to South America in 1917 or 1918, possibly after hitting a mine.

ROBERT BRISSENDEN Leading Stoker, R.N. Drowned in August 1912 in Elslie Bay, while employed surveying Admiralty Bay. There was a suspicion of drink being involved in his death, although this was refuted by those with him the night he drowned.

EDWARD A. MCKENZIE Leading Stoker, R.N. One of five stokers on the Terra Nova during the expedition, McEnzie is now famous for the pair of Wolsey unshrinkable mittens he wore on the expedition and are now preserved for posterity.

WILLIAM BURTON Leading Stoker, R.N. Born 1888, died 1988 in his 100th year, making him the last member of the expedition to die. Returned to Antarctica later in life with McDonald and Mortimer.

BERNARD J. STONE Leading Stoker, R.N. Was awarded a Bronze Polar medal on 24 July 1913 by King George V.

ANGUS MCDONALD Fireman. Born West Calder, West Lothian in 1871. Notable for being one of three members of the expedition to return to Antarctica at the invitation of the Americans.

THOMAS MCGILLON  Fireman. Sailed with Shackleton on the Nimrod (1907-1909) surviving several near fatal accidents before joining the British Antarctic Expedition.

CHARLES LAMMASFireman. Born Bethnal Green, London, 1883, the son of a carpenter. Lived in Canterbury, New Zealand most of his life and died in Christchurch Hospital, New Zealand in 1941.

W.H. NEALE Steward and member of the ship’s party. On the Terra Nova, he was responsible for waking the crew, serving food as well as attending to the officers in the afterguard (or mess).

 

In the Bleak Midwinter – Review of Clive Carroll, 11 January 2017

To the Apex, Bury St. Edmunds to witness a remarkable performance from Clive Carroll performing songs from his album, The Furthest Tree and beyond. Mixing influences of early music (the kind of folk baroque made popular by John Renbourn, more of whom later) with huge, almost prog-like bass-lines and complex patterns, he transfixed a packed house on this freezing winter night.

With his clean lines and superb technique, Clive’s compositions resonated powerfully inside the wooden cathedral of the Apex – a new and usually beautiful venue, both ancient and modern at the same time, much like Clive’s music. At one point it felt as if we were all contained within the body of an enormous acoustic guitar, and it certainly sounded that way.

clive

Taking a few moments to gather himself, an insight perhaps into his classical training and level headed temperament, he began with The Abbot’s Hymn, a beguiling tune, named after both the local Abbot ale and much missed John Renbourn, who acquired the nickname ‘The Abbot’ while touring with Clive in the early 2000s. Mention of John got a cheer of its own and the local reference was appreciated by the Suffolk crowd; they gave the piece their rapt-attention. It brought back memories of John playing on the Old Grey Whistle Test, a glass of red wine perched on his amp while he picked out the tunes.

Next up was In the Deep, a swampy, lugubrious piece that floated high into the rafters, before being grounded by a thunderous bass line that seemed to shake the building to its very core. The portentous mood was dispelled when Clive chatted to the crowd; with his head-boyish demeanour, he is as far removed from a rock and roll stereotype as you are likely to find, but his patter is hilarious, both learned and irreverent. He mentioned that he had recently played for both the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York before confessing they were pubs not people…

Establishing a bond with an audience both musically and emotionally are Clive’s key strengths and we certainly invested in the music. He later acknowledged a debt to Shostakovich in an astonishing waltz, giving us a lesson in three-four time and its various permutations for good measure. Only once did he seem to lose the audience: mention of his Essex roots drew an element of unbecoming inter-County nose-holding, although he put paid to any stereotypes by reminding them that Holst himself made his home in Thaxted, the subject of a mind bogglingly pretty tune, Thaxted Town. It somehow managed to accommodate both Morris dancing and the melodic theme to Holst’s I Vow to Thee, My Country and was played with great affection.    

The centre piece of the set was a performance of Clive’s Renaissance Suite, based thematically on the Middle English poem, Sir Gawain and The Green Knight. The difficulty that the piece was written for two guitars (second guitar on the record played by John Williams, no less) was surmounted by a ‘second Clive,’ previously recorded. The melodic intricacy of the piece and the fact that he had to both add a capo and retune mid performance without stopping the recorded part made for a thrilling bit of theatre. Suffice to say, he made it through without mishap. The Green Knight, a galloping tune was a superbly dramatic climax to this piece and was greeted with some open-mouthed astonishment. The poet, Simon Armitage has recently translated the 14th century poem to great effect and a collaboration between him and Clive would hold some wonderful possibilities.   

Perhaps the highlight of the evening however, was the final piece, inspired by a trip to northern Canada. With its icy, haunting melody and unpredictable dynamics, it was perfectly suited to this bleakly cold evening, full of talk of thunder-snow (that in the event would fail to materialise.) It would make for a fitting theme to a Nordic detective TV series. Has Clive explored such avenues you wonder?

With his wonderful poise, generous spirit and boundless musicality, Clive eventually made way for the swashbuckling Tommy Emmanuel, who was reliably astonishing. It would be too much to try and cover Tommy’s vivacious set here (perhaps another time) but Clive left a lasting impression, filling this dark, midwinter night with an ancient kind of magic.  

Seasons of the Moon: Review of Lunarium by Josep Lluís Aguiló

I had the privilege of meeting Josep Lluís Aguiló at a poetry festival this year and I can testify that he is as remarkable in person as he is on the page, in equal parts challenging and inquisitive, funny, considerate and startling. He is also fiercely proud of his native Mallorca, still fascinated by its landscapes and mysteries. His work has an integrity, vigour and lightness of touch to it that is missing from so much contemporary poetry.

His latest collection, Lunarium is shot through with a sort of magical lyricism, occasionally surreal in the manner of Borges but with an originality all its own. While the harbours and sands of Mallorca are a constant presence, the imagination is the primary landscape. The opening poem, The Rules of the Labyrinth, is a rubric for the book and his brand of poetry; we are set on ‘paths that make us walk ever further from the centre.’ But there is a crucial detail: ‘they are paved with dark desire.’ Sexuality is an undercurrent throughout these poems.  

lunarium

There are several poems about poetry, or at least language, which is something that never offends me. I Have Lost a Few Lines is an ingenious, deftly comic piece about how lines slip away from the poet: ‘They are like shy animals/sometimes they pass right over me.’ They also escape by other means: ‘…some spirituous liquor has ruined them/or the visitor from Porlock.’ It is adroit piece of work about the elusive nature of the perfect line; the bon mot.

There is humour in abundance throughout, albeit as dark as it comes; I particularly enjoyed The Rights of the Dead, where the dead appear to unionise, organising themselves ‘into associations to establish their rights and preferences.’ While some prefer the ‘permanence of buried coffins’ others wish to be ‘quartered and placed on high/mountains so that birds may devour them.’

However overwhelmingly, these poems are an affirmation of life and love; a reminder that life is fleeting and we must make the most of the now: ‘We are drowning in a sea of time./Tomorrow we will be older.’ It is unashamedly romantic stuff. ‘Maybe we’ll never/ again have the energy have the energy to make love with the night on each other.

Josep’s poetry is perhaps, more passionate than most English poets would allow, without losing any of the complexity of allusion or technique. It is a reminder why poetry in translation is more important than ever; surround yourself with people who look and sound like yourself and you will find within your echo chamber a deadening of the language and a paucity of emotional range; it takes you to a dangerously reductive place. Anna Crowe’s magnificent translation allows Josep to show us a brighter, more luminous world of possibility and language. We owe Arc, and Tony Ward, the adventurous publisher of this and so many other important work from beyond our own shores, a debt of gratitude.

Josep’s poem, Poetry, perhaps makes the most compelling case for the poet’s right to ambiguity and a mercurial spirit of independence. He defies an easy definition of poetry: ‘They want us to explain, in a single headline the soul of wine … and all the shades of turquoise in the sea of Ithaca.’ Poetry, he concludes, is not what you read on the page, it is ‘what is left inside us/long after forgetting this poem.’

Fervent, accomplished and infused with the rhythms of the sea as well as the heart, Lunarium is a book to jolt you into life and appreciate the miracle of existence. It is a poet’s manifesto too: his role is to ‘paint, in the void that has been given to you/the burning desperate words.’   

 

 

Harvesting gold: Boo Hewerdine and Dan Whitehouse at Cambridge Junction 2 (25/10/16)

To Cambridge’s Junction 2 for a spellbinding evening with Boo Hewerdine and musical accomplice, West Midlander, Dan Whitehouse. Dan opened proceedings with a pared back set of emotive love songs, carried home on a succession of glistening electric guitar lines played on his battered Telecaster, (which, he tells us ‘was rescued from a pub loo in Camden’). Imagine a Brummie Jeff Buckley and you’re nearly there, with a warmth and grit in his vocal which transcended his flat Birmingham vowels. As modest as he is accomplished, there was a strong strand of Americana combined with an attractive English understatement. His songs demanded attention and his stage craft was superb.

Boo and Dan.jpg

Dan stayed on stage to add musical weight and heft to the songs of long-time troubadour, Boo Hewerdine. In something of a homecoming gig (The Bible played their early gigs at the Junction, next door), he was on assured form, leading off with comeback single Born, a litany of events from the year of his birth. This was swiftly followed by The Man That I Am, (already sounding like a classic) about the controversial child migration programmes to former Empire outposts. Village Bell rang out on Boo’s sky blue guitar filling the beautifully lit auditorium.

There were numerous highlights, not least a clutch of new songs, performed solo. Cinderella is a smoky, complex jaunt in the old style complete with Boo’s impersonation of an orchestra at the halfway point. Its cross-dressing theme (it’s from forthcoming musical Fancy Pants, written with Chris Difford) only added to the intrigue. Possibly his finest moment came in ‘Old Songs,’ an authentically ancient sounding tune (it could have been written in the 1930s) about the power of song in stirring lost memories. If Boo hasn’t shared this with those working with dementia, he probably should. With strange lost chords, unusual and affecting subject matter it’s another fine example of Boo’s quest for the perfect song.

Boo’s deadpan delivery (‘My record company is planning to turn me into a star – I’ve had plenty of practice’) is undoubtedly part of the attraction, but it’s the songs that constantly amaze. Sweet Honey in the Rock, originally from his State of the Union project is beefed up into a glorious stomp, augmented by a natty country solo from Dan. Their metronomic timing created a seemingly hypnotic effect on performers and audience alike. More recent songs, like Harvest Gypsies, sound every bit as strong as perennials like The Patience of Angels and Honey Be Good, the great lost classic from eighties. Boo’s voice was particularly strong this evening, nowhere more so than on an ambitious take on the Bee Gee’s ‘I Started a Joke,’ which soared to majestic heights.  

While light on tunes from his Brooks Williams collaborations (no Hellzapoppin!) Boo has songs to spare and is adept at varying his set to provide enough interest for long-time fans, as well as to keep himself engaged.

As with many Boo gigs, there is the spectre of a parallel universe where the Bible became as big as U2, and Boo became a superstar. As things stand, there were not many who would have traded the opportunity to listen to such fine songs in such an intimate setting. It was life affirming, inspiring stuff from two uniquely blessed musicians dedicated to their song craft, respectful of their musical forebears and still digging for musical gold.

Fragment of lost play by William Shakespeare discovered in Tuscany

Four hundred years on from Shakespeare’s death, the discovery of a fragment of a new play, The Jeweller of Florence, is dividing academic opinion. Could there really be an undiscovered work in the Bard’s canon?

There are two plays generally accepted to be written, at least in part, by William Shakespeare, which are now considered ‘lost.’ The first, ironically, is titled, Love’s Labour’s Won and is mentioned on a contemporaneous 16th century bookseller’s list. It is also referred to by the late 16th century writer Francis Meres, although no text is extent. This has led some scholars to believe that it was merely an alternative title for All’s Well That Ends Well or Much Ado About Nothing.

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Then there is the intriguing prospect of Cardenio, said to be a late collaboration between Shakespeare and Fletcher, also referenced in documents from Shakespeare’s time. Its source, it is said, is Cervantes’ Don Quixote , which fits Shakespeare’s pattern of drawing on existing sources as the starting point for his own works. Over a hundred years on from Shakespeare’s death, a play emerged called Double Falsehood  produced by one Lewis Theobald in 1727. He admitted that he adapted it from no less than three manuscripts of an unnamed play by Shakespeare. Critical consensus is that Double Falsehood does indeed contain authentic work by Shakespeare.

This leads to the most recent discovery, in February 2016 of a single page of a play in a private collection of papers in Lama, a remote hamlet in Tuscany. ‘The fragment is a tantalizing prospect,’ says Shakespearean expert, Professor Anna Greening, ‘made even more so by the name of Ferdinando I de’Medici inscribed in the margin, leading some to believe he was the patron of the work.

‘It is thought to be written around the same time as The Merchant of Venice, 1596, possibly earlier. A draft of the inscription, also included in the papers reads: The most excellent history of The Jeweller of Florence being the true account of the marriage between Alessandra, daughter of the Duke of Florence and Flavio, master jeweller. With the obtaining of a necklace of pearls for the wife of the Duke and the comic interludes of Filippo the clown who appears in divers jocular scenes.’ 

It was discovered in a cache of papers by a family who had recently purchased a property in the area. ‘The theory runs as follows,’ says Professor Greening. ‘Ferdinando I de’Medici, son of the infamous Cosimo I of Florence, was a cardinal and eventually the Grand Duke of Tuscany. He was a ruthless and perhaps a cruel man even by the standards of the day. But at heart, he was an artist. This manifested itself in his collecting. He was a man of enormous curiosity and boundless appetites. He created an unrivalled collection of sculpture, bestowed patronage on poets and composers and commissioned mosaics, notably the intricate pietre dure created from precious stones.

‘Above all, he was obsessed by the idea of artistic genius. As a man of the court, naturally his principle entertainment was theatre. The re-enactments of battles on the Arne are legend. But he was a man of the world and his interests extended far beyond the shores of the Mediterranean. He dreamed of establishing civilizations in the new world, creating great cities in Brazil. We believe he had heard of this man William Shakespeare and had his plays translated and enacted for him. He was fascinated by the playwright’s mind; how he could conjure a man from the air and make him as real as you or I. But it was not enough simply to hear his plays; the same words that had been heard by countless others. The Medici was a family of limitless wealth and power. Nothing was impossible for them and once set on a course they could not be easily swayed. Through his brokers he sent word to England that he would commission this playwright at whatever cost. He wanted a play that would be no less dazzling in its ambitions than any other Shakespeare’s great works. For this he would pay handsomely. But there was one condition, it must be his and his alone.

‘A fee was negotiated, it is believed through Richard Burbage, the actor and one of Shakespeare’s closest associates. No one has recorded the sum, but it must have been stupendous. In 1596, he was writing four plays simultaneously. How could he write another?

‘Legend has it,’ continues Professor Greening, ‘that he wrote it in a furious burst over three days. At the end of it he drank a bottle of Spanish wine and then slept for a day and a night. A single copy was printed in conditions of the greatest secrecy.’

If the theory seems fanciful, then the fragment itself is convincing enough, even if, perhaps it does not contain some of Shakespeare’s greatest poetry.

DUKE

What music, sir, is this?

 

ANTONIO 

Tis wedding music, my lord. They practice as larks at dawn.

 

DUKE

What happy pair will join in such delight?

Hannibal’s elephants would not trumpet

With such joy as this. The trunks of England’s

Trees would shake at such a cacophony.

This fanfare of angels, this well wrought sound

of heaven, has seeped through our vault of sky

and filled the twin cathedrals of our ears.

Fetch me those who engendered this row

I shall bless their matrimony, their solemn vow.   

 

                                                                (They go)

 

SILVIO

What foul weather has blighted our fair conceit!

The servant’s flapping tongue forewarns the duke

Of a marriage. But yet he has not wind

That these nuptials are his own daughter’s,

And that she is betrothed to the only son

Of his foresworn enemy. What dark skies

would come from this unseen tempest;  

such squalls and that would wreck his heart.

 

MARCELLO

Soft, fair brother, he hath not the reason

Nor temperament to suspect; his season

Is always spring; serenity blossoms

In him as bitterness dwells in the spleen

Of the cynic; by the time he smells the rose

The altar will be clear, the candles snuffed.

 

SILVIO

Now where goes Flavio? These hours ‘til our

Brother’s union will I fear be fraught;

But for a stoup of wine to numb our nerves.    

 

While the possibility of a hoax remains, the pages are currently being forensically examined and dated with the results expected in January 2017. Then there is the question of the remainder of the play. Is it still waiting somewhere on a Tuscan hillside to be discovered?

There is a compelling piece of evidence that corroborates the story. In 1597 Shakespeare suddenly found the money to buy New Place, the grandest house in all of Stratford. How could a simple actor find such wealth?

The discovery has already inspired a work of fiction: Sherlock Holmes and The Jeweller of Florence, by Christopher James, which puts the famous detective on the trail of the lost play.

Anyone for tennis?

A brand new song for all you lovers of barley water and white flannel trousers! Anyone for Tennis? 

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The Tour de France Song

A belated tribute to Chris Froome’s third triumph in the Tour de France. With apologies to the French. I mean only goodwill!

TdF

‘Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.’ Review of Hamlet, Outspoken Theatre company, East Town Park, Haverhill

As a play, Hamlet is full of questions, the most famous of which perhaps is the life and death choice: ‘To be or not to be?’ But there was no question over the quality of the Outspoken Theatre’s superb production. In the atmospheric setting of East Town Park, with crows in the trees and the creeping dark of a summer night, the company staged an emotionally charged performance of this most daunting of works. With a minimalist set, director, David Hart let the poetry do the talking; his own voicing of the Hamlet’s father’s ghost  was exceptionally well done. He caused ‘each particular hair to stand on end/Like quills upon the fretful porpentine.’

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There wasn’t a weak link among the cast, which was efficiently employed, with some playing two or even three parts, notably the versatile Candice Danleigh. Alfie Allin was compelling as a restless Hamlet, by turns brooding and animated, with darting eyes and wild flights of fancy. His leaps, bounds and cat calls made him a wonderfully unpredictable presence. But there was variety in his delivery too; a bar stool, upon which he perched to deliver some of his soliloquies, was a witty touch. Hart was also careful not to be too reverent: Gravedigger, (Debbi Walters in excellent voice throughout) ate a cheese sandwich during Hamlet’s ‘Alas, poor Yorick…’ set piece.

The fact that Hamlet and his friends are students was emphasised in both costume and manner. Rosencrantz and Gildenstern (Emma Letcher and Jacob Simmons in mischievously good form) were seen helping themselves and filling their pockets with free food from the royal table. Lorraine Mason’s loyal Horatio meanwhile wore an Oxbridge style scarf. Her clearly spoken, level headed performance made her the stabilising presence in the otherwise spiralling madness of the Danish court.

The pace was sure footed and the first half was peppered with highlights. Alan Davison was a comic delight as the pompous, long winded Polonious and promising newcomer Daniel Payne gave a witty, vibrant performance as Laertes, at one point miming along to his father’s advice (‘To thine own self by true etc.) as if to show he had heard it all before. It is an odd part, as he is absent throughout much of the play, but his return at the end as the avenging brother was thrilling and his nimble sword fighting was an electrifying finale.

Steve Murray gave a suitably lascivious turn as the dastardly, usurping uncle, Claudius, who murders his brother and steals his wife. His naturally authoritative public tone was undermined perfectly by his guilt ridden, hand wringing soliloquies. In short, he was  the ‘something’ that was ‘rotten in the state of Denmark.’ Andy Letcher was accomplished in multiple roles, particularly as the decorously spoken Osrick, master of ceremonies at the sword fight.

But it was the two principle women who stole the show. Catherine Keeble gave a nuanced performance as Gertrude, conflicted by her love for her son, attraction to her new husband and desire to maintain her position in court. She was waspishly short when required (‘More matter, with less art,’ she instructs Polonius) but her delivery of the play’s greatest piece of poetry – her vivid, heart rending account of Ophelia’s death was masterful, clutching her ‘fantastic garlands’ as she sank into the ‘glassy stream.’ Billie Allen as Ophelia herself was superb, at once formidable with the courting Hamlet and haunting as she slides into madness and grief. Her broken singing and disturbing sense of purpose as she distributed flowers, a sort of natural justice, was the emotional heart of the play.

The company disappeared after the first curtain call, but easily deserved to return for another. They filled East Town Park with ghosts, dreams and poetry at the ‘very witching time of night.’

Review: Born EP by Boo Hewerdine

The Born EP finds Boo Hewerdine in reflective, but never less than tuneful mood. The lead track, The Year That I was Born is a gently ironic meditation on the momentous events of the year 1961. From the publication of Catch 22 and the death of Hemingway to the ‘cracking of the genetic code’, he succeeds in producing a more measured, and quintessentially English, version of Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire.  

Boo Born

To stately piano and understated bass and percussion, he contrasts these seismic events with his own lethargy ‘(‘I let today just drift away’) and ultimately the admission that he was nothing more than a blip in history and just ‘another mouth to feed.’ However you cannot help but feel he was quite pleased to have made his own minor ripple in this eventful year. The major chords and gently ascending melody capture the optimism of the new decade, before being tempered by minor key diversions, suggestive of the looming threats of Cold War; he celebrates the: ‘post war girls and boys in a world that might explode.’ His voice, as always has a doleful clarity which seems to evoke pathos, resignation and humour in equal measure. It’s all quite beautiful. Further listening: That’s Me, by Paul Simon and That Was Me, by Paul Simon.

Hometown is an equally reflective piece and is delivered in a quietly dramatic performance. To the accompaniment of well mannered, front parlour piano, and with pastoral images of drifting clouds and passing bees, the narrative is pleasingly oblique. The theme, right across this EP, is the passing of time, and here, memory in particular is a place of sanctuary and retreat. It has a heartbreakingly beautiful bridge too.

Swimming in Mercury is a playful waltz with a bittersweet theme, namely that old television sets contained mercury, a deadly toxin that sat happily in the corner of the room beneath the plant pot and the school photo. It has the carefree resignation that is thoroughly charming.

If we are to skip past Tim Rice’s thoughts on the subject, Chess is hardly obvious territory for songwriters. However Boo hits a rich seam with Bobby Fischer, an elegiac two minute bio-pic of the 11th World Chess Champion, who placed himself into self-imposed exile in Iceland. The central tragedy is a genius who for reasons of his own turned his back on his talent, seeking ‘sanctuary in the land of ice and snow.’ The wordplay with ‘openings’ and ‘sacrifices’ is skilfully done and the chorus is strangely uplifting; the ironic counterpoint of the major key melody and downbeat sentiment is once again Boo’s trump card.

Finally, ‘Farewell’ is an elegant, doomed waltz that provides a fitting coda to an exquisite EP that is a love letter to Boo’s past. But far from being a pall bearer for the 20th century, with these songs you get the sense of Boo exploring his cultural influences, the landscapes of the past, drifting back to unlock his own identity and find the source of the river. 

The Sherlock Holmes Toolkit – 10 things you’ll need to write a new Holmes adventure

So what are the ten things every aspiring Sherlock author needs to write a convincing Holmes novel or short story?

Vicar

  1. A splendid title, preferably with a colour in it: there are no less than ten adventures in the original canon that feature a colour in the title, from The Adventure of the Yellow Face to The Adventure of the Red Circle.
  2. A reliable guide to Victorian London slang:
  3. A superb, twisty plot. If you can’t come up with one of your own, why not seek help from this work of madness: https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/01/06/plotto/
  4. Some historical knowledge of the year in which your adventure is set. Your friend Wikipedia is the invaluable help.
  5. All 56 Holmes short stories and four longer works. There is simply no point starting until you’ve read all of these. You will just annoy aficionados with your school boy/girl errors..
  6. The MacGuffin – the object, person or idea that the protagonists seek and which drives the plot along. Think Rosebud in Citizen Kane. For your Holmes adventure this could be a suitably curious object of unknown providence. I used eight ruby elephants for my first Holmes adventure.
  7. Some choice vocabulary. Holmes is an eloquent fellow. You may need to brush up your English if you are to produce a truly credible effort.
  8. A brilliant villain – give him some suitably grotesque impediment, such as a missing ear or six toes on one foot. He should be a match for Holmes in strength and intellect. Don’t automatically reach for Moriarty.
  9. Some light relief – there’s plenty of humour in the original canon, so bring on some light relief in the form of some helpful nitwit or ludicrous situation. In The Adventure of the Ruby Elephants, Holmes stuffs a diminutive monocle salesman (who insists on wearing two monocles at the same time) in a large Ming vase.
  10. Some philosophical moments – some of the best of Conan Doyle’s writing is when Holmes muses on some aspect of the human condition from his lofty vantage point in 221B Baker Street.

Buy two new Sherlock adventures for a limited time only on eBay, including The Jeweller of Florence which is not officially available until 16 September 2016