Jules Verne and the Mole Man of Hackney

While I was doing the ironing this morning I was listening to a programme on the radio called ‘To the ends of the earth: lost worlds, new worlds’ ; it was an introduction to a series of programmes about exploration and the history of exploration, including a dramatisation of Jules Verne’s ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth.’ It was a fascinating programme which you can hear on the link below.

It did not just discuss Verne and his other books (including ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ – and a visit to the submarine museum in Portsmouth) but also other ‘exploration’ books of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. I was an avid reader of all these sort of books, so it was particularly interesting to hear them discussed, the Victoria adventurer writers, H.G.Wells, Mary Shelley (who was earlier actual in fact) , Conan Doyle, and of course Rider Haggard, my particular favourite. The programme discusses the ‘lost world’ genre of writing, which is still popular today, especially in science fiction and movies like the Indiana Jones series and the Mummy series.

I was surprised at how early Verne was writing – I think I knew but had forgotten; he was born in 1828 and his books and stories were published from the 1860’s. Rider Haggard whose work is also explored in detail in the programme was born in a different generation, in 1856.

To find out more I went on the programme page on the BBC site, and there was a little quiz about underworld and undersea exploration, and there was a mention of the Mole Man of Hackney. Intrigued by this I looked him up; not a fictional character but a real person, a somewhat eccentric person, William Lyttle, who took to excavating beneath his own house in Hackney and digging tunnels in all directions, much to the alarm of his neighbours. There seemed no purpose for his tunnels and he caused a huge amount of damage – but he did become a bit of a celebrity. He died in 2009 having spent forty years digging… Poor neighbours!

Here is a link to the Mole Man:

http://londonist.com/2015/08/great-london-eccentrics-the-mole-man-of-hackney

… and here are links to the BBC pages:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04wbkf9

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08j94df

Last holiday

It’s strange how unexpected and probably quite innocuous things can have a tremendous impact years and years later. As a reader, and as a writer I have a great dislike of what I call unsatisfactory endings. I don’t mean that the end of every book I read or every story I write should be full of joy, laughter, love and happiness – in fact that would be an unsatisfactory ending too if it’s not feasible or realistic within the context of the rest of the plot!

I have just realised when this first struck me – a very long time ago, when I was watching an old black and white film called ‘Last Holiday’. it starred Alec Guinness but had a stellar cast (for those days)

  • Wilfrid Hyde-White – in so many films but best known as Colonel Pickering in My Fair Lady.
  • Sid James – comedian side-kick of Tony Hancock and star of Carry On films
  • Bernard Lee – in many, many films, also was M in James Bond films
  • Ernest Thesiger  – famous stage and film actor
  • Lockwood West – father of Sir Timothy West and grandfather of Samuel West
  • David McCallum – father of David McCallum the Man From U.N.C.L.E. and NCIS

The story of Last Holiday is very simple; Alec Guinness’s character is diagnosed with a terminal disease so he sells up everything and goes to a fancy hotel in the country, where the other guests mistakenly believe he is a rich man. Because of his supposed wealth all sorts of things happen even though he is very modest and unassuming. He learns that the diagnosis was wrong and he is perfectly healthy, however on his way home from the doctor who tells him this wonderful news he crashes his car and dies.

When I saw the film it made a great impact on me – mainly because of the ending. In a way, if he’d really had the illness and died, it would have been a more satisfactory ending… or if he had survived and the other guests had realised their folly of liking him for his supposed wealth, so he may have been without ‘friends’ but at least he would have learned something. But no… he was dead. After going all the way through the film which I remember thinking as a child was funny and moving and meaningful, suddenly without any thought for the audience, he was dead. I felt annoyed and cheated.

I felt the same about ‘Cold Mountain’ by Charles Frazier; it was a wonderful novel, marvellous, and although long, carried the reader through all the terrible events the main character endured as he walked for months and months, back to the woman he loves. He is almost in sight of her home when he is shot dead… It wasn’t the fact he was killed particularly, but it was the fact that the book just fizzled out after all the struggles – of the characters and the readers.

I mentioned that I have been reading The Red Tent by Anita Diamant; without giving anything away and spoiling it if you haven’t read it – which I recommend you do – the ending is totally satisfactory, even though the characters have had horrific things to deal with.

In my books, I really try very, very hard to create a satisfactory ending – not always happy, and sometimes with a huge and difficult and maybe unachievable challenge for the characters in their future unwritten-about lives…

So maybe, although Last Holiday was a disappointment to me, it taught me a great lesson in my writing – maybe, as my dad would have said, it was a good bad example!

By the way, my featured image is from very happy seals – nothing to do with my post!

Shiver those timbers

I’ve been sharing some examples of nautical slang over the last few days, and my friend David mentioned ‘shiver me timbers’! I didn’t know if it was an actual piece of sailor-speak or made up by Robert Louis Stevenson in his wonderful book, ‘Treasure Island’. The phrase was in the original, but I think it was brought into common parlance by the different actors who over the years have played the part of the most famous pirate of them all, Long John Silver.

So many different actors have taken on this role on radio, TV, film, including:

  • Wallace Beery
  • Robert Newton
  • Orson Welles
  • James Mason
  • Peter Jeffrey
  • Jack Shepherd
  • Brian Blessed
  • Charlton Heston
  • Eddie Izzard
  • Anthony Quinn
  • Bernard Miles
  • Peter Vaughan
  • Alfred Burke

Back to the shivering of timbers; these days the word shiver is nearly always used for something trembling or shaking, often with cold or fear. The timbers of a ship in a storm would shake or tremble – and also in a battle, or when coming into contact with rocks!

However, shivering could also mean splintering or shattering – and I guess the timber parts of old ships often did splinter and smash, thorough violent weather or contact with rocks and reefs. When cannon and guns began to be used, the damage inflicted by shattering wood was horrific; timbers would almost explode and splinters of flying debris could kill a sailor or maim him for life. Shivering, or splintering timbers were a most dreadful thing.

So did sailors actually say ‘shiver me/my timbers’? Yes, apparently they did! Stevenson was careful to be accurate with his language, and he used nautical language to add colour and realism to his stories and tales… you can find a list here of various terms – including seamen’s slang, here:

https://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/t/treasure-island/study-help/full-glossary-for-treasure-island

And here is a rather saucy cartoon using ‘shiver me topsails’ – other variations include ‘shiver my hulk’.

Unforgotten 2

In 2015 the first series of ‘Unforgotten’ was broadcast; it’s a police procedural with a great cast of Nicola Walker and Sanjeeev Bhaskar as the main investigating officers, and what I described as a stellar cast when I wrote about it before –  Bernard Hill, Trevor Eve, Tom Courtney, Frances Tomelty, Hannah Gordon, Clare Goose, Peter Egan, Cherie Lunghi, Gemma Jones… and others! It was a stunning series, with the solution to the various threads of puzzle kept until the last minute, but all being quite believable.

Now, series 2 has arrived… well, it arrived on TV while I was away in Tasmania, but the DVD arrived at the beginning of the week and I began to watch it last night.

When you have enjoyed something enormously, there is always the little thought that the second time won’t be as a great – the sequel to a book, a return visit to a wonderful restaurant, a film starring a favourite actor. I have avoided reading anything about Unforgotten 2, although a friend has assured me it is excellent, better than the first series!

So far, we have a body found in a crate in a canal, a person who went missing decades ago, a couple who are hoping to adopt a child, a birthday party where two sisters fall out, a teacher going for an interview… and several other prospective story lines, some of which might be red herrings! I am gripped, although a little confused, thinking back there are a couple of scenarios and I can’t quite work out who the people were – maybe I should watch it again before going on to episode 2 – but can I delay finding out what happens next? I think I might just watch episode 2 and if I can’t work it out, then go back!

The acting is superb, I am intrigued, puzzled, and very relieved that it is as good as the first series.  One of the great qualities is its pace… slow but not too slow, measured, giving enough time to each scene but not being boring or drawn out. Yes, i will watch episode 2, I can’t wait!

Here is a link to what I wrote about series 1:

https://loiselden.com/2015/11/07/unforgotten/

In ten objects…

I think it may have been the wonderful Neil MacGregor, then Director of the British Museum, who first used the idea of a specific number of objects to represent something or somewhere; in his case, he  spoke about the history of the world from two million years ago to the present in one hundred objects.

My friend, the historian and writer, Andrew Simpson, has written about many places, brilliantly using objects or places to introduce particular aspects of history. Having lived in Chorlton-cum-Hardy (actually in he very house where Andrew lives now) I have been particularly interested in his posts about Chorlton.

https://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/2017/02/a-history-of-chorlton-in-just-20.html

Here is just an example of the objects he has chosen in this series:

  1. A history of Chorlton in just 20 objects number one …… a bridge across the Mersey 1816
  2. A new history of Chorlton in just 20 objects number 2, the electric supply box circa 1920
  3. A new history of Chorlton in just 20 objects no 3 the community newspaper 1984
  4. A new history of Chorlton in just 20 objects no 4, the graph and the housing boom 1901
  5. A new history of Chorlton in 20 objects, number 5, calling the emergency services
  6. A new history of Chorlton in just 20 objects number 6, the Garden Village 1911
  7. A new history of Chorlton in just 20 objects number 7, the king William IV clay pipe
  8. A new history of Chorlton in 20 objects, number 8, an amusement arcade and the future of Beech Road circa 1983

I’m thinking I might do something similar… objects from  my family history, perhaps, objects from around our village of Uphill, objects from my own life… hmmm, the possibilities are endless… yes, I will ponder on this!!

Here is a link to Andrew’s book about the history of Chorlton-cum-Hardy:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Books/Chorlton-cum-Hardy-Community-Transformed-Andrew-Simpson/186077671X/ref=sr_1_13?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1488746289&sr=1-13

Meanwhile, here is a link to the objects Neil MacGregor talked about:

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/a_history_of_the_world.aspx

 

 

 

Brokenwood

I wrote yesterday about my preferred genre of fiction – mystery, crime,police procedural, so it’s no surprise that it’s also my preferred TV viewing too. I don’t actually watch a lot of TV, most evenings I’m here, writing, although recently, in an effort to improve fitness and lose a few of the pounds gained over the autumn (wedding anniversary party, husband’s special birthday party, family Christmas party, visits to friends and relatives), Christmas and our visit to Tasmania I have been doing some exercising…

Anyway, by chance I happened upon a new to me TV series called ‘Brokenwood’ and in teh opening episode Detective Senior Sergeant Mike Shepherd arrives in the small town of Brokenwood to investigate a murder. As you might expect, in the best tradition of TV detectives he is slightly off-beat and eccentric in his methods and the small town is exactly like all small towns in such stories – or any TV stories, ‘memories – and animosities – run deep‘. He soon acquires a sensible female sergeant, an even more eccentric than he is forensic and medical examiner, and a young outsider who soon becomes an important character who knows all about the town and the inhabitants.

Brokenwood is a fictional town, as most are in these type of TV series – think Midsummer, think Ashfordly and  Aidensfield in ‘Heartbeat’, think back to Newtown in Z-Cars, and Denton where Detective Inspector Frost solved cases. The show was filmed around the greater Aukland area, and that is where it is set. It’s a place for people retired from the city, a small pleasant retreat to a supposedly simpler life… lots of farming and wine making in the area.

The two main actors are Neill Rea as Detective Senior Sergeant Mike Shepherd and Fern Sutherland as Detective Kristin Sims, and there have been three series of four episodes each,, and apparently a fourth series is on its way.

I’ve really enjoyed the two episodes I’ve seen – I guess they are not challenging viewing, but sometimes you just need to relax and read/view something straightforward. At the moment they are showing on Drama TV in the UK:

http://drama.uktv.co.uk/shows/brokenwood-mysteries/