Royal B***ards: The Rise of the Tudors – Sky History

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  OK, this was interesting.  Kind of the Wars of the Roses meets Shameless (I need a Yorkshire equivalent of Shameless, but can’t think of one).  Apparently, nearly everyone who was involved in the Wars of the Roses spoke in a broad northern accent, spent most of their time getting into brawls in pubs, and swore their heads off.  How stereotypical is that?  They’d never have shown people with Oxford accents getting into pub brawls.  Anyway.  Richard of York, whom I kept expecting to put on a Leeds United shirt over his armour, barged around looking thuggish all the time, even when he wasn’t in the pub, and failed in his attempts to become king because people thought he was … er, too thuggish.  The future Edward IV was also a thug, but apparently he did it in a medieval kingly way, so that was OK.  And they both had the wrong colour hair, which was really annoying.

Margaret Beaufort, who looked about 8, didn’t have a pronounced northern accent and didn’t swear, but still hung around in the pub (well, at some sort of drunken gatherings, anyway).  Marguerite of Anjou did not hang around in the pub, but did swear, a lot, in an ‘Allo ‘Allo-esque French accent, calling everyone “pieces of sheet”.  The only person who sounded like an English aristocrat (OK, accents in the 15th century would have been different to today’s anyway, but we can only go off today’s) was Jasper Tudor –  which was rather odd, given that he was Welsh.

Having said all this, Richard of York and the Earl of Warwick probably *did* have pronounced northern accents.  And probably did swear a lot.

Also, there were no historians.  Instead, we had Philip Glenister, Sophie Rundle and Sheila Atim.

The whole thing was fairly bonkers – but, to be fair, the actual facts in terms of politics and battles (as opposed to Margaret Beaufort being in the pub) were pretty much spot on, and it was good to see the vastly underrated Margaret getting so much attention.  And it was certainly different!!  If we’d been shown this when we were doing history A-level, it would *definitely* have got our attention.  Possibly not quite as much as the Lady Jane film with Cary Elwes as a ridiculously romanticised Guildford Dudley did, but that’s beside the point.  It was actually quite cleverly done – it managed to put a populist twist on events without turning them into a load of nonsense.  Not what I was expecting, but I rather enjoyed it.

 

The Lost Cafe Schindler by Meriel Schindler

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  This is a different sort of family Holocaust memoir, partly because it’s got recipes at the back, and partly because it’s about Innsbruck.  Not Warsaw, Lodz, Vilnius, Kyiv, Minsk, Vienna, Amsterdam, Thessaloniki, Berlin, Prague or a little shtetl somewhere, but Innsbruck.  And I was going to say that this is the first time I’ve come across a Holocaust book about Tyrol, but, of course, the first ever slightly Holocaust-related book I read was The Chalet School in Exile.  And, for nearly 40 years, I have tied myself in knots over Austria – land of the Chalet School (which has played and continues to play a big part in my life), The Sound of Music (which I’ve seen 85 billion times), Sachertorte (which I like to have on my birthday, and at various other times during rhe year), strudel, coffee houses, lakes, mountains, waltzes, white horses, grand palaces … and, in the not too distant past, Nazis.  I’ve got photos dotted about the house of myself in Innsbruck, Salzburg and Vienna.  Hey, I scoffed a huge piece of apple strudel from an Austrian stall at the Christmas market in Manchester last weekend.  But I still tie myself in knots over it all.

Most people probably know that, until recently, The Sound of Music had never been shown on state Austrian TV, because of Austria’s issues with itself.  And just to wander a bit off topic, Tony Warren, the late, great, creator of Coronation Street, addressed this issue in The Lights of Manchester, in which a character gets spooked during a romantic weekend in Vienna.  I even wrote a Chalet School fanfic to try to sort it all out in my head, but it really is difficult.

In this, we’ve got a British author inheriting a large amount of family papers from her Tyrolean-born father, who escaped from Innsbruck as a schoolboy in 1938, and looking into her family history – centred on the Cafe Schindler, the very popular coffee house on the Mariatheresienstrasse which was founded by her great-grandparents.  It was seized from the family after the Anschluss, but they did eventually get it back, but then sold it on in the 1950s … and it still exists.

The author seems to have started her research because she had questions about her dad and her complicated relationship with him.  I’m not sure that she needed to be so negative about him in a published book, but that was her choice.  The questions about him are never really answered, but there’s a lot in this, going back to the history of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the late 19th century, and how the various members of her family came to be in Innsbruck, or elsewhere.

There’s a fact-is-stranger-than-fiction subplot about a relative by marriage, Dr Eduard Bloch, a Jewish doctor in Linz who treated both Hitler and his mother before the Great War, and got some sort of special protection in the 1930s because Hitler had always liked him.   But the main character ends up being Hugo Schindler, the author’s grandfather – a proud Tyrolean, proud Austrian, who sometimes wore lederhosen and a little green hat, fought for Austria-Hungary in the Great War … and was badly beaten by people from his own local community on Kristallnacht, and lost his mother, sister and brother-in-law in the concentration camps.

The book takes us through the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, including the awarding of South Tyrol to Italy, and shows us the Schindler family setting up their cafe and how it became very popular in a city coping with the shock of everything that had happened.  Innsbruck wasn’t Vienna: there were very few non-Catholics there, and there were no “Jewish areas” – everyone lived together, one community.  But then, and this was something I found out myself when doing some research a few years ago, the events of Kristallnacht were particularly brutal in Innsbruck … and it has to be said that Tyrol has a history of intolerance of religious minorities.

And yet, after the war, the Schindler family chose to return.  The author talks about the complexities of the post-war era and how it suited everyone to cast Austria as a victim, when in fact Austria had welcomed the Nazis in.  There’s a lot of personal stuff in this book, which is, after all, a family history – family feuds, different members of the family ending up in different places, etc, but the main focus is on the Cafe Schindler, and they did eventually get it back.   The story isn’t always set out in the clearest of ways, but there’s a moving end in which the author ensures that “steine”, memorial stones marking the place where a Holocaust victim lived – I saw quite a few of them in Budapest in 2019 – are placed for her great-grandmother, great-aunt and great-uncle.

Then there are recipes for Kaiserschmarm, apple strudel and Sachertorte.  I made sure that I had all of those when I went to the Vienna Christmas markets in 2019.  In fact, pretty much the first thing I did after leaving my luggage at the hotel was to rush off to the Cafe Sacher to have genuine Sacher Torte on its home patch.   Austria, land of coffee houses.  And Nazis.  But time moves on, and, as the author says, very few of the people who had anything to do with Nazi atrocities are still alive.  And the Cafe Schindler’s still there.  I very much hope to go back to Innsbruck one day, and, if I do, I’ll be calling in.

Fever Pitch: the rise of the Premier League – BBC 2

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I was half-expecting this to be a load of soul-searching about whether or not English football’s sold its soul to Mammon and the extent to which lifelong fans have been pushed out by the prawn sandwich brigade.  Instead, it was largely a nostalgia fest about the wondrousness that was 1992/93.  I rather enjoyed it, and I’m sure that fellow United fans did too; but I should imagine that everyone else was wondering if they’d tuned into MUTV rather than BBC 2 by mistake :-).

In 1991/92, I was in my last year at school, United hadn’t won the league since 7 years before I was born, and we lost out on the penultimate week of the season to Leeds.  That was the last year of the old Football League.  In 1992/93, I was in my first year of university, in Birmingham – not the best place to be as United battled it out with Villa for the title.  This time, we did it!   26 years of hurt came to an end.  Did we care that it was the “Premier League” rather than the “Football League”?  No.  It was still “the league”.  We’d won the league.  And that was all that mattered.

I came home from Birmingham for every weekend home match.  I’d been going to every home match for years.  Did anything change for me in 1992?  No.  Did, as BBC 2 suggested, anything change for me after Italia ’90 (and don’t get me started on the day I had three GCSE exams on the day of one of England’s group matches)?  No.

What about Sky TV?  Well, I’d nagged my dad – sorry, Dad – all through the early months of 1990 to get Sky, so that I could watch tennis all year round rather than just for the few weeks of the year when it was shown on the BBC.  He’d eventually given in.  So, when everyone else rushed to get Sky installed so that they could watch the new Premier League, we’d already got it.  So no change there, either.   Do I feel that I embarked on a “journey” (why is *everything* a “journey” these days) in 1992, as Alan Shearer said?  Well, TBH, no.  But, yes, in some ways, it *was* all change.

I don’t half miss knowing that matches would be at 3pm on Saturdays.  You try to plan something for more than a month or so ahead and it’s impossible.  The match could be at half 12 on Saturday, half 4 on Sunday,  5:15 on Saturday, 2 o’clock on Sunday, Monday night or even Friday night.  Or, of course at 3 o’clock on Saturday.   Not to mention the travelling.  Newcastle v Southampton on a Monday night?   Norwich v Liverpool at half 12 on a Saturday?  Anything goes!

That all started in 1992.  But there was a load of other stuff as well – oh, dear, what on earth was some of it about?   Remember the “Sky strikers”?  What a load of sexist rubbish!   And the rest of “glitzy” nonsense, like the giant inflatable men being brought on to the pitches at half time.  No-one wanted to see that!   A few snooty remarks were made about brass bands.  Well, bring brass bands back, I say!   Older generations reminisce fondly about the days of brass bands at football matches.  Bring them back!

Other than all the talk about United, there was quite a bit of talk about the rise of Blackburn Rovers, bankrolled by Jack Walker.  Complete with a load of rather patronising clips of Southerners saying that they didn’t know where Blackburn was, which I could really have done without.  People moaned at the time about clubs buying success, but now I’d love to see people like Jack Walker and Jack Hayward in the game, owning their hometown clubs, the clubs they’d loved all their lives, rather than money men from America or Russia or the Middle East.  And that sort of thing was what I was expecting this series to be about; but it isn’t.  It’s just basically a lot of nostalgia, and interviews with the great players of the time.  I enjoyed revisiting that wonderful year, but it wasn’t really anything that you can’t see on one of the Sky Sports channels in the hours of TV that they fill up with reruns of old matches or interviews.  Still, I shall definitely be watching the rest of the series!

 

Mr Jones

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  This film tells the tragic story of Gareth Jones, the brave young Welsh journalist who tried to tell the world about the Holodymyr, the man-made famine which killed millions of people in Ukraine in 1932-33, part of a wider famine also affecting Kazakhstan and other parts of the Soviet Union, and is now considered genocide in Ukraine.  Not only were the Soviets were determined to cover it up, but so were left-wing intellectuals in the West, unwilling to admit that damage that Stalinism had done.  That, and false reporting by the New York Times‘ “man in Moscow” Walter Duranty, meant that the efforts of Jones, Malcolm Muggeridge and others to bring the famine to world attention sadly did little good.   Jones was murdered by bandits, almost certainly in the pay of the Soviet secret police, not long after his reports were published.

It’s not the easiest of films to watch, especially as quite a lot of it’s in Russian with English subtitles, but it tells an important and still little-known story of very tragic events.

It was only in the era of glasnost that people were really able to talk for the first time about what happened.  Gorbachev himself spoke of losing two aunts and an uncle in the mixed Russian-Ukrainian village in Southern Russia where he grew up.   It’s not clear how many people died – estimates vary from 3 million to 12 million – and there’s little clarity and fierce argument over exactly what went on.  Stalin’s collectivisation programme, together with generally poor administration, meant that crop yields fell in the first place, and a lot of grain was lost in the processing and transportation processes.  Then such grain as there was was requisitioned, and most of it was allocated to industrial workers in towns, leaving those in the countryside to starve.

Some people think that, whilst due to appalling mismanagement, it wasn’t deliberate.  Others believe that the Stalinist administration deliberately starved people in rural areas, probably to stifle Ukrainian nationalism.

Malcolm Muggeridge – am I the only person who associates him with Adrian Mole? – raised the issue in the British press, after spending time in the Soviet Union.  Other Western reporters also raised the issue.  However, they didn’t feature in this film, which was all about Gareth Jones, the first Western writer to speak out using his own name.

We saw Jones working in the Soviet Union, and some fairly harrowing scenes as he uncovered what was going on.  Then we saw his attempts to bring it to Western attention – and how, although his reports were widely publicised, it didn’t really suit anyone in authority to accept what was happening.   George Bernard Shaw and others would later travel to the Soviet Union, at Stalin’s behest, to claim that they saw no signs of famine: in this film, it was George Orwell who was reluctant to accept the damage done by communism, but that did sum up the views of many left-wing intellectuals.

Business people were eager to normalise relations with the Soviet Union, in the middle of the Depression, in the hopes of boosting the economy.  And we saw Lloyd George, for whom Jones had once worked, saying that he accepted what Jones was saying but that he didn’t know what Jones wanted him to do about it – what *could* he do about it?  On top of that, the Metro-Vickers trial was going on – the Soviets were holding six British engineering workers.  The film suggested that they’d threatened to execute them if Jones published his report … although I’m not sure that that’s very accurate.

The main figure, though, was Walter Duranty, the Liverpool-born journalist working for the New York Times, who insisted that Stalinism, although brutal, was necessary because the Soviet Union couldn’t be governed any other way, claimed that there was no famine and that Jones and the others were talking rubbish, and played a big part in Roosevelt’s decision to recognise the Soviet regime.  In the film, Duranty’s presented as a big baddie, forcing people to lie.  But what were his motives?  It’s certainly known that he did know about the famine.  Did he genuinely believe that Stalinism was a good thing?  Was he keen to promote good relations between the USSR and the West, to avoid war or promote trade?  Was he maybe, as some people have suggested, being blackmailed because he was gay?

There’s so much we don’t know.  But we do know that the famine happened, that it was the fault of the Stalinist regime, that millions of people died, and that Gareth Jones and other brave Western journalists tried to expose it.  People are very critical of the media these days: we shouldn’t forget what an important job journalists do.   And the Holodymyr, usually referred to as the Holodomor in the Russian rather than Ukrainian translation, is still little-known in the West.  Sad story all round.

 

The Reading Cure by Laura Freeman

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This is the true story of how Laura Freeman was diagnosed with anorexia at 14 and how the food described in books helped her to recover.  I’m pleased to say that Laura, thanks largely to the support of her wonderful mum, is now doing well, with a successful writing career, a nice husband, and a double first from Cambridge; but she went through a very rough time.

This is an interesting book, even though her taste in books isn’t that similar to mine, but I’m probably the wrong person to be writing about it.  I know all about binge eating disorder, and I can understand bulimia, but I find anorexia difficult to relate to.  But Laura does a wonderful job of explaining it – through the prism of seeing her mind as a library, in which the books have all fallen off the shelves and got in a mess.

Books and food.  She doesn’t talk about whether there was any connection in her mind between books and food *before* she developed anorexia, so I assume that there wasn’t one.  Now, I grew up reading books in which everyone was always eating.  And we’re not talking a cup of tea and a biscuit – we’re  talking huge slabs of cherry cake, crumpets dripping with butter, and “young bathtubs” of whipped cream.  And sardines, but we’ll ignore that bit: I don’t like sardines.  The Malory Towers and St Clare’s girls were always having midnight feasts, with goodies from their enormous tuckboxes (strangely unaffected by rationing). The Chalet School girls ate vast quantities of cream cakes and fancy bread twists.  The Five Find-Outers spent so much time eating sticky buns in the local cafe that it’s a wonder they ever had time to search for clues.  The Famous Five, the Mystery gang and all the others consumed large picnics followed by equally large high teas.  Even the Ingalls family, who lived in the middle of nowhere and had no money, were always eating Ma’s “good” food.

Is there some sort of connection between all that and my eating disorders?  No: I honestly don’t think there is.  Probably because there’s never much connection between the amount of food eaten by characters in books and their weight.  About the only one who worried about her weight was Caroline Scott in the Wells books, who went through a phase of turning down second helpings of afters … before magically losing all her “puppy fat”, developing a perfect figure, and being swept off her feet by a handsome Spaniard.  In about 1987, a kind old lady assured me that I’d lose my “puppy fat”.  I’m still waiting.  And, anyway, none of them eat for no specific reason, or to punish themselves.  They only eat at “occasions”.  Like midnight feasts.  I really want to say that I’ve just discovered the answer to eating disorders, and that it’s that you need to have high teas and midnight feasts with a gang of mates rather than eating your way through the contents of the fridge (or, if it’s empty, the freezer) for no reason whatsoever.  How lovely what that be?   But, sadly, it isn’t, because if I ate even one of those high teas, I would put on 3lbs.  This does not happen to people in books.  Lucky them!!

There’s a definite negativity about overweight characters in books, though.  It’s just that their weight is shown as a character trait (a bad one) rather than as a function of what they eat.  It’s OK for Frederick “Fatty” Trotteville to be fat, because he’s supremely self-confident, but it’s made very clear that no-one would want to be like the unfortunately-named Alma Pudden, or Linda Fischer, or even Hilda Jukes who gets picked on despite having a very kind personality.

Strangely – well, strangely to me – Laura Freeman doesn’t see it like that.  She picks up on books portraying being thin as being a negative thing.  The examples she gives are Charlie Bucket and his family, painfully thin because all they can afford to eat is cabbage, Anne Shirley being very thin when we first meet her, because no-one’s really looked after her until she goes to live with Matthew and Marilla, and Mary Lennox looking “thin and yellow” because she’s been living in “unhealthy” India.  I suppose I take the point.  There’s a lot of talk in books about feeding people up, especially after they’ve been ill.

She doesn’t mention that until the end of the book, though.  Most of it is an account of the different books she read as she recovered, and how the food described in them, and the way in which it was described, appealed to her and made her want to try it.  I suppose that’s what I should be writing about, but they weren’t really my favourite books, so I haven’t really got much to say about them.  Interestingly, they weren’t the sort of books you’d usually associate with food.  The writings of the First World War poets.  And Charles Dickens: the only food I associate with Dickens is the gruel which poor Oliver Twist had to eat in the workhouse.  Laurie Lee’s Cider With Rosie.  Elizabeth David’s recipe books.  Harry Potter.  They aren’t my books, as I’ve said, but it’s a wonderful account of how books can help people, and I’m so glad to know that Laura is now doing so much better.

There are more books about eating disorders than there used to be, but it’s still a subject that’s not talked about very much, and this is a really different take on it.  I feel like I’ve just written a load of stuff about myself rather than about Laura’s book, but books like this are important for people who’ve got their own issues, and you’re bound to try to relate what they say to yourself.   An interesting read.

Flickerbook by Leila Berg

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I absolutely love the fact that a fellow Old Girl of my school had her books banned from Listen With Mother for being “a corrupting influence” -the issue being that the characters in them did such terribly shocking things as coming down the stairs backwards.  Listeners were so horrified by this subversive behaviour that they complained, and the BBC decided that the books had to go.  Janet and John, and Peter and Jane, would never have dreamt of coming down stairs backwards.  Leila Berg did end up winning the Eleanor Farjeon award in 1974, though, so evidently, everyone had come to terms with kids coming down the stairs backwards by then.

Unfortunately, this book, her autobiography of her early years, doesn’t go that far, only up to when she was in her early 20s.  It’s not very coherently written – I think the idea is that it sounds like a child or young adult talking, rather than “sounding” like prose – and anyone who isn’t familiar with Higher Broughton will probably be thoroughly confused by the first third or so of it.  If you do know Higher Broughton, and know exactly where she means when she talks about Bury New Road, Great Clowes Street, Leicester Road et al, you’ll love this; but it’s very localised and very much a personal memoir.  She hasn’t even changed the names of her neighbours.   If you know Manchester/Salford in general, you’ll love her descriptions of walking round town, especially all the references to Sherratt and Hughes bookshop (sadly no longer with us); but, again, if you don’t, you may just feel rather confused.

The later chapters, about her involvement in the radical movements of the inter-war years, may be of more interest to everyone – although probably particularly so to people who know the area.   Everyone’s heard of the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass, and the National Trust is actually a bit obsessed with it, but no-one talks much about the backgrounds of those involved, and you certainly never hear much about there having been women and girls involved.  And British involvement in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War – Leila Berg didn’t go to Spain, but two of her boyfriends were killed there –  has become associated with either intellectuals like George Orwell or well-to-do people like Jessica Mitford, and there isn’t as much focus as there could be on the many “ordinary” people who joined up.

It’s not a very readable book, because the style’s so rambling, but it’s quite interesting.

She does seem to have been very keen on coming across as a rebel.  “Nice” girls in the inter-war years did not use mirrors to look at all bits of themselves, and did not “carry on” with various different boyfriends and write about it.  Even when she’s writing about herself as a young child, she seems rather obsessed with toilets, which you wouldn’t normally write about – too much information!   Her brother does what he’s supposed to – wins a scholarship to our brother school 🙂 , and then goes on to university.  Leila refuses to go to university, drops out of teacher training college, and spends most of her time hanging around at meetings of the Young Communists.  She does a lot of name dropping, but I’m going to assume that she did actually meet all those people.   She certainly had an interesting time of it.

And I do miss Sherratt and Hughes!  It was originally taken over by Waterstones, so at least it was still a bookshop, but then it was turned into a branch of W H Smith when the main W H Smith had to close because of the IRA bomb.  Then that went as well.  But some of the little bookshops in Shudehill, which she also talks about, are still there.  I think she must have been a fan of E J Oxenham, because some of the books she mentions definitely sound like “EJO”s, and she talks a lot in general about expecting secondary school to be like school stories.  That’s all so conventional, but then she turned out to be very unconventional.   And the Listen With Mother ban really does amuse me!

This is probably of limited interest to people who don’t know the area, but it kept me entertained.

 

(Sorry, double-posted because I messed up the Facebook link!)

Flickerbook by Leila Berg

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I absolutely love the fact that a fellow Old Girl of my school had her books banned from Listen With Mother for being “a corrupting influence” -the issue being that the characters in them did such terribly shocking things as coming down the stairs backwards.  Listeners were so horrified by this subversive behaviour that they complained, and the BBC decided that the books had to go.  Janet and John, and Peter and Jane, would never have dreamt of coming down stairs backwards.  Leila Berg did end up winning the Eleanor Farjeon award in 1974, though, so evidently, everyone had come to terms with kids coming down the stairs backwards by then.

Unfortunately, this book, her autobiography of her early years, doesn’t go that far, only up to when she was in her early 20s.  It’s not very coherently written – I think the idea is that it sounds like a child or young adult talking, rather than “sounding” like prose – and anyone who isn’t familiar with Higher Broughton will probably be thoroughly confused by the first third or so of it.  If you do know Higher Broughton, and know exactly where she means when she talks about Bury New Road, Great Clowes Street, Leicester Road et al, you’ll love this; but it’s very localised and very much a personal memoir.  She hasn’t even changed the names of her neighbours.   If you know Manchester/Salford in general, you’ll love her descriptions of walking round town, especially all the references to Sherratt and Hughes bookshop (sadly no longer with us); but, again, if you don’t, you may just feel rather confused.

The later chapters, about her involvement in the radical movements of the inter-war years, may be of more interest to everyone – although probably particularly so to people who know the area.   Everyone’s heard of the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass, and the National Trust is actually a bit obsessed with it, but no-one talks much about the backgrounds of those involved, and you certainly never hear much about there having been women and girls involved.  And British involvement in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War – Leila Berg didn’t go to Spain, but two of her boyfriends were killed there –  has become associated with either intellectuals like George Orwell or well-to-do people like Jessica Mitford, and there isn’t as much focus as there could be on the many “ordinary” people who joined up.

It’s not a very readable book, because the style’s so rambling, but it’s quite interesting.

She does seem to have been very keen on coming across as a rebel.  “Nice” girls in the inter-war years did not use mirrors to look at all bits of themselves, and did not “carry on” with various different boyfriends and write about it.  Even when she’s writing about herself as a young child, she seems rather obsessed with toilets, which you wouldn’t normally write about – too much information!   Her brother does what he’s supposed to – wins a scholarship to our brother school 🙂 , and then goes on to university.  Leila refuses to go to university, drops out of teacher training college, and spends most of her time hanging around at meetings of the Young Communists.  She does a lot of name dropping, but I’m going to assume that she did actually meet all those people.   She certainly had an interesting time of it.

And I do miss Sherratt and Hughes!  It was originally taken over by Waterstones, so at least it was still a bookshop, but then it was turned into a branch of W H Smith when the main W H Smith had to close because of the IRA bomb.  Then that went as well.  But some of the little bookshops in Shudehill, which she also talks about, are still there.  I think she must have been a fan of E J Oxenham, because some of the books she mentions definitely sound like “EJO”s, and she talks a lot in general about expecting secondary school to be like school stories.  That’s all so conventional, but then she turned out to be very unconventional.   And the Listen With Mother ban really does amuse me!

This is probably of limited interest to people who don’t know the area, but it kept me entertained.

A Lakeland Saga by Jeremy Collingwood

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The title of this book’s a bit of a misnomer – it’s the story of the Collingwood/Altounyan family, best known for the fact that the children of Dora, nee Collingwood, and Ernest Altounyan, were the inspiration for the Walker children in the Swallows and Amazons books.  Other members of the family were historians, philosophers, artists and archaeologists.  It isn’t really a “Lakeland Saga” – they were only at Coniston for part of the time.  But it’s still quite interesting.

It’s essentially a family history, and there are pages and pages about how X married Y, their children were A,B and C, this one had a sweet voice, that one had a moustache, etc,  which probably isn’t that interesting unless you’ve got a personal connection with the people concerned.  However, some of the stuff in it is genuinely fascinating – as well as Arthur Ransome, John Ruskin, Lawrence of Arabia and King Faisal of Iraq all feature, and the most interesting section shows the Altounyans, with their Armenian heritage, running a hospital in Aleppo and helping Armenian refugees fleeing the genocide.  Ernest Altounyan’s own uncle was a victim of the genocide.  It also gives a wonderful picture of historical, multicultural Aleppo, which has sadly suffered so much killing and destruction in the past decade.

There’s quite a bit about the Lakes too, especially Coniston, but “a Lakeland saga” it isn’t.  It’s quite interesting, though – I wouldn’t spend a fortune on it, but, if you can get a cheap copy or borrow a copy from a library, it’s worth a look through.

 

Edward VII: The Merry Monarch – Channel 5

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  The Entente Cordiale wasn’t mentioned until the 79th minute of the 90, and the to-do over the People’s Budget wasn’t mentioned at all.  But we heard an awful lot about waistcoat buttons, champagne baths, and, of course, ladies.  However, even if there was way too much gossip and not enough serious stuff, this was a really lovely, positive portrayal of someone whose father said he was useless, whom a lot of puritanical courtiers and journalists said would make a rotten king, and who actually did a superb job, left the British monarchy in a very strong position ahead of what would turn out to be a difficult time for monarchies, and was genuinely popular amongst people of all backgrounds.  Good old Teddy!

We were told that Downton Abbey typified people’s images of the time of Edward VII.  Given that we tend to use “Edwardian” to mean 1901-1914 rather than 1901-1910, I suppose the fact that the first series of Downton Abbey was set during the reign of George V can be overlooked!  Did it typify people’s images of the period?  Well, I suppose it did if you were only thinking about stately homes.  The Edwardian era’s actually seen as a very positive time for everyone – strangely so, given that a lot of people were struggling at the time.  There’s even a song about it in Mary Poppins!  The positive image is partly because, compared to the horrors of the Great War, what came before has to seen like a golden era.  And it’s partly because the Victorian era, even by the 1890s, is seen as a very puritanical era, and people get really fed up of puritanical eras.  Charles II, another slightly naughty king, is remembered fondly because he came after the nightmare of the Cromwellian era.  But a lot of it’s because of Edward/Bertie.  He really is seen as a very positive figure.

I would like to have heard more about his peacemaking/diplomatic skills, which were of crucial importance to … well, to the whole world, really, given what lay ahead.  And about how his social circle included people far removed from traditional aristocratic circles.  But, hey, the stuff about champagne baths, watching Can Can dancers, leaving his bottom waistcoat open because it strained over his tum tum, and, of course, his mistresses, was all quite entertaining.  It was also good to hear the praise for Queen Alexandra, who had a lot to put up with it and did a wonderful job as Princess of Wales and then as Queen – although I’m not sure we needed to hear quite so much about her clothes and jewellery.

But, in between the gossip, we heard all about Edward’s interest in technology – he was on the receiving end of the first wireless message sent across the Atlantic, a greeting from another much-loved Teddy, President Roosevelt – and, most of all, his understanding of the need for the Royal Family to be visible, and how he was the one who established a lot of the pageantry that we still enjoy today.  And how, when he died, there was genuine grief across the nation and beyond, from people of all backgrounds.   He got it right.  And, considering how many people thought he’d get it all wrong, that’s particularly impressive.  As I said, good old Teddy!

 

 

 

 

 

Make-up: A Glamorous History (final episode) – BBC 2

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I do love a good American Dream story!  Max Factor, born Maksymilian Faktorowicz in a small town outside Lodz, started work at the age of 8 because his family were so poor, sailed steerage to Ellis Island to escape the pogroms, moved to LA because he was so taken by “the movies”, and pretty much created the modern make-up industry.  Amazing.  Meanwhile, his half-brother became a Chicago gangster who worked closely with Al Capone!  The programme didn’t actually mention the gangster brother, but I thought I would!

I do not love 1920s fashion.  It seems to have been designed for women who were no more than a size 6, and had no tummy, backside, waist, hips or bust.  On top of that, it involved miniscule handbags.  What a larger-sized female who couldn’t leave the house without carrying everything but the kitchen sink with her, i.e. someone like me, was supposed to do, I have no idea.  Just look uncool, I suppose 😢!  But, hey, at least women of any size could choose what sort of make-up they wore, and the 1920s/1930s was the era in which it became affordable for everyone.

It’s important for everyone to be able to choose a look which works for them.  The current Coronation Street storyline, in which Nina was badly beaten up because of her choice of clothes, make-up and hairstyle, based on the horrific murder of Sophie Lancaster in Bacup in 2007, is reminding us how prejudiced people can be just based on someone else’s look.  We’ve still got a long way to go, but the inter-war years were the period in which we at least really started to move towards each person choosing what worked for them.

But to get back to the point …

…. this was another fascinating episode, as we saw the make-up/cosmetics industry roll on into the days of mass marketing, getting people in white coats to convince you that it was all good for you, and setting up all those counters which still tend to be the first thing you see when you walk into a department store. On the one hand, women were rebelling, choosing their own looks, and having their hair cut short – despite schools suspending girls who turned up with short hair, employers sacking women with short hair, and clergymen preaching against the evils of having your crowning glory cut off.  On the other hand, there was all this advertising making you feel that you didn’t look right.

And, of course, there was the obsession with the cinema!  A lot of this was about film star looks.  And a lot of it was about the actual science of make-up, and how people were influenced by the idea that this was all good for you.  But I think the main theme was that, after the Great War, women were increasingly rebelling against the control of society and the patriarchy, and how changing hairstyles, styles of clothing and trends in make-up all showed that.

Like the previous two episodes, it said so much about the society of the day, and how trends involving hair and clothes and make-up were a part of that.  This really has been a great series, and I’m only sorry that there’ve only been three episodes of it.  Well done, Lisa Eldridge and BBC 2!   Good stuff 🙂 .