They Step on Ya! Walk on Ya!

Stop work, it’s Monday afternoon cartoon time (M.A.C.T.), which I believe is now official government policy. What could be more suitable for a rainy Monday than a Tex Avery cartoon about a misanthropic cat? Keep watching for the freaky moon creatures at the end. This version seems to have French subtitles, which makes it also educational.

London Superstition

The Lovett Collection of Superstitions at the Cuming Museum is a set of charms from London donated by Edward Lovett in 1916. There’s a brass acorn, above, used to protect against lightning; a soldier’s charm used to ward off the evil eye:
various objects to cure ailments, like a horseshoe to keep away nightmares, a bag with a child’s caul used to protect against drowning:
a necklace of acorns worn for diarrhoea; bread and hair given to a dog to cure a child’s whooping cough; a catskin for rheumatism:
and a mandrake root said to have curative powers:
What’s most surprising is how recent all these medieval-seeming curios are – but then there’s a shop in Brixton Market that sells lucky charms that look just like this one to protect sailors from drowning to this day:


If you’ve noticed a bit less linking around here lately, it’s because I’m now doing a lot of that stuff on Twitter, so you should really follow me there.
If you’re not on Twitter – don’t be scared, it’s a friendly and useful thing once you get going.

Hanny’s Voorwerp

The Awl has the cheering story of Hanny van Arkel, a 24-year-old primary school teacher in the Netherlands, who one day idly clicked through from Brian May’s website to Galaxy Zoo, a site which posted a million galaxy photos and asked readers to help classify them.
When she spotted an unidentified blue smudge on one of the pictures, Hanny became the discoverer of what astronomers named Hanny’s Voorwerp, a cloud of gas being hit by an x-ray jet from an active black hole.
To have a go at finding your own astronomical phenomenon, go here.

The Cathedral of the Movies

If you find yourself on Mitcham Road in Tooting, nip into the Gala Bingo hall where you’re in for a surprise. This is the former Tooting Granada, a movie palace of the 1930s, and its amazing interior has been kept intact, give or take an X-Factor slot machine or two. If you ask the lady behind the desk nicely, she’ll let you look around and give you a printed sheet by Richard Gray on the history of the Granada.
I’ve never seen anything quite like the auditorium of the Granada. Gray calls it “Shakespearian Gothic” and says it was created by stage designer Theodore Komisarjevsky (1882-1954), an emigre from revolutionary Russia, who was given the freedom to go crazy with his vision of a sort of medieval cathedral of film. Apparently even the great Wurlitzer organ has been restored to rise again, although sadly it was damaged by flooding in 2008 and continues to be repaired.
And don’t knock the bingo games that are going on in the middle of these strange surroundings – since 1973, when the rise of TV caused the closure of the picture palace, bingo kept this place alive. Now, by the look of it, online casinos are killing off live bingo, with just a scattering of solitary older players the day we were there. The Streatham Hill bingo hall, once the Streatham Hill Playhouse, is still limping along but has so few visitors that it had to close off its upstairs section. Buildings such as the Granada may be listed, but if they’re no use to anyone they’ll have to be shut up, and then who will get to appreciate them? Can’t we think of something new to do with them, when the last old lady puts down her pen and sadly goes home to spend her time looking at instead?

Campaign to Sort Out Penelopes and Elizabeths

The main thing to think about when starting out as a writer is, do something about your name. My theory about why British women writers of the mid 20th century now tend to be underrated and neglected is that they are all called Penelope or Elizabeth, and no one can remember which is which. Muriel Spark was sly enough to have a stand-out name and so is the one who gets talked about.
To right this wrong, I’ve decided to embark on a campaign of sorting the Penelopes from the Elizabeths, so you don’t have to.
1. Penelope Fitzgerald
Penelope Fitzgerald started writing novels in her late 50s – which is an additional reason why she gets forgotten about, people being generally pretty stupid about distinguishing one academic-looking middle-aged woman from another.
She’s best known for her novel Offshore, which won the Booker in 1979, but later wrote more ambitious historical novels such as The Blue Flower, about the 18th century German poet Novalis. You can read a slightly patronising piece about her by Julian Barnes here, or an admiring one by AS Byatt here.
I’d read and not thought much about Offshore long ago, so thought I’d give her short stories a go, in her collection, The Means of Escape.
Conclusion: Odd, unsettling little stories, with settings that zip all over the place from a reclusive composer on a Scottish island to plein air 19th century artists. The one that stands out is The Axe, a funny and genuinely frightening office-based tale, with a Bartleby the Scrivener atmosphere about it. One passage made me make a small squeak out loud on the Tube, it startled me so much.
Not at all what you’d expect from the author of Moon Tiger – but then that was Penelope Lively.

London Walk No.43: Zebra Finches to William Blake

Today I went to see the sweetest exhibition on in London, Céleste Boursier-Mougenot‘s guitar-playing zebra finches at the Barbican – closing soon, go! Unless you’re nervous of tiny birds, since they seem to have got used to humans and were actually landing in one man’s hood.
A wander out into the City led me to Dissenters’ burial ground Bunhill Fields, which for some reason I’ve never come across before. Cutting through, I noticed I was walking past a couple of famous graves:
Daniel Defoe has an impressive obelisk, while this one is more modest:
But it seems to have a selection of coins lined up carefully on top of it. I’ve never seen this before: anyone know why it is? Is Blake’s grave a sort of wishing well equivalent for fans of visionary poetry?

Sounds of Piccadilly


Away from the main scrum of the Trocadero etc, Piccadilly has interesting backstreets. Here are some sounds from a walk around it – obviously this is the main one, rain pinging off an umbrella:




Here is a walk through Fortnum & Mason, going down in the lift and through the foodhall, past a tour, people having tea in the restaurant or choosing between rows of bisuit tins and jams, and what sounds like secret shoppers being trained:






And away from all that, the peace of pigeons and ducks in St James’s Park: