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Friday, 21 July 2017

Malcolm Saville, The Purple Valley 1964

I have written on the books of Malcolm Saville for 20 years now, most of which can be found on line, and will write a retrospective towards the end of the year. Girls Gone By publishers are working their way through Saville titles in paperback and this week brought out an adventure story loosely modelled on James Bond called The Purple Valley, set near Marseilles. Price £13. Experience shows that the print run sells out fairly quickly.

I have written the introduction, introducing the Marston Baines Series and pointing out some of the plot and location details without spoiling things for the new reader. Until this publication, this book was difficult and expensive to source. The first of the series, Three Towers in Tuscany, can still be obtained from internet traders.

Here are the book details.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

My 1970s

Have spent today sorting out my attic which has revealed a few things I am sharing here. Boxes of stuff from the 1970s. It can be hard to remember  what I was involved in. I notice a notebook of prehistiric features including stone circles. I was living close to Stonehenge, which might be the reason. Whether this list is of any use today is an interesting question but I don't have the time to type it out.  The source was Treasures of Britain (AA 1973). What was the point? Why was I interested? A good question. I remember my wife asking. Over the years since we have visited many of these sites from Cornwall to Orkney. Ancient history gives me a buzz.

My files have regular clippings (from the Guardian) about Israel (this was the time of  the 1973 war which brought Sinai into the Israeli empire. We were to visit during that decade, going to St Catherine's  monastery when it was in Israel. There seems not a lot worth keeping now, but it is a good reminder of those days

I was a good friend then of Tony Brown, a peripatetic music teacher in our school. He drove an ancient grey  car, Austin 8 or something. His daughter Iona was a talented violinist with The Academy of St Martin in the Fields and conducted The Lark Ascending on a record which I will take to my desert island. She was later to die of cancer as her father did. I visited his cottage in Broad Chalke, Wiltshire, with veg beds and bee hives. He lived close by William Golding, and Tony used to visit him regularly to play chess. Golding was deeply into alcohol at that time and not writing. After Tony's death he wrote a moving obituary for the Salisbury Journal (I hope I find it somewhere) and settled down to write Rites of Passage. I was to become neighbour to Brian, who was taught by Golding in Salisbury and depicted as one of the twins in Lord of the Flies. Sadly Brian died last year of a brain tumour. His response to the specialist was 'Bugger'.

Other press cuttings reveal an interest in social justice. I notice book reviews on social morality. I was becoming involved with world religions and I notice pieces about ethnic minorities living side by side positively with white neighbours were preserved. Not outstanding today, but the memory of Enoch Powell's rantings was still recent then. Inter-cultural friendships were something I hoped for and would enrich my life a decade later.

I joined then the Wiltshire Folk Life Society concerned with social history and folklore.. Why? No idea. We were invited to an outing to Longleat where we saw the 'mucky murals' (sexually explicit  reliefs made of oilpaint and sawdust covering the bedroom ceiling). There must have been an intellectual point to the meeting but I can't remember it.  The Society had a journal which I wrote for and built up my skills in writing for publication. I haven't made these openly available (though I have them), but they were OK. Since then I have been regularly involved in non-academic writing, which helps my academic writing. An important person to attract me into this was June Buckley, who became a key figure with the National Trust's Beatrix Potter/Healis operation in te lake district. She sadly who died early this year (2017). The Society developed The Great Barn in Avebury into a Folklife Museum. By 1980 I had stepped back and moved on to other things. One wise member, Bernard Stiles said to me (just before his own death) 'choose your battles, your time is short'.

I had sent off an article on Incest to the Journal of Biblical Literature - not earth shattering and I would write it differently today. I tried to get a book contract called The Curse of Eve: Ancient Hebrew Sexuality and Marriage. I have the sample chapter and may put it online. However, the relevant literature, especially of feminism, developed rapidly so a book then would have been premature so I am not unhappy that the book never happened. In addition, I had no support or mentoring to help me publish. I have since then encouraged PhD students to publish, although most have not. Warren and Bigger, Living Contradiction: A Teacher's examination of Tension and Disruption in School is my latest effort.

Spent the day sorting out the family archives. Here is my grandafther, born 1898, died 1990, introducing one of his notebooks:
On Old Age.
Age is a quality of mind.
If you have left your dreams behind,
If hope is cold
If you no longer look ahead
If your ambition's fires are dead,
Then you are old.
But if in life you seek the best,
and if for life you have a zest,
If love you hold,
No matter how the years go by,
No matter how the birthdays fly,
You are not old

It is from How Old Are You? by H. S. Fritsch an American poet from near Chicago. Zest in this version is 'jest' in the Google version, but I think zest works better. Grandad talked about helping old ladies who were usually twenty or so years younger than him. He was a Nottinghamshire coal miner who was down below from the age of 12 till 65. He refused to become management as he said this took money from the working man's family and produced a non-productive member of staff. That tallies with my experience of universities, anyway. He refused to strike in 1926 (the general strike) on conscientious grounds. I have been uncomfortable with the song Death to the Blackleg Miner when I hear it. He was an evangelical preacher with fundamentalist biblical beliefs, refusing to believe in the moon landings (the Bible says the moon is a light, not a solid body). A conspiracy theorist before conspiracy theory, maybe influenced by his reading of the Daily Express. Strike refusers were gathered together into Newstead Colliery where he saw out his years 1926 to retirement in 1963. I have an 8 hour tape recording of his life, which I asked him to do in the 1970s. I remember having a row with Nottingham University when they sent him a form ascribing copyright to them. I did not let him sign. And received no reply. He died of miner's lung, prematurely, cross and in pain, at the age of 92. His compensation was £5000, payable after death, which crooked solicitors tried to get their fingers on

Friday, 12 May 2017

Old Bill - Tutor

One of earliest stories of James Lennox Kerr, in a 1931 issue of the magazine/journal Blue Peter, was called Old Bill - Tutor. In it the narrator is 18 years old and about to jump ship in Melbourne, Australia. The story recounts a conversation with an old hand, Bill who had left home to return to sea, intending to return. But he drinks away his wages and probably never will return. The story ends: "I would be almost afraid to meet him now; for I might look with the eyes of maturity and see him for what I suppose he was, a lying old cadger of "fills", muddied yet glorifies by the life he had led". He mentions this story in his 1948 book A Tale of Pimlico which features another cadger.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Marriage, God's Sacred Institution?

May Day 2017. Republican Congressman Randy Weber has just spoken to a Christian conservative rally in America. "Father we've trampled on your holy institution of holy matrimony" referring explicitly to same sex marriage, sometimes called  marriage equality. This is by way of a fact check.

Across the world girls barely teenagers are married to someone of their family choice, someone they may previously they have only met briefly and sometimes not at all. The illusion of consent may be promoted, although in reality the girl may feel that the match is a fait accompli, and that saying no will heap trouble on themselves. Or there may be no pretense of consent.

It has been a modern aim to set a minimum age of 16, the effect of which is to disrupt the girl's education and future career prospect. Such marriages give the husband unfettered sexual access resulting in a career of childbearing which prevented social progress. There is a class divide, since wealthy families can encourage their daughters into law of medicine and hire very cheap servants to look after the children. Families who marry their daughters at 16 in many cases take them out of school just before their GCSE exams resulting in early pregnancy and no qualifications. Across the world, this happens in all religions.

It is clear that marriage is a social institution to protect a daughter's sexuality and fertility to serve family needs. The husband may be a cousin to keep matters in family. In large extended families there may be dozens of eligible family members and parents may seek an early understanding even when the daughter is very young. The function of such marriages may be to promote migration to the west.

The tradition of making one's own choice of a spouse is in historic terms a recent phenomenon. In the west we take it for granted when from a global perspective we shouldn't do so.

So how does this relate to marriage being a holy institution? The context is an attack on same sex marriage based on the assumption that marriage is ordained for the production and upbringing of children. I have been married for almost fifty years, so i have no ax to grind. Maybe my choice of PhD, on marriage in the Bible (Old Testament) was influenced by my getting married as a student. We didn't I am afraid fulfill the stated purpose of marriage as we had no children. Marriage created a status in law providing tax and pension advantages and security if a spouse died. When a broader range of relationships became regarded as socially acceptable, it became increasingly difficult to prevent same sex couples having the same benefits.

Not all include themselves in regarding this as acceptable, and in particular conservative Christians and in America the 'Bible Belt' of fundamentalist Christians, represented here by Weber. The new President did a deal for votes which may lead to this minority attitude attacking same sex relationships. Although there is no chance of influencing conservative Bible interpretation, I am engaging here in an analysis of its basis. Brought up by evangelical Christians, I challenged their position even as a teenager and suffered the full wrath of offended believers.

Marriage was declared a sacrament by the early church and this influenced the language of the marriage service. One passage seems to prevent divorce, regarding remarriage after divorce as adultery. A parallel passage adds the words "except for porneia" (porneia possibly meaning fornication here) causing the early exception in law to cases where a guilty spouse had committed adultery. There is no great narrative evidence for marriage practice in the New Testament, Jesus not being presented as being married. With asceticism in the wings, marriage was on occasion not even advised, with Paul suggesting that it was for people without self control. In the Old Testament, marriages are arranged by Abraham for Isaac and in cases when a husband of a child-bearing wife died, she was passed on to the next son. That it is true that many instances subverted traditional custom this was not within the context of marriage being a holy institution. It was a social institution which was protected to some degree by law and custom.

Same sex relationships are criticised via an ancient 'law' from the Holiness Code fixing the death penalty to homosexual sexual relations. This came in a long list of sexual offences, including incest and adultery but we do not know if this was ever an exacted law. Some of the discourse around gay bishops presumed that they are not sexually active. The story of Onan in Genesis 38 appear to imply that the purpose of the sex act is to impregnate, and any deliberate waste of sperm is itself a sin. This has had an effect on some Christian views of birth control. Paul also condemned homosexuality in the New Testament.

Evangelical Christian assumptions are based around this muddled mess of folklore and church order and realistically has no place in modern discussions. I can hear evangelicals shouting back at me on Adam and Eve, so that will take a separate post. Then Abraham, and then the rest. If you are impatient, check my other blog  where continuing posts will appear.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Vocational Education.

Paper from 2000. Click pictures to enlarge.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

James Lennox Kerr, Pimlico

I have just written an obituary for Adam Kerr (actually in real time this is two months later) but I have scheduled the two items to appear together. I collected the writings of Peter Dawlish in the 1980s, and once I had discovered (in the late 1990s) that his real name was James Lennox Kerr I went on to collect his other works. Many were in his own name but he also wrote as Gavin Douglas, crime thrillers to start with in the 1930s.

The one book which evaded me was  A Tale of Pimlico by Gavin Douglas (Robert Hale, Publishers, 1948). To be sure I had read it. On my annual visit to Lamorna (I would guess about 2008) I begged to read Adam's copy before I left for home and took copious notes. A few months ago, as I was taking in the news of his death I looked again and secured a reasonably priced copy. It actually came from the library of my childhood, Kesteven in Lincolnshire. It was bought in 1948, rebound and re-guillotined in November 1953 and last lent out in November 1956. Where it has been from then till now is anyone's guess.

James Lennox Kerr started out as a socialist writer in the 1930s. One book I would pick out of the 1930s is The Woman of Glenshiels, a story of an enterprising but starving woman on Clydeside trying to make ends meet, but encountering the recalcitrance of the body distributing welfare, madeup of course by rich aristocrats. More on that later when I find my review.

A Tale of Pimlico has curious features. It is partly autobiographical in that Kerr left sailoring, and settled in Pimlico to write, where he produced a book a year. In this story, Captain Douglas had written a few articles in Blue Peter (I found this one and gave it to Adam) and Nautical Magazine (which I haven't found). In this story, as Captain Gavin Douglas, he rents a room in a seedy guest house, tries to write without success, and in the end goes back to sea. That's where the autobiography finishes, since in his real life he became a successful writer, found and married his wife and continued until war broke out.

In the story the author is also narrator. Captain Douglas arrives in Port Bellamy in South America (modelled on Belize/British Honduras) and discovered that he had known the Bellamy after whom the port was named. In his Pimlico guest house there is a resident called Bellamy. We hear his story told, which has two directions. When Douglas the narrator knew him, he was a bum, cadger, pimp and ponce (in the language of the book). That is, he was living on immoral earnings of a young woman who prostituted herself. One has to say she did so willingly. There was no love lost between the narrator and the bum Bellamy. This is where the socialism kicks in. Bellamy was from an aristocratic family, had a wife who expected him to make her rich and comfortable but he had the wanderlust and roamed free (and despite his popularity was cadging even then. He expected food on his table and had no way of providing for himself, and no incentive to do so. So he cadged. His room was a tip because there were no servants to clean it. His wife became an awful busybody chairwoman of some patronising society and his children became insufferable prigs

The second perspective is when Douglas arrives in South America in the republic of Porto Bellamy.  Bellamy had encouraged the locals to develop the port themselves and not let the major powers develop it and take out the profits (although this colonialist project was exactly why he was sent out).. Bellamy was looked up to as a national hero with statues all over town. He had also seduced most of the women.

Douglas had a secret. I will not reveal it, even if the likelihood of you finding a copy is remote. The memory of Ballemy helps to solve some political issues of some sensitivity. Lots of insight into aristocratic attitudes and socialist responses. Jimmy Kerr died before ever I could have known him but we were very happy to have known Adam and Judith.
to be continued...

Friday, 10 March 2017

Adam Kerr, chart maker, fisherman, sailor, watercolourist

Adam Kerr (1933-2016) died 8 August 2016 in his home in Lamorna, Cornwall after a heart attack. He described himself as a ’chart maker, fisherman and sailor’. He was a former director of the International Hydrographic Bureau. who wrote:

“We remember Adam as a most brilliant civil servant, one who could see very far - without being drawn into small matters, and a master at using his superior charisma and diplomatic skills to resolve conflicts that looked like unstoppable forest fires. We also like to celebrate Adam as a great example of how to enjoy life: the party at his home and his curriculum as a boater have always been a great inspiration for us.”

He leaves his wife Judith and his sons Andrew and Timothy.

My wife and I last met Adam and Judith in June 2016 at his home and in the Lamorna Wink, the refurbished pub in the valley. We have meet up every June since the year 2000, which is itself an interesting story. We had been interested in the writings for children of peter Dawlish. Though written for boys, my wife Jean remembered reading them as a young girl with great affection. We collected the Dauntless series, not knowing who the author was, until in 2000 reading a short book on Lamorna purchased from the watermill shop, written by Keith Gardiner whose artist father Stanley was once painted by Richard Copeland Weatherby. Keith by good fortune was with us last June. In his little book was the story of how Peter Dawlish was a pseudonym for James Lennox Kerr, who happened to be Adam's father. A notice said that the Kerrs, artists, still lived in the valley so we knocked on the door. The rest is history. We had literally walked past his house unknowing for over twenty years The internet makes book finding much simpler today so before long I had accumulated most titles, and had many a chat with Adam about his father. We even managed to find and bring home an unpublished manuscript, languishing in a Wirrel Record Office on the history of Cunard in Birkenhead. He was pleased with this, because most other people wanted to talk about his grandfather, the artist Lamorna Birch. He decided to follow in his father's footsteps and write his own autobiography. I read early proofs and was delighted to be given the published book, equally as good as his father's adult writings.

We were fortunate that our annual visit coincided with his 80th birthday party, held in the Millennium Garden that he worked so hard to establish. The whole community turned out to partake of fish hotpot and wine. We were staying just up the hill, in the cottage, he told us once somewhat mischievously, in which he had been conceived We spotted him too sailing his beloved lugger Barnabas in the Thames at the Queen's regatta. Adam was also an enthusiastic watercolour painter of marine life and used to send watercolour Christmas cards which of course we keep.