Thursday, 26 March 2015

The #London Reading List No.20: The Man Who Was Thursday

Throughout March & April 2015 we'll be compiling our definitive London Reading List. 

We've asked London Walks Guides & London Walkers to recommend a favourite book or story, and we've also raided the archives here at The Daily Constitutional to bring a rich and varied selection of London-themed and London-set reading matter.


Whether you live here in London, work here, play here or if you are in the throws of planning a trip to visit us here, these are the books you need to read. As usual, you can give us a shout with your own recommendations – thrillers, literary classics, biographies, anthologies, anything! – at the usual email address, via Twitter or Facebook, or simply leave a comment below.




D.C Editor Adam writes… This post is dedicated to our London Walks friend Olivier Verhelst who joins us every year from Belgium with his students. This is one of his favourite London books. See you next week Olivier!



No.20. The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)
By G.K. Chesterton

"He walked on the Embankment once under a dark red sunset. The red river reflected the red sky, and they both reflected his anger. The sky, indeed, was so swarthy, and the light on the river relatively so lurid, that the water almost seemed of fiercer flame than the sunset it mirrored. It looked like a stream of literal fire winding under the vast caverns of a subterranean country."


The events of G.K Chesterton's outlandish, and at times lurid tale of anarchy, treachery, double-bluff and paranoia, cast an apocalyptic pall over London – the familiar, sedate old city seems on the brink of conflagration by its mere proximity to the narrative of Chesterton's classic.

Gabriel Syme has been recruited by a shadowy branch of the authorities to root out anarchist cells in a political tinderbox London of the early 20th Century. He gravitates toward bohemian Saffron Park, a thinly-veiled fictionalization of then-fashionable Bedford Park in the borough of Ealing. Famed residents of this “most significant suburb of the last century” (as John Betjeman) once described it included W.B Yeats, the actor William Terris, and the painter Camille Pissarro. Elsewhere in fiction it provides the model for Biggleswick in John Buchan’s Mr. Standfast.

In Saffron Park, Syme encounters the wild Lucien Gregory, and is led into the underworld of political London. A literal under-world, as it turns out: the scene in which Syme "descends" into the nightmarish realm of the anarchists, via a seemingly innocent and ordinary London pub, is a vivid set-piece.

Written at a time of great political upheaval (the run up to the First World War) the suspicious, cloak and dagger nature of the piece is, for many, an apposite tale for our security conscious millennial world of today. Chesterton himself, when asked to explain the more complex twists of the labyrinthine narrative, simply pointed to the subtitle of his most famous novel: The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare.

You can buy The Man Who Was Thursday (published by Penguin) HERE.



A London Walk costs £9 – £7 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at www.walks.com.









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Name That #London Clock No.4. It's Nearly #BST 2015!

Yesterday's clock was on the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill!


Don't forget to put your timepieces forward by one hour on Sunday 29th March at 1:00a.m. British Summer Time begins!


Can you identify this London clock?







A London Walk costs £9 – £7 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at www.walks.com.









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The Ghosts of Paternoster Row…

Daily Constitutional Special Correspondent David Tucker guides us through another of his archive photos…




Ubi sunt? [Where are…?]

It’s of course shorthand for one of the recurring motifs in western literature. Maybe the most haunting one of all.

The full Latin phrase was  Ubi sunt qui ante nos fuereunt?

Translates to: Where are those who were before us?

Its earliest manifestation in English Literature comes near the beginning of Beowulf. The passage opens:

Hwær cwom mearg? Hwær cwom mago? Hwær cwom maþþumgyfa?

A modern translation of the full passage (ll. 92-96) gives us: “Where is the horse gone? Where the rider? Where the giver of treasure? Where are the seats at the feast? Where are the revels in the hall? How that time has passed away, grown dark under cover of night as if it had never been.”

And for a living memory* version of the motif try Pete Seeger’s 1960s folk song, “Where have all the flowers gone?”

And what do Ubi sunt? and English Literature have to with this old image of a London street?

They’re the portals we pass through to get onto that street and make our way along it, that’s what they have to do with it.

The street is Paternoster Row. Gone. Utterly gone now. Vanished from the page of time. Ubi sunt…?

And yet…

Hang on. Maybe not utterly gone.

We have the image. We have the name. We have the London sky above it. We have – and it’s in good nick – Amen Corner, from which this view is taken. We have Cheapside – the City of London’s High Street – which is down at the far end of the Paternoster Row we’re looking at. (If you need some more help with your bearings, St. Paul’s will be at the back of the buildings on the right, about half way down the “Row”.)

Where’d Paternoster Row go? Well, let me give you a date, a date that says it all: December 29, 1940. The single worst raid suffered by London. Paternoster Row was one of the victims.

And English Literature? Well, Paternoster Row was the beating heart of London’s great publishing and bookselling trades. Look at those buildings. They could hardly be more “substantial.” They’re fortresses. And mansions. Look at the detailing. The columns. The capitals. The porticoes over the windows. The rustication. The iron work. For that matter, the watch chain across the waistcoat of the gentleman who’s looking at us, wondering where we came from. Publishing, book selling – they were coining it.

Shall we do some sight-seeing? Go for a walk along Paternoster Row? 

Not too far along we come, on the left hand side, to Ivy Lane, the site of Dr. Johnson’s Tuesday evening club meetings. Further on: Lovell’s Court, where Richardson wrote part of Sir Charles Grandison. On the right was the Chapter Coffee House, “the resort of literary men.” Chatterton told his mother he knew “all the geniuses there.” And the resort of literary women. It was there that Charlotte and Anne Bronte stayed on their first visit to London.

So turns out we can provide some answers to the Ubi sunt? question. Paternoster Row – we can get back, and get it back. We’ve got our image. We’ve got names. We’ve got Boswell’s “despatches” from the Tuesday club sessions. We’ve got Charlotte Bronte’s impressions of London in Villette (she provides some protective coloration, but it’s London all the same).

Hey, you pitch up on my Shakespeare’s & Dickens’ Sunday afternoon bumble one of these times and put in a request I’ll show you where the Chapter Coffee House stood. It’ll be a bit of a shock, so consider yourself forewarned.

C’est tout.

David

*Well, for some of us at any rate.





A London Walk costs £9 – £7 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at www.walks.com.









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Wednesday, 25 March 2015

The London Reading List No.19. Kraken #MuseumWeek

OUR NEW SERIES! Throughout March & April 2015 we'll be compiling our definitive London Reading List. 

We've asked London Walks Guides & London Walkers to recommend a favourite book or story, and we've also raided the archives here at The Daily Constitutional to bring a rich and varied selection of London-themed and London-set reading matter.


Whether you live here in London, work here, play here or if you are in the throws of planning a trip to visit us here, these are the books you need to read. As usual, you can give us a shout with your own recommendations – thrillers, literary classics, biographies, anthologies, anything! – at the usual email address, via Twitter or Facebook, or simply leave a comment below.




(The Editor adds… this one was recommended to us a couple of years back by a London Walker – Thanks Tonya! We're adding it to our list to chime with Museum Week 2015 – the book is set, in part, at the Natural History Museum)



No 19. Kraken

By China Mieville









The Ed. replies: Thanks Tonya! Oliver Twist is a much-loved work here at The D.C – be it in novel, film or musical form. Your other recommendation, however, took us right out of our comfort zone. Deliciously so. 

China Mieville's conspiracy-laden romp leads us deep into the research wing of the Natural History Museum where a prize specimen lies: a perfect, and perfectly preserved, giant squid.

When this rare creature suddenly and impossibly disappears from the NHM, curator Billy Harrow is thrown into a maelstrom of warring cults, surreal magic and assassins. Wildly imaginative stuff.


Mieville describes the book as, "A dark comedy about a squid-worshipping cult and the end of the world. It takes the idea of the squid cult very seriously. Part of the appeal of the fantastic is taking ridiculous ideas very seriously and pretending they’re not absurd."











A London Walk costs £9 – £7 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at www.walks.com.









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