Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Ballad of a Preacher-Man: Hazel Motes, Flannery O'Connor, and the genius of 'Wise Blood'

First published in 1952, Flannery O'Connor's blackly allegorical novel 'Wise Blood' is considered to be a masterpiece of the Southern Gothic genre. The grotesquely comic reality of its themes, conflated with elements of the truly absurd, and with over-arching tragedy of the central character at its dark heart were bought to the screen in 1979 by the veteran director John Huston, after having been sent a copy of O'Connor's novel by the son of her literary executor Robert Fitzgerald. Then his mid-seventies, and with a string of illustrious movies behind him, Huston (who, after 'Wise Blood', was to make two further feature films adapted from major novels; Malcolm Lowry's 'Under the Volcano' in 1984 and - in 1987, 'The Dead'- the final, magnificent story of love and loss in Joyce's 'The Dubliners') must have considered the task of bringing O'Connor's novel to the screen a daunting prospect, but the result is a haunting, cinematic triumph that once witnessed, remains forever in the heart and mind of the viewer. Huston had always considered O'Connor to be a major voice in American literature, and his faithful rendering of 'Wise Blood' remains to date, the only major feature film based on her writings.

Shot almost entirely in and around the town of Macon, Georgia, in a period of forty-eight days, Huston employed a scant technical crew that he backed up with assistance from the city's fire and police departments. With a screenplay closely adapted by Fitzgerald that stuck largely to the sequences of events as they unfold in O'Connor's narrative, the novel's themes of false redemption, heartbreak, marginalisation and displacement are closely adhered to, and the plot loses little or nothing of O'Connor's unsettling, fractured narrative. Originally set in the 1950's when, we assume it was period immediately following the Korean war that O'Connor had in mind, Huston chose instead to update the action to the mid-seventies, where presumably it is as a Vietnam vet that Hazel Motes returns to his childhood home, only to find it eerily derelict, with little or no trace of his past to attest to his identity, his relatives dead or missing. Despite his stated hatred of the established church and of preachers in particular, he travels by train to the city of Taulkinham and decides to establish a new order -'The Church of Truth Without Jesus Christ Crucified', which advocates a humanistic reliance on self, rather than on God. Presumably as a result of his experiences in the army, Hazel has reached the conclusion that the only way to escape sin is to be devoid of soul. Immediately on his arrival in the new town, he takes a taxi to an address that he has found in the station washroom, which in truth is the calling-card of one Leonora Watts, a homely, part-time prostitute who, upon his avowed insistence that he is not a man of the cloth, reassuringly tells him ' Mamma don't mind if you ain't a preacher', and promptly provides him with her services. 'I'm obliged', he drawls to the bemused cab driver, who is seemingly at odds to equivocate Hazel's newly-acquired priestly vestments with the profession of the addressee to whose house he has taken him.

The following day, he encounters a street vendor who is selling potato peelers to a crowd that have gathered around him, and also the disillusioned eighteen-year old character of Enoch Emery, whose semi-itinerant status has been bought about by his abandonment at the hands of an uncaring father. With a nothing-job in the local zoo, Enoch is cynical and impatient with his unfortunate simian charges, and seemingly, none of his efforts endear him to Hazel, who is impatient to be rid of the pestering boy. Seeing another lost soul in Hazel Motes, Enoch tells his that he has the gift of 'Wise Blood' inherited from his estranged father-which affords him the ability to 'know things'. The huckster's patter is interrupted by the arrival of a 'blind' preacher. Asa Hawks, who is accompanied by his daughter Sabbath Lily. Motes immediately senses an indefinable charisma in the character of Asa, yet seizes his moment, testily diverting the crowd's attention from the other's ministry with a sermon about his own newly-formed church. Motes is strangely attracted to Sabbath; Asa in turn, is drawn to the interloper. Having ostensibly blinded himself with quicklime, his affliction turns out to be a conceit, but he continues to prey on the sympathies of the multitude, fiscally-assuaged by the faith they stake in his mission. Enoch shows Hazel a shrunken, dessicated corpse that lies in a vitrine in the local museum, but Motes is unimpressed. The weeks intervene, and Hazel's 'Church of Truth' staggers along with himself as both preacher and sole-disciple. He has bought a clapped-out car from a rogue dealer, and convinces himself that it will provide him with shelter and get him form place to place so that he can spread the word of his mission. 'No one with a good car needs to be justified' he tells the feckless dealer, as the vehicle wheeezes and lurches off the lot.

Enter self-confessed Christian evangelist Hoover Shoats. aka Onnie J.Holy (played magnificently in Huston's film by Ned Beatty), who sees a money-making opportunity in Hazel's new religion, and attempts to hijack it for his own ends, hiring a feckless individual whom he picks up on the street, dressing him in Hazel's trademark black suit and wide-brimmed fedora, and sending him out as a stalking horse for the 'new' faith. Later, Motes runs the pretender out of town, sides his car into the ditch, and then runs over him with his own, killing him. Meanwhile, Hazel has sought out the house where Hawks and his daughter are living, and has taken an upstairs room so that he can plague the pair and unmask Asa for the fraudster that he knows him to be. Enoch, having heard Motes' plea for the need of a 'new Jesus' in his ministry, steals the strange, mummified corpse from the museum, convinced that it is the messiah that the newly-converted will crave, once it is in Hazel's possession, taking it to Mote's apartment, where Sabbath is now also living. Furious to discover that Sabbath somehow adopted the creature as a sort of divine progeny, he hurls it out of the window. In a later scene we see Sabbath, who has managed somehow to reclaim the mummy's head, sleeping with it in their communal bed. In absurd counterpoint, a van with loudspeakers is announcing the arrival of 'The Mighty Gonga' to town, a King-Kong like creature who appears before a crowd at a downtown movie theatre. In reality, of course, it is a man in an ape suit, and with whom Enoch becomes obsessed, believing that there is some affinity between his charges at the zoo and this 'wild' creature. In the film, a tracking shot of the van leaving the city limits ends with Enoch climbing into the truck, later to emerge in the gorilla suit, in which he proceeds to terrorise townsfolk at night. Motes decides to leave town and move on, but the town's sherif stops apprehends him on the road, and forces him to get out of the by now decrepit car, which he then proceeds to roll down a hill into a lake, Now, with no possessions, no car and no direction, Hazel returns to the house and proceeds to blind himself with quicklime in the belief that asceticism and suffering will be the key to his new existence. Investing a passionate belief in suffering and pain, he binds his bare torso with barbed wire and walks with shoes full of rocks. Mrs Flood, his lonely, long-suffering landlady (played magnificently in Huston's film by Atlanta-born stage actress Mary Nell Santacroce, whose quietly-powerful performance is a fine counterpoint to Brad Dourif's tortured Motes) sees that now, Hazel is utterly reliant on her for his care, eventually proposing that she marries him in order to keep him with her. Mrs Flood's suggestion that he gets a 'seeing dog' and returns to preaching is met with rebuttal; Hazel tells her that he 'doesn't have the time'. Her preoccupation with his well-being drives him to distraction, and after telling him that she wants him for a husband, he wanders off in the torrential downpour. Huston's clever use of the rain in that scene in the film is a hugely-effective juxtaposition to Mrs Flood's quietly- uttered proposal, and is both haunting and unforgettable. Discovered three days later in a ditch, the policeman deliver the semi-conscious Hazel back to Mrs. Flood's house, where he then dies.

Premiered at the New York Film Festival in 1979, 'Wise Blood' was rapturously received by critics and audience alike. Vincent Canby, film critic for The New York Times; declared in to be 'one of John Huston's most original, most stunning movies. It is so funny, so surprising and so haunting that it is difficult to believe it is not the first film of some enfant terrible instead of the thirty-third feature by a man who is now in his seventies'. Canby opined that the film was 'lyrically mad and absolutely compelling even when we don't fully comprehend it'. Another review concluded that 'it was the best realised religious movie of the decade'.

At the heart of Huston's film lies the powerhouse performance of Brad Dourif as Motes. In retrospect, it is difficult to imagine any other actor of his generation in the role. Previously most noteably known to a generation of cinema-goers as Billy Bibbit in Milos Forman's masterly adaptation of Ken Kesey's 'One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest' (1975), Dourif's portrayal of the redemption-seeking outsider is unforgettable from the opening sequence when he becomes the passenger in a passing pickup truck to the moment of his demise. Treading a fine line between huckster and fallen angel, Dourif embodies the role of what O'Connor herself termed Motes' 'malgre lui'- the personage of a king in spite of himself. She states that '[his] integrity lies in his trying with such vigor to get rid of the ragged figure who moves from tree to tree in the back of his mind. For the author, Hazel's integrity lies in his not being able to'.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Passion Playback

In 1981, one of the most miraculous discoveries in film history was made. A virtually-perfect print of Carl Dreyer's 1928 masterpiece 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' was found intact in a janitor's cupboard in an Oslo mental asylum. The original version of the film was understood to have been lost for decades, as Dreyer's master-negative of 1928 was destroyed in a fire. For the remainder of his life, the Danish-born director attempted to piece together an alternative version from out-takes and what few surviving prints he was able to find, but he died convinced that his original cut had been consigned to the flames of oblivion. The great film-writer Pauline Kael wrote that Falconetti's portrayal of the 19-year old Joan 'may be the the finest performance ever recorded on film'. Banned from being screened in Britain as it depicts the brutal treatment of Joan at the hands of the British soldiers, it was also criticised in it's native France, when the-then bishop of Paris demanded that cuts be made to lessen the impact of Dreyer's depiction of her ordeal at the hands of her accusers.

Dreyer's intent was that the film be experienced in complete silence, with no musical accompaniment to divert the viewer's attention from the astonishing power of his narrative. In 1994, however, composer Richard Einhorn devised an oratorio based directly on the film, entitled 'Voices of Light', and it now forms the soundtrack of the film's restored DVD release. In 1999, U.S. singer-songwriter Cat Power provided live accompaniment to a season of screenings of the film in New York to great acclaim.

With 'The Passion of Joan of Arc', Dreyer convinced the world that film- a medium still in relative infancy- could indeed be art. His startling use of the close-up and the tightly-cropped frame renders each shot an electrifying experience to watch, in particular, his unwavering concentration on the face of Renee Falconetti, from whom he wrenched one of the greatest performances in film history. Herman Warm's cool, expressionistic sets are in stark counter-balance to the clamor and claustrophobia of the courtroom scenes, but also succeed in drawing the viewer's attention to the frailty and isolation of Joan in prison. Implements of torture somehow a prefigure a modern-day art-installation as they hang, black and ominous against the stark, white walls of the dungeon, the relentless momentum of a spiked drum that the camera returns to again and again lending a hitherto-unseen degree of tension and pathos to a narrative already brimming with fear and unease. The shocking, final sequences at the stake do not shy away from the horror of what is being asked of the viewer to witness. Lingering, close-up shots of a human body in flames are contrasted with the equally alarming depiction of the crowd's shameful indifference as they are being entertained by the freaks and circus-grotesques who have arrived to make a side-show spectacle of the tragedy unfolding before them. With a battle raging all around them, the results of their actions begin to dawn upon Joan's executioners and, as mute witnesses, on us also as the final credits roll.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

A Piper at the Gates of War

In 1915, the most celebrated fairy painting of the Edwardian era was first exhibited at the Royal Academy. 'The Piper of Dreams' immediately caught the collective imagination of a generation. In terms of the reproductions that soon followed, the image rivalled Holman Hunt's 'The Light of the World' in popularity, with over a quarter of a million copies sold in the first year of its appearance. The artist, Estella Louisa Michaela Canziani (1887 - 1964) enjoyed a long and successful career, and created a body of work which earned her great acclaim, but it was for the diminutive figure of the child piper, a robin perched on his boot, and the swirl of ephemeral creatures from the fairy realm circling about him that she is best known. It is no surprise that Canziani's painting offered escape from the drudgery of the everyday, and specifically, from the horrors of the Great War. It was the image most frequently sent to soldiers in the trenches from their loved ones at home, and as a consequence it was claimed that sales of 'The Piper of Dreams' single-handedly saved the Medici Society, the reproduction's publisher, from bankruptcy during the war years.


This little cut-out was given to me some years ago by Abram Games, designer of the 1951 Festival of Britain logo. Having just rediscovered it between the pages of my copy of 'A Tonic to the Nation', the catalogue of the exhibition staged by the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1976 to mark the Festival's 25th anniversary, I thought it was high time that the little ballerinas danced once more. Also shown is the original invitation for 'Black Eyes and Lemonade', the exhibition of British popular art organised by the Whitechapel Art Gallery under the direction of Barbara Jones. Bringing up the rear, a copy of the general catalogue for the Festival, also featuring Games' iconic design of Britannia's head with compass points. He once told me that he added the string of bunting as an afterthought when the organizers decided it would lend the design a more festive touch.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Edwin la Dell's 'Tower of London'

This charming image is one of a series of lithographs which were produced towards the end of the Second World War under the direction of Brenda Rawnsley and her husband Derek. The series was named 'School Prints', and the idea behind the project was to introduce 'contemporary' art to children of school age who otherwise would not have had the opportunity to experience 'good quality work' in the average course of their day. Within a relatively short space of time, Rawnsley set up School Prints Ltd to produce and sell original artists' lithographs to schools throughout the United Kingdom, commissioning several of the most important image-makers of the period. She sought the advice of eminent art historian and collector Herbert Read, and together they chose the roster of artists that would take part in the scheme. The printing was undertaken at the Bayard Press using stones or zinc plates that had been directly worked on by the artists, and the main proviso was that they used no more than six colours in their designs. Amongst those whose work was chosen for the project were Felix Topolski, John Nash, Tom Gentleman, Kenneth Rowntree, Michael Rothenstein, Hans Tisdell and Barbara Jones. In all, over twenty artists participated in the scheme, and Rawnsley even succeeded in enlisting lithographs from Braque and Picasso, though these are now understandably extremely rare. Fundamentally, it was a very English exercise, and the prints proved hugely popular with children and adults alike. The patterned borders that were a fundamental part of the design of each image were intended to be seen as integral 'frames' to the lithographs, as the usual procedure would have been to pin them directly to a board or the schoolroom wall. The ephemeral nature of the print, specifically the flimsy quality of war-issue paper would have been a major factor in their short-lived existence; more often than not, one print would be replaced when another was received from the company. That so many of them continue to exist in mint condition is a testament both to their survival and to their enduring appeal. La Dell's captivating image of a pleasure steamer passing the Tower of London is possibly my favorite of the entire series, and is now one of the less common images to have survived from the series. For more information on School Prints, seek out Ruth Artmonsky's excellent book on the subject, which features the la Dell image as its cover.

The Shell Ladies of Margate

Margate's famous seafront has seen a clutch of new and glamorous visitors this Summer. Broadstairs-based artist Ann Carrington has created a bevy of conchological beauties that have set the town alight with their magical arrival. Based on the miniature shell figures so familiar to our collective childhoods, and still available in some seaside shops, Ann took their old-world charm and ran with it, all the way, it would seem, into the hearts of Margate's residents. The project has recently culminated in the grand unveiling (by Ann's son Isaac) of a nine-foot high bronze figure based on Turner's mistress Mrs. Booth. She stands on the Harbour Arm and gazes longingly out to sea, whilst her retinue of twelve other ladies are painstakingly fashioned from hundreds of real scallop shells collected from local fishermen in the area. Gliding mysteriously from place to place by means of hidden castors, these striking figures are based on the town's famous former residents, amongst them Baroness Orczy, author of 'The Scarlet Pimpernel' and Phyllis Broughton, the renowned Gaiety Girl from the 1890s. Walls and windows on Margate's seafront have recently been embellished with eye-catching signs, which enquire of the casual onlooker; 'Have you seen the Shell Ladies of Margate?' with the traditional Victorian device of the pointing hand that leads the way to their seaside lair. At once utterly contemporary, yet also possessed of an elegiac yearning for things of a bygone era, Carrington's Shell Ladies look set to lead the town towards its proposed reinvention as the jewel of the Kentish coast, dazzling all in their wake. To see more of the Shell Ladies of Margate, and to read about their creation, see www.anncarrington.co.uk

The Museum of British Folklore

The long-intentioned ambition of international designer and artist Simon Costin to open a museum dedicated to British Folklore seems likely to become a reality. Fascinated by the history of British Folk customs, and dedicated to promoting their preservation in a society increasingly obsessed with the present, Simon is currently looking for premises in which to bring together a wide-ranging collection of objects and artifacts, housed within an exciting and fully-contextual setting that his years of experience as a designer and stylist would bring about. Having recently purchased a vintage 1976 Castleton caravan, he intends to kit it out as a travelling taster of what is to come, and will be touring this year's folk festivals the length and breadth of the United Kingdom to raise interest in, and awareness of the project. You will be able to meet Simon at the following events, and be part of this exciting venture as it unfolds.

Hastings Jack-in-the-Green, East Sussex; 4th May
Shepley Folk Festival, West Yorkshire; 15th-17th May
Fishguard Folk Festival, Wales; 22nd-25th May
Wessex Folk Festival, Weymouth, Dorset: 5th-6th June
Leigh Folk Festival, Essex: 24th-25th June
Crawley Folk Festival, West Sussex: 26th-28th June
Hebridean Celtic Festival: 15th-16th July
Festival on the Edge, Shropshire: 18th-19th July
Cambridge Folk Festival: 31st July- 3rd August
Broadstairs Folk Festival, Kent: 9th-12th August
Green Man Festival, Glanusk, Wales: 21st-23rd August
Towersley Festival, Oxfordshire: 27th-31st August

'Dalek' by Charlie Butler

Friday, 9 January 2009

The Dream of the Magi

Despite having passed the 6th of January, traditionally recognised as the Feast of the Epiphany, the saga of the Wise Men continues to fascinate me. This astonishing image of the Magi being visited by an angel is to be found on a column at Autun Cathedral in Burgundy. It is perhaps one of the most unique and pervasive interpretations of their story, showing as it does, the recumbent forms of the Magi in their collective bed, an annunciating angel raising a finger to the star that hovers above them. Whilst one is awakened by the sight, the other two slumber on, the bed linen that covers them so finely-wrought from the cold stone that it almost appears soft and warm. One of four major capitals at Autun cathedral, the image of the sleeping Magi was carved by Gislebertus, and as merely one among hundreds of scenes from of the life of Christ, the carvings represent the sculptor's life's work. Emerging from centuries of neglect, a brilliant piece of combined Anglo-French research rescued Gislebertus from historical obscurity and re-instated him as one of the greatest artists of the mediaeval period in Europe. The four primary capitals which Gislebertus carved at Autun relate to scenes from the infancy of Christ-chiefly the arrival of the Magi from the East, their adoration, and the subsequent dream in which they were warned to go home by another route. It is the dream of the Magi that this haunting image represents, and it captivates me greatly. There is also a depiction of the Flight into Egypt, the sequel in stone to the carving of the Magi's visitation and their resulting dream. Gislebertus of Autun lived and worked in an age of faith; no artist has equalled the sense of wonder with which these images of the Holy Family and their mysterious visitors from the east were invested. It is believed that the remains of the Magi are preserved in an elaborate catafalque in Cologne cathedral, thus making the city the primary focus of Epiphany celebrations, and drawing pilgrims from the world over to their shrine. The Orcadian poet George Mackay Brown (1921-1996) gave his unique and contemporary slant to the story of the Magi;

'They endured a season
of ice and winter swans.
Delicately the horses
Grazed among the snowdrops
they traded for fish, wind
fell upon crested waters.
Along their track
daffodils lit a thousand tapers.
They slept among dews.
A dawn lark broke their dream.
For them, at solstice
The chalice of the sun spilled over.
The star was lost.
They rode between burnished hills.
A fiddle at a fair
Compelled the feet of harvesters.
A glim on their darkling road.
The star!
It was their star.
In a sea village
Children brought apples to the horses
They lit fires
By the carved stones of the dead,
A midwinter inn.

Here they unloaded their treasures.

R.I.P. Ian Shipley Books

London's famous street of books, though for some years in steady decline, has finally lost its one remaining jewel. After almost thirty years of trading at number 70 Charing Cross Road, Shipley Specialist art booksellers finally closed its doors on Christmas eve. I began my art book apprenticeship there, in the early weeks of Ian's relocation from the tiny shop in Floral Street where the story began. Always ahead of the game, Ian had anticipated the renaissance flowering of Covent Garden, but wisely got out before it withered on the vine, opting instead to occupy the one remaining old-world establishment on the street once renown for its bookshops. It was to become a mecca for art- book lovers the world over and, adored by art directors and bibliophiles from Osaka to Ostend, Shipley's chaotic interior became as famous an image as the fireplace at Charleston farmhouse; indeed the shop's own fire was a welcome respite on cold winter mornings for all who came through the door. It was to be the model for the bookshop in the big-screen adaptations of the Harry Potter sagas, as well as the backdrop for innumerable fashion shoots the world over. Advertising agencies sent their raw recruits to scour the shelves for new ideas; cynically, we knew there were none, as gleefully, we anticipated the outcome of a hundred and one potential campaigns that would have had their nascence there, a certain degree of schadenfreude gained from their absurd enquiries for images of 'Art Deco water' or 'Fifties' food photography. In truth, no request surprised or fazed us, and if it was a slow day in the shop, we might even take a small pinch of delight in their resultant incredulity, were we finally able to pull the inevitable rabbit from the proverbial top hat. Here it was that we heard of Derek Jarman's initial plans for Prospect Cottage and the excitement when he began to wrest his magician's garden from the Dungeness shingle. Later also, his joy at meeting Keith Collins, who was to become not merely the centre of Derek's personal universe, but soon became a regular visitor and constant supporter of the shop in his own right, particularly after Derek's death, when his role as companion was all-too sadly exchanged for that of executor. It was a dull day on Charing Cross Road if Derek did not grace us with a visit. I well recall his furious pacing up and down the floor, regaling us with some shaggy-dog story or other, some tale of bad behavior either witnessed (or, more often than not, participated in) that would invariably end with his infectious laughter ricocheting about the walls. The first outing for his black tar and gold leaf paintings was in Shipley's windows, and in the week after relocating to Charing Cross Road, the staging of an exhibition of original costumes for his film 'Carravaggio'; the as-then still shuttered windows providing that extra theatrical flourish to the baroque n' roll grandeur of Sandy Powell's stunning creations. Bruce Weber would sometimes arrive with his retinue of pretty boys and a myriad of assorted stylists and courtiers in tow; Gilbert and George signed their books by the fireplace; Peter Blake brought people to visit. The great John Berger was either recognised or not, in typical modesty caring neither one way or the other. Susan Sontag might drop by with Annie Liebowitz. A generation of American tourists would enquire as to whether we were the shop in '84 Charing Cross Road', Helene Hampf's engaging love-letter to London's street of books; crestfallen to learn we weren't, they stayed on nevertheless for the atmosphere. Whilst more than happy to promote the homespun hokeyness of the fixtures and fittings, Ian far-anticipated the online revolution; indeed, he could be said to have originated Internet bookbuying, seeking out the advice of those techno-wizards who too, had seen the future, often enlisting their help into the bargain. Other booksellers, wrested out of their fusty, Dickensian atrophy, sought his advice as to the brave new world of antiquarian bookselling as he was to envision it.

Of primary consideration, however was Shipley's pride in the ability to find for its customers, items that they would surely discover nowhere else. An obscure Festival of Britain brochure from the shires might easily sit side by side with a flimsy onionskin broadsheet for some long-forgotten Stephen Tennant exhibition. Andy Warhol collectors would happen across something so ephemeral that even completists would marvel in ignorance of its existence. Anoracks for snippets of a fad long-departed, would very often leave the premises dumfounded at the discovery of the unseen or the hitherto-unconsidered in their particular field of whimsy. In short, we sought out the unique and the uncommon, and delighted in dealing it, and for this, was our reputation for the rarified rightfully gained. Apres la Deluge, the lookalike establishments in Japan, with fixtures and fitttings all-too eerily familiar. Closer, much closer to home, the generations of wannabe establishments, but with the soft chairs; the latte-whilst-you-browse culture that we could not have dreamt of anticipating in our experience of the specialist book trade. Now, alas, the fire is extinguished for the final time, and the dizzying amount of stock, garnered over a thirty-year tenure lies forlorn in storage. Where now, the papier-mache cherub that, hoisted aloft for the Christmas of a decade or so ago, but somehow never consigned to the basement as twelfth night came around, to glitter instead in perpetuity behind the fanlight for all the seasons to come? And where, too, the little Eiffel Tower souvenir, unnoticed by all put the sharpest-eyed, that perched surreally atop the fireplace shelf? At Shipley, it must be remembered, the devil was always in the detail. Trends burst forth and were quickly extinguished in the clamor of the moment. Fads and fancies came and went - and more often than not, we would have stocked a book on the vast majority of them. Neo-Romantic hairstyles? No problem. Russian Prison tattooes? - We'll just pop downstairs and look for you, sir...

 Generations of staff have come and gone, friendships forged and careers kept afloat. Lest we forget the roll-call of stalwarts; Amanda King, Lindy Usher, Clem Crosby, Nancy Campbell, Laura Massino, Felix Cromey, Stephen Conrad, Steven Hemmens, Andrew Lee, Zoe Taylor, to name but a few as well as the 'youngblood' generation who saw it through until the finish; Rowland Thomas, Phoebe Blatten, Sue Findlay and the lovely Tristram. Simon Costin swears that he came in to say hello on the basis of a bet: a thirty year friendship is the result of such reckless behavior. Lawrence Mynott still recalls the 'incident with the cheque'- with understandable pique. Mention, too for the angel of the accounts department, Ms. Sandra Rose, and the countless others who have served their tenure at number 70. We remember also, those members of the old Zwemmer crew that were flung into the melting-pot when that once-august establishment came into Ian's hands. Then it was that the flagship shop at number 70 gained a flotilla of the erstwhile photography and graphic design shops. Old rivals-turned new colleagues, Clare de Rouen (that doyenne of the photography monograph) and Johnny, her consort, who continued to hold his post at the counter of 72. Hats off, then and hurl them high, for with its passing, an era is well and truly over.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

From: 'On Christmas Day' (1-11) by Thomas Traherne (1652-1674)

Shake off thy Sloth, my drowsy Soul, awake;
With Angels sing
Unto thy King,
And pleasant Music make;
Thy Lute, thy Harp, or else thy Heart-strings take,
And with thy Music let thy sense awake.
See how each one the other calls
To fix his Ivy on the walls.
Transplanted there it seems to grow
As if it rooted were below:
Thus He, who is thy King,
Makes Winter, Spring.