Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Gay times at the Criterion Theatre ...

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My old boss, the unforgettable Harold Fielding, goes down in the history of the London musical theatre as the producer of musicals for the millions. The coach party king. That's a bit right, but only a bit. Harold and his right hand (wife Maisie) and left hand (associate Ian Bevan) back-roomers did more than just mount popular shows -- from Cinderella, Half a Sixpence, Showboat, Irene et al to Barnum and Singin' in the Rain -- for the charabanc public. His name appeared at the top of the bill for two of the 1970s's most 'liberated' musical shows: the long-running Let My People Come at the Regent and the revue Hulla Baloo at the Criterion.

Let My People Come was still running when I joined the company (Ian had the job of casting it), but Hulla Baloo had gone its way so I never saw it. But it sounds good, camp fun:

'The curtain rises to show a public convenience with 3 cubicles on either side of the stage and that more or less sets the tone of the humour for the rest of the evening. Rogers and Starr score early on with one of their popular numbers ‘Rape’ and again in the second half with their famous ‘Beyond the Freud’ number which was so popular with the audiences at the Hampstead Theatre Club where they had 2 successful seasons of late night revue 2 years running. Roy Starr repeats his amusing ‘Dear Marje’ takeoff of Marjorie Proops, and Michael Rogers follows with his rather cruel Dietrich impersonation, descending the toilet stairs impeccably gowned in a transparent salmon pink shimmering dress.
In the second act the two of them proceed to demolish ‘Gone With The Wind’ with their hilarious portrayals of Mammie and Prissie the maid. It was interesting to note how enjoyable Jimmy Edwards can be when he stops ad-libbing. His talk on gardening ‘Are you listening, Mary Whitehouse?’ involves some useful information on the growing of roses: ‘First get your beds ready, go easy with the trowel and don’t give ‘er more than 5 inches to start with…’ and he gets good participation from the audience with his song about Enoch Powell. Chelsea Brown looks good and has several numbers to sing, including the title song, an obscure Duke Ellington number ‘Tulip or Turnip’ and one of Michael Rogers’ own songs ‘Powder My Back’.'
And I find I have a souvenir of it. Amongst my C19th playbills, I have found this costume design. 

What on earth shall I do with it! Should I put it on eBay? Or should it be in Gay News, or a Gay Museum ...


Propping up the Anglicans ....

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Ever since the earthquakes, more than half a dozen years ago, there has been an incommensurate amount of publicity given to the (now ruined and deconsecrated) Cathedral at the centre of the city. 'The Cathedral', which is spoken of as if it were the only one. But it is not. It is merely the only Anglican one ...  a few streets down there is, or was, another, in my opinion, a much finer building, dedicated by the Catholic Church.

I lived in Christchurch in the 1960s, and used to have to pass The Cathedral each day on my way to University. I make no secret, I found it a gloomy, grey blot on the landscape. A mid-19th century bit of D-level architecture. Inside was even worse. Yes, I went inside. I was engaged to sing there. Otherwise I would probably not have. For I am no Anglican, indeed no Christian, and never was. But I love good architecture. Secular or religious. And loathe facile imitations. Which this was.

'The Cathedral' (Anglican)
I have told before how I watched the earthquake's depredations 'live on TV' from my 'hospital bed' a few days after a stroke. It was a surreal experience, and one that inspired little but horror and pity. All those people, all those lives ...  but if there was a tiny glimpse of satisfaction nestled, for me, amongst the terrible sights and feelings, it was in seeing 'The Cathedral' topple ... at last, Christchurch is rid of the thing!

But, of course, vested interests want it otherwise. And the squabble over whether the ruin should be cleared, and the Square made a public area for all of the population, and not just Anglican Christians, or whether the thing should be restored or rebuilt have made the news as recently as today. Everyone is fighting for his corner. But the Christchurch council has voted millions towards the replacement? The people's money. Ratepayers' money? From whence came the quote about 'propping up the Anglicans'. So it goes on.

The Cathedral, Barbados Street
And in all this blathering, I have not heard (mind you, I haven't been listening) a thing about the Catholic Cathedral. Nor about suburban churches like the one at Woodend, unused and fenced off for the past six years.

Somewhere, here, is a great deal of hypocrisy, a great deal of sectarian power-struggle, a great deal of pomposity ...  and if the tens of millions of dollars were to be spent on housing instead of on a useless  and unattractive monument to a religious sect ...? And the city's heart deconsecrated properly...

Just saying.





Sunday, December 10, 2017

Every picture tells some story ...

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Now that I’m not currently working on getting a new book out, I, for the first time in many years, have time to … well, indulge the odd lazy, nineteenth-century fancy. If something catches my eye as I waddle round my literary domain, I can spend a day or two looking into it – well, you’ve seen my recent posts. A piece of music, a book … they all have some sort of a tale to tell, and they can all start me off on a little adventure.

Today it was a photo. This morning I was strolling through the pages and pages of cartes de visite to be found on eBay, pictures of places and people of other times. More often than not, insofar as the people are concerned, unknown, unidentified, nameless. I’m not looking to buy these days, but I like to look. And this one took my fancy. A little boy in his best Sunday suit and his somewhat overweight sister from Melbourne, Australia.


 What often happens with photos is that, when the photo-ed folk and their family are gone, they get disposed of. So where there is one, you can sometimes find more. So I looked, just in case. And, yes! There are three of these two children, all with the same dealer. And one of a whiskered man. Same photographer. Same chair. Clearly, the same session. And there is one of a lady. Different dealer, different chair … but same photographer, same year … No, they’re not dated or identified but the photographer is. And a sad story is his.


John Gaul was born in Alvar, Banffshire, Scotland in 1831, the second son in the family of maltman, John Gaul, and his wife née Ann MacIntosh. We can see him, in the 1851 census, working as a cabinet-maker in Banff. On 8 May 1857, he married Miss Jessie Gossip, soon after, their first son, Joseph, was born, and the year after they left Liverpool for Australia and a new life. On the ship’s manifest, John was listed as ‘labourer’, but he clearly had other ideas. They arrived in Melbourne 29 April 1860, and within no time John, ‘artist’, had set up a pianoforte tuning and accordion business, then a studio of ‘The Photographic Art’ at 112 Douglas Parade. And 22 July Jessie gave birth to a second son, Alexander William, ‘at the home of Captain [Joseph] Dalgarno’. 112 Douglas Parade. The child died at 18 months. But there were two more to come. Finally, in 1866, John Gaul upmarketed. He moved his studio 95 Swanston Street, the address shown on our photographs. But he didn’t stay there for long. By the next year, he had shifted to larger premises in the same street. So, we can date our photos precisely to 1866.


 Then it all went wrong for John. Jessie died, aged only 34 at their home at 22 Regent Street, Fitzroy. A few weeks later, John took on a partner in his business, and within two years he himself withdrew. His brother, Alexander [MacIntosh], who had also emigrated and who was a printer in Carlton apparently helped him out, until he got into money troubles too, and he and his family re-emigrated to New Zealand where he died in 1903.

John too went to New Zealand. With a new wife, Margaret née Dillon. And presumably at least some of his three surviving children. He died there, in Colombo Street, Christchurch, 27 November 1876 – 25km from where I sit now -- where he had established a studio. It was believed to be suicide.

So, poor John Gaul ‘artist’ apparently didn’t have a very long career as a Melburnian photographer. Five years or so in Williamstown, one year of glory at no 95, and then a bit longer down the road. But he took some photos there which have survived. The State Library of Victoria has a handful. And then there are these. I guess these folk went back to England, and took their Melburnian photos with them …

I should dearly love to know who they were. Dad would make a lovely understudy for Abe Lincoln.


PS I find that someone else has delved into the Gauls and in considerably more detail than I, and with a fine selection of his Christchurch photographs:
http://canterburyphotography.blogspot.co.nz/2008/09/gauls-portrait-rooms-christchurch.html




Saturday, December 2, 2017

Hay Day 2018

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Hay Day is a big event in small farmer's life. You spend months praying alternately for rain and sunshine so that the bloody stuff grows ... and then when -- healthy, unhealthy, lush or scrawny -- whatever has grown looks imminently ready for harvesting, you howl for Neil, the contractor, just at the time when (of course) everybody else is howling too ...

So you pray, and you pray, and the television stays daily on the weather channel .. we need five days, at least, with no rain, to allow the fields to be mown, the cut grass to be turned, and finally the whole lot baled and carted to the barn ...


Most years, something doesn't go perfectly. But you get by, and you get something in the barn. One year, I remember it was a pathetic eleven (large) bales. When winter came, we had to dig deep to buy in hay from other folk. Mostly we've filled the first bay of our barn, just occasionally we've done better, but it's a stressful season. A good crop of your own can save you thousands of dollars in expenses come the time when you need to hay out.

So round December the barn is tidied, emptied prepared ...


We've had a helluva expensive year at Gerolstein this year. Everything seemed to need renewing at the same time. So we were due a little bit of luck. It looked good on the ground ...

Don't rain. Don't rain. And it didn't. Neil rolled up for the grande finale today.

We crossed fingers as the raw material went down the throat of the baler ... and came out the other end ...



And here it comes!



How many! How many! Pleeeeease!

Forty-eight bales from the back paddocks! Wow! And the little front paddock ... another twelve! We got our luck, all right. Sixty bales is, I think, the best result we have ever had off our little place. Hey, horsies, lush winter coming up.


And, hey, Wendy, that pays for a trip to the Yamba seaside for us! Heigh-ho!!!!!!






The People on my bookshelves …

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Rollo, Lady Dorchester, Kirk … who were they? and what are they doing sitting adjacent to one another on a shelf at Gerolstein, NZ in 2017?

In my continuing voyage of discovery through my bookshelves, I’ve moved from the Austrian end to the English and Scottish end. This morning I have picked up a leather-bound volume of ‘Parsons’s edition of British Classics’. What it is, actually, is volume six (of eight) of The Spectator, published by J Parsons of Paternoster Row in 1792. The print is rather small, so I don’t think I’ll try to read it, and anyway the showily learned chats of eighteenth-century gentlemen aren’t quite my field.


 So, the next question is. How did this book find its way from Paternoster Row to Gerolstein, Sefton, New Zealand? I have bought some indiscriminate old books in my time, just because they were old and attractive. But definitely not The Spectator. There is only one clue. In 1867, the then owner of the volume inked his name a neat flowing script on the foreleaf. David Rollo jr, Lochee.


 Scotland. Ah ha! So who was David Rollo? And where was Lochee. Why, it was near Dundee, Scotland. Where great-grandfather and mother were wed. Connection?



A little more digging, and I find that David Rollo (jr) (b Lochee 16 October 1848) was indeed living at Bloomfield, Lochee in 1871. The census shows him with father David, a [law] writer, mother Agnes née Brash (d 2 October 1876) and brothers Silvester and Norman. There was a fourth brother, George, and a sister, Mrs Wilson Baird. I see in 1851 father was a ‘procurator’, and when he died, on 30 March 1880, described as solicitor, he left a vast fortune of over 25,000L. His long obituary in the local press shows him to have been a thoroughly civic-worthy and admirable man. David jr doesn’t seem to have been of quite the same fabric: in 1891 he is ‘living on private means’, unmarried, in lodgings in Edinburgh. He died there on 2 January 1892.

The history of the Rollo family is dealt with in a 1911 article at http://www.fdca.org.uk/Lochee10.html. But David jr, dead at 40ish, doesn’t rate a mention.

I imagine his books went to a second-hand dealer. That seems to have been where he got it from. The erased pencilled name of the earlier owner I can't decipher. But I don’t see any possible connection between the lofty Rollos and my humble mechanics of a Scottish family. But who, in the Anderson-Welsh-Morrison family would have purchased a volume of The Spectator? It seems, well, rather out of their league! And mine. Odd.

The next one, I have provenance for. It is a chuck out, circa 1960, from the Nelson College Library. The front board is detached, and it has got those nasty CANCELLED stamps (why?) on it principal pages. I must have just been fascinated by its age. This one is 1819. Memoirs of the Court of Elizabeth by Lucy Aikin. And it has got several names inscribed on it, members of the family who owned it, before it got dumped in a dank corner of a colonial boys’ school library.


 The first is ‘Georgiana Anne Carleton from her Grandmama, Lady Dorchester’. Well, Burke’s Peerage has done the necessary identifying for me. Miss Carleton was the fourth child of the Hon Lieutenant-Colonel George Carleton, army officer, killed at Berg-op-Zoom, and Henrietta King, and thus the youngest sister of Guy Carleton, Lord Dorchester. Grandfather was General Sir Guy Carleton KB who was elevated to the peerage for doughty deeds in the First American War. The grandmamma who inscribed the book to Georgiana was Maria, daughter of the 2nd Earl of Effingham … anyway, enough. You get the picture. Grandmama died 4 March 1836 aged 83.

Grandpapa, Lord Dorchester
Georgiana was born 17 August 1813, and the book must have been gifted to her before 3 May 1831, when she became Mrs Robert King. Poor Georgiana. She promptly produced four daughters in as many years, and then gave up the ghost, at 28 Chester Street, Grosvenor Place, 28 January 1837, at twenty-three years of age. And the book? It stayed in the family. Mr King has pasted his book plate inside the back cover. I see the widower and his daughters living in Chester Street, Belgravia in 1841 with half a dozen servants. Shortly after, King remarried.


 But Mr King survived only to the age of forty, and in February 1847 our book has another owner. Fourteen-year-old Emily King (b 13 October 1833), second of Georgiana’s three surviving daughters. Emily was not skilled with a quill. She blotted her first try at ownership badly, and had to do a second.

6 April 1853 at Little Sampford, Emily married lawyer Oliver Wimburn Lloyd, had the traditional three quick children and then is seen no more … Dead, I suppose. So what happened to my book?

Well, I don’t know when, but many years later it found its way into the hands of another memorable person. Dr Francis Arnot Blackader Bett (1873-1957). Dr Bett (a medical doctor) was THE Nelson (New Zealand) historian. I remember his name from my schoolboy days. He collected papers, documents, photographs, anything to do with local history. He was a model historian and statistician, and his work and collections are preserved in New Zealand’s national libraries. And on 10 November 1933 he presented my book to the Boys’ College Library.

(a)    Where did he get it? How did it end up in New Zealand?
(b)    why the boy’s school rather than a real library. I mean, I don’t think many 1930s schoolboys wanted to read about 16th century royal court procedures.

Ah, well. It’s an imponderable. We have the first fifty years of the book’s life, and the last eighty (including 55 on my shelf) sussed out. But the bit in the middle …
And by the way, in all that time … well, it doesn’t look as if it has ever been read…

The next item comes from the same school library. I know why I took this one for threepence instead of going to the tuck shop. It had pretty coloured engravings. Well, why else would I buy a book entitled British Marine Conchology. It was published by Lumley of Chancery Lane in 1844 and bears the rather ordinary bookplate of one Thomas William Kirk. It is a book of vast scientific detail, certainly not a casual read, and indeed gives the feel of being all but unread until I tried my hand. I wonder how many copies this sold!


Well, I found Mr Kirk. In 1919 he is listed as ‘Government Biologist’ at Johnsonville. And he made it to Who’s Who in New Zealand for his biological work. Born Coventry, England 30 June 1856. Died at Eastbourne 20 May 1936. And some time after that, a Mr H D Skinner presented his book to Nelson College.


And in 2017 all these folks ended up sharing a shelf at Gerolstein, NZ …

Post scriptum: Well! what a coincidence! Today I discover that David Rollo jr was cousin to the Victorian Vocalist Mary Rollo Dickson. Who married the sculptor John Thomas ... my 'worlds' are connecting!