Monday 7 December 2009

Michael Jackson, Aeronwy Thomas, Leela Naidu, Rajmata Gayatri Devi

Michael Jackson died on 25th June after suffering a cardiac arrest in California – America. He was known as the ‘King of Pop’ being one of the most successful artists ever. After his death many websites experienced a crash and shutdown due to huge amounts of people browsing them in search of the latest news including myself. His funeral service was held at the Staples Centre in California on 7 July in which his family and friends paid tribute to his genius.

Later on coroners decided after thorough investigation lasting weeks to conclude his death to have been resulting from homicide, Jackson had been administered various lethal drugs before his death. He was interred on 3 September at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California following another memorial service.


Aeronwy Thomas (Dylan Thomas’ daughter) passed away on 27 July from cancer. She was born on 3 March 1943 in London and was named after the river Aeron in Wales. She received her BA Hons in English and Comparative Religion and was elected Honorary Fellow of the University of Wales in 2003. She was a translator of Italian poetry, President of the Dylan Thomas Society and The Alliance of Literary Societies. She married Trefor Ellis and bore him a son and daughter (Huw and Hannah). Her funeral was held on 6 August in the Parish Church of Holy Cross in New Malden, Surrey. Her son Huw read his own poem ‘Words about My Mum’. She was cremated and her ashes were then scattered at the Boathouse in Laugharne. Aeronwy Thomas was herself an devoted and accomplished poet.


Leela Naidu passed away on 28 July in Mumbai after a prolonged bout of influenza, she was born in 1940. She was Miss India in 1954 and featured in Vogue’s ‘World’s Ten Most Beautiful Women’. She was the daughter of the Nuclear Physicist Dr. Ramaiah Naidu (Scientific Advisor to UNESCO for South East Asia) and Dr. Marthe Naidu – An Indianologist of Swiss-French origin. She married the 33 year old Tilak Raj Oberoi in 1956, scion of the Oberoi Hotels. She bore him twin daughters: Maya and Priya (Priya passed away last year), this marriage ended in divorce. She then married the poet Dom Moraes in 1969 with whom she spent 25 years living in Hong Kong, New York, Delhi and Mumbai (he passed away on 2 June 2004), they separated in the mid-nineties. I first saw her in the captivating role she played in the Merchant Ivory Productions' The Householder, (1963) with Shashi Kapoor. Her other films are Anuradha, (1960), Umeed, (1962), Man of the World: The Frontier, (1962), Ye Raste Hain Pyar Ke, (1963), Baghi, (1964), Channing: The Face in the Sun, (1964), The Guru, (1969), Trikaal, (1985) and Electric Moon, (1992). She is survived by Maya and her 2 grandsons Adam and Alexander. She had a few spoons of porridge and then went to sleep and died in her sleep, her funeral was held on 29 in Chandanwadi Crematorium and was attended by her daughter, grandchildren and friends.


Rajmata Gayatri Devi of Jaipur passed away on 29 July. She was born on 23 May 1919 to Prince Jitendra Narayan Bhoop Bahadur of Cooch Behar and Princess Indira Raje Scindla of Baroda. The death of her paternal uncle, the Crown prince, led to her father ascending the throne of Cooch Behar. She was well educated and married His Highness Sarmad e Raja e Hindustan Raj Rajendra Sri Maharajadhiraja Sir Sawai Man Singh II Bahadur on 9 May 1940. She was his third wife and bore him a son: Prince Jagat Singh of Jaipur on 15 October 1949.

She was an avid equestrienne and was also included in Vogue’s ‘World’s Ten most Beautiful Women’ list along with Leela Naidu (who passed away a day before she did). She started a girl’s school in India and revived the art of Jaipur blue pottery. In 1962 she ran for parliament and won the constituency in the Lok Sabha in the largest landslide victory confirmed by the Guinness Book of Records, continuing to hold this seat in 1967 and 1971 against the Congress Party – India’s Privy Purses were abolished in 1971 and Gayatri Devi was accused of violating tax laws and incarcerated for 5 months in Tihar Jail, she wrote about this time in Memoirs of a Hindu Princess. She has had many books written on her and featured recently in Lucy Moore’s superb book Maharanis as well as the documentary film produced by Merchant Ivory, Autobiography of a Princess. She was hospitalised in the King Edward VII's Hospital on 17 July and then flown to Jaipur where she passed away. Hailed as the last surviving remnant of India’s royal past she was cremated on the evening of 30 July in Jaipur.

Friday 20 November 2009

Churchyards, Shearsman Reading Series, St. Pancras Old Church & Kensal Green Open Day 2009

Abdullah bin Musalama related that Malik told us that he heard Yahya bin Saeed who heard it from Muhammad bin Ibrahim who heard it from Alqamah bin Waqas who related that Umar bin al-Khattab narrated that Allah's Apostle said 'The reward of deeds depends upon the intention and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended. So whoever migrated for Allah and His Apostle, then his migration was for Allah and His Apostle. Whoever migrated for worldly benefits or for a woman to marry, his emigration was for that'. 
            Muhammad bin Ismael Bukhari. Sahih Bukhari. 2: 54. 
Ο]ἰ μὲν ἰππήων ζηρόηον οἰ δὲ πέζδων
οἰ δὲ νάων θαῖζ᾽ ἐπὶ γᾶν μέλαιναν
ἔ]μμεναι κάλλιζηον ἔγω δὲ κῆν᾽
ὄηηω ηὶζ ἔπαηαι.
           Sappho, 'Fragment 16'.[1] 
Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can: all of them make me laugh.[2]
On 17 April I decided to visit St Botoloph without Bishopsgate which was closed as were St Katherine Cree so I popped into the churchyard of St Andrew's Undershaft (the church itself being closed) to see the many tombstones there and one with the following inscription. 

Heare lyeth intered the body of M Abraham Sutton Marchant. He lived in Flanders in the Citty of Ghendt about 30 years and dyed therein the 55th year of age and desired to be buried in the church neare his one relations. He dyed the 24th day of May 1675.

Abraham Sutton's tombstone inscription is also recorded by John Strype in his annotations on Stow's Survey of London. Then to Christ Church Spitalfields: the churchyard of which is now a children's playground with the tombstones stashed up against the wall. There is a memorial to the dead soldiers of World War I in the churchyard. I walked through the market and bought myself an absolutely amazing cup of coffee from an amazing coffee shop on the way home.

On 2 June I set off to attend the Shearsman Reading Series, held at the Swedenborg Society Hall. I got off at Holborn, where I dined all those years ago at the Spaghetti House down the Sicillian Avenue. First I had difficulty in finding Bloomsbury Way (which is tucked away somewhere) and just kept walking round Bloomsbury Square thinking of Pope's verse on it:
In Palace-Yard at Nine you'll find me there –
At Ten for certain, Sir, in Bloomsb'ry Square –
      'The Second Epistle of the Second Book of Horace Imitated by Mr. Pope'.
Walked into a posh office with a new Indian chap at the reception who didn't know where the hall was so I walked past him for the café just behind him to see if anyone there knew but he said I wasn't allowed in:

Lend me, a little while, the key
That locks your heavy heart, and I'll give you back –
Rarer than books and ribbons and beads bright to see,
This little Key of Dreams out of my pack
         Charlotte Mew, 'The Peddler'.
Finally found the Swedenborg Society with ten minutes to go, rang the buzzer – No Answer. Rang the one for the Swedenborg Press – No Answer. Rang another Swedenborg this and another Swedenborg that – No Answer. Waited outside for a bit in case someone turned up – No one did - A lady doing the same outside the building a bit further down. Walked round to the back – Nothing Doing. Walked back round to the front, rang buzzers, nothing. Finally found a side door and the hall. Nobody was there yet. Nobody did come till about 25 minutes past. Everybody talked to (and knew) everybody else. There were only about fifteen people and I just sat at the back, reading Ackroyd's Dickens biography.

St. Pancras Old Church itself was closed but the churchyard was there so I wandered lonelily among the tombstones. It is one of those places one could go to die in.

Here lies William Godwin – Husband of Mary Wollstonecraft.

William Godwin
Author of Political Justice
Born 3rd March 1756
Died 7th April 1836
Aged 80 years

The other side reads the inscription to Mary Jane, stepsister of Mary Shelley and mother of Byron’s illegitimate daughter Allegra.

Mary Jane
Second Wife of William Godwin
Died 17 June 1841
Aged 75 years

The Godwin family tomb also contains Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin.

Mary Wollstonecraft
Author of A Vindication of
the Rights of Woman
Born 27 April 1750
Died 10 September 1797.

This grave was the favourite meeting place of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Godwin (the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft). It is where she declared her love for Shelley, offering him both her body and soul, although according to her father it was Shelley who seduced his daughter atop the tombstone. Arm in arm, they walked towards Jane (her sister) who had waited patiently, a little puzzled and envious beside a nearby tombstone. Mary Shelley's novel Faulkner, (1837) has a similar cemetery love scene in which the man responds to the girl's declaration by weeping upon her breast 'Shelley wrote emphatically that 'no expressions could convey 'the manner' in which Mary declared herself'.[3]

Also buried here are the youngest surviving son of the composer Johann Sebastian Bach and the architect and collector Sir John Soane R. A. (1750 – 1837) and his wife. The design of his vault (by himself) was a direct influence on Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's design for the red telephone box.

As a young man Thomas Hardy studied architecture in London from 1861 – 1867, his master was based in Covent Garden and was commissioned by the Bishop of London to supervise the proper exhumation of bodies and human dismantling of tombs to allow for the building of the Midland Railway, part of which was to pass over the original churchyard of St Pancras. He passed on this task to Hardy in 1865 who spent many unenviable hours there overseeing the removal of bodies and tombstones, it inspired his poem 'The Levelled Churchyard'. The removed headstones were re-assembled by an ash tree which remains yet and now has railings around it to protect its iconic status.

Dickens also refers to the churchyard in A Tale of Two Cities. The inscriptions at the far end of the churchyard have been incredibly well-preserved.

On 4 July I made my way to Kensal Green Cemetery for the annual Open Day.

I found the grave of Mary Hogarth, Dickens' sister in-law whom he loved and whose early death tormented him for the rest of his life. She is buried in the family grave with George Hogarth who inserted in the Evening Chronicle sketches of London life by Charles Dickens and who to become his son-in-law later on. From 1846 - 1866 he was music critic of the Daily News and of the Illustrated London News. He was Secretary of the Philharmonic Society from 1850 - 1864. Hogarth published Musical History, Biography & Criticism (1835) and other works on music. Dickens' obsession with his young sister-in-law has never been satisfactorily explained, her sudden death at an early age was a tremendous shock to him and for a time he hoped to be deposited in her grave, but ceded his place to her brother, also George.

Major General Sir William Casement, (1780 - 1844). Member of the Council of India. His monument was sculpted by E. M. Lander, local monumental masons and depicts a sarcophagus surmounted upon a canopy on which stand 4 servants of the British Raj:

Late of Bengal but now of Kensal Green,
Sir William Casement oversees these kids,
jobless for a year, employed to clean
his lichen-encrusted caryatids.
      Chuprassie, sepoy, subahdar,
used to serve Sir William's slightest whim.
Now, things being in Britain what they are,
these have no choice but bow and scrape to him. 
        Tony Harrison. 'Loving Memory: Cheating the Void'. Collected Film Poems. (Faber & Faber, 2007). 111.

In Memory of
John Cam Hobhouse, Bart.
Baron Broughton de Gyfford. G. C. B.
Born June 27th 1786. Died June 3rd 1869.
He was eminent alike in political and literary life
and after a public career of success and honour
found unbroken happiness in domestic repose
which he adorned
by his rare gifts of scholarship and eloquence.
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works,
and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
Matthew, V, 16.
Erected by his grateful and loving daughters Charlotte and Sophia.

Baron John Cam Hobhouse of Broughton de Gyfford. Loyal friend and Literary Executor of Lord Byron.[4]Dr George Birkbeck, (1776 - 1841). Philanthropist, educationalist and Professor of natural philosophy at Anderson University, Glasgow. Birkbeck was involved in the foundation of a number of institutes including the London Mechanics Institute of which he was elected Life President in 1824. This subsequently became Birkbeck College. He was also a founder member of the Council of University College, London.

George Cruikshank, (1792 - 1878). Caricaturist, illustrator and champion of total abstinence. Cruikshank illustrated Dickens' Oliver Twist. His remains were transplanted to St Paul's Cathedral in November 1878. His wife Elisa, (1807 - 1890) is deposited here.

[1] Some say mounted warriors, some a fleet of
     Ships, and some say foot-soldiers are the finest
     Sight upon the black earth. But I believe it's
                What you desire.

                           Translated by Robert Chandler. Sappho: Selected Poems.  (J. M. Dent, 1998).  7.
[2] W. H Auden.  The Dyer’s Hand. (Faber & Faber, 1962). 94. The Complete Works of W. H. Auden: Prose 4.  Edited by Edward Mendelson. (Princeton, 2010).
[3] Richard Holmes. Shelley: The Pursuit. (1974).
[4] For a concise and comprehensive profile see Vivian-Neal, Henry.  A Byron tour at Kensal Green Cemetery (The Friends of Kensal green Cemetery, 2006).  14 - 16.

Monday 5 October 2009

Nicholas Farrar Hughes, (17 January 1962 – 16 March 2009)

Another tragic chapter was appended to the Plath family history when Frieda Hughes announced on 16 March that her brother Nicholas Hughes had taken his own life. He had been battling depression intermittently since his father Ted Hughes' death in 1998. Nicholas features prominently in the work of both his parents.
A friend recalls that once at school a teacher told the class that skin was the only connective tissue that played a role against fighting infection – Nick piped up “What about blood?” The teacher conceded “Blood and skin are the two connective tissues …”[1]
Nick received his BSc in Zoology, from Oxford University in 1984 and his MA in Zoology in 1990, during this time he also assisted with research in Alaska. In 1991 he earned a PhD from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in Biology and continued working in various positions in Marine Biology institutes in Alaska. He held a notable position due to his contributions to research on why fish prefer one position over another, his research suggested a combination of water flow and stream-bed acting as guides in the way nature influences the individual behaviour of fish – Hughes, who shared his passion for fishing was particularly proud that he grew up to be a marine biologist and for his intelligence. Nick's favourite Ted Hughes poem was about woodpeckers, it contains the lines:
When woodpecker's jack-hammer head
Starts up in dreadful din
Knocking the dead bough double dead
How do his eyes stay in?
A biological conundrum (the scientific answer to which is that it keeps its eyes shut and warps its tongue around the base of its brain whilst its beak goes at it at 1300mph, on impact):
The beak of the woodpecker rapidly strikes at such points upon the trunks of trees where it locates the presence of worms by acutely listening to their crawling movements. It begins to strike so rapidly that hundreds of strikes are powerfully made in a second which scare the worms out of their hideout for the woodpecker to scoop them up with its long elastic tongue. It is so fast that humans cannot distinguish between different strikes which appear to them as a single blur. That functional availability is exceptional among birds. More exceptional and unique is the system which protects the brain of the woodpecker from being damaged by the impact of extremely powerful shock waves produced by the striking beak.
           Between the beak and the brain there is a separating impact absorbing tissue which
prevents the shock waves reaching the brain directly. No other bird can strike at such a rate and no other bird is provided with such a protective device. This is another example of how animals are protected against the possible harm of their own specialized functional abilities. We wonder if any naturalist could suggest any random methodology to explain how natural selection could have chanced upon this.[2]
Nick resigned from UAF in December 2006, continuing his work independently and to spend time as a potter, setting up a pottery at home, making clay pots and creatures.

On 16 March Nick had afternoon tea with his girlfriend Christine Hunter and then told her “It's a good day” and that he was going for a walk. She went searching for him when he hadn't returned by 4pm and discovered that he had hung himself in his cabin with a thin nylon cord tied to an exposed ceiling beam.

[1] Saxton, Joe Saxton.  'What suicide gene? My friend Nick was brilliant, passionate & fun'. The Sunday Times, 29 March 2009.
[2] Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad – Khalifatul Masih IV. Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge & Truth(Islam International Publications, 1998). 505.

Wednesday 8 July 2009

Hardyesque: Miscellaneous Notes

Michael Henchard's Will.
'That Elizabeth-Jane be not told of my death, or made to grieve on account of me.'
'& that I be not bury'd in consecrated ground.
'& that no sexton be asked to see my dead body.
'& that nobody is wished to see my dead body.
'& that no mourners walk behind me at my funeral.
'& that no flours be planted on my grave.
'& that no man remember me.
'To this I put my name.
'Michael Henchard.'
                      Thomas Hardy. The Mayor of Casterbridge. 1886.

The maternal tenacity of Hardy's mother on his life was so severe as to hamper and shadow everything in his first marriage. His biographer Michael Millgate writes that it marred him for life and was to answer for his noted immaturity. He describes himself as 'A child till he was sixteen, a youth till he was five-and-twenty, and a young man till he was nearly fifty.’[1]  Hardy told William Archer:
The town-bred boy will often appreciate nature more than the country boy, but he does not know it in the same sense. He will rush to pick a flower which the country boy does not seem to notice. But it is part of the country boy's life. It grows in his soul - he does not want it in his buttonhole. 
                             William Archer. Real Conversations. 1904. 32.

His wife Emma once wrote to a female friend:
He understands only the women he invents - The others not at all - & he only writes for art, though ethics shows up.
                 Letters of Emma & Florence Hardy. Edited by Michael Millgate. (Oxford University Press, 1996). 6.

Hardy was in on what has been dubbed the biggest cover-up of all time 'That terrible, dogmatic, ecclesiasticism - Christianity so called but really Paulinism plus idolatory.'[2]

In fact all forms of organised religion are consistently hostile to morality, the natural progress of mankind (both physical, mental and spiritual) and as such, to religion itself because it is always far removed from the original tenets of that faith. This is an ongoing theme in Hardy's novels: his distrust of and the hypocrisy of the established church and its denizens. It is also a major theme in Dickens. It is also a literary device in Persian and Urdu literature in the figure of the Sheikh:
The Shaikh is to Mir what the Holy Willies and the ‘Unco Guid’ are to his spiritual brother and younger contemporary, Robert Burns: and like Burns, he attacks them with ridicule, bawdy, and invective.
                              Ralph Russell. Three Mughal Poets. (Oxford University Press, 1991). 200. 

One of my favourite verses of Mir in this regard is:
If the Sheikh comes naked to the mosque it is because he spent the night in the tavernAnd in drunkenness gave off his expensive gown, his shirt, and his cap[3]
William Walsham How, Bishop of Wakefield burnt a copy of Jude the Obscure (Betjeman knew all about him and mentioned him in his Sweet songs of Zion radio broadcasts which have now, recently, been compiled and published) and boasted about it in a letter to the Yorkshire Post:
The only sad feature in the matter to Hardy was that if the bishop could have known him as he was, he would have found a man whose personal conduct, views of morality, and of the vital facts of religion, hardly differed from his own.[4]
[1] Thomas Hardy. The Life & Work of Thomas Hardy. (Palgrave Macmillan, 1984). 24.
[2] Hardy. The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy: ii. Edited by Richard Little Purdy & Michael Millgate. 8 vols, 
      (Oxford University Press). 143.
[3] Mir Taqi Mir.  Kulliyat e Mir.
[4] Hardy. The Life & Work of Thomas Hardy. (Palgrave Macmillan, 1984). 295.

Friday 29 May 2009

The Ripper Tour & Leaving the Laureateship

I had wanted to go on one of the (many) Jack the Ripper tours for some time. We went through the entrance in the London Wall, walking onto the side where the East End of London begins (officially). The guide explained the striking contrasts between lives on the east side and the west side of the wall during the Victorian period. Walking through a Victorian railway arch we were told to avoid the walls against which many of Victorian prostitutes did the deed with their clients – We visited most of the murder sites and heard the gory stories. It is astonishing how many Victorian tenements, buildings, streets, lanes, alleyways, walls and shopfronts still remain intact and so close to the city, though there is an abundance of curry houses and takeaways. I even spotted an old bill poster from 1931!

The tour took us through the brilliant Whitechapel Market and afterwards we went in to see The Ten Bells pub which still retains not only the original furnishings but the original toilets too! It is a small pub with no lights except at the bar – Perfect Place.

On the way back we passed by the Dirty Dicks pub:
At Dirty Dick's and Sloppy Joe's
We drank our liquor straight,
Some went upstairs with Margery,
And some, alas, with Kate;
                 W. H. Auden, 'The Sea & the Mirror'.

On 28 April I made my way to Waterloo and as I walked into the Royal Festival Hall I saw Andrew Motion there. I said hello and that I'd be at the 'Leaving the Laureateship' valedictory later. I reminded him that I wrote to him when I first started writing poetry and that he had replied with a postcard thanking and encouraging me. He said “Well I hope you've continued” and I said that I had. Just then his partner Kyeong-Soo approached and we were introduced. I thanked him and walked off to visit the Poetry Library and picked up Stepping Stones, the recently published autobiographical interviews with Seamus Heaney.

Back down in the foyer and I sat myself down and had smoked salmon and egg sandwiches with cream soda before making my way to the Queen Elizabeth Hall, greeting Fiona Sampson on the way with Jo Shapcott to her right (and another lady I recognised but couldn't recall the name of).  I suddenly recalled that I'd been searching in vain for Jo's book of lectures The Transformers which doesn't seem to have been published after all, I turned back but they had gone. I also saw another lady who was at Morley College with me and comes to a lot of poetry dos where I often see her but don't know her name. Andrew Motion's son and daughter came and seated themselves on my left but I didn't know it at the time till he mentioned it to the audience, twins (born in 1988). I found myself equating/drawing parallels with the children of previous Poets Laureate.

What really came through were Motion's frankness, openness and accessibility, his ability to engage with his audience and to draw them in. He spoke freely of the onus of the laureateship, the burden of commissions in general and of work or verses turned to order. The cards are badly dealt – He still hasn't for instance received his bottles of sherry. I can now totally sympathise with his position and with the benefit of hindsight he has done (less written) remarkably well. He said “I am pleased to have done it. Pleased to be stopping doing it. I think if you can say that at the end of any job, that's a good thing.”

He read from his latest collection of poems (which includes no laureate poems) which I had read the night before: 'Harry Patch', 'Passing On' and 'The Mower'. Afterwards I got him to sign a copy of the book and said that I had his other books as well which I'd spared him the burden of signing had I bought them all along as well. He said “There will be other times.” I particularly praised the Keats biography which I think is comprehensive, full-bodied, and readable and by far one of the best biographies of a poet.

Monday 23 February 2009

Sir John Mortimer, Tony Hart, Edward Upward

Sir John Mortimer passed away on 16 January.  He was born on Saturday 21 April 1923 in Hampstead to Clifford Mortimer and Kathleen May (née Smith).  At 17, Mortimer went up to Brasenose College, Oxford to study law.  Brasenose College was then temporarily based at Christ Church - The Brasenose buildings having been requisitioned for the war effort.  He married Penelope Ruth Fletcher in 1949 from whom he had a son (Jeremy Mortimer) and Sally Silverman.  They divorced in 1971.  He married Penelope Gollop in 1972 who bore him 2 daughters: Emily (born 1 December 1972) and Rosie (born 1984).  In November 1961 John Mortimer had a son with the actress Wendy Craig.  He did not find out about this until August 2004 and both were very happily reunited, his name is Ross Bentley.  Mortimer was awarded the CBE in 1986 and knighted in 1998.  he wrote numerous books and presented TV programs among which some of the best remembered will be the autobiographical A Voyage Round My Father, (1963), the TV dramatisation of Evelyn Waugh's masterpiece Brideshead Revisited, (1981) and his own magnum opus Rumpole of the Bailey.  He also skilfully defended the 1960 trial against D. H. Lawrence's novel Lady Chatterly's Lover, the trial was also attended by Sylvia Plath at the time on the second day of the proceedings and she wrote about it in her journal.

The funeral was held on 22 at St Mary's Church, Turville (next to the house where Mortimer had lived with his first wife) near Henley-on-Thames.  His parents are buried here too.  Jeremy Paxman, Melvyn Bragg, Lord Kinnock and his wife Gladys were among the attendees.  Ross Bentley was seated in the front row with his mother.  The vicar said in her sermon:
Sir John called himself an atheist for Christ - He always came to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.  But he emphatically did not believe in life after death.  My hope is that he has had a wonderful surprise.  
                 Valerie Grove.  'Church Funeral of atheist John Mortimer, creator of Rumpole', The Times, 23 January 2009.
Mortimer's wife Penelope read from Shakespeare's Richard III after which a recording of him reading from Wordworth's 'Tintern Abbey' was played.  Emily and Rosie recited Byron's 'So we'll go go more a roving' which I think must have been an absolutely inspired choice.  His daughter Sally along with 6 of his grandchildren read from 'Ecclesiastes'.  Blake's 'Jerusalem' was played as the crowd walked out into the obliging sunshine.


The artist Tony Hart passed away on 18 January.  He was born on 15 October 1925.  He was introduced to a TV producer at a party in 1952, who whilst looking for a paper found that Hart had drawn a fish on a napkin, as they say the rest is history.  A relative gifted me one of his books in 1991 which I cherished.  His first TV series was Playbox, (1954 - 1959), followed by Vision On and Titch & Quackers, (1967 - 1977), Take Hart, (1978 - 1984), Hartbeart, (1984 - 1993) which was probably his most famous show and which I recall watching, Art Box Bunch, (1995 - 1996) and Smart Hart, (1999 - 2000).  He was awarded a BAFTA in 1978 for his beloved Plasticine characters and a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998.  Hart also designed the iconic Blue Peter logo.  He retired in 2001.  His wife Jean Shingle who he married in 1953 passed away in 2003.  Hart's funeral was held at Christ Church, Shamley Green in Surrey.  His daughter Carolyn (who has 2 children of her own) recalled "I remember being evry small and having a bad dream late one night.  To comfort me you lifted me out of bed and took me downstairs where you fed me with Heinz tomato soup and read to me from Winnie the Pooh.  I remember begging you to collect me from school, so that the other children could see that you really were my dad, and you did".

Hart had served as an officer in the First Gurkha Rifles before his career took off in television and a lone Gurkha Soldier played bagpipes at the funeral.  The attendees were all invited to contribute a brush stroke to a canvas prepared in his memory.


Edward Upward, an early friend of W. H. Auden passed away on 13.  He took part in a recent (very rare) TV documentary on Auden's life.  He was the longest living British writer.  Born on 9 September 1903 in Romford he attended Repton School where he befriended Isherwood.  Isherwood introduced him to Auden in a restaurant in Soho in 1927 although they had corresponded before and Auden had sent him a number of his poems the previous year when Upward had been teaching in Cornwall.  Around this time they also visited France when Auden went off with a boy he bumped into on the train.  He bought the boy home who had a revolver with him and threatened to kill himself.  Auden had to give him 'a badly-neeeded shaking up'.[1]

Once Auden put on a false beard when he came to Scarborough to meet Upward in 1931.  For some reason his cab to the station was late and Auden had to go to the toilet to take off his beard.  Another time Upward was walking along the drive to meet Auden when he heard a deep sound coming out of the air saying "Mr Upward, Mr Upward".  It was Auden up in a tree sounding like "an accusing Jehovah".[2]

Upward graduated from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge in the '20s and joined the Communist Party in the '30s which he left in 1948 along with his wife Hilda Percival (believing its policies were no longer revolutionary) though he remained committed to Socialist causes throughout his long life.  Upward married in 1936 and had one son and a daughter (who pre-deceased him in 1995).  Upward was a novelist and short story writer and was awarded the Benson Medal in 2005 by the Royal Society of Literature.  Some of his early prose had been an influence on Auden's poetry of that period.

Although they had not met since the 1930s, Upward was of the mindset that:
He seemed to have deliberately chosen not to become the truly great poet that I was sure he would have become.  I had never doubted that he would have a permanent place among the English poets, but I had come to think - and I still think - that it will not be as high a place as it could have been. 
           Edward Upward.  'Remembering the earlier Auden', Adam International Review, 1973 - 1974.  22.
It seems that Auden and Upward parted ways after Auden was angered at his repudiating Isherwood for turning to religion.  Nevertheless, Edward Mendelson in Later Auden surmises that Auden had spotted a theological point in Upward's appraisal of Forster's literary technique.  Upward said that Forster's technique was "based on the tea-table: instead of trying to screw all his scenes up to the highest possible pitch, he tones them down until they sound like mother's-meeting gossip."[3]

Auden explained in his essay on Joyce:
The Pagan thought that the Good Life was relatively easy for the nobly-born and impossible to the low-born; the Christian, on the other hand, thought that, to human vision at least, the Good Life was pretty difficult for all, but impossible to none.  The effect of this on the subject matter of art was enormous, instead of the artist being confined to the over-life-size, the melodramatic character and situation, any character or situation was interesting that could show spiritual growth or decay; what mattered was the intensity of effort with relation to the capacity of a given character to make it: Christianity introduced the tea-table to literature.[4]
[1] Isherwood, Christopher.  Lions & Shadows.  (1935).
[2] Upward, Edward.  'Remembering the early Auden', Adam International Review, 1973 - 1974.  19.
[3] Isherwood. Ibid.
[4] Auden, W. H.  'James Joyce & Richard Wagner', Common Sense, March 1941.  The Complete Works of W. H.                          Auden: Prose 1939 - 1948.  Edited by Edward Mendelson.  117.