Tuesday 27 April 2021

Madness & Taxes In The 27th Kingdom

C16th manuscript illumination

Alice Thomas Ellis, The 27th Kingdom, 1982

Have you ever had a difference of opinion with the Taxman, Dear Reader? It is a tiresome affair. But one can be grateful that we're not under the C14th reign of Ivan I, Prince of Moscow and Grand Prince Vladimir, whereupon tax collectors took a rather more hands-on approach to extracting pesos from reluctant subjects for their Sovereign overlord, as is fetchingly illuminated above. 

But at some point, the tables must have turned even in Russia, as Aunt Irene, hailing from a family of Roman Catholic émigrés who fled from that hallowed homeland across lands and countries and is presently finding herself at odds with the Inland Revenue in the 27th Kingdom, reflects:

Some minor official had been persecuting her for months with trivial enquiries about her means; but since she couldn't bear forms and had a profound conviction that her need of her own money was greater than the government's, she had ignored him. She felt the noble irritation of a fine spirit called from viewing the sunset to inspect the blockage in the kitchen sink. Her ancestors, she thought, would have him boiled. In oil.
I suspect that a general survey across most Kingdoms today would find that Taxmen operate somewhere betwixt the thrashing of subjects and being themselves boiled in oil. While for the taxpayer, these outgoings are still an affliction to be borne like madness. 

Aunt Irene went through the various forms of tragedy that afflict the living: madness and death duties for the upper classes, hunger and indignity for the lower, the eldest son's marriage to the girl on the haberdashery counter for the middle.

Warm and generous Aunt Irene, who presides over her cosy dominion in 1954 Chelsea, finds plenty with which to philosophise further in Alice Thomas Ellis's little gem of a 1982 Booker-Prize-shortlisted novel, The 27th Kingdom. 

"'Why are you looking like that?' asked Kyril.

'I was wondering why people put ferrets in their trousers,' said Aunt Irene.

'Thanatos,' said Kyril. 'An illustration of the death wish.'

'What I wish,' said Aunt Irene, 'is that you'd never read Freud. It's had a very leaden effect on your conversation.'"

The Ferret
Thomas Bewick wood engraving, 1790

As you may guess, this book finds natural endorsement by the Flying With Hands Department of Whimsy for its light and fanciful touch, as opposed to the withering review I found by a New York Times reviewer (bandying about such words as cocksure, facetious, smirky, tired, done to death - phooey! and one who evidently cannot enjoy 150-odd pages of slightly mad company.) Kyril, by the way, is the odious nephew of Aunt Irene and rather considers himself irresistible for both his beauty and his charming wisdom:

"'He's one of those people,' said Kyril, 'who once they go into analysis never never come out - which wouldn't matter if they'd keep it to themselves, but then they never talk about anything else. It gets to be a way of life, and they become extremely earnest and keep examining their motives and looking straight into other people's eyes, and yakking on about transference and ambivalence and complexes until you could murder them. It renders them entirely unfit for human society.'"

It is into her bohemian yet genteel home, Dancing Master House, that Aunt Irene (whose "own looks had gone - disappeared under waves of creamy, curdling flesh. How odd that bones, reminders of old mortality, should be considered essential to beauty in this perverse age") takes in a luminous, Caribbean postulant, Valentine. And the assembled cast of lodger (sad Little Mr. Sirocco) and Kyril's tormented lovers, char-women Mrs. Mason (fallen on hard times and resentful) and Mrs. O'Connor (with the shady side-hustles and jolly), and a cat with more sense than most of them has a mysterious new member.

Valentine it seems, has been sent by Irene's sister, the Mother Superior of a Welsh convent, to rub shoulders with the earthly and hopefully lose some of her unsettling, slightly saintly qualities. For in amongst the still pocked, post-war landscape of London there is plenty of space for a thaumaturge to float relatively unnoticed among the mortal and venial sinners, and take the pressure off the quiet convent.

Thaumaturgy in action, or
A Miracle of Saint Joseph of Cupertino
Placido Costanzi, 1750

But it's not all sweetness and light in this slight, supernatural tale. Times are hard and housing is still short. The recent war has left its scars on the city and its people, and opportunists abound. "There was, thought Aunt Irene, a glaring thread of madness in human affairs which shed about it a short, confounding light towards which people were drawn like death-drugged gnats." 

Not to mention that lurking tax man. After a worrying visit from him, Aunt Irene is served a restorative cup of tooth-stripping tea in her own good china by the jollier of her charwomen, Mrs. O'Connor. "The world was upside down. On the whole this pleased Aunt Irene as much as it angered Mrs Mason. It was more interesting that way, but it was hard on the porcelain."

Image credits: 1: GrangerAcademic.com; 2: Flying With Hands; 3: V&A Museum; 4: Wikimedia Commons

Saturday 24 April 2021

Things Are Not Set In Stone


Hello, Dear Reader. There are changes coming in my neck of the blogosphere, so I've been a bit busy in the toolshed of this one, trying to fathom out how some of the pulleys and levers work. It's not really my natural habitat, and has frankly been rather tedious, especially as the, ahem, quality outpourings of my mind have been meanwhile accumulating like dust bunnies in the Draft Department. Such a mess there!

For any who may be interested, new botherings lie with Emails, RSS and what even is it and if my life has got to this point without knowing then why should I now? Is Mailchimp a rabid primate or not? Would just switching to WordPress make these unfathomables go away? It has Plugins, which are nought to do with domestic appliances. See what I mean? Tedious. And means not a scrap to anyone with no Blogge.

In other News, reading has been continuing apace, and some book spoilers will be coming your way in due course. Brilliant new history podcast entertainments, Age of Victoria, comes courtesy of sidebar resident Ur-spo who is seen about the Comments Department. We've been Out to another baroque concert and seen the ballet, reviews there also in the clogged pipeline, and my own dancing classes have resumed to supplement the weekly tap dancing. Life is presently heading toward the classification of Normal.

So this little salutation is more of a Proof of Life missive. Middling success will be the outcome if this blog post reaches you in a seemly and timely manner. Else it shall be back to the workshop.

Image credits: Flying With Hands

Tuesday 13 April 2021

Fare Thee Well, Ross Poldark


Sigh ... the Affair is now over ...

It's been forty-three years but I've finally shown Ross Poldark the door. The affair is over, the love is gone, and I should be bereft but my heart is stoney cold. It must be the shock. 

Best-friend-Abigail and I were utterly devoted to the machinations of the Poldark dynasty when their lives first came to our television screens when we were twelve. She of the classy taste and my partner-in-crime in devouring the scores of Jean Plaidy books in our school's library, we were utterly romantically ripe for falling for broody Ross when he walked into our living rooms. It was the first adult drama we both got to watch - high school and all meant homework and no more 7:00pm bed-time! - so the impact was decades-lasting, as it's turned out.

When my family moved back to Sydney from Our-Nation's Capital after the heady year of our best-friendship, the weekly letters between Abigail and me the next year were filled with the minutiae of the Poldark-Warleggan goings-on each episode. In the way that television used to be, you only got to see these things once, but the detail lives on for ages. History, romance and intrigue and dastardly blood-feuding set on the Cornish coastline in the late 18th Century is nigh on perfect entertainment for a twelve-year-old me, and a fifty-five-year old me. Or so you would think.

The first seven Poldark books up for grabs!

Fast forward to the early years of this century and lo! a tidy package of Winston Graham's novels were sitting on a shelf in a quaint country-café-cum-second-hand-bookshop and I immediately pounced on them. These beauties brought everything back in a rush. How could I not have realised before then that these books were just out in the world waiting for me? They went straight to the top of each and every book pile in the casa and were then foisted onto Mr. P who had only hazy memories, if at all, about the 1970s television sensation, his own family's single television at the time being likely tuned to the Other Station.

And then, joy of joys, the fabulous and coincidental announcement of another retelling of these stories coming to our screens! In our excitement, we tracked down the originals on DVD to binge watch in anticipation. It was all as I remembered and surprisingly not too dated, but reading the books did fill in a lot of detail about the whys and wherefores of the characters, the country, Cornwall, Methodism and mining, politics and banking, indeed the whole shebang of the era.

Then in 2015 the new Ross Poldark in our lives enters, a.k.a one Aidan Turner!

Ross Poldark surveying the Cornish scene
With the infamous torso under wraps

Everything was fresh yet familiar, Demelza and Elizabeth impossibly glamorous, Ross and George Warleggan nicely at odds with one another, the sets and costumes lush and spot on. Series 1 had us seduced, and probably most of the boxed-set-addicted world.

As familiar as an old slipper, Chavenage House a.k.a. Trenwith
A costume drama staple location

It was gratifying to know that all the actors in the land who’d learned to ride and wield a sword were in gainful employment, and while Demelza looked confident on a horse, it was a good couple of series before she was kneading dough in the kitchen scenes like a proper olden days kitchen wench, as it appears rusticated domestic skills aren’t taught at Actors School. But she becomes capable with a broom, too, and Ross seemed a natural with a scythe.

Prudie and Demelza busy at the Costume Coalface 

So the years roll by. Initially, the year-long wait was agony until the next series pops up. Technology is also moving at a pace, so we can start storing earlier series digitally and do catch ups before each new series. But by the fourth series I’m starting to flag. I’m not sure what’s wrong. Is it the lack of, well, verisimilitude that’s starting to get to me? The impossibly modern and perfect skin and teeth on the peasantry? The alarming amount of time Ross & Co. need to whip their tops off? The sub-plots aren’t of any interest to me? I don’t know. So Ross Poldark and I have a trial separation.

I’m not even sure how long it was that we stopped seeing one another but earlier this year I felt I needed some closure. The latest series had been waiting neglected and unwatched and sort of cluttering up the bandwidth and so I dusted it off and watched the final series on my own. 

In truth, it was with some determination that I saw it through to the finish and all the aforementioned niggling complaints I had were magnified. I had absolutely no interest in the side stories, I disliked most of the characters and in the end, the only character who I cared for was Horace, so it was rather gratifying that he had some lines and a bit of drama around the penultimate episode. He was such a good little actor and he kept me going.

Horace the Pug

So that’s the story. We’ve officially broken up. Production has ended anyway but this last version won’t ever be played again. The books have gone down to the condominio book exchange as shelf space is precious here and the year of plague has brought more books into the casa. The 1970s DVD boxed set will stay in the cupboard and might get dusted off, just for old time’s sake, when I’m in my dotage, for I’m going to be mature about this and fare him well, and Ross Poldark can go off to be fascinating for decades of someone else’s life now.

Image credits: 1, 3: via Pinterest; 2: Flying With Hands; 4: Wikimedia Commons; 5: via Twitter; 6: via Google

Saturday 3 April 2021

But 'Tis Not Chocolate!

The Local Low-Cal Egg
a.k.a. Zhang Yangen, Sea's Nest, 2012

In other disappointments, the Hot Cross Buns this year are a failure. I fear I killed the yeast as I was a bit distracted by trying to watch Imeneo when I should have been simply listening whilst multitasking in the kitchen. There shan't be an accompanying pic as any fule kno what Rock Cakes look like. Not to worry, there are only twelve to get through and I'll give it another shot next week. 

Meanwhile, it is most definitely autumn around these parts for this is the sight that gladdens the eye when we go to the park now:

It was rather busy in the park as the weather was Glorious yesterday. But we found a park bench in the shade behind this sweep of Anemone hupehensis and settled in for a read. We were near enough to watch the passing parade of dog-walkers, pedallers and pedestrians but secluded enough to be just us and a family of foraging magpies on this bit of grass. 

While Mr. P was busy with spies, I found myself suitably sun-dressed for my choice:

Image credits: Flying With Hands

Bats In The Belfry