Monthly Archives: October 2013

HV Morton on the Kindle: Something which won’t be on my Christmas List!

This piece was originally distributed as HVM Society Snippets – No.128 on 3rd Ocstober 2011

It is 85 years since H.V. Morton made his journeys around England which became immortalised as “In Search of England”.  One of the most evocative passages for me is the point where he visits St Anthony in Roseland in Cornwall.  While staying with some hospitable locals Morton is invited to trudge up a muddy lane in order to experience the contemporary pinnacle of what we would refer to today as “information technology”: a valve radio.  He meditates on the marvels of this modern miracle and shares the amazement of the locals as he listens to the tinkle of coffee cups and the rhythmic thrumming of a dance band in the Savoy Hotel, hundreds of miles away in London.  Morton was clearly at ease with modern technology.

Kindle

So, it was probably not in the spirit of the great man when I felt a small shudder travel up my spine as I read on the Amazon web-site recently that this first of his series of travelogues is now available in a “Kindle” edition.  The Kindle is an electronic reader, a device claiming to be everything a book is and more.  The adverts show us pictures of actors laughing while whipping Kindles out of over-sized bags (“see how small and convenient it is”) and desperately trying to appear as if they are enjoying themselves while their Kindle is exposed to sand on the beach or being enthusiastically licked by the pet dog (“see how rugged and portable it is”).  With thousands of different volumes stored on a single device you need never worry about having to find a real book on a real shelf ever again – everything is downloadable on a whim.

Well, I’m afraid I am unable to share the enthusiasm of its promoters, hard as this will be for Amazon to bear, I’m sure.  It’s just that I love actual books too much; even the most battered volume in my collection means more to me than the blank, empty eye of an electronic reader ever could. The feel, look, sound and even smell of pages as they are turned beneath one’s fingers is a million miles away from the cold caress of a plastic screen while little computer sounds attempt to mimic the noise of real pages. My books are friends to me, good and convivial companions through life’s journey.  I know each one of them intimately, they represent a living connection with things past and present – people and places I have known and visited down the years (I just have to look at my copy of “In Scotland Again” to be taken back in my mind’s eye to a cottage on the Mull of Kintyre on the shores of Loch Caolisport).

To me reading a book isn’t just about reading words, it is a personal and sensual experience.  Each book, with its individual creases and imperfections, its fonts and layout has a patina, a character of its own that no electronic device could ever capture, no matter how ‘convenient’ it claims to be (although who ever complained that a book’s batteries have run down!).  Some may see me being a “stick in the mud” (as my mother would say) by not moving with the times and keeping up with the latest technology, but that’s not entirely true.  I love the computer age, I am fascinated with word processors, the internet, email and MP3 players.  But books are different, they are my technological line in the sand, “thus far and no further!” I say, and the electronic reader is, for me, a step too far!

Anyone wishing to know more about the Kindle edition of In Search of England should follow this link.

With best wishes,
Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

p.s. Peter Devenish of the HV Morton Society comments: “Morton certainly was interested in new technology, even in his later years. In his letters he described how delighted he was when TV came to South Africa; and he was as excited as a 15-year-old with the first landing on the Moon. Whether the Kindle would have been the “technological line in the sand” for HVM I don’t know but, with his great love for his library and books generally, I suspect he would have shared Niall’s view.”

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A few Morton Connections

I had just sat down to enjoy a delicious “Pizzetta” from the Glastonbury market, accompanied by a pickled gherkin and a handful of Greek olives, all washed down with a glass of Coolwater Bay Sauvignon Blanc when an excited squeak from the other-half announced that she had stumbled across another HV Morton-related link while surfing the information superhighway.

I say “excited squeak” – it was more of an “oh no, not again“-type expostulation to be quite frank. I’m afraid the dearly-belovéd doesn’t entirely share her patriarch’s passion for all things Morton – a failing of which I am happily tolerant; it takes all sorts to make a world after all and it behooves a good Mortonite to be forgiving of another’s shortcomings.

In Search of England 1952 edn

As it happens I already had in mind a post to air a few of the various connections I have come across recently concerning Morton, the vast number of which are a testament to his phenomenal popularity during the early and mid-20th century. An author, born some 120 years, ago who still regularly crops up on random internet searches has clearly had a tremendous impact on popular culture at some point.

What Alison had discovered was a brief but very significant reference to Morton’s “In Search of England”, the 1927 publication that arguably ushered in the period of his greatest popularity. The link is on a blog, entitled “Socks for the Boys!” by historian and author Alison Twells, featuring a series of excerpts from the diaries of the writer’s Aunt Norah who lived from 1925 to 2009.

The material on the blog gives a fascinating insight into the concerns, fears and everyday events of Norah’s life. Particularly interesting for me was the entry on the page with the heading “Hitler Trouble“, written when Norah was just 14 years old (by my calculation), which begins “31st August 1939: Ma & I went down for tea to Helen’s. Came back early. Went down to Hills & post. Started to read ‘In Search of England’ by HV Morton. Cold. Hitler trouble.

If you have an eye for detail you will not be surprised to realise that what comes next is not this young girl’s impressions of Morton’s travelogue; her reading is interrupted in no uncertain manner by the outbreak of the Second World War, as Hitler invades Poland, and Britain declares war on Germany over the course of the next three days. The day after war is declared Norah’s diary records the sinking of the passenger ship Athenia and ends simply with the comment “sunny“.

Alison Twells’s intention is to eventually publish a book based on her aunt’s diaries and I wish her the best of luck. If her blog is anything to go by this will be a worthy and enlightening project.

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HV Morton's London

I have no idea what the connection Morton has with hosiery but, after “Socks for the Boys!“, the second website on my list is called “Sockless musings from London“. The blog entry announces a “One a day audio challenge” and goes on to review “HV Morton’s London“, a compilation of his three earlier books “The Heart of London“, “The Spell of London“, and “The Nights of London“.

The reviewer, a Canadian writer who goes by the name of “Sockless“, obviously likes the book quite a bit judging by her comments, and reports it is her intention to share this out-of-print work by posting a section from it online every day for a year.

Sadly however, this is the only post on the blog, her project remains unrealised, and my comment about it remains unanswered. This is a great pity – if you are still out there Sockless I hope everything is OK and that you might return to your challenge at some point in the future.

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4862506

The final entry today (I think I’ve gone on quite long enough, don’t you!) is a bit of an oddity that I have sat on for some years. It is part of the Hackney Podcast, a series of recordings about the East End London Borough of Hackney. Hackney Podcast volume 18 is a wonderfully atmospheric soundscape, based around readings from “HV Morton’s London” interspersed with selections of street sounds and general goings-on over a 24 hour period, including disoriented clubbers, partying squatters, late night booksellers and market traders opening up for the day. There are also other historical and contextual readings about the area.

Whoever thought of doing this must have quite a vision – the works of HV Morton and the hustle of the modern-day east end wouldn’t necessarily be the most obvious things to put alongside one another but the melange really works and provides a real insight into what it must have been like for Morton as a young  journalist wandering the streets looking for people to talk to and places to see, to use as material for his newspaper column.

After listening to the full 30 minutes of this haunting work,  you are left with the impression that actually, despite superficial differences, Morton himself might well have recognised many of the kinds of people featured in the production and would have discovered much useful material for “HV Morton’s 21st Century London“!

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

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