Tag Archives: In Search of London

Christmas greetings!

In Search of London 1952 enhancedThe cover of the 1952 edition of “In Search of London

It’s strangely difficult to find a suitable quote from HVM about Christmas, but I thought this one, from one of his most popular works, and one of my personal favourites, might set the mood. To me it captures a wonderful, entirely familiar, scene perfectly and is clearly written from the heart. I am struggling though, to remember the last time I heard a “warning ping” as I opened a shop door!

Morton prepares the scene by describing the “bookmen” as ” the book readers, the book hunters, the book tasters, the book maniacs…” who haunt the bookshops of the bustling Charing Cross Road, London:

Lost to the world that touches their elbows as they stand there, the bookmen pry and pore into the books, looking and seeking and sometimes even finding. I love to remember the hours I have spent there, perhaps on spring mornings, sometimes in winter, oblivious of cold feet, when the shop doors open to the warning ping of a little bell, and often in the evening when the lamps have been lighted and the titles shine out splendidly in gold, behind the plate-glass windows.

from “In Search of London“, 1951, chpt 10

Wishing all members of the HV Morton Society and readers of the blog a very Merry Christmas and a good New Year,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

This piece was originally distributed as HVM Society Membership Notice 2014-12-24

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Call me a cab

In Search of London 2008

While reading HV Morton’s 1951 “In Search of London”, reader Peter Dron came across this quote in section 6 of chapter 10:

The men who drive the taxi-cabs of London are naturally a race apart. I have known them, and have admired many of them, for years. Some of the old stagers used to drive horse cabs, but that generation is now vanishing…

The other day I struck an old driver who might have been a thin relative of Bairnsfather’s “Old Bill”. I sat looking at the nape of his aged neck, his greying hair, the way he dodged in and out of the traffic and wondering what age he was. When we parted I gave him an unusually large tip because I liked him and because he was old. He looked at the money in the palm of his hand, smiled and winked at me and said:

“Thank yer Guv’nor. Don’t often meet a toff these days, and that’s a fact!”

What a strange conversational throw back to a dead age! He remembered the age of “toffs”, “swells” and “nobs”.

“You see this ‘ere,” he said, still gazing at the money. Do you know what I’d rather ‘ave than this ‘ere? I’ll tell yer… a blinkin’ fat rump steak and a pint o’ porter.”

He then leaned towards me and deplored the age in wich we live. He was an old snob. He loved toffs. He liked “a gentleman”. You could always tell a “real gentleman” from the other kind. Not ‘arf you couldn’t! But nowadays, driving a “keb” in London, blimey what a queer collection of odds and ends you meet. Not ‘arf you didn’t! But in the old days… Ah, the old days, when you could get a rump steak and a pint o’ porter… them was the days, guv’nor, them was the days, and we shan’t see them again. Not ‘arf we shan’t…

And away he went.

Peter was reminded of an article he had written for the Telegraph in 2001 about the London taxi (the TX1 apparently) and, in particuar, those mysterious little green huts which act like docking stations – little taxi Shangri-Las – across London where black cabs and their drivers congregate to be among their own kind for a while, out of the public eye. Had his wish been granted, it is likely that Morton’s driver would have enjoyed his “blinkin’ fat rump steak and a pint o’ porter” in one of these.

IMG_4330 small

Peter informs us they are something of an endangered species, with considerable provenance and great historical and cultural significance; while at the same time possessing a rather amusing air of having been dropped down, more or less at random, from somewhere above, just like Dr Who’s police box.

They are certainly captivating and when I came across one during a recent family visit to the capital something told me I had to photograph it, and I’m glad I did. Having read Peter’s article I heartily agree with him – it’s rather splendid and surprising that so many of those cabmen’s huts have somehow survived wars and ‘planners’ – not ‘arf it ain’t!

Niall Taylor 20 May 2014

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Merry Christmas!

Originally distributed as HVM Society Membership Notice 2012-12-24

Just a short note, dashed off between rain, floods and disastrous mince pies, to wish all admirers of HV Morton and book fans generally, wherever you are and of whatever religious persuasion you may be, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

I tried hard to find a suitable quote from HVM about Christmas or winter, but couldn’t find anything which struck quite the right note. I did however come across this celebration, by Morton, of  the “bookmen” – which is to say “the book readers, the book hunters, the book tasters, the book maniacs…” who haunt the bookshops of the bustling Charing Cross Road, London – that captured the mood and I thought might be appreciated by librarious persons during the festive season:

“Lost to the world that touches their elbows as they stand there, the bookmen pry and pore into the books, looking and seeking and sometimes even finding. I love to remember the hours I have spent there, perhaps on spring mornings, sometimes in winter, oblivious of cold feet, when the shop doors open to the warning ping of a little bell, and often in the evening when the lamps have been lighted and the titles shine out splendidly in gold, behind the plate-glass windows.”

from “In Search of London”, 1951, chpt 10

Finally, anyone who, like me, will be raising a glass of  the old uisge beatha at the turn of the year can take comfort in the knowledge that, according to this web-site, the top three books to read while drinking whisky are all by HV Morton.

Sláinte mhaith!

With seasonal best wishes,

Niall Taylor
24 December 2012

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Armistice Day

Armistice Day Commemoration

(This was originally posted to HV Morton members as HVM Society Snippets – No. 145)

In February this year, in King’s Lynn, Norfolk; Florence Green died peacefully at the age of 110. A modest woman, she had worked much of her life at a local hotel and during her spare time was heavily involved with the British Legion – knitting clothes, blankets and toys for children. Before her marriage at the age of nineteen, she had also served as a mess steward in the Women’s Royal Air Force and, with her passing, the world lost its last living link with those people who served in the forces during the First World War.

Remembrance day is approaching. A commemoration of the day when, after more than four years of continuous warfare and roughly 20 million dead, the guns fell silent across the battlefields of Europe and the World on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in the year 1918.

The hope at the time was that this had been the war to end all wars. Surely, after such madness, the carnage would never be repeated? We know now this was in vain, and, little more than two decades following the signing of the armistice at Compiègne in France, the conflagration ignited again. It seems the urge to warfare may simply be part of the human condition.

Twenty-six years after the excerpt below, in his 1951 book “In Search of London”, HV Morton, in somber mood, described post-Second-World-War London as a city “of jagged ruins and hatless crowds”. The bare heads of its populace were symbolic of a people who were, “graver and sadder”  than before – people, Morton wrote, whose courage had been “expended in many years of air warfare… the air raid wardens, the fire watchers, the firemen”. Knowing how the hopes for peace in the years following the Great War had been so thoroughly dashed, Morton briefly considered the possibility of yet another, third world war in the new atomic age.

The following contemplation of the Cenotaph in London is from Morton’s “The Heart of London” and was written only six years after the last shot of the First World War was fired:

§

The wind comes down Whitehall and pulls the flags, exposing a little more of their red, white, and blue, as if invisible fingers were playing with them. The plinth is vacant. The constant changing trickle of a crowd that later in the day will stand here for a few moments has not arrived. There is no one here.

No one? I look, but not with my eyes, and I see that the Empire is here: England, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India… here — springing in glory from our London soil.

*    *    *    *    *

In a dream I see those old mad days ten years ago. How the wind fingers the flags…

I remember how, only a few weeks ago, as a train thundered through France, a woman sitting opposite to me in the dining car said, ‘The English!’ I looked through the window over the green fields, and saw row on row, sharply white against the green, rising with the hill and dropping again into the hollows — keeping a firm line as they had been taught to do — a battalion on its last parade.

The Cenotaph and no one there? That can never be.

§

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor (originally distributed 2nd November 2012)

HV Morton Society members who would like to, can read Morton’s 1927 account of a pilgrimage of 700 mothers of the fallen to the Menin Gate at Ypres in Belgium in the on-line archive.

For an explanation of the connection between the Cenotaph in Whitehall and the grave of the unknown soldier in Westminster Abbey, have a look at the British Legion website.

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