Tag Archives: Travel

The Father of the Dog

A vocation as a veterinary surgeon has its fair share of highs and lows. It is a privilege to be able to assist animals and those who care for them but there are also those occasions when sadly the time comes when it is no longer possible to do more. At this point it is both a blessing and a painful duty sometimes to be able to offer help by means of a final act of kindness.

Here is an account by HV Morton of just such a heart rending situation as he illustrates both the pleasure and the pain which we willingly enjoy and endure when we take an animal into our hearts.

It is from Chapter 8 of “In The Steps of the Master”, first published in 1934. Early in the chapter Morton describes how he came across a dog, a Saluki, lying in the dust in the village of Banias, dying of hunger. Unable to walk, she was covered in flies. Morton writes “… her eyes were lost in a world of unutterable pain… I had never in my life seen an animal in such a ghastly condition”.

Angered and profoundly moved but unable to help her himself Morton instead prevails upon “a nice, gentle Arab in an old suit of khaki” whose job it was to sweep out the shrine at El Kedir, and gives him ten shillings to look after the dog and try to restore her to health. He promises to return then departs to continue his travels with mixed feelings as to whether he has acted for the best.

Sometime later, having thought of the starving Saluki of Banias every day since, to the bewilderment of his driver, he disrupts his intended route and makes a return visit, desperate for news of her:

In the Steps of the Master

… as soon as I appeared the whole village gathered round, but not with the grim, hard expression which terrifies nervous tourists: they were all laughing and smiling, and a cry went up “Abu kelb, Abu kelb!” which means “Father of the dog.”

The Arab is a great hand-shaker. I went round the group shaking hands, telling the driver to ask them how the dog was.

“Come and see, O Abu Kelb!” was the reply.

And a crowd of bare-legged little children went running up between the mud walls announcing the great and spectacular news that “Abu kelb, the father of the dog,” had returned.

I was led to the squalid little hovel behind the mud walls. The crowd was so great that we had to shut the gate, but the children climbed up on the wall to watch. A white mare was tethered in the yard. A douanier, whom I had not seen before, came out of the house, dressed in a pair of khaki breeches and a grey army shirt. He shook me warmly by the hand, explaining in French that he was a lodger in the house, but had unfortunately been out on duty when I had been there before. Now, however, how happy he was to make my acquaintance! How glad he was that I had come back…

All the time the douanier bubbled with affability and I gazed round for the dog, but could not see her. My heart sank. So she was dead! Perhaps it was just as well. But I was too familiar with the habits of the Arabs to ask any questions. All would be known in time.

The douanier, it appeared, was an Armenian from Aleppo. He had a great affection for England. He had learnt English from a priest at a mission school in Aleppo. Ah, if some day he could go to London! He would like that very much… So he rattled on. Then the crowd parted and the man who sweeps out the shrine of El Kedir came up with the Saluki.

I could hardly believe my eyes. She could stand! Her hind legs trembled woefully and her tail, bare and mangy, was still well down. But her eyes had lost the fear of death, although they were still full of pain.

The Arab had made her a little coat from a pair of khaki trousers and he had bound up the wounds on her forelegs with pieces of rag. The Armenian explained that he had bathed her wounds with wine and oil the remedy which the Good Samaritan used on the wounded traveller.

The dog seemed to know in some way that I was the cause of her present well-being and she did something which completely finished me. She walked up to me and just rested her bruised muzzle on my knee. I decided at that moment that, grotesque and blown out with starvation as she was, wounded, mangy and sore, I would somehow take her home with me to England.

I thought how extraordinary it is that a show of interest and a little money can make so much difference to any living thing. The poor creature that a week ago had been stoned and kicked about was now a feature of the village. She was the protege of the rich, mad, Englishman.

I asked the Armenian what would happen if I did not take her away.

“This man,” he replied, pointing to the Arab; “will look after her as long as you pay, but when you stop paying he will turn her loose, because he is too poor to buy food for her.”

I told him of my intention of taking the dog to Jerusalem. He shook his head. The Palestine Customs would not allow her to enter in her present condition. But if I got an order from the Government? I suggested. Yes, it might be done.

So we agreed that they should continue the feeding and the bathing of the dog, and I handed out some more baksheesh.

“That is the name of the dog,” I explained. “I shall call her ‘Baksheesh’ ”

This was a joke that everybody understood!

I went off, promising that I would either call again at Banias or send someone in my name to take “Baksheesh” into Palestine. And as I went off I heard the children shout ing “Abu kelb!”

Weeks later I got a letter which read:

My dear friend, Mr. Morton, I am verry glade I get a great satisfaction by this relation which commenced with a dog. You can be able for its hospitality. I brought a big jar of sea water from Sidon by which I wash it evry day, morning and evening. Now it is better than bifore. I hope that we will not forget ourselves, and I am allways redy to execute your commissions. Excuse me for my mistakes, be cause the last war of Turkey in 1930 wich resulted after two years with all Christchen immegration has destroyed our futur and high life. God be with you till we meet.

JOHN.”

It was from the excellent Customs Officer at Banias. So he was bathing the dog with water from Sidon.

That sounded excellent.

In a few days I was able, through the kindness of the Palestine Government, to get poor “Baksheesh” through the Customs and into the kennels of the S.P.C.A. in Jerusalem, an organization that, although dying for lack of money, is striving hard to make the Arab understand that animals can feel and suffer.

The report was encouraging. I saw myself taking “Baksheesh” for walks in Hyde Park and for long tramps over the Sussex Downs. Then one day I received a letter saying that she was dead. She was too weak to stand treatment.

“Knowing how much you cared,” wrote Mrs. Reynolds, a member of the Society, “I have buried her in my own garden, where you can think of her sleeping among the rock flowers.”

When I was near Banias again I made a detour to thank John for all his kindness. The Arabs and the children crowded round my car with cries of “Abu kelb!” looking and peering into the car for “Baksheesh.” I told them she was dead.

“It is the will of Allah!” they said.

And they looked at me with the respectful sympathy due to any man who tries to defy the inscrutable will of God. Even John, the Good Samaritan, said it was a good thing, and that when I went to Aleppo he would give me two much finer dogs. Even he did not understand that the crucified eyes of poor “Baksheesh” had marked her out from all the other dogs upon this earth.

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor,
Glastonbury, Somerset, England (Originally circulated as HVM Society Snippets – No.217).

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Tut-ankh-amen’s Gold: Into the Land of Egypt

I hope you will forgive me when I say I am feeling a little pleased with myself at the moment. I have just managed to acquire one of the rarest examples of Mortoniana there is!

A large booklet in heavy-weight paper, its silvery front page bears the title ‘EGYPT‘, written in blue letters which are shaped from stylised papyrus bundles. The cover is enclosed between protective transparent sheets of blue plastic and the whole thing bound with spiral wire. It measures approximately 315 mm (12.5 inches) in height by 235 mm (9.5 inches) in width and comprises 31 unnumbered pages. From the style and content, it appears to be aimed at attracting tourists to that ancient land, particularly American, English and French tourists.

The first section is an introductory article by HV Morton entitled Tut-ankh-amen’s Gold: Into the Land of Egypt. This is laid out on four pages, each decorated on one margin with depictions of the art and heiroglyphs of Ancient Egypt in blue. The text is very similar to sections on pages 55 to 57 of Morton’s book “Middle East” (published by Methuen, London, on 5 June 1941).

Unfortunately, just to temper my joy, my newly acquired copy has obviously got a little damp at some point in the past – the metal binding has rusted and, most frustratingly, the pages of Morton’s article have stuck together in places and when pulled apart again some of the text has been lost.

However, nothing is too much trouble for the HVM Society so, looking for all the world like extreme archaeologist, Indiana Jones, (only without his rugged good looks and Hollywood lifestyle), I held the pages up to a strong light source and managed to peer through them, despite their thickness, in order to get an idea what the missing sections originally said. Eventually I was able to make a transcript of the piece for the archives.

The second section comprises ten poems by Ali Asir-El-Din interpersed with several stock photographs depicting Egyptian scenes (the photographs are by: M.C. Salisbury, G.W. Allan, Alban, Photo Kodak Egypt, H.J. Fresco, Royal Egyptian Air Force, and the Egyptian Museum Cairo).

I haven’t been able to find much about the poet, google is unusually tight-lipped about him. And, although I am no judge of poetry, the reason for this may be, at least from the examples published here, that he is no Shakespeare, in truth he may barely even be a McGonagall I’m afraid. Here’s an example:

BY THE NILE

The swiftly running river,
Moonbeams a-quiver
Within the trees

A white form, gowned and slender,
Eyes dark and tender,
And lips that please…

… and so on.

Drawing a (mystic) veil over this dodgy doggerel, the next section is a page of prose by a Claire Cowell (again, nothing seems to be available on the internet to suggest who Ms Cowell may have been), eulogizing the wonders of Ancient Egypt.

After this we have three illustrated maps depicting the course of the river Nile and the principal transport routes from Wady (now spelled Wadi) Halfa north, through Abu Simbel, Assuan, Thebes and Luxor to Cairo and the Nile Delta.

After a single page left blank for notes by the traveller the whole work is rounded off with a page of information for the benefit of the visitor: a list of routes by which to journey to Egypt, as well as exchange rates, hotels, taxis, hints concerning clothing considered suitable for the climate and a list of spots likely to be enjoyed by the tourist.

The booklet was designed and printed by Editions Mayeux, Paris and bound by Reliure Integrale Bree France et Etranger. In the opening article Morton mentions his witnessing of the opening of Tutankhamen’s tomb fourteen years previously so, since he was sending despatches from the tomb-site to the Daily Express in February 1923, presumably the booklet was published around 1937, although no specific date is given on the booklet itself. Morton presented a number of on-board lectures for the Hellenic Travel Club from 1935 to 1939 on cruises to the Middle East and it is possible the booklet is associated with one of the tours.

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England, 5 July 2017 (with gratetful thanks to Peter Devenish and O.H.)

(This article was originaly distibuted as HVM Society Snippets – No.215)

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Travel in War Time

Travel in Wartime p 01 small

Apparently there is a sporting event being held somewhere, in which British cyclists have been doing quite well. Gripping as the saturation coverage is, during discussions about the finer points of the Omnium and particularly when anyone attempts to explain the rules of the Points Race to me, I find my thoughts drifting, inexplicably, to things Mortonian.

HVM was a keen cyclist in his youth, frequently taking to the lanes and exploring the countryside near his boyhood home, in the halcyon days before the Great War. He is of course more famously known for his motoring trips between the wars around Great Britain in the seat of his little blue Bullnose Morris car which, in a whimsical moment, he named Maud. But his travels, and those of others motoring for pleasure were severely curtailed with the advent of the Second World War and the introduction of petrol rationing. It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good as the saying goes though, and the restrictions on motor travel were a boon to riders and manufacturers of the humble bicycle, who were able to take advantage of the now virtually clear roads.

In 1940 or thereabouts the Birmingham Small Arms company, which manufactured bicycles as well as sporting guns, began to publish an advertorial-type brochure called “Travel in War Time” and to give it away free when people wrote to them for their latest catalogue featuring the “Streamlight” range of bicycles.

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As you can see from the image above, the author was HV Morton; as they say in the introduction, BSA hoped it “might be regarded as an entirely new chapter in his brilliant series ‘In Search of England‘ etc.“. The fact it might also help boost sales would be an added bonus of course.

The pamphlets, each comprising twenty pages and some 2,200 words, must have been produced in their thousands but they had soft-covers, held together with a single, large stitch at the binding fold and sadly, very few have survived. Thus they are one of the more collectible pieces of Mortoniana which can be found.

There is inevitably an element of Morton having to make a virtue out of necessity in his writing as he puts on a brave face and makes a show of bemoaning people who, in the days before petrol rationing would travel carelessly – “They would think nothing of ‘getting out the car’ and speeding for fifty miles in order to eat a bad dinner in some remote place, when they could have had a good one by remaining where they were.”  You can almost hear the gritted teeth as he writes, “It was all part of the tendency, which seems bent on leading the world back to barbarism, of allowing the machine to control us, instead of controlling the machine ourselves.

Pic 03Two happy cyclists take tea in what looks
like the village of Dunster, in Somerset

As he endeavours to present petrol rationing and wartime restrictions as, not a hardship, but a welcome relief from the dangerous and reckless days of the motor-car – “the emptiness of the roads, and the fact that life goes on very much the same as usual, is a measure of the unnecessary movement which was so characteristic of the nineteen-twenties and ’thirties” – there are hints he may actually have derived a degree of genuine, nostalgic pleasure from his first time in the saddle for twenty years. “I never imagined that once again a bicycle would be my treasured and constant companion, as in those days of youth, when it was always summer” we are told. At times he seems to have been positively reinvigorated, “Of the thrill of free-wheeling down a hill, I could write much, but perhaps the most I can say is that at such a moment twenty years slide from a man’s shoulders as if they had never been. In that splendid flight a man feels absurdly young again…“. Clearly with a bicycle in the garden shed there was no need for a fountain of youth!

And, being the writer he was, Morton leaves us with an uplifting closing paragraph, patriotically weaving the humble bicycle into the deep fabric and culture of Britain itself, and hinting at what might be lost if things don’t go well in the years to come, as he describes how those machines which are to be seen “… leaning against a churchyard wall or propped outside a village inn, tell of a love for good and honest things. They suggest freedom and simplicity, two precious things, and they suggest also that those who travel on wheels desire to understand the story of our own beloved and ancient land.

How long HVM continued to travel by bicycle once hostilities had ceased (or, indeed, once he had written the pamphlet) I cannot say, but this small booklet is a delight which captures the feeling of the age of “make do and mend“. And, as a bonus, there isn’t a single mention of lycra or the latest athlete to have “podiumed” (eugh!) to be found between its covers – enjoy the rest of the Olympics!

With warm wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

This post was originally circulated as HVM Society Snippets – No.207

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“I Saw Two Englands” – then and now

One of my favourite of Morton’s works is his “I Saw Two Englands”. Originally published in 1943 this was a record of the Two Englands witnessed by Morton on his travels around the country before and after the start of World War II.

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Setting out on 15th May 1939, at a time when, according to Morton, “… the laurel wreath [Prime Minister] Chamberlain had worn since Munich was becoming rather shabby” and it was widely recognised armed conflict with Germany was inevitable, Morton devotes the first half of his book to an account of a nation on the eve of war. The second half is set after the start of hostilities, beginning on October 17th of the same year and continues the tour, with the country still presided over by its ineffectual leader as the war machine gathered pace and an incredulous England was beginning to unite in the face of adversity.

Morton describes the grim, calm determination of a nation which has been brought to the brink but isn’t yet sure of what to expect. His closing paragraph summarises the prevailing mood during the so-called ‘phoney war’, as he finally sets out for home at the end of November:

So upon a winter’s day I returned from my journey through war-time England, vaguely disturbed by the apathy of a nation that lacked a leader, a nation that was not even half at war, a nation sound as a bell, loyal and determined, war-like but not military, a nation waiting, almost pathetically, for something — anything — to happen“.

This appraisal is followed by a postscript written twelve months after the start of his journey which describes how things have indeed begun to happen, with a vengance. Dunkirk, the blitz, the Battle of Britain have all galvanised the nation to action and life on the home front has changed almost, but not quite, beyond recognition. Morton describes English villages reverting to their war-like pasts, as in mediaeval or even Anglo-Saxon times, “… ordinary men have run to arms in order to defend their homes“. This included Morton himself who in the final pages stands watch from the church tower in Binstead village where he commands a Home Guard unit.

War, says Morton, “… has brought us face to face with the fact that we love our country well enough to die for her“.

I saw Two Englands illus Tommy ChandlerThe cover of the 1989 edition

Some time ago a fellow member of the HV Morton Society drew my attention to a special edition of “I Saw Two Englands”. This was published, twenty-seven years ago now, to mark the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II and is presented in a lavish, full colour, large format volume. The work has been revisited and photographed by Tommy Candler, and it was suggested that as the original book purports to show how England was just before the War in case it changed utterly and also to portray it in a state of readiness for war, the photographs add a valuable extra dimension by showing how it is has managed to stay the same.

Bunyan barnJohn Bunyan’s Barn, near Bedford, photographed by Morton (left) and Candler (right)
I saw the Moot Hall on the village green where Bunyan danced so sinfully

Candler is a superb photographer and her compositions illustrate Morton’s prose perfectly. Through her eyes we are treated to a contemporary view of much of what, half a century before, HVM had described and had been illustrated by the photographs in the original, allowing the reader to compare then with now.

CrookmakerThe crookmaker of Pyecombe photographed by HV Morton.
His art now employed for decorative purposes in the later photograph by Candler.

Candler also selects archive pictures for the later sections and we become privy to scenes which would not have been permitted in the original but were detailed in the text as Morton portrayed a nation gearing up for defence. A tank factory, groups of German POW’s (according to Morton they were, despite having launched torpedoes against our ships, “average looking fellows”) and a flight of Wellington bombers (likened by HVM during their construction to living creatures with veins and arteries of red, white, yellow and green cables) making a banking turn over rural England are all brought to life, adding extra an extra depth.

img216A tank factory somewhere in England.
Bending over their machines the men might have been pupils in some gigantic technical school

The 1989 edition of “I Saw Two Englands” is readily available second-hand at heart-breakingly modest cost and is well worth keeping an eye out for. It would make a handsome edition to any collection of Mortoniana and is of course, well on the way to becoming an historical arefact itself!

For further reading there is a contemporary review entitled In Search of the Real England by R. Ellis Roberts in The Saturday Review of May 1st, 1943. Another review can be found on the worthwhile books blog whose motto is “Keep calm and read classics“.

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

This article was originally distributed on 9 January 2016 as: HVM Society Snippets – No.196.

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HV Morton’s International Appeal

No, no, put those wallets away – despite what you might think from the title, this is not a request for charitable donations!

I recently came across this flyer, tucked inside a 1935 edition of HV Morton’s “In Search of Ireland“, which gives marvellous insight into just how widespread this author’s popularity was.

In Search of Ireland flyer p 1

The front of this single sheet of paper is an advertisment for HVM’s best selling, “In the Steps of the Master“, published in October 1934, which it describes as “The World’s Best Seller” and suggests, at 7/6 (seven shillings and sixpence – that’s 37.5 pence in today’s currency), it would make the ideal Christmas present. It also features a retouched, monochrome reproduction of EA Cox’s original cover and informs us that already, only a few months after publication, it has sold a fifth of a million copies.

Interesting enough you would think, but it was the reverse of the flyer which really grabbed my attention.

In Search of Ireland flyer p 2

On the face of it, just a mundane order form, telling readers where to send their postal orders to secure that festive gift; but on closer inspection there is a review of the book which is of particular interest:

In Search of Ireland flyer p 2 crop

This review of “In the Steps of the Master” is written in Maori!

Being nothing if not obsessive, I transcribed the text:

February 1935                                                      Te Marama Rua o

KO TE ENUA APU E TUATUA NEI

Kua tae mai i te tima meile i topa akenei tetai buka ou “Ko In the Steps of the Master” te ingoa Papaa, ko te ingoa Maori “Ko te rua tapuae o e Pu”. Kua tataia tei buka e tetai tangta Beritane “Ko H.V. Morton” tona ingoa, na teia buka i akakite mai i te tu o te ingoa na eia buka i akakite mai i te tu o te enua ko Kanaana ou i teia tuatua.

Kua roa tona aerenga na roto i te enua e i roto i tona buka kua tata aia i te au mea e manganui tana i kite ana e i akarongo katoa. Kua aere atu aia ki Ierusalem ki te ngai anau anga o Iesu, ki Nazareta e ki te au ngai e manganui tei kite tatou i te au ingoa i roto i te Tuatua Tapu. Kua aere atu aia i te tautai ki runga i te roto i Galilea e kua kite katoa aia i te tangaa ravarai tei tautai i te pae tai mei te au tangata Cook Islands te tu, koia oki, te rave nei ratou i te rama e te auri katoa.

… But, unsurprisingly, it meant little to me. So I turned, in hope, to an online translation service, and discovered Google have recently included Maori in the list of languages it features. With a smug smile of satisfaction I entered the text and pressed “translate” and, hey presto!:

Have come from a team meile past a recent book your “In the steps of Master of the “name conflict, the English name” The two steps you Pu “. Has written a book tangta Beritane” The HV Morton “his name, in this book reveal the name of the stand and he books reveal the standing of the country and Canaan your Tairiiri.

Has his ways in the country and in his book he wrote the many things he saw his faith as a whole. Approached He Ierusalem to where Jesus’ birth, and Nazareth to the where we see many of the names in the Scriptures. He approached the fishing on Lake Galilee and found All he has to use all the fishing sites from coast humans Cook Islands stand, that is, they do the candle bar.

So, there we have it, as clear as mud. To be honest I think I had a better chance of understanding the original!

But even without being able to understand the full meaning of the text, it still gives a perspective on HVM’s immense appeal at the time and remains for me a fascinating piece of Mortoniana. It also provides a small snapshot of Morton’s life at a time of considerable change for him as, although the book containing the flyer is published by Methuen, the advertisment is for a book published by Rich and Cowan, to whom Morton had transferred his allegiance in 1933. They continued to publish his works until 1937 when they suffered bankruptcy, at which time Morton was persuaded to return to Methuen once more.

In the unlikely event that any readers are familiar with the Maori language I would be very grateful if anyone was able to cast any further light on this unique review. Not least because I would dearly love to know what it means to “do the candle bar” – it sounds like fun!

Niall Taylor

This article was originally distribued as HVM Literary Notes – No.127

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A Canterbury Tale, by Elisabeth Bibbings

This piece was originally distributed as HVM Society Travellers’ Tales – No.26

Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral

Looking down from an upstairs café window at the entrance to the Cathedral precinct, I amused myself imagining the crowds of a past time – the raucousness and smells of mediaeval Canterbury, the poke bonnets and stagecoaches of the rather more genteel Victorian era (I had just finished re-reading George Eliot’s “Middlemarch“).

Seated at the café table with my long-suffering husband and me, was a man with dapper moustache and a notebook, his quick eyes observing everything he saw. The waiter didn’t seem to notice the pipe smoke, and the other café users seemed to be unaware of his presence.

We left the café and went through the archway to the Cathedral. Our companion’s eyes lit up at the soaring towers and he reminded me of how he had visited the heights of Bell Harry tower in 1939. He seemed scandalised when we were asked to pay admission, but when I explained that it costs £18,500 a day to run the Cathedral, he admitted maybe there was a need for it.

Once inside, the soaring heights of the nave drew our thoughts heavenwards. As the hour struck, a clergyman ascended the pulpit and led a short prayer for the troubles of the world.

stained glass

My friend, nursing his trilby (and glaring with outrage at a young man who had kept his cap on in ignorance), pointed out window after window of mediaeval stained glass, the deep blue colouring the pavement below. It was impossible to take in all the details, as Bible story and saints’ tale were depicted in miniature panels on windows stretching higher than we could see.  Only the mason and conservator would ever know the details of these wonderful windows.

We entered the shrine of the Martyrdom, and a guide launched into an enthusiastic description of how well Becket’s death was chronicled as he fell in the presence of the most literate men of the day – the monks. A recent sculpture emphasises the violence and brutality of the murder. Mr. Morton capped the guide’s tales with accounts of his own.

Well covered with Becket’s gore and smarting from King Henry’s penance, we moved on into the Crypt. Here was peace and the silence of centuries long gone by. At the back was a treasure house of secure glass cases, and I was hurried along to see the chalice and patten used by Hubert Walter on crusade in the Holy Land. It was an amazing artefact. “There is not a place to which this chalice travelled in Palestine that I do not know,” Mr. Morton commented. I also saw the mazer mounted with a yellow gemstone reputedly from Becket’s shoe, which came originally from the almshouses of St. Nicholas, Harbledown.*

We ascended (never did a Cathedral have so many different levels!) to the Quire.  Here delicate pointed arches give way to the architecture of Byzantium. Flame-coloured flower arrangements reminded us that the Sunday before was Pentecost. We sat and savoured the scene.

Interior

On further exploration, we found the tombs of Bolingbroke (Henry IV) and the Black Prince. We learned that Henry, because he was not a prince in his own right, (being the son of John of Gaunt) was anointed with holy oil (reputed to have been given by the Virgin Mary to Becket) to justify his being crowned King, after deposing Richard II.

By then, our feet were aching but our companion seemed indefatigable. He kept peering into corners, walking into chapels, saying “You must see this” and showing us ancient wall paintings or quaint memorials from the Kentish Regiment. Eventually I managed to coax him outside and we ended up, as every good visitor must, in the Gift Shop. Here, I left him explaining to my husband how in bygone ages, the shops of Canterbury sold little lead medals as souvenirs whereas now one could buy books, CDs, teatowels, rubber ducks complete with bishops’ mitre . . .

When I returned from making my purchases, my husband was alone.

Where’s Mr. Morton gone?” I asked.

I don’t know,” he replied.  “He said something about going back into the Cathedral.

Maybe if you go there, you will find him too, and he will enlighten your visit as he did mine.

Elisabeth Bibbings, Northamptonshire, England 12 July 2014

*  “I Saw Two Englands“, ch. 3, section 5.

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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.

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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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