Wednesday, 28 February 2007


Friendship is one of those great big portmanteau words that means very different things to different people. The Oxford Concise defines “friend” as “One joined to another in intimacy and mutual benevolence independently of sexual or family love”. This is certainly a hopeful aspiration; however, in real life presumed “friends” often turn out to be something very different.

The Victorians and Edwardians were great on friendship. Lifelong vows of mutual attachment were sworn, and the relationship celebrated with aphorisms both pithy and poetic in those sweet little leather-bound miniature books which were favourite gifts of the period. I still possess some which belonged to my spinster aunt who – at least when she was young – was of a somewhat sentimental turn of mind. She collected some of her friends’ penned and drawn declarations of devotion in such a book which, with retrospective knowledge of how some of those who inscribed it actually behaved, is in part pathetic.

For there’s the rub. Too many a slip twixt cup and lip in the friendship game, I fear. My parents had several lifelong friends, some dating from their childhood and school days, who were my genuinely affectionate honorary ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’, whom I count myself fortunate to have known. The assumption in those days was that friendship, if sincere, was for life and such friends could be counted upon – and were. It was an aspect of civilised life which has largely vanished.

At my advanced age I have naturally lost too many friends through death. But I have also lost some who are still living so far as I know, whose friendship I valued more than they evidently did mine – because despite all their protestations of solidarity there came a time when they vanished, often abruptly and with no explanation. I regret such people, because I cared about them, but I now realise they weren’t the ones to rely on in a tight corner. My old friend Charlotte Wolff wrote: "it is sad that the people who glitter and bewitch us with their magnetism are, more often than not, the least reliable”, and I have found this to be true. It is the very ones who earnestly assured me that whenever I needed them they would always be there without fail who have disappeared in the twinkling of an eye.

Friendship, it seems to me, is like a train journey to an unknown destination. One never knows when somebody destined to become significant to you will come aboard, nor at which stopping-place they will get off. They probably don’t know themselves. I do my best to give people the benefit of the doubt as to sincerity, but trust is a two-edged sword – if you never trust anyone you will be lonely and miserable, and if you trust someone mistakenly you will [if you allow yourself] be even more miserable, at least for a time.

John Donne famously said “No Man is an Island”. Sometimes, though, each one of us feels we are our own Robinson Crusoe, alone on a solitary island without a friendly sail, or a Man Friday, in sight. Fortunately this state of affairs is usually only temporary. If we wish to avoid it entirely, though, we should always pay heed to what people do, and be wary of what they say. Salute the passing ships, and be prepared for them to sail away over the horizon.


ben trovato writes:

A judge called in all the legal counsel to explain that he had inadvertently left at home his notes for his summing up of the case in hand.

One of the barristers helpfully suggested, “Fax it up, m'Lud!”

After a moment's hesitation the absent-minded judge replied, “Yes, I suppose it does”.


Call for witnesses

At a specially convened session of the burrow court, His Honour Judge Anticant presiding, the Burrow Beadle laid information concerning the shocking event which had occurred in the small hours, when a flamboyant pair of knickers bearing the monogram"Z" had been hoisted aloft the burrow flagstaff. The said offending garment was impounded by the court as evidence.

Judge Anticant instructed the Beadle to pursue inquiries towards identifying the miscreants through all possible channels, and appealed to any witnesses of the prank to come forward. The footprints of several different persons had been left around the flagpole, indicating that there was more than one individual involved. Anyone having second thoughts about the propriety of their [possibly inebriated] behaviour, and wishing to restore their good standing and eligibility for free rounds in the Snug, should submit a suitably contrite statement to the court without delay. In particular, Zola is subpoena'd to testify as to his ownership of the exotic underwear and, if he acknowledges it to be his, to explain how it came to leave his possession and, indeed, his person.

The court is prepared to offer a small liquid reward for the most convincingly imaginative account of these events.

By Order.

"AH DUNNO!" - 28th February

the burrow beadle reports:

On making my accustomed early morning round of the burrow premises, I espied a canoe being hurriedly paddled upstream by a heavily muffled figure. On proceeding through the grounds I perceived that a large pair of dappled reindeer-hide knickers, bearing the emblem "Z", had been hoisted atop the burrow flagpole. I duly lowered these, and they will constitute "exhibit Z" when the matter comes before the burrow court later today. I am proceeding with my enquiries to identify the perpetrator of this impertinence, and as a preliminary step I have applied to the Lappland authorities for a visa in order to visit Santa's stable and check that no reindeer are missing. I shall report on the progress of my investigations in due course.

Tuesday, 27 February 2007


Aphra Behn has been ruminating on her delightful blog about the approach of old age. Do read her lovely piece. Having already arrived at that destination, terminus in sight, let me share with Aphra and my burrow friends the following

17th Century Nun's Prayer:

"LORD Thou knowest better than I know myself that I am growing older and will some day be old. Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking that I must say something on every subject and on every occasion. Release me from craving to straighten out everybody's affairs. Make me thoughtful but not moody: helpful but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all, but Thou knowest Lord that I want a few friends at the end.

"Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point. Seal my lips on my aches and pains. They are increasing, and love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by. I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of others' pains, but help me to endure them with patience.

"I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing humility and a lessening cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.

Keep me reasonably sweet; I do not want to be a Saint - some of them are so hard to live with - but a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the devil. Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places, and talents in unexpected people. And, give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so. AMEN."

"AH DUNNO!" - 27th February

anticant had a busy weekend, and has a lot of catching up to do - not least on burrow anecdotes. He keeps a wary eye on others' blogs, and posts comments now and then, as well as keeping the arena moving. ben scours the press for burrow nuggets while the beadle keeps the Snug tidy and fends off knicker-wavers [morning, Zola!].

News from Frank Fisher and Toby about a new FF site - the Eclectic Eccentrics. That'll have 'em all rushing for a dictionary! Yet another strand in webland's rich tapestry to check out and contribute to. May all who post on it prosper!

Friday, 23 February 2007

"AH DUNNO!" - 23rd February

It's hospice morning again for anticant, and then family visitors for the weekend, so maybe not much posting or commenting until Sunday.

Meanwhile the Snug is in the good hands of ben and the beadle, who will be keeping a wary eye open for hokey-cokey dancing Zolas disguised as Yellow Duck.

Have fun, everyone.

Thursday, 22 February 2007


Tennessee: Vibrating Sponge Duck Declared Sex Toy

A woman in Tennessee has tried to sell a yellow sponge in the shape a of duck and the authorities are upset - because the duck vibrates. Is vibrating really so bad? Evidently it is because vibrating things seem to be classified as "sex toys" in Tennessee.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007


ben trovato has just found this little gem in a book of memoirs he's reading. The WW2 British Ambassador to the USA, the somewhat solemn former Foreign Secretary the Earl of Halifax [nicknamed the "Holy Fox"], was once asked to address a gathering of about 40 American mayors. In some dismay he said to his attache [who had a ready wit] "I've never seen so many mayors in my life. Whatever shall I say to them?" "Oh that's quite easy," was the reply, "just whinny like a stallion!"

"AH DUNNO!" - 21st February

After a three-hour "mot" and overhaul by the burrow's large - very large! - computer wizard, the desktop is back in full service.

anticant had more good news from his latest hospital check-up, and doesn't have to return there for six weeks.

With Easter looming, anticant and ben have been consoling themselves with hot-cross buns. The beadle is hot and cross, after stoking the boiler and polishing up the handle on the big front door - so watch out, Zola!

Friday, 16 February 2007

"AH DUNNO!" - 16th February

Friday is hospice day for anticant, so think of him peddling away on stationary bicycles in the splendidly equipped gym, doing step-ups, and lifting weights. He much prefers the relaxation/meditation session which follows!

More posting later today, I hope. Meanwhile, enjoy the Snug.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

Great-great Aunts at Wharmton

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"AH DUNNO!" - 15th February

Yesterday wasn't a good one for anticant. No valentines - not even from lavenderblue! And a stressful and disappointing day at hospital, where I was unable to tolerate the MRI Scan because I couldn't breathe comfortably in the position I was expected to lie in for half an hour and so ended up having a much shorter [and less thorough] CT Scan.

Then returned home, already tired and upset, to receive news of an old friend's death - see previous post.

Altogether not the best of days. But, as they say, "today is the first day of the rest of your life".


I've been saddened to hear of the death of an old family friend who was a quite exceptional person. His parents and mine were close friends when they were newly married, and it was an enduring friendship. Mike, who was a few years younger than me, was born with a deformity named Ectopia Visicae, which means that part of the bowel is outside the body. As a baby he had an operation to alleviate this which entailed removing the bladder and transplanting the ureters into the colon. Despite this terrible handicap, with resultant kidney problems which caused one to be removed when he was in his thirties, Mike led an active and often outdoor life and eventually married Sheila, a splendid person who has been totally supportive of him throughout their lives together. They both had busy teaching careers, adopted a son, and renovated a holiday home in France, where they spent much of their summers.

For the past dozen or so years Mike had periodic colonoscopies to check that nothing untoward was happening, because where the ureters entered the colon polyps had formed which could become cancerous. Alas, his latest biopsy showed this had occurred, and so instead of their usual newsy Christmas letter Mike wrote to say that he would be spending Christmas in hospital for a big operation, but the prognosis was good and although shell-shocked, he believed that "I will be OK as I am an awkward bugger".

But this wasn't to be, and although the major operation was initially successful septicaemia set in and Mike has died, brave to the end. At my age, I hear far too often of the deaths of old friends. Mike and Sheila were a lovely couple of the too-rare kind who get their chief satisfaction in life from caring for and being of service to others - from creating, not from destroying. Now that he has gone, I know that Sheila will keep forging ahead with the comfort of knowing what a lot of friends they have.

As the seventeenth-century metaphysical poet John Donne famously wrote:

"No man is an Iland, entire of it self: every man is a piece of Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind;

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

Sleep peacefully, Mike.


Producing and rearing large families was a major nineteenth century domestic industry. My grandmother’s grandfather, Captain Thomas Gartside, and his wife had twelve children between 1804 and 1828, of whom nine reached adulthood. The youngest of these, my great-grandfather Horatio Nelson Gartside, and his wife Mary Taylor Holden (the daughter of John Holden of Royton, a prosperous velvet manufacturer), also had twelve children. Strangely, I know less about my great-grandfather than I do about his father, Captain Gartside, and some of his brothers and sisters. He was born at Woodbrow in 1828, and died there of cancer sixty years later. He was friendly with his contemporary, Morgan Brierley, who is said to have accidentally shot my great-grandfather through the jaw once when they were out shooting together on the moors above Ashway Gap. When he was hungry in the middle of the night, he would sometimes go downstairs and cook himself a steak in the Woodbrow kitchen. He once had a bad accident when his horses bolted and he was thrown from his gig into a stone wall (a mishap which was said to have shortened his life).

He had two colourful older siblings. The eldest of Captain Gartside's children was Elizabeth Sarah, born in 1804, who survived until 1892. In 1839 she married her cousin, Henry Gartside (1815-1880), the second son of Captain Gartside's first cousin John Gartside, the builder of Denshaw House [and grandfather of Susan Gartside who married Morgan Brierley]. The story goes that Henry was courting one of Miss Gartside's younger sisters and Elizabeth Sarah, who had just come home after a long stay away from Woodbrow, saw him coming up the drive and said: "THAT’S the man I am going to marry!" - and she did. Henry Gartside was a solicitor in Ashton-under-Lyne, of which he became Town Clerk; he prospered, and in 1861 purchased the newly built house of Wharmton Tower at Greenfield from its original owner, J.D. Whitehead. He and his wife - who was known in the Woodbrow family as "Aunt Gartside" and said by them to have an imperious temper - were long resident at Wharmton Tower, and their initials, together with the Gartside crest (a greyhound) and coat of arms, embellished the dining room ceiling and fireplace there when my grandmother's sister and brother-in-law, Mr and Mrs A.E.G. Chorlton, occupied the house in the 1930s. There were no children of the marriage, but Henry Gartside is said to have become a father elsewhere after his wife ceased being compliant.

The Henry Gartsides built and endowed Christ Church, Denshaw, and its parsonage in 1862-63. The story is that the Gartside lands at Friar Mere, which had come into the family following the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, and had previously belonged to Roche Abbey, were the subject of a curse (presumably laid by the dispossessed monks); and that "Aunt Gartside's" lifelong dream was to lift this curse by building a church upon the Woodbrow estate. However, when the Butterworths of Junction generously offered a central site for the new church to be built in Denshaw, Mr and Mrs Gartside accepted: whether this adversely affected the curse-lifting is not known! Denshaw Church contains Gartside family memorials including those to Mr and Mrs Henry Gartside, to Mrs Gartside's parents, Captain and Mrs Gartside of Woodbrow (who are buried at Heights), and to the actor Henry Gartside Neville who died in 1910.


"Monday, June 11th 1894: Mr Thomas Gartside, Woodbrow, died, he was a Church man, Conservative, bachelor and a representative of the old Friarmere Gartside family" (noted J. Brierley). This was "Old Uncle Tom", Captain Gartside's second son (born in 1812), and head of the Woodbrow household and woollen printing business from his father's death in 1859 until his own.

He was an eccentric character. My grandmother grew up at Woodbrow in his lifetime, and told me some amusing stories about her uncle. He wore an old-fashioned flannel nightcap, with a flap to keep his prominent nose warm in cold weather. He lived in his own side of Woodbrow, separated from his brother's growing family by a green baize door, behind which Uncle Tom spent most of his time studying the Bible. He rarely issued forth - usually to upbraid some erring workman or farmhand in a stream of colourful invective which poured out for ten or fifteen minutes without Uncle Tom having to repeat himself once - for he had an extensive vocabulary of curses - after which he returned to his Bible-reading.

He had strong views on religion, and greatly disapproved of King David's treatment of Uriah the Hittite - so much so that he refused to arrive at church for the beginning of morning service, but delayed his entry until after the psalms had been said. Such scruples, however, did not extend to his own amorous exploits; he had several “natural” children by local women, to whom he left legacies in his will (also leaving bequests to the “natural” children of his eldest brother, William Reed Gartside). My grandmother used to recall that when she visited her eldest sister, Mary Elizabeth ("Auntie Pollie Roberts"), who lived at Linfitts with her doctor husband, she often had some of her unofficial cousins pointed out to her as they passed by the window!

Uncle Tom was reputed only to have spent one night out of Saddleworth in his life, when he had to go to Leeds to defend a breach of promise action. He loathed being away from his beloved home so much that he got up in the middle of the night and ruggedly trudged the weary miles back to Woodbrow.

One of my unofficial distant cousins descended from Uncle Tom still lives in Saddleworth. He tells me that when his grandfather – who was Uncle Tom’s great-grandson – used to play as a small boy in the Woodbrow drive and garden, a grumpy old gentleman waving a stick used to chase him away, without realising that the child was his own descendant!

Two more of Captain Gartside’s children were twin daughters – Caroline (1822-1908) and Emma (1822-1903). Caroline was briefly married in her 20’s, but her husband, Benjamin Broadbent, sadly died after only 4½ years, leaving her with three small children. After his death she returned to live with her parents at Woodbrow, and she and Emma were never again separated during the rest of their lives. They remained at Woodbrow until Uncle Tom’s death, when Caroline’s surviving son, John Reed Broadbent, took them to live with him at Liverpool.

The photograph shows Aunt Gartside and her twin sisters (in white crinolines, Aunt Gartside on the right), with Caroline’s children, outside Wharmton Tower, presumably in the 1860s soon after its purchase. The unknown lady in the doorway may be a housekeeper.

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

"AH DUNNO!" - 14th February

anticant is away to hospital today, this time for an MRI scan. He is not looking forward to being encased in a windowless tube for half an hour or more, and will have to mobilise his best meditation techniques to avert claustrophobic panic.

While he is away, ben and the beadle are keeping the Snug warm and welcoming if anyone cares to drop in for a drink and a natter.


anticant’s father’s mother belonged to a very old family which had inhabited the Saddleworth district on the borders of Yorkshire and Lancashre for hundreds of years. Many legends about the family and its home, Woodbrow, were handed down the generations and it is only recently that anticant, as one of a group of family historians some of whom still live in the district, has made some progress in separating fact from fiction. Whether true or not, some of the old yarns are entertaining. What follows is adapted from an article written some years ago for the local historical society’s journal.

Soon after the end of Hitler's war I went with my aunt to visit Mrs Helen Banbery, whose father was the Saddleworth historian, Morgan Brierley of Denshaw House. Her mother, Susan Gartside, was my grandmother's third cousin. Mrs Banbery was by then a very old lady; she had published a memoir of her father (who died in 1897) at the turn of the century, and she was now engrossed in making notes for a mammoth Gartside family novel. "They were a tragic and romantic family", she told us, "and I am making them even more tragic and romantic!" Sadly, she died soon afterwards, and I never knew what became of her novel: I would have loved to have read it.

There is certainly plenty of romance (and romancing) around Gartside family history and, as with most family histories that are handed down the generations, it becomes increasingly difficult as time goes on to separate hard facts from romantic traditions.

The family home, Woodbrow, was built around 1812 by my grandmother's grandfather, Captain Thomas Gartside of the Royal Lancashire Militia (and later of the 11th Light Dragoons, which became the 11th Hussars), possibly after he had retired from active service on half-pay in 1811. Captain Gartside was born in 1777 and died in 1859. His father, Abraham Gartside, a tanner, of Stalybridge, was born in about 1707 in the reign of Queen Anne, but did not marry until 1772 aand died before Thomas, his youngest child, was born. In 1803, Captain Gartside married Mary Anna Reed, the daughter of a wealthy Tynemouth, Northumberland, shipowner.

There are several family legends about Captain Gartside which do not always square with facts gleaned from prosaic sources such as parish registers and army records. Although older generations of the family told me that he served with his regiment in the Peninsular Wars, and was present at the battle of Waterloo, it is evident from the record of his army service that he cannot have done so. From 1806 he was an officer in the 11th Light Dragoons, who were stationed in Ireland and only went out to Spain in 1810, in which year Captain Gartside transferred to the 67th (South Hampshire) Regiment of Foot. In 1811 he went onto the half-pay list on grounds of ill-health, and from then until his retirement in 1834 he was in the 5th Garrison Battalion. So the actual origins of the family cannon ball – whereabouts now unknown - which he was said to have brought back from the battlefield of Waterloo are obscure!

The second mystery is precisely when and for what reason the "Barracks Cottages" below Woodbrow were built, and how long they were used for soldiers' quarters. The family tradition is that they were required because of the industrial unrest and Luddite outrages during the bleak later years of the Napoleonic Wars; and there is a splendid story of Captain Gartside intrepidly marching his mutinous troops (who sympathised with the rioters) home across the moors from Huddersfield at pistol-point. He was certainly a robust character, and is said to have treated his workpeople harshly. There are also unconfirmed rumours that some of his wealth may have come from association with the slave trade.

Then there is the business of the unburied daughter in the glass coffin. Captain Gartside's second daughter, Josephine, died aged twelve in mid-October 1820, but was not buried until early December. The family legend is that her father was so heartbroken at her death that he had her body embalmed and kept in the house in a glass-lidded coffin until the sanitary authorities forced him to bury her. In fact, it was a double funeral at Heights, as Josephine's baby brother, John Reed, who had died in late October aged one week, was also buried with her. Whatever the reason, a delay of seven weeks in one case and five in the other does seem very unusual. What is certain is that when my grandmother was a little girl, over half a century later, there were still several white busts of Josephine which had been modelled from her death mask and were kept in the cupboard under the stairs at Woodbrow. My grandmother told me that she and her brothers and sisters used to run quickly past this cupboard, as they were scared of these spooky objects. There were, of course, ghosts as well – one a grey cat which was said to appear in the house before a family death.

Captain Gartside built up a business as a woollen weaver and printer at Woodbrow, with his second and third sons, Thomas (1812-1894) and Horatio Nelson (1828-1888), who was my great-grandfather. The eldest son, William Reed Gartside (born c.1806), was disinherited – possibly because of his unorthodox love life: he had several “natural” children before marrying - although he lived nearby at Boosted Edge Farm. Captain Gartside's second daughter, Mary (or Marianne), also got into the parental bad books for several years because she eloped with an actor, "Handsome Jack" Neville who was manager of Queen's Theatre, Spring Gardens, Manchester. He was more than twenty years her senior, and when he married her he already had eighteen children by his first wife, himself being a twentieth child - so no wonder Captain and Mrs Gartside thought the match unsuitable!

Mr and Mrs Neville had a daughter and two sons, one of whom, Thomas Henry Gartside Neville (1837-1910), was first carried on stage by his father at the age of three, and became a prominent West End actor/manager in the later Victorian and Edwardian era of romantic melodrama under his stage name of Henry Neville. His most celebrated role was that of Bob Brierley in Tom Taylor's "The Ticket of Leave Man" - a part which the Dictionary of National Biography says he played some 2,000 times! Henry Neville founded a family which still flourishes, and whose members have intermarried more than once with later generations of Gartsides.

Captain Gartside's descendants lived and worked at Woodbrow throughout most of its existence. My grandmother, Sarah Holden Gartside (1873-1947), who was the tenth child and fourth daughter of H.N. Gartside, was born and grew up there. My great-grandfather was only sixty when he died of cancer in 1888. Tragically, his widow and her eldest surviving son, Charles - a highly thought of solicitor who was England's youngest Town Clerk (of Ashton-under-Lyne) - died on the same day in October 1899, so there was another sad family double funeral at Heights. Another of my great-uncles, Arthur Gartside, who died in 1932, lived in part of the house for many years. Around 1900, the factory (now demolished) alongside the house at Woodbrow was leased to a son-in-law of William Reed Gartside), who with his son carried on the traditional cloth weaving and block printing business there into the twentieth century.

The house, with the farm and surrounding land, was sold by the family trust in 1950/51 for the princely sum of £3,400 - "a most satisfactory result", we were assured at the time! Now divided into two halves, it is probably worth well over £1 million today. Oh, well, that's life.

Monday, 12 February 2007


I only once heard the great Sir Thomas Beecham conduct. It was with his own orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic, at the recently built Royal Festival Hall which Sir Thomas had at first scorned as “a disused mining shack in Nevada: frivolous and acoustically imperfect”. The latter part of this judgement was certainly correct, and it took some time to remedy the hall’s early deficiencies. But Beecham relented sufficiently to give several concerts there. This one started, I remember, with an electrifying rendering of God Save the Queen. Sir Thomas’s national anthems were magnificent and breath-taking – his Star-Spangled Banner in New York drew delighted crowds to Carnegie Hall, and his Marseillaise wowed the French.

I regret that I have forgotten the items on the programme I heard, but I am sure it included some of Sir Thomas’s and my favourite Mozart, of whose music he was such a sensitive and elegant performer and did much to popularize. For those unfamiliar with the Beecham legend, his strong mix of musical perfectionalism, podium panache and celebrated wit would be a refreshing change from many of the relatively insipid conductors who tour the world’s concert halls today. As Yehudi Menuhin said of him, he possessed “that subtle quality, grace – a grace that he showed to his orchestra, as to his soloists – a compound of an erudition and a wit adjoined to a courtesy of heart that has now all but disappeared from daily life”.

Notwithstanding his urbanity, Beecham was a scathing critic of many of his contemporary conductors and musicians. He wondered out loud “Why do we in England engage so many third-rate continental conductors when we have so many second-rate ones of our own?” He dismissed Toscanini as “a glorified Italian band-master” and had a teasing relationship with Sir Malcolm Sargent, mischievously enquiring when Sargent told him that on a visit to the Middle East he had been detained by some Arabs who subsequently released him “Why? Had they heard you play?”

He demanded unsparingly high standards from his own players, who nevertheless thought the world of him. His remarks during rehearsals were often caustic. To one player he said: ”We cannot expect you to be with us all the time, but perhaps you would be good enough to keep in touch now and again”. When the agitated wife of a leading tenor who had a heavy cold burst into Beecham’s dressing room at Covent Garden shortly before the curtain was due to go up crying “Sir Thomas! Sir Thomas! My husband – he has no voice – he cannot sing”, Sir Thomas blandly replied: ”My dear lady, WE know that – but does he?”

When he was in New York, the telephone rang in Sir Thomas’s hotel room and a voice with a strong American accent said: “Is thaat you, Sir Tammas Beech’m? Ah’m the chairman of the English Speak’n Oonion.” “I don’t believe it!” said Beecham and replaced the receiver. When he took the London Philharmonic Orchestra on a tour of Germany in the 1930s, Beecham was presented to Hitler who enquired how he would be received in England if he came for the Coronation. “You would, I have no doubt, be the object of great interest” Sir Thomas tactfully replied. Hitler then remarked that his visit would probably put a great strain on the police. “Oh, I don’t think so”, said Beecham. "You would be safer in London than in Germany. In England, we leave people to do whatever they choose.” Hitler seemed nonplussed by this reply.

In his old age, Sir Thomas summed up his philosophy of life thus: “Years are nothing. Thought and feeling – notably feeling – are all that matter. Say what you want to say, with firmness and conviction. The one thing that is really important, in playing, in conducting – yes, and even in misconducting – is this: whatever you do, do it with conviction.”

[Thanks to ben trovato for unearthing Beecham StoriesAnecdotes, sayings and impressions of Sir Thomas Beecham, compiled by Harold Atkins and Archie Newman, from the dusty shelves.]

Sunday, 11 February 2007


Ruminating on old friends now passed on - an inevitable occupation at my age - the current total unacceptability of verbally expressed racism reminds me of the funniest letter I ever received. It came from a college friend, older than me, who had served as an NCO in the Eighth Army during WW2 and whilst doing so had formed a low opinion of the inhabitants of North Africa, to whom he habitually referred - as was then the patronising British fashion - as "Wogs" [= wily oriental gentlemen].

Once, after he had held forth at somewhat too great length on this subject, I wrote to him tongue-in-cheek, gently reminding him that one of my grandfathers hailed from what is now the Lebanon, and that therefore I was, at least partly, a Wog. To this he replied with total solemnity: "I had not forgotten your antecedents, but I can assure you that I have always thought of you as a friend, and never as a Wog." His obliviousness to the implications of his remark struck me as so hilarious that I laughed until I cried. I decided that if I ever wrote my autobiography I would call it Never a Wog.

Despite his oddities of sometimes extreme opinion, which often caused considerable amusement because of the vehemence with which he expressed himself, this lifelong friend was one of the kindest people I have known, and was always ready to lend a helping hand to anyone in trouble. Such are the vagaries of human nature.

Saturday, 10 February 2007

"AH DUNNO!" - 10th February

The snow has melted and all we are left with is drizzle and slush. Quite like old times!

anticant and ben are cooking up some new goodies for the burrow. Meanwhile, buzz over to the arena and savour "Cuckoo Corner" if you want either a belly laugh, a burst blood vessel, or both.

Have a nice day.

Friday, 9 February 2007

"AH DUNNO!" - 9th February

anticant has been burning the midnight oil over in the arena. He hopes his burrow friends will look in there, and leave their comments if any spring to mind.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

"AH DUNNO!" - 8th February

anticant says "It's snowed overnight. The gardens and rooftops have that winter wonderland look. How long before it's all slippery, slushy and mucky?"

ben trovato says "Oh do cheer up. You've just had two very encouraging hospital reports. Are you never satisfied? Get blogging again, and start planning a holiday. The Beadle is piling up logs for the Snug fire, and I'm opening the bar. We're back in business."

The burrow beadle says "Watch out for that Awkward Squad. Ladies must wear hats, and strictly no knicker-waving. Are you listening, Zola?"

Wednesday, 7 February 2007


Well, if he can’t even keep out of step with the Awkward Squad for long, he must be!

It’s intriguing to find Zola posting today about ‘netiquette’. As I’ve remarked before, even those who say there are no rules on the internet are thereby stating a rule. Nothing exists except by agreement, whether legally imposed or voluntarily observed. My own preferred way in the burrow and elsewhere is to be as genial and benign as I’m capable of, stick to the discussion theme, and avoid ill-natured personal scraps.

‘Netiquette’, I gather from the indispensable Wikipedia and Google, has been around since the early days of the Net and has been classically expounded by a lady called Virginia Shea, whose on-line book of that name reveals her as being in the best Universal Nanny tradition. Indeed, it reminded me that I am the proud possessor of The Book of Etiquette, “the complete standard work of reference on social usages”, compiled “from the most authoritative sources” [unspecified] by Lady Troubridge, and published in the mid-1920s. Etiquette, Lady T sagely observes, is a matter of the spirit and not merely the letter; “a true knowledge and understanding of social laws will indicate when they can be put aside with impunity in obedience to some greater law, such as the law of kindness, should a special occasion indicate that politeness will be better honoured in the breach than in the observance.” Yes, indeed!

With this precept in mind, the intrepid lady proceeds to set out in great detail how the Polite Person should behave in almost every conceivable circumstance. I cite, at random, the section on “receiving gentlemen in hotels”:

“A gentleman, calling on a lady staying in an hotel, makes the same enquiry as if he were calling at a private house. ‘Is Miss So-and-so in?’ He then gives his name to the clerk, who will either telephone to the lady’s room, or send a servant to enquire if she is in, should there be no installation of bedroom-telephones in the hotel.

“The lady should not refuse to see a visitor without offering some excuse. If she is expecting the visitor, she should be waiting in the drawing-room or lounge…it is quite permissible for the lady to send a message to the gentleman asking him to wait if she is not ready to see visitors….The lady may wear a hat or not, just as she pleases, following the rule she would observe in her own drawing room. For a woman to receive a man in her bedroom at an hotel is to break an important convention, and should never be done [presumably with or without a hat!]. It places both in a false position, and is a serious blunder in hotel etiquette.” Not any more…

This brings vividly to mind the Thurber cartoon of the nervous-looking little man saying to the scantily dressed young woman in the hotel foyer: “You wait here, and I’ll bring the etchings down.”

It also recalls a story of my parents’ high-spirited bull-terrier puppy, Bonzo, who when taking my Father for a walk [rather than vice-versa] jumped over a hedge and reappeared with what looked like a furry rabbit in his mouth. A flustered youth then jumped up on the other side of the hedge and said indignantly: ”I say, your dog has pinched my girl’s hat!” Those were the days when no respectable young lady went out hatless, and my Mother had to provide a substitute to enable the young woman to return home with her respectability intact [whatever else wasn’t].

So wear your best bonnet, please, lavenderblue, on your next visit to the burrow, or the Beadle will be on your track.