The Book That Launched: An Evening On The Golden Hinde

Christopher Fowler
There was a terrific turnout last night for the 'Bryant & May's Peculiar London' event on board the dry-docked replica of Sir Francis Drake's flagship at London Bridge, even if we all nearly knocked ourselves unconscious on the beam ceilings, raised up these days, so I can't imagine how low the rooms must once have been. Organiser Stephen Haskins hit me with some great interview questions, although now I realise I failed to come up with an answer to one, to my own annoyance. He asked; What would you bring back from London's past into the present? Of course it's hard to single out one thing, but what I wanted to say was a little trickier to define. A certain quality of life. A sense of method over the frenzied, fragmented way we live now. On the rare occasions we went anywhere as kids, we would pack a bag, pootle along an arterial road to the coast, take a stroll along clifftops, chat and argue, potter about some more - but this slow, methodical way of doing things applied to everything from going to the shops to visiting friends. There were no distractions, nothing between you and the thing you were doing. We weren't being sold to every minute of the day. I think we were a lot calmer then. This was partly because there was much less information available. No rolling news, no updates, no checking on how everyone was feeling  every five minutes, no choice. I wonder what a Gen X-er would make of being dropped into a postwar world where so little of everything was available, where opinions were sought and listened to, and arguments unfolded reasonably, where newspapers and radio were the only means of obtaining information. Libraries played a big part in our lives, as did local councils. The British class system rankled then as now, but in the past it made itself visible by having the beneficent Lady So-and-so open the fête, not over-entitled Hoorays heading for the ski-slopes. Several readers have asked how I researched the book, and I had to admit that I simply remembered an awful lot of it because I lived through it, although I needed to keep a tight check on the facts because the memory lies.  This was a world where politicians careers were ruined by their poor decisions, instead of being let off the hook by members of their own party. Bad behaviour was something to be ashamed of, not celebrated. It's hard to catch atmospheres in books on London, although may I recommend Jerry White's The Battle of London 1939-45: Endurance, Heroism and Frailty Under Fire and his other London volumes? And so, onward - into the future and on to new books.  


Jo W (not verified) Thu, 04/08/2022 - 08:27

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Morning Chris, that was a very good evening wasn’t it, even if we were feeling like prisoners in a ship transporting us all to Devil’s Island. Yes, A managed to head butt two different beams, while I, watching out for them, cracked my shin on a bench. :-)
That quality of life you mention is still there but it needs work. Something as simple as going out for a drink/meal and talking to the other person there. Before the great voyage on the GH, we did that but saw others who gazed into their phoniethingies, putting them down only to eat, then back to the gazing.
Yes, onward Chris to those new volumes to come. X

Joan (not verified) Thu, 04/08/2022 - 13:12

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Oh how I envy you Jo, being at the Launch. I watched a series on TV called Great British Ships, and was fascinated by the Golden Hind (Pelican), it was sooo small! That was actually one thing I retained from my history classes, the Pelican. I wonder if they still teach about Sir Francis Drake in our schools here? Wish you all the best Chris, must be a great feeling of triumph over adversary. Don’t know how you do it, but I do look forward to your Blog each morning. My copy of Peculiar London just arrived in the mail, and I am just looking at it, savouring the moment of cracking it open. All the best with your writing.

Paul C (not verified) Thu, 04/08/2022 - 13:21

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Wish I could have attended but Newcastle is a bit far off sadly.

I used to insure an 1817 frigate called HMS Trincomalee, a floating museum docked in Hartlepool, and there were so many insurance claims for visitors stotting (Geordie colloquialism) their heads off low doorways that all visitors are now issued with crash helmets.

Certainly agree that life used to be calmer and far less frenetic. God, I must be entering my dotage......

Thrilled to see you intend to write more books. We're all with you.

Cornelia Appleyard (not verified) Thu, 04/08/2022 - 14:47

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Glad it went well.
Life was certainly calmer with fewer distractions, although perhaps if you were a sailor crammed into the Pelican with about 60 other men, you might not agree.

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Thu, 04/08/2022 - 18:10

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The recession of the (Semi-, Somewhat- ?) Good Old Days into the mists of memory appears to nicely correlate with the decline of collectivism --- with its group and societal emphases --- and the concurrent rise of its opposite, individualism. with its independence and self-centeredness. Factor in a concomitant rise in narcissism --- studies tell us (and we can easily observe in daily life...) --- and you have social isolation and self-absorption, to the detriment of empathy and cooperation. Self-sacrifice for the common or collective good has become largely a quaint artefact of a time gone by. I won't continue to bore you with the reasons advanced for these, only to say that yes, my favourite bugbears --- social media and the internet --- do play a role.

As for dropping Gen Xers (those born born between 1965 and 1980) into a post-WWII world, I suggest they might well prosper (as much as anyone could) considering their caution in financial matters, resourcefulness and value of responsibility, among other general characteristics or descriptors beloved of demographers. On the other hand, I would be less certain about Millennials, 

Joel (not verified) Thu, 04/08/2022 - 18:43

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"There were no distractions, nothing between you and the thing you were doing. We weren’t being sold to every minute of the day. I think we were a lot calmer then."

this...i hadn't realized that this is what i have been missing...maybe because of my age (51), and i remember how my childhood, heck, even up into my late 20's, was calmer...what a shame that kids who were born and grew up with computers and cell phones will never know the calmness...thank you cf for your thoughtful perspective...i may have to make a point of laying aside electronics on the weekend, to try and get some of that back

RH (not verified) Thu, 04/08/2022 - 20:34

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It was a lovely evening, thank you. I’m still not sure I believe Brighton Bob bought his own buns though!

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Thu, 04/08/2022 - 23:42

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

'Misty watercolor memories,
Of the way we were'
--- 'The Way We Were,' Lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman

What we know about long term memories is that they are almost always rubbish. However, interestingly, an emotional experience retroactively enhances memory. The mind selectively reaches back in time for other, similar things. That negative memories tend to stay or be triggered more readily is probably evolutionary in nature and related to survival They also tend to be far more accurate and detailed than pleasant memories for that reason. It's not that we can't evoke pleasant memories willingly, it's just that the detail we claim to remember about them has been shown to be questionable. Our minds tend to merge or to run the pleasurable details together. Now, what was I saying...?

Roger (not verified) Fri, 05/08/2022 - 03:51

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Glad I missed it - not you, but the Golden Hinde, Admin.
Nearly fifty years ago I lived in York, which was marinaded in history. I moved out after I tripped over a paving-stone in an alley and landed on a plaque which read "Queen Elisabeth tripped over this paving-stone in 15-something."
I stood up, a bit confused, and banged my head on a beam. On the beam was a plaque which read "King Edward IV banged his head on this beam in 14-something."
i left a week later, never to return.

Vic (not verified) Fri, 05/08/2022 - 08:46

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Stu-I-Am add perception to your comments - the brain interpreting electrical signals generated when reflected light impacts on the retina - and maybe this is the essence of 'Make Believe'. Well I think so!

George (not verified) Fri, 05/08/2022 - 11:07

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Thank you for a most entertaining and educational evening.

Your - Mr Bryant's? - point about London reinventing itself has been illustrated at the southern end of the Northern line by the attempt to rebrand Colliers Wood as Wimbledon Reach, but I cannot help feeling that a better option would be ColliWood.

Once again, thank you

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Fri, 05/08/2022 - 13:22

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Interesting that the term 'Hoorays.' It was originated by US author Damon Runyon (on whose stories 'Guys and Dolls' is based) in a short story to describe a rich lidler as a 'Hooray Henry' and became a popular British pejorative (certainly among the tabloids). Starting in the '50s, apparently the term was used to refer to the fans of Old Etonian jazz trumpeter Humphrey Lyttelton ('Humph') who would turn up in droves to the 100 Club in Oxford Street and shout in loud, upper class voices between songs, "Hooray!, Hooray!" and, of course, is now in widespread usage in describing "loud-mouthed ineffectual upper class twits,' according to British linguist, David Crystal.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Sat, 06/08/2022 - 05:35

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I mentioned to the young bank teller that I was picking up a book the library was holding for me. "Good for you to be still reading books," he replied. "I can't focus to read all through one." At least he knew what the problem was and when I suggested he put his phone away for a while he allowed as how that might indeed be the cure. He said he thought that people finishing high school today were probably less well read than those of earlier generations just because they focused on short term items. There! From the young minds themselves. He thanked me for the finger shaking saying that people need a calling out from those of their parents' generation occasionally. Of course, I could be at least his grandmother, but there you are.

Brooke (not verified) Sat, 06/08/2022 - 12:15

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I remember my childhood as calm but a bit of reflection says not so. My parents worked full time, ran a 100 acre farm and were deeply involved in MLK's bus boycott, and other civil rights protests. Family life was calm because Mom and Dad made it so. As an adult, I thought their lives rather slow and "southern," not realizing they had accomplished most of what they set out to do and I still had a long way to go and needed to hustle.

Word and technology over load, yes. But more importantly, everything is financialized. Our public transit must generate revenue so vehicles and stations have flashing digital advertising--words, pictures, no information. Buildings all have digital ticker tape messages of no importance, leaving you with that nauseous NYC Times Square feeling. Even private cars, scooters now have signs "rent this space." We're now accustomed to noise and ugliness. .

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Sat, 06/08/2022 - 16:20

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@Brooke First, welcome back. We've missed your voice. I think the matter is even more fundamental than the ubiquitous flashing "Buy Me" signs. It goes to the basic right to be "let alone," enshrined (for now...) in US constitutional law, in English common law and explicitly in the Human Rights Act of 1998 .The right to privacy is now under attack, whether it be the right to live your life as you see fit (with some presumably common sense restrictions or exceptions, of course) or, to not have your senses assaulted in public spaces. Certainly technology plays a facilitating role in this assault on privacy, but perhaps most important to it, is the profound loss of respect the freedom from intrusion once enjoyed.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Sat, 06/08/2022 - 22:11

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I used to whine about the billboards on all main streets but at least that was a single image. Now the electronic boards have constantly shifting images that must distract drivers even more than pedestrians. We have those advertising cars, too, with allover advertising. Remember the pizza delivery car in The Money Pit? I think I'd almost prefer that although I can't imagine why. We haven't had the musical ice cream trucks this year, or during the pandemic, in fact. I'd have thought it would have been great for sales, but perhaps people were afraid to work in that sort of thing. (Why do they only ever play one tune, too? Even if they alternated between two it would be better.
Pleased to see they're talking about releasing beavers into British wetlands. Have you seen the pictures of London park grass?

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Sun, 07/08/2022 - 00:19

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

@Helen + Martin Helen ---The thing about ice cream trucks/vans (you just knew I'd have something to say...) is that most of them are franchises, so they're required to protect the franchisor brand which, among other things, means playing the authorized brand jingle (over and over and over again...). In Western Canada you are/were probably hearing a version of US composer Scott Joplin's piano rag, 'The Entertainer,' which is also popular in the States (or was). In the UK, Australia and New Zealand, there's 'Greensleeves' and 'Just One Cornetto' (aka 'O Sole Mio') unless it's Mr. Softee, then it's the brand's own official jingle, 'Jingle and Chimes.' Which brings to a close yet another episode of 'You Don't Say ?'

Brooke (not verified) Sun, 07/08/2022 - 13:32

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Right to privacy -- in the US the right to privacy, as in being let alone, is not explicit in the Constitution.
You have the right to use your religion to prosecute others. You have the right to talk as much stupid trash as you like defaming others (See Alex Jones/Fox News). You have the right to buy high powered weaponry to shoot your grandmother, and you have the right to not incriminate yourself when you have done any of the above. You have some protection if you are in your own home--but not if you are black or a woman. (see Botham Jean and Breanna Taylor among others--many, many others).
I recently learned the hard way that I don't have the right to privacy in voting, after being bombarded by Republican nonsense after I voted by mail.

Brooke (not verified) Sun, 07/08/2022 - 13:35

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I hope I can get a copy of B&M PL in the US sometime before they take me to the elders home.

BarbaraBoucke (not verified) Sun, 07/08/2022 - 16:38

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Hello Brooke - If you go online to the abebooks.com site and put in Bryant and May's Peculiar London, you will find several booksellers including Blackwell's and the Book Depository that have it at a good price (to my thinking) and low cost or free shipping from the UK. I left out the 's part after May and got one of the other books when I first searched. Anyway, hope this helps. I would hate to think of you in the elders home without a copy of Bryant and May. Actually I hate to think of myself in the elders home resigned to reading old copies of People magazine.

snowy (not verified) Sun, 07/08/2022 - 20:36

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Apropos nothing at all....

I turned on the Wireless last week, [to pass the time whilst washing and stemming some wild damsons to make Damson Gin], and what turned out to be on was a deliciously dark tale, that I thought must have come from Saki. But it rang no bells, not even distant ones. Having dug through the radio listings it wasn't Saki; but somebody I'd not heard of called Richard March.

It turns out Richard Marsh was a prolific writer around the same time A C Doyle was Studying Scarlet, Rudyard was Kipling; an' Jack.... was-a Ripping.

But his career had two distinct halves, he had originally written under his real name Richard Bernard Heldmann, but he got into some little difficulties with a chequebook and an over active imagination for pseudonyms, [and some other bits of 'light-fingering'], which landed him in prison for 18 months.

He returned to his bad habits in 1888 with short stories appearing under his new name in various periodicals and then several novels. [He covers a wide range of genres: humour, crime, romance and the occult, so fans of Saki, M R James, Jerome K Jerome, Collins, Stoker etc, will probably find something to enjoy in his stories.]

By way of introduction the link secreted above will take you to one of his more Jerome-esque short tales, [which is now well out of copyright], in which a man endevours to do the right thing, but events rapidly spiral out of his control...


[Fans of Sidney Lumet's 'Twelve Angry Men' or the Hancock episode that parodies it might like to look out Marsh's 'Returning a Verdict' from his collection 'Frivolities, Especially Addressed to Those Who Are Tired of Being Serious', and realise there really is nothing new under the sun].

Paul C (not verified) Mon, 08/08/2022 - 09:59

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Snowy - Love the Hancock parody of Twelve Angry Men : "Remember Magna Carta !" Hancock appeals to his fellow jurors, "Did she die in vain ?"

Helen+Martin (not verified) Tue, 09/08/2022 - 05:54

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Did Mr. Heldman's family have anything to do with mustard? It would have added a certain piquancy to his writing. Sorry.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Tue, 09/08/2022 - 05:56

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Looking up Mr. March/Marsh and the referenced story. My plums are a little scant on the tree so I think we'll just have fruit to put into puddings.

Granny (not verified) Thu, 18/08/2022 - 03:37

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

@ Snowy Marsh looks fascinating, will see if I can find one of his books, thank you

This lack of concentration is very worrying, a little like living with a new species of humans all saying "Oooo, that's a nice castle" every 30 seconds. I would think the ability to consider life in some depth might be very important for mental health. We shape our sense of self by the reflections we get from others, by discussions, arguments, frustrations, pleasures, laughter that we have when we pay attention to another person. By always flicking to the phone and only tuning into those people that we fleetingly like we will be starving ourselves of becoming ... cannot think how to end this but becoming fully human, or having a robust and flexible mentality. No wonder mental illness appears to be increasing, particularly teenagers who were even robbed of 2 years of socialising at school