The Comments: No Comment!


One of the hugely enjoyable benefits of churning out this weekly grab-bag of topics known as a writer’s blog is the Comments Section. Readers are happy to sound off on any subject under the sun. Sadly, we’ve lost quite a few delightfully eccentric and knowledgeable commenters over the years. I’ll have to add some bits of Snowy’s many musings, but here are a few I pulled out at random.

Pheeny and the much missed Dan Terrell got onto the topic of debutantes’ coming out balls…

Pheeny: I wonder how many goats you would have to pay to get a banker’s daughter? 

Dan: It might be a Ball is a notch up from sitting at a bar in a juke/C&W, rap bar with your trusted best friend hoping your soul mate will sail by. Having read all of Ray Chandler and one Mike Hammer paperback, I know bar pickups are always the start of something dangerous and disappointing.

Chris Webb and Martin Tolley chatted about the ‘ghost’ signs left behind on London walls.

Chris: If you stand near the western end of New Oxford Street and look westward, you can see an old advert painted on the wall of the building exposed by the demolition of the building on the corner for Crossrail.

Martin: What interests me about these signs is the craft and artistry that went in to them. They all seem typographically just perfect, height and kerning always correct, the paint coverage even, and the lettering sharp and the lines clean and crisp. Many years ago my experience of painting words on walls (no details… I was young and impressionable) inevitably had the words wandering off, the edges soft and bleeding into the background. And if you looked at the words from anything other than “the correct viewpoint” the effect of perspective was to make the words lean over or distort horribly. Was there an army of artisans who did these? Did you do an apprenticeship?

Roger weighed in on the subject of transportation (prisoners, not buses) and Chris Webb spotted something odd…

Brooke was appalled;  ‘The list is scary…it can’t possibly be. It’s a put-on.’

We started discussing the death of Fleet Street and the old ways of printing newspapers, to which Peter Dixon responded.


We explored the topic of lousy writing and a great many commenters waded into the fray.

The death of the old Fleet Street brought out floods of memories from readers;

And here’s Jo W with a wonderfully esoteric request.

The Comments Section continues to be a source of inspiration to me. I’ve learned how to make a cocktail with burning straw and why it’s not weird to collect horror comics. Here’s Rick on a memorable meeting.

It’s tempting to trawl more deeply through twelve years of blogs and comments but I wouldn’t get any work done at all if I did so. Here’s to the exploration of many more esoteric subjects.





41 comments on “The Comments: No Comment!”

  1. Jo W says:

    Hello, I’m still here, I think, and still looking out for that book!
    Good of you to include a picture of the No.10 non-party as an added festive touch. 😉

  2. Ian Luck says:

    But what about the turnips?
    I love how the comments here seem to fall through a kind of ‘Fortean Times’ filter which causes them to deviate wildly from the subject at hand, and they settle out (quite often) into the realms of surreal whimsy.
    I don’t know about anybody else, but I find that tremendously satisfying.

  3. BarbaraBoucke says:

    Thank you for this. I miss Snowy and Brooke. I didn’t always agree with Brooke’s perceptions on mystery authors, but I still liked reading her thoughts and she did like E.C.R. Lorac’s “Murder by Matchlight” – one of my favorite authors. Snowy’s stories and comments were great. We compared notes about our mothers’ use of rice – mine for risotto and hers for rice pudding. Some people still comment occasionally and I’m always happy to see their posts. Merry Christmas to everyone.

  4. BarbaraBoucke says:

    And Happy Hanukkah.

  5. Stu-I-Am says:

    How like you to commemorate the 270th anniversary of the final Gin Act with the Hogarth cautionary engraving, ‘Gin Lane.’ And providential as well with Chrimbo on the horizon — when ‘Mother’s Ruin’ often describes both the attempt to maintain some semblance of jollity with liquid encouragement and best intentions falling into disrepair — its justification. And while St. Giles looks marginally better, gin drinking in its confines presumably continues unabated, if more discreetly.

  6. Stu-I-Am says:

    As for Chris Webb’s well spotted apparent anomaly in the Hogarth print — the image in the print looks exactly like the original copperplate (see first link below) and in fact, shows up in reverse on a print as it’s supposed to (see second link).However, the fact that the lettering on the two buildings in the foreground (‘S. GRIPE PAWN-BROKER’ and ‘KILMAN DISTILLER’) are not in reverse as they would be in the plate, leads me to believe the image here may well be the ‘second state’ print of the engraving, to which Hogarth made some changes in the original matrix or copperplate — e.g. moving the skeletal figure with the dog to the left as we see it here, and altering the lettering.

  7. Stu-I-Am says:

    On further reflection, the Hogarth image here could also be of his original drawing which was suitably altered during engraving.

  8. I was shopping for Xmas gifts today and stopped in at an independent book store to see if I could spot something for my mother-in-law but instead I found a memory of why I stopped shipping there years ago. I found Oranges and Lemons on the shelf and wondered if they had any of your other books (Forgotten Authors would appeal to her), but I didn’t ask. Last time I asked them for one of your books they sent me to the wrong section. I tried to explain that it was a book or short stories and not self help, but the woman just wouldn’t hear it. I really hope they had midfield it, and someone wanting a book on beating their Person Demons walked away with some disturbing fiction instead.

  9. Ed+DesCamp says:

    Lurking and reading (Admin’s putting the ball into play, and the team running with it, over the try line, off the pitch, out of the stadium, and onto the first bus that arrives) has been the best experience I’ve had on the internet. Thanks to One and All for the years of fun, education, and insanity.

  10. Peter T says:

    There’s nothing to equal a dose of B&M for dealing with personal demons. I think I need some B&M now.

  11. Stu-I-Am says:

    For the two of you out there dying to know what the lettering is beneath the ewer advertising the gin cellar ‘Gin Royal’ (lower right foreground) in the Hogarth image, it is:

    Drunk for a penny
    Dead drunk for twopence
    Clean straw for nothing

  12. Helen+Martin says:

    I’m at the tasting stage of my plum flavoured gin. It’s not bad. Oh, the things we’ve discussed. Thank you, Chris, for this inter-continental topic smorgasboard.

  13. Martin Tolley says:

    Helen, smorgasboard maybe, perhaps a gallimaufry?

  14. Peter T says:

    From the old French for having fun and eating a lot – most appropriate!

  15. Roger Allen says:

    “I really hope they had midfield it, and someone wanting a book on beating their Person Demons walked away with some disturbing fiction instead.”
    The wisdom of typos, Anna-Maria Covich!
    All the same, I think the patron’s stories would help put Person Demons in perspective.
    What did you think of Petrov’s Flu, Patron?

  16. Stu-I-Am says:

    Those of you with sharp eyes and a knowledge of London exotica (other than our esteemed admin — and with nothing better to do…), may notice the steeple in the background of the Hogarth image. That’s the famous spire of St. George’s Church (Bloomsbury, Camden – a block south of the British Museum) topped with a statue of George I in the attire of a Roman emperor and standing on an altar as a symbol of St. George. Horace Walpole (whom you may know as the author of what is considered the first supernatural or Gothic novel) described the controversial choice this way:

    When Henry VIII left the Pope in the lurch,
    The Protestants made him the head of the church,
    But George’s good subjects, the Bloomsbury people
    Instead of the church, made him head of the steeple.

    St. George’s other distinguishing feature is that it houses the Museum of Comedy in its crypt, or more politely, undercroft — focusing on the history of British comedy and performance.

  17. Jan says:

    Stu St George’s is a Hawksmoor church and that distinctive feature that oddly “layered” steeple you see in this picture is based on the Tomb of Harlicannassus (probably spelt incorrectly there – sorry!)

    This church was done up in the l8 1990s into 2000s I was working locally to there at that time.

    The Hawksmoor churches were built after the Great Fire of London + are distinctive in that each contains a pyramid or triangle. Often as a free standing feature in the churchyard but sometimes inside the structure. This one is unique in that the pyramid is on the roof in the form of a steeple.

    There’s much that is interesting here.

    Hawksmoor was Christopher Wren’s favourite pupil and there’s some belief that his churches and various other structures were built in some way to help create a protective “spell” or charm around the City of London. Much of this is nonsense of course but its interesting!

    Peter Ackroyd ‘s novel “Hawksmoor” features this aspect of Hawksmors work. Ackroyd’s novel owes much to the work of Iain Sinclair which is acknowledged in the book.

    Sinclair had some odd ideas around Psychogeograhy. I have spent a lot of time exploring Hawksmoors churches which include Lousy St Lukes, Christchurch Spitalfields, St Ann’s Limehouse and a great deal of time visiting places mentioned in Sinclair’s poem “Ludheat”.

  18. Paul+C says:

    Alan Moore’s graphic novel From Hell also uses the locations of Hawksmoor’s churches as occult influence on Jack the Ripper’s murders. Ackroyd’s novel is excellent as are his London the Biography and Blake but his output is recent years is very disappointing.

  19. Andrew+Holme says:

    I really enjoyed Ackroyd’s last novel, ‘Mr Cadmus’. A Gothic riff on ‘Mapp and Lucia’ written whilst under the influence of laudanum.

  20. Roger Allen says:

    Christ Church Spitalfields appears to full hallucinatory Gothic effect in the paintings of Leon Kossoff, Jan.

  21. Ian Luck says:

    ‘Dan Leno And The Limehouse Golem’, and ‘The House Of Doctor Dee’, are my favourite Peter Ackroyd novels. His non-fiction book, ‘London Under’ is a fascinating read, too.
    ‘Evil London’, written by the similarly named Peter Aykroyd, is a gem, too. Full of fascinatngly horrid details, most of which the guidebooks (and guides) don’t tell the tourist.

  22. Jan says:

    Roger Christ church Spitalfields is bloody odd place I THINK but am not 100% certain that’s the one near “Itchy Park” where all the lice ridden vagrants used to gather.( I have had long day @ work and may be wrong I am doing this from memory not using my old notes or Google! )

    All these churches are important in a sense. St Ann’s, Limehouse is sited beside the Thames and incorporated into the church tower was a mechanism wherein a golden globe would drop down a pole on the hour or half hour and when this happened time was set for ships setting off on very long voyages.
    At one point for a couple of centuries all births and deaths at sea were registered here it was in effect the Royal Navy’s parish church!

    St Mary Woolnoth in the City is built pretty much on the site of an ancient Roman Temple and given that the Romans often appropriated sites already sacred to the locals this has been a place of power for millenia. It’s all really interesting stuff.

    It’s hardly surprising that these odd places crop up in connection with “occult influences”
    There’s a school of thought that Wren and Hawksmoor were trying to replicate or create a “ley” power structure to surround The City.

    I keep meaning to read other novels by Ackroyd I did enjoy Hawksmoor – the non fiction Ian mentioned sounds good.

  23. Ian Luck says:

    Jan – ‘London Under’ is a short book – an afternoon’s read, at most, but full of detail about what’s under your feet in London.

  24. Stu-I-Am says:

    Curiouser and curiouser. Not only are the blog comments often ‘esoteric’ as CF politely calls them, but they seem to have diminishing degrees of separation. It turns out the feuding Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke, discussed in the 4 Dec. blog in connection with ‘The Bloodless Boy’ graphic novel, were fellows of the Royal Society with Edmund Halley, another renowned scientific polymath whose achievements in maths, astronomy and geophysics far exceed his distinction in the popular mind as the namesake of a comet.

    When the ‘Queen Anne Act,’ a programme to build 50 new churches in London’s rapidly expanding ‘godless’ suburbs was enacted in 1711/1712— both Halley and Newton became members of the select Church Act Commission formed to manage the campaign. While Newton was only marginally involved, Halley was very active, having known Nicholas Hawksmoor, the designer of St George’s in Bloomsbury and five more churches, including those mentioned by Jan, for some 30 years and, in fact, had collaborated with him before.

    As outstanding an  architect  as Hawksmoor was, he had to solve a not insignificant issue; as required by his remit from the Commission, he had to erect the churches on as close to the traditional east-west axis as possible and certainly where there were no obvious physical constraints. When early Christians prayed they would face towards the east and Jerusalem or, as another theory has it, in the direction of where the sun rises on each church’s saint day. Thus the tradition of building churches with the alter towards the east.

    Enter Edmund Halley and his pioneering studies in geomagnetism. It is almost certain, based on recent research, that because of Halley’s suggestion, or with his personal measurements — using declination–corrected compass bearings — the churches at Spitalfields  (Christchurch) and Limehouse (St Anne) are bang on the correct axis and represent, by growing consensus, the first buildings ever to have been positioned in the landscape using a modern–day scientific technique.

  25. Roger says:

    Christ Church Spitalfields – or its churchyard – was known as “Itchy Park” when I went to the area regularly, Jan. The reason there are often yews in churchyards isn’t because the yews were planted there, but because the churches were built in the sites already sacred to the locals because the yews were already there when pagan temples were built.

  26. roxanne g reynolds says:

    reading through all these comments has just made my day.

  27. Helen+Martin says:

    I put a hold on “What Storm What Thunder” at the suggestion of someone here and the book came up today so I will now discover why it was recommended. That is the other joy of this site – finding new authors and titles. This is the week of “joy” so appropriate for a discovery.

  28. Nick says:

    Ooh – fame at last! Cheers for the mention. I’m afraid I have nothing remotely erudite to add today, so I’ll just offer my best wishes.

  29. David+Ronaldson says:

    I feel my contributions are received like the appearance of a small turd in a hospital corridor: it’s rare if they spoil anybodys’ days and they’re easy to step around and avoid but they’re still there.

  30. Paul+C says:

    Ian – I enjoyed The House of Doctor Dee too. Dee is one of the most fabulous characters in all of English history. His astonishing life is well worth reading about. Recommend a book called The Queen’s Conjurer: The Science and Magic of Dr. John Dee, Advisor to Queen Elizabeth I by Benjamin Woolley. A gem of a book.

  31. Jan says:

    Roger yes I was aware of this odd fact that very ancient churches or churches rebuilt onto older foundations it’s not the church that brings it’s churchyard into position but rather the other way round.

    It’s a beautiful thing that really. It tickles me no end that these places of pagan worship of ancient yews – the trees that later were believed to bleed with the blood of Christ because of their deep red sap – fixed into place the sites of worship of a subsequent religion.

    In the same way already sacred healing wells morph into the Holy Wells of the newer religion. Pope/ Saint Augustine’s letter instructing his missionaries to allow the Britons to continue to worship in their sacred places merely to change the object of their worship was inspired. He was no fool that man! We don’t really understand how important certain sites are there is so much about “place” we have ceased to recognise.

    Incidentally sacred tree groves also go on to be echoed within the design of the medieval cathedrals. Where the internal design frequently echoes the appearance of tall forest groves. So the original objects of worship reappear amongst the pomp of medieval Christianity.

    Over centuries ideas evolve don’t they?

    The ancients also believed that their springs and wells were guarded by a water sprite or spirit,often believed to be female, and when people took water from these springs or used the clean water to effect a “cure” they paid tribute to the well guardian paying her with tribute or coin for guarding the well source. Over time this “tribute” becomes coin to make a wish come true. Essentially the kernel of the idea remains the same something “other” is being recognised and rewarded.

    Weirdly enough in the UK there are more legends connected to mermaids AWAY from the coastline than there are on the coast. This is because somewhere along the way the legends about mermaids become confused with the memory of the female deities that guarded wells, ponds and springs.

    Right I’ve rattled on enough. Night

  32. Ian Luck says:

    Paul C – I’ve been a fan of Dr John Dee since I was about 15, and found out that his service number was 007. A fascinating man, but annoying, too – I’ve always wondered how a genius like him, could be taken in, so completely, by a charlatan like Kelley.:
    “My work can only be completed if we sleep with each other’s wives…”
    Nice try, Edward, nice try.

  33. Martin Tolley says:

    Jan, thank you for your thoughts above. The sacred grove stuff now lets me understand why churches and cathedrals look the way they do, suddenly I see where all the abudant foliage decorations come from. Never thought about that before. Never too old to learn something new here.

  34. Helen+Martin says:

    What was that old program called – Connections? Everything is. Connected, that is. When you think about towering things in nature the first two things that come to my mind are mountains and trees. In the Psalms we’re warned against looking to mountains for help (“Pagan” faiths built temples there) so we’re left with trees, which protect from rain and wind (but not lightning). The arching branches are a natural inspiration for arching roofs and the Romans had sacred groves as well as the Britons so the continuation to Christian architecture makes sense. I don’t think the palm tree was an inspiration for the soaring arches of Islamic architecture, but I welcome correction.

  35. Jan says:

    I hadn’t thought about it quite like that H but if you think about the rounded shape of a palms high branches perhaps there is some reflection of this in the shapes you see within the architecture inside mosques. ( Or sometimes perhaps you see what you want to see! ) There’s genuine Pareidolia and a determinedly conscious version!

  36. Nick says:

    Helen – coincidentally, I just bought Connections on DVD! Just as good as I remember it being.

  37. Stu-I-Am says:

    @ Helen + Martin & Jan Helen/Jan: Actually one signature feature of Islamic architecture is the arabesque decorative motif using the stylised fan-shaped leaves of the palm. Like much else of this beautiful building art — it developed from cultures absorbed in early Islamic conquests starting in the 7th c. And like decoration and ornamentation, architectural structures like arches and especially domes, while adapted in design and use by Islamic architects,
    also come from earlier civilizations. Although tree-like dendriform structures have been used at least as far back as ancient Egypt (e.g. columns or stone shafts carved to resemble tree trunks), there is nothing to suggest (so far) that the structural properties of the palm had any particular influence on the actual design of buildings in Islamic architecture.

    On the other hand, the structural properties of the abstracted tree did play an important role in medieval architecture. This was especially evident in the use of ceiling ornamented fan vaults (the skeletal framework of arches or ribs, seen largely in England) for structural strength in the construction of cathedrals — emulating the appearance of a tree where a single trunk supports a large surface of crown. And, of course, the Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudi, took the dendriform structural concept to a whole new level with his awe-inspiring Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona, which has been under construction since 1882 and was to have been completed in 2026 on the centenary of his death until the pandemic hit.

  38. Gary Locke says:

    The Top Ten poetry comment triggered a memory I’d misplaced. My Freshman college professor constantly brought up Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott” as the one poem in our textbook to avoid. About two months into the course, he finally agreed to explain why we shouldn’t read it. It was because he wanted to read it aloud to the class, which he did. He giggled his way through until, overcome with laughter, we couldn’t understand him any longer. I’m pretty sure that he finished it, however.

  39. Jan says:

    I reckon the Gaudi cathedral in Barcelona is well worth seeing but at the same time its strange. It sort of reminded me of a stall that used to be in Eccles covered market which sold lots of cheap plasticky Catholic type ornamentation, pictures of the Virgin, scrolls with the Lord’s prayer. Bright white pretend plastic bibles with no written contents whatsoever.

    Some of the massive animal carvings on the cathedral walls looked like they had employed a Walt Disney cartoonist who had moved into sculpture and created a few enormous (but cute) animal characters. Yet at the same time its great its awesome. Mind you this is at least twenty odd years back probably longer. Misted memories maybe.

    It’s right – but odd to us in our mindset that the creation of this place is taking so long but its fitting really the medieval cathedrals were generational works. The work of lifetimes. I think a cathedral I went to in New York a long time back St Patricks (Probably) was the same a build lasting decades.

    Whilst I’m blathering on about my strange fascination with cathedral tourism best I wish everyone all the best over the forthcoming celebrations of the mid winter Solstice. A time of year celebrated for millennia. Have a very Merry one. Whatever you celebrate have a very good time. Peace + Goodwill to all.

  40. Stu-I-Am says:

    @Jan Well, Gaudí was deeply devoted to both Catholicism and the natural world. And, of course, both passions are evident in the  Basilica — laid out in the shape of a cross (viewed from above) and with each part of it dedicated to a religious theme or figure(s) and an interior resembling a ‘forest of stone,’ with enormous pillars stretching floor to ceiling where twisting branches intertwine to form an ornate canopy.

  41. Rob C says:

    I’m honoured that one of my comments has been resurrected, it bought back a flood of memories as I remembered my ‘stolen’ days when I would skip school and wander the streets of London instead, the draw of ‘the Smoke’ was such that at the age of 19 I found myself in the first of many jobs in Central London, working in Proops on Tottenham Court Road. This was a treasure trove of bankrupt & surplus stock, and was my introduction to the many gentlemen of older years who produced wonders of miniature engineering in their sheds and workshops and their slightly younger compatriots that were the prop makers of TV and Film.

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