Thursday, 13 April 2017

Postcard of the Day No. 88 - Cox’s Walk, Sydenham Hill Woods

Back in 2012 we posted about a footbridge in Merton – this is another South London footbridge with a story attached. In 1870-71 Camille Pissarro lived in the Norwood/Crystal Palace area to escape the horrors of the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune. Pissarro found plenty of subjects for painting within a few miles of his temporary home and his easel was set up on this footbridge on Cox’s Walk for the painting of Lordship Lane Station in the collection of the Courtauld Institute. The Courtauld painting is misleadingly titled Penge Station, Upper Norwood and dated 1871. Given that Pissarro returned to Paris in June 1871 we can assume the painting was done in the Spring of that year. Railway subjects were attractive to Pissarro, who, like his colleague Monet, had an interest in reflecting contemporary life in his work. It was the Crystal Palace and South London Junction railway, opened in 1865 that ran through Cox’s Woods. Known as the high-level railway to Crystal Palace, it closed in 1954.

A few miles away on Denmark Hill, John Ruskin was preoccupied with his doomed and protracted courtship of Rose La Touche and the plans for the Ruskin School of Drawing shortly to open in Oxford. Ruskin professed undying hatred of the modern world and placed railways near the top of his long list of most-abominated. From his study he wrote wistfully of the pleasing woodland vistas and pastoral strolls forever ruined by the intrusion of the London to Folkestone railway line. It was his misfortune to live through the decades when the Great South Woods that once stretched from Deptford to Selhurst largely disappeared under suburban sprawl. Sydenham Hill Woods is the largest remaining area of this lost woodland. But even Ruskin was not entirely unmoved by the power of engineering technology and once confessed the “amazed awe and crushed humility” he experienced at the sight of a locomotive “taking its breath at a railway station”.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Crossing the Border – England to Scotland

With every day we hear more and more about the importance of borders and the need for control, security and defence. This postcard re-enacts a moment of history when the leaders of two great nations shake hands across the border. Nicola and Theresa have embarked upon an epic power struggle that could in the future be resolved by the imposition of a ‘hard border’ where today there is none. Below is a nondescript view of another location along the same frontier, helpfully annotated to show where it’s safe to place your feet.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Easter – a time for fury

Easter is a season with little in the way of comedy to mark its passing although the confectionery industry has always done its best to trivialise the occasion. The Passion and Resurrection may express an alternation of extreme darkness and light – a place for awe and wonder and redemption, but none for humour. So we should all be grateful to our Prime Minister for supplying some inadvertent light relief with her thoughts on the importance of the word “Easter”. Especially amusing in the context of her declared highest priority – bringing the nation together. For someone with no discernible sense of humour, Mrs. May has made a promising start as an entertainer, if nothing else.

On the very day that many were expressing their anger at the harsh and vindictive cuts in benefits for bereaved families the Mother of the Nation was herself roused to fury by the news that the National Trust has omitted the word “Easter” from what is now to be known, unforgivably, as a mere “Egg Hunt”. Earlier in the day she had rejected criticism of the bereavement benefit cuts, defending it as a ‘fair deal for taxpayers’. Nobody has asked her to provide examples of taxpayer grievance at the level of bereavement benefits. Where were the campaigns calling for lower benefits for the victims of bereavement? Who demanded deliverance from the outrageous financial burden imposed on us all by a selfish minority of our fellow citizens who insist on dying prematurely from incurable diseases? Back to the eggs – Mrs. May felt uniquely qualified to pass judgement on this vitally important issue as the offspring of a vicar and a member of the National Trust. Now is the time to take a stand against the tyranny of political correctness and its endless assault on our national religion. Mrs. May was visiting the Middle East to ‘bang the drum for Britain’ and sell even more consignments of lethal weaponry for the purpose of killing and maiming anyone incurring the displeasure of the purchaser. It would be interesting to hear Mrs. May explain what part of the Church’s Easter Message endorses this traffic in human slaughter.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

The Leas Cliff Lift Folkestone

The Leas Cliff Lift has been mothballed since the end of January. The operator, a non-profit Community Interest Company lacks the funds to replace the braking system to comply with HSE demands. Shepway District Council divested themselves of all responsibility in 2009 and have no part to play in what, if anything, happens next. The passenger cabins have been locked in a mid-way position and the keys handed over to the legal owner, the Folkestone Estate. It would be a great shame if some way to keep it going cannot be found - it's been in existence since 1885. The sum involved is £67,000, which in the grand scheme of things is minuscule. The last photo is taken from the summit in 2015 when the lift was in full operation. My efforts to ride the lift that day came to naught – when the lift reached the top, the operator exited at great speed, padlocked the cabin and marched away with the air of someone who wouldn’t be back in a hurry.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Street life 1900

More street life (Strassenleben) from Germany. These cards were issued in 1900 by Palmin, manufacturers of coconut oil based cooking products – a product that is still available in Germany today. It’s a very different world from the one portrayed in the Liebig cards. These streets are strewn with hazards – a horse rider struggles to control his mount when it’s panicked by a passing tram, mischievous street urchins spray water over a a fashionably dressed, unescorted lady, a stylishly dressed gentleman is upended by a dog lead that wraps around his ankle, a young man suffers great misfortune involving a basket of eggs and two more street urchins play a trick on an elderly man in spats – tempting him to pick up a wallet they are controlling with a piece of string. These unlikely events are described in a sachplakat style, familiar to readers of Simplicissimus (Munich-based satirical magazine). And even after almost 120 years the clarity of colour is not entirely diminished.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Postcard of the Day No. 87 – Ramesses II

Today’s postcards feature the statue of Ramesses II in repose in Memphis. Two superior gents of Western appearance have taken possession of the reclining form – their proprietorial stares directed downward from their elevation. At ground level we have an assortment of local worthies with their beasts of burden. The shattered statue was excavated in Memphis in 1820 where it remained until 1955 when its six fragments of red granite were transported to Cairo on the orders of President Nasser. There, it was raised to the vertical, clamped together by internal scaffolding and installed on a roundabout in the city centre. The square in which it stood was renamed Ramesses Square and there it remained for just over half a century of slow decay and disintegration. In 2006 it was dismantled by the authorities and moved to Giza for repair and restoration. This work is scheduled for completion next year when it will be erected at the entrance to the new Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) which has been under construction since 2012 to a design by architects Heneghan Peng of Dublin.

In the last 10 days there’s been much excitement in Cairo with the discovery of giant fragments of what was initially thought to be another statue of Ramesses II – found in a drainage ditch between two apartment blocks in Matariya, Heliopolis. On further inspection the subject turned out to be Psamtek I, still a major discovery and a new exhibit for the GEM. The other two postcards are less populated – in one a bearded figure squats in solitary contemplation while the other is animated by the presence of a small group of traders in fruit.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Album Victorianum 1951

A gift from Guinness to the nation’s General Practitioners in the year of the Festival of Britain, 1951. Album Victorianum is a visual snapshot of Victoriana gently parodied through a mid-century prism. The layout and presentation is typical of publications like The Saturday Book in the whimsical combination of period fonts, steel engravings and toy theatres. The Guinness advertising agency, S H Benson conceived the theme, provided the text and commissioned the illustrations. Three artists contributed illustrations, Ronald Ferns, Eric Hobbs and Eric Fraser.