Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The French lack of delicacy

‘The French people do not seem to think it wrong to cheat or lie, or the least disgraceful to be told they do.’ Such was the view of a precocious 14 year old called Mary Browne while in France in the summer of 1821. There is very little information about Mary, who died all too young 190 years ago today, but she is remembered because of a small diary she left behind and which was published a century or so after her birth.

Mary Browne was born at Tallentire Hall in Cumberland on 15 February 1807, descended on her father’s side from a family of yeoman and on her mother’s side from the Royal Stuarts and Plantagenets. As a child she was considered somewhat stupid and slow by her governess, but there was no evidence of this by the time she was 14 and being taken on a four-month tour to France. She developed into a keen naturalist and observer of nature, and seems to have had some talent for drawing. However, she died young, aged only 26, on 30 May 1833.

While in France with her family in 1821 Mary kept a diary. Somehow this survived until the early years of the 20th century and was published, in 1905, by John Murray. The diary - which is freely available online at Internet Archive - is notable partly because of the way Mary wrote so critically of the French, and partly because of her naive but charming sketches alongside the text.

25 April 1821
‘We arrived at London about eleven o’clock: all the hotels we enquired at being full, we drove to the British Hotel, Jermyn Street. We passed through Cavendish Square, which was very pretty, but I was rather disappointed at not seeing London till I was in it. After we had rested, we walked through Burlington Arcade: it was quite cool and pleasant, although the weather was as hot as the middle of summer. There were rows of shops along each side, which had many pretty things in them, particularly artificial flowers; not far from this is the Egyptian Temple, which has sphinxes, etc., carved on it: we saw the Opera House, which is a very fine building. Regent’s Street and Waterloo Place are built of white stone. Regent’s Street (when finished) is to extend a long way; at the bottom of it is Carlton House, which is very much blackened by the smoke: there is a great contrast between it and St. James’s Palace, the latter being built of red brick, and looks like a prison. In the evening we saw the lamps in Regent’s Street, which was lighter than any other street I saw; one house was illuminated. We saw Waterloo Bridge.’

26 April 1821
‘We went to see the panorama of Naples: it was a beautiful view, there were a number of vessels in the bay; after one had looked long at them, one could fancy they were moving: in one of the boats there were some ladies sitting under a crimson canopy; in another some fruit; in one place there were some men fishing for mullet in a kind of round net, with fishes jumping through it; there was a man swimming with a basket in one hand, and several other figures; the ships were painted very gay colours, the water and the sky were as clear as crystal, and the whole so natural that one could hardly persuade oneself that it was not reality. The next panorama we saw was the battle of Waterloo: it was not near so pretty as Naples, it seemed all confusion; the farmhouse, however, was very natural, also some of the black horses. We next went to the panorama of Lausanne: the Lake of Geneva was very like Keswick Lake, but the lower end not so pretty; the mountains did not look very high. There were a great number of trees; some of them had on kind of covers, which looked like tombstones; the white railings and the shadows of the trees were remarkably natural; there were several figures, the prettiest was a little child learning to walk.

We went to St. Paul’s, and just walked through it. I thought it very fine, but spoiled by the blackness. I had no idea of the height till I observed some people in the gallery, who looked no bigger than flies; the pillars were very thick. In our way to St. Paul’s we passed by Perry’s glass-shop; in the window there was a curtain of glass drops, with two tassels; it had a very pretty effect, and when the sun shone it appeared all colours, but when we entered the shop it was quite beautiful, there were such numbers of large glass lamps hanging from the ceiling, and chandeliers, etc., in all parts. We saw the jugs belonging to a dessert-set for a Spanish nobleman, which was to cost twelve hundred pounds. Also a picture of a lamp which the King had had made there: it was gilt dragons with lotuses in their mouths; in these the lamps were placed so as to be quite hid. I should think it would be more curious than pretty. We passed by Green Park, and saw Lord William Gordon’s house, which has a very nice garden. We drove through Hyde Park; the trees were very pretty, and the leaves far out; we passed very near the Serpentine. It was excessively hot weather.’

27 April 1821
‘We saw the Western Exchange [on Bond Street], which is something like a large room full of shops; from that we went to Miss Linwoods Exhibition. The pictures were exactly like paintings; there was a railing before them, so that one could not see very near them; some of the prettiest were Jephtha’s Daughter, a nymph turning into a fountain, a little girl and a kitten, some children on an ass, a girl and a bird, a woodman and a lobster; in a smaller room were several pictures of our Saviour, the finest was a head; there was no railing before them, and when one looked near and could see the stitches, they looked quite rough; we went along a passage and looked through a kind of grating in which there was a head of Buonaparte, in another a lion’s den; but the most amusing thing was some children in a cottage; underneath a shelf lay a little black-and-white dog, which we were afraid to go near thinking it was alive; Catherine said she saw its eyes moving. The streets in London were a great deal prettier than I imagined, such numbers of shops, carriages, etc. - indeed the whole far exceeded my expectation. There were a great many carriages in Bond Street driving backwards and forwards.’

28 April 1821
‘We left London about half-past nine o’clock; we passed close by Westminster Abbey, which is prettier than St. Pauls; we had a beautiful view of London from Westminster Bridge, where I think it looks best, all the ships look so lively on the river, and London appears so large. Somerset House is one side of the Thames; we had another view after we were out of the city, where we saw London much better than when we were coming in; we saw the Monument and the Tower at a distance: it was delightful weather, the leaves were quite out; we saw a great number of butterflies, one kind of a bright yellow (that I had never seen before). The country looked very pretty, but the cottages were not so nice as those in Hertfordshire; we had several views of the Thames; we slept at Canterbury.’

20 May 1821
‘We all now began to feel very uncomfortable; everything was so very different to the things in an English house. From the drawing-room to the kitchen all was uncomfortable, and the habits of the people were so dirty and untidy that our three English servants begged that they might do the work themselves instead of having a foreigner to assist them. Stephens our courier was gone, so that we had often to go with Carruthers (our cook) to the market to speak for her. [. . .] Notwithstanding all our care we frequently were cheated; they will try every possible means sometimes when the market-people set down what we had bought, they would write down a few more pence than they had before charged, or contrive some other way for getting money. The provisions at Versailles were fully dearer than in England. One of the best shops in the market was Madame Segan’s, although she, as well as the rest, would cheat if she could. The butter was very bad in France. Madame Segan’s was the best, but as there was no salt in it, and they only got it once a week, it did not keep good. The butcher’s meat (except the pork and veal) is not good: they have a curious custom of blowing it up so as to look very large. The French bread being made of leaven is very sour; we got English bread from a baker at Versailles. Another good shop for eggs, etc., is The Black Hen.

Madame Vernier, the woman whom we took the house from, was a restaurateur next door, so we often got some dishes from her. Her chef de cuisine used sometimes also to come to our house to make dishes. It was very curious to see his proceedings; the beginning of all his dishes was the same, a large piece of batter and a little flour; to this he often added some bouillon. [. . .] The French can make a dish out of almost anything. One day he began to tell us a long story about a place where he used to dip the children, and to show us what he meant he took little Caroline in his arms and pretended to bathe her. This cook was a true French figure; he used to come in with his white nightcap and apron on, and a sharp pointed knife hung by his side. After scraping up the charcoal with his fingers he used to dip two of them into the pan, and putting them to his mouth he used to say, “Trés bon, trés bon.” He was, however, a civil enough old man in his way.

Another curious figure was our water-woman. She was a remarkably ugly, vulgar-looking old woman, and like all the old French women, an immense size. She used to wear a brown petticoat, a tattered apron, and a knitted woollen body. Notwithstanding her uncouth appearance, however, she was by far the most polite old woman I saw in France. Though upwards of seventy, she one day sang us some songs very well. When she came she used to make a curtsy and enquire after us all in the civilest manner possible. Indeed she was nearly the only person whose manner was at all like what I expected. Although one hears so much of French politeness, I do not think that the French are near so polite as the English. The men make better bows, etc., but in other things there is a kind of forwardness in the manners of the people that I cannot admire. If you are walking in the street and a person happens to run against you or hit you with his stick (which frequently happens), he never thinks of saying anything except calling out “eh!” laughing, and then walking on.’

21 May 1821
‘The French people do not seem to think it wrong to cheat or lie, or the least disgraceful to be told they do. Sometimes when we thought anything we were buying dear, and told the shopkeeper that we had bought the same thing cheaper in another shop, she answered, “O madame, vous ne pouvez pas; c’est impossible.” ’

1 June 1821
‘There were a great many people in the gardens, and the variety of colours resem- bled a bed of tulips. Some of the people were very oddly dressed. One woman had on a most extraordinary cap composed of pink satin and very pretty lace; she had a gold chain round her neck, a white gown, and pink cotton apron. (Her cap was not at all common.) The French are very fond of colours, and put them on with very bad taste. We saw some people with perhaps a pink handkerchief, a blue sash, a coarse cotton gown, a yellow bonnet, and green shoes. We saw one lady in church with a yellow bonnet spotted with every colour; and another lady with one side of her bonnet one colour, and the other another colour. The ladies are in general very plain. We were told that a lady having tried to persuade an English gentleman that the French ladies were pretty, he took her to one of the great waterworks, where she could see ten thousand people, and told her that he would give her a gown worth five hundred francs if she could find three handsome women. The lady tried, but was obliged to acknowledge that she could not. The French women have not good figures: the old women are very fat, and the others are as flat as two boards. [. . .]

The French children are old-fashioned, dull, grave, and ugly: like little old women in their appearance. The babies are wrapt up in swaddling-clothes like mummies, and they wear queer little cotton hats. The nurses carry them very carefully hanging on their arms; they say that nursing them, or tossing them about, makes them mad. Some of the children have long hair hanging down their backs and little hats stuck on the tops of their heads and little ridicules in their hands.’

28 June 1821
‘Carruthers saw our bread-baker standing at the street door talking to some women, with nothing on him but a small apron. The French do not seem to have any idea what delicacy is.’

24 August 1821
‘We set off five minutes before seven. It was very foggy. There is a pretty hill and a good deal of wood going out of Arundel. After the fog cleared away it was excessively hot; every person looked half roasted. There were a number of pretty cottages; most of which, and even some of the sheds, were covered with vines, roses, and jessamines; there were also many remarkably fine hollyoaks before the doors. Every person looked clean and neat; there seemed to be no poverty: we did not meet with a single beggar. It was delightful to see the green fields full of sheep and cows, all looking so happy. There were several boats full of ladies on the Thames. We saw London some time before we were in it; it only appeared like a great deal of smoke. We scarcely saw any soldiers in London - very different to Paris! We arrived at the New Hummums, Russell Street, at half-past four.

In the evening we went to Drury Lane and saw the Coronation. The first play was very ugly. The first scene of the coronation was a distant view of Westminster Abbey. There were a number of soldiers and people painted at a distance. The procession was very long and beautiful. The herb-women walked first, strewing the way with flowers; they were dressed in white, and pink roses on their heads, and the first had on a scarlet mantle. The king had on a crimson velvet robe with an immense long train covered with gold stars, and borne by seven pages. The second scene was the inside of Westminster Abbey: the ceiling was covered with scarlet drapery; there were a great many chandeliers, and one could not imagine anything more magnificent. There were painted people in the galleries, and real people at one end. There was a great deal of music and a large harmonica. The king went up to the altar, and they put on him a purple crown. In the third scene there came in a sailor who sang a curious song about the coronation. The fourth scene was the banquet. There were gold plates and such a number of lights that they made my eyes quite sore. The champion came in on horseback and threw down the glove: two other men on horseback followed him: the horses reared and plunged: a man in armour made of rings stood on each side of him. It was altogether beautiful. It was very hot.’

25 August 1821
‘Before we set off we went to Covent Garden market, and saw some beautiful fruit in the shop windows; we had not time to go through it, but what we saw was not to be compared to the flower-markets in Paris. We did not see anything here very pretty. It was excessively hot when we set off. We passed several pretty houses, and we stopped at Hampstead Heath to see Mr. and Mrs. Spedding. We dined at Welwin, not a very good inn. There were several nice little girls dancing along with bundles of corn on their heads. We slept at Antonbury Hill. It was a nice inn, and the people were civil.’

29 August 1821
‘We set off at seven, happy to think we were near the end of our journey. No person in the inn was ready. It was a dull morning. We passed Windermere and breakfasted at Ambleside. After this we passed some beautiful mountains very much wooded, and Rydal Water, a pretty little lake, and also Grasmere. As soon as we passed the boundary wall and entered Cumberland the sun came out and shone brightly for a little while. We saw the blue mountains peeping up behind, and the clear mountain streams. We passed Thirlmere, which is more like a river, and Helvellyn, an ugly mountain. We saw Keswick Lake; arrived at Keswick by one o’clock, and stayed there till three. After we had left this, a flock of sheep ran on before the carriage for above a mile with a man and his dog after them. The sun shone as we went up Whinlatter; and we saw the end of Bassenthwaite; the sixth lake we saw to-day. The time seemed very short till we reached Cockermouth, where we saw the new bridge they were building. At last we arrived in safety at Tallantire.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 30 May 2013.

Monday, May 29, 2023

On top of Mount Everest

Seventy years ago today, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa, made the first acknowledged ascent to the peak of Mount Everest. Although they were part of a large British expedition led by John Hunt, it is the New Zealander Hillary who became most famous and is most remembered. Thereafter, he devoted much of his energy and time to helping the Sherpa people of Nepal. He left his literary estate - including diaries - to an Auckland museum, but then his surviving children fought a fierce battle over the rights to use his written and photographic material. The dispute was resolved, thanks to the intervention of the country’s prime minister, in good time for the museum to celebrate the anniversary of Sir Ed’s ascent of Everest with an exhibition and an online blog featuring his expedition diary.

Hillary was born in 1919 in Auckland, New Zealand, his grandparents having emigrated from Yorkshire, England, in the mid-19th century. An interest in climbing was sparked when he was around 16 during a school trip to Mount Ruapehu. He studied mathematics and science at the University of Auckland; and in 1939 completed his first major climb, reaching the summit of Mount Ollivier, in the NZ Southern Alps. With his brother he became a beekeeper, a seasonal occupation that allowed him to pursue climbing in the winter months. He claimed his ‘religious conscience’ kept him from joining the air force at the start of the Second World War, but he did join the Royal New Zealand Air Force as a navigator in 1943. He was repatriated from the Solomon Islands in 1945 after being burnt in a boat accident. In 1948, he climbed New Zealand’s highest peak, Mt Cook, and in 1951 joined a British reconnaissance expedition to Everest.

Two years later, in 1953, Hillary was part of a ninth British assault on Everest, organised by the Joint Himalayan Committee. This was led by John Hunt and involved hundreds of people, mostly porters, climbing a route from Nepal via the South Col. Most of the climbers were forced back, but Hilary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay managed to reach the summit at 11:30 a.m. on 29 May 1953. Hillary was thus the first non-Sherpa to reach the summit, and this led him to immediate fame around the world, especially in his native New Zealand, and in Britain, where the news was announced on the day of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation - he was knighted within a couple of months. Later the same year, Hillary married Louise Rose, and they had three children. However, Louise and one of their children died in a tragic aeroplane accident in 1975.

After Everest, Hillary wrote several books about his expeditions, most notably High Adventure, published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1955, about the Everest ascent. He took part in the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, for which he led the New Zealand section, and reached the South Pole in January 1958, the first party to do so overland since Amundsen and Scott, nearly half a century earlier. He also continued to climb, taking part in several other Himalayan expeditions.

From the 1960s, Hillary became heavily involved in humanitarian work in the Nepal region, setting up the Himalayan Trust which, for decades, has helped build infrastructure and provide other support for Sherpa communities. In 1985, he accepted a posting as Ambassador to India, until his retirement in 1989. That year, he also remarried, June, the widow of his close friend, Peter Mulgrew, who had died, like his first wife, in an air accident. In 1987, Hillary was inducted into the Order of New Zealand; and in 1995 he received the British Commonwealth’s highest honour in becoming a Knight of the Garter. He died in 2008. Further biographical information is readily available from Wikipedia, The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, or New Zealand History Online.

Hillary left most of his literary and photographic archive, including some diaries, to Auckland War Memorial Museum. In May 2009, the New Zealand Herald reported that Hillary’s two surviving children were intending to sue the museum for usurping their rights: Hillary having stipulated in his will that his children should ‘have ready access to and the right to publish such material if they think fit’ for a period of 20 years. The dispute, between the family and the museum, which had become quite acrimonious, was only kept out of court through mediation by Prime Minister John Key, and the signing of a special decree - again see the New Zealand Herald.

Four years later, the museum announced it was opening an exhibition in celebration of the coming ‘60 year anniversary of Sir Ed’s Mt Everest climb and a lifetime of work in Nepal’. It was at pains to stress that ‘Sir Ed’s children Sarah and Peter Hillary have both contributed to the development of the exhibition’, and it included extracts from a diary that Sir Ed kept during the climb’. Extracts from that diary and images of the hand written pages are available on the museum’s blog. The extracts start with a short one dated 19 May 1953 and continue through to 29 May 1953, the day Hillary and Tenzing reached the summit. Here is part of Hillary’s diary for 28 May.

28 May 1953
‘[. . .] Position getting a bit desperate when Tenzing did a lead out over deep unstable snow to the left and finally to a somewhat more flattish spot beneath a rock bluff. We decided to camp here at approx. 27,900ft. gave others some oxygen and sent them down. It was 2.30pm. T & I took off O2 and set to work making campsite - a frightful job. Chopped out frozen rubble with iceaxes and tried to level area. By 5pm had cleared a site large enough for tent but on two levels. Decided it would have to do so pitched tent on it. Had no effective means of tying tent down so hitched some ropes and O2 bottles sunk in snow and hoped for the best.

At 6pm moved into the tent. Tenzing had his lilo along bottom level overhanging slope. I sat on top level with my feet on bottom and was able to brace the whole tent against the quarter hourly huge gusts of wind. The primus worked like a charm and we consumed large amounts of very sweet lemon water, soup and coffee and ate with relish sardines on biscuits, a tin of apricots, dates, biscuits on jam.

I had made an inventory of our oxygen supplies necessarily low due to the reduced lift and found that we only had 1 3/4 LAs (2000 litres) left for the assault. By relying on the two 1/3 full bottles left by Tom and Charles about 500 ft below South Summit I thought we could make an attack using about 3 litres a minute (I had adjustments for this and fortunately Tenzing’s set on 4 litres was really only a true 3 litres).

We also had a little excess O2 in three nearly empty bottles and this would give us about 4 hours sleeping O2. Although the thermometer registered -27 °C it was not unpleasantly cold as the wind was confined to casual strong gusts.

I spread the oxygen into two t hour periods and although I was sitting up I dozed reasonably well. Between O2 sessions we brewed up and had lemon juice and lemon juice and biscuits.

It was very noticeable that though we had no O2 from 2.30 until about 9pm that we were only slightly breathless and could work quite hard.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 29 May 2013.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

What is the answer? Money!

Very many happy returns to Joan Collins, 90 years old today. A famous British actress best remembered for her role in Dynasty, she is now considered one of the last surviving stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema. Apart from her long career in films and television she has also authored at least eight autobiographical books, one of which is a selection of entries from her ‘unapologetic’ diaries. Here she is in her early 60s, ruminating. ‘What do I really want to do? I would like to just live a happy life, and I don’t think that doing an American sitcom is going to make me that happy. What is the answer? Money! And with my kids and lifestyle, I need plenty of it.’

Collins was born in London on 23 May 1933 to a theatrical agent and a former dancer. She and her two younger siblings (sister Jackie would become a famous author) were thus much exposed through childhood to the entertainment industry. Aged 15, she enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, but also took modeling jobs to supplement her allowance. In 1952, she earned a first film credit, playing a teenage delinquent in Judgement Deferred. She then signed a five-year contract with J. Arthur Rank. Through the first half of the 1950s, she appeared in many films, being given increasingly better roles. In 1954, she was chosen by US director Howard Hawks to star as the scheming Princess Nellifer in Land of the Pharaohs. This led to a seven year contract with 20th Century Fox. She made her Hollywood film debut in the lavish drama The Virgin Queen, given equal billing with the likes of Bette Davis and Richard Todd.

Having been passed over to play the title role in Cleopatra, with the part going to Elizabeth Taylor, she became disillusioned with 20th Century Fox, and returned to London. Various films in the UK, Italy and again in the US followed. By the late 1960s, she was making guest appearances in many (now famous) television serials, and subsequently in TV movies. The 1970s saw her lead in many more films (appearing with Robert Mitchum in The Big Sleep, for example, and in a film version of her sister Jackie’s racy novel The Stud). In 1981, she joined Dynasty a struggling American soap opera, taking the role of Alexis Colby, the beautiful and vengeful ex-wife of an oil tycoon. Dynasty ran through the 1980s becoming the US’s number one TV show. Collins was nominated six times for a Golden Globe Award, winning it the once, in 1983. In the early 1990s, she starred in a stage revival of Noel Coward’s Private Lives as well as in a set of Coward’s plays for the BBC.

Into the 21st century, Collins continued acting regularly for screens big and small and onstage, but she also appeared frequently on chat and celebrity shows. In 2006 she toured the UK with a solo stage act, An Evening with Joan Collins, subsequently taking it to the US. She published a good number of books, some autobiographical, some on beauty, and some fiction. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 2015. She has been married five times, has three children and several grandchildren. Further information is available from Wikipedia, IMDB and Encyclopaedia Britannica

One of Collins’s autobiographical books is a collection of diary entries entitled My Unapologetic Diaries (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2021). She ends a short autobiographical prologue as follows: ‘And now I’m spilling the beans! Well, nearly all of them. I’ve always been a diarist, starting at age twelve with a tiny five-year diary of the kind you’d find at Smythson’s, and writing sporadically over the years. What you will read in the following pages was written when “I felt like it” between 1989 and 2006.

I dictated most of these entries in real time, into a mini tape recorder, every night when I came home. There is no rhyme or reason why there are gaps of years between entries. I do know that interesting events happened in those gaps, but I guess I wasn’t in the mood, or I couldn’t find my tape recorder, or maybe the tapes ended in the same place as Richard Nixon’s lost eighteen minutes. . .

Anyway, here they are, with NO apologies to anyone mentioned in them. Enjoy!’

24 October 1996
‘Meet Sacha and Erin at The Ivy. Supposed to be joined by Gary Pudney, but he doesn’t call or show. That’s Hollywood folks. At the next table is Jennifer Aniston, the current crème de la crème heartthrob of Friends on TV. I’ve never seen such slender arms. Also at the next table is an unrecognisable Cheryl Tiegs. Why do women over forty think they can go around wearing no make-up. I looked at Erin and say, “No woman over thirty should ever go out without make-up - you’re a girl after my own heart.” Jeffrey joins us and we discuss Sacha’s upcoming Vanity Fair layout, and his exhibition which he is planning on 1 February. We swap Polaroids from our various shoots yesterday. His is absolutely fabulous from Vanity Fair and for the first time in a photograph I can see the incredible combination of Tony and me in his face.

Dine with Jeffrey, Debbie Miller and Chris Barrett, my agents, and Mark Paresio, a new literary agent at Metropolitan. Drai’s restaurant is buzzing. Thursday night must be the night to be here. Joanie Schnitzer is sitting with Boaz. Plus the usual suspects. We have a fun dinner in which yet another television idea is pitched to me by Mark. This one I really like more than anything else. It’s a one-hour drama called ‘Georgetown’, set in Washington with all its political plottings and plannings. I would play a Pamela Harriman type. It sounds fabulous. I would make a good Pamela Harriman, although I don’t think that I possess her Machiavellian way and manipulative spirit. The usual paparazzi are outside. I am wearing my new simple look. Since Hollywood has embraced this in a big way, you leave the pearls and the glitz and the diamonds and the big hair at home. This is a bit difficult for me as I rather like it. I notice Joanie Schnitzer hasn’t left hers at home.’

30 November 1996
‘Went with Jeffrey and Erin to see 101 Dalmatians at the Academy. God, what a piece of shit! Without too many sour grapes or bitterness, I thought Glenn Close was perfectly awful as Cruella de Vil. I really wanted to play this role, and would have done anything, well almost, to get it. She plays it totally without humour and without any kind of vulnerability. All in all, it was the yawn of the year, and I’ll be amazed if it makes anybody over the age of nine want to go and see it. [ . . .]

Peter was very positive about me. He said how beautiful I was etc. etc., how great I looked, blah-blah. And he did make some very interesting suggestions: a) he thought I should change my hair, as my short, dark hair is so much associated with Alexis. He suggested going sort of a deep red, as producers would then see me in a different light.

“That’s probably why they don’t want to develop something for you, because you look the same as you did in Dynasty.”

“Maybe it’s a good idea. I’m fed up with the way I look, anyway,” I said.

Then, b), he said he thought I should go on the Howard Stem Show. I’ve always wanted to do that. I think he’s rather brilliant. I thought I’d say as my opening line, “I’ve always wanted to know whether your dick is as small as you always brag about.” Peter seems to think that getting a younger, hipper audience is the answer. Answer? I really don’t know what the question is. Do I really want to get down and dirty, trading scatological jokes with Howard Stern? What do I really want to do? I would like to just live a happy life, and I don’t think that doing an American sitcom is going to make me that happy. What is the answer? Money! And with my kids and lifestyle, I need plenty of it.’

27 December 1996
‘Did a little shopping at a men’s shop, then came home to the dreadfully sad news on my answering machine that Jean-Claude Tramont had died. Sue Mengers had left the message and she sounded dreadful. I was terribly, terribly upset. It was only seventeen weeks ago that he was in the South of France, frolicking in the pool, playing poker, full of life and jokes. We just adored him, so it’s a terrible blow. Went in the pouring rain with Jeffrey to a party at Ian and Doris La Frenais’s place. A lot of reasonably interesting people there, like Kiefer Sutherland, Helmut Newton and his wife June, Dani Janssen, Wendy Stark and John Morrissey. The food was good and it was great seeing Ian, who’s always fun and cheered me up.’

29 January 1997
‘A meeting at Aaron Spellings palatial offices where Jonathan Levin - all smiles and, as they say in My Fair Lady, ‘oozing charm from every pore, he oiled his way around the floor’ - made nice to me. Also there were the writers Diane Messina and Jim Stanley, along with Steven Tann (Vice President of Programming) and Jim Conway (Executive Vice President of Spelling Television). Sat there trying to be intelligent about a role that I really know nothing about. They’ve decided to call her Christina. I’ve suggested Zelda or Valentina, but they wanted something more ‘royal’. The actress who was to play my daughter is now no longer on board and they still haven’t cast her, although they are supposed to start shooting in three weeks. How Hollywood.’

Saturday, May 6, 2023

The bluff to Old Snuffy

‘In the afternoon Lt. Wheeler and I came to a rapid where we deemed it advisable to wait for the Picture [a boat]. I climbed the bluff to Old Snuffy [one of the brown dolomite tongues in the Bright Angel Shale]. Near the water line are rocks with scolithus, loosely aggregated sandstone, Potsdam sandstone? It must be 75 feet thick on the granite.’ This is from the diary of Grove Karl Gilbert, one of the founders of geomorphology, written during an early expedition under the command of the pioneering explorer and cartographer, George M. Wheeler.

Gilbert was born in Rochester, New York, on 6 May 1843. He was home schooled for much of his childhood, and, though not always healthy, was an attentive student. He graduated from the University of Rochester, and tried teaching but soon resigned his first job. In 1863, he took an apprenticeship at Ward Natural Science Establishment, at Cosmos Hall on the Rochester campus, which manufactured and distributed scientific equipment for schools. He avoided the Civil War, most likely because of poor health. In 1869 he took part in the second Ohio State Geological Survey as a volunteer assistant; and, in 1871, he joined the Wheeler Survey, one of the four great surveys of the American West. In 1874, he married Fanny Loretta Porter; and in 1875, he was transferred to the John Wesley Powell survey, which took him to Utah. In 1877, he published his first important monograph, The Geology of the Henry Mountains

Following the creation of the U.S. Geological Survey in 1879, Gilbert was appointed Senior Geologist. In 1884 he was placed in charge of the Appalachian division of geology, and in 1889, upon the creation of the division of geologic correlation, he was placed at its head. In 1890, he published his History of the Niagara River, but in 1892 he relinquished his position as chief geologist. Although wrongly attributing the origins of a crater in Arizona to volcanic activity, he correctly concluded that the craters on the moon were caused by meteorites and not volcanoes. He joined the Harriman Alaska Expedition in 1899. Two weeks after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, he took a series of photographs documenting the damage along the San Andreas fault. 

Gilbert, much honoured in his lifetime, won the Wollaston Medal from the Geological Society of London in 1900. He was elected as a member to the American Philosophical Society in 1902. He was awarded the Charles P. Daly Medal by the American Geographical Society in 1910. And, he is the only geologist to ever be elected twice as President of the Geological Society of America. ‘Gilbert,’ Wikipedia says, ‘is considered one of the giants of the sub-discipline of geomorphology, having contributed to the understanding of landscape evolution, erosion, river incision and sedimentation. He died in 1918. Further information is also available Encyclopaedia Britannica, and EOS.

Although Gilbert was a lifelong diarist, the many diaries he left behind have been described as ‘colourless’. Here is an extract from William M. Davis’s memoir on Gilbert - as found online at the National Academy of Sciences: ‘During Gilbert’s apprenticeship at Cosmos Hall he formed the habit of keeping a concise diary, and this habit was pursued all through his life. Brief entries were made in small pocket-books concerning the persons he met and the places he visited; and 51 of these consecutive annual records have been preserved, beginning in 1868 and continuing to 1918; the last entry was made only a few days before his death. It is a great privilege to look over the personal records of such a man, not in the way of peering curiosity but in a reverent spirit, with the memory of the man constantly present, and with much of the sadness that one feels when standing alone and in silence by the grave of a trusted friend. A sincere interest is aroused by every item that teaches something of his habit of thought, something of his inner nature, something of the powerful and beautiful personality that so greatly aided the progress of geology in America and that endeared itself so warmly to all his associates.

Unhappily, entries in the diaries are for the most part colorless records of fact, with very few expressions of opinion or of feeling. There are occasional blank periods, and these are prolonged when the diary was replaced by field notebooks during many seasons of work in the West. Annual summaries of travel and other leading topics are found in many of the later books. Mention is frequently made of stops on journeys westward or eastward at Rochester to see parents or elder brother; or at Jackson, Mich., to see a sister; but there is nothing written to indicate the warm affection that united the diminishing family. Instead of drifting apart in later years by reason of separated residence, the survivors seemed to grow closer and closer together. Brief extracts from the diaries will be found on later pages, where they occasionally serve to fix the dates of journeys and or to clear up matters that would otherwise remain obscure.’

That said, one of his diaries has been transcribed, by George Simmons, and is available online at Colorado Plateau River Guides (CPRG) website. CPRG says that when presented with this manuscript by Simmons ‘we almost fell dead’. This is a very significant piece of literature,’ it continues, ‘that has, to our knowledge, never been published. The trip occurred in the fall of 1871, before John Wesley Powell’s second expedition through the Grand Canyon. This is one of three factors which led to the decision by Powell to abandon the rest of his expedition at Kanab Creek in 1872. Lt. George M. Wheeler was in charge of the expedition in which Grove K. Gilbert was the geologist. This is the third expedition to reach Diamond Creek.’ 

Here are several extracts.

26 September 1871
‘The gravel that underlies Fortification Rock and Table Mountain, is newer than Black Canon lavas and older than the basalt of those peaks. The river bluffs above are of more recent gravels. Think the lower (red) bed of Table Mountain is lava - the yellow above gravel. The same beds north of the river bear the same relation to the basalt that forms the Table Mountain there.

At Fortification Rock were pictured the Butte itself the sculptured gravel opposite and some sand-worn rocks. We left the spot at about 1 P.M. and to Vegas Wash - 2 or 3 miles - had to tow up a steep hill made by the debris from the wash. The slack water above this dam gave us easy work nearly to Callville, a distance of ten miles(?). All the way the banks show gravel bluffs of coarse and fine material, half consolidated so as to give rough semi-castellated forms.’

6 October 1871
‘I propose to call our boat (No. 3) the Trilobite. We

managed to get off from Camp Crossing at about 10 A.M., just in time to miss the swimming of the mules. Mr. Marvine accompanies us so far as to get a glimpse of the mouth of the Canon and then returns. We camp outside the Canon and Hecox and I start to climb the wall. Hecox sickens (morally) at the first third of the climb, and returns. I do not reach the top until after sunset though I started at about 1 P.M. It is the hardest climb I ever undertook.’

8 October 1871
‘This morning we got ready early and I walked back to

meet Lt. Wheeler who with O’Sullivan had camped a mile below. With him I revisited the springs on the north shore and we named them.

A large one of the crater style with flowers we called Tufa Spring and Tufa Springs would be a good name for the group. Another larger one with a fantastic canopy of tufa is Grotto Spring.

A third is Baptismal Fountain.

A fourth (now dry) and hanging against a larger one is the Holy Water Fountain.

A dripping spring where tufa a foot from the water projects far over it. Starting our boat along we find yet other springs on both shores. Many of them voluminous. At one are some scrubby trees a foot or two in diameter but with the habit of the water willow. The leaf is small and unequally cordate [sketch omitted] the leaves on sprouts being rounder than those on old stems.

Verdure is to be seen at many points on the bank and referable to springs. It is confined however to the sandstone doubtless because the limestone is not so pervious [barometric readings omitted].

In the afternoon Lt. Wheeler and I came to a rapid where we deemed it advisable to wait for the Picture.

I climbed the bluff to Old Snuffy [one of the brown dolomite tongues in the Bright Angel Shale]. Near the water line are rocks with scolithus, loosely aggregated sandstone, Potsdam sandstone? It must be 75 feet thick on the granite [sketch and description of geologic section omitted].’

16 October 1871
Hecox and I were out of camp last night on account of boat accident, and the camp missed us for we had food and beds, and our boat crew went without either. They had however some bread in the morning when we came up and some of them made up all deficiencies by a good hearty grumble lasting through the day. Tonight Lt. Wheeler puts us on short allowance of flour - four pounds a day for seven men (the full ration is 7 lbs. 12 oz.). Our bacon is gone, and beans and rice are scant, but coffee is in plenty and will outlast every other item. Our flour will hold out at this rate six days and those must bring us to the Diamond River or back to the crossing, the former if possible. I make out from lves map and Newberry’s section that we are not to expect any great change in the character of the canon at Diamond River, but merely a retirement of the Red Wall from the immediate cliff. It is now far enough back to be out of sight except through canon vistas.

The granite cliff continues to show much schistose rock gneiss, chlorite slate, etc.

Basalt veins (as I can only suppose them to be for I have no time to examine them) have appeared along the cliff at many (3 or 4) points today though we have come but 1 1/2 miles.

Our work of today was the completion of the passage of Double Rapid. On the upper half Salmon and Hecox broke loose in a boat and brought up in an eddy between the two falls and on the wrong side. Indians had to swim the river and climb around to them (a work of 2 hours) to row them over when they succeeded in getting them up. Once above the rapid we found deep slow running water (with slight interruption) for 1 1/2 miles when we encamped and drew our daily ration or half ration. Drew the Picture up for repairs.

The force of the current in high water is here so great that no small gravel remains on the surface of the bottom - only large boulders. These give the rapids quite different character as regards navigation. Standing ground is generally convenient for men on the tow line. Sunken rocks are likewise abundant and the water is much tossed. The towing force does not have to wade, but pulls hand-over-hand. The steersman and bowman have to be on the alert.

Astronomical Obseravations tonight: Camp 28.’ 

Hoping for a big one

‘Tokyo. [. . .] There was the odd schoolboy comic moment too, as when a Japanese businessman said “Ra whole of Japan is rookin fowad to your erection.” I said we are hoping for a big one and TB spluttered while the Jap put his thumbs up and said “Big one, big one.” The reality was that he was making a big impact though, and the Japanese saw in TB a very new and attractive kind of leader.’ This is an extract from Alastair Campbell’s diaries written during a trip to Tokyo in 1996, the year before Tony Blair’s first landslide general election win. Blair - who is 70 today - has never kept diaries. However, Campbell has published eight volumes of diaries, with Blair centre stage in most of them.

Anthony Blair was born on 6 May 1953 in Edinburgh, but his family soon moved to Australia where his father lectured in law at the University of Adelaide. On returning to the UK in 1958, they settled in Durham. Blair attended the Chorister School from 1961 to 1966. Aged 13, Blair was sent to board at Fettes College in Edinburgh, from 1966 to 1971. On leaving school, he spent a gap year in London, reportedly, attempting to find fame as a rock music promoter. After three years at St John’s College, Oxford, he trained as a barrister at Lincoln's Inn, where he was called to the bar, and where he met his future wife, Cherie Booth (married 1980, four children). In the early 1980s, having joined the Labour Party, he was involved in Labour politics in north London. 

Blair fought, unsuccessfully for Labour in the 1982 Beaconsfield by-election, but a general election the following year saw him elected to Parliament for the seat of Sedgefield. He soon joined in with a group of party modernisers, including Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson, who sought to make Labour more electable. They advocated a weakening of Labour’s association with the trade unions, and a reduced focus on policies such as unilateral nuclear disarmament, public ownership and high taxation. In 1994, following the unexpected death of John Smith, Blair became leader of the party (Gordon Brown having stood aside in the leadership ballot to avoid splitting the modernising vote). In 1997, he led Labour to a landslide election victory, becoming the youngest Prime Minister since 1812. He enacted constitutional reforms, increased public spending on healthcare and education, introduced a minimum wage and tuition fees for higher education, and aided devolution in Scotland and Wales.

Blair was re-elected with a strong majority in 2001 but his premiership was much affected by the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US. Blair supported the US’s war on terror despite serious disquiet in his own party, and backed the use of British forces for military action in Afghanistan, and then during the invasion of Iraq. Increasingly, his authority was undermined by a long simmering rift with Brown. After a third election victory in 2007, he stepped down as Labour leader, allowing Brown to take over as Prime Minister. He also resigned his seat as an MP. The same year he was appointed Special Envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East, a diplomatic post which he held until 2015. Since then, he has been the executive chairman of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2021. Further information is readily available online at Wikipedia, the British Government website, Encyclopaedia Britannica, and the BBC.

Blair is not a diarist (he revealed as much in 2007 - see this BBC news report). However, Alastair Campbell, who worked directly for Blair in various roles  (spokesmen, campaign director, press secretary, and later director of communications for the Labour Party), did a keep a very detailed diary, both political and personal. A first selection of diary entries was published in 2008 as The Blair Years: Extracts from the Alastair Campbell Diaries. But between 2010 and 2018, he brought out eight volumes - variously published by Hutchinson, Arrow and Biteback - with much longer and more comprehensive extracts. Also in 2013, The Lilliput Press published his Irish Diaries 1994-2003. Many of these books can be previewed at Googlebooks, but the original volume - The Blair Years - can be digitally borrowed from Internet Archive

The Diary Review has already dipped into Campbell’s diaries a few times, see A good press secretary, Call me Cherie, and All work and no play. But here, to celebrate Blair’s 70th birthday, are a few more of Campbell’s observations on his boss.

5 January 1996
‘Tokyo. We had been advised before coming over to get lots of calling cards and the embassy explained it really was important, not just for us but for TB himself. The Japanese set huge store by calling cards, and the ambassador really felt that we should get some good ones for TB. As the day wore on, and he began to run out of his own cards, and get them mixed up with the cards he had been given, he ended up giving the German Ambassador's card to a businessman from Sony. There was one tricky moment, when TB was introduced to someone and asked who he was, and the ambassador said “You know, the former prime minister,” and TB said “Ah yes, I know the face.” There was the odd schoolboy comic moment too, as when a Japanese businessman said “Ra whole of Japan is rookin fowad to your erection.” I said we are hoping for a big one and TB spluttered while the Jap put his thumbs up and said “Big one, big one.” The reality was that he was making a big impact though, and the Japanese saw in TB a very new and attractive kind of leader. I wondered if they would have felt the same if they had seen him later, sitting in his bedroom at the residence, wearing nothing but his underpants and an earthquake emergency helmet which we all had in our rooms, pretending to speak Japanese.’

6 May 1997 [Oddly, Blair’s birthdays are very rarely mentioned in the published versions of Campbell’s diaries. 1997 was an exception.]
‘[. . .] It was TB’s birthday and there was a little do for him in the Cabinet Room, to which lots of the Garden Room Girls [Prime Minister’s secretarial staff] and other staff came. It could have been a really good scene for him, but he didn't really rise to it, which was a pity. All felt a bit flat. [. . .]’

11 May 1997
‘The papers were basically fine, though there was far too much chatter about the Budget. I went for a swim and then a lunch at Fredericks for TB’s birthday organised by Maggie Rae [partner of Alan Haworth, PLP secretary] and Katie Kay [former neighbour of the Blairs, later an aide]. Lots of his family were there and it was an OK event. I was sitting next to a relative of Cherie’s who runs a B&Q store. TB arrived in a rather poncy four-buttoned suit. He said he felt rested. He liked Chequers. He was worried about changing PMQs, felt it would come back and hit us at some time. We were only getting away with it because of the honeymoon effect. He felt once that ended, we would have to raise the game another gear.’

20 July 1997
‘TB called early, worried about Ireland. He felt the way the coverage was leaning could add to the pressure on Trimble to pull out. There was a sense that the IRA ceasefire was a tactic to secure exactly that, so that the Unionists would be the ones blamed for screwing it up. TB suggested that I sprinkle around references to the UUs surely not wanting to be seen to throw away the best prospect of peace for years. He wanted it made clear that we had not changed the line on decommissioning, and there was far too much of that around in the Sundays. We had both to reassure the Unionists but also make clear how much was at stake if they pulled out now.’

30 August 2000
‘TB said it was important I understood why parts of Thatcherism were right. Later in the day he came up with another belter when Peter H, trying to get him to be more progressive and radical, asked what gave him real edge as a politician and TB said “What gives me real edge is that I'm not as Labour as you lot.” I pointed out that was a rather discomfiting observation. He said it was true. He felt he was in the same position he had always been and we were the people who had changed to adapt. Re me, he said I had to learn to be less het up and emotional about this because in the end it was my political judgement he wanted me for. In another conversation later, he said the problem with schools was uniformity of teaching. I said the problem was the background of poorer kids and he just rolled his eyes at me.’

4 July 2001
‘TB said this was going to be a rocky phase and we just had to ride it. “This is politics. It happens. Name me a prime minister who has not had to deal with this to greater or lesser degrees. You will never change it,” he said. He had picked up on my mood, said he thought the problem was I had gone from obsessive management of day to day to now being a bit disengaged, almost deciding no communication was better than one that got attacked. TB reckoned it was “not impossible I will be gone in a couple of years - it depends how much change they will take”.’