Posts tagged ‘Samuel Pepys’

March 21, 2015

A London Year

by Andre

Paperback now available – £12.99

A LONDON YEAR365 Days of City Life in Diaries, Journals and Letters – compiled by Travis Elborough & Nick Rennison

“With Thelma to the George Inn, Southwark, for a lunch of steak-and-kidney pie, cherry pie and beer. Expected hordes of American tourists but found only English, including three young men with posh accents who went through a repertoire of advert slogans, radio catchphrases and anecdotes about cricket, bloodsports and motors, even calling beer ‘ale’.” – Peter Nichols, Diary, 16 June, 1971

Part of the pleasure of this anthology of diary entries (one or more for each day of the year) is discovering the familiar from a distance. So for Southwark residents like us, there’s playwright Peter Nichols on a certain type of tourist in Borough High Street 44 years ago. Or how about the Quaker merchant Peter Briggins on the retail opportunities of the frozen Thames during the Great Freeze (21 January, 1716):

“Afternoon I went to London Bridge & saw booths & shops as farr as the Temple but they say there is booths to Chelsey, & below Bridge from about the Tower booths & many huts & people crossed over. There was they say 2 oxes roasted.”

With the capital as the changing backdrop, this is a remarkable portrait of London penned by more than 200 diarists, including Samuel Pepys, Kenneth Williams, Alan Bennett, Mary Shelley, James Boswell, Virginia Woolf and George Gissing. From the 16th century to the 21st, it’s an eyewitness account of everyday life that takes in grisly deaths in Tudor times, Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, anti-Vietnam war protests, World War I Zeppelin raids and Derek Jarman’s night out in Soho.

August 10, 2013

Winter: Adam Gopnik

by Andre

Adam Gopnik WINTER“Winter is coming,” as the Starks say in A Game of Thrones. It may not be uppermost in our minds during this balmy August, but New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik’s wonderful, wide-ranging meditation on winter will prepare you for the diminishing December days by stirring an appreciation of our 19th century taming of the season, which went from “being seen as bleak and bitter to sweet and sublime”. Raised in Canada, the essayist knows what a real winter means; his subject is also an excuse to introduce us to ice hockey – a “dross of brutal messiness” in John Updike’s phrase – and its emergence in Montreal.

Gopnik glides through a variety of aspects of the season with all the grace of Goethe on his ice skates (an engraving shows the German poet looking smug on the ice in the 1850s, when the pastime became “essentially social and overtly sexual” according to Gopnik). And while Germans such as the artist Friedrich are credited with transforming winter in our imagination through a “Romantic resistance to the Enlightenment idea of reason”, it’s heartening to see that the British played a part in everything from early ice skating (Pepys writes of this “very pretty art” in 1662) and fashionable Alpine holidays to stiff-upper-lip polar expeditions and, in the 1830s, even central heating. “North Americans who have spent a winter in England and who, clutching teacups and shivering in shaggy sweaters, wonder if they will ever be warm again, may find it hard to believe that this was the first warm modern place,” writes Gopnik.

He’s also good on the “ambiguous festival” that is the Dickensian Christmas and the clamour for the festive season to be less commercial, which is nothing new: US newspapers have been calling for Christmas to be “dematerialized” since the 1880s.