From May to October

Although I rose early on this May Day, I have neglected to wash my face in morning dew. I think instead of Mary Oliver’s poem: “Why I Wake Early “.

I emerge from the Underground at Warwick Avenue around breakfast time, giving me all the excuse I need to stop at the cafe in Formosa Street on my way to a conference at the Institute of Psychoanalysis. I leaf through the “Ham and High” as I sip my coffee.

A slight depression has been detected in a clearing in the Vale of Health. This is great news, according to City of London ecologist Adrian Brooker. He says that it means a long lost Pond, part of Hampstead Heath’s natural heritage, can be retrieved. The original area of the pond is believed to have shrunk as the stream flow of the underground River Fleet reduced.

Breakfast enjoyed, I tuck my paper away and continue along Formosa Street. An online search has revealed that the Republic of Formosa (an “unrecognised State”) existed on the island now known as Taiwan between May and October 1895. It had been in 1544 that passing Portuguese sailors jotted in their log, “Ilha Formosa” (Beautiful Island).

At the end of the working day, I leave the conference and walk on towards my hotel in Maida Vale. I pass the end of Randolph Avenue, known as Portsdown Road at the time when Sir John Tenniel lived here. British History Online comments rather repressively: “the change of his address from no.3 to no.10 probably signified no more than a renumbering of the houses.” Whatever its number, the house no longer stands.

Tenniel’s father, John Baptist Tenniel, had been a fencing master and, during a practice session with his son, accidentally wounded John’s right eye. Over the years, he gradually lost the sight in this eye, though he never revealed to his father the severity of the injury.

John Tenniel himself was of course the illustrator of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland ” and “Through the Looking Glass”. In addition, he was for half a century chief political cartoonist for Punch magazine. When it came to looking at his weekly cartoon in Punch, he remarked, “I always leave it to my sister, who opens it and hands it across to me, when I just take a glance at it, and receive my weekly pang.”

The existential pain is hinted at by Carroll’s Alice when she tells the Caterpillar: “I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”.

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