Let Your Boat of Life Be Light*

*from “Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)” by Jerome K Jerome

It’s a little chilling to read, when you consider that Henry VIII brought each of his six wives to Hampton Court Palace, that “Viking Cruises is delighted to be headline sponsor of the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show”.

Still, the day went off well, and I joined for a little while the crowd watching the World Cup on the big screen thoughtfully positioned above the Cocktail Bar.

The last launch of the day back to Richmond is scheduled for 5.45pm. (“At six o’clock their Mommies and Daddies/Will take them home to bed”), and we are keen not to miss it. It has capacity for a hundred and ninety passengers, though probably half that number will travel.

We start to gather near the landing stage, sitting on the grass and picking at it, like spectators at School Sports Day. Every so often, a representative of Turks Launches or Parrs checks that we don’t really want the shuttle to Hampton Court Station or the trip to Molesey Lock.

The lock at East Molesey stars in Three Men in a Boat, a comic travelogue published in 1889. The trip it describes is a typical boating holiday of the time in a Thames camping skiff. This was just after commercial boat traffic on the Upper Thames had died out, replaced by the 1880s craze for boating as a leisure activity.

The family business of Turks Launches was established in Kingston in 1710. When Robert Bolt’s play, “A Man for All Seasons”, depicting the final years of Sir Thomas More, was made into a film in 1966, the late Michael Turk, Swan Marker and Queen’s Waterman, was approached. In response to the request for a 16th Century shallop, he built a replica in his boatyard.

As Lord Chancellor of England, More (author of the 1516 work, “Utopia”) refused to sign a letter asking Pope Clement VII to annul Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and refused to take an Oath of Supremacy declaring Henry the Supreme Head of the Church of England. In 1535, More was executed by beheading for his stance. Dr Clarence Miller has written that for Bolt, the religious pole “…could only be a metaphor for something else, the watery, amorphous, terrifying cosmos in which modern existential man finds himself …”.

We board the New Southern Belle, and skittishness sets in. Most of us are sitting in the upper saloon, where the double row of chairs in the middle are placed back to back, as though for a game of musical chairs. A young man comes round to check our tickets, and confesses to being Swedish, enabling us to commiserate with him patronisingly.

It is like starring in a Royal Progress, and whatever our nationality when we boarded, we are all now definitely identifying as English for the duration of the trip. Along the banks of the river and on the river itself, people want to wave at us and cheer, including the crowd outside Richmond Yacht Club, who are all dressed as pirates of the Gilbert and Sullivan variety.

As we approach St Helena (patron saint of new discoveries) Pier in Richmond, the pilot gives two blasts on the ship’s hooter – one for each English goal, I surmise. The crew see us off, looking as exhausted as parents who have hosted a children’s party.

Please, no tears before bedtime.

You Are Now In Bedford Falls

The Sicilian American film director Frank Capra was once described by Ian Freer as the “American dream personified”. His 1946 film, “It’s a Wonderful Life “, though it did not do well on first release, was in 2006 voted the movie that has inspired the most Americans, in a poll taken by the American Film Institute.

It was based on a short story by Philip van Doren Stern, which he self-published in the form of a Christmas card. When Capra read it, he said that he “had been looking for (it) all (his) life.”. It had been twelve years earlier, with the release of “It Happened One Night”, that Alistair Cooke observed that Capra was “starting to make movies about themes instead of people.”.

In “Wonderful Life”, James Stewart played the role of George Bailey, and said in later life that of all the film parts he had played in his long career, this was his favourite. In a climactic, redemptive scene, the despairing George comes to realise that his life, like that of his fellows, has the capacity to touch the lives of many others for good.

Stewart later described his performance in terms of the purest improvisation. In the scene set in Martini’s Bar, he followed the script, pleading: “dear Father in heaven….I’m at the end of my rope. Show me the way.” As he said this, he reported, he “felt the loneliness of people who had nowhere to turn”, and his “eyes filled with tears. I broke down sobbing. This was not planned at all…” Film critics have observed that Jimmy Stewart’s pre-war “aw gee” style of acting evolved once he had returned from active service into something more profound and nuanced.

The Bedford Falls in which the film is set is based partly on the town of Bedford, New York. It was founded on 23 December, 1680, when twenty-two Puritans from Stamford, Connecticut, purchased a tract of land three miles square from Chief Katonah and several other Native Americans.

Today I am in the Bedford which is the county town of Bedfordshire. It was first granted borough status in 1165. In 1941, the BBC’s Music and Religion Departments, having already been evacuated to Bristol, were looking for a safer place of residence, and chose Bedford as their new secret location. It was identified on air only as “somewhere in England “.

John Bunyan, writer and Puritan preacher, was born at Elstow, near Bedford, in 1628. He spent three years in the Parliamentary army during the first stage of the English Civil War, and two years later married a pious young woman who brought two books into marriage with her, one of them being “Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven “.

After years of spiritual conflict, Bunyan began preaching within a nonconformist congregation and beyond. Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, however, Bunyan was arrested under the Conventicle Act of 1593 and sentenced to imprisonment. While in Bedford Gaol, he started work on “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, which is presented as a dream sequence – “and as I slept, I dreamed a Dream.” – told by an omniscient narrator. It was published in 1678, and has never been out of print since.

Before the closing of the First Part, the pilgrims of the story are captured by Giant Despair and his wife Diffidence and taken to their home in Doubting Castle. The couple urge the pilgrims to end their own lives, but they endure their ordeal until Christian realises that Promise, the key in his possession, will open any door or gate in the castle.

British History Online tells us that in August 1672 there happened at Bedford “an Horrible and unheard of Tempest”. In the course of half an hour it “threw the Swan Inn gates off the Hinges into the Street….The Rose Inn Gates it threw off the Hinges into the middle of the Street. The Maidenhead Inn Gates it served in like manner.”

Some of the names in “Wonderful Life” suggest a fable. For instance, Potter’s Field is a slum development whose landlord, Henry Potter, is paid overpriced rents. The name used to attach to a city’s burial place for people who die alone and penniless. The Gospel of Matthew records that, after Judas Iscariot had hanged himself, he was buried outside Jerusalem, in the Potter’s Field.

And Bailey? It used to mean the outer wall of a castle.

John Bunyan wrote, following Psalm 56: “There hath not one tear dropped from thy tender eye….but as it is now in the bottle of God.”.

This Lime-Tree Bower my Prison

This poem was written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge during 1797, and recalls an occasion when he was obliged by injury to remain in his garden while his friends made an excursion into the country. In the third stanza, his mood lifts, and he notices: “A delight/ Comes sudden on my heart, and I am glad/ As I myself were there! Nor in this bower, / This little lime-tree bower, have I not mark’d / Much that has sooth’d me.”

In France and Switzerland, limes are a symbol of liberty, and the trees were planted to commemorate different battles. Lime blossom can be used to make tilleul, a soothing tea which is a remedy for headache. Lime wood does not warp and is still used today to make sounding boards and piano keys. The acknowledged master of English lime wood carving, and the man who introduced the material to this country as a versatile alternative to native oak, is Grinling Gibbons.

Gibbons was born to English parents in Rotterdam in 1648, and came to England about 1667. His early work has affinities with the lime wood sculptural tradition of Southern Germany. Jonathan Jones observes: “This Baroque artist shared with (Bernini) an ability to breathe life into still material.”. Michelangelo, in his time, believed the sculptor was a tool of God, not creating but simply revealing the powerful figures already contained in the marble. His habitual working practice is referred to as “non-finito”, and is emblematic of the struggle of man to free the spirit from matter.

John Gillespie Magee Jr, a young Spitfire pilot, sent his parents a few months before he met his death in the air the text of “High Flight”. In his sonnet he says: “Hov’ring there,/ I’ve chased the shouting wind along and flung/ My eager craft through footless halls of air”.

Horace Walpole wrote: “There is no instance of a man before Gibbons who gave to wood the loose and airy lightness of flowers.”. In 1769, Walpole greeted some distinguished French, Spanish and Portuguese visitors at the gate of his villa at Strawberry Hill wearing a cravat carved from lime wood by Gibbons.

If before mid-September you visit Fairfax House in York, as I did yesterday, you can see the cravat, which is carved in imitation of Venetian needlepoint lace. The magnificent Georgian town house is showing it as part of its exhibition, “The Genius of Grinling Gibbons “.

As Prospero reminds Ariel in Shakespeare’s “Tempest”, “…….It was mine Art,/ When I arriv’d and heard thee, that made gape/ The pine, and let thee out.”

Towers of Power

I have climbed Christmas Steps, skirted round Zed Alley, and passed by the Synagogue to make my way from the coach station to Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, in Clifton. The building was designed in Edwardian Baroque style by Frederick Wills, and largely funded at its inception by his cousin, the tobacco baron Sir William Henry Wills. I am here to see Grayson Perry’s admirable exhibition, “The Vanity of Small Differences “. (It is Perry who is co-ordinating the Royal Academy’s 250th Summer Exhibition this year.)

Today the University of Bristol is holding an Open Day, and prospective students and their sponsors are swarming around the Wills Memorial Building next door. The particular Wills whom this building, with its 65m high Gothic Revival Tower, commemorates is the University’s first Chancellor, Henry Overton III. He entered the family firm of W.D. and H.O. Wills in 1846, but retired from active association with it in 1880, owing to poor health.

In 2017, student protesters called for the building to be renamed “after an individual that we…can be proud of”. Although slavery was outlawed in Britain in 1833, slaves were still being used to produce US tobacco in 1846. As commentators have pointed out, however, it’s hard to find historic Bristolians who weren’t connected to the slave trade.

In 2014, Grayson Perry RA wrote in “The rise and fall of Default Man”: “….I feel that by coming from a working class background and being an artist and transvestite, I have enough cultural distance from the towers of power. I have space to turn round and get a fairly good look at the edifice.” He writes of the “forest of huge totems….Great shiny monoliths in various phallic shapes…” of the City of London. And one of the first psychoanalysts in the US, A.A. Brill, vouchsafed to Edward Bernays for a very large fee that cigarettes were a symbol of the penis. Bernays was a nephew by marriage of Sigmund Freud, and invented the term “public relations “.

The six large tapestries which compose “The Vanity of Small Differences ” are inspired by Hogarth’s morality tale, “A Rake’s Progress”. Before we leave the subject of towers, let us recall that William Hogarth named his favourite pug Trump.

Alarums and excursions

Highbury Corner is a confusing place in its way. As I emerge from Highbury and Islington Station, I see the entrance to Highbury Station across the road. In fact, this is the old 1904 Underground Station, refurbished in 2006 and now the site of signalling equipment.

Then there is The Garage, a live music venue. I had idly assumed, having never been inside, that it was a former bus depot; in reality, it was built as a Temperance Billiard Hall. About fifty such halls, aiming to provide an alternative to alcohol based entertainment, were built in London during the Temperance Movement of the late 19th and early 20th Century. The one in Fulham High Street is now a public house called The Temperance.

On I go, heading for the Bowlby Centre (for psychotherapy training) to hear a two hour presentation. John Bowlby – first name Edward – who lived from 1907 to 1990, was psychologist, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, and carried out pioneering work in attachment theory. I arrive at Highbury Crescent to find that the architecture of the small but attractive Bowlby Centre at No 1 confirms what I have been told: the building was originally purposed for public lavatories.

Beyond lie Highbury Fields. The land south of Highbury Terrace was laid out for Highbury Crescent by James Wagstaff and James Goodbody in 1844. Numbers 19 – 25 were let to Goodbody in 1846. In 1885, the Fields were opened as a recreation ground.

In 1887 one J Wagstaff wrote to the Islington Gazette:

“During the last few weeks, the place has been the resort of all the “raggedism” of the parish.

The yelling and screaming of countless children has been so intolerable that I, who have lived here all my life, am being driven away.

Surely it was never intended that nearly £80 000 of public money should be spent on the ruthless destruction of the once valuable property surrounding Highbury Fields.

Unless something is speedily done, it is quite certain that Highbury Place and Highbury Crescent will very quickly degenerate to the level of slumdom.”

In 2014, Leon Neal wrote in a picture feature for the Guardian:

“With spiralling land prices in London, the city’s 19th Century public toilets are being reinvented as restaurants, cafes and boutiques. Meanwhile, the number of public toilets is in steady decline.

Many Victorian public toilets remained abandoned for decades after the Second World War, but – encouraged by local officials keen for fresh sources of income- the conversion wave is gathering pace.”

The oldest extant public toilets in London date from 1899 and belong to Wesley’s Chapel in City Road. John Wesley (1703-1791), founder of Methodism, was acutely aware of the dangers of alcohol, particularly spirits, though he once described wine as “one of the noblest cordials in creation “. His branch of the Church became passionately involved in the Temperance Movement in the Victorian era.

I mentally defer to Bowlby: “All of us, from the cradle to the grave, are happiest when life is organised as a series of excursions, long or short, from the secure base provided by our attachment figures.”

The Republic of Heaven is a company town

The Blake Society was founded in 1985 on the instigation of Donald Reeves, the then rector of St James’s Piccadilly, to honour and celebrate William Blake, who was baptised at the font (attributed to Grinling Gibbons) still in use in the church today. (It was Reeves who counselled Jack Dee through his passing desire to be a vicar, before he made it in stand-up comedy.) Tonight the Society’s President, the literary superstar Philip Pullman, is giving its Annual Lecture, taking as his subject the craft of storytelling.

His enthralling lecture is spangled with quotations from, among others, Blake and Wordsworth. Pullman told Mother Jones, laughing, about teaching middle school students: “I didn’t care about them….My real purpose…was to practise telling stories. And I practised on the greatest model of storytelling we’ve got, which is The Iliad and The Odyssey…

every class of children seemed to have the same groups….Teachers often make the mistake of thinking they’re the boss of the class; they’re not. The boss of the class is sitting down there somewhere.”

Pullman speaks of how the imagination can be trained, and quotes Blake:

“When the sun rises, do you not see a round disc of fire somewhat like a guinea? O no, no, I see an innumerable company of the heavenly host crying Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.”

In Pullman’s trilogy, “His Dark Materials”, he posits a Republic (not Kingdom) of Heaven, challenging a system where the authority came from above and was not to be questioned. Elsewhere, he has written: “Writing is despotism, but reading is democracy.” He points out: “It’s a good thing to speak up for our colleagues who are mistreated or unjustly imprisoned, or to take joint action against injustice or oppression of any sort, whether it’s political in origin, or religious, or commercial, as these days it might well be.”

My thoughts are wandering through time and space to that other celebrated Pullman, George Mortimer, designer of the Pullman sleeping car. In 1871, Pullman and Andrew Carnegie, with others, bailed out the financially troubled Union Pacific, and took positions on its Board of Directors. Andrew Carnegie penned in 1889 an article entitled “The Gospel of Wealth”, which called on the rich to use their wealth to improve society.

Pullman went on to build a company town adjacent to his factory, and ruled it like a feudal baron. The ultimate result was the Pullman Strike, in which thirty strikers lost their lives. The subsequent presidential commission report found Pullman’s paternalism partly to blame and described Pullman’s company town as “un-American”. It was in time annexed to Chicago.

Worker discontent was expressed in an often-quoted saying: “We are born in a Pullman house, fed from the Pullman shops, taught in the Pullman school, catechised in the Pullman Church, and when we die we shall go to the Pullman Hell.”

Another day, another dollar.

A Guide to Walking Sideways

This is Dr Phil Smith’s subtitle for his document on Mythogeography. He distinguishes it from classic Debordian Psychogeography by saying, “What it longs to be is not a political organisation, but a mental architecture.”.

That’s quite good enough for me this Friday evening. I am accompanied in a virtual sense by blogger Andrew Whitehead. He took three “well worthwhile ” hours to trace the steps taken by Zadie Smith’s central character towards the end of her novel “NW”. As I turn left out of Kilburn Underground Station, I am joining them for part of the section entitled “Shoot Up Hill to Fortune Green”. As Andrew says, “Whatever truth you look for from a novelist, it’s not cartographic precision.”.

I have an appointment, however, and part from my virtual companions (Zadie, Natalie/Keisha, and Andrew) at the corner of Mapesbury Road. At the time of the Norman Conquest, this area was part of the manor of Willesden. One of its eight prebends was named Mapesbury after Walter Map, prebendary from 1173- c1192.

My meeting is hosted by the British Psychoanalytic Association at no 37. It is the very House where the distinguished neurologist, the late Oliver Sacks, grew up with his three brothers and their parents, physicians who practised from the house.

I have dipped into Oliver Sacks’s memoir, “Uncle Tungsten ” in preparation for this visit . In the chapter “Home Life”, he reminisces:

“We would sit down fifteen, sometimes twenty, to the table on Seder nights…..There was a beautiful, embroidered tablecloth….gleaming white and gold on the table. My mother, knowing that sooner or later there would be accidents, always had a preemptive “spill” herself – she would manage, somehow, very early in the evening, to tip a bottle of red wine onto the tablecloth, and thereafter no guest would be embarrassed if they knocked over a glass.”.

Even the stamp of the institution has not removed the sense that this was a family home. Upstairs, nine of us gather around a refectory table in a panelled room as the evening light slowly fades. As we discuss Freud’s fifth lecture from his 1909 series given at Clark University , a bottle of red circulates while we pick from the supper items set out on the table between us.

There is a curious postscript to “Uncle Tungsten “. After it had been published, Oliver’s brother Michael told him that his account of experiencing two wartime bombs falling in Mapesbury Road was an illusion- on the night the thermite bomb fell, they were both away at boarding school (their brother David sent them a vivid description in a letter). Oliver later made sense of his altered memory:

“After the first one fell, Michael and I went down the road at night in our pyjamas, not knowing what would happen. In that memory, I can feel myself into the body of that little boy. And in the second memory it’s as if I’m seeing a brilliantly illuminated scene from a film: I cannot locate myself anywhere in the scene.”.

Famously, Sacks was able as a writer to take case histories from his own practice and turn them into illuminating tales. He was bewildered by the concept of pure fiction: “But I’m writing about real human beings- I’m not conjuring up people from – from what? – from some mysterious realm I seem to have no access to.”.

As a teacher noted on the young Oliver Sacks’s school report: “Sacks will go far, if he does not go too far.”.

“More a threshold than a path”*

*description of poetry by Seamus Heaney

The 210 bus has brought me from Golders Green, sedately past the Spaniards Inn, where the traffic is historically reduced to a single lane, to Kenwood House. It dates from the early 17th Century, when it was known as Caen Wood House. In 1754, it was bought by William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield.

The rhododendrons that come into view around the house are spectacular, and show the merest signs of fading on closer inspection. The first man to describe himself as a “landscape gardener “, Humphry Repton, was invited in 1793 to improve these grounds by Viscount Stormont, who had inherited the property on the death of his uncle, the first Lord Mansfield.

Landscape historian John Phibbs explains Repton’s use of “the burst”: “whenever he could, he arranged it so that the way you first saw the house was immediately after coming through an area of dark woodland. This was designed to build up an emotional response.”

Patrick Baty, a historical paint expert, describes the Picturesque treatment of fences in this era with the colour that became known as “Invisible Green”, a shade still available from paint suppliers (who give Repton a namecheck) by that name today. William Mason’s 1783 poem, “The English Garden”, sums up the desired effect:

“The paint is spread, the barrier pales retire,

Snatched as by magic from the gazer’s view”.

Charles Elliott tells us that Peter Collinson introduced the first American variety of rhododendron to Britain, planting it in his garden in Peckham. “Somewhere around the 1760s or 1770s R. Ponticum – not from America, but from the Black Sea coast of Turkey- opened its gross purple blooms in England for the first time.”

When Sir William Chambers spoke derisively in the 1760s of the import of “American weeds”, the term American had overtones of the savage or wild. For Repton, this had the virtue of ornamental excitement. He developed what would become a key tenet of Regency garden style, the formal garden area between a great house and its Park.

Elliott notes: “That ponticum, so hopefully introduced 250 years ago, has now become a simple British weed. Its leathery leaves and purple blossoms are smothering hundreds of acres of irreplaceable heather moorland from Surrey to Snowdonia.”

Repton himself had his detractors, who detected weakness and insincerity in his business dealings. Jane Austen, in “Mansfield Park”, has Miss Bertram recommend Mr Repton to the bumptious but clueless landowner Mr Rushworth, who feels he “must try to do something ” with his grounds.

English Heritage, on its Kenwood House website, invites the visitor to “roam the meandering paths”. The section on “Kenwood in Spring” , gives a moment’s pause with its subheading “A Riot of Colour”…

Lord Mansfield, who had died before his nephew brought in Repton, has been variously described as “the legal genius of his generation” and “prudent to the point of timidity”. In June 1780, London was shaken by violent anti-Catholic riots, which became known as the Gordon Riots. The mob were raging against Government proposals to reduce restrictions against Catholics. Lord Mansfield was at the time Lord Chief Justice and was known for Catholic sympathies, a belief in religious tolerance, and a legal decision which took a step towards recognising slavery as illegal.

The mob marched towards Kenwood, intending to burn it down. They stopped at the nearby Spaniards Inn, where the publican and the Earl’s steward plied them with huge amounts of alcohol. This allowed time for troops to arrive and arrest them.

On another evening that first week of June, the mob burned Newgate Prison. Whether by design or by accident, the front line included the poet William Blake.

So long, and thanks for all the fish*

*(Fourth book of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy)

While browsing the blogs, I came across a post from the Manchester based “Fishink”, reminiscing about the married illustrators from Chicago, Dale and Betty Maxey. I knew of Dale from his lovely 1966 children’s book, “Seeing London”.Going back to my old copy, I realised that as a child I had never visited the Jewel Tower, probably because it is small and out of the way, a remnant of the 14th Century Great Palace of Westminster.

Dale writes: “When I visited the Jewel Tower I found a delightful fourteenth Century moat on two sides. And this moat was full of rainbow trout and goldfish. This unexpected sight is probably one of the most charming and least-known of Westminster’s many attractions.”

Unexpectedly, I found that today the moat is merely a dry ditch. The friendly young woman selling tickets (well, there is one other visitor) confides wryly that the moat was drained in 1992 when a slight leak made itself felt in the car park of the House of Lords, which lies beneath the Jewel Tower.

My pal Uncle Dale (the Maxeys had no children of their own) invites my child self to: “Explore its tiny rooms, its dark, narrow connecting staircases as much as you will.” As I negotiate the spiral staircase, I reflect that he may never have been in sole charge of one or more little darlings in these conditions. Tripadvisor indeed.

My reckless interpretation of a Tripadvisor entry (“a solid portion of the exhibit is recreated or modelled”) led me to hunt fruitlessly for imitation gems. When I returned to ground level, a man of greater dignity, if not rank, had joined the young woman at the desk. He responded a touch testily to my enquiry on the fake Jewel question with: “English Heritage would never engage in something so speculative.” Oops.

The Fishink blog has informed me that, while in London, the Maxeys lived at Abingdon Villas, Kensington. (When in New York, they resided in the Riverdale district of the Bronx.) This is a bit of a coincidence, because although it lies half a dozen stops on the Circle Line away, the Jewel Tower’s address is Abingdon Street. The Abingdon-Kensington link is clearly explained by the Oxford Mail:

“The links between the two councils go back to the early 1100s when the large Benedictine Abbey of Abingdon was a power in the land.

The Abbot Faritius had medical knowledge and treated Geoffrey de Vere, eldest son of Aubrey de Vere, who held the manor of Kensington.

He was taken to Abingdon for treatment but died. Before his death he granted the Abbot his church and some land in Kensington, although the deeds were lost when the monasteries were dissolved under Henry VIII.”

(John Steane, in an article for Oxoniensia, “The Abingdon Monks’ Map” notes:

“The pittancer’s account of 1322-3 makes reference to the purchase of fish for stocking the fishpond (ad vivarium instaurandum), and the kitchener’s account mentions a payment for cleansing the fishpond (pro vivario mundando) before 1377.)

I’m less clear about the Abingdon-Westminster link; perhaps some early twinning.

In a moment of nostalgia, and back in the speculative world, I make for London W8 to see where Dale and Betty once lived. “Their” block of flats dates from 1902, and has features of the Arts -and -Crafts influence. Apparently, these flats were built with 2-3 reception rooms and 3-5 bedrooms apiece. At the door I see a brass plate advertising the Porter’s bell.

At a neighbouring entrance, a young boy in football kit is enunciating into the entryphone, “Hello, it’s Tarquin.” I take it all back; I’m sure Tarquin would know just how to behave on an ancient spiral staircase.

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.”.