Friday, 31 December 2021

the electrical life of louis wain

Our gratitude to Strange Company for the introduction (well, the association of the artist to his delightful deranged felines rather) in Louis William Wain (*1860 - †1939), whose extensive body of works (one for every topic practically) are well and loving curated in the public domain and is the subject of a recent biopic, portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch. Wain’s first publish sketch in 1886, “A Kittens’ Christmas Party” in the Illustrated London News struck the right notes and proved very popular—along with other anthropomorphic portrayals—in Victorian England and became a quite prolific artist over the next three decades and was a champion of various animal charities and human societies, including one called the Governing Council of Our Dumb Friends League—as they couldn’t speak for themselves. Though the diagnosis remains disputed, the onset of Wain’s apparent schizophrenia which saw him confined to an asylum for the remainder of his life may have been triggered by toxoplasmosis, a parasitical disease that cats can pass to their humans. Some professionals claim to be able to track Wain’s deteriorating mental state through the succession of his paintings (see also here, here and here) though that assertion and its citation in popular psychology remains controversial.  The cat model that inspired his art throughout was called Peter and originally was the pet of his wife who encouraged Wain to get his drawings in print.

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

his grooms and companions, the autobiography of a horse

Though considered the foundational work of pony fiction--that genre of juvenile novels involving teens and learning equestrian skills—Anna Sewell’s final work published on this day in 1877 by Jarrold & Sons, Black Beauty, the first non-human memoir was not necessarily targeted to an audience of children. Instilling sympathy and respect for animals as well as people, the enduring best-seller recounts the stages of the narrator's life--first as a foal, a colt, then a working-horse pulling cabs whose hardships and experiences reflect those of his drivers and passengers in London before being put out to pasture for retirement.

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

prove to me that you’re divine, change my water into wine—that’s all you need do, then i’ll know it’s all true

Formerly only previewed as a cast recording in limited release over a year prior, the rock opera by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber Jesus Christ Superstar was for the first time staged and performed before a live audience in the Mark Hellinger Theatre on Broadway—the famous venue for My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Man of La Mancha which would eventually be consecrated in 1989 as the interdenominational Times Square Church—on this day in 1971. The anachronistic version of the Holy Week narrative, loosely following the books of the gospel and giving an accounting of Jesus and his disciples leading up to his arrest and crucifixion was the longest-running West End musical before being displaced by Cats in 1989. Below is “Superstar,” the penultimate number, with Judas, Soul Sisters and Angels from the 1973 adaptation, filmed on location.

Sunday, 12 September 2021

shower-thoughts or super criticality

Though precedents in chemical chain-reactions that could lead to explosions were well understood and the mechanism of nuclear fission had yet to be fully articulated, scientist Leรณ Szilรกrd (previously) first hypothesised the possibility of an atomic chain-reaction whilst waiting on a stop light on Southhampton Row at the crossing of Russell Square in Bloomsbury. This flash of insight on the part of the exiled Hungarian physicist, realising that an atom could be split with the recently discovered neutron, cascading with the release of more neutrons plus massive amounts of energy would be self-perpetuating, self-amplifying, would lead to nuclear applications in warfare and power production.

Monday, 16 August 2021

mind the gap

Featured on Open Culture, we quite enjoyed this audio-sampler of departure and arrivals announcements and assorted warnings, jingles beeps and chimes of mass-transit systems from around the world. While I am grateful for the luxury of choice, I am not quite yet comfortable to go back to taking public transportation regularly but am looking forward riding the bus again and leaving the driving in more capable, punctual hands. Passing by the Bahnhof pretty regularly, I’m often within earshot of the familiar, reassuring bing-boom (I am looking for a single ideophone that embraces all of these automated audio signals) of the train doors closing. Much more at the link up top.  What is your local onomatopoeia?

Wednesday, 11 August 2021


united states of wildfire: as the climate emergency escalates, more North American residents are moving into the path of destruction unwittingly 

fitting in: Ze Frank (previously) reveals that even the coolest, calmest and most collected of us are all trying, coping  

d’oyly carte: an islet in the Thames with a derelict mansion built for an opera impresario will be restored to its former glory—via Things Magazine 

caped crusaders: Batman’s sidekick Robin finally comes out 

constrained systems: a tool-kit of alternative image editing effects—via Waxy  

matchi bล:a mesmerising stop-motion study of a magic match stick from Tomohiro Okazaki—via ibฤซdem

 bubblegum pop: the Osmonds 1968 song “Groove with what You Got”  

ฮฑฯ€ฮฟฮบฮฌฮปฯ…ฯˆฮท: Greek capital, archipelago beset by flames

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

daylight robbery

Once again via Things Magazine, we quite enjoyed this series of photographs from Andy Billman of bricked up windows from buildings across London that evoke the interesting and immediate aesthetic (see also) that falls into the category of being a Thomasson—that is, a preserved architectural relic without apparent purpose or historical significance—plus the contextualisation in the form of a window tax enacted the late seventeenth century, meant to be a progressive levy on the mansions of the wealthy but instead misapplied to tenement dwellings and prompted the restriction of light, view and ventilation, contributing to squalid conditions and spread of disease. Much more to explore at the links above.

Friday, 11 June 2021

london international surrealist exhibition

Held at the New Burlington Galleries off Savile Row in Mayfair from this day through 4 July 1936, the organising committee hosted works from several popular and influential artists of the movement, including Alexander Calder, S. H. Tauber-arp, Victor Brauner, Gala and Salvador Dalรญ, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Joan Mirรณ, Pablo Picasso, Len Lye, Renรฉ Magritte and Paul Klee and attracted a thousand visitors per day with Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, the US, the UK, New Zealand, Italy, Roumania and Czecho-Slovakia represented and distinguished presenters delivering a series of lectures to large assembled audiences. Salvador Dalรญ wore a diving helmet whilst giving his seminar on fantรดmes paranoรฏaques authentiques and nearly suffocated at the dais and had to be rescued by poet David Gascoyne with a spanner.

Tuesday, 25 May 2021

on the clock

Through the lens of some of the artefacts of the transitional era when the railways began not only to collapse space but time as well and the attendant need for standardisation and synchronisation 99% Invisible (which one can read or listen to as a podcast) takes us on a tour of some of the remnants and malingerers of that period when the world suddenly grew a lot smaller and more interconnected. Especially notable is the introductory clock of the Corn Exchange in Bristol that made an early concession to locomotion by adding a second minute hand to its face to mark London time, with local time, lagging (see also here and here) by around ten minutes according to the reckoning of high noon. Much more to explore at the links above.

the lass that loved a sailor

Premiering at the Opera Comique of London in Westminster on this day in 1878, the two-act musical theatre piece with musical arrangement by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W.S. Gilbert, H.M.S. Pinafore was their fourth collaboration (see also here and here) but first to earn international acclaim, with an initial run of five hundred seventy performances. Retroactively referred to as the Savoy Operas, Gilbert and Sullivan’s works are considered foundational to musical theatre and are still staged and enjoyed to this day with numerous references and homages (too many to list) in popular culture.

Tuesday, 11 May 2021

when cats are maddened by the midnight dance

Based on a poetry anthology by T.S. Eliot, the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber premiered at the New London Theatre on this day in 1981. The two act narrative portrays one night in the lives of the members of a tribe of semi-feral felines cast their “Jellicle choice” and decide which cat—sort of echoing the 1976 cinematic adaptation of Logan’s Run—would ascend to the Heavyside Layer and be reincarnated. As the first mega-musical blockbuster, Cats introduced the strategy and template for productions to follow and arguable raise the bar for entry for less well financed endeavours.

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

billiard balls & bowling green bowles, turnt correctly

We quite enjoyed perusing these antique furniture trade cards (see previously) from the shops and emporia of old London—reportedly discovered in a secret drawer of a hypothetical cabinet. There are carpenters and casket-makers, upholsters as well as looking-glass and chair manufacturies. 

Sunday, 28 March 2021


Via Nag on the Lake’s always splendiferous Sunday Links (lots more to explore there), we are directed to a wonderful collection of antique trade cards of various London emporia for all one’s clogg, peruke, bunnbaking needs and more—retail or wholeลฟale. Developed at the end of the seventeenth century parallel to rise of cheap priniting, the advertising ephemera were business cards of a sort and included specific, detailed directions to the merchants’ stores, referencinf signage that could be quite elaborate, as no standardised system of street addresses existed at the time—see also. Be sure to check out Spitalfield’s Life bookshop for more treasuries of old London.

Sunday, 7 February 2021

one-way ticket

Via Nag on the Lake’s Sunday Links (much more to explore here), we receive a lightly macabre update to the former dedicated rail-line in London that transported the departed and mourners from the overcrowded city out to a cemetery in Woking with news that the purpose-built Waterloo Necropolis station built in 1854 (expanded in 1901) will be transformed into a suite of flats. The seal is that of the company granted the charter to construct the grounds and arrange the logistics and transportation. Though large portions of the building were destroyed in World War II during a 1941 air raid, what remains is witness to the automation of the funerary arts with halls designed for private service and hydraulic lifts to bring the briers on to the loading docks below, a shift towards hygienic awareness (a dread cholera epidemic decades earlier had overwhelmed London’s graveyards) and separate entrances that showed that even the dead were expected to be class conscious.

Friday, 22 January 2021

land of hope and gloria

Having set forth specific detailed instructions for a funeral with military honours befitting her status and having passed away rather inconsiderately a distance from London on the Isle of Wight, the death of Victoria (previously) would have been a logistically fraught affair if it were not for her careful planning. Surrounded by her son and successor King Edward VII and grandson Wilhelm (future Prussian king and last Kaiser) and her favourite Pomeranian called Turi (see also), Victoria expired on this day in 1901, heretofore, the longest reigning British monarch. The state cortรจge travelled to Gosport with a fleet of yachts transporting the new king and mourners and Victoria was placed in her coffin, son and grandson aided by Prince Arthur, with an array of mementos from family and domestics, including a dressing gown that belonged to her departed husband Albert and a plaster cast of his hand as well as a lock of John Brown’s hair and a photograph of him that was artfully hidden from those paying last respects by carefully placed bouquet of flowers. The state funeral and procession took place 2 February.

Saturday, 9 January 2021

heaviside layer

On this day in 2006, with its seven-thousand-four-hundred-eighty-sixth performance Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera over took the composer and impressario’s other long-running stage piece Cats with the most iterations on Broadway in the latter’s eight-year run, twice-revived in the West End for twenty-one mostly parallel years in London. The establishing megamusical phenomenon, the piece has proved polarising and defining for the entertainment industry and arguably introduces quite a bar to entry.

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

the mousetrap

The murder mystery stage play by Agatha Christie debuted on this day in 1952 in London’s West End and ran continually until 16 March 2020, temporarily sidelined due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the work first presented as a radio drama as a birthday present for Queen Mary in 1947 under the title Three Blind Mice. The author had requested, due to its twist ending that theatre audiences are asked not to divulge—that the short story not be published, nor adapted as a film, until it was off the West End, a wish that has been respected all these years.

Saturday, 14 November 2020

this is 2 emma toc

The call sign enunciated as above in the spelling alphabet of the day followed by “Writtle testing, Writtle testing,” was announced regularly starting on 14 February in 1922 by presenter and station manager Captain P. P. Eckerseley from a transmission tower near the Marconi laboratory outside of Chelmsford in Essex, marking the launch of the first British radio broadcaster, the first commercial station with entertainment programming. Its immediate popularity led to the establishment of its sister station—repairing from the exurbs into central London (Marconi House) as 2LO—which on 14 November 1922 became the BBC with Arthur Burrows (Uncle Arthur on the wireless) presenting news bulletins (see also). The original 2MT did not join (though its legacy lives on) the network and folding in January of 1923.

Monday, 2 November 2020

pause for station identification

Reflagged as BBC1 in 1964, the British Broadcasting Corporation launched its television service, the first regular and “high-definition” (a resolution of two hundred lines at the time) on this day in 1936. It has been continually airing programming (see also) since with the exception of a nearly seven-year hiatus during World War II, the station being taken off air with little warning just under three years later due to concerns that transmissions would act as a homing beacon for enemy aircraft and bring the fighting right to the heart of London. The final programme aired before the suspension was a Disney short (the cartoon Mickey’s Gala Premier) and reshown once transmissions returned one June day in 1946, preceded with one of the original presenters coming on the air: “Good afternoon everybody. How are you? Do you remember me, Jasmine Bligh?”

Thursday, 8 October 2020

les mis

Formally opening at London’s Barbican Centre on this evening in 1985 after a week of preview performances to mixed critical reception, the stage musical collaboration of Victor Hugo’s Les Misรฉrables from Claude-Michel Schรถnberg, Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel—translated by Herbert Kretzmer is one of the West End’s and the world’s longest-running performance—in good company with Cats (previously) which coincidentally saw its Broadway premiere on the same day three years prior. Following the storyline of Hugo’s 1862 novel, informed and inspired by the Artful Dodger and company of street urchins’ song and dance routine in Oliver! (Twist), doggedly determined police inspector Javert (relatedly) pursues Jean Valjean for breaking parole (sentenced and having served nineteen years hard-labour for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister’s staving baby) and are carried away with a cast of characters to a Paris on the brink of revolt and revolution.