French Place Names

 

Notre Dame on a Rainy Evening, 2014

Notre Dame on a Rainy Evening, 2014

Happy Bastille Day (for the 14th)!

I took the photo above in Paris, one rainy evening in October, 2014. As most of you will probably be aware, it shows the cathedral of Notre Dame, on the Île de la Cité. Mary and I were staying nearby on the Île Saint-Louis at the time, and I was out for an evening stroll after the rain.

I just learned that the father of the current French President, Emmanuel Macron, is an expert on cat sneezing! During our visit, we spotted this Parisian resident, not sneezing, but gazing out over the River Seine from a balcony on the Rue Chanoinesse.

Cat on a Ledge, Paris 2014

Cat on a Ledge, Paris 2014

On that occasion, we visited not only Paris (unlike President Trump’s seemingly imaginary friend Jim), but also southwestern France, and stayed for a while in the Dordogne, which is a beautiful and fascinating region that I’d never previously seen.

We stayed in the village of Bézenac, and visited several nearby locations. One of the best known of those is perhaps Beynac, which has been nominated as one of the world’s most beautiful villages. Perched on a cliff high above the village is the Château de Beynac, as shown in my photo below.

Beynac from below, 2014

Beynac from below, 2014

The opposite view, shown below, shows the scene from the walls of the Château de Beynac, looking down towards the Dordogne River. Incidentally, at one time in the Middle Ages, the near side of the river was in France while the far side was English territory!

Beynac from above, 2014

Beynac from above, 2014

Langue d’Oc & Langue d’Oïl

The South of France is often referred to as the “Languedoc”, and the origin of that name is linguistic. In medieval times, there were two major dialects of French, which were named according to their respective words for “Yes”.

  • In the North, the Latin expression for “yes”—hoc ille—had evolved into “oïl”.
  • In the South, the same Latin expression had become “oc”, hence the language was the “Langue d’Oc”.

All Those “Acs”

I was naturally curious as to why so many of the place names in the Languedoc end in “ac”. I assumed that it must refer to some characteristic of the settlements so-named, as for similar recurring endings in British place names, such as “ham”, “thorpe”, etc.

After we returned home, I bought a copy of a book that explains the origins of place names in that region: Origine des noms de villes et villages de la Dordogne (Cassagne, Korsak).

NomsDordogne

The book explains that the “ac” ending refers to the existence of a villa at the location during Gallo-Roman times. The Gallic names for such places ended in “acos”, which the Romans Latinized as “acum”. For example, the village we stayed in, Bézenac, was originally Bisenacum (the “villa of Bisenus”).

However, the Latin “acum” place name ending morphed into a modern ending differently, according to the region. For example, in parts of the North, “ac” became “ai”, such as in Cambrai, while in areas near Paris it became “y”, such as in Orly.

In a previous post, I described how the Roman name Eboracum evolved via several contortions into the modern place name York, in Northern England.

Perhaps I should have spotted that all those “ac” place names in Languedoc were really just that same “acum” ending that I’d already encountered in Yorkshire as a child!

St. Martins School of Art: A Life-Changing Experience

Life Drawing Sketch, St Martins School of Art, 1982

Life Drawing Sketch, St Martins School of Art, 1982

The illustration above shows one of my very earliest “from life” pencil sketches. It was done during an Illustration class at St. Martins School of Art, London, during 1982. Strangely, prior to that, I had never participated in a formal “life drawing” art class anywhere.

My tutor at that class was an artist called Ian Ribbons. I’m ashamed to say that I knew nothing about Mr. Ribbons at the time, and it was only many years later that I discovered that he was in fact a successful and famous illustrator in his own right.

Developing a Technique

In earlier posts, I’ve exhibited a few later examples of my figure drawings from live models. Those examples were drawn when I’d already gained some experience of life drawing, and some confidence with my preferred technique. However, that knowledge was hard-won, and, as I’ve previously indicated, I seriously lacked confidence in my figure drawing skills until I reached my early twenties.

My lack of competence wasn’t entirely due to my own shortcomings. The inadequacy of what was offered to me as “Art education” at school did nothing to reinforce my confidence or help me to improve. We were not given any classes in drawing the human figure, ever, even as part of the so-called “Advanced Level” course, which seems appalling in retrospect. Occasionally we were given a homework assignment to “do a self-portrait” or “draw some people”, but with no accompanying guidance or help, so inevitably the results were disappointing and demotivating.

(I’m aware that I wasn’t the only one to suffer from this “teachers shouldn’t try to teach” approach to education. There seemed to be a weird but common attitude that trying to inculcate drawing or aesthetic expertise was somehow tyrannizing innocent students, who should instead be left to wallow in ignorance. The result was that we now encounter many “artists” who seem unable to summon much actual artistic skill, which must surely be frustrating for those who are aware of it.)

It was only when I got to Imperial College, and volunteered to be the Publicity Officer of the H G Wells Society, that it dawned on me that I might have “bitten off more than I could chew”. I realized that I was probably going to have to draw people, for public display, and make it look good! It somehow occurred to me that some professional instruction might help, so I sought out the course at St Martins.

Ian Ribbons

As I mentioned above, my tutor at St. Martins was Ian Ribbons. Years after taking the Illustration class there, I stumbled across a copy of a 1963 book called Illustrators at Work, at a secondhand book shop. The book’s dustcover is shown below.

Illustrators at Work, 1963

Illustrators at Work, 1963

As the cover shows, the book was compiled by the famous British illustrator Robin Jacques (who was the brother of the actress Hattie Jacques), but it includes biographies and samples of the work of many other British artists. There, on page 45, was a section about Ian Ribbons, complete with the following biography:

Ian Ribbons Biography from "Illustrators at Work"

Ian Ribbons Biography from “Illustrators at Work”

Incidentally, the same book also includes a section on Ronald Searle, another well-known British artist, who happened to be a bunkmate of my mother’s first husband in the Japanese POW camp at Changi, Singapore, during World War II. I’ll have more to say about him in a future post!

Benefits of the St Martins Class

There’s no doubt that Ian Ribbons’ guidance was excellent, and it helped me gain some vital artistic confidence, in a way that I had not remotely anticipated. Without that inspiration, I probably would not have produced much of the publicized artwork that I subsequently created while I was a student in London.

For the first time ever, I felt that I had the ability to produce work that could credibly be displayed in a public setting without inducing (unintended) laughter. In retrospect, not all of what I produced in those days was good, but at least I wasn’t paralyzed by perfectionist concerns.

I must add that another major benefit of the Illustration class at St. Martins was simply the opportunity to work alongside other not-so-famous, but very competent, professional artists. There wasn’t really any program of formal instruction, but each of us was working on our own drawings and developing our own techniques.

If I saw another artist using a technique that interested me, I could simply lean across and ask, “How did you do that?”

That was, in fact, how I learned the ballpoint pen technique that I used for the portrait of Pallab Ghosh. Another artist at the class had already used that technique (for a portrait of actor Roger Moore, as I recall), so I simply asked him about it, then tried it myself. I doubt that I would ever have thought of such a technique without his example to look at!

Pallab Ghosh as "Super-Ed" (Superman)

Pallab Ghosh as “Super-Ed” (Superman)

I don’t think that I have ever before or since found myself working among such a concentrated group of talented artists. Presumably that was due to the location: we were in Central London.

Jeopardizing My Degree?

When my tutor at Imperial College learned that I was taking a part-time class at St. Martins, he expressed concern that it could detract from my engineering studies, and possibly even jeopardize my prospects of obtaining a degree! (I was working at Selfridges on Saturdays too, which was also deemed inadvisable.) Fortunately, all those concerns turned out to be nonsense, and I’m really glad now that I took that opportunity to “broaden my horizons”.

Last Train to British Museum

British Museum Station, London, 1982

British Museum Station, London, 1982

The photograph above, of what seems to be a fairly unremarkable structure, shows the surface building of the London Underground tube station called British Museum. When I took the photo in 1982, I’d already missed the last train to that station… by about 50 years.

At that time, there were threats to close various London tube stations, either because they were little used, or because they were thought to require substantial maintenance work that could not be justified economically. I’d missed British Museum’s closure, though, by virtue of not having being born at the time.

As it turned out, some of the stations that were still open in the 1980s were indeed closed later, but others remain open to this day.

In my photo above, you can see the glazed terracotta faience covering the ground floor exterior walls of the building, which was a characteristic of Central London Railway stations. Originally, the station building consisted only of that one storey, but later an office building was added above it.

British Museum Station was on the Central London Railway (later the Central Line), and was opened along with the line in 1902. The line crossed the Great Northern, Piccadilly & Brompton Railway (later the Piccadilly Line) near Holborn, but there was no underground connection between the two stations, which was very inconvenient for passengers.

It soon became obvious that a common station was desirable, and authorization to build a new station, on the Central Line, was granted before the First World War, but work was delayed by the war. Eventually the new station was completed, and connected to the existing Piccadilly Line station. British Museum station was then permanently closed in 1933.

While riding the Piccadilly Line during the 1980s, I remember being able to see the remains of British Museum station through the gloom, as my train approached Holborn. The station’s platforms had been removed, but the white glazed tiles of the station walls were still barely visible, underneath decades of grime.

I’m glad that I took that photo of the surface building in 1982, because, in 1989, everything that remained on the surface was demolished, and there’s now no evidence whatsoever that there was a station there, as is apparent in the current Google Streetview of this location.

Department S

Department S Logo

Department S Logo

Strangely, I had a hint of the existence of the long-closed station long before I had even visited London, because it was mentioned (albeit not shown) in a 1968 episode of the ITC thriller series Department S.

In the episode titled “Last Train to Redbridge”, agent Stewart Sullivan is quizzing Jason King about a mysterious location, to which King was abducted and taken in a drugged state. Piecing together his incomplete memories, King makes sense of the details.

Jason King: An Underground Railway Station…

Stewart Sullivan: Old, disused. That would tie in with the murders. Are there any stations like that?

Jason King: Let’s see. On the Central London Line: two. British Museum, which was closed when they opened Holborn, and when they opened St. Pauls, they closed … Post Office

The dialog is partially factual. The description of British Museum and Holborn is accurate, but there is no closed station called Post Office, because the original Post Office station still exists, having been renamed St. Pauls in 1937.

There is also a station called Redbridge on the Central Line, although it’s not a terminus, so trains don’t generally show it as their final destination. Presumably the title image of the Department S episode shows the actual Redbridge Station nameboard.

Department S: Episode Title

Department S: Episode Title

The Department S scenes showing the fictitious Post Office station seem to have been filmed in a real Underground station, as in the scene below. The surroundings just seem too detailed to be a studio set.

Department S: "Post Office" Station

Department S: “Post Office” Station

The station used seems to have been Aldwych, which was still open at that time (albeit only during “peak” hours), but closed later on. I also visited Aldwych in 1982.

Aldwych Station

I mentioned above the Great Northern, Piccadilly & Brompton Railway, which eventually became the Piccadilly Line. This line was formed from the merger of two earlier schemes, one of which was the Great Northern and Strand Railway.

The southern terminus of the GN&SR was a station called “Strand”, which, due to the merger of the two schemes, was eventually built on a branch from the “main line”.

Aldwych Station, 1982

Aldwych Station, 1982

This tatty-looking area is the end of the track at Aldwych Station, as it looked in 1982. The tiling of the walls here was never completed, during the entire life of the station. Given that all trains terminated here, then reversed direction, only the westerly platform was in use, and the track to the other platform had been lifted as long ago as 1917.

During my 1982 visit, I noticed that, on one of the glazed tile walls of the station, the original name was still partially visible, as shown in the rather blurry photo below.

Aldwych Station: Original Name

Aldwych Station: Original Name

Aldwych was closed to the public in 1994, when the sole lift (elevator) at the station required renewal. The site is now used only for private filming purposes. London Transport even keeps a complete tube train on the branch, for use in filming.

Poem: The Ruin

Fictitious Temple in Silchester, c.500 CE

Fictitious Temple in Silchester, c.500 CE

In previous posts, I’ve published some of my own efforts at poetry. This time, I’m publishing a poem by someone else, called “The Ruin”. However, I’m not worried about copyright infringement issues, because not only is the work very long out of copyright, but in fact nobody knows who wrote it!

My watercolor painting above, showing the ruins of a fictitious Roman temple in what’s now England, was partially inspired by the poem. However, the poem I’m discussing here is thought to refer to the city of Bath, while, for various reasons, my ruin was supposed to be in Silchester.

Before discussing the history of the poem, and some thoughts on Roman ruins in Britain, here is the poem itself in the original Old English. (In a previous post on my professional blog, I discussed some of the letters used in Old English, and which appear here.)

Of course, English has changed so much during the past thousand years that no speaker of Modern English can read this without treating it as a foreign language. Nonetheless, the original poem has a beautiful flow and structure, which can be appreciated even if you don’t understand what it actually says.

Unfortunately, the surviving manuscript of the poem is damaged, such that some of the text is either unreadable or missing. In the rendering below, the ellipses show where text is illegible. The punctuation is modern.

The Ruin (Old English)

Wrætlic is þes wealstan, wyrde gebræcon;

burgstede burston, brosnað enta geweorc.

Hrofas sind gehrorene, hreorge torras,

hrungeat berofen, hrim on lime,

 

scearde scurbeorge scorene, gedrorene,

ældo undereotone. Eorðgrap hafað

waldend wyrhtan forweorone, geleorene,

heardgripe hrusan, oþ hund cnea

werþeoda gewitan. Oft þæs wag gebad

 

ræghar ond readfah rice æfter oþrum,

ofstonden under stormum; steap geap gedreas.

Wonað giet se …num geheapen,

fel on …

grimme gegrunden …

 

scan heo…

…g orþonc ærsceaft

…g lamrindum beag

mod mo… …yne swiftne gebrægd

hwætred in hringas, hygerof gebond

 

weallwalan wirum wundrum togædre.

Beorht wæron burgræced, burnsele monige,

heah horngestreon, heresweg micel,

meodoheall monig mondreama full,

oþþæt þæt onwende wyrd seo swiþe.

 

Crungon walo wide, cwoman woldagas,

swylt eall fornom secgrofra wera;

wurdon hyra wigsteal westen staþolas,

brosnade burgsteall. Betend crungon

hergas to hrusan. Forþon þas hofu dreorgiað,

 

ond þæs teaforgeapa tigelum sceadeð

hrostbeages hrof. Hryre wong gecrong

gebrocen to beorgum, þær iu beorn monig

glædmod ond goldbeorht gleoma gefrætwed,

wlonc ond wingal wighyrstum scan;

 

seah on sinc, on sylfor, on searogimmas,

on ead, on æht, on eorcanstan,

on þas beorhtan burg bradan rices.

Stanhofu stodan, stream hate wearp

widan wylme; weal eall befeng

 

beorhtan bosme, þær þa baþu wæron,

hat on hreþre. þæt wæs hyðelic.

Leton þonne geotan …

ofer harne stan hate streamas

un…

 

…þþæt hringmere hate

…þær þa baþu wæron.

þonne is …

…re; þæt is cynelic þing,

huse… burg…

The Waters of Sul

As I mentioned above, it is frequently suggested that the poem describes the remains of the City of Aquae Sulis (“the Waters of Sul”) — the modern City of Bathbut that’s simply an educated guess. The manuscript provides no helpful footnotes nor explanatory detail, so the actual subject of the poem will probably never be known for sure.

Aquae Sulis probably succumbed to a similar fate to that of other conurbations, falling into disrepair some time soon after the empire’s legions were withdrawn from Britannia in 410 CE. After the Roman engineers departed, their Anglo-Saxon replacements were either unable or unwilling to maintain the complex stone buildings, and so either left them to disintegrate, or else removed the materials for other uses. Very little is known regarding the process of this decay, during the period called (for that very reason) the “Dark Ages”, so the existence of this poem offers a rare insight into the conditions of that time.

The Exeter Book

The book containing the only surviving manuscript of the poem is so-called, not because it was written in or about the City of Exeter, but because it forms part of the collection of Exeter Cathedral. The book consists of a sequence of unrelated literary works, including everything from epic poetry to risqué riddles. Its contents appear to have been copied out, by a single scribe, in about 975 CE, although most, if not all, the works contained in the book seem to have been created at earlier dates.

It is known that the book was owned by Bishop Leofric of Exeter until 1070, when he donated it to the cathedral’s library. However, there’s no evidence that the book was held in particularly high regard. Indeed, there is evidence that its front cover was used, at various times, as a cutting board and a beer mat! Some folios are missing, and the fourteen surviving pages nearest to the back have been burned.

The folio containing the poem itself is damaged, which has rendered portions of the middle and end of the poem illegible. Nonetheless, the remaining text provides an extraordinary description of the awe in which the Anglo-Saxon community must have held the crumbling remains of the Roman cities around them.

The Structure of the Poem

The poem exhibits characteristics typical of Old English verse, which distinguish such works from later poetry.

Perhaps the most obvious feature is the caesura in the center of each line (marked by commas or periods above), which imposes a syntactical structure leading to the enjambment of many of the lines.

Another typical feature is the lack of the use of rhyme, which is ironic when one considers that, due to its inflected nature, it was much easier to find rhyming pairs in Old English than in its modern equivalent.

Conversely, very heavy use was made of alliteration (e.g., “weallwalan wīrum” for “iron bonds”), although it is almost impossible to retain this feature in any modern translation.

It’s a real stroke of luck that this remarkable example of historic literary description has survived for us to read, although it makes you wonder how much similarly wonderful literature must have been lost.

Modern English Translation

Although there are no copyright concerns regarding the original Old English version of the poem, most modern translations of it are, of course, subject to copyright restrictions. However, the Wikipedia article about the poem offers one translation:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ruin

Stumbling on Silchester

At the time that I first learned about this poem, I was living in Andover, UK, and commuted to my job in Wokingham, about 40 miles away. I took several circuitous rural routes between the two locations, depending on traffic and weather conditions. One such route took me past what is now a tiny hamlet called Silchester.

Unlike Bath, Silchester was never repopulated as a city after the post-Roman abandonment. At Silchester, the only remains above ground are portions of the huge city walls, which now surround an empty field. I plan to say more about Silchester in future posts.

Moggies Cartoon: Independence Day

Moggies: Independence Day

Moggies: Independence Day

This was the first “Moggies” cartoon that I created for display at the Sonoma County Fair. It seems like an appropriate time of year to post this episode!

I already posted the other two Moggies cartoons (Pure Water and Royal Blood). As you’ll have noticed, this first example was not in color. When I began producing comic illustrations about 30 years ago (long before this cartoon, of course), monochrome artwork was still very common, due to limitations of the printing processes. Now, however, there’s rarely a need to print only in monochrome, even in newspapers.

 

Dinky Cars & Modern Architecture

Playing with Dinky and Corgi Cars, 1963

Playing with Dinky and Corgi Cars, 1963

The photo above shows me (on the left), at about the age of 3, playing with model cars in my grandparents’ living room. My mother’s parents lived with us in the same house, so this kind of scene was an everyday occurrence.

The others in the photo are my grandmother (my mother’s mother) and my younger brother.

If you look very closely in the photo, you can see some small grey and blue cars lined up, as shown in the rather fuzzy close-up below.

A lineup of Ancient Dinkys

A lineup of Ancient Dinkys

Those cars are in fact Dinky Toys (the Dinky 35a “Saloon Car”), although they’re much smaller than the models that most people think of as being typical Dinkys. That model, produced in the British “OO” railway scale, was produced from 1936-40, and then again from 1946-48. The models I’m playing with were produced post-war. Examples of this model, in good condition, typically sell on eBay now for $50 or more each!

The reason that I came to be playing with Dinky toys that were much older than me was because they actually belonged to my grandfather, who literally had a bag full of them.

Draughting Years

In a post on my professional blog, I mentioned that my grandfather, Allen E Martin, worked for most of his career as a draughtsman for the City of Leeds. The October 1960 photo below shows him (on the right) in our back garden, with my grandmother holding me.

My Grandparents with me, October 1960

My Grandparents with me, October 1960

As part of his work, he produced technical drawings for architectural projects, and the department sometimes created models of proposed new buildings. They used toy cars to decorate these models, and my grandfather apparently took his “bag of Dinkys” home with him when he retired in the 1950s.

Perhaps the most prominent architectural project in Leeds during the 1930s was the Quarry Hill development. This was so famous, and so well-regarded, that it featured on the cover of the 1938 Penguin book Design, as shown in a scan from my copy below.

Design, by Anthony Bertram, Penguin 1938

Design, by Anthony Bertram, Penguin 1938

My grandfather died in 1967, so I never got to ask him exactly what role he played in the Quarry Hill project, but it would certainly have been a major part of his department’s work at that time.

Unfortunately, despite the best intentions of its builders, and despite being a vast improvement on the slum dwellings that it replaced, Quarry Hill was not a success in the long term, and was eventually demolished in 1978. Some of its problems stemmed from the fact that the development was a very advanced design by the standards of the time. Had the complex survived for a few more decades, it may well have undergone a major refurbishment similar to that at St Pancras Station, and would still be with us as a major landmark.

The City of Leeds Arms

Incidentally, the arms of the City of Leeds feature rather unusual supporters, as shown below.

Leeds City Arms

Leeds City Arms

In a future post I’ll discuss the significance of those owls, and how, even though I never lived in Leeds, they seem to have become a recurring theme in my life.

Sunsets & Air Pollution

 

Sunset from Oliver's Mount, Scarborough, July 1977

Sunset from Oliver’s Mount, Scarborough, July 1977

I took the sunset photograph above from the summit of Oliver’s Mount, Scarborough, at 8.45pm on Saturday, 16th July 1977. I know those details because they happen to be in a notebook that I still have. The image now forms the header for my professional blog.

The photograph has an unusual “oil painting like” appearance, with muted and brownish tones. This has led some to suggest that perhaps I “photoshopped” the original image to achieve that effect. That’s not the case; this is a scan of the color transparency exactly as it came out of the camera. As I’ll explain below, I believe that some of the extraordinary weather effects that I photographed in those days were actually caused by air pollution.

Wine Country Sunsets

I was prompted to think once again about my old sunset photographs by last night’s sunset here in Santa Rosa. We had had a very hot day, but there was a breeze, and sufficient clouds around to provide some spectacular effects at sunset, as shown below.

Sunset Clouds, Santa Rosa, June 2017

Sunset Clouds, Santa Rosa, June 2017

While nobody would dispute the claim that California’s weather is generally pleasanter than Britain’s, one problem with that is the lack of visual weather effects in California. As someone once put it, “We don’t have weather in California”.

I suspect also that another problem is that the air in California now is much cleaner than it was in Britain in the 1970s, and dirty air makes for spectacular sunsets! The fact that I was able to photograph so many interesting sunsets from Oliver’s Mount was thanks to a combination of Britain’s weather and the mount’s location.

Pilgrimages to Oliver’s Mount

Oliver’s Mount is so called because of a legend that, during the English Civil War in the 1640s, Oliver Cromwell situated cannon on the mount to bombard Scarborough Castle, which was in Royalist hands. This seems highly unlikely, because the cannon of the time did not have sufficient range to fire over such distances, and were far too inaccurate to have hit the castle with any certainty. In any case, there’s no evidence that Cromwell ever visited Scarborough during the Civil War.

When we lived in West Street, Scarborough, during the 1970s, Oliver’s Mount was only about a mile from our house. Although there’s a road to the top of the mount, I discovered that I could reach the summit much more quickly by climbing up directly through the woodland on the hillside. As a result, I visited the war memorial on the summit quite regularly, particularly during the summer. Any air pollution outdoors was definitely healthier than the level indoors, created by my chain-smoking father!

The view to the North-East from the top of the mount looks over Scarborough’s South Bay and Castle headland, and my father and I both photographed that view several times over the years. The image below shows the lights having just come on at sunset, in August 1977.

Scarborough Sunset, August 1977

Scarborough Sunset from Oliver’s Mount, August 1977

The view westwards from the same spot looked inland, towards the Pennines, and the conurbations of West Yorkshire and Manchester. The air in those industrial areas was of poor quality at the time, with much coal burning still occurring, and many chemical works still belching out their waste. I suspect that the low sun shining through all that dirty air was what created some of the spectacular refraction effects that I saw during those sunsets some 40 years ago.

I’ll be exhibiting some of the other “Oliver’s Mount Sunset” photos in future blog posts.