Saturday, August 13, 2022

Saturday's postcard: A Snow Tramp on Mount Royal, Montreal

This postcard, titled "A Snow Tramp on Mount Royal, Montreal" was published by The Valentine & Sons' Publishing Co. of Montreal and Toronto and printed in Great Britain. 

I can't make out the year on the postmark, which is a bummer. but the green stamp is a Canadian King George V one-cent stamp that was first issued in December 1911. So, sometime during the 1910s makes the most sense.

The card was mailed to George S. Maxwell of Vernon, British Columbia. The cursive note states:
Dear Friend,
you must excuse me for not answering your card and letter [?] this but I received both O.K. Glad you are getting along so well and sorry I will not be able to see you at [??] this year. Write again and tell all the news. yours respectfully, Alexander M. Matheson.

I have no idea what that word is indicating the place they won't be meeting. It appears to have a B or G at the beginning and maybe a P and/or K. Also in this note, I was slightly thrown off by the I's that look like 9's.  

It's crazy how many postcards I've written about over the years that include apologies for failing to write back in a timely manner. Sometimes the apology takes up half the card, and then there's no interesting news on the rest of the card. What's the point? And Alexander has the temerity to write nothing and then ask that George "tell all the news."

Thursday, August 11, 2022

The somewhat obscure "Mousehole" by Nettie Mann Pender

This copy of Mousehole is a staplebound book that measures 5⅜ inches by 8⅜ inches, has 78 numbered pages, and was published by Mr. J.J. Pender of 1 Keigwin Place, Mousehole, Penzance, Penwith, Cornwall, United Kingdom. 

This is the September 1977 fourth edition, with the first edition having come in August 1970. It was printed by Headland Printers Limited of Penzance.

Mousehole is a village on the coast along the far southwestern tip of the United Kingdom. According to Wikipedia, its history dates to 1283 and, as you might guess, it has been associated with maritime industries for many centuries. The current population is between 600 and 700, from what I can find. A foodie note is that stargazy pie (also called star gazey pie) has its origins in Mousehole. The dish, which is tied to a late-December festival, is made with sardines, eggs and potatoes within a pastry crust. The sardines' heads peek out from the sides of the pie. (Eat them up, yum!) Recipes for it can be found here and here. I'd probably be willing to eat some (the non-bacon version), but I'd likely be the only one eating it, so I'm probably better off having a slice of someone else's creation.

But I digress.

This is a history book. On the title page, it's called A Short History of Mousehole with Personal Recollections. Nettie Mann Pender is listed as "Bard of the Cornish Gorsedd." Gorsedh Kernow is a Cornish organization that was founded in 1792 with the mission of, according to its website, "preserving the history and culture of a Celtic people through poetry, song, dance, music, art, sport and spoken word," fostering good relations between Cornwall and other Celtic countries and studying the Cornish language.

Nettie was born in Mousehole and lived from 1894 to 1976, so she was certainly in a good position to convey the village's history. She mentions in the author's note, dated July 24, 1970, that writing this book was long a dream of hers.

The book features a foreword by John J. Beckerlegge and drawings by Jack Pender. Aforementioned publisher John James Pender (1891-1984) was Nettie's husband, and Jack Pender (1918-1998) was their son. Here are a few tweets featuring Jack's work:
Getting back to Nettie's book, the contents include sections on the meaning of the name Mousehole, the Cornish language, religion, fishing, education, the war years, the Mousehole Male Voice Choir and the Wild Bird Hospital, a wonderful place that's been in operation since 1928.

There's a nice bit of verse printed on the page prior to the first chapter:

The Past is slipping from our hold
as shadowy as dreams
The dim, mysterious, lifeless past,
how faint, unreal it seems.
But here and there we come across
some waif upon the shore.
Thrown landward by the waves of time
for man to ponder o'er.

But who penned this? I find elsewhere only that it's credited to "J.B." That might be Joseph Blight, who illustrated 1880's Stories and Folk-Lore of West Cornwall, in which the verse also appears.

I read through some of Mousehole a couple of nights ago before bed (as I was simultaneously attempting to keep the cats from getting under the blanket). Much of the first half consists of town, fishing and church history. It gets more interesting when the timeline reaches the era in which Nettie was alive and can share her own memories. She speaks at length about Jacob George, her fisherman grandfather who was born in 1804.

There is some discussion of smuggling, daily chores, festivals and superstitions. It was taboo to walk over fishing nets, whistle or mention rabbits while at sea. Bread had to be cut a certain way. My favorite part, probably no surprise, was this section about Mousehole's book club:
"The Book Club was formed in Mousehole in the year 1818, organised through the influence of John Carne, Esq. Although books were quite cheap in those days, the villagers could not afford them. but there was such a thirst for knowledge that it was proposed to have a Book Club in the village. ... The books were selected with great care from the principal standard works on History, Philosophy, Biography, etc. ... I may add to that account that I can remember changing my Grandfather Mann's Club book once a month. I would take his book 'down the Gurnick' to a Mr. Praed and bring his back to Grandfather. These books were covered in black oil-cloth and were kept in what is now 'The Ladies' Parlour' at the St. Clement's Methodist Sunday School, where once a year a public tea was held and the books sold. New books would then be bought. I still have two of those books with the subscribers' names on the fly-leaf."

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

"Wizards and Witches" by Frances Wilkins and Fritz Wegner

Wizards and Witches, published in the United Kingdom in 1965, was part of The Signpost Library (also known as The Byways Library). This was an educational series from publisher Oliver & Boyd of 64-page hardcovers aimed at younger readers. The back cover of the dust jacket lists the first 13 titles, which included Pirates and Highwaymen, Tools and Machines, Costume Through the Ages, Bridges, Cathedrals and Churches and, most disturbingly, Clowns Through the AgesAn internet search shows that later titles includes Folk Costume of Western Europe, Folk Costume of Southern Europe and Ballet and The Dance.

This is not a book about folklore, necessarily, but more of a clear-eyed look at the purported practice of magic throughout the age; and the sad, and very real, consequences for many of those accused of "witchcraft." Chapters cover the cunning folk; Roger Bacon and other alchemists; Joan of Arc; witchcraft in the time of Henry VIII; the book Daemonologie by King James VI of Scotland (later the King James I of England who brought us the most famous translation of the Bible); and the Salem witch trials. There's an unfortunate chapter toward the end, written from a colonialist perspective and embedded with racism, that briefly discusses witch doctors and is titled "Jungle Magic."

Author Wilkins covered many topics during her writing career, which appears to have continued until at least 2003. She wrote about Morocco, smuggling (in multiple books), Uzbekistan, the Tudor era, caves, Thailand and the slavery trade.

Illustrator Fritz Wegner (1924-2015) had a long and successful career after, according to his obituary in The Guardian, a harrowing episode as a young teenager: "Born in Vienna to secular Jewish parents, Michael and Eti, he had a secure childhood, but it was abruptly ended by the Anschluss of 1938. After drawing a cartoon of Hitler and enraging his pro-Nazi teacher, he understood the danger he was in, and his parents organised his departure, alone, by train to London."

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Kipple 'n bytes: Thoughts on what we do and don't preserve

In recent days, I've coincidentally read two things about adult children cleaning out a house full of their late parents' belongings. The first is the short story "Cleanout" in Naomi Kritzer's stellar 2017 collection, "Cat Pictures Please and Other Stories." It's ultimately a sci-fi story, but buying into the fantastical part isn't necessary to appreciate the truth of a passage like this:
"Because there was a lot to go through. Our parents were immigrants from some former Soviet republic with a lot of mountains, and after coming to the U.S. with just the clothes they were wearing, they apparently never threw anything away ever again. We all started in random spots. Magda with the kitchen, packing up bags of warped cookie sheets and chipped frying pans with the nonstick coating peeling off to donate to whichever local charity took housewares. Nora in the basement, because so much down there was water-damaged and mold-saturated she could just haul it straight out to the Dumpster we'd rented."
The other piece I read, which was part of my editing work for LNP | LancasterOnline but didn't feel like work at all, was "What is kipple, and how did it take over my life?" by Los Angeles Times columnist Robin Abcarian. In the August 3 piece, she writes about the long, slow process of cleaning out her late father's house, including the seemingly endless drawers she has come to dread going through.

And what is kipple? Well, here comes the sci-fi element again. It's an invented word from Philip K. Dick's 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? — the book that served as the basis for the 1982 movie Blade Runner

"The word is used by the book’s protagonist, Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter assigned to kill some uncannily human-like robots who have escaped involuntary servitude on Mars and returned to Earth, where they try to pass as people.

"So what, exactly, is kipple?

"'Kipple,' Deckard explains in the book, 'is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers or yesterday’s homeopape. [Dick’s incredibly prescient vision of a digital newspaper.] When nobody’s around, kipple reproduces itself. For instance, if you go to bed leaving any kipple around your apartment, when you wake up the next morning there’s twice as much of it.'"
For Abcarian, the kipple she must deal with involves exhausting numbers of tiny decisions. Should she keep various roles of tape that might come in handy? A magnifying glass? Rubber bands? The "electric cords for ancient tech" or "all those stick-on felt circles that protect the wood floors from scratches"? 

I think many of us can relate to this. I was fortunate, in way. I was able to tackle about 95% of Mom's possessions while she was still alive. My sister Adriane and other family members helped, too. Over the course of many weekends over many years, we cleaned out the house on Oak Crest Lane in Wallingford that was filled with four generations' worth of stuff. Floor by floor, room by room, closet by closet, shelf by shelf and drawer by drawer. And we got to do it with Mom there. So it wasn't a funereal atmosphere, and we were able to ask her about the things we were sorting through to determine whether it was trash, something to donate or something to keep. We got to hear the stories and the context. So that made it almost fun, even it it meant a labor-intensive weekend of moving trunks and filing cabinets in the damp basement, going through three dozen half-used spice bottles, battling cobwebs in the garage and shed, and half-crouching to avoid banging one's head on the beams in the super-humid attic, which had the highest percentage of stuff that went straight to the trash.

And, yes, so many drawers. But with Mom there, they were fun to sort through. Each one a tiny adventure into the past. A chance to laugh, wonder or shake our heads. Perhaps all three at once. 

I can fully understand how the joy would be mostly absent if you had to go through all those drawers alone, though I'm probably an outlier in that I still find such excavation fascinating. (Hence this blog.)

So, I have a Catch-22 of sorts. I'd love to be around as a participant/observer, like Mom was, when my accumulation of stuff is sorted through and sent off to wherever it best belongs. I want to share in the rediscoveries and explain the meanings and provenance behind certain things. I can consult on what's junk and what might have some shreds of value. 

On the other hand — and this is the part that's never fully in our control — I fear leaving others with the job of having to sort through everything without me. The thought of leaving them all that stressful work that's my fault for being a ... well, packrat isn't quite the word. How about I call myself a "history hoarder"? So much of what I've accumulated is paper. There are the books, yes. But also the ephemera. So much ephemera. So many printouts, too. Printouts of articles, blog entries, emails, Facebook posts and tweets. My envelopes full of this stuff are semi-jokingly referred to as the printernet. As in, "Chris prints out the internet."

But am I wrong to do so?

I've written often about the preservation of online content. It's the thrust of the whole Lost Corners subsection of posts. I'm far from the only one with these concerns. I mean, it appears that we can't even preserve crucial digital information at the highest levels of government and national security these days; what hope is there for all those bytes of data that are culturally relevant but far less critical to democracy?

To that end, I recently read (and will be printing out!) a Twitter thread by The Cultural Tutor (@culturaltutor) about the Digital Dark Age. Some key points made there:
"99.9% of the world's information is stored digitally, and one day it might either be lost or inaccessible. ... It's tempting to imagine that people in the future will know more about the 21st century than any previous era in human history. After all, the internet and digital technology has allowed us to document literally everything. But that's not necessarily true... 

"So what is the Digital Dark Age? It's the idea that the 21st century will one day become an 'informational black hole,' that there'll be a scarcity of records from our era. How? This has two elements: the longevity and the accessibility of our current forms of data storage.

"Hard drives last for three to five years before they begin to degrade and eventually fail, while solid-state drives rarely last longer than a decade. So unless you transfer the data on your laptop or phone - it'll be gone in a dozen years.

"What about the cloud? Information on the cloud is stored on servers, which is also where most digital information is now stored. But servers last for ten years at most before they need to be replaced.

"All of which means that, without constant maintenance and management, most digital information will degrade and be lost in less than two decades. So all that content online which documents life in the 21st century is far from permanent. Quite the opposite..."
The full thread goes into much great detail on just how worried we should be about the preservation of digital information. So, yes, I'll keep printing things and putting them into envelopes. The questions then become: Will the envelopes ever be opened? And who will open them?

* * *

Note: The photo at the top of this post is my little plastic chest of drawers. It started, years ago, as the home of my office supplies at my work desk at the York Daily Record. Over the years, I've filled it with all sorts of little treasures, baubles and bits of ephemera. And I've forgotten half of what I've put in there. At 9 inches wide by 7 inches tall, with 15 drawers, it doesn't take up much space. And there's still a little bit of room inside, amazingly, for some small things to be tucked inside in future years.