Archive for July, 2012

A Sentimental Journey To Charlton SE7 With Ettore Schmitz

July 25, 2012

Ettore Schmitz/Italo Svevo

The Italian writer Italo Svevo (Ettore Schmitz) lived in England, in particular in Charlton, in the early part of the twentieth century in connection with the family marine paint business he had married into–in doing so, he combined the biographies of Primo Levi and Sherwood Anderson (who each had paint factories) with that of Evgeny Zamyatin (who lived in Newcastle for a time making ships).

There is a book of Svevo’s London writings, which has also been translated into English by the Svevo Museum in Trieste, as below.

Though he had some (many) reservations about English life, Svevo expressed the hope that his daughter could be brought up here:

Se tu sapessi come io vedo nella faccia di ogni miss che passa la felicità di vivere e di essere libera.  (page 32)

É certo che una ragazza che abbandona l’Italia per l’Inghilterra fa buon affare: Conosco abbastanza questo paese per sapere che le donne vi sono molto più felici che non da noi.  (page 156)

I was also interested in things like the description of the ways of commercial travellers, who stayed away from home for months at a time and had their own elaborate rituals for eating in company with strangers.  I also wondered whether society had in fact grown simpler since the time Svevo was writing about, since I don’t think these particular groups and subgroups exist now, at least not in the same multiplicity.  What you do have of course is communities from many different national/ethnic/linguistic backgrounds, which is something completely different from Svevo’s time.

The interest in Charlton for Svevo seems to have been that it was somewhere everyday, not fashionable like Blackheath or industrial/working-class like Woolwich.  So from that point of view it was somewhere resolutely unliterary, and probably a good thing too in view of his unsuccess with literary circles at home in Trieste.  As a man in a foreign country whose language he knew imperfectly, he also had what must have been the welcome opportunity to go and watch the local football tea, a leisure activity that didn’t require any linguistic skills.

Così quando vado ad una comedia inglese sono sempre dolorosamente sorpreso che anche il secondo atto—con un’ ostinazione incredibile—sia detto in inglese, perché la fatica d’intendere il primo m’esaurì.  (page 222)

However, he displayed a properly matter-of-fact attitude to the 1908 Olympics:  Ieri sono stato con Nicoletto al grande concorso atletico internazionale. (page 123)

Here’s a picture of the blue plaque on the house where he lived at 67 Charlton Church Lane:

and here’s the house itself:

together with the view down Charlton Church lane–his factory was in Anchor and Hope Lane, on the other side of Woolwich Road:

Of Charlton Church Lane he said:

Church Lane è una strada linda in erta contornata dalle piccole brune case inglesi. Qui le casette sono tutte botteghe: latterie, macellai, tabaccai, venditori di giornali e anche di telerie. In genere vi si trova di tutto. La bottega occupa tre quarti della casa. Entrando in una di cotali case si resta stupiti come si posso avere una cucina, due camere da letto, una stanza di ricevere coll’inevitabile pianino in uno spazio dove noi metteremmo un porta ombrelli. Ma le povere padrone di casa sono alpiniste; hanno la cucina e una stanza sotto terra, una stanzuccia a pianterra, due al primo piano ed una al secondo. Church Lane diventa volgare più che si scende. Le case hanno il giardino di dietro; davanti c’è la bottega. Salendo invece Church Lane l’aspetto delle case va affinandosi; ognuna ha il suo giardino anche davanti….Così avvenne a Charlton la mia capitale ove la vicinanza delle enormi fabbriche di Woolwich ammorbò l’ambiente e fece fuggire i signori.  (page 168)

Meanwhile–in fact a number of decades later–my earliest memories are of living in Elliscombe Road, which branches off Charlton Church Lane.  We shared the first floor of number 55 (on the right in the picture below), and that pebbledash looks horribly and frighteningly familiar too.

A visit to the Brunel Museum, 7 July

July 25, 2012

Brunel Museum (from their site)

I was hardly expecting very much from an office outing to the Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe, but in the event I was pleasantly surprised.  The museum itself is the building occupying most of the picture above, while we actually went down the shaft on the left of the picture, after having coffee and cakes outside.

Happy people outside the Brunel Museum (picture by Ambrose)

Robert our guide told us about Marc Brunel’s tunnel under the Thames and how it had involved many and various technical advances.  These were explained using pictures from the book The Brunels’ Tunnel as visual aids.

Robert speaking (picture by Ambrose)

The reason for the tunnel was that the Thames was crowded with sailing ships so you couldn’t transfer goods from one side to the other and you couldn’t build bridges either.  Building a tunnel in soft ground rather than rock had necessitated many ingenious advances, such as a caisson which sank slowly into the earth to produce the initial shaft, and a tunnelling shield so that the workmen could dig slowly through small portions of the ground while the shield saved them from disaster.

Caisson (from The Brunels’ Tunnel)

Tunnelling shield (from TBT)

There had of course been various problems with money, and financing had eventually been taken over by HM Treasury on typically stringy and obstructive terms.  In the end, while the tunnel had been build there had been no money to build a large shaft so that horses and carts could use it and so the thing had been restricted to foot passengers who would only ever pay a penny.

Shafts actual and putative (From TBT)

However, in the end shops had been set up beneath the Thames so that for the first time in history men could show their bravery by lingering to buy overpriced tat.  Robert was very keen to point out that the invention of tunnelling had made mass transport and hence the urban city possible; that the Victorians were more sexually aware than we give them credit for, especially those who had seen the can-can in Paris; that the tunnel was Marc Brunel’s greatest achievement; that the contractors for the East London Line had been persuaded to pay for a concrete floor for the shaft so that we could now go down in it and so as to ensure their eternal glory; that the space was now going to be used for cutting-edge dance and similar events in honour of the Brunels’ can-can.

Some of that may have been a bit far-fetched, but I was certainly well inspired by this contact with a time when we in Britain actually did things, and led the world as well.

Note that to go down the shaft (or Grand Entrance Hall)  you need to go on a guided tour,  or perhaps make a special group booking.

What’s on in Perm’ 8-23 September

July 16, 2012

We present some information below that may be of interest to those undertaking small group travel to Perm, and possibly to other people as well.


There are a couple of portals (that I have found so far) giving information on what’s on in Perm’:   properm and kulturaperm.  Neither of them is precisely abounding in events at present, but that may change…


The ‘Theatre’ Theatre have Alye parusa  from 16 to 21 September.  They also have a festival called Tekstura of theatre and film about the present day, to be held 22-29 September.  Now that they’ve put the programme up, it looks rather interesting.  Pity it starts just as we leave…

The Perm Opera and Ballet Theatre opens its new season on 3 September.  In the relevant period, there is a Balanchine mixed programme on 8 September and the Marriage of Figaro (in Italian, as I am surprised to note) 18-23 September.

The Theatre of the Young Spectator has The Notebook (Agota Kristof) on 18/19 September, The Myths of Ancient Greece on 20 September, The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery) on 21 September, and Dancing at Lughnasa  (Brian Friel) on 22 September.

The Bridge Theatre has The Cripple of Inishmaan on 8/9 September, Sansara (after Oleg Bodaev) on 11/12 September, Termen (‘Premiere!–An improbable story’) on 13-15 September, The Wedding 16/17 September, Juno and Perhaps  (a cult rock opera…perhaps) 18/19 September and The Hen 20/21 September.

The Red Flower Theatre has A Castle in Sweden on 12 and 19 September.

The New Drama Theatre has nothing listed after May 2012.

It looks as if the Hammer Stage are doing Tekstura as well.  They also have The Murderer (Aleksandr Molchanov; ‘Premiere!  Andrei has lost too much money at cards; they will forgive his debt, if he kills another debtor’) on 18-20 September.

The Evgeniy Panfilov Ballet are doing A Beach ‘Comme il faut’/The Winds Change (‘a show programme in two sections’) on 19 and 20 September.


The Perm Philharmonia starts its season on 19 September with a performance by what seems to be Yuri Beshmet’s Orchestra from Moscow.  As far as I can tell from their site, the programme will include some (but surely not all) of: Khrennikov’s First Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances, Harold in Italy (Berlioz) and the Romeo and Juliet Overture (Tchaikovsky again).

Books in Some Charity Shops of South London: Part 5, Lewisham

July 15, 2012

This part of the study was carried out over an extended timescale, with the data on the contents of the Charity Research and Red Cross shops being collected on 1 February, while all of the opening times and the contents of the Scope shop were surveyed on 12 July.

The Cancer Research shop at 135 Lewisham High Street had 5 shelves containing 160 or so books, of which one might have interested me.

Information on opening hours is pictured below:

Maybe they’re the same as for their shop in Blackheath.

The Scope shop at 7 Lewis Grove had 6 shelves containing 160 books.

The opening hours are pictured below:

The British Red Cross shop at 94 High Street had 11 shelves and say 350 books.  I was quite tempted by The rest is noise at £ 2-50.

And opening hours:

The Secret Garden, Blackheath Halls 4 July

July 4, 2012


Picture from Trinity Laban site

This is an opera by Stephen McNeff, first (and last?) performed in 1985 in Banff.  As any fool can tell, it’s based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which has also been made into a musical.

My advice to people thinking of going to this would be:  Make sure you read a synopsis first.  I was rather hoping that in the normal opera fashion there would be one in the programme, and there wasn’t.  Many of my other expectations were unfortunately fulfilled:  mildly effective sub-Britten music and difficulty in making out what words the singers were singing prominent among them.  Not for the first time, the Trinity Laban opera seemed to me to be playing a mean trick on student singers by giving them far too much space to try to fill with sound.  Some of the hall was wisely cut off, but there was still too much left and not infrequently we had the performers at one end of the hall, the orchestra at the other and the audience in the middle–this created a curious effect for the audience which can’t really have been what was intended.

Oh yes,–the story as presented here was inherently undramatic and the presence of a singer with a Canadian accent (Scott Shpeley as Dickon) was a bit of a puzzler.  Among the singers, I thought that Frances Israel as Martha came off best, having an agreeable part to sing and doing it well.

I might have agreed with what some of the negative characters were singing about Order and Control if I’d been able to make it out.

Posh, Duke of York’s Theatre 25 June

July 2, 2012


Upper-class oiks rehearse for the firing squad

This play follows the fortunes of a ten-strong dining club as they prepare to trash a venue some way outside Oxford; they have to be discreet and remote after a previous session hit the papers.  Things turn out rather badly, but in the end it looks as though everything may well be covered over.  There are also some very well-performed musical numbers which I think are meant to show the uneasy position of our heroes as heirs to landed properties and devotees of youth culture (they call each other ‘mate’).  In fact, hardly any of the actors could raise a decent Oxford accent…

It seemed to me that the play rather fell between two stools:  it didn’t depict the characters as evil stinking scum who needed to wiped out; nor were they quite weaklings who could be brushed aside with minimal effort.  You say it was meant to be an investigation of their psychologies, not a tract–I answer, Why were there ten of them then?   The representatives of this class I once knew were a lot nastier and more competent than the crew represented here–more importantly, they possessed a dangerous charm, which was largely how they managed to get away with it.  I found it hard to believe that any commercial sex worker would be stupid enough to enter on her own a private room with ten drunken young men in it, and I doubt many waitresses would either. Then to me the culminating incident was the kind of thing that is usually glossed with with daddy’s (or daddies’) money on one hand and legal intimidation on the other.

Was the point that it’s nice and comfy having these drones in charge, so we go on muddling along in the same old ramshackle way?

There was quite a nice coup de théâtre, though, and I did laugh at the joke about LMH.

Iliad Day, Hellenic Centre 21 July

July 1, 2012

Homer reciting some stuff

We see that there will be a day-long session of Iliad reading/recitation/singing at the Hellenic Centre in Marylebone on Saturday 21 July from 10 am to 8 pm.  What are probably the official details can be found here, with a slightly different account here.  You can register to take part here; the default languages it offers you are English and Modern Greek, but you can write in your own choice.  It looks as though they have snaffled Book 24 already, so you’ll need to work out where the other good bits might be in the ten 1-hour slots.

If you don’t want to read, I think you can also register to spectate by emailing them.  But it looks as though there are still plenty of opportunities for people who want to read, recite or sing.

Representatives of cultural societies and communities based in London, ambassadors, artists, journalists, athletes and students, are expected to join hundreds of citizens who will read or sing their passages, each in their own way and language, one after the other, during 10 hours.

The reading will be coordinated with on-stage projections of archaic and classical images, along with the English version of the epic, a mosaic of segments from Pope’s and Fitzgerald’s translations and Christopher Logue’s Iliad. The Homeric rhapsodies will be accompanied by interludes and melodies from the musical ensemble Daemonia Nymphe, on reconstructed ancient Greek instruments by Nicholas Brass.

At the conclusion of the celebrational Reading, the Hellenic Centre and the Readers of Homer will offer a simple yet delicious feast of Homeric edibles and potables for the participants’ sustenance and delight.

On a related subject, see here for  Greek plays I know about in London.

Hellenic Centre