Or… I probably shouldn’t do this in omnibus mode. Anyway, this blog post is dedicated to Oliver Cromwell, though probably not entirely as you’d expect (except for Pete N. maybe). But for now, later for Ollie.
The dungeon house (Allison & Busby, 2015) is the seventh of Martin Edwards‘s never less than interesting Lake District Mysteries. As well as the action moving west to Ravenglass and the coast, it breaks fresh ground in that retired telly and academic historian Daniel Kind, who kicked off the Mysteries sequence, stays pretty much in the background. His now temporary live-in girlfriend (that happened in the sixth book), maverickish DCI Hannah Scarlett, head of Cumbria’s cold case team, is very much to the fore, investigating the possibility of links between the disappearance – one 3 years ago, the other very recently – of two young women, and what appeared to be an open and shut multiple murder and suicide case twenty years back. A case, indeed, in which Daniel’s late detective father, Ben Kind – Hannah had been his protegé – had been involved, and had his doubts. So the soap opera aspects of the Mysteries – one of the real strengths of the series – take on a retrospective tinge too.
The dungeon house is populated with a rich and varied cast of characters, variously damaged by, or related to people involved in, the events of 20 years ago. Naturally as events unfold there are plenty of twists and one major red herring, all climaxed with an unsettling and nicely executed suspenseful denouement. Police budget cuts and administration-by-spreadsheet hover in the background – a standard feature of most British crime fiction these days – while Les Bryant, wily old detective brought back into the cold case team as a consultant, plays the part well. There’s a swipe at the Police Federation, from the long serving local rep: “The stable needs a bloody good cleansing. You could say I’m Fed up.”
Is it just me or is a bit more humour creeping into The Lake district Mysteries? Not laugh out loud, but with interviews conducted in “yet another Lakeland tearoom”, for instance. This may have something to do with Hannah being more prominent in the action, more comfortable with her place in things, and re-finding her mojo:
Les Bryant poked his head around her door. ‘Going to this meeting about the new Communications Strategy?’
‘Nobody told me about it.’
He sniggered. ‘Nothing would surprise me in this place.’
‘I’m scheduled for a briefing on the Transparency Agenda, plus catch-ups with Finance and HR either side of lunch. Not to mention ten minutes ruled out for that photo shoot for the new identity cards to get us in and out of the building, and an hour’s online course about …’
So … what to do next?:
Good Hannah was duty bound to attend the various activities scheduled for her, even if the online course was one more wearisome example of ‘sheep-dip training’. Bad Hannah would suffer a severe memory lapse – why not blame deficiencies in the IT system? They were a reliable scapegoat. She could race off to Ravenglass before anyone trapped her in a corner, and started blathering away about key performance indicators.
Good Hannah never stood a chance. Her evil twin opened the door, and chased after Les.
She’s an interesting lass, capable of hyphenating ‘dream-come-true‘, developing nicely:
Hannah found herself itching to give him the benefit of the doubt. She couldn’t help feeling sorry for the man. This was a weakness in a detective, she knew …
I look forward to more opportunities for her to show her strengths and weaknesses, and hope poor old Daniel Kind can stay very much in the picture when Hannah moves into her bachelor pad in Kendal; he’s feeling a bit insecure.
That’s him on the cover (of a recent charity shop purchase), that’s him in the sunlight, clean. As a republican I love it that the last express Pacific steam locomotive retained in service by British Railways was Britannia class 70013, Oliver Cromwell. Shame he ultimately made such a mess of the English Revolution and bequeathed us the problem of Ulster, but hey, even though he eventually neutered them, the Putney Debates of 1647 could be said to be the start of modern democratic politics in action, and for twenty years the English were citizens, not subjects. I’d like to favour the idea of some kind of conspiracy theory among subversive railway workers that made sure it was Oliver who lasted longest …
The naming of express steam locomotives in the middle of the first half of the twentieth century was a very establishment affair, ideological in its celebration of traditional hierarchies. Worst offenders were the Great Western (GWR) and the London Midland & Scottish (LMS) Railways. The GWR’s crack express locomotives, the Kings, celebrated the monarchy, and stuck to its semantic guns by – although steam locos are still often referred to as ‘she’ – ignoring (because unladylike?) any Queens that happened to get in the way. Working back from George V, the sequence went from the teenage Edward VII to William IV, missing Vicky, and further down the line from Edward VI to James I, missing Liz I. They even subbed poor old King Stephen (who was as far back as it went), bringing on Edward VIII to keep up with the times, and didn’t reverse it even though he was never crowned. Other classes on God’s Wonderful Railway celebrated the homes of the aristocracy with the Castle and Hall classes, and lesser country houses down to the Manors.
With the Kings taken, for their express Coronation Class locos the LMS had to resort to Princesses and Duchesses and a couple of Queens (but only the wives of kings), though to be fair the rest of the class was named after cities. Their Jubilee class saluted among other things, the far-flung reaches of the British Empire (eg Bechuanaland). Somehow, with the odd exception, Dukes seem to have missed out. The LMS were also big on the military. The Southern Railway’s Schools Class was limited to – naturally – what we in the UK euphemistically call Public Schools (ie. fee-paying and private). Interstingly, the less patrician LNER mainly used birds of a certain stature (like Mallard, the world speed steam loco speed record holder), successful racehorses and football teams.
So it was left to the post-war British Railways Standard Classes, specifically the Britannia express locos, to fly the flag for a wider cultural heritage (writers like Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Chaucer, Dickens & Co) and, as we have seen, ‘God’s Englishman’, Oliver Cromwell. Was it a coincidence that this principle was established under the same socialist Attlee government that set up the National Health Service? The Standard Classes, intended by the newly nationalised British Railways to fill the motive power gap left over from the Second World War, were probably a mistake – they should have gone straight for diesel or electrics, like the rest of the developed world – but at least many of the Britannias reflected a pride more fitting to a democratic nation than kowtowing to the aristocracy. Rant over.
BR Standard Steam Locomotives (Ian Allen, 1983), Brian Stephenson‘s anthology selected from the annals of Locomotives Illustrated magazine, is a decent enough collection of photos of all said classes of locomotives in a wide variety of working situations. Over the years I have come to appreciate this group of locos – that as a trainspotter I always saw as a clumsy appendage to the individualities of the glory days of the old regional companies – as a worthy practical and handsome summation of British locomotive design and manufacture. The book kept me (to quote myself: “I’ll admit I trainspotted / In the boys time allotted” though I’ve never owned an anorak) interested enough on that level – it never leaves you – and it was thankfully devoid of the more arcane grin or cringe inducing notes that can often accompany the photos in such publications. Indeed, I am thankful for its demonstrating to me the aesthetic advantages of the larger capacity, higher-sided BR1D tenders, as opposed to the angular cut away BR1As. You can see the difference in the two photos I have filched (scanned, treated a bit in PSP) and included here.
No, my problem with British railway photography in general is that it’s big on railways but not great at Photography with a capital P – the American O.Winston Link (just put him into Google images) is the benchmark here. Some of this is down to the equipment that was available to enthusiasts in the most atmospheric of railway eras – colour only readily available only right at the end of steam – and some down to vision. Not fair to bring this up, really, in this instance, because the standard 45° shots of engines – albeit taken from a variety of heights – that constitute the majority of photos here are what this volume is all about. But the inclusion of Kenneth Field’s lovely composition (only a half plate in the book unfortunately, because its sharpness doesn’t bear enlarging) gives us a bigger picture of the railway in a social as well the conventional landscape, life’s rich tapestry.
Poet and comedian John Hegley was a trainspotter too:
is the happy shunter hunter
any more insane
than the lot who’ve not got jotters
who spot the spotty spotters
we’re looking forward to our crusty rolls
we’ve got platform tickets
and platform souls
Another charity bookshop purchase, His combined volume of early work, The family pack (Methuen, 1996), has been my bath-time reading of late. [Bath-time reading rules: has to be an old desiccated paperback (new books steam makes the pages swell); never a library book]. Of course I’d been aware of him – tv and radio spots, the odd poem in the press and anthologies – and always thought I’d check him out further one of these days. And he’s not the only person I’m aware of with a passion for Luton and its football team. Reading him in bulk, on the page, imagining the distinctive voice, the quality is more variable than I expected, but when he’s good he’s great. Have to say I liked The brother-in-law and other animals, his first, originally self-published collection of 1986, best – just the titles, never mind the actual poems: His heart’s in the wrong place, it should be in the glove department just defeating ditto in the dustbin; a different kind of muse. Can I come down now Dad? (1991) wrings humour from an unhappy childhood among many other things, but I was flagging by These were your father’s (1994). Never mind second album syndrome, the third book includes a plodding and inconsequential 32 page playlet called A tale of two tenting that for me makes Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May (you remember – folk singer Candice-Marie) sound like Shakespeare. It won’t stop me picking up and opening any of John’s later books if they happen to fall into my path, though.
Has anyone ever encapsulated upward social mobility better in two lines than Hegley in his Luton?:
I remember Luton
as I’m swallowing my crout’n
Of dulcimers, the Italian campaign and other musical adventures
The Roddy Clenaghan Band ended their immaculately chosen and beautifully performed and sung set of songs – from Nanci Griffith, Steve Earle among others – with a driving version of Things have changed, the song Bob Dylan has been opening with at the Albert Hall on the current installment of his never-ending tour. Andy Knight gave the accordion his grandfather bought in Italy, coming back from the war, an outing on one number, while Andy Fenton’s pedal steel was a delight.
Don’t think anyone had tried the active loop tape technique there before that Jimtom Say put it to good use at mid-month Vaultage. Guitar still in hand he recited poetry over the resulting backing, while his songs, robustly individual, were equally absorbing. Something different. Meanwhile, earlier in the week Scribal Gathering had seen a plethora of poets outnumbering the music either side of the as ever entertaining Rrants takeover.
End of a busy week and so to the relaxed delights of another fine Beechey Room Session at York House on a Saturday afternoon. Not that energy was not embraced in the performance. Paul Martin (that’s him with his mandocello in the photo) also brought along a dulcimer, the first, I suspect that I’ve ever heard in the flesh – a captivating sound, made me think I’ll dig out that Richard & Mimi Farina album again. Original canal songs from Phil Underwood and I can’t for the life of me remember what Michelle did (but it was all very fine).