In a spirit of festive spookery, I’ve been having a nose around the venerable story of the Campden Wonder. I recall reading an account of this peculiar episode in a book of ghost stories when I was very young. I feel a link to it because, although Campden is far from my neck of the woods, I know the village and the reputed home of one of the protagonists very well indeed.
On August 16th, 1660, one William Harrison, a 70 year-old rent collector, disappeared from the Cotswold village of Chipping Campden. His hat, comb and collar band were found on the main road between Campden and Ebrington, slashed and bloodied.
Before long, Harrison’s servant, John Perry confessed that he, his brother and his mother had conspired to murder Harrison. All three were hanged.
The story would have remained just a gruesome piece of local history had not something extraordinary occurred two years later. William Harrison returned, offering an account of his disappearance straight out of a romance. He had, he said, been attacked and abducted by two armed horsemen, who had eventually put him on board a ship in Deal. The ship was taken by pirates and Harrison was sold into slavery in Smyrna, Turkey. After months enslaved, Harrison was released when his master died, and he slowly made his way back home via Portugal.
Harrison’s account raised as many questions as it answered, not least why Perry had confessed to a fictitious murder. There have been a number of adaptations of the story, and there is a well-maintained website covering the mystery.
Not particularly seasonal thoughts, I know, but I’m sure you’re providing more than enough festive cheer for the both of us.
I was reading something this morning in which the author referred to the “English revolution of the seventeenth century and the French revolution of the eighteenth”.
I was struck first by the question, which English revolution? The dramatic, ultimately unsuccessful one or the largely political, highly successful one?
Second, why does nobody in this country refer to the ‘English Civil War’ (as if this weren’t a country already beset by them) as a revolution? I suspect it is part of the horrible embarrassment the English suffer on the subject of Cromwell, rather like the worse-than-ambivalence the French have towards Napoleon. Sometimes I wonder if it wasn’t Cromwell’s mania that put this country off the idea of revolution permanently.
I see Mags wondering why she will read Jon Ronson but not in book form, or watch him on television.
My answer: his books read like overlong magazine articles. As for TV (or radio, with his new series which has mysteriously disappeared from the Radio 4 website), I’m afraid it’s just down to the voice.
Maybe, then, Ronson’s new blog is the best idea.
Someone I know is definitely going to get this book as soon as I can lay hands on it. If you think it’s you, let me know.*
In the meantime, make do with the blog of the book.
* I know that isn’t quite in the logic-twisting league of a Carly Simon song, but it’s the only foolish version of a mind-hack I can manage before nine in the morning.
There was a rather interesting interview of Phillip Pullman by Melvyn Bragg last night for The South Bank Show. I’m guessing it was a repeat, although there’s neither hide nor hair of it on the website.
Bragg clearly felt that Pullman should be answerable for the fairly broad comments against established religion he’s liable to come out with. So we got the unusual sight of the hugely soft & woolly Lord Bragg using that charmless traditionalist Peter Hitchens as a stick with which to hit Pullman for producing propaganda as an “anti-[C.S.] Lewis”. What did Pullman think? He thought that Lewis’ Narnia books were despicably world-hating, but at least were readable compared to Tolkein.
What emerged was that Pullman, for all of his image as a kind of literary Richard Dawkins, was far more exercised by the technicalities of writing narrative than by the possibilities of the novel for projecting (or destroying) beliefs. When Bragg beadily seized on the loss of the author’s father as a child as an explanation for the orphaning of the child protagonists in His Dark Materials, Pullman offered a bat straight enough to satisfy even Geoffrey Boycott. In a story about children going on adventures, he mused, the big problem is what to do with the parents. Killing them off, he was suggesting, served his narrative before it served his psyche.
The writer’s workshop continued with a little exposition from Pullman on the peculiarity of the narrator; that genderless, ageless, timeless, ubiquitous, omniscient, protean voice that drifts through all literature. I had one of those moments where I wasn’t quite sure if the speaker was suggesting an argument he didn’t want to pursue, or if my own mind was racing away unbidden. Was he offering a craftsman’s take on that old narrator-as-God warhorse? Pullman certainly seemed to offer a craftsman’s view of the narrator: it occupies a supernatural and creepily omnifacient position in narrative simply because it’s needed. I wondered whether Pullman had in mind a similar craftsman’s view of the development of the idea of God, because it fills a space, but didn’t want to offer any more hostages to Hitchens.
Quite the worst thing about the recent prolonged technical troubles with this ‘ere journal was not, for instance:
- trailing through endless help pages, support forums, and the like
- the increasingly despairing application of increasingly radical tourniquets
- the inability to observe, write, post as the thoughts occur
- the apparent stony silence resulting
Quite the worst thing was, of course, that where Rogue Semiotics goes, (down, for instance), it drags The Deep North with it. So five cheers at least for the fact that Peter & Jane kept the faith, and their notes, for the duration, and Northern life is back on what can only be described as form. If you don’t believe me, go and read about the Silly Bitch Club.
See? I told you.
File, as Dennis Norden would put it, under “whatever happened to…?”
When did shop fitters (or, as I always misread it, shop lifters) stop soaping up windows? It used to be a common sight on the high street, I’m sure. Moreover, does one use yer actual soap, or is there a particular shop fitters’ soap that covers with just the right level of opacity, and washes off like a dream?
Maybe the soap in question is that universal panacea, sugar soap, the use of which to clean walls is as alien as a faery charm to some of my more bewildered contemporaries. I swear I only know about it because the name appeals.
Good will to all men and joy to…well, to some.
As is traditional at this time of year, please note the new address. I’m still in the process of disentangling a very mucky backing-out-of-Movable Type process, but things are definitely starting to happen aright. It’s taken far far too long, mostly because I have been able to throw five entire minutes in its direction for weeks. For all, I must say, good reasons.
I’m going to try to migrate The Deep North keeping its old address, but it’s too late for this here account, so please treat this new address as permanent.