Ravilious Deciphered

The Northern Professor, writing this entry under an alias, is much preoccupied at the moment with the English (very English) painter Eric Ravilious. This is because the book The Idea of North is inching towards its conclusion via a consideration of Ravilious’s wonderful arctic watercolours, painted while he was a war artist in 1940. He disappeared off Iceland in the storms of the autumn equinox of 1942, poor chap.
The pursuit of traces of Ravilious involved a very long London walk with Alan Powers last week. It was very hot indeed walking from the British Library to the Imperial War Museum, via the extraordinary “cuddly modernism” shop near Lamb’s Conduit Street (a shop which I sometimes think is only there when Alan chooses to call it into being) where you can still buy the Alphabet mug which Ravilious designed. [Investors are advised that these mugs are going to be worth rather a lot in a few years, by the way.]
We solved the heat problem to an extent by using Somerset House as a throughway picking up an organic ice-cream in passing. In the course of the walk Dr Powers (who knows a very great deal about a great many things and who read the Latin epistle at our wedding flawlessly, quite flawlessly) said that Ravilious (who was up to a lark as a rule) said that he had encrypted something in the alphabet mug. Given that this weblog is read by two decipherers, at least, of secrets (one in London and one in Toronto) as well as by a good number of persons who have had their education at the hands of the Society, I think it worth listing Ravilious’s alphabet and inviting considerations of it “like a crossword”.
I long for a solution to this problem. Ravilious was a good thing: very genial, very handsome, very good at tennis and dancing and inhabiting a difficult decade gracefully. He knew, proverbially, all the words of the songs. He was one of the great letter-writers. And, despite all this dash and geniality, his paintings are haunted, melancholy in a way which I recognise (being a foreigner) as very English. Let us see if we can solve this one. The encrypted word or words may be rude, or inspired. You never know. There was a lot to Ravilious: he lit up landscapes, he made things happen.
AIROPLANE [thus he always spelled it]
BIRD[CAGE]
CLOUD
DOLL [or possibly DUMMY]
EGGS
FLOUNDER [or FISH]
GLOBE
HOUSE
INDIAN
JUG
KETTLE
LEAF
MATCHES
NIGHT
OCTOPUS
PALM [TREE]
QUINCE
ROCKING CHAIR
SWAN
TWINS
UMBRELLA
VOLCANO
XYLOPHONE
YACHT
ZEPPLIN

3 Responses to “Ravilious Deciphered”

  1. Andreas Minor Says:

    He did not, it seems, content himself with just the mug. According to rudimentary internet research, there was at least a porriger and small plate as well. And a look at the bowl design here: http://www.rupertdoyly.com/ceramics/c20.html suggests indeed that a code is likely and the arrangement of letters not as random as some would have it. A code wheel of some time, perhaps? If the mug is similarly arranged, perhaps the three items fit together to solve the puzzle? But which you would start with, and to what code, I couldn’t hazard a guess.

  2. Jon Says:

    An image of the mug would help immensely.

    Andrew’s suggestion opens up vistas of permutative terror. If we are rotating the mug placed on the bowl, we have sixteen places (but places of what depends on the mug). If we include the others, well, let’s not include the others.

    Code wheels could lead us off into all sorts of interesting directions, most of which, frankly, end in unhappy speculation.

    But you never know your luck.

  3. Jon Says:

    A-ha.

    A-ha.

    What’s that on the inside of the mug, I wonder?

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