When I was invited to a preview of independent filmmaker Mike Freedman’s latest documentary, I turned on my SatNav and headed for somewhere in SE11. Manoeuvring into the narrow driveway of what initially looked like a modern housing development, but then appeared to be the entrance to some sort of mental health institution, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
Freedman is something of a maverick. The first time we met, he talked at length on global economics and environmental issues, before nonchalantly adding that his wife is a professional pole dancer.
Anyway, Critical Mass considers the impact of population growth on our planet, as predicted via the rodent experiments of John B Calhoun. Watch the trailer here for a taste of what is on offer:
The venue turned out to be equally as intriguing: Bursting with character and clutter – from old camera equipment, film spools and promotional posters, to photographs, cinema seats, uniforms and props – The Cinema Museum is a registered charity, with a collection of memorabilia and artefacts depicting the history and glamour of over a century of cinema. Pride of place is given to a towering statue of Charlie Chaplin, who once lived in the old Lambeth Workhouse in which the museum is housed (click on the photos below to view).
There are guided tours, which have to be booked in advance – plus regular film screenings, live talks and special fund raising events, like ‘vintage movies’ themed bazaars. From this month, a special exhibition of original vintage cinema uniforms is on show, curated by clothing designer and film historian, David Trigg.
Why poets should never attempt small talk with beautiful actresses…
If I hadn’t happened to read a review of a biography of Richard Burton – and I wouldn’t have happened to read it had I not noticed that it (the review) was by the excellent Byron Rogers – I would never have known that the craggy and fabulously austere poet R.S. Thomas once came face to face with Mrs Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor.
Gwydion Thomas, R.S.’s son, was a talented actor at Oxford – and according to Rogers …
…was recruited by Burton to appear in his film of Faustus. On set, when served tea, Burton, he recalled with awe, had to have the cup glued to the saucer, because his hands shook so much the rattle was picked up on sound. Then there was an extraordinary lunch after the actor had asked to meet Gwydion’s father. In the course of this, R.S. Thomas tried to interest Elizabeth Taylor in small talk. The poet did this by broaching the subject of flatfish. “And have you tried plaice?” he asked the Most Beautiful Woman in the World.
And have you tried plaice?… I pass this on purely because it made me laugh. But I’ve made a mental note of the line – you never know when it might come in handy.
In a comment on Brit’s Dabbler Diary, Malty celebrated “Dabbling back to basics, dosh, booze, football, politics, seventies rock”. It occurred to me that these are all topics which have been woefully neglected in Key’s Cupboard. Time, then, to put that right, at one fell swoop.
Dosh. Phonetically, almost identical to “Bosh” which was Ambrose Bierce’s favourite word, according to his biographer Richard O’Connor. Ambrose Bierce was one of thirteen siblings whose names all began with the letter A. From oldest to youngest, they were Abigail, Amelia, Ann Maria, Addison, Aurelius, Augustus, Almeda, Andrew, Albert, Ambrose, Arthur, and the twins Adelia and Aurelia. Another American family attentive to the alphabet in terms of nomenclature were the Johnsons. Lyndon Baines Johnson was one of five LBJs resident in the White House in the 1960s, the other four being his wife Lady Bird Johnson, his daughters Lynda Bird Johnson and Luci Baines Johnson, and his dog, Little Beagle Johnson.
Booze. This word is most commonly found in the phrase “primordial booze”, which boffins use to describe a sort of highly intoxicating gloop, or fluid, much favoured by our distant, oh impossibly distant!, ancestors. Several decisive steps in human progress – grunting, lolloping, dancing, babbling, being Glaswegian – are now believed to have been kick-started by gulping huge amounts of primordial booze. Or just kicked. In a gutter.
Football. It is a wonder of the modern age that this word, used to describe an activity in which men in shorts scamper around a field, occasionally falling over, in pursuit of a ball, is almost invariably misspelled. To my knowledge, the only person ever to spell it correctly was Geoffrey Willans, who, in his books about St Custard’s, gives it as “foopball”, which is, after all, how it is pronounced. I am starting a campaign to have the Willans spelling used as widely as possible, and would be grateful for your support.
Politics. An activity best engaged in from the comfort of your armchair. You can either be reading a newspaper, watching television, or listening to the radio. At some point, a stray sentence or remark will send you into a seething frenzy, and you will start spouting intemperate blather, contradicting what you have just read or heard. This sets the heart pumping, that vein twitching on your forehead, and is deeply satisfying. Most other forms of political activity are harmful, indeed corrosive of the soul. If ever you find yourself standing outside a railway station in the rain hawking papers to passers-by, you should seek medical attention.
Seventies Rock. Everything you could possibly need to know about rock music in the 1970s can be reduced to the single image of a wild-eyed hairy man standing on one leg while puffing a flute. This may actually have been the pinnacle of Western civilisation. The rest, as Ambrose Bierce would undoubtedly have said, is bosh.
His soldier Tommy is one of the great English archetypes. But did Kipling invent or merely popularise him? Mr Slang investigates…
Kipling, by allusion, has cropped up regularly in these posts. Enough of the oily rags. It is time for the engineer.
Yet Kipling is not at first sight a particularly ‘slangy’ author. In his children’s tale ‘How the First Letter Was Written’ he (as Tegumai) admonishes Taffy (his daughter Josephine) for using ‘awful’ to mean ‘great’. ‘Taffy,’ said Tegumai, ‘how often have I told you not to use slang? “Awful” isn’t a pretty word.”.’ Nor, really, was it slang, and Kipling may have preached but he did not practice. There are hundreds of slang words and phrases in the works, as well as a wide range of job-specific jargon, typically in his sea stories. He uses it for the most basic of reasons: to confer authenticity. He is not a coiner, but a recorder, and his slang lexis is that of the contemporary world, leavened, as in the conversations of the Soldiers Three, by the specifics of a given background. He claimed himself to be implacable in his choice of terms: ‘I will write what I please. I will not alter a line. If it pleases me to do so I will refer to Her Gracious majesty – bless her! – as the little fat widow of Windsor and fill the mouth of Mulvaney with filth and oaths.’ But there were limits. He suggests that ‘Thomas [i.e. Tommy Atkins] really ought to be supplied with a new Adjective to help him express his opinions’ but we never read it and see only blanks. (Judging by the evidence of Frederick Manning’s Her Privates We and other World War I memoirs one may assume it was ‘fucking’ — ‘bloody’ being claimed by Australia). He was also happy to accommodate his audiences. The language of stories originally written in India, where his readers would have had a good smattering of what a newly published new dictionary of Anglo-Indian imperial pidgin termed ‘Hobson-Jobson’ , had to be simplified for those ‘at home’. Though such changes are not mandatory and Soldiers Three – where it would have been foolish and anomalous to put standard English into the mouths of men who rarely speak it – is full of pidgin, e.g. jildi, mafeesh, dekko, chee-chee, pukka, peg and baksheesh.
It was Kipling’s use of English that drew most comment. ‘Among Mr. Kipling’s discoveries of new kinds of characters,’ said his fan, the poet and critic Andrew Lang, ‘probably the most popular is his invention of the British soldier in India.’ Kipling was less grateful than Lang might have expected. A letter of 1890 states how ‘the long-haired literati of the Savile Club are swearing that I “invented” my soldier talk in Soldiers Three. Seeing that not one of these critters has been within earshot of a barrack, I am naturally wrath.’ Kipling had not invented it. He had picked it up, along with the prototypes of his characters in such oases of ex-patriate tedium as the barracks at Mian Mar where as a journalist he had enjoyed relatively privileged access.
The ‘soldier talk’, his creation or otherwise, came to exemplify a type. As Mafia dons and ‘soldiers’ apparently began modelling themselves on The Godfather trilogy, so did the British trooper take on Kipling’s fictions as exemplars. The former subaltern Sir George Younghusband recalled in A Soldier’s Memories (1917), ‘I myself had served for many years with soldiers, but had never heard the words or expressions that Rudyard Kipling’s soldiers used [...] But sure enough, a few years after, the soldiers thought, and talked, and expressed themselves exactly like Rudyard Kipling had taught them in his stories [...] Kipling made the modern soldier.’ Perhaps. Rigorous checking will find much of the language already available. But kudos goes to the populariser.
Whether, as the academic P.J. Keating claims, Kipling’s rendition of Tommy Atkins (a nickname he had not invented but popularised as never before) also made ‘a complete break with convention and provides English fiction with a new cockney archetype’ is debatable. Kipling, as noted, was a recorder, his slang terms are there for character delineation. He is not, Raj-isms aside, displaying much in the way of counter-linguistic neologism. In his one excursion to the East End, ‘The Record of Badalia Herodsfoot’ (1893) there is slang, as there needs to be, but it is unexceptional.
Of the Soldiers Three one is Irish, and something of a stage Irishman too, one from Yorkshire, and thus dialectal, and Ortheris, the Cockney, is relatively quiet, or at least as compared with the loquacious Mulvaney, on whom the burden of tale-telling rests. His vocabulary is far smaller and far more mundane than is that of the self-consciously worldly ’Arry, but his background is much poorer, while ’Arry is more lower-middle than truly working-class.
Concluding Brit the Elder’s fun quiz for all book-lovers (see part 2 here)…. Simply identify the literary work and author from the initials. A few are slightly obscure but you’ll know most. There’s also a clue for each one. Readers are free to post answers in the comments, so don’t read those if you don’t want to spoil it.
36. TGG by FSF Some said he had been a German spy
37. TDC by LT The way that can be spoken of is not the constant way.
38. TSTS by IM I saw a monster rising from the waves.
39. HOD by JC horror
40. C,TBC by AP “It was my son that killed your son,” said the old man.
41. SPOW(LOA) by TEL All men dream, but not equally.
42. AIW by LC She swam in her own tears
43. GE by CD Jaggers
44. ACO by AB What happened now was that one white-coated veck strapped my gulliver to a like head-rest, singing to himself all the time some vonny cally pop-song.
45. TSDOAM by ST Oh Joy! Oh Rapture! Pandora is organising a sock protest!
46. WH by CB …and stretching an arm out to seize the importunate branch; instead of which, my fingers closed on the fingers of a little ice-cold hand!
47. CAP by FD Being a small woman, the blow fell straight across the crown of her head.
48. TCITH by DS We looked! Then we saw him step on the mat! We looked! And we saw him!/
49. S by JS Time stopped and there was nothing in the world but two men looking into eternity in each other’s eyes. And the room rocked in the sudden blur of action…
The Dabbler publishes its guide to Great Britain for those of our foreign readers who intend to use the events of the summer as an excuse to make the pilgrimage.
This summer, London will host the Olympic Games, and many foreign visitors will visit Great Britain. Although the games are still a few weeks away, I am pleased to report that my green and pleasant homeland’s reputation for hospitality is already proving well-deserved. This week for instance a gentleman named David Beckham, who is married to one of our famous “Spice Girls,” released his “Best of British” guide for visitors. Alas I cannot tell you what it contains, for Mr. Beckham requested that I acquire an “app” for my “phone,” whereas I still rely on carrier pigeons for long distance communications. But not to worry! This week, for those planning a visit, or who are simply curious about our Sceptred Isle, I have prepared my own list. Tally ho!
PAUL MCCARTNEY’S HAIR
Paul McCartney is loved around the globe for his up-tempo ditties such as “The Frog Song” and “Biker Like An Icon.” His most recent long player, Kisses On The Bottom, is not at all about what you might think, but is rather wholesome listening, suitable for sing-alongs at the piano in the family parlor.
Last week, this Knight of the Realm celebrated his 70th birthday, and what is most remarkable is that his hair, which resembles a fine, semi-translucent purple-brown straw balanced atop a wrinkled egg, is almost intact. Is there hair like Sir Paul’s anywhere else in the world? I should think not. Truly, it is the Best of British.
Sir Paul lives in a castle located in central Liverpool and receives visitors on Tuesday mornings, 9:30-11:30. Feel free to “pop in” and pay homage to his hair, but please do not touch- for it is very fragile.
PRINCE EDWARD SPOTTING
The British Royal Family is an institution revered far and wide for its adherence to tradition. Not for our regal brood the silly pandering of the Dutch Royal Family, whose members ride bicycles and “surf” the “web” on “iPads.” In Britain, our Royals still balance gem-encrusted hats atop their pates and sport long robes that have been flayed from the backs of small furry creatures. These symbolic garments are intended to demonstrate the family’s noble lineage as the most ancient royal dynasty on Earth, being as they are descended from an alien named Xenu, who arrived on earth 75 million years ago in a spacecraft shaped like a DC-8 airplane.
Visitors are encouraged to participate in the lively national pastime of Prince Edward-spotting. Because he is small, bald and ineffectual, Edward is often dispatched to the Queen’s lesser territories to perform his ritual duties in obscurity. During the recent Diamond Jubilee celebrations, he was dispatched to a volcano in the Pacific to transmit Her Majesty’s greetings to some goats. This summer it is rumored that the Queen will dispatch the royal runt to preside over the opening of some chemical toilets in a field outside Leeds. Keep your eyes peeled!
OUR MAJESTIC DONKEYS
It is well-known that Britain is a nation of animal lovers; but consider this remarkable statistic – last year “The Donkey Sanctuary,” a retirement home for equine quadrupeds in Devonshire, received over £24 million in charitable donations. By contrast, the Blind Veteran’s Trust received a mere £16 million. .
Obviously this is because aged donkeys are far more charming than blind veterans; and indeed our donkeys are the finest in the world. The legend however that British donkeys rest on satin cushions while blind veterans peel grapes which they subsequently pop into their mouths is just that: a legend. Should you pass a blind veteran in the street however, he will be grateful for a carrot.
AN AIR OF CONDESCENSION
In the old days, Britain was run by a narrow elite who attended the same schools and universities, and who then advanced through society via the manipulation of tribal contacts, thus maintaining their hereditary grip on government, business and the mass media. They were also nobly condescending to the lower orders.
How times change! Today, Britain is run by a narrow elite, who attended the same schools and universities, and who then advanced through society via the manipulation of tribal contacts, thus maintaining their hereditary grip on government, business and the mass media. Nowadays, however, members of the elite mimic the accents of commoners and feign enthusiasm for such base pursuits as football and “rock” music. There is even a special TV channel dedicated to what the elite thinks commoners like to watch – BBC 1. Do “tune in!”
Spotted dick is a form of pudding and let nobody tell you otherwise.
And there you have it! Of course, it is impossible to distil the essence of a nation so tickety-boo as ours in so brief an article. Not to worry though, for as you disembark from your airplane at the luxurious Heathrow Airport, and then speed through London on our hyper-efficient underground “tube” railway, only to emerge in the center of the metropolis where you will marvel at the reasonable prices for so many high quality goods and services, you’ll be creating your own “Best of British” list in no time!
A collection of archival clips puts to shame a seedy corner of today’s TV…
I just caught a wonderful programme on BBC4. That’s a sentence I could write a few times a week: the channel’s worth the licence fee alone, unlike that nice Mr Attenborough who used to be, but has now gone off a bit.
So why mention it? Well this one turned out to be unusually affecting. The London on Film series comprises three seemingly artless compilations of archive films, from the medium’s invention to the rather implausible full-colour arrival of the Canary Wharf development. Last night it was the East End, the West End having been looked at last week, and the suburbs upcoming (you can catch all of them on the iPlayer).
So why was the East End episode so affecting? Common to all the programmes are the lack of ‘astons’ pointing out who’s talking or where. You’re left to rely on your own vague recollections (“Isn’t that Jonny Speight?”) and contemporary voiceovers that tell truncated stories. The lack of pointers and the light editorial touch made these excerpts feel like something that had turned up after a couple of centuries in a capsule, one of those boxes thrown together and buried under a ceremonial tree to enlighten future generations: this is how we lived.
It’s intriguing to see the recent history of your own civilisation handled in this way. For one thing, people become mostly anonymous, stripped of any celebrity or renown. They’re simply people: distant in time and yet just like you and me.
Many of these people told their own stories, and they were often people from very poor backgrounds. They spoke quite matter-of-factly, without any of the fripperies added by the producers of today’s programmes. This was The Rock and Roll Years without the rock and roll, or much anything else.
Watching I was struck how infrequently we hear poor people talking about their lives, their hopes, fears and aspirations, without it somehow being packaged as the worst sort of exploitative entertainment. Unless the poor are amusingly fat, immoral, stupid, rude, shameless, or perhaps foreign, TV isn’t really interested.
I suspect nostalgia for a more civil time is what many viewers of this programme might have felt. However, the civil poor are still with us; they just tend to be ignored. One wonders what a film capsule from our own time would look like to future generations.
Music composed in the fifteenth century that will always be in tune with the cosmos…
On March 25th 1436, Florence cathedral was consecrated by Pope Eugenius IV. In his two years in the city, the Pope had not, thus far, set foot outside the monastery of Santa Maria Novella where he was lodged, but for the occasion of the dedication he made his way over a specially raised wooden walkway decorated with rugs and tapestries to the Duomo, accompanied by various ecclesiastical and civic dignitaries, and a train of musicians.
We do not know whether the musicians played or not at this point, but we do know that as part of the service of dedication a specially composed motet by the great French composer Guillaume Dufay (c.1400-1474) – Nuper rosarum flores – was performed.
Contemporary accounts describe how the motet echoed and resounded in the new dome to the ecstatic delight of all present, but beyond its sensory appeal, the fame of the motet is grounded on the use Dufay makes of inaudible numerological patterns, which govern in great detail both its rhythmic, textual, and intervallic structure.
Nuper rosarum flores is constructed in four symmetrical sections (with a concluding Amen), each of seven lines, each line of seven syllables. Each section is in four sung parts (triplum, motetus, and the two lower, tenor voices), and begins with the two upper voices singing for a total of 28 breves (realised in modern notation as 28 measures, or bars); these upper voices are then joined by the two lower voices, the tenor, singing the Gregorian cantus firmus – the first 14 notes of the introit for the dedication of a church, (terribilis locus iste) presented in alternating seven-note groups.
In this way the titular saint of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore – the vernal Virgin Mary – is programmed into the numerological patterns. The Virgin is associated with the number seven in medieval Christian exegesis, through her virtues, sorrows, acts of mercy, virginal companions, and years in exile. Four, the number of the temple (four cornerstones, four pillars, four walls) multiplied by seven is of course 28, a perfect number (a perfect number being one which is equal to the sum of its perfect divisors – in this case, 1, 2, 4, 7, and 14).
Each of the four sections is rhythmically governed by a different time signature, demanding respectively 6, 4, 2 and 3 minims to each breve (of which, recall, there are 28) – Pythagorean proportions. In 1973, Charles Warren suggested that these proportions were related to the layout of the Cathedral itself (length of nave to width of transept to height of dome, and so on) but more recently it has been shown by Craig Wright that mediating between the cathedral and the motet was the Temple of Solomon, whose stated proportions (60 cubits by 20 by 30) are identical to those expressed in the motet. An anonymous painting of Christ healing in the Temple, also dated 1436, confirms the identification of Duomo to Temple:
All this invisible patterning (and I have barely scratched the surface) is, to us, of ambivalent value. We are an age for whom our discoveries are more important than our inventions. Truth – truth about the cosmos, or the self, for example – is something elusive which you must find, or uncover, eke out; inventions are side-products of this quest, or the means by which we experimentally further it.
In 1436, the reverse was the case. The truth of the cosmos was known: it had been revealed. What was mysterious must remain mysterious, lodged in a cloud of unknowing. Everything else of value was made – constructed, in the most exalted cases, to accord with the principles and shape of the cosmos.
Dufay’s embedded patterns are at once an invention – a rhetorical inventio – and a something for us to discover and comprehend, hence our ambivalence. We like finding out the truth of the matter, but the motet itself does not conform to our expectations of an artwork – that it should be at some level a vessel of discovery.
There is however another, perhaps more interesting, way of looking at it, which might better reconcile us to it. The motet as a whole, and the details that make up its numerological component, and the broader contexts in which it is nested, are part of a complex, decentred network. The music, in other words, is connected, whether in an occult sense (for Du Fay) or in a more broadly cultural sense (for us) to any number of surrounding systems of meaning – to medieval typology and theology, to the platonic ideal of music as sounding number, to the history of Florence, the architectural design of Florence cathedral, and so on.
And these are not simple, hierarchical connections. The motet is not a microcosmic working out of broader ideas – it is, to state the obvious, music, while neo-platonic ideals of music are ideas, not music. It is therefore neither an epitome of what used to be called the medieval world view, nor a mere building block of it. It has a scale of its own: it is not determined by, nor does it determine, the conditions of its existence, but is rather connected to them, to repeat, across a non-hierarchical but also non-homogenous network.
I confess I am starting to think of Nuper rosarum flores as a cultural super-node, a well-oxygenated region of the quattrocento Florentine brain; an ecclesio-musical object comprising both cathedral and motet, which is at once temporally and spatially precise – Florence, 25th March 1436 – and temporally and spatially diffuse, stretching both back and forth in time (back to scholastic biblical exegesis, for example, and forward to Renaissance neo-Platonism); and in and out in space: in, to Guillaume Dufay’s head, or out, to Rome, Cambrai, Paris; and, just at this moment, to distant, neuronal Norbiton.
Atlas of Norbiton is a weekly bulletin from Norbiton: Ideal City of the Failed Life. Unlike its more comprehensive, detailed and discursive mother site, the Anatomy of Norbiton – the Atlas is intended as a pocket guide to the Failed Life for Failed or Failing Individuals on the move.
We imagine that this might be one of our more popular book club choices, as this month we’re giving away 12 copies of Robert Macfarlane’s fantastic new book to members of our Dabbler Book Club and our esteemed, yet highly secretive League of Dabblers…if you haven’t yet joined up, now would be a good time to do so…
In The Old Ways, Robert Macfarlane sets off from his Cambridge home to follow the ancient tracks, holloways, drove-roads and sea paths that form part of a vast network of routes criss-crossing the landscape. The result is an immersive, enthralling exploration of the ghosts and voices that haunt old paths, of the stories our tracks keep and tell, of pilgrimage and ritual, and of songlines and their singers. Above all this is a book about people and place: about walking as a reconnoitre inwards, and the subtle ways in which we are shaped by the territories through which we move.
Told in Macfarlane’s distinctive and celebrated voice, the book folds together natural history, cartography, geology, archaeology and literature. His tracks take him from the chalk downs of England to the bird-islands of the Scottish northwest, and from the disputed territories of Palestine to the sacred landscapes of Spain and the Himalayas. Along the way he walks stride for stride with a 5000-year-old man near Liverpool, follows the ‘deadliest path in Britain’, sails an open boat out into the Atlantic at night, and crosses paths with walkers of many kinds – wanderers, wayfarers, pilgrims, guides, shamans, poets, trespassers and devouts.
He discovers that paths offer not just means of traversing space, but also of feeling, knowing and thinking. The old ways lead us unexpectedly to the new, and the voyage out is always a voyage inwards.
‘Sublime writing . . . sets the imagination tingling . . . Macfarlane’s way of writing [is] free, exploratory, rambling and haphazard but resourceful, individual, following his own whims, and laying an irresistible trail for readers to follow’ Sunday Times
We have ten copies to give away to lucky members of the Dabbler Book Club, and two copies for members of the League of Dabblers.
How to get a free copy of The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane If you are already a member of the Dabbler Book Club you will automatically be entered into the draw. If you haven’t already joined, all you have to do is sign up below. It’s free.
After that, you don’t have to do anything. All members will be automatically entered into the ballot for one of 10 free review copies, which will take place on Thursday 12th July. We’ll email the winners, at which point you can opt out if you really don’t want that month’s choice and would rather another member got the chance.
We’ll be reviewing The Old Ways in the next month or two, and you can contribute your thoughts (though you’re not obliged to.)
Thank you to our friends at Penguin for kindly providing the copies.
Coming soon – more reviews, prize draws, signed copies, exclusive previews and more… Over the coming months we’ve got some great literary giveaways exclusively for the Dabbler Book Club, including free copies, tickets to literary events and much more.
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Ts &Cs: All entrants will automatically be entered into the Dabbler Book Club. This means that you will receive occasional emails from us about the next monthly book and other offers. However, we will not pass your details on to any third party and you can unsubscribe at any time by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and requesting to be unsubscribed. Winners will be drawn at random from the Dabbler Book Club members at 12pm on Thursday12th July 2012. The judges’ decision is final. The Dabbler reserves the right to offer an alternative prize or to offer no prize and withdraw the competition at any time for any reason. More competitions are available at Free UK Competitions.
Gwyn’s speed folly-hunting trip around Scotland takes him to Ross & Cromarty…
Sir Hector Munro’s folly was built to commemorate his own heroism: a replica of the Gates of Negapatam, an Indian stronghold he had captured from the Dutch on November 12th 1781 after a four week seige. After twenty years of service in the Indian army, he retired in the 1780s to Novar House near Evanton in Cromarty. During the last years of his life he found time to develop Novar into a model estate and shared some of his fortune by paying the unemployed a penny a day to build this splendid eyecatcher on Fyrish Hill, consisting of three battlemented arches, the centre one taller, with ruined pillars standing to either side. Heavy and oppressive — and very Scottish rather than Indian — it is reminiscent of Yorke’s Folly in North Yorkshire in its situation, but much finer.
It is a spectacular eyecatcher; it can be seen for miles around, and indeed is best seen from a distance. The frustrating thing about the forty minute walk to the folly is that the goal is completely invisible until one is four minutes away. Wrap up warm for the climb; we were numbed by the May sleet on the descent. The northern flanking arch, now ruined, is set a little behind the main monument, while the southern flanking arch is pushed a little forward, presumably for better optical effect when viewed from Novar House. Only on closer inspection from the top of the hill did we discover that the indefatigable Munros had constructed two further hilltop eyecatchers — there is no shortage of suitable hills in the area-due south of the Gates.
Incidentally Fyrish is not a Munro — it was another Hector Munro who gave his name to all the Scottish peaks over 3,000 feet high. By the time you read this, the hills to the west will be wind farms.
Gwyn is the co-author of the epic Follies of England series of the county-by-county e-books – the definitive guide to the England’s architectural oddities, available to buy for just £2.99 each from www.heritage.co.uk.