A branching shadow
On a grassy green patch:
A tall tree stands nearby
Kensington Gardens on a warm spring afternoon, the first proper sunshine for quite a few days
A branching shadow
On a grassy green patch:
A tall tree stands nearby
Kensington Gardens on a warm spring afternoon, the first proper sunshine for quite a few days
Back in March 2017, I was flicking idly through the London Evening Standard. So idly was I flicking that I looked at the sports pages, which I usually ignore. There was a large photograph of football players in orange shirts. Absent-mindedly, I stared at them, and then suddenly I noticed that their shirts had black double-headed birds printed on them. Knowing that the national symbol of Albania is a double-headed eagle, I wondered whether this was an Albanian team. It was not. It was AFC Wimbledon, a team based in the southwest suburb of London, Wimbledon.
Soon, I discovered that Wimbledon’s municipal coat of arms bears a double-headed eagle. A trip to Wimbledon Library did not prove useful in my quest to discover why this two-headed bird should appear on the Borough’s crest. Various Internet websites suggested that it was there as a reminder that Julius Caesar had camped somewhere in what is now Wimbledon.
It is believed that the Ancient Romans used the eagle as a heraldic symbol, but it was usually the single-headed variety. It is unlikely that they used the double-headed variety, which dates back to Ancient Babylon and maybe before. It is likely that it was first used in a ‘Roman’ empire context after the fall of the Ancient Roman Empire, by the Byzantine Empire, a successor to that earlier Roman Empire, in the 12th century AD when it was adopted by Isaac I Komnenos (c. 1007 – c. 1060). His family originated in Paphlagonia (now ‘Paflagonya’ in Turkey) in Anatolia. Double-headed eagles were associated with the Hittites, who had lived in the area, notably in the city of Gangra (now ‘Çankırı’ in Turkey). A plausible theory, but probably unprovable, is that the double-headed bird migrated from the Hittites into Byzantine usage.
This brings us back to Wimbledon. From the little evidence that I have presented, the connection with Julius Caesar and the London borough’s crest seems weak. Whatever the real story, the crest is not an ancient one. It was designed and granted as late as 1906.
Part of an image from http://www.sportinglife.com
I always enjoy visiting places with interesting historical associations. For example, it gave me a thrill to enter the room in a house in Porbandar (Gujarat, India) where Mahatma Gandhi was born, and to stand in Sarajevo at the very spot where Gavrilo Princip shot the Austrian Archduke and his wife in 1914.
I hope that the following excerpt from my book “Charlie Chaplin waved to me” can begin to explain my fascination for visiting places with great historical significance either for me or the world in general:
“To reach Oxford Circus, the starting point of our trips to the West End,
we used to take the Northern Line of the Underground to Tottenham
Court Station, and change there to the Central Line. In the 1960s, there
were signs that directed the passengers from the Northern line to the
Central, but these involved using a number of staircases and walking
quite a distance. My mother ignored the signs, and headed straight for a
passageway at one end of the southbound Northern Line platform. This
was clearly labelled ‘No Entry’. My mother knew better than to obey
this because she knew that it was a shortcut to the Central Line
platform. Today, it is the recommended route. Whenever I walk along
this once ‘forbidden’ passageway, I wonder whether amongst the
billions of molecules that make up the air in that circular passage there
is maybe at least one molecule of the carbon dioxide or nitrogen that
was once breathed out of my late mother’s lungs. And, do the echoes of
her footsteps still reverberate even ever so faintly in this busy
It is the thought that I might be sharing even one molecule of the air breathed by the persons who gave a place the historic interest for me that gives me an irrational thrill. It is for this reason that I feel unable to visit places like Auschwitz and Dachau. I do not wish to breathe the air that might possibly have been around when the Nazis and their unfortunate victims occupied such places.
This might seem a bit ridiculous as the chances of breathing the same molecules of air that say my mother or the Archduke of Austria inspired are extremely miniscule, but what is the joy of life if not full of quirkiness.
“Charlie Chaplin waved to me” by Adam Yamey is available from:
Amazon, Lulu.com, and bookdepository.com, as well as on Kindle
In the early 1960s, I attended a preparatory (‘prep’) school between Swiss Cottage and Belsize Park in north-west London. A prep school in the UK is a place that young children aged between 5 and 11 to 13 years study in order to pass examinations that will admit them to Public Schools, which, despite the name, are actually private schools.
At my prep school, The Hall School, we were made to sit in alphabetical order (by surname) in the classrooms. We were addressed by our surnames. I suppose arranging us alphabetically might have helped the teachers remember who was who.
My surname is Yamey, so I always sat in one corner of the classroom. There were often no other boys at my end of the alphabet, although occasionally I was in the same class as someone with the surname Yeoman or Zangwill.
Often, we had to learn poetry off by heart (by rote). We would then have to recite the poem in class. Invariably, the teachers began be asking the boy at the beginning of the alphabet to commence the recitations. Then, the other boys in the class took their turns, as the teacher worked his way down the surnames towards the end of the alphabet. Often the bell marking the end of our 45 minute lessons rang before the teacher reached my end of the alphabet and I was spared the embarrassment of having to try to recite a poem that I was never able to remember. I was hopeless at learning poetry, or anything else, by heart. I can only remember things if I can put them into some conceptual framework in my mind. Poetry did not seem to fit anywhere in my head!
What continues to surprise me is the lack of imagination of our teachers. Why did they always start asking us to recite by beginning with the pupil whose surname was at the beginning of the alphabet? Why did they not begin at Y or Z and work in the other direction?
Many years later, our 6 or 7 year old daughter attended a school in which students were asked to do things in alphabetical order of their surnames. Unlike me, she was always keen to take part in class activitues. So, one day she informed the school that she her surname had been changed to one begining with D. That way, she was always asked to participate in class activities that were being done in accordance with the alphabetical order of the children’s surnames.
All went well until we received the termly bill for the school fees. It was addressed not to Dr and Mrs Yamey, but to Dr and Mrs D…. I told our daughter that as the bill was not addressed to us, I would not be able to honour it. Our daughter quickly agreed to change her surname back to Yamey.
A wild wind blows,
Weeping willows sway:
Maybe spring is in the offing
One of the great features of possessing a Tate Card (an annual season ticket) is that one can enter (with or without a companion) the regular special exhibitions without paying extra for tickets, which tend to be quite costly. What I particularly like is that if an exhibition does not meet one’s expectations, one can spend a short time viewing without worrying about having wasted, maybe, as much as £18 per person.
Recently, I visited the much-hyped special exhibition of works by the French painter Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) at the Tate Modern in London. Without the Tate Card, the two of us would have had to shell out £36 (about 30% of the cost of a Tate Card) to see what I thought was a tedious exhibition.
I like Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art in general, but the Bonnard works left me cold (or at least lukewarm!). I cannot comment on the competence of their execution, but I found them short of visual excitement, almost boring compared with works of other artists painting during Bonnard’s lifetime. Consequently, we did not linger long in the exhibition. I may sound like a Philistine with my comments about the famous Bonnard, but it is only fair to write honestly about how the exhibition affected me. Incidentally, I noticed that many of the visitors at this show were more interested in chatting to each other than looking at Bonnard’s works. I saw one man sitting on a bench reading his newspaper rather than trying to enjoy Bonnard.
As we were still in the mood for looking at art, we decided to enter another special exhibition in the Tate Modern. Using our Tate Card, we saved up to £26 when we entered the exhibition of artworks by the American-born Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012). However, this is an exhibition that is well worth its entrance fee. Bonnard and Tanning’s working lives overlapped for a few years, but the American’s output made a far greater impression on me than the Frenchman’s.
The exhibition at the Tate Modern commences with paintings from Tanning’s surrealist phase. Her execution and composition sets her amongst the best of the surrealist artists. Each painting has subtlety, excitement, a sense of adventure, and creative freshness. As Tanning grew older, her works tended towards abstraction in an original way. In brief, Tanning was an artist whose visual language(s) really attract me. Her work has a freshness and impact that I found lacking in Bonnard.
In addition to paintings and designs for stage sets, the exhibition at the Tate includes some of rather weird soft fabric sculptures, which did not appeal to me quite as much as the framed works. However, they display another aspect of Tanning’s undoubted inventive talent.
I am glad we decided to visit the Bonnard, even though it disappointed me, because it got me to visit the Tate Modern after a long break (in India) and to discover the delights of Dorothea Tanning’s artistic output.
The photo is a detail of a work, “Endgame” , painted by Dorothea Tanning in 1944
During my wanderings through India, I have often noticed trees with thin threads tied around their trunks. These are peepal trees with heart-shaped leaves. They are held to be sacred by devout Hindus. Women wrap threads around the trunks in the hope that their prayers will be answered satisfactorily.
On at least one occasion, and this was in an Islamic mausoleum (dargah) in Baroda (Gujarat), I have seen threads tied around pillars within the dargah. Some of these threads had bangles attached to them. We were told by the guardian of the dargah, that Muslim women tie these threads, hoping that their wishes will be fulfilled.
Statues of Christ, the Madonna, and saints in churches in India are often draped with flower garlands. This is done more likely to honour the persons depicted in the statues than to have wishes granted. I have not yet seen any examples of threads tied in churches like I have seen in Hindu and Muslim shrines in India.
Yesterday, I visited St John the Baptist Church (Church of England) in Holland Road, Shepherds Bush, London. At the entrance to this magnificent Victorian Gothic building, there is a wooden crucifix. I was surprised to see that it had something that made me think of India. Two threads, each bearing a small metal medallion with some prayerful words on them, were wrapped around the heads of the nails penetrating Christ’s feet. I have never seen anything like this in a church in the UK. Is this a chance finding or the beginning of a new trend?
I was visiting Christie’s auction house in London to view some modern art being displayed prior to an auction.
Seated by a large painting by David Hockney, there was a well dressed man looking at his mobile phone.
A decorous young lady sauntered up to him and said in a French accent:
“Do you follow me on Instagram?”.
The man looked up and said:
“No. Who are you?”
How sad is that?
Recently, I renewed my Reader’s Card at the British Library, currently housed in superb premises on Euston Road, next door to the Victorian Gothic St Pancras railway station. This building was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in about 1998. Prior to this, the library’s Reading Room was a huge circular structure in the heart of the British Museum.
When our daughter was at primary school, she was taught about the Ancient Egyptians including a female Pharaoh called Hatshepsut. One Saturday, I took our daughter to the British Museum in the hope of finding an image of the pharaoh in the Egyptian Galleries. After a desultory search, we gave up and walked acoss the the lovely covered Great Court, created relatively recently. The central circular structure within it contains the unused but well-preserved round Reading Room, which was designed by Sidney Smirke and opened in 1857, the year of the First Indian War of Independence.
We entered the old Reading Room and I asked the attendant sitting there:
“Where exactly did Karl Marx used to sit when he used the library?”
“It’s a myth, sir,” replied the attendant, “He did not have a particular place because it has always been the library’s policy that places can not be reserved from day to day.”
I was a bit disappointed with his reply, but had to accept it.
When we got home, my wife asked our child how we had got on. She replied:
“You know Mummy. Daddy asked about his friend at the big old library?”
My wife asked which friend. Our daughter replied:
“I don’t know, but the man said he was a myth really.”
Picture shows foyer of current British Library in Euston Road
Before I began studying at Highgate School (in North London) in 1965, joining the Combined Cadet Force (‘CCF’) was compulsory. The CCF was military training for teenagers, who were dressed in full military uniforms. The school was well-equipped for CCF training, having an assault course, a shooting range, a fully-equipped armory, and several members of staff who had been, or still were, high ranking military officials.
Fortunately for me, joining the CCF became voluntary just after I joined the school. The CCF trained on Tuesday afternoons. Those, incuding me, who had opted out of the CCF, had to do something worthy instead of military training.
For a while I was enrolled in ‘Digweed’, a squad of pupils who helped with gardening in the school’s numerous properties. I was assigned to the garden of one of the boarding houses. I could not tell a wanted plant from a weed, and was therefore quite useless. We used to be given cups of tea halfway through the afternoon. It was tea with milk, which I detested in those days. So, my only useful contribution to Digweed was watering plants with the contents of my tea cup.
After a spell of Digweed, I was asked to visit a home for elderly people every Tuesday afternoon. My task was to chat with them. People who know me now will not believe how shy I was when I became a visitor to the home, but I was. The elderly folk living at the home used to sit in high backed chairs arranged around the walls of a large room. I was supposed to talk with them. I tried, but almost all of them were too far gone to respond. These Tuesday afternoon visits were dreary and depressing, as well as being pointless.
There was one old lady, who was very chatty and friendly. However, she was not present every time that I visited. She told me that whenever she could, she would run away from the home, but would always be found and brought back.
One Tuesday, I rang the doorbell of the home. One of the staff opened the front door, but prevented me from entering. Behind her, I saw a coffin resting on a trolley in the hallway. “Best you don’t come in today,” the staff member whispered to me. I know it sounds wrong, but I was really pleased that the coffin had spared me yet another afternoon of misery with those poor distressed gentlefolk.