Hackneys, Mews, and a Trap-Pumping Mouse (you’ll, uh, see what I mean)

October 18, 2018 § Leave a comment

Mews

So after a long hiatus, I went back to the Bellerby and Co. Globemakers’ website (I’ve written about them here and here), and I saw they’d posted a Great Big Story video that CNN had made about them. It’s a cool video, but what really caught my attention was Bellerby’s address posted on the outside of their studio. Yes, their address:

London Borough of Hackney, Bouverie Mews, N16

I like the sound of it. It sounds so . . . British. But beyond that, it’s provided me a learnable moment, with help from the Online Etymology Dictionary, one of my favorite sites.

First, there’s Borough of Hackney. Hackney originally meant “Haca’s Isle” or “Hook Island,” the name for a dry patch in the middle of a marsh within the current boundaries of London. In early medieval times, horses were kept there. These horses were hired out for regular things like riding and pulling, not for specialized purposes, and the horses themselves came to be called “hackneys.” That led to the shortened form hack, which is now used for someone, such as a writer or artist, who does dull or routine work for pay. In the past, hackney was also a verb, meaning “to use a horse for riding,” which gave us our current adjective hackneyed, for something that is overused or trite.

Then there’s Mews. Turns out that has nothing to do with cats but a lot to do with horses. Mew used to mean “cage,” and the king’s hawks were kept at the mews at London’s Charing Cross. The site later became the home for the royal horse stables, called the Royal Mews. By the early 1800s, mews meant “a street of stables converted into homes for people.”

Finally, a blog post by Bellerby and Co. tells us that their mews (street) is named after John Bouverie, a British antiquarian and art collector, who died in 1750.

Bellerby’s blog also points out another nearby occupant of Bouverie Mews: John Nolan Studio, where they make animatronics, such as those in the commercials below. In the first one, for McVities Digestive Cookies, it’s a little hard to tell what’s real and what’s fake. It’s a little easier to make that distinction in the advert (as the Brits say) for Nolan’s Cheddar. That’s not at all because the mouse doesn’t look lifelike.

You’ll see what I mean.

(“Balls on Bouverie: N16 History,” Globemakers, May 28, 2014)

Air China Back-Back-Backtracks from Inflight Article on London

September 9, 2016 § Leave a comment

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The Interwebs have been in an uproar the last few days over an article in Air China’s inflight magazine Wings of China. As reported by journalist Haze Fan for CNBC, the latest issue of the magazine touts London as a top destination but includes the following “safety” advice in a section called “Tips from Air China”:

London is generally a safe place to travel, however precautions are needed when entering areas mainly populated by Indians, Pakistanis and black people. We advise tourists not to go out alone at night, and females always to be accompanied by another person when travelling.

Fan notes that the capital city is currently being led by a mayor, Sadiq Khan, who was born in London to Pakistani parents.

After Fan’s reporting, Air China North America issued the following apology via Twitter:

We at Air China Limited do not condone discrimination in any shape or form. We regret and apologize for the offensive language. . . .

But Air China was not done reversing its engines. The company also pulled the magazine from their planes and even deleted the above Tweet. Wings of China is now offline, as well.

So . . . I can’t send you to the Wings of China to read the article yourself, but I will remind you that if you’d like to see some other airline mags from around the world, go to my list of over 100 links at “Inflight Magazines: My Virtual Seat-Back Pocket Runneth Over.” Maybe you’ll be the one to scoop the next big piece of travel news.

(Haze Fan, “Air China Magazine Warns London Visitors to Avoid Ethnic Minority Areas,” CNBC, Sept. 7, 2016; Haze Fan, “Air China’s Magazine Says Media, Readers Misinterpreted London Travel Advice,” CNBC, Sept. 8, 2016)

[photo: “B-5178 | Air China | Boeing 737-86N | Grey Peony Livery | PEK,” by Byeangel, used under a Creative Commons license]

Umbrellas, 2, 3, 4

August 27, 2016 § Leave a comment

“The Public Shaming of England’s First Umbrella User”

In the early 1750s, an Englishman by the name of Jonas Hanway, lately returned from a trip to France, began carrying an umbrella around the rainy streets of London.

. . . . . .

Hanway was the first man to parade an umbrella unashamed in 18th-century England, a time and place in which umbrellas were strictly taboo. In the minds of many Brits, umbrella usage was symptomatic of a weakness of character, particularly among men. Few people ever dared to be seen with such a detestable, effeminate contraption. To carry an umbrella when it rained was to incur public ridicule.

The British also regarded umbrellas as too French—inspired by the parasol, a Far Eastern contraption that for centuries kept nobles protected from the sun, the umbrella had begun to flourish in France in the early 18th century. . . . Later British umbrella users reported being called “mincing Frenchm[e]n” for carrying them in public.

Michael Walters, Atlas Obscura, July 27, 2016

Paddington: A Fish out of . . . um . . . A Bear out of the Jungle

November 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

15810316086_62a83999d1_zPaddington is one of my favorite movies that I saw last year. Much more than just a kids’ movie, it was nominated for best film at the UK’s 2015 Empire Awards, and won for best comedy. It also carries a 98% rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

The story in a nutshell is this: When Paddington comes to London, it’s not quite what he’s heard it would be. And as if it weren’t enough of a culture clash for an orphan bear to arrive in the big city, this cub comes from “Darkest Peru.”

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, you should. It’s a great family film for Christmas time. And if you have seen it, here are some clips to refresh your memory.

First Contact: Meeting the Brown Family

BSL: Bear as a Second Language

Bathroom Etiquette: Those Aren’t Ear Brushes.

Sign Language: Why Do I Need a Dog for the Escalator?

[photo: “Paddington Bear Trail, Special Delivery By Ben Whishaw,” by Martin Pettitt, used under a Creative Commons license]

G. K. Chesterton, the Prince of Paradox, on Travel

August 1, 2015 § 2 Comments

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The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.

So says G. K. Chesterton, prolific British author and Christian apologist, whose life bridged the 19th and 20th centuries.

Chesterton has much to say about travel, largely on how to do it well and how it can affect the traveller.

The quotation above comes from “The Riddle of the Ivy,” a short sketch in his Tremendous Trifles. When a friend asks why he is packing his luggage, Chesterton tells him he is traveling through Paris, Belfort, Heidelberg, and Frankfort, with the aim of finding the Battersea district of London.

Knowing that his destination is their current location, his friend says, “I suppose it is unnecessary to tell you that this is Battersea?”

“It is quite unnecessary,” I said, “and it is spiritually untrue. I cannot see any Battersea here; I cannot see any London or any England. I cannot see that door. I cannot see that chair: because a cloud of sleep and custom has come across my eyes. The only way to get back to them is to go somewhere else; and that is the real object of travel and the real pleasure of holidays. Do you suppose that I go to France in order to see France? Do you suppose that I go to Germany in order to see Germany? I shall enjoy them both; but it is not them that I am seeking. I am seeking Battersea. The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.

And then the man who deals so much with paradox that he has been called “the prince of paradox” cautions his friend, with threat of physical harm, against referring to his thoughts as paradoxical:

“Now I warn you that this Gladstone bag is compact and heavy, and that if you utter that word ‘paradox’ I shall hurl it at your head. I did not make the world, and I did not make it paradoxical. It is not my fault, it is the truth, that the only way to go to England is to go away from it.”

A month later, his opinion is confirmed when he returns to England and sees it with a wonderful freshness. An American traveling companion is struck by England as well, but for her it is because this is her first time there.

“I have never been in England before,” said the American lady, “yet it is so pretty that I feel as if I have been away from it for a long time.”

For the American it is déjà vu. For Chesterton, is it déjà new?

Not Seeing What You See

Regardless of the destination, believes Chesterton, there is much more to traveling than simply taking a trip. He writes that “true” travelers let the experience of a destination come to them, without manipulating it with expectations and prejudices. He is quoted as saying,

The traveller sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.

The actual version of this comes from the following passage in his Autobiography:

I had pottered about in France ever since my father took me there as a boy; and Paris was the only foreign capital I knew. I owe it to him that I was at least a traveller and not a tripper. The distinction is not snobbish; indeed it is one rather of epoch than education; half the trouble about the modern man is that he is educated to understand foreign languages and misunderstand foreigners. The traveller sees what he sees; the tripper sees what he has come to see. A true traveller in a primitive epic or folk-tale did not pretend to like a beautiful princess because she was beautiful. It is still true of a poor sailor; of a tramp; in short, of a traveller. Thus he need form no opinion of Paris newspapers; but if he wanted to, he would probably read them. The tripper never reads them, calls them rags, and knows as much about the rags as the chiffonnier who picks them up with a spike.

I understand why the common version of this quotation uses tourist in place of tripper. We don’t use tripper much today, at least not with this meaning. And I don’t think that Chesterton would mind. He writes,

It is the most sincere compliment to an author to misquote him. It means that his work has become a part of our mind and not merely of our library.

Bevis Hiller, in The Wit and Wisdom of G K Chesterton, gives the origin for this quotation as the December 31, 1927, issue of GK’s Weekly, though I couldn’t track down the original source. While I have no reason not to trust Hiller, wouldn’t it be ironic if Chesterton never said this?

The Broad and the Narrow Ways

They say travel broadens the mind; but you must have the mind.

One of the characters in Chesterton’s stories is the crime-solving poet Gabriel Gale. In “The Shadow and the Shark,” Gale discusses Mr. Amos Boon, a former missionary who has decided he prefers the Philistines of the Bible to those biblical characters who follow God. While defending Boon against charges of murder, he does not defend the “broadening” of his mind.

“Boon is a good man,” said Gale, calmly; “he is very stupid; that is why he is an atheist. There are intelligent atheists, as we shall see presently; but that stunted, stupid, sort is much commoner, and much nicer. But he is a good man; his motive is good; he originally talked all that tosh of the superiority of the savage because he thought he was the under-dog. He may be a trifle cracked, by now, about sharks and other things; but that’s only because his travels have been too much for his intellect. They say travel broadens the mind; but you must have the mind. He had a mind for a suburban chapel, and there passed before it all the panorama of gilded nature-worship and purple sacrifice. He doesn’t know if he’s on his head or his heels, any more than a good many others. But I shouldn’t wonder if heaven is largely populated with atheists of that sort, scratching their heads and wondering where they are.

If “they” say that travel broadens the mind, Chesterton himself says traveling presents the danger of making the mind more narrow:

I have never managed to lose my old conviction that travel narrows the mind. At least a man must make a double effort of moral humility and imaginative energy to prevent it from narrowing his mind. Indeed there is something touching and even tragic about the thought of the thoughtless tourist, who might have stayed at home loving Laplanders, embracing Chinamen, and clasping Patagonians to his heart in Hampstead or Surbiton, but for his blind and suicidal impulse to go and see what they looked like. This is not meant for nonsense; still less is it meant for the silliest sort of nonsense, which is cynicism. The human bond that he feels at home is not an illusion. On the contrary, it is rather an inner reality. Man is inside all men. In a real sense any man may be inside any men. But to travel is to leave the inside and draw dangerously near the outside. So long as he thought of men in the abstract, like naked toiling figures in some classic frieze, merely as those who labour and love their children and die, he was thinking the fundamental truth about them. By going to look at their unfamiliar manners and customs he is inviting them to disguise themselves in fantastic masks and costumes. Many modern internationalists talk as if men of different nationalities had only to meet and mix and understand each other. In reality that is the moment of supreme danger—the moment when they meet. We might shiver, as at the old euphemism by which a meeting meant a duel.

The paradox of travel.

(G. K. Chesterton, “The Riddle of the Ivy,” Tremendous Trifles, Methuen, 1909; Bevis Hiller, The Wit and Wisdom of G K Chesterton, Continuum, 2011; Chesterton, Autobiography, Hutchinson, 1936; Chesterton, “The Shadow of the Shark,” The Poet and the Lunatics: Episodes in the Life of Gabriel Gale, Cassell, 1929; Chesterton, “What Is America?” What I Saw in America, Hodder, 1922)

[illustration: “G.K. Chesterton,” by giveaway boy, used under a Creative Commons license]

Empty Videos: Where Have All the People Gone?

February 27, 2015 § 2 Comments

Imagine the busiest, most crowded place you know . . . in the middle of the day . . . but without a single person.

It’s hard to form that mental image, because some places are what they are because of all the people.

429575638_4d0c1b16da_zWhile we were living among the 6 million people of Taipei, all we had to do was stand at the corner of a major intersection to get a feel for how dense the city is with people—on foot, in cars, in buses, on bicycles, and on scooters . . . so, so many scooters. That’s what made it so shocking when once a year, a seemingly random (at least to a foreigner) military drill chased everyone off the streets. In fact, during the half-hour Wan-an drill (萬安演習), all vehicles need to pull over, and it’s illegal for pedestrians to be outside, except for the officers stationed at nearly every corner telling everyone to vacate the streets.

In 2004, Hong Kong pop star Jacky Cheung saw this in person when he was in Taipei to film an MTV show. When the streets cleared, Cheung and his record-company crew thought they’d found the perfect backdrop for a photo shoot, so they snapped a photo of Cheung standing out in the street all alone. When the photo hit the Internet, the National Police Agency was not amused, and they promised a fine (though I’m not sure if they followed through).

There’s something about seeing places that are normally teeming with people when they somehow become un-teeming. It’s oddly alluring. Or maybe its just odd. Or eerie. Think ghost town, the Apocalypse, The Day After, or The Day after Tomorrow.

But thanks to some video wizardry, we don’t have to survive Armageddon to see what the world would look like without people. Take, for instance, Ross Ching’s vision of Los Angeles in Running on Empty (Revisited). At Vimeo, he even offers this step-by-step process for how to remove all the cars from the highways of LA:

1. Record for 20-30 mins.
2. Go frame by frame and grab pieces of the road that aren’t obstructed by a car. Eventually, you will have every piece of the road.
3. Put the static image of the road in with the moving background.

And then there’s the Empty America series from Thrash Labs, including New York, usually a pretty busy place in its own right, and Washington, D.C., Seattle, and San Francisco.

The music in these videos takes away some of the eerie feeling that can come with the visuals. That’s not the case with para l l el, a short film from the globetrotting French couple Claire & Max. Their music choice is “Dark Places.”

“What if parallel worlds existed?” they ask at Vimeo. “What if in one of these worlds mankind disappeared? What if the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty had never existed?” (Their vision of London is pretty creepy, too.)

In case Ching’s step-by-step instructions for creating an empty world seem a bit simplistic, Claire & Max provide their own how-to video tutorial. It’s step-by-step-by-step-by step. In their list of needed items, the last one is patience. Indeed.

Or you can pretend that You Are Legend, and you’ll have all the time in the world.

(Jimmy Chuang, “Pop Star’s Photo Op During Air-Raid Drill Could Net Big Fine,” Taipei Times, September 26, 2004)

[photo: “On Your Mark,” by h4rrydog, used under a Creative Commons license]

Book a Trip to Raoul Silva’s Island Lair

November 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

While working on my post about Last Chance Harvey, I needed to find the location of a conversation between Harvey and Kate. My search not only led me to London’s Somerset House but to a slew of sites on the topic of “movie tourism,” as well, where I found that travelers can also visit the place where the wedding was filmed—Grosvenor House—and the setting for one of the couple’s walks—Belsize Park.

Now these places are impressive in their own way, but none of them is quite as fascinating as a locale in the latest James Bond film, Skyfall: the evil lair of Raoul Silva, 007’s latest nemesis. While the scenes inside Silva’s hideout were shot in a built-for-the-movie set at London’s Pinewood Studios, the long-distance shots are of a real-life place located nine miles off the coast of Japan—Hashima Island (pictured above). Not only does the island look sinister—a pile of abandoned and crumbling concrete apartment buildings jutting out of the ocean—but its backstory could supply an unsettling script for a film of its own. Clark Boyd, at PRI’s The World, writes that the island’s “true history is even creepier than you can imagine.”

Boyd goes on to give an overview of that history in this audio story (or you can read the article here).

Also, for a more in-depth treatment, including more details about life on the island, you can read Brian Burke-Gaffney’s article in the magazine Cabinet.

Hashima Island’s story in a nutshell is this:

In 1890 Mitsubishi bought the small outcropping of rock  for the coal that lay below the seabed underneath it. As coal production increased, so did the need for workers, and in 1916, the company built the first of many concrete structures to house them. In time, over 30 multi-story buildings were constructed, and in 1959 they were home to 5,259 people, including Japanese employees, their families, and forced laborers from China and Korea. Its 1,391 people per hectare (2.47 acres) in the residential area at that time is thought to be the highest population density ever recorded in the world.

Many of the people who lived on the island died there as well. Burke-Gaffney reports that by mid 1949, around 1,300 residents had lost their lives—from mining accidents, exhaustion, or malnutrition. “Still others had chosen a quicker, less gruesome death,” he writes, “by jumping over the sea-wall and trying in vain to swim to the mainland.”

In the late 1960s, petroleum replaced coal as Japan’s preferred energy source. Then, in 1974, Mitsubishi closed the mine, and all the inhabitants still there hastily left.

Following is a short documentary by Swedish filmmaker Thomas Nordanstad. In the film, Nordanstad follows Dotokou Sakamoto, a Japanese man who moved to Hashima Island with his family at the age of four, as he visits, among other places, the “hotel,” where new arrivals awaited permanent housing, his school, and the crumbling remains of his family home.

At the beginning of the documentary, Sakamoto says,

Some people say that your roots exist in the place where you were born, but that’s not the case for me. My roots are here, in this place.

And at the end, he adds,

In Japan, things are being thrown away so easily, just like that. But you can’t throw away your memories. The roots sit there, in your heart.

While the bulk of the island is closed to the public, in 2009 observation decks were opened at the island’s edge, with the boat ride from Nagasaki and a tour costing about $50.

To find the rest of the venues featured in Skyfall, go to The Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations, the self-described “ultimate travel guide to film locations around the world.” It’s a great resource that ties detailed info on places with plot points in the movie. And if you want to look up a film that’s not included there, you can try IMDb (International Movie Database). The location info there is less specific, but its movie list is much more comprehensive. (Search for “Filming Locations” on a movie’s page.)

(Clark Boyd, “The History of Hashima, the Island in Bond Film ‘Skyfall,'” PRI’s The World, November 23, 2012; Brian Burke-Gaffney, “Hashima: The Ghost Island,” Cabinet, Summer 2002)

[photos: “Nagasaki Hashima Island (端島) Gunkajima Tour” (top and bottom) by Ronald Woan, used under a Creative Commons license]

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