FACE LIFT

The Temple church is one of the oldest - and oddest - in London.  It used to also be one of the quietest until Dan Brown featured it in The Da Vinci Code.  It is now often  besieged by groups of slightly baffled looking visitors clutching his book.  It is easy to be snobby about such things but in actual fact the environs of the church - the courtyards and alleys of the Middle Temple are wonderful for everyone.  I particularly like the sombre message on the sundial in Pump Court:

"Like shadows we are and like shadows depart!"

Very appropriate in a country where you can only use a sun dial about ten days a year.

Sitting by the pool in Fountain court as the Autumn leaves are falling is a happy thing.  It is the spot in Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit where John Westlock declares his love for Ruth Pinch:

"Brilliantly the Temple Fountain sparkled in the sun, and laughingly its liquid music played, and merrily the idle drops of water danced and danced, and, peeping out in sport among the trees, plunged lightly down to hide themselves, as little Ruth and her companion came towards it."


One thing that the Da Vinci tourists and Dan Brown (though not Dickens) miss of course is that the ancients had a rather well defined sense of humour.  These images are some of the caricatures and grotesque gargoyles sprinkled amongst the saints and general worthies within the church.


STRANGE FRUIT

Last week marked the 70th anniversary of the night the Luftwaffe began to firebomb London into the dust.  Clerkenwell remained generally unscathed but St Pauls was left like an ocean liner sailing a sea of ruin. Despite the preposterousness of the War on Terror, for this reason if no other it's difficult to be a complete pacifist. So on Sunday we went to the tiny but magnificent St Clement Danes, the Christopher Wren Royal Air Force church on Fleet Street, itself a restored victim of the Blitz.

In fact the church is actually probably most famous for having the bells mentioned at the beginning of the children's nursery rhyme "Oranges and Lemons".  Like Cock Robin, this poem always struck me as a rather haunted thing with those two sinister closing lines - a feeling only re-inforced by its presence throughout Orwell's 1984.  That book was of course written in the aftermath of the London's near destruction and with St Clements just a little way from the BBC's Bush House where Orwell was once a radio announcer.

The Blitz was  one of the times when the battle for the London Stone was nearly lost.  Which event provoked which I wonder? Anyway, here is the rhyme  and the bells ringing at midday on Sunday for the fallen fighters of the air who saved the day and what remains to us of the lost city.



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ART OF DARKNESS

My friend Catherine Anyango who you may know as the designer of The Real Tuesday Weld artwork and maker of wonderful films such as this has just had her first book published.  It is a graphic novel version of Conrad's Heart of darkness and it is very, very good.

I confess I haven't read the original novel myself - just couldn't make headway up that awful river but I feel as if I know it through repute and because of Apocalypse Now.  So, it has been a pleasure - albeit a dark one - to read it now in this way.

I really recommend it - as do several other people.  Antique Beat has a limited number of first edition copies signed and dedicated by Catherine.