Picture Box No.2 – F to K

Apparently Lewes has been hotter than Havana, meteorologically if not culturally. Roads have melted, faces have turned the colour of boiled ham and people have been warned to stay indoors between midday and teatime. I have followed this advice and taken the opportunity to catch up on some new novels.

I particularly enjoyed Amanda Craig’s new book ‘The Lie of the Land’, which has the razor sharp wit of Evelyn Waugh and the compassion of Barbara Pym. It took the best part of seven years for Craig to write this successor to her wonderful 2010 novel ‘Hearts and Minds’ and it shows. Each sentence feels as if it has been the work of intense labour and the end result is a triumph.

I also really enjoyed ‘The End We Start From’ – a debut novella by the poet Megan Hunter. Written in a stark, understated prose that makes Cormac McCarthy look positively verbose, Hunter’s story avoids the cliches of the post-apocaptic genre and instead, gives a moving account of the mother-child relationship. The one downside of the prose style is that it only takes an hour or so to read.

But I digress. The point of this post is to share some of the random photos I’ve come across while I’ve been decluttering my aged laptop, so I shall begin.

By sheer coincidence, the first two photos share an uncomfortable theme:


This is from a memoir by a senior London policeman, whose name I’ve forgotten, published around 60 years ago. The caption underneath is hideously embarrassing by today’s standards, but I expect that he had the best of intentions. Today, a man in his position would have known the correct stock phrases to use, like maintaining a dialogue, building links and community leaders.

Continuing the theme:


This is from an episode of the 1970s BBC comedy series, ‘The Goodies’. In addition to featuring Graeme Garden ‘blacked-up’, doing an impression of Muhammad Ali, this story was also notorious for causing one of its viewers to die laughing.

The Wikipedia entry is as follows:

50-year-old Alex Mitchell could not stop laughing for a continuous 25 minute period – almost the entire length of the show – and suffered a fatal heart attack as a result of the strain placed on his heart. Mitchell’s widow later sent the Goodies a letter thanking them for making his final moments so pleasant.

Moving on, from one ism to another:


I found this in a box of books from the 1950s. Although the book is humorous, I’m not sure how many young women would have been amused by a text that encouraged middle aged men to leer at them.

Image result for give us money we are pretty

This amused me. The phrase “Give us money, we are pretty” is absurd, but the whole entertainment and advertising industry has grown up around that premise.


This is the Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry, who has been a transvestite since his teens (can I say ‘transvestite’ any more?). When I saw this photo, I was struck by the uncanny resemblance to a picture of my mother:


Given the current controversy about Muslim women covering their heads, this picture is a reminder that headscarves used to be a common site on the streets of Britain. My mother was always worried about the state of her ‘perm’ and if the wind reached Level 3 on the Beaufort Scale, the headscarf always came out. One of the last things my mother said to me, the night before she died, concerned the parlous state of her perm.

The next photo will only make sense if I mention that in antiquarian books the pages of illustrations are usually listed as ‘plates’, so when I saw this listing on Amazon, I was amused by the imagery, which sounded like a lively night in a Greek restaurant:


I took the following photo at a disused cement works, in Shoreham:


Given that these windows are at least 20 feet above ground level, someone has gone to a great deal of effort to break into a disused building and share their feelings about Stephen Fry (assuming he is the object of this person’s scorn).


I thought that this woman’s t-shirt was unnecessarily harsh. Then I saw this:


Perhaps they’ve just received some bad news, in which case I apologise. But I suspect that they take themselves quite seriously and need to be reminded that it’s just pop music.


When I took this photo, I hadn’t seen ‘The Birds’ on the big screen. Since watching the film, a few weeks ago, I now feel slightly unsettled whenever I see a murder of crows.


This is HMV in Oxford Street during the 1960s. Compared to today’s awful HMV store design, with its cheap carpets and black and pink livery, this is bright and welcoming.

But the award for the most depressing store design must go to JD Sports, which I was dragged into the other day. Dark, noisy and metallic, with staff and customers who looked as if they were on day release from a youth offenders’ institute, I felt as if I had entered a dystopian cyberpunk novel. Never again.


This author photo from a 1920s dustjacket is the overall winner of the Young Fogey of 1929 Award. Never has one so young looked quite so old.


This is a minor asteroid of limited interest in all but one respect: in spite of having a very weak gravitaional field, it has manged to capture a lump of rock that now orbits it like a moon. For some reason, it reminded me of East Grinstead which, although it is equally small and unexciting, now has a tiny little surburb called Felbridge within its orbit.

This is a wonderful photo that says something about the times we live in. It is curious that in the West, an increasing number of Muslim women are choosing to dress this way, while in fundamentalist Iran, the young are pushing back the boundaries are far as they can:



There’s been a lot of talk about role models for young men and sports stars like David Backham are often cited. But do we really want a squeaky-voiced dullard with freak show tattoos as an example of manhood at its finest? No. I would venture that Jack Hawkins is the person that all young men should aspire to be (minus the chain smoking).

The ability to maintain a stiff upper lip in the face of possible danger is a quality that many of Hawkins’ contemporaries shared:



This stamp commemorates the three Soviet cosmonauts of Soyuz 11 who, to date, are the only humans to have died in space. Personally, I would have gone for an illustration of the men before they died rather than a grisly cartoon of three corpses, but I’m not an expert in these matters.


This is one of two photos that fell out of a book I’d found. They were taken on the coast of what is now Israel, during World War Two. With its wonky horizon and cut-off feet, it’s not a perfect picture, but I still find it very affecting. The determined look on the young RAF officer’s face contrasts with the group of smiling young women in the background.

There is a story behind this picture, but it is one that we’ll never know, which makes it all the more tantalising.



The Pan covers of the 1950s and early 60s are now very collectable and thanks to the huge print runs, they are still relatively cheap. I wonder how many readers bought this version of ‘On the Road’ on the strength of its cover, only to discover that it was actually quite a dull read.

Finally, the winner of the Most Desperate Retailer in Lewes Award, sponsored by Times New Roman:



  1. caroline

    Magic. Thank you. I hope not to die laughing but this post gives me reason to continue living. Chortled quite a bit. Feel much better.


    • Steerforth

      Thank you Caroline. The aim is always to amuse, so I’m very glad that from your point of view, I succeeded.

      I hope that your continued existence will depend on more than a blog post of mine! If I write a dud post and don’t hear from you, I shall worry.


  2. Annabel (gaskella)

    Loved the Amanda Craig book too, and I am looking forward to the Megan Hunter. I also enjoyed all these photos, particularly your mum and Grayson Perry – it was always about protecting the ‘do – shampoo and sets had to last all week. The old Pan covers are wonderfully evocative of what’s mostly not within their pages – love ’em.


    • Steerforth

      Glad you enjoyed the Amanda Craig too. My favourite sentence involved Quentin’s mother’s friends appearing “like timid woodland creatures”. I wish she wrote a bit more quickly – I’m not getting any younger – but if that’s how long it takes to produce such a satisfying novel, then fair enough.


    • Steerforth

      When you said “Your pots always make me smile”, perhaps you were subconsciously thinking of Grayson Perry. His pots certainly make me smile.

      Re: HMV – I think if high street retailers are going to survive, they need to emulate the 1960s HMV and make their shops visually stunning.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Steerforth

      I saw that episode recently and it amused my younger son – the humour was very childlike. There’s something quite touching about a 50-year-old man laughing uproariously at ‘The Goodies’.

      The Wikipedia entry also mentions that a few years ago, the poor man’s grandaughter also had a heart attack. She was only in her 30s and thankfully survived. It was later discovered that she had inherited a congential heart defect from her grandfather’s side of the family.


  3. Allen

    Going by a quick look at their official site Esben and the Witch are fans of Yeats – often an inspiration to earnest solemnity.


    • Steerforth

      They may like Yeats, but their music just sounds like Siouxsie and the Banshees, minus the engaging tunes. I know I sound very middle aged and grumpy now, so I’ll stop.


  4. Dale

    Now when I saw the scarved lady, I thought of Princess Anne. Did your mother perhaps have royal blood, Steerforth?
    I was reading a book about formal jewellery the other day and stopped short when the author claimed that today’s women cannot wear tiaras because their hair is too clean. They shampoo it so often that tiara pins, combs etc slide right out of it. In our grannies’ day, by contrast, they washed their hair no more than once a week, often less, and the hair was so full of sebum that it held its set/style better and hair ornaments stayed in place. Made me flinch a bit, if it’s true.
    Speaking of hair condition, I hope someone writes a book some day about the archaeology of beards. The things you find down them, they’re worse than sofas.


    • Steerforth

      Funily enough, small children have likened my mother to the Queen – purely on the basis of the perm, I think. My mother certainly didn’t sound like her. That’s interesting about the tiaras and it makes sense. I’m told that the tin bath only came out once a week and that any washing in between was a brief affair. It must have been a smellier age – far better than the medieval period, when someone’s breath could have killed a cow at 16 paces – but still unpleasant.

      I know some people argue that hair becomes self-cleaning if it’s left long enough, but having witnessed a colleague try this, I know that it’s not true.


  5. Martin

    Entertaining as ever, Steerforth. To pick up on the Lewes retailer’s sign and apply the question to your blog, yes, I have been in here, and yes, it never fails to be interesting.


    • Steerforth

      Thank you Martin. Re: the Lewes retailer – it’s no longer there and has been replaced by one of those new ‘high end’ shops. It seems to have ten items in stock, one of which is a very expensive broom.


    • Steerforth

      Thank you. I enjoy the random nature of these photos, each of which sparks off a memory or a thought process. I wasn’t very good at university because I kept going off at tangents, so blogging is my ideal medium.


  6. Kid

    It always saddens me a little when an old photo is found in a book, because it means that someone probably misplaced a little piece of their history. Contrariwise, I’m glad when people like you find them again and share that little piece of a stranger’s history with the rest of us. As for the young fellow looking so old (which he does), you’re forgetting Wilfrid Hyde-White, who looked about 60 when he was only in his 20s. And as for that photo of the women with the signs, perhaps it’s just me, but I didn’t think they were that pretty. Highly amusing post, as always.


    • Steerforth

      I quite agree – they weren’t pretty. Perhaps that was part of the joke (but probably not).

      On the subject of men looking much older than their age, I find it hard to believe that John Thaw was 35 when he was in The Sweeney. But the first prize must go to Lionel Jeffries as the grandfather in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Apparently he was only in his early 40s and was actually younger than Dick van Dyke, who played his son.


  7. Toffeeapple

    Another interesting post, for which I thank you.
    Regarding tiaras, unless one has the title “Lady” one is not entitled to wear a tiara; at least that is how it was in the last century. Also, the complicated hairstyles of the Victorian and Edwardian times would have been impossible to achieve with the squeaky clean hair everyone has today, they needed the grease and dust in the hair to get the hairpins to stay in place. Thank goodness I don’t live in those times.


  8. Dale

    Agreed, the upper classes were always making rules about who is allowed to wear what – also where they may live, be educated, and even eat.(They soon roped off all the big sources of animal protein for themselves, including birds and fish.) They sought to underline their “special” nature by reserving the good things in life for themselves. However, we’re gradually beating them into submission, and now it is practically the duty of hoi polloi to make sure they enjoy the good things with gusto, in their cheerless hovels. Hence my non-aristocratic husband and I will continue to wear our tiaras and nibble on a swan drumstick when it takes our fancy – and urge you to do the same. Of course, living outside the UK helps!


  9. Pete

    There’s some disturbing stuff there, not least that Equatorial Guinea stamp. Good gravy. Thanks for leavening the proceedings with that “lively night” comment re: plates – I laughed aloud (though mercifully unfatally).


  10. Numbatty

    I am so pleased to have found you again Steerforth. Your posts never fail to amuse and evoke memories- my gran in her headscarf and the desperate attempts made to avoid recording the DJ at the end of a song by stabbing the stop button on the tape player. Never worked. I still have some Greenshield stamps decorating the inside of a stationary box. Sacrilege- should have been saving them!


    • Steerforth

      Glad to see you back Numbatty. I also used to try and cut out the DJ. It was easy if the next song was rubbish, as you could go back a second or two, but if you had two consecutive good ‘uns – Abba AND Showaddywaddy – that was a real problem. Another problem was interference from Radio Tirane during the quieter moments, like at the end of Bohemian Rhapsody.


  11. JohnC

    Is the lady in the “hipsters” T-shirt referring to people considered “hip” (whether by themselves, or others), or to that rather uncomfortable style of trouser cut so that the waistband actually comes some way down the hip? (And is hence unlikely to be flattering to those of, er, more advanced years.)


    • Steerforth

      I don’t know, but I secretly long for the return of high waisted trousers, as I’m tired of being the butt (pun intended) of rude comments from my family, whenever I’m performing some tedious DIY task. I’ve searched online, but I can only find some unsightly polyester ones that would attract even more derision.


  12. Sarah Faragher

    What a fascinating batch of this and that. Thanks for posting. Particularly loved seeing that pic of Grayson Perry (in conjunction with your mother), because I just read his memoir “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl” – thought it was very good, in fact wished it was longer.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s