Archive for February, 2010

Steven Hester, are you listening?

25 February 2010

I was listening again to the 1980s Pet Shop Boys song “Shopping” earlier this week. Trying to comprehend today the strange parallel universe inhabited by Steven Hester and the undeserving rich at the Royal Bank of Scotland, the lyric seems prescient: a chronicle of a financial crisis foretold, 20 years ago.


No room for mourning

22 February 2010

Over at my futures blog the next wave I’ve written a post about our changing relationship to the land, partly based on some reflections about my grandfather prompted by a recent walk in Wales.

When he died I wanted to read Sidney Keyes’ elegy for William Wordsworth at his funeral (it’s an astonishingly accomplished poem for a man who was killed in action short of his 21st birthday). But in a pre-internet age we couldn’t find it in time. So here it is in his memory now.

Huddling in gangs

17 February 2010

Whatever the many shortcomings of the Chilcot Inquiry, it has demonstrated the way in which British Cabinet politics ignores, even excludes, the public interest. Robin Cook, who resigned as Leader of the House of Commons over Iraq, and died relatively young two years later, has been the ghost at the Inquiry, but with good reason, for his diaries had already explained much of what happened on or around the Downing Street sofas. David Clark, Cook’s former adviser, offers a concise description based on the diaries:

They show a government for whom the real nature of the threat posed by Iraq was subsidiary to other considerations: for Blair the imperative was sticking close to Washington; for most of his colleagues it was about loyalty to him. … In this atmosphere, the intelligence picture and legal arguments that have occupied so much of the inquiry’s time were treated not as policy guides, but political obstacles to be overcome.

Such a concern about loyalty might have been more understandable in Labour’s first term, but – even if politics is inherently tribal – after a second sizeable election victory it seems less necessary.  As for Cook, Blair was fulsome in his praise after his death. But you can’t help feel that the stress of standing up against his colleagues – of standing out from the gang – probably contributed to his death at 59.

The picture is from the Atlantic Free Press, and is used with thanks.

The Doves Type

6 February 2010

There’s something pleasing about learning something new about the area you live in, and by chance I stumbled on a whole local history of typography just before Christmas. The William Morris house at Hammersmith was holding an open day – there were craft stalls, mulled wine and mince pies indoors – and one of the stalls was about the Doves Press, named for a printer/publisher that was housed next to the Dove Inn a few doors away.

The type had been designed by Emery Walker, and used for his famous edition of the Bible, as in the image above. But Emery left the Press in 1909, and sometime between 1913 and during 1917 [see Update], in the days when type was heavy, his business partner, T.J. Cobden-Sanderson, dumped the whole lot in the river from Hammersmith Bridge.

The typeface is simple – there is little in the way of variation of size or weight – but it is a pleasure to read. Robert Smail’s Printing House has rebuilt it, as shown in the slightly dingy photograph below of a card I bought from them on the day.

[Update, 1st May 2010: I visited Emery Walker’s house at 7 Hammersmith Terrace today and got a bit more information on the sad end of the Doves type. Part of the business agreement between Walker and Cobden-Sanderson said that ownership of the type would revert to Walker if Cobden-Sanderson died first (Walker was younger). By 1917 Cobden-Sanderson was well into his seventies, his health deteriorating, and he decided he didn’t want this to happen. It took repeated night-time trips to Hammersmith Bridge to dump the whole lot. It is about half a mile from the Doves Press premises to the bridge, and the full set of type weighed two tons.

If you’re interested in Walker, or William Morris, or the Arts and Crafts Movement, the house is well worth a visit – but you have to book.]