Any Umbrellas?

imageIts raining. This is a first for my Barbican visits but not wishing to be a fair weather blogger, I’ve braved it. I’m wearing shoes for once rather than trainers and they are making a satisfying clunk as I walk from the station to the Barbican Centre across the High Walk Way. There is an exhibition on in the foyer detailing the City Of London’s development plans for the area and I’m left hoping that they will leave the feel of the place alone. So much of London is being smartened up which somehow seems to sweep away some of the charm.

I haven’t written much about the books I borrowed last time. I’m in the throes of writing reports and thinking of comments for music and computer studies for over two hundred children has left me weary. I’ve renewed one of my books which I will write about in the future.

The Library is quite busy but most of the noise is from half term visitors in the spaces below. One older man in the Music Library is tapping his foot loudly to the music he is listening to on headphones. Every so often he shouts out as if something is wrong. No one bats an eyelid. In the London Collection a man suddenly takes off his boots and his socks as if they have suddenly become too much for him. I become intent on looking at the books on the shelf. I notice him put his jacket over his lap. I’m wondering if he might strip further. I pick up a book called London Stories from 1926 and make a hasty retreat.

Outside is still grey but it has stopped raining. The Laundrette is empty as I pass today. A sign on the wall points out that due to the climate change tax, drying times have been made shorter. I pass the Greengrocers and look at his plants. A Geranium for £1.90 is good value but I don’t want to carry it. Clerkenwell is busy and I notice queues at all the sandwich shops. There is a queue out of the butchers door too. I’d buy something but I never know what to ask for. The shops are displaying signs for the Clerkenwell Road design weeks and there are many shops taking part. I notice a Watch Shop that repairs, and sells old watches. I look through the window and wonder who will run these shops when the craftsmen retire.

I notice a building I haven’t seen before. The writing says The Printworks No. 84 and I make a note to find out more about it. I pass a girl smoking imageoutside a door and when she moves I notice a sign saying Met Office. I scowl at them as if they have something to do with the weather we are getting rather than being messengers reporting the inevitable. I’m tired today and when I buy the paper from a Sainsbury’s Local I find the question “Have you a Nectar Card” too hard to answer. It’s not going to be a long trip today.


And then I see it. The Umbrella shop. I love the sign. Jas. short for James. Like texting. Nothings new. I find it amazing that these old businesses survive. Lets hope that the changes at Tottenham Court Road don’t spread down New Oxford Street and sweep it away. Nothing is safe when the planners get going. Denmark Street is tottering on the edge of destruction.

I buy some Pure Fruit Seville Orange spread and some Caraway Seeds in Planet Organic and call it a day. I descend in the Lift at Goodge Street and concentrate more this week as I headed in the wrong direct last time. Goodge Street…..the mind is off again as I have more questions to investigate, but that’s for another day.Of course their is a song in my head as I rattle down the track

Tooma looma looma Tooma looma lomma Toodle eye aye.
Any Umbrellas Any Umbrellas to fix today?


A Geengrocer, some tissues and the Professors Gin

I’m out on another Barbican Library ramble and I’m feeling guilty. I have so much I should be doing for work but ive decided these days out to observe and learn things are as important. I’m also feeling a little guilty over something that happened on my last ramble and I failed to report. It started on the Hammersmith and City Line Train just after Mile End. A young man came along the carriage and put something on the seats next to me. He didn’t look, I looked away. I noticed that it was a small packet of Kleenex tissues with a note. I glanced down and the handwritten note said that his friend was starving and he was trying to get some money together to help him. I watched him carry along the carriage, placing tissues, not looking, just staring. I saw a lady open her purse and give him some change. He took his note off of the tissues and gave her the packet. He then doubled back, picking up the tissues and moving on. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to be the only one who gave him some money. I ignored him. Over the next weeks I thought more about it. I actually applauded the way he was trying to do something without begging. Offering something in return for some money. The tissues were not important. The gesture was. Today as I get on the train I’m hoping he will come along again so I can carry out my well practised routine. But of course, it doesn’t happen.

The Library is noisy today. There is some experimental workshop somewhere in the building with chanting, wailing and percussion. The man next to me in the Music Library study area is playing his laptop as if he is giving a piano recital. I glare but he is engrossed. I’m pleased to see there is a new issue of What’s New: The magazine published by Barbican Library and given away free. I love a library taking the time and effort to produce something like this. It reminds me why I travel up to town to visit. I get out several books including one on Victorian Parlour Songs and another on Trades  for London Boys 1912. Maybe a change of job is on the cards!

I come out of a different exit from the High Walk way and find myself passing the Barbican Laundrette which is proclaiming that they use Soft water. There is one young man in there and it all looks very familiar. More My Beautiful Laundrette than EastEnders. I carry on past the Shakespeare Pub with its sign saying 1964 and come across the Barbican Greengrocers and Fruiterers which still has its CLE code for the telephone number. A quick look up on google confirms it was the code for Clerkenwell just around the corner. I pass The Italia Conti Drama School in what looks like a modern office block and turn the corner. Clerkenwell feels like a village and should be applauded for its independent shops.

Eventually I come to University Land and cross paths with a Professor, swaying slightly, who’s leather bag has come undone to reveal a bottle of Gin and a bottle Tonic amongst the papers. What. No Ice and a Lemon?

An Imposter and Little Tich

250px-Little_Tich_in_ParisSometimes you get a book out and you can’t put it down. You can honestly say you have learnt something different to what you expected. This is the case with the life story of Lttle Titch by Mary Titch and Richard Findlater

Now with a father with a love of Music Hall and Variety theatre, I know who Little Tich was. He’s the guy with the big boots. But as the book points out, there was much more to him than that. Born Harry Relph in 1867, he grew up in the Blacksmiths Arms, Cudham in Kent. He was special right from the start. He was born with an extra finger on each hand . Surgery was not an option and actually the deformity of these fingers made it difficult for him to do things. However, it did not stop him learning to play the Picco and the Cello. The Picco, I hear you ask. Well I had to look it up.

catphotoThe Picco Pipe was made popular in London’s Covent Garden by a 25-year-old blind Sardinian. It is like a head of a recorder that only has two holes. You could see how this might be easier for a young Harry to master. It was soon clear that people wanted to see this young performer, probably for the wrong reasons. They wanted to see this child with five fingers and a thumb on each hand and they wanted to see the Seventy Two year old who had fathered this boy. People like gossip and scandal.

Harry soon showed he had a talent to make people laugh. He could pass as a child when he was in his late teens and there are stories about him being caught travelling half fare on public transport long after he should. But rather than be embarrassed about his height he used it to his advantage in his developing stage act. He started to use the name Little Titchborne and the reason is perhaps the most unusual in the book.

The Tichbourne case would have been well-known to people when Harry Relph was young. Rodger Tichbourne, heir to the Tichbourne family forne went missing, belived dead, in a shipwreck in 1854 .On the death of his father in 1862, he would have become the 11th Baronet, Lord Tichbourne. Presumed dead, the title passed to his younger reckless brother Alfred. His mother, Lady Tichbourne, refused to belive Rodger was dead and after hearing rumors he has survived and gone to Australia, she placed advertisements there to try to find his whereabouts. This lead to a butcher called Thomas Castro coming to England and claiming he was in fact Rodger Tichbourne. Lady Tichbourne was delighted and took him in to the family, but not everyone was convinced. Although some said there was some resemblance, The man who returned was a very large build unlike the slim handsome man who had left England on the ship. Of course, time can be cruel, but so can the public. In the 1860’s, people might comment on someone who was over weight as being a bit Tichbourne. And this leads us back to Harry Relph or Little Tich. As well as being short, he was also quite round! This is why he used the name Little Tichbourne: The Small Fat man. It became shortened to Little Tich. Over time, people forgot about the connection with Tichbourne and being fat. Today we talk of a small person being a Tich or something small as Tichy. And that’s all thanks to Little Tich.

So what of Thomas Castro. It was later thought that he was in fact an English butcher called Arthur Orton who had gone to Australia. There was always doubt and  DNA testing that might unlock the secret was not available then. A legal case had a jury reject the claim and give a verdict that he was Arthur Orton and not Lord Tichbourne. Orton was to die in poverty. In an Unusual twist, the family allowed a card to be placed on the coffin at his funeral with the name “Sir Rodger Charles Doughty Tichbourne” Perhaps they were hedging their bets.

Little Tich had a long and glorious career in show business. He performed his Boots routine long after it was painful for him to do so. A 1911 biography about him was ghost written by Sax Rohmer of Fu Man Chu fame. He also wrote a song called ” The Gas Inspector” A recording by Little Tich survives on a 78 and can be heard on YouTube.

Here is a short film showing the extraordinary performance of Little Tich.

Smike. The Musical: On Vinyl

smikeIn my post A Teacake in the Music Aisle you may have noticed that I borrowed the score of the musical Smike, assuming you read that far and was not bored into submission. It was written by Roger Holman and Simon May with the book my Simon May and Clive Barnett. Well I’ve been looking on eBay for a recording and I last I have one. It was quite expensive considering it has its original price label of £1.99 ex Vat but it is in excellent condition and, being quite rare is a good deal. I opted for the 1983 recording as it is more complete than the original BBC cast one and gives a better idea of the music of the stage show that we put on at school. The show starts in the present with the school children taking characters to put on a show of Nicholas Nickleby. By the end, they have all learned something about themselves as well as their Dickens.

Recently, I was watching a DVD of Crossroads. The episode where Meg Richardson, played by Noele Gordon, marries Hugh Mortimer, has Stephanie de Sykes singing “We’ll find our Day” and at the time I thought it was very familiar. Now I remember it was from Smike.

May Day and the Magic Porridge Pot

image It’s the First of May and I’m off up to the Barbican Library to change my books. Something is definitely in the air. I’m sure I can hear the music from Carousel as I pass Charlie Brown’s Roundabout. It seems to know about my last post. The journey is made better by meeting someone I know to talk to. Barbican station has sprouted planters to make the disused platform more presentable. Only for a few months before Crossrail work starts, but welcome all the same. I stop to take a photo with my new Telephoto Instlens. This little lens fits on to my iPhone and gets me closer to the action without stepping on the rails.

imageOn leaving the station, the High Walk, which has had building work disruptions on all my visits so far, has been planted up. Spring has arrived. But its cold. Not like last time I came. I’ve got a song about a Magic Porridge Pot stuck in my head. When you teach Primary School music, these things happen. Anyone using the new Music Express by A and C Black will know what I mean. “Cook, Little Pot, Cook”

The Library is quite busy today. Staff are dealing with others so I return my books in the machine. There’s a touch of Sci-fi about its purple glow. I’m intrigued to see that there are people listening to music on impressive looking CD players in the Carrel study area’s. There’s something to try another time. My choice of book today includes the score for “No No Nanette” by Vincent Youmans and a Biography of “Little Titch” And I couldn’t resist “Tavern Anecdotes”

My wanderings have taken me to The Strand where I come across a May Day Demo which appears to be against capitalism. Most of the groups passing by me have banners in a foreign language but the Russians have nice Red Flags. I was surprised to see a Narrow Boat association. It seems to have been organised by the T.U.C. I move swiftly on to Covent Garden where the Capitalists are going about their business oblivious.

And now I’m in the bowels of the Earth. Waterstones in Gower Street is my favourite Branch at the moment. It has more atmosphere than the Piccadilly branch even if it’s building is not as grand as the Simpsons building. I’m deep underground in the Costa having a Flat White and a Raspberry Fancy amid the bright young things of academia. The Barista didn’t ask me if I was a student so as I could have a discount. She can tell.

If you want to find out more about the Instalens range, you can see them here: