Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Newspaper history notes from Northumberland

A footnote now to my earlier posts on the Ponteland Observer and the Morpeth Herald, particularly Ponteland Observed - Part Three and Goodbye to the Gothic at the Morpeth Herald. When I wrote in the second of those posts that the Morpeth Herald had been published under mastheads based upon an 1892 cast of the Morpeth Herald title from that date until the redesign of 2014, I was unaware of a variant which appeared on only two issues, those of 5 July 1984 and 12 July 1984. It's pictured here. It was clearly a companion to the masthead of the Ponteland Observer introduced on the same day, as seen on the front page reproduced in my third Ponteland Observed post, which featured a line drawing of St Mary's Church, Ponteland, Ponteland Bridge and the Diamond Inn. The equivalent Morpeth Herald drawing shows St James's Church, Morpeth, and Morpeth Bridge. It's not difficult to guess why this sketch was short-lived; unlike the Ponteland drawing this view is an artificial juxtaposition of elements which aren't found together in the environs of Morpeth; and like the Ponteland drawing the style is less detailed than the quality and identity of the paper really deserves, though it is at a level with which the photopolymer-on-letterpress technology can easily cope.

The 5 July 1984 issue of the Herald, like that of the Ponteland Observer, carried an editorial by Tweeddale Press Group chairman Jim Smail on its front page. As with the Observer, Smail anticipated reader resistance to the changes, though he struck a different tone, explaining that it seemed more sensible to move the Herald away from association with the Alnwick Advertiser and the middle of the county and turn it and the Observer into a 'traditional weekly newspaper' for the Castle Morpeth local authority. The Observer would retain its own masthead and editor but would contain 'certain common pages' with the Herald - becoming a slip edition, in press terminology.

As explained in my earlier series, the personalities of the two papers were very different and they seem to have pulled apart even in the weeks following their mutual 'incorporation'. Three weeks into the arrangement the Herald had returned to the previous version of its masthead, dropping the church-and-bridge drawing and the 'Incorporated with the Ponteland Observer' strapline, replacing the latter with the earlier 'Incorporated with the Alnwick and Morpeth Advertiser' carried since the Tweeddale Press had relaunched the newly-acquired Morpeth Herald in 1983. This was replaced a week later with the return of 'Incorporated with the Ponteland Observer', which endured until the reorganisation of the Tweeddale Press series in September 1984 and the decision to emphasise the papers' individual identities. That the association with the Ponteland Observer might not have been popular with traditional Herald readers was indicated in Jim Smail's front page editorial of 23 August 1984 which assured them that 'the recently acquired Ponteland Observer... will, from now on consider the Morpeth Herald nothing other than a sister paper'. Meanwhile in Ponteland Observer readers were being cautioned that the new group policy would not affect the Ponteland Observer in the same way as other titles, and until the end of the Observer in 1986 it continued to share a considerable amount of editorial with the Herald.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Upstairs Downstairs: On Trial

Amidst researching the representative Scots peerage and dealing with other matters historical and parliamentary for my job, some voluntary reviewing and a very little paid freelancing, I've had time to fit in some archive television. While up at my parents', I rewatched the first episode of Upstairs Downstairs from 1971, On Trial. This statement has to be immediately qualified because what now passes for the first episode isn't, but a replacement; and it furthermore comes in two versions. This came from a DVD of the first season branded as 'The Colour Edition', which I'd bought for my mother a long time ago; it was released by VCI, and is now long deleted and superseded by the higher resolution transfers from the master tapes released by Network. As detailed at the principal online authority for the series, UpDown (from whose site I've sourced the picture of Jean Marsh and Pauline Collins adorning this review), the original broadcast version of the episode was in black and white, as were the first few recorded episodes of the series, a result of an industrial dispute affecting colour broadcasts; once the series was successfully established and the dispute was over the first episode was re-recorded in colour with two endings depending on whether the repeat or overseas sales package was to include the following black and white episodes or not. In this version, Sarah (Pauline Collins) rather abruptly walks out on 165 Eaton Place at the end of the episode, whereas in the original (wiped) and the version of episode one used with the black and white episodes, Sarah doesn't leave until the end of episode three.

The resulting episode might seem unusual as the launch of a series to eyes of over forty years later, but Upstairs Downstairs was born in an age where the line between the single play and the series was blurred by cycles such as the BBC's The Six Wives of Henry VIII; the writers drawn to Upstairs Downstairs included names associated with serious long-form drama but also at home with popular series or serials such as Rosemary Anne Sisson or in this case Fay Weldon. The considered and detailed depiction of a historical period was then part of the mainstream; settings relied on a deliberated, documented authenticity. Dialogue contains anachronisms and cultural references which the 1971 audience would have had to comb their memories or ask older relatives to confirm. Uniform changes which a budget-conscious production might have questioned are essential to setting and plot.

On Trial, in this form, is very much Sarah's story, and her departure with so many questions about her background and character unanswered might make some viewers expect that this is to be her series rather than that of the characters who she leaves behind. Even so, Sarah's centrality to the episode is balanced by her unknowability; she keeps several identities in the air at a time and it is never clear how much truth or deception there is in her tales, even when she is humbled and denies everything about her claims to French and Gypsy ancestry. Script and Collins's performance suggest she does not know herself. The regulars are introudced through their reactions to her: the sceptical, mocking but proper Rose who holds back the dire and dishonourable fate of Sarah's predecessor Katie until she can keep it in no more; the superstitious, susceptible, malleable Emily, seeking someone to whom to be loyal; Hudson and Mrs Bridges, in their different ways jealous of their authority below stairs and confronting Sarah's discordant influence in distinct methods. While Sarah has to negotiate a place in the servants' hierarchy between her immediate superior as a house- and parlourmaid, the pragmatic and grounded Rose (the series' cornerstone, from co-creator Jean Marsh), and scullerymaid Emily, the male servants Alfred the footman and Pearce the stableman are threateningly predatory, and as intermediary between the upper world of the Bellamys and below stairs Hudson is at times in this story almost a Gothic supernatural presence. Angela Baddeley as Mrs Bridges is more brusque than ferocious but again her apparent sale of a surplus household chicken to the indigent Matty inhabits one of the grey areas of the servants' moral universe which she and Hudson police.

Of the Bellamys, it's Lady Marjorie who is encountered first; while outwardly sympathetic in tone she is also casually controlling to the point of erasure; it's she who renames Sarah for the purposes of the household as a servant can't have a name like Clemence, the name which Sarah has when she arrives at 165 for interview. This is ruthless, callous and dismissive depersonalisation, and yet it's already been anticipated by the servants who resent anything which might disrupt the accepted order. Sarah is the viewer's route into the story in because she is a 1960s/70s free spirit out of her time, denied any privacy - she shares not just a bedroom but a bed with Rose, and sharing a bed with a workmate or family member was a common experience to most in the working class in the century at some stage in their lives - and who finds it impossible to compromise. Her claims to a personal identity are stripped away by others' demands that she exist for them, not for herself, and its hardly surprising she keeps inventing or revealing new facets, perpetuating in day the dreams from which the demands of service life force her to wake. Emily is her less resilient, less individuated, more dependent counterpart; the episode resists foreshadowing her demise though by the time this version of On Trial was taped I Dies From Love had been recorded.

The need to send Sarah on her way at the end of this version of the episode leads to the suggestion that Rose has in some circumstances unusual influence above stairs not being explored; the version shown with the black-and-white episodes includes Rose explaining that she grew up on Lady Marjorie's father's estate. Rose is native to and acculturated to this environment, even as she sees and has herself tried to break from its limitations. Nevertheless there's a strength in Jean Marsh's performance which makes her more sympathetic than she might have been, and which picks out the concern Rose has for the rootless Sarah, as if she might easily be swept away under the sweep of an opera cape which at first stands in for the master of the house, Richard Bellamy; an appropriate introduction as his position in the household will be revealed in due course as reliant on his successfully performing above his inherited social station. On Trial in this form seems to close doors behind it, as Sarah departs; but it leaves enough mystery in 165 Eaton Place behind it to provide development in future episodes.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Lords of blasphemy?

Letter from David Drummond, 3rd Lord Maderty to 
James Rattray of Craighall, Innerpeffray, 6 August 1677.
My job currently involves my investigating the peers of Scotland as listed following the Act of Union with England in 1707. One of the more anomalous titles listed is Lord Maderty, which was extant in 1707, and indeed still is; but since 1692 the lords Maderty have held higher titles in the Scots peerage, firstly that of Viscount Strathallan, and from 1902 earl of Perth. Lord Maderty is one of a surprising number of peers who appear twice or even three times on the 'Union Roll', perhaps to insure against counterclaims to peerage dignities where successions might be disputed. The potential arose where one individual had succeeded to multiple titles through different routes, often involving (and forgive me if I've not explained things quite to the standard of someone versed in Scots law, as I'm not) the Scottish practice of novodamus where an estate and dignity might be regranted by the crown to the current holder, but establishing a new line of descent different from that instituted when the dignity was first created.

The Maderty lordship of parliament was one of a series of lordships granted to men who had been granted or inherited the lands of Scots abbeys, exercising the feudal rights of the abbot with the office of commendator. James Drummond (d. 1623), had been appointed commendator of the abbey of Inchaffray, Perthshire, in 1565 when still a child; after a career in the service of James VI, in 1609 he obtained the conversion of the ecclesiastical lands into a lay feudal free barony (though this part of the grant does not seem to have passed the great seal) and lordship of parliament with the title of Lord Maderty. The title was taken from Madderty, near Inchaffray. 

It was this choice of title which was thought blasphemous, at least by John Lauder of Fountainhall who questioned it on etymological grounds. He wrote:

'My Lord Madertie's stile is truly Mater Dei from some cloyster so named in the tyme of poperie; he should be induced to take some other denomination, this seeming to blasphemous like,' (quoted Complete Peerage, viii.347)

Whatever the merits of this explanation of the name, invoking the mother of God in their title did the third Lord Maderty, David Drummond, little good, as his support for the Stewart cause saw him imprisoned in Edinburgh in 1658. After the Restoration he suffered from ill health, and it was his brother William who took over the headship of the family, leapfrogging his brother in the peerage in 1686 when he was created viscount of Strathallan, inheriting the older but junior title of Lord Maderty on David's death in 1692.

Monday, 29 June 2015

On the other side of the rain

Thoughts on the BBC's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

Peter Harness and Toby Haynes's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell was quietly involving, but only sometimes absolutely enthralling, and suffered at the end from a loss of the sense of scale and boundlessness that the realm of Faerie had in the book. Yet which book-hoarder could not wince as Gilbert Norrell surrendered to the loss of his library, knowing all the time that learning is nothing if it is not applied? Entertaining and exciting it was, but it felt also caught between two forms, the traditional closed-text book-to-television-serial adaptation, and the ongoing series which becomes its own narrative, seen in the SF and fantasy genres in The Tripods  in the 1980s, and more recently in Game of Thrones. The concluding episode felt as if it was hunting a second series commission, but with British ratings having fallen by two-thirds, it is perhaps unlikely that we will see it, unless American ratings are good enough to tempt a new co-production with further partners such Amazon or Netflix. The promised magical alliance of Arabella, Emma and Flora would be more than sufficient to hook a second series on. Incidents in the book which offered more closure were lost, though bequeathing to television potential for Stephen's reign at Lost Hope to be explored in any sequel, as well as introducing characters from the novel suppressed for the sake of clarity in the adaptation.

One might go further with such speculative proposals; though one might end up instead relating how there was in the year sixteen hundred and eleven a necromancer who came to Oxford and summoned the masters and scholars of all the colleges to meet him at the site of the Swindlestock Tavern, for to recall to life their predecessors slaughtered centuries before on St Scholastica's Day; and how he failed, for the college chefs could not make noodles with grain watered with St Frideswide's tears. Be this so, the Raven King may yet allow a little charity amidst his unkindness.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Drama and Delight: The Life and Legacy of Verity Lambert, by Richard Marson

The hardback jacket for Drama and Delight:
 The Life and Legaxy of Verity Lambert
Verity Lambert rolled up conventions about how women should behave in the masculine television industry of the 1960s and afterwards as if they were cigarette paper; rules were smoked, inhaled and remade because that's how Verity worked and made other people work to the best of their ability. Throughout Richard Marson's book, one gets the sense that throughout Verity Lambert was herself: indefatigable professionally and personally, not mercilessly uncompromising but determined that when she had identified the best way forward everyone was going to follow her plan and complete a programme to the highest achievable standard. At the same time, she emerges as intensely collaborative and generous of support, time and friendship, and one is caught up in her energetic, enthusiastic, positive personality: skills which made her the most widely successful and engagingly creative producer of fiction on television in her generation.

Drama and Delight is a more carefully structured and compiled book than his JN-T: The Life and Scandalous Times of John Nathan-Turner, which Miwk Publishing brought out two years ago. Footnotes identifying the sources of the quotations are welcome and the narrative is more linear and more focused. The writer's love of and support for the 'studio' era of British television is plain. Though the days of collegiality in the BBC or the ITV companies, when collective responsibility was held to take precedence over individualist notions of success, are celebrated, any rosy glow is balanced by the acknowledgements of collective irresponsibility too and of individual misbehaviour. I'll never quite look at a bar in one hotel, near where I live, again without thinking of an incident involving a male television executive, a female colleague and a broken glass which had implications for the said executive's career, and opened a door for Verity Lambert. Inevitably, comparisons and contrasts can be made with Marson's earlier subject. The world through which Verity Lambert worked and played was just as scandalous as that of John Nathan-Turner but has triumph and style and Verity's sense of the human spirit and achievement, and lacks the seedy, desperate edge of so much of Marson's portrayal of John Nathan-Turner. There are still many eyebrow-raising anecdotes and a few invitations to look for subtext among the professional and personal relationships of Verity's colleagues. The book is a great dispeller of myths already established in the public imagination - the Verity portrayed by Jessica Raine in Mark Gatiss's play about the early years of Doctor Who, An Adventure in Space and Time (2013) is swiftly dispatched in the opening pages, and one is left wondering how the party scene establishing her friendship with Jacqueline Hill in that play would have fared had it instead depicted a poker game, which Verity played with friends and colleagues in her pre-Doctor Who ABC Television days.

Front cover of the paperback edition of
Drama and Delight: The Life and Legacy of Verity Lambert
I've not written or edited a long form biography such as this, so only know shorter forms of a few hundred to ten thousand or so words personally, but would have tried to find solutions for some of the outstanding problems. I think that the reintroduction of some figures who leave and return to the story could have been better handled. Some asides in footnotes could really have been in the text, or provided springboards for discussion elsewhere. Late in the narrative a footnote tells us that industry rumour linked Verity with the job of head of the BBC Television Drama Group in 1983, which might have been better dealt with at the correct chronological point. Indeed, a few more dates here and there would have been useful in pinning down events. Some standardisation of references could have helped; an index would have been useful but having been involved in the last-minute editing of one once I know something of how expensive they are and how difficult to get right. There's lots of welcome detail, though, including entertaining oneself with the thought of a Verity Lambert walking tour of all her London addresses.

Perhaps the best point the book makes is that although she was a producer rather than a writer or director (at least, never openly so - there is some founded speculation about one of the Doctor Who episodes she produced, though) Verity Lambert's productions contain a certain quality which is recognisably hers. One absence in the book is that it doesn't set out to identify with particular precision what that might be, though in another sense it's enough to point out that a wider audience, somehow, knew her. That eye-catching name on the credits of Doctor Who, Adam Adamant Lives, Detective and the BBC's Somerset Maugham plays must have chimed with those viewers who saw the Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch featuring 'Mr Verity' and 'Mr Lambert' on first transmission. I can't have been the only reader whose reaction to the photographs of Verity in her early career as a production assistant at ABC Television, wearing to work those dress-code breaking leather trousers, was to wonder whether the inspiration for the creation of Cathy Gale in ABC's The Avengers, a leather-wearing woman of force, intellect and beauty in a man's world, was rather closer to home than has been realised.

Drama and Delight: The Life and Legacy of Verity Lambert by Richard Marson is published by and is available from Miwk Publishing in hardback and paperback editions.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Forgotten Dramas at the BFI: Pity About the Abbey (1965) and The Golden Road (1973)

This blog has been dormant for several months, a reflection of the busier life I've had in the last year or so. The same busy life has prevented me from getting to more than one of the current Forgotten Dramas: Rediscovering British Television's Neglected Plays season at the BFI, curated by television drama scholars Lez Cooke and Billy Smart. That screening was tonight, and was made up of the BBC 2 play Pity About the Abbey, first broadcast on 29 July 1965, and now the only surviving example from the play strand Londoners (though repeated on BBC1 in The Wednesday Play on 6 April 1966), and an instalment from ITV's long-running Armchair Theatre transmitted on 30 October 1973, The Golden Road.

Pity About the Abbey was subtitled 'A Comedy of the Future'; but it very obviously expressed the public opinions of the better-known of its co-authors, John Betjeman, toward contemporary developments in public architecture, and it's tempting to see elements of the later career of his colleague Stewart Farrar as a Wiccan mystic too. The play concerns a scheme concocted by a fashionable brutalist architect for a money-obsessed developer and the Treasury for a new concrete Treasury building, which will form the centrepiece of the 'Westminster roundabout', a supposedly happy fusion of congestion-clearing traffic scheme, bureaucracy-easing government office and income-generating property development. That it envisages a concrete bridge plugging the Treasury directly into the Victorian gothic of the Palace of Westminster only anticipates the full horror: to build the Treasury office, Westminster Abbey must be demolished, and its services and function as a centre of national religious commemoration and celebration transferred to the Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral a stroll up Victoria Street. The architect, Sir Peter Watkin, was a supercilious and facile Henry McGee, a reminder that his most familiar roles as foil to Benny Hill or the Honey Monster were based upon an a career which had cast him as a facilitator to more terrifying behemoths; the Treasury mandarin Lord Barnett (no relation to the real-life originator of the formula, who was not then a peer) a suitably inflated Derek Francis. The play was a fusion of civil service satire, romantic comedy and elegy to the relationship between present and past: the most poetic sequence saw the camera roam around Westminster Abbey with the heroine, Louise Blakenheath of the Heritage Society (Pamela Ann Davy, almost playing Betjeman's daughter Candida here), her civil servant suitor Arnold Fitzgerald (Kenneth Fortescue), property developer's daughter and spark for the campaign Jane Page (Suzanne Mockler) and her boyfriend Douglas Holland (Dennis Adams). Louise apostrophises the warrior queens of old as she prepared to take on latterday threats to the soul of England, manifested through the ancient mysticism of mathematics of construction as much as it is through Christian faith. 'For the glory of God and pi r squared,' says one character; 'Pi r squared is the glory of God', comes the reply.

Pity About the Abbey was unsurprisingly a consciously Anglocentric piece. There was a sequence of spinning newspaper front pages, mostly typographically correct, showing newspaper headlines screaming in defence of the Abbey; the only one showing no interest was The Scotsman. It was also consciously elitist; there was no revolution, but an intrigue within the ruling class, helped by an uncle of one of the young protesters, a friendly and influential peer given to being interviewed by Fyfe Robertson (as himself) on current affairs programmes. Ultimately a new scheme was promoted and the two young couples in the story went off happy and engaged, but the final scene shows the war on the national fabric by insensitive and incompetent bureaucrats and short-sighted property developers continuing, even if the latter have been foiled from running a telephone auction between two Texan bidders for the right to dismantle Westminster Abbey and ship it across the Atlantic. Given the fate of London Bridge, the half-executed plans for St Giles's Circus, and the ambitions for modern conference centres and motorways in Covent Garden and even St James's Park, the tale woven by Betjeman and Farrar, and realised by a team led by director Ian Curteis, was not that far-fetched.

Katy Manning is a performer of many facets, many neglected and overshadowed by her role as Jo Grant in three of the five seasons in which Jon Pertwee played Doctor Who. The Golden Road showed Manning as Anna, bronzed from several months spent travelling in the Mediterranean, confidently smiling her way into a suburban home counties house and persuading owners Cass and Jim that she should lodge with them on the grounds that she is a friend of Jim's niece Charlotte. Anna of course disturbs the balance in the home, her introduction of a coffee percolator standing for more than just a rejection of the British love affair with instant. Attention was rightly drawn beforehand to a scene in the kitchen where Anna's growing influence in the house is challenged by Jim's mother, Mrs Hunter, without the confrontation ever becoming explicit. Levantine dishes of rice and vegetables (it's the courgette which seems to especially worry Mrs Hunter) complement the tales of Canaanite ruling queens and their habit of killing their kings once a child is conceived Anna tells Cass while with delicate sensuality she applies lotion to Cass's face. At the end of the first act, following an awkward encounter between Jim and Anna's occasional lover Bob, Cass expresses her fear she will lose Jim to Anna, but Anna says it is Cass she wants.

This first half of the play is the most rewarding to watch, though its weakness is that it's difficult to see how someone as strong and independent as Anna is attracted to someone as hollow-seeming as Olive McFarland's Cass, unless one allows for Anna's immaturity. Anna's presence is a welcome release for the stultification Cass and Jim inflict upon themselves, Cass in particular being subjected to Jim's career prospects and his responsibilities to his employer and to his mother. Anna's longing for domestic contentment can't be satisfied through reconciliation with her nonconformist minister father (never seen) nor does she expect it from her sexual relationships with men; sex with them she dismisses as 'practice'. She takes Cass as a lover and partner without fully appreciating the depth of the mother-daughter bond. Billy Smart has drawn attention to the shift in the second of the two acts from a play which reveals aspects of character to an 'issue' play, and it's this latter half which is the less satisfactory, as the audience is served up with perceptions of Cass from her mother-in-law (that she and Anna are 'filth') or from her daughter Christie's schoolteacher (that she knows from Jim that Cass has been unwell). Cass's disintegration at home with Anna is dealt with briefly and this and other aspects of the relationship between Cass and Anna needed more development. Smart notes that writer Pat Hooker's other work dealt with 'the mythical, the biblical, the ancient and the poetic' and perhaps this is how the audience has to understand the story. Cass and Anna are allowed one scene in bed together in each others' arms in bliss before tragedy overtakes them silently and invisibly; while we see Jim enter the house the camera then switches to dwell entirely by the two women in the marital bed and we neither hear nor see Jim remove seven-year-old Christie, her clothes and toys from the marital home, the toys being represented by a small selection in the back of a parked car. Cass only seems to find peace in accepting defeat by the system and shutting Anna out of the family home, isolating herself in a bid to prove she is 'a fit and proper person' to have custody of her daughter. The golden road to a tolerant and free Samarkand remains the stuff of poems, not reality.

Katy Manning introduced the screening at NFT2 and remarked on how far we had come, that one now had not only same sex marriages but same sex divorces and court cases about maintenance payments in a way unimaginable in 1973. If The Golden Road seems now only a period piece, it's not only in its treatment of sexuality but in the sense of a world closing in again after the optimism of the 1960s. Director Douglas Camfield - a great supporter of Katy Manning's career, she noted - moves from wide shots of a person or people in rooms to two-shots and portrait shots in increasingly extreme close-ups as the options reduce, until Anna is cast out and Cass shuts the upstairs window on her in an attempt to restore lost order on a house emptied of Jim, Christie and now Anna, standing with a rug under her arm and with her other worldly goods in some well-travelled suitcases. If Cass has had an air of emptiness throughout, it becomes concrete in that last scene.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

A universe in self-discovery: LonCon 3, the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention, 14-18 August 2014

I've come to science-fiction convention-going rather late, though this reflects the modern era of digital  communication where different strands of fan experiences overlap and cross-fertilise much more often and much more frequently than they once did. Consequently there's perhaps more for someone who has a fan background in television fantasy and science fiction, principally Doctor Who, and an academic background in history to find of interest in 'mainstream' science fiction fandom than there seemed to be twenty or thirty years ago. My main contact with literary fandom is through the many friends I have made in Tolkiendom. However, in recent years gates have been stormed, unlocked or been weathered away by unanticipated forces and gatekeepers left astounded. Though aware of its existence for over a year it was only within the last couple of months that I decided I'd regret not attending the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention - WorldCon - when this annual globetrotting event touched down in London for the first time since 1965, courtesy of a successful bid two years ago by the London in 2014 committee, here presenting LonCon 3. With teens of tracks running and seven thousand people attending it was difficult to select which parts of the convention to attend and there was a lot that I'd intended to see and missed. My review is probably more wide-eyed than others - I have few conventions in my past with which to compare it - but is nevertheless offered to the blog-reading public.

Day One: Thursday 14 August 2014

The week before LonCon 3 was a hectic one, including training down to London from my parents' in Northumberland in order to join a panel at Nine Worlds, spend the weekend commuting to the convention, then devote three days to work, only one of which saw me reaching the office. Consequently I'd given little thought to how busy registration might be, though travelling to ExCeL on Wednesday to register early had crossed my mind but was a complication too far. I consequently arrived at ExCeL to find a queue of people lined up before the top of a stairway, without it being quite clear what this was. I asked a volunteer in a high visibility jacket where the registration queue was; he explained that it was downstairs and I would have to join the queue for the queue first. Many instructions and being escorted down the stairs in a large group later, and after fifty minutes, I could leave with my lanyard, badge, souvenir book and programme schedule. 

I'd intended to follow the Tolkien Sociey's Tolkien track that day, but ended up only going to one of the Tolkien events. Suggestions from several of the people whom I met (including Sarah Groenewegen, whom I always seem to run into early at these things, and Richard and Chris Crawshaw, briefly returned from parts antipodean) led me to attend the opening ceremony; the sketches were far more suited to a smaller venue than the ExCeL auditorium but the initial playing about with props to create homespun versions of iconic SFF creatures and devices was successful even if the conceit following about the LonCon School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which had relocated from Hugowarts. was a bit laboured given that it also had to convey essential information about the convention.

I milled around a little after that but was ready to crowd into an aisle for 'The Changing Face of the Urban Fantastic' at 1.30pm; I wasn't keeping notes at this stage but vaguely remember battling with a sandwich while trying not to disturb other people and regretting, when the roots of urban fantasy were being discussed, not being able to remember as much as would have been ideal of my research into Sweeney Todd, undertaken back in 2002 for a very swiftly written Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article (freely avaiable to download as a podcast). Not being able to see faces matters in panels, I find, if one is used to doing so. 'Bagpuss vs Treguard' followed at 3pm. This panel, considering children's television programmes as a gateway to science fiction and fantasy, was not as well-informed as it might have been and it was left to members of the audience to provide much of the substance, for example a softly-spoken but authoritative fellow in a red shirt correcting the chair's apparent assertion that children's television didn't really get going in the UK until about 1974 with a reminder that the BBC Television children's department launched in 1948 (though its history is discontinuous). A potential for discussion of the influence of different generations of children's television - the Saturday morning cartoons in the US such as Space Ghost and indeed The Jetsons and Scooby-Doo, the Gerry Anderson series in the UK in the 1960s and their repeats over the next three decades, the children's fantasy series of the 1970s onwards - was I thought largely missed, though there was discussion of Moondial (not, the chair recalled, promoted as a genre series) and the 1980s Narnia adaptations as well as Helen Cresswell's version of Five Children and It, a dismissive mention of The Adventure Game, though thankfully a recognition that some do find that the first series of Rentaghost does have more going for it to adult eyes than its successors. Another panellist didn't recommend himself to me by making a dismissive remark about Terrance Dicks, a writer whose reputation has been redeemed somewhat in Doctor Who fandom once the framework in which he operated had become better understood, perhaps as a result of the large number of fan authors who are now themselves professionals.

I remember little about 'Doctor Who: Fandom for the Whole Family' other than that it zinged through the basis of Doctor Who's wide appeal and that Simon Guerrier managed to discuss the question of which regeneration the Peter Capaldi Doctor is without opening the pit of horta* that is The Brain of Morbius. For me, this was followed by my one visit to that day's Tolkien track, 'The Unpayable Debt', where the tale that stuck in my mind was how panellist Connie Willis's enthusiasm for The Lord of the Rings distracted her from breaking up with her boyfriend to whom, nearly half a century later, she has long been married.

Afterwards it was back to keeping the kiosks of ExCeL in business before the Retro Hugo Awards 1939, a time-travelling interlude with the music of the Brideshead Ballroom Stompers, live reports from a commercial radio station presumably radiating from outside the United Kingdom given the laws of the time, adverts for a cold remedy, Orson Welles and a battle on the Thames as Martian invaders made their way towards Docklands while, of course, ignoring those adverts for a cold remedy. Mary Robinette Kowal and Rob Shearman were the hosts, Mary (we were told) arriving on time by DeLorean while Rob appeared late from behind a curtain, waving at an unseen person (as the TARDIS dematerialisation noise played) "Thanks for the lift! No, you're not too old! See you next Saturday!" The old Oxford Arthurian in me was glad that The Sword in the Stone won the best novel award, though I had some regrets for Out of the Silent Planet

After all this excitement I found I had a headache and retreated back across London to my usual abode when in the metropolis. Unwise eating led to my not sleeping for hours, which was not very helpful when there was again a city to cross the next morning.

*Yes, I know that's from The Face of Evil.

Day Two - Friday 15 August 2014

Following the calming of my tempestuous digestion, I slept later than planned and arrived at ExCel not long before midday, not helped by my leaping on a DLR train at Canning Town and only realising that it was for the Woolwich branch, not the Beckton one, once the doors closed and it started trundling away to West Silvertown. I didn't do four panels in a row on Friday, which probably helped avoid the headache of Thursday evening. I enjoyed a long acclimatisation instead, wandered around part of the exhibition stands and ended up buying three issues of Interzone and being invited to a Tolksocish sixteenth birthday party.

Panelwise, I enjoyed the three-headed panel about Ken Campbell's adaptation of Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus, though one of the heads, Alan Moore, was only on video. John Higgs enthusiastically plugged his book on the KLF, who were brought together through working with Ken Campbell, but best were the personal reflections from Daisy Campbell about how Illuminatus has shaped her life from conception onwards, through her father's discouragement of her wish to read the book, through his death and her admission to a psychiatric hospital in Kent believing that she was the incarnation of Eris, goddess of chaos and international relations, wearing rainbow knickers on her head to stave off pronoia (everybody, she thought, wanted to help her). This eventually led to her forthcoming stage adaptation of Wilson's Cosmic Trigger as a way of coming to terms with the continued reach of her father in her life as well as doing something new of her own while coming as close as she wanted to restaging the eighteen-hour epic that was Illuminatus. I now know much more about where the cult of the Illuminati in popular culture comes from. There was then a mad dash upstairs to reach Dick Fiddy's Missing Believed Wiped panel, only to be turned away by kindly room steward Karen Baldwin with a regretful smile, as the room was full. I was persuaded to stay by fellow-Oxonian Katrin Thier. The queue for entry effectively captured Robert Shearman, who had also hoped to attend the talk, and forced him to opine on the subject of Doctor Who missing episodes; I was eventually elected to take a vacant place and caught a little of an Out of the Unknown clip as well as sequences from Moonbase 3 and Adam Adamant Lives, in addition to the BBC3 sketch commenting on the banning of The War Game by imagining how the Rank Organization's Look at Life series might deal with a post-nuclear scenario, which was just as disturbing as it was when I first saw it at last year's Missing Believed Wiped at the BFI. Dick Fiddy fielded questions about the current archive situation to an audience ranging from Missing Believed Wiped veterans to overseas visitors enthusiastic about but unfamiliar with British television history, who came away better informed about archive formats and the status of the ITV company archives.

A long coffee break followed, to which succeeded a trip to a panel on the city and fantasy writing of which I remember little, and then dinner with what Tolkienist MaddySeb dubbed 'the clique', though a large mass of Tolkien Society-connected folks we were, and not especially cliquey, I think. Off then to a short talk on fanzine and fandom history, which filled in some of the wider background to the antagonisms between different groups of fans in the late twentieth century, too; followed by demonstrations of a Gestetner machine, already superannuated when acquired for a fanzine but still capable of cranking out perfectly legible printed sheets at reasonable volume, and gelatine-tray printing. After a trip to the bar, I then went up to see a team of scientists defeat a team of authors in 'Universally Challenged' at 10pm, explaining the format too to an American sitting next to me. So long has it been since College Bowl ran in the USA, this American export has been naturalised and as University Challenge is now experienced as some some strange British phenomenon. I missed the concert, though, which was widely praised elsewhere; and also several panels which I'd flagged up earlier, though this became the theme of the convention. And so to the flat in West Kensington, and then to bed.

Day Three - Saturday 16 August 2014

Saturday felt like the third Saturday in a row, or perhaps the first Sunday of three. I managed a more thorough look at the art show; there were some beautiful images, including the TARDIS landing in the universe of The Magic Roundabout, with K9 meeting Dougal, and several paintings featuring adventures of the Clangers. My first panel was that on the Hugo award for best dramatic presentation (short form) ("We thought we'd see you here" said either or both of Richard and Chris Crawshaw), which the panel seemed sure Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor would win, with some debate between one panellist in particular and a member of the audience over whether the number of Doctor Who entries would effectively mean a split vote. The audience member might have been right, given the result announced on Sunday, though there was evidently unhappiness that Doctor Who was sucking up most of the nominations; however, I don't think that category nominations should necessarily be primarily recommendation lists for items you may not have read or seen. There was some support for a category revision which would allow whole seasons to be nominated; there was a sense that while Game of Thrones and especially Orphan Black had set precedents as series, the episodes nominated were insufficiently distinctive. I had sympathy with the idea that although Orphan Black had done tremendously in its depictions of female characters and different modes of femininity in modern society, it had not been as successful in stretching the conventions of the thriller genre. 

I was a latecomer to working on the Doctor Who DVDs and in a capacity not connected to restoration, so the panel with the Doctor Who Restoration Team - Mark Ayres, Steve Roberts, Jonathan Wood and Peter Crocker - was the first time I'd actually met them. With the classic Doctor Who DVD range all but over (with only the part-reconstructed The Underwater Menace still to release) I was glad to find that the gentlemen have offered their services to the BFI's DVD releases and that the forthcoming Out of the Unknown box set will be released at a much higher standard than it might have been, even as a 'pragmatic restoration' within a limited budget, while by now there should be a new version of the 1978 Play for TodayRed Shift, recreated from the original film elements, to release later in the year, rather than a version sourced directly from the two inch transmission master. On another theme, one of the side effects of my dipping into more active streams of wider fandom in the last few years has been meeting people I might have met decades ago had other choices been made; thirty-one years ago my thirteen-year-old self had rashly placed an advert in the Doctor Who Appreciation Society's newsletter expressing interest in setting up a local group in my area. One of the restoration team, a few years older than me, had written to me at the time and he greeted me that afternoon with the comment that I was a long way from Ponteland.

Conversations after the panel prevented my returning to any stream until 4.30, when it was back to the screening room. The planned showing of Nigel Kneale's The Crush, a play well-remembered by me from a Missing Believed Wiped event at the BFI a few years ago, was cancelled as the ITV Archive revealed two days ago that they only had a 16mm film print and not a digital transfer. In its place we saw a timecoded version of the aforementioned Red Shift, adapted by Alan Garner from his book and directed by The Long Good Friday's John Mackenzie. It's more accessible than the book, or so I find it, but loses some of the ambiguity in the process, particularly at the conclusion. 'From Page to (Small) Screen' was next, though I remember little of it perhaps because I was a long way back in a large room and microphones were as all too usual not at their best, though Mike Carey made some indirect references to writing the screenplay to The Girl with all the Gifts alongside the book, and Jonathan Clements restated the necessary reminder that not all animes are adapted from manga and vice versa. I think he said it was an anime version of Little Women which has twenty-two episodes before it reaches Louisa M. Alcott's book, finding it necessary to explain the American Civil War to their audience; this puts in the shade the actions of BBC adaptors extrapolating events, like Donald Wilson and his almost entirely non-Galsworthian first episode for The Forsyte Saga. I think it was during this panel that I sat by Anna Bowles who remarked that I was actually wearing a T-shirt (Titan's TARDIS illustrated from Doctor Who quotations) rather than something 'tweedy'. 

Next along was 'Researching Fans: Fan Studies and Fan History'. From memory (as I still wasn't taking notes) this tended towards the sociological and the psychological and the problems of collecting data across national cultures and jurisdictions rather than outlining findings about fan cultures and literatures, but discussion of experiences by academic fans and how this differs from Malaysia to Poland to the UK was useful and a necessary reminder that very many categories one might assume are uncontentious are in actuality open to questions arising from the cultural experiences of interrogator and subject.

In the evening I dipped into the Masquerade, which held sway in the Auditorium. There were many splendid costumes and it was difficult to distinguish between the work of the three classes, novices, journeymen and masters. Work included a dancing Ood, a haute couture Dalek, a gladiatrix and a minotaur, and a dancing couple in art deco gear representing the spirit of 1930s SF emerging from the Depression. The deserved winners, though, were a bevy of Silmarillionesque demi-deities designed by the grand mistress of Tolkien costuming, Maggie Percival. After a brief word with director of promotions Nicholas Whyte, I retired to the other side of the city via quiet trains.

Day Four - Sunday 17 August 2014

By Sunday I had managed to get the departure from West Kensington off to a good start, but I'd somehow missed the advance notice of the closure of the Jubilee Line between Waterloo and Finchley Road, necessitating my getting off and on a District Line train at Westminster and taing the more time-consuming sub-surface, surface and overhead routes of the District and the DLR to Prince Regent. At Custom House, a party of LonCon goers had to persuade someone who claimed to be a member of the committee that the correct stop for the convention, if he wanted to avoid a long walk, was Prince Regent rather than the better-promoted (and shortly to be CrossRailed) westerly station.

The first panel I attended - and the first in which I actually took notes - was in room 16 of the Capital Suite on level 3 which proved to be one of the worst rooms in which to have a panel discussion with a large audience. The subject, the depiction of the twentieth century as a historical period in twenty-first century SF, had captured the imagination of many and the authoritative panel - John Clute, Christopher Priest, Elizabeth Hand, Peter Higgins, moderated by Graham Sleight - one people wanted to hear. Unfortunately room 16 was next to room 17, being used by the film and television programme, and separated from it by a partition rather than a solid wall, leaving much of the soundtrack of the video next door audible. Added to this four of the microphones were only effective if held very close to the speaker's mouth, which many of the participants found constraining. Some of the audience made their objections known, loudly, and often in a way that seemed to unfairly blame the panellists rather than the shortcomings of the venue. John Clute took the lead in standing up when it was his turn to comment and separated the mic from its stand to give himself more freedom, but other panellists were less comfortable with performing in this way or found frequent standing up and sitting down physically stressful. It's a cliche and not necessarily all that meaningful an observation, but I feel London deserves better from ExCeL than these design flaws and the others experienced such as the escalator bottlenecks. 

These problems were an unwelcome distraction from the content of the panel itself, which began with John Clute revisiting his review of Kate Atkinson's Life After Life and how it challenged both the genre audience, who may not have recognised it as a title within their usual pale, and mainstream literary reviewers viewed by Clute as lacking the interpretive framework which could have helped them make sense of it. Christopher Priest said he found Clute's assessment more interesting than the novel itself, where the domestic details of the protagonist's lives bore little relation to the point of interest, the character's life starting and restarting as she takes paths which enable her to survive in the twentieth century, though Atkinson's depiction of the Blitz was compared favourably with thatby Connie Willis. Peter Higgins's secondary worlds are inspired by the 'short twentieth century', drawing on his sense that the world in which he grew to awareness in the 1970s and 1980s is now 'completely gone'. 

Elizabeth Hand, my notes say, mentioned the gaps in the record of the late twentieth century which imagination fills, the loss of a generation of writers and artists to AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s. This took me aback slightly because she used the term 'the disappeared' which I was used to associating with the victims of South American dictatorships or Northern Irish paramilitaries, and I thought on to other groups in societies who were wiped out in the twentieth century and whose voices were heard less, perhaps, than the Mapplethorpes or other members of creative communities whose work was already current when they died, even if they what we have is a fraction of what they could have expressed with more time. Consequently I perhaps lost the thread of what Hand was saying. Other thoughts included the 'Medusa gaze' of Western European and American culture on the historical continuity of art and literature in other societies during the twentieth century, and Christopher Priest's somewhat hopeful claim that poets are the real legislators.

I then moved on to 'Seeing the Future, Knowing the Past', in which moderator Brad Hafford was joined by Sarah Ash, Liz Bourke, Karen Muller and Kari Sperring: three SF/fantasy writers who are also academics and two whose academic backgrounds are elsewhere but whose work shows them fascinated by history. The panel produced a lot of useful reminders about the instability of history and the impossibility of creating a single history - indeed, Kari Sperring tells her students that there are only histories, though I'd always assumed there was a plurality implicit in the singular anyway. Attention was drawn to the long pedigree of the compromise between the liminal radical and the conservative in fantasy writing, not only in terms of the farm boy who becomes king (by no means a modern concept) but in Malory's compromise between the Arthur who 'changed his life' in this world, and the one who travels to Avalon to offer his people deferred hope. There were occasional misfires in Sperring's remarkable memory - attributing the Prophecies of Merlin to "a professional hack called William of Malmesbury" rather than a professional hack called Geoffrey of Monmouth was a new one on me. I couldn't agree with the claim that the historical Arthur was invented by the Victorians, either.

I moved to the academic track at 1.30 for 'Different Views of London', with an examination from Andrew M. Butler at how a disfigured London in fantastic images represents the traducing of the national myth, Dale Pratt's consideration of time travel and alternate realities, and a patient Tony Keen's look at different authors' representations of addresses in London, including Doyle, Stoker, Nesbit, Wyndham, Gaiman and Cornell, and what this means for the depiction of the city. Hungry for lunch, I stole away before questions on this one.

Hurriedly eating, I returned upstairs to the screening track at 3pm for The Other Man, or rather, what is left of it. Giles Cooper's 1964 television play was the most ambitious mounted by Granada at the time, with a cast of more than 200 (over 50 speaking parts) and a mixture of studio and what looks like early outside broadcast video as well as film. Directed by Gordon Flemyng, it starred Michael Caine as Brigadier-General George Grant, introduced at a contemporary (1964) dinner where his fellow officers are celebrating his career. He remembers that the events of 1940 could have ended so differently - and we fade into an alternative past where Churchill was killed in the Blitz, the wartime coalition fractures and a rump government accepts a peace offer from Hitler which through a series of concessions and partnerships turns Britain into a puppet state. Jewish officers and soldiers are soon transferred to the Pioneer Corps at Dover, which proves to be something far more sinister, and anti-Semitic attitudes are soon the norm. Michael Caine is supported by John Thaw as his bunkmate Henry Potter, Sian Phillips as the widow (of a Jewish officer who commits suicide at the peace with Nazi Germany) whom Grant marries, and there's a memorable performance from Dennis Chinnery as Major David Lewin, last glimpsed after his Dover posting, a sickly, brutalised figure in concentration camp uniform bearing a Star of David working as slave labour on the Channel Tunnel. This was the first of three (so I read) shocks which tell Grant of the nature of the regime in which he is complicit, but if any more of the play survived (as we had been led to believe) it was not included on the digital transfer from the ITV Archive at the BFI, which had only arrived on Friday. Nick Cooper's 1990s old television fanzine 625 has an article with TV Times extracts at its website which helpfully conveys a sense of the play; as someone who grew up on Blue Peter (and who was bought the Seventh Book as a Christmas present when he was four weeks old) I was fascinated to see John Noakes in the play in the role of Grant's regiment's waiter.

Turned out early from The Other Man, I wandered around the con for a couple of hours, coffeeing, cakeing, chatting and inspecting the exhibition stands, art show and the dealers again before dipping into the music strand for the only time, in the form of a Talis Kimberley gig. I only knew of Talis from her 'Goodbye Sarah Jane' song written in response to the death of Elisabeth Sladen in 2011, and now saw some other extracts from her repertoire; she is worth looking at on YouTube.

After a supper of baked potato with vegetable korma came the Hugos, where I realigned several old friends to see the Hugo awards. The awards have been widely viewed as a watershed for women in SF, applause for winners such as Anne Leckie and Kameron Hurley being deafening; but I confess to having been fixated on the Doctor Who productions and related works. It was not their night, split votes and (as argued extensively by others on a status update I made on my Facebook at the time) the relative deficiencies of the Doctor Who episode meant that a notoriously bloody Game of Thrones episode won the best dramatic presentation (short form) and the related works nominees were outvoted by bigger hitters. Still, it was good to see them nominated at all in a world which twenty or thirty years ago was felt to be hostile towards fans of television and film concepts; and as someone who didn't get around to voting himself I have even more incentive to return to my long reading and viewing list. The event was superbly hosted by Geoff Ryman and Justina Robson, the former repeating Mary Robinette Kowal's 'speak into my chest' solution for a microphone problem during the 1939 Retro Hugos on the first night. In an early draft of this piece I'd continued and the latter shutting up an idiotic and bigoted though happily small section of the audience who thought that someone being described as the leader of a feminist reading group in the 1970s was worthy of deep laughter but have since learned that the laughter was a response to Jeanne Gomoll's head appearing briefly from a gap in the curtain. I was perhaps already on edge having heard of some expressions of prejudice in other panels and fears that there might be some people determined to cause trouble. Happily this was not the case in this instance. 

Conversation afterwards with friends led towards our making our way to our respective abodes rather than whether or not to linger at the party; whether I would have stayed to risk the night bus had I known Peter Davison and David Tennant were in the building, albeit mingling in more reserved company, is another matter. As it was, we caught the second or third from last train from Prince Regent, with two of us catching the last northbound Northern Line train from London Bridge at one point, and my arriving at West Kensington towards 12.20am knowing that the awards party was still in full swing but with the knowledge that I had a better chance this way of attending the last day of the convention, at least before lunch.

Day Five - Monday 18 August 2014

Once the Hugos had been awarded, the clock was definitely ticking on LonCon 3. Monday morning was still thronged and it was difficult to imagine at first that we were about to lose our city by the Royal Victoria Dock. However, a tour round the exhibition and dealers' room revealed emptying tables and dismantling stands, and books tied up into discounted bundles, last-minute deals to save vendors from lugging them home. We attendees held on to what we could of the event.

The panels continued energetically in the morning, with the academic track including a really informative two-header from Derek Johnston and Katharine Woods. The first detailed the several plays and serials with science fiction content and themes broadcast by BBC Television before The Quatermass Experiment was screened in 1953, which (to Derek's evident frustration) Kim Newman had apparently hailed earlier in the weekend as the start of science fiction on British television. As Derek showed, many of the themes of the Quatermass serials were developed from adaptations Kneale had made of other people's work in previous years. Among the other titles worthy of attention was the 1949 adaptation of The Time Machine, with its use of vertical climbing sequences anticipating those Russell T Davies was proud of in 2000s Doctor Who, and the two Stranger from Space serials, shown as part of the children's magazine Whirligig, co-written by Hazel Adair (later the co-creator of Compactand Crossroads with Peter Ling) and (I think) a young Anthony Marriott (best remembered for No Sex Please We're British). Katharine Woods meanwhile provided a useful feminist analysis which acted as a corrective to those who view Steven Moffat's development of Amy Pond as the sexist nurturing of a cypher; in contrast, Amy is the author of her own story, and also of the Doctor's.

It was always a problem deciding what to choose to attend, and for the 1.30pm slot I decided at the last moment not to attend the discussion of LGBTQ+ reactions to latterday Doctor Who and Star Trek and went to Karen Hellekson's commentary and screenings of Doctor Who fanvids. Karen has provided links to the material which she showed here; I said afterwards that I'd direct her to the YouTube copies of some of the late 1980s satirical fanvids made in the UK which straddle the affirmational and transformational border in the model outlined in 2009 by [personal profile] obsession_inc, but have not yet done so. I have a communication promised at Nine Worlds the previous weekend still to make too. One point of debate was provided by an actor who wanted to know whether performers whose work was being repurposed were being paid, and exactly how closely Billy Henshaw had been involved in the reimagining of his YouTube video for the new Doctor Who title sequence.

Turned away from the very full 'The Ruling Party' at 3pm, I meandered down to the closing ceremony, where we got to sing happy eighty-ninth birthday to Brian Aldiss, the only person present who had been at the first LonCon in 1957 and guest of honour at LonCon 2 in 1965, goodbye to the guests of honour (of whom I'd seen very little during the convention itself) and the chairs as they all departed in the TARDIS (which remained physically present, no doubt through timey-wimeyness, the passage of those it contained through the time vortex represented by their silent manifestation as figures walking up the side aisle), and hello to next year's WorldCon, Sasquan, at Spokane in Washington state. I think I will be waiting for a return to Europe - Helsinki 2017, or Dublin 2019, should either of those bids be successful - but was happy to try one of the huckleberry sweets distributed by the Sasquan team.

So, it was almost over; the exhibition hall was dismantling itself and while the remaining events unwound some of us meandered around the Fan Village, mourned the thoroughly picked-over library (I'd already annexed a Keith Roberts compilation from Gollancz's Gateway range for myself) and settled into conversations, in my case involving outsourcing and logistics, before saying goodbyes. Rather than linger until the shutters came down at midnight I thought I'd enjoy the evening sun and took the DLR to Tower Gateway, walking through the City as far as Blackfriars until the black cloud which had been hovering slightly self-consciously in the otherwise sunny sky decided enough sun was enough, even if sunset was a few hours away, and closed in precipitously; as the miniature monsoon began, I resorted to the subterranean embrace of the District, which bore me back to West Ken and the beckoning return to work the next day.