My dear friend, Colin Phillips, Marxist, Existentialist, cyclist and the last of the ‘Soho Poets,’ died earlier today after a long battle with cancer. This is something like an obituary, although my chronology might be slightly out, so I’ll apologies to friends and family in advance. Anyway, Colin was a proper Cockney, born in Brick Lane to a Quaker family at the start of World War Two; his father was a cabbie and his mother stayed at home.
CURSING and stumbling, Anne and Bannockburn fled blindly from Blackbeard’s fortress in stolen boots. Every step was a symphony of agony, but despite the ravages of their starved and tortured frames, they ran as if the Great Adversary himself was upon their heels, and, given the Stygian dungeon from which they had lately been liberated, who could say he was not? The local inhabitants of the island, they had learned, believed the dreadful pirate Edward Teach to be a demon, and there was no doubt in Bannockburn’s mind that something alien and terrible now possessed the spirit of the already brutal buccaneer. He gripped the hilt of the sword that he had taken from a poisoned guard, along with his boots, and ran on, following the boy who had aided their escape as he crashed through the leathery jungle foliage that concealed paths which, he claimed, were known only to his family.
I have been riding – and in some cases dropping – motorcycles for well over half my life. I got my first bike when I was fifteen in 1979 (a battered Honda CB 125), and I’ve owned at least two ever since, resolutely hanging on to a 650cc BSA I’ve had since I was eighteen. I presently own a Harley Sportster, an ex-cop BMW, and I still have the BSA. I’ve never bothered to learn to drive a car.
Largely because of a popular fascination with the occult, The Lancashire Witches is the only one of Ainsworth’s novels to have remained consistently in print to this day, often shelved alongside the work of Dennis Wheatley and Montague Summers (both of whom it undoubtedly influenced). The novel is also one of the mainstays of the Pennine tourist industry, and at time of writing, it is still available in many local museums, railway stations and gift shops. As the Dick Turpin narrative of Rookwood seamlessly passed into the national myth, Ainsworth’s romance of Pendle Forest has supplanted the unusually well-documented history of these unfortunate men and women in Lancashire folklore. This ‘classic tale of the supernatural’ (1) although generally overlooked by scholars of the gothic, therefore continues to exist quietly both as a popular cultural curio and, rather more erroneously, in an extra-literary sense as a genuine history.
‘The Soldier’ by Brooke is an instantly recognisable poem. It is one of a collection of sonnets written early in the war, collected under the title of 1914 & Other Poems. These achieved popular acclaim after The Times Literary Supplement printed two in full in the spring of 1915, ‘IV: The Dead’ and ‘V: The Soldier.’ The latter was subsequently read from the pulpit of St. Paul’s Cathedral on Easter Sunday. These poems were composed before the poet reached the Front and had an opportunity to witness the horror of industrial warfare. The language is romantic, in the literary sense of the term, idealistic and patriotic, with much repetition of ‘England.’
As you don’t need me to tell you, today’s the 72nd anniversary of D-Day and the commencement of Operation Overlord, the largest seaborne invasion in history and the beginning of the liberation of Europe from Nazi Germany. 160,000 British, American and Canadian troops crossed the English Channel that day, with 10,000 killed, missing or wounded by nightfall. And in the middle of all that, aged twenty-nine, was my dad, Walter William ‘Wally’ Carver, a Corporal in the Pioneers.
So this is how the big project first began, as an interior monologue that came to me quite spontaneously while I was still living in Japan, just over ten years ago. This was the voice of a soldier in the water after the Birkenhead went down on February 26, 1852, off Danger Point, a Victorian naval disaster that had fascinated me since I’d first come across the story as a student in the late-90s. It’s rough, but you can see the premise quite clearly. After writing two incomplete versions of the manuscript with the protagonist a soldier from the ranks, the first Irish, the second English, I realised he needed to be a journalist instead…
Being between editorial jobs and an operation, I’ve been cleaning out my study this week, a task that was long overdue. Amongst the glory holes and dusty-musties, I found a hard copy of the following, which I wrote for Gracie while we were courting, years before we married, before Lily, who didn’t make it, and Vincent, who’s five in July. Anyway, I am not, by nature a poet – as I’m sure you can tell – but this caught me funny, because it was and remains just so us: Lux and Ivy, Lily and Herman, off in a little world of our own, a cornucopia of love and horror. So this one’s for Gracie – I hope you don’t mind. I’m so glad I found you. I thank the old gods every day. Happy Birthday, babe, I love you…