The Fishing Fleet

BlogFishingFleetThis book by Anne de Courcy is a study of the British in India through the particular prism of the women who travelled out to the Raj to marry.  In some cases, the journey was made with the sole purpose of finding a husband.

The history of the Empire is well documented and what makes this book stand out is its focus on amazing women, many from the ruling classes, who supported husbands in their governing roles, often in trying circumstances; not all women lived in Government House!

The pressures on family life were seen most of all by the women.  An example of the difficulties they faced is seen through the difficult decision needed when their children go back ‘home’ for school.  Should they stay in England or leave them to return to husbands in India?  In such ways did the British show their stiff upper lips!

For some women, the bachelors of India (mostly running the Indian Civil Service) were ideal since their working lives precluded marriage until they turned 30.  The fleet also proved handy for families who decided their daughters were too plain or too clever or both.

The story of the British in India is an interesting one but has been well covered by other historians.  This book works so well by exploring the history from a different angle but also because voices that might otherwise be forgotten are aired.

‘The Fishing Fleet’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

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Room 1900

In London at Tate Britain to see an exhibition so I took the opportunity to re-visit some of my favourite works of art on display in the ‘Walk Through British Art’ galleries.  The room I love most of all, in this chronological arrangement, is Room 1900 where the end of the Victorian and start of the Edwardian age is celebrated.

There are many works here that I admire but, on this occasion, I was keen to see a sculpture by James Havard Thomas, a sculptor active from the 1880s onwards until his death in 1921.  The particular work is called ‘Lycidas’. It is a life-sized nude sculpture of a young man.  His model was Antonio, his Italian servant from the time when the artist lived in Southern Italy.  The work was rejected in 1905 by the Royal Academy as being too life- like and ordinary.  What Antonio made of this rejection is not known!

Lycidas 1902-8 by James Havard Thomas 1854-1921

The Railway Children

This film is one of my early memories of the cinema.  In the 60s and 70s you could go to the cinema in the afternoon to watch a programme that consisted of short films, adverts and trailers as well as the main feature.  If you stayed in your seat, you could watch the main film through again.  I did this with ‘The Railway Children’ in 1970.

The film remains one of my favourites.  Directed by Lionel Jeffries, who was himself a famous actor from British films of the 50s and 60s, the film tells the story of three children who have to move from their comfortable and affluent life in London to rural Yorkshire, where the railway features in their lives for the first time, after their father is imprisoned.

Based on the book by Edith Nesbitt, the story is a wonderful evocation of Edwardian England, or at least of a somewhat idyllic version of it where the community is strong and the children of a prisoner are not treated badly!  Dinah Sheridan played the mother and the wonderful Bernard Cribbins played the railway porter, Mr Perks.  I remember the role of Peter, played by Gary Warren, as this was the part I identified with being of a similar age at the time.  I always thought I the Edwardian costumes for boys would look good on me but I never got to wear a sailor suit.

There have been other adaptations of the novel, chiefly on television, but the film stands as the version which comes to mind whenever the title is mentioned and it is hard to think of better actors for the roles than Jenny Agutter as Bobbie, Sally Thomsett as Phyllis and Gary Warren as Peter.

The scene on the railway station towards the end of the film has to be the most moving scene in cinema history.

‘The Railway Children’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?