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The maximum suicide age is between 65 and 75.

The Nelson Evening Mail, Thursday, August 9 1906

Forest Green Cricket Club accepts no liability for damage to vehicles parked on the green whilst a game is in progress.

There are pros and cons to time-travelling while black.

Pope Gregory declared the rooster the most suitable emblem of Christianity.

Not a single person was killed in the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

People who watch Fox News know less about international affairs than people who do not watch any news at all.

There is a music-genre known as ‘turbo-folk’.

You never need to use your own vaginal yeast to make bread.

Raymond Joseph Teller taught high school Latin for six years.

Artists in North Korea are employed by the state.

The Duchess of Sutherland is commemorated on a Partick urinal.

Noisy, hungry frogs sadden farmers’ lives.

The Ashmolean Museum is 336 years old.

There is too much stuff.

Black samurai

Yasuke: The True Story of an African Samurai
by Thomas Lockley and Geoffrey Girard
£20 (hardback)

In late July 1579, an enormous, well-dressed and well-armed African bodyguard stepped off a boat into the southern Japanese port of Kochinotsu.

Yasuke – perhaps from ‘Isaac’ in Amharic – had (probably) been abducted as a child by neighbouring Nilotic tribesmen, sold into slavery, and, by 23ish, already travelled (and fought) through northeast Africa, Arabia, and round the long coasts of both India and China.

His employer was the ‘most important Catholic in all of Asia’, Alessandro Valignano, papal ‘Visitor to the Indies’, here to impress the One True Faith upon the Japanese, and build on unsure Catholic footholds in the country.

But Yasuke promptly stole the show. He needed two beds, wore three men’s clothes sewn into one, and couldn’t fit through basic doors. His was a very noticeably muscular Christianity – and his blackness, far from hindering, had potentially divine connotations among the Japanese.

In the next three years he learned their ‘outlandish’ language, was given away (or sold?) to a mercurial warlord, nearly died thanks to an enthusiastic, festive mob, found himself exalted to the status of samurai, served at the forefront of ‘The Age of The Country at War’ – and then abruptly disappeared from the historical record.

The number of direct and unambiguous references to Yasuke in that record, though, is tiny, and beyond the ninjas, monks and ruthless warlords, typhoons, cliff-falls and disease that make up this undeniably rollicking historical yarn (both films and graphic novels have been fashioned out of it), much of this book is, of necessity, about the Jesuits and/or the Japanese internal conflicts of the 16th century.

The co-authorship of a Tokyo-based academic (Lockley) and a ‘historical adventure non-fiction’ writer (Girard) is not without its problems, either. The narrative leans lustily towards the Game of Thrones end of the spectrum, and the boisterous prose is well stocked with unverifiable adjectives, use of the word ‘likely’, and glimpses of Yasuke’s thought-process which surely cannot be substantiated. The extensive research is amply evidenced, but the delivery (there are no footnotes or attributions, per se) leaves the reader unclear as to which threads are the solid historical warp and weft and which are the more speculative embroidery. The chronology can be quite evasive. And there are sporadic and slightly effortful references to latter-day race/gender/slavery issues, which aren’t really in keeping with the adventure-story tone.

All of this, however, opens plenty of interesting windows into seafaring, high-caste homosexuality, palace architecture, and more – and the considerable endnotes and bibliography will be a trove for anyone who might prefer the sterner, rather more scholarly approach.

For Geographical

Out and aboutpost

Outpost: a journey to the wild ends of the earth
by Dan Richards
£16.99 (hardback)

Imagination fired by a picture of his father outside an Arctic shed, artist and writer Dan Richards sets off in search of places that ‘allow mankind a foothold in otherwise inhospitable terrain’.

Icelandic ‘houses of joy’ (not what they sound like), fire-watching belvederes, a Mars-research training facility, an offshore lighthouse: Richards hankers after the ‘astringent’ and ‘spartan’ architectures of these fixtures built ‘where nature takes over’. And though he’s not the type to wrestle overmuch with definitions, the bothies of the Highlands perhaps come closest to his ideal of ‘small emergency refuge shelter only.’

Ranulph Fiennes he is not, however. Slightly harried, somewhat clumsy (he smashes his phone before he even gets to Iceland), terribly enthusiastic, the tone of Outpost is part adventure/travelogue, part live-in art project. He has a tendency to the poetic phrase, and is extremely generous towards artistic sensibilities (not all readers will be convinced by the Turner Prize-winning shed-made-into-a-boat-then-into-a-shed-again chapter), but he avoids the pitfalls of a lot of earnest and/or politically-motivated nature writing. And while he dutifully name-checks the usual suspects like Robert Macfarlane, Roger Deakin and Wendell Berry, he is by inclination, one feels, more likely to refer to Werner Herzog movies, or Björk.

The end result is like a more-upbeat Geoff Dyer, written in engaging and thoughtful prose – literally: he narrates his thoughts sometimes – with occasional mock-ingenuousness, and cheerful punning. He has a nicely self-deflating sense of humour (the Arctic shed, he notes, is just that: a common-or-garden shed, noteworthy only for the fact that it’s in Svalbard). I chuckled frequently. He’s also not afraid of detours or of anticlimaxes, and is creditably shy of being seen to ‘retrofit significance’.

It would be wrong to suggest Outpost is more about the journeys than the destinations – but Richards’ real talent is in people-watching. One of his outposts is in fact a writers’ retreat in Switzerland (complete with heated floors), in which he concludes that few of us, honestly, do our best work in isolation. And just how viable is that sort of lonely travel, these days? ‘How far was far enough to truly be remote’? (One wonders, frankly, if more folk mightn’t travel further/harder if ‘not dying’ was more or less their sole objective).

Quite fittingly, he never makes it to Ny-Ålesund, whither his father went: it is protected now. Jack Kerouac wrote that ‘no man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness’. To this Dan Richards adds the imperative of ‘making guardians of consumers’ in our besieged environment.

For Geographical


Thomas King was fined 12s, or eight days’ hard labour, at the Thames Police Court for intoxication. While in this state he asked a pawnbroker to advance 2s on a baby.

The Nelson Evening Mail, Wednesday, April 10 1907

There are 2000 non-functioning satellites in space.

Lord Reith did not want people to enjoy the radio.

New species are discovered every week in jungles.

Friday night is lobster night.

Church people are just shitty to each other.

Aethelred the Unready was merely ill-advised.

Ceylons are usually more mellow in character than Indians.

Townspeople in Kyoto gather to stare at severed heads.

The start of Yr12 is twenty times harder than people think it will be.

A PhD could be done on the word ‘cruxway’.

The Panama Canal runs North to South.

It costs $17,500US to outfit one American soldier.

There’s nothing necessarily reassuring about the order of things.

My father helps correct a Work In Progress




as a pious

ing the intimate nature of this, a first offence in vert or venison
which was admittedly an incautious but, at its wildest, a partial ex-
ing the intimate nature of this, a first offence in vert or venison

ildiot repeated

[Balbaccio, balbuccio!]  Italics

New paragraph  a pillarbox? [The............................

Alocutionist, Deposed,

Italics  [Animadiabolum, mene credidisti mortuum?]………

Italics  [(hypnos...............
chilia eonion!)]


laying all

all aside, laying

as would turn

Armoury … Sir Rumoury

of the peace


gentleman is(?).

and his burialplot

82 bis

Holy Baba And the Forty Thieves
Prisson your Pritchards and Play Withers Team




……..[Nom de  Italics

leave. Had Days. Nemo

Italics  [in omnibus moribus et temporibus]…….


p261 n4
Bhing, said the her burglar’s head, soto poce.

p262 n1

p266 nl
Bet you fippence,
there’s no pug-

[haec genua Omnia]  Italics

[nolens volens]  Italics

p272 n1
that, ma’am?

p278 n3

p282 n2
Lawdy Dawdy Simpers 

p285 n2
Barneycaorroall, a precedent for the prodection of curiosituy from children.

No paragraph  ]Germanon.………………..



Indent  [Till the Juke done it...............


Ordinary type  [The thing pleased him andt, and andt, [and ff.]…………
No paragraph……………………………………………………………………

from orw 


The giant sun

Italics  [Auxilium Meum Solo A Domino]……..

This time a hundred years!
No gap
— But I was firm with her.




Ivory-tower thinking

Review of Future Cities: Architecture and the Imagination, by Paul Dobraszczyk.

For Geographical


On an average there is only one sudden death among women to eight among men.

The Nelson Evening Mail, Tuesday, September 25 1906

The Earl of Oxford did not write Fleabag.

Hull is other people.

Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci chose to stick the with most ridiculous crap name that they could think of.

Failure to yield causes one in five accidents in Ohio.

Justin Trudeau performs yoga.

The Incredible Hulk is better than Cúchulainn.

There are 67 million invented names on Facebook.

Silent and discreet masseuses do not exist in Russia.

Starfish taste very bitter.

The Rifle Volunteers are always ready – but not yet wanted.

The Space Bowl is again closed due to maintenance.

Leonardo da Vinci has a violin made from a horse’s skull, with silver on.

There seems no middle ground with borscht.


There are now about 54,000 Chinese coolies in the Transvaal gold mines.

The Nelson Evening Mail, Thursday, March 14 1907

Los Angeles is a lousy, boring little town. A European could die there from boredom.

January ain’t about the blues.

Piers Morgan is sick.

The veins of Englishmen flow with rainwater.

In a land with no fathers you get Chernobyl and Sellafield.

Andy Murray is a quilter.

A fast herd of deer is nothing more than a herd of fast deer.

It is illegal to take more than 5000 rupees into Sri Lanka.

Benedict Cumberbatch has personally caused Brexit.

Twentieth-century Western philosophy has forgotten air.

All shoplifters risk arrest.

No wine can be considered as unimportant since the marriage at Cana.

Dominic Hilton came out to his family at age 14, worked as a male escort well into his twenties, and engaged in homosexual acts with over 150 men. He now likes women.

A biographical note on Duncan Grant (apropos one of those Facebook challenges that do the rounds occasionally)

A weapons-grade Bloomsburyist, Duncan Grant (1885-1978) spent much of his early childhood in India (natch), where his grandfather had been Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal. He ‘became interested in Japanese prints’ while still at prep school.

After attending St Paul’s, Westminster School of Art and the Slade School – interspersed with stints in Italy and France, of course – he received high-profile commissions to redecorate the Borough Poly dining room, the First Class lounge of Cunard’s RMS Queen Mary (torn out as soon as the directors saw it), and the Russell Chantry of Lincoln Cathedral, where he calmly cast his lover in the role of Jesus.

As a conscientious objector during WWI, Grant took himself off to Suffolk for a spot of fruit-farming (not a euphemism). In WWII, the War Artists’ Advisory Committee hired him to paint St Paul’s Cathedral (small picture of).

Per Bloomsbury, almost anyone who wasn’t directly related to him was having sex with him. This included Vanessa Bell (née Stephen), a woman, with whom he fathered a child and lived, fairly consistently, for more than 40 years. Their progeny, Angelica, later married David Garnett – the former lover of both her father and Vanessa’s husband Clive Bell.

A maid once told Virginia Stephen (later Woolf) “that Mr Grant gets in everywhere.” This famously included the flagship of the Home Fleet, HMS Dreadnought, when Grant, the Stephens, Horace de Vere Cole (I know, I know) et al. dressed up as Abyssinian royalty and were given an escorted tour, complete with marching band.

I’d hoped Grant might have painted Leonard Woolf. But no. So this is his ‘Self Portrait’ (1920).


Extracts from the letters of Gerald Spence Smyth, Capt., 1st South African Irish Regt., Abyssinian campaign, 1941


I am given to understand that this is the 6th day of Feb. but for the life of me I don’t know what day of the week it is. Anyhow it doesn’t make any difference here. Excuse the dirt. A.A.¹ has just spilt some tea on my pad.

The journey from the forest² to these parts was long and trying but most interesting. The first day lava and then desert. My car buried its rear portion in the sand and while we were waiting for some assistance Cyril Cochran came up, had a good laugh and took a photo which I hope to be able to send you in due course. Camels, dried white bones, and mirages cause the most fantastically beautiful marine illusions. Sometimes the dunes were converted into rocky promontories with the sea below them – just like some of those places we photographed round Cape Point – a solitary goat in the distance looks like someone bathing.

Camped for the night in the sand dunes and moved north again before dawn. Camped again in a rocky dusty area near the frontier and rested for 36 hours. Then began the most remarkable journey of my life - the advance onto our first objective through many miles of dense bush and undulating lava hills. The armoured cars went ahead and made clearings in the thorn bush and the troop carriers followed. In the early afternoon we came on open ground and got into battle formation and soon after this the fun started and by 5 p.m. we had occupied the Italian position. I rushed round with my company on the left flank to head off the fugitives but they were too quick for us. It was an extraordinary advance and we got great praise for it. The Itos were taken by surprise and no wonder because no one would have ever dreamt of a motorised force advancing through such country.

The next day, Sunday, Jimmy’s crowd (a nephew of Gerald Fayle’s) did a stunt with my company in reserve, so we saw some more fun. The fort was occupied before dark and here we are on the qui vive and having a rest. I didn’t see Jimmy but he is O.K. His unit captured some weapons and stores . . . . . . . . For some days I had attached to me two Abyssinian rebels – i.e. whom the Italians haven’t yet captured or subdued. They told the same story, the desire for revenge has become fanatical. On one occasion while we were guarding some prisoners these two birds were all for cutting the throats etc of the wounded and had to be restrained. These rebels are very much on our side. They carry Italian rifles and plenty of ammunition. They are a mixture, I think, of Arab and negro and the former strain gives them a rather noble but desperately cruel look.

¹ Allan Arnott
² Marsabit


Tuesday(?) 11.2.41

The hiatus is due to a sudden move with little warning. Another long advance and another successful action.  “A” Company (Gerald’s¹) bumped it first and we had an anxious time for a while when we walked into something that looked innocent enough but was in fact a rather clever trap. But the Italians spoilt things for themselves by not withholding their fire long enough. It is fortunate that we were entering a fort at the time so we were able to take cover and give the other side something to go on with. When I say “we” I mean Micky Williamson with an armoured car, myself, and one platoon. We were cut off temporarily from the others. But thanks to somebody’s prayers and bad shooting on the part of the Italians you’ve nothing to worry about. Anyhow our “chance” was to come. Mickey and I spotted a lot of enemy troops crossing a ridge so we let them have it good and plenty. Yesterday I went up to the spot to have a look and they certainly left in a hurry taking their casualties with them. Allan came on their dressing station and saw the evidence. Where we opened fire on this particular formation the ground was littered with red fezes, clothing, food and ammunition. I have acquired a very nice Ito aluminium water carrier, double lined and holding about 2 gallons. It was originally a vacuum container but it became loosened and the air has got in between the linings. I have put a rubber washer on the opening and it’s grand.

The troops we are up against are Italian Somalis – not Abyssinians – with European officers. The p.c. I sent Gerald² gives a good idea. Please frame this for the boys. It was taken from a prisoner. The different Italian Colonial Infantry Regts. wear different coloured woollen waist bands like scarves. I have two, one black and white (17th Col. Inf) and one yellow (9th Col. Inf). If these ever arrive wash them (I haven’t enough water) and keep them for fun. The family group photo was discarded by some Italian Somali on the run. Just had a bit of a clean up. Had no wash or shave for four days, so I was pretty grubby . . . . . . . . There is no shortage of medals in the Ito army.

¹ Fayle’s, presumably (see first letter)
² Gerald Spence Smyth’s son, Gerald Fayle³ Preston Smyth
³ named after Gerald Fayle (see first letter, and fn. above)



. . . . . . . . We’ve all had a pretty gruelling time during the past week and at the moment we are taking things a bit quietly. There is the satisfaction at any rate of knowing that we have achieved a great measure of success in capturing an important Italian position.¹

¹ Mega fort


2nd letter 21.2.41

Just after my last letter written a week ago we had a busy and trying time. After leaving the place from which I last wrote we began an advance which culminated in a final successful attack. The hardships endured by all concerned from wind, cold and exposure were far greater I think than from enemy action. For three days and two nights we were soaked to the skin without shelter and in most cases without greatcoats or groundsheets in cold and almost continuous rain. How the men stuck it I don’t know but they deserve the highest praise for the way they carried on throughout this trial. The more experienced campaigners (chaps who were in the last war) say they haven’t seen anything like it. It’s a great tribute to the Regt. The Italians greeted us with shell fire at the beginning of the show. This went on most of the time as well as M.G. and small arms fire. We captured a large number of prisoners and guns etc. The prisoners who included some officers were anything but downcast: in fact they seemed decidedly cheery.

By this time you will have heard that Mickey¹ died of wounds. It is one of the saddest and greatest losses we could have had. He was terribly plucky up to the end.

. . . . . . . . We have acquired a fair amount of Ito food, e.g. spaghetti tinned tomato, cheese, flour, meal and a lot of tinned curried meat specially prepared for their Mahomedan troops. This morning for breakfast we had spaghetti cheese tomato and bacon. Very good too. One day all I had to eat was an army biscuit and a piece of biltong. It’s most nutritious and I always have a bit in my pocket.

Just had a most gratifying message from the C.O. to be read out of the Company thanking them for their great effort in the last show.

¹ The typescript here says: ‘(not the one of the armoured car).’ This seems an unlikely clarification for my GSS to have made to his wife, who – the general tone would otherwise suggest - probably knew all these people, at least socially. Also it seems too casual, given the remarks that follow. My suspicion – as with a couple of other bracketed asides, is that my grandmother added these when typing, for the benefit of whichever secondary reader. There seems no reason to think the amendment is incorrect, though: the man’s name is spelled differently, after all (albeit the typescript, once again, is full of typing errors).



Now that the rain has ceased for nearly a week the climate here is delightful. Cold at night and warm and bracing in the day at about 7000ft. My attack of dysentery has completely passed off and I now feel grand. We get excellent bacon from Kenya and wonderful tinned tomatoes from sunny Italy.

¹ The typescript here says: ‘(so smeared from rain I could hardly read it, it came to-day)’. Either my grandmother’s typescript has these letters in the wrong order, or in the order that they arrived in South Africa (when was ‘to-day’?), or she has misread and/or introduced a typo and the date should actually be 2.3.41. The reference to tomatoes and the rain suggest the last one, as does the altitude.

Typescript endnote: ‘All these extracts have been passed by the military censors and most of the bits about the war have appeared.’