Interruption

Glitched scan of p.210 The Making of Americans by Gertrude Stein.

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Tuna

Right now you can read The Fountain in the Forest in synch with the French Republican Calendar, which features in the novel. Conversion between the Republican and Gregorian Calendars is imprecise, but by common reckoning today’s date Saturday 14 March 2020 converts to Quintidi 25 Ventôse CCXXVIII in the Revolutionary Calendar. Factoring in Fabre d’Eglantine’s system of everyday rural imagery, 25 Ventôse 228 and Chapter 13 of the novel are dedicated to tuna.

 

 

Daisy

Right now and for the next eighteen days, you can read The Fountain in the Forest in synch with the actual French Republican Calendar, which features in the novel. Conversion between the Republican and Gregorian Calendars is imprecise, but by common reckoning today’s date Friday 13 March 2020 converts to Quartidi 24 Ventôse 228 in the Revolutionary Calendar. Factoring in Fabre d’Eglantine’s system of everyday rural imagery, 24 Ventôse 228 and Chapter 12 of the novel are dedicated to the daisy.

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Scurvy grass

Photo: Franz Xaver. CC BY-SA 3.0

Right now and for the next nineteen days, you can read The Fountain in the Forest in synch with the actual French Republican Calendar, which features in the novel. Conversion between the Republican and Gregorian Calendars is imprecise, but by common reckoning today’s date Thursday 12 March 2020 converts to Tridi 23 Ventôse 228 in the Revolutionary Calendar. Factoring in Fabre d’Eglantine’s system of everyday rural imagery, 23 Ventôse 228 and Chapter 11 of the novel are dedicated to scurvy grass or Cochlearia, an edible coastal plant that is rich in vitamin c, and with a strong peppery taste similar to horseradish and watercress to which it is related.

Here are some tips on how to find and use scurvy grass from Bernard Lundie on BBC Scotland…

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Parsley

For thirty days this year and every year The Fountain in the Forest synchs up with the actual French Republican Calendar, which features in the novel. Conversion between the Republican and Gregorian Calendars is imprecise, but by common reckoning today’s date Wednesday 11 March 2020 converts to Duodi 22 Ventôse CCXXVIII in the Revolutionary Calendar. Factoring in Fabre d’Eglantine’s system of everyday rural imagery, 22 Ventôse 228 and Chapter 10 of the novel are dedicated to parsley.

A good way to celebrate the revolutionary day of parsley in a timely fashion might be to grow your own.

In Chapter 10 of the novel, Detective Sergeant Rex King dines on a boil-in-the-bag cod in parsley sauce. Alternatively, you could do worse than get hold of a big bunch of fresh parsley and make pasta with parsley and anchovy sauce. There are plenty of variations of this recipe, but the key ingredients are linguine, a tin of anchovies and the oil they come in, onion, garlic, a big bunch of parlsey, and a ladle-full of the pasta water. (You can vary this to your own taste with a couple of chopped, fresh tomatoes, 1/2 teaspoon of dried red chillies, or a sprinkling of capers.) Eat with or without parmesan. Here’s a similar recipe to give the rough idea.

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Mandrake

For thirty days this year and every year The Fountain in the Forest synchs up with the actual French Republican Calendar, which features in the novel. Conversion between the Republican and Gregorian Calendars is imprecise, but by common reckoning today’s date Tuesday 10 March 2020 converts to Primidi 21 Ventôse CCXXVIII in the Revolutionary Calendar. Factoring in Fabre d’Eglantine’s system of everyday rural imagery, 21 Ventôse 228 and Chapter 9 of the novel are dedicated to Mandrake (Mandragora officinarum, or Mandragora autumnalis). Mandrake is highly toxic, and associated with many superstitions.

Photo © Chris Dorley-Brown, 2018

Much of Chapter 9 takes place in the paint frame, a scene painting studio in the stage house of the Royal Palace Theatre, a fictional theatre but one that is closely modeled on the real Theatre Royal Drury Lane. The paint frame is a high-ceilinged and sky-lit scene-painting studio with deep drops on either side, into which large wooden frames or stretchers can be lowered via pulleys, so that all parts of the canvas or gauze are accessible and can be painted from floor level.

My use of the paint frame in The Fountain in the Forest is in part a tribute to Alastair Brotchie, whose studio it is (and who can be seen in the background of Chris Dorley-Brown’s photo above). Brotchie is a founder of the London publishing house Atlas Press – ‘a small publishing house devoted to publishing an “anti-tradition” of avant-garde literary and artistic dissent’ – a Regent of the Collège de ’Pataphysique in Paris, the editor of books and anthologies on Surrealism, Dada, and the Oulipo, and author of the wonderful biography of Alfred Jarry, recently published by MIT.

Theatre researcher Eleanor Margolies wrote a beautiful article about the paint frame in The Fountain in the Forest.

There used to be many more paint frames around London and the rest of the UK, and the Historical Research Committee of the Association of British Theatre Technicians have published a list of paint frames, which is ‘constantly developing’ as more are demolished or fall into disuse.

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Twine

Right now, and for the next 22 days, you can read my latest novel The Fountain in the Forest in synch with the French Republican Calendar. Conversion between the Republican and Gregorian Calendars is imprecise, but by common reckoning today’s date Monday 9 March 2020 converts to Decadi 20 Ventôse CCXXVIII in the Revolutionary Calendar. Factoring in Fabre d’Eglantine’s system of everyday rural imagery, 20 Ventôse 228 and Chapter 8 of the novel are dedicated to Twine.

Q. What does that have to do with this photo of a pair of ‘vintage farming or veterinary scissors very old’ that I just found on ebay?

In the 1990s when I worked for the Post Office, sorting post at the London NW1 mail centre on St. Pancras Way in Camden, and later the N1 mail centre on Upper Street, Islington, I learned how to tie-up a bundle of letters using a kind of yellow nylon twine that was threaded through a hole on each sorting desk from large bobbins that slotted onto spindles beneath the work stations. The knot in question – the ‘Postman’s knot’? – was a kind of one-way slip-knot, with a loop that you’d pull to tighten the twine around the bundle, so that the letters wouldn’t come lose in the rough and tumble of the mail bag. The knot seemed archaic at the time, and was something that only the old-timers, the  ‘senior men’, generally used. But one of them taught it to me, and it came in handy when, periodically, the sorting office ran out of rubber bands. Mail bags too were tied with twine, but of a heavier-gauge, which came in pre-cut lengths that you fastened in a certain way before the pinching the string with a ‘bag-seal’, a hinged piece of die-stamped metal that clamped both knot and bag label in place.

In fact the ‘veterinary scissors’ being auctioned have nothing at all to do with animal health and husbandry. They’re Royal Mail, standard issue, bag- and bundle-opening shears. So shaped that the lower blade is shallow enough to slip under a tightly-knotted round of twine.

If you look closely you can just about see the letters ‘GPO’ stamped into the metal near the hinge.

Although the early 1990s was a period of rapid mechanisation in the Royal Mail, the workplace that I joined was in many respects little-changed from the one illustrated in this ancient British Movieone News public information film about using the correct postage. And right at the beginning of the film you can see a pair of these shears in use, snipping the twine to open a bundle of letters (at about 00:08).

(ICYMI Some of my own experiences of working for the Post Office found their way into my 2012 novella Missorts Volume II, published by Situatons in Bristol, which is set in and around the abandoned sorting office, the former South West mail centre, at Bristol Temple Meads.)

Even in the early 1990s, Post Office workers, postmen and postwomen, were still being issued with a pair of these strange looking bag-opening shears. ‘Borrow your scissors?’ colleagues would ask. So of course I lost mine on the job pretty quickly, and – sad to say – having left the Post Office in 1997 I’ve long-since forgotten how to tie that special ‘Postman’s knot’.

If I could still remember how to tie it, I would of course – in honour of the revolutionary day of twine – have given you a quick demo here.

If anyone can remind me how to do it, do please let me know!

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Download a free copy of Tony White’s Post Office novella Missorts Volume II (Situations, 2012) in ebook and PDF formats from the Missorts web archive

Read Richard Marshall’s review of Missorts Volume II by Tony White on 3am Magazine

Buy The Fountain in the Forest from the Waterstones site, to ‘click and collect’ from your local branch