Thursday, 30 April 2015

Girls about to get married, parlourmaids, and Hillary Clinton

I spotted the above in the window of a second-hand bookshop in Lyme Regis. The 'bedroom scene' is hardly 'naughty', but it is meant to be humorous. Let's have a closer look.

The half-hidden caption says 'Never let him see you in your [just-out-of-bed state?] or without MAKE UP!' And there is an obvious joke here, because of course this very attractive, eager-to-please, wide-eyed young lady, immaculately turned out in her scarlet silk dressing gown, stylishly coiffured hair, pearls, and full make-up, would look pleasant if dressed in sackcloth, and her face smeared with coal dust. It's totally unnecessary advice. This kind of over-the-topness was funny in the 1950s, when a man might well expect his wife to bring him a cup of tea in the morning, but not in her pearls. It's even funnier now, when a man being brought tea in bed is a rarity, and a classy performance like this would be done only as a gag.

But there is another joke. She has got up early to pander adoringly to her man - but he isn't the handsome virile young chap in a dragon-design kimono that you would expect. He's a nondescript middle-aged man with a boozy red nose and thinning hair, clad in boring striped pyjamas buttoned up to the chin, and clearly a tabloid reader to boot. In older seaside postcards he'd be the hapless hen-pecked husband, bullied by a gigantic fat wife. Now he has a compliant lovely to wait on him. The worm has somehow turned, and the dog is having his day. And why oh why has she shackled herself to him? It's so totally ludricrous that, again, it makes you smile.

There's more yet. The postcard is headed 'Advice to girls about to get married!' So they aren't yet man and wife - merely betrothed. This is the 1950s, remember: a woman flitting in and out of a man's bedroom was the stuff of risqué farces on stage - so what then is she doing in his bedroom like this? The straightforward reply is that she is keeping him on the hook with this excellent attention to his early-morning needs. But perhaps she is innocent, and hasn't yet realised that he might have other, darker, needs too; and that she is in for an abrupt disillusionment on her honeymoon. Some 1950s women would have chortled grimly at the thought. Yes, she'd learn soon enough, just as they had. Men were all the same.

This wasn't the only 'naughty' thing on display in the bookshop window. There was a book devoted to the raffish humour in men's magazines of the 1890s. This featured a cartoon on the front cover:

It is quite funny. A young parlourmaid dusts a portrait hung on a wall, and her pert thrusting bosom brushes unconsciously against the face of the noble chappie in the picture. He smiles broadly, and his eyes twinkle, just as a real man of the time might have, if a pert bosom were pushed right under his nose. The older man in the adjacent picture shows envious disapproval on his face. Clearly she didn't get so deliciously close to him! It just shows that men in portraits have an inner life you would never suspect, and they respond to a little titillation!

However, there must have been a context. I do wonder whether in real life - in establishments for men (such as clubs and gaming houses) - ogling and handling the female staff was a constant problem, and could sometimes verge on the offensive. Even if there were club rules about not spanking the bottoms of passing waitresses - to avoid scandal, of course - what exactly went on behind closed doors in big private houses? When did naughty become nasty?

It's no coincidence of course that the humorous depiction of household women in 1950 (as essentially servants, however glamorous) wasn't much different from their humorous depiction in 1890. Men were still the bosses. Women were subservient, and waited on them, and were their toys. That has taken a long time to change. I remember a woman I knew in the 1970s, older than me and already in her thirties, telling me about a visiting male cousin, who had sat around all day reading the paper and not lifting a finger to help her prepare meals or wash up afterwards. Apparently his attitude was that 'men don't do housework'. This was bad enough, but she flipped when he said to her 'Make me a cup of tea, would you?' with no 'please', and without looking up from his paper. He got a stinging 'Make it yourself!' - and of course the visit turned awkward thereafter, and was never to be repeated.

I hear that nowadays the average man pulls his weight much more in the house. That's the average younger man. I see my nephew doing it. But I'm not certain that a sixty or seventy year old chappie would shift himself. That's one big reason why I wouldn't want to get entangled with an older man: the likely 'not my department' attitude. Well, I am much more than just a potential tea-maker and general slave - or tireless nurse.

Finally, an example of modern, 2015 humour - the front cover of last week's Private Eye:

Hillary Clinton (confidently): It's time to have a woman in the Oval Office!
Bill Clinton (smiling down at her): Been there, done that!

And we all know what he's referring to: a certain intern, and certain episodes that put a fresh slant on 'having a woman in the Oval Office'. Mr Clinton had to leave the White House. But despite the scandal, and despite the excoriating revenge Hillary must have threatened him with, and the promises and future pledges she doubtless extracted from him, he has ever since been a charismatic figure. In a strange way his misbehaviour enhanced his reputation. As ever, a man caught with red blood in his veins is a man who has proved something positive about himself. Even though he may be as guilty as hell. Bill Clinton has retained his aura of dangerous charm right up to today - and I dare say that if I were offered the chance to meet and talk to him, I would not decline. I would be most intrigued. And I imagine I would find it a very interesting and enlightening experience.

But back to the Private Eye front cover. Who is being laughed at? Bill Clinton? No, I think it's Hillary. She's quite right: it is time there was a woman President. She's the obvious candidate too. But Private Eye makes her out to be an aspiring innocent who will not cope with the temptations and seductions of high office. And we are invited to join in with Bill Clinton's joke, and laugh along with him. Another example then of a woman not being taken seriously. And it's 2015, not 1890.

I have a curious but not entirely unattractive notion. What if Hillary Clinton did become President? And then, not long afterwards, in a post General Election leadership contest over here, Theresa May became Prime Minister? Hmmm.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

A lucky escape

Well, that was fortunate! It was late morning, and I'd been busy at the computer, filing away my holiday photos. Cup of tea after cup of tea. Eventually, I'd had to go to the loo. While sitting there, my doorbell went. I was disinclined to respond, anyway - it might be a doorstep seller - but as it was, there was no chance of answering before whoever it was got fed up with waiting, and pushed off.

Still, I was of course curious to know who it had been - although there was a Conservative Party leaflet on my doormat, boosting the virtues of the sitting MP, Nick Herbert, which was a strong clue!

Twitching my front net curtains, I couldn't at first see anyone knocking on nearby doors. Then I saw two men in suits. They were ringing the doorbell opposite. The younger one carried a clipboard, and was clearly ticking off addresses. The older one had the air of a man ready to speak persuasively to the householder, and he wore a blue rosette. Aha. Not Nick Herbert in person, but the local party agent and his assistant!

Had they caught me at a slightly earlier or later moment, I imagine I'd be subjected to a doorstep spiel, and told what the Conservatives were pledging to do for a host of special groups that didn't include me, such as young people, families, first-time buyers, and high-earning middle-aged people wanting lower taxes and investment freedoms. And a spiel on what the Conservative approach to immigration and defence and Europe was.

All very interesting, but I'd heard it all already, and wouldn't want to hear it again.

It's possible that they might actually ask me which Big Issue concerned me most. But there wouldn't be time to discuss it, nor anything else, properly. In fact I'd expect them to treat a doorstep conversation as simply a chance to get a gut feeling on the local people's attitude seven days before polling. A research exercise. To find out which issue was being mentioned most, and might therefore become critical in the last few days. So if they got twenty opened front doors that morning, and nineteen householders shivering on the threshold said that the main thing dragging down their lives was the cost of potatoes, then this would be passed up to Conservative Central Office and a Potato Pledge would quickly be formulated and announced by David Cameron.

What would I have said concerned me most?

Well, no complaint here about potatoes! I'd want irritating noise and litter tackled, although neither is a glamorous election issue that would lead to a landslide victory. I would want to see the armed forces properly equipped to defend the country. I would want to see the development of a whole range of food and energy strategies, that exploited our own resources and avoided dependence on unsavoury regimes abroad.

I'd like in fact to see all kinds of little improvements in every area of society. Hmm - perhaps I should have a printed list ready, so that as they press their leaflet into my hand, I press mine into theirs!

There's one question they would make sure to ask: could they count on my vote at next week's General Election? I'd refuse to answer, just as I'd refuse to identify myself to the cordon of party officials standing outside the Polling Station on the day, nor say how I'd just voted. It's a secret ballot. They are not entitled to know, even if I do in fact support them.

And here is the real reason why I don't want to answer that doorbell and talk to a party agent. He is cheating the system. He is trying to find out which way the vote will go, before the proper time. He wants inside information. I don't want to give him any indication of my inner thinking, not by what I say, nor my facial expression, nor by my body language. If I did, I would be surrendering my rights to complete secrecy and absolutely free choice, and subverting the basic pact between government and the governed.

I could of course lie to him, or mislead, but those actions would also mock the electoral system - and undermine my own personal integrity too. I've been making my mind up over the last five years, sifting the evidence, weighing up the personalities, remembering the pledges made and the pledges broken, objectively comparing the achievements and failures of those five years with memories of forty more in the past. No last-minute chat on the doorstep is going to make any difference.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

How very silly of me

I'm amazed how easy it is to depart from what you thought was an almost automatic routine, one that you've followed for years. I've done just that, and had to junk some food in consequence. Nothing that will break the bank, but about £25 worth of meat and fish, enough to be annoyed about. This is about my silly bit of forgetfulness.

Refridgerators in caravans work by making a refridgerant go round and round a closed system of pipes. It's silent, as it needs to be in the confined space of a caravan - you can't have a device that could keep you awake at night! The refridgerant is set in motion by a source of heat. It then circulates and sheds the acquired heat to the outside air, ending up a bit cooler than before. Further cycles gradually cool the refrigerant further, until it reaches whatever temperature has been set. If the temperature setting is low enough, not only the fridge will be cold, but the freezer also, so that frost will form. It's remarkably efficient, at least for a non-household cooling device.

The heat source is provided in three ways, all of them obtained by simply rotating the same switch. You can ignite a gas burner. You can use 12 volt power from the leisure battery with an electrically-heated element. Or, if hooked up to the mains, you can use full-on power from the National Grid. The last provides the most rapid circulation of refridgerant, and is the most effective where freezing is concerned.

While bowling along the Queen's Highway, you bring the 12 volt battery into play. It provides enough cooling to keep already-frozen items frosty for a few hours. After that, they will begin to defrost, even if the fridge as a whole stays acceptably cool. So a five or six-hour journey on battery cooling only is no problem. But on arrival at my destination, it's a priority to get hooked up, and switch the fridge/freezer to mains power. I've done that dozens of times in recent years.

But when I arrived at Newport, for once I forgot. So although I had mains power for lighting and interior heating, the fridge/freezer was still on battery power.

I arrived on Wednesday afternoon. By Friday midday I noticed that things in the fridge were not as cold as I'd expect. I turned the temperature control to apply more mains power. This actually had no effect - it doesn't when the fridge/freezer is running on battery power - but I hadn't yet become aware of my mistake and I thought I was likely to get a cooler appliance. I didn't though, and by the late evening I was starting to think that something was seriously wrong.

Opening the freezer door, I discovered mass defrosting going on. All I could do was to remove everything in the freezer, bag it up, and bin it. Then wipe out the freezer, and ponder what was amiss. At this stage I was glumly thinking of an expensive and inconvenient trip to the dealer, to get the mysterious trouble fixed. And if it couldn't be dealt with quickly, then possibly I was facing a difficult time on my Scottish Tour, only a month ahead. I decided to sleep on it.

Awaking during the night, I thought of checking the caravan's electrical circuit breakers, which I did by torchlight. I flicked the switch for the fridge off, then on again. Nothing seemed wrong. But with switches now in my mind, I at last looked at the power-source selector switch, and kicked myself when I saw that I'd let the fridge/freezer run on battery-only for nearly three days. A quick movement of that switch put matters right. By breakfast time, the bowl of water I'd placed in the freezer was now a bowl of ice. Phew. Quel relief! No big bill! No month in Scotland without a freezer! I slept the sleep of the carefree.

This morning's restock at Waitrose was about £25 more expensive than planned for, however. And I didn't even buy any fresh fish.

I've already devised a way of reminding myself that, on arrival anywhere, I must reset the power source for the fridge/freezer. But of course it's another step along the road of total reliance on paper or electronic reminders - and the growing idea that my propensity to forget things is getting worse. I don't really feel that vagueness is taking over, but you do wonder!

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

A funeral while on holiday

Tomorrow I leave Lyme Regis and travel to Newport in south Wales, mainly to visit family and friends. That's how it usually is when I pitch the caravan in Newport - I may get a day entirely to myself, but family and friends have priority. And this time, every day is spoken for, because what would have been a free day is now going to be devoted to attending a funeral.

I learned about it when phoning Peg, my very old and frail aunt who lives in Newport, a couple of days back. Mavis had died. She had been in a care home, a pleasant one. And when I saw her there last year she looked fine. But although very comfortable and well looked-after, she had nothing to do, or plan, or think about; and, removed from the everyday business of running her own home, I feared that she might go downhill. Evidently she had.

Peg still lives in her own home, and although in some ways that may be a challenge, she is surrounded by all her own possessions, her own furniture, all the many familiar things, and remains responsible for her own daily routine. I am certain that the mental stimulus this gives is keeping her going in way that sitting around watching television all day, in the anodyne company of other white-haired old ladies, cannot. In fact, if I can possibly manage it, I will do my best to stay at home in my dotage, even if I have to spend a small fortune on helpers. Preliminary figurings suggest that I will have enough money for that. I just need to beat off all the dire diseases that want to spoil my little game. And then, one evening many years from now, it would be nice to simply doze off over the keyboard, never to reawake. I hope I'll have just published the blog post in which I describe a profound insight I've had, a flash of realisation that explains the meaning of life. Let me click on that 'Publish' button before I drift off. It won't matter if I haven't fully corrected the typos!

Back to Mavis. I should mention that this is a lady that I'd met only now and then, mostly before 1980. And, like Peg, she was really an 'honorary aunt', and not a blood relation. But when I was a child, she was indistinguishable from my 'real aunts', just as her husband, Len, was indistinguishable from all the 'real uncles'. At one time, if one had made a list of relatives real and honorary, it would have been a long one. But now, in 2015, very few of Mavis's generation remain. In essence, Peg is, as of now, the sole survivor. You can imagine how she feels about that.

Another thing I should tell you is that back in the 1940s, Mum, Peg, Mavis and a fourth lady called Nesta were all close friends, all of them but Mum aunts to me. And their husbands - Dad, Wilf, Len and Trevor - were, apart from Dad, all uncles. Mum, Peg, Mavis and Nesta were something of a gang. They were in their twenties, and pretty lively. As the decades passed, and their families grew up, they kept in touch, and in their older lives in the 1970s and 1980s went on holiday together. Mum and Nesta both died in 2009. And now Mavis, another member of that Gang of Four, had followed them.

As soon as I heard, I wanted to attend Mavis's funeral. I'm now at that age when a funeral, even a neighbour's funeral, means much. So, for my own sake, the decision was instant. But even if I'd felt reluctant, I would have felt bound to go. This lady had been Mum's lifelong friend. Mum (if still alive) would have said to me, 'I can't make the journey now, but could you go instead?' Of course I could. I'd be there to represent Mum. Pure and simple. And I'd be there with Peg, though not taking her - her son Richard was being her chauffeur.

Why might I be in any way reluctant to go? Well, when I'd seen Mavis (with Peg) at that care home last year she hadn't recognised me. I wasn't embarrassed because it wasn't surprising - it must have been twenty years since our last meeting. I didn't attempt to explain who I was, and let her think that I was perhaps Peg's niece. But that wouldn't do at this upcoming funeral. Her two daughters Carole and Pam (with husbands) would be there, and they'd be wondering who that lady standing with Peg and Richard could be. They too hadn't seen me for twenty years. They too were unlikely to recognise me. They were certain to ask. And how they would react, when I explained who I was, would be anyone's guess. I hoped it would be a good reaction, but I had no idea what might really await me. It's not quite a scary thought, given the constraints of the occasion, but a negative response would be upsetting all round.

At least I will be properly dressed for the occasion. In the the caravan is a very suitable black-and peach dress, and a black jacket and shoes to go with it. I'd had in mind some posh dinner out, and not a funeral, but I certainly have the right kit with me. Nobody will be able to say that I'd come - disrespectfully - in rambling togs or beach gear.

On the whole I am looking forward to this funeral. I'm quite sure Mum would appreciate my going. I will try hard to be a credit to her - as well as providing another arm for Peg to hold onto, as she may find it all rather exhausting.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

At the hustings

Out here in rural Devon, distant from London, the General Election is being no less hotly contested. As I drive along, I see a succession of roadside posters, urging one to vote for this person or that. Mostly Conservative Party posters. There have also been some for UKIP, one or two for the LibDems, but so far I haven't seen a single one for Labour. Perhaps in this southeastern corner of Devon, with its abiding image of retired colonels and genteel ladies, and glorious bucket-and-spade sandy beaches, Labour see their cause as lost out of hand, and are not seriously trying. Better to campaign in colder, grittier places up north, where everyone is called Grimthorpe or Boothroyd or McHoots or Miliband.

The Conservatives are however leaving nothing to chance. Over in the Sidmouth area they are fielding a candidate with a cracking name: Hugo Swire. Wow! That's a name to conjure with, and no mistake. A name to stick in the mind all the way to the Polling Station.

'Swire', of course, rhymes with 'squire', and will resonate with the County Set. And I must say the handsome Mr Swire takes a jolly good photo. He faces you as you leave Waitrose in Sidmouth, the green hill behind the poster nicely matching the green Conservative oak-tree logo next to his name. His eyes are smouldering, hungry for your vote. He looks like a man of action and distinction, in a blue-suited Darcy/Heathcliff/Rochester/James Bond sort of way. And despite being the right side of forty, and therefore energetic and youthful, he's clearly also a man of presence and gravitas. The very person the PM might select straight away to be a Junior Minister - for the Department of Blood Sports, say. Yes, a perfect choice.

Lest you think I am poking gentle fun at Mr Swire, I assure you that were I a Sidmouth resident I would jostle to see him speak, and pledge my vote. I conjecture that when in the grip of oratory this man can seduce any audience. As for his name, why, it's no better or worse than my own. A right honest West Country sounding name, like Lucy Melford. In fact, with a name like mine, I really don't know why I haven't yet offered myself as a candidate! I suppose the truth is, after my sweeping victory over the local UKIP and LibDem pretenders, the PM wouldn't be able to find a suitable Department for me to head. Health? Education? Defence? How would these use my unique abilities?

Perhaps the Department of Blogging and Caravanning?

A friend mentioned that Hugo Swire has in fact been the local MP for some while. I looked him up on Wikipedia, and sure enough, he has represented his constituents since 2001. A seat in safe hands then. He's actually aged fifty-five.

His pre-election ministerial responsibilities included looking after the affairs of the Falklands, and coincidentally his wife is the daughter of John Nott, the responsible minister during the Falklands War in 1982, whose daily announcements on TV concerning the progress of the conflict were such a feature of the News At Six at the time.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

The body beautiful

I've arrived at Curlew Farm, just outside Lyme Regis in Dorset, although the farm itself is over the county border in Devon. I'm here for six nights - that's five full days - and it looks as if I shall enjoy dry, and possibly very sunny, weather. It may even be quite hot.

I'm not one for roasting myself on a beach, but even so, it would be a shame not to get at least a light tan on as much of myself as I'm comfortable with - more than just face, neckline, arms, hands, legs below the knee, and my feet. I'm talking about what might get sun-kissed if wearing a one-piece swimsuit. (I'm too old to wear bikinis) Will the public stand the sight, or will there be sharp intakes of breath? Or perhaps expressions of pity and concern, horror perhaps, for what age and general decrepitude have wrought?

Hence this post. Dare I expose? What might be regarded as acceptable? Bottom line: do I have a body beautiful?

I know what my body looks like. Realistically. I see it nude twice a day. I don't kid myself that somehow In the last six years it has been totally rejuvenated, and that I could pass for forty-two or younger. It won't pass for fifty-two. Sixty-two, maybe.

No, in the last six years it has gained weight and girth. It's firm in some places but sags a little in others. There are blemishes here and there, nothing desperate, but defects that bother me a bit. I still have the suggestion of a waist, but breasts and hips are more obvious now, and not in the way of a young woman, but in the way of a woman who is decidedly past middle age and won't be regressing.

It would be unkind to call me 'cuddly' (a euphemism for 'fat'), but the tummy is all too prominent and I don't think I will ever now get rid of it. I have joined the army of tubby women.

I am philosophical: after all, my significant abdominal mass counterbalances my unwanted upper-body mass, and serendipitously makes for a better-proportioned body overall. And at my age, it is at least the kind of body an awful lot of women have. It suggests good living; a certain degree of self-indulgence; a no-worries state of mind, where fitness and sloth have sunk their differences and called a truce.

I remain conscious that it would still be a very good idea to lose some more weight. Little by little I am training myself into better habits. Happily caravanning helps, simply because I'm much more active. So there's actually a really good health reason for getting away and having a nice holiday. Highly convenient, that!

And indeed, although I wrote this sitting down in a Lyme Regis hotel sipping my large sauvignon blanc, I had two solid hours of walking along the shore to precede it. I earned my drink. But the walk won't magically give me a body beautiful!

I'm not obsessed with looking skinny and toned. It would be pointless. What would it be for? To please whom? When you live for yourself, it's sufficient to look pleasant and intelligent enough to be taken seriously. I do however practice being graceful and fluid, because these accomplishments disguise heaviness.

The teenage me was skinny. My chest was flat and my hips were embarrassingly noticeable - incongruously wide. Acutely conscious of this, I did not expose myself on the beach, whatever the scorn heaped on me. Well, despite being overweight I have at least overcome that kind of inhibition. I rather think I'd have no problems now on, say, a nudist beach, if getting one's kit off was the only way to go.

Which begs the question, would I feel comfortable doing the same in someone's bedroom? Would the fact that it was a private space, rather than a public one, make a difference? Thus far, this is entirely in the realm of speculation. I think that not having a body beautiful wouldn't be a problem. The problem would lie with surrendering myself to a situation that could get out of hand, or at least involve unpredictable outcomes. For now, that would be the thing that would make me back out and run.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Steel and brass

This is about photography. Specifically shooting metal objects with very strong design characteristics. If that's not your thing, skip this post.

I never was mechanically-minded, nor in any way drawn to machinery from the 'how does it work' or 'how can I fix this' points of view. A question like 'what can it do for me' was however more relevant. And I was always interested in 'what does it look like', because this brings in design and aesthetic considerations. So I have always admired the huge steam machines that Victorian engineers created for pumping water and other tasks. They were not only functional, but satisfyingly good to look at, especially when in motion, and made wonderful photographic subjects.

In the UK the most ubiquitous objects of this type are of course steam locomotives on preserved railway lines. I'm very lucky to have the Bluebell Railway just twenty minutes away. This is a standard-gauge line, that runs from East Grinstead (at the northern edge of Sussex, where it directly connects with the national railway system) southward (in the Lewes direction) to Sheffield Park, which is their HQ. Sheffield Park station has the engine shed. You can go and visit it at any time of the year, and walk up and down the lines of locomotives. I suppose that if you are a railway engine enthusiast this must be nirvana. Myself, I go to shoot the locomotives because they - or rather bits of them - make very good photographs. I don't go that often, but I did on impulse last month, after returning from North Devon.

Of course, not even I can resist some 'ordinary' pictures of these impressive monsters.

Nor indeed any work being done on them. In this shot, an old hand was (I think) showing a new volunteer how to service a smokebox:

But just as impressive (and visually intriguing) are the well-engineered metal bits that make up the whole. Some are clearly to do with pressure-management and lubrication, others with the brute transmission of gigantic mechanical force:

As you can see, I often prefer shooting in gritty black-and-white for this kind of shot. My Leica D-Lux 4 has a valuable 'film-grain' option that simulates how it would be if I were taking pictures using a 'fast' film in the old film-camera days. That sort of film gave you big crystals and a characteristic speckled effect, which tended to pump up the contrast and could, with the right subject, make it seem hyper-sharp. Very suitable for greasy metallic shafts and levers and rods and nuts and bolts!

It's a bit stark, though! Eventually, one needs to get back to a bit of colour!

The old steam machines certainly had strong visual impact, and for me that's the big attraction. Even more so when they are in motion, and belching smoke. But they are arresting subjects, even at rest, and make such a good composition. I don't really think that modern stuff, like (for instance) the latest passenger aircraft that look like chubby flying whales, made of the lightest possible materials, and stuck together with glue, can compare. You might as well enthuse over the latest kind of bus. And you know what I think about buses!

Monday, 13 April 2015


This isn't about dummy heads of state. It's about ships' figureheads, and especially those created for sailing ships in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I think they are overlooked and underrated works of art.

Sailors then were a superstitious lot - perhaps they still are - and sensitive to the 'personality' if the ship they trusted their lives to. Every sailing ship was different and every one had a different 'feel', good or bad. There were some ships that were considered lucky, others that were not. I'm not talking about the notorious 'coffin ships' used in the merchant navy - patched-up vessels that were death traps because of their unseaworthiness. I'm referring to the atmosphere that every ship has, friendly or malign, and whether one might regard her as safe haven against any peril, or as a ship of doom that would sooner or later drag you down to Davy Jones's Locker.

Part of a ship's personality was expressed by having a figurehead. It was fixed on the prow and faced forwards over the sea ahead, and importantly had eyes to see with, and therefore (in a sense) was able to guide the ship through danger. Often the figurehead reflected the ship's name, and if so this would have helped any crewmember who couldn't read to find the right ship when signing on. It's a late example, but the ironclad HMS Warrior in Portsmouth Harbour has a figurehead in the form of a Greek warrior carrying a drawn sword and shield, as in these 2011 photos of mine. The ship itself first:

Wikipedia has a better close-up:

You can easily imagine this warrior as a living being, overcoming storms as well as enemies. The notion that the figurehead had an inner life of his or her own applied to all ships, not just those carrying guns. It was a protective entity, smoothing the ship's passage on a voyage.

There seem to have been two broad approaches.

One was to defy and conquer the wind and waves by having a fierce figurehead that exemplified strength, courage and indomitability. Thus one would have masculine figures of war, perhaps with a grim face, brandishing swords, scimitars and other weapons. Beasts that knew no fear, and tore at their prey with claw and maw, such as lions and other such creatures, would also do the trick here. In a less extreme way, notable soldiers and heroes could be pressed into service, such as - very obviously and appropriately - Lord Nelson, seen in the shot that heads this post, and here, both of them pictures taken by me in 2011:

He'd just been freshly repainted, and the story behind that is here:

On the same day, and not far away, I saw this figurehead of the Duke of Marlborough:

Information on this one is here:

The other broad approach to figureheads was to calm the wind and waves with feminine beauty, charms and softness. Thus one would have a graceful woman of virtue, to shame the elements into submission. Or, on the other hand, a mermaid, who was actually of those elements, and must have power over them. In either case, even if the lady were clearly of the utmost respectability, as much flesh as possible would be on display - a soft and rounded bosom being the best measure against any sea demons that threatened the ship. The sailors themselves, eyeing the exposed parts, would of course heartily approve!

Female figureheads of one sort or another abounded. Here is a short selection from my own archive. From 2010, seen down an alleyway in Falmouth:

Or this lily-white skinned lady, also seen at Portsmouth on that day in 2011, in imminent danger of completely exposing her left breast:

Or this well-clad lady in a cape, seen in a museum at Hastings in 2013:

Finally, a female figurehead at Constantine Bay in Cornwall that has a personal connection with myself, in the sense that I first saw her in 1965 when aged twelve, and then again from time to time until she disappeared - then reappeared, fully restored, very recently. The first decent photo I still have of her dates from 1983:

There she is, gracefully standing outside a large house, clearly used as a holiday home, that faced out across the bay at its southern end. This was taken from the public footpath. I saw lots of holidaymakers (not just me) stopping to peer at this figurehead whenever I was there in the 1960s or 1970s. She looked little different as the years passed, just slightly more weather-beaten as time went by. The house was however not so well looked after. As you can see, in 1983 it was beginning to show signs of not getting regular repaints and other necessary maintenance. By 2003 it was in rather a sorry state, and I don't think the figurehead was on view:

I was rather sad that the lady had vanished! And I wasn't the only one to lament her departure - see

However, by 2008 there had been a transformation. The house had undergone a major rebuild:

But still no figurehead! Oh well. But I should have kept the faith. When I passed by last month, in March 2015, my beady eyes noticed something in the central window:

Ah! She had returned! And she looked splendid. A pity that she was being kept indoors, but it was quite understandable that she was now being safeguarded from wind and rain. This is the story behind her restoration, which also gives her likely origin: See also And here are three shots of her in 2014, after being authentically recarved by a specialist. (I wonder what it all cost!)

I wish I were the proud owner, I can tell you.

And here's myself, figureheading at Constantine Bay, complete with the aforementioned beady eyes, and ready for late-afternoon tea and cake at the YHA at Treyarnon Bay, ten minutes off. That's Trevose Head in the background.