Nathaniel Hawthorne Explores the Liverpool Zoological Gardens

The United States Consulate in Liverpool was America’s first overseas consulate. The author Nathaniel Hawthorne accepted the post of American consul in 1853. It was three years after the publication of The Scarlet Letter. Hawthorne spent five years dealing with diplomats, ruined speculators, seamen, and ‘piratical-looking scoundrels,’ in his office on the quayside of the Old Dock. One year after his family’s arrival in England, he visited the Zoological Gardens with his son. 


‘Visiting the Zoological gardens, the other day, with Julian, it occurred to me what a fantastic kind of life a person connected with them might be depicted as leading, –a child, for instance. The grounds are very extensive, and include arrangements for all kinds of exhibitions, calculated to attract the idle people of a great city. In one enclosure a bear, who climbs a pole to get cake and gingerbread from the spectators. Elsewhere, a circular building, with compartments for lions, wolves, tigers, etc. In another part of the garden, a colony of monkeys; the skeleton of an elephant, birds, of all kinds. Swans, and various rare waterfowl, swimming on a piece of water–which was green, by the by; and when the fowls dived, they stirred up black mud. A stork was parading along the margin, with melancholy strides in its long legs, and came slowly towards us, as if for companionship. In one apartment, was an obstreperously noisy society of parrots, macaws, etc. most gorgeous and diversified of hue. These different colonies of birds and beasts were scattered about in various parts of the grounds; so that you came upon them unexpectedly. Also, there was an archery-ground, a shooting ground, a swing, and other such things…

… There was also a daguerreotypist, with his wife and family, carrying on his business in a little shed or shanty, and perhaps having his home in its inner-room. He seemed to be an honest, intelligent, pleasant young man, and his wife a pleasant woman; and I got Julian’s daguerreotype, for three shillings, in a little brass frame. In the description of the garden, the velvet-turf, of a charming verdure, and the shrubbery, and shadowy walks under large trees, and the slopes and inequalities of ground, must not be forgotten. In one place, there was a maze and a labyrinth, where perhaps a person might wander a long while in vain endeavour to get out; although all the time, looking at the exterior garden over the low lodges that border the walks of the maze. And this is like the inappreciable difficulties that often best us in life.’

American Travellers in Liverpool, edited by David Seed, Liverpool University Press, 2008.


Decorating with Joan Crawford

In 1955, Joan Crawford married Albert Steele, the president of Pepsi-Cola. She moved from Los Angeles to New York City, where the couple renovated an eighteen-room penthouse overlooking Central Park. Image‘I wasn’t the easiest client in the world. (My decorator) Billy wanted chintz, but I was determined not to have it in my living room. I’d learned that lesson. I think the first gay, happy things I ever bought for myself were chintz curtains. But the place got so damned busy that it made me dizzy– too many patterns have the same effect on me as those very tiny mosaic tiles you sometimes see in public places, especially airports. Judy Garland used to get so seasick looking at them that she had to be carried out of the area with her eyes shut tight.’

My Way of Life, by Joan Crawford, Simon and Schuster, 1971.

A Puritan’s Meditations of the Misery of Infancy


‘What wast thou being an infant, but a brute, having the shape of a man? Was not thy body conceived in the heat of lust, the secret of shame, and the stain of original sin? And thus wast thou cast naked upon the earth , all imbrued in the blood of filthiness (filthy indeed when the Son of God, who disdained not to take on him man’s nature and the infirmities thereof, yet thought it unbeseeming his Holiness to be conceived after the sinful manner of man’s conception): so that thy mother was ashamed to let thee know the manner thereof. What cause then hast thou to boast of thy birth, which was a cursed pain ot thy mother, and to thyself the entrance into a troublesome life? The greatness of which miseries, because thou couldest not utter in words, thous diddest express (as well as thou couldest) in weeping tears.’

Practice of Pietie, Lewes, Bayly, 1612.

The Mysterious Disappearance of Kites Trousers

ImageIn the Middle Ages, laws in England restricted the sumptuousness of dress. These laws were in abeyance in 1970s Britain; bell bottoms had replaced pumpkin pants and hose, and the youthful populace was gripped by a passion for a strain of men’s flared trousers known as kites. A vulgar coalescence of bell bottoms and palazzo pants, kites were distinguished by extremely wide waistbands.

‘Huge waistbands, obscene waistbands, unbelievably high,’ recalls Justin, who was in the Third Form when kites reached their apogee. ‘People would boast about them, “Look at my four-inch waistband.” It was the most bizarre thing in the world.’

Kites were made to measure. Justin remembers his friend went to a department store to get fitted up for a pair. Their estimated lifespan was between 1974 and 1976. The most popular colours were beige and RAF blue. No school annual exists to corroborate Justin’s memories of kites.

‘We didn’t have yearbooks in this country,’ he explains. ‘We didn’t want anything that would remind us of school.’

There is no photographic or written evidence of kites online. Web and image searches on Google, Yahoo, Mamma, and Bing using dozens of combinations of ‘kites,’ ‘1970s,’ and ‘trousers’ yield pictures of baggy surf trunks and tethered aircraft. People have grown accustomed to looking up memories on search engines.  Omissions can be disconcerting. Friendship beads, skorts, and miniature stuffed monkeys called Monchhichi have all been cataloged–but no nostalgic websites pay tribute to the profane flamboyance of kites.

‘It’s like it’s been airbrushed out of the national psyche,’ Justin said. ‘Effectively, they’ve been erased from history. It’s as though people have a made a pact to never talk about them ever again.’

The photograph accompanying this piece is of a 1970s costume, the closest online approximation of kites.

Addendum: People have visited this blog after entering variations of ‘kites flared trousers’ and ‘flared trousers kites’ into search engines. They really existed!

Inside an Opium Den with Dorothy Parker

Image‘So now I should like to tell you a story of the dead days. It seems that some years ago, Wilson Mizner and two chums engaged a room at an hotel at about Forty-fifth Street and Broadway, where the costliest suite was three dollars a week. There they stayed and went on an opium bender. Along in the afternoon of the third day, when the air in the room was like veined marble, one of the gentlemen lifted his head and said, “Do you hear a little bell ringing?” The others removed their pipes and listened: no, they said, there wasn’t a sound. But, half an hour later, the die-hard again looked up and said, “I could swear I hear a little bell.” Once more the other two listened and assured him it was nonsense– all was peace and silence. The next morning, they sort of finished up, and put on their clothes and went out. Well, Mr. W., it seems that the World War had just ended on the day before, and that the little bell the gentleman could have sworn he heard ringing was New York celebrating the Armistice.’

Dorothy Parker, January, 1935, letter to Alexander Wollcott, the founder of the Algonquin Round Table.

The Portable Dorothy Parker, Edited by Marion Meade, Revised edition 2006, Penguin.

Of Human Bondage Opens at Radio City Music Hall

ImageThe adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage opened at Radio City Music Hall on June 28, 1934.

Bette Davis: ‘The reviews were raves, every single one of them. The picture was an immense success all over the world, and it brought me my first Academy Award nomination as Best Actress.’

Joan Crawford: ‘She was not nominated for Best Actress for Of Human Bondage. Miss Davis keeps perpetuating that myth. It’s incorrect. Check the Academy.’

Bette Davis: ‘There was a mistake, a terrible mistake. Inadvertently my name was left off the nominations list. It caused a tremendous uproar.’

Quotes from Bette & Joan The Divine Feud, Shaun Considine, Sphere Books Ltd., 1990.

Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney photographed by Justin Griffiths-Williams at the Hay Festival 2006.

The Windfall Light

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for

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