Sunday, August 19, 2007

Pop's epoch

We always referred to our paternal grandfather, Ernest Skyvington [1891-1985], as Pop. That was a nice name for a grandfather back in the days when the word "pop" had not yet become a banal adjective as in "pop music". Today, if children were to refer to their grandfather as Pop, people would immediately imagine the old man as a Beatle.

If the younger generations of Pop's descendants were asked to put an adjective upon the 17 years he spent in his London birthplace before setting sail for Australia, some might be tempted to say Victorian, or even Dickensian. The latter term is rather anachronistic, since the image of Oliver Twist had disappeared from the London scene—except for special cases such as the poor London urchin who would become Charlie Chaplin [1889-1977]—long before my grandfather's birth in a well-to-do northern neighborhood of the city, Finsbury Park. As for saying that Pop's London days were Victorian, this is not wrong, since the great queen died in 1901, when Pop was ten years old [two years after the death of his own mother]. But, to describe the few adolescent years that Pop spent in London before leaving for the Antipodes, the most appropriate adjective is surely Edwardian. Besides, the atmosphere of his youth is excellently described in this delightful book [which can be purchased through Amazon], written by a former London policeman, slightly younger than Pop, who went to the same school as Pop in Woodstock Road, Hornsey:

The title of Rolph's book comes from a quaint "pea soup" passage of Bleak House by Charles Dickens [1812-1870]:

I asked him whether there was a great fire anywhere, for the streets were so full of dense brown smoke that scarcely anything was to be seen. "Oh dear no, Miss," he said. "This is a London particular." I had never heard of such a thing. "A fog, Miss," said the young gentleman. "Oh, indeed," said I.

London is indeed a particular city. It is a great and moving place, like Paris or New York. But nothing, in that metropolis, is as elsewhere. Everything in London is particular.

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