This blog began in 1997 as a single news page called Nucelus. In 2005, during a long wait to move into a new house, I decided to learn some php and MySQL and write my own blogging system, which became inkyBlog and which now powers this, my own Webbledegook blog.
Thank you to my brother, Murray Ewing, for help with some of the more challenging aspects!
I knew had a few somewhere, but had forgotten that it was actually 4 or 5 boxes, right at the back of the garage. They were double-boxed, so are in great condition, despite languishing there for nearly ten years!
I mention it here because I very much enjoyed making the logo and cover art for this book, a montage of scenes and characters that populate the story. To learn more and get yourself a copy, visit Orson Teller's website here, where you'll see a second volume of Alice's adventures is already in the works.
It's a collection of some of my writing, 100 A5 pages with 60 articles from 1987 to 2023 and covering various topics, including comics, creativity, films, games, music, history and more.
It's £7.50 + p+p, and if you're interested it can be purchased here.
Many thanks indeed to Matt and to John Freeman. I will have more news on the '50'zine', mentioned at the end of the interview, very soon.
While the film is not based on a Tardi album, his work is the inspiration for it, and he laid the visual groundwork, characters and look and feel that the producers and animators followed (much of which can be seen in L'histoire d'un Monde Truqué, Casterman, 2015). Its origin lies in a proposed WWI film writer Benjamin Legrand and Tardi planned to make but which never got off the ground. The two had worked together before, on the strip Tuer de Cafards (Cockroach Killer, 1984) and now Legrand wanted to come up with a scenario full of the things Tardi loved to draw, to wash away his sour experience from the WWI project.
Legrand created a uchronic adventure story with a nod to the Paris of the Belle Epoch, with a large dash of Adel Blanc-Sec (the film's heroine, April, is a little like her, but not as stony) and Le Démon des Glaces (The Arctic Marauder, 1974). The initial idea was for a TV series, but when it happened to come before Franck Ekinci, who had just made Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis (2007), he insisted it should be a feature film. Although Tardi did again experience the frustration and dashed hopes of delayed production, the film eventually got made and saw its premiere at Annecy in June 2015.
And it's a fantastic piece of work, up there with the best of Miyazaki. From the wonderful detail of the title credits that settle you firmly into time and place, to the cast of well-rounded characters (including Darwin, the talking cat), to the constantly driving pace from frying-pan to fire and back again.
The world's chronology splits from our own when the 1870 Franco-Prussian war is averted with the unexpected death of Napoleon III. Connected with this, the world's top scientists start to disappear, leaving a sooty world bereft of technological advancement except for its reliance on coal and steam, leading to the great Canadian Charcoal War. The setting is fantastic - the double Eiffel Tower, the international cable transports, the pedal-powered air balloons, and a house that springs legs, somewhat reminiscent of Ghibli's (and Wynne Jones') Moving Castle (2004) or a Baba Yaga's hut.
The French title, Avril et le Monde Truqué, translates more correctly to April and the Fake World, but it untwists itself and reconciles with our own timeline again by the end, with the destruction of one of the Eiffel Towers, the (perhaps questionable) benefits of electricity unleashed, and something a little odd going on with the moon.
The film has just the right balance of character, action and tension, all with an ending that gives a little emotional jolt. It survives repeated, even regular, viewings, and for fans of Tardi, I don't think it could be more perfect. Perhaps the only reason it's not on more people's radars is the French language (though it doesn't suffer at all in its English dub) - but for me that just adds even more atmosphere to an extraordinary world I'd love to keep exploring.
Rasputina is really cellist Melora Creager with a changing cast of support players along the way. Her notability was bolstered after serving as cellist for Nirvana on their final European tour in 1994. Rasputina's first album, Thanks for the Ether, came in 1996, followed two years later by the much stronger How We Quit the Forest - both with Columbia. Their next two albums, Cabin Fever and Frustration Plantation, both very good, were released through Instinct.
Oh Perilous World (2007) was the third recording to be released through Creager's own label, Filthy Bonnet, the first being an excellent live album, A Radical Recital (2005). Besides Melora, the line-up included Jonathan TeBeest, on drums and percussion, who had also appeared on Frustration Plantation as well as Creager's first solo album, Perplexions, and Sarah Bowman on backing vocals (she was also second cello live, having been with Rasputina since 2006).
Oh Perilous World is a concept album telling of a world that exists in an alternate dimension, one where the Pitcairn Islands, overseen by Thursday October Christian, are under threat from an over-reaching United States ruled by Queen Mary Todd Lincoln. You get the feeling it could work as an avant-garde musical of some sort, the storytelling narrative is imaginative, clever, and entertaining.
The opening track, 1816, the Year Without a Summer, is a perfect assemblage of music, composition and lyrics - a work of art. Taking as its basis the freak climate events of 1816, it acquaints us with the disastrous crop failures of the late Little Ice Age ("so Mary Shelly had to stay inside and she wrote Frankenstein"), the conspiracy theories of the time ("Benjamin Franklin and his experiments with electricity"), and the later discovery of the real cause of it all - the eruption the previous year of Mount Tambora in the East Indies. No doubt the song has one eye also on the growing climate catastrophe we face today.
Subsequent tracks introduce us to the main narrative, taking us to the Pitcairns with creative use of overdriven cello and zinging dulcimer - the latter a characteristic sound of the record which, I admit, took me a while to acclimatise to. Throughout the album Creager's cello sounds awesome - wonderful woody tones, pizzicato arpeggios, deep drawn bass notes, and distorted riffs - the culmination of years of experience and experimentation all coming together.
Draconian Crackdown, featuring the American Queen in a post-9/11-type frenzy, has the feel of a Led Zeppelin rocker - I can imagine it fitting into Houses of the Holy or Physical Graffiti. Oh Bring Back the Egg Unbroken is a wonderful composition, based on the Rapa Nui tradition of the tangata manu - the race to swim out to a small rocky outcrop and return with the intact egg of the sooty tern.
Vying with 1816 for the best track on the album is In Old Yellowcake, a masterful composition with a nod to the forged Niger uranium documents that boosted the US and UK's case for war on Iraq, and more specifically about the assault on Fallujah. If the album had a single, this might be it, and Creager has hinted in live shows that it may have had the potential to be 'popular' - if they had been that kind of band.
A Retinue of Moons is a double-feature, enjoined to The Infidel In Me, yet another album highlight, particularly the latter piece, though both are wonderfully constructed arrangements, orchestral and dramatic with flowing changes in tempo and melody, epically cinematic in scope. I must also mention Melora's vocals - like her music unique, sublime, and full of character.
Oh Perilous World quickly became one of my very favourite albums, and one of the few for which I occasionally lie down and listen to, eyes closed, (hopefully) no distractions, to bathe in completely. I like every song; it remains highly original, lyrically brilliant, and eternally satisfying. I can certainly imagine this record won't be to everyone's taste, but for me it's a masterpiece.
I will publish the piece online once the magazine has been out for a bit. Update: it can now be read online here.
The first showed up during some family history research. I was looking into my Staffordshire Hodgkins family and found myself in the baptism book for St. Michael and All Angels, Penkridge, where there was a baptism on 7 November 1779 for "William, son of Ann Hodgkins". But my eye was caught by the entry directly above, on the same day, for one "Cyrus Hamilton, an African Negroe". I was immediately intrigued - there were reportedly about 10-15,000 black people living in England in the latter half of the 18th century (largely in London), but what was this gentleman's story, and how did he end up in Penkridge?
Cyrus was already around 15 or 16 years old when he was baptised (if his age recorded at death is correct), and was said to have been brought to England by a 'Lady Hamilton'. Within two or three years he went into service as butler to Sir Edward Littleton of Teddesley Park, MP and 'country gentleman' (1727-1812).
In 1809 Cyrus married Susanna Barnes in Birmingham and they had two children in Penkridge, Louisa in 1813, and Edward Moreton in 1815 (the name Moreton came from Sir Edward's brother-in-law, Moreton Walhouse, whose grandson inherited the Littleton estate in 1812). Cyrus died in February 1825 and was buried at Penkridge, in the same church in which he'd been baptised. With his death, a small annuity from Teddesley Hall ended, putting some financial strain on his surviving family.
His wife, Susanna, went on to a new relationship with an engine fitter, Joseph Yates, with whom she had a son, Thomas, who sadly only lived a few months. She died in 1865, aged 78. Son Edward Moreton Hamilton married Esther Jane Brown in 1841 - they may have gone to the US in 1851 and maybe also had family there - I have not yet been able to follow them up.
Daughter Louisa seems to have provided three grandchildren for Cyrus - all from an unknown father who she claimed to have married in France - John (b.1844), Emily (b.1846), and Thomas (b. 1849). Thomas would marry and have at least seven children, continuing Cyrus's family into the 20th century.
The Staffordshire Record Office contains some interesting papers in the form of letters from Louisa to the 2nd Lord Hatherton at Teddesley, suggesting her late father had actually been adopted by Lord Littleton, and that she had leant a large sum of money to Lord Hatherton's father. The letters were an attempt at financial relief and, despite her stories not being believed, she was awarded a small allowance to help with her rent and debts.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this story is the identity of 'Lady Hamilton', the discovery of which might provide an origin for Cyrus himself.
The title of 'Lady Hamilton' immediately conjures up the famous mistress of Horatio Nelson, Emma or Amy Lyon - but she was not Lady Hamilton until 1791. Interestingly, she was also mistress to Charles Francis Greville (her future husband's nephew), whose father had sold his Penkridge lands to Sir Edward Littleton in the 1740s.
Nelson was acquanited with another Lady Hamilton, the wife of one William Leslie Hamilton Esq., Lady Isabella Erskine (daughter of the 10th Earl of Buchan), also known as Lady Belle. She is of particular note as Louisa Hamilton claimed her father was "the natural son of Lady Bel Hamilton". A Lady by way of her father being an Earl, she became a Hamilton in 1770 when she married William in Speldhurst, near Tunbridge Wells.
Immediately after their marriage, the Hamiltons travelled to the West Indies, specifically St. Kitts, where William was Speaker of the House and later Attorney-General of the Leeward Islands. They stayed for a while on the Olivees estate, complete with its enslaved population, and "belonging to Hamilton's sister". This would be Catherine Hamilton, married to Peter Matthew Mills who had inherited the estate from his father (killed on the island in a duel in 1752).
Lady Belle returned to England in July 1779, four months before Cyrus's baptism, due to increasing insecurity from the American Revolutionary War (the French would take St. Kitts in 1782). Her husband followed in the next year but died within days of his return, and their wealth was devastated when the ship carrying many of their belongings was captured by the French. After a second marriage, in 1785 to the Reverend John Cunninghame (15th Earl Glencairn in 1791), she died in Boulogne in 1824.
Lady Belle has another interesting, if obscure, link with her more famous namesake, Lady (Emma) Hamilton, in that both Lady Hamiltons were muses of the artist George Romney (1734-1802). Emma appears in a number of beautiful and sensual portraits by Romney, apparently sitting for him over 100 times. Lady Belle was Romney's subject on several occasions recorded between 1777 and 1791, "as Lady Isabel Hamilton she sat many times ... as Lady Bell Cunningham twice, and twice as Lady Glencairn".
Depending how accurate Louisa was with her 'Lady Bel' comment, more research may uncover a more dependable link with Isabella (or her husband, a more likely candidate with stronger associations with the Caribbean) and some other aspects of Cyrus's history (the Littletons, for instance). Perhaps there is another 'Lady Bel' out there besides the one I've found and speculated on here. There are certainly more Lady Hamiltons to find - there is Lady Marianne Hamilton (1737-1802), or Lady Cassandre Agnes Hamilton (1741-1821) or maybe even Lady Louisa Hamilton (d.1777) dying just before Cyrus's baptism and with the same name as his eldest daughter. Isabella Erskine looks very intriguing, but the case remains open.
I came across William while doing research for my Second Anglo-Afghan War studies. I was examining a photo of Sergeants of the 72nd Highlanders at Sialkot, India, in 1878, and one man in particular stood out - quite obviously, and unusually, a man of African descent.
A bit more digging showed Sergeant 218 William Dobson did not serve in the Afghan war, and was actually discharged from the army as medically unfit (due to years in the harsh climate of the Indies) not long after that photo was taken, in June 1878. He'd given many years of service, enlisting at Edinburgh in 1858 before being sent to his regiment for the aftermath of the Indian Rebellion. He rose up through the ranks, gaining Corporal in 1863 and Sergeant in 1865, serving in India, Ireland and the UK. His conduct was reported as "very good" and he received the Long Service Good Conduct medal with gratuity in 1876.
William was actually born in Edinburgh, in 1831, to an African father (also William Dobson, a gentleman's servant or butler) and a (presumably) Scots mother, Mary Flockhart. He was one of six siblings of which three certainly died young, and no trace can yet be found of the other two.
In 1851 William's father was a widow (with no children present), and manservant to John Kennedy, a retired Writer to the Signet. The census records he was born in Africa, a British Subject, and was working alongside one Margaret Gordon, the household cook. She was almost half his age (born, in fact, just a few weeks after his first marriage), but they would wed two months later and go on to have five children, half-siblings to Sergeant William Dobson, though only two survived into adulthood. The 1861 census gives more detail on William senior's origins, with his birthplace recorded as Sierra Leone, Africa, a Naturalised British Subject.
William's birthdate of around 1807, and birthplace as Sierra Leone is interesting, as in that year the British government abolished the slave trade and the following year made Sierra Leone a Crown Colony, with Freetown as its capital.
William senior would die in 1863 (just a couple of weeks after his six-year-old son, Harris), aged 56, while his second wife would live until the age of 68, dying in 1897. One of their surviving children, Henry Edward Dobson, would live until 1930 (he did not marry).
William junior's good army conduct was not necessarily a reflection of his earlier life, for in 1852 he was sentenced to seven years transportation for house-breaking and spent three years at Portland Prison in Dorset. But in 1855 he was involved in an incident in which he helped one of the warders who had been attacked by another prisoner wielding a pick-axe during quarry labour, and was granted early release. It seems likely these events may have had some influence on William enlisting with the army some two-and-a-half years later.
While still in the army, in July 1866, William married Ann Prescott in Edinburgh (the 72nd had arrived there from India in February), the daughter of a gun polisher from England, though they'd both lived on Jamaica Street in the 1850s so perhaps knew each other already. By this time Ann was mother to an 'illegitimate' child, Jane Prescott, but she and William would have seven other known children, in India, Ireland and Scotland, four of whom would reach adulthood and have families of their own.
Unfortunately the end of William's tale is a sad one. On 9th February 1887, William's wife of 21 years died from disease of the kidney, heart and liver - as a soldier's wife, bearing children in the Subcontinent, she'd had a very hard life indeed - she was only 40 years old. Two weeks later, William (who'd been working as a maltman) took his own life in a rather violent manner, cutting his throat with a razor; he was 60 years old. His eldest surviving child, Thomas, was 17, and his youngest, Sophia, was just 7. Sophia would live a long life, dying in 1958 at the age of 79, and leaving behind family of her own.
It seems important that these otherwise little-known Black Britons should have their fascinating stories researched and told, and I have added both families to WikiTree, which cites many of the sources used (Cyrus Hamilton | William Dobson).
James and Helen married at Scone in Perthshire on 7 July, 1793. A couple of years ago I made more of an effort to look into Helen, starting - in the absence of anything else - with the fact that a grandchild of hers was named Thomas Clark Ewing (another was Helen Clark Ewing), quite likely named after a relative of Helen's - her father, perhaps, or a brother?
With Helen being 'of Scone' it seemed sensible to investigate any Thomas Clarks in the same locale, and indeed one (and only one) does pop up, namely Thomas Clark who married Margaret Wilson, at Scone, in 1800. He appears on the 1841 census as a merchant in New Scone, aged 65, giving a birthdate of around 1775. Helen was in Dysart, in Fife, at this time, with her age given as 75. Remembering that ages in the 1841 census could be rounded to the nearest 5 years, this would give Helen a date of around 1765.
A search for Helen Clarks (Clarke/Clerk/e) born in Perthshire between the years 1760-1775 gives five candidates. Of these only one family also had a Thomas, these being the children of Adam Clark and Elspet Robertson. Also of interest is the fact that their birthdates fit the 1841 census the closest - with Helen baptised in 1766, and Thomas in 1773.
While I did look into the other families, it is that of Adam and Elspet that keep coming up with stand-out data points. There are five baptisms on record to this couple, the first two at Scone (Innerbuist), and then three in St Martins (Durhamfield). Helen and Robert appear in the record next to each other under "some deseenters children", baptised in 1766 and 1768 respectively. Thomas Clark's 1846 Will gives instruction to leave £10 to the Session of the United Associate Congregation of Scone, the same seceder's denomination under which James Ewan and Helen Clark had a number of their children baptised, in Perth.
James Ewan and Adam Clark appear on the same page of the 1797 Horse Tax Roll of Scone - James at Parkfield of Limepotts, and Adam at Pikestone Hill (now Pictstonhill), neighbouring farms less than a mile and a fifteen-minute walk from each other.
While there are several factors that point to Helen being the daughter of Adam and Elspet Clark, there is another that throws a spanner in the works. There is another Scone marriage involving a Helen Clark - the 1789 marriage of Helen Clark, of Scone, and Henry Low, of Kinnoull. This Helen could also be a candidate as the daughter of Adam, so how to differentiate?
There are several difficult things about this Clark/Low union. I could find no children for the couple, and no deaths. Henry Low of Kinnoull is a fairly unique identifier, and just such a person can be found, in 1791, marrying a Helen (or Nelly) Hutton in Perth (married by a Burgher dissenting minister, rather than the Anti-Burgher tradition of the Ewans). This marriage had more evidence of a life - children, newspaper mentions, and deaths for Henry and his wife in 1828 and 1837.
So what happened to Helen Clark from the 1789 marriage? A closer look at the record may provide the answer. On page 189 of the Scone Old Parish Register, the Low/Clarke union is listed among fourteen other marriages - every one of those entries mentions that the parties were either "contracted, duly proclaimed and married" or "contracted, proclaimed and married". The exception is Henry Low and Helen Clarke, which states, "November 9 Henry Low in Kinnoul Parish & Helen Clarke in this Parish were contracted and duly proclaimed". This may be a clue that, while the banns was proclaimed, the marriage did not go ahead. So perhaps the same Henry Low would go on to marry Nelly Hutton just over a year later, and the same Helen Clark would go on to marry James Ewan in the same church, almost four years later.
There are other aspects of which to be careful. Just because there is no record, it doesn't mean there is no person - so while there only seems to be one Scone Helen Clark, there could be another whose baptism does not exist in the records. Also there is a Monumental Inscription recorded for Adam Clark, who died at Scone in 1799, which suggests he had five children who "died in childhood" (though it's not clear from the transcription, this could actually refer to the children of his son, James). One of these children could have been Helen, unrecorded.
While it would be great if Helen had named one of her children with the less common name of Adam, or Adam himself had left a Will with a mention of a married daughter named Helen Ewan (some of his children did leave Wills), on balance, with the other evidence of the names, birthdates, geographical proximity, and religious connection, it seems a very strong likelihood that Helen Clark, who married James Ewan in 1793, was the daughter of Adam Clark and Elspet Robertson. Furthermore, Adam, born in Errol in 1733, was the son of Robert Clark and Elspeth Jackson, taking Helen's probable line back one generation further.
As usual, I invite discussion and further evidence for or against this theory from fellow researchers - please feel free to get in touch.