There was an Old Man of New York, Who murdered himself with a fork; But nobody cried though he very soon died, — For that silly Old Man of New York
April 10, 2022
The plan was to come to New York in April 2020 to celebrate Debbie’s big birthday by seeing an opera at the Met. I can’t remember why we didn’t make it, but here we are two years later. Mozart is substituting for Puccini, and Rachel has been unable to join us (so far).
The mission of the Edward Lear trail is to visit every limerick destination in Great Britain and Ireland. But we are always trying to give our readers more, so we couldn’t let slip the opportunity to bag this one while we were here. There’s no evidence that Edward Lear ever crossed the Atlantic or visited New York. There has even been speculation that he chose this location simply for its rhyming possibilities.
As always, I brought my special extending fork on holiday, and this time remembered not to put it in my hand luggage.
Thanks to Alice’s photography skills, we can bring you some exciting bonus behind-the-scenes content.
In Britain, of course, the Edward Lear trail is famous and much celebrated. But we were unsure of our popularity in the US. Naturally enough, a buzz went around and a large and curious crowd gathered outside The New York Public Library, keeping a safe distance, to observe our shenanigans. At first they seemed baffled by what they were watching. Imagine our surprise and gratitude when we heard a young fellow explaining “It’s Debbie and Rik from the Edward Lear trail” while showing them images on his phone of our past triumphs. The British Invasion, apparently, is still a thing.
Yes, Boxing Day. That’s how dedicated we are. After a lovely Christmas Day with Rob’s family, we staged a lightning raid on Joppa, on the Edinburgh riviera.
Edward Lear trail fans won’t need telling that Joppa, a latinization of the 4th century Greek name, Ἰόππη, appears in the Bible as the name of the Israeli city of Jaffa. But Learologists are united in their view that this limerick, unpublished in his lifetime, refers to the eastern suburb of Edinburgh, which like its namesake sits by the sea.
On 16 October 1939, the Luftwaffe made a daylight air raid up the Forth to bomb three British warships at Rosyth – the first daylight air raid on Britain. Houses in Morton Street were damaged. The German pilots shot down during the raid were buried, following a ceremony at St Philip’s Church, in Portobello Cemetery which lies on Milton Road East. They were the first enemy casualties of the Second World War to be buried on British soil.
Our walk along the beach was bracing – we would expect nothing less from the east coast of Scotland in December. Inland, we found a luxury tardis:
Our re-enactment posed a considerable challenge to the highly skilled technical division at the ELTPD (props department), but she made some magnificent pipes out of modelling clay…
…and performed with gusto, panache and brio. Hmm, I wonder why none of these words are English in origin.
The Edward Lear trail, like the Flat Earth Society, has followers all around the globe, and I was particularly pleased to see a surge of interest in our blog coming from Russia last year. And in September 2020 a lady called Александра, whom I will here call Aleksandra, got in touch through the comments section underThere was an Old Person of Sheen:
“Go to Russia. I’m Russian, and my name is Aleksandra. I don’t really like Lear, but I like your site. My favourite book is “The Shadow” by Eugeniy Shvarts – a very beautiful Doppelgänger-story about a naive scientist, who lost his shadow.”
I was flattered to learn that you don’t even have to like Edward Lear to enjoy the Edward Lear trail. And I’m intrigued by “The Shadow” – I’ve just put it on my Christmas list.
The policy here, the policy here, has been to visit, eventually, every Lear limerick destination in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. We also like to tick off any overseas Lear destinations we visit. But, recognising that it may be a while before Debbie and I are in a position to respond to Aleksandra’s suggestion that we should go to Russia, I reached out to her, to ask whether, possibly, she might be prepared to be our first Russian contributor to Lockdown Lear, or rather, our first ever contributor to Long-distance Lear, and re-enact the limerick for us.
Can you imagine my surprise and joy, when within a few hours, I received a wonderful photo? She lives in Kratovo, 40 km southeast of Moscow – about the same distance we are from London. According to Zoe Williams of The Guardian, Kratovo “resembles a Russian Guildford with high hedges, gigantic trees, the careful, botanical planning of expensive privacy.” More poetically Aleksandra writes “We have a forest there. A real Druidic forest!”
Relations between the United Kingdom and Russia have been through a few ups and downs over the years, so I’m particularly pleased that Aleksandra has responded to our request so enthusiastically, enabling us to make this tiny but significant contribution to international understanding and goodwill. Without further fuss, here’s Александра!
What a scream, I can hear it from 1,590 miles away! Thank you Aleksandra!
And if any readers from outside the UK and Ireland would like to follow in her footsteps and recreate a limerick for us, we would love to hear from you through the contact form. The list of places we need is here. And the more remote the place you live, and the further from the UK, the better.
Er, you don’t happen to have any friends or family in Камчатка, do you Александра?
Harwich, it turns out, takes almost as long to reach by car from Dunwich as it does from home. But we’re here in East Anglia, dammit, so we decided to nail it today, mopping up one more of Lear’s unpublished (during his lifetime) limericks.
Harwich offered us a choice of lighthouses –
Harwich has a long history as a port, as the only safe anchorage between the Thames and the Humber. The town became a naval base in 1657 and was heavily fortified.
The Mayflower is thought to have been built and launched in Harwich in 1611, and it is believed that its captain, Christopher Jones, was born in the town.
We had a very pleasant lunch in the Hanover pub, although I wasn’t sure why the door to the gents was propped open, allowing clear views of the urinals from the dining area. I’m sure the fellow on the laptop would have explained, if I’d asked him.
After our hard work, we treated ourselves to a relaxing swim:
After our thoroughly enjoyable exploration of Diss, we drove to our next destination, the East. This is part of our mission to visit the four cardinal points – i.e. the points furthest east, south, west,
and some time, north
on the British mainland.
I believe that the secret of many successful marriages is a shared sense of humour, and I am reminded of this on our journey to Lowestoft. Debbie simply never tires of me saying “Health and safety gone mad!” when we approach railway level crossing gates, and always finds it rib-tickling when I say “What’s the worst that could happen?” just before we cross the track. She has great sense of humour, that lady, and joins in the fun with top class banter. “You really are such an annoying git” she jokes.
It was time for our most easterly lunch ever on the British mainland, at the dog-friendly Howards Tea Rooms. If only we had a dog-friendly dog.
After our substantial breakfasts this morning, we weren’t that hungry, so we just ordered toasted tea cakes. But then Debbie, perhaps mindful of the concern the jeweller in Diss had shown about Rik’s nourishment, persuaded him to top up with a medicinal sticky toffee pudding, which he was able to force between his pale lips.
After lunch we explored the beach and pier.
There was still time to go back to The Ship at Dunwich, and venture out for a walk to the haunting “Last Grave” of the Church of All Saints.
And then to visit the ruined Greyfriars medieval friary.
Now, what about that Old Man of the East, who gave all his children a feast? It was only last Sunday, in fact, that this Old Man gave all (both) his children a feast. I will draw a veil over how much they ate, and their conduct, but you will see from the photo that – initially, at least – it all seemed quite civilised…
The Edward Lear trail is all about democracy, and today we are offering you a choice of two pictures proving that we really visited Diss for you. Please use the voting buttons below to select your favourite, press them all you like.
A – ratty sign in the distance, bald old geezer, busy wet road, grumpy dog
B – colourful artistic sign, beautiful woman, sunshine, cute dog
C – you have to ask?
D – Dahlings, you both look wonderful
Once again on the trail we are bringing Lear’s unpublished limericks into the light. We chose the excellent Ship at Dunwich as the base for our sortie into East Anglia.
Lear knew what he was talking about when he made his Old Person of Diss jump into a ditch: the town takes its name from dic an Anglo-Saxon word meaning ditch (or possibly embankment). The town is situated around a mere (pond) covering 6 acres. It was previously known to Debbie only as a stopping point on her train journey from Berkshire to UEA in Norwich, back in the day.
During today’s visit, she expressed deep regret that she had never thought to break her journey to become better acquainted with Diss. She hadn’t even known, for example, that Thomas Lord (1755–1832), founder of Lord’s Cricket Ground, was born here.
Opposite the church stands an impressive 16th-century building known as the Dolphin House. It was possibly a wool merchant’s house. Formerly a pub, the Dolphin, from the 1800s to the 1960s, the building now houses some small businesses…
Seeing this excellent little shop, Rik seized the opportunity to replace his tired old watch strap. When he tried on his purchase, the fellow in the shop was quite shocked. “Goodness me!” he exclaimed, “You do have a small wrist! Doesn’t your wife feed you properly?” The poor chap was so shaken that when he came to punch an extra hole for me, he quite missed his mark.
Diss Mere is popular with anglers, and is renowned for its carp. But it seems that other species have been illegally introduced: in 2015 James Williams caught “The Monster of the Mere” – a 100lb catfish. The fish may still be lurking in the Mere – Williams released it.
We witnessed another felony on the Mere, as an elderly fellow fed large quantities of mouldy sliced bread to unsuspecting waterfowl. The Diss Duck Doper then made his getaway on a red mobility scooter. The ducks may have developed Dissentry, so if you see them flying overhead, best put up your umbrella.
It was time to take our leave for the next Edward Lear trail destination, and we were by no means Dissatisfied. Cheerio! What? Oh yes, of course, you’ll be wanting the re-enactment.
We are delighted that our mission to educate the British people – nay, the World’s people – about the works of Edward Lear is bearing fruit. The four head-to-head contestants on the episode of Pointless aired today correctly identified which four works were by Edward Lear, and further, successfully picked out the two least known, thus adding a princely £500 to the jackpot.
On the Ning Nang Nong, of course, is by Spike Milligan, while A Dog, a Horse, a Rat is from Shakespeare’s King Lear.
But soft! Perhaps we’re being too optimistic. If you look at the figures another way, they suggest that 100% of people couldn’t name The Courtship of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò or The Pobble Who Has No Toes, 95% were ignorant of The Jumblies, and a staggering 84% had either never heard of The Owl and the Pussy-Cat, or didn’t know that Edward Lear wrote it. We are shocked! Shocked!
Back on our travels soon, then. We have more work to do.
Now, I pride myself on being endowed with a high level of emotional intelligence, and I sensed that Debbie’s enthusiasm might be waning. My craft skills are first class of course, but hers are even better.
“But sweetheart” I protested, “if I make a drum it’ll just look like I’ve bunged a bit of brown paper around a waste paper bin.”
“No darling” she replied. “You will make a wonderful drum. I believe in you!”
So, after we had put away the shopping from our Tesco delivery and carried out a few chores in the village, we drove to sunny Cheam, in search of an unpublished limerick destination. Connoisseurs only need apply. Our first call was to Nonsuch Park, the last surviving part of the Little Park of Nonsuch, established by Henry VIII surrounding Nonsuch Palace. Henry commissioned the palace in 1538 near one of his favourite hunting grounds, in an attempt to rival Francis I of France’s Château de Chambord: it acquired the name Nonsuch because it was supposed to be of unparalleled magnificence.
Unfortunately it was a poor choice of location as there was no fresh water supply, and Henry did not live to see its completion. After a colourful history, Charles II gave it to his mistress, Barbara, Countess of Castlemaine, who had it pulled down in 1682, selling off the building materials to pay gambling debts.
The building there today, Nonsuch Mansion, was built in the 1730 and rebuilt in a Tudor Gothic style in the 1800s.
Growing hungry (except for Betty who was still full of ice cream) we headed for the bright lights of Cheam Central. Of course, we would like to have visited 23 Railway Cuttings, East Cheam, but unfortunately Tony Hancock’s address is fictional.
Much as Hercule Poirot might be the most famous Belgian, Tony Hancock’s fictional character might be Cheam’s most famous resident. But this would be unfair: firstly because Hancock himself did actually live there. Other notable residents have included naturalist David Bellamy, broadcaster Jeremy Vine, Formula One driver James Hunt, cyclist Joanna Rowsell (above), comedian Harry Secombe and cricketer Alec Stewart. And the late Prince Philip attended Cheam School in the early 1930s.
After trying an old fashioned pub – so old fashioned that it didn’t serve food on a Tuesday – we found somewhere more welcoming. Rik was quite happy with his linguine, Debbie less so with having to play battleships and cruisers to find a menu choice that that was actually available.
“So what about that drum?” I hear from a million voices. Chill, we like to keep the best till last. Rik went to considerable trouble to acquire a couple of thumb rings (i.e. he asked Alice) which he duly wore. Unfortunately the rings fitted only his left thumb, and in performing a convincing drum solo which enthralled the people of Cheam, managed to keep these rings completely hidden. But the important thing is that we know that they’re there.
Alice had made an uncharacteristically early start, being driven off by Jack to their triumphant gig with The People Versus at the North Wall Arts Centre in Oxford (where the ratbags at the venue later reneged on the verbally agreed fee arrangement) to launch their wonderful single, Witch. This left Debbie and me with a whole day to spend doing uncool things. And what, friends, is uncooler than the Edward Lear trail?
There was an Old Man of Carlisle is one of the cache of limericks not published until over a century after Lear’s death. We had hoped to visit Carlisle on our way up to Mull in May, but the traffic around Birmingham defeated us, and we were so late in arriving that we were forced to choose between the Edward Lear trail and dinner: to my shame, we chose the latter.
But despair not, today was the day, and we headed straight for Carlisle and its famous castle. Famous in part for its ugliness: Scottish broadcaster Fyfe Robertson called it “the ugliest castle in Europe” in his 1970s TV travelogue, and the previous century John Keats’ friend Charles Brown, walking through with the poet in 1818, described it in his diary as “a massy, ugly building.”
Carlisle claims to be the most besieged castle in the British Isles. This is hardly surprising given its proximity to the Scottish border – and it has changed hands between English and Scottish owners on several occasions – although the “most besieged” title is also claimed by Edinburgh Castle. Not in dispute, however, is Carlisle’s fascinating history.
After Henry I’s death in 1135, Carlisle was taken by David I, King of Scotland, who is said to have built ‘a very strong keep’ there, and he made it his home until he died in 1153.
In 1567 Sir Francis Knollis was ordered by Queen Elizabeth I to hold Mary Queen of Scots under house arrest in Carlisle when she fled Scotland after being forced to abdicate. In his diary Sir Francis records a game of football played for her entertainment, which involved twenty players and lasted two hours. The game played on a field that was fifty metres long with trees at either end serving as goal posts. Some people have claimed this as the first England v Scotland fixture.
The most recent sieges were both in 1745, firstly when Bonnie Prince Charlie captured it with little resistance on his way south in November. His highlanders were not popular in Carlisle, “where they behaved in a most beastlie manner” according to one account. The Duke of Cumberland (later known by some as “the butcher of Culloden”) re-captured it for the Crown after a ten day siege the following month, describing the castle as “an old hen coop”. Many of the Scots captured by Cumberland were later hanged, drawn and quartered outside Carlisle. There is a story that one of them wrote “The Bonnie, Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond” on the night before his execution.
The keep contains some impressive stone carvings found in the castle keep, showing humorous and beautifully worked images of a knight, a mermaid and various animals.
Originally thought to have been carved by prisoners, recent research suggests that they may be the work of bored prison guards. They are thought to date from the 15th century, and include images of the crests of the ruling family of the time, the Dacres.
The castle is also home to Cumbria’s Museum of Military life, a superbly presented, vivid and sometimes moving homage to Cumbria’s soldiers.
Now, Edward Lear trailers, if I may call you such, you’re in for a treat! We have prepared a double re-enactment for you, to settle a controversial question: which is more important to your enjoyment, the quality of the props we use or the authenticity of the location? First the props, featuring some outstanding cakes and snakes:
Acknowledgements to Mr Kipling for the cake in my right hand. To leave you in no doubt about the quality of the props, here is a close-up of that orange thing on the ground.
And now, the location, shot on an actual desolate isle:
Please use the voting buttons below to give us your thoughts:
You will remember the global wave of excitement generated by our announcement in July 2019 that we had uncovered a new cache of limericks – rocket fuel, if you will, for the continuation of our intergalactic journey. One of these was There was an old man of Lodore, which was prepared for publication but never used, possibly due to the uncharacteristically poor grammar in the final line. And as luck would have it, here we are in the Lake District!
These Edward Lear trail trips consume many calories, so we thought it prudent to take a three course lunch at the Royal Oak in Keswick with Surapongs and Sue, before undertaking the demanding half mile walk to Lodore Falls required of travellers not privileged to be staying at the Lodore Falls Hotel & Spa.
It has been suggested that the falls are the Rhaeadr Derwennydd (Derwennydd Falls) mentioned in the Welsh poem Y Gododdin written between the 7th and 11th centuries, although personally I’m not convinced.
Lodore Falls became a popular tourist attraction in the nineteenth century, no doubt at least in part to Robert Southey’s famous onomatopoeic poem of 1820, Cataract of Lodore. Lear spent ten weeks in the Lake District in the summer of 1836, when he was 24, producing many drawings and paintings.
Rik had decided against a re-enactment, citing a preference for not being never heard of no more. And indeed, he set off confidently enough to view the Falls…
…but then he lost his footing…
…and fell into a brook, although unfortunately our intrepid photographer missed that moment.