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Originally posted on Tish Farrell.

Denys Finch Hatton obelisk Ngong Hills

This was not supposed to happen. In fact you could say it adds insult to irony:  that a man so steadfastly dedicated to an unfettered life in the wilds should, in death, end up hemmed in, and so very domesticated within this small Kikuyu shamba. Yet here it is, the mournful stone obelisk, marking  the grave of Denys Finch Hatton,  son and heir of the 13th Earl of Winchilsea, Great White Hunter, and lover of two women far more famous than he is: writer Karen Blixen (Out of Africa) and aviator  and race horse trainer Beryl Markham (West with the Night).

Yet another woman, the one whose shamba this is, shows him a new kind of love, taking care of the garden around the obelisk.  If you want to visit the place it is not easy to find – either her little smallholding on the Ngong Hills, or the grave within. When we visited years ago we found only a hand-painted signpost nailed to a tree. We parked in a paddock outside the farmhouse door and were charged a few shillings. We could have bought a soda too, if we’d wanted. We could not see the grave though, and soon found that it was deliberately hidden from view by an enclosure of  old wooden doors. More irony here of course. More symbols of shut-in-ness.

Denys spent most of his life in Africa avoiding any kind of confinement – out  in the Tsavo wilderness, running shooting safaris for the rich and aristocratic. His clients included the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) . In fact it was during the safaris for the Prince in 1928 and 1930 that Finch Hatton began…

via Caught inside a Kikuyu garden: a memorial to Karen Blixen’s lover, Denys Finch Hatton | Tish Farrell.

pennstationPenn Station, Manhattan

With thanks to Art Lark

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Westminster Bridge, with the Lord Mayor's Procession on the Thames, 1746

Westminster Bridge, with the Lord Mayor’s Procession on the Thames, 1746

London: Westminster Abbey, with a Procession of Knights of the Bath, 1749

London: Westminster Abbey, with a Procession of Knights of the Bath, 1749

The Thames and the City, 1747

The Thames and the City, 1747

London: The Thames from Somerset House Terrace towards the City

London: The Thames from Somerset House Terrace towards the City

See more Canaletto via History And Other Thoughts: London Town, By Canaletto.

Culture and Anarchy

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 Recently I read a review in the TLS of books on urban exploring, and I seem to keep coming across the idea that places which are decaying are significant and fascinating to us. I’ve also seen a lot of images on the web of deserted buildings which both preserve a moment in time and also represent the destruction of time – such as this deserted apartment. Sometimes a range of ideas come together and make us think about how they intersect, and this is what Tate Britain’s exhibition Ruin Lust does. Apparently the idea came from Rose Macaulay’s 1953 book The Pleasure of Ruins (sadly now out of print). The exhibition notes tell me that the term comes from the German ruinelust, and though the concept of a lust for ruins is appealing, encapsulating decay and destruction along with a somewhat seedy, voyeuristic interest, a recent discussion with curator…

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Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev (1872-1929)



Sergei Diaghilev was born on this day in 1872. The iconic Russian ballet impresario, dancer, choreographer, songwriter and critic, founded the incomparable Ballets Russes company. He was responsible for the ballet premieres of Stravinsky’s  The FirebirdPetrouchka and Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring), not to mention Rimsky-Korsakov’s Schéhérazade, Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun) and Prokoviev’s Chout.

[Diaghilev is] ‘a giant, undoubtedly the only one whose dimensions increase the more he recedes into the distance’. Sergei Prokoviev



‘Of all the wonders that the world had to offer, only art promised immortality.’

Programme of Ballets Russes - 1913 ShŽhŽrazade - Michel Fokine and Vera Fokina

Programme of Ballets Russes – 1913 Shéhérazade – Michel Fokine and Vera Fokina [Wikimedia]

‘I could make a choreographer out of this inkwell if I wanted to.’

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René Descartes 1596—1650

Portrait of René Descartes by Frans Hals

Portrait of René Descartes by Frans Hals [Wikimedia]

The French philosopher René Descartes was born on this day in 1596 at La Haye en Touraine. The first quote below is, of course, the one that everyone knows in its truncated form, even if they have no idea who said it or what it means.

‘Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum.’
‘I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am.’

‘If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.’

‘The reading of all good books is like conversation with the finest men of past centuries.’

‘Conquer yourself rather than the world.’

‘Let whoever can do so deceive me, he will never bring it about that I am nothing, so long as I continue to think I am something.’

Dispute of Queen Cristina Vasa and René Descartes (detail of Nils Forsberg's (1842-1934) copy of Pierre Louis Dumesnil's (1698-1781) original.

Dispute of Queen Cristina Vasa and René Descartes (detail of Nils Forsberg’s (1842-1934) copy of Pierre Louis Dumesnil’s (1698-1781) original. [Wikimedia]

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Benedicta Leigh 1922—2000

Benedicta Leigh 1922—2000 [photo: David Sim]

Born Benedicta Hoskyns in 1922, my mother spent a large part of her childhood on the island of Malta where her father was serving in the Rifle Brigade.

She later spent a year drawing from life at Salisbury School of Art. During World War II, she nursed with the Red Cross in Auxiliary Hospitals and Convalescent Homes throughout the country, also finding time to write, produce and play in several revues for her patients.

The war over, she trained for the stage at RADA where she received commendations from Sybil Thorndike and Laurence Irving and won the George Arliss prize as well as sharing the Dialect prize with Cyril Shaps.

Her subsequent career included repertory at Windsor, Bromley, Sheffield, Coventry and Nottingham, No Other Verdict at the Duchess Theatre in the West End (“stealing all the notices as the maid” she would tell me gleefully) films such as The Eternal Question and Hands of Destiny.

Benedicta Leigh & Michael Aldridge in See How They Run 1951

Benedicta Leigh & Michael Aldridge in See How They Run 1951

In 1955 she married my father, the actor Richard Vernon, and after giving birth to me and my brother Tom, she gave up the stage to look after us, though occasionally returning to do the odd episode of such series as The Main Chance with John Stride.

Diagnosed as a manic-depressive in the late 1960s, there followed a series of breakdowns. It was only in the late 1980s that she was able get her life back on an even keel. After divorcing Richard, she wrote an autobiography The Catch of Handswhich was published by Virago in 1991 and won The Mind Book of the Year Award in 1992. She followed this with a work of fiction, Unlock, and Remind Me of the Sea, also published by Virago. Following this association with the mental health charity, Mind, she spoke at a Stress Against Women conference and contributed details of her treatment at the hands of professionals for MIND to use in their campaigns.

In 1997 her health began to deteriorate and she had to be sectioned once again. Chronic renal problems were diagnosed in 1999, probably a result of the length of time she had taken the anti-psychotic drug, Lithium. She died in Kingston Hospital on 8 February 2000.

Sarah Vernon © 2014 (adapted from a bio originally published on Rogues & Vagabonds in 2001.)

The Catch of Hands
Published by Virago Press Limited 1991


With the piquant with of Colette, the lyricism of Laurie Lee and a passion all her own, Benedicta Leigh tells the story of her life — a life made remarkable by her determination to rescue it. Born in the 1920s, to parents who allowed her delightful eccentricities and dreams of glory, her childhood and adolescence were a restless seeking out of life.

But after her beloved father’s death during the Second World War, and the suicide of her lover some years later, came the first of many shattering breakdowns.  It is twenty years later that, with an undeniable force of will, Benedicta Leigh bravely takes up the sword to tackle the nightmares, and to loosen the knot within herself.

Extraordinarily perceptive, The Catch of Hands is written with powerful candour and a painterly skill. Benedicta Leigh’s is a unique voice, full of beauty, longing, pain and courage.


Benedicta Leigh was born in Hampshire in 1922. After working as a VAD during the Second World War, she trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and has since performed widely in the theatre. Although she has written most of her life, this is her first full-length work. She has two grown-up children, and lives in London.

In this remarkable autobiography, Benedicta Leigh portrays with painterly skill her insouciant, untrammelled childhood and her troubled adult years.  Using language with a wonderful freshness and originality, hers is a unique voice, full of beauty, longing, pain and courage.


The bullet bit into my forehead as I skidded across the lawn and crashed to the ground  The decks ran crimson, and away by the hedge my mother slowly hauled up a great dandelion, its acrid milk spattering her knuckles.  She was too busy to notice the rattle in my throat, my dying, my death, oh, the perfection of it, and she missed Ned the cabin boy weeping over my body and saying ‘O Captain, Sir, what will we do? Mr Peyton is dead and done for, and who shall drive the boat now?’ ‘Well, not him, anyway,’ said Captain Tollemache. ‘Get a coffin and some flags, and we will have a long dull funeral and a party with ginger-beer. Everyone can come but Nanny, and my caterpillars will do an entertainment.’

I heard the boys whining and thumping up in the nursery as I turned over on to my stomach. My mother had gone indoors, leaving her straw hat on the steps, and spikes of grass bent beneath the anxiety of a beetle’s progress. Over my shoulder blades a concentration of heat spilled, and the dog of war walloped towards me and leaned against my shoulder, a raggle of tongue pushing into my ear.

I said, ‘You’re being rather intimate with me today, my dear,’ as I stroked him. His coat felt like  a hot flannel. I sang: ‘O dog of war, who forged thy dread breath?’ And I sang that if it was stew for lunch, then I would be sick unto my plate a great lot….

While there are copies to be had of The Catch of Hands and her second book, Unlock And Remind Me Of The Sea, they are now out of print. I am hoping to persuade Virago to republish. At the time, Benedicta received a number of letters from people saying how much the memoir had helped them immeasurably by allowing them to realise they were not alone.

An interesting postscript is that in January this year, I commented on a post by Judith Haire at the Mentally Wealthy blog about my mother’s bi-polarity and mentioned her memoir. An instant response to my comment came from Jean Davison who said, ‘That’s so interesting, I bought that book years ago and kept it on my bookshelf. I have it in my hands now. It was one of the books that inspired me to write my own memoir and try to get it published, which I eventually did.’ (The Dark Threads – a vivid memoir of one young woman’s psychiatric treatment)

It is a small and supportive world out here.

blhiiBenedicta in 1991
[photo: Bill Moody]

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Yes, I’ve had PhotoFunia again! This might just be my favourite thus far as I happen to think that Dancing in Greek looks rather splendid on Vogue’s cover.

You may remember that I added a photograph of the Russian ballerina Tamara Platonovna Karsavina (1885–1978) from The Library of Congress and turned her into a silhouette overlaying a background of my textures.

And then I couldn’t resist putting myself on the cover. This photo was taken about five years ago.


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Is this showing off? Probably. But promoting The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy helps towards my pension!

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BBC Radio 4 Extra has started airing the original radio series of Hitchhiker’s, the seminal series by the late Douglas Adams. No, I’m not related to Douglas Adams but I am the daughter of the original Slartibartfast, Richard Vernon!  He created the role on radio and repeated it in the television series.

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To mark the day, I am paying tribute to a woman whose influence has been remarkable, whose work has inspired generation after generation, and to whom I just happen to be distantly related!

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When I was first introduced to Jane Austen, I found her difficult to read. This was partly because she was labeled a ‘classic’ writer that we had to study at school, along with Dickens and Shakespeare and so forth, and our English teacher was evidently an actress manqué whose renditions rendered us speechless with horror.  I loathed Shakespeare until my parents took me to an RSC production of Twelfth Night with Judi Dench, Richard Pasco and Elizabeth Spriggs.  Immediately I understood what the fuss was about.

My parents introduced me to many artistic delights but the time when they would have urged me to read Austen was a time that the family was wrenched apart by my mother’s manic depression. Perhaps if they’d told me at that time that there was a blood connection, I just might have approached Pride and Prejudice or Mansfield Park a little differently. I don’t know. As it was, I didn’t read Jane Austen for myself until my late teens, at which point I fell utterly and completely in love with all her work and everything about her.

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One of the best books I’ve read about Jane Austen is a fascinating volume by Fay Weldon, Letters to Alice in which she casts fresh eyes upon Jane’s work through a series of letters to her niece. She debunks the myths and pours scorn on some of the theories that have grown up around the name and the work.  Weldon does this with humour that matches Jane’s. It is well worth reading.

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As for the blood connection, I didn’t learn about that until the late ’80s, early 90s.  I’d known forever that Leigh was a maternal family name but not where it came from, only that my mother had chosen it for her stage name when someone told her that she would never see her name in lights with the number of syllables contained in ‘Benedicta Hoskyns’! I also knew of several forebears whose middle names included Leigh and others whose surname was Leigh. If you know your Austen, you will know where I’m heading! When I did some research, I discovered exactly how we were related to Jane. Even my mother didn’t know the details.


Jane’s mother was Cassandra Leigh. Cassandra’s father, Thomas, was part of the Leigh family of Adlestrop, Gloucestershire. He had a pugnacious brother, Jane’s great-uncle, Theophilus Leigh (1693-1784), who was Master of Balliol for more than 50 years and known for ‘overflowing with puns and witticisms and sharp retorts‘. These are the words of Jane’s brothers’ descendants, William Austen-Leigh and Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh in Jane Austen, Her Life and Letters, which was published in 1913 as an updated follow-up to Jane’s nephew, James Edward Austen Leigh’s memoir — A Memoir of Jane Austen: and Other Family Recollections — from 1870. These two later Austens go on to say that Theophilus’ ‘most serious joke was his practical one of living much longer than had been expected or intended’!

So where do I come in?  Theo, as I feel I can call him — somehow I doubt that was ever the case in his lifetime! — had several children, one of whom, Mary, went on to marry Sir Hungerford Hoskyns, 4th Baronet.  I come down from there but I won’t bore you with the details! To cut a long story short, Jane Austen’s great-uncle was my great-grandfather seven times removed — or near enough!

Take care and keep laughing!





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