Theo Todman's Web Page

For Text Colour-conventions (at end of page): Click Here

Blog - Theo Todman's Blog

This Blog continues to evolve over time, though suffers from long periods of stasis. I'm not sure whether it should count as a “real” blog, but I intend it as a general dumping ground for discussions that don’t obviously fit elsewhere, or which are hidden about the site but to which I wish to draw attention.

The entire blog and the individual entries use my patent “Note” technology which I developed for my more formally philosophical investigations into Personal Identity, which is why it comes with the usual cross-referencing baggage, though the reading-lists are usually switched off. Here is the “Jump Table” for the entire Blog, which allows quick access to the various sub-topics. One day I may make these tables topic-specific, but currently I think the cross-pollination a potential “good thing”.

In the table below, individual notes will say – in the “Reference” column – whether they have a printable version. The motivation behind the “unprintable1” versions – marked as “Note” – is the hyper-linking, more relevant in some texts than others. If a word is underlined and followed by a superscript, clicking on the underlined word will usually lead to further enlightenment or obfuscation. Underlining with a subscript links to a footnote within the Note itself. The “printable” versions show the level to which the print goes. L0 (“Level 0”) is just the main Note. “L1” has the main Note and all Notes referenced by the main Note, and so on. If the reading list is carried through to the printable Note, this is shown by “, R”.

Some of these entries are discussions between me and an interlocutor or correspondent. Comments that belong to the correspondent appear in a different colour, a rather nasty shade of purple. To allow for candour, I’ve in general not been explicit about the identities of correspondents, though those who know me well may be able to make deductions in some cases. If anyone wants their identity revealed (or even further disguised), no doubt they will let me know. I have to admit that this “Notes” procedure with interlocutors hasn’t worked very well, and fragments the conversation somewhat.

Date Topic Reference
4 November 2018Coxes Farm: This page provides a timeline of the vicissitudes – good and bad – that have come upon our house – Coxes Farm, Billericay, Essex – since we purchased it in February 2012.
  • Part 1: Shows a timeline for the repairs undertaken on the House since a crack at the front was discovered in December 2017.
  • Part 2: Is still under development, and shows earlier photos the the House, including those of the survey and post-purchase repairs and developments. I've yet to sort these into a sensible order.
  • Part 3: Is likewise still under development, and shows photos of the Garden - including early ruinations and landscaping - together with other random photos.
  • Part 4: Is another even more random page that uses different technology to build it. Unlike the other pages it's not intended to be a timeline, but will select features to highlight and compare.
For the listing of Coxes Farmhouse, see:-

Historic England: Coxes Farmhouse Listing (
Images of England: Coxes Farmhouse (
Part 1
Printable (L0)

Part 2
Printable (L0)

Part 3
Printable (L0)

Part 4
Printable (L0)
2 August 2018Tottering Towers & Listing Buildings: This is an account – theoretical as well as practical – of the problems that can arise for those with the responsibility for a Listed Building, illustrated by my own experiences with Coxes Farm. It is currently work in progress.Note6
Printable (L0)
31 August 2017Aeon: Throughout 2017 I attempted to keep up with all relevant (or at least interesting) papers posted on a daily basis to Aeon. I attempted to categorise all the papers and hoped to add comments against each, but – as with most of my many projects – it turned out to be too much work, and since the end of 2017 it has been on the back burner. However, it was quite stimulating while in progress, and I learnt a lot, having read 500-odd papers, and commented on quite a few of them. Follow the link for more information.Note7
Printable (L0)
Printable (L0, R)
31 January 2016Somerset Maugham Short Stories: This may not have been worth the effort, but I was – in my youth – impressed by W Somerset Maugham’s short stories. In 2015 I came across a volume of these, and over the next couple of years read them and made notes on the ethical issues that arose. For completeness, I supplied summaries of each story. Because of the size of the task, the results are split over two Notes.Part 1
Printable (L0)
Printable (L0, R)

Part 2
Printable (L0)
Printable (L0, R)
19 November 2013Bach's Greatest Hits: This is an attempt to exorcise a recent obsession with J.S. Bach, and in particular with his St. Luke Passion, Passacaglia and Fugue, and the Chaconne from the Second Partita for solo violin. The entry is mainly links to YouTube with a few jottings.Note10
Printable (L0, R)
10 June 2013Biblical Archaeology: I happened upon three 21st century controversies in Biblical Archaeology – the so-called “King Solomon's Tablet of Stone”, “James Ossuary” and “Talpiot Tomb” – which set me thinking about how controversies in archaeology are resolved, and whether the issues matter. This is work in progress, if not currently so.Note11
Printable (L0, R)
31 March 2011James Le Fanu: I came across an article on the giraffe by James Le Fanu in The Oldie. What could he possibly be saying? This is work in progress, though not being progressed at the moment.Note12
Printable (L0)
Printable (L1, R)
21 February 2011The Singularity: This will be a review of an overly-optimistic article from Time entitled 2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal. This is currently work in progress.Note13
Printable (L0)
Printable (L0, R)
Printable (L1)
13 February 2011Megawoosh: I was forwarded a “viral video” entitled Megawoosh under the cover of “Who did the calculations for this water slide?”. It turns out to be a clever German advert for Microsoft Project, but it’s fun to watch …Note14
Printable (L0, R)
Printable (L1)
1 February 2011Contemporary Islamic Thought: I considered taking the course “Unity and Diversity in Contemporary Islamic Thought” at Heythrop, and contacted a friend from my Birkbeck days who has converted from Roman Catholicism to Islam. That conversation didn’t get far, but a few (unresolved) issues were raised. And then another friend sent me a web-link …Note15
Printable (L0, R)
Printable (L1)
26 January 2011Experts: A further discussion with two Christian friends, mainly on the way the authority of experts ought or ought not to structure our beliefs.Note16
Printable (L0)
Printable (L0, R)
Printable (L1)
28 April 2010Unmerited Suffering & Hominid Evolution: A discussion of two issues – the difficulties for theism of unmerited suffering, and the scientific status of the various current theories of hominid evolution.Note17
Printable (L0, R)
Printable (L1)
22 January 2010Hartnett, Carmeli and a Young Earth: Cosmological Relativity and a young Earth. This correspondence arose following receipt of a book that purports to explain how we can see the stars if the universe is only 6,000 years old.Note18
Printable (L0, R)
Printable (L1)
Printable (L2)
20 January 2010Haiti and the Problem of Evil: This discussion with a couple of friends was stimulated by the receipt of a brief article following the Haitian earthquake, and ensuing humanitarian crisis, on the BBC News Magazine website, alerted by the author on Philos_List.Note19
Printable (L0, R)
Printable (L1)
Printable (L5)
14 July 2009Virgin Birth: Response to some comments on an ancient booklet of mine on the Virgin Birth of Christ.Note20
Printable (L0)
21 February 2009Triplet Parapsychology: I was idly watching TV while eating my dinner circa midnight last Tuesday, when a program on Identical Triplets came on ITV1. Just slotted in was a claim and supposed experiment to show that if one triplet feels pain, the others do, at least subliminally. This must have been a spoof, but was completely straight-faced. Follow the link opposite for more information, and my reasoning behind being unwilling to be convinced by the facts.Note21
Printable (L0)
14 February 2009Creationist Bananas: I received an email from Philos_List requesting submissions for the world’s worst argument. A suggested candidate was that from a creationist group, suggesting that the banana is a good illustration of the “Paley’s watch” argument. Follow the link for the background, and my thoughts.Note22
Printable (L0)
14 February 2009Jamie Bulger's Killers: Julie received an email petition asking for “something to be done about” the plan to settle the killers of Jamie Bulger in Australia. This is a complex moral issue. Follow the link for my thoughts, though I’m not altogether comfortable with them. In fact, it turns out that the email has been circulating aimlessly for 8 years, and contains numerous inaccuracies. I wish I’d just binned it.Note23
Printable (L0)
29 April 2008Coldplay - The Hardest Part: A bridge friend forwarded on to me a circular email raving about certain aspects of the Coldplay video The Hardest Part, available on YouTube. The comments seemed to miss the import of the video (indeed, to get it completely round the wrong way) – but the affair raises some interesting questions in philosophical aesthetics on which I’d welcome the thoughts of experts.Note24
Printable (L0)
1 January 2008Loretto Chapel: An email from a bridge friend with a link to a YouTube video about the Loretto Chapel. I've now lost the link, but it was probably Loretto Chapel 1 ( See also Loretto Chapel 2 ( The "miraculous staircase" might well be a marvel, but it's not a miracle, nor did St. Joseph have a hand in it.Note25
Printable (L0, R)
Printable (L1)
29 November 2007Mad, Bad or God?: I got this question from Sylvia: “I remember you saying you were never persuaded by the “mad, bad or God” argument. This has cropped up a couple of times recently, and I can’t remember what your alternative is. Do you mention this on your website somewhere, and if so, where?”.Note26
Printable (L0, R)
Printable (L1)
10 November 2007Tiahuanaco: I received an email from a friend suggesting that Tiahuanaco - an ancient city in the Andes, close to Lake Titicaca - is evidence for a global flood. I was not convinced.Note27
17 August 2007Personal Identity and Moral Action: Another out of the blue query – this time about the interaction of Ethics with Personal Identity.Note28
Printable (L6)
15 August 2007Carthusians - Hugh: An out of the blue query about Carthusians, and subsequent correspondence. Someone does look at my website after all.Note29
Printable (L6)
14 August 2007Gordon: Another Oldie. An email from a friend I’d not heard from for 10 years at least. His email address now bounces, so this is by way of a response to an interrupted discussion.Note30
Printable (L6)
4 August 2007Simon: This entry antedates those that precede it, but is still on-going. It is a discussion between me and a friend and former HSBC colleague who now lives with his family in New York. His 16-year-old daughter had just become a Christian, and he needs some philosophical counselling. It is unusual in being initiated by a respondent.Note31
Printable (L4)
23 July 2007Spain: Herewith the account of some vicissitudes on an impromptu holiday to Spain.Part 1
Printable (L4)

Part 2
22 July 2007Bible – Pluses and Minuses: This is my list of worries about the Bible. It’s only here because it’s got no other home to go to. It’s not worth reading as I’ve only just started it (chapters on which I’ve something to say are indicated by superscripted hyperlinks). I intend to produce a parallel, but even more naïve, commentary on the Koran, which I hope will not involve me in the receipt of a fatwa.Note34
Printable (L4)
15 July 2007Jack and Sheila: The account of a discussion with some old friends, followed by an outreach meeting at a Baptist Church. Sounds dull, but such events can be important. There are some affinities with the item below.Note35
Printable (L4)
7 July 2007Sylvia: Today I had a discussion on the topic of “Why I am no longer an active Christian”. Here is an attempted account of the discussion, together with some general points about extempore debate.Note36
Printable (L4)
Printable (L4)
11 May 2007Never Let Me Go: At a former colleague’s retirement lunch, we got talking about the menu, which lead on to the topic of vegetarianism, to which persuasion my friend was persuaded. He loaned me a book, "Ishiguro (Kazuo) - Never Let Me Go", which I read with some interest, but wasn’t fully clear on the connection. So, I jotted down some notes, emailed them off, and awaited feedback. To date, none has come, of course. The story of my life.Note37
Printable (L4)

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:
  • Actually, all Notes are perfectly printable at Level 0.

Note last updated: 14/07/2019 18:05:46

Footnote 2: (Coxes Farm (Repairs))

  • This page provides a full timeline of the vicissitudes that have come upon our house – Coxes Farm, Billericay, Essex – since the discovery of a crack at the front in December 2017.
  • Highights of this page include:-
    1. Rotten timbers taken from the rear frame (January 2019).
    2. Rebuilding the rear wall - Completion (December 2018).
    3. Rebuilding the rear wall - Commencement (November 2018).
    4. Decay in the rear wall (November 2018).
    5. Rebuilding the front wall - Completion (October 2018).
    6. Rebuilding the front wall - Commencement (September 2018).
    7. Bakers' photos of the decayed front frame (September 2018).
    8. Rotten wood taken from the front frame (September 2018).
    9. Further investigations into the front frame (June 2018).
    10. Bakers' detailed investigations into the front frame (June 2018).
    11. Initial Investigations at the front of the house (April 2018).
    12. Discovery of the 'crack' (December 2017).
  • Photos of the house prior to the recent repairs appear on this further page. Photos of the garden appear here.
  • For my developing thoughts on the maintenance of such properties, see my Note "Tottering Towers & Listing Buildings". In due course I'll complete the narrative section there that describes my own experiences with Coxes Farm, though I've made some progress.
  • Click here4 for a couple of technical remarks on the webpage.

Click on the links below to jump to the photos for a particular month, or scroll down. Mouse-over the date pops-up a summary of the situation that month.



2019 - March - Minor Issues Outstanding

Rain still dribbles through the back wall during a storm!

As adjacent left. Bakers have promised to fix it!

The mortar fillet at the gable end is coming away! Not Bakers' fault, but they will fix it!

Looks like an extra beam, but it's the drain-pipe that came away in a downpour. Needs an extra bracket.


2019 - February - Rear Wall Complete

  • Work on the rear of the house is now complete, bar the exterior decoration which awaits the spring. The front was completed last year.
  • Herewith a few recent photographs. Those without comment are of the interior of the rear, after decoration but before the new carpet was laid.
  • The next phase – also awaiting the spring – will involve the side of the house that projects out to the right, and which is pictured below. Not as much as might be done will be done as the budget is running out.

The Internal Decorators - Adam & Pete - from Bakers, who painted the front rooms and the lounge wall, and made the repairs in the next section.

The front of the house after repairs and several coats of buttermilk limewash.

The rear of the house after repairs, taken from the left. Limewash will be applied in the spring.

The rear of the house after repairs, taken from the right.

Closer view of adjacent. Not sure whether the new timbers will be painted.


2019 - February - Minor Repairs

  • Shows the minor repairs - at various stages - though not (yet) as completed - performed by the Bakers Interior Decorators.
  • Movement of the frame over the years had caused (very minor) cracks to appear in the bathroom and (less minor) cracks in the master bedroom.
  • These were repaired fairly easily, but need monitoring for further movement.
  • There's a panel next to the one that was fixed on the master bedroom external wall that is loose and also needs doing, but as it's less visible we let it be for now. Where do you stop?

Bathroom, above the loo. A small crack had appeared in the plaster - filled in, hopefully without further movement.

Bathroom, the corner above the bath. Plaster had come away by the beam. Filled in, hopefully without further movement.

Movement had ripped poorly applied wallpaper in the inside-wall corner of the master bedroom. Dug out and plaster applied, to be watched for further movement.

As adjacent left.

As adjacent left.

The opposite, external wall in the master bedroom - similar, more extreme splitting of the wallpaper. Plaster underneath excavated revealing brick infill.


2019 - January - Rear Wall Complete

  • Work on the rear of the house is now complete, bar the exterior decoration which awaits the spring. The front was completed last year.
  • The next phase – also awaiting the spring – will involve the side of the house that projects out to the right, and which is pictured below. Not as much as might be done will be done as the budget is running out.
  • During the dry summer months there was some dropping of the visible brick infill in the lower half of the gable-end wall – leaving gaps that have been temporarily plugged. This is no doubt ultimately due to the sole plate having rotted away, with settling as the ground dried out. The central post is also compromised, though the bressummer seems sound.
  • Rather belatedly, I've taken some snaps of the pile of - mostly ancient - beams taken from the back of the house.

The rear interior. View of the oriel windows.

The rear interior. The staircase to nowhere is nowhere to be seen!

The rebuilt oriel window is back in, complete with its lead flashing.

The completed rear of the property - View from the left.

The completed rear of the property - View from the right.

The lamps are now installed and working!


2019 - January - The Wonky Wall

  • The next phase – awaiting the spring – will involve the side of the house that projects out to the right, and which is pictured below. Not as much as might be done will be done as the budget is running out.
  • During the dry summer months there was some dropping of the visible brick infill in the lower half of the gable-end wall – leaving gaps that have been temporarily plugged. This is no doubt ultimately due to the sole plate having rotted away, with settling as the ground dried out. The central post is also compromised, though the bressummer seems sound.

This wall will mostly have to wait! Probably for the next owner, though there's a cracked plate that requires more immediate attention.

The sole plate on this wall is under-ground, though part of it can be seen from within the house.

The end-wall. The centre post is partly hollow and the sole plate - being below ground - is doubtless 'gone'.

Not much can be done above the bressummer - though we hope to have the cracked and protruding plate to the right of the window repaired.

Fixing this wall may be awkward - though important - as this is the point of entry of the electrics. Three fuse-boards are behind the wall.

Cracking in the end wall, showing the filled-in gaps in the brick infill.


2019 - January - Rotten Beams

  • Rather belatedly, I've taken some snaps of the pile of - mostly ancient - beams taken from the back of the house.
  • The blue colouration is actually black bituminous paint.

Close-up of expanding-foam applied to the bressummer.

Serious rot!

More serious rot!

The corner post (I think) – it shows that while part of the cross-section has rotted away, the residue is sound (though maybe this is a joint).

Two pieces of rear bressummer showing extreme decay (and more expanding foam).

The long beam at the back is from the front of the house.

Shows a section of the rear bressummer replete with painted expanding foam.

The chunky beam in the centre newly cut through is a discarded bit of a rear corner post, I think.

More decayed bressummer and foam!

Shows - inter alia - the tennon on the beam from the front.

The long diagonal beam is probably a modern repair to the rear.


2018 - December - Rear Wall Rebuilding

  • Work on the rear of the house is substantially complete. Outstanding items being the oriel window (currently boarded up), the outside lamps, the downpipe from the bathroom and the exterior decoration.
  • The photographs show the new frame, and the joins with the retained portions of the old frame. There's also a photo showing the similarities between the Tudor lath-and-plaster (which is overlain with a thin layer of brick), and the modern equivalent (which isn't).
  • The front of the property is complete. The faux beams are not to be painted on as they were before the restoration, as the lime-wash would 'run', so the facade looks somewhat plain.

Shows the repair to the corner post, and the new sole plate, bressummer, studs and rebuilt plinth.

Repairs to the corner post and the 'return' to the long side wall. Some old wood used to re-house the small window, but otherwise green oak.

The rear of the house, complete bar the items noted above.

Shows the similarities between the Tudor lath-and-plaster (which was overlain with a thin layer of brick), and the modern equivalent (which isn't).

Close-up showing the gap awaiting the rebuilt oriel window.

Close-up of the joint in the rear left-hand repaired post.

View - inter alia - of the repaired studs, showing the state of those left in situ.

Shows the joint connecting the two halves of the replacement bressummer.

As adjacent, plus Steve the Plumber!


2018 - December - The Front Façade

  • The finished front façade.

The finished front façade. Somewhat plain as the faux beams cannot be painted on with lime-wash.


2018 - November - Rear Wall Rebuilding

  • Reconstitutive repairs to the rear of the property were underway towards the end of the month.
  • The photos further down show the extent of the damage to the timber frame to the rear of the property.
  • Note in particular the expanding foam used to disguise the complete failure of the main supporting bressummer.

Sole plate yet to be bedded-in. Corner post repair awaiting installation.

Right-hand-side back wall and return complete bar a second coat of lime plaster.

Repairs to the supporting studs for the stair well going up to the attic. Cupboard under the stairs.

Work starts on the right-hand side of the back wall now the corner post is secure.

Compare & contrast Tudor and replacement laths. Note corner-post & bressummer joints.

Retained section of right corner post awaiting the new section and jointing to the retained side bressummer. The attempt to join as shown in the picture was later abandoned.

Greg the Head Carpenter fine-tuning the joint for the new section of the corner post.


2018 - November - Rear Wall Decay

  • Shows the extent of the damage to the timber frame to the rear of the property.
  • Note in particular the expanding foam used to disguise the complete failure of the main supporting bressummer.

Decay above the oriel window, as revealed by exploratory work.

As adjacent, also showing the bituminous 'gloop' used to cover up the decay.

The surviving bressummer timber - such as it was - looks weaker than the expanding foam!

Bressummer replaced by expanding foam, painted over!

Bressummer replaced by expanding foam, painted over!

Interior of the back wall after initial excavation.

State of the studs and sole-plate under the oriel window.

Back wall viewed from interior after section removed: rotten base of stud; no sole plate.

Wall & ceiling after 'staircase to nowhere' removed.

Evidence of an old structural repair, together with a modern 'foamy' bodge!

Residue of the right-hand corner post after cropping. Side bressummer after removal of stud and panels. This will be cropped and repaired.

Close-up of the side bressummer now showing the next stud to the right, for which a small repair at the top will be supplied.

Close-up of the side bressummer from the inside. Looks OK this side, but the other side is terribly decayed.

The other side of the to-be-repaired truncated corner post noted above.

Shows the state of the 'foundations' of the right-hand rear corner after the removal of the side wall 'return'.

Right-hand rear corner after the removal of the lower half the the corner post and two ground-floor panels and central stud.

Right-hand rear corner after excavation and removal of rotten timbers.

The soon-to-be-condemned piece of side-bressummer.

Old lath and plaster by the stair-well up to the attic.

Temporary disruption to panel above the small window to the side-rear to allow support of the structure while the corner post is repaired.

Corner post prior to removal - the weakness is hidden by the blue plastic.

Right-hand rear corner post after excavation - showing loss due to rot and the need for amputation of the lower half.

Modern studs and breeze block infill: evidence of fairly recent repairs to the rear right-hand corner by the stair-well to the attic.

The back wall: breeze blocks, rotten wood and expanding foam.

Modern ceiling joists inserted when the lower section of the staircase to the attic was blocked off (in the 1980s?), producing the 'staircase to nowhere'.

The right rear corner post - damage revealed after the bodged cement 'repair' had been removed.

The piano protected against demolition dust. Also shows the rising damp in the modern brick wall behind to the left.

An old repair to the corner - above the 'staircase to nowhere' - plus more modern infill!

The ceiling after the 'staircase to nowhere' had been removed. Shows the massive supporting beam is not supported by very much.

The inside of the back wall after the 'staircase to nowhere' had been removed.

The base of the rear corner - soon to be demolished - after the 'staircase to nowhere' had been removed.

The corner after removal of the 'staircase to nowhere'.


2018 - November - Chimney Lining?

  • A few photos taken to try to persuade a company to line my lounge chimney - without success.
  • The situation doesn't meet the regulations: no air brick, stove too large for the fireplace and too close to the wooden mantle-beam.
  • Also, the top of the chimney's really awkward to get to.


2018 - October - Front Wall Developments

The original 'failed' corner (and much else) after lath-and-plastering.

The front wall after a first coat of plaster. The tiling is still outstanding on the right.

The new font wall viewed from the left. The left tiling is complete.

The Bakers Gang: Gary, X, Keith, Y, Greg, Leslie, Morgan.

The right-hand 'return' after lath-and-plastering. Plinth restored.

Another view of the rebuilt 'failed' corner.

The front wall after lath-and-plastering. Plinth repaired. Roof yet to be fixed.

The right hand 'return'. Plinth still to be repaired.

Close-up of adjacent.

The front. Note the brick infill - the rescued bricks - broken bricks ended up in the skip.

The left-hand 'return'. Plinth yet to be repaired.

The laths prior to plastering. Plus the new bedroom window, awaiting glass to be re-loaded.

Finishing the laths. Note the 'modern' insulation in the gable-end.

The frame of the right-hand 'return', with modern insulation partially installed. The rest of the side left alone (for now).

The new frame of the front wall. Blue sky reflecting off the insulation in the gable.

The right-hand 'return' half completed. An old floor-joist and the bedroom-cupboard doors visible.


2018 - October - Rear Wall Preliminary Developments

  • Shows the preliminary investigative work at the rear of the property, with the initial bad tidings confirmed when restoration commenced in November.
  • Eventually, the photos will be individually commented.

The right-hand corner-post at the back. Foot decayed and no sole plate: 'hardened' with cement.

Excavations reveal rot around the little window, and a gap in the corner post ('hardened' with cement). Modern studs and breeze-blocks above!

Studs rotten at the base. No sole plate - just a cement base.

Studs under the oriel window - the same story: rot and no sole plate.

Above the oriel window. The first evidence of rot in the bressummer and 'repairs' with expanding foam.

The left-hand-side of the back - the same story. Also, the oriel window frame is rotten.

Another view of the inside of the oriel window, showing the surrounding timbers.

The ceiling of the oriel window from the inside. Of late it had leaked during the rain.

The inside of the right-hand corner (left-hand from the inside) by the then 'staircase to nowhere'.

The small window - viewed through the 'staircase to nowhere'.

The small window, the surrounding panels showing ample evidence of water ingress, and a plugged hole where excavation had knocked out the beamlet.

Another external view of the oriel window with a closer look at the rotten bressummer with its painted expanding foam.

Another view of the little window (removed and boarded over) and the breeze-block infill revealed.

Wider view of the rear after the cement render had been removed to reveal earlier repairs with new studs and breeze-blocks.

The rear of the house prior to investigation - showing the cracking that was the initial concern - though probably fairly benign.


2018 - September - Rebuilding the Front

  • By the end of the month, the frame of the front wall had been rebuilt and joined to the sides of the house. The front is shown immediately below, then ...
  • Photos taken by Bakers show the terrible state of the original frame at the front of the property. The timbers were - in general - in such a sorry state that they fell into pieces. I took a number of photos of them all bagged up ready for removal.
  • Also shows the brick infill. I'd hoped it could be saved in situ, but Bakers strongly advised against, on 'health and safety', and other grounds.
  • Acrow props were used to support the front lounge and bedroom ceilings.

The rebuilt frame of the front. Windows missing!

The frame in the process of construction - the gable is in progress.

Close-up of the rebuilt frame below the gable.

The ground-floor window, which was sound and was re-inserted in due course, after a couple of months lying on the lawn.


2018 - September - Bakers' Photos

  • Photos taken by Bakers, showing the terrible state of the frame at the front of the property.
  • The timbers were - in general - in such a sorry state that they fell into pieces.
  • Also shows the brick infill. I'd hoped it could be saved in situ, by replacing the timbers, but Bakers strongly advised against.
  • I'm not competent to comment on the architecture of this part of the building, but I'll have a go anyway. It looks like the frame is supposed to be 'containing' rather than load-bearing, other than - maybe - the corner-posts. The studs and transverse beams are very thin, especially compared with the older rear of the property. So, the load looks like it's taken by the brick infill - basically load-bearing walls, but compromised by the rotten timbers - the horizontal and transverse ones suffering from compression as the frame decayed.
  • The front of the property was supposed to be 17th century according to the listing. How does anyone know? If so, it's a shame for it to have had to go.

The frame after removal of the render and the upper infill. The bedroom floor-joists were conveniently OK and facing in the right direction.

The left of the gable-frame after removal of the render and brick infill. This was the best preserved part, but no use if the lower reaches are decayed and unstable.

The failed right-hand corner post, after removal of the render and brick infill - with evidence of earlier repairs and plasterboarding on the inside.

The left-hand corner post, and rather stick-like struts after removal of render and infill.

The left-hand lower corner of the upper window after removal of the surrounding render. Doesn't look good! The window-frame had to be replaced as well.

Loft-level, above the RHS of the bedroom window.

Loft-level, central.

Loft-level, right.

The base of the right-hand corner post - completely rotten.

Higher up the right-hand corner post, showing the thickness of the render on the 'return' (side wall). More rot.


2018 - September - Rotten Timbers

  • Shows the terrible state of the timbers which were - in general - so rotten that they fell into pieces.
  • I took a number of photos of them all bagged up ready for removal. There's no point commmenting on them individually.



2018 - September - Brick Infill

  • Shows the discarded brick infill. I'd hoped it could be saved in situ, but Bakers strongly advised against it.
  • Also shows the cement render on an iron matrix.

Shows a sample of the render, and the iron martrix used for some of it.

A sample of the brick infill - or bricks from the supporting wall, if that's what it was. Can their age be determined?


2018 - September - Acrow Props

  • Shows the acrow props used to support the front lounge and bedroom ceilings.

Acrow prop in the front bedroom.

Acrow props in the front lounge.

Acrow props in the front bedroom.

Acrow props in the front lounge.


2018 - July

  • Nothing much happened in July and August - a shame given the wonderful weather - as we were awaiting the expiry of the consultation period required for Listed Building Consent.
  • Just a couple of photos of the investigations, taken early in the month.

The left-hand front corner-post exposed. Not as bad at the right-hand post, but rotten at the base. Also shows the iron matrix of the render, and a rotten stud.

Shows the infill / wall after removal of the render. Shows that the faux beams painted on do not follow the frame in the gable (unlike elsewhere).


2018 - June - Further Investigations

  • Shows the results of the further investigative work undertaken to reveal the extent of the damage at the front of the property.
  • This was shown to the Conservation Officer and to the Structural Engineer to develop a plan for remediation.
  • See the photos taken by Bakers.
  • Some initial consideration was given given to the rear of the property.
  • Eventually, the photos will be individually commented.

Shows the infill / wall after removal of the render at the front. Shows that the faux beams painted on at the front do follow the frame below gable level.

Shows the infill / wall after removal of the render at the side 'return'. The vertical faux beams painted follow the frame but the diagonal "beam" doesn't.

Shows how the bedroom floor-joists are supported partly by the brick infill and partly by decaying cross-beams. The diagonal beams in particular now compromise the stability of the structure.

Wider view of adjacent left.

Side return showing some weakened infill to the left, and a large hunk that seems to have fallen off the front façade following removal of the render.


2018 - June - Bakers Photos

  • Photos taken by Bakers.
  • Shows the results of the further investigative work undertaken to reveal the extent of the damage at the front of the property.
  • This was shown to the Conservation Officer and to the Structural Engineer to develop a plan for remediation.
  • Eventually, the photos will be individually commented.



2018 - June - The Rear Wall

  • Initial consideration was given to future repairs to the rear of the property, which lets in water if the wind and rain are in the wrong direction.
  • Shows some cracked plates, which were the obvious supects (though in fact probably innocent, as subsequent investigation showed they faced on to breeze blocks).



2018 - April - Initial Investigations

  • Shows the results of the initial investigative work undertaken to reveal the extent of the damage to the front of the property. It showed that it was not an isolated problem with a single corner post, but appeared to be more pervasive.
  • There was then a delay while consultation was undertaken with the Conservation Officer to authorise further - and necessarily more destructive - investigation to reveal the full scope of the problem.
  • Eventually, the photos will be individually commented.



2018 - March - Beast from the East

  • The Beast from the East!
  • Nothing happening on the house, though the ivy-room got its annual haircut!



2017 - December - Small Crack

  • The initial problem with the front of the house: one small crack in the render covering the corner post. Covered up with cellophane and awaiting investigation.

The front facade. The faux beams are painted on, but roughly follow the underlying timbers.

Close-up of the crack, showing the constitution of the render.

Close-up of the crack, showing the interior. I felt inside, and the wood was crumbly and soggy.

The context of the crack, which is in the right-hand corner post, showing some further cracking and bulging of the render.

The plinth, showing no damage due to subsidence.

Another view of the crack, protected against the weather with a sheet of cellophane.

If you look closely - and expand by clicking - you can see the crack snaking its way up to the roof (and also a small shrub to the top left!)

The crack, protected against the weather with a sheet of cellophane.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 4:
  • If you're using a mouse, you can hover over the image to see the date / time the photo was taken, the photo filename and the source of the photo. More useful narrative commentary is added where I've got round to entering it, but now appears additionally - and more usefully - below the photos.
  • The JPEGs immediately displayed on this page are 'medium size'. Click on the image to display a full-sized full-page photo (or sometimes just the same medium-sized one displayed full-page).

Note last updated: 05/04/2019 10:36:29

Footnote 3: (Coxes Farm (Pre-Repairs))

  • This page provides a time-series of photos of our house – Coxes Farm, Billericay, Essex – prior to the discovery of a crack at the front in December 2017.
  • Photos associated with the recent repairs appear on this further page. Those of the garden appear here.
  • The important sections of this page are:-
    1. Conversion of the Outbuildings (October, November & December 2012).
    2. Conversion of the 'Wonky Room' (April 2012).
    3. Conversion of the Utilities Room into a Shower Room (April 2012).
    4. Photos from the Estate Agent's Website (January 2012).
    5. Photos from the pre-purchase Survey (January 2012).
    6. The photo from the Images of England website (October 1999).
  • At the moment, these photos are rather random. Many have been collated from my iPhone, though in general they were not taken on it. The rest were stashed away on my PC hard-drive. Some had no date embedded in the JPEG header - or recorded against the directory - and appear at the end. I'll try to sort these out in due course.
  • For my developing thoughts on the maintenance of such properties, see my Note "Tottering Towers & Listing Buildings". In due course I'll complete the narrative section there that describes my own experiences with Coxes Farm, though I've already made some progress.
  • Click here4 for a couple of technical remarks on the webpage.

Click on the links below to jump to the photos for a particular month, or scroll down. Mouse-over the date pops-up a summary of the situation that month.

2012-032012-021999-10Unknown Date        


2017 - December - Snow

  • Coxes Farm in the snow - before the crack appeared.



2016 - September - Wonky Wall

  • The 'wonky wall' - that juts out to the side of the house, to the side of the dining room and supports the 'wonky room' (the spare bedroom).
  • This has always looked the least stable, though structural engineers haven't been worried by it.
  • The central post is compromised, as are several struts, and there's most likely no surviving sole plate. The bressumer and corner posts seem sound, however.
  • The electrics enter through this wall, on the inside of which are three fuse-boards. It has been known to let water in.
  • A plate to the right of the bedroom window has moved out from its place somewhat.
  • Note that there's no sign of the subsequent gaps appearing in the brick infill at this stage.

The (probably modern, and supportive) brick infill seems sound, but the patio is too high and has covered the sole plate.

The timbers around the central 'chevron' are in poor condition.

The 'wonky wall' in profile, showing the bulge.


2016 - June - Wonky Wall

  • More photos of the 'wonky wall' and the adjacent kitchen - a 1980's addition to the 15th / 16th century original.

Henry the dog and unknown guests in front of the 'wonky wall'.

Naomi & Leandro. 'Wonky wall' and kitchen in the background.


2014 - November - Lounge Chimney Lining

  • Photos taken the first time we were trying to get the lounge chimney lined.
  • For a later attempt, follow this link.



2014 - November - Lych Gate

  • The lych gate after Julie had shunted the left-hand column six inches with the car.
  • Turned out the post was rotten as well, and the ironwork was rusted, but insurance paid out for the accident.
  • Fixed by a chap with an impressive-sounding name, but who knew nothig about lime mortar. Still, the post and the ironwork were replaced fine, but the lime morter was frost-damaged.



2014 - July

  • Random photos of the house and garden.
  • Nothing much happening.



2013 - July

  • Random photos of the house and garden.
  • Much as the previous year - Nothing much happening.
  • Shows my desk and a portion of the library.


2013 - June

  • Random photos of the house and garden.
  • Shows the four-poster in the guest room.



2013 - January - Attic

  • The attic sometime after being made habitable. I used it as a study while the outbuildings were being converted.
  • Photos show the struts and beams that support the tiled roof. Of particular interest are the joints, one of which is compound and unusual.
  • Note the wood stain used at the base of the struts and wall posts. This was added quickly prior to the carpet being laid to make it easier to paint the beams fully later without spoiling the carpet. However, I was then advised by one of the team at Cressing Temple Barns that it's best to leave the wood unpainted - as in the barns - if it had not yet been painted, so I held fire, leaving the rather silly situation as photographed.
  • Until just before I bought the property, the attic wasn't insulated. Terry Selway - the vendor who still lives next door - made a half-hearted attempt to insulate the attic with glass fibre, which kept falling down. I tried to get Terry Gregson's builders to board the ceiling, but it was too difficult given the curvilinear layout. So, I bought a load of hessian and a staple gun and lined it myself, quite acceptably, I think.
  • The floor of the attic was strengthened with pine beams and boarded over (leaving the old flooring – such as it was – in situ). The small window in the back wall was replaced as the original had to be removed to allow entry of the beams.
  • The attic was divided into two – that over the front of the house having too low a ceiling. It contains the water tank and is only accessible via a hatch, though the tank controls are accessible by a small door in the plasterboard partition.



2012 - December

  • Sundry photos of the house - inside and out - at the end of the first year of ownership.
  • Shows the new back door, amongst much else.



2012 - December - Outbuildings Conversion

  • Shows the outbuildings nearing completion - externals only outstanding, I think.
  • Note the drains! We had a lot of discussion as to whether the slope was sufficient to allow gravity drainage without a macerator. Our builder insisted it was fine to use gravity, and it seems (as of February 2019) that he was right!

Not quite sure when this photo was taken, but it's included here to show the finished job!

Not quite sure when this photo was taken, but it's included here to show the finished job!


2012 - November

  • This month saw the focus on the outbuildings conversion.
  • But we start with a couple of random photos.



2012 - November - Outbuildings Conversion

  • The outbuildings conversion. Errecting the interior partitions, stud-work and the library ceiling joists.
  • Looks like the last two photos were taken in October or before ... to be investigated.


2012 - October

  • Random photos of the house and garden.
  • Two 'lit' fires. The lounge fire-lighting was pretty much a one-off as the chimney is unlined, so fumes leak into the bedrooms.
  • Includes a photo of me, for some reason.


2012 - October - Outbuildings Conversion

  • The joists in the side of the stables roof facing the house were in poor condition, so we decided to renew this side of the roof. Another item not picked up by the surveyor!
  • The old stable doors were also in poor condition and unsuitable for use as library or guest-room doors, so they went in the skip, being replaced by hand-made doors in a fairly similar style. The conservation officer seemed happy enough.


2012 - April - Pre-Occupancy

  • Random Photos yet to be fully categorised.
  • Shows the old front door and the ivy room after a short back and sides.
  • Otherwise, various rooms are being tidied before we'd actually moved in.
  • The focus at the time was on the wonky room and the shower room (which feature below) and the attic (which features above, though I don't seem to have any photos of it actually being repaired, presumably because it was inaccessible until the floor was strengthened).
  • The outbuildings are unconverted, and the lounge end-wall and the wall supporting the 'staircase to nowhere' are still unplastered.



2012 - April - The Wonky Room

  • Conversion of the 'wonky room', including the staircase from the dining room thereto.



2012 - April - Shower Room

  • Conversion of the shower room.
  • This had been a utilities room, presumably created in the 1980s during the kitchen extension.



2012 - March - Staircase to Nowhere

  • The 'staircase to nowhere', prior to plastering its wall.
  • The staircase was removed in November 2018 as part of the repairs to the back wall.



2012 - February

  • A couple of photos taken in the snow round about the time we exchanged contracts.
  • I raised the question of why the snow had melted at the front, but not at the back. The explanation was that the insulation is on the ceiling at the rear, but on the floor at the front, so warmer air got through to the front loft. We now have a partition between the attic at the back and the loft at the front, so this problem is now fixed.



2012 - February - Light Fittings

  • Various dreadful light-fittings that we replaced as soon as we'd purchased the property.


2012 - January - Estate Agent

  • I think these must have come from an estate agent's website, as they match those from the glossy brochure.
  • They are very professionally done, and certainly make the property look a lot more impressive than it then did.
  • Some of the photos muust have been very tiny on-screen, and don't expand well in the grid below.
  • See Zoe Napier ( (which no longer contains the photos, I don't suppose!).


2012 - January - Survey

  • Terry Gregson's photos taken as part of the pre-purchase Survey.
  • Presumably this selection shows what he thought was important. As such, some - eg. those of Terry Selway's retained property - are rather eccentric.
  • There are a few gaps in the sequence of photo names - there are 51 photos while 57 might be expected - but I've not knowingly omitted any.
  • I've rotated the photos without cropping them, so you can view them without holding the screen sideways. Many of them are rather fuzzy, especially when clicked to view expanded, but this fuzziness isn't down to me. It's a shame as it makes some of the information rather vague.
  • I will add comments against each photo in due course.



1999 - October - Images of England

  • This photo shows the house in 1999, and is taken from the - soon to be retired, it seems - Images of England website.
  • The Ivy Room to the left is as wild as ever. You'd take it to be a tree if you didn't know otherwise.
  • The privet hedge to the right has now been grubbed up and replaced with a rockery.
  • The now erased eucalyptus tree and the holm oak next the drive are visible peeping over the hedge.
  • The house itself is unchanged, though the ivy creeping up the side was removed before the house was put on the market in 2011 (or maybe earlier).



Unknown Date

  • Random Photos yet to be categorised.


In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 4:
  • If you're using a mouse, you can hover over the image to see the date / time the photo was taken, the photo filename and the source of the photo. More useful narrative commentary is added where I've got round to entering it, but now appears additionally - and more usefully - below the photos.
  • The JPEGs immediately displayed on this page are 'medium size'. Click on the image to display a full-sized full-page photo (or sometimes just the same medium-sized one displayed full-page).

Note last updated: 05/04/2019 10:36:29

Footnote 4: (Coxes Farm (Gardens))

  • We are fortunate to have about half an acre of garden - including a large pond - surrounding our house – Coxes Farm, Billericay, Essex. This allows Julie to display her gardening skills (thankfully, since my interest in gardens extends no further than walking and sitting in them).
  • This page provides as full a timeline as a random collection of photos allows. I've not had time to select and process many of these, so this page is very much work in progress.
  • It also includes some snowy photos of the locality taken before we exchanged contracts (February 2012).
  • Finally, it includes a few photos of the pets, for want of a current alternative home.
  • The major developments to the garden were:-
    1. Dredging of the pond (October 2012)
    2. The landscaping of the smaller part of the front garden, ruined by developments to the outbuildings, including the replacement of a box hedge by a rockery and adding gravel to the drive (June 2013)
  • Photos of the house itself appear on two other pages:-
    1. Photos of the house during and subsequent to the recent repairs appear on this page.
    2. Photos of the house prior to the recent repairs appear on this page.
  • For my developing thoughts on the maintenance of properties such as Coxes Farm, see my Note "Tottering Towers & Listing Buildings". It doesn't include any reference to gardens, though there are constraints on what you can do within the "curtilage" of a listed building. Theoretically, you can't even put up a shed without permission, and even then there may be constraints on its design.
  • Click here4 for a couple of technical remarks on the webpage.

Click on the links below to jump to the photos for a particular month, or scroll down. Mouse-over the date pops-up a summary of the situation that month.



2019 - February

  • A few random photos of the tree in the front garden. We think it might be a holm oak, and that it is very old. One of Julie's friends, who is a horticulturalist, is seeking to identify it from these photos and samples of the leaves.
  • The estate agent's photos showed a sister tree next to the drive, of which only the stump remains. Terry Selway must have cut it down.


2018 - December

  • The pond - full and in good shape after the summer drought!



2018 - February - Eucalyptus - Removal

  • The Eucalyptus tree being taken down. Not the best of photos - expand them (by clicking) to see what's going on.
  • Nothing happening on the house.

Tree-surgeon removing lopped branches.

Can you spot the Tree-surgeon up in the branches?


2018 - January - Eucalyptus

  • The condemned Eucalyptus tree in all its dangerous glory!
  • During the December snow, a branch fell off and blocked the road, causing a speeding ambulance to skid into a ditch and need rescuing by Terry's tractor.
  • Further branches fell off later. Also, its roots block the drains, and it's too tall for its proximity to the house, say the insurers. So, it has to go.
  • Nothing happening on the house.



2013 - July

  • All nice and tidy.
  • Looks like we had a gathering of some sort.


2013 - June

  • After landscaping the smaller part of the front garden, ruined by developments to the outbuildings, including the replacement of a box hedge by a rockery and adding gravel to the drive.
  • The garden seems very green, as does the pond, which was suffering from a plague of duckweed. This was cleared - remarkably enough - by our small flock of captive ducks, which have come and gone. Now moorhens seem to do the job.



2012 - December

  • Part of the garden is devastated by spoil heaps and drain excavations - consequential on the conversion of the outbuildings.
  • The rest of the garden seems in good shape for the time of year.



2012 - November

  • The pond almost immediately 'caught' duckweed after it had filled up post-dredging.
  • A few photos of Henry as a puppy.



2012 - October

  • The pond was a stinking mess when we moved in, so we decided to have it dredged.
  • The bottom photos show a 15-ton digger being delivered. Its treads ruined the lawn, as can be seen in some of the photos, though the worst depredations were across the lawn to the far gate where the spoil-truck was parked.
  • I don't seem to have proper 'before and after' photos. Those below seem to be taken during the dredging operation, starting with draining the pond.
  • It seems to show that the pond isn't very deep.



2012 - April - Ducks

  • Stray ducks on the banks of the pond, before we got our own ducks and before the pond was dredged.



2012 - February - Snow

  • Nothing to do with our gardens, but parked here for want of a better home!
  • Photos taken in the snow when walking around Coxes Farm Road and Outward Farm Road.
  • I'm not sure of the exact date they were taken, but they were most likely taken before we exchanged contracts and were uploaded to SnapFish on 5th February 2012.


In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 4:
  • If you're using a mouse, you can hover over the image to see the date / time the photo was taken, the photo filename and the source of the photo.
  • More useful narrative commentary will be added in due course when I've got round to entering it; it will also appear additionally - and more usefully - below the photos.
  • The JPEGs immediately displayed on this page are 'medium size'. Click on the image to display a full-sized full-page photo (or sometimes just the same medium-sized one displayed full-page).

Note last updated: 05/04/2019 10:36:29

Footnote 5: (Coxes Farm)

  • This page is intended to provide a succinct timeline of the vicissitudes – good and bad – that have come upon our house – Coxes Farm, Billericay, Essex – since we purchased it in February 2012.
  • It has taken a back seat since I started developing other timeline pages using a different technique.
  • See:-
    December 2017 Onwards
    Prior to December 2017

21 May 2013 (Photo IDs = 7 & 8) ↓
OutbuildingsThe outbuildingsOutbuildings
The outbuilding prior to renovation & conversion.
The outbuildings following renovation & conversion.
21 May 2013 (Photo ID = 5) ↓
Coxes_Farm_SidePhoto from English Heritage
21 May 2013 (Photo IDs = 3 & 4) ↓
Staircase_to_NowhereUnusual features of Coxes FarmIvy_Room
The "staircase to nowhere"
The "Ivy Room"
21 May 2013 (Photo IDs = 1 & 2) ↓
Coxes_Farm_SideCoxes Farm in the SnowCoxes_Farm_Back_Snowy

Note last updated: 05/04/2019 10:36:29

Footnote 6: (Tottering Towers & Listing Buildings)

This Page discusses some of the issues that can arise with owning a listed building, with a case study at the end (work yet to be completed!) dealing with my own property: Coxes Farm, Billericay, Essex. Those interested in this can hop directly to it using the “Practice” link below. Note that while I’ve mentioned the various companies involved, I’ve not named the individuals themselves.

  1. Background and policy
    • Back in the 1960s, planners had the idea that modernism and the need for progress justified the wholesale destruction of what is now known as England’s “heritage” – basically the vernacular buildings that had survived from earlier ages, possibly because those who owned them, and the communities they lived in, had not been able to afford to replace them earlier, as the prosperity that had enabled their construction had moved elsewhere.
    • This short-termist error – what is totally destroyed cannot be recovered – has been replaced by a contrary approach, which is to make it very difficult to change – and certainly to replace – any building that has been listed as requiring conservation. This seems a necessary corrective. However, it needs to be managed so that there will continue to be those willing to live in these buildings and take on the pleasurable burden of maintaining them.
    • It is important to note that most listed buildings are not Great Houses, but fairly humble dwellings that have historically been inhabited and maintained by humble people who had the skills – or who had neighbours with the skills – to keep them in a reasonable state of repair. No doubt there’s a Darwinian element as well – those ancient buildings we still have are those it was possible – maybe because their initial construction was sufficiently well-done – to keep standing with the continual repairs so necessary on any building, but particularly those timber-framed structures made of material particularly subject to decay.
    • To some degree, anyone buying an old building knows what they are letting themselves in for. Friends will have warned them not to do it. They will see evidence with their own eyes of movement within the structure over the years, the sloping floors and leaning walls, the numerous ad hoc repairs, and be amazed at how the building is still standing.
    • However, they will have taken the usual precautions. They will have had a full structural survey undertaken, which will doubtless have generated a shopping list of repairs, but which will have assured them that the structure is basically sound; or if it isn’t will have given them the ammunition to get the property at a knock-down price. They will have checked that no illegal changes have been made since the listing, and may even have insurance to cover the costs of enforcements that they could not have reasonably been aware of. They will know that they have a duty to maintain the property and will have persuaded themselves that they have the funds to undertake whatever maintenance or authorised development projects they have in mind. Of course, some of these assumptions and assurances may turn out to be baseless.
  2. Insurance
    • The insurance of a listed building is an important and sometimes difficult matter. Maybe the new purchaser will have been warned before purchase, but as this is still a relatively small cost, in the overall context of the cost of maintaining a listed building, will have been unperturbed. Property insurance is geared towards rebuilding cost, and the likelihood of an insurable event arising. The rebuilding cost of most houses is much less than their market value, but this tends not to be the case with listed buildings, where specialist craftsmen – a rare breed charging a premium – are required to make repairs, which have to be made using traditional methods and materials and approved by the local Conservation Officer. So, you need a “specialist insurer” who understands this, and will pay out1 for the work should it be required.
    • In general, self-insurance is best if you can afford to bear the loss, as it avoids the frictional costs – admin and profits – that insurers necessarily add on. It also avoids the inflated premiums brought about by serial claimers who like things “just so”. So, you insure against perils that – should they transpire – would leave you unable to bear the cost of repair or replacement2 following an accident of some sort. However, most people can’t afford to replace their primary dwelling from their own funds.
    • The real issue is not so much with the premiums, but with the cover, in particular the weasel words “wear and tear”. When we come to whatever perils you might imagine your property is insured against, that’s where surprises may be in store. Clearly, both house and contents have elements that wear out and need repair or replacement, and you wouldn’t expect insurance to cover that. But the purpose of insurance is to cover you for rare events that you can’t self-insure for. Some of these are clearly defined and insurable – namely fire, flood (outside of flood-plains), heave and subsidence and the like. What is not covered are catastrophic events that are caused by events that insurers classify as “wear and tear”, because they are gradual processes that carry on in the background but which may ultimately lead to a catastrophe. Old timber-framed houses are knitted together so that they maintain their integrity, more or less, but over the years the structure moves about, numerous repairs and ties are applied so that ultimately a tipping point may arise and the whole building might fall down like a pack of cards if a key element fails. Such an event – which might result in a total loss that the owner has a duty to put right – would not be insurable. Nor would many lesser catastrophes.
    • For example, my house has a chimney up one side that leans out somewhat. A succession of structural engineers and surveyors have expressed confidence that it’s not going to fall over any time soon. But no-one knows whether it’s being held up by a tie to the main frame, or whether the main frame is pushing it over a bit. But if it were to fall over, that’d just be hard luck; insurance wouldn’t pay out unless it happened in a storm, earthquake or fire or the result of some external impact. If the tie finally rusted away – or whatever gradual process reached its end – that’s not insurable. It seems that if the chimney fell over and landed on someone; that person could claim against the insurance, though I have my suspicions that “failure to maintain the property” might be raised as an escape-clause. But how are you to know that such an event is secretly going on?
    • I might add that once some unpleasant event happens to your property, obtaining or keeping insurance may be difficult. Even though insurers don’t take themselves to be liable for “wear and tear” events, they can take fright and void your insurance – on the grounds that you’ve not maintained your property in good condition, or not given them accurate information. The only response to the possibility of some events is to “hope they don’t happen”, given they aren’t covered by insurance, but having no insurance at all leads to other problems, as we will see.
  3. Funding
    • Say some disaster overtakes your property that requires extensive repairs. How do you fund them? Well, you might have the funds readily realisable in cash, investments or other assets you could sell. But if – like me – you’ve already pretty well emptied your pockets buying, renovating and maintaining your beloved home, this might not be available to you.
    • So, the obvious options are grants, loans and litigation.
      1. Grants: I’ve not pursued these on the grounds that my house isn’t a national treasure, I’m not a pauper, and therefore ought to be a long way down the pecking order, as no doubt I am. Also, it’s my responsibility to maintain my property, and it’s my asset at the end of the day, and I see no reason why the government, local authority or other sources should bail me out. I’m particularly averse to the use of lottery funds for such purposes where the poor, who mostly provide the funds, get no benefit. Finally, even if eligible, there appears to be a long queue for grants, the approval process is even more complicated than usual in applications for funding, and all this has to be gone through before work can commence, which may not be practicable if the property is in a perilous state.
      2. Loans: this ought to be fairly straightforward. There would seem to be three obvious options: equity release, a repayment or interest-only mortgage from a bank and peer-to-peer lending.
        1. Equity Release: This sounds fine; you can get the cash and don’t have to make repayments over a punishingly short3 period of time, though you have to watch out for the interest roll-up. If you can get equity release in a form where you can pay the interest – or can set up a vehicle to do it once the penalty period is over – that would suit fine. Unfortunately, relatively few lenders want to lend on listed properties, and those that do impose higher interest rates than those available on modern properties. But the real killer is the state of the building. If you’ve just encountered a major problem, even though they may value the property – even in its current parlous state – at a very conservative multiple of 8 or so4 above the lending amount, they will not lend at all until you’ve had the property fixed. This is Catch-22, if you can’t afford to pay your builders5 without the loan. I can just about understand this for equity release. After all, the plot is that you’ll let the interest roll up, but there’s no guarantee – they might think6 – that you’ll use the released cash to repair the property, so that when you pop your clogs, the asset might be worth less than they might have hoped. Also, even listed properties in a good state of repair are difficult to shift, for reasons apparent in this discussion.
        2. Mortgage: Again, this looks superficially promising. Of course, it depends on your income, so is not an option available to everyone. It also depends on the age of the borrowers, but less so than in the past. Time was7 when the loan had to be repaid by age 70, but not so any more. But it does have to be repaid other than by the sale of the property if you want to carry on living there: so, it needs either to be a standard repayment mortgage or one to be repaid by an endowment policy or the equivalent. Again, time was when you could hardly get a fixed rate mortgage, but now they are all the rage. Someone is obviously betting on interest rate futures as it seems easy to get 10 years fixed at 2.5% on a repayment mortgage. So far, so rosy, though repayment mortgages obviously depress your standard of living more than interest-ony equity-release. Unfortunately, there’s the snag just noted in that regard. Those dangerous beasts “the Underwriters” might not like to lend on a dubious property, irrespective of the fact that the repayment and capital risks are tiny in comparison with loans to first-time buyers.
        3. Peer-to-peer lending: There are at least two forms of this – the commercial form (investors wanting to get more for their money, which now appears to have the banks lurking in the background) and loans from friends and family. I’ve not checked out the former, but suspect interest rates and frictional costs will not compare well to loans from banks; the latter is not open to everyone, and is an uncomfortable arrangement8.
      3. Litigation9: If some disaster overtakes you, and it doesn’t seem to be one’s own fault, there’s a temptation to think it is someone else’s, and a prime candidate is the surveyor who didn’t warn you of impending doom. It doesn’t seem well known either that there’s a statute of limitations – 6 years from when the survey was undertaken – or that case law allows this to be overridden in certain circumstances. In these, the limitation is overridden if the fault couldn’t have been determined in the 6-year period, but appears later. Then you have a further 3 years to press the claim from when the fault appears. There would seem to be a bit of a tension here, given the caveats that surveyors usually include. If the fault wasn’t obvious, and didn’t come to light, how can it be negligent of the surveyor not to have spotted it? I think it depends on how the surveyor presented himself. If as an expert on buildings of the age and architecture in question, and the fault is such that an expert ought to have warned against it, or suggested investigative work be undertaken or requested prior to purchase, then if he’s silent he may be at fault. Aside from the general distastefulness of litigation, it is an expensive and risky business, and also can be very time-consuming – likely 18 months, so will not help with short-term funding requirements. Picking up on the two issues just mentioned:-
        1. Expense: These cases are not straightforward, so have to be undertaken by an expert with an hourly rate of £250 + VAT, or thereabouts. In addition, a non-conflicted technical expert will be required to write a report, likely cost £4k + VAT. Then there are court fees if it gets that far.
        2. Risk: The main risk is making a bad situation worse. If the claim comes to court, and you lose, you will be liable for the defence costs and the escapade may cost £60k. Even if you get a solicitor willing to take the case on a “no win no fee” basis, you’re still liable for the defence costs. Even if you win, you’re at the mercy of the judge as to how high the damages might be. That said, there might be an out-of-court settlement, so it might be worth having a go if it seems a clear case.
  4. Contractors:
    • Normally you’d get “competing quotes” for a major job on your house, but there are difficulties with this strategy for listed buildings.
      1. As already noted, these are specialist jobs, so most contractors fail to qualify for the job, even if they should want it, which is often not the case.
      2. Sometimes investigative work is required before the scale of the problem can be determined. Prior to this, competing quotes are meaningless as they usually involve escape clauses for unexpected “order of magnitude” shifts in costs. Once a contractor has invested in the investigative work and covered the house in scaffolding, it may be awkward and expensive to jump horses.
      3. Like-for-like comparison is complicated by the scarcity of qualified contractors. Competitors – even if interested – may be at a disadvantage if they have to travel long distances during the contract.
      4. Some firms act as lead-contractors and take on the co-ordination. Others are specialists in one aspect of the project, but won’t take responsibility for the whole job.
    • So, you might be – realistically speaking – “stuck with” the local expert firm, expensive though they may be. Of course, this may be fine, but you are reliant on their good-will rather than market forces to keep the costs in hand.

Policy Changes Required
  1. Insurance:
    • There needs to be the option of insuring against insidious “wear and tear” events with unforeseen catastrophic effects. Cover against major unaffordable risks is what insurance is for.
    • I don’t think that this can be a standard policy feature, as it would likely be expensive and not be affordable for all. Also, some listed buildings are more liable to such events that others. Brick-built buildings might be liable to subsidence or heave, but these risks are already standard. Timber-framed structures are less subject to such risks, but have no compensating cover under current policies.
    • No doubt this policy would require an up-front survey, chargeable to the customer one way or another, and cover might be refused – in which case it would be evidence against your surveyor who presumably gave the property a clean bill of health.
    • What can’t be the case is people living with a risk they can’t afford to bear and “hoping it doesn’t happen”, if there’s any alternative – which there ought to be.
  2. Borrowing:
    • Given the need for a vicious circle to be broken, the possibility of a “bridging loan” to allow listed buildings to be repaired would certainly help.
    • This would need to be backed up by government cash – as commercial lenders are already reluctant – but all that’s asked is a short-term loan, on the presumption that a commercial loan can be found once the repairs have been made.
  3. VAT:
    • This hasn’t been belaboured above, as it’s a well-known gripe from the listed building community, and is the subject of much parliamentary lobbying.
    • While it would be “nice”, I’m not 100% convinced it’s a justified concession in the current economic climate. It probably depends on whether such a concession is necessary to ensure that listed properties are not left unrepaired, and therefore put at risk.
    • As usual, a “one size fits all” benefit is simplest to administer, while means-tested, or other situation-dependant benefits still lead to the occasional inequity and no doubt would add to the timelines and uncertainty. But “subsidising the rich”, as this can be portrayed, is neither popular nor fair.
    • In any case, there’s nothing doing until we leave the EU as European law seems to forbid tinkering with the VAT rules.

  1. This tale of woe may be of little interest to, and invoke even less sympathy from, those struggling to meet their mortgage payments, or paying exorbitant rent while queuing for their first step on the property ladder, but I think it raises some important questions about the maintenance of our ancient heritage. It’s to do with the structural surveys, insurance and maintenance of listed buildings discussed theoretically above.
  2. Coxes Farmhouse10 is a Grade II Listed timber-framed building that – according to the Listing – hails from the 16th century, with an extension at the front added on in the 17th century and a kitchen added at the back in the 1980s. The oldest part looks rather crazy, with leaning walls, and the upper floors either ski-sloping or with a hump in the middle. “Too many beams” according to some, but we fell in love with it immediately, and spent quite a sum over and above the purchase price strengthening floors, replacing the electrics and plumbing, making the attic and the spare bedroom habitable, converting the stables into my library and a guest suite and generally sorting out the half-acre garden and pond. We had a full structural survey undertaken prior to purchase, and retained the surveyor as architect to effect the repairs and improvements11 and manage the relationship with the conservation officer at Essex CC.
  3. All was going well, more or less, until the end of 2017, though there had been the usual niggles with such properties: the back wall let water in if the wind was in the wrong direction – fairly standard for timber-framed houses with infill panels that don’t consistently fit well throughout the seasons. Unfortunately, just before Christmas 2017 a crack appeared in the corner at the front of the building. See some photos here.
  4. This 17th century extension, we’re now all too painfully aware, is basically a fairly flimsy timber-framed structure with brick infill that had originally been lime plastered, but had subsequently been repaired and plastered over with an impervious cement render on an iron mesh matrix presumably sometime in the 1960s. The iron mesh had started to rust and the timber frame had basically rotted away. This wasn’t raised as an issue by our surveyor whose report – while pointing out many items requiring attention – failed to mention the risks associated with covering timber frames with impervious membranes.
  5. We attempted to get our then insurance company – NFU Mutual ( – to consider a claim, but there was nothing doing. To get them to come round at all we had to suggest that the crack might be due to subsidence, but it was not. It was down to “wear and tear”. We got The Morton Partnership ( (structural engineers) to undertake a survey, but they could not determine the true cause without invasive work, which they could not do without the assistance of contractors. We did consider McCurdy & Co ( to do the work in conjunction with Mortons, but they are based in Reading, and the co-ordination, lines of responsibility and logistics looked too difficult to manage, so in the end we employed Bakers of Danbury ( as a “one stop shop”, as lead contractor but with their own staff in the main, a decision we’ve not regretted.
  6. Bakers’ original suggestion was to rebuild the entire front of the house, taking off the front portion of the roof in the process, but this would have been far too expensive. So, we reached a compromise whereby a structural engineer from RichardJackson Engineering Consultants ( drew up a plan to replace the front façade and the returns as far as the side chimney to the left, and a similar distance the other side, while supporting the floor joists and the roof with acrow props. While the rest of that part of the frame suffered some of the same problems, they were not to the same degree. The infill to the right was “criss-crossed” less by rotten timber and was in any case sturdier with less of a load to bear. The small area of wall beyond the chimney to the left was in rather poor condition, but again its load-bearing responsibility was fairly minimal. The excavation holes in these areas were simply filled in – “hardened” with brick and cement where necessary – and left (rather optimistically) to a further phase. For the investigative work, here are links to some photos: the first investigations in April 2018 and the more invasive investigations in June 2018.
  7. At the beginning of this stage, we attempted to obtain funds by Equity Release, using Equity Release Supermarket (, but while the situation originally looked promising, our broker could – in the end – find no lenders willing to take on the risk with the house in its then state of (so-called) disrepair. The interest rates were exorbitant in the current financial climate as well. However, we did eventually manage to obtain a repayment mortgage – subsequently expanded and extended – with HSBC.
  8. This phase of the work – solely to the front of the house, and the vast bulk of the repair work that was originally envisaged – was achieved more or less within the original budget, though not to schedule as the glorious summer months ticked by while the 3-month statutory consultation period for listed building consent expired. Talking of which, Basildon CC was happy to sign off on a fairly vague application submitted by Bakers that requested “like for like” repairs to the frame. They were happy to leave the details in Bakers’ hands, such is their reputation for probity in such matters. What was not “like for like” was that the brick infill was not replaced (though those bricks that could be reclaimed were retained for repairs to the plinth and for subsequent work elsewhere on the house). Also, after the frame had been built and the lath-and-lime-plastering completed, the painting with lime-wash couldn’t replicate the faux-beam effect that had been the case before. The paint would smudge. The poor state of the timbers is revealed in the photos taken in September 2018 as the repairs were underway. The rebuilding work features in the earlier part of the set of photos taken in October 2018.
  9. A pair of “before and after” photos of the front of the property appears below:-

    The front façade “as was”. The faux beams are painted on, but roughly follow the underlying timbers.

    The finished front façade. Somewhat plain as the faux beams cannot be painted on with lime-wash. →

  10. As noted, there were known issues with the house that required fixing over and above those remarked upon above, which we’d not anticipated and which had now been fixed. The first of these issues was the “leaky wall” at the back. When this was investigated by Bakers, the situation was found to be even worse than had been the case with the front. The bressummer beam that supports the ceiling joists was found to be rotten through, and partially filled in with expanding foam, painted over to disguise the “repair”. Also, the sole plate had disappeared and the two corner posts – and all the studs – were rotten at the base, and in the centre for the right-hand post. Finally, one of the oriel windows had to be re-made. This time some of the original timbers and in-fill were retained, though the plinth and ¾ of the wall, and part of the right-hand return, were renewed. The investigation is photographed in the latter part of the set of photos taken in October 2018, while the “damage” and the repair work for the rear of the property features in the set of photos taken in November 2018. The final stages of the rebuilding, and the finished product, appear in the set of photos taken in December 2018.
  11. Again, a pair of “before and after” photos of the rear of the property appears below:-

    An old photo of the rear / side of the property.

    The rear of the house, following renovation. →

  12. The third phase of the project is currently being re-quoted for by Bakers in the light of experience on the first two phases. This is the wall on the “garden” side of the house which has always looked the most rickety. See the photos taken in January 2019, which also show the rotten rear timbers and the completed rear of the property.
  13. The focus of Phase 3:-

    The end-wall. The centre post is partly hollow and the sole plate - being below ground - is doubtless 'gone'.

    This wall will mostly have to wait! Probably for the next owner, though there's a cracked plate that requires more immediate attention. →

  14. We are currently preparing a legal case against the surveyor who failed to warn of – or pick up on – the many grievous problems with the building that – had they been determined – might have deterred us from purchasing Coxes Farm – or at least greatly reduced the price we’d have had to pay. We’ve had positive advice from a barrister and an equally positive draft report from an “Expert Witness”. Further details must await the successful prosecution of the case.
  15. A full timeline of photos – already referenced above in sections – showing the damage and repairs appears on this page here.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:
  • “Out of the box” insurance policies cheerily announce “rebuilding costs up to £1m”, but as soon as they find out that’s what the rebuilding cost might be, they refuse insurance outright.
  • It is said – anecdotally at least, though no doubt it depends on the attitude of the local conservation officer – that if all – or sometimes “more than half” of a listed building is destroyed – in a fire, say – that the listing would be revoked and the owner of the property would then be entitled to replace it with any building subject to the normal planning regulations.
  • That would imply two things:-
    1. Since the rebuilding cost of a modern building is much less than for a listed building, the rebuilding costs on the policy for a listed building ought to be about half what they are made out to be, since only half would ever be rebuilt and rebuilding the whole as a modern building would be cheaper still; but as there’s the element of doubt about local authority policy, I suppose they can’t be.
    2. A non-listed building of comparable size would be worth much more than its listed equivalent, so this is an incitement to arson. Thankfully for Britain’s heritage, arsonists tend to be found out and end up living in more confined quarters.
Footnote 2:
  • This applies mostly to contents insurance, where premiums are based partly on claims made by those who throw red wine on their carpets when they feel like a change.
  • I’d never claim in such a situation as it’s disruptive having carpets changed, and then I’d worry about the cat scratching them and both the cat and the dog occasionally sicking or pooing on them.
  • But that’s a foible, and – financially at least – it’s prudent to claim for one’s stupid blunders, as these tend to be “insurable events” – whereas other disasters over which you had no control may not be.
  • Eventually, of course, carpets wear out and have to be replaced – but that’s “wear and tear” and quite rightly you can’t claim for that.
Footnote 3:
  • This discussion relates mostly to older property-owners who paid cash for their property, possibly with a small mortgage for improvements.
  • Younger people with a large mortgage are probably in a spot of bother as they may now be in negative-equity territory.
Footnote 4:
  • It seems odd to say that they are undertaking a “valuation” when you are asking for such a small proportion of the value.
  • You’d have thought a “drive by” would do, but what happens is that a surveyor comes round and pours over every nook and cranny.
Footnote 5:
  • My builder has a warning in the contract that the company reserves the right to charge 5% above base rate for late payments.
  • That would be super, as a last resort, but in general builders’ cash-flows won’t allow it to carry on for long, and I suspect downing of tools, followed by litigation would follow from attempting this financing option.
Footnote 6:
  • Indeed, they claim that they don’t care what you spend the money on – other than that you must tell them what it is so they can satisfy the anti-money-laundering legislation.
  • That, of course, is so they can say they’ve checked 99.99% of their customers in this regard, focussing on those who don’t know what money laundering is, of course.
Footnote 7:
  • Back in 2012, in fact.
Footnote 8:
  • Say you run into difficulties and can’t repay the loan or keep up the interest payments?
  • How will your relationships with friends or family fare if they have to repossess your house – or within their family if they don’t (witness DI Thursday in Endeavour)?
Footnote 9:
  • This section is somewhat “work in progress” and the information is gleaned from discussions with a couple of solicitors rather than being based on in-depth research.
Footnote 10:
  • At the end of 2010 my employer – HSBC – and I parted company on amicable terms when I took early retirement with the intent of pursuing my interests in analytic philosophy. I was left with a fairly comfortable pension after an earnest though not particularly distinguished career in the IT department of the HSBC Investment Bank and Head Office.
  • Having extracted the tax-free 25% from my pension fund and added it to my various investments, I noted that this pile of cash was about twice the value of the rather humble dwelling that I’d been too busy to worry about while working.
  • So, rather than fret over the ups and downs of our investment portfolio my family and I agreed to find our dream home in the country – or as near the country as Billericay affords – and purchased the main house and some outbuildings of Coxes Farm at the end of 2011, though it took another 6 months to sell our old house and make our “new” one habitable.
Footnote 11:
  • This will be the subject of a further Note in due course, though the photographic record is scattered about on this page here.
  • All-in-all, this programme of work went well and achieved our aims within our budget.

Note last updated: 05/04/2019 10:36:29

Footnote 7: (Aeon Papers - Summary Document: 2017-2018)

Links to Topics on this Page

MedicineMetaphilosophyMusicPersonal IdentityPolitics
PsychologyReligionScienceTranshumanism*** Uncategorised ***
  1. The Aeon1 eZine:-
    1. Covers a large number of philosophical topics that I’m particularly interested in from a semi-professional point of view.
    2. It also covers others that are of more general interest, for which I’ve read papers as they crop up but don’t really have much time to comment on.
    3. Finally, there are others – and particularly videos – which are not as relevant, and which I usually ignore.
  2. As with all papers, I categorise them by subject, topic and sub-topic: up to three of each. As such, it is possible to cross-refer the subjects under discussion. But as I have about 23,000 papers2 of one sort or another, this cross-categorisation leads to something of a morass.
  3. Consequently, for Aeon, I decided to list the main topics that I’m interested in that have come up (an on-going job, requiring occasional refinement), and to list the papers that fall under them. That way, it would be easier to see how the various authors address the same topics, and in particular how they disagree.
  4. The topics appear in the table above, with links to the lists. The topic of Personal Identity is further broken down in the list.
  5. Unfortunately, there is some need for cross-categorisation, but I’ll have to resist this and live with the deficiency. Multiple-listings will make the lists too long and confusing. Connections will need to be made between the papers themselves in such cases.

Progress to Date
  1. This Note includes links to all the Aeon papers I accessed in 2017, with a few from 2018. I have now logged by category all the papers I’ve accessed since joining the list at the beginning of 2017 – hence developing the categories.
  2. In 2017 there were relatively few papers that I ignored (though in general I skipped all the videos). Occasionally I’ve read or viewed a paper or video, but not incurred the overhead of logging them in my database.
  3. In most cases I still need to add – usually brief – comments, making use of a disclaimer as necessary.
  4. Stimulating though this exercise is, I found such heroic efforts as exemplified in this Note took up too much time away from my research, so I had to put it mostly on hold. What I decided to do in 4Q17 was just to categorise and read those items that really relate to my research. The others could not be categorised or added to my database, but – as a weekly exercise –the authors, titles, dates and links were added to an uncategorised list at the end.
  5. In 2018, I decided that a further refocussing of effort was required, and thereafter only added those papers that were strictly associated with my research, or were particularly interesting. I had hoped to comment on those papers already logged, but will probably never find the time to do so.
  6. I must also note here that I treat a few other articles I come across that are of similar standard to Aeon, and treat them as though they were Aeon, listing them in the cross-reference and filing them with the Aeon articles proper, for want of a better home. I note this against the individual papers.

The Future
  1. Aeon is a very valuable resource and a stimulating source of ideas. Too good to miss, but not worth spending the whole day on. So, from now on I’ve decided just to list the articles of interest that turn up, and only log them and comment on them in my databases if they are exceptionally relevant.
  2. These links are recorded against this Note, which now also contains the uncategorised list noted above.

  1. Aesthetics

  2. Animals / Animal Rights

  3. Astronomy / Cosmology

  4. Computing

  5. Consciousness

  6. Education

  7. Ethics9

  8. Evolution

  9. Geography

  10. History

  11. Islam & Philosophy

  12. Language / Linguistics

  13. Law

  14. Literature

  15. Mathematics

  16. Medicine / Health

  17. Metaphilosophy13

  18. Music

  19. Personal Identity15

  20. Politics / Economics / Sociology

  21. Psychology

  22. Religion

  23. Science

  24. Transhumanism44 / AI45

Pending Items
  1. These have now been moved to this Note.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Footnote 2:
  • As of autumn 2019.
Footnote 9:
  • I don’t have a Note on Ethics per se, but
  • I do have a Note on the allegation that Personal Identity is a Forensic Property of the individual.
  • I’ve also included those topics – like “the good life” – that tend to feature in ethics courses.
Footnote 13:
  • This will probably include general philosophy until a get a critical mass for further categories.
Footnote 15:
  • This is a bucket-list for those items under the topic of Personal Identity that aren’t broken out under other categories.
  • See the full Jump Table here.
Footnote 25:
  • I don’t yet have a note for sexual Identity.
  • Some of these Papers may really belong under Politics.
Footnote 44:
  • The main Note is this one.
  • However, I intend to include such matters as Neuroscience and AI under this head, where they are relevant to hopes of Transhumanism.
Footnote 45:
  • I’ll need to re-house those items that are nothing to do with Transhumanism.
  • Currently, anything to do with computing or the internet appears here.

Note last updated: 01/11/2019 00:31:41

Footnote 8: (Somerset Maugham Short Stories - Part 1)

  1. For Somerset Maugham, see W. Somerset Maugham.
  2. I have now added brief commentaries on things that struck me from all the stories in the collection in "Somerset Maugham (W.) - Short Stories".
  3. I have managed to precis the stories to the degree strictly necessary to provide the context for whatever I have to say, but anyone other than me reading these accounts probably won’t fully understand what I’m on about unless they’ve read – and can recall – the stories.
  4. My intention has been merely to reflect on – and remind myself of – various “ethical1” or more generally philosophical issues that arise. I don’t claim to be a literary critic.
  5. Because of record-size restrictions in my database, this Note has had to be split in two:-
    → see Part 2 for the remainder of the Stories.

  1. The Pacific – 1
    • One-page; atmospheric.
  2. Mackintosh – 2
    • Mackintosh is a clerk whose health necessitates a retreat to warmer climes – a small island in the South Pacific under British administration – lest he catch TB in the London cold.
    • This story raises a lot of questions – even ignoring the issue of colonial paternalism which would be frowned on these days. Under the empire “caring for the natives as your children” was a moral virtue, but would be seen as condescending today; if only because the “natives” – after another century of western influence – have grown up a bit, though maybe that’s equally condescending.
    • Mackintosh comes to work for an Irish ignoramus who initially became administrator under the Germans, but stayed on when control was ceded to the British, and has now been in control for 20 years. He’s described as corpulent and is in his early 60s; Mackintosh is younger and thin. There’s a contrast between the precision, correctness and culture of Mackintosh and the vulgarity – but more positive and expansive, if bullying, character – of the “administrator” (Walker).
    • Walker takes risks – his career was founded on an outrageous bit of luck in a 1000-1 winning bet on a horse – but “does things” – in particular building the roads that allow copra to be transported more easily, and hence adds to the prosperity of the island.
    • Walker is an uneducated ruffian who metes out his own justice in a “hard but fair” way, bending the rules where necessary – lying and cheating if this is required for “justice” to be done. He has no doubts as to what to do in any circumstance – even dispensing medicines without any medical training, along the lines of “tomorrow (your child) will be either better or dead”.
    • He views himself as invulnerable, and provided everyone submits to him, all goes well. He is honest, has never made a penny out of his position, and genuinely loves the native people and the beauty of the island, which he greatly appreciates, despite his coarseness.
    • However, for those who won’t willingly submit to him, he is intolerable as he doesn’t perceive their resentment, and thinks everyone loves him – partly because they hide their true feelings as the oppressed must.
    • In particular, he is greatly resented by his subordinate, Macintosh – whose subordination is forever before him – and also by the local chief’s son, whom he humiliates in a needless dispute over remuneration for road-building: the young man encourages the tribe to hold out for a sum that is within the grant, but Walker won’t be challenged – and thinks the payment would be bad for them (“they’d only spend it on drink”; paternalism again).
    • However, things get nasty when the hospitality arrangements of the island mean that the local tribe has to support another tribe that Walker brings in to build the road. This results in the total humiliation of the chief’s son, who is punished by his tribe when they had supported him until Walker got the upper hand.
    • Macintosh “accidentally” leaves his gun so the young man can find it, and – while he warns Walker not to carry on his routines alone – is complicit in his assassination.
    • Walker is shot, and on his death-bed, forgives the “natives”, saying that the shooting should be put down as an accident lest the governor sends a gun-boat to destroy the innocent. The natives are distraught at the death of their “father” and Mackintosh commits suicide – maybe to draw the blame for Walker’s death on himself, given his complicity in it.
    • There are doubtless many things to draw from all this. I have worked for worse people than Walker, and felt Mackintosh’s resentment. I have also worked for people who knew with certainty the way to go; sometimes they were sacked and replaced by the next monster who knew the opposite direction was the way to go, who was later replaced by …
    • However, Walker does know the way, and Mackintosh probably doesn’t (and I don’t think I did – or anybody did – in the grand strategic sense).
  3. The Fall of Edward Barnard – 38
    • Edward Barnard is engaged to the upright and intelligent Isabel when his father goes bankrupt and he goes to Tahiti to remake his fortune. This is supposed to take two years, but drags on and Hunter Bateman, his best friend who is secretly in love with Isabel, volunteers to go out to determine what has gone wrong.
    • The trio belong to the upper crust of Chicago society, and they count (or – in Edward’s case – “counted”) Chicago as the greatest place on earth. However, their lives – unbeknownst to themselves – are far from authentic, but are entirely formulaic and unoriginal. Their houses are copies of Venetian palaces or French chateaux, filled with fine reproductions of slightly inappropriate furniture, and the men spend their lives bouncing back and forth between their homes and their company head offices, spending the evenings at the theatre. This is the life from which Edward “falls3”.
    • Hunter finds that Edward has been fired for indolence and is working in a haberdasher’s. He has also become friends with Arnold Jackson – a (former) con-man and rogue who had spent time in a penitentiary and is the black sheep of Isabel’s family.
    • The story is full of amusing examples of Hunter’s moral and aesthetic4 discomfiture – in particular at a private dinner involving Arnold and his “native” wife (bigamously acquired) and Arnold’s “half-caste” daughter who Edward hopes to marry if released from his promise to Isabel5.
    • When Edward says he has “plans” for his life in Tahiti, Bateman imagines – with exhilaration – some ruinously exploitative scheme, but Edward’s idea is something far more eco-friendly, and not intended to earn him the millions he has no need of for a happy life.
    • The story hinges on the different life-choices of Edward and Bateman, and the contrast between a lucrative and industrious treadmill that leaves no place for happiness other than a smug ranking in the social pecking order and a more laid-back approach that’s closer to nature and real humanity.
    • While I agree completely with this, I do retain a sympathy for the “protestant work ethic”. “Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made, by singing:- “Oh, how beautiful,” and sitting in the shade” (Kipling - The Glory of the Garden ( Maybe things are easier in Tahiti, in that the garden is mostly self-maintaining – but one of the things Edward wants to do is “read” (it’s not said quite what). There would be nothing to read unless lots of people were willing to work to provide the wealth to support writers to write stuff. We can’t all drop out. The “noble savage” isn’t a drop out either, and knows nothing of the positives or negatives of the life that ultimately dissatisfies his western admirers.
  4. Rain – 73
    • This is supposed to be one of the short stories that has best stood the test of time in the public affections. I’m not so sure it deserves to, if it does.
    • The situation is that two couples (the Davidsons and the Macphails) are holed up (for reasons that need not detain us) for two weeks in a makeshift guesthouse on a remote island in the South Pacific during the monsoon season. The two husbands are both medics, but Davidson is a medical missionary (he’s never referred to as “Dr” but only as “Mr” or “Rev”), while Macphail is a skeptical GP.
    • The critical consensus6 seems to be that this short story exposes the hypocrisy of the pair of missionaries, but I’m not convinced it does anything so simplistic.
    • Both couples are fairly snobbish and hold themselves aloof from the other passengers that were on the boat that brought them to the island, and who remain incarcerated there. This is hypocritical from a Christian standpoint.
    • However, the Davidsons do seem to be genuine zealots – obnoxious, but not necessarily routinely hypocritical. Indeed, Rev. Davidson seems to have personal and spiritual courage in that he’s been willing to turn out in any weather – crossing in a canoe to remote islands in dangerous conditions – whenever there’s been a medical emergency. He sees an inconsistency in claiming to “trust the Lord” and to be worried about his own safety.
    • The missionaries give an account of their “work” – which seems to involve inculcating in “the natives” a sense of sin. The people they work amongst seem to have had no sense of the wrongness of lying, stealing or adultery, and cannot be induced by normal means to repent. So, to teach them the wrongness of these activities, the missionaries use their stranglehold over economic resources to fine them and bring them into line, making it against the law to sin in these ways. One man is reduced from plenty to penury as a result of a dispute with Davidson. Indeed, the missionary organization as a whole seems to have undue influence in Washington, which gives them power over the civil authorities on the islands.
    • In a sense, this focus on making sin illegal7 is consistent with Pauline teaching on sin: for instance, Romans 7:7 (Link ( – Paul argues that if it hadn’t been for the law, he would not have known sin, and (for example) wouldn’t have known what it is to covet8 unless the law had told him not to.
    • The question, though, is one of cultural and ethical imperialism. Just why should missionaries think they have the right to impose their moral values on other cultures that seem to get along all right without them? No doubt – in a fully worked-out apologia (not given by Somerset Maugham) – the place of sin in separating the sinner from God, and the need for repentance and forgiveness – would feature. It would be argued that sin separates whether or not the sinner knows she’s sinning, and so the realization of sin is the first set on the road to redemption.
    • So, given the missionaries’ world-view, their actions might be seen to be logical and loving – however much of an oppression and kill-joy it may seem to be on the surface. Many evangelicals today could argue thus, though they would probably tut at the abuse of power now they no longer have it9.
    • Of course, the question has to be how can the missionaries know with sufficient certainty that their system is right to justify causing the degree of unhappiness that their actions do when imposed on the unwilling.
    • All this is highlighted by the case of Miss Thompson – a good-time girl who has worked in the red-light district of Honolulu. She was also on their boat, and consequently sets up shop for the entertainment of the sailors in a room below the Davidsons, much to their chagrin – which is exacerbated by a gramophone and the music played on it. Rev. Davidson takes her on as a project for reform, with initial “success” but ultimately disastrous consequences.
    • Miss Thompson starts off in a robust life-affirming way and will have nothing to do with Davidson’s persuasion. However, Davidson has a hold over her because he can have her put on the next boat to San Francisco, where she will be arrested for previous misdemeanors and spend some years in the penitentiary, which fills her with terror. Eventually, Davidson persuades her to repent. However, he won’t let her have “cheap grace”, but insists that she demonstrate her repentance by going through with – indeed embracing – her future incarceration10.
    • All this reduces Miss Thompson to a shadow of her former self, though she seems to come to terms with it all and to truly “repent”.
    • Davidson spends some considerable amount of time with her – including much of the night before she is due to set sail – ostensibly in prayer and spiritual instruction (or argument, in the early stages).
    • The denouement is incredible to me, given the way Davidson is described, though maybe understandable in the case of many obviously hypocritical and money-grabbing televangelists. Davidson is found with his throat cut, and Miss Thompson is back to her old ways – and has her old self-confidence back - with the gramophone on. She spits on Mrs. Davidson and, when Dr. Macphail asks what she’s doing, announces: “You men! You filthy, dirty pigs! You’re all the same, all of you. Pigs! Pigs!”. Dr. Macphail is then said to gasp, and to “understand”.
    • Presumably, Davidson is supposed to have had a “weakness of the flesh”, and consorted with Miss Thompson on that last night. It’s not spelled out, but I can’t think of an alternative explanation11.
    • If so, this is a major weakness in the story. The missionaries’ behavior is objectionable12 – in making people who fall into their power unhappy, and causing them problems they didn’t previously have – even if they don’t fall into overt and gross hypocrisy – and I don’t think a zealot of the kind Davidson is supposed to be would have “fallen”.
    • I suppose a possibility is that Davidson had “softened” – actually improved, morally speaking – and felt genuine (rather than purely theoretical) love for Miss Thompson; then things got out of hand and Miss Thompson felt morally betrayed. And, maybe Davidson committed suicide because13 he realized his whole life had been misguided (and not just because he’d fallen in a moment of weakness). But this rather more nuanced conclusion doesn’t seem consistent with Miss Thompson’s contempt.
    • So, maybe we are to suppose that a couple of hypocrites messed with the mind on a fun-loving girl, and that the husband got his just deserts when he couldn’t control his animal passions. If so, so much the worse for the story.
  5. Envoi – 116
    • Half-page; atmospheric.
  6. The Casuarina Tree – 117
    • Brief – a page and a half: looks like the preface to “a collection of stories about the English people who live in the Malay peninsula and in Borneo”, justifying the title.
    • The Casuarina tree is thought of as a symbol14 for these people “… the Casuarina tree stood along the sea shore, gaunt and rough-hewn, protecting the land from the fury of the winds, and so might aptly suggest these planters and administrators who, with all their short-comings, have after all brought to the peoples among whom they dwell tranquility, justice and welfare, ...”.
  7. Before the Party – 119
    • A family is preparing to go to an English garden party at which they will meet some big-wigs, including the Bishop of Hong-Kong, who wants to talk to the recently-widowed daughter, Millicent, about her late husband, Harold, whom she had claimed had died of a fever in Borneo some eight months previously.
    • The father, Mr. Skinner, is a “respectable family solicitor”, who works in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and never takes dodgy cases, but is quite happy to pass them on to others.
    • The sister, Kathleen, has just heard – from the daughter of the Canon who’s hosting the garden party – that Harold didn’t die of a fever, but committed suicide.
    • The family don’t seem in the least concerned as to why this should have been – but are more worried about the social consequences and their not having been properly prepared by Millicent. It seems that the Bishop met Harold, and is the one who let it be known that he had committed suicide by cutting his throat.
    • So, they seek to get the background out of Millicent, more so they can be socially prepared than out of genuine concern, and a sorry tale it is.
    • It seems that Harold – the “Resident” of a district of Borneo – had been a confirmed drunkard and had been threatened with the sack unless he could find a wife who could sort him out. So, he’d come back to England and selected Millicent who was short of offers, and an effective marriage of convenience was entered into (though it was not admitted as such).
    • But, they had got on well enough and Millicent liked the life in Borneo and the status of Resident’s wife, and Harold stayed sober – except when out of her gaze, or otherwise tempted. There was one episode when he was entertaining visitors, but the worst cases were when Millicent was away for extended periods in the fictitious Kuala Solor, either giving birth to their daughter, Joan, or finally when Joan was ill.
    • It seems that – when sober – Harold was a fine man who did his job well, and seems to have developed some affection for Millicent. In her turn, Millicent had developed a “hold” on Harold because he loved their daughter, and she had threatened to take her away from him if he failed to remain sober. Further, on the journey home with Joan after her illness, Millicent persuaded herself that she loved Harold.
    • Unfortunately, while they were away, Harold had relapsed again and was asleep dead drunk when Millicent returns to their bungalow. She is consumed with rage at the betrayal and – it seems – somehow manages to cut Harold’s throat with a parang (a Malayan sword) while trying to get his attention.
    • The region was remote, and she had Harold quickly buried and the murder (if that’s what it was) is made out to be suicide, no-one suspecting anything.
    • So much for the story. It is well told, though the cause of Harold’s alcoholism is obscure.
    • The interest is all in the family’s reaction to the account. Millicent just seems to be depressed, and has “let herself go” somewhat. There seems to be no concern for Harold (though Mrs. Skinner liked him) – or that Millicent is technically a murderess – their concern is purely that it shouldn’t get out. Mr. Skinner’s main complaint against Millicent is that she selfishly told him at all, as it gives him an uncomfortable crisis of conscience.
    • Well, actually, not really conscience – because he has no moral sense at all. It’s the discomfort for him of having to hush up something he knows he – as an upstanding solicitor – would be expected to take further.
    • They head off to the garden party because it would seem socially odd if they didn’t. It seems there is nothing genuine about their lives at all.
  8. P & O – 147
    • This is an interesting tale, but not one that I’ve much to say about.
    • The story is centered around the sad end of Mr. Gallagher, a robust Irishman on his way home from Malaya to Galway (on the eponymous P&O liner) after a career as a “planter”, and the life, intentions and observations of Mrs. Hamlyn, who is running away from her husband who is having an affair.
    • Gallagher had taken a “native” wife, but has left her behind, well provided for by the standards of the place and time. She had become corpulent during their time together, as seems to have been standard for Malay women, and Gallagher liked to “live well”. But this isn’t – I don’t think – the reason Gallagher didn’t take her with him. On departure, his wife prophesies (this is taken to be a “native curse”) that he will not see land. Gallagher, however, departs in good spirits.
    • On the journey home, Gallagher develops persistent hiccups, and – despite an attempted exorcism involving the sacrifice of a cockerel15, and all the efforts of a junior doctor – expired just before reaching Aden, to which the ship had been diverted so that he could receive further medical treatment.
    • Mrs. Hamlyn’s husband – who’s in his 50s, while she has just turned 40 – has formed a liaison with another woman who’s just turned 50. He doesn’t want to hurt his wife, and hopes that they can just carry on as normal. But this is not conventionally possible, so she heads off back to England with bitterness in her heart to find an appropriate lawyer to arrange a divorce.
    • The situation with Gallagher gets her to rethink things and she comes to the conclusion that there’s no reason to begrudge others their shot at happiness given the brevity of life; she remembers her husband’s remark that “we are so long dead”. The story ends with her writing a conciliatory letter to her husband, and posting it before she changes her mind.
    • What to say about all this?
    • I think we can side-step the “native curse” meme. The important thing is that Gallagher ought not to have treated his Malay wife as a chattel to be left behind when no longer needed. Maybe he subconsciously realizes this and it works on his subconscious, though he gives no such indication.
    • The idea of getting happiness where it can be found because life is short is an important idea; why be miserable when you can be happy? And bearing conventional resentments because that’s what you’re supposed to think, and others will think you odd if you don’t, or your pride will be hurt – all this may be irrational and only leads to more pain for all concerned. But, even so, we can’t all just do what we want – life is too complex, and commitments have to be respected reciprocally.
  9. The Letter – 180
    • This is another jolly tale, but again I’ve nothing much to say.
    • A lady (Mrs. Leslie Crosbie) has been imprisoned, awaiting trial, in Singapore for murdering a neighbor (Geoff Hammond) – allegedly in self-defense – at her home late one night while her husband (Robert Crosbie) is away.
    • She is supposedly so refined and of such good “breeding” – and Hammond was a bit of a lad – and she has allegedly had little recently to do with Hammond – that she in expected to be acquitted of manslaughter or worse.
    • She gives her defense to a solicitor friend (Mr. Joyce). Her story is in good order, so he expects a quick acquittal. His only concern is that she’d emptied the whole barrel into Hammond.
    • Unfortunately, the solicitor’s Chinese clerk (Ong Chi Seng) announces that Hammond’s Chinese mistress has the eponymous letter that Mrs. Crosbie had allegedly sent to Hammond on the night of his death, imploring him to visit her. He hands over a copy, which is very incriminating.
    • After further prevarication, and the thought of being hanged, Mrs. Crosbie suggests to Mr. Joyce – without fully admitting that she’d actually sent the letter – that they might buy the letter back.
    • Mr. Joyce thinks this is similar to suborning a witness, but he’s been long enough in the East to cope with this irregularity for completely spurious reasons16; namely, that convicting Mrs. Crosbie will not bring Hammond back, and will adversely impact Mrs. Crosbie’s husband.
    • Nothing untoward happens thereafter, and the incriminating letter is redeemed for $10k, the maximum that Mr. Crosbie can raise. The redemption takes place in a flat usually employed as an opium den. The Chinese mistress, a male relative, Ong Chi, Mr. Joyce and Mr. Crosbie17 are present.
    • It is clear that Ong Chi Seng is to receive a cut, so doubly shares in the corruption. Mr. Joyce is aware of this, but doesn’t confront him – though he did attempt to bargain with him, suggesting $5k, but Ong Chi wouldn’t be moved. Mr. Joyce seems somewhat impressed by his astuteness18.
    • As is expected, in the absence of the incriminating letter, Mrs. Crosbie is swiftly acquitted, and she and her husband retire to Mr. Joyce’s house. All – in ignorance of the facts – are entirely sympathetic towards Mrs. Crosbie and her “ordeal”.
    • Mr. Crosbie reads the letter, perceives the inconsistency in the story Mrs. Crosbie gives for sending it, and bikes off to his estates. Mr. Joyce then burns it. Mrs. Crosbie pulls herself together and carries on publicly with the pretense of innocence.
    • Mrs. Crosbie then reveals that Geoff Hammond had been her secret lover for years. He’d recently abandoned her in favour of his first love – the somewhat faded Chinese lady – and – under severe provocation from Mrs. Crosbie – had claimed (possibly only in reciprocal spite) that he had never loved her. Mrs. Crosbie had then lost her cool and repeatedly shot him in the red mist.
    • What to make of this?
      1. Firstly – as noted above – some conflicts between the law and morality (only some of which are real).
      2. Secondly, the difference between inward and outward appearances, and the passions that can burn in the hearts of the outwardly self-controlled.
  10. Mr Harrington's Washing – 216
    • This is a long – and sometimes fun – tale19, but not one that’s other than merely entertaining, in my view.
    • There are three main protagonists:
      1. Ashenden, a British agent sent to Russia on an “impossible mission” in 1917. This turns out to be something to do with Czech nationalists being enlisted to distract the Central Powers and to keep Russia in the war.
      2. Mr Harrington, an American businessman sent to Russia to negotiate a contract for his company.
      3. Anastasia Alexandrovna, a romantic Russian revolutionary.
    • The story splits into three main parts:-
      1. Setting up in Vladivostok and the account of Ashenden & Harrington’s train journey from Vladivostok to Petrograd.
      2. An interlude describing Ashenden & the married Anastasia Alexandrovna’s assignation years earlier. They have a “trial” in a Paris hotel – ostensibly required because Anastasia Alexandrovna’s husband, in true romantic Russian style, would have to commit suicide to release her – which would be a shame if they found they were unsuited to one another. It turns out to be well-advised as Ashenden cannot bear the thought of eating scrambled eggs for the rest of his life, and realizes that he’s more in love with Russian literature than Russians. He secretly absconds to New York.
      3. The ultimate denouement in Petrograd in which Ashenden and Harrington are involved in their respective negotiations.
    • The story is intended as a farce, and ends with Harrington being shot at random in the early days of the Revolution while – together with Anastasia Alexandrovna – absurdly attempting to retrieve his unwashed washing from a laundry at some distance from his hotel.
    • It all ends in tears before then – all the negotiations are fruitless as power changes hands from the Karensky government (according to Maugham, Karensky does nothing but make speeches) to the Bolsheviks.
    • The amusing story is primarily a vehicle for displaying Somerset Maugham’s views on the pre-revolutionary Russians and early 20th-century Americans, as exemplified by the two non-British protagonists.
      1. Harrington is a bore who is “well read” and considers himself a “high-brow”, though appears to have no ideas of his own. He has some redeeming features, mainly arising from his naivety. The account of the train-journey is as long and boring as the supposed journey itself, a sort of self-parody (and maybe also a parody of the interminable Great Russian Novel).
      2. Anastasia Alexandrovna is a reckless heroine, doubtless a spoof on those appearing in classic Russian novels. Like Harrington – but unlike the pragmatic Ashenden – she is somewhat detached from reality.
  11. Sanatorium – 257
    • This – as the title suggests – is a set of vignettes about life in a Scottish sanatorium. Ashenden – the controlling character in this story as in the last – has – like the other residents – TB. The narrative, however, revolves mainly about 3 pairs of characters.
    • The purpose of the story as a whole is about our attitude to death, and the ability of love to conquer our fear of it – or at least our preoccupation with it. There is a passage early on that regrets the passing of simple belief in the possibility of resurrection.
    • The three pas de deuces are as follows:-
      1. Two old gits – Campbell and McLeod – who have been there for 17 years – are rivals for the best room, and Campbell lives in the room below McLeod whose room he wants and tries to drive him out by continually playing his violin. They are both good bridge players and rivals at the table. The denouement is the last hand of a rubber-bridge session in which McLeod – playing against Campbell makes a redoubled grand slam involving two finesses and a squeeze. His arrogant celebration is such that he drops down dead at the table. Far from being satisfied, Campbell does not like the best room when he gets it, gives up the violin as there’s no McLeod to annoy, and his life loses purpose without his enemy to define himself against.
      2. Major Templeton – rich a playboy of about 40 – has led a worthless life with several casual relationships – but is now riddled with TB – falls in love with the 29-year-old Ivy Bishop who has been in sanatoria for the last 8 years. She is intelligent and virtuous, and it’s her virtue that attracts Templeton to her, much to his surprise. His love is reciprocated, and they decide to marry – despite the warnings from Dr. Lennox that it will drastically shorten their lives. Templeton had earlier remarked that he was not concerned about when death came – it didn’t matter much whether you left a party when it was in full swing or “went home with the milk”.
      3. Henry Chester is a rather boring banker who had nothing to hold him together beyond his work and family. When he becomes ill, he becomes resentful of his wife’s good health, and – while he looks forward to her visits – says spiteful things to her when she comes. The two are reconciled when Templeton & Ivy get married and Chester comes to realise that he loves his wife and is happy that she is well, irrespective of his own ill-fortune.
  12. The Princess and the Nightingale – 283
    • This is a fable for children. See Link (
    • It’s a story about the nine daughters of the King of Siam, the youngest of whom – September – is the heroine of the tale, though the hero is her nightingale.
    • There are lots of stereotypical asides about the ways of oriental monarchs, but there is an important moral of the story, that freedom – rather than a gilded cage – is necessary for flourishing, and that true love does not seek to possess the beloved, but gives him freedom.
  13. The Round Dozen – 292
    • On one level this is rather a silly tale. In brief, a bigamist and swindler – Mortimer Ellis – a very unprepossessing man – has been sent down for 5 years having married successively 11 middle-aged women and then left them in turn, having relieved them of their limited fortunes that he had purported to invest.
    • Sometime after his release he arrives in a faded Georgian sea-side resort somewhat down at heel, but – initially unbeknownst to the narrator to whom he tells his story – he ultimately manages to elope with the 54-year-old niece – Miss Porchester – of a respectable elderly couple (Mr & Mrs St Clair) resident in the same hotel as the narrator, and with whom our narrator had also become acquainted. Thus he achieves the “Round Dozen”.
    • Prior to the denouement, Mortimer Ellis explains his attraction to these women, and tries to justify his actions, expressing outrage at the public infamy that fell on his head on his conviction. Instead of acknowledging that he is a public pest, he considers that he has performed a public service. Three of his victims had asked for mercy to be shown to him on his conviction – and one had been willing to have him back (so that he had to leave prison by the back entrance lest she be there to collect him). The one who had betrayed him had been dishonest about the diminutive size of her fortune.
    • His defense rests on the needs of those he deceives. He claims they would have married him if he’d had one leg and a hump on his back. It’s the married state – and the attention that comes with it – that they were after. They were either spinsters – who had never had attention paid to them – or widows – who missed it once it was gone. He had to earn a living, and this was what he did.
    • Miss Porchester had once been beautiful and had been engaged to be married – but her fiancé – a barrister – had had an affair with his laundress and Miss Porchester “had sacrificed herself on the altar of Victorian morality” and rejected him, living a solitary life with her guardians thereafter.
    • No doubt there could be an argument between the consequentialists and the Kantians about morality of all this. The Kantians are most likely right that Mortimer Ellis uses his wives as means rather than ends in themselves. However, it’s unlikely that his activities would satisfy the consequentialists as his wives are left destitute by his depredations, however satisfied they might have been with their married state while it lasted.
    • Miss Porchester’s guardians say that they will never have her back. There is some slight hope that she may be helped by the laundress, with whom she has kept in touch and supported over the years, once Mortimer Ellis has exhausted her “trifling” £3,000.
  14. Jane – 321
    • On almost all levels this seems to me to be a lightweight and silly tale, an explicitly Pygmalionesque story about the marriage of a rich but rather dowdy and “elderly” relict of a northern industrialist to a young architect half her age. In fact the eponymous Jane in her mid-50s.
    • It’s initially thought that Jane’s then future husband is after her money, but he this is not the case. Instead he sees in her what others miss – and after a series of make-overs, brought about by Parisian dress-makers and hair stylists – reveals the swan in the place of the ugly duckling. Gilbert designs her dresses and advises her to cut her hair and wear a monocle.
    • The pair have agreed that they would not be bound to one another – the initial assumption being that Gilbert Napier would want to move on – but in fact it is eventually Jane who divorces Gilbert in favour of an Admiral she meets at one of her soirees. She has come to need the companionship of someone more her age. Gilbert agrees to continue designing her attire, and it is hoped that he will eventually marry Admiral Frobisher’s daughter.
    • The tale is told by the author, but amusingly also from the perspective of a Mrs Towers, who had initially regarded Jane as “her Cross”. Jane is a former school friend who subsequently became Mrs Towers’ sister-in-law, Jane Fowler being Mrs Towers’ husband’s sister
    • Jane also becomes a famous humourist, yet her conversation is no different in this regard since her re-invention to what it was before. It seems that what amuses people – once her now striking appearance has attracted their attention – is that she tells the truth. Marion Towers is the only one who doesn’t find her amusing. Jane’s retort is “Perhaps you don’t know the truth when you see it, Marion dear.” This is, I suppose, an example of the innocent but truthful comment which is amusing if said without malice – and – as the author notes – if truthfulness is rare.
  15. The Alien Corn20 – 348
    • This story was – at least in my retelling of my early life – pivotal to my development and life choices21.
    • There are two main themes22 – it seems to me:-
      1. Belonging and authenticity, and
      2. Whether to risk all in the pursuit of excellence.
    • The story revolves around a wealthy assimilated Jewish family – the Blands23 (formerly Bleikogel) – and their slightly less assimilated relative, Ferdie Rabenstein, who has kept his Jewish identity, refusing to change his name to Robinson, though his life as a socialite and aesthete is fully assimilated.
    • Sir Adolphus Bland, known as Freddy, is the second Baronet, who has paid £180,000 for his country estate, Tilby. Towards the end of the story, it is announced that he has been given a peerage. His wife, Muriel is Jewish, her real name being Miriam, but has converted to Catholicism and likes to think of herself as having been raised by nuns. Freddy’s mother – the Dowager Lady Bland – still speaks with a German accent, and is Ferdy Rabenstein’s sister.
    • The Blands have two sons – George and Harry. George is the elder, and is being groomed to take over the estate and, it is hoped, will ultimately take on the “family seat” as an MP. Harry is younger – still at Eton – and the cleverer of the two. He is expect