Monday, 21 November 2011

On Carey Street

The period at the end of a PhD is peculiar. Even though the thesis is completed, and even when the viva is over, there's still a panoply of fiddly (and time-consuming) things to get done. I'm now all done, bar binding the hard copy of the dissertation, but it means I've been rather preoccupied and haven't been able to get back to gainful employment in any meaningful way up till now.
So perhaps it wasn't coincidence that, laying in bed last night, the phrase 'on Carey Street' came back to me. I'd first heard it when giving directions to the Seven Stars, a pub on Carey Street WC2. The person I was telling beamed delightedly and said 'So you really would end up on Carey Street!'
The phrase entered local proverbial usage to mean bankruptcy. Carey Street sits behind the Royal Courts of Justice, and provided one entrance to the bankruptcy court. Later, a drinker in the Seven Stars also explained this to me.
I doubt how widespread the usage is, as both of these informants were over 60. It isn't listed in the Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs, and it would appear to be a recent coinage, possibly of literary origin. The bankruptcy court only moved to Carey Street in the 1840s, where a new building was erected for it in 1892.
From Carey Street it's still been possible (just) to see the bankruptcy court, which was moved in the 1960s to the Thomas More building (the ill-fitting tower block at the Clement's Inn end of the RCJ). This may eventually change, as four Bankruptcy Registrars will shortly be located at the Rolls Building on Fetter Lane. The Rolls Building is unlikely to be visible from Carey Street. It won't stop people ending up on Carey Street.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Katharine Briggs evening 2011

Before I head off to the South East London Folklore Society for my talk tonight I should mention last night's Katharine Briggs evening at the Folklore Society. I'm a bit thick-voiced after the reception, which is normally an indicator that a jolly time was had: there were a number of comments to the effect that the Briggs evening is acquiring a customary life of its own as a seasonal event, with regular visitors and a formalised tradition of how it all unfolds. It was also a nice chance to meet other scholars I didn't know, authors whose books I'd reviewed but whom I didn't know, and people I'd so far only spoken to on Twitter.
The Briggs lecture was given by Michael Rosen on 'The Folk Tradition: What Do We Do With It?' (The accompanying picture, blagged from his website, shows Mike at the Ledbury Poetry Festival). His engaging performance was really about the folk traditions that play out in his work. He laid particular emphasis on the range of such traditions and the interactions involved in eliciting and documenting them (for example in getting children to collect from each other and from their parents). Much of this isn't overly controversial for contemporary folklorists, but it was refreshing to hear a reasoned and entertaining defence of collecting whole repertoires rather than selective documentation. It was also very nice to hear the audience respond with a realisation of the wealth of folkloric material they have heard throughout their lives.
The Katharine Briggs book award went to Herbert Halpert and J.D.A. Widdowson, Folk Tales, Tall Tales, Trickster Tales and Legends of the Supernatural from the Pinelands of New Jersey: Recorded and Annotated by Herbert Halpert between 1936 and 1951 (The Edwin Mellen Press, 2010). I'm very excited about this book, which sounds remarkable. I've long admired Halpert's fieldwork and his scholarship, and I'm pleased to see recognition given to what, in some ways, was a pinnacle of his work. Receiving the award John Widdowson said the book had become Halpert's 'life work': towards the end of his life he had almost lost sight of publication because of his ongoing research and annotation. Widdowson also paid tribute to their publishers. Where other publishers had wanted to cherry-pick stories and ditch the scholarly apparatus that make the project so valuable, Edwin Mellen took the manuscript on in its entirety. That was almost the most encouraging part of the story. It is still possible to produce books of serious scholarly folklore research. That is also cause for celebration, and is a fitting tribute to Herbert Halpert and his work.