Sunday, 12 November 2017


I’m not quite sure where my enchantment with old circus wagons got its start!

I’ve always been a fan of the old more so than the new—perhaps a side effect of having a godmother who specialized in teaching Modern European History and who took me along as a child to movies about Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, and Mary, Queen of Scots.
Or perhaps it was a result of reading my way through childhood, with plenty of fairy tales populated by knights and dragons, along with Greek myths and their panoply of magical creatures.
Whatever the cause, I knew almost from the minute I thought of creating a series of children’s books about a cat in a small town circus museum, that one of the stories would weave a mysterious and old circus wagon into the plot. And so the second Finnigan book became, quite naturally, “Finnigan and the Lost Circus Wagon.” The plot revolves around the arrival, at the little museum that has become his home, of a decrepit wagon that has seen better days, but holds a valuable secret. In the course of the story, crooks must be outwitted, the mystery must be solved, and Finnigan’s presence must remain a secret to the humans in the story.
But here I want to share my utter fascination with these wagons, which harken back to the Golden Age of circus parades. Imagine, if you will, a time before television, before MTV, before the Internet! Back in the day, before we had the world at our fingertips with our smart phones and tablets, everybody turned out to watch the circus parade that heralded the wonders to be found under the Big Top that had just arrived. But it wasn’t just the panoply of the performers and the clowns and the exotic animals that drew the eye. The wagons that doubled as bandwagons and storage wagons and animal cages were an extravagantly theatrical art form of their own.

The Finnigan books began with a combination of a real kitten in the family, and the fact that my younger daughter is a contemporary circus aerialist—think more Cirque du Soleil than Barnum & Bailey. Circus, kitten…kitten, circus…you might imagine that the books were inevitable! But an added element was that my daughter and I, for the past several years, have made what amounts to a yearly pilgrimage for inspiration to the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin, built on what was the original home of the Ringling Brothers Circus.
The wagons there, many of which have got intensive restoration, are jaw-droppingly beautiful. There are fairy tales, and tales of valor, beasts both mythical and real, and scenes of incredible imagination. Lions roar, tigers leap, mermaids and dolphins cavort, and St. George battles a magnificent dragon. And nestled in amongst them quite naturally--although technically not a wagon--is the spectacularly embellished Gavioli pipe organ, built in Paris in 1905 and trotted around the United States to various carnivals via railroad for decades. I could spend days rather than hours walking among them, admiring their artistry and craftsmanship, and reflecting on just how much courage and strength it has always taken circus folk to embrace a disciplined and gruelling life of entertainment on the road, conjuring magic and laughter and wonder from town to town.
And so when I began to draw the illustrations for this second Finnigan book, it wasn’t much of a leap to draw some of the pictures either from a few of my favorite historic wagons, or from posters and signs from a century ago. Like I said, I generally favor the old over the new! 

So here’s a gallery of some of my favorite wagons, and some of the incredible details that never fail to spark my admiration. To old circus wagons, and the colorful history they still bring to life!

Mary T. Wagner is a former newspaper and magazine journalist who changed careers at forty by going to law school and becoming a criminal prosecutor. However, she never could step away from the written word entirely, and inevitably the joy of writing drew her back to the keyboard.

A Chicago native, this mother of four and recent new grandmother now lives in "coastal Wisconsin," where she draws much inspiration for writing from frequent trips to the shore of Lake Michigan, watching the waves ebb and flow and make shifting mosaics of sunlight on the sandy lake floor.

Her first three essay collections - Running with Stilettos, Heck on Heels and Fabulous in Flats garnered numerous national and regional awards, including a Gold E-Lit Book Award, an Indie Excellence Award, and "Published Book of the Year" by the Florida Writers Association. Her latest essay collection, When the Shoe Fits…Essays of love, life and second chances rounds up her favourites and reader favourites into a "best of" collection available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.  Her newest publishing venture is a series of children's chapter books for young readers. Finnigan the Circus Cat the first book in the series was featured on my blog here. Finnigan and the Lost Circus Wagon is the second book in the series. If you are interested in acquiring a copy (and I heartily recommend it), you can do so here

I know readers of my blog will want to join me in thanking Mary for such an interesting and entertaining post. Thank you Mary.   

Monday, 6 November 2017

Josephine Keeps House illustrated by Honor C. Appleton

Regular readers of my blog might remember me telling you about a recent purchase from Marchpane books in London. It’s a really nice copy of Josephine Keeps House by Mrs H. C. Cradock. 

Credited with being one of the most popular children’s writers between the wars Mrs Cradock, daughter of an Anglican Clergyman was born August Whiteford in 1863. She married Henry Cowper Cradock in 1893 and wrote under her married name. She died in 1941 having survived her husband by eight years. If you would like to know more about her, The British Library website is a very good place to start.  

Josephine Keeps House by Mrs H. C. Cradock. title page

The Illustrations are by Honor C. Appleton (1879 – 1951). Honor Appleton studied at the South Kensington Schools (which later became the Royal College of Art), Frank Caderon's School of Animal Painting and the Royal Academy Schools. At the end of her first year at the RA Schools, she published The Bad Mrs Ginger (1902). She became a professional illustrator eight years later with Blake's Songs of Innocence (1910). During the following three decades she illustrated over one hundred and fifty books. While the best known of her early illustrations were for the 'Josephine' series, she produced much other fine work. [The Illustrators The British Art of Illustration 1800- 1997: Chris Beetles Limited, London]

Josephine Keeps House by Mrs H. C. Cradock. Colour plate

There are eleven Josephine books in the series plus three compilations;

Josephine and her dolls 1916 Blackie
Josephine’s happy family 1917 Blackie
Josephine is busy Blackie 1918
The big book of Josephine (contains all three of the stories above) Blackie 1919
Josephine’s birthday Blackie 1920
Josephine, John and the puppy Blackie 1920
Josephine keeps school Blackie 1925
The bonny book of Josephine (contains all three of the above stories) Blackie 1926
Josephine goes shopping Blackie 1926
Josephine’s Christmas party blackie 1927
Josephine keeps house blackie 1931
The Josephine dolly book (contains happy family Josephine John Josephine busy) blackie 1934
Josephine's Pantomime Blackie 1939
Josephine goes travelling Blackie 1940

Josephine Keeps House by Mrs H. C. Cradock. Colour plate

In the first book in the series, we get to meet the dolls who are really the stars of the show. I’m sure the author had fun describing them as in; Charlie has pale blue eyes, a crack in his head, a little hole in his nose and no feet and no arms.  While Sunny Jim is “Always smiling even though the back of his head is off.”

Josephine Keeps House by Mrs H. C. Cradock. Colour plate

In Josephine Keeps House Josephine and the dolls are moving but as Josephine explains, “We can’t find one that will do,” “so we must build.” “Now we must count you and see exactly who is big, who is little and all that." 

Josephine Keeps House by Mrs H. C. Cradock. Colour plate

The first time I looked at the two little dolls in the corner of this picture I assumed they were conjoined twins. However, they are described as “The two Koreans.”  "One arm off each."  

Josephine Keeps House by Mrs H. C. Cradock. Colour plate

Have you read anything written by Mrs H. C. Cradock?  

Josephine Keeps House by Mrs H. C. Cradock. Black and white illustration

Josephine Keeps House by Mrs H. C. Cradock. Black and white illustration

I can’t remember every throwing away broken toys. Damaged dolls were great for playing hospitals with. What about you, did you play with your toys long after they were past their best? Do you still have them? 

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Have you ever found a four-leaf clover?

It was a wise old woman who gave this charm to me. It works the best on Halloween - or so said she! 

"Find a four-leaf clover, Wear it in your shoe, right foot left foot. Either one will do. 

It will lead you into luck before the day is through.

"So find a four-leaf clover, and put it to the test. It might work anytime - But Halloween is best! 

May Justus

From Hey-How for Halloween!

Have you ever found a four-leaf clover? I can’t say I have although my dad often did. He always kept one in his wallet and when I passed my driving test, he found one for me and after that he gave me another each time I renewed my licence. I’ve still got them and if that’s not lucky, I don’t know what is.

I started driving in 1966 when the cost of a licence was 10/- (ten shillings in old British money).  By 1968, it rose to 15/- and in 1974 to £1.00. Today it costs £34.00 quite a hike I think you will agree especially when you realise 10/- in 1966 is worth just £8.89 now.

I’m really glad I kept these bits and pieces in a box.

1966 driving licence issued in my maiden name. 

1968 driving licence, this was the year the old orange paper covered licences changed to swanky red ones. 

Certificate of motor insurance and Ministry of Transport test certificate for my 1957 Austin A35.

This is my first car bought for the princely sum of £20.00! My brother paid the money up front, and I paid him back a pound a week. My dad was always threatening to "take a hammer to it" but only in jest. He and my brother kept it on the road for me. Whenever water started seeping up through the floor (which it often did), they welded another piece of metal over the holes!

Something else you may have noticed is this note written by my son when he was a small boy. I cried happy tears when he gave it to me and again when I found it the other day. These are some of the most precious kisses I ever received.

The poem at the beginning of this post is called Luck for Halloween. It's part of an anthology of poetry selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins and published by Harcourt Brace in 1974. The illustrations are by Janet McCaffery.  

You can probably guess who this is

but if not this is how you are more used to seeing them; 


The warmer weather has arrived in Australia, and our little granddaughters are making the most of it.

This quote from Rita Rudner made me smile so I thought I would share it;

Halloween was confusing. All my life my parents said, "Never take candy from strangers." And then they dressed me up and said, "Go beg for it." I didn't know what to do! I'd knock on people's doors and go, "Trick or treat." "No thank you."  Rita Rudner

Happy Halloween everyone.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

If you go down to the woods today...

You might find some of these...

According to the Internet, they are Bulgaria inquinans, sometimes referred to as Black Bulgar, Bachelor's Buttons or Rubber Buttons.

If I’m honest, they rather gave me the Heebie-jeebies but I couldn’t stop looking at or photographing them. They look like something out of Doctor Who!

This is although more appealing. It looks like a little mushroom or more likely a toadstool. If anyone reading this is an expert on these things, please feel free to enlighten me.

I could easily be wrong, but I think this is Turkey tail polypore thriving on a dead tree. Isn’t it strange how beauty can grow out of death and decay?  

All the above and more were growing on this pile of ‘dead’ trees at Stourhead.  

It was very dark and dank in this part of the wood which probably explains the abundant growth. 

Once out from under the thickest of the trees, we began to see lots of autumn colours and beautiful vistas.

Autumn repays the earth the leaves which summer lent it. ~ Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742–1799), translated by Norman Alliston, 1908.

Stourhead has been described as the most beautiful and magical of all the great landscape gardens, and we can’t argue with that. We live about fifteen minutes away by car and visit several times a year. Spring and autumn are beautiful but then winter and summer are not to be sniffed at. We’ve also visited at Christmas time when mulled wine is served in a stone cottage, lit by a roaring fire. If that’s not your thing, you might enjoy dinner in the Temple of Apollo or a picnic on the lake. All these venues are available to hire here.

Of course, you don’t have to hire a private venue to enjoy Stourhead it's owned and managed by the National Trust and is open throughout the year.  For details of opening times and prices plus more information, visit the National Trust Website.  

If you would like to see photographs of Stourhead in the summer, please visit Just a Perfect Day, previously shared in June 2014.

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