Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sign language

From my Astral Weeks review* of Wolf Mankowitz's A Kid for Two Farthings:

First published 56 years ago, "Kid" . . . conjures a time and place that feels remote -- a mostly Jewish milieu of garment workers and sign writers and prizefighters, of "Shafchick's vapour baths" (containing "the hottest room in the world") and baigels and ads on sandwich boards. Here, the height of technology is the Superheat Patent Steam Presser that Mr. Kandinsky covets: "You put in your trousers -- so. Close it -- so. Press a handle. Pouf. Up comes the steam. Open. There is your trousers pressed. No smell, no consumption."

I wish I had the book here to transcribe the lovely/funny bit about sign writing—but coincidentally, Jenny has linked to a review of a book on "lost London," and quotes this:

The late-19th century was the heyday of ornamental sign-writing, before the advent of neon, and the hand-painted signs covering every shopfront appeal to all possible shades of public interest — those who wish to keep up appearances (“Gentlemen’s Hats Polished for Sixpence”), the desperate (“Hammer Guns and Automatic Pistols Bought, Sold and Exchanged”), the hopeful (“Our Noted Lucky Wedding Rings”) and the moribund (“Funerals To Suit All Classes”). Sunlight soap and Colman’s blue and starch are advertised even in blackest Bermondsey, which suggests that poverty did not necessarily mean dirt. The constant advertisements for patent medicines are a reminder that the average age of death in the East End in 1900 was 30, and 55% of children died before they were five. Signs outside eating-houses indicate keen competition. For fourpence you can get a rasher of bacon and two eggs in a coffee shop near the Tower, or a pint of tea, two slices of bread and a plate of cold meat in Borough High Street. Harris’s restaurant in Aldgate offers pork sausages with bread (“Always Hot Always Ready”) for twopence.
* * *

In other news, the San Francisco Panorama and Jonathan Lethem's Chronic City are staggeringly, inspiringly great...I don't want them to end.

*The review is still almost impossible to find on the L.A. Times site.

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