Sunday, 8 April 2012

now here's a thing

and a symbol you do not see often these days.  Or not outside a Jewish cemetery anyway.  Regular readers will know that at the end of February I went to my aunt's funeral in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria (if you press me to be more specific, Walney Island) - my aunt was my father's sister, and I appropriated this book from her house, which had been my grandmother's house.  The book, as the label shows, was given as a Sunday school prize in 1925.  The recipient was my grandmother's younger brother Ridley, always known as Tigs.  Tigs was always thought to be "the clever one" of my great-grandmother's rather large brood, and certainly he worked in the drawing office rather than in a manual job in the shipyards in Barrow (Vickers in those days, the whole family lived in what is still known as Vickerstown).  Tigs never married.  The family story was that he was dropped down the stairs as a baby by one of his older sisters, and was "never the same" after that. In fact the most likely scenario is that he had a tubercular spine.  I remember him as small and crookbacked.  He died in the 1970s, having been cared for in his last years by a sister, not my grandmother, her younger sister Hilda, widowed by then.  In those days people like him could not marry.  We are still going through family photographs, and a photograph of Tigs will be found and shown in due course.

His story is one to be told elsewhere.  For now, the book.  I haven't read it properly, but have looked through it.  It is a cruel story.  But even in my childhood in the 1950s children's stories were cruel - Enid Blyton, anyone?  In the days of this book they didn't put the date of publication in the book, so you  couldn't be sure.  But it was published not that long before 1925 it seems.  I notice that the author is female, and that the main character is a feisty young girl, whose father often says to her that he would tan her hide, or similar, if she was a boy.  But anyway, it was given to a boy as a Sunday school prize.  Tigs lived all his life in the family house in Buller Street, Vickerstown, my great-grandparents' home, because he did not marry, and presumably when he died and the house was cleared my grandmother somehow acquired some stuff. And there this book still was, all this time later.  And now I am blogging about it.

Readers, I know you wonder, why the swastika on the cover?  The short answer is that I have no idea.  In the 1920s in England, what did a swastika mean?  We know that it is in fact a Hindu symbol from the Aryans of north India, which is why it was appropriated in the way it was in Europe in the 1930s.  Incidentally, what we now think of as the Star of David is also a symbol with that heritage.  Apparently you can, in some places in India, see a Star of David and a swastika together as a joint emblem.  This to me is culturally mysterious.  As is the cover of this book.  The details inside the book give very few clues.

If you are knowledgeable about these matters, please comment.  Googling these things really does not help very much.


Anonymous said...

The Swastika was quite a common symbol in those days before the Nazis took it as their trademark. I had some old books belonging to my late mum and dad (a lifelong Socialist) with it on the cover and they were NOT Mein Kampf or the works of Rosenberg or Streicher either. Of course when Hitler came to power in Jan 1933 the use of the Swastika stopped outside of his Third Reich

Anonymous said...

This picture shows an American pilot in 1912 wearing a "good luck" swastika, before it took on Nazi connotations.

Anonymous said...

I think that it is not a swastika, but a Fyflot - the "arms" or whatever they are called point the other way. It's an Indial good luck sign of some sort - early editions of Kipling had them as decorations on the spine of the dustjacket.

Anonymous said...

Swastikas, hexagrams, pentagrams etc. were common in the Middle East and from Britain to India in ancient times, as were other geometric designs.

The Star of David, also known among Muslims as the Seal of Solomon, started to appear in Jewsih magic around the 16th and 17th centuries, and was adopted by Synagogues in the 19th century, when churches used the cross much more. The older Jewish symbol is the seven-branch candlestick.

Giles Fraser,formerly Dean of St.Paul's suggested last week that the Christian symbol should be the empty tomb.

Some people suggest that the Trotskyist symbol should be an ice-pick.

Many of us would like to see reading revert to the five men's heads, one wearing a crown, rather than the hexagon and six-arm swastika.