Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Old Knock and Religion

Jean-Léon Gérôme's L'Éminence Grise

This is a topic that most Old Knocks would refrain from discussing in a public forum such as this.  That is not to say that the Old Knock is reticent to discuss matters of religion.  In fact, for many, it is a topic to consumes many of their waking hours.  However, please remember that the Old Knock is a retiring sort, who prefers to avoid any type of spotlight (which makes this blog ironic indeed—until one understands that the author never really thought anyone would read it!)

(A point of clarification may need to be made here.  While an Old Knock could, theoretically, come from anywhere on the globe, it should come as no surprise that, for the most part, the Old Knock type is European in origin or extraction.  The name itself comes from a derivation of a nickname for C.S. Lewis’s tutor.  Because of this, the average Old Knock will find himself or herself coming from a Christian origin by default, if for no other reason.  This is by no means absolute, but on average it does tend to play out.  It should also not be taken for granted that this means that Old Knocks are necessarily devoutly religious, merely that their background tends to come from a European Christian society.)

All this said, there may be some broad observations that may be made in regards to the Old Knock’s religious views. 

First and foremost, the Old Knocks love and reverence for historical tradition informs his or her approach to matters religious.  Many an Old Knock takes pleasure and comfort in the solid traditions of the past.  Knowing that there is a unifying tradition of rites, linking believers together around the world and across the centuries, is a comforting thought indeed.

Along these same lines comes another important aspect of the Old Knock’s approach to religion: the picking over of the minutiae of practice.  Typically, these arguments tend to be historical, not spiritual in nature—which is why many Old Knocks feel safe to impose their opinions on others. 

If brave enough, this Old Knock may begin addressing more of these topics in coming posts, but only if the dear readers will kindly correct him when he stumbles.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Being Modern

In Cary Grant’s 1960 film The Grass Is Greener, we see an old fashioned man fighting, in his own way, for his wife against a modern millionaire.  There is a conversation near the beginning of the film between Grant’s character, Earl Vitor Rhyall, and his butler, Sellers, in which the butler lays out for his master this particular conflict of being a non-modern man in a modern world.  In this scene, Sellers is concerned because he does not seem to be able to make progress with a novel he is writing.

Sellers: Almost certainly the basic trouble is myself.  I’m fundamentally happy and contented.  That’s bad enough of course.  But on top of that, I’m normal.  That’s fatal.

Victor: Hmmm you mean you’d prefer to be unhappy and abnormal.

Sellers: (Smiling) Of course.  You see I want to be a success and to be a success one has to at least start off by being modern.  Like yourself, m’lord, I’m not.  It means I have no feeling of insecurity or frustration.  No despair.

Victor: And that’s essential.

Sellers: First essential.  I feel perfectly contented, really rather blameless and hardly resent anything at all.

Victor: Tsk, tsk.  You are in a pickle, aren’t you?

The Young Fogey: An Elegy

(I have had a link to this article for some time, but I wanted to make sure that I could still find it when needed.  So, I've mercilessly cribbed it from The Spectator.  No disrespect intended.  In fact, I wish to pay Mr. Mount the utmost compliment by attempting to save his article for posterity.  --O.K.) 

The Young Fogey: An Elegy

Harry Mount mourns the extinction of young men who wore four-piece tweed suits, including ‘westkits’, and loved the old Prayer Book 

They’re playing rap music in the jewellery department at Christie’s South Kensington. In T.M. Lewin, the Jermyn Street shirtmakers, you can dip into a fridge by the cufflinks counter and have a frozen mini-Mars while you are leafing through the chocolate corduroy jackets.

But who is left to mourn these things? In the old days, the Young Fogey, the character invented by Alan Watkins on these pages in 1984, would have been in the vanguard of the protesters, shrieking and whinnying away about the desecration of his haunts. He is silent ...because he is no more.

Twenty years after his creation, the Young Fogey has pedalled off into the sunset on his sit-up-and-beg butcher’s bike, broad-brim fedora firmly on head, wicker basket strapped to the handlebars by leather and brass ties.

He hasn’t actually died. The two archetypes of the Young Fogey mentioned by Mr Watkins — the journalist and novelist A.N. Wilson, and Dr John Casey, Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge — were only in their thirties at the time, and so are now in their fifties and in rude health. But there is no one following in their footsteps and they have abandoned the whimsical attitudes that once defined them.

The grown-up Young Fogey — now, typically, in a position of power, as are Mr Wilson and Dr Casey — will live in some style, but he’ll no longer be interested in style. You might not even notice him in a crowd. Goodbye, braces with old-fashioned fasteners and trouser waistbands strapped perilously close to the nipple line. Farewell, frockcoats cut for long-dead Victorians. No more the endless pairs of black brogues. Hello, suit of modern cut. Hello, moccasins. Hello, loafers.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Old Knock Wardrobe: Trousers

Not much to be said about them, poor old things.  They rarely fit properly, are typically getting a bit warn and could use a good wash.  But they do keep us warm and mostly dry.  They are the Old Knock trousers. 

The cut is typically loose.  An old leather belt or old tie is used to keep them snug above the navel.  The Old Knock would normally prefer that they be a bit long, as opposed to short, to keep the drafts out.  Cuffs or no cuffs?  Who knows.  It depends on what was in style when the Old Knock left home for the first time all those years ago, because these are likely to be the same trousers he or she wore back then.  As always, comfort and durability are key.  The fabric tends toward natural fibers—not for any ecological compunction, mind you, but because natural fibers tend to be softer and last longer.  The traditional Old Knock will probably prefer a nice flannel or tweed in some earthy color along the lines of mud or soot—the better to conceal muddy cuffs and coffee stains. Deep pockets are another nice addition.  Old Knocks love to fill their deep pockets with an assortment of necessary equipment for their day.  Patches here should be kept to a minimum.  After all, one doesn’t want to look like a hobo—that’s overdoing things a bit.  Elbow patches are one thing, but knee or bum patches?  Really!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Old Knock Wardrobe: Tweed Jacket with Elbow Patches

There is no other item of clothing that is more closely connected to The Old Knock in the general public’s collective imagination (even if they are not aware of the existence of such a thing as an “Old Knock”) than the Tweed Jacket with Elbow Patches.  It meets all of the requirements for an Old Knock Wardrobe item: comfortable, durable, likely handed down from generation to generation, practical. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Month in the Country (1987 film)

This great novel does not translate well to the screen.  Colin Firth and Kenneth Branagh do an admirable job, don’t get me wrong.  But Birkin’s voice doesn’t come through on the screen.  In the novel he is much more humorous and self-deprecating, but there isn’t any real way to get this across on film, because Birkin isn’t the type of man to say the things on his mind.  While Firth does a fine job, his portrayal is a bit bleak.  While Birkin’s view on life is rather pessimistic, there is a certain romanticism, especially when dealing with his faith and the vicar’s wife that gives one hope.  The different ending is unbearable.  It’s as if the director knew that he had botched it and tried to give it a happy ending—which it really doesn’t have.  Not by any means the worst film I’ve ever seen, but it lacks the warmth and humanity of the novel.

Monday, November 28, 2011

E.F. Benson's Queen Lucia

Emmeline Lucas (Lucia) is the reigning queen of culture in her small village of Riesholme.  Things move slowly in the little Hamlet—the town gossips spend their days on the commons and neighbors spend their days looking out windows to see who is visiting whom.  There is at least one fine example of an Old Knock, but one could say that this is a town full of them. 

Lucia’s husband, Phillip (nick-named Peppino by Lucia) runs his own printing-press, where he prints his poetry.  They live together in a faux Elizabethan house (named “The Hurst” by its owners) with leaded glass and ancient beams exposed.  Poor Peppino would prefer to spend his days alone, reading and writing, but he is married to the matriarch of all that matters in Riesholme, and thus, he is thrust into the ebb and flow of all things “cultural”. 
One could say that Lucia herself could be considered and Old Knock in that she doesn’t want things to change.  She savors village life and society, wishing that teas, socials and recitals would remain the focal point of society for eternity. 
E.F. Benson

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Old Knock Home: The Chair

The Chair is a very important piece of furniture for any Old Knock.  This should not be confused with just any chair used during the day.  This is The Chair.  The Chair is the place where an Old Knock rests his or her weary bones for a long think.  It is not some new-fangled contraption with levers and pulleys.  It does not swivel.  It does not tilt.  It is stationary.  It is solid.  It is comfortable.  It is normally fairly worn from use.  Ideally, it should be as individualistic as it’s owner.  (It should not be part of a matching living room set.) 

A lucky Old Knock will have a leather-bound chair.  I myself have an overstuffed chair covered in woven fabric.  It has a high back and arm rests with a deep seat.  My Chair is not ideal, as it is actually part of a furniture set—but one makes do with what one is allotted in life.  A favorite blanket may be thrown over the back for added warmth on those cold autumn days.  Seated next to an open fireplace is preferable. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Old Knocks Club: H.D. Thoreau

Just to show that Old Knocks don’t have to come from England…here is a man who exemplifies the Old Knock philosophy and lifestyle.  Henry David Thoreau spent a good deal of his life alone, studying nature, ancient texts and life itself.  The mind always came first for old H.D., as exemplified in his inability to maintain a steady relationship with another human being.  But not only in philosophy did this Old Knock fulfill our ideal.  He was also quite the dapper O.K. dresser—throwing on whatever was practical and handy.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Old Knock Past-Times: The Basics

What does an Old Knock do with his or her spare time?  After all, one can only spend so much time pouring over ancient tomes, mucking about damp old churches, or pondering the mysteries of the Universe.  So what does one do on the occasional night off?
Assuming the Old Knock can do anything other than their field of study, a few ideas come to mind.  As a majority of an Old Knock’s time is spent in the sitting position, many folks will decide to stretch their legs a bit.  Get out and see a bit of the world.  Whether they are a city dweller (in which case a walk about town is called for), or a bit more rural (in which a countryside hike is in order), walking is a favorite past time.  Along these same lines, the ever popular bicycle ride is always a choice.
However, perhaps all of that time spent in isolation is getting to the Old Knock, in which case a bit of human companionship is called for.  Conversation is the preferred form of human interaction, so don’t expect to find any of these folks in noisy bars or clubs. Instead, look in quiet coffee shops, restaurants or out-of-the-way pubs.  They may also belong to some sort of social club, organized around one of their areas of interest.
Finally, many an Old Knock will also turn that scientifically-ordered mind to a hobby.  Old Knocks are avid collectors.  It doesn’t really matter what the collection consists of, but it will typically be something either extraordinary or extra-ordinary.  Old Knocks are able to find the most remarkable idiosyncrasies in everyday objects.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


One's only real life is the life one never leads.--Oscar Wilde

William Boyd’s Any Human Heart (2002)

Logan Mountstuart is anything but the typical Old Knock (if there is such a thing as “typical” when it comes to this rare species).  He is a world traveller and semi-adventurer (very un-Knockish).  He is a successful(?) lover of women—again, not on an Old Knock’s resume.  They tend to fall into love by accident.  And he spends much of his life searching for something to excel at.  He does finally find it—in his writing and art collecting—but he often is distracted from it by life. 

Logan Mountstuart is, to put it bluntly, a jerk.  He is self-consumed.  He is disappointed by the realities of this world.  This is where he becomes an Old Knock.  Mountstuart is a Romantic.  And, as a Romantic, he is constantly disappointed in life.  But he tries anyway.  This desperate attempt to make life what it should be, to live life as he would have it and not being willing to accept it as it comes, is what makes him heroic.

Logan Mountstuart is human.  All too often, he goes off the rails.  But it is his attempt to press onward that gives us hope.
William Boyd

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Old Knock Home: The Basics

Just as with clothing, the Old Knock must have a place to keep the rain off.  But, just as with clothing, it would be wrong to try to pigeon-hole all Old Knocks in the same musty quarters. 

In later posts, we will deal with different specific types of ideal Old Knock dwellings, but for now, here is a brief over-view.

One of the keys to being an Old Knock is eccentricity and individuality.  Therefore, the Old Knock home should reflect the individual’s personality.  After all, the Old Knock will spend a good deal of time in his or her quarters (when not in the library or in “the field). 

As with the clothes, comfort is a key consideration.  Often times, the furnishings are rather worn and broken-in.  As this is a Reminiscent Culture, many of the items in the Old Knock house—if not the structure itself—will harken back to older days.

There should also be on display evidence of the Old Knock’s area(s) of interest and expertise.  Whether it is a large library, works of art, musical instruments, scientific equipment or antiques—they should be apparent throughout the dwelling. This is, after-all, what the Old Knock lives for and it should be visible.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Old Knocks Club: Professor Henry Higgins

(For a note of clarification, the Professor Higgins that we have in mind is his portrayal by Leslie Howard in the 1938 film, Pygmalion.)

Professor Higgins fits the Old Knock type very nicely.  He is obsessed with his scholarly work as a linguist—often time to the detriment of those around him.  He is a man of means, he knows how to live the fashionable life, but he is more interested in his intellectual pursuits.  He is also a Romantic.  Although appearances seem to the contrary, he firmly believes that he can turn a common street urchin into a true lady—and does so.

Monday, November 14, 2011

J.W. Waterhouse: 1849-1917

J.W. Waterhouse, English Pre-Raphaelite painter, will strike a chord with many Old Knocks.  Not only are his paintings beautiful and stirring, but his subject matter will appeal to many classical scholars.  He chose as his topics women from ancient Greek and Roman mythology, as well as Arthurian legend.

His Lady of Shallott is perhaps one of his most well-known paintings.  JWWATERHOUSE.COM has an excellent on-line archive to enjoy.

Below is Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

J.L. Carr’s A Month in the Country (1980)

I just finished J.L. Carr’s A Month in the Country a few days ago.  (In fact, I must admit that this book was part of my inspiration for creating this blog.)  It is the story of a WWI veteran (Tom Birkin) who is employed to uncover a Medieval wall painting in a small country church.  There is another veteran (James Moon) who is hired to find the grave of an ancient ancestor for a wealthy patroness of the village.  Through the novel, both men are coming to terms with their experiences with the war, and trying to rebuild their lives after the catastrophe.

What makes this a fine example of Old Knock literature are the two character’s professions.  Birkin is a passionate expert in uncovering “lost” wall paintings.  He is an expert not only in the techniques of restoration, but in the history and culture that went into making the paintings.  He is a true Medieval art scholar.  Moon is also an expert.  He is not merely a grave-digger, he is an archeological excavator who is actually looking for an ancient Anglo-Saxon structure.  Digging for the ancestor’s remains is merely an excuse for his larger passion—historical excavation.  He too is a Medieval historical scholar.

The characters in Carr’s novel are wonderfully developed.  They breathe with real human emotion.  But they also embody another important Old Knock trait: reserve.  In fact, both men are constantly battling their desire to become more intimate with those around them, while at the same time understanding the futility of such an act.  They are Romantics, but tragic Romantics.  They believe in beauty and life, but they also are cynical about humanity and whether or not it will ever truly reach its potential.
J.L. Carr

Friday, November 11, 2011

Old Knock Wardrobe #1: Basics

While I hesitate to put the Old Knock in a box, let’s face it, he (or she) does need to be clothed.  And, in this case, the more the better.  Because the typical Old Knock is not focused on exercise for its own sake, he prefers to keep as much of his body covered as possible.  This is why one tends to find Old Knocks in the more temperate regions.  Clothing is often layered to keep out the cold while living in those drafty attic apartments or poor old rectories.

Apart from the amount of clothing worn, the second most important feature is the age of the clothing itself.  Most Old Knocks have better things to spend their money on (even if it is a substantial amount) than merely keeping themselves clothed.  So they are likely to get their money’s worth out of their clothes.  With any luck, they are able to get by on hand-me-downs from older relatives, or they manage to get by on rummage sales.

Fit is not particularly important—but comfort is.  So is practicality.  The Old Knock spends a lot of time pondering, and it’s a bit hard to ponder when one is uncomfortable.  Softer materials are preferred.  Don’t misunderstand—we are not talking about warm-up suits and trainers here.  But aged clothing that has been worn so long as to, in some cases, actually become a part of the wearer.

The final characteristic of the Old Knock’s wardrobe is the Reminiscent element.  Don’t forget, Old Knocks are very Romantic about the past—that’s why they spend so much of their time studying the Classics.  The Old Knock derives quite a bit of pleasure from these old clothes.  They are comforting, as well as comfortable.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Old Knocks Club: C.S. Lewis

It seems only just to grant the position of first initiate into the Old Knocks Club to Mr. Clive Staples Lewis.  He exemplifies, through his work and lifestyle, everything admirable in the Old Knocks Club.  His list of qualifications is staggering: Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford; Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at Cambridge; author; Christian apologist; member of the Kolbitar and later the Inklings…the list goes on and on.

Lest we forget, he also had that impeccable Old Knock fashion sense as well…

Old Knockery

The name “Old Knock” is a take-off of a nick-name for one William T. Kirkpatrick, given to him by the author C.S. Lewis.  Kirkaptrick, Lewis’s tutor, was affectionately monikered “The Great Knock”.

Old Knocks, while not necessarily “great”, are not necessarily “old” either.  They could, very likely, be clumped together with that ever-growing group termed “Young Fogeys”.  However, the latter term has been expanded to such a degree that it is actually meaningless—typical of such sociological groupings.  The Old Knocks share a love of the classic (and classical) with the Young Fogeys.  However, the Old Knocks are slightly less interested in the extravagant stylings (i.e. Dandyism) that seem to have over-powered this once more conservative group.  Instead, the Old Knocks prefer to pursue their own eccentric passions—typically of an intellectual nature—far from the madding crowd.  Old Knocks tend to be a bit reclusive, preferring to hide away with dusty books and paintings in a dusty attic, than sitting in a fashionable café (or riding in a bicycle mob), creating a scene.

To assume that all Old Knocks share the same passion or area of interest would be a mistake.  What unites them is not what they are passionate about, but the fact that they all have a passion, and that the passion tends to fall under the “classical” heading.  Whether it be Literature, Music, Painting, Architecture, History, etc., the area of interest and expertise is what unites them. 

But, it would also be a mistake to assume that Old Knocks are entirely uninterested in material preoccupations as well.  Again, it would be unjust to put parameters on an Old Knock’s material interest, but, as with their area(s) of expertise, they would be interested in things of the past.  This gets at the very heart of the Old Knock.  Old Knocks are Romantics.  Like the Young Fogeys, the Trads and any other “Reminiscent Culture” group that seeks their inspiration from a by-gone era, the Old Knocks long for an apparently simpler, more comfortable time.  Like the Young Fogeys, they tend to emulate the earlier quarter to half of the 20th century.

Reminiscent Culture

There is something appealing about looking back to previous decades and longing for certain aspects.  This appeal is most easily seen in the continuous “retro” fads of the past twenty years (or more).  I think the appeal is that it is easy to see a decade, or span of time, as a whole from a distance of twenty years or more.  It is more difficult to see or feel the continuity of the “current time” and this is often times unsettling.  So, we often times look back, wistfully, at a past time period.  It’s easier to understand the events and “rules” of the time period from a distance.  Most of us long to know the “rules”.  However, the rules are constantly in flux and are being written as we live them.  It is only in retrospect that the rules take shape.