Wednesday 29 June 2011


Biancaneve e i Sette Nani

As frequent visitors to Venice, Italy, my partner and I have adopted a saying: "The Venetians will make anything in glass – because they can!" And this (non copyright approved) interpretation of the personnel from Walt Disney's Biancaneve e i Sette Nani is as good an example as any of what can be done.

Whether it ought to be done is, of course, another matter entirely!

Today's tourists will find the glass shops of Venezia (which are only rivaled in number by the mask shops!) are full of glass versions of more or less any cartoon character you can name: from Disney and Warner Brothers favourites to Peanuts and the Simpsons – most of which, sadly, are cheap imitations imported from Taiwan.

Fifteen years ago, however, on our first visit, they were somewhat rarer and we found this miniature set on the glass-making island of Murano. They don't quite follow the authorised style sheets and some of the individual dwarfs are considerably easier to identify than others...

Monday 27 June 2011

MICKEY MONDAYS: Weekly Manifestations of the Mouse


A piece of nursery crockery featuring the Mouse in the style of Mickey's Circus (1936).

Monday 20 June 2011

MICKEY MONDAYS: Weekly Manifestations of the Mouse

When, in 1980, after more than two decades of dreaming, I finally managed to visit my first ever Disney theme park (The Magic Kingdom at WDW), I came back with a suitcase stuffed with souvenirs. It took a couple more visits before I realised the simple, basic truth: the Disneyana collector can never hope to own everything!

I confess that I have forgotten this lesson a couple of times: when, for example, I (briefly) began collecting pins and stopped when I was hounded round EPCOT by an almost hysterical collector tearfully offering me handfuls of dollars for a pin that had been given to the media and which wasn't on sale in the park!

I also admit that I made a substantial commitment to the Disney Classics Collection, until the number of pieces appearing were emptying my bank account and turning one room in my home into a depository for green boxes!

But, by and large, my principle has been DO NOT EVER buy something because you "have to have it to complete the set", because a set, by definition, is a finite thing and (in the merchandise-driven Disney-world) sets are always potentially infinite!

So, I do my best only buy those things that give me pleasure like this porcelain figure (purchased many years ago) of Fire Chief MM, loosely inspired by the shorts The Fire Fighters (b&w, 1930) and Mickey's Fire Brigade (colour, 1935)...

Fire Chief Mickey

It's a cheap and cheerful piece (certainly when compared with the Classics Collection version), but I love the cross-eyed expression of Mickey unaware that the reason there is no water coming out of the hose is because there is a knot in it!

Thursday 16 June 2011


Having recently written on this blog about P L Travers, I decided to revisit my 'archive' (one of many cardboard boxes!) and found a couple of items that may be of interest to Disneyphiles and Poppinsites.

My correspondence with P L Travers began in 1972 when I was writing Disneydust, a never-published biography of Walt Disney.

I had been working on this book in my spare time (I was then an employee of a finance company) for four years, inspired to redress what I saw as the skewed portrait of Walt in Richard Schickel's The Disney Version.

Considering I was on the wrong side of the Atlantic, I achieved quite a lot original research and contacted a number of veteran Disney artists and employees, several of whom would later become longstanding friends.

Being something of a bibliophile, I also wrote to the authors of some of the books that had been made into films by the Disney studio, including Dodie Smith, Mary Norton, Margery Sharp –– and P L Travers, from whom I received the following letter...

P L Travers - Letter 1972

Over the years, there has been much quoted comment about what was Pamela Travers' view of the the film. Here is how she expressed it in 1972...

P L Travers'  1972 statement on Disney 'Mary Poppins' film (1)

P L Travers'  1972 statement on Disney 'Mary Poppins' film (2)

Following her request, the statement was included in Disneydust in its entirety and Pamela read the chapter on the making of Mary Poppins and annotated it – extensively! As I have said, Disneydust never saw the light of day: abandoned by the publisher despite having advertised it in his catalogue of forthcoming titles – without my having a contract.

Fifteen years passed and I found myself working with Richard Holliss on The Disney Studio Story, for which I did have a contract! I wrote to Pamela asking if I could use her original statement in the forthcoming book. This is how she responded...

P L Travers - Letter 1987

P L Travers - Letter 1987 (Envelope)

Well, obviously, I was "minded to talk about the matter" and made the call that led to that first visit I have already described on this blog.

Part of Pamela's original statement eventually appeared in The Disney Studio Story (although heavily truncated since one-third of the text was lost in the edit) and my visits to 29 Shawfield Street continued and became more frequent until the day came when the subject of "another film" came up.

But that is a subject for another post...

Monday 13 June 2011

MICKEY MONDAYS: Weekly Manifestations of the Mouse

Mondrian Mickey

A Mickey Mouse pin-badge inspired by the paintings of Dutch artist, Pieter Mondrian. You will find further references to Mondrian the Mickey-takers on this post on Brian Sibley: His Blog.

Wednesday 8 June 2011


It's one of those occasions when you have to pinch yourself and ask, "Is this really happening?"

I'm sitting in a suite in London's Dorchester Hotel with Julie Andrews - yes, the Julie Andrews – Mary Poppins! – who is asking, "Shall I be mother?" and pouring me a cup of tea.

"Sugar?" Just a spoonful...

Thirteen years ago, 1998.

Radio producer, Malcolm Prince, and I are finally about to have an interview for which we've waited weeks. It's been on, it's been off and, now, it's back on again...

Julie is in London, rehearsing with the cast of the new musical, Doctor Dolittle, in which she is providing the voice of Polynesia the Parrot, and she's agreed to give us an interview for a radio series we're making on Disney's Women - the real and fictional women in the life and films of Walt Disney.

The evening of the interview eventually arrives. We are on time - well, absurdly early, of course! - but Miss Andrews is delayed. Detained at rehearsals....

An hour passes. Then another... We sit in the Dorchester bar, drinking over-priced orange juice, not daring to risk any alcohol - just in case the interview actually happens! I'm unaccountably nervous. It feels how, I imagine ,it would feel if you were waiting for an audience with the Queen...

I look at my watch. It's getting late. Miss Andrews is now stuck in traffic. The interview will definitely get rescheduled... Then the call to go up to her suite.

If possible, I am now even more anxious: at the end of a long day of rehearsals, she'll be tired, she'll be hungry. She's certainly never going to be able to give us the promised hour of her time...

In the suite we sit and wait some more. So near and yet so far... I hum to myself: "Fa - a long, long way to run..." How true.

Then the door opens and in comes Mary Poppins - spit-spot, hurry up, no dawdling...

She greets us with a big, warm smile and instantly defuses all anxiety. "Gentlemen! I am terribly sorry to be so late and to have kept you waiting!"

We shake our heads. Was she late? Had we been kept waiting? Really? We hadn't noticed!

Malcolm ventures that we'll try not to keep her too long. Again: the reassuring, I-have-confidence-in-sunshine, smile...

"I think we said an hour. Let's do it!"

Always the trouper, her on-with-the-show, vaudeville origins coming to the fore.

"But first, I need to freshen up - and then I think we all need a cup of tea!"

She vanishes into the bathroom, an assistant phones room-service and in a twinkling - only Disney magic could have done it quicker - a tray with a silver tea-pot and bone china tea-cups materialises before our eyes.

Then she's back, settling herself beside me on the sofa and asking if she should be mother...

Perfect! In fact, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

The interview - which flows effortlessly and runs for well over an hour- passes in a kind of hazy, pink blur...

Disney's Women was duly broadcast - to considerable acclaim - and, subsequently part of the interview relating to Mary Poppins found its way into an essay I contributed to A Lively Oracle, a book about Poppins' creator, P L Travers - which also published one of Andrews' fascinating (and revealing) letters sent to Travers from the Disney sound stage in Burbank.

When, a few years back, I wrote (with Michael Lassell) my book Mary Poppins: Anything Can Happen If You Let It, I'd planned to include part of what Julie had said about Walt, Mrs Travers and playing the practically perfect nanny. But word came down from on high in the Mouse's Kingdom that the Andrews references and quotes would have to go.

The only reason I supposed that this curious decision had been taken - for Julie's presence in the film was crucial not just to the movie itself, but also to her own future career - was that, for some time she had been reportedly working on her autobiography. Maybe she was anxious that we didn't preempt her own book... Who knows? Anyway, the problematic passages were excised and that was that.

And, once again, I waited for Miss Andrews - or, rather, this time, for her book!

When Home: A Memoir of my Early Years eventually arrived, it was, as you'd expect (as you probably know), a charming read. But it's much more than that, being uncompromisingly honest - whilst remaining, as she would say, "polite and decent".

Home proved to be jam-packed with insightful stories: the benefits and pitfalls of being a born-in-a-trunk child star; singing (aged 13 years) for Queen Elizabeth and Princess Elizabeth at a Royal Command performance on the stage of the London Palladium; appearing on radio with Peter Brough and his wooden-headed companion, that other Andrews - Archie...

Getting the role of Polly Browne in the first Broadway production of Sandy Wilson's The Boy Friend (as a result of a recommendation from fellow Educating Archie regular, Hattie Jacques); and, later, her fairy-tale romance with Tony Walton; playing opposite Richard Burton and Roddy McDowell in Camelot and becoming friends with T H ('Tim') White, the idiosyncratic author of The Once and Future King, the book on which the musical was based.

And, of course, there were the chapters that will doubtless excite most interest - her experiences during the creation of Lerner and Loewe's classic musical, My Fair Lady. It was fascinating to learn, incidentally, that they nearly called their show Fanfaroon - a man who blows his own trumpet! All things considered it's probably just as well that they didn't...

In those chaptrers, Julie revealed the monstrous egocentricities of Rex Harrison, the lovableness of Stanley (Alfred Doolittle) Holloway and Robert (Colonel Pickering) Coote, the utter beastliness of designer, Cecil Beaton and the devoted, nurturing care and attention which director Moss Hart showed towards his inexperienced young star at a point when everyone - and, in particular, the monstrous Rex - considered her a total liability and the show's undoubted ticket to the graveyard of theatrical flops and failures...

"She'll be fine," Hart told his wife after 48 hours of ceaseless coaching, "she has that terrible British strength that makes you wonder how they ever lost India."

Of course, what I was most interested in was what she would say about Poppins? Would it differ in some crucial way from my own interview account? But, no! There it is, virtually word-for-word as it was told to me over the teacups in the Dorchester...

The first volume concluded with Andrews getting the Poppins role, so there's plenty more to come in volume two: The Sound of Music, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Star!, Darling Lili, Hitchcock and Torn Curtain, Blake Edwards, S.O.B. and Victor/Victoria and the story of what happened to that extraordinary voice - not to mention the Shrek and Princess Diaries movies.

Anyway, since the book is now long published, it's probably safe to reveal that expurgated text.

So, here it is...

It was Walt's secretary, Tommie Wilck, who suggested Julie Andrews, the young British singer who had achieved stage stardom in London and New York as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, and who was currently appearing on Broadway as Queen Guinevere in the musical, Camelot.

Towards the end of 1961, returning from a visit to Europe, Walt stopped off in New York to see a performance of the Arthurian romance. As Julie Andrews sang, danced and whistled her way through the show stopping number 'What Do the Simple Folk Do?', Walt was convinced that he had found his Mary Poppins.

Backstage, after the show, Walt talked enthusiastically about his plans for the film. “There was no preamble,” Julie recalls, “he said he’d loved the evening and he wanted to talk to me about a project he had in mind for the film of Mary Poppins. I said, ‘Well that sounds lovely’. I don’t remember having had doubts other than ‘Can I make a movie?’ This would be my very first picture and as much as I’d always wanted to go into film I thought, ‘Gosh, would I be able to do it justice? Would I be any good at it?’ and so on.”

However, Walt was persistent and Julie agreed that, once Camelot had ended its run, she would visit the Disney studio with her then husband, designer Tony Walton. Meanwhile, she read the books and began to have doubts not just about her own ability but also about the possibility of adapting the source material for the screen.

“The books were so perfectly written,” she recalled, “but they were so boxed-in with their primness and rigid discipline that I thought ‘Now, how are they going to make that into a musical?’ And, of course, it was miraculous the way that they did.”

Any lingering anxieties were dispelled when she and Tony Walton arrived in Burbank at what Hollywood referred to as ‘The Mouse Factory’: “The minute I walked into the studio and saw what Walt had prepared, I could tell that Poppins had something special about it.”

Looking at the storyboards and hearing the songs convinced Julie that she should accept the role: “The thing that was wonderfully appealing was that my background, long before I had been on Broadway, was vaudeville and music-hall. And the songs they played me on that first day, were wonderfully reminiscent. They had that knock-down, drag-out quality of the good old vaudeville songs and I loved them!”

About one song only, Julie had reservations: it was the ballad 'The Eyes of Love' which the Sherman brothers had come to think of as Mary Poppins' theme. She, however, thought the song too sentimental and not very 'Poppinsish'. In an attempt to find an alternative, the composers drew on an experience of Robert Sherman's younger son who had recently been given an inoculation at school that had been disguised with a spoonful of sugar. The resulting song became one of the most popular in the film.

Walt hoped to clinch the deal by offering Julie $125,000 and asking Tony Walton to be the film's design consultant, but there was one lingering issue: she was still under consideration for the role of Eliza Doolittle in the screen version of the show that had made her name My Fair Lady.

Julie wished more than anything to play on film the role she had created on stage, but Walt wanted her to be Mary Poppins and was so eager for her to commit to the film, that he promised to release her from her contract if Warner Brothers offered her the part in My Fair Lady. In the event, Jack Warner decided that casting Julie was too big a box-office gamble (having Rex Harrison play Professor Higgins was even thought risky) and opted, instead, for the glamorous, but non-singing, Audrey Hepburn. Warner's loss was Disney's gain.

P L Travers had described Mary Poppins as being thin, plain and “rather like a Dutch doll”, with “large feet and hands, and small, rather peering blue eyes.” Although Julie Andrews, at twenty-seven, was considerably prettier, she skilfully captured much of Poppins’ enigmatic personality, described by the author as “a mixture of arrogance and poetry and, underlying both, a certain invincible integrity.”

Julie, who was pregnant, returned to England to give birth and, thirty-six hours after the arrival of her daughter Emma, she received a phone call in hospital: “They said, ‘There’s a Mrs Travers on the line for you,’ and I thought, ‘Oh I’d better speak to her, doesn’t anybody know that I’ve just given birth and I’m feeling a bit weary.’ And she came on, she said, ‘Hello, this is P L Travers, is this Julie Andrews? Talk to me! I want to hear what you sound like.” I said, ‘Well what can I tell you, Miss Travers, I’m very thrilled, I believe I’m going to be doing a film based on your books.’ ‘Well,’ she said, ‘you’ve got the nose for it that’s for sure; you’re too pretty, but you’ve got the nose for it.’”

Later, Julie went to afternoon tea with Pamela and still remembers her assessment of the author: “I liked her, she was an eccentric and rather tough old girl but a good hearted one I felt.” Pamela was equally responsive to Julie and - whatever her subsequent reservations about the film - was unfailing in her praise of the actress, describing her as having “integrity and a true sense of comedy” and her performance as showing that she understood “the essential quality” of Mary Poppins.

That's what you didn't read in the Poppins book although, in her autobiography, Julie Andrews has told the tale in her own words - which are pretty much just about the same!

Home only takes the Andrews story as far as the Walt Disney engaging her to play Mary Poppins and that curious maternity wing telephone conversation with P L Travers...

I actually wrote quite a bit more written about the filming and the Oscar-winning success of Mary Poppins, but since Ms A is at work on a second volume of autobiography, I guess I'd better - for the present - keep that to myself!

Monday 6 June 2011

MICKEY MONDAYS: Weekly Manifestations of the Mouse

Watch – Two Gun Mickey

Limited edition watch (500 numbered copies) inspired by the 1934 Mickey Mouse short cartoon, Two Gun Mickey; the sweep hand is a pair of silver bullets.

Wednesday 1 June 2011


I was going to tea with Mary Poppins!

Well, no, not exactly, but I was going to tea with P L Travers, who had written the Mary Poppins books and, at that precise moment, I was walking down a street of neat-and-tidy-looking houses that reminded me very much of Cherry Tree Lane…

True, Shawfield Street - off the King’s Road in London’s Chelsea – didn’t boast any really grand houses (with two gates) like that owned by Miss Lark and none of them were quite as unusual or as exciting as the ship-shape home of Admiral Boom… But, as I arrived at the door of number 29, I felt as if I might expect to find Robertson Ay asleep on the doorstep or hear the argumentative voices of Mrs Brill and Ellen coming up from the basement…

This all happened twenty-four years ago, but I remember it now as vividly as if it had only happened yesterday…

I’d been invited to come to tea at four o’clock and I was a little early – ten minutes early to be precise – because I really didn’t want to be late and keep Mary Poppins waiting...

I went up the steps to the front door – which, rather surprisingly, was painted candyfloss pink – and I rang the bell.


I rang again.

Still silence.

Had I got the wrong day, I wondered.

Then a window, two storeys up, flew open and a head popped out and asked, in a brisk tone, “Are you Brian Sibley?”

I said that I was.

“Well,” said the head, “you are early!” And the window rattled shut again.

I waited. And I waited. For the full ten minutes I waited - until the clock on a nearby church struck ‘four’. Only then did a woman with curly grey hair and bright forget-me-not blue eyes open the door.

So, this was P (for Pamela) L (for Lyndon) Travers…

I noticed that she was wearing a pair of ‘sensible shoes’ of the kind Mary Poppins wore; but, in contrast, she sported a very un-Poppinsish dress with lots of frills and flounces, a number of jingly-jangly bracelets and bangles (rather like those favoured by Miss Lark, I thought) and a chunky turquoise necklace.

After my wait on the doorstep, I was a little nervous, but she welcomed me in with a smile, threw my coat over the back of a noble rocking-horse who galloped up the hallway and showed me into the room where, many times afterwards, I would come to have tea and talk with the woman who introduced the world to Mary Poppins.

When Jane and Michael Banks once asked Mary Poppins who she would choose to be if she wasn't Mary Poppins, she replied, in her sharp, non-nonsense tone: “Mary Poppins.” It is a typical Poppins response: supremely confident, yet - at the same time – as mysterious and elusive as the place where a rainbow ends…

And, sometimes, P L Travers could be much the same.

For one thing, that was not her real name: when she was born, in Australia in 1899, she was called Helen Lyndon Goff.

Then, as a young woman she became an actress and a dancer and took a ‘stage name’: “Pamela” (which she thought sounded pretty and actressy), “Lyndon” (her own second name and a reminder that her ancestors came from Ireland, the land of myths and stories) and “Travers” which was her father’s first name.

He had died when she was seven years old and she never forgot how much she had loved him and missed him.

I think Mr Banks in the stories is, probably, rather like her father and although Pamela used to tell people that he was a sugar-planter in Australia, at the time that she was born he was working in a bank – just like Jane and Michael’s father.

Pamela usually got irritated if you talked about her having ‘created’ Mary Poppins. She preferred to say that she had ‘discovered’ rather than ‘invented’ her, but as with so many things in Pamela’s life, you never quite knew…

She told me, for instance, that Mary Poppins had first blown into her imagination – rather as she blows into the lives of the Banks family – when she was recovering from an illness in an old country cottage in Sussex.

She said that somewhere - in that strange state between being ill and getting better – the idea of a person like Mary Poppins had come to her.

The truth, however, is that several years earlier she had written a short story called ‘Mary Poppins and the Match Man’ that was published in a New Zealand newspaper.

This story was an early version of the second chapter of Mary Poppins in which Bert accompanies her on her ‘Day Out’ and they enjoy a wonderful tea with heaps of raspberry jam-cakes! It would become, years later, part of the 'Jolly Holiday' sequence in Walt Disney's film of Mary Poppins.

Anyway, during that illness, she obviously thought up some new stories and wrote them down and the first book, Mary Poppins, was published in 1934, with illustrations by Mary Shepard, the daughter of the man who drew Winnie-the-Pooh.

The following year, she wrote her second book, Mary Poppins Comes Back and, then after a nine-year gap, the third book in the series appeared. Pamela had wanted to call it Good-bye, Mary Poppins, but eventually – after her publisher begged her not to be quite so final - it was renamed Mary Poppins Opens the Door.

And, as it happens, it wasn’t goodbye to Mary Poppins because, eight years later, P L Travers wrote Mary Poppins in the Park and the practically perfect nanny then reappeared in various spin-offs including an alphabet book Mary Poppins from A to Z (which, for some reason, was later translated into Latin) and a book of stories and recipes entitled Mary Poppins in the Kitchen. Late in life, the author wrote two more slim volumes: Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane and, finally in 1988, Mary Poppins and the House Next Door.

“If you are looking for autobiographical facts,” P L Travers once wrote, “Mary Poppins is the story of my life.” This seems an unlikely claim when you think that Mary Poppins goes inside a chalk pavement picture, slides up banisters, arranges tea-parties on the ceiling and has a carpet bag which is both empty and yet contains everything.

But, if we take her at her word, we can find many things in her books that spring from her own life and shaped the stories she told…

For example, several of her fictional characters have names borrowed from people Pamela had known in her childhood - among them a strange little old woman with two tall daughters who ran the local general store where the young Pamela bought sweets. Her name, of course, was – as it is in the stories - Mrs Corry.

As for Miss Poppins herself, her first name was probably inspired by the younger of Pamela’s two sisters who was known in the family as ‘Moya’ – the Irish version of ‘Mary’.

As for ‘Poppins’… Well, Pamela never gave any clues as to where that name came from. But when she first arrived in London to work as a journalist, she used an office near Fleet Street and on her way to visit nearby St Paul’s Cathedral – home to the Bird Woman – she would have passed a little lane with the curious name, ‘Poppins Court’.

Unlike today's street signs, early London gazetteers did not include the apostrophe and Poppins Court was once the site of a 14th Century inn called ‘The Poppinjay’ that was owned by the Abbots of Cirencester and had an inn-sign displaying the Abbey's crest: a parrot-like bird.

And while we're talking parrots, as it were...

Although she and her sisters never had a Mary Poppins for a nanny, they did have an Irish maid named Bertha --- or maybe she was called Bella, Pamela could never quite remember! Bella (or Bertha) was a marvellous character with almost as many eccentric relatives as Mary Poppins.

What’s more, Bertha – or Bella – possessed something that was her pride and joy: a parrot-headed umbrella. "Whenever she was going out," Pamela once told me, "the umbrella would be carefully taken out of tissue-paper and off she would go, looking terribly stylish. But, as soon as she came back, the umbrella would be wrapped up in tissue-paper once more.”

You will remember that Mary Poppins always carried her umbrella, regardless of the weather, simply because it was too beautiful not to be carried. “How could you leave your umbrella behind,” asks the author, “if it had a parrot’s head for a handle?”

"Spit-spot into bed," was a favourite phrase of her mother's, and other bits of Mary Poppins' character were clearly inspired by Pamela's spinster aunt, Christina Saraset, whom everybody called 'Aunt Sass'. She was a crisp, no-nonsense woman with a sharp tongue and a heart of gold who, like Mary Poppins, was given to making "a curious convulsion in her nose that was something between a snort and a sniff."

When Pamela once suggested to her aunt that she might write about her, the elderly lady replied: "What! You put me in a book! I trust you will never so far forget yourself as to do anything so vulgarly disgusting!" This indignant response was followed up with a contemptuous, "Sniff, sniff!" Now, doesn't that sound just like Mary Poppins? Equally, it might have been P. L. Travers herself who said something along the same lines to me, when I rashly suggested, one day, that I might write her life-story!

As a young girl, Pamela took dancing lessons and there seems to be dancing, of some kind or other, in every one of the books - remember Mary Poppins joining all the birds and beasts at the zoo in dancing the Grand Chain? Or the Red Cow who catches a falling star on her horn and can’t stop dancing?

And, speaking of stars, reminds me that as a child Pamela had been captivated by the beauty of the constellations she saw in the clear southern skies above her home in the Australian outback.

She never lost her fascination with star-gazing and there are stars scattered throughout the pages of all her books. In one story, Mrs Corry, her two gargantuan daughters and Mary Poppins paste Gingerbread Stars on to the night sky and in another, Maia (one of the stars in the constellation known as the Pleiades), comes down to earth to do her Christmas shopping.

Over the years that I knew Pamela we had many conversations but the one I remember most clearly took place not long before she died at the grand age of 96 and it was also about a star.

I had asked her if she thought perhaps another story - maybe one last tale about Mary Poppins - might come to her. “I think it might,” she replied slowly, “because, the other day, on the street outside, I found a star on the pavement!”

“A star?” I repeated, with surprise.

“Yes,” she said softly, “a star. Go and look for it yourself. I hope I shall find out where it came from and what it is doing there.”

It was dusk when I let myself out of the candy-pink door of 29 Shawfield Street and headed off to look for that star. Light was failing, but I found it, at last: just as Pamela had said - a star-shape, faintly but clearly marked in the surface of a paving stone.

A puzzled passer-by looked quizzically at the man staring intently at what looked like a very ordinary pavement. But I was remembering the words of the old snake, the Hamadryad, on that night of the full moon when Mary Poppins took Jane and Michael to the zoo:
“We are all made of the same stuff... The tree overhead, the stone beneath us, the bird, the beast, the star - we are all one, all moving to the same end...”
Like Mary Poppins, P L Travers saw - and gave others the ability to see - the magical in very ordinary and everyday things.

She had discovered something as rare and amazing as a star in a London street and, then, she had given it away...

I hope she found out why it was there…

Of course, Mary Poppins would have the answer, but, as you know, she would never, never tell...

A version of this reminiscence was first published, five years ago, on my blog, Ex Libris: Brian Sibley.