Life and how to avoid it


Every couple of months at least, some media-appointed literary expert is bemoaning the market that exists for really bad writing. I’m not talking about the merely workmanlike stodge of Trease or Jenkins, Geoffries both, but the literary junk food that gets the Guardianistas sniffing about the things some people will read, while looking around for a copy so they won’t be left out of the loop on the latest love-to-hate trend. Seriously, just trying to read all of the acknowledged classics is a lifetime’s work: if you’re already wasting hours a day skimming through articles about Scandiwegian interior design tips and which charities are the most carbon-friendly, you really don’t have the time to spare for retouched internet fan-fiction.

Still, I digress. I was thinking about the phenomenon of vastly grossing drivel a while ago and was sure that I could remember having read something very apposite about it in an article by Hilaire Belloc, he of the lyric elegy to mowing one’s lawn with a scythe. Belloc knew a thing or two about publishing, as he’d been a jobbing writer and journalist for many years before he made his comments, but they proved very hard to find because he made them as an aside in a piece about sailing. I found this out after having checked the entire volume and finally in desperation decided that reading about yachting around South Devon in 1914 might take my mind off things.

This brings me to the real crux of this post. What I remembered as an article is really an extract from a much longer work, The Cruise of the Nona. It’s a portmanteau of commentary, reminiscences and various tangential musings, structured and bound together by the itinerary of a sailing trip around Britain and Ireland, but just a few minutes skimming through it yielded up so much gorgeous prose that it seems unfair to choose only two examples. They’re not the best, but one is the comment I had been trying to find and the other was read on the hundredth anniversary of the events it describes, so if they have pushed ahead of more deserving fellows there is at least reason behind it.

Belloc said of writing and its market:

A man is no more meant to live by writing than he is meant to live by conversation, or by dressing, or by walking about and seeing the world. For there is no relation between the function of letters and the economic effect of letters; there is no relation between the goodness and the badness of the work, or the usefulness of the work, or the magnitude of the work, and the sums paid for the work. It would not be natural that there should be such a relation, and, in fact, there is none.

This truth is missed by people who say that good writing has no market. That is not the point. Good writing sometimes has a market, and very bad writing sometimes has a market. Useful writing sometimes has a market, and writing of no use whatsoever, even as recreation, sometimes has a market. Writing important truths sometimes has a market. Writing the most ridiculous errors and false judgements sometimes has a market. the point is that the market has nothing to do with the qualities attached to writing. It never had and it never will. There is no injustice about it, any more than there is an injustice in the survival of beauty or ugliness in human beings, or the early death of the beautiful or the ugly.

Only a couple of pages earlier, Belloc was reminiscing about an experience while sailing off Plymouth in 1914 that he describes as marking “…in a sort of visionary way, the unleashing of the Great War”.

In this loneliness and content, as I sailed northward, I chanced to look, after an hour’s steering or so, eastward again towards the open sea – and then it was that there passed me the vision I shall remember for ever, or for so long as the longest life may last.

Like ghosts, like things themselves made of mist, there passed between me and the newly risen sun, a procession of great forms, all in line, hastening eastward. It was the Fleet recalled.
The slight haze along the that distant water had thickened, perhaps, imperceptibly; or perhaps the great speed of the men-of-war buried them too quickly in the distance. But, from whatever cause, this marvel was of short duration. It was seen for a moment, and in a moment it was gone.

Then I knew that war would come, and my mind was changed. The bright air was the same around me and the heartening morning wind; the happy course of the Nona, making for a known port with all in her favour and something of youth in her and all round. What that war would bring, its magnitude, its character, was veiled from us all; but the advent of it, the mass of it coming, put a new face on everything I saw and felt and heard; on the steady breeze, on the little lapping of the salt sea-water, on the strong headlands of England.

The first of these passages could have been written at any time. Publish it today under another name and it would pass for topical commentary. The thing about my little Everyman Belloc collection, though, is that such commentary can appear so close to a passage that in the events it recalls, its style, imagery and vocabulary, is so very much of its time. A voice from out of the great shipwreck of the Victorian world offers a quiet glimpse of the massing forces that would break it, much as Hardy does in Channel Firing.

Another point of interest that occurred to me while I was skimming through the author’s biography at the beginning of my book is that Belloc was an Oxford-educated Catholic writer with foreign antecedents and connections to Edgbaston. One figure from the next generation of writers, a descendent of German piano makers, would also come from Birmingham up to Oxford and make a name for himself, but that, of course, is a different story. Perhaps at some time I should analyse what it is that I find appealing in the works of twentieth-century Roman Catholics. Certainly I think that the literature departments backed the wrong horse creatively, if only in thinking of literature as some sort of competition, but these are thoughts for another day.

…I attend Chappel every year.

Thus speaks Tony’s Chappel Beer Festival shirt, and it’s a pun so terrible as to be worth sharing with the world. More of that later.

The Angel of the Dorks appeared unto me, saying: “Go thou unto the web that is world-wide, and proclaim unto the surfers, and to the spods, yea unto all thy fellow nerds, that a new thing has been brought forth in Cyberspace. For behold: I have spoken with she who sits at the head of Femen, and I have wrought of our words an article; and it is a thing of great majesty.” And I looked, and I beheld me the Interview, and saw that it was good. Therefore I say unto thee: go thou forth unto the place that is called Global Comment, and there wilt thou see much of benefit; but look thou especially for the interview with Anna Gutsol, and stand amazed.

As I was saying, the Chappel Beer Festival is the stuff of legend in Essex, and annually draws huge crowds of ale lovers from all over the country. I’ve been going since the mid nineties, when I was invited to go by a good friend of mine who was at university with me, and I’ve only missed one or two of the fourteen intervening festivals. I was there for the tenth and the twentieth, and barring accidents I ought to be there for the thirtieth in seven years’ time. This year was a light one, since I was only there for the final weekend, but I think I managed to cram enough into those two days to make the long drive worthwhile.

For once Friday lived up to its POETS acronym: for the first time in ages I managed to clear my schedule and get on the road by four. It’s a six-hour drive including stops for sandwiches and Red Bull, and the less said about it the better. I managed to get about half way before I had to put the roof back up, and I was in the field at the back of the East Anglian Railway Museum by ten in the evening, absolutely dog tired, but ready for some beer and chat. I caught Mad Phil before he left, and was there for his story about the time he met Jimmy Page while they were queuing for a cup of tea in London. Gary – the man who first introduced me to Chappel – was there too, wearing a hat he found in his Land Rover when he bought it; and his greeting was as warm as ever. Actually I ran into him first, while waiting to be served at the Shunter’s Arms. Tony and Nikki were there too, bearing a four-pint carry out that they’d co-purchased with Phil, and we all had a merry time of it until about half-past eleven, when the party broke up.

Gary and the Land Rover crowd had set up a laager (the only kind you’ll find at Chappel) and spread a tarpaulin over it. They also had beer, guitars and some funny stories, which kept us occupied until gone two in the morning. We were even told off for being too noisy, which brought back happy memories of festivals past, when we were noisy youngsters instead of people old enough to know better. Thus passed the first evening.

TheLaager

Circle the wagons, lads; and watch out for chavs

There’s no other way to say this: Saturday morning started far, far too early. After a fine breakfast down at the festival, we settled down to bask in the sunshine until we were all sober enough to drive (I’d forgotten to get out any cash for the second year in a row, and the nearest machine is five miles away). While we were sobering up, my camping buddies got out their guitars and managed to find some songs we all knew. It transpires that there aren’t very many of those, and most of the morning was spent listening to Gary riffing on various chord progressions. It was like old times.

The family men disappeared at about noon, when I drove off in search of some cash. Suitably cashed up, I returned to the festival to find out who was around for the Saturday afternoon session. Tony was working on his Masters dissertation, but he took the afternoon off and he, Nikki and I started drinking. We continued to do that until ten, and this photograph was taken somewhere in the midst of that binge.

Cattle class is slow, but you get there in the end.

Cattle class is slow, but you get there in the end.

After much conversation with people too numerous to be enumerated, we called it a night at about ten, and I crawled into my sleeping bag to prepare for the mighty odyssey back to Devon.

Which is where you find me. I got back here at just after five, extremely tired and about ready for a kebab. I am, in fact, off to purchase just such a comestible as soon as I’ve finished writing about it. Another year of Chappel is over, and the next big event is Oxonmoot in two weeks’ time. September is such a busy month.

I’ve been immersed in PERL for the past week, and feeling pretty sick of computers once I get home. The family business I work for has a sideline building websites, so every so often I have to take some time out from dental work to do some programming. The current project’s nothing to write home about: a simple MySQL database with a PERL DBI and CGI interface, which powers a small on-line shop; but it’s nice to stretch my spodding legs a bit and reacquaint myself with the ridiculously convoluted sets of brackets that characterise an HTML short-cut using CGI.pm.

Today, however, I have some poems to work on while the ideas are still fresh in my mind, and possibly some older pieces to render less embarrassing. This means that poetry and its uses as an excuse for procrastination are once again on my mind, and the long-delayed Monday poetry slot can at last be filled.

First up is Andrew Marvell (1621-78), whose impressions of a garden had been coloured by living through the English Civil War (1641-51). Apart from dress uniforms and painful arterial red, the bright colours have departed from soldiering; but if you’ve seen Buck House when the guard changes, you can probably follow Marvell’s drift. He returns to this theme in his longer and more famous piece The Garden, which opens with a wry consideration of the horticultural iconography of military decorations that Europe inherited from the Romans. This is implied in the piece that follows, when he refers to garlands of roses, as opposed to triumphant laurel or oak leaves.

A Garden

Written after the Civil Wars

See how the flowers, as at parade,
Under their colours stand display’d:
Each regiment in order grows,
That of the tulip, pink, and rose.
But when the vigilant patrol
Of stars walks round about the pole,
Their leaves, that to the stalks are curl’d,
Seem to their staves the ensigns furl’d.
Then in some flower’s beloved hut
Each bee, as sentinel, is shut,
And sleeps so too; but if once stirr’d,
She runs you through, nor asks the word.
O thou, that dear and happy Isle,
The garden of the world erewhile,
Thou Paradise of the four seas
Which Heaven planted us to please,
But, to exclude the world, did guard
With wat’ry if not flaming sword;
What luckless apple did we taste
To make us mortal and thee waste!
Unhappy! shall we never more
That sweet militia restore,
When gardens only had their towers,
And all the garrisons were flowers;
When roses only arms might bear,
And men did rosy garlands wear?

It’s been nearly four-hundred years, and we’re still singing the same threnody that Marvell plays here. As Nicol Williamson‘s Merlin has it: “For it is the doom of men that they forget.”

Continuing the recurrent theme of depressing thoughts, I give you Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-94), on the subject of silent grief and unwritten poetry.

The Voiceless

WE count the broken lyres that rest
Where the sweet wailing singers slumber,
But o’er their silent sister’s breast
The wild-flowers who will stoop to number?
A few can touch the magic string,
And noisy Fame is proud to win them;
Alas for those that never sing,
But die with all their music in them!

Nay, grieve not for the dead alone
Whose song has told their hearts’ sad story;
Weep for the voiceless, who have known
The cross without the crown of glory!
Not where Leucadian breezes sweep
O’er Sappho’s memory-haunted billow;
But where the glistening night-dews weep 15
On nameless sorrow’s churchyard pillow.

O hearts that break and give no sign
Save whitening lip and fading tresses,
Till Death pours out his cordial wine
Slow-dropped from Misery’s crushing presses!
If singing breath or echoing chord
To every hidden pang were given,
What endless melodies were poured,
As sad as earth, as sweet as heaven!

I like a good ghost story and a stirring naval yarn as much as the next man, so this poem has been a favourite of mine since I was a teenager. It’s too long to quote in its entirety, so I’ll confine myself to linking to The Legend of Hamilton Tighe by Richard Harris Barham (1785-1845).

A page from the Liber Exoniensis, featuring the opening lines of Widsith

A page from the Liber Exoniensis, featuring the opening lines of 'Widsith'

Modern poetry is all well and good, but it’s churlish to ignore the roots of English verse. A thousand years before Barham, Englishmen were already composing poetry in their own language and meter, and it stands up well against the contributions of the modern age. The next selection is a riddle poem from one of the most important Old English verse collections, the Liber Exoniensis (pictured above). As its name suggests, it has a local connexion. Leofric, Bishop of Crediton and St. Germans, moved his episcopal seat to Exeter in 1050 and set about reforming the cathedral administration. One of the many gifts he bestowed on the new cathedral was “mycel englisc boc be gehwilcum þingum on leoðwisan geworht” (“a large English book about various things, written in verse [lit. ‘song-wise’]”), which he donated in 1072. Many of the riddle poems in the Exeter Book are humorous; some are downright bawdy, but I’ve chosen one of the cleaner examples. It concerns the bibliophile’s most implacable foe. The title is a modern addition, which I’ve used purely because I’m a bit of a bookworm myself. The layout is also modern: the manuscript form of the riddles is exactly the same as that of prose, but they’re not as easy to read when so presented.

Riddle #47: Bookworm

Moððe word fræt. Me þæt þuhte
wrætlicu wyrd, þa ic þæt wundor gefrægn,
þæt se wyrm forswealg wera gied sumes,
þeof in þystro, þrymfæstne cwide
ond þæs strangan staþol. Stælgiest ne wæs
wihte þy gleawra, þe he þam wordum swealg.

A moth ate words. It seemed to me
a curious happening, when I heard about that wonder:
that the worm swallowed down some man’s speech –
a thief in the darkness – glorious discourse
and that mighty thing’s foundation. The thieving visitor was not
at all the wiser when he swallowed the words.

Here we have a playful comparison between the unthinking bookworm that eats vellum and the ignorant reader, who devours the text without learning anything. This is surely a dig at those who can’t solve the riddle. It’s also quite probable that the fulsome praise heaped upon the lost words is satirical. We have very few examples of the Anglo-Saxons being intellectually playful, and the Exeter Book riddles make a refreshing change from the more familiar elegiac, religious and heroic poetry of their era.

That’s it for the poetry, but since I’ve left you hanging on for so long without an update I’ll throw in a song free of charge. This one seems to be about an oppressed narrator’s fantasies of bloody vengeance, but it could refer to any unlikely but earnestly desired occurrence. I don’t care what all the Napster fans say: Metallica are great. The video tells a good story too.

It’s often pointed out by journalists who have nothing better to do that far fewer people visit the cinema than was once the case. I’m reliably informed that Exmouth once boasted two picture houses, and irksomely the one which has closed and been demolished was nearer my home than the one we still have. Obviously the advent of the twenty-four-hour film channel, surround sound and wide-aspect plasma screens has raised up competition that the small theatre can ill afford, so clearly my entirely unqualified and uninformed thoughts on possible improvements are required to remedy the situation.

The most obvious problem with cinemas is the absence of comfortable seating. Films are best watched stretched full-length on a chaise longue or Ottoman, and the predilection of picture-house proprietors for hard collapsible seating is clearly not to be borne. I know that at least one person agrees with me, because it was a conversation over cigarettes with my neighbour that inspired this train of thought. The latest Harry Potter film, which is approximately the same length as the Ring Cycle, had, I discovered, revealed the deficiencies of the cinema’s seating arrangements with numbing starkness. Ticket sales might improve with the addition of arm chairs and possibly some footstools.

Another thing that always makes a welcome addition to the cinematic experience is alcohol. A large gin and tonic, glass of Chablis or cask ale, particularly when followed by another, softens hard edges, smooths over deficiencies in the directing or script and encourages a general sense of well-being and benevolence. It also helps to erase the memory of the entrance fee, which is more than the cost of a second-hand frigate in some markets. There was a cinema in Whitstable that boasted a licensed bar, and I remember it being very popular with the undergraduate community. Ideally, said alcohol would be brought to one’s chair by a white-aproned steward, but at a pinch I’d settle for well-stocked bar. Always provided, of course, that it was suitably rich in very old single malts.

Then there’s the issue of film length. Back in 1959 they had the right idea when Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer made Ben Hur three and a half hours long. This supplies value for money even at today’s inflated prices, so more films should be ridiculously long. Of course this might mean cutting down on those endearing advertisements for the local Indian restaurant that seem always to have been made in 1973; but that is a sacrifice I’m willing to make. Armed with a comfortable chair and a glass of something fortifying, the civilised cinema-goer can face even the most ludicrously protracted celluloid dream with equanimity, if not pleasant anticipation.

Of course the simplest change that can be made concerns air conditioning. I’ve noticed on successive visits to the multiplex in Exeter that it’s necessary to take an overcoat even in the middle of July. This is extremely silly, and I feel compelled to point out that sitting on a block of ice was good enough for our colonial forebears when facing the daunting rail journey from Calcutta to Benares. Naturally I hesitate to recommend that particular measure, but I know from experience that air conditioning units are fitted with temperature controls. Perhaps something a little nearer comfortable room temperature would be a good idea. Nice though it was to watch The Fellowship of the Ring outdoors at Glastonbury festival, I prefer to experience alfresco temperatures when actually outside.

This has gone on far longer than it deserves, so I shall end there. In fine, if my proposals are adopted I predict a 700% increase in box-office takings within the first year, with the possible total demise of the Shopping Channel within five. Some might take issue with the optimistic nature of this prediction, but it’s no less realistic than those of a government contractor.

I’ve not been posting much recently, mainly because I was planning and then executing a trip over to Kiev. They were having something of a heat-wave there, which made a nice change from the occasional rain we’ve been having here in Devon, and I got to see some more of my friend and be there for her birthday, which was nice.

Kiev is an interesting place. Like most European cities it’s felt the touch of uncaring twentieth-century architecture, but in the main it’s quite beautiful: wooded hills overlooking the vast expanse of the Dniepr, many churches and cathedrals that vary from European gothic to minarets and rotundas reminiscent of the Middle-east, the legacy of a Greek conversion. One thing I particularly noticed about the ecclesiastical architecture was a preference for gilded roofs, which you never see in England. The streets are ill-maintained, but on the buses people pass money forward to the driver and change back to the passenger with utter unconcern, which is completely alien to the public transport system here. Everywhere there are the little trailers that dispense Kvas, painted in the Ukrainian national colours of blue and yellow. Another thing that you notice a lot is how much English there is around. Most signs are in Cyrillic text, and there are enough that by the time I left I could read them after a fashion, but on the walls are numerous messages in my language. Graffiti in England is in English, but in Kiev people express their hatred of Emo in the language and alphabet responsible for it and expect to be understood. Agreement with that was inevitable, but my favourite piece simply told me to smile.

Nice though it can be out there, though, the thing that came home to me most is just how much I belong here in Exmouth. It was raining when I arrived, from a leaden sky that threatened more, but that was like a much-loved quirk in a dear friend. It was so good to be back among familiar things and people, without the constant pressure of new sensations and ways. I think it’s important to live in a place that feels that way, that fits like an old pair of slippers and makes you smile when you arrive, and there are only two places in the world that do that for me: Canterbury, where I was an undergraduate, and Exmouth, where I have my home and family. I like to see other countries and experience how other people do things, but in the end they just tell me what’s right or wrong with my own home. I think I appreciate them and it far more for loving this tatty little seaside town, with its battered crazy-golf course, cheesy amusement arcade and two miles of sometimes overcrowded beach. I might prefer Kiev’s swallows to our seagulls (quite a lot, as it happens), and their market to our Sunday jumble sale, but I wouldn’t exchange them for the world.

So if you’re thinking of going to Kiev, I say do it. It’s a great place, and I’d like to go back one day. For now, though, I’m happy to be back at home and to be planning a drive with the owners’ club tomorrow that will let me see more of it.

It would, after all, be difficult to read them afterwards. I don’t normally get involved in memes, but there are some people to whom you just can’t say ‘no’.

[Edit: this meme is actually called ‘Fifteen books in fifteen minutes’, but I have a weakness for hyperbole.]

Instructions: Don’t take too long to think about it. List 15 books you’ve read that will always stick with you — the first 15 you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Copy the instructions into your own note, and be sure to tag the person who tagged you.

Well, I got the list in less than fifteen minutes anyway. The descriptions took a bit longer, but I’ve kept them as brief as possible in keeping with the spirit of the thing. I promise that I really have read these.

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings

Once read, never forgotten. Need I say more?

Douglas Adams: The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

This book worms its way into your mind and gradually takes over. I first read it when I was ten, after the school realised that it was best to let me choose my own reading material, and it took me a day. For ten years I burst out laughing every time I thought of Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz’s poetry.

Cornelius Ryan: A Bridge Too Far

This is how popular military history should be done: painstakingly researched, impartial and readable. The stories from this one campaign alone beggar belief; and all those related here can be verified by at least two sources. The sheer work involved is staggering.

John Harris: Covenant with Death

Quite simply the best First World War novel I have ever read. The hope, the comradeship, the horror and the waste. The numbers involved in the first day of the Somme are so huge that a book like this helps to bring it into perspective by keeping it on a human scale: one battalion from inception to destruction.

Ronald Dixon: Echoes in the Sky: An Anthology of Aviation Verse from Two World Wars

Aeroplanes and poetry are a winning combination for me. I’ve had this book for upwards of twenty years now, and it never fails to give me pleasure. It ranges from the comic to the elegiac and stops off at all points between.

Brian Gardner: Up the Line to Death – The War Poets, 1914-18

Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle: The Compleet Molesworth

Nigel Molesworth, self-styled Curse of St. Custard’s, shares his mis-spelled views on school, parents, cricket, the future and the Flying Scotsman. It’s more than fifty years since these were published, and although education has changed beyond recognition, there’s something universal about the school experience that still resonates today.

Bede: Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (Ecclesiastical History of the English People)

This is how history should be written. Bede could run rings round most of today’s historians, but in his day he was something very special. Memorable statements and incidents abound, including Gregory the Great’s “not Angles but angels” line (a pun that works in both Latin and English).

Richard Marsden: The Cambridge Old English Reader

Back in 2005, this was the most comprehensive Old English reader on the market. It contains selections from all of the major manuscript collections and complete texts of classics like The Dream of the Rood and The Seafarer. The comprehensive annotations make the translation seem easy, when in fact some passages and idioms can be all-but impenetrable without it. The author gave my essays good marks, so I’m returning the favour.

W.P. Ker: The Dark Ages

This is very dated now, but Ker was a very erudite man. His overview of Dark Age literature ironically calls into question that now deprecated term, since he shows the vibrant diversity and creative energy of the era. A very good guide to who was who in European literature over a thousand years ago.

E.H. Carr: What is History?

Thoughts on the nature, methods and purpose of history. Full of pithy quotations that make it look as though you’ve read a great many more books than this one.

Robert Heinlein: Citizen of the Galaxy

This is a short book that you can read in a day, but the story of Thorby’s journey from a slave market to become the owner of the corporation that tacitly assists it is unflaggingly compelling. The society of the Free Traders is particularly engaging.

Thomas Hardy: Jude the Obscure

Possibly the most depressing novel written in English. Hardy continues the theme of innocent country people destroyed by an unfair and uncaring society that marked Tess of the D’Urbervilles, as everything that Jude Fawley attempts turns to disaster. In my darker moments, I’ve felt a great deal of fellow feeling with the hapless protagonist, but how accurate is the portrayal? Professor Joseph Wright started out as a mill-hand and ended up editing the English Dialect Dictionary, and he was Jude’s contemporary.

Nikolai Gogol: The Diary of a Madman

Simply hilarious, even through the smudged glass of a translation. A man’s diary documents the slow collapse of his mind, with comic incidents.

Albert Camus: The Outsider (L’Etranger)

The definitive story of alienation and society’s unthinking persecution of those who fail to conform to its expectations. Camus wrote a monograph on Existentialism as a humanist philosophy, and this novel is informed by just that spirit.

It’s been a busy weekend, so I have a lot of ground to cover in this post. Please excuse me if the pace seems a little break-neck.

The first piece of news is that another of my poems has been published by the ever-generous GlobalComment. It doesn’t do one any harm to be friends with the editor, but it’s still very kind of them to print this stuff. Rotten tomatoes can as usual be thrown at me here or there, whichever floats your boat.

The main business of the weekend was, however, saying a raucous farewell to a friend’s ex-wife. This meant girding my loins for another interminable train journey up to London, where I was once more to be the guest of the Crimson Welshman. Like General Urquhart at Arnhem, we were beset by communications failure; but this was eventually overcome, allowing me to arrive a mere half an hour late. We were held up at Westbury for twenty minutes because some moron was trying to ride without a ticket, and got rowdy and abusive with the staff. I think I would have forgiven them for simply kicking the problem off the train while it was moving so that I could be on time; but instead they decided to be boring and wait for the police. Where’s that Agincourt spirit when you need it?

Such irritations aside, Friday night went off without a hitch. We ate pasta, drank a very nice white Bordeaux and watched The Black Dahlia. The line “haute cuisine breeds degenerates” could have been the quote of the week, but it isn’t. More about that later. I retired far later than was good for me, replete with wine and humour.

The fridge of wit at Hotel Crimson

On Saturday morning I defied the usual weekend tube closures and made it to Liverpool Street station by 11.30. Our rendezvous point for the day’s activities was the Hamilton Hall, a grandiose gin palace that was almost empty.

The Hamilton Hall, Liverpool Street

The Hamilton Hall, Liverpool Street. Sorry about the poor quality: the lighting was all wrong for my camera phone.

We rapidly established a general tone when I mentioned something I received in my e-mail last week.

A disgruntled biker makes a reluctant sale.

A disgruntled biker makes a reluctant sale.

I commented: “There are more women who like motorbikes than there are good bikes; he got rid of the wrong one.” Nicci replied with a simply immortal line: “There are some women who know the difference between a wedding ring and a choke-chain.” That’s the quote of the week right there. Nicci’s a one-woman liberation movement: she will happily take a car to pieces in a bikini top, takes no nonsense from anyone and likes cider, but still knows how to make a set of curtains. It’s good to know that my friend is in safe hands.

The beer at the Hamilton Hall was generally agreed to be rubbish, so we quickly moved on to another palatial temple to Bacchus: the Crosse Keys in Gracechurch Street. We spent a lot of time there, and I established my strategy for the day ahead by not drinking the same beer twice. This may have been slightly unwise, but they had so many pumps and so many pretty logos. I’m not made of stone.

We moved on to the Founders Arms near Tate Modern. There, in front of a view of St. Paul’s across the river, I temporarily left off the bitter and switched to Staropramen. I contacted the Crimson Welshman, who had been watching the British Lions lose to South Africa. He would meet us in the Ship and Shovell, London’s only two-part pub.

Stopping only to cast the engagement ring to Father Thames, we strolled beerily over to the Ship and Shovell. There I found my long-lost twin.

Sir Cloudesley Shovell and your humble correspondent. My expression is tailored to match his, and is not indicative of my mood.

Sir Cloudesley Shovell and your humble correspondent. My expression is tailored to match his, and is not indicative of my mood

We adjourned to the upstairs lounge, where we annexed half of the room and proceeded to continue drinking more than was good for us. I switched from the continental lager back to Badger, mainly because I like badgers. I gave myself a taste of home by trying some Exmoor Gold as well. The company were on top form, with topics ranging from all things rugby to a rendition of Monty Python’s Philosophers Song. I temporarily forgot the lyrics due to chemical synaptic decay, but recovered my composure in time to still the chorus of jeers.

After this, things get a little hazy. I know there were more pubs. I distinctly remember drinking an Austrian beer called Edelweiss, which prompted more singing. A brief discussion of the genius of Mel Brooks led inevitably to Springtime for Hitler, and I broke into the drinking song from The Student Prince, which follows Ovid in declaring wine and love to be allies.

Perhaps something a little more up to the moment will suggest the atmosphere of determined inebriation. So many beers in London, only one mouth.

We finished up in a pub somewhere, by which time I wasn’t paying much attention to what was going on. We ordered some pies and built the condiments into a big tower. People always seem to do this when they’re drunk, which might explain the Tower of Pisa. Another classic theory from the mind that brought you “Graduate study programmes are extended metaphors for The Lord of the Rings“. After that we went our separate ways, tired but happy as the euphemism goes. Naturally back at Hotel Crimson we decided that the best way to start on the road to recovery was to pour some German wine down on top of that beer and watch Lethal Weapon. Brilliant plan. I passed out at midnight, and spent today feeling like death. It was worth it, though.

The last item on the agenda is the recent departure of Sceadufell to the garage to have a new stereo fitted, which leads me neatly to the subject of music. I can’t remember most of what we heard on Saturday, so I’m going to list things that were playing on my computer while I was writing this. Shuffle play is the way of salvation.

The Velvet Underground: Cool it Down (early version)
Rammstein: Engel
Simon and Garfunkel: Peggy-O
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster
White Zombie: More Human than Human
Guns N’ Roses: Don’t Damn Me
Extreme: Cupid’s Dead
Robert Johnson: Kind-Hearted Woman Blues

I’m particularly pleased about Don’t Damn Me coming up, because I’ve adopted it as a kind of personal anthem and it’s so appropriate to the idea of blogging. Share and enjoy.

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