Saturday, 8 August 2009

The Very Moveable Feast

You are not even safe when you are dead. I always believed that “A Moveable Feast”, Ernest Hemingway's account of his early days in Paris, was, “Fiesta” and his short stories apart, one of the best things he did. But his descendants aren't happy with it. They claim he was unfair on his second wife Pauline Pfeiffer. They have re-written it and plan to publish it this week.
I didn't believe everything in it, of course. He was never as poor as he claimed: he was the Paris staffer for a Canadian newspaper. Scott Fitzgerald might have been reassured about his minute private parts after Hemingway took him to see the nude Greek statues in the Louvre or Hemingway could have made it up. But you could still smell the new bread in the boulangerie he described and hear the stairs creak in the attic he rented next to a timber yard. When I was last there, the timber yard was still open and you could still rent rooms in the slum next door; and I had a drink in his local on the corner, with its statue of Marshal Ney everlastingly prancing his horse on the pavement outside.
The book described the dream that all young would- be authors play over and over in their minds of a bohemian life with a lovely companion in that most romantic of cities. That is until they discover that the greatest fiction about Paris IS Paris.
Hemingway claimed Paris was a moveable feast that stayed with you all your life. I think he was talking about the bars.
A favourite pub is the same pub in different cities. When I introduced Hoagy Carmichael to the Liverpool Press Club, he said: “I have been here before in New York and San Francisco.”
It need not even be a pub. For me, in Montmartre, it was a wine shop. In Trastevere, Rome, a grocer’s where I went to buy a bottle, stayed to taste and was still leaning on the counter four hours later. In Amsterdam I had two: the Fockine, where tradition demands you pick up your gin glass in your teeth and if you can't find it do not like to ask for it by name. The other, Harry’s Bar, a Brown Cafe, owned by Christina, a hospitable, torrentially talkative, deliciously dotty Dickens’ devotee. In Bruges, the Cafe Chagall where the menu is bigger than the bar.
In Vienna I added another. A champagne bar, the Reiss, not far from the Cafe Mozart, where the ghost of Karas is probably endlessly playing that damned zither. It hides behind a twenty-foot high champagne bottle and sells sekt, excellent Austrian champagne at g and t prices, with Sinatra, Ella and Armstrong playing quietly in the background to the chic and shapely clientele.
You can tell when you strike a favourite bar. The surroundings look familiar, and the first time you go in, the barman, in this case called Hans, treats you as though you have been a regular for years; the other customers nod amiably and make room at the bar.
My first favourite pub was the Red Lion in Withington, Manchester, where I was a regular from the age of five. My father always took me with him when he went to play bowls before Sunday dinner. He would allow me to sip from his pint. My mother was very shocked but he reassured her by telling her I wouldn't rush into the pub when I was 18 to satisfy my curiosity. Little did he know that I couldn't wait until I was 18 when I could get the full pint rather than a dainty sip. It was the pub where I constantly expected to see the late President Eisenhower. His press secretary Jimmy Hagerty, a pal of mine, was impressed when I told him how my old man once fell out with his friend Albert Turtle because he believed Albert was letting the side down by bringing his wife out for a drink every Thursday in the Red Lion. Not that Albert brought her into the vault. That would have been unthinkable. He put her in the best room whilst he sat in the vault with my dad, sending her an hourly milk stout. Hagerty asked if I minded him passing on the story to the President, who was heavily henpecked by his formidable missus Mame. The next night Hagerty told me that Eisenhower, if ever he came to Manchester, would like to shake my old man by the hand.
Tommy Atkins (with apologies to Kipling) Written by Patrick Campbell

They flew me 'ome from Baghdad with a bullet in me chest.Cos they've closed the army 'ospitals, I'm in the NHS.
The nurse, she ain't no Britisher an' so she ain't impressed.It's like I'm some street corner thug who's come off second best.
Yes, it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "You're not welcome 'ere".But when Saddam was collar'd, they was quick enough to cheer.
They're proud when Tommy Atkins 'olds the thin red line out there,
But now he's wounded back at 'ome, he has to wait for care.
Some stranger in the next bed sez, "Don't you feel no shame?You kill my Muslim brothers!"
So it's me not 'im to blame!
An' then the cleaner ups an' sez "Who are you fightin' for?It ain't for Queen and country 'cos it's Bush's bloody war!
"It's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, what's that smell?"But it's "God go with you, Tommy," when they fly us out to 'ell.
O then we're just like 'eroes from the army's glorious past.
Yes, it's "God go with you, Tommy," when the trip might be your last.
They pays us skivvy wages, never mind we're sitting ducks,
When clerks what's pushing pens at 'ome don't know their flippin' luck.
"Ah, yes" sez they "but think of all the travel to be 'ad.
"Pull the other one. Does Cooks do 'olidays in Baghdad?
It's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, know your place
But it's "Tommy, take the front seat," when there's terrorists to chase.
An' the town is full of maniacs who'd like you dead toot sweet.
Yes, it's "Thank you, Mr Atkins," when they find you in the street.
There's s'pposed to be a covynant to treat us fair an' square
But I 'ad to buy me army boots, an' me combats is threadbare.
An' 'alf the bloody 'elicopters can't get in the air
,An' me pistol jammed when snipers fired. That's why I'm laid up 'ere
.Yes, it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, "We 'ave to watch the pence
";Bold as brass the P.M. sez, "We spare them no expense.
But I'll tell you when they do us proud an' pull out all the stops,
It's when Tommy lands at Lyneham in a bloomin' wooden box!


After being interviewed by the school administration, the prospective teacher said:
"Let me see if I've got this right.'You want me to go into that room with all those kids, correct their disruptive behavior, observe them for signs of abuse, monitor their dress habits, censor their T-shirt messages, and instill in them a love for learning.'You want me to check their backpacks for weapons, wage war on drugs and sexually transmitted diseases, and raise their sense of self esteem and personal pride 'You want me to teach them patriotism and good citizenship, sportsmanship and fair play, and how to register to vote, balance a checkbook, and apply for a job.'You want me to check their heads for lice, recognize signs of antisocial behavior, and make sure that they all pass the final exams.'You also want me to provide them with an equal education regardless of their handicaps, and communicate regularly with their parents in English, Spanish or any other language, by letter, telephone, newsletter, and report card.'You want me to do all this with a piece of chalk, a blackboard, a bulletin board, a few books, a big smile, and a starting salary that qualifies me for food stamps.'You want me to do all this and then you tell me. . . I CAN'T PRAY?