Saturday, 26 June 2010

love's labours might get lost

My advice to the lovelorn young would be to let your lawyer write your love letters. Undying love is more often than not a contradiction in terms. Then there is the natural carelessness of the mail. Fidel Castro's letters to his mistress and his wife put in the wrong envelopes. That puts me in mind of a friend sent to retreive his wife's ear ring which had fallen off in the car. Alas, the ear ring he brought back belonged to someone else.

I was interested at the way people cite the 12th century lovers Abelard and Heloise. I assume they haven't read them. They were written AFTER Abelard had been castrated by her vengeful uncle Fulbert. Not surprisingly, his letters are heavy on recrimination and self pity. Lines like “You know the depths of shame to which my unbridled lust had consigned our bodies...even during the days of Our Lord’s Passion” do not seem to me to be the stuff of romance. And if you think lust at Easter is bad, he also admits to having his wicked way with her in the refectory of a convent.

It's years since I received a love letter. Though only this week Givenchy sent me a scented advert for a “unique fragrance for men that ignites passions and heightens desire". I have put it in the drawer under my shirts. I await the postman with mounting excitement.

I once had a letter from a listener which claimed that, when I was 12, I had invited her to an orgy and admitted she regretted turning me down. I was highly flattered and quietly proud of my precocity.


Reading last week's musing about travelling, I thought of my much mourned friend Ronnie Knox Mawer, the former Chief Justice of the South Seas. You cannot get much further than Tonga where in his robes he danced on a beach with the king. Ronnie was no stranger to London’s top hotels and shops. In retirement he toured them regularly seeking handouts for the homeless. It could create difficulties, largely because Ronnie was not a snappy dresser, even by tramp standards. Few retired judges wear TWO elderly Oxfam top coats. Not surprising that a policeman who saw him wheeling a trolley of sandwiches to the tramps’ shelter asked him where he had got them. Ronnie said he had been given them by the manager of Boots.

“Tell that to the old bastard on the bench,” the disbelieving policeman said.

“He WAS the old bastard on the bench,” said a passing tramp fondly.

That most eccentric method of travelling is jogging, of which Australian art critic Bob Hughes wrote:

“The glutton, gross in paunch and thigh,
Eludes the Reaper grim.
Swollen of nose and pink of eye,
The drunkard laughs at him.
The chairbound journalist, the Don,
Carelessly quaff champagne,
The Pop star lives for ever, on
Pills, bimbos and cocaine.

Frustrated by this doleful news,
Death newer victims picks.
He laces on his jogging shoes
And catches Mr Fixx.

The author Thomas de Quincey worshipped Wordsworth who invited him on a visit. de Quincey walked from Manchester to the Lakes. Within three miles of Wordsworth’s home his nerve broke. He returned to Manchester.Then he had a typically de Quinceian notion. He thought he would practise going to the Lakes by making a trial run to North Wales, which he had heard also had mountains and lakes. He was the first Rambler but he had no tent. He slept under an umbrella. His most frightening moment came in Chester as he walked along the banks of the River Dee just as the annual tidal wave The Dee Bore was about to happen. de Quincey longed to ask a stranger what it was. There was a problem. They had not been introduced. He wrote:

“Here now be it understood that in the midst of any great natural convulsion - earthquake, say, waterspout or eruption of Vesuvius - it shall and may be lawful for two English people to communicate with each other, although it shall have been proved by affidavit that no previous introduction had been affected. In all other cases the old statute of non intercourse holds good.
Meantime the present case might be regarded as ranking among the first fruits or blossom of an earthquake. Therefore I spoke without scruple."

Arabist Thomas Kinglakeraces in 1814 published "Travel Brought Home from the East". Riding across the Sinai Desert he spotted an Englishman bearing down from the opposite direction.

“As we approached each other, it became with me a question of whether we should speak. I could not think of anything particular that I had to say to him. The traveller perhaps felt as I did, for except that we lifted our hand to our caps, and waved our arms in courtesy, we passed each other as if we had passed in Bond Street."

The masters had no sooner passed each other than their respective servants quietly stopped and entered into conversation. The stranger was the first to speak. “I dare say you wish to know how the plague is going in Cairo?”

Augustus Hare was an early guide book writer. He also travelled the country houses of Britain gathering marvellous stories which he used in two books “The Years With Mother” and “In My Solitary Life”. He had been adopted by an aunt in a curious manner. His parents were a fashionable pair of travellers Happy to dump their children - and not just for the holidays.

“It occured to my godmother as just possible that my parents may be induced to give me up altogether. In July she wrote her petition and was almost surprised at the glad acceptance it met with. My father’s reply was very brief. 'Certainly, the baby shall be sent as soon as it is weaned. And if any of your friends would like one, kindly recollect we have others.'”

He wrote of his wealthy aunt Caroline: “Her companion was a Mrs Barbara with whom Aunt Caroline was most furious at times. She had a large pension after my aunt’s death. It used to be said that the reason she only had one arm and part of the other was that Aunt Caroline had eaten the rest.”


World Cup blogger to The Guardian:

"22 millionaires ruining a lawn"