Saturday 4 September 2021

Return of the native



Enchanting and empty, thanks to Covid. 

We put up in Christ Church. 

I found a woman porter with wise, conservative views on politics who said I was lucky to live in Romania. 

I think so too. I feel luckier with every week that passes as I read the British news. 

She had studied politics at Ruskin College, a very left-wing institution. 

I remembered the late Sir Roger Scruton saying he and Juanita the cleaner, who had a photograph of Pope John Paul II in her cubicle, were the only two conservatives at Birbeck College.

A good restaurant called The Old Parsonage that a graduate told us about. I recommend oddly enough the thyme roasted turnip with lovage, beetroot and fennel, which the waiter said was the best thing on the menu. My companion and I shared a portion as a starter, a good idea of mine.

The Ashmolean, full of good things. 

The Surprise was my local when I lived in Chelsea. A lovely pub. This lovely painting of it in the Ashmolean is by Malcolm Drummond.

I agree with Dryden in preferring Oxford to our alma mater, Cambridge.

"Thebes did his green unknowing Youth ingage,

He chuses Athens in his riper Age."

Now both Oxford and Cambridge are left-wing institutions, probably almost as left-wing as Ruskin or Birbeck, but I am told that they alone among English universities are not run as businesses.


The best bargain in London clubland is the City University Club, a luncheon club in the City to which I have the luck to belong, which has reciprocal arrangements with most of  the famous West End clubs, though among the half dozen grandest only with Buck's. 

Thanks to the CUC I found another bargain. The In and Out or Naval and Military Club in St James's Square, three minutes from Piccadilly Circus, offers bed, breakfast, three course dinner and half a litre of good wine chosen carefully by the Wine Committee for £110 at weekends till the end of this year. 

They have a lovely garden in which to dine and an empty swimming pool to work up an appetite.

Sir Tom Stoppard's new play Leopoldstadt was very disappointing. It had no redeeming features, actually. He is probably too old. Don't bother going to see it, people. Really a waste of time and money.

After an appalling Woke production of As You Like It at the Globe and a truly revolting version of The Importance of Being Earnest at the Vaudeville I hereby give up on the West End theatre forever, except for opera and ballet.

A fairly uncrowded National Gallery and few people at the Bellotto exhibition. 

Food, fun, good conversation, a charming companion, a good holiday.

Waiting for a full English breakfast sans carbohydrates in the Naval and Military Club in St James’s Square. 

As Somerset Maugham said you can eat better in England than in any country in the world so long as you eat breakfast three times a day.

Essex is the Only Way

When I told a pretty upper class girl at a point to point in my early twenties that I came from Essex she said, 'People are so unfair about Essex, aren't they?' and I agreed, not mentioning that I came from Southend-on-Sea.

North Essex is very beautiful, very rural, flat but not dull, but it felt like drizzly late October.

Colchester and the wool towns like Kelvedon and Coggeshall which grew rich from wool in the Middle Ages are full of glorious architecture from the time when England was really England and a very different country from the one today, because she was Catholic.

Holy Trinity Church, Colchester. The tower dates from around 1000 A.D. It was there when King Canute came to the throne.

Part of the Roman wall at Colchester, with Jumbo the now disused water tower behind it.

St. John's Abbey gatehouse, Colchester. Chaucer's England, destroyed by zealots (the abbey and England).

Remember that Catholicism is more English than Protestantism, which was imported by intellectuals from Germany less than five centuries ago.

The Danish (in fact Swedish) invasion in the eleventh century, the Norman Conquest in 1066, the Reformation and mass immigration since 1948 are the four existential changes in English history. 

The Danes caused immense bloodshed and had, as my supervisor Simon Keynes told me, not a single word to be said in their favour, but they left much less of a legacy than the the other three changes.

Airports are the Antichrist, the modern age embodied, but "London Southend Airport" is the one absolutely delightful one, and the antithesis to airports. Lovely people and the indigenous Southend dish the bacon sandwich.

Unfortunately Ryanair and Wizzair are pulling out of Southend airport soon. It faces hard times.

The night before I stay in Westcliff-on-Sea, next to and part of Southend-on-Sea, is my native place and I like it much more than when I grew up there. One comes to terms with things and with oneself. 

The Sea is a lie. It's the Thames estuary and across the water is not France, as I thought as a small boy, but the power station on the Isle of Grain.

Tournedos Rossini at good old Alvaro's in Westcliff-on-Sea is as good as thirty years ago. Is it still in the Good Food Guide? 

My old infants school still looks like a penitentiary. 

The people of Southend are nice too, I found, but then everyone in England is much nicer than when I lived there in the 1990s and very much nicer than before Margaret Thatcher sent a charge of electricity into customer service.


  1. I have never been to Colchester and know it only as the place where an "atomic bomb" was dropped circa 1950. In the backstory to Nineteen Eighty-Four, that is. Appropriate. Then society fell apart, violent gangs thrived, and the Ingsoc goons were able to take over in the midst of chaos. Just like today!

  2. In re Surprise in Chelsea: I went there exactly once, when I was living in Nell Gwyn House for a while in 1993, and decided to do a £5 London Walk. Nearly everyone except our guide was from California (as was I). Our guide chirruped that our walk had a *surprise* at the end of it. Didn't know the pub because I seldom went south of King's Road. The Surprise was established in 1853, it seems:

    Near Nell Gwyn we had The Queen's Head, a fairly routine pub in front but supposedly a gay bar in the saloon. Karl Marx lived in the house next door, approximately, around 1851. Otherwise the Trafalgar, Chelsea Potter, World's End, The Man in the Moon (which Jeff Bernard liked though he mainly stuck to The Coach and Horses and the French Pub); or The Fulham Tup a few years later when I lived in Redcliffe Gardens. According to the pubwiki, that's now been renamed The Rose.