Surrey is a wonderful place, forever associated with the dulcet tones of whirring chainsaws, the melodious metal timbre of a crumpled can of Stella Artois and the beautiful parabola of a elegantly flicked cigarette butt (Not to mention the deadly challenge of manipulating any modern device with hands pin cushioned by climbing from Christmas tree to Christmas tree with no gloves).
So it was with a minimum of trepidation that I signed up for a week’s worth of volunteering at the uninspiringly named Winkworth Arboretum. As you doubtlessly know after a period of living life in a endless drink fuelled whirl in a city the rapid procession of beautiful girls, alluring substances and rapacious parties leads me to severe bloat, destitution and long periods of unproductive navel gazing. This is only counteracted by coming over all new age forest man and has led me into some interesting situations chiefly involving in picking apples and joining a cult. This time I went for a much safer option of living in a relatively spartan building in the back of beyond inevitably and annoyingly called a base camp in National Trust Lingo and gawping at Trees for a week.
Having left everything to the last minute and not really paying any attention to information regarding the trip it was a small miracle that I brought a sleeping bag and even more miraculously for the first time in my brief existence a Towel. Notwithstanding the excellent advice in the Guide I have never, not with skiing, sailing, mooning about in tuscany or sponging of friends parents in a french chateau ever remembered to bring one.
Wandering over to Hazelmere on the train I espied a fairly youngish Germanish Lass waiting outside the station and it turned out she was fairly youngish and German and had come over to this Sceptered Isle for a week of digging holes and coppicing. Looked a bit like a certain paramour of mine long back in the recesses of time but it was only a brief resemblance.
There were a few other characters at the base camp including two very different chaps, one short and from spain and the other taciturn and endlessly making odd grumbling noise. Both of them snored in different tones which is about the most annoying thing in the whole wide world. Sleeping arrangements were bunks in a dormitory though I only spend two nights in the gents, decamping to a double bed on my day off, the women’s dormitory one night and in the lounge curled up, retriever like in front of the fire.
I had expected as I am well aware of how many pairs of trousers are no longer tenable that a week of exercise would help shift a bit but as there was a near limitless supply of free alcohol and food I worked reasonably hard by day and gorged myself silly every night. Most of the crowd were abed by ten leaving me on my own with bottles of wine. I spent a great deal of time dancing in the pitch black countryside, earphones jammed in and full volume and cutting a merry and silent lonely revel through the fields.
Wednesday provided a brief respite and I sauntered up to woking to meet my bear of a friend and I spent my time off goggle eyed in front of various screens chain smoking and talking bullshit. Had a blissful sleep in the spare room and read Julian Fellowes novel Snobs which was a bit of a giggle as it’s set near my local seat and deals with the sort of set my parents would have thought were totally ghastly bastards but I’d be entirely happy to marry into if only for a wife with a decent set of teeth and an hereditary estate. We also attempted to take a few snaps of his sisters art project but our collective ineptitude resulted in a reel of half lit out of focus barbie dolls.
Putting in fence posts and trimming natural fences is a bit of a bore after a bit so I took every opportunity to abscond and wander around the lake searching out the half a dozen or so trees my incredibly limited memory retains. Happily I almost immediately found a colossal copper beech (Fagus sylvatica purpurea) my personal favourite and sat under it day dreaming the the dappled sunlight. Beauts. I also took a row around the pond on the worst excuse for a boat since one of our forebears pushed saw a log floating on a lake and tried to sit on it. It was flat and rectangular and moved through the water with all the charm and grace of an obese sweating tourist on the tube at rush hour. I spent a pleasant hour looking for crayfish traps in the wrong places with a Chap who had landed the job I want a week earlier at the job centre which prompted several fairly dark fantasies involving the oar scene in the Talented Mr Ripley.
Friday Night sozzled beyond belief and left to my own devices I was inspired by Cyndi Lauper’s The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough to fashion a treasure hunt out of tea stained ripped paper and various kitchen cutlery. Leaving fairly obscure clues hidden in the washing machine, clock and microwave. I was unsure how to alert the early risers to the puzzle and my initial thought to replicate the sinister message from the Balliol and Eton man Capt. James Hook in the film Hook and Pin a message with a kitchen knife to the door. I ruled this out as it might have been over unsettling. So I rolled the first clue up and stuck it in an empty bottle in the fruit bowl. Pride of centre I was sure no one would miss it but to make sure I arranged all the knives and forks, spoons and ladles in arrows pointing to the centre.
As the german girl and the spaniard were the first to awake this plan failed to cause much excitement. With Teutonic efficiency she tided most of the mess away missing the note. The spaniard found the rest but couldn’t read *my* scrawled English.
The lack of excitement was further exacerbated by no one having seen the Goonies. I left fairly promptly after that.
Jolly good hols I thought.
A few weeks ago, I forget how many, I was all set for a quick london adventure. I had carefully spent an hour Ironing out the candle wax from my evening trousers, Polished off a good bit of poster paint from my two tone shoes and generally gave myself some much needed spit and polish to attempt to wipe away the accumulated winter dust.
As far as I can remember the journey up was uneventful, I was meant to have a clandestine meeting with a media type to return a fur coat but victoria was packed like the gates of hell and we missed each other in the crush. I spent all the remaining evening lugging it around telling anyone polite enough to listen that I’d bought a spare for any gal pretty enough. Wilde I am not. It did however come in useful later in the evening which I’ll get to.
At Victoria waiting for my doomed assignation I spontaneously took up smoking again and was immediately accosted by a extremely friendly gentleman who suggested I suck on his E-lites electronic Cigarette. This turned out to be an unexpected pleasure as the damn thing tasted just like a real half decent coffin nail, right down to the faintly perfumed texture I tend to kid myself exists. It was a decent smoke and I would have purchased a packet on the spot, Unfortunately it cost 45 pound which as my money for smoking comes plucked out of the ether is unlikely to ever get paid.
On arriving at Wapping I was treated to the spectacle of a bazillion daringly dressed characters mulling around like headless chickens and demanding directions on their mobile phones. Smoking furiously time passed and we were escorted by jolly hockey stick types enthusing us with non specific cod spiritual and artistic slogans. Very pleasantly we proceeded down the road bawling nonsense and looking like a group of drunken dilettantes poking fun at the suffragettes.
Fortunately my compatriots for the night were slap bang at the front of the queue and ushered me over. Aldous was dressed down this evening having forgotten that the event was happening although fortunately he is never far from sartorial excellence and was better dressed than a good half of our fellow guests. The Deb we’d convinced to come along was bedecked in a gorgeous sailor girl thing. Beyond description but perfect with her new Imperial hued hair.
After a fair amount of umming and ahhing and a bit of capering from the assorted performers we were ushered in at a rush and lined up inside the glass edifice, shoes and jackets off for an impromptue ballet lesson that the other two excelled whilst I merely kept up. From there on in It was a whirl of drumming dancers and lost ballet girls whistfully imploring something or other, secret art exhibitions, quiet cocktail corners and a beautiful selection of gorgeous people I half fell in love with at once.
I bumped into Julia, a lovely lady I’d met at an art exhibition and had rhapsodised about her fur coat and after at Die Freche Muse, But to my shame I didn’t recognise her at once, and instead of being a gent and pretending I couldn’t recall I cut right to it and once reminded could remember her of course. Is this the right way to behave? I could have brazened it out but I may not have jogged my memory sufficiently. We led a crazy helter skelter skip in concentric circles while dancers flailed and shouted on a podium, at some point, sloping off for a cigarette we found a Cocktail lounge which served slightly below par Martinis although exceptional (as far as it is possible to be) Gin and tonics.
By the time we were ushered into the film I was half cut and having had a bit of a dance and a bit of a flirt and a bit of a star struck gawp at the girl in red who kept running round (my new future wife to be) I wasn’t really ready to sit down for a few hours in the dark fairly quietly so after our fish and chips in a cone and the credits had rolled and I’d had a fruitless search for the girl who invited us I convinced the others to give the rest of the red shoes a miss and pop back to the bar.
Here we met a few charming types, sank a lot more alcohol, had a bit of a reel while some lass bashed out a few songs on the piano and to my extreme annoyance professed a lack of talent. Reestablishing my all encompassing ire for all musicians.
Nearing the end of the wonderful evening someone suggested popping to the night jar and this is where sadly my narration becomes extremely unreliable as gasping the first lung fulls of fresh air without the building I became drunk. We had some drinks in the night jar that I think felt a little disappointing compared to last time although by this point my taste for anything subtle had evaporated. At some point we left, caught the bus and at an unidentified stop I was filled with the urgent urge to get off and possibly find my terribly inappropriate Ex’s house for a conjugal visit. I am now reliably informed that she was in Australia so this plan was ineffective.
Some hours later I awoke atop a garage with a slight overhang above it. I was dry (excepting my shoes) and reasonably comfortable and the fur had made an exceptional pillow. I was however fully aware that sleeping atop a garage in a mysterious part of dalston in 40’s regalia was a generally bad move and decamped to fine a bus stop and a tube station. Barring a hiccup falling fast asleep on the wrong lane of the victoria line and waking up briefly at Walthamstow Central I returned home and arrived with a minimal hangover at half ten.
A triumpant evening marred only by getting blotto.
Woken up this morning by two charmingly brusque WPCs, They seemed pretty clueless (hah!) in general, as they weren’t entirely sure who they were looking for and wouldn’t tell me anything much else.
I always have a moment of panic when dealing with the police. I have to mentally review any past discretions which is as a defensive position entirely unsatisfactory. However on the one occasion I was kindly asked into custody of Her Majesties finest I was well aware what was coming, had thoroughly rehearsed and the whole shebang was resolved with the minimum of unpleasantness. A story for another day perhaps.
Friday is Secret Cinema, seemingly run now by my extremely charming friend Sandy (Perhaps not the right word, charming in the sense a storm is charming, more a force of nature) and it has a forties theme, I aslo had to choose the word dream to add to my experience. As its near to the end of the run I’m sure I could find out which film and how the whole thing works but that would ruin everything miserably so I’ll hold off until it’s finished.
Having sat, immobile and transfixed by the idiot box for far too long my once fairly decent wardrobe has constricted in size directly in proportion to my expanding waistline. Thus my outfit for the evening is predictably going to consist of high waisted braided evening trousers, currently rotating on a low heat in the washing machine. A doubled cuffed white shirt worn with my Grandad’s fanciest cufflinks, gold and black onyx.
A Tailored (not for me) two button Jacket from DAKS Simpson, which has certainly seen better days but with a white pocket square just about passes muster. I reckon these fellas have still got it, having started off in 1894 I’ll probably put on some old tie with a Tie Pin I scrounged out of my mad Gran’s house.
Sadly my beautiful Alfred Sergeant shoes are in need of a service, or possibly a a wooden shoe box buried in the back of the garden as despite my meagre ministrations they never really recovered from all the poster paint they were subjected to at Die Freche Muse’s Chaotic Factory party.SO it’s my near equally battered black patent dance shoes, bought from The Martlets Hospice shop, which is a superior charity shop. A steal at a tanner.
More importantly than all this is my besties Commissioning Ball at Sandhurst which is rapidly approaching, I very much need a new evening jacket, both of mine being virtually on their last legs and a black bow tie. I despise black tie with the fury of a thousand suns, irrespective of all that King Edward VII did for sartorial elegance the decline of full evening dress has left us forlornly looking like a bunch of Bankers. Still I have a month to find the rest of my outfit and get my shoes fixed. I have mixed feelings about the entire evening, as I’m not all that keen on most soldiers however I intend to remedy this with drinking an ocean of Champagne and hopefully having a bit of a go at Sabrage, A skill any young man should aspire to. All Joking aside I’m insanely proud that he’ll be a British Officer especially as my immediate circle is rapidly approaching a critical mass that’ll force me to write a country house murder mystery.
Thus far I know; A group of beautiful disreputable bohemian musicians, A crazy Italian heiress, A missionary, A budding Business Mogul, Several Shady Characters connected to people trafficking in Kazakstan, A down on their luck Teacher reduced to giving private lessons and various other Charlatans, Harlots, Huguenots, Tinkers, Milliners and so on. It almost writes itself.
It seems I’m to be stuck here for a much greater length of time than I previously reckoned on. “Here” is my home town and home of chap magazine, though the surrounding town offers precious little entertainment in that regard and plenty of slack jawed gawping from the yokel locals if I venture out in anything as daring as a tie.
Though that said my standards of personal grooming have slipped fairly catastrophically, I’m sitting be-bearded, straggle haired, scruffy and overweight. I also have a comedy pirate limp from a fairly disastrous foray up into london life and a terrible speech impediment from an angry wisdom tooth. (I shouldn’t complain too much about him, he is thankfully replacing a missing molar, removed in an altercation)
So I’m a shadow of my former self, broke, broken and bored out of my mind.
Aldous kindly escorted me to the most darling new place I have ever been, The Nightjar. Picture your perfect evening haunt; An almost secret entrance into a delightfully dimly lit recess, One horrendously beautiful brass and polished oak bar, A couple of seats reserved for you and a drinks menu I fairly failed to recognise any of. Including ingredients. The jar part of the name as far as I can remember and or fathom is from a buncha jars filled with various viscous liquids which seem sourced from the deepest darkest depths of daydreams. Gush. I loved this place
The booze was outstanding and the bartenders a joy to watch hacking away with saws and drills and suchlike to hand craft ice glasses. The owners also came and had a half hour chat with us which was lovely. I felt looked after, entirely welcome and almost at ease (which considering how jittery I am at the moment is a miracle) Our only quibble was the clientele hadn’t dressed up according to our fairly loose standards but it’s an actual bar as opposed to an evening and you can’t have everything in life. Price wise it ain’t much more than a decent drink, so eight to a tanner. However each was hugely different from anything i’ve gulped down and there were a few freebies as well.
If I win the European idiot tax I will never leave.
P.s You have to book your seats I think, look it up. Go here.
Directly after, half cut, we wandered up to the new pop up speakeasy The candlelight club. Where I made a complete spectacle of myself. Really can’t hold my drink at the moment. Frightfully embarrassing. Anyway we were late. I think to really get the full experience its worth turning up on time. The gents were impeccably dressed and the gals were winsome and gorgeous. I especially liked the barmaid. Essentially a supperclub with a little cabaret, the magician was a little bit of a let down and I think we heckled him a little. Drinks wise again massively impressive, with a small selection of absinth based concoctions such as
SW4 Gin, triple sec, Butterfly Absinthe, Chinese five-spice syrup, soda water
Oranges and exotic spices of the Orient, served long, cool and sparkling
DEATH IN THE AFTERNOON
Clandestine Absinthe, Prosecco
Made with Champagne this was allegedly a favourite of Hemingway’s. Using Prosecco and “absinthe bleu”, ours is slightly sweeter and fruitier
Apparently. However by this point all the various types of spirit I had lavishly imbibed were sloshing away and I topped them up with as much Absinthe and Champagne derivatives I possibly could. Had a bit of a dance about, slapped in the face from a woman who I gave a gentle lift (without permission) and slipped on the spilt booze on the dance floor creating a kind of upside-down T, with the junctions being my knees. I’ve recently reached a weight that could be considered ridiculous and this entirely didn’t help. Still very funny and still not quite fixed ho hum.
I wasn’t quite in the right frame of mood for this jaunt. There seems also in my humble opinion to be a massive disjunct between selling a debauchery themed night and actual debauchery. Is this an Irreconcilable Problem? The nights at Die Freche Muse would prove otherwise as I will endorse in later letters. Still it has enlarged in my mind my increasing unease with the whole shebang. Obviously the clothes and costumes are fairly expensive, especially for blokes and as my ever shrinking wardrobe can testify, crazy drunk adventures lead to an unacceptable level of wear and tear. Perhaps purely I’m slightly out of synch with the whole dancing, acting, dressing up lot as ultimately bedecked in immaculate white tie or dirty jeans and a leather jacket I’m a terrible rake.
I apologise for the long absence. Having discovered the wonders of the internet and the ability to foist my terrible attempts to describe all our wonderful adventures I was struck down, sadly by the porcine influenza. Which is not a giggle. Not a giggle at all.
My silent, technical dancing partner, Adolus swanned off to Copenhagen for ayant l’esprit mal tourné le weekend d’affluence. Which in a terrible facsimile of schoolboy french should be a dirty weekend.
So we’re back, with steam pressed creases and lipstick smeared collars just in the nick of time! All hallows eve is past, Bonfire night upon us and two months of drunken debauchery beckon!
“Dancing, likewise, though somewhat trifling perhaps, is one of those established follies which people of sense are sometimes obliged to conform to; and, if they do, they should be able to perform it well”
The Young Man’s Companion.
Edward Turner Esq. 1866
November starts with my yearly return to my home town, for the grandest firework celebration in Europe. This fellow gives rather too much attention to the wicker man elements but people hardly ever end up dead these days Lewes Bonfire
For those of a more nervous disposition, Dancing starts on Friday 6th, At Ladyluck Created by the errant chanteuses behind the Black Cotton Club and held at our watering hole of choice, the first and best refuge for any weary traveller : The Last Days of Decadence.
If sailors tickle your fancy more then Shore Leave is on Sat the 7th Nov.
Then on Sunday 8th Nov, replace those weary frocks with a piece from the Clerkenwell Vintage Fair.
The weekend after is going to be quite an affair! On Friday the 13th Nov, Black Cotton is going to show us all how to really enjoy a night of decadence, Both I and Adolus will certainly be attending and we shall be escorting a contingent from Sussex Swing Brighton’s swingers par excellence (And no doubt fighting Tooth and Nail over the winsome instructor)
Healing hurt feet and the odd slipped disc with Care’s Surgical Spirit and all round restorative we’ll be heading off for , The Prohibition party on the 14th Nov at Shoreditch Studios - - You can also buy tickets from Bourne & Hollingsworth, which itself is a miniature sort of establishment one should get to be familiar with.- This is a twenties knees up from those darling people who sent us free tickets to the Blitz Party, this should be well worth the dry cleaning bill and if the debtors prison beckons should be the one night you attend this november.
If however you ignore my sanguine advice completely there are two competing events the same night. Recommended for those more inclined to dance than drink. Saturday night swing club is on at Firefly Bar, as well as Hellzapoppin in Camden (This is not an establishment we would recommend being seen in aside from this one and only exception) .
Later in he month there is a Lindy Turns & 20s Charleston Workshop on Sunday 29th November in Russell Sq during the day, and after that head to Swing Alley at the impeccably preserved Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes.
The London Jazz Festival starts on the 13th Nov for 10 days all around London. Pay no attention to that terrible modern stuff, but there some good finds in there!
Again I apologise most profusely for the lack of attention and care we’ve shown you, however such gaps are to be expected when you burn both candles every which way. Hopefully next week we’ll be writing a friendly adviser as for what to wear and more importantly where to buy clobber without selling the family silver.
Carousel James & Adolus Monomark Esq.
Having spent the previous two days in bed, shivering and coughing up unmentionable horror I wasn’t even slightly looking forward to this event. Hours of fevered, booze sodden schmoozing with beautifully turned out gents and gentesses and the odd analgesic clumsy dance filled me with a light social anxiety.
However I had spent a fair few evenings extolling drunkenly the virtues of the event; how this sort of thing was of infinitely more fun than one of the meat markets, the gals more beautiful and the music easier on the ear. That and dragging everyone round far off corners of london looking for flattering and appropriate outfits meant that I was entirely obliged to screw my shirt on, shine my shoes and show off.
There was a bit of a kerfuffle on the gate over the guest-list, with worried anxious faces eyes burning into the back of my head while I prayed to anyone that might be listening. Walking through a shipping container I was delighted to find a perfectly recreated, entirely convincing 40’s knees up.
What with the problems they’d had with the production company at the SS Atlantica I wasn’t expecting much. Sandbags abounded. Boxes of rationed goods adorned every corner and a very fetching wireless I was sorely tempted to wander off with sat just next to the discreet doormen.
The drinks were standard blitz fare; excellent, expensive and a pain in the backside to reach without patience and good conversation. Or the photographers walkway behind the main bar which we made much of, only occasionally breaking a few crates of glasses. Entertainment was provided by the fabulous Twin and Tonic, who couldn’t always be heard above the hubbub but the rapid costume changes from the two bombshells out front was as fun to watch as the slack jawed ogling clientele. Which I very much count myself part of.
We met some wonderful welsh girls, one of whom is starting out in millinery, both wearing home made beautiful hats soon to be found at www.jemimawilliams.co.uk. I was invited to join the sheridan club and was variously assailed by pipe smoking bounders. There was a bit o dancing but I am afraid I bashed into everyone rather a lot, the party being packed to the point even doing balboa resulted in spilt drinks and angry glances. It may of course have been the fault of all the champagne.
The party was an all round success, everyone I bought with me loved it and you’d be hard pressed to find more beautiful, charming well dressed folk anywhere in the whole wide world. Gush.
Those superb raconteurs behind prohibition are at it again. this time with a repeat performance of the terribly successful and well publicised Blitz party. A night of promised forties frolics, slick swing dancing, beautiful be-stockinged girls and plenty of dapper soldiers, sailors and conscientious objectors.
However at previous parties the spirit of austerity has been followed with a great degree of accuracy. obviously the ships can’t be getting through as the lack of bunting, sandbags and props in general might convince one that jerry has us on the run.
My frame of mind was not helped when slipping into another era, a twenties ball aboard the SS Atlantica which was sadly sank by a lack of organisation and an outstanding contribution to minimalist decoration, with one solitary ships wheel sketched onto tracing paper.
Therefore its with trepidation and free complimentary tickets that we’re attending tonight.
Myself and a visiting Australian dignitary will be escorting The Belle of Bettwys-y-Coed and Miss Margaretha Zelle, A frisian Femme Fatale. For our personal protection accompanying us will be a representative of each of the forces. This is especially essential as some damn upstart Soldier Boy attempted to steal my damn wife last time.