The Old Un’s Notes

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

Clive James – writer, poet, critic… and rock star? Well, not quite, but, for the past 50 years, he’s been qui­etly com­pos­ing songs with his mu­si­cal part­ner, Pete Atkin. They’ve writ­ten 200 tracks, ad­mired by fans from Kenny Everett to Stephen Fry. And now a new book, Loose Canon by Ian Shir­core, tells the James & Atkin story. It’s pub­lished on 4th Oc­to­ber.

The songs as­sume a poignant cast in the light of James’s five-year strug­gle with leukaemia. Here is an ex­tract from Me to Thank, their farewell song to com­mem­o­rate the end of their long col­lab­o­ra­tion. The words are by James, who turns 79 in Oc­to­ber, and the mu­sic is by Atkin.

I’ve got to where it’s hard to find the tears so you can weep. I’ve got to where the step up

to the car­pet is too steep. I’ve got to where, apart

from air, There’s noth­ing in the tank. And I like to think that I had

time to thank. But I’ve got me to thank… I should have spo­ken to

you clearly, And now the chance is nearly Gone, and I pay dearly.

A melan­choly lament – and one that will echo with many of the Old Un’s con­tem­po­raries.

Sad news reaches the Old Un of the death of an­other poet, Alexan­der Shi­h­warg, at the great age of 95. Born in Rus­sia, ed­u­cated in China, Shi­h­warg fought in the Bri­tish Army in the Sec­ond World War and was im­pris­oned by the Ja­panese.

His last poetry col­lec­tion, Mir­ror Mir­ror was pub­lished only this year. He was much ad­mired by Jilly Cooper.

She tells the Old Un, ‘He was very much a spirit of the King’s Road in the Six­ties and Seven­ties, and was a dear man.

‘The war po­ems and the love po­ems and the po­ems about him­self are all touch­ing, and I adore the Chris­tine Keeler one.’

This was the poem Shi­h­warg wrote on Keeler’s death last De­cem­ber at the age of 75. Seen in the King’s Road – RIP Chris­tine Keeler

The lonely fig­ure car­ry­ing

cat lit­ter was once a beauty icon

all aglit­ter, that Lewis Mor­ley cap­tured

in a sec­ond, with con­se­quences greater

than he reck­oned.

But beauty, that deserts both

tart and em­press, tip­toed away from our

ill-fated temptress. Fair game for me­dia and

politi­cian, her story only ran for

one edi­tion.

But you who gloat over her

loss, re­mem­ber, she had her sun-kissed

mo­ments in De­cem­ber. And per­son­ally I find there’s

noth­ing sin­is­ter in plea­sur­ing a sex-de­prived

old min­is­ter.

Fans of the great F Scott Fitzger­ald are in luck. You can now stay in his old two-storey, clap­board house in Mont­gomery, Alabama – avail­able on Airbnb from around £120 per night.

Fitzger­ald House, built in 1910, was home to Fitzger­ald, wife Zelda Sayre and daugh­ter Scot­tie from 1931 to 1932. Zelda had just been re­leased from var­i­ous French and Swiss sana­to­ri­ums when they stayed there.

Zelda was born in Mont­gomery in 1900, the youngest child of Alabama

Supreme Court jus­tice An­thony Dick­son Sayre.

Min­nesota-born Scott was a young army lieu­tenant sta­tioned at nearby Camp Sheri­dan. The cou­ple met over af­ter­noon tea at the Win­ter Palace man­sion, close to the fam­ily’s house at 6 Pleasant Av­enue, now a car park. The seven-room house con­tains some of Zelda’s sketches and paint­ings as well as his Prince­ton hon­orary diploma and Esquire mag­a­zines, fea­tur­ing Fitzger­ald’s Pat Hobby sto­ries. He wrote them largely to pay for his wife’s fre­quent hos­pi­tal­i­sa­tions and treat­ment. This year is the 100th an­niver­sary of their meet­ing and 7th Septem­ber the cen­te­nary of the day Fitzger­ald de­clared in a let­ter he had fallen in love with her.

Not long af­ter their time at the Alabama house, their lives be­gan to fall apart. Fitzger­ald died in 1940 in Hol­ly­wood, aged only 44.

Zelda died 70 years ago, aged 47, in a fire at High­land Hospi­tal in North Car­olina, trapped in a room where she was about to re­ceive elec­troshock ther­apy.

Tragic lives – but never dull ones. The Mont­gomery Fitzger­ald Mu­seum cu­ra­tor, Sara Pow­ell, says of Zelda, ‘As she de­scribes one of her char­ac­ters – she re­fused to be bored chiefly be­cause she wasn’t bor­ing.’

The sur­prise sum­mer best­seller has been The Peb­bles on the Beach by Clarence El­lis. Orig­i­nally pub­lished in 1954, the book has been re­pub­lished by Faber, to great ac­claim from peb­ble-spot­ters, old and new.

El­lis was an in­trigu­ing

fig­ure. Born in 1889, he fought in the First World War be­fore work­ing in adult ed­u­ca­tion. His first love, though, was the as­tound­ing ar­ray of peb­bles on Bri­tish beaches. Apart from this, lit­tle is known about El­lis’s life. Any read­ers who know more, do en­lighten the Old Un.

The Old Un is keenly look­ing for­ward to the 52nd Bi­en­nial Meet­ing of Ger­man his­to­ri­ans in Mün­ster at the end of Septem­ber.

He’s par­tic­u­larly en­thralled by the thought of the talk by the Ger­man aca­demic Martin Jehne, of Tech­nis­che Univer­sität Dres­den. Jehne will be lec­tur­ing about the ex­treme Latin in­sults by Ro­man politi­cians and po­ets that put our rud­est states­men in the shade.

To avoid red faces at Oldie Tow­ers, I think it’s best to leave the Ro­man poet Mar­tial’s in­sult to his en­emy Vac­erra in Latin. Pruri­ent read­ers can see a trans­la­tion at the end of the Old Un’s notes. Those of a sen­si­tive dis­po­si­tion, look away.

‘ Et de­la­tor es et ca­lum­ni­a­tor, et frauda­tor es et ne­go­tia­tor, et fel­la­tor es et lanis­tra, miror quare non habeas, Vac­erra, num­mos.’

Even non-la­tin­ists get the pic­ture, I’m sure.

As well as be­ing rude, the Ro­mans could also be very funny. Here’s a Ro­man gag that’s so good that it was ripped off both by Sig­mund Freud and Iris Mur­doch, in The Sea, the Sea. It was first told by Va­lerius Max­imus, the 1st-cen­tury Ro­man writer:

‘A Ro­man gov­er­nor of Si­cily met an or­di­nary res­i­dent in the prov­ince who was his spit­ting im­age. The

gov­er­nor was amazed at the like­ness, since his fa­ther had never been to the prov­ince. “But my fa­ther went to Rome,” the looka­like pointed out.’

Call­ing all war ba­bies! In De­cem­ber 1939, the War Of­fice req­ui­si­tioned Brocket Hall, the splen­did Pal­la­dian pile in Hert­ford­shire, as an Es­cape Ma­ter­nity Hospi­tal for moth­ers in the East End, for fear they might be bombed out of their homes in the Blitz.

A to­tal of 8,333 Brocket Babes were born at the hall be­tween 1939 and 1949. The Lord Mel­bourne Suite – named af­ter the Vic­to­rian Prime Min­is­ter who lived at Brocket – was the de­liv­ery room. The Prince Re­gent Suite was the re­cov­ery room; and the Sil­ver Rooms were the baby ward.

Brocket Hall is now a ho­tel and the hote­liers are keen to build up a com­plete record of the Brocket Babes.

So far, 1,045 of them, from 38 coun­tries, have come for­ward, with around 350 of them from the UK.

In or­der to en­cour­age more Brocket Babes to iden­tify them­selves, the ho­tel is kindly of­fer­ing all Oldie read­ers – not just Brocket Babes – a spe­cial 30 per cent dis­count off the pub­lished room rate. Just quote The Oldie when book­ing.

The ho­tel is also of­fer­ing a prize – this time open just to Brocket Babes – in­clud­ing a night in one of the rooms in Mel­bourne Lodge, named af­ter the Prime Min­is­ter, with din­ner and a round of golf in­cluded.

The prize will go to a win­ner drawn from those Brocket Babes who cor­rectly an­swer this ques­tion:

Lord Mel­bourne was Queen Vic­to­ria’s first prime min­is­ter. How many prime min­is­ters – in all – served dur­ing her reign, and were there more or fewer than the num­ber who have served so far un­der El­iz­a­beth II?

Any Brocket Babes – or read­ers keen to take ad­van­tage of the reader of­fer – should email ed­i­to­[email protected]­ to take part.

A reader, Wil­liam Wood, has got in touch with the Old Un to say how much he en­joys our Small De­lights fea­ture (see page 69) – not least be­cause he has just pub­lished a col­lec­tion called 100 Lit­tle Plea­sures.

Among life’s mi­nor com­pen­sa­tions, he in­cludes: Not Hav­ing a Headache; Fin­ish­ing a Swim; A Land Rover; and Do­ing Noth­ing.

All re­minders that, in this vale of tears, the lit­tle things mean a lot.

Here is a trans­la­tion of Mar­tial’s in­sult in Latin from page 7:

‘You’re an in­former and a gos­sip, a fraud­ster and con­man, a c***sucker and a nasty piece of work. Given all that, Vac­erra, I’m amazed you’ve got no money.’

‘This one was built by slaves from Scan­di­navia’

‘Si­mon has a won­der­ful nose for wine’

Stones hit: Lizardite peb­bles, raw and pol­ished, Corn­wall

‘Is there a Mrs Mu­tant Space Crea­ture?’

‘Run along and press play’

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