A whole bottle


In an article from 1962, ‘Ladies’ Halves’, after detailing recent occasions on which a wine waiter has produced a half-bottle of the requested wine (since he’s serving two women dining together), Elizabeth David recalls ‘the steward on the Edinburgh-London express a few years ago who yelled at me across the rattling crockery and two other bemused passengers, “A bottle, madam? A whole bottle? Do you know how large a whole bottle is?”’

Reading this over breakfast, two thoughts occurred to me: firstly, the several occasions on which the Librarian and I have remarked to one another how small wine bottles are these days; secondly: Prague.

It was, alarmingly, sixteen years ago. We had one or two practical problems at the time – the fridge had died and the drain was blocked – from which we made our escape. Nerudova, Mala Strana. A long room which looked out over the Romanian embassy. A well-equipped kitchen, I noted at the time, except for a kettle, toaster, corkscrew, plug for the sink, colander and other peripheral items.

There were crowds, especially on and around the Charles Bridge, of course, but almost everywhere: crowds of friends, tourists, students, and, above all, the tour parties, ten, twenty, thirty, even forty strong: Germans particularly, and Japanese, but French and Italian, English and American.

Long walks in the Jewish quarter; the old cemetery with the leaning stones roped in, a moment of excitement at the sight of Rabbi Löw’s grave – the inventor of the Golem – and pebbles placed on the headstone. Golden Lane, to look at Kafka’s house at Number 22, the lane, the whole area, awash with people. Then lunch at the café on the square. A good mozzarella and roasted vegetable sandwich. We decide to try the white wine. ‘Is it Czech? White wine?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Could we try a bottle?’ Polite pause. ‘A bottle?’ It would make a good pub sign: The Incredulous Waiter. We have a bottle, in its ice bucket. When I pour again, I pass the crucial point at which it’s worth saving, and pour the whole lot in. The waiter, whose task this probably is, disapproves. ‘Now it will get warm.’ But it didn’t really have much chance to do that.

Ah, Prague. Or Paris. Or, indeed, Sherborne. When shall we three meet again?



Fizz – or beer?


There’s a bottle of fizz in the fridge and discussions are ongoing about whether there’s any justification for opening it this evening. There are, after all, three bottles of beer sharing those chilled quarters. Pros and – what cons? Item: two successful trips to the Household Waste Recycling Centre yesterday to clear the pavement outside our house – and avoid possible reputational damage among the neighbours – of the stuff left after the recent installation of a new gas stove. Item: the Librarian finished painting the new shelves on Thursday and last night they were dry enough for me to spend two or three carefree hours filling them up. Are we there yet? Taken together, this seems a solid basis but maybe something more is needed to clinch it.

‘Hang ideas! They are tramps, vagabonds, knocking at the back-door of your mind’, Conrad wrote in Lord Jim. But wait – this encouraging noise was at the front door. The postman hands me a package. I scrabble at sticky tape and cardboard. Yes! Should I declare an interest? I’m tremendously interested.

Routledge-Companion small

The Routledge Research Companion to Ford Madox Ford is, as they say, ‘an invaluable resource for students and scholars in Ford Studies, in modernism, and in the literary world that Ford helped shape in the early years of the twentieth century.’ Is it expensive? Lord, yes. Still, more than two dozen contributors cover the entire range of Ford’s work, both fictional and non-fictional, and the relevant contextual and critical areas, including reception history, life-writing, literary histories, gender and comedy. And it has, after all, been coming for quite some time.

Fizz, then.


Electricity and beefsteak


‘His eyes followed the high figure in homespun, beard and bicycle, a listening woman at his side. Coming from the vegetarian. Only weggebobbles and fruit. Don’t eat a beefsteak. If you do the eyes of that cow will pursue you through all eternity. They say it’s healthier. Windandwatery, though. Tried it. Keep you on the run all day.’ So James Joyce writes in Ulysses. Apparently this passage refers to George Russell (‘AE’) but it’s a figure that makes me think of George Bernard Shaw. In Richard Garnett’s biography of his grandmother, Constance Garnett: A Heroic Life, he tells the story of Shaw inheriting £100 from his ‘ne’er-do-well’ father, who died in 1885. £15 was spent on a new suit produced by Dr Jaeger’s Sanitary Woollen System Company Limited. ‘Thereafter he looked like a toy made for a child by an inexpert knitter.’

As for the beefsteak. Ford Madox Ford, a great lover of wine – especially red wine – tried to persuade Joyce to drink it. Joyce preferred to drink white, comparing it to ‘electricity’ while regarding red wine as ‘liquid beefsteak’.

We’re fairly open-minded on the question in this house, though tending to Ford’s view of the matter rather than Joyce’s. There was a recent Q & A with Jodie Whittaker, the new Doctor Who, which included:


What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Drinking wine every day. I have half a bottle a day. There’s a lot of pleasure in it and a lot of guilt, so it ticks both boxes.


At that point, my wife made the noise that Librarians make when they come across a kindred spirit, though the word ‘guilt’ caused a moment’s bafflement.

Let me raise a glass, anyway, to my friends in America and send them all best wishes for tomorrow – and many tomorrows thereafter.