In Competition No. 2886 you were invited to submit a Pepys’-eye view of modern life.
Pepys’s candid and minutely observed diary entries hum with a seemingly inexhaustible lust for life and your attempts to capture this spirit were impressive. His perpetual randiness, in particular, loomed large in the entry (as one of Pepys’s biographers Richard Ollard notes, ‘an irresistible air of bedroom farce clings to him’).
Commendations go to Barry Baldwin, Roger Rengold and Peter Sain ley Berry. The winners take £25; D.A. Prince nabs £30.
To coffee-house for conversation, minded to discuss strange appearance of amphibious shipping on the Thames, such as can deliver foreigners straight from the water deep into our city streets. All strangely silent. Drinkers contemplate mirrors in various shape, vainly, and stroking them as a mistress. Ye women sport blue finger-nails, which I take a signal of availableness, but none approaches and I could be mistook. Doth their mannish garb betoken yea or nay? I ask coffee and the wench utters in her own tongue Larty, yamerikarnow, then makes a noise like sneezing. She doth not comprehend my nodding so I depart, falling over a young man asleep on the street. Many others suffering from the ear-ache, these orifices plugged against noise and weather. Some mutter their thoughts aloud, careless of passers-by. Have the mad been loosed upon us? Truly we are in dreadful times.
Returning to London from my cousin’s in the country I find things much changed. Our neighbours seem now to be persons from Muscovy or from the realms of the Grand Turk. After breakfast, to the Law Courts in the hope of seeing some lord or politician condemned, but all indictments were of ancient musicians for historick perversions, or else of scribblers and hacks, properly arraigned for hacking. Yet even these, alas, were not sent for execution. On my way home into a coffee house, but I could not tell what a skinny latte might be, certainly ’twas not the buxom serving wench. Indeed, all the ordinary people do now appear wondrous plump. At home Mrs Pepys had employed a new maidservant from furthest Roumania. How came she here I know not, but am resolved to tumble her in the spare bedroom, which (men say) shall, like windows, soon be taxed.
Up and by water to the dockes, which was the saddest sight I ever saw in my life, not a ship in view and the buildings all glassy cliffes not conformable to man’s proper measure. Lord, what a falling off is there. Heavy in my heart I took a cup of ale in a tavern. A pretty wench came smiling by my table but when I towsed her a little she flew at me with high words, threatening a haloo for a Constable. I quieted her with 10 l. and she returned me a scowl. Yet I think I will try her again one day. In the evening to the Globe to see Mackbeth, an excellent play and acted with spirit, but the theatre was open to rayn and but meanly appointed; nothing in advance of the playhouses of olden times. The play being done, home and to bed.
Up betimes, to see the hustings. Mr. Boris de Faffel Jonson, a fellow possessed of a fine and almost natural-looking perruque, of an ash-blonde hue, having made a song about his commitment to Londoners, hath now removed to the far country, by the which I mean Ruislip, an ancient woodland manor. It was in Saxon days the property of a gentleman, by name, Wit. Unhappily, the future incumbency is less promising.
There were of late Levellers, several disposed of by the Protector, for that they opined in favour of universal suffrage. But Lilburne and his fellows might well turn in their caskets, to see women and young children accorded the right to cast a ballot. I did doubt to intrust my wife with this intelligence. I did also buy, at intervals, a pie of Mr. Gregg, who hath at each furlong-marker erected new premises. Suffering, to bed.
Up, and to the City, which bears the likeness of Babel, both on account of its hubristic tall, yet oft untenanted, towers and the single algebraic language spoken by the multitude of variously foreign persons toiling there. It has become the fashion among both sexes to make spectral their faces by means of lambent tablets held before them and operated with the fingers, the overall effect not uncomely. Upon the advice of a street sign, purchased an Oyster card, yet could find no vendor of oysters at which to exchange it. Betook me to a fashionable Soho eating house where dined on medallions and drizzles various at cost equivalent to the maintenance of a ship in the King’s Navy for six months. Yet England must be wealthy, for the streets do throng with men and women of great girth and every house does boast coloured wheeled carriages containing waste alone.
Up, and betimes to the City and much gratified on seeing that St Paul’s survives, albeit copiously surrounded by fantastical new growths of architecture, themselves ascending like cathedrals. On enquiring I hear that such mighty edifices represent the riches and extravagant spirit of the oligarchs, yet upon my response commending the great families of England who still build grand houses I am informed that those responsible are Russians. Can this be, or is the answer prankish? Thence to Nando’s at hand in Cheapside Passage, where I lunch on grilled chicken at a startling cost of several sovereigns, which I yet hope to recoup as per diem or some such from the public treasury. Much pondering after at home how I might improve my fortunes by judicious association with the new masters of wealth following the hint that they partly govern our affairs, and so to bed.
No. 2889: men behaving badly
You are invited to supply an extract from a novel in which men are depicted through the eyes of a female chauvinist author. Please email entries of up to 150 words to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 11 March.
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