In Competition No. 3188, a challenge designed to make us all feel better about the looming prospect of another enforced staycation, you were invited to submit a postcard from a friend on holiday abroad that makes you relieved you aren’t there.
Whenever I find myself dreaming of a trip to see the Northern Lights, I console myself with ‘Northern Dark’, Geoff Dyer’s hilarious account of the crushing disappointment of his pilgrimage to the Svalbard Archipelago (only on the return journey do the stars of the show, those ‘swirling geysers of psychedelic green’, make an appearance — but on the opposite side of the aircraft from which Dyer and his wife are sitting).
I enjoyed Paul Freeman’s account of guillemot and periwinkle stew atop Hall’s Ledge, Rockall, and Brian Murdoch’s valiant attempt to look on the bright side of hotel quarantine: ‘…the view from the window is a restfully empty car-park, so no crashing waves to keep us awake all night’. Honourable mentions also go to John Plowman, Alan Millard, G.M. Southgate, P.M. Davidson and James Jackson. The winners, printed below, are rewarded with £30 each.
Vive la différence! ‘In the Footsteps of Emile Zola’ certainly is a welcome change from the showiness and monotonous constant sunshine of the Riviera. This is the real, authentic France. Yesterday we trekked the iconic beetroot fields, the disused coal mines, ‘l’immense horizon plat’ described in Germinal — and slept in the eerie stillness of the battlefield of Sedan immortalised in La Débâcle — so evocative in the drizzle. Tomorrow it’s the steam engines personified in La Bête Humaine and a lecture on Zola’s use of naturalisme. The locals are an inspiring bunch, too: not for them the superficial bonhomie you find in the South. No, these are the salt of the earth, a gritty breed fashioned by the landscape and ever-changing weather, as honest as Zola’s symbolic beetroot and turnips that we are treated to in our roadside packed lunches. Next year I’m not missing the Solzhenitsyn tour! You’ve GOT to come…
A postcard! How quaint! I hear you cry. Something’s kicked off in town so the ruling party, sensibly in my view, muzzled the internet. There goes our email! Still, the guys in Security will post this (I hope!) when they’re not patrolling the hotel fencing. Not even a virus could get past them and their guns! No chance of seeing the temples, alas, or anywhere else but we’re making our own entertainment (no TV — that’s the news blackout). A German guest has us line-dancing every afternoon (no exceptions!) and is planning our own in-house Eurovision Song Contest. Do you remember that Graham Greene novel where characters have cockroach races before killing them? It’s the latest craze and we compare scores over dinner. Clive cheats, of course; he says everyone does. The hotel library (bookshelf, actually) has all the Dan Brown and Jeffrey Archer novels; masses to reread!
Darlings, it’s wonderfully authentic here and Carpathia has us by ‘heart and by throat’ as they say locally… Our host, the Count, is charming and very old-school and won’t take a paying-guest leu from us — he says that our presence is nourishment enough — isn’t that sweet?! Malcolm is as accident-prone as ever and, so far, has had a fight with an inanimate suit of armour, found a Bucovina cobra (very common, apparently) in his docksiders and fallen (he says he was pushed!) into an oubliette. But he’s off shooting Transylvanian Nocturnal Woodcock tonight with the Count’s retainers (very rough-hewn) and so the Count and I dine à deux. He’s very dishy. I’d send you a picture but he doesn’t photograph well, or at all, actually, and there’s no signal anyway.
The visitors’ book is remarkably empty. I’ll set that to rights first thing in the morning…
Wish you were here in Mar a Lago? Because that’s the idea. The name, Donald says, is Red Indian for ‘absolutely fantastic’ and that’s no lie. It’s an incredibly exclusive Club utilising prime Florida real estate; you couldn’t possibly afford membership. Donald has beautiful weather flown in constantly on its own breeze. Not that exclusivity means the resort isn’t diverse; I golf with billionaires, multi-billionaires and more types of corporate tax lawyer than you’d think legal while the wife — this one’s named Brandi —spends whole days at the spa with her Personal Beautifier who promises that, with the application of the right snake oils, she need never reach 30. The Trumps are in residence — Donald is such a perfectionist, still smarting at his second presidential victory while Melania selects frocks for the courtroom — and everything is Trump-branded, from shampoos and bathrobes to the more cosmopolitan domestic staff.
What a relief to take a rest from English froideur! We’ve been having some stiff upper gins on the terrace overlooking the public beach, 100% jolly, revelling in the revels of this keep-your-hair-down island. The roads simply heave with happiness, and do you know, scooters are free these days, you just hop on and off where you find them. What a blessed r. to follow one’s inner gourmet, too — there are streets crammed like Christmas with every cuisine you have ever heard of, and a few besides. We’re trying Korea-Mex tonight, although Holly says she might go for a quick Brazilian. In the siesta, or is it fiesta, no that’s a car haha, we have been taking turns on Spotty-fi, scoring each other’s playlists. Des has never heard of Leapy Lee OR Baha Men! Really! Tabitha won last night’s screaming competition. All so blissful, batteries re-charging!!!! Agadooo to yooooo xxxx
No. 3191: cancel culture
You are invited to submit a Shakespearean soliloquy reflecting on the news that the Bard has been cancelled by some US academics. Please email entries of up to 16 lines to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 17 March.
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