Thursday 11 September 2008

Not just about a wall

14st 5lb (an utter disgrace, frankly); 4.8 units of alcohol yesterday; 1,243; Bloomsbury.

I drove home from Chester to Northumberland yesterday afternoon, then caught a train from Newcastle to London this morning. Do not bother composing a sarcastic comment about my lack of spatial awareness, my clearly unjustified gibes about the LTCB’s inability to find her way around an oval running track without the aid of GPS, or the size of my carbon footprint. I actually once won a prize from the Royal Geographical Society for having the highest marks in the country in my geography A-level, and if I say so myself I am pretty good with maps. So long as I am travelling north, and can hold the thing the right way up. How else do you think I ended up in Northumberland?

No, trust me, it made sense. I had to place the dog with a carer and get my hair cut. Having done so, I caught a train to King’s Cross and spent the journey adding to this very blog. I also checked my e-mails, having tinkered with the settings of these pages yesterday, in the course of which I had added an easily accessible contact e-mail address. The first fruit of this proved to be a message all the way from Australia reading “become a muslim shoot yrslf and youll be surrounded by lovely virgins all willing you to show them how to do it”.

Perhaps facilitating that wasn’t my best ever decision.

This afternoon, after tea at my club, I went to the Hadrian exhibition at the British Museum with an old friend from Dorset who is interested in that sort of thing. I thought it was time I saw him, given that I had promised to buy him dinner to celebrate his 50th birthday and never done so, and he is now over 55. Admittedly, the absence of dinner was not strictly my fault. The restaurant was booked, the credit card braced for action, then George Bush decided to turn up in London on the very day I had selected, and my pal chickened out on the risible grounds that there was almost certain to be a major terrorist incident, and he wasn’t prepared to have his head blown off just for the sake of a free dinner.

Given this track record, it seemed to me that my friend had picked a singularly inauspicious date for this long delayed re-match, but when I put the point to him he just looked at me blankly. Some people have such short memories.

I enjoyed the exhibition more than I had expected, which is admittedly not saying much given my general attitude to museums. I also learned a few things that were new to me, including the fact that Hadrian was from Spain and the adopted son of an emperor, rather than a hereditary ruler; that he had a male Greek lover called Antonius and was distraught when he died, and that a religious cult of the deceased spread through the Mediterranean empire on a scale which, at the time, rivalled Christianity; that there was no Latin word for “homosexual” and that it did not matter to the Romans who or what a man had sex with, so long as he was the dominant partner (seemingly creating a bit of a problem for 50 per cent of the participants in any male single sex relationship, unless I have totally misunderstood what they get up to); and that Hadrian himself died childless and was succeeded by another adoptee.

The section on Hadrian’s Wall made it seem a wonderfully pointless trip, since every single artefact was labelled as coming from the Museum of Antiquities in Newcastle upon Tyne. But then I remembered that I had not actually been there since I was at school, and could not go again if I wanted to, as it has been closed down. Its collections will allegedly become part of the new Great North Museum, opening in 2009. But that sounds very much like the sort of thing that is best believed when one has actually seen it.

My friend was much taken with Hadrian’s skills as a poet, and went to the trouble of transcribing the English translation of the following epitaph for a child:

Little soul, little wanderer, little charmer,
Body’s guest and companion
To what places will you set out for now?
To darkling, cold and gloomy ones
And you won’t make your usual jokes

I can’t help thinking that he might have rushed the composition of the last line just a little bit. Perhaps there were some particularly tasty Christians on at the Colosseum that evening.

After this cultural feast we walked to my exciting new club, where they made a virtue of their non-functioning lift by inviting us to walk up a glamorous, under-lit (in the sense of having lights underneath it, not dark and gloomy) glass staircase. It made me feel like a genuine celebrity, though admittedly the genuine celebrity in question was Danny La Rue. We admired the stylish and comfortable rooms then took a seat (no, hang the expense, two seats) in the piano bar and ordered cocktails. The menu made much of the authenticity of these concoctions, stressing the extensive research that had been undertaken to track down their original recipes. This seemed to overlook the possibility that subsequent developments might actually have been improvements. It was as if Ford started marketing an original and authentic car with solid rubber tyres, no heater, radio or windscreen wipers, and a handbrake on the outside. After sucking on his straw thoughtfully for a bit, my friend looked around meaningfully, leaned forward and whispered confidentially, “I say, old chap, are you absolutely sure that you haven’t accidentally joined a gay club?”

Oh, who cares? Particularly after a second surprisingly sour cocktail. Another first for Bloke in the North. If it was good enough for Hadrian …

Which reminds me. I really must see about getting that crumbling stone wall around the paddock re-pointed when I am next at home.

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