Sir P Speaks: Bon Voyage

Lovely Sir Partridge,

What countries should I visit and why? I ask because though you think your self-published travel books don’t have a fan base, there are those of us who can’t get enough of such titles as Confessions of a Naughty Travel Writer and The Gormley Archipelago: Islands I Have Been To.

In fact, I would like to become a travel writer too. How do I do it?

Also, are you available as a travelling companion?

Yours (always)

Titania Trumpet-Sock

vintage travel 10

Dear T

You’re right of course. I am a superb travel writer and it’s shocking that this has gone unnoticed by the countless publishers I’ve sent my manuscripts to.

No, I will not travel with you because I find your name disturbing and I sense in you a certain fanaticism. I imagine that were we to meet you would remain in a state of catatonic adoration, staring at me for hours with eyes the size of mad saucers.

Still, here’s some advice. I have always ensured I visit countries in clumps and that they have some kind of connection with one another. This imbues one’s journey with meaning, however spurious. For instance, in my book An Eye for an I, all of the countries I visited began with the letter ‘I’ and had vengeance as a national characteristic, namely: Iceland (Viking sagas); Italy (mafia payback); India (Hindu-Muslim tensions etc); Ireland (the Troubles); and so on. Brilliant when you think about it.

Likewise, in my book The Monosyllabic Empire, I spent a fortune visiting the five countries in the world with only one syllable (France, Guam, Greece, Laos and Chad). It turns out that they have little in common beyond this charming quirk of pronunciation.

Becoming a travel writer is quite easy as long as you have little wish to be read. I can only write against the market rather than for it and I have no regrets. All travel books are feats of colossal self-indulgence masquerading as acts of generosity. I have no truck with such hypocrisy. I prefer to nail my colours to the mast. Hence my true masterpieces include Travels with my Tract: Getting Caught Short in the World’s Most Inconvenient Places, and An Aladdin’s Cave: A Voyage into the Treasure House that is the Gormley Mind.

Here’s an excerpt from the latter:

Stone Town, Zanzibar, 14 October 2011

At 7.13am, woke up from fevered dream in which I was on a speeding train crowded with people, one of whom had decided to bring eight Irish wolfhounds. The man released the hounds and suddenly I was under desperate attack. To save myself I somehow managed to hurl most of them to their death through an open door.

At our destination, the dogs’ owner summoned the police and pressed charges. I was led away by a constable who, I noticed in shock and disgust, was none other than myself.

Constable Gormley realised the dog-killing charges wouldn’t stick so as we passed a pub, he asked the owner for advice on how to frame me. ‘Get him on trafficking prescription drugs’ was the publican’s cheery response. Then I woke up.

Spent the rest of the day thinking about why I find coins so fascinating, regretting that I haven’t joined the Navy, wishing gladiators were still an entertainment option, and wondering why life seems so hard when most of the time it really isn’t.

I also favour the 18th century tradition of putting as much in the title as possible. Of all my 34 books, my favourite is: A Long and Dreary Sojourn in Slippers across the Shetland Islands, Taking in Such Unremarkable but Absurdly-Named Villages as Grutness, Drong and Clab, in Near-Horizontal Sleet while Regretting that I’d Ended what was (in Retrospect) a Promising Relationship with a Young Lady who would have made an Excellent Travelling Companion and Mender of Broken Hire Cars.

I hope this helps.

Yours

Gormley

 

Conan Elphicke

Sir Partridge Gormley’s emissions are rendered as coherent as they can be by the ever-patient @ConanElphicke. If you are confused and bewildered, and we suspect you are, by all means send your queries to thecringeblog@gmail.com.

Sir P Speaks: For he is a gentleman

duel

 

Dear Sir P

I feel unaccomplished. I can’t hold a tune, wield a sword, ride a horse or speak a foreign tongue. I have also occasionally behaved like a bounder and/or a cad. Do I have the right to call myself a gentleman? What is a gentleman, for God’s sake? Also, what is the difference between a bounder and a cad, and which am I?

Am I in fact a true man in any sense? The notion of ‘manhood’ has become extremely confused of late.

Also, I’ve been challenged to a duel. Will you be my second?

Finally, is it inappropriate for a grown man to build models of WWII battleships?

Oh, and what is your favourite country?

Affectionately,

Fuddbut Tromso

 

Dear Fuddbut

As it happens, a number of people have stridently insisted I write a guide to becoming a gentleman. They believe that it would be for the good of the country, that young men are so ill-defined nowadays, and the world at large so wayward and pre-apocalyptic, that what’s really needed is a manual to help an individual forge a robust identity that will survive anything.

I’ve always refused. You can’t teach such things; you can only throw quotes at the problem. So here’s one: the statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke wrote in the late 18th century that “a king may make a nobleman, but he cannot make a gentleman”.

Sadly, I am living proof of this.

Similarly, a treatise called ‘A Discourse Concerning the Character of a Gentleman’ by ‘A Person of Quality’ in 1716 explains, “The Appellation of the Gentleman (says the Tatler) should never be affix’d to a Man’s Circumstances, but to his Behaviour in them”.

So if by any chance you have a pipe, I invite you to stick the above in it and light up. In my mind, to be a gent it is simply necessary to bear those notions in mind, not speak with your mouth full and to be willing and able to rattle off at least three Gilbert & Sullivan songs, whether sober, squiffy or hammered out of your mind.

In days of yore, being a gent was much more demanding. In 1528, one Count Baldassare Castiglione published The Book of the Courtier, a how-to guide for the original Renaissance man. Among an array of accomplishments, Castiglione encouraged sprezzatura – a certain effortless composure or nonchalance. The sort of thing, frankly, that only an Italian can pull off convincingly. And I suspect, young Fuddbut, that you are not an Italian.

Because I have a dictionary and you clearly don’t, I will now explain the difference between a bounder and a cad. Both are morally reprehensible anti-gents, but a bounder is distinguished by being something of a social climber to boot. I, for one, am a cad. As for which one you are, old son, only a good hard look in the mirror will tell you that.

So where does this leave your manhood, or indeed that of any adult male? Life for the modern man is indeed emasculating but then we can take comfort in the fact that this is true for women too. Judith Lucy is doing a good job of explaining this in her ABC TV show, as has Annabel Crabb in her book The Wife Drought, which my parlour maid told me all about while completing my nightly bed turndown service. Harking back to some non-existent golden age when men bestrode the world safe in their shining armour of self-knowledge is the distraction of a fool. You must fashion your own sense of who you are from true self-knowledge, Fuddbut. Anything else is just another kind of identity fraud …

As for your duel, no, I will not be your second, though I encourage you to get one. He or she needs to make sure your interests are well served and that your opponent doesn’t cheat. More importantly, they’re honour-bound to step in should your nerve fail you. As I suspect it will. But I do admire your willingness to take part. Though duels to the death are rare nowadays it is still sometimes necessary to defend your honour with cold steel or hot lead. There are however two things to bear in mind:

  1. You might lose and end up dead or badly injured
  2. You might win and end up badly jailed

Not that I particularly want you to survive. I suspect your DNA lacks the necessary robustness to warrant being passed on. Though your fondness for building model warships is a redeeming feature. After all, a three-foot-long replica of the Bismarck graces my own hallway. It took Chivers, my manservant, two months to build. Time well spent.

I have two favourite countries. One is Burkina Faso because its capital city rejoices in the splendid name Ouagadougou. The other is Iceland because, quite genuinely, their roads authority has a pro-elf policy, which means that no highway is built across an area thought to be inhabited by elves, trolls or any other supernatural beings. Superb.

Farewell,

Gormley

 

 Conan Elphicke

Sir Partridge’s emissions are rendered as coherent as they can be by the ever-patient @ConanElphicke. If you are confused and bewildered, and we suspect you are, by all means send your queries to thecringeblog@gmail.com.

Sir P Speaks: The Problem of First-World Problems

Dear Sir P

I’m worried that all my travails are essentially First-World problems. I no longer feel entitled to complain, or even feel aggrieved. This has left a gnawing, hollow sensation inside of me. Which is itself, I suppose, a First-World problem. And so I find myself wandering around in ever-decreasing circles of self-loathing. How do I continue to complain without feeling like a bit of a dickhead?

Adoringly,

Terrance V

 

Well, dear Terrance, we can’t have you loathing yourself. However, it is a tiresome thing when people witter about the built-in redundancy of their iFads or how their favourite charcuterie has just been closed down. While it’s true that people in the Third World suffer from bunions at least as much as people in the West do, it would be fair to say that bunions are the least of their problems.

graveyard_of_indiscretions

If First World Problems Could Kill

Meanwhile, the issue for us Westerners is, when does a particular problem become legitimately whinge-worthy? If say, your beloved girlfriend dispenses with you, it is a bad thing and you are entitled to moan about it. But let’s call that a Second-World problem (and, dear readers, please don’t email me explaining the proper definition of the Second World; even baronets go to school).

But what about when your hitherto excellent wife leaves you for a lion-tamer or similar and takes the kids with her, plus half the house and Augustus, your Labrador-kelpie cross on whom you’ve doted since he was a puppy? Now, that’s a legitimate, bare-knuckled disaster wherever in the world you happen to live. Particularly when said wife then updates her Facebook status to: ‘Free at last from that fat, inbred nutter’.

Though I’m not very insightful generally I have noticed that most people get around the problem you’ve raised, dear Terrance, by not even bothering to do so. If you’ve not spent your childhood grubbing about on a Manila garbage dump then premature hair loss or unusually bulbous earlobes will seem very problematic indeed. You will say to yourself, ‘I can only address the problems that are before me, not the ones I might have experienced had I been incarnated as a Mumbai leper’. It highlights in a way how animal we remain. A gerbil struggling for survival in the desert is hardwired, like all animals, to utterly preoccupy itself with the fact that it is hours away from starvation. It is not interested in the plight of other gerbils. Such matters are not its business, even if it had the smarts to comprehend such things. We do have the smarts but we also have the hardwiring, so coveting my neighbour’s 65-inch 100hz flat-screen 3D TV fills my magnificent human brain to bursting.

However, there may be some value in putting our own issues into perspective. You can start by doing the following quiz. Which of these problems are First, Second or Third World?

  1. The difficulty of finding a band-aid large enough to cover a graze large enough to justify a band-aid.
  2. Reconciling yourself to sharing the world with cyclists and horses.
  3. You want to call your son Tarquin because you’re pretentious, but you know the name will humiliate him.
  4. The presence on the road of silver or grey cars that hover in your blind spot on rainy days (it’s possible I’ve raised this vital issue before).
  5. A man-eating tiger lives near your house. Be careful, or one day it will eat you too.
  6. You’re so exhausted packing for your family holiday to Hawaii it’s almost not worth going.
  7. The excruciatingly awkward nightmare that is Skype.
  8. You would like to wear your tiger onesie out in the street but you are a fully grown man and you would be mocked.
  9. Should you have your child’s 4th birthday at home and endure the appalling mess 15 children inevitably make, or hold it at a soft-play centre and endure the deafening cacophony of a billion screeching children smacked up on pink sugar?
  10. The Patent Office refuses to patent your exciting new invention called ‘Comfort-Go’ – for when you get caught short in heavy traffic.

What are the correct answers, you ask? Who cares? The reassuring thing is that no matter how First-World, inane, self-indulgent or deranged your questions are, good bloggoids, I will always give them the attention they richly deserve.

Devotedly

Gormley

 

Conan Elphicke

Sir Partridge’s emissions are rendered as coherent as they can be by the ever-patient @ConanElphicke. If you are confused and bewildered, and we suspect you are, by all means send your queries to thecringeblog@gmail.com.