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Literary Lessons from Across the Pond

This excerpt from the diary of Eric Murphy, dated 24 June 2010, is currently on loan to dislocate.org from the British National Museum for Literature.

24 June 2010
As I find myself in the middle of an extended stay on a peculiar, far-flung Island which has no access to Taco Bell and whose barbaric entertainment systems are incompatible with my 30 Rock digital versatile discks, I need something to occupy me throughout the evening and night.

Therefore, I have decided to embark upon a magnificent Adventure. I have brought many Maps and Diagrams with me from America which were drawn by a very dedicated cartographer who calls himself Google, and these shall guide me through the favorite haunts of several native writers of the Island, including Charles Dickens, George Orwell, Virginia Woolf, and Alfred Tennyson.

My plan is to venture out into the island wilderness alone at first, to be later joined by my friends after they finish work. The first section shall be Discovery and Careful Study, and the second Festivities and Merrymaking.

fitzroy.jpg4:29 - Fitzroy Tavern
The Fitzroy Tavern was a place native Artists and Intellectuals like Dylan Thomas and George Orwell used to frequent in the early- to mid-20th century to spend their evenings imbibing large quantities of beverage. The Transitive Principle of Mathematics and Drinking tells me that if I imbibe large quantities of beverage at the same place as the historic imbibing, mayhaps I should become an Artist or Intellectual myself.

A mild hilarity which I have observed upon my stay here is the Island's use of the antiquated institution of the Newspaper. Indeed, there are not only two Newspapers published each morning and distributed free of charge, but a similar Newspaper is published in the afternoon as well, besides Newspapers available for purchase. I may have to show the locals my computing Machine, inside which I have brought the Internet with me all the way from America. I am not sure whether they are aware that it exists. They seem to be making some small advances towards modern times, however; the Fitzroy Tavern's "Writers' and Artists' Bar" has been re-purposed, and is now the "Furniture Storage Area."

The tradition among the islanders is to imbibe alcohol quietly and alone in the afternoons. Some purchase a pint and read their Newspapers (and I find that a state of inebriation is the only proper state in which one should consume the news), while others look at the bottoms of their glasses and think about the children they are neglecting, or about the children they could be neglecting but never had. The Fitzroy is quiet, not yet taken to drunken arguments on art or literature at this time of day.

4:59 - I have found a use for the Newspaper: to hide my Map behind while standing in the street, so that I look as though I am an educated gentleman simply reading for pleasure rather than a gape-mouthed stranger turning in circles attempting to find street signs which are affixed high up on buildings seemingly at random.

granby.jpg5:02 - Marquis of Granby
According to local legend, this would be George Orwell's favorite bar to end his nights. Being across a certain line of jurisdiction, it was allowed to stay open half an hour later than nearby public houses (shortened by the locals to "pub"), which the Marquis of Granby still boasts about today.

This Establishment shows the most promising signs of commercialization, as the owners have pleasantly stripped away much of the old-time charm. Indeed, a man who must be wealthy charges his iTelephone with an outlet in the corner. He is probably having a literary or political discussion here just as Orwell did, only this man is by himself in a corner talking to the Internet. Fascism vs. democratic socialism is now Mac vs. PC. But, really, he and Orwell are essentially the same.

There is not as much of a sense of exotic native history here, so I decide to make my way toward Fleet Street, hoping to avoid any demon barbers that may reside there.

5:43 - A somewhat long ride on the primitive, rickety subway system gives me an opportunity to reflect on what I have seen so far. I notice a poem written in some type of pidgin American posted like an advertisement. It makes me wonder about the difference between my beautiful poetry and the island's rather more base and ugly style. I know from a dubious but growing-in-popularity concept known as "science" that ceiling height and floor surface can affect decisions while one shops--why couldn't the same be true for writing? The islanders must endure dirty brick buildings with dark and cramped interiors when they go out, while back home I enjoy the comfort of open, bright, and spacious Tacos Bell, in and sometimes about which I write my poetry. Something about where I write--and that I have an infinitely refillable 44 oz. Baja Blast Mountain Dew--must influence my stylistic choices.

cheshire.jpg6:17 - Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
This remarkably old public House where Charles Dickens, Alfred Tennyson, and Samuel Johnson were regulars abuts Fleet Street; a small, covered alleyway splits off, leading to its entryway. Inside, there is no natural light; the entire building is lit with electricity--no candles at all! Perhaps this environment influenced Dickens in his writings about the underbelly of London, best captured in his character Oliver Twist, the infamous villain of his novel Oliver Twist, or so I have heard.

My friends join me outside the entrance, as they have finished their exhaustive studies of the native work culture for the day and must be refreshed with a bit of food and drink. On the ground floor, there is a bar immediately inside the door as well as a chop house, but these have little floor space. The rooms are dark and cramped, like the City itself. Further along is a passage to another bar in the back of the building and a staircase off to the side. Descending the staircase reminds one of entering a crypt: the Ceiling is extremely low, the walls are made of bare stone, and the temperature gets colder and colder as one descends. I feel as though we will find Charles Dickens' skeleton leaning on the bar down here, covered in spider webs and frozen in the middle of ordering a pint.

Instead, at the end of labyrinthine corridors that split off into many small seating areas as we go deeper underground, we find only near-death locals who must be doing some research here on where they would like to be buried. This is by far the most history-steeped drinking Establishment in the city, having been rebuilt just after the Great Fire in 1666 and not changed since. But, as it is probably true that History and Books have failed to hold the current youths' interests, the clientele here are more advanced in age, some possibly having known Dickens personally. I can feel the weight of history down here, from the bare walls to the old furniture to the hidden-away seating areas in weird nooks to the electronic pager the bartender hands me after I order my food. "When that buzzes, come down and get your food." I take a minute to reflect: maybe at one point long ago, Alfred Tennyson received the exact same food buzzer! I return to my table and excitedly tell my friends my revelation.

That most of the bars and seating areas are in the Cellars downstairs probably saved Charles Dickens much embarrassment, as the lack of reception underground most likely prevented many a drunk SMS text Message. I imagine they would have been long messages sent 140 characters at a time over even intervals, each ending just before a crucial piece of information is revealed in order to keep his friends reading the message.

We eat, drink, and are merry, and in the lulls I think even more about Deep Issues. I wonder how drinking with friends instead of alone influences my thoughts. And then I wonder whether thinking with friends or alone affects what I think, and how I write. Sometimes I prefer the peace and quiet of a Taco Bell to write in, but other times, the conversation of others gives me more satisfaction than even a Chalupa could. I wonder how much of Dickens' writing was actually ideas or phrases stolen from conversations with drinking friends--and from conversations conducted in this very pub. How many characteristics of his drinking friends did he swipe for his novels? And how many should I swipe for my own classics of literature?

cock2.jpgApprox. 7:45 - Ye Olde Cock Tavern
This unfortunately named building is tucked neatly away on Fleet Street, but Ye Olde Cock is anything but tiny. Rather, it stands tall and firm. My Companions and I have a bit of trouble getting in, as it was our first time. Earlier in the week, we had tried getting in close to 11 pm, but they had turned us away, using the excuse that "it was getting late," and then they closed up. We wondered to ourselves whether we needed to be members in order to enter. A trickle of customers was leaving Ye Olde Cock as we approached on this evening. We truly thought it was a stroke of Luck that brought us the pleasure of this tavern, one which Dickens used to go in and out of all the time.

As we ordered, we could feel Ye Olde Cock swell with the blood of history; knowing that literary masters are here in three of four dimensions (although not being there in time is a bit of a snag) lends this place vitality. The seating area contained a mezzanine, and we could not decide where to sit--we went down, then up, then partway down, then decided to go all the way up, finding that the topmost part of Ye Olde Cock was indeed the most pleasurable.

The intercourse between my friends and I was intellectually stimulating, but interrupted by periodic shouts, as I watched a Soccer game on the pub's television over my friend's shoulder. At around four pints in, our conversation could not have been the most illuminating, but we reflected at length on the natives' general incompetence with Credit Card Swiping Contraptions. As most public houses close by 11, we must end this part of our evening, but we had had a full experience and departed spent and ready for sleep.

Later - I have had some time to reflect on my travels tonight. The first thing I noticed is that the natives' food, especially at places which have a great deal of history, is nearly as good as fine American food like the Crunchwrap Supreme. The second is that I may have to buy a new set of 30 Rock DVDs. But the next things to cross my mind were the Deep Thoughts that had occurred to me throughout the night. How many nights spent out drinking did these famous Authors later mine for their writing, subconsciously and consciously? Should I lobby for alcohol to be served in my favorite American gathering place, Taco Bell, so that I could be similarly productive and creative? Could I really find more inspiration in a pint of beer than in a half gallon of high-fructose corn syrup? Or was all of this musing on the influence of social gatherings and alcohol an excuse for getting drunk, making merry, carousing, speaking loudly, and other un-Christian behavior? Did the great alcoholic writers have their potential unlocked by the drink, or did they squander some of that potential by drinking?

More importantly--since this night was about discovery and education--when I become a famous writer, will it be because I learned craft from the greats or because I learned drinking from the greats? And one final question occurred to me, one that plagues writing students across the country: can true alcoholism even be taught?

Image Credits:
Photos of Fitzroy Tavern, Marquis of Granby, and Ye Olde Cock by Ewan-M/flickr
Photo of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese interior by maccosta/flickr