Monday, 18 January 2010

The instrument of the devil

We came second in the quiz. We tried to cheat, but it did us no good. The carefully chosen texts I sent out to close friends were either answered too late, or greeted with moral outrage!

I’m currently on my way home from a very enlightening and witty lecture about Pepys, given by Graham Fawcett at St Olave’s Church. It’s part of a series of lectures, one for each month in the 350th year, and anyone with an interest in Pepys should go. There’s food, wine and (on this occasion) a recorder recital. Recorder player, Emily Baines, was actually rather good. She played the mid-range mellow types of recorder; a far cry (or scream) from those nasty high-pitched things with crazy harmonics you hear in schools that can only be described as the sound of the devil. I did, however, keep wondering what form of insanity makes someone choose to be a professional recorder player. Perhaps she also plays the flute. I hope so.

St Olave’s is a charming, tiny, eccentric church; probably my favourite in the City of London. It’s fabulously cluttered. Everywhere you look there’s something even more awe-inspiring. The bust of Pepys’ wife, which he had made after she died, peers down, as though deep in conversation from above the altar, below which she and Pepys lie together sleeping. I discovered tonight that Francis Bacon’s older brother is also buried here, so my blog about the frozen chicken is relevant after all! Furthermore, the old show queen in me is proud to reveal that the real Mother Goose also lies somewhere beneath the church. How camp is that?

My journey through the city reminded me quite how unique this corner of the world is. Every building seems to come from a different century and there’s a surprise around every corner. Here a shabby 15th Century church, there a sleek glass skyscraper. Pubs, gyms, coffee houses, train stations, fusty law firms, trendy wine bars are piled on top of one another and squeezed into roads with curious and curiouser names; Seething Lane, Mincing Lane, Old Jewry, Poultry. And yet after treading these streets on a daily basis whilst doing Oranges and Lemons, the place still remains an entire mystery. I sort of felt my way to the church today from the Monument.

Today was a day like any other for Pepys. He talks briefly about the letters he was exchanging on an almost daily basis with his distant cousin and patron Sir Edward Montagu, later the First Earl of Sandwich. Montagu, a staunch Republican, was busy turn-coating; a process which seemed to involve retiring to a country estate and emerging in London a year or so later wearing a new suit of armour like I might change a pair of socks. A bit rich considering ten per cent of the entire population died during the English Civil War!

During Montagu's self-imposed exile, Pepys was given the task of sending his master daily letters, with detailed accounts (often written in code) of the goings on in the capital. Graham Fawcett suggested tonight that it was these letters that inspired Pepys to start writing a diary.

1 comment:

  1. Greetings to readers of this blog, which I hope you are enjoying as much as I am - well done, Benjamin!

    You may be interested to know that you can find details of Graham Fawcett's 'Pepys 350' lectures at St Olave's on the following page of the church's website:

    There is also a link to download the flyer. Lectures will be every month between February and July 2010 and there will be a special evening on 'Pepys & The Royal Society on 29 November.

    If you have any enquiries I shall be happy to hear from you.

    Phil Manning
    Church Manager, St Olave Hart Street