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What Cosmé Did

[I have Been Away - bodily, I mean, not in the Jeffrey Bernard sense (oh, no, he tended to be unwell, didn't he, not away... still, you get the idea...) - and before that, there were Entirenet issues to contend with. So I feel sure I need to catch up on commenting &c. I shall go to it with a will, but while it is fresh in my mind, here is an account of my weekendly doings... It is LONG, but let me not make it longer still by apologising for my verbosity.]

I went to London this weekend just gone, to see the Residents in concert at the Barbican. Originally I had intended to be frugal and go by cheap coach - I even bought the tickets - but eventually I realised that nobody deserves to be stuck for four hours in that kind of predicament, and bought train tickets after all. In another Universe, I suppose I endured the coach - and it must have done my soul the power of good, because meanwhile, in this Universe, A Pleasant Time Was Had By All. (Y'know, it's an arresting thought. Can you believe simultaneously in the Many Worlds hypothesis AND the Soul? How does that work? Ladies and Gentlemen, we interrupt this performance and beg to enquire if there is a Jesuit in the house...)

ANYWAY, the foregoing is not Germane To The Matter In Hand, so I'll put it in the Tray Marked Pending. (All brains must have a Tray Marked Pending, and ideally a Circular File, too.) And having done that, let's get on with it, shall we...?

My state of mind before embarking on this venture was much enlivened by having found this picture:

Apparently this is Philip, Duke of Palatinate-Neuburg, painted by Hans Baldung Grien... I, however, beg to differ!! ;-)

Taking into account the artist's licence in re the colour of hair and eyes, I think you'll have to agree that my credentials as a time-traveller are now proved beyond doubt! This delighted me severely, as you can imagine. Having already realised that were I to disguise myself as a Renaissance prince I would unquestionably be called Cosmé Kyril Rodomonte Athanasius de Mandeville Penhallon Silcott*, I set out on my travels wishing at all times to deserve the name. Read on, if you would find out how fair Cosmé prosecuted his quest. [*Of course, this also works excellently as a name for an exquisite of the Edwardian period. Yeah..., I'll bet I could astonish an aesthete or two amongst the sunflowers. And not perhaps in the way they'd quite like.]


My adventure began not five minutes from my front door. I was walking down to the railway station when a little blue car pulled up. The window zhuzhed down, to reveal a dreadlocked personage (I mean the white hippy sort, not a rastafarian) with mirror sunglasses on. The front passenger seat was occupied by a dusty mellow short-haired fellow with a relaxed smile. "Wanna lift?" asked the male Medusa.

Mine eyebrows pyoinged upwards quite automatically. I checked myself. Cosmé, I thinked: this could go one of two ways. One of these NOT being kidnap. O let's trust in Fate, I decided, and shrugged, and hopped in.

"Hullo," my impromptu chauffeur regaled me. "My name's Indigo. I live at [address redacted]."

I introduced myself, of course, and the front-passenger did too; though I didn't catch his name. Indigo, it transpired, had lately moved here from Totnes. One wonders how he felt able to leave: Totnes is exactly where you are like to find cheery dreadlocked men named Indigo - they seem endemic to that ecosystem. But soon he fell to lauding the country hereabout, which is indeed most picturesque. We agreed between us that the hedgerows were disappointing this year, and that the peculiar weather had stalled the unfolding season a month behind its normal progress. Indigo opined that humans were to blame - "the type of people we've got living in the world nowadays". Confused people, I hazarded? "Indecisive." So there it is: I learned something. Meditating on an inconsistent frequency has deleterious environmental consequences.

Anyway, from that point on the journey to London was uneventful to the point of banality. Well, other than my beginning to read Machiavelli's 'The Prince', or as a modern publisher of advice books would doubtless christen it, 'What Would Cesare Do?' - Cesare Borgia, I mean. An essential part of fair Cosmé's edumacashun! Now, I trust you'll forgive me for implying that Signor B. would not subscribe to today's principles of ethical commerce. But... I s'pose times was different then, innit. Possible subtitle for modern edition: Amoral Bastardry for Pleasure and Profit. (What do you think? Could this catch on...?)

Alright; suffice to say, I Arrived. Whereupon I set out in the direction of my sleeping-place for the evening.

I stayed here. An excellent choice in all ways - two minutes from Holborn tube, situated in what looked to be former barristers' chambers (it is hard by Lincoln's Inn) and cheap-for-London in the price dept. It is run alongside a little bakery café; I presented myself to the charming and well-decorated Australian girl behind the counter (violet hair, ears artfully gauged, arms a polychrome fantasy of pretty tattoos) and was given the key to my own little studio. It was big enough to live well in, or would be if you completely covered all available wall space with bookshelves, leaving room for one small electric piano, because what civilised creature could do without books and music...? (Minimalism Be Damned!!) There was a small but useable shower room/wc, a kitchen area (it even had a washing machine), a double bed and a big sofa, with space all around for the swinging of cats/spinning around in a big skirt/dancing the dosy-do/practising schlager-play/whatever it is people do with extra space in studio flats. The one thing it lacked that irked Your Correspondent was... a full length mirror. In fact, make that two things, the second of these being a bedside table on the side I like to sleep on. But nitpiquerie aside, this was much better than some sweltering cubby in an over-furnished hotel.

Well, indeed, tip-top as I say. Quite feasibly the ideal trysting-spot, for those who tryst. The lack of a concierge must allow a regular procession of tiptoeing-upstairs by unregistered guests. In the morning, you are invited to present yourself at the bakery café for breakfast, and can have anything you like from the menu (ha, simplicity itself for One Other to turn up too, as if meeting there)... except on Sundays, when they are closed. Boo. But to make up for this they leave you provisions in your little fridge. You are even allowed to fry eggs if you wish!! - yet another thing that is inadvisable in an hotel.

The happenstance of London town planning has even provided the ultimate convenience - next door to the studios, we find a Roman Catholic church. Amongst the offerings listed on the bill of fare: sung Latin mass, 12 noon Sundays. I had to smile: just as the ideal context for a gym is next a sweet shop, the perfect trysting-spot must sit alongside a confessional. Signor B. would find it all most expedient, no doubt. What would Cesare do? Divers sundry acts, and - popping next door and shrugging on his vestments - ego te absolvo afterwards. (The disingenuous so-and-so!)

As for me, I restricted my sins on this occasion to calorific ones. Not wanting to miss out on tasting the bakery's wares I did buy a piece of chocolate Guinness cake to try... am I not most sedulous in the discharging of my travelogic duties? Yes, 'twould have been lax indeed to skive from eating cake in these circs. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it (much as the crumbs did stick to me... but don't worry, I wiped them away; 'Dainty' is my watchword!!). Score out of ten for cake: eleven. Would nosh again.

I took a turn about the locale at early evening. It was the usual London mess of chain coffee establishments, dubious kebab emporia and shops selling carbuncular excrescences emblazoned with the Union Jack, all interspersed with restaurants and boutiques of all creeds and castes. But then I ambled a little further and found myself in Freemason Central - the Connaught Rooms, regalia sellers, all that jazz. (Fun Fact: I do have Freemason ancestry, not that this has gained me noticeable preferment - a trunkful of apronage and sundry knick-knacks is all I have to show for my grandparently illuminosity!) I spent a few minutes admiring the gewgaws in the regalia shop windows; d'you know, they even have little place-cards with the emblematic set-square-or-whatyoumaycallit gilded on. One of the establishments announced itself as 'Est. 1685'. TARDIS please, again; I'd love to spy on that history.

Eventually my peregrinations led me to a clean and inviting sushi vendor, where I picked up a keenly-priced and delicious supper. The entire place was a shrine to the wholesome virtues of fish and rice - all that they sold was replete with Omega-, even unto the Third or Sixth degree (how the Masons must delight in this!); or if not that, it was vegetarian. Feeling saintly, I bore my virtuous little package of nutritious comestibles back, all reverently, to the studio. ...Eating sushi in one's London studio, don't you know! Ah oui, bien sûr. Had there been a mirror I could have practised just the right solemn arrangement of brows over a pious pout - mind you, I etted it clumsy-Westerner-style with a fork, which would doubtless ruin the Hip image. (Ok, well... let's lay it out right here: I promise you, I shall never be Hip, nor Cool. Those things are... not fun.)

And Now... The Music Part

Then I set out for the Barbican, and my concert. (An aside on the Barbican: Architecture-wise, it's highly suitable for use in your retro-futurist/post-apocalyptic/cyberpunk film. Approaching the place through that tunnel arrangement - it only needs hover bikes zooming past while the protagonist mooches along in a black trench coat and goggles, smoking. Inside the building it's all moody lighting, concrete balconies, and an orange colour scheme - perfect as an intergalactic parliament or the VIP area of a futuristic gladiatorial arena. You could film it guerilla-style - no need to obtain permits, clear the place and install costumed extras; the people milling about inside look right enough, and all you'd need would be a few accomplices with small cameras affixed to their lapels. A bit of subtle CGI afterwards would mop up any anachronisms. Surely this has been tried, or shall be?)

I had an excellent seat for the concert - right in the centre of the third row. (You don't want to be in the front row at the Barbican, because then your nose is level with the edge of the stage, and you have a great view of the performers' shoes and not much else.) It is pointless for me to try and describe in detail the Residents' music and MO - except to state that it's an intriguing and exasperating combination of lies and noise. I've come to feel that even their earliest stuff is way more premeditated, clever and complicated than it seems. I'm pretty sure there is no serendipity or improvisation in it. It's calculated, precise, and unnerving. Elements of the everyday are set slantwise, darkened, corrupted. And straightforwardly perverse, uncomfortable topics are given a special cosiness - pull up a chair, weirdo, siddown!

On which note - Anthropology Time: Y'know, in my experience, Residents fans (with a few notable exceptions - and I'm going to go out on a limb and include myself amongst those!) are... odd. Scary odd, in some cases. Or just... pfft... well, here's a case in point: next to me sat a group of three friends who arrived and took their seats with every display of eagerness. They even congratulated themselves on the excellence of their position, the fine view of the stage. And then, they proceeded to sit through the entire performance as if in hypnotic stasis. They did that 'inaudible flabby-hand applause' thing. It was... weird! In fact, most of the front stalls appeared to be under the same spell. I tried to (uh) clap well but beyond that it's hard to really get into a musical performance when you are surrounded by ZOMBIES. The balcony, meanwhile, was much more raucous. There was a German-sounding fellow who kept making 'helpful' remarks. Yep... interesting bunch.

Anyway, the performance was impressive, with familiar and unfamiliar songs mangled into new arrangements, 'Randy' the singer giving it the raconteur bit when not treating us to the scariest vocals in music (much more appalling than any metal growler and often subject to frightening electronic processing). It's not a species of music that gives you a warm glow - more like something to test yourself, to check whether it still upsets you. Not much upsets me these days, but I managed a score of 'mildly uncomfortable'.

On the tube, travelling back to Holborn, I saw a lady with vitiligo. Nothing newsworthy in that; I assure you, I don't spend my time staring at people with skin afflictions. But the notable thing was that on her ankle, the vitiligo had formed a perfect heart-shape. Beauty is everywhere you look; the trick is to... well, look.

Thence back to the studio - and sleep, of a sort.


I woke up early - even earlier than usual - and dozed again afterwards. When finally I woke up properly I had cause to wonder yet again at how very often Life tends to imitate Art (if you can call it that in this case).

Often in life, how very often, I have had cause to ask myself: What would Meredith do? It is one of those helpful exercises that gets one out of a jam-or-other-sticky-patch with the maximum possible finesse (or at least, the ability not to care what anyone else thinks, which is a useful skill to have, as I'm sure you have noticed). E.g., In matters sartorial: What would Meredith do? The answer is clear: stick a hat on it. (This works every time. It's raining - hat. It's sunny - hat. Wedding - hat. Funeral - oh dear yes, Hat. You're cold - hat. You're naked - my dear, just stick a hat on it. Honestly, try it - you'll see!) Furthermore, let's examine matters domestic. Although we are dealing here with a bijou studio rather than that larger animal the warehouse loft, they are cuboids both, and it occurred to me very forcefully how my experience of waking up in London in my particular cuboidal repository echoed that of young Meredith when he put up in the spare bedroom in the warehouse loft of Sebastian Slade. On that occasion young Meredith had this to say:

“Ah,” said Meredith, folding back the duvet and emerging daintily from its cocoon in all his primrose yellow glory; “I’m afraid I never sleep well in a strange bed.  At least, not the first night, and not in London.  The air, you know; the sounds…”

Sebastian looked chagrined.  (Largely because MQ must, then, have heard him tinkling…)  But Meredith prattled on, soothingly:

“But it is a very comfortable room.  And the tea, I find, is well-kept.  That makes quite a difference!  London water, of course, is unpotable.  I hope you don’t mind, I washed out your kettle with mineral water and used a little more to make the tea…”

Well, I'm obviously stupid, because I didn't avail myself of the nearest supply of mineral water - I made tea with the liquid that issued from the tap. And then I... drank it. More fool me. That's what you get for not asking yourself, What would Meredith do?

Anyway, a little later on we discover what Sebastian has for breakfast:

“Wheat-free granola,” he said hoarsely, “with added super-fruit mix.  And… coffee.”

“Oh, interesting,” came the inevitable reply.  “On the one hand: health, of the chewiest kind!  On the other, the sultry siren call of Lady Caffeine… what a delightful compromise.”

And what did I have for breakfast? Well, it was granola (not wheat-free I think), and it had fruit in it, and I put yogurt with it. Oh dear - how unfortunate. In life, you should never ask, What would Sebastian Slade do? (Or at least, note well and do the opposite!) There was nothing wrong with this granola but it lacked the zest one craves after a fitful night's sleep and a mug of Thames masquerading as tea. Again I exhort my conscience - What would Meredith do?

They were off on their first jaunt into art land, but before that of course they must find a patisserie that met with Meredith’s approval, so that he could ‘forage’.  [...] Sebastian ended up drinking more coffee (bad for him, very bad) and paying for Meredith’s intake of assorted viennoiseries.  Most unhealthy, to subsist on sweet pastries; and yet he looked lean and vivacious on it.  Trust Meredith to be the kind of person to whom two brioches and a pain au chocolat counts as a square meal!

Yes, my friends, on a Sunday morning, what is indicated (after showering and attiring oneself, naturally) is a stroll in search of a bowl of milky coffee and a well-turned-out example of the patissier's art. It was very much a bowl of coffee that I wanted - it strikes me as I write this that receptacles are the punctuation of cuisine, and if you know me at all you will realise that I could never stoop to confining prose 'twixt the square brackets where propriety demands the curved. That's not to say that I would refuse a cup or mug. Where others misplace their punctuation, it is never nice to point this out - as in prose, so in coffee.

It took me some while to find a café that was open for business, at 10 o'clock on a Sunday in May - honestly, London must be the laziest city on earth. I'm sure it's not like that in New York or Rome. But that's the British for you - I think they are not morning people, as a rule.

Covent Garden was nearby, and I demonstrated my provincial provenance by going there, and looking at signposts on the way. At least there was more chance of finding something open there - something other than Starbucks et al. (I tend to ignore these in Exeter, too. I'm not saying chain establishments are all bad, but they aren't interesting, unless it's one you haven't been to before.) On my way I passed a restaurant calling itself 'Machiavelli Kitchen & Dining'. Now, I ask you, would you eat your dinner there?! You'd be in for a nasty case of What Cesare would do (bless him), surely! There was also a chocolaterie, where a chocolate fountain played perpetually - the place was shut, the thing had obviously been churning away all night long. It had spattered all the other items in the window with liquid chocolate. There was something... unsubtly vile, about this. I frowned as I passed. Luxury, profligacy, Dalinian imagery: not the ideal precursors to a peaceful second-breakfast!

But the unbesmirched soul is quick to recover from such slights. On gaining Covent Garden, I lighted on 'Le Pain Quotidien', which looked a good bet for coffee and pastries. I sat upstairs and was ministered to by the blondest, most attentive Australian waiter in all of London. Now here was one of those few times when it could be a bad idea to ask, What would Meredith do? (I, unlike him, have Scruples. No, Clive, that is not a rare disease of the glands, nor is it the name of my pet poodle.) Instead I did what we all should do when confronted with good service - employed my most charming courtesies and left a judiciously-calculated tip.

Anyway, that is to get ahead of the narrative. I ordered a latte and a brioche, and lo and behold: the coffee was served in a bowl. (That other me must have suffered some minor indignity in the coach for the Universe to grant me this small but specific wish!) Very nice it was too - exactly the right milk-to-coffee ratio. This is hard to achieve, seemingly - most times when you order a latte, it is either like dishwater or it takes off the roof of your mouth. The brioche was excellent too and I had morello cherry jam with it. (Meredith himself prefers apricot, but let me reassure you that it's not necessary to ape his genius in the trifling matter of preserves.)

Incidentally, they have a better class of Big Issue vendor around there. One of them said to me, "It'll give you something to read on the train." Does that mean the Big Issue now has Wildean aspirations? (Also... how did he know, about the train?!) At this point I had no cash, or I might have taken him up on the suggestion. Oh well, I thought; Machiavelli will have to suffice, and according to many, does.

After this I asked myself: have I time to do anything else before catching my train? There were three possibilities: go back to the Barbican to look at their Marcel Duchamp exhibit. Go to the National Portrait Gallery to look at Man Ray's portraits. Go to where there are those shops that fulfil the requirements of Andy Warhol's maxim that a department store is like a museum where you can handle the exhibits. But in the end, the practicalities of luggage-wrangling and getting where I needed to be at the right time supervened. In a way I am not sorry: with the right attitude of mind, you can imagine your own Duchamp exhibition in any plumber's merchant, and I've seen the highlights of Man Ray's photography before. As for sniffing round some chichi emporium... well, I like that pastime less and less. I don't like shopping as a hobby activity - with me it tends to be a frustrating quest for the thing you want that they do not have, with added Wagnerian chorus of General Public and Retail Staff. So I went to Paddington and waited for my train, buying lunch on the way from a Paul bakery.

The journey home proved beyond doubt that I am (a) smiled on by Providence and (b) a True Optimist. I got there just as they were announcing what I thought was my train. I had one of those tickets that are only valid under the strictest conditions - your Bum must be in contact with the correct Seat at the correct Moment - Or Else. I made it there and looked for my seat. It was reserved, but not correctly (between Reading and Truro, or some such, instead of London and Exeter). Oh Well, I thought, shrugging at the uselessness of First Great Western. If someone came along demanding to lodge his Bum upon this Seat, I'd be alright, since the seat next to it was unreserved, and I could simply move up one. It was not until we were about to pull out of the station that I suddenly realised why this was so: ...I was an hour early. It's lucky I am (a) middlingly able-bodied and (b) a reasonably tidy stower of personal belongings - it took me less than thirty seconds to grab everything and leap from the train, after which it was only thirty more seconds before it pulled out on its way Westwards. Phew.

How had I managed to confuse myself? I decided that the blame must rest with the Roman Catholic church. In the morning, when I was hardly awake, their clock had chimed - with one more chime than the hour deserved. It took me some while then to work out exactly what the actual time was - my watch might be wrong, after all. Luckily, the oven clock served to arbitrate the matter. But obviously my brain was running an hour ahead of itself. Denouncing popish practices, I gathered my wits. Could I have found time after all to visit some exhibition or other? Well... there still wouldn't have been a great deal of time, and there would still have been the issue of luggage (either you lug it with you, and hope there is a place to put it, or you leave it with your hosts and hope you have time to go back for it afterwards)... and I could not help but feel that the Universe had spoken: it had wanted me to be at the railway station, for whatever capricious reason. Plus, it - the Universe - had not allowed me to stay on the incorrect train. Not only that, if you have to get the hour mixed up, it's much more convenient to be early rather than late!

The extra hour didn't drag (there is plenty to look at in railway stations, after all), and I got on the correct train at the appointed time. Now, however, I did pay finally for my good fortune. Or at least, a small forfeit was demanded. (Perhaps this allowed fortune to smile briefly on Other Me, in the coach!) A woman, going to her seat, jostled my arm and caused my lunch (a baguette with nice things in it) to fall to the floor - describing a perfectly Euclidean arc as it travelled. Gaah. With lightning reflexes I rescued the poor thing and considered carefully the position. In these circumstances, you cannot ask, What would Meredith do? (Meredith would not eat a baguette in the first place - too inelegant! Lunch for him must involve cutlery, or be unworthy of the name.) And you certainly can't ask, What would Cesare do? - for the lad would undoubtedly deal surgically with the matter, and we in our placid modern age are not equipped, either morally or materially, for sandwich-related murther on board trains. (The sharpest thing I carry is a propelling pencil; and besides, the lady had her small son with her. It would not be quite nice to leave an orphan stranded there for the folks at First Great Western to deal with.)

So I was left with the only other question worth asking, in extremis: What would Charlie Mortdecai do? The next time you are on a train, forced to decide whether it is advisable to eat lunch that has recently bounced off a municipal thoroughfare (carpeted it may have been, but sundry suitcases had trundled along it, not to mention divers footwear, and probably the stinking paws of mangy dogs, too) - to eat it, mark you, in full view of all your fellow travellers, who have witnessed its tragic downfall - this is the rhetorical abstraction for you.

Well, Mortdecai was ever a pragmatist, and he knew too the very great power of exhibiting more bonhomie than you have a right to feel. I calculated that the firm dry underside of the baguette had been in contact with the carpet and its inherent foulness for mere seconds; in a world where countless morons lick their fingers, rub their eyes and pick their noses without having washed their hands immediately beforehand (and don't they usually do this where you have to look at them, the dirty clarts?!), it would be a bit rich for anyone to judge a hungry traveller for dusting off a baguette that had lately been the hapless victim of gravity and eating it anyway. What you must do is affect nonchalance - look as if this is the most normal thing in the world, and if anyone gawps at you, smile graciously and wish them a Good Afternoon. As for the risk of pestilence, I reminded myself of my excellent immunity and hoped for the best. After all - returning perhaps to Cesare and his kind - your bona fide Renaissance prince would probably have wiped it on his knee and entrusted his fate to god. Given that the Roman Catholic church had inconvenienced me in the matter of the Wrong Train, I figured they owed me one, and ate up.

There have been no health consequences so far. Hooray for Optimism!

After that, the journey became quite boring: a party of voluble women, much given to drinking lukewarm wine from plastic cups and sharing around snacks and lewd utterances, surrounded me from Westbury onwards. The standard of humour was not impressive: "Who wants to see my pussy?" - followed inevitably by the passing round of photos of an ordinary domestic cat. Pro tip: Noise-cancelling headphones are a help at times like these.
Eventually I made it home - tired but happy. The David had spent the entirety of my absence painting the living room walls a tasteful shade of cream. Entering this monastic ambience was like to balm for the soul. We had something from the freezer for our supper and I told him all about my adventures.

And that brings us (I can tell you're glad) to those welcome words: The End.


( 7 confidences — Confide in me... )
May. 21st, 2013 04:19 pm (UTC)
receptacles are the punctuation of cuisine

This strikes me as utterly, absolutely true.
Jun. 2nd, 2013 12:08 pm (UTC)
I'll raise a cup to that! :-)
May. 27th, 2013 04:13 am (UTC)
I just ordered a new translation of The Prince... Not quite sure why, but I am reading it again. And reading lots about Italy c. 1450-1525.
Jun. 2nd, 2013 12:33 pm (UTC)
Mine's a free e-book - a 16th C. translation. (Ha - there's a collision of eras!) I've been looking for a good book on the Renaissance, if you have any recommendations, let me know... :-)
Jun. 2nd, 2013 10:29 pm (UTC)
I'll scout around. Jonathan Zophy's "Dances Over Fire and Water: A History of Renaissance and Reformation Europe" is quite good, though. Worth looking up.
Jun. 8th, 2013 07:08 am (UTC)
That does look good, but costly!! I suppose this is the Universe telling me I ought to join the library. ;-)
Jun. 9th, 2013 03:28 am (UTC)
Libraries are key.
( 7 confidences — Confide in me... )

Eavesdrop, snoop, and sigh with yearning...

This journal is not a private diary, it is more like an occasional, imaginary column. Therefore, much of it is on public display. However, if you want to read my occasional attempts at creative writing, my Caution Elf tells me I should only show that stuff to my friends. You know what to do. :-)

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