Tuesday, 27 May 2008

The Inner Diogenarian

Last month, conversation turned to how many of us had refused to buy a TV set, leading to warning letters and then home visits by sceptical HM Inspectors looking to take us to court for failure to buy the official TV-viewing license. They simply could not believe anyone could survive without watching TV. And of course the newspapers encourage this view by uncritically printing official press releases from Her Majesty’s TV Licensing Inspectorate about the numbers of cheaters, and the endless lies they tell trying to pretend they don’t have a TV. While most people now believe one cannot survive without television, we here at the Club tend to differ in this, as in other things in life. Television today, we agreed, simply does not provide the same inner sustenance, the balance between a comfortable sense of continuity with the past, and exciting new ideas, which we recalled from our youth.
... We were also lamenting how we rarely go out to the cinema anymore, as the sound levels are ramped up to 150 decibels to cover the incessant jingles of teenagers’ mobile phones. Out of this came the idea we should have our own Film Evening. We would set aside an evening to view old films dedicated to the values we support – in short, a simple, better life beyond the horizons of consumerist thinking, and excessive modern bureaucracy.
Pridian suggested stiff-upper-lip British war films celebrating the value of stoicism in times of danger and privation. Dr Phil said we should show vintage British comedies of the sort we all fondly recalled from our youth, evoking nostalgic memories of happier times, before we knew what we now know about the world. There were many of these, and he said he would put up a list of ten [see post below] to help us select one. Zeno, as befits his name (meaning stranger or foreigner), said we should also have the odd foreign film, to which we assented, to demonstrate we were not too insular in our tastes. Beachhutman spoke of how stories featuring trains carried a lot of symbolic traffic, so to speak. And so, on this wave of enthusiasm, it was all arranged.
There would also be a meal beforehand, to sustain what travellers’ accounts used to call “the inner man.” It was Harris of course - trying to stir up trouble as usual - who suggested we have exotic dishes. He reminded us how our Victorian predecessors on expedition would have to eat everything and anything to survive. Indeed this was the test of a true Diogenarian – to live off the land, so to speak, away from civilised comforts, which can require a strong stomach. He reminded us of Buckland, the great Victorian man of science who made it his life’s work to eat one of every species – exotic (panther, crocodile etc) as well as British. (He said the vilest-tasting here was a toss-up between stewed mole and boiled bluebottles.) He also got hold of the heart of Louis XIV, preserved in a silver casket, and ate it for a boast. Harris also mentioned Clarence "Bugs" Birdseye, the American who invented the frozen fish finger, and patented the modern frozen-food industry, via his Birds-Eye Foods. In college he had boasted he would eat any species, and during WWI was sent secretly by the US Government to the British colony of Labrador, where he learned the secret of successful freezing of food from the local Eskimos. He said one could eat anything, demonstrating by trying polar bear, beaver tail, lynx, mice, chipmunk, gopher, packrat, and skunk - the front half of which, he said, was excellent.
Neither of these two show-offs was ever a Club member, and so it was to Harris’s surprise we agreed unanimously. For we knew this would ensure Harris himself would not attend, he being strictly a beefsteak and two-veg sort of fellow, who could never stomach a more adventurous menu. (Sure enough in the event, he left a message saying he could not come as one of his cats was poorly, having swallowed a furball.)
... Thus the evening began with a suitably Diogenarian meal. An outdoors barbecue was planned, but the prospect of rain forced us indoors, where the club kitchen was soon filled with the appetising smells of smoke and burning flesh. For, as a tribute to the other, lesser-known Diogenes, who explored the source of the Nile in classical times, the menu included crocodile-tail steak. Croc tail of course has to be cooked at high temperatures to eliminate any pesky tropical parasites. (And if you’re wondering, it tastes like a cross between fish and pork, and looks like a pork chop, due to the bony spine.) There was also an ale-tasting ceremony to choose from a selection of finest English ales. I believe the winners here were the slightly “hoppy” Hopping Hare and the gingered-up Blandford Fly (actually the name of a notorious local biting fly, to remind us of the discomforts of tropical expeditions).
But of course “the inner man” is not sustained only by satisfying one's innards, but by inner contemplation. So we repaired to the Library, where a projector had been set up to show films in a gap on the wall over the fireplace, between the shelves of oversize rare books. There we watched a thought-provoking film, whose name at present escapes me, due to the after-effects of the ale-tasting. (I seem to recall, before lapsing into post-prandial somnolence, it featured the sight and sounds of some wonderful old steam locomotives.)
All in all, a splendid time was had by everyone who attended, and other such evenings are now planned, with a programme of vintage black-and-white films, to be selected by each member in turn.Hopping Hare, Blandford Fly, and other fine English ales

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