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More affectation!

April 14, 2021

I’m currently reading H D F Kitto’s book THE GREEKS, a highly pleasing if old fashioned book (well, it dates from 1951: it’s older than I am) and I was delighted to come across this anecdote in the section on Sparta.

Diogenes the Cynic, being at Olympia, saw some young men from Rhodes, wearing very fine clothes and ejaculated “Affectation!” Then he saw some Spartans dressed very shabbily and said, “More affectation!”

I have a deal of affection for Diogenes though I’d never count myself a follower of his: living in a discarded ceramic jar strikes me as too like living in a cardboard box. You may call me a sybarite if you like and perhaps the climate of Greece is more conducive to such things. I can’t think of anything positive he supported that I like but I do like a lot of his popping of other people’s philosophical pretensions. And I wonder what the Greek word is that Kitto is translating as ‘affectation’. The devil’s always in the detail.

Which is a long winded way to not only show you how eclectic and far ranging my reading is but to advertise my latest artistic oeuvre a YouTube reading of THE HUNTING OF THE SNARK. All eight fits and most of the Preface too. It certainly counts as affectation on my part for which I humbly beg your pardon.

I had planned to release it on April the First, the anniversary of the first publication but immense laziness and Easter overcame my plans. So instead let it count as a present to my old friend Dave Langford whose birthday I also just missed. Have an unbirthday present, old Fanglord! It’s appropriate because at the end I not only dedicate it to you but describe the enterprise as all your fault. Which it is and I shall explain why.

Back in the dear, long dead days of the early 1970s (which seemed all gosh wow, futuristic and new to us then) he and I were contemporaries at Oxford and members of the Oxford University Speculative Fiction Group, my first introduction to fandom. I got to be Secretary to his President a year or so later and was later described by him in a moment of reminisence as ‘the laziest Secretary OUSFG ever had’. This was true and he should count himself lucky he wasn’t one of my tutors all of whom had even more right to complain of my indolence.

In our first year there were a few social occasions I remember with particular reasons for pain (one of them was the OUDS/ETC cricket match in which I was unwise enough to referee and got a cricket ball to the testicles for my trouble) and one of others was when Langford, using what mesmeric powers I have never been sure, managed to persuade nearly the entireity of OUSFG to take punts up the Cherwell and find a suitable grassy bank on which to perform a mass reciting of THE HUNTING OF THE SNARK, a poem he had committed to memory and which he was fond of.

I found much to praise in the occasion. There was the chance to recite parts of the Agony (I was not given nearly as much of the text to perform as I deserved!), there was food, there was drink, there was the joy of the softly flowing river. I remember, with gaps due to the amounts of drink, the ceremony as a happy one.

But alas, Langford had not considered issues of security, let alone Health and Safety. For on the way north some barbarians had pelted our boats with condiments from their own picnic baskets: I cannot remember what long lost quarrel brought this about.

So when I rose at the end of the picnic and attempted (as one must at least once in one’s Oxford time) to punt back, not only was I slightly the worse for wear but the end of the punt I stood upon had been coated in the very best butter!

Naturally, my feet went one way and the boat went the other, demonstrating the equal and opposite reaction that I believe was first described by some Cambridge man or other. I found myself first going down in the water, once, twice, thrice (yes, that really happens: another thing I could have lived quite happily without discovering) and then somehow managing to swim to where I could pull myself soggily ashore through a patch of nettles and land gasping like a beached whale on the bank from where I could walk, squelching the whole way, back to college, a bath and clean clothes.

It may be that I have harboured some residual resentment over this incident over the years but I hope this tribute (which is also me giving in to vanity and long suppressed ambition: I get to do the whole thing and all the voices) will show at last that I have forgiven Langford at least of his part in my humiliation.

My wrath towards the Hooray Henries in the other punt remains as incandescent as ever.

From → Poetry, SF Fandom

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