Old, Indifferent Gods

27th of July 1974

The House of Representative Judiciary Committee votes 27 to 11 to recommend the first article of impeachment against President Richard Nixon

At Ascot for a friend’s stag-do. We arrived via minibus, the driver having accidentally taken us in to central London for no apparent reason, and went to a pub down the road from the race course. The place was packed, five or six deep at the bar, and it was suggested we use the bar outside to get our drinks. We make our way outside, and as we approach the bar the barmaid collapses on the ground, possibly as the result of heat stroke. Random drinker – but no-one from our party – rush to her assistance. I stand for a moment, taking in the scene, and making very little of the actions of the people around me. Eventually we go back inside where it takes a very long time to be served. A different barmaid apparently overhears a conversation that some of our party are having about the size of her chest, and departs for the kitchen, returning with a jumper on. I wonder if she will get heat stroke as a result.

We miss the first two races, the party splits up, we sit on a hillside as horses occasionally bob past at what seems a slow pace. In the distance a number of helicopters arrive and depart, no doubt ferrying the well-to-do about the place. None of the people I am with loses a vast amount of money, and the atmosphere is relatively jovial, despite the heat and the unacknowledged weirdness of being in an environment that is foreign to most of us.

Later, at a curry house in Luton, the man at the end of our table reminisces about his time at school, and how the friends he made then, he still has now. He explains that ‘I’d die for my mates’, and tears up a little. None of us is sure what to do, so we drink our terrible Indian lagers in silence. Someone mentions flaming sambuccas. Outside it is raining. My brother picks me up from the bus stop by St. Mary’s church

28th of July 1943

Operation Gomorrah sees the British bomb Hamburg, causing a firestorm that kills forty two thousand German civilians.

29th of July 2005

Astronomers announce the discovery of the dwarf planet Eris.

30th of July 1965

U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Social Security Act 1965 into law, establishing Medicare and Medicaid.

I meet up with a friend I haven’t seen since my wedding two years ago. We drink in a pub in Clerkenwell, then move on to another near Barbican where we are joined by another friend who has just finished work, both for the day and forever, in the sense that he has handed in his notice. We talk about being at University (we met on a Master’s degree course), and I mention some of the changes (I am still at the same University), including the death of one of our lecturers. This comes as a shock, so we raise a toast to him.

The real purpose of the mini-reunion is to attend the stand-up routine of one of my drinking companions. We go first to collect his comedy organiser, who is a good stand-up in her own right (at just 19), from Waterloo station and have a drink in an underground bar. I only have a half, but the barman insists on printing me a receipt. I am tempted to leave it on the bar, to soak up the beer I spill picking up my glass, but think better of it.

The comedy venue is a peculiar bar in Canary Wharf. We disembark the train, ascend the stairs, and feel dwarfed by the absurdity of the buildings. Crossing the old wharfs, tatty looking terrace houses are juxtaposed with huge office complexes. I wonder if anyone lives in the houses, and, if so, what sort of people would want to. I reason they are probably super rich, or maybe where various ancillary staff live temporarily whilst cleaning the office Mon-Fri. The venue is an out-of-the-way bar that looks out across the Thames to towards the Millennium Dome (as I know it, pre-branding). We are joined by older friends. The comedy venue is relatively empty, aside from other acts and a man dressed like Tommy Lee Jones in Under Siege. We eat burgers outside, and comment on the setting. Above the venue is a strip club. As we go in to lend our support to the comedy, some of the strippers file in to work. Both comedy sets are greeted with applause and laughter which is deserved, even if my friend is dressed as a sheep. He makes a joke about Justin Welby and Wonga, which is funny largely because of the outfit, and the notion that a sheep might have a view on something like short term loans. I go to the toilet after they finish on stage. It is like Peter Stringfellow’s underwear; entirely leopard print. What I should have said is ‘it is like what I imagine Peter Stringfellow’s underwear might look like’.

31st of July 1588

The Spanish Armada is spotted off the coast of England.

1st of August 1801

The American schooner, USS Enterprise, captures the Tripolitan polacca Tripoli in a single ship action of the coast of modern-day Libya.

My wife has a barbecue for her birthday. After a misunderstanding in which neither of us watches food burn, the barbeque itself catches fire. I sit watching the flames. Other people try to put the fire out. I reason that I do nothing because I am in a funny mood. The day is the hottest of the year and abhorrent as a result. My poor behaviour mimics this. We eat. I cook a zebra burger, in a pointless attempt to reinforce my position as ‘weird’. I do this despite knowing the majority of the guests for some twenty years. As I do readily when drunk, I reveal a number of secrets to the dwindling circle of friends still sitting around the table. I also heckle anyone going to the toilet, as they are visible from my seat in the garden (unintentionally). The following morning, when sober, I regret most of these actions.

2nd of August 1922

A typhoon hits Shantou in the Republic of China, killing more than fifty thousand people.

On the train home, I regret some of the actions of the previous day, but reason that one of the secrets was actually public knowledge, as it had been made at a gathering and heard by many people. I spend a while looking out of the window of the train, thinking about the separation between private troubles and public discourse.

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