The Dosser Chronicles: France

My first significant impression of The French I had received as a tartan-clad child in Protestant school. I had been freshly diagnosed with ADHD, and Valley Christian had recently implemented for all Kindergarteners the “Good Morning Song,” during which we should praise the Lord by concocting a tune that consisted of singing “good morning” in various languages.

Well, I was rather a scholar with the first bit, which was English. Then there came “Guten Morgen,” which I correctly deduced as some kind of Muppets variant. “Buenos Dias” was next, which perplexed me greatly. Then, “Bonjour.” Well, this was obviously nonsense.

My ability to spell correctly French-derived English words has not changed much since this day. And my spoken-French, I believe, has decreased.

It is, in fact, possible to live a full American life without meeting one French person. We are all aware that they bathe in cheese, have hats that melt on one side, and tend to take the easy way out, but we have never actually seen one. 

My second impression of The French came over twenty years later, when I was living in a West Philadelphia ghetto, where I observed an absurdly tall, absurdly thin gentleman, who possessed the uncanny ability to drink to farfetched excess, roll his own cigarettes with the accuracy and speed of a convict, perform great feats of mathematics with his brain alone, and speak through only his nose a curious dialect that consisted mostly of “fucking American bastards.”

Well, now, here was a friend. 

That French look taught in schools

18 months later and that same man, my good friend Paul, was driving us and various camping materials in his Volkswagen Golf along the northern coast of his native France.


It was in this charming river-town where I learned my first important cultural difference in France: there are no male bathrooms. Or, at least that’s the only logical conclusion available to us. All the men are piddling outside. 

Karl Pilkington once said that “if you’re not happy looking a knob in the face, there’s something wrong.” 

Full Pilkington investigation on knobs below:

And, whilst I agree with Mr. Pilkington, he does not specify anything as regards urination. Trusted friends have told me that I whinge in surplus, have too many a moan; but, I had been in France for fewer than ninety minutes and had in my time there taken more knobs to the face than I had during all of my American locker-room experiences combined. Yours truly also had his first experience with a Turkish bathroom, which, for those unaware, is, I am sure, a version of practical joke in France. I, for one, left laughing and nodding to my travel-companion in the negative.

Then, I learned another French curiosity, which ended up being similar in Germany: they still smoke here. And you can even do it at the restaurant table. I inquired amazedly with my companion if it were perhaps a lapse in decorum to assault the lungs of other restaurant patrons, whereupon he gave me that classic French look depicted above. To describe it physically would be redundant, but you are certain, whenever looking at it, that you are the dumbest person on Earth.

I and my guide were obliged to spend one afternoon in Paris. The Eiffel Tower, for those in doubt, is indeed real. But, more interestingly, deodorant is optional, whilst kissing strangers is mandatory. In fact, Paris is something of an introvert’s nightmare. Moreover, you are expected to contribute to the chaos, which does not stop, and people are touching you. French trains also trains rival American trains in the Nightmare-Factor. 

It was in Paris where I first saw an interesting soporific that is taken liberally throughout France. In The States, it is called Bocce Ball. Everyone in France is playing the game, though it’s certainly a stretch of the definition of the word. I am told that there is even a professional circuit.

Setting out for our journey along the northern coastline, I noticed something along the road that I really could not believe. I asked again and again of my friend if there were really baguette machines everywhere. Perhaps it were my accent, but he couldn’t understand my laughter. 

The coastline of France, I imagine, is one to rival coastlines across the globe. Take Étretat:

Your humble author caught in an unflattering pose whilst attempting to avoid skin cancer:

A true beauty to behold is that of Le Mont Saint Michel. My being utterly confounded with the most basic of construction methods, indeed feeling great accomplishment to the point of mania at connecting two Legos together with my own hands, the mind baffles at how this feat of architecture was possible in the fifth century. It is my understanding it be general discourse that, if a civilization were to exist in the past, then it were less advanced. I challenge you to visit Le Mont Saint Michel and then your local parking garage, and we may then again clash intellects. 

In general, France feels old, which is something I really like, as I’ve always preferred the friendship of the elderly to those of my age-bracket.

It must be said that I tend to make it my habit to render most of my experiences into a kind of understated, ironic, some might say, humorous bite to the neck. I’ve heard the term “take no prisoners” of my writing style. I should describe my French companion as of a similar ilk. International relations, however, took a turn for the sincere in Normandy.

Show me a man or a woman who can cast his or her eyes upon the over 9,000 Christian crosses and over 150 Stars of David on Normandy Beach without holding back tears, and I’ll show you someone in need of medical examination, if not of the eye, then of the heart. I’m here to report that my companion and I are apparently medically sound. 

I recall a young French girl momentarily locking eyes with the writer. She waved at me, slowly.

Moreover, the French hold a flag-folding ceremony and 21-gun salute (albeit gun-less) every day for the American lives lost in Normandy in the defense of a world ever in pursuit of Liberty. If that’s not love, then I’ve never felt love in my life.

When all matter crumbles, it is the upholding of the sacred contracts that we make to other human souls that stand, survive the hand of time. 

My companion and I did not speak for 45 minutes, which, barring times of sleep, was the longest time that we kept silent from each other, although his English vocabulary be not 1000 words, “fuck” consisting of 990 of them, my French being that of speaking English. It was here that I understood something immemorial.

France is beautiful country—the French a beautiful people.

I met a delightful French woman in England who said to me that “you could put The French in a box.” Whilst I imagine that you could fit anyone in a box, given the right box, they do feel like old friends, the French. I trust them. And that’s more than I can say of most. 

An Honest Delusion: Gilbert Pinfold’s Modern Paranoia

Honesty speaks for itself; it is tacit, easily discernible, and many applaud its virtue. Whilst one would correctly interpret Honesty as a corollary to something sincere or authentic, there is required, to reach this corollary, a process wholly without standard definition, a process that could be indeed entirely without honesty. Evelyn Waugh’s The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold depicts the darkly comic nightmare of reclusive Catholic novelist and chronic insomniac Gilbert Pinfold, and his progression into the worlds of paranoia, delusion, and acute schizophrenia. Through the synthesis of a guilelessly intimate characterization of Gilbert’s neuroses, and the techniques of unreliable narration befitting of such a character, Waugh both comments on his zeitgeist and renders a surreal story about the inescapable plight of the Modern artist in middle-age. In an interview with Waugh ( transcribed for and located in the back of the Back Bay Books edition of the novel), upon the interviewer’s first question regarding whether “Pinfold is an account of [Waugh’s] own brief illness,” Waugh responds with a hauntingly “Almost exact.”

The novel begins with a predominantly expository chapter that, with the subtle yet steadily strengthening undercurrent of latent paranoia, depicts the origins of Pinfold’s neuroses. One’s suspicions might first find arousal during Pinfold’s fearful impression of “The Box.” A piece of small machinery that ostensibly deals with the curing of ailments and illnesses, The Box, Pinfold opines as “An extremely dangerous device in the wrong hands,” even suggesting it as “sorcery.” Henceforth, the narrative becomes rapidly more self-critical, reporting that Pinfold finds “he had made no friends in late years” and concludes “he must be growing into a bore.” Thereafter, one receives more insight into Pinfold’s main psychological motivators: “His strongest tastes were negative. He abhorred plastics, Picasso, and jazz—everything in fact that had happened in his own lifetime.” Thus far, I’m on-board with Pinfold, feeling the friendship grow with each passing line.

This abhorrence for contemporary life and Romantic yearning to exist in a time other than his own are suggestive of a kind of psychological dissociation all too familiar to artists of a certain ilk, which notion is further bolstered by Pinfold’s distant, God-like description of “his exalted point of observation” and, as if he himself operates in the third-person (the narration style of the book), the detached way he enacts “the part(s) for which he casts himself.” This is what yours truly likes to call The Floating Disembodied Eye, and I observed in this manner for most of my twenties. One reads that Pinfold would “look at his watch and learn always with disappointment how little of his life was past, how much still lay ahead of him.” The symptoms of psychological unrest pester on, as one gleans that “Mr. Pinfold slept badly” and that “For twenty-five years he had used various sedatives.” Pinfold requires on “even the idlest day…six or seven hours of insensibility[,]”suggesting a strong aversion to gregariousness and other more shallow versions of Modern camaraderie. A man after my own heart.

The opening chapter closes with a B.B.C interview with Pinfold., wherein Pinfold describes the young interviewer as “commonplace…slightly sinister…accentless… [having an] insidiously plebian voice… [and] menacing,” making clear his distrust and distain for the younger, blander, globalist generation. Hear, hear. Pinfold also suspects that he can “detect in the interviewer an underlying malice.” After the interview, Pinfold renders a rib-tickler about a recently deceased celebrity whom the interviewers were next to pursue: “Cedric Thorne has escaped you. He hanged himself yesterday afternoon in his dressing-room.” The interviewers, for some reason, were bothered by this humorous take on demise. Then, Pinfold reassures the interviewers that he himself is “free of the fashionable agonies of angst.” Waugh’s quiet diatribe against Modernity’s usurpation of quaint English life, however conveyed through the lens of neuroticism, does not make it a false diatribe; indeed, it is riddled with truths.

Accurately described pathways into psychosis aside, Pinfold’s true mastery of The Paranoid is through Waugh’s complete mastery of craft. He depicts said neurological diversity through prose techniques, chief of which is his not entirely objective rendering of character interactions whilst aboard the SS Caliban, on which Pinfold’s neuroses completely take over.

Pinfold’s paranoia is on full display. He is constantly misinterpreting the words, thoughts, indeed the entire demeanor of everyone with whom he interacts. During a tete-a-tete with a woman who yesterday much enjoyed the conversation she had with Pinfold, Pinfold continues thusly: “I’m afraid I was an awful bore last night… All that nonsense I talked… I shan’t hold forth like that again.” To which, the woman responds, “Not while you were with us…I was fascinated…Please do.” Pinfold overhears further conversations in which he is discussed as a drinker and as addicted to sleeping pills—all such conversations taking on a sinister and highly accusatory manner. Pinfold’s interpretations are indeed ludicrous. And the effect is a humorously dark one (90+% Cacao).

Pinfold often reports auditory hallucinations that occur in his personal compartment aboard the ship. His hallucinations, which he claims to hear through the wires or the vents, range from hearing a priest strongly reprimanding a boy for having “pictures of girls stuck up by [his] bunk,” to the unforgettable hooligans who threaten to “wait until he’s asleep…then…pounce,” call him “a Jew,” and thusly also the apt “Mr.Peinfeld.” It is also through the vents that Pinfold also takes part in a marriage ceremony between his doppelgänger and a young girl named Margaret. 

Perhaps most unsettling is that the scenes are quite effective on readers due to their preying on foibles about which many people become occasionally paranoid, perhaps leading one to empathize with Pinfold, a character one might perceive as insane. 

Waugh’s Pinfold masterfully coalesces the elements of extreme unreliability of narration and extreme honesty of subject matter. Far from pulp sensationalism or tales of The Strange, Pinfold seeks what T.S. Eliot considered to be the most important thing for each generation’s literature: find that era’s Realism. It seems that the only way to convey some truth in today’s effortlessly absurd Clown World is to abstain from suggesting rational, ethical, sane characters to be the best representatives of both individual psychology and common personality at large. It is likely more honest to posit that the denizens of today all share more in common with insomniacs, paranoids, and neurotics, share more with people like Gilbert Pinfold. The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold is Waugh’s haunting promise of the inevitability of the artist’s mind. That, with each passing hour, one hears growing louder the devil’s laughter. 

Plotting over Plodding

If a story were to perform less like a contention with after-dinner bloat and more like a nimble creature flitting across the open plain, then it is likely plotted well. There are a goodish many reasons why one might write a story that plods—saunters in its pilgrimage over antique wooden bridges, stops to contemplate a riverside cowslip—but to incite action is not one of them. The illustrious humorist Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, amongst his many writerly talents, is known for his highly successful snappiness of story and preeminent command of plot. Though he eventually became known as the king of the plotline, Wodehouse reported that his plotting of a story was often his most difficult task. Something of confessed monomaniac himself, he required plotted perfection, a vaudeville-like story so intelligently manipulated and crafted for quickness, that the reader hardly has time to stop and smell the Realism. Nevertheless, even realistic narratives need to move. In Ukridge, Wodehouse’s 1924 collection of linked short stories, “The Exit of Battling Billson” is a typically agile Wodehousian story, through which, upon an analysis of the story’s six major scene-location changes, one may better understand the art of story-movement, and therefore learn to become a bit more up and at ‘em himself.

We begin our jaunt at The Theatre Royal, Llunindnno. It is here where our narrator, Corky, espies “a large man…(whose) air was that of one who has recently passed through some trying experience.” This man is none other than the notorious Stanley Featherstone Ukridge, and it is he who had just experienced the mild ignominy of being forcibly removed from that same theatre. After Corky denies Ukridge’s request “to bung a brick through the window,” the story, only one-page-old and already riddled with tension and expectation, wastes no time pub-crawling to a different public-house, whose “lights… shone like heartening beacons,” in which location a conversation is had, the story develops, and the prospect of movement again looms large. 

Said conversation involves such familiar tones as Ukridge’s managing of a familiar pugilist named Wilberforce Billson, aptly nicknamed Battling Billson, and how Ukridge “couldn’t be more in the velvet if they gave (Ukridge) a sack and a shovel and let (him) loose in the Mint.” Upon a short repartee about this less than likely aspect of grand fortune, Wodehouse shows no fear in beginning the next paragraph with Corky’s saying: “I was in a curiously uplifted mood on the following morning as I set out to pay my respects to Mr Billson.” And in the short span of three pages, we have already been to three locations, presently culminating at another public house, in which Mr Billson is “‘spillin’ (patrons’) beers’” because “‘(b)eer, he proceeded, with cold austerity, ‘ain’t right. Sinful, that’s what beer is.’” After this sound conception, Wodehouse frog-marches us to the next location: “I stood on the steps of Number Seven Caerleon Street,” Ukridge’s trappings. 

At Ukridge’s digs, Corky and Ukridge discuss the unfortunate circumstance of Battling Billson’s new Puritanical attitudes, from which they suffer to learn that Billson, in addition to the consumption of beer, now also believes that ‘fighting’s sinful.’” It is also described, with great dispatch, that Ukridge, fresh out of boxers to manage, decides to fight the match himself. A rigged fight, but a fight nonetheless. We are swimming right along when we enjoy another swift movement to Oddfellow’s Hall for the lacing up of Ukridge’s gloves. Wodehouse summons the occasion with celerity unmatched, the introduction to the hall occurring in the first sentence of page 187’s main expository paragraph.

For the proceeding six pages, a long scene (by Wodehousian standards) depicts Ukridge’s surprisingly capable boxing prowess, and the sudden relapse of Battling Billson into the throes of prizefighting. As it is viewed from more than a few angles, the scene feels something very much like movement or location change itself, each angle containing new happenings. After this highly entertaining fiasco, directly after learning that “a hush fell” on the audience, we awaken back at Ukridge’s flat: “The little sitting-room of Number Seven Caerleon Street was very quiet and gave the impression of being dark.” Even during the last scene, much action is had, and ultimately the story completes itself, as many Wodehouse creations do, on-time, with in a kind of red-herring-led, fully logical, ironically full-circle ending.

Need every story to thrive off a razor-sharp plot such as Wodehouse’s? Yes—if one wants the feeling of movement and action, the feeling of sprinting alongside a story. Some of us might ask: but when do we change scenes? Wodehouse might argue the answer to be right now. Wodehouse does not linger; a sentence is all it takes for us to traipse across villages, cities, and ideas. This lightning-fast teleportation style is a challenge in wit. To be pithy enough to complete such a cross-town leap is, indeed, also a challenge in prose. More still, it is a challenge in plot. And it is whenever these three writerly elements decide to hold hands that we readers behold something truly special. 

The Dosser Chronicles: London, England

All Anglophilia aside, if I were an American Colonist enjoying a toothless Boston evening in 1773 with the knowledge I have now of today’s American City versus present-day London, I should have taken the tax on tea to the chin and saved myself the hernia. 

To compare one country’s megalopolis to another country’s has become one of my ways of measuring a nation’s relative cultural prosperity. My approach is essentially two-fold: statistical analysis and subsequent foot-patrol.

London gets high marks.

British humor is superior; that is called Common Knowledge. And comedy ranks high on my list of human traits. But politeness is no straggler. Now, I am not one to over-generalize or make sweeping statements, but, perhaps due to lingering undue post-Empire guilt, all of London’s inhabitants are polite: every one of them. They apologize, even if it were your fault. An interesting event indicative of this took place at the intersection of Baker Street and A501. One man, rather maladroitly, cut another off in traffic. In Philadelphia, this is grounds for public execution (see recent news). In London, the victim of this crime lowered his window, concerned his face, and submitted three apologies. And sincere ones, too. Swelled the breast, that. It does my soul additionally well that Englanders seem not to flaunt their mannerly outlook on the world such as the Germans do. In Germany, it is true, they treat you well, and, by way of politically-postered streetlamp, they remind you of the fact every fifty feet. But that is for a forthcoming article. Notwithstanding, one gets to enjoy all of this English politeness under a perfectly grey, dreary sky, rainy afternoons feeling not the cultural shame here as they do in other parts of the world.

Maybe it is all of the rain, but London is clean. I understand that rough, dirty neighborhoods must exist in the east of London somewhere–Dickens says it all the time–but I have not any evidence for it. I am convinced that a man could drop his Toad in the Hole on the West London easement and only add to the quality of its Yorkshire Pudding.

Speaking of quality, the American public transportation is one of the triumphs of Savagery in the Modern world. One foot upon American public transportation and you instantly understand The Primitive, two feet and you can feel your brow grow. In the United States, the Germans get all of the credit as engineers, as pioneers of both private and public transportation. These folks have obviously experienced neither London’s Underground nor England’s National Rail.

But neither are Englanders soulless utilitarians. Though a megalopolis larger and more populous than New York, London felt spacious and tranquil, its body kissed hither and thither by parks and gardens, even its streets buttonholed with floral arrangements. And they, those of England, seem to have a delightful obsession with flowers–in particular with gardens–so much so that they call their backyard a garden, whether it has one or not.

My literary hero is Karl Pilkington, but Shakespeare takes a close second; therefore, my seeing “The Tempest” at The Globe Theatre was something of a treat for myself, being the moderate agoraphobe that I am. My delight was additionally increased with each actor’s lines in the open-air theatre being challenged by the hooligans along the Thames reminding the welkin that they are England Till They Die, and furthermore intimating social reform in Italy, suggesting, to the rhythm of “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands,” that Italy can “…shove its tacky TV up (its) ass”–for I had chosen to spend £80 on a Shakespeare play that occurred two hours before the start of the England versus Italy Euro Final.

Later, in a pub, a man with a penchant for making beer disappear with his throat muscles asked if I were Italian. It is fairly easy for even the cultural layman to deduce that this, for me, is certainly not the case. But, what this gentleman lacked in observational skills, he made up for in vim and national pride. I informed him that I indeed was not, after which I could not have asked for a better friend.

Some might read the previous descriptions of hooliganism as gross impropriety, and I should agree, if, as I know in Philadelphia to be the case, the city stayed trashed for a generation or two after the warm-bloodedness of the evening. But it did not.Yes, it was a right, proper, bloody mess, but only for the evening. By morning, there was precisely zero evidence suggesting that a national crisis had occurred. And that brings me to my next point.

I, for one, am impressed by the duality possessed by English citizens to be both entirely civil, yet possess this Bulldog Breed in them to, in a moment, operate as jackals do over fresh opponents. But, never against Sandford’s Most Wanted:

The Sherlock Holmes Museum was a perfect tourist trap, but a good one.

The Dickens Museum was similar.

There’s good evidence in the United States that books have become defunct technology, but it is apparently not so. One literary delight is true: they read more in England. Everyone–and, by everyone, I mean about twenty percent–are reading. I have never seen so many bookstores. I saw a teenage girl walking through heavy traffic knee-deep in a Russian triple-decker. And this goes for the rest of Europe as well, perhaps even more so on the continent. So, it is no wonder why so many American writers turn ex-pats in Europe: it is the only way that they would taste anything but their shoes for supper. You may even have them with tartar sauce here, if you like. 

Of course you will likely experience most of the abovementioned whilst indeed eating your shoes, as you will not have any money left after your first day in London. I was selling my soul each day to inhabit a closet that my host called a “cozy apartment.” I ignored my cardinal rule to be always suspicious of adjectives, especially if they are in the ameliorative.

If it seems to you that I have done too much putting up of London, that perhaps I am naive, that perhaps my nose looks a bit darker than usual, you would be right. Neither did I expect a city to get such a high rating from me. But we cannot control with whom we fall in love, for better or for worse.

Canterbury, however: Now here is a stinker if I have ever smelled one. The Canterbury Tales–especially the part where Absolon is duped into making-out with what is certainly not a woman’s mouth in the night through a window, and thence commenting on her beard–is one of my favorite books. But, Canterbury The Town lacked the same magic. I made the pilgrimage, sure–to a load of shops, and bad ones at that. Sadly, I did not make it to the Cliffs of Dover, mainly because I thought that, after seeing Canterbury, I might jump off.

Bath was indeed a special place. A bit too much of the medieval-town-turned-shopping center again, but it was at least a nice slice of Roman Antiquity to look at.

Strangely enough, Bath also possesses an establishment called The Black Fox, which has the same name of the pub that my family used to own in Bury St.Edmunds. So, naturally, I stopped for a beer and a fish therein.

Matthew Arnold wrote something about Irish poetry being charmingly sentimental but not logical enough, and German poetry as being excellently logical but without enough pixie-bone. He asserted that The English were an extremely successful, likeable bunch with a great literature due to the fact that, both genetically and culturally, they posses both the Irish and German sentiments. And Matthew Arnold, much unlike yours truly, was something special.

Now, I know that there’s no such thing as perfection, but England strives for it, and fails, but there is something to smile about in its attempt.