Sunday, April 20, 2014

Protocols of the oenophile, revisited

  Access a mound
  of fresh chuck.

  Mold between the
  palms, lightly.

  Sear rare, clasp
  between two buns.

  Hoist to consume
  by hand, dripping
  all over the lap.

This oft-quoted - and, we have noticed, still widely heeded - extract from a culinary dialogue of ancient Sumer, had left for centuries a central, begging question: yes, fine, fine, fine, but with what wine? At last a worldwide up-heaval was held in the mid-20th Century, affording the meditation needed to un-lock the mystery. Only lately, however, has that discovery been published.

Having dealt with Hitler, I returned to England. I saw my friends, cracked several bottles with them, polished off a few items of work, had my mare clipped for the hunting, got up my car, collected some petrol, and motored to Oxford in the highest of spirits.. How de-lightful it seemed as I walked down the Broad again on a clear, cold November day, and allowed my eye to rest on a decaying nose of one of our Roman emper-ors who guard the Sheldonian theatre. How exhilarating is the intellectual life, how buoyant the air of a learned place, how beautiful its architecture and associations. I looked forward to a fresh taste of this half-forgotten flavour, and settled down to enthusiasm to a life in Christ Church.

The first night I sat next to Keith. He expounded his views on the cosmos. 'The outlook is very black', he said gloomily, filling a large glass brimful of port; 'there is no faith, no hope, no morals: and the polit-ical situation is worse, infin-itely worse than in 1938'.. {S]ince he evidently thought Chamberlain a more inspiring topic, I enquired about his researches into the life of his hero. He brightened a little at first; his studies had convinced him, he said, that Chamberlain was an even greater man than he had supposed.. Had he, I asked, heard.. revelations, of which a summary had appeared in the Press, and which bore so vitally on the whole question of Munich? No, he replied.. and looked suddenly bored..

[S]o I turned tactfully to my other neighbour, Michael.. We must understand, he said, that we are now in a new era; that there is to be a new Heaven and a new Earth and a new Christ Church, for the former things have passed away; in future (he emphasised with melancholy relish) there will be no drink and no dances and no gaudies and no pleasure of any kind at all; and as a supererogatory mortification he suggested that the dons should in future have the same food as the undergraduates.. I determined to avoid any contentious subject, and merely asked him about recent contributions to philosophy.. Next morning I turned up for breakfast in a chastened mood..

What a set of old crashers! I said to myself; shall I ever stick it out? And my heart, that volatile organ, sank heavily down towards my stomach, which itself was feeling weak and hollow after a Christ Church breakfast; and I wondered why I had ever returned to this world of disconsolate reactionary gloom. But that night at last I knew there would be a change, for Hookie Hill was coming to dine, whom for four years I had dismissed as dead, but who in fact had been a prisoner of the Japanese, working on the Death Railway in Malaya and Siam, where he had buried most of his companions, but himself had survived. From him at least I could expect a breath of the old world, - and yet, I reflected, could I really be sure? For suffering and captivity work hardly on a man's mind, which fact the clergy.. ruthlessly exploit.

Hookie arrived, and.. he seemed well, and I asked him about his experiences. 'I am a different man now', he said; and I trembled to hear the words. But having begun, I felt I must persevere, and know the worst, so I bade him speak freely of the spiritual experience to which he referred. 'In my prison-camp', he replied meditatively, 'I had leisure to consider many things which I hadn't thought of before'. I pressed him further. To what particular reorientation of his thought did he refer? 

'Well', said Hookie, 'I have now decided that if I were condemned to drink only one wine for the rest of my life, I would choose Burgundy'. A great cloud rolled away from my spirit as I heard this sane answer, and I said, 'but come, Hookie, there are some excellent clarets'. 

'I thought of that too', he answered, 'and I know my answer to that: there hasn't been a decent claret since 1892'.
After that my spirits rose, and when I learnt.. that Hookie had applied as Steward, I decided that if he came here, I could perhaps stay after all.

  Who could have known, as this
  vital deposition was being tak-
  en, the vines of Bordeaux would
  yield a vintage to dissolve the
  dispute with effusive amity? It
  was not always the case for this
  diarist, who yet lifted spirits
  exceedingly diversely, higher
  than he found them, as he would.

  Denys Vivian Hill became Steward.

Hugh Trevor-Roper
Student [Fellow] of
  Christ Church
Major, SIS
Regius Professor
Master of Peterhouse
Lord Dacre of Glanton


  1. Hi Laurent,

    First of all, you have a very nice blog, I really enjoy to read it.

    This picture :

    Do you know where is this come from, please ? Which photo shoot and who is the model ?

    Thanks in advance.


  2. Hello, Morgan, if you enjoy reading in Trevor-Roper extracts, the search engines here will elicit others for you. As for the figures in the photographs, I seldom have any way of knowing. I wish I could assist, and in this I am sorry to disappoint.