Chapter One: The Reform Club.
I had been living in London in agreeable circumstances for some years and was beginning to tire of the sedentary life. I was becoming listless, moody, what one might call “middle aged.” One night over dinner (a veal cutlet with just a hint of mint) a casual friend observed that with the state of London traffic nowadays you would be lucky to even get around the town in 80 days. This was just the challenge I needed.
Two days later I kissed my wife goodbye and set out on the first stage of my journey: to find the Reform Club. I knew from extensive research, that all such journeys began with a wager at the Reform club, and a man in the pub bet me I couldn’t even find it. This, again, was just the challenge I needed. How difficult could it be? To simplify matters I took a taxi.
There is no better way to go broke than riding around in a London taxi with a cheerful cabbie giving you the benefit of his prejudices. I stepped into that cab with as much confidence as Jules Verne himself must have felt stepping into a hansom to take his manuscript to the publishers. The Cabbie did not let me down. He was an amusing fellow with lots of cheerful opinions about hanging anybody who disagreed with him, and I soon shut his window and settled down to sleep. I realised that on this gruelling journey I should need plenty of rest, and that if I was to pass through such places as South London, I would require all the mental and physical strength I could muster.
My wife had confused me by yelling Passport, through the window as I left, but as I mused on her strange lack of knowledge of South London (a passport is not required in this country until I believe you get to Yorkshire) I became more and more convinced that she was referring to Passepartout, the resourceful French servant of the indefatigable Phineas Fogg.
Now it is not such an easy thing to pick up French servants in London. The French do not take easily to servitude, and on the whole are rude and unhelpful, with the exception of the odd waiter, and the more I thought about it the less I wished to be accompanied on my journey by an odd waiter. The thought occurred to me that some sultry French poule from a maison de luxe would be an agreeable companion on a long trip, perhaps in a nice starched maids costume, or tight fitting waspie, and so I wasted some time in Soho attempting to find such a person to fit the bill. In the end it was the bill that squashed the idea. Most of the young ladies I approached wanted thirty quid an hour. At their current rate for eighty days that would cost me fifty seven and a half thousand pounds. No French serving girl could be worth that much. Let alone girls called Doris and Tracey. My slender budget would never run to it, and my wife would kill me. So I reluctantly abandoned the idea of the French maid and continued my quest to find the Reform Club alone.
London is an agreeable place in the Spring, providing you carry an umbrella, and as I strolled through St. James’ Park admiring the guardsmen I realised just how much was going on all around me in this throbbing city. I knew that the Reform Club could not be far away and as I approached one or two civil servants who seemed to be playing in the bushes, to ask directions I soon discovered that servants they might well be but civil never.
When did the Englishman change from the polite gentleman of fiction into the resentful and envious burk of today? One expects a certain yobbish element in North London at the weekends, but this was a Royal park in broad daylight. My polite enquiries were met by cynically raised eyebrows, two plain “Fuck offs” and a request to furl my umbrella where hitherto only family doctors wearing gloves had feared to tread.
I must confess to being somewhat shaken by this first experience with the natives, and resolved to avoid the bowler hat brigade in future. What is it about this ridiculous headgear that confers on them the right to hurl abuse at strangers who are not similarly attired in the hat department? Perhaps it constricts the flow of blood to the brain.
I was musing on this thorny problem when I was struck by a Japanese tourist. Picking myself up I began to apologise as one does when one is knocked over by a stranger out of the blue.
“No poblem. Don’t aporogise. No harm done” said the smiling Oriental, taking my picture.
“Where is Abbey Load?
“Abbey Load clossing, home of Beatles”.
My heart skipped a beat. Abbey Road. That was very close to my own beautiful home. Every day it pulsated with Japanese tourists who had come twelve thousand miles so they could photograph each other just like on the Beatles album cover. Should I give in to my impulses now I was so close to my goal? The thought of my wife and my own comfy chair was too much to resist. Tomorrow I could find the Reform Club. I hailed a cab, and pausing only to shove Mr Yakitori through the door, was soon back amongst the familiar purlieus of St. Johns Wood.