This month was a small landmark for the blog: it passed a thousand views. I didn’t keep records before last summer, so I’m very pleased and would like to thank everybody who has looked in. I’m not going to analyse the figures too carefully. I suspect a third of them arrived by accident and never returned. Another third were bots trained to look for phrases like ‘bomb recipe’ and ‘best kitchen knife to do a murder’. Even so, that leaves enough real readers to warm the lonesome cockles of a writer’s heart. Big thanks to you all. I appreciate it.
You sense a ‘but’ coming. Well, yes. Here it is. I’m getting really stressed by producing copy every week. I know it’s silly, but there we are. It is a fact. I know it risks straining your credulity but I feel I can’t just write a load of unresearched shit. Even worse: researched shit.
At the same time, I don’t want to lose readers whilst I lounge around eating figs poached in calvados and lying in ’till five-and-twenty past six every day.
So here’s the deal. Over the next two months, I’m going to publish some longer, ready-rolled, material in blog-sized instalments. Firstly, a chapter of my alleged ‘book’. This is – officially – the most successful chapter so far (relative to some really bad writing, but even so). It traces on the ground the flight path of a Zeppelin in 1915 as it crosses north London to drop its deadly cargo on the city. Speaking of kitchen knives, the First World War was the world’s first truly domestic war. The Zeppelin commander had first visited London as a tourist. Now he wondered if he would recognise the British Museum from ten-thousand feet. One of his crew whiled away the journey by painting a ham bone – he hoped it wouldn’t be his last meal – and attaching it to a silk parachute. Meanwhile, Londoners were settling down to supper or coming home from a late shift or, like DH Lawrence and his German wife, Frieda, visiting friends over the hill in Hampstead. In Bartholomew Close, Clerkenwell, the fire brigade had a street station – a caravan equipped with a small hose cart. The duty fireman was settling down to sleep. He hadn’t been called out more than a dozen times in the previous two years and then to nothing more spectacular than a chimney fire.
Some soldiers at the front were a bit sniffy about Zeppelins and reports of society ladies wearing their jewels to bed in case of another depredation. ‘What do they know about shelling?’ thinks the subaltern who is not safe even behind the front line from a ‘Jack Johnson’ fired from ten miles away or an overzealous pilot raking his billet with machine gun fire on his way home from an unrelated mission.
But trench warfare, despite the mind-boggling numbers of dead, was not the cutting edge of innovation it is sometimes made out to be. Soldiers have always faced each other across muddy fields. A hundred years previously they might have taken their families to watch from a nearby hill.
The really experimental stuff was happening much closer to home. Now you weren’t obliged to travel, or even sign up: the war – like covid – would come to you.
‘Last Orders’ – Part 1 next week, 5 March.