SHERRYVAPPA AND THE ROAD TO FAME
There are at least two convenient terms for someone who keeps on making the same serious mistakes in life: an Abominable Idiot and a Cretinous Failure. On a lesser scale, I personally see myself as something of an expert failure in profane worldly terms. A failure, inter alia, when it comes to a rank paucity of the following: money; fame; copious adoring female literary groupies of any age or race or girth or height or weight; dizzying fluency in 10 or more foreign languages; ability to draw anything that doesn’t look like either a very ugly sausage or a wholly charmless boiled egg, even if it is meant to be either the sumptuous buttocks of a female nude, or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, or of Macclesfield Town Hall on a day of thick fog. So yes, I get very irritated by my repetitive bollicking things up, when with a little thought I could have avoided the pitfalls entirely. For example, just about every day, I have anywhere between one and five great ideas for my next piece on this blog. Without fail, I say to myself, I’ll write that down very soon, because I am such a hopeless, sieve-brained and truly insufferable West Cumbrian twat aka dialect tuss (forgive my ebullient four-letter candour, but bear in mind it is directed at me and not at anyone else), that frankly I have no other option but to note it down. However the other default option I have, is to forget the cautionary promise to myself. I almost always forget to jot it down, and as a result, at least five literary phillipics of unbelievable transcendental genius (Woolf, Joyce, Proust, Stendhal, George Eliot, I had left them all sadly far behind and they were staring jealously up at me on my high wire, wherefore I was congratulating myself on being the Number One among Number Ones at long last) and then I realised I’d forgotten to write even a two-word memo as to the essential scaffolding and ineffable architecture of the Greatest Ever Prose Work of the Entire Millennium.
If you are old enough and lucky enough, you might in 1977 have seen the BBC Arena documentary film about the English novelist William Gerhardie (1895-1977). Frequently compared with his contemporary Evelyn Waugh, and also often described as the English Chekov, he published a string of indefatigably brilliant novels throughout the 20s and 30s. Some of them were acceptably orthodox works, after a vigorous Chekovian fashion, as in Futility, and some of them decidedly off-centre as with Resurrection, which deals with facetiously described out-of-the-body experiences, something Gerhardie was entirely at one with. His last new work was published in 1939, and after the Second World War his star was definitely in decline. In his old age he lived a recluse in his London flat, subsisting largely on his own invention ‘sherryvappa’, namely copious sherry diluted with tinned evaporated milk. Gerhardie claimed this favourite tipple of his was entirely alcohol free. But then he also claimed he was working on one the greatest masterpieces ever written, something to knock Proust into a cocked hat, to quote from George Orwell in one of his essays. Part of his extreme allure to me as an unpublished writer, in my early 30s in 1983, was his artistic aesthetic, which I much preferred to that of say the comparably talented Vladimir Nabokov. Both Russophiles (Gerhardie spent some of his anti-Bolshevik youth in Russia) believed in the desirable goal of an exquisite literary epiphany that was transcendent, numinous, and comparable with the reports of those who speak of the Experience Divine. However Nabokov was no devout and humble Believer, and in addition loved his own genius inordinately, though doubtless he would have artfully dissimulated otherwise. Gerhardie was different, because he was profoundly a spiritual man, and below I will provide his theological credo, in a single though extremely challenging sentence. Crucially, Gerhardie also believed that the gentle comic spirit in any serious literary endeavour, allowed for a stereoscopic and therefore compassionate view of the author’s characters and their dramas, their deeds and their despairs. Many Buddhists of course would approve of all of this, as would a great many Christians.
Here is Gerhardie’s single sentence credo as intended to confute the mutton-headed atheists of his day. It does not make for easy reading, but then neither do the Epistles of St Paul or the Gospel of St John, or the Hindu Vedantasara. Please note that for easier comprehension I have capitalised throughout, where William Gerhardie did not.
The Spiritual Habit on the other hand is to Infer from Our Common Demonstrable Limitations, the Assumption of a Reality Outstripping Our Comprehension, Which Ever Stands in Inverse Ratio to our Presumption.
I could parse this for you at exhausting length, but I think that those of you who are serious will work it out for yourselves. But if you’re desperate for a clue, concentrate only on the Reality Outstripping Our Comprehension, and believe me, Gerhardie wasn’t talking about teeny bopper sci-fi, or any other assorted and mock-esoteric ephemera. Meditate also on what Presumption means, which is thinking you definitely know your spiritual arse from your spiritual elbow, which if you’re anything like me, assuredly you do not. Needless to say, and I’m sure some of you will have guessed what’s coming already, when Gerhardie died and his house was turned over by his eager literary executors, no such peerless masterwork was ever found. Only a phenomenal quantity of old-fashioned filing cards, with minute handwritten notes that were entirely indecipherable…hence wholly useless.
Was it a joke or a hoax, or a monumental example of vainglorious and sherry-sodden senile failure? Not in my book. Far from being an example of gigantic failure, my own theory is that he probably recited the indubitable masterwork to his tail-wagging dog or his yawning cat, when fully gargled on a gallon or so of Sherryvappa, and said to himself, why the hell should I bother turning this into a laughably time-bound thing called, for crying out loud, A Book? Added to which in my view, his three best novels, Futility, The Polyglots and Doom, are worth ten thousand or more of our brightest and greatest here in the UK and USA in 2015, Booker winners included. In a nutshell, once you’ve hit the sodding jackpot, you are not requested to hit the elusive and unloving, and frankly not worth it miragic and putrid and wholly inconsequential bastard ever again.
Shoot me down if I’m wrong, he said to the drunk in the corner, and believe it or not the drunk was the soberest, and certainly the most honest person, stood there on that majestic prizewinning night.