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23 July 2003

Often and often, I'm reading something or other and I think, 'Oh, that's good. I should log that on the web, that's why one has a weblog, not to let these moments pass: to preserve them, rather, and to share them with others.' I guess I envision this as a commonplace book as much as a journal, bulging with accumulated truth & beauty.

And of course it never works out that way, because I forget, or I lose the quotation, or by the time I've come upstairs I've thought of something else I want to say on my own account. Mostly, I forget.

Tonight, however, both my shoulders are sore for many reasons (my blood is now proof against tetanus and diphtheria, yellow fever, typhoid and hepatitis A; also polio, but that doesn't come as an injection, you still have to swallow it, and to my great outrage it no longer comes on a sugar-lump), which is as good an excuse as any for unoriginality. Besides, I've written five pages of the old deathless for my novella, and that is enough.

So: coffee. Coffee is the liquor of the gods, this is known beyond peradventure. I like it strong and black; Jean likes it stronger yet, but then she puts milk in, which both dilutes and adulterates, so I feel no need to compete. Neither one of us, however, would come close to this, as recorded by M F K Fisher in her history of food and eating, 'Serve It Forth (1937):

'Frederick the Great used to make his own coffee, with much to-do and fuss. For water he used champagne. Then, to make the flavour stronger, he stirred in powdered mustard.'

Now, I have no idea whether this is true or legend or pure fiction for effect; she doesn't cite her sources. But it is a joyfully awful thing in itself, and made all the merrier by the delicacy of her critique:

'Now to me it seems improbable that Frederick truly liked this brew. I suspect him of bravado.'

Quite so. That 'improbable' is such a happy touch, and 'bravado' is exact. It's for moments like that that I read MFK; increasingly, it is for moments like that that I read at all. You can keep all your gripping plots and your majestic descriptions, if you leave me just the aperçus.

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© Chaz Brenchley 2003
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.