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Friday, May 01, 2015

The Riddle of the Sands Adventure Club is a beautiful, pointless thing

I've never read Erskine Childers' Edwardian spy thriller The Riddle Of The Sands but I'm delighted that two blokes have developed such an obsession with it that they've started a website all about it and are now doing a podcast describing their plan to re-enact the events of the story in their original location.

When Jude Rogers and Keith Drummond and I were all working in the same office and reading the novels of Patrick Hamilton, which are set in a similarly alluring vanished world, we spent a fair bit of spare time investigating old Fitzrovia pubs which were supposed to be the inspiration for the Midnight Bell, trying to work out the location of the last Lyons Corner House in London or looking at pictures of the spivs hanging about outside motor dealers in Warren Street in the 50s. Sometimes there's nothing like losing yourself in the background world of a book.

That's what these guys have done. They start by visiting the last ship's chandler in London, then try to source some Raven Mixture pipe tobacco, look into a prismatic compass, unravel the Schleswig Holstein question, drink grog and just do the kind of harmless, nourishing things that middle-aged men prefer to do when they probably should be reading to children or insulating the loft.

What they find at every turn is this strange remedy or that arcane perquisite which once formed part of a clubman's daily life in the later days of the reign of Queen Victoria is actually still available in some form if you know where to look. Furthermore, if you find it you'll also find people only too happy to talk about it. It would take a very hard heart not to share some of the their innocent delight in each tiny discovery.

Bill Bryson said the thing he loved most about England was the way its people could get so thrilled about something as tiny as a biscuit. This project, I like to feel, could only have happened in England.