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.


  1. Read the book, it's great! More pre WW1 than victorian though.

  2. Thanks for that, David - 'beautiful but pointless'. We're using that.

    And sp, yes the book is essentially Edwardian and not Victorian, though we had an interesting conversation in our last podcast on what the differences are. The key one, it was felt - one's attitude towards Germany!

  3. Well, I said the book was written in the Edwardian era. And also that many of the items that you research would probably have been familiar to a clubman in the later days of the reign of Queen Victoria (finished in 1901), which they presumably would have been. The internet was invented to give an outlet for the male need to have the last word, wasn't it?

  4. As Tommy Hibbert would have said, "sniippp!"

  5. I haven’t read “The Riddle Of The Sands” either, though I have seen the film, made in the Edwardian or Victorian era, I think.

    Whatever the ins and outs of the The Riddle Of The Sands Adventure Club, who’s to say it’s pointless? I think it’s a great idea. Not necessarily my cup of tea, but so what?

    Collecting buttons, coins, stamps, beermats, Sealed Knot…. What’s the point? All pointless to some. But just because they’re pointless, doesn’t mean they don’t have a point.

    As well as listening to music, I also strum guitar when there’s nobody’s within earshot. Another of my passions is card tricks, inoffensive and endlessly fascinating to me. The number of times people of lesser intellect have said something to the effect, “Why bother? It’s pointless.” Sigh.

    Once the urge to hand out a smack in the gob had subsided a bit, I used to attempt explanation, or worse justification.

    Now I don’t bother. In my most authoritative manner, I simply say, “For those who understand, no explanation is necessary. For those who don’t understand, no explanation is possible.” (Courtesy of Joseph Dunninger).
    Or as we say in Up North in the Frozen Wilds of Yorkshire, I thy asterask, tha’ll never know.

  6. My interest is well and truly piqued.