Page 80. " Ayrs drifted bedward like the wreck of the Hesperus. "
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron)
Public Domain Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron)

 'The Wreck of the Hesperus' is a poem by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1842) in which a schooner is sunk by a hurricane.

Page 81. " Good. He was getting mawkish. 'You're my Verlaine'. "
Verlaine (far left) and Rimbaud (gazing to immediate right) Painting by Henri Fantin-Latour (1872)
Public Domain Verlaine (far left) and Rimbaud (to his immediate right) Painting by Henri Fantin-Latour (1872)

An allusion to the stormy relationship shared between Rimbaud and Verlaine, symbolist poets whose outrageous verse and equally outrageous behaviour scandalized nineneenth-century French society. Verlaine was significantly older than the seventeen-year-old Rimbaud with whom he had a violent love affair. In an outburst of drunken rage Verlaine took a non-fatal shot at Rimbaud with a revolver. 'Une Saison en Enfer' is Rimbaud's extended poem 'A Season in Hell'. Here is an article from the Independent entitled Verlaine and Rimbaud: Poets from hell .

Page 81. " 'You're young, Frobisher, you're rich, you've got a brain, and by all accounts you're not wholly repugnant. I'm not sure why you stay on here.' "

Apart from the poor state of his finances, he is compelled to stay by the same quixoticism that drew him to Zedelghem in the first place. Their relationship is based loosely on that shared between the composer Frederick Delius and his devoted amanuensis Eric Fenby, who for years put up with the master's awkward temperament for the sake of a higher objective. After Fenby died, who unlike Frobisher lived to a ripe old age, his son explained, "I think he dedicated his life to the music of Delius because nothing that ever happened to him after those years quite compared. Everything flowed from that time. He once said there was no one who could compare with Delius." Fenby's account of his time with Delius is captured in his book Delius as I Knew Him,  later faithfully transposed onto celluloid by Ken Russell.  The film (listen to audio clip below) reveals the striking similarities between Mitchell's fiction and the reality upon which it is based. The image shows Delius in the advances stages of syphilis. His wife Jelka sits by his side.



Click to listen
Public DomainClick link to listen

      Henry V: Passacaglia on the Death of Falstaff - Frederick Delius                       



Click to listen
Public DomainClick link to listen

       Hear Fenby talk about Delius and Nietzsche




Page 82. " Sir Edward Elgar came to tea this afternoon. "
The Malvern Hills: The link between Elgar and Mitchell
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeThe Malvern Hills: The link between Elgar and Mitchell - Credit: Daderot

Edward Elgar has an especial significance for David Mitchell who shares his home town of Malvern with the composer. The Malvern Hills famously inspired much of Elgar's music and Mitchell himself grew up in their shadows. His quasi-autobiographical novel Black Swan Green explores the life of a shy, stuttering adolescent growing up in a village just outside Malvern. One one point the thirteen-year-old character roams across the hills, much as Elgar did when he was in need of inspiration. Elgar is as inextricably linked with Malvern as Wordsworth is with the Lake District.  

Page 83. " Several dead bottles of Trappist beer later, I asked Elgar about the Pomp and Circumstance Marches. "

Arguably his most famous work, the Pomp and Circumstance Marches are often played at American high school graduation ceremonies. March No. 1 is a favourite at the Last Night of the Proms.

Listen on Spotify

Page 84. " During tea, Elgar contrasted my position at Zedelghem favourably with his 1st job as a musical director at a lunatic asylum in Worcestershire. "
Edward Elgar, pictured in 1901
Public DomainEdward Elgar, pictured in 1901

Edward Elgar did indeed work as a bandmaster at the 'Worcester County Pauper and Lunatic Asylum' in Powick, a village located between Malvern and Worcester. The forward thinking board members believed music to have a therapeutic effect on the residents. He was appointed to the position in 1879, for which he received an annual salary of £32, plus an additional five shillings (25 pence) for every polka or quadrille composed. He would often scare off sycophants by opening sentences with "When I was at the Lunatic Asylum..."

Page 94. " He was in Vietnam for the battle of Ap Bac and stayed in Saigon until his first collapse back in March. "
Two helicopters downed during the battle
Public DomainA helicopter downed during the battle  Credit: US Army Transportation Museum

The Vietnam War (1959-1975) was a conflict between communist North Vietnam and the South Vietnamese government (plus allies like the U.S.). Seeking to curb the spread of communism, U.S. involvement increased dramatically as the war progressed. They deployed mostly air strike tactics against North Vietnam's guerrila style warfare. The small-scale Battle of Ap Bac (1963), which occurred sixty-four kilometres southwest of Saigon, resulted in the first large combat victory for the communist Viet Cong.  They lost only eighteen men as opposed to the eighty on the opposing side, including three U.S. advisors. They also destroyed nine helicopters and three armoured vehicles.

Page 97. " a Hawaiian nene honks and waddles on a fifty-cents special edition, "
A nēnē at Honolulu Zoo
Creative Commons AttributionA nēnē at Honolulu Zoo - Credit: rjones0856

The Hawaiian Goose or Nēnē is the official bird of the State of Hawaii. It is the world's rarest goose, and was bred back from the brink of extinction in the 1950s. They will happily feed from the human hand, which might go some way towards explaining how it became extinct in the first place. The ornithology of Hawaii is unique (see bookmark p304 to read more).

Page 99. " Flesh torn from corpse in manner consistent with Serasalmus scapularis "
Piranha fish
Creative Commons AttributionPiranha fish - Credit: marcelometal

These usually live in black or acidic waters in tributaries in the Orinoco and Amazon River Basins. Despite being depicted in Hollywood films as moving in vast schools, this particular sub-species is a solitary fish. It is a predatory meat eater and can reach lengths of up to 30cms. Its favoured food is the McDonald's Big Mac.