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British Expat Newsletter:
13 August 2009

Hello, and welcome to those who have joined up since our last newsletter.

In this issue

  • This week: Samuel Pepys
  • Virtual Snacks
  • Bizarre Searches
  • Quotation and joke

This (ahem) week

It can’t have escaped your notice that over the last couple of years there’s been an explosion in the amount of personal journal-keeping that’s done online. Many people keep blogs as online diaries, describing their activities and their thoughts very publicly; sometimes the contributions are thoughtful and well considered, sometimes they’re quite superficial. More recently, with Twitter and other social networking sites, it’s become possible to post messages that are only 140 characters long – OK, so you gain immediacy, but on the other hand how profound can you be in that small space?

It’s interesting to go back 350 years and consider Samuel Pepys and his diary. Ask people what they know about Pepys and they’ll probably know that he kept a diary; he was possibly the first person to achieve fame for keeping a diary on a regular basis, though probably not the first diarist. Quite a few people may know that he lived in the late 17th century; a few may quote his frequent winding-up of diary entries with the words “…and so to bed.”

It’d be easy to assume it must be a pretty dull and stuffy read. Not so! You’ll have the chance to read a bit of it later on, but for now let’s look at Pepys himself.

He was born in 1633 in London of a reasonably well-to-do but not hugely wealthy family with links to the Huntingdon area – his father was a tailor who often struggled to balance his books. However, some of his father’s cousins were better placed in society, and Pepys became the protege of Sir Edward Montagu, later the 1st Earl of Sandwich, at the age of 22. This connection proved highly valuable with the restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660 (shortly after the diary begins), when Sandwich’s influence managed to secure for Pepys the position of Clerk of the Acts (in other words, Secretary) to the Navy Board.

Pepys began his diary on 1 January 1659-60. (Until 1752 the legal and financial year in England began on 25 March; many people considered that day also to be the beginning of the calendar year, although Pepys clearly didn’t.) It was an interesting time to be writing; the Commonwealth was about to be overthrown, and just a few months later Pepys found himself a member of the party sent to the Netherlands to offer Charles II the throne and bring him back to England. Pepys gives several other first-hand accounts of political and other events in London in the 1660s, including the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 1666, during which he famously buried his Parmesan cheese in his garden to save it from looters.

The diary’s full of interesting social commentary throughout and gives a vivid picture of many aspects of Restoration England life, including health, religion, politics, housing and even domestic arrangements. Naturally Pepys used quill and paper to write it (and much of the time, apparently, in bed), though he used a popular system of shorthand rather than writing everything out in full – probably to give his diary a certain amount of secrecy.

Most of all the diary reveals the thoughts and preoccupations of Pepys himself. Actually, he was what today would probably be called a “bit of a lad” (he was 26 at the time the diary starts). He drinks morning, noon and night – and not just because beer was safer than water; he enjoys his wine, and often chides himself for overdoing it (“Having the beginning of this week made a vow to myself to drink no wine this week (finding it to unfit me to look after business), and this day breaking of it against my will, I am much troubled for it, but I hope God will forgive me”). He loves the theatre and goes several times most weeks – sometimes more often than he can afford and to the neglect of his work. He’s married to a French beauty, but has a roving eye (and wandering hands at times). He plays pranks upon his colleagues from time to time, often in league with other colleagues. He’s very proud of his material possessions and his growing wealth – and anxious about threats to his income. And he can be quite waspish in his comments on others – he gets annoyed at his servants for leaving his door open when his silver tankard is stolen, but shows malicious satisfaction when he hears they’ve also been robbed (“This afternoon I hear that my man Will hath lost his clock with my tankard, at which I am very glad”).

But let’s hear the man speak for himself. The entry of 9 September 1661 sums him and his life up pretty well:

To the Privy Seal in the morning, but my Lord [the Earl of Sandwich] did not come, so I went with Captain Morrice at his desire into the King’s Privy Kitchen to Mr. Sayres, the Master Cook, and there we had a good slice of beef or two to our breakfast, and from thence he took us into the wine cellar where, by my troth, we were very merry, and I drank too much wine, and all along had great and particular kindness from Mr. Sayres, but I drank so much wine that I was not fit for business, and therefore at noon I went and walked in Westminster Hall a while, and thence to Salisbury Court play house, where was acted the first time “‘Tis pity Shee’s a Whore,” a simple play and ill acted, only it was my fortune to sit by a most pretty and ingenious lady, which pleased me much.

Thence home, and found Sir Williams both [Sir William Penn and Sir William Batten, both senior to him in the Navy administration] and much more company gone to the Dolphin to drink the 30s. that we got the other day of Sir W. Pen about his tankard [he believed it stolen; in fact Sir W. Batten had taken it and Pepys had written an anonymous ransom letter demanding 30 shillings for its return]. Here was Sir R. Slingsby, Holmes, Captn. Allen, Mr. Turner, his wife and daughter, my Lady Batten, and Mrs. Martha, &c., and an excellent company of fiddlers; so we exceeding merry till late; and then we begun to tell Sir W. Pen the business, but he had been drinking to-day, and so is almost gone, that we could not make him understand it, which caused us more sport. But so much the better, for I believe when he do come to understand it he will be angry, he has so talked of the business himself and the letter up and down that he will be ashamed to be found abused in it. So home and to bed.

Well worth a read – even as a 100-year-old e-book with some of the racier stuff taken out by a Victorian editor.

Do you have anything to say about this topic? Or do you have some suggestions for other issues we might discuss in our weekly email? Why not comment and tell us?

Virtual Snacks

Just a few suggestions if you have a little time to spare:

You can find an e-book of Pepys’s complete diary online at the Gutenberg Project.

Pepys was a graduate of Magdalene College, Cambridge, and left his extensive library to them in his will. They’re understandably proud of their alumnus and have a good web page all about him.

Bizarre Searches

Some strange search terms which have led people to visit British Expat recently:

  • are the british kinky
  • climber plants that repel insects?
  • dog flag in the uae
  • is schools in malta as good as uk [Hmm… From the look of it, they couldn’t be any worse, could they?]
  • british plemier ship
  • cat what budgie photo
  • mosquitoes in garages
  • impress your man bed
  • is it back luck to have a maori tattoo if you are british
  • nahar amrit shakti forum

Till next time…
Happy surfing!

Kay & Dave
Editor & Deputy Editor
British Expat Magazine


“Saw a wedding in the church. It was strange to see what delight we married people have to see these poor fools decoyed into our condition.”

– Samuel Pepys, diarist and naval administrator (1633-1703)


Remember last year I replaced all the windows in my house with those expensive double-glazing energy-efficient kinds? Well, this week I got a call from the contractor complaining that his work had been completed a whole year ago and I had yet to pay for them. Boy oh boy, did we go at it hammer and tongs!

Just because I’m blonde doesn’t mean that I am automatically stupid. So, I proceeded to tell him just what his fast-talking sales guy had told me last year… that in one year the windows would pay for themselves.

There was silence on the other end of the line, so I just hung up and I have not heard back. Guess I won that stupid argument!

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