Robin Saikia wrote The Venice Lido, an affectionate history of Venice’s glamorous beach resort. Other books include Blue Guide Literary Companion London, an anthology of poetry and prose; The Red Book: The Membership List of The Right Club: Blue Guide Hay-on-Wye; Blue Guide Italy Food Companion. His most recent work is A Very Fine Cat Indeed, a dramatic monologue in which Samuel Johnson celebrates his favourite cat, Hodge. In the excerpt below, he speaks of oysters, pride and expiation.
Every man that has felt pain, knows how few the comforts are that can gladden him to whom health is denied. I fed Hodge valerian to ease his agonies. I bought oysters for his delight, these being soft, and the best meat for his toothless jaws. I went for them myself. I had no wish to humiliate poor Francis by sending him on so shameful an errand, for oysters are cheap and plentiful, and none but the poorest wretches eat them. But were oysters a hundred-fold the price, as they were in Julius Caesar’s Rome, I should have found gold to procure them for poor Hodge, as he loved them.
One morning I walked to Porridge-island, a mean street by St Martin-in-the-Fields, where there are cook-shops and carts for the poor. A small mob clustered round the oyster carts, and I was forced to wait while they dispersed. The day was gloomy. It began to rain. I thought of a darker morning, some three-score years ago, when I was a small boy, and refused to go with my father to Uttoxeter Market, where he sold books from a mean stall. Pride was the source of this refusal, and the remembrance of it was ever painful. Not long ago I desired to atone for this fault, and went to Uttoxeter. An old man now, I stood for a considerable time, bareheaded, in the rain, on the spot where my father’s stall used to stand. In contrition I stood, and I hoped the penance was expiatory, but felt it not. Now, at the oyster cart in Porridge-island, I felt myself absolved, and this was no mere fancy. What we seek is very seldom found where it is sought. Our brightest blaze of gladness is commonly kindled by unexpected sparks. So it was that oyster day, in the cold rain of London.