12 May 2022

What if you ask for ‘the finest
wines available to humanity’
in shops in Stony Stratford?

Little has changed on Market Square since Withnail and Marwood descended on Stony Stratford 35 years ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Tea Shop Proprietor: You’re drunk.

Marwood: Just bring out the cakes.

Withnail: Cake and fine wine.

Waitress: If you don’t leave, we’ll call the police.

Withnail: Balls! We want the finest wines available to humanity. And we want them here, and we want them now!

Two loud, drunk, filthy, arrogant and unemployed actors stumble into the Penrith Tea Rooms at closing time in 1969. Except, the movie Withnail and I was made in 1987, the tea rooms are, in reality, a charm-laden pharmacists’ shop, and the setting is not Penrith in the Lake District but Stony Stratford, on the edges of Milton Keynes.

Withnail and I is a black comedy film written and directed by Bruce Robinson. It has become a cult movie, and it appears on lists of the greatest British films of all time and of the best British films ever.

Richard E Grant, playing the part of Withnail, commands: ‘We want the finest wines available to humanity. And we want them here and we want them now.’ It has become one of the best-known film one-liners.

The film is based loosely based on Bruce Robinson’s life in London in the late 1960s. Two unemployed actors, Withnail and the unnamed ‘I’ – portrayed by Richard E Grant and Paul McGann – share a flat in Camden Town in 1969. In need of a holiday, they borrow the key to a country cottage in Cumbria belonging to Withnail’s eccentric uncle Monty and drive there. The weekend holiday proves less recuperative than they expected.

The character ‘I’ is named ‘Marwood’ in the published screenplay but goes unnamed in the film credits.

The enduring appeal of this cult movie means Stony Stratford is regularly visited by fans in search of the King Henry and the Penrith Tea Rooms.

Neither is in Cumbria, but instead they can be found in the Market Square in Stony Stratford, at the Crown Inn at No 9 and at Cox and Robinson pharmacy at No 1.

Cox and Robinson pharmacy on Market Square, Stony Stratford … the location of the ‘Penrith Tea Room’ in ‘Withnail and I’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

There is no tea room in Stony Stratford either, although the town has its share of caf├ęs. Instead, Cox and Robinson at No 1 Market Square is a pharmacists’ shop, and the oldest shop in Stony Stratford.

They do not serve cake and fine wines there – not even the finest wines available to humanity – nor do they have the jukebox Withnail and Marwood threatened to install. Instead, they are more likely to stock something to help handle the bruising hangover of two downbeat actors.

The best – and the only place – on Market Square to find both cake and wine is the Cronw at No 9 Market Square, the pub transformed in the film into the King Henry, and where the pair spend Monty’s Wellington boots money on getting drunk.

Although the Crown has since had quite a makeover inside, it remains a relaxing traditional local pub, with a good restaurant and fine food.

In the altercation in the tearooms in Withnail and I, Withnail threatens the proprietor: ‘We’ll buy this place and have it knocked down!’

Thankfully they were neverlikely to deliver on their threat.

Cox and Robinson and the Crown are still standing. The square seen in Withnail and I has changed a little since the film was produced 35 years ago, but is still recognisable. There are more car parking spaces and the trees have grown taller, apart from the great elm tree outside the pub which has since died of Dutch Elm Disease and has been replaced.

The Crown on Market Square, Stony Stratford … the location of the ‘King Henry’ in ‘Withnail and I’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
12 May 2022 (Psalm 78)

‘Can God spread a table in the wilderness?’ (Psalm 78: 19) … on the beach below Profitis Ilias Church in Giorgioupoli in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I have been in Askeaton, Co Limerick, since Tuesday, and plan to return to Dublin later this afternoon. Before this day begins (12 May 2022), I am continuing my morning reflections in this season of Easter continues, including my morning reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 78:

Psalm 78 is found in Book 3 in the Book of Psalms, which includes Psalms 73 to 89. In the slightly different numbering scheme in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is psalm is numbered as Psalm 77.

This is the seventh of the ‘Psalms of Asaph.’ These are the 12 psalms numbered 50 and 73 to 83 in the Masoretic text and 49 and 72-82 in the Septuagint. Each psalm has a separate meaning, and these psalms cannot be summarised easily as a whole.

But throughout these 12 psalms is the shared theme of the judgment of God and how the people must follow God’s law.

The superscription of this psalm reads: ‘A Maskil of Asaph.’ The attribution of a psalm to Asaph could mean that it was part of a collection from the Asaphites, identified as Temple singers, or that the psalm was performed in a style associated with Asaph, who was said to be the author or transcriber of these psalms.

Asaph who is identified with these psalms was a Levite, the son of Berechiah and descendant of Gershon, and he was the ancestor of the Asaphites, one the guilds of musicians in the first Temple in Jerusalem.

Asaph served both David and Solomon, and performed at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple (see II Chronicles 5: 12). His complaint against corruption among the rich and influential, recorded in Psalm 73, for example, might have been directed against some of court officials. The words used to describe the wicked come from words used by officials of the cult or sacrificial system.

Several of the Psalms of Asaph are categorised as communal laments because they are concerned for the well-being of the whole community. Many of these psalms forecast destruction or devastation in the future, but are balanced with God’s mercy and saving power for the people.

Psalm 78 is described as a ‘maskil’ or ‘contemplation. This is the second-longest Psalm, with 72 verses (Psalm 119 has 176 verses). This is also the first of the three great history psalms – the others are Psalm 105 and Psalm 106.

Psalm 78 urges people to follow the law and it is meant to show the people of the time the pattern of God’s saving mercy.

The psalm encourages passing down from generation to generation the memory of ‘the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done of the deeds of God.’ It reflects specifically on the time of Moses and the freed people in the wilderness.

‘He made streams come out of the rock, and caused waters to flow down like rivers’ (Psalm 78: 16) … the weir on the River Dodder at Firhouse, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Psalm 78 (NRSVA):

A Maskil of Asaph.

1 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
2 I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
3 things that we have heard and known,
that our ancestors have told us.
4 We will not hide them from their children;
we will tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.

5 He established a decree in Jacob,
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our ancestors
to teach to their children;
6 that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and rise up and tell them to their children,
7 so that they should set their hope in God,
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments;
8 and that they should not be like their ancestors,
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
whose spirit was not faithful to God.

9 The Ephraimites, armed with the bow,
turned back on the day of battle.
10 They did not keep God’s covenant,
but refused to walk according to his law.
11 They forgot what he had done,
and the miracles that he had shown them.
12 In the sight of their ancestors he worked marvels
in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan.
13 He divided the sea and let them pass through it,
and made the waters stand like a heap.
14 In the daytime he led them with a cloud,
and all night long with a fiery light.
15 He split rocks open in the wilderness,
and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
16 He made streams come out of the rock,
and caused waters to flow down like rivers.

17 Yet they sinned still more against him,
rebelling against the Most High in the desert.
18 They tested God in their heart
by demanding the food they craved.
19 They spoke against God, saying,
‘Can God spread a table in the wilderness?
20 Even though he struck the rock so that water gushed out
and torrents overflowed,
can he also give bread,
or provide meat for his people?’

21 Therefore, when the Lord heard, he was full of rage;
a fire was kindled against Jacob,
his anger mounted against Israel,
22 because they had no faith in God,
and did not trust his saving power.
23 Yet he commanded the skies above,
and opened the doors of heaven;
24 he rained down on them manna to eat,
and gave them the grain of heaven.
25 Mortals ate of the bread of angels;
he sent them food in abundance.
26 He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens,
and by his power he led out the south wind;
27 he rained flesh upon them like dust,
winged birds like the sand of the seas;
28 he let them fall within their camp,
all around their dwellings.
29 And they ate and were well filled,
for he gave them what they craved.
30 But before they had satisfied their craving,
while the food was still in their mouths,
31 the anger of God rose against them
and he killed the strongest of them,
and laid low the flower of Israel.

32 In spite of all this they still sinned;
they did not believe in his wonders.
33 So he made their days vanish like a breath,
and their years in terror.
34 When he killed them, they sought for him;
they repented and sought God earnestly.
35 They remembered that God was their rock,
the Most High God their redeemer.
36 But they flattered him with their mouths;
they lied to him with their tongues.
37 Their heart was not steadfast towards him;
they were not true to his covenant.
38 Yet he, being compassionate,
forgave their iniquity,
and did not destroy them;
often he restrained his anger,
and did not stir up all his wrath.
39 He remembered that they were but flesh,
a wind that passes and does not come again.
40 How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness
and grieved him in the desert!
41 They tested God again and again,
and provoked the Holy One of Israel.
42 They did not keep in mind his power,
or the day when he redeemed them from the foe;
43 when he displayed his signs in Egypt,
and his miracles in the fields of Zoan.
44 He turned their rivers to blood,
so that they could not drink of their streams.
45 He sent among them swarms of flies, which devoured them,
and frogs, which destroyed them.
46 He gave their crops to the caterpillar,
and the fruit of their labour to the locust.
47 He destroyed their vines with hail,
and their sycamores with frost.
48 He gave over their cattle to the hail,
and their flocks to thunderbolts.
49 He let loose on them his fierce anger,
wrath, indignation, and distress,
a company of destroying angels.
50 He made a path for his anger;
he did not spare them from death,
but gave their lives over to the plague.
51 He struck all the firstborn in Egypt,
the first issue of their strength in the tents of Ham.
52 Then he led out his people like sheep,
and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.
53 He led them in safety, so that they were not afraid;
but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.
54 And he brought them to his holy hill,
to the mountain that his right hand had won.
55 He drove out nations before them;
he apportioned them for a possession
and settled the tribes of Israel in their tents.

56 Yet they tested the Most High God,
and rebelled against him.
They did not observe his decrees,
57 but turned away and were faithless like their ancestors;
they twisted like a treacherous bow.
58 For they provoked him to anger with their high places;
they moved him to jealousy with their idols.
59 When God heard, he was full of wrath,
and he utterly rejected Israel.
60 He abandoned his dwelling at Shiloh,
the tent where he dwelt among mortals,
61 and delivered his power to captivity,
his glory to the hand of the foe.
62 He gave his people to the sword,
and vented his wrath on his heritage.
63 Fire devoured their young men,
and their girls had no marriage song.
64 Their priests fell by the sword,
and their widows made no lamentation.
65 Then the Lord awoke as from sleep,
like a warrior shouting because of wine.
66 He put his adversaries to rout;
he put them to everlasting disgrace.

67 He rejected the tent of Joseph,
he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim;
68 but he chose the tribe of Judah,
Mount Zion, which he loves.
69 He built his sanctuary like the high heavens,
like the earth, which he has founded for ever.
70 He chose his servant David,
and took him from the sheepfolds;
71 from tending the nursing ewes he brought him
to be the shepherd of his people Jacob,
of Israel, his inheritance.
72 With upright heart he tended them,
and guided them with skilful hand.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Celebration in Casablanca.’ It was introduced on Sunday morning by the Right Revd David Hamid, Suffragan Bishop in Europe.

The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (12 May 2022) invites us to pray:

We pray for initiatives such as the Programme for Christian-Muslim Relations in Africa, which seeks to build relationships between people of different faiths.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org