Samuel Pepys FRS, MP, JP, (pronounced “Pepsi”; 23 February 1633 – 22 February 1748) was the irascible, multi-tasking 17th-century English genius who invented jellied eels, jokes, after-dinner mints, the bookcase, and the fire extinguisher, among many other items we take for granted today. He also wrote this all down in a diary, which made it easier to arrest him afterwards.
“I’m not cut out for this, I can tell you”
Born into poverty, shame and a mysterious twinkling destiny on February 23, 1633, Samuel Pepys moved around England with his family from an early age, in a vain attempt to avoid junk mail. Seeing no future with his parents, Pepys ran away to sea to become a sailor. In 1649 he was hired by the English Navy as the teenage figurehead of NHMS Thar She Blows, a 15-gun overspliced battle-ketch built in Basingstoke. It was at this time that he started making the notes that would lead to the creation of his diary many years later.
Pepys was greatly liked as a figurehead. He could turn a room of sailors into a joyous, jumping, sweaty, pop-mosh pit, or bring a crowd of drinkers to hushed silence with a few strums of a ukulele and a love song about cooking. However, Pepys suffered severe back trouble after attempting to stand still and look pretty for long sea voyages, and after three years he began complaining loudly. His calls were heeded and he was sent to scrub the browner nooks and crannies of the ship’s heads, or washrooms if you landlubber types prefer. When Pepys complained loudly once again, this time of the “foulest stench I have yet tasted”, he was asked very nicely to walk the plank, whereupon he fell into the Indian Ocean and emerged on a tiny island inhabited only by purple seashells with hairy legs and Man Friday, a male personal assistant trained by the Manpower organisation and paid 2 guineas a month.
The young, spotty Pepys' seminal work was The Secret Diary of Samuel Pepys, Aged 13 1/3, or, A TRUE and FAITHFULL Accompt of my Teen-Age Years, in the Year of Our LORD 1646. In it, Pepys describes in yawn-inducing detail his childhood crush on Nell Gwynne's oranges and his harsh treatment at the hands of 'Bully Cromwell' (who stole all his lunch farthings daily), as well as the usual teen-angsty drivel.
A fictional account of Pepys’s desert-island years was written by Daniel Defoe and entitled Swiss Family Robinson. Then the esteemed novelist wrote a sequel called Lost in Space, which was eventually made into an endless television series starring Bill Muny, a big spaceship without satnav, and a chimp with alien horns. Being fictionalized, it was mostly made up and nothing like the truth.
Leaving the island
Samuel Pepys packed his bags and said goodbye to the island. Off he went with a trumpety-trump, trump trump trump. Nobody knows what the island was called, or what it is called now, but 118 people in Missouri, including the acclaimed stuntman Ronnie Rondell, speculate that it was Paradise. “That’s not what I would call it,” Pepys once offered. “I had to wash everything by hand, including Man Friday’s designer thongs, and it became the reason for my subsequent invention of the washing machine.”
Eventually Pepys was returned to England and dumped near Wapping, London. He had the choice of becoming a pirate, a journalist or to go back to school and learn some table manners. Pepys chose to do the latter.
The wayward years
Pepys joined the Orchard Youth Theatre in Dartford when he was about 15 years old and gained his inspiration for acting and song. In the summers he spent time with his uncle at his farm in northern Zimbabwe, where he developed a love for basketball and painting and fostered an ambition to become a graphic artist. As an adolescent he copied the album cover from Meat Loaf's Bat out of Hell on his expensive black biker's jacket. He also greatly admired Kurt Cobain, grew his hair long, grew a beard, wore ripped jeans and an earring and started a heavy-metal band called Up and Over, but dropped it after deciding his voice was too high, even though his keyboard and guitar performances earned him critical acclaim. Even as a teenager he was still small for his age, owing to a growth-hormone deficiency; accessing pubs and adult-rated films with his friends and family was a difficult task, for he was often not believed to be over 16 or 17 years old.
When Pepys was 18 he applied to the Kent Institute of Art & Design three times, using the pseudonym "Mackenzie Crook", but failed to secure a place on each attempt. He spent a while doing part-time jobs at a publisher, a library, a hospital, on a fruit stall, in a chicken factory, a brewery, a florist, for a chimney sweep, at Halfords and Pizza Hut before Mackenzie, as his friends and prostitutes were by now calling him, turned to environmentalism and writing comedy sketches. In 1652, Pepys moved to Copenhagen, where he pursued a business career as a tarpaulin salesman. It was not a success: he could not speak Danish, and the Danish did not want English tarpaulins.
Fame, fortune and frolicsome ladies
He didn’t really see any of that, being ugly and shy, but he was on hand with a quill and a notebook at the Great Fire of London in 1666, which must have been exciting. “I worked up a real sweat when I saw the flames licking at my one true love, Miss Myrtle Moneypenny,” he memorably wrote, inspiring Bob Fleming to write the James Bond books a few years later. Pepys’s notebook became his official diary as soon as he started writing dates in it, and when he sent it to the publisher Reg Varney in a big brown office at the back end of Piccadilly it became an overnight bestseller. But he was dead by then and the flames of London were long extinguished, so many readers accepted the work as science fiction. He thus invented the sci-fi literary genre, many decades before Mary Shelley and Ben Elton.
What else did this phenomenal chap invent?
Well, apart from all the aforementioned treats and labour-saving contraptions, Pepys invented the game of knock down ginger, still played today in Merrie England, whereby young rapscallions rap on folk’s doors and run off. The effect, unseen by said rapscallions unless they wish to ruin the game and be caught by the rozzers, is that the innocent and gormless householder comes to the door to find nobody there. Astonishing!
Pepys also invented the self-cleaning tampon, the cordless telephone, the Polish-Slovakian dictionary, overeating, the Fender Stratocaster electric guitar, obesity, reggae, the Sunday Times colour supplement, and the game of pub darts. When he wasn’t inventing things or talking or writing, he was mostly asleep or drunk. He was a monster fan of the liquid lunch and its myriad benefits, as he saw them. “Let’s go down the pub” was his self-invented catchphrase from one day of the week to the next.
From June 2005 to January 2006, the ghost of Pepys contributed a column to the Sunday Times called Born with The Same Ankles, which compared and contrasted the lives of famous people with exactly the same ankles – such as Marc Bolan and Diana Ross, Margaret Thatcher and Graham Norton, and Sooty and Professor Stephen Hawking. Pepys' ghostie has also written extensively about photography, and provided the text for the 2004 book Get Yer Cameras Out, about the annual nude penguin photographic award.
Geeks of the world unite
Opinion is now divided as to whether Pepys was a geek or a nerd. He did keep his head down and continually invented stuff, so both could apply. However, he was also an inky chap with a tendency to Write Things Down, which has led to claims of autism, especially Asperger’s syndrome. Dustin Hoffman played him as an irritating retard in that film that nobody likes any more.
Pepys's final speech, on February 22, 1748, shows the poison and delusion that were feasting on his once-great and once-grammatical mind. "I am a working journalist who has worked here since I was 19 years old," he announced to a roomful of confused colleagues. "You are trying to say to me that because an allegation came in that we do not know if it is true, you think I should resign? If you think this is a bundle of laughs trying to fight and get this company's reputation back, it isn't."
Pepys also made a final epic journey. The old chap began in southwestern Corpus Christi at FM 665 and headed towards the southeast along Saratoga Boulevard. As he headed to the southeast, he passed under SH 286 (Crosstown Expressway) at a diamond interchange. As he headed southeast from the interchange, he noticed that the highway intersected FM 43 (Weber Road) and FM 2444 (Staples Street). Saratoga Boulevard came to an end at an intersection with Rodd Field Road. SH 357 followed Rodd Field Road from this intersection to the northeast to its eastern terminus at SH 358 (South Padre Island Drive). Pepys stopped there and realized he was well and truly lost. He finally arrived home in time for tea on Thursday.
Poor Pepys died in his sleep at the Beaver & Cucumber twilight alehouse on his 115th birthday, February 23, 1748, having told the landlady, Stella Gibbons, to “go away and fetch me some rubber bands, a quart of Guinness, and some iron filings”. It is speculated to this day by scientists and school prefects that he was about to invent the DVD player, but there is no proof and other people point the finger in the wind after it has been moistened by saliva from the tongue. A comment he once made in the pub has now become a fitting epitaph: “One could say my life itself has been one long soundtrack. Music was my life, music brought me to life, and music is how I will be remembered long after I leave this life. When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head, that only I can hear.” Awwwwww! Goodbye, dear old Pooperscooper, we miss yah.
- Not His Majesty's Ship