March. Thaw at last! Anglo-French alliance signed at Dunkirk. Fitting riding breeches. Henley, Wargrave flooded. School cedar blown down. Miss Hunter to Paris. Weiss family. Cultural import problem.
Sunday, March 2nd
Noticed to-day that the snowdrops in the Chestnut Walk are only just in bud, while in 1940, as I well remember, they were almost over by March 1st. The nights are frosty, but the day temperatures are higher, so the snow is gradually disappearing - to reveal in some parts the ice underneath.
This week the alliance with France is to be signed at Dunkirk, an imaginative gesture. We both need the faith in ourselves that the English showed at Dunkirk in 1940. Neither partner can bring to the match what they could have done in 1919. The French know they were losers in the second war and they are beginning to think that we were losers too. They are watching whether the social democratic government can cope, can approach solvency, can restore a decent standard of living, can increase production – and they are doubtful. We are both living at the minute like aged and once rich persons by selling our relics, fur coats and jewels from our more prosperous past. They doubt if our effort has been made soon enough, “for it is later than you think.”
Am really beginning to wonder whether we are nearing inflation and our savings will vanish. Where shall we be when I have done my time here in 1953.
The weeklies have been banned for a fortnight, but have been given space in the daily and Sunday newspapers. Some curious bedfellows: The Spectator, to which we subscribe, came to us as a copy of the Daily Mail, which I detest. Rather unnecessarily, the Daily Mail pointed out that the views of The Spectator might not be theirs!
The whole of industry is to start to-morrow, but the domestic users will still [be subject to] cuts.
J. B. Priestley gave an introduction and boost to a series of talks on atomic energy which will go on all week. “On feet are on a stairway to leading to the stars.”
Monday, March 3rd
Hurrah! The thaw at last! Not yet here, it is true, but promised for later to-morrow after a night of hard frost. The meteorological chaps quite convinced that that this time we really shall be warmer.
The first two atomic talks to-night. Cockcroft [Sir John Douglas Cockcroft, 1897 – 1967, Nobel Prize in physics 1951] the history of research into nuclear fission up to 1940, then Olivant took up the story in the USA …. to the point when the first bomb was exploded in the Mexican desert and Truman and Churchill, meeting at Potsdam, took the decision, which I think history (if indeed there is any history) will condemn as wrong, to bomb the Japanese cities.
Tuesday, March 3rd
To-night, in place of our unwritten entente and the treaty that was promised but never implemented in 1919, we have at last a written agreement with France. It was signed this afternoon in the only undamaged public building in Dunkirk. We heard Bevin and Bidault.
To-night the second talks on atomic energy described the dropping of the bombs by a Group Captain and the destruction they caused by an expert on bomb damage – both pretty horrifying.
A heavy fall of snow about teatime. The thaw now promised for to-morrow – sure.
Wednesday, March 5th
After the signing of the treaty, M. Bidault and Mr Bevin drove to the beach at Malo-les-Bains. Here in 1940 the long lines of soldiers waited to be taken off by the ships which had come to rescue them. The sands were covered with snow. Mr Bevin took M Bidault’s arm and said several times, “Never again.”
The weather! A blizzard last night and everything covered with snow this morning. A slight thaw set in in the morning and the trees began to drip. At 2.30 I went into Reading to have tea with Mary. There were great ruts of slosh in which the wheels of the car were clogged. About tea time it started to snow again. I started back about 5.30. The main Bath Road was pretty bad, but the side road to Wargrave was getting impassable. When I got to the hill just outside the Market Place at Henley the car nearly stalled. I changed own from one gear to another, but the wheels just went faster and faster and the car went slower and slower. However, it got home in a crawl.
Heard that in one big Reading store only one man capable of fitting women with riding breeches as the task of measuring from crupper to knee in a sitting posture too much for the equilibrium of all the rest of the male staff.
Weather report on the 9 o’clock news. The warm air has not got further than S. W. England. The blizzard has cut England in two and there is no communication between the two parts. Between 400 and 500 vehicles are stranded between Cheltenham and Burford.
Thursday, March 6th
No school to-day. As well as fresh fall of snow of about 8 inches, a conference on UNESCO. About 80 turned up, but no lecturers. Kept them in play to about 11.30, when a great tank of a man tottered in, Hankin, an ex schools inspector. He had arrived by taxi from Reading with a dry pair of socks and a bottle of whisky. He kept us going till lunch time, when a second lecturer had arrived. While we were in the dining room a third came in. We now had a man from the Colonial Office, an expert on “fundamental education”, and a scientific journalist (Ritchie Calder), so we devoted the afternoon to these two.
All the small nations very frightened of propaganda in culture, the imposition on the world of a particular way of life – the western way of life. As far as mass media, radio and films went, they (UNESCO) had to handle this problem with great tact, for the only nation with an exportable surplus was the U.S.A.
Colonial chap instanced “Christian marriage” on Gold Coast as an example of curious transmission of customs. Native idea of Christian marriage obtained from Tatler, Sketch and Bystander, with their bridesmaids, trousseau, and top hats. All these now supplied by enterprising European firms, so cost of marriage, which falls on man, goes from £30 to £300, hence postponing age of marriage and encouraging concubinage!
Sunday, March 9th
Molly up at weekend. Said Hester (Armstrong) says King made an appearance at Oxford and given a suntan, cf. the first gentleman! Tom (Armstrong) showed him a watch given him by Queen Alexandra when he was a boy in the choir of the Chapel Royal. King asked if it went because most of his Grandmother’s watches didn’t.
This the first day of spring. Ground still covered with snow, but a thaw started and after lunch the thermometer rose to 50 and bees flew in clouds, carrying out corpses to drop them in the snow. Was able to get Molly to clean out fowl house and put up garden frame. Bees very short of stores so gave one hive, which seemed on point of death, a feed of honey.
Monday, March 10th
The thaw at last but accompanied by heavy rain, which turned the frozen field into a lake and made deep pools everywhere. Also the warm air condensed on the frozen ground and a thick damp mist hung everywhere. No sun was visible. Nora went to see Hilary yesterday. He was well and remarked that he was glad he was going to Dartington as he had not seem much of the world!
Sunday, March 16th
Snow fell yesterday, but in the night it was followed by rain which washed most of it away. This was followed by a S. W. gale. The danger now is floods. The after supply in Reading and London was contaminated by floodwater and all tap water has to be boiled. The low-lying parts of Maidenhead, Henley and Wargrave are flooded. We have had to postpone the sports to the end of May as the field will not be dry in time, but this will allow us to end this hideous term a little earlier, thank God.
On Wednesday took the day off and went up from Reading to see a Wimpole Street Wizard, i.e., a rheumatism specialist. He said I was suffering from a return of sciatica and that it originated in pressure on the nerve in the spine, that it would be brought on by any strain on the back, such as lifting heavy weights, digging or rowing. He did not recommend an operation on the vertebral disk but some physiotherapy. Obviously he thought I should, if not careful, become a chronic case and said I must give up any idea of digging. Careful thought as to what I can do if I give up headmastering in 1953. Poultry and bees - plus some examining, odd teaching, lecturing, coaching. I don’t know. It remains to be seen how the sciatica responds to a more cautious and less active life – but gardening, camping and youth hostelling all gone, blast it.
What are you to make of doctors? The wizard strongly against manipulation. I said it was the only thing that did me any good. That’s luck, he replied. A lot of luck all round, I guess.
To-day we started summer time – summer! A little later we are to have double summer time again. This to help production (except on farms) and save fuel.
Debate on the economic situation not very illuminating. Churchill made one of his usual full dress attacks on the government, which he said was out to reduce us all to Wormwood Scrubbery.
The biggest event of the week was the decision of President Truman to give economic help to Greece and Turkey. As someone said: The guard has been changed on the Europe’s north-west frontier. “It must be the policy of the U.S. to support peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities and outside pressure”. We have tried patience and restraint for a very long time with Russia, and have got nowhere. Recently we have had managed elections in Poland and outside pressure on Hungary. Russia’s economic weakness and exhaustion becomes clearer; there is no point in putting up with more bluff. It is time she ceased holding up the peace of the world.
Tourists are being urged to come to Britain this summer, but only, I should think, fanatic Anglophiles would dream of coming and when they find out what it is like they will go on as quickly as possible to France or Belgium. Here there is nothing to buy and everything is rationed. In France, if you are prepared to spend money, you can buy comfort, good food, service, travel without crowding, etc, etc. We have got so far to Wormwood Scrubbery that we shall have to imitate the Russians and have Tourist Shops and Tourist Currency.
Monday, March 17th
A terrific gale which blew out by morning. Two elms down and the lovely cedar on the (school) lawn, one of the most beautiful trees in the garden. Sheltered though it was, the 70 m.p.h. wind brought it over.
Wednesday, March 19th
Nora’s birthday, managed to get a pot of double daffodils. The floods very bad everywhere and Caversham cut off from Reading. Nothing goes right with the weather – nothing. Nora very rheumatic, but carried heavy basket up from the town. When I said it wasn’t necessary, she said: well, she saw a pound of lemons and then a tin of carrots and they were like gold.
Came out in debate on Naval Estimates that £170,000 spent on preparing Vanguard to take Royalty to South Africa – enough to make you a republican.
Saturday, March 22nd
Floods going down, but now gales. Molly up for weekend to see Aunt (Alice). Has been down to St Austell to see a small farm that she would like to rent, but does not know if the landlord would rent it to two women as tenants.
A man came to see the cedar; asked him if he bought it we could have some timber for the woodwork shop. However, it appears that once he has bought it from me, to sell me a bit back would need a licence from the timber control … to such a degree of Wormwood Scrubbery are we reduced.
Sunday, March 23rd
A foul day with wind and rain. Molly began to dig my allotment but could not get very far. If I could get it dug I could cultivate it I should think. Now ice and snow has gone from the field the grass is beginning to show very green, but no sign of any celandines or other flowers to provide pollen, alas. The hens are beginning to lay but in odd places, one in a bucket in the garage.
Tuesday, March 25th.
Old Mr Heath said he would dig my allotment in stages, so when he does I can get on with the cultivation.
To-day the Russians and Poles in the Security Council vetoed a resolution condemning the action of the Albanian government in laying mines in the Corfu channel, which damaged one of our destroyers and killed 40 of our men. If the Russians go on like this, we should do better to have an organization without them and their satellites. We are getting nowhere at all either on the Security Council or the A.D.A (Atomic Development Authority).
Saturday, March 29th
The Boat Race to-day. Rowed at 6 o’clock, but very poor race as Cambridge rowed away from Oxford from the start. The weather now mild and damp. Good news to-night on fowl front: the meal ration to be doubled for backyarders, but this somewhat offset by the fact that we are now not to be allowed to buy £1 worth of wood a month as we used to. Wood is supposed to be in very short supply as the Russians are not sending any.
Broke up yesterday. Miss Hunter taking a dozen children to Paris, but had to be vaccinated and the effect on her temper disastrous, so ended term with a row because I did not wait prayers for her.
Eve Weiss had some German prisoners in for tea. Before she knew where she was one of them gave an English girl who was writing to him her address for letters, as they are not allowed to correspond. Now Roberto Weiss furious and determined to have show down and report matter, so a breach in Axis imminent.
Sunday, March 30th
Hilary came back to-day from Long Dene. He is in quarantine for chicken pox, but seemed very well indeed, though dirty. Alexander, now doing two hours of Latin a day at the Dragon School, came up to tea. Very talkative, very jumpy, sniffing perpetually and shutting his eyes, most odd. Personally rather allergic to Alexander - this mutual I feel.
The wettest March for 90 years. The floods in the Fens like those described Dorothy Sayers’ Nine Taylors.
Monday, March 31st.
I went to see Dr Irvine, who diagnosed a near hernia causing pain in the testicles. What a curse! I expect sooner or later I shall have to do a stretch of three weeks in bed to have the damned thing mended, and pay out £50. Hell!
Hilary began looking at an illustrated encyclopedia with pictures of planets, comets, and telescopes. I told him about the comet in the Bayeux Tapestry and how as a boy of ten, 37 years ago, I had been taken out of bed to see the comet from my window in Walthamstow and how in 1985 it would come back, and when as a man of 50 he saw it he was to think of how I had told him about seeing it in 1910
(Ed: I did. It was the Diarist’s ambition to live to see the comet for a second time, but this was not to be. He died in October 1984).