December. Lear at Oxford. Lady Periam at Balliol. Prefects' Party. Country deserted. Joy Richards. State Railways. Toys hard to find. Bad year: began with bread rationing, ended with potato rationing.
Monday, Dec 1st
Exceeding cold, 20 degrees of frost at night. Went over to the New Theatre, Oxford, with 30 children to see King Lear. Very reluctant to turn out in the bitter cold, but enjoyed it though tough going; only one break and the first half lasted an hour and 50 minutes. Donald Wolfit played Lear as an old man
Much rioting in Palestine and excitement in all the Arab countries when the weekend decision to partition Palestine became known. No one in the U.N.O. shows any enthusiasm to take on the job of policing the country and enforcing the settlement. Perhaps the blood thirsty threats of the Arab League are only threats, but it looks as if the Palestinians will have a rough passage in the next months.
Sunday, Dec 7th
Went to Balliol dinner yesterday to discuss points about college entry. The other headmasters came from Winchester, Clifton, Charterhouse, King Edward VI Sheffield, Accrington etc, etc, and were full of the technical details of the new examination proposals of which I knew little and cared less, I am afraid. Colleges in winter are beastly uncomfortable places. At Balliol even when in the S.C.R. (Senior Common Room) you have to walk 50 yards to have a pee and if you do not know the way in the dark this is full of hazards. Bedrooms very cold and no towel provided. For me now a night in college has no attractions. Breakfast was in Hall with the undergraduates. The scout informed me that I was entitled to two pieces of leathery toast; I also had porridge and an egg. After that we sat for two hours in a freezing cold room. Came away shivering and caught the 12.30 bus to Henley. The college did put on a good dinner; goose, a nice sweet of grapefruit and cream, a savoury, a pear and biscuit – sherry, burgundy, port, coffee and beer (if you could face it). The Balliol common room made me feel on a level with some of the bottom of 4B. The master, Lord Lindsay, like a mangy but formidable lion.
Sunday, Dec 14th
The Russians want their reparation claims to be met, that is paid by the U.S.A. and G.B….. They accuse the U.S.A. of making money out of coal and timber in their zones, but refused to give any information about the amount of plant they have removed from the east…. They want four power control of the Ruhr without four power economic unity. “We are wasting our time and there is no time to waste,” said Mr Marshall. Meanwhile the Germans are drawing up a draft constitution for the west to be put into operation if the talks between the foreign ministers fail.
We had the Prefects’ Party last night. It was a good one. The dancing of the boys much improved and in general the social standard higher than it used to be. The staff did a shadow pantomime and the prefects a frightfully bad version of The Dear Departed, so bad that it was really funny. The Head Boy ate a lot of his moustache with his sandwich.
Monday, Dec 15th 10.50 p.m.
We have come to a decisive cross roads to-night. The conference with the Russians has broken down.…. Germany will be divided and the frontier between East and West will be the Elbe. It has taken two years to reach this point, but at last after endless delay and much patience and much provocation we are there.
Saturday, Dec 20th
It seems a waste of time to try to find out what are the real motives behind Russian policy. We are now free of Molotoff’s veto and his boorishness and his unpleasant habit of reiterating charges that he must know are false, and we can get on with the constructive job of making western Europe prosperous and contented once again with American help and advice. This is what the Russians are frightened of and have been doing their best to delay. Yesterday Mr Truman made his loan proposals under the Marshall Plan to Congress – “A grand design to breathe life into the Old World with the help of the New”; £4,250 million will be spread between April 1948 and June 1952, partly in grants, partly in loans, which a new agency is to be set up to administer. This is Europe’s great chance.
Went with Hilary to see a play of Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Snow Queen done by the Young Vic company and well staged and acted. Hilary remarked that he did not care for films much and preferred plays, though he was not very keen on these. He returned from Dartington on Wednesday with a guinea pig in a basket, a rucksack, a case and a viola. Still does not know his tables, but Nora said: “If you want him to learn his tables you should have sent him to another school.” Hope what he is learning at Dartington, which seems a very wide general knowledge, as good!
Sunday, Dec 21st
Charles II said England was a country in which you could live out all the year round. Doubtful about that, but it is a country where you can picnic most of the year. To-day took lunch out with Mary and ate it in the sun under a sheltering spinney on top of Streatley Hill, had hardboiled eggs, wholemeal bread, nuts, oranges, chocolate and a cup of soup.
Mr Molotoff really had a good run for his money at the conference considering that before it met at all he had set up the Communist International, liquidated (i.e., murdered) democracy in East Europe and attempted revolution in France and Italy. I think the time for appeasement is over and we must lead and arrange our part of Europe, economically, politically and militarily…. It is rot to talk about dividing Europe. Europe is already divided and the communists are terrorizing their half of Germany with the help of the Russian military power….
Very few cars now seen in the towns and the country roads quite deserted, but very hard on the country dwellers whose recreational and social opportunities are terribly restricted. Pubs and clubs, dramatics, Young Farmers, dances, sales, etc, all affected. One unforeseen effect is that dealers can buy cheaply in the country and sell dear in the towns.
However, no question that we are turning the corner compared with last year. If we can do it war, well, dammit, we can do it in peace!
Monday, Dec 23rd
Went to Reading with Hilary and was fotographed [sic] by the Polyfoto people, bought a 4 gallon milk bucket for Molly, had a haircut with some difficulty because of the queues, and purchased two bottles of wine, one a white Bordeaux for 12/6, the other a port type Australian wine, also 12/6.
Yesterday Nora took Hilary to the circus at Olympia. He was most anxious to go and had been listening to a description of it on the wireless. We found that the only time to get in without long queuing was before Christmas, so they set off. Went over to Reading, but found Mary poorly and in low spirits.
At the end of term had a nice party of staff and wives in staff hostel at Homelands; all sorts of fun and games and an excellent supper, well arranged, and at the end a present for everyone. Joy Richards, the charming and delightful domestic science mistress, is going, to my great regret.
The latest annoyance an acute shortage of screws (of all things); some popular sizes very difficult to get. Saws have been unobtainable for months, and after much trying found it impossible to get Hilary a football. Toys are as usual very poor in quality and an absurd price.
Presents at breakfast. Nora gave me a bottle of Bordeaux, Hilary a pair of secateurs, Molly a handkerchief, from Mary Mumford’s The Culture of Cities, and Maud a calendar for 1/6 (she must be browned off). After breakfast took Len Hayes and Tom Wheeler their presents and cut decorations, a year of hardly any berries on the holly; cut mainly box and magnolia with yellow winter jasmine.
Dinner at one o’clock. Tomato soup, 2 roast chickens, sprouts and potatoes. Christmas pudding and cream (synthetic). Peaches apples and nuts. White Bordeaux and Australian port. Tea.
The weather mild with sunny intervals and though it rained in the night the day was fine. Got the washing up done in time to hear the Empire broadcast programme. Or rather just the end of it – a miner, a Polish lodger and the miner’s wife introducing the King, very well done. Wish more good will in general supply and not simply in British Commonwealth.
About four o’clock three boys of Hilary’s age turned up from the Alexandra Orphanage Camp to stay the night. … The boys played games and ate a hearty tea, but to our surprise became sleepy about 7.30 and were in bed by 8, whereas Nora had forecast a late night. This enabled us to have a peaceful evening and listen to Tommy Handley in comfort.
Find great difficulty feeding the hens in the holiday when school scraps cut off and potatoes rationed to 3lb a [ration] book. Don't know what I should do if I hadn't a sack of oatmeal by me.
We sat down six to lunch but the chickens were ample for to-day and ourselves to-morrow. The boys departed after lunch. Reading Guedella’s Palmerston and Evelyn’s Diary. The account of Evelyn's grand tour abroad while the civil war was being fought at home very good reading. But the day seemed very long, little to listen to on wireless, no newspapers. All the vices one condemned as a young man in ones elders – their addiction to breakfast in bed, their dislike of visitors or visits, their limpet-like attachment to their own fireside and home – all these one recognizes more and more obviously in oneself.
Saturday, Dec 27th
Began work on frames for bees, scraping, cleaning and sorting…. Hilary making heavy weather of letters of thanks, a nightmare for children which follows Christmas, though nothing to him compared with what Nora went through, and I certainly remember spoiling a lot of notepaper in my time too.
Sunday, Dec 28th
On January 1 the Railways become state property. There is a tremendous wagon shortage, 200,000; a passenger coach shortage, 5,000; and 8,000 of the engines are over-age, some 50 years old. Permanent way renewal is two years behind schedule. So it is no picnic for the new Railway Executive.
Monday, Dec 29th
Went up to London with Nora and Hilary. In the morning they went to Westminster Abbey to see the Battle of Britain window. Here Hilary saw a nun praying. Why do people do that? What is she doing? he enquired. I went to Burlington House to see the Indian art exhibition. It was an unpopular exhibition, hence the exhibits could be seen, which is always an advantage. There was some marvellous early sculpture there, very beautiful, erotic and sensual but lovely. We met for lunch at Phyllis Auty’s flat. After lunch we went to see Charley’s Aunt at the Cambridge Theatre. Hilary enjoyed it very much and I enjoyed watching him. I remember well seeing it for the first time, but when or where I am not sure. I was probably older than Hilary, but not a great deal.
Tuesday, Dec 30th
Set off with Hilary to Roel Hill Farm. We arrived at Notgrove Station at 12.30 and were soon driving cautiously over the snow covered road to the farm. It was bitterly cold at 800 feet, but lovely views across the hills. The house consisted of two up and two down, walls eighteen inches thick, small low windows, stone floors, but an excellent stove and hot water and (modern) sanitation had been put in. The outbuildings were large and belonged to a bygone period when there were 10 plough teams, but half of them have fallen into ruin; there were yards for fattening bullocks, a rick yard etc. Molly had bought two Ayrshire cows, Myrtle and Marguerite, and one was expected to calve while we were there, but didn’t, much to Hilary’s disappointment. However, a Welsh collie called Mott arrived and he was a great feature. Hilary much enjoyed the farm, driving the cows and heifers, climbing over the ricks and bales of straw and hay and collecting eggs.
Wednesday, Dec 31st
Until a week ago Ruth and Molly had no wireless and occasionally forgot what day of the week it was, but they now they have bought a portable with a battery. I did not stay up to see the New Year in, but Molly listened to it in bed with the sound very low
1947 a bad year, the delayed shock after six years of war hit us fair and square, and the weather was most unlucky, the winter one of the worst in the last sixty years followed by a summer drought, so we began with bread and ended with potato rationing! However, the year ended with an industrial come back and the nation getting down to it. International relations deteriorated steadily and any common policy of the three great powers became more and more unlikely.