December. Prize Day. Mrs C on headmasters. Jimmy Edwards at Prefects Party. My Hirons. Clayden boys. On road to recovery: brighter outlook.
Wednesday, Dec 1st
Prize Day. Professor Brierley [1889 – 1962, Professor Emeritus of agricultural botany at Reading University] said we are only at the beginning of an agricultural revolution through plant genetics.They have got over the main difficulty of plant hybridisation – sterility – and possibilities are amazing, frost resistant potatoes, perennial wheat, and so on, which can make the Arctic the great food producing area of the future. Made a short but good speech to children urging them to be “producers” rather than transformers or distributors. I tried to make my report a little less dull than usual and inserted among many things my report of July 8th last. One governor said it was the most interesting H.M.’s report he had ever heard, not much praise perhaps, but I was pleased.
A great fog, went on in London for 114 hours, and no sun here this week till a few minutes this afternoon. Very cold and damp and depressing. Started a cold, on lip, then throat, but not much nose, thank goodness. Have not had a cold on Prize Day since 1934.
Friday, Dec 3rd
Professor an authority on Switzerland and N anxious to go there for a holiday. Mentioned this to M, who cut up rough on the grounds that in 1942 I had said I would like to go with her, but don’t see why Hilary should be done out of a possible holiday abroad, though don’t know if we can afford it anyway. Rows in January, July and December. A bit much, I feel.
Name of new Christmas pantomime: Ali Baba and the Board of Trade.
Saturday, Dec 4th
An all day conference on Visual Aids, which meant being shut up in artificial light or darkness for most of the day in the intervals of making polite conversation with the speakers etc. About 35 came and we had an engineer H.M.I. in the morning and a Birmingham H.M. in the afternoon. Saw the latest types of film and film strip projector. Took the chair and told the story of the hirsute and bearded Edwardian master who lost his whiskers.
Monday, Dec 5th
Heard Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals read on the Third Programme. What a comfortable life she lead and how pleasant journal is to read, being taken up with simple country things. How dull one seems in comparison and yet life now is pleasant enough, a nice warm house, hot water, bottles in bed at night, an electric kettle in the morning, a short walk to work, home for tea about four and a long evening with supper by the fire listening to music. Household chores are the snag, feeding the chickens twice a day, coals, washing up, making beds, filling bottles. However, sometimes wake up in the night and think all will soon be dead before we have had time to do much!
The Berliners in the western zone of the city have held elections; in the Russian zone none were allowed. Those who voted voted 86% for the western parties, or rather 86% of the electorate went to poll. The city is completely split now as the Russians have set up their own communist city government in their zone.
Thursday, Dec 9th
Went over to Oxford to conference of H.M.s and senior mistresses on the new examination set up which is to come into operation in 1950. The Norwood Committee proposed to abolish external examinations at School Certificate level, but a compromise has been reached, which seems to land us pretty much where we started from (Added in 1964: Worse. We became more examination ridden than ever). Anyway meeting a waste of time, and Mrs Clayden said, after seeing H.M.s “I can’t think why anyone entrusts children to such men.” Took Clifford and Mrs C into Union to see Debating Hall. Got back in time to see a fearful play called Wasn’t it Odd put on by new science master in Town Hall. It was very odd indeed that anyone wanted to act in it at all, still more that anyone should pay to see it. Sat through it because were so few people there I should have been observed getting to the door.
Tuesday, Dec 14th
Rehearsing play for Prefects Party on Saturday – Ourselves in the Staff Room.
Heard an excellent play on Hamlet – Why did he not kill the King? Because he got into the hands of Lady Macbeth’s doctor, a psychoanalyst – When the play starts he is still living in a tower of the palace at Elsinore and is brought down to tell his tale to King Fortinbras and Horatio, who is now court chamberlain and is exactly like Polonius. Very clever and entertaining.
U.N.O. Assembly has now broken up after sitting for 12 weeks and accomplishing nothing at all. Too many words, as Times said, and too much slanging. The groundnut scheme has run into all sorts of difficulties and is not going to produce much this year.
Saturday, Dec 18th
The Prefects’ Party. Somewhat marred by the fact that two of the staff introduced a radio comic [Jimmy Edwards, a friend of Vaughan-Jones in the R.A.F. and at Cambridge] under the counter so to speak, and there were grave doubts that when he came up at 10 0’clock he might not be entirely sober – this proved unfounded, but his presence was concealed from me and I took a rather dim view of the whole proceeding.
Sunday, Dec 19th
Went over to see Wilk in Nuffield Ward of Berkshire Hospital. Don’t keep them there long, turn over very high, but too many people looking like corpses for my liking. Still in a large ward of that kind with 24 beds there is always something going on; different from a private room at Dunedin.
Met Hilary at 1.15 from Penshurst. Extremely cold he looked carrying a goose for Christmas. But his attitude to school was very different from attitude to Dartington, though still very undemonstrative and rather lonely in holidays. N says we should have sent him to prep school where he would have mixed with the right people!
Tuesday, Dec 21st
End of term plays. A rather good adaptation of (story) by A. P. Herbert of returned Russian who teaches his village to play cricket [Cricket in the Caucasus] and a rather boring 3b version of Twelfth Night. Reading [Sir Percy] James Grigg’s Prejudice and Judgement. Thinks war could have ended in 1944 if Montgomery’s plans had been followed and limited advance to Ruhr before Germans could recover, both strategy and command structures were faulty. You can’t accuse Montgomery of being too cautious and slow in Africa and Italy and too rash in France at the same time. If Montgomery had been given his head, Grigg believes we should have been in Berlin before the Russians and the Iron Curtain might have been further east. But Grigg also agrees it would have been very difficult indeed for Eisenhower to have given Montgomery what he wanted. Only if Eisenhower had pressed his view with utter conviction on Washington would Washington have agreed, and perhaps not even then.
Wednesday, Dec 22nd
Broke up and had piano and organ for assembly hymns for first time on this occasion. Went down and got a small Christmas pudding and bottle of white Bordeaux for supper with Mary. Weather very cold indeed but no snow yet. Went round forms at 2.30 and wished them all a merry Christmas. Mary gave me some much needed handkerchiefs and a book on Building Cathedrals. She had been given some exquisite French handkerchiefs by a woman whose daughter married a Frenchman.
Wilk came back from hospital to us today as her sisters had done nothing about her and we could not leave her alone in her flat over Christmas.
Thursday, Dec 23rd
Nora went over to Oxford child guidance so I did some shopping and cooked dinner, sawed logs and began to make a bonfire. Leg rather sciaticaty what with cold and damp. Hope I get through next three months successfully without another major attack as in 1942 and 1946-47.
Been reading Churchill’s delightful little book on how he took up oil painting [Painting as a pastime]. His advice to everyone is to “have a go.” An extraordinary person and so productive in so many fields from literature to bricklaying.
Hilary came down and sat by the fire in his new dark blue dressing gown, looking very tall and grown up, to listen to Tommy Handley’s Christmas version of Itma, which was very good and funnier than usual.
We collected a bonfire of shavings and cedar branches and at six o’clock lit it up. It was still alight on Christmas morning. It burnt up quickly and sent showers of golden sparks high in the cold frosty air, for this was a cold, dry and rather misty Christmas
Began with a cup of tea in bed about eight o’clock. We had breakfast at nine with presents, bulbs for Nora, diaries and book for Hilary. He had done me a carving from a vine stump of a man standing on his head with legs in the air. It reminded me of the grotesques one finds drawn in the margins of medieval maps and was a fine piece of work. He gave his mother a photo of the junior soccer team with himself in the centre of the back row. We had haddock for breakfast, but as usual at Christmas, it was all a bit cold from undoing and looking at presents. Hilary went on building a hut he had started all the morning and continued till dark after lunch. Nora went to church.
We had a vegetarian lunch, but ate too many mince pies. Did not listen to King this year, but Tempest on Monday, missed Messiah on Wednesday.
About 6.45 we started Christmas dinner as follows: Soup, goose, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, stuffing and red currant jelly, followed by Christmas pudding and brandy butter, sherry and white Bordeaux. We had winter jasmine on the table and holly berries strung to make necklaces. After supper Petronius’ Trimalchio’s Feast on the wireless, a rather peculiar choice, if not perhaps intended to point the contrast between Christian and Pagan feasting! This was followed by reminiscences of past Christmases in the Edwardian era by Lady Bonham Carter; I had high hopes of this, but found it boring and started to read the immortal Private Angelo. Hilary and his mother played two games of chess and then he went to bed about 10 o’clock.
Sunday, Dec 26th
A bitterly cold day – white frost and fog. The sun never got through. Hilary not very well and had nothing till lunch except a dose of salts. By then he had recovered and ate some cold goose. In the morning I started reading him Robinson Crusoe. This not very well received, but he soon liked it when I got going. Pam and Geoff Makins to lunch with their small baby, so we were six of us altogether. After tea listened to Brahms’ piano concerto. We had breakfast late and household chores, washing up, coal, wood, hens etc, took an hour.
It seems to me that the new science man, Hirons, does not fit in very well with the rest of the staff as his family takes The Tatler and are too totally bourgeois! Never had anyone on the staff like this since old Taylor, the second master, died in 1939. Still, it may give the governors confidence.
Monday, Dec 27th
Starting on assembling of beehives. Hilary busy with hut.
Tuesday, Dec 28th
Went on working steadily on hives…. Shall drive about 850 nails by time through. Had two Clayden boys up to tea and made a second bonfire for them, which went well as the wind had got up, and blew a gale with rain in the evening.
Chinonanthus fragrans had many flowers out by Christmas Day, five years since Mary gave it me, but now really flowering.
Wednesday, Dec 29h
Wilk went back to her flat. Find her excessive politeness rather trying – even asked me if she could turn on tap in kitchen – but do hope they have succeeded in eliminating her fistula. Went down town to get more nails and then on with hives. Nora had a chill yesterday, but better today. Hilary put a fireplace in his hut and had a fire inside; felt in danger of roasting himself. Read him Robinson Crusoe, the part about the building of the stockade and hollowing out cave, which he enjoyed. Yesterday he did his thank you letters without much trouble. Has a regular but rather cramped (Nora says introverted) hand. Asked her what about mine. Said it showed “a complicated personality”. Don’t know whether to feel flattered or not.
Thursday, Dec 30th
Nora and Hilary have gone up to Maskelyne & Devant and the Wilk departed, so excellent opportunity to write. A terrific gale and rain. What about 1948? On the whole a good year I think. At the end of it we are on the road to recovery and the American aid to Europe is under way and the U.S.A. are building up its strength and prosperity. Our exports are half as large again as before the war and we have almost balanced our imports… The Russians have tried to disrupt France and failed; though the French themselves don’t seem willing to take the necessary steps to stop further inflation, they have preserved their democracy intact – just. The Russians have not succeeded in gaining control of Berlin and have given a further demonstration of wrecking in the face of the world public, as at Paris. With the rest of the West toughening up, it seems unlikely they will have any further easy triumphs and more and more likely that they are not prepared to risk war. So it looks to me as if the worst is over and we can look forward to 1949 with a fair degree of confidence in our and Europe’s recovery.
At home, though clothing very expensive, there is more in the shops, especially ironmongers. You can buy buns and cakes now when you want. Railway travelling is terribly dear and the costs of hotels have risen sharply, but houses are tending to fall.