November. "The Sound Barrier." Stevie, Pat, Angela Atkins, Myles at Wellington. Miss Milbanke. Stolarow. Freda Cripps. Pre-1914: halycon days.
Sunday, Nov 2nd
Yesterday and today we had what the meteorologists call a warm front - hot and damp with a high wind and everything went limp as blotting paper left outside. Reading Aspects of Provence by James Pope-Hennesy. How short human memory is! Thirty years ago Molly and I stayed an Easter holiday in Provence at Avignon and Nimes, and yet today I can recall hardly any visual images of what we saw.The book has made me wish I could go again. P-H has some sensible things to say about being shown round in groups by a guide:
"You find your companions' personalities force themselves on your attention until you are no longer looking at the building through which you are drifting but are watching and listening to them instead.... Sightseeing should be done alone or in the company of one silent, sensitive, humourous and well-instructed companion. But there are few things in life one is allowed to do alone. Visiting the Palace of the Popes in not none of them."
Monday, Nov 3rd
Mary took a half day off and we went over to see Swyncombe, where I wanted to show her the church.We got back to Reading just in time to see a film called The Sound Barrier. This was a thrilling film about the new supersonic jets and made your palms sweat! The film contained a lovely sequence of a flight to Cairo as well as cloudscapes at 40,000 feet. I was so rapt that it took some time to recover and remember the events of the afternoon. From the13th century at Swyncombe to the 20th in Reading. Man travels faster than the speed of sound and his imagination reaches out to the stars. "What is it all for?" cries the wife of the test pilot when her husband is killed. The universe is neutral, we must pit our brains with courage and imagination against it, replies the aeroplane manufacturer, as which Ralph Richardson gave a memorable performance. We must never be satisfied,
..... Our souls
Still climbing after knowledge infinite
And always moving as the restless spheres
Will us to wear ourselves and never rest.
Wednesday, Nov 6th
A teachers' conference at the Town Hall on local history. First lecture on pre-Roman Britain given by an enthusiast from the Bodleian Library who talked for an hour and three quarters without stopping. He was my kind of lecturer, who digressed, told stories and was reminded of things as he went along. In the afternoon we had a more composed lecturer on the Doomsday Book and Oxfordshire.
Eisenhower President by a huge majority, but seats in Congress about even.
Friday, Nov 8th
Much to my surprise, Stevie and Angela Atkins turned up without any warning about six o'clock. His sister-in-law, whose husband had died, had opened a shop at Fawley Green. Angela was doing nurses training at Tunbridge Wells, a fat plain little body. Miles at Wellington was going into the Navy, if they will have him.
Saturday, Nov 8th
Drove over to Aunt. She has been in bed with a cold, but was up and very cheerful. 92 at Christmas!
Reading a life of the Regent, which reads like something from the Arabian nights. His wives, his debts, his dinner parties, his architecture, his collections, his lawsuits and so on. Learnt that ladies at that time damped their dresses to make them cling. Princess Caroline, when in Italy, appeared as Venus with nothing above the waist line.
Sunday, Nov 9th
A very social day. Stevie, Pat, and Angela came over at 12 for coffee and sherry. Nora and Pat bawled at each other at the tops of their voices and I found it very difficult to make Stevie, who is pretty deaf anyway, to hear what I was saying. Miss Milbanke arrived about three and I went over to Queen Anne's, Caversham, to fetch Hilary who was singing there in Handel's Saul as a bass. We came back to tea and much talk between Miss M and Nora about child psychology. Then took Hilary back for evening chapel at 7.
Monday, Nov 10th
It was one of those days. On arrival found a parent waiting for me to complain his boy's testicles were sore as he had been attacked here. Addressed boys after assembly on this point. It was a broadside! Wrestled with the books etc for Prize Day and made arrangements for the school to visit Henry V at Kenton Theatre tomorrow afternoon. Found in afternoon that matinee could not be seen because of illness, so all for nothing. Dealt with Stolarow who brought fireworks again to school after being warned on Friday.
Heard Winston Churchill at Lord Mayor's Banquet, was in very good form. Looking forward with courage, not back to blood-stained past.
Wednesday, Nov 12th
Mary and I up to London. To Apsley House, which has at last been opened to the public. Duke has a flat at the top. Wonder if he has a lift! Then to Dichess Theatre in the Aldwych to see Terence Ratitigan's latest play The Deep Blue Sea. This had been much praised and expected to be deeply moved, but wasn't. There seemed to be some basic improbability about the story. Clergyman's daughter marries a successful barrister, but leaves him for a young ex-R.A.F. ace, now a test pilot. Finds he is a drunken waster.
Thursday, Nov 13th
Called in to see Marjorie Wilkinson and given cup of tea. She had been to see Rattigan play and found it both moving and probable. Airman was not a waster, rather a man who found himself in an impossible position and took to drink in consequence. As she mentioned that Ioan when he came out of the R.A.F. was so unhappy that he got drunk at weekends, I felt we were on rather personal grounds!
Saturday, Nov 15th
Had a very lively letter from Freda Cripps, who is now in her first job at Kingston-on-Thames. A good person with a beautiful body, an ugly face, and a rather indifferent voice, but full of interest in everything. Had been to Kew, Windsor and Hampton Court.
Wednesday, Nov 19th
Prize Day. Spent morning as usual lumping books, tableclothes, cups, chairs, musical instruments and innumerable odds and ends down to Town Hall. Barely got back in time for lunch.All this arrangement made more trying because prize winners' rehearsal has to be held in interval for dinner. Orchestral practices! The orchestra had drums this year, which was not altogether a good thing! Checking books and certificates with drums hammering in your head can be very trying. We had Mr McCarthy, Professor Harlow (the prize giver) and wife, a large, shy, dull lady, to lunch. He was a nice little man who spoke to the children on England: their duty to give to her but to take from her. They listened attentively. My speech caused a good deal of laughter and went down well. A horrid old man called Pullein-Thompson monopolized speaker and made it impossible to introduce staff to him at tea fight afterwards. Very selfish.
Saturday, Nov 22nd
Said on Prize Day that Lady Periam's bequest had been used by Balliol for architectural amenities - i.e., gents' lavatory. This was a private joke between Mr McCarthy and myself, but solemnly reported in the Standard!
Sunday, Nov 23rd
Eisenhower studying Korean compromise suggested by India. Has been told by State Dept that Russia regards war as useful because 1) it gives her the initiative in Europe 2) enables her to represent U.S. as aggressor in Asia and 3) could cause disagreement between allies. If this is so, no end of war likely, short of military victory.....
Weather turned very cold and really wintry, snow falling in the North and sleet promised here for tomorrow.
Often wonder what it would be like to go back to those distant days when tables were laid, food brought in and vegetables handed to you, courses changed, tables cleared, and washing up done in decent obscurity! Beds turned down, and curtains drawn and fires lit, early morning tea with thin slices of bread and butter appearing with the drawing of blinds. The halycon period of the middle class 1900 - 1914;
The first coronation I can remember that of George V in 1910, the next in 1936 to which I listened with a crystal set holding young Hilary on my knee. Preparations for the celebrations in Henley are beginning and various committees have been set up. To my disgust I have been chosen for the Sports Committee, but not on the Exhibition Committee, which is proposing to hold a local history exhibition in conjunction with the completion of the Victoria County History for this area! In Henley the only person with a history degree moved out!
Monday, Nov 24th
The whole day was lightened by letter from Mary.
How happy I am with you..... to have some one like you, to have confidence, to know one has a definite place in some one else's life..... When I look back at the upheavals we used to have, there must have been something very strong and real underneath to have kept us going and which drew us back to each other.
Tuesday, Nov 25th
An Australian psychologist came to lunch yesterday. Her husband a wireless expert. Carries an aerial hanging in his trouser leg and a small set for interference in his pocket. If he is annoyed by radio on bus or beach or in flat above at early dawn, switches on interferer until nuisance abates. An excellent idea.
The Russians appear to be planning to turn down the Indian armistice proposal flat. More disorders and shooting in Kenya by May Mau. Kenya now added to Malaysia as source of murder and killings.
Wednesday, Nov 26th
Mary produced Harold Nicolson's life of George V. Most interesting and well written. A pity he was such an excellent constitutional king and such a fair minded man and so approachable and understanding with his inferiors, yet so tough and discouraging to his sons and family.
Saturday, Nov 29th
Went to Wellington College. Cold and trying to snow, a kind of semi-frozen slush on the windscreen. Myles [Atkins] met me at the Great Gate. Took an hours tour, Libraries, Theatre, Dormitory and Chapel. The college had been built in 1855 - 59 in French renaissance baroque and is very fine, but the chapel in public school Gothic is a horror and made my flesh creep with memories of Leatherhead (1928 - 29). The dormitories named after great soldiers were divided into about 50 cubicles painted in quite pleasant grey green. Outside there were gas jets for cooking and above Myles's bed his pots and pans were hung neatly on nails His chief interests appeared to be musicals and dance band leaders! After sightseeing went to the Grub Shop and had a good tea in the part reserved for parents and visitors.
Sunday, Nov 30th
Apparently there is a military as well as a humanitarian reason for America's refusal to agree [in Korea] to any arrangement about prisoners which might be unworkable or leave their fate in doubt. In the event of all-out war with Russia one of the West's strongest weapons, especially among the satellite armies, is the offer of asylum to prisoners. A large number of Koreans are deserters and to hand them back would break this powerful weapon.